Posts tagged ‘video games’

Design Journals: Soul Sacrifice (omg this is awesome), BL2 redux, & Atelier Totori the mystery continues

**Soul Sacrifice** vita
You are not Conan, but this is the type of place Conan lives in.
You’re the type of peasant he knocks aside and as you emerge from that trough a wizard abducts you. Trapped in a grotesque prison you turn to your one nerdy pursuit reading. Soul Sacrifice uses the meta-narrative to further its gameplay, and much like Assassin’s Creed those novel skills carry over to the “real world” however unlike Assassin’s Creed the game with in a game really works. You see you’re reading the journal of the insane necrophile that trapped you in a cage of human bones. Desperation in the real world means the readings become surprisingly engaging especially as they involve a blood thirsty femme fatale who for reasons not yet revealed saves said future necrophiliac super crazy cannablistic wizard guy. The result is a monster hunter clone that is strangely anti-monster hunter. While the gory fantasy world is at odds with my taste, the set up works perfectly to make the gameplay more intriguing and the game has the balls to lets you decide which of 6 weapons you want to bring into battle. The result is blood spewing machine gun replicates (doesn’t work) to some beautiful and hefty ice swords to a pumpkin headed charge move. Loot is weapons in this game and weapons have about the shelf life as say a cauldron of healing potions or some twizzlers. Weapons wear out giving them a disposable feeling, but these little disposable tinker toys have surprising effects. The game lacks the Monster Hunter traps so far, but honestly this is quite different from monster hunter. Soul Sacrifice is an Inafune game to the core, weapon swaps are constant & the humor never ends. The game’s central mechanic revolves around the bleak surroundings and the sacrifice or save mechanic, which is nice I like choosing my exp and the moral decision to sacrifice or save is fun especially as this Conan like world values life about as highly as a Mars bar. The game encourages you to be a bad guy and Being a compulsive psychopath obsessed with collecting attack level ups is rewarding. Haven’t even gotten to the online play yet, but did i mention this is a romance novel too? Yes, that insane psychopath full of eyes and gore above was in love, how he ended up insane and if learning his old spells will really help you is for you to decide. Good work japan studio…. Just please the blood machine gun thing… No. Oh btw just played the demo am sold on full game pretty sure original and then maybe Delta. Also now super crazy hype for mighty no. 9

**Borderlands 2** ps3
Everyone I know has played this game to death, this week I finally played it to death. True vault hunter mode, co-op and I am tired. Just don’t see it anymore. Not as fun, even 86 gazillion guns gets old. But it still is the best co-op game of a generation of co-op games. Army of Two? Fuse? All,of these games think a co-operative mechanic makes a co-op game. What they didn’t get is that confining a player to working together makes the game less fun. They also failed to understand that progression is progression: you shouldn’t need a partner just to progress when last gen you could do it alone. What Borderlands understands is that each player makes the game expand. You go from being a shotgun wielding Berzerker to a support guy for a sniper who is all glass canon, the game opens up, cars fill with ready bodies waiting for the kill. The storyline is juvenile trash, funny at moments, but never rising above a teenager’s imagination. It did all of this by borrowing the elemental affinities from JRPGs and wrapping them in a fart joke of an FPS. Its all about retarded fun with friends, something overly serious co-op games just didn’t get. Glad to know Bungie was taking notes. Just around level 47 my Siren feels played, the game feels predictable, and the enemies start to come down with ease, still can’t remember the last time I replayed a game like this.

**Atelier Totori** Vita
The problem the game faces is that finding the right components for your crafting are the quests, but then the game wants you to go on its quests. You should just be able to click on a missing component for an item add it to a list and then go on finding missing components and there by producing quests and then maybe a time limit and reward for early completion with some points for extra daredevil battles. Throw in a midboss and final boss for the quest for components to craft silver ingots for a new armor plat for your tank. In other news I can now craft armor, but doing this will require numerous time consuming side trips that will not net me favor with the adventurer’s guild who prefer quests to be of the go there and get 3 of this variety. Time in Atelier is a factor, in fact you might want to fore go sleeping for a simple healing potion, but really the storyline is so meandering that I am not sure if I should waste time so as to advance the narrative or spend it all the more preciously because the game becomes a serious spreadsheet chomper towards the end I am told. Still the time based story events make the game feel fresh, as if the narrative is reacting to you which it is, the game features numerous endings, its just the ending to what that the story fails to remind you. Totori misses her teacher Rorona, but strangely fails to have the usual jrpg resolve to solve the mystery of her mother. For someone who vowed to become an adventurer to find a loved one, she is dizzy and inconsistent. But the game made me laugh and its like nothing else out there. So many ideas in this one, its just not quite made for me.

July 28, 2014 at 1:57 pm Leave a comment

Muramasa Rebirth – Story of Monohime

What Muramasa primarily does is prove wandering through art works is heavenly. Like that Kurosawa film Dreams where the characters walk into Van Gogh paintings

Muramasa is all about Detail and situations. It is full of visual logics culled from antiquity that captivate. George Katimana’s illustrations have always shown a love of Japanese classical painting, but Muramasa, which was inspired by the famicom game legend of Kage

Allows a realization of locomotion through a medium we usually experience in stillness.

But I would argue that part of what makes Japanese painting remarkable is the sense of movement it in stills. Every leaf jumped over, every tree climbed,and every Legend of Kage style floaty jump is a sensory experience in how sight can overwhelm sensation. Muramasa, like most of Vanillaware’s games, is an exercise in the peculiar interaction between avatar, world, and desire. It is a great lesson in how and why graphics are important. Even the color of the Ninjas uniforms (which really do make them nigh invisible at night) fits into the context of the game.

The combat in Muramasa is based around a triple dash, a double jump, and a charged moved. All three abilities along with a special attack your sword can utilize and the fact that your weapon takes damage before you do makes for absorbing game play. The bosses & enemies require some thought and strategy to over come. Samurai for instance require a charged hit to break their swords, Ninja need to be dealt with swiftly, and spirits require reflecting your fireballs back at them. The result is a combat system that feels like flow, but actually requires some of the strategy and skills usually utilized in jrpgs. The sword upgrading techniques provide little to the game beyond increased stars and a seldom used special attack I don’t really use, but then again they are swords. Gotta collect ‘m all.

Muramasa has been criticized for it’s story, but I found it actually to be rather good. It didn’t impress me the way Odin Sphere did and a few minor continuity gaps result in a trip to hell, but over all it builds a peculiar romance between a Japanese femme fatale with a lot of wit and a demonically possessed spirit with immortality as his aim. I am only now playing the second character’s story, but the game’s set up and plot twists I actually felt were rather good even if the protagonist and heroine fail to develop overt romantic intentions in their dialogues. One of the things I also loved about my ending was the way the game rationalizes it’s brutality: demonic spirit possession and then deals with it in the end. The result was a game in which the player slaughters hundreds and then see their deeds punished from a different angle. Making both Jinkuro and Monohime playable in different segments was brilliant as it builds a relation between player and character.

I have committed myself to a platinum of the game I am enjoying it that much. It’s on ps vita and Wii. Strangely I never got into the Wii version. The game hides somewhat imprecise controls and a little bit of hectic platforming in layers of luscious art. It’s storyline compels and the combat system (beat it on chaos) is open ended even if the second time you run into Samurai you know exactly what to do.

May 9, 2014 at 4:54 am Leave a comment

Design journals for this week

uncharted: golden abyss Miyamoto once mentioned that their competitors wanted to make film: Naughty Dog does. Uncharted is a film. It’s full of love able characters, small set pieces, a shooty cover game, and a rock climbing game. However cover based shooters: done them before. Climbing games: loved the focus of Prince of Persia. That becomes Uncharted’s main problem. Where a series like Gears of Wars can do cinematics, but excel at gameplay Uncharted cranks up the character button, doubles down on suspense, and forgets about gameplay. I might not finish it before my ps plus membership ends, and I man not so sure it really matters. The primary reason I keep playing is to experience a story. A well characterized one.
rayman: legends Have now unlocked almost every level. And now the game becomes a check in everyday for lums and daily challenge fest. The remixed music levels essentially ask you to play blind which is not a bad idea because you are playing to the beat. I enjoyed the game a lot, but I am not so sure why the game needs to be endless. Part of what makes these games fun is the mastery of a finite challenge. It’s the infinity in details, the possibility in level design that makes platformers come back for me. Leaderboards should globally clock complete times for levels. That said the challenge levels aren’t bad and do a good job of introducing you to a global score system.
strikers: 1945 An old Psiyko release which has been sitting around my vita for a bit. At first it was to fast for me,mthe psp visuals are reduced to a small black bordered box on the vita, but it keeps growing for some reason. I still can’t adjust to the danmaku sufficiently to not be credit feeding the machine, which means Psiyko’s strategy (which I am told is agreession) eludes me. What I like about the game is that the bomb system works as a piece of cover, you call in your squad and they take flack for you for a bit. The result is some serious strategic moments of gameplay. The difference in the ships’ abilities is also refreshing.

April 26, 2014 at 11:05 pm Leave a comment

Some stuff I posted to reddit

Just savings these here so I have a more concrete design diary.

**luftrausers** vita
I am around 30 something hours trying to finish the blimp with missiles mission (making good progress) blimps seem to spawn after 2 battleships for about 13k score. I tried puttering around in the sky avoiding enemies and it just delays the spawning if battleships, hence yes score seems to speed up the difficulty. Few games have I investigated this throughly, but the challenge in these accomplishments is so severe I fear they are there more as a means of keeping players there which means Vlambeer vastly misjudged their audience. I am really annoyed by this mission nonsense. I just want to work on my leaderboard score.

**rayman legends** vita
This just amazes me. The game’s levels have really grown from the somewhat basic concepts of the origins games to fully fleshed out trails of wit snd cunning. Also it just looks great on the vita. When I grow tired of luftrausers brutalist approach to difficulty I often find myself clocking in a few levels here and there. The challenge is nice, but not overly difficult.

**Crimzon Clover** PC
I can totally like with Cave’s blockage of new shmups as long as doujin games are like this. Crimzon Clover has all of the traps and vestiges of a cave shmup with an indie spirit that is hard to deny. I didn’t get to play it much, but this really impressed me. It has the right amount of enemies you have to focus in on while also containing the right bullet hell. In other words like a cave game it understands how to turn the some what free for. Aimless aspects of shmups into tight visceral situations worth your attention. It’s also free.

**monument valley** iOS
Somewhere up in the British sky there is a great wonka and he loves games. He also likes ico and M.C. Escher. Monument Valley does a lot of what Fez claimed to just with out all the clutter of those controllers & puzzles with highly subjective solutions. Instead if focuses in on the optical illusion Escher made and turns them into puzzles that are never overly challenging, but man is finished this game in a day. I believe after you finish there is a little more to the game, but right now the initial experience has left me pleased. One of the better ios games and one of the few that excels from being a touched based game.

**metal slug anthology** psp/ vita
Back in the day I had a neo geo and it was my bread and butter. I best Blue’s Journey at least 8 times. By the time Metal Slug hit I was in high school and working on things like Fatal Fury Real bout. The original metal slug is one of the best examples of enemy design ever made. Each unit has a specific purpose yet it never feels unfair… Well except that last boss. The levels a re joy to make it through contains enough super heroic Rambo shit to keep you entertained. I am not sure why no one has done a run and gun game as good as this one over the years. Unfortunately tacked onto the original metal slug are it’s numerous sequels. 3 was designed by the original designer of street fighter / moon patrol / KoF and shows a creativity of spirit with unique challenges and ideas in each level, but the later games feel like a milking of the franchise and then let’s not even mention those loading screens. Yes the official psp port of metal slug anthology contains loading screens the illegally emulated versions do not. While it’s not a huge deal it breaks up the flow and feels annoying. For such a great series Snk playmore should have spent more time. It’s a shame Nazca no logger exists because they made some of the better arcade games out there (in the hunt, metal slug, and gun force 2). Still this package contains more ideas in a segment than many games do in a full campaign.

April 13, 2014 at 12:18 am Leave a comment

A week of Luftrausers

Difficulty is a harsh thing, but we desire the situations that produce it even if we dread it in abstraction. If any art form could produce a consistent study of difficulty, and make it’s audience experience it more brutally it would have to be video games. We desire play that enforces situations of great stress, it’s just when that play becomes mundane, when the game ceases to be “fair” and becomes “cheap” we cease to prefer it. What Luftrausers is good at is understanding exactly what makes difficulty desirable in video games. It just then happens to mess the whole thing up.

The new arcade movement is a set of video game designers intrigued by the idea of difficult games as a medium. Their muses include numerous quarter crunching arcade games and well probably life. The flagship product of the movement is Hotline Miami a game so difficult and random it can ultimately be immutably frustrating with out ever seeming impossible. The game is made of humane mistakes, a guy rounds a corner before you come in or you happen to miss judge a shot, shatter a window, and get eaten by guard dogs. The game is difficult with out ever seeming out of the player’s possibility. Luftrausers is similarly intoxicating. We understand our plane and how it moves and how it moves is intense. It’s first set of goals are challenging with out ever seeming impossible.

What sets luftrausers apart from Hotline Miami is a key feature of it’s genre: the high score. Shmups are built around scoring mechanics, players all over the world compete to be the best at mushi mushi pork & other shmups. On my third day in Luftrausers I did something I have never done before: I made the highest score on psn. At 64k my score has reigned supreme for over a week now. I receive fan mail asking me opinions on plane builds and parts usage. My theories of the game’s spawning algorithms are discussed by other players. I have never felt as in tune with a game as this one, so why am I so unhappy with it?

Richard Garfield held a talk on a cruise where he discussed luck versus skill. High skill games often deter players from playing again. Crush a 9 year old in chess and they will simply think they’re stupid, beat a 6 year old at a board game and they’ll just think you got lucky. The level of intention a player can express in a game in turn determines how likely a player will interrupt the result as their fault. Fail a mission in Hotline Miami? Well guess what, it’s just because that guy rounded a corner and he probably won’t next time. The problem is shmups are a high skill genre. Once you’ve beaten r-type you can pretty much always beat r-type. A good game of touhou involves a lot of luck, but experience ensures you will come through ok. Shmups are games that consistent play usually ensures success in the future. I couldn’t make a 64k score again even I tried… And I have tried.

What does one do when your skill at a game is so consistently misread? When I watched totalbiscuit’s wtf for luftrausers I was struck by something: he’s a lot better player than I am. The people emailing me on psn? More committed. Now am I a regular shmup player who understood chain kills, popcorn, managing said corn, leading, and other basic shmup skills before those other players did? Probably. But here is the problem, high skilled players of Luftrausers are not properly rewarded. The game is simply,to chaotic to provide skill sets with proper motivation to continue. Take the missions for example.

Luftrausers is based on numerous missions that often teach you fascinating facets of the game. These challenges can range from the mundane: kill 5 enemy types to the absurd: take down a blimp with nothing, but homing missiles. The problem the missions reveal is that when we read luftrausers as more than just a high score sandbox, but rather as a level with a mission to accomplish the game becomes difficult in ways that jostle with the underlying craziness. When you’re only out to play or make a high score getting gunned down by a minor foe is nothing, it’s like losing a mission in Hotline to mistiming a random dog. The problem is when you’re tasked with something exceedingly high skill: take down a blimp or kill an ace at Max combo in SMFT mode all of the chaos means excessive repeating to get a few seconds practice to only to have your hopes dashed again as the next play through proves even more difficult… Say aces spawning in the first moment or the blimp showing up extra early. The problem becomes this frustration is not with your inept skill level, but rather with your inability to better your skill level do to randomly spawning foes. The game becomes cheap in a way Hotline Miami never did. It switches the fault line of frustration from your own (I suck at chess) to the game (this game is cheap) it’s like any of those numerous nes moments in the angry video game nerd adventures. I would like to say this challenge makes the game better, but in reality it makes it worse. It encourages excessive play in order to spawn a random seed that happens to be forgiving enough for the player to practice their skills. Luftrausers’ problem is that it trains pilots to be skilled and then drops them into an environment where those skills become irrelevant. It fails to make the difficulty of the missions engaging and in the end it just relies on a cheap trick of fast infinite respawns to keep the player going. It is however the best hi score sandbox ever made, it just fails as a linear game.

March 30, 2014 at 12:59 am Leave a comment

On watching women play Titanfall

Horror movies inherently suggested something about film: that the spectacle of perspective and effects could create engrossing visual worlds that propelled narrative in ways theater could not. That horror films are not widely considered canon among film critics is a given, that they do a good job of advertising what makes film unique though is apparent. The same could be said about Titanfall.

Titanfall has no clear lasting message. Like Jason’s seemingly random series of encounters in Friday the 13th we keep watching not because of plot, but rather because of spectacle and sensation. This isn’t Psychonauts, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t complex. Titanfall escalates between play states, a state of possibility in which a free running commando guns down enemies and snaps the necks of enemy A.I. And a state of constraint in which the player is encased in their Titan and has to follow a different path through the level. The result is two generations of gameplay in one game: the constrained Titan and the free roaming solider. The Titan’s possibilities are much more limited and in this, it is a play style much more similar to the last generation: titans can not combine and use space as effectively as soldiers can. They have essentially the same freedom of movement that players in many cinematic Fps games had on the xbox. In this they can be described quite simply, their possibility is so minimal that we can summarize them as tanks.

Art forms are the result of experimentation, early on exposure to the means of production, some stuff I haven’t thought of yet, and finally criticism. Beowulf might be one of English literature’s cornerstones, but it’s mythos is only a small step towards the complexity of novel as art. In other words, while interpretations may vary texts do have the ability to inspire a depth in their reading and by that a genre called “literature”. The last generation of games seemed like a step down the ladder from the SNES and NES classics that attracted the audience to fuel them. The playstation offered good graphics, but limited gameplay. Tomb Raider struggled to provide free running close to anything in Titanfall or even Prince of Persia. What we had was 3 generations of consoles in which games devolved into a state of graphical prowess over gameplay. The results are fairly devastating. Fps games left a trail of unoriginal gore in their wake that sent players fleeing to the margins. The games additionally have trouble inspiring critical thinking or even an experience more deep than say a remarkably linear roller coaster ride and I have been on some deep roller coasters whose curves and drops could inspire reflection, it’s just none of them were on the play station.

Take for instance Super Mario Brothers 2 World 3-3. The level inspires rapid exploration even if it is fairly linear. Back tracking? Yes, but it’s made difficult by the fact that the way you enter is much harder to traverse on your way out. The level offers so many complicated mechanics of anxiety and repression it becomes a challenging and intimidating beast in itself. Now go play any generic FPS on the ps3. Did they even think about level design? Titanfall in other words represents a good example of how video games can create worlds more addictive than film and mechanics untenable in board games and do it using player agency. It isn’t a two note song, rather it riffs in directions that allow for varied experience, much of which is left to chance or “asymmetry” aka unfair stuff. However that ability to house numerous mechanics, and to use them as hues on a daesin conjured from thumb prints and sweat means the game becomes complicated in a way worthy of criticism. It is suitably deep enough to inspire and clarify aspects of play missing in many triple A games. It’s just it happens to have about as much meaning as a group of innocent teenagers on the end of a supernatural killer’s knife.

March 19, 2014 at 5:50 am Leave a comment

The Language Problem

Film is such a well versed and analyzed format that we know terms for it that were invented by geeks and nerds who became out auteurs in time. To watch Godard is to learn about film. Can the same be said about architecture or games? Games have primarily grown up as play things. Heavily versed in consumerism and the language around them continues to be the same one used in magazines and advertisements.

I few weeks ago I had the idea of writing reviews of games that didn’t involve recommending a purchase. Similar to the way film theorists can create discourse around a film they might not even like. This proved to be a problem. A lot of what I like about games is their purchasablity and less their their qualities as a piece of art. Try to find the meaning in Kickle Cubicle, the heart of Majora’s Mask? Games are often empty in the ways literature and film are filling. It doesn’t matter if we’re looking at the bizarre Marxist truth of Star Wars or the epicenter of an art film like Peter Greenaway, we’re experiencing a textual narrative that’s linearity accentuates the conveying of meaning with in. This is similar to Ebert’s criticism of games in which he notes that meaning is often produced by the linear. Now think about Vito Aconicci or Bernard Tuschumi. Neither produce work with heavy linear storytelling ideas. Rather their work is either in space, social interaction, or performance / identity.

Games don’t exist often in the realm of truth novels can provide. While studios like Naughty Dog are trying, the exclusion of nonlinear mechanics and the inability of the player to realize themselves in the game takes away for the experience of it being a game. On the other hand games which are all mechanics and no storyline often don’t affect their audience in the same way. But the conundrum of meaning in the filmic sense and the experiential is a subject art criticism has longed resolved. No one argues that Joseph Beuys performances didn’t mean anything, the tension of man and wolf or the disgust of audience and masturbator is exactly what makes performance art captivating. The experience is meaningful with out needing the strictures novels and books require.

How does this relate to video game criticism though? When we think about Acconci or Beuys we know them through theory. Their work comes steeped in art criticism that in turn lets us analyze the real world in new and refreshing ways. We’re given a noticing task so we can catch the meaning in an act we would otherwise interrupt as unmeaningful. We begin to think about the tension of self and environment, the acceptability of certain social acts and their pairings in our everyday lives, we become more full because art is exploring subjects pertinent to concerns we face everyday. A psychoanalytic film might provide us with insight into a particularly creepy denizen of our day to day. But how did we arrive at this knowledge? It’s part of the pitch of the medium. Performance art advertises theory that empowers it and helps us. It comes steeped in a set ideas that establish meaning in a fashion previously unused. It makes meaning from space, action, or identity and that’s just to start with.

When we see writing about video games it is often in the form of advertising, when we write about games it is often about purchasing them. We’ve been taught to analyze and think about games in this way. The dissemination of a new language about games is only beginning. We hear critics talking about “mechanics” “ludonarrative dissonance” and other terms. The ability to think about games critically and in turn create meaning with them requires a better populace more informed by key gaming terms, until that happens we’ll all be just turning around pr points, spouting desires that only relate to games as commercial commodities, when we could be thinking about identification, what makes a mechanic compelling, and the other constructions these truly fake worlds provide. In other words if we can’t describe ourselves we can’t improve ourselves. Games don’t mean in ways we’ve been taught to look for, rather their meaning often shuttles by like so many commuters on a Monday train, this doesn’t just for the audience it goes for the creators too.

Wonder Flick creates tensions by introducing the player to an unfair battle field. The player uses up resources to deal damage with only a mild guarantee of similar resources. The result is compelling as each anxiety wave laps over the party as you try to succeed. The game simulates anxiety in a unique way. Already I am coming back around to a pitch buy! Buy! But am I doing that because the game lacks meaning or because the form was created in such a way? It’s the later I think. The mechanics in games, especially triple A games, is often made with markets in mind. Wonder flick is compelling because it sells, not because it means anything. In The Last of Us we’re presented with consistent resource conversation. The protagonist must sneak by hostile in order to save resources to fight more hostiles. The game rests on the idea of prediction, patterns must observed and tactical considerations of where to use set resources. The result however is quite meaningful. The context of the narrative and the story the gameplay shows are almost one in the same. In this sense naughty Dog has captured something, that games have narratives in their ludology as much in their story themselves. This is one of the points in Homo Ludens that games are themselves narrative. Such layers showing up in a triple a game should be celebrated, it shows the teams behind it are taking their job seriously not as providers of entertainment, but as artisans trying to move the medium forward. If pop culture can stomach an art form that uses the consumer’ s own initiative to move the story forward is another matter.

How many reviews of The Last of Us caught this clear quoting of Homo Ludens in its gameplay? How many readers were introduced to the idea of games as representative of / enacting something? Almost none. Do the consistent games of anxiety ridden exploration with resource management and prediction make the plot of The Last of us better? Yes. However, As long as we continue to replicate the market’s terse terminology of enjoyment and recommendations we’ll never truly understand what we want is depth in games and less the fun and consumption we enjoy today. The medium has spawned a player ship commendable in their intelligence, it’s just up to the media to spread the ideas and get the discourse flowing. We need to talk more about mechanics in games and less why we enjoyed them.

December 10, 2013 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

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