Category Archives: Feature

Are Difficulty Settings Necessary?

The pursuit of a challenge can be a driving force in life. The accomplishment of something thought to be unobtainable has a certain allure which some find irresistible. Game designers tend to play off of this concept, creating challenges that seem insurmountable in the context of the game world. Typically there will be an option for the player to affect the likelihood of beating the odds through game difficulty. As a designer, the proper implementation of difficulty, in my opinion, is instituting a learning curve and building from there. Once the player has gleaned the knowledge the game has presented, the designer is free to introduce complex obstacles that utilize this knowledge in varying ways. Approaching the difficulty question from this angle allows designers to create more involving situations during the progression of the game. This concept of “learning in order to succeed” seems to eradicate the necessity of a difficulty option altogether.

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The Philosophical Basis of Exploration Cues in Game Design

Republished from The GameSaver, whose purpose it is to use objective philosophical analysis to save the video game industry from imploding.

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…it’s your game. You decide how you want to play, I mean, we’re not the ones who are going to tell you how to play...” – Mathieu Ferland, senior producer at Ubisoft Montreal, describing the design philosophy of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

Obviously you can’t instruct people on how to enjoy art.” – Lisa Foiles, video game commentator (and former “All That” star) stating what she believes to be a truism relevant to a gamer’s choosing how (and whether) to explore a game world.

Together, these two quotations represent a malignant viewpoint stretching from video game designer to video game player. The second quote comes from one of Kotaku’s (few) intellectual features now roughly a year old. It is the perfect encapsulation of the average person’s view of art. Because this view is so widespread, what I am about to say is tragically controversial: there is an objectively correct way to read books, watch movies, view paintings, and play games. Read the rest of this entry

The Difference Between “Hard” and “Frustrating”

I would like to preface this by saying I love hard games. I love Demon’s Souls and most Atlus games. I play Touhou, though I have only beaten one of them and only on easy mode. I measure difficulty in ‘Megamans’. I do not believe those who play easier games are lesser or inferior, I just like hard games. The thing is, “hard” is an ambiguous word. A game can be hard for a lot of reasons, but as far as I am concerned, there are two kinds of difficult games: those that are “hard” and those that are “frustrating.” As a final preface note, unless stated otherwise, everything discussed in this article is set to the “normal” difficulty.

“Hard” games are deliberately hard. They are designed to be difficult, and make you work to complete a level, to get an item, to win a fight or complete a puzzle. They are games like Super Meat Boy that kill you a lot but keep death a quick thing and don’t make a big deal about it, or games like Persona or Megaman that are simply difficult. They are nothing short of challenging, and despite the difficulty I rarely find myself frustrated when playing them. Dying a lot, for example, does not have to be a source of frustration, especially when handled correctly. Demon’s Souls is a great example of this. Death is so frequent it is actually part of the narrative and, more importantly, it is quick. There is no long game over upon death. The character simply falls over and respawns at the beginning of the level. All you lose are your “souls,” the sort of all-purpose currency/experience you have on hand, and you can always go back to where you died and recollect them.

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REVIEW: Enslaved Odyssey to the West

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a game developed by Ninja Theory, and published by Namco Bandai. It is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It is a less than mediocre game and clearly intended for a ‘casual’ audience. The Xbox 360 game was played for the purposes of this review.

I’ll admit I’m hesitant to give a bad review to a post-apocalyptic kind of game, as I generally like this kind of stuff. What drew me to this game was the art work, the cover art, and the screenshots. It’s very different than most post-apocalyptic kind of scenarios, in that the world isn’t so desolate and barren. So think Wall-E, but instead of dust and nothing growing, there is plant life growing all over the place. The New York skyline is full of greenery, the buildings are
literally taken over by plants, slowly being broken down to the effects of Mother Nature. The idea of exploring New York like this is was really appealing to me.

Unfortunately, that is where the appeal ends. Heard of two people abandoned on an island that don’t really like each other at first, are forced to work together to avoid immediate death, and totally end up falling for each other? If you haven’t, that’s alright, because Enslaved has you covered. You play as your classic tough guy raised in the jungle. The “I have no family and I have no name” kind of hero. You and your companion are prisoners of some sort, and she controls you by means of a headband device which doesn’t allow you to leave her side without killing you. Which is why the game is called “Enslaved.” You, “Monkey,” are enslaved to Trip, your companion.
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Right in Front of Your Face

Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.

We are that elite.

Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.

Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?

Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!

No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.

I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. Read the rest of this entry

Surviving The Horror: Dead Space 2’s Hard Core Difficulty

When humans get scared, our bodies prepare to take action. Adrenaline courses through our systems, our heart rates skyrocket, and certain bodily functions like digestion get suspended entirely. This is commonly known as the body’s “fight or flight” response. But while “fight or flight” may have a nice ring to it, the terms suggest a simple duality that doesn’t quite mesh with the reality: our fear response covers not just fight OR flight, but every combination of the two. Furthermore, the fear response varies between people. How you react to something scary may not be how I react to it.

Horror game developers are aware of this range of response, and they design their titles to fit a certain segment of it. Some horror fans prefer games that trigger their “fight” reaction. Others prefer games that trigger their “flight” response. Neither is a more valid horror experience than the other, and, contrary to popular belief, titles like Resident Evil 5 and Amnesia can occupy the same market space.

Enter the Dead Space series. The first game appealed to both “fight” and “flight” enthusiasts with its mix of extreme player vulnerability and engaging dismemberment. The second game ramped up the intensity in all respects. The hero, Isaac Clarke, is faster and deadlier, but so are the bladed undead necromorphs he faces. With added environmental hazards, the player is thrust into situations that constantly challenge him or her. Despite all these new features, the developers at Visceral knew they needed something extra to combat the greatest enemy of fear: familiarity. As the second game in the series, Dead Space 2 would automatically start off in a weaker position. Thus, a new difficulty was included. Hard Core mode would give the player only three saves for the entire game. Checkpoints would be disabled, and death would return the player to his last save, regardless if that was 5 chapters ago.

Hard Core offers players quite a different experience than usual. The cost of failure is not a few rooms’ worth of progress, but rather, entire chapters and multiple hours of gameplay. Similar difficulty modes have appeared in other games, but it’s particularly suited to the survival horror genre. The player is already used to being extra careful about enemy encounters, and the more serious consequences serve to heighten the tension. All this is just fluffy theory until you actually screw up, however.

Then the game changes.

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Interview With Eitanya

Garrus and Shepard

Have you ever wanted to cuddle up with your favorite character only to discover hugging the game box or dvd case is just uncomfortable and not very fullfilling? Then you need to drop Eitanya an e-mail. Her plush version of the fan-favorite character “Garrus” from BioWare’s Mass Effect series was first posted in Game Informer and then made its way around the web. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing her on the creative process and finding out why she started making soft and squishy versions of characters.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure thing. I’m 26 years old, currently living on the gorgeous Emerald Coast with my husband, my brand new baby girl, and one spoiled rotten dog. I work from home designing plush toys, hats, and doing whatever other random creative things strike my fancy. When I’m not playing video games, of course.

How did you get started making these plushes?
My husband is a huge fan of the Strider video game series. I wanted to get him something related to the series for his birthday a few years ago, but finding something Strider-related that he doesn’t already have is getting increasingly difficult. So I got it in my head to make him a plushie. Mind you I had never attempted anything even remotely like that, but hey, I’m all about panic-learning! After making a few simple ones for myself I managed to plushie-fy Hiryu and then it was all over. I was hooked.

What did you make before that first plush?
Before Hiryu? A poison rice ball from Tenchu, a small Weighted Companion Cube, and my first human plushie was Faith from Mirror’s Edge.

Do you have a favorite plush that you’ve made?
Oh that’s tough…probably Aphmau from Final Fantasy XI, I was really happy with how all the details turned out.

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Role-Playing Games as Embodying the Joy of Living

Pictured: the joy of living

Republished from The GameSavermy blog dealing with philosophical issues in the field of video games.

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Before beginning, I would like to acknowledge that the seeds of the ideas that ultimately led to this article were first planted in my mind when I read “Why I Like Stamp Collecting,” a 1971 essay in The Minkus Stamp Journal by Ayn Rand. I consider what follows merely my application to role-playing games of her original ideas on the philosophy of stamp collecting.

To start, consider just what a role-playing game is. I define an RPG as a game in which (1) character customization occurs, (2) there exist quests or missions that are freely chosen, and (3) non-linear character advancement of some kind is present. These features can vary immensely in scale.  Read the rest of this entry

Looking For Conspiracy In The Dream Machine

Just one disclaimer here: I don’t really play point and click adventure games. My only other experience with the genre is Machinarium. Also…major spoilers for the first chapter of The Dream Machine.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about The Dream Machine. While playing last weekend, I noticed something that struck me as odd about the way I was playing the game. After waking up from the deserted island dream, I found myself in the protagonist’s apartment. Looking around me, there were nothing but normal, ordinary objects: boxes, windows, cabinets, light switches, what have you. Nothing I would normally pay much mind to…except I was given the option to interact with the objects. Upon examination, I hardly ever found anything worthwhile and yet, there I was, in the next room, flipping another light switch on and off just to see if maybe THIS time, something would happen. Of course, nothing did. And yet once again, the next room, I found myself examining more mundane objects. Further: I was picking up items that had no immediate usefulness to me. Why was I doing this, why did I feel such a compulsion?

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El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Demo is as Awesome as its Title is Long

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is an action platformer whose visuals are reminiscent of Okami and whose gameplay is reminiscent of Devil May Cry. This is not surprising considering Sawaki Takeyasu, the art director for both, is the mastermind behind El Shaddai.


According to the official site, the main character, Enoch, is a scribe from heaven trying to prevent a great flood by capturing renegade, probably corrupted angels. Enoch narrates a bit to himself at the beginning, but the rest of the dialog of the demo is taken by an archangel named Lucifel (Lucifer), who speaks on the phone as you pass and is not afraid to break the fourth wall to introduce a boss to you (though you do not get to fight the boss in the demo). It is a rather Clover/Platinum Games-esque narrative, and considering their track record, I am one-hundred percent okay with this.

One can tell from the first playable moment that this game is some kind of art—the whole world looks like a negative, with black surrounding and a white protagonist surrounded by trees made of flame-like clouds or cloud-like flame. Take a few steps forward and a drawn face floats across the screen accompanied by a laughing voice. The world shifts and changes around the character and it never gets boring just to look at. I found myself wanting to rush forward just to see how the environment would shift or just to see what the next screen looked like, since despite the dark silhouette motif everything remains interesting to look at. The demo goes back and forth between 3D eight-way movement and 2D side-scrolling. Platforming exists in both, but the 3D scenes tend to be more combat-focused while the 2D were entirely jumping and moving. It is the side-scrolling segments in which the environment changes the most drastically, in some cases having swirling, wave-like clouds rise from the bottom of the screen to act as solid ground for platforming. It is nothing short of cool to look at, and makes the simple task of walking forward something more than just a way to get from one in-game event to the next. Few times during the demo did I find myself staring at a static world—there is almost always some kind of movement.

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