Category Archives: Random

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

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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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Los Angeles Confidential (L.A. Noire Game Diary) – Prologue

Prologue

It was another hot summer in L.A., and I could feel the heat from the pavement seeping in through my stained walls. It had been a while since I last had a case to work on, not enough women with missing jewelry or dirt bag husbands to investigate I guess. I lean back in my chair, the creak moaning off of the walls like a man dying, taking another sip of my glass of Bourbon. I was going crazy without work, I may have turn to some form of menial work to make money at this point. But, fortunately for me, ask and ye shall receive.

Loud foot steps rang off of the walls in the hallway outside of my office, they were sharp: stilettos, six-inches, 135 pounds, 5’5″, walks with a swagger. Trouble. Women are always trouble, especially the ones who end up approaching me in my line of work. A shadow appears in the window of my door, and I slowly sit up to prepare for probably one of the most interesting cases I’d ever take. The door knob turned slowly, and the door pushed open. There she was, the blonde bombshell of the century: blue eyes, elegant facial features, red lip stick, light blush, slender figure, black dress with a fur shawl over her shoulders, and an attitude in the sway of her hips as she walked. Like I said:

Trouble.

“Are you detective Passley?” She asked in a seductive voice.

Read the rest of this entry

Are You Committed? Asks Atlus; Here is the Response

A while back Atlus asked fans to submit responses to the question ‘Do you Want To Get Married?’, and, well…this is the response. A good mix of yes, no and uuuuuh, with an awkward moment between a few couples to boot. Notice, too, snippets of the English voice acting–for Vincent, Catherine and Katherine alike. You can definitely hear the Kanji Tatsumi in Vincent and the Rise Kujikawa in Catherine (only creepier).

Chris Avellone Comments on Diplomatic Problem Solving In Games

Chris Avellone, senior designer of Fallout New Vegas and the older Fallout titles, had some interesting insight regarding diplomatic solutions in games in a very lengthy interview with Iron Tower Studio. On the subject, Avellone states the following;

“It caters to a small % of players, and those players find it meaningful if that’s the power fantasy they want. To cite the best example, in Fallout 1, I think it’s pretty ego-boosting to point out the flaws in your adversaries’ master plan so much that he suicides after talking to you. I really can’t be more of a talking badass than that. It is difficult to implement a speech/sneak path, and the main obstacles to it are many, so here’s my opinion on how to approach it:

The speech path should present more than a skill check challenge – there needs to be some other obstacle associated with it. I usually veer toward exploring conversations (asking about back history, reading lore, discovering evidence to a criminal case), exploring the environment (discovering an enemy encampment, learning a secret path into a fortress, discovering a rival caravan is already sending an emissary to scout a new trade route), or being able to draw logical connections between two topics…

Obsidian has a rule in quest design that any non-violent path has to have a reward that’s comparable to killing and looting everyone in the scenario, and has similar repercussions. Whether this is XP bonus greater than killing the opponent, alignment shifts, barter rewards, or whatever, speech-defeating someone can’t yield you less in the long run than it would if you killed everyone. Often, it can yield more if you’re patient… or if you decide to shoot the person in the face after you verbally crushed them. In some ways, it could be considered a speech bribe. I’ll be honest, KOTOR2 was a huge speech bribe as well – once people figured out that’s how you could make Jedi or Sith from characters by interacting with them, suddenly there’s a lot more incentive in getting to know your allies and playing the influence game. I will say this doesn’t always work (I’ve seen YouTube footage where people simply rapidfire through the FNV DLC1 Dead Money conversations just looking to mine the XP awards, which makes me die a little inside – but hey, it’s more than they would otherwise).”

So, Avellone notes a couple of key  problems with modern approaches to diplomacy in games. It’s mostly skill-check–do you have a high enough stat? rather an inference, and the structure of dialogue as a mechanic in games (XP rewards and all) devolves conversations into just another impersonal way to farm experience.

It’s interesting, too, that he calls it another form of ‘Power Fantasy’ especially within the context of Fallout , a franchise that has multiple instances where one can convince an adversary to suicide via dialogue. Normally I associate combat-heavy games to adhere to a power fantasy ideal, but he’s right, diplomatic solutions are no different. Silver tongues turn you into a sly trickster, capable of convincing people to downright eat their newborns if it came down to it.

Why Fight When You Can Run?

It is an idea that most games discourage, to say the least. Combat, hitting things, shooting things, cutting things, breaking things, slaying monsters, just fighting seems to be the big focus of most of the more well known, popular games on the market. I am not going to say “it is a bad message” or “it gives games a bad name” or any of that nonsense, because frankly doing something like cutting down massive monsters with even bigger weapons is nothing short of satisfying. The point is that fighting is the focus of too many games, so much so that even most commercially available game engines are pre-built to handle some kind of combat, and the mass media has developed the stereotype that games are inherently violent. It is a pity, really since there are so many great games I would rather play about making things or blooming flowers or running and jumping.

mirror's edge town

Best start running

I recently got my hands on a copy of Mirror’s Edge, and while not a perfect game to be sure, I found I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its name is pretty well known nowadays, but for those unacquainted with it, Mirror’s Edge is a game about running, or rather moving without stopping. While there is combat, within which you are able to take guns out of enemy hands and go FPS, the game itself discourages it. For one, it is not easy for an unarmed person to approach a group of armed gunmen and take a weapon without taking a few bullets, but more than that stopping to fight breaks your momentum. Perhaps it is because the combat is imperfect, to put it lightly, but regardless of the reason, in a game about momentum slowing down is the last thing you want to do.

It is for just this reason that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Combat exists, but in most of the game, all modes included, it is almost entirely avoidable and unnecessary. In fact, the enemies are more obstacles to your momentum than targets to eliminate. There was something refreshing about playing a game that just wants players to run. Outside of the combat bits in story mode, there is no tension from fear of death, just the desire to go keep moving and never slow down, looking for anything in the surroundings that can be used to move the next rooftop. While players do not one-man-army a swarm of baddies or topple a foe twenty times their own size, doing something like, say, running up a wall to jump across a chasm between two buildings and sprinting through, above, and below a maze of obstacles all ending with a wall-run to a zipline is just as satisfying–some of the more absurd times can be easily found on youtube and are beyond believable.  It is reminiscent of older times before plots gained complexity and graphics started mattering as much as they do now, when all you had was a goal as simple and pure as “get here and do it really fast.” No, it is not the first game with such a premise, but despite its shortcomings Mirror’s Edge is a great momentum game.

sonic screenshot

The original fast runner

In more recent times, less combat-oriented games are not as infrequent or doomed to obscurity as they used to be. If anything I can think of more games that I have played in the last week without combat than with, but when it came out Mirror’s Edge got a lot of attention because it is the first first-person parkour game, and a genuine first is a beautiful sight. I could have used Minecraft or Don’t Take it Personally or something even more detached from combat, but the inclusion and discouragement from combat in the game is one of the main things that inspired this little string of thought.

Musings on The Witcher, Part 1: Plausibility

I should probably start out by saying I hate fantasy games. The tropes of the genre range from slightly annoying (British Accents Everywhere Syndrome) to eye-rolling (Child of Destiny, Generic Big Bad Evil) to infuriating (Elf Angst, Dwarf Angst, Fairy Angst, etc.). This isn’t to say that I hate all fantasy; far from it – I enjoy reading it in books and watching it in movies, but in game form it doesn’t quite click for me.

I think my distaste mainly has to do with plausibility. If I’m going to play a character, I have to believe that he or she started out as someone normal. Progression to a superhuman level as the game progresses is fine, but I can’t feel for a character who starts out as some overpowered, mystical other. I can’t relate to him. I can relate to Luke Skywalker, for example, because he’s got a mum and pop and an aunt and uncle and chores to do before he can go have fun. By contrast, Anakin Skywalker is some Force-born immaculately-conceived wunderkind, and his problems and motivations are rendered moot because he has a destiny. It doesn’t help that he’s a whiny entitled bastard, either.

In most fantasy games, however, Anakin Skywalker is the default character. Sure, you can build your hero however you want, but he’s still touched by fate, destined to save the world. Unfortunately, everyone he comes across knows this implicitly, and therefore must ask for his help with whatever issue they’re currently facing. Now, this problem isn’t exclusive to fantasy games. This is a crutch used by pretty much every game to frame its content. However, it’s particularly jarring and out of place when combined with the Child of Destiny archetype. You’ve got arguably the most important job in the world, and you’re stuck doing fetch quests for inept farmers. It doesn’t make any sense, and thus most fantasy games remain, in my view, a hodgepodge of old habits and tropes.

Enter The Witcher. Unlike most fantasy games, which can trace their roots to Dungeons and Dragons and Tolkien, The Witcher draws its inspiration from Slavic myth. This provides a basis for bucking a lot of genre traditions. First off: you’re not Anakin Skywalker. You might be Wolverine, though.

Read the rest of this entry

UPDATED Watch the first 15 Minutes of LA Noire

Aaaand taken down. Oh well!

Spoiler warning, for obvious reasons.

Will say two thing though: damn is this game dripping with style. Second…gosh does your partner talk at  you incessantly.

Disembodied

So! We have that one thing we call the Omnitopic (which you should all enter, because there are prizes!) going on here at Nightmare Mode, and…this would be the first entry. But Patricia, you might ask, what in the world does this have to do with difficulty? Why, I speak about my difficulty adjusting to PC gaming, of course!

Rumble. It’s a feature I never knew I appreciated until I acquired my first gaming PC last February. Since then, I’ve been spending more and more time playing games on it than my consoles, and, despite enjoying the many benefits of PC gaming–lower price points, better graphics, etc–there’s something that’s been nagging me this entire time. Something unspeakably eerie to me about standard (ie, normal mouse + keyboard) PC gaming experience.

It feels disembodied.

Hell, I’d go so far as to say that it feels downright unnatural. I can’t feel anything, my ‘body’ is denied legibility. I can’t situate myself. Where before sticking to cover produced a dull thud; where every step before jumping off a ledge was palpable; where sliding down a mountain produced an earthy rasp; now, there is nothing but nothingness itself.

In its place was this cold efficiency that the prosthesis of a mouse and keyboard provide, the result of taking my body out-of-the-way. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The future that we see in science fiction points to the same thing. The age of protein-based life forms is ending, to be replaced by silicon-based forms; that human consciousness can, hopefully, be downloaded onto a computer; that the humanity and subjectivity is the mind and not the body; that if our essence can be transported into the digital space, as it often is, that perhaps we can become immortal.

And yet, if there if there is anything which is inherently “natural” about the human being it is his body. We experience everything we do in the way that we do precisely because we are embodied beings.

Yes, PC gaming isn’t completely disembodied–I can see, I can hear. But the most basic thing to me, the thing that bridges a gap between myself and the game–the visceral ability to feel–is currently missing.

Check out Brink’s Intro As Well as New Security Gameplay

Two videos for your viewing pleasure; first, the intro to the game–accented narrator and all. Second, a video that showcases some new gameplay from the Security portion of the storyline. Both are new!

Interesting tidbit from the intro video: the Resistance is trying to escape. That…makes things interesting. Why wouldn’t Security allow people to leave? Wouldn’t that help out the situation–given that resources are scarce?