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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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Game of the Year?

*Sometime after dusk. We are playing Baldur’s Gate 2, a classic of video games, eating a piece of Christmas Cake*

Shadowy Figures (coming out of the shadows in the doorway): We need a game of the year choice.

Me: Oh, game of the year? What game? What year?

SF: This year. Your choice. Of game.

Me: Oh, I left it in my coat. It’s out in my car. Let me go get that.

SF (blocking the door): No! No! You’ve held off long enough. You will not make fools of us. You will tell us, and tell us now!

Me: Okay, okay, fine. Game of the year. This year. You want a choice from me.

SF: You’re stalling for time.

No, you just think I’m stalling. This year is difficult. If anything, it is defined more by its disappointments than by its successes. I mean, sure, when you think about it, there’s been a lot of quality games released this year. Even more I haven’t played.

SF: So what is your choice?
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Fable 3 Created So That Anyone Can Finish It, Is Example of Metric Fetishism

As if perfect counter-point to our post about Team Meat’s belief that not all games should be easily finished by everyone (as well as the general theme of pandering to the masses in sequels,) we have a few quotes of choice from Fable 3’s lead game designer, Josh Atkins, describing the philosophy behind Fable 3. In an interview with Game Informer, Atkins described Fable 3’s audience as follows:

“Every Fable game has been made with the intention that anyone can pick up a controller and be successful, and Fable III was no different. Our goal was to create an accessible and easy to understand game that very casual players could experience and, most importantly, finish.”

This comes to no surprise to Fable 3 players, who found many of the traditional RPG systems previous Fable games employed either gone or majorly streamlined. Make no mistake, these changes are metrics fetishism at it’s finest, “As Peter Molyneux has mentioned in the past, we had statistics that indicated many of our users were not using a substantial amount of the features we created in Fable II. Therefore, after many tricky discussions we came to the conclusion we should simplify a set of our features in an effort to ensure they would be clear and usable by players at every level” says Josh Atkins.

I will not begrudge a company for wanting to expand it’s userbase. But when you take a game that works, and make it worse because numbers show that people ignored the feature, doesn’t mean you should get rid of it. You already spent time developing the feature, so it’s not as if it’s wasted development time going toward it. Getting rid of it means you are getting rid of what another established userbase finds enticing, meaning you are excluding people with your choice: and wouldn’t the bottom line dictate that this is a no-no? ‘Mainstream gamers’ (sorry to use the term) are already playing the Fable franchise, so it’s clear that previous systems did not push that audience away.

But really, the tragedy behind metrics fetishism is less risks are taken because there is concrete data to support ‘safe’ choices. Why take a risk when the numbers don’t lie? As the number of ways to examine player’s actions increases, the more numbers will become deified within the industry. Franchises like Fable, Dragon Age and Mass Effect may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Besides, should all games really be easily finished by anyone?

Team Meat: Games Today Provide Empty Happiness; Expansion Plans

In an excellent interview over at GameReactor (part 1 here, part 2 here ) Team Meat reveals their thoughts on modern game’s difficulty. Can you guess why they think that the industry is catering to a  larger audience?

“It’s 100% business. It’s a logical business plan. If you want to be able to make as many people as happy as possible, even if it means an empty happiness. So that’s why every single game has super in-depth tutorials that teach the player so they can’t make any mistakes. Everyone’s trying to make sure no-one gets discouraged in any way possible and they make their way through to the end. Because videogames right now are treated like movies. In order to get the whole experience you need to finish every aspect of the game so they want to make it so everyone can do that. And that’s business. It makes business sense.”

This viewpoint comes  to no surprise  for SMB players, I’m sure. Still, it’s great to see that some people in the industry get it, you know? After all, as Edmund states, “not every game in the world should be easily beaten.”

And now, with a hit game on their hands, money, fame, fortune (except not…they haven’t been paid in years), Team Meat will probably look to expand, right? Wrong. On the subject of expansion, Team Meat said the following: “NEVER! Never ever. The very idea of paying someone a salary and insurance and making sure…the idea of someone’s livelihood relying on me is fearful. I don’t like it. I couldn’t raise a child right now.

Whenever any independent gets any sort of money they feel like they have to expand. And in order to make new games they have to expand. This isn’t not every independent, obviously there are always exceptions. But a lot of them do. They got to get these fourteen artists, they got to get this and that but when you get to that point you’re not so much creating games anymore as more you’re trying to find work to pay your employees. And I’ve done that. I’ve been there, in a situation where I’ve looked for contract work and that was a miserable time in my life. I had a shitload of money but that’s not fun. It wasn’t working on what I wanted to. If we hire people we have to find work, find them work, find money and have to make the next ‘whatever’ game. I don’t want to do that but I have to because I’ve five people to pay. It’s scary.”

Of course we all know the real reason they’re not expanding is because they want to keep their sexual friendship intact. Anyway, make sure to read the interview in full–there’s a lot of meaty stuff in there, including how Team Meat got together, a very expensive Coke Zero bottle, and what Team Meat thinks about the new-fangled motion controllers.



Super Meat Boy Kicks Off With A Sale on XBLA

As a thank you to all the fans, Team Meat has decided to put Super Meat Boy on sale from the release date until November–a move never before taken on XBL. Good news for all you folks wary of high DLC prices, right?

“So, recently we have been talking to MS about eventual sales and the future of Super Meat Boy, we wanted to be able to do something special for Xmas,” says Edmund, SMB creator, on the Meat Blog, “but it felt like a sale only 2 months after launch would be a kinda shitty thing to do to the fans who just bought it.”

So, what’s the sale price? 800 MS points: that’d be 10 dollars.

Now you have two reasons to pick this game up right away: it’s insanely good, and you’ll save money doing it, too. Win-win! Just know that should you partake in this meaty sale, this will be your unavoidable fate:

Super Meat Boy Review

For the past couple of days, my reality has consisted of nothing but blood curdling shrieks. You see, I’m currently trapped in a nightmare. This terrible nightmare has a name–Super Meat Boy. Fun fact: Super Meat Boy is the devil. Hell, Super Meat Boy is perhaps the most infuriating title I’ve played all year. I can’t recall the last time I was this angry at a video game.

Yes, Super Meat Boy is the devil…but I can’t stop playing it.

The premise of the little monster is simple: Dr. Fetus is a dick. And true to form, he’s stolen your love interest, Bandage Girl. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you (incidentally the acronym is the same as Super Mario Bros). And, like Mario, I sincerely believe that Meat Boy deserves to be considered for a spot under “generation classic.” A bold claim which will need to be revisited at a later date, but one currently held with real conviction.

I can spend a long time detailing the aspects of SMB which exude the feeling of a classic title–from the retro chiptune soundtrack, to the inclusion of warp zones that teleport Meat Boy to homages to classic gaming consoles. Meat Boy himself oozes charm, thanks to the wonderfully gooey sound effects, his expressions, and his dashing animations. Even the “supporting cast” of Dr. Fetus and Bandage girl are precocious, in their own way (and isn’t the idea of a fetus as a villain amazing in of itself?), but none of this is what makes SMB stand out. Sure, it’s a love letter to old-school platformers, but what really makes SMB superb is the incredibly deliberate design. SMB stands strong on its core design without any of the “features” bloating modern titles. And it’s all the more bold, outstanding of a title for it. Team Meat knows, well, where the meat of the gameplay is.

Meat Boy must run, dash, jump and wall jump at high speeds–nothing new, as far as platforming mechanics go–across worlds designed to be microcosms for your own personal hell. These actions are all governed by simple controls which follow the ‘simple to pick up, difficult to master’ paradigm. The thing about the game is, Team Meat knows where you want to hide your family heirlooms, your children, and your dignity. But I will tell you right now: there is no escape. The only way to come out alive is to have the precision of a madman. Have I mentioned there are no checkpoints in any of the levels? Because there aren’t. Hence, the need for near perfection. Don’t take this to mean that SMB requires specific precision–levels aren’t (always) linear, and can often be approached in a number of ways. Some of the more creative approaches require nerves and reflexes of steel, though. In my current playthrough, I’ve died over two thousand times. Normally, that sort of death count would cause me to give up playing a game, but while each death brings me a little closer to heart attack, it strengthens my resolve to beat the level.

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Super Meat Boy Content Complete

Which, Edmund McMillan tells us design neophytes, isn’t quite done. It means there’s still testing and weeks of being certified by WiiWare and PC, which means certified for WiiWare so it can be something like a lead platform. Anyway, a long road of testing is no doubt ahead, but there is light at the end of the tunnel for everyone’s favorite referential twitch platformer!

Personally, I’m excited. I don’t know about you, but I am! Super Meat Boy is one of those games I’ve been looking forward to for a year, at least, and should be one of the best indie releases of 2010. Pricing and release date are going to be announced in the next week or so, so we’ll have more secondhand information for you as it develops.

Source: The Team Meat Blog

Nintendo’s retro platformers dated

Wonder when you’re going to get to play Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Donkey Kong Country Returns? So did I. As recently as last night, in fact, when I was trying to pick out which games I would deign to spend my money on this holiday season.

Well, wonder no more, gentle reader! Kirby’s Epic Yarn is officially dated for October 17th, and Donkey Kong Country Returns is set for release November 21st. Fun times all around. And if you’re looking for another interesting title, Final Fantasy: 4 Warriors of Light comes out October 5th, and both Super Meat Boy and BIT.TRIP.FATE. are confirmed for this holiday season. Don’t know what the last one is? It’s the newest offering from Gaijin Games, who have made many similarly titled, awesome games. Well, BIT.TRIP.BEAT was awesome. I played that one, don’t’cha know?

Stay tuned in the next few weeks for some sort of comprehensive list of games being released this fall. A useful public service, is what we call it.

Fat Princess Credits & DLC Thoughts

Today, I indulged myself with Fat Princess–courtesy of the PSN ‘summer sale,’ which priced the game at a delectable 7 dollars. Who can pass up a deal like that? Certainly not me.

It’s insane to think that right now, I’m looking forward to just as many downloadable titles as I am disc-based content. Before this, there was Limbo, and Blacklight. Looking forward there’s still Monday Night Combat, Shank, Scott Pilgrim, Super Meat Boy, Closure, Journey, Street Fighter III 3rd Strike online…and these are just the ones that come to mind. This isn’t something I would have been able to predict a year ago.

I’m probably in the minority but, I don’t mind having no physical representation of my games anymore. It’s nice to not have to worry about disc scratching, boxes, where to put things. With how much I travel between school and home, honestly, it’s a godsend–I’ve come to hate air travel precisely because it forces me to carry around so much. So, having everything saved to my hard drive is fantastic. No having to wade through dozens upon dozens of discs or boxes to find that one game I’m looking for, either. And, if something is worth owning, it’s probably the Collector’s Edition–which I’m not buying because I get a CD inasmuch as buying for craftsmanship exclusive to the CE, as well as extra trinkets. Lastly, I’m not the type of person to showcase my titles on a shelf, either–it’s too prideful for the wrong reasons for my taste.

And to think I was such a big advocate for discs not that long ago…

Anyway, I’ve been having a grand time with Fat Princess so far–the only reason I’m not playing right now only because my controller ran out of batteries, so I have to charge it. Prior to that, though, I came across the credits in the menu under ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ , which you can watch here:

Call me easily amused, but I think that Fat Princess has most clever credits I’ve ever seen. You become death itself, like you do when you win a round online, and you get to kill the avatars of the developers! Favorite part: getting to chop CliffyB’s head off with my scythe. And the only reason I noticed he’s credited at all is because the credits had such a great framework–usually, I’m the type of person that tunes out for that type of stuff. Who wants to read a never-ending list of names for five minutes?

So far, my 7 dollar purchase has been worth it.

The MMO and Risk Versus Reward

It’s been an interesting span of weeks for those of us interested in game design as a thing, not just as a process. We’ve been given access to not only Guild Wars 2’s design manifesto, which lays out the many ideas ArenaNet are following in their development process, but also a pair of articles from Edmund McMillan about some design aspects of Super Meat Boy.

All three of these articles are pretty profound, even though I wish Edmund went into a little more depth. What I find interesting, though, as a fan of MMORPGs like the original Guild Wars, is in comparing them. Quite simply, there’s no point of comparison between these two genres, platformers and MMO’s, and this leads me to wonder why. You’d think the concept of risk versus reward, of difficulty would exist, and coexist, between the two mediums, but you’d be sorely mistaken.
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