Saturday, July 30, 2011

From the grave

Brand new post for a brand new obsession. I found myself briefly enjoying a rather familiar/unfamiliar sensation. Well, emotion. I'm sure the one reader I have won't be surprised. A second one (presuming that such a creature exists) may be. Fear, is the emotion I'm talking about.
I'm sure it has something to do with the delightful cocktail of chemicals and the relief following fear disappearing.

But on to the main event.

Slender Man. According to the internet was created as the result of the Something Awful forums.
If you're familiar with Fringe, the idea of an Observer is the best place to start. Bald, be-suited, seemingly capable of being anywhere. Now, take that basic shape, and sort of smudge out the face until it looks like a mannequin. Then stretch it to 7-8 feet tall, and give it absurdly gangly arms, and squish it sort of thin, and have it behave like a cross between a J-Horror antagonist, a Lovecraftian monster and a sub-atomic particle.

That is all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I'll be the first to admit, text adventures are a wholly zombified medium of video games. But I was rather fond of Zork when I first got my hands on it a few years ago. The inherent problem of course, with any text adventure game is the inability of the designer to think of everything.

Take Santhworld for instance. It's a quasi-text adventure. The game graphics are mostly static images, but you control everything with an old-school text parser. No clicking is necessary. At one point, a section of the road up-ahead is blocked by a fallen tree. During one of the earlier iterations of this game one can, especially if they're familiar with the sort of twisted madness that passes for "logic" in some adventure games, acquire a saw not too far ahead of this. The obvious solution is "use saw on tree" to which the game promptly responds "NOPE!". Obviously an oversight on the part of the developers.

So onto the real bit here.

Santhworld. Specifically Mysteries of Nepris. I'll clear the air by saying that I'm associated with the group responsible for building the world you're traipsing through, but as my talents lie in directions decidedly opposite to game development, the most I've done is provide feedback for this particular project. A pseudonym of mine appears in the trivia section since I was responsible for some of the content there.

I haven't played it in a while, but my patience was a little... shall we say worn by the time I put it down. Mostly it's the combat. RPG-esque turn based combat is usually a cakewalk for me, but the game isn't what you'd call well documented at this point. It's incomplete so some things don't work the way one might expect and the game doesn't do an especially good job at explaining them.

The puzzles are puzzling though and artwork is fairly good in my estimation. The combat is where things fall down, again mostly because of the lack of explanation. I'm given to understand that the game is much farther than where I got to before putting it down out of frustration and I think that the difficulty could be dialed back a bit in a few areas. Perhaps they've made those changes since last I picked up my trusty sword and went adventuring.

If you've got an itch for some old-school text-based fun, this might just scratch it. You could certainly do worse. Just mind that you keep a finger over the save button.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Unskippable? Or What's Wrong With Dead Space 2

I recently played Dead Space 2.

I am not impressed. The first Dead Space was an excellent game, it had good pacing, good set pieces, interesting changes in interface, and a reasonable story.

Dead Space 2, much like EA's other sequel set in space, throws the baby out with the bathwater.
While Mass Effect went from Space Opera to Action (IN SPACE), Dead Space, went from Survival "Horror" to "Survival Horror".

But my problem has nothing to do with the change in genre. My problem? Is unskippable. Cutscenes and tutorial to be precise.

Now, I don't begrudge developers making you sit through the cutscenes the first time around. People put a lot of work into this, but I think there's a limit. For instance, when I start New Game+ (a mode which requires you to have completed the game) I do not expect to have to watch these things over again! Especially since they're just exposition. "Hey, Issac, this is what you're doing next!"

Another problem is that the game switches right from cutscenes into Quicktime Events or gameplay without much warning. Particularly on a smaller screen. There are elements elsewhere that make me want to say, "if you're going to have QTEs then you might as well use them."

Between Issac Clarke, Bastard Child of Gordon Freeman and Samus Aran, Monster-slaying godling, and Issac Clarke, whiny bitch with a silly looking face? I'll pick the former. There's a reason protagonists have had a policy of being silent. They tend to sound stupid when the speak.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brink- Complaints

I'm not a huge fan of multiplayer, but I enjoyed playing Battlefront (the second, the first was a bit of a shambles when it came to a bunch of things), so I assumed brink would be a bit of a return to that for me. Sadly, not so much.

The biggest problem I have with brink is that the controls aren't... intuitive or explained, except through an in-game manual. A quick tutorial sequence *would not have been amiss*. This is one case where I would certainly advocate explaining how the game works, rather than when I manage to fumble my way to doing something, linking me to the appropriate page of the *in game* (and there's my problem) manual.
The game's a rental, so RTFM doesn't exactly apply here. If there had been a little booklet I probably would have read it, but I still think I'd be missing some skills, and rather than being thrown into the deep end having *the option* of a tutorial would have been nice.

The other problem I have stems from comparison of the game to another game. The game has a vault, duck, wall-run mechanic that makes it seem like it wants to be Mirror's Edge. The problem is of course that Mirror's edge was all about that and had an entire controller to nuance that mechanic throughout, while Brink maps the entire jump/vault set of skills to one button. So I can never quite be sure if I'm going to jump, slide along a wall or bounce up to another ledge. It seems as though the game has some sort of uncertain grasp as to whether or not the same technique will work the same way if you try it a second time.

Oh. And the character models are terribly uninteresting.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mmm... Filler

Some games have a serious problem. They hide their best parts behind mindless tedium.
A few examples:

Dragon Age: Origins- The Deep Roads
The Deep Roads is, doubtless the longest, most tedious, repetitive section of Dragon Age. At least to me. I purposely leave Orzammar for last just because of the Deep Roads. For those not familiar with the Deep Roads, let me describe them. Grey or brown tunnels, stretching endlessly, filled with monsters that you have to kill. This section, as the Spoiler Warning crew mentioned, can easily take 8 hours.
There are some interesting quests in there, but for the most part, the Deep Roads is delicious, delicious filler. What we really want to do, is get to the climax of the area. A high school student that paid attention in English can tell you that a good narrative has a build up, and then a climax, followed by the denouement, or simply the wrap up.
Where each of these falls in the book depends on the style, the story and the writer. It's also worth noting that too long of a build-up gives us a bit of a Charlie Brown effect. We're ready to run up and kick the football of literary climax, but the author keeps pulling it away. Now imagine that the first section of the book isn't even build-up. It's all flat. Where most of the other quests have you getting to the fun bits (the Fade sections, exploring ancient ruins), when you're doing the Orzammar questline, you're rather stuck.

First, you have to earn the trust of one of the guys who wants to be king. This, on its own, takes a good few hours as you need to go through a dungeon filled with rogues and criminals.
That done? Good! Go find us our genius! You wander through the deep roads, kill a bunch of stuff. Not fun. Bored yet? No? Go do the same thing only it's twice as big and fight a boss monster! (This is actually the good part.) Are we there yet? NOPE! Navigate the trap infested corridor, choose which side you want (dwarves v. golems), fight it out and then return to the guys.
So what we really have is a lot of failed attempts to build momentum here. Half the problem is that Orzammar is made up of no fewer than five different areas. Most of the time, the game will have you running from one end to the other. That's usually two loading screens per fetch quest, repeated at least once. I like that the area seems to be a living breathing city, but there are other ways to suggest that than by making me run through this place a few dozen times.
When you're choosing a noble to side with? That's building a bit of momentum that is instantly destroyed when you have to go and clean up the criminal element of the city. First you need to find someone who'll talk to you about the gangs, then you need someone to give you a special token to get into the hideout, then you start beating up dudes. For about an hour.
And you still aren't done. Orzammar takes two-thirds of the the game the first time you play it.

Mass Effect 2- The Scanning Mini-Game

I can't speak to the mini-game from the player's point of view, only from the point of view of having watched someone play. There's a reason that Spoiler Warning turned the probing mini-game into a Q&A series. It's boring. You need these resources to upgrade your ship, which you need to get a good ending (ie. One where 95% of your crew isn't dead). It's tedious and repetitive. Pointlessly so. This didn't need to be there.

Sims Medieval- Responsibilities and Resource Points
I was tempted to say Sims Medieval- The whole game, but that would be wrong. The Sims Medieval is a Sims game. Like the other Sims games. Only you're in Generic Fantasy Europe and you have sims. You can only control one or two of these (I think three is the most I've seen possible at once) sims at a time. These are your heroes. They all have little archetypes that they fit, you have your monarch, and a spy and a wizard and a knight and a bard... Here's the problem. You have to build up their numbers.
When you first start the game, you have to make your monarch (or use one of the premade ones but who does that? That's like buying a box of cookies for the cardboard and plastic) and run through a brief tutorial.
Once you finish the tutorial, you get "Resource Points" with which you can make another building, RTS style, which will unlock a new hero. Maybe. Depending on which building you build. The problem is that the rewards for completing the game's quests (Resource Points) don't scale, while the cost of building new buildings to procure new Sims does. This is a problem.
The other problem is the responsibilities in the game. Each sim has a set of responsibilities that they need to complete each day. If you're the king it might be holding court and listening to petitions. If you're a knight, you could be training someone to fight. These have a time limit. If you don't complete them, your progress on the quest goes down. A lot of the time, the quests themselves have filler, by making you walk back and forth from A all the way to Z. And the responsibilities aren't well explained. If you don't know where to find sagewort or how to make a potion?
It's a lot of mucking around to get to the good part, which is the questing and making new sims. After having played this for a few hours, I've found I want to be able to make my Sims more frequently. It's like they know they don't have a solid game, so they're filling it up with sand. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's what happened.

Dear Game Developers: If you don't have a whole game, perhaps you should finish making the game.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Discrete Skills

The problem, I think with the divide between gamers and non-gamers is the skills required to play. Not Leet skills, or even mad skills, just the basic tool-use that you've likely acquired between the 1980s and now. Gamers might see each individual game as a rehash of something they've learned somewhere else. Even the vague differences in the shape of a controller don't matter much.

I've only got a gamecube and a handful of games on hand at the moment, but let's say you're playing Halo? You run up to a guy, strafe around behind him (making sure you keep him on screen) and melee him to death. To you, this might be a single skill. Two at most. The ability to get close to an enemy and kill them without firing, or dying yourself.

To a non-gamer, trying to do the same thing is several discrete skills. Separate things they have to learn.

The first thing isn't the controller. It's the screen. What do all the little blinking lights mean, which ones are you supposed to shoot. I got my exposure to shooters in Goldeneye. As much as people may argue, shooters have not changed significantly since then.

Once they know what the game is telling them, they have to be able to tell the game to do things. This means using the controller. I started playing games on an old NES system in a basement in the late 90s, and on my cousin's N64 when I would visit them. Holding a controller properly (so you can reach all the buttons) and knowing where the buttons are is more difficult than you might think.

An NES controller had an A and B button, a four ways you could push the D-pad, as well as a start button and select. Jump forward to the Super NES, another two buttons next to A and B, plus two shoulder triggers, start and select. From eight to twelve buttons.

Another jump forward to the N64! Six buttons on the one side (A, B, and 4 C buttons) a 4 direction D-pad, two shoulder triggers, a start button and a Z-button on the underside, as well as an 8 direction analog stick. This puts us at 22 possible "buttons". Adding to this that the basic shape of the controller has changed and we're now working in three dimensions.

Sixth generation consoles!
The Gamecube: two analog sticks (8 directions each) A, B, X and Y buttons, two shoulder triggers, a Z button located above a shoulder trigger, the D-pad and a start button. 28 "buttons".

The XBox: A, B, X and Y buttons, a d-pad, two analog sticks, start/select, two shoulder triggers and a black/white button pairing. The analog sticks "click" to add an extra button. 32 "buttons"

The Playstation! (Dualshock controller) Two analog sticks, four shoulder buttons, a four button set on the left and right sides, start and select. 30 "buttons".

That's between 28 and 30 discrete inputs. We're not even going to get into the fact that an analog sticks can tell the difference between the force being used on them, or combinations of buttons. Now imagine you haven't played a game before and you have to figure out how to use this monstrosity, and you have no idea what you're doing.

So now you've learned the hardware. Time to learn the software!
Just to list the things that people might take for granted that they've learned:
2D platforming
3d platforming
Fine-motor skills
Tropes (it's glowing, so shoot it, lots of ammo here: boss battle)
Circle strafing
Basic game puzzles
Basic game cues (red arrows denote where I'm getting shot from, blood on the screen means I'm getting shot)
Use of cover
Button combinations

Circle strafing is a tricky one, I think, for new gamers to grasp. I really got started playing video games on a gamecube I got for christmas, it is also my gaming system while I'm away from home, so I'll use it as an example.
In Metroid Prime, you can lock on to an enemy using the left shoulder trigger. While locked on (holding this trigger) you can circle around the enemy by tapping the B button and pushing the control stick in the direction you wish to circle. In some cases, you are expected to fire while circle strafing. For a new gamer, this might be overwhelming.

I intend to take the time to introduce a non-gamer to gaming at some point in the future, so we'll see how the discrete skills approach works.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I hate misandrists

I have spent the last three hours in a presentation about partner abuse.
I have decided, as a result, that western culture has a rather serpent-like tendency to be misandrist.

Not familiar with the word? Let's look at it for a minute!

The hatred of, or pathological aversion to men.

Well, Nonesuch! you say, from where do you draw this conclusion?

I'm glad you ask Timmy!

This presentation had three guest speakers, two of them were women. One of them was a victim of domestic abuse which, don't get me wrong, is terrible. The other woman was the exectutive director of a local women's shelter who, following her piece, showed us a 17-year-old abuse victim's bit of movie maker work, which denigrated men.

Following this, I was in a round table discussion led by a female, where the person sitting next to me could not keep their mouth shut about their father and other less than admirable examples of men.

Let me make this perfectly clear to people. I have no problem with women. Anyone who harms their spouse/partner/whateveryoucallit should be strung up with their own innards. That isn't right.

A colleague of mine witnessed a guy strike his girlfriend after I might note, she would not let him go past her.

Now. I was not there. I did not witness this. But in most people's minds, since the lady was on the ground, it was the dude's fault. You really need to wonder? Why did he hit her? What brought it to that point? People typically do not hit people for no reason.

I hear people speaking quite audibly behind me in the hallways, about their stupid boyfriends.
I'm hoping to make it quite clear: These people are squeaky wheels. So of course you hear about them. You don't hear about people who are perfectly fine.

In my own experience, women can be incredibly unpleasant people, emotionally abusive and whatnot. I don't hold that against anyone. If I think you're an idiot, it's because I legitimately think you are an idiot.

I implore people not to lump their bad experiences with one person of a gender onto the entire gender. I am not a rapist, a domestic abuser, an alcoholic, a male chauvinist or similar, so don't treat me like one, and don't treat my fellows like one.

Unless they deserve it. In which case, kick them in the balls for me.