Monthly Archives: June 2012
No, I’m not talking about the popular dancing game. (Is it still popular? Is it really dancing? Does anyone besides Hermes Conrad do it anymore?) One sentence in and I’m off topic. That’s a new record. But, oh my god, LIMBO. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an indie platformer game by the Danish production studio Playdead. It’s been out for a couple of years now, but it was recently released again in the Humble Bundle V, which I plugged mercilessly a week or so ago. If you didn’t buy it, shame on you. So, since I’m doing playthroughs of all these games, I figure I might as well keep with the trend.
First thing’s first: in LIMBO, there exists a near-perfect example of what people mean when they say “video games are art.” It’s black-and-white, wordless, in a very “film noir” kind of style. It’s a conscious break from realism, and it works amazingly! The game is gritty, g rainy, and it envelops you totally in its environment. Speaking of the environment: it’s awesome too. It’s very post-apocalyptic, with baddies and destroyed buildings, abandoned factories and run-down hotels. It gives the game an almost survival-horror feel, or, in all honesty, maybe just a “horror” feel. Because surviving really isn’t the number 1 thing on your to-do list in this game. Or, if it is, you’re generally not going to be doing it very well. (Interesting tidbit: the game’s environment tends to go from more natural to more man-made as you progress. It’s so seamless that when you abruptly transition back to a natural setting at the end, it seems very jarring and surreal. Nifty.)
So this whole “surviving” thing. Overrated, right? LIMBO is, well, really hard. I will readily admit that I’m a whiny gamer who doesn’t like super-hard games, and the consequences of death in LIMBO are not as severe as they are in, say, Megaman. Thank heavens. Because you die a lot. And I don’t mean just falling into a bottomless pit. I have been killed in a rather stupendous number of ways. Impaled on spikes, impaled on giant spider-legs, shot by arrows, shot by machine guns, having your guts sucked out, decapitated by beartraps, smushed by falling objects and by pistons, cut into tiny little pieces by sawblades, electrocution, drowning, drowning, and more drowning. Kid doesn’t like water, I guess. When I looked on the Wikipedia article, they quote the studio as calling this playstyle “trial and death,” and they say they use “gruesome imagery for the boy’s deaths to steer the player from unworkable solutions.” Understatement of the year, folks. No, Mario falling into a pit and saying “Mamma mia!!” is steering me from an unworkable solution. Seeing your protagonist die (without any humor at all) in a large number of disturbing ways falls less under the “deterrent” category, and more under the “DO YOU ENJOY KILLING CHILDREN?? WELL, DO YOU?!?” category. Watch the delightful death montage here:
The game is a little bit tough. There are some moments where you die simply because you couldn’t have known how to survive. You didn’t see the giant boulder coming, or know that the gear you were standing on would eventually grind you to bits. Hence the name, “trial and death.” Has a nice ring to it. In all honesty, however, the game itself, on an intellectual, puzzle-solving level, wasn’t too hard, but was WAY more interesting than most puzzle platformers. I gotta say, there were more creative, elegant puzzles in this game, even using mechanics first introduced a long time ago, than in any platforming game I’ve ever seen. Thank heavens for that.
The last thing I’ll mention is that I beat the game in one day. This implies two things: the game is freakishly addictive! (That’s a good thing). And, that the game is a little short. (That’s not such a good thing). So, looking at it both in its specifics and its overall impressions, I think it’s not a hard conclusion to come to that this video game really is artful: it LOOKS artistic, it was made with artistic intent, and the intellectual stimulation you get from it really provokes thought (as art often does). Hooray for video games!
P.S. Maybe I should just rename the blog “Hooray for Video Games.” Thoughts?
That was a Star Wars reference but I’m not sure it was readily apparent. I’ve had a really busy week (playing tuba for a conducting workshop [and you thought I was just a gamer]), and I utterly lack the time spent gaming and the time spent writing to actually put out a blog I’d be proud to publish. So, you get some random thoughts about gaming from yours truly:
The Papa’s Somethingeria games are really too long. I’ve never beaten one.
I beat Sword & Sworcery. I think I may like that ending less than the one for Mass Effect 3, and that’s saying something.
If you haven’t already, watch “Indie Game: The Movie.” It’s totally awesome.
As a corollary to the two above statements: Jim Guthrie is a god.
I am considering building something large in MineCraft. I am certainly open to suggestions, as this will take a large amount of planning.
For your entertainment and enjoyment, a game: Snakes on a Cartesian Plane. For the unmathematical, a Cartesian Plane is a 2-dimensional surface, like the grid on which graphs are made. True story.
That’s all! I’ve got a couple topics that I’ll have this week to ruminate on, write, and edit to a manageable level of sanity, so look forward to Friday. And as for the MineCraft thing, I’m serious! Please comment and suggest ideas! I like having something to work off of. Until then!
P.S. Check out my SoundCloud. I’ve been given permission to upload some of the tracks I made for the video game in development. There are only a couple up now, but more will come soon. You’ll enjoy them, I promise!
There’s a wonderful Robert Frost poem, something about the road less traveled by. It’s a heartfelt and florid plea for you to live your life exceptionally, and not to just be the next lemming off the cliff of doing what’s popular. There are probably about four people reading my blog who actually know what the heck I’m talking about, but then again, there are only four people who read my blog. 100% Success! Anyway. This idea is applicable, of course, to more than vague, non-specific life choices! And unless you think this is a blog about poetry for which composer Eric Whitacre was sued for, then I guess we’re talking about video games.
So what about video games? Am I being philosophical, and saying that video game developers should “take the road less traveled by”? They should be novel and new instead of creating another first-person shooter? Not at all, go for it! What I’m talking about is for the GAMER. No game is EVER perfectly linear. The very idea of gaming implies a choice between different options, whether it is to try to get the cherry in Pac-Man, or to go down the pipe in Mario, or to merely reflect the ball vs. trying to spin it on the tip of the paddle in Pong. That’s the wonderful thing about video games! They are full of choices. Of course, as video games have progressed, so have the choices. What began as “do I want to go down the pipe?” progressed to “do I want the feather outfit or the fire flower outfit?” progressed to “do I want the frog, fire flower, feather, raccoon, giant boot, pink evening dress or yellow spandex outfit?” in Mario (guess how many of those are actual outfits you can wear). But also, you get choices for endings. You could save the animals in Super Metroid. You could get married (or not) in Harvest Moon. You began to see tons of different options for loyalty, gameplay, relationships, storyline, endings, allies/enemies, and sidequests. It’s magnificent and (if you play games by BioWare) you can see the effects of that change today.
While that’s all wonderful and I’m pleased as punch that games have taken a turn toward the customizable, I really just want to talk about the gameplay aspect of these choices. And really, what is there besides gameplay in a game? Everything that happens in the game is caused by a choice you make (which, in lame-and-mundande World, we call those choices “playin’ the frickin’ game”). But, even more specifically, how your gameplay choices affect the rewards you receive! We have been conditioned as gamers to understand the golden rule of gaming: the more difficult it is to achieve, the better the rewards are. Hence, true to the title of this post: The path of least resistance is for wussies.
Moving on. Resistance is a funny term. We use the phrase “path of least resistance” without actually thinking about what the word means. Resistance is a measure of the difficulty of the obstacles the gamedevs put in the way of some goal that the player is trying to achieve. In Mario, it’s Goombas, Koopas and bottomless pits of death and agony. In Metroid, it’s Space Pirates, indigenous flora and fauna, and the occasional bloodsucking Metroid (it IS the name of the game, I suppose). In Final Fantasy, it is puzzles and battles, both random and scripted. But the gamedevs put these things there to present a challenge. However! They serve another purpose.
They tell us where to go. (Ka-blam! That was the sound of your mind being blown.) In the game Diablo (which I love to reference a lot), enemies do not respawn. So, logic quickly follows that enemies = someplace I haven’t been yet. It’s the simplest explanation for what I’m trying to illustrate, but it works. The resistance that the developers of these games put in place for us is a SIGNAL to us that this is a direction we should progress in. The LEVEL of that resistance is another signal to us. Is it higher or lower than what we have previously encountered? Is it easily avoidable or placed squarely in your main means of progression? These are subconscious clues to us as gamers that give us an idea as to where we MUST go, where we WANT to go, and where we want to really, really stay away from. They are wordless bits of information that the game developers place in the game to nudge us in the direction of advancing through the game.
The way I see it, there are two end goals in mind when the level of resistance changes in a game. The first kind uses difficult fights and tasks to serve as a benchmark to your progress through the game. Think “boss fights,” people. To get to the end of the level (and progress to the next one), you have to beat the King Slime! You have a choice to go through the main path and fight the King Slime, or you can go down this other path full of mini-slimes. In these games, what does going down the side path usually yield? (All together now!) TREASURE! Goodies, equipment upgrades, gold, potions, things that help you to die less in the inevitable altercation with the boss. For example, try this delightful little gem: Epic Battle Fantasy 3. It’s quite like Final Fantasy (which certainly provides a lot of the kind of resistance I’m talking about here), but it’s free and you can play it on your computer. At least get through the first boss! You’ll see what I mean.
The other kind of resistance occurs in games where the main goal is simply to progress through a level. Think Metroid, or even Megaman (minus the bosses). The level is set up with pretty manageable challenges of dexterity, battle prowess, and puzzle-solving abilities. But then, there are areas of EXTREME puzzling, impossible feats of jumping and dashing, or incredibly tough baddies, stuck in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. But there IS an apparent reason! TREASURE! (It’s always about treasure, isn’t it?) This seems exactly the same as what I said before, only in this instance, the easier path is the MAIN path, and the only time you encounter any true survival difficulty is when you go for that missile tank or that extra armor. The main path requires you to freeze some enemies and jump on top of them, whereas the energy tank upgrade requires arduous wall-jumping and crazy Samus backflips that would make my yoga instructor jealous. The big difference in these games is that your “treasure” is permanent. That upgrade stays with you for the rest of the game, so the gamedevs nudge you to AVOID getting it, as opposed to nudging you TOWARDS it to prepare you for some other altercation. A perfect game to show this is called Endeavor. It is a platform RPG, and that’s all I’ll really tell you. Notice how hard you’ll have to try to get some of the upgrades you seek.
So there are many kinds of resistance, it’s true. Some lead you to explore new areas of the game, some discourage all but the most dedicated gamers from venturing near. But resistance, in itself, is an awesome tool that game developers use to guide the user through the game, and encourage a certain course of action (while perhaps rewarding the gamer if their encouragement is ignored). You see? As if we needed more proof that the Borg are a little off in the head: they keep saying, “Resistance is futile.”
There’s an old proverb: “No matter how much you learn, SOMEONE will think you are an idiot.” I’m just kidding, I made that proverb up just in this very moment, but I’m hoping that if I become famous and have adoring fangirls, there will be a hi-def black-and-white picture of my handsome face with this text in Papyrus font displayed next to it in a meaningful manner. But, quote-worthy epiphanies aside, it’s true! You can be the most well-read person in the galaxy, knowing Chaucer to Shakespeare to Stephanie Meyer to the entirety of Wikipedia’s series on parasitic fungi, but then someone asks you, “Hey, man, did you see that hilarious ‘Annoying Facebook Girl’ meme? Lol, LMS!” And you have no idea what they’re talking about. And then they say, “Oh, sorry, next time I’m over we’ll have to visit that ROCK YOU WERE BORN UNDER. ARTARD.” (These events are based on a possibly [partially] true story that does not involve a sports team overcoming adversity to win a championship or whatever).
In the deepest ruminations of my complicated and entirely illogical mind, I have been throwing around the idea of doing game developer profiles. Lost in the annals of time, I did a blog on the creative group “2DArray,” because they’re generally awesome and have put out some of the best flash games ever (yadda yadda, so on and so forth). But NOW, I have decided to make a catchy title that will be present in all of my Gamedev profiles. It’s not an instant classic, like “Two-Minute Tuesday” or “Sado-Masochism Saturday,” but it’ll do! So, whenever you see “A Gamedev You’ll Love,” you’ll know that it means there are plenty of games and examples here for you to play (and hopefully you won’t have to pay any money for them! Hooray internet!).
First of all, let me say (I hate it when people start things off like this, it sounds like they’re giving a graduation speech) that I apologize for missing Friday. In the time that I’ve written this blog, I have never missed a day, so, I dunno what the heck happened. But that’s life, it was probably going to be about something stupid anyway.
Okay. That’s been said! So now you’re all wondering what TODAY’S post is going to be about! “The dude’s had three extra days, it better be frickin’ awesome!” Well, there is good news! While I am my usual extraordinarily witty (and handsome [and modest]) self, the subject matter of my otherwise typically written video game blog is the anything-but-typical-and-really-quite-amazing game “Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP.” Now, if you have an iPad or and iPhone, well whoopty-frickin’-doo for you, you scumbag technophilic Apple-loving sheep! I’m insulting you because this game was released for you more than a year ago, so take your app-hogging bourgeois self to a blog that only has ONE button on its keyboard!
Of all the genres of games I love, indie games are one of my favorites. My other favorites include… well, all of the other genres I love, so I guess saying “indie games are some of my favorites” isn’t exactly the earthshattering statement of the year. But c’mon, indie games are great! I’ve blogged about them before, and I certainly will blog about them again. I have that clairvoyance because, of course, today’s post is about indie games! “But,” the skeptical reader quips, “Your title today says nothing about indie games!” And the skeptical reader would be right, if he or she had not googled “Humble Bundle” first, and discovered its mystical awesomeness.
Everyone has an iPhone. Some people may haughtily say, “No, this is an iTOUCH.” Or they’ll less haughtily say, “Actually, this is an Android.”
Let’s get past our differences. You say you’re going to “Google” something even if you use Yahoo (which I seriously hope you don’t. Yahoo? Really?). And I’m not going to go through my entire life saying “piece-of-technology-that-has-apps-on-it-and-fits-in-your-pocket.” I suppose I could say “smart-thing,” but that’s so vague I could be talking about a sentient can of tomato juice. SO! iPhone is the generalized smartypants technology title we’re using today. If you don’t like it, then get an Android… because that’s what I did, about 3 days ago.