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Shovels, shovels, shovels.

I just finished Shovel Knight, and my therapist has been a great help.

 

I haven’t written here in a while, but I think I’d like to do it more. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been picked up by Last Token Gaming, a great bunch of guys with a vision for how a gaming blog should look. That said, sometimes I get a little claustrophobic with the high standard, and I realized that I also enjoy writing stuff while being apathetic to whether or not people actually read it!

Hence, this blog! Hooray!

Now *ahem* Shovel Knight.

Oh yes. He is fabulous.

Oh yes. He is indeed fabulous.

 

Look at that swagger. Look at that swank. Look at that spade and his cerulean sexiness. The aptly named Shovel Knight is here to save the day.

My first impression of the game is that it’s some sort of distant relation to Axe Cop, with names like “King Knight,” “Shield Knight” and the ever-lovable “Tinker Knight.” Turns out, “Knight” is just the new “Man,” and “Shovel” is just the new “Mega.” That’s right, folks. It’s a Megaman clone that puts all other Megaman clones (and some of the Megaman games) to shame. (I’m looking at you, X6 and X7). You fight your way through gorgeous themed levels, with extreme puzzles, tough enemies, secret treasure, and a final boss with their own wiles, dangers, and annoyances.

First thing about this game: its controls are GORGEOUS. I love the simplicity; it can literally be played on an NES controller. ❤ Fast response times, interesting mechanics, cool chargeup moves… this game’s got it all.

Second thing: it is truly and awe-inspiringly gorgeous. It is a pixel-art dreamboat. I can’t imagine how much time it took to draw, animate and put together all of the different levels and enemies, but Shovel Knight’s retro graphics just gave my rapidly aging self a huge nostalgia atom bomb to the feels. It manages to be in different scenes cute, adorable, terrifying and awesome. And there’s this guy:

Half trout, half apple, all pimp.

50% apple, 50% trout, 100% gansta.

On to the next excellent quality of this game: the music. First, I love me some good old retro-sounding chiptunes. “But, Another Gamer,” you wheedle. “Hi-def audio is so IN right now! How can you like beeps and clicks more than EPIC LOSSLESS ORCHESTRAL ACTION?” Listen to the first 5 seconds of this and tell me you don’t have a soft spot for the old-fashioned music.

That’s right. You love it.

There are 46 tunes in the Shovel Knight soundtrack, and all of them are killer in some way or another. They even hired the original composer for Megaman, Manami Matsumae, to do two of them. Leeeeeeegit. He’s one of the ancient giants. But the nicest thing by far, is that you must collect “music sheets” in the different levels through which you travel, to bring them back to the bard in the village for a reward. I LOVED this mechanic for a couple of reasons: 1. It makes the player value the music. 2. It provides an unlockable soundtrack, one song at a time. 3. It puts the music in the foreground! It makes the player pay attention to the music that was going on in the background of their level, makes them listen to it, and then makes them realize how completely and utterly AWESOME IT IS. Mission accomplished. THAT is how you do a soundtrack.

Okay, so graphics, controls, and music are all completely rad. What about storyline? Well… you’re rescuing the lovely Shield Knight from the clutches of the Enchantress, in the Tower of Fate, protected by the Order of No Quarter, which just happens to be 8 knights of differing proclivities that own large, extravagant, deadly castles/airships/submarines in various parts of the globe.

Compared to Megaman games, it’s got plot coming out of its ears. But it’s no Final Fantasy. Just saying.

But I’ve missed talking about the most important part of the game…

Its difficulty.

This is the hardest game I’ve ever played. I beat Ninja Gaiden. I beat Hotline Miami. I played Dark Souls until I stopped. I beat Final Fantasy Tactics and Diablo III on Hell and etc. etc. etc. This is the most punishing, miserably difficult game I have ever played in my short span of existence (with the notable exception of I Wanna Be The Guy, which I don’t count as a game so much as an adventure in masochism). The bosses often pull some unfair crap, and the levels are unbelievably wicked. The same jump has killed me probably… 6 times in a row? And this is on multiple occasions. It’s a brutally challenging game, and because its controls are so responsive, you have nobody to blame but yourself (and the developer, for making the levels so hard).

That said: this game is fun. It’s incredibly fun and challenging and interesting and engaging. It’s funny and witty, complex and rewarding. It’s worth its price tag and more.

~AG

Like, Roguelikes, man!

(To read the original post on Last Token Gaming, go here. I’d love if you folks would like, comment or subscribe at the new page!)

 

 

 

 

 

Ahh, the Humble Bundle. Charity organization, life wasting supergiant… all around, a wonderful development in the indie gaming world.

But the dear Humble Bundle happened to be charitable-r and life-wastier than usual with its most recent publication: The Roguelike Bundle.

Oh boy.

Roguelikes are the new “in” genre for gamedevs these days. They’re akin to one of those health food fads like wheatgrass or quinoa but they have the exact opposite effect on your body. Countless hours are spent with rear in chair, trying to get all the things you need before you die in a horrible unavoidable situation.

In case you still have no idea what I’m talking about, some well-known examples of the genre are The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky and FTL. Played them? No? Well, get to it, folks! Time’s a-wastin’, but not nearly a-wastin’ enough!

Now I bet you’re wondering why we classify these games as roguelikes when nothing seems to tie them together. One’s a sci-fi spaceship game with turn-based(-ish) combat and RPG elements. One’s a top-down Zelda-style beat-em-up, and one’s a platforming exploration game!

Well, there are some rules that govern how roguelikes are made. Why? I’m getting to that. Let’s take these rules with a grain of salt, though, because almost every modern roguelike bends or outright breaks one of them.

1. Levels must be randomized.
Ah, good old procedural generation. Basically, the next time you play this dungeon, it’s not going to be the same. Good! But not enough to be a roguelike.

2. Items must be randomized.

A lot of roguelikes outright ignore this one. If there are magical items (and there should be, because why not), they should have randomized abilities that may even be unstated in the item description. It’s magical! Use it! What do you mean it’s the magical wand of explode-in-my-face?

3. Death must be permanent.

Well, now that you’ve discovered what the magical wand of explode-in-my-face does, it’s time to start over! From a checkpoint? No. From the beginning of the level? Nope. From the beginning of the dungeon? Nuh-uh. The very beginning of the entire game is your starting point, and every time you meet your unfortunate end, you’ll walk through the door and be in dungeon 1, level 1 with nothing but the clothes on your back (and likely not even that). Sound fun yet?

4. They must be turn-based.

‘Nuff said. This doesn’t mean Poke’mon style battles, but it does mean being able to plan your moves out carefully, so if (and when) you die, you really feel like it’s your fault.

So now we know!

But who came up with these rules? What game are roguelikes trying to be like?

Gee. Big surprise, that one.

It basically all started with this game. It used procedurally generated levels made of ASCII characters, lots of random items, enemies, pitfalls and mysteries to grab hold of your attention, and after dying for the umpteenth time, you start getting better… until you run into the next thing you didn’t expect, and die yet again. It’s unforgiving, but it teaches you by killing you (now an approved teaching method in California).Play it here!

Next came a game called Nethack. You can play it here for free if you like. It’s complicated! I won’t get into it, as I don’t have all day to explain. Rogue was complex in its own right, but many gamedevs saw that (and still do see it) as a feature to be expanded upon. This one’s a perfect example. We’ll get to a later one in a bit.

If you’re not digging the super complex ASCII-art based stuff, let’s move on to a slightly more modern version: The Enchanted Cave. This game came out about 3 or 4 years ago, but it’s done in the style of a roguelike that would have been popular around the 90′s. (Please note: the guy went on to develop a mobile version, and as such the graphics, animations, textures, sounds, and everything else have gotten a HUGE update. This is a much shinier game than it used to be, but the soul is the same.) Play it on Kongregate! Or don’t! As an aside: you’ll notice that in this game, there are ways to improve your stats and equipment between runs. This became a heavy feature of roguelikes around the 90′s because they started to become more popular (or vice versa?). People who were less “hardcore” still wanted to progress through the game, so they found ways to make death beneficial outside of the know-how you gained from being mutilated, impaled, incinerated, poisoned, or otherwise exterminated. Thus: stat boosts!

Okay, now we’re getting to modern times (and you still haven’t had to spend any money! Hooray!). Ever heard of Dwarf Fortress?

Oh, yes, it’s a roguelike. If the ASCII art didn’t clue you in, ten minutes playing this game would have. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It LOVES to kill you. Instead of controlling a single hapless adventurer, you are controlling (or trying to control) up to 200 equally hapless dwarves, guiding them in the growth of their kingdom by providing bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, wells, workshops, military outposts, trading posts, gardens, pretty fountains, fishing holes, and a zillion other things to keep them (more or less) alive. And when that fails, you must provide them with graveyards. Or they’ll haunt you. Download it here. Don’t forget to get the Lazy Newb Pack.

If you play one game from this multitude, I recommend DF. It took me three tries installing and playing, uninstalling and repeating, to get into it. It takes time to learn, and it can be frustrating. But once you really get into this game, you’ll understand how unbelievable it is that such a gaming treasure is free. There’s a reason the developer calls it “his life’s work.”

We’re almost through! I promise! Don’t you feel educated?

As we get into the modern era, you get a lot of the roguelike elements tossed by the wayside, and these quasi-rogue-like-ish games have been dubbed “roguelite” games. The Enchanted Cave would probably be one. But others? Games like Diablo have procedurally generated levels and treasure (and can have permadeath, too). Rogue Legacy can sometimes let you play the same level twice, but is otherwise roguelike quality. The Binding of Isaac doesn’t have procedural items. Spelunky doesn’t really even HAVE items. FTL is just plain different. These are all “roguelite” games, but they’re the modern offspring of a great concept, and they’ve taken the world by storm.

Of all the games I just mentioned, only Spelunky is free. But… try the others. They’re all fantastic. Rogue Legacy will dominate your life and make you laugh. The Binding of Isaac will make you cringe and scream profanity at your screen. Diablo is… well… it’s Diablo. And FTL is a game that I kick myself constantly for not having bought earlier. They’re all great, and if you feel like investing, you’ll get a great feel for what roguelikes are all about. And you’ll get a feel for why they’ve been more addictive than crack since 1980.

I hope you’ve all learned something today. And I hope I haven’t just inspired you to start skipping your real classes. Happy gaming!

~AG

P.S. As always, don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe!

Product or Process: an Indie Game Question

I haven’t been thinking about games much. Finals are rapidly approaching and so is Christmas. Though I’m not technically in classes, everything is coming to a head and I haven’t had a free moment to do some serious processing of my gaming experiences for this week. But I had had an issue a couple of weeks back that I wanted to blog about but couldn’t, so I figure there’s no time like the present to try and get my ideas out there (and probably crash and burn in the process).

There are a lot of issues with the indie game community, which I have tried to be involved in supporting and encouraging through my blog posts, my money and in a (very) small part my musical/programming ability. I feel like it’s a healthy community with a lot of people in it that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition from the mainstream media. (Interesting tidbit! NPR just did an article on “The Stanley Parable” that was an actual serious review of it in an artistic sense. Huge step forward! Read it here. As it turns out, they have articles about indie games every Tuesday? Who knew?)

I find it’s also a lot more of an artistic medium (the indie game community, I mean) than the triple-A games because there’s not so much commercial pressure. I’ve talked about that before, too.

But here’s the thing. It’s a COMMUNITY. There is no triple-A game community. There are businesses and that’s about all we can say for it. Sure there are developers and programmers and musicians and artists and writers and etc etc etc who are all well-known in their own communities of developers and programmers and (you get the picture)… but no crowdsourcing, no community involvement, no back-and-forth between the people playing your game and the people developing it. Massive outcry over Mass Effect 3’s ending got them to change part of it, and some other large protests (please note, PROTESTS) against things done in triple-A games have sparked change. But there’s no suggestion box at Blizzard’s or EA’s HQ.

There’s a lot to be said for that, though! Producing a PRODUCT is what video gaming is all about. You want something that a player can immerse themselves in and enjoy. They don’t worry about how it was made, they don’t question whether or not it could have been made better. Did you do your beta testing? Did you work out the bugs? Are you suuuuuuure?!?! (I’m looking at you, Skyrim.) Then we’re good. Ship it out, sell the preorders, make the DLC, reap that cash cow for all it’s worth. We’re done here. That’s how the industry works. You don’t regularly update something you sell people on a Blu-Ray disc. You can’t.

Granted, some game companies try to. It’s not always pleasant.

But an INDIE game, oh! The possibilities are endless! Every time you play it, there’s a new update! New updates every Tuesday? Twice a week, even? Say you’re playing at 8pm, and the update comes out. After you download it, at 8:30, you could be playing a different game! One that’s better, has more features, has less bugs, and more exploding cool stuff! (That falls under the realm of “features” but bears special mention. I mean, c’mon, EXPLODING STUFF, HELLO.)

Indie games have the ability to get you up close and personal with the development process. Let’s go into WHY that is!

1. The Kickstarter

Kickstarter/IndieGogo/Steam Greenlight have helped indie games in development get community support (and build their fanbase) since their inception (ooh, Inception!). They say, “Look at the potential of this idea! Help me make it a reality!” And the community overwhelmingly responds…

Fry <3

Fry ❤

What else? They provide “stretch goals.” This is also brilliant because even at the very outset of a game’s existence you’re involving the community in deciding what is in the game. Whoa. (This theme comes back, remember it.)

2. The Wiki

Great indie games have great wikis. How do these wikis get built? The community! Now, having said that, this is definitely a two-way street. The developers have to put their time into giving people the framework they need to edit and expand a wiki, and they need to be diligent about its upkeep… but the rewards are enormous! All you have to do is create and maintain a webpage (which I’m certain every gamedev has to do twice or three times for each blog/merchant site/github/etc. they own), and now your community is talking, discovering, playing your game, and making things happen. If they run across an item or dungeon that they don’t know about, it’s only a matter of time before they start figuring out how to explain it or use it in wiki-able terms. People talk about your game? People can get an inside look into your game before buying it? People can see how it develops? Good news, everyone!

3. The Forums

It seems ridiculous that a triple-A game would be without forums, and for the most part, you’re right. There are, of course, discussion forums for many, if not all triple-A games, but please, I beg of you, go on them and lurk for a bit. You’ll notice that it’s a greasy mixture of bragging, complaining and outright indecency and it quite frankly scares me. 

But, go on the forums for a game like MineCraft or Gnomoria, or Proteus or Bastion or Desktop Dungeons or or or or… and you’ll see something different. You’ll see (most of the time) a nicely organized and well-run site that puts updates up and posts patchnotes, encourages discussion AND FEEDBACK  about their game. WHOA WHOA WHOA. Stop the presses! Feedback? That makes a difference? My god! You mean that involvement in the process of the game’s development could… somehow… influence the game’s development in a positive manner? Holy cow!

Sorry about the sarcasm. But many triple-A games ignore their communities, and they sort of HAVE to. In a commercial business model, there is no open beta. There is no free updating. There might be some bug fixes, but if there’s going to be extra content, you’re going to be paying for it and it was probably already in the works when the game came out. The gradual adding and changing of features is something that’s only possible with an indie game community that’s involved and active in the development process. They don’t need to know how to code, but they do need to be able to say, “This was unbelievably frustrating. I tore out chunks of my hair.” or “Man, I wish this could be faster.” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if there were horses? I like horses.”

That’s community right there.

4. The Let’s Play

Everyone knows that MineCraft started the Let’s Play boom (sort of). People made living wages by being entertaining commentators of their exploration through the game’s mechanics. They showed curious users how to do everything from starting the game to building a house to farming to finishing the regular content of the game. Many just show people playing, screwing up, dying, figuring out their mistakes and growing from their experiences (okay, maybe not that last one). If there’s an indie game, there’s an LP of it.

I don’t know if I have to go too deep into why this is great! Why do you test-drive cars? And why DON’T you test-drive games? An LP is a real-life look into how a game works, how people play it, as well as figuring out a lot of the mechanics and playstyles of the game. It’s a fantastic and free way to get people interested in your game. It’s free advertising that comes from the ground up.

A lot of triple-A games have significant Let’s Plays behind them as well, especially in-depth, open-world games like Skyrim, but if you watch enough of these, you’ll notice a difference in the flavor of commentary and playing styles. In triple-A games, it’s not an adventure of discovery, because even in the newest, most innovative games, you’re still expecting the quests, blacksmithing, vendor trash and conversation options of the next Elder Scrolls game, or the “boogey-boogey-boo” scares of a game like Dead Space. When a Let’s Player plays a game like Proteus, Journey, or even the first forays into the world of MineCraft, often the player (and the audience) has no experience and, as a result, few expectations. You get this excited sense of discovery with indie LPs, instead of the… less discovery-oriented excitement of “WOOH LET’S KILL ZOMBIES GUNS GUNS GUNS FIRE YEAH!!!”

Also worth mentioning: dedicated Let’s Play creators are an amazing asset to gamedevs who want people to experience firsthand the changes made during beta. Instead of reading patchnotes, your prospective clientelle can watch the new features and cool stuff unfold before their eyes with snarky British commentary.

5. The API

“What’s an API, Another Gamer?!? Is that a kind of beer?” No.

It’s the Application Programming Interface, which is a complicated term (like everything in CS…) that explains a simple concept: it’s how the parts of your program work together, and how they receive and deal with extra parts. The modding API of games is a modders ability to reach inside the code, change things, add things, and extend the functionality of an already complete game.

Whew. A lot to take in there.

Why do you care? Because the mod API for games like MineCraft turned it from something of a curiosity to a fantastic, enormously massive game of never-before-or-since-seen proportions. Indie games have a penchant for letting their users fiddle with the guts of the game, and with MineCraft especially it has produced results that never fail to boggle my mind. Computer crafting, power and electricity frameworks, extra minerals, creatures, trees, biomes, items, weapons, items, armor, items… there’s a mod called “Too Many Items,” and a snarkier, newer version called “Not Enough Items.” There are mods that stretch the bounds of creativity, crafting elegant storylines and forging brand new dimensions for you to explore, mine, battle, and die in.

It’s about involvement in the process. It’s about involvement in the product. Indie games can do this, and they’re unique in their ability to. It’s a magnificent skyscraper of artistic and technological achievement that is built from the millions of users and their involvement with making something greater than an already pretty great game made of blocks.

Of course, not every indie game supports modding as well as MC (as a matter of fact, none of them do). It may be the difference between changing the zombie skins to My Little Pony characters, but most games have some small ability to be modded. Word to the wise, though: this mutability and versatility is what made MineCraft what it is. If you’re smart and you’re creating a game that is in any way a changeable experience, then let your users change it. Let them design new events or levels or characters or enemies. If you build it, they will come :3

I couldn’t figure out how to work in Garry’s Mod, but… Garry’s Mod.

It’s a long post, I know, but there’s a lot to be said for involving and building your community when you build a game. It’s something that indie games can use to gain a huge advantage in popularity and advertising reach, and it’s just a nice thing to do. Whereas big companies may have insidious ways to push their new game (toolbars, mobile apps, etc etc etc), this is a pure, simple way to be a good development company while putting yourself out there (or allowing your users to do the work for you!). As a dev, it’s great. As a consumer, I find it equally great, and if you didn’t appreciate it before… go out and buy MineCraft and start appreciating, damn you!

~AG

How Algorithms Make Games Awesome

Yeah, yeah, I didn’t update Monday. Sue me. (Actually, please don’t.)

So I’ve been running through Dead Space as well as a couple of other games, and I keep seeing this recurring theme come up with how the games are constructed: algorithms. When I open a locker in DS and find the ammo for the gun I don’t have any ammo for, it’s like unwrapping that Christmas present from that aunt you never see, and it’s EXACTLY what you wanted. “How did you know?!?”

Algorithms. That’s how they knew. Well, your auntie probably called your mom and was like, “Listen, I need to buy this kid’s affection. PlayStation 4? Got it.”

This is the one you meant, right?

This is the one you meant, right?

What’s an algorithm? You probably cringe every time you read it, because it reminds you of math and being trashcanned in high school. Don’t be afraid of math! I hear this all the time in my programming classes and online in tutorials. Don’t be afraid of it. You know what? That’s ridiculous. Of course you shouldn’t be afraid of math. Math is so useful, you should dress math up nice, take math out to a nice restaurant, bring math back to your place for an expensive bottle of wine and a rom-com. If you were a proverbial gold-digger, math would be the extremely rich, nice old guy who’s still very handsome in a rugged way. That’s math. It’s awesome. Love it.

This is math. Don't you love math now?

This is math. Don’t you love math now?

Algorithms are nifty things that basically collect data and do stuff with it within a certain set of guidelines. Game AIs are extremely algorithm-based, because the data they collect is YOUR actions, and what they do with it involves figuring out a way to either help you (a la Left 4 Dead) or how to kill you (also a la Left 4 Dead). More examples, you ask? Minecraft worlds are generated to a very specific and complicated set of algorithms, making sure there are different biomes, caves, ores, enemies and special dungeons all over the place. In the case of the “data collection” part of MC, you have to put in a “world seed” when you create your world, which is essentially a word or number that sets parameters for the world’s look and composition. Whoa. Think about it. A word generates a world. That’s the power of algorithms.

What else do they do? They allow for a mutable gameplay experience. Whoa, big words, I know. Imagine you’re playing a level of some puzzle game you like. You finish a level but you really wish that you could do more levels of the same variety. If your game is designed with specific levels, then you’re outta luck (like Candy Crush, for example). However, if your game uses an algorithm to spit out levels and then calculates the difficulty of them (by using a solver or figuring out minimum number of moves to solve, etc.), then you have an infinite number of levels at your disposal, each with its own unique and algorithmically pooped solution. Nifty, right?

**DISCLAIMER. IF YOU ARE NOT A PROGRAMMER OR INTERESTED IN GAME DESIGN, YOU MAY SKIP THE NEXT COUPLE OF PARAGRAPHS**

In terms of  programming,  it saves you as the game designer a lot of work! I’m going to use the example of my RPG, “Blue” to illustrate what I’m talking about. I algorithmically generated my treasure. I placed treasure chests in the world and filled them “randomly” with treasure of several varieties. The bonus is that I save both lines of code and data. I don’t have to have a file specifying which treasure chest locations contain which treasures, and I don’t have to implement the code to deal with said file. It also gives me a lot more freedom with how I want to give the player treasure. I personally had two lists of treasure: a basic list that would always be a possibility for a chest’s contents, and a “unique” list that had better treasure, but could only be gotten once. Instead of placing them in the chests at the beginning of the game, I calculated what was in the chest when the player gets it. Bingo, more data and code saved! You can play with the algorithm as much as you want to make it fit you: change the favoring of the basic list to the unique list (which gets found more often?), make unique lists floor specific, or don’t and let the player get the previous floor’s treasure on the next floor. Make it possible to get unique treasures from battles (just in case luck doesn’t provide them with their dandy new equipment). Huge amount of possibilities, all of which don’t require a lot of work.

Another game design thing that algorithms do very well is “hiding the strings.” The “strings” are the hard and fast rules that govern your game. With Mario, it’s “jump on heads, try pipes, you can only jump so high and run so fast, get powerups to change what you can and can’t do, don’t fall in pits, on spikes or in lava.” Pretty simple and straightforward, and understanding the rules (“strings”) is how the player plays the game. In MineCraft, there are hard and fast rules that the player is made aware of, but the majority of the brilliance of the game is in the algorithms. The player need not understand the math behind the world-gen to play with it. They explore to find new biomes, they explore to find caves and dungeons, and they don’t have to be aware of the math that put them there to know that their exploration will yield results. They just won’t be able to predict WHEN, which means they’re playing the game without seeing the strings that make it work. The gamedev (that’s you) is saying, “Don’t worry about how it’s made, but trust that you’ll enjoy playing this level/world/fight.”

**END NERDINESS** (well, not really)

So what do algorithms mean for you as a gamer? Tons of stuff! They change the way we play games. Think of the AI Manager in Left 4 Dead. If you haven’t heard about it, that’s okay. It was a big deal back when L4D came out, because it governed the spawning of hordes of zombies and special zombies in partial response to how the players were playing. It allowed the 4 levels that L4D had to be played over and over, changing when the stress points and bad stuff occurred over the course of the level. Your objective is: get to the safe room while killing as many zombies as you can. Now, if you dally too long in a weapons closet, the AI Manager will send zombies after you again and again until you get moving. It will place obstacles in your path like special zombies to make sure the excitement level doesn’t get too low. It will place witches (bad, bad, bad zombies) in the most inopportune places to ensure that you don’t sleep at night. It allows players to react to challenges in an extremely ORGANIC way, because they have to be able to deal with problems as the occur without being able to predict WHEN they occur, even if they’re an expert at the game.

Somebody took too long in the toilet...

Somebody took too long in the toilet…

Also worth noting that it means the player is never “safe.” If you totally clear out a building of zombies in MOST games, you know you can hunker down there without pausing and go get a Mountain Dew. Not so in L4D. You come back, wiping Dorito dust off on your heavy metal band shirt to find that your entrails have become your extrails.

Algorithms also govern how the game “plays you.” In Dead Space, like I mentioned, there isn’t an algorithm that spawns enemies like in L4D, because the experience is supposed to not be a question of “survival” so much as a question of going insane from terror. Those kinds of experiences need to be carefully crafted. However, there IS an algorithm that takes stock of your inventory (and probably which guns you like), and spawns ammo more often for that gun. The game accommodates your playstyle. Let’s say you’re not a gun person (flower power, y’all! Kill the zombies with love <3), but you do enjoy beating them to death with your bare hands. I actually love this approach in a lot of games. I don’t know why. The “B” button just looks so nice on those Xbox controllers, and it never gets enough love. Well, a game like Dead Space would have a caveat in its algorithm saying, “Mr. Treasure Manager, sir? The player is taking a lot more hits than normal.” And the Treasure Manager decides that instead of putting ammo in crates, he’ll put medpacks instead, ensuring that you can run up to spiky zombies with blades for arms to your hearts content, as long as you manage to hit the “heal” button with sufficient excess as to live through it.

Lots to think about. I want you folks to give me something to work with, here! Comment or otherwise get to me an algorithm YOU’VE found in a game you’ve played, whether it’s a particularly pesky enemy AI, or the thing on your phone that gives you new Sudoku puzzles whenever you need them. I want to hear from you! Seriously.

See you Friday!

~AG

New Game +: Desktop Dungeons!

(Don’t forget the Rafflecopter giveaway of a free game of your choice! Or do it on Another Gamer’s Blog Facebook page!)

I wanted a catchy catchphrase for when I review a new game, but the fact of the matter is, that happens so seldom that I just picked “New Game +” and left it at that. You’re only going to see it once in a blue moon, so don’t let the lack of originality keep you up at night.

DESKTOP DUNGEONS!

Catchy!

The goat on its logo is very important.

First of all, let me invite you to watch the trailer for the game here:


If you don’t get what’s going on in the end, go watch 2001 Space Odyssey, or at least the end of it.

Anyway, nuff said.

So, there’s a lot of stuff I want to cover about the game. First off, it is a ROGUELIKE. For the uninitiated, there was this one game a long while back called “Rogue,” and it was cool and people have been imitating it since then.

The qualities of Roguelikes are varied, but they do have some in common:

1. You die a lot. Hooray.

2. You learn stuff by dying, or otherwise accomplish objectives that aren’t undone by your death.

3. You have to start from the beginning when you die.

4. The levels are procedurally generated, meaning you never go through the same dungeon twice.

People have called Dwarf Fortress a “roguelike,” but certainly games like The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy (making a named tip of the hat), and the free Spelunky all fall into that category. If you play any of these games, you will see that the qualities that make a roguelike in no way dictate the qualities of the gameplay, story, or difficulty of the game.

Having said that, most of the time they’re pretty flippin’ hard. See rule #1.

Desktop Dungeons is a roguelike, through and through. You enjoy small trysts in procedurally generated tile-based dungeons in a delightfully old-school setting. And you die.

Over and over and over.

Having said this, the gold you collect by your successes (and the lesser of your failures) can be used to buy upgrades in equipment, character classes and other devillishly delightful things. That is the essence of the game. Simple to learn, difficult to master.

There are also puzzle challenges that test your efficiency with different obstacles, equipment and powers. I should mention that I seriously like this bit, because the only way to beat these difficult problems is to use said equipment in the “proper” way. This means that it’s an underhanded education (underhanded because you DIE SO MUCH) in the finer mechanics of the game.

Having said that, the game is exceedingly difficult, and here’s why. It plays like a much faster game. There aren’t many animations, and damage appears to be dealt and healed instantly. However… revealing tiles restores health (yours and the enemy’s), you can destroy spells for permanent racial stat boosts, and health/mana potions are extremely limited. If you’re a gamer and you’re putting the pieces together, you should have this next bit figured out.

It’s a puzzle game.

Sorry to disappoint. The fast-paced action-y aspect of it is really cool, but as you get past the first levels, you’ll find that “preparing for a boss fight” doesn’t mean killing enemies until you’re strong enough, it means squeezing every last experience point, item, healing point and special ability out of the randomized level so that you have enough resources to take this guy on. It’s one huge puzzle, and unfortunately it takes a while before you can see if you’ll be able to solve it. It’s a well-constructed game, but I feel like it was marketed as something other than it is. This is particularly ironic because, well… it’s a lot more similar to “Rogue” than most of the roguelikes out there. I guess I’ve been spoiled.

But alas. It does mention that you die a lot.

It’s worth mentioning that the game is fantastically sarcastic. Goats, banking vampires and other ironic dungeon denizens abound, and the biting (literally with the vampires) humor makes it enjoyable, even when you die. The retro graphics and nifty soundtrack keep it from getting boring, and even though it IS a puzzle game, eventually you begin running into the same situation enough that the pace of the action begins to increase as you get ahead of the (steep) learning curve.

It’s fifteen bucks, and in the experience I’ve had so far (which is really, really just the tip of the iceberg), I’m gonna say that it’s worth it.

But don’t trust me! Play a (rather awesome) demo on their website! (Unity’s required but hey, that’s free too!)

Let me know if you folks cave and buy it! Other than that, see you Monday!

~AG

Are video games worse than the NSA?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “What do we want?!? PRIVACY!” The third-graders screamed and waved signs. “When do we want it?!? AFTER RECESS!”

Tensions are high in one Washington, D.C. elementary school after children were fed the totally objective and unbiased information that the data from their time spent playing video games was – *gasp* – being collected by the boogeyman, Satan, and perhaps some various video game companies that make the former two bad guys pale in comparison.

I know which one scares me most.

I know which one scares me most.

If you’re unsure of what I’m talking about, NPR recently released an article detailing how the scumbag video game companies collect your children’s data (never mind their souls). First, I’m going to rail on how poorly the article was written.

1. The picture spread across the top has a child playing MineCraft, made by the Good Guy Greg of indie game development: Mojang. Originally not multiplayer, MineCraft’s huge modding community and regular updates come at no extra cost to the player, and are inspired not by suspicious clandestine data collection, but by an actual grassroots support base that encourages development in a fantastic game that has had applications in every field from music to engineering. Saying it addicts kids to video games (while perhaps true…) and collects their data to make the game more addictive and convince children to spend extra money on it — although it was only implicitly mentioned by the article — is patently false, annoying, and ignores a huge third dimension of quality that exists in game development.

2. The next mention of video games comes with a parent who is unable to control their child’s video game intake. Sorry, your poor parenting skills aren’t newsworthy. If your child is 13 and playing 12 hours of Call of Duty every day on his Xbox, don’t blame the developer. Blame yourself. Blame yourself a lot, because I quite frankly dislike being called a faggot  by him over voice chat every time I snipe him from my intellectual (and virtual) pedestal.

3. It goes on to group CoD (while implying EVERY OTHER VIDEO GAME is in the same boat) with the people behind Zynga’s freemium disasters and Candy Crush. It’s like grouping every burger joint with that one seedy McDonald’s in the ghetto where people go to distribute methamphetamines. And I feel like I’m insulting the meth dealers here.

4. Not only have you totally lost control of how much your child plays video games, but that tween Belieber you gave a smart phone to is now spending your money on microtransactions?!? And it’s the fault of the game developers. No. See number 2, only accompany it with the sound of my head hitting my keyboard in mind-numbing acknowledgement of your absolute failure to regulate your child’s interaction with… well, EVERYTHING. If your solution isn’t to take the goddamn smart phone away, then I have no sympathy for you at all. Let them cry. Let them wheedle and whine, but those boundaries are better set late than never, and believe me, if your child is (without your permission) buying things for Farmville or Candy Crush, you are LATE in setting those boundaries.

These people. You're them.

These people. You’re them.

Okay, done with that nonsense. Journalists, let me make an unequivocal demand of you as clearly as I can: update your views of the video game industry. Talk to game designers. Talk to people who know a lot about games (as in not the people who play CoD for 12 hours). Talk to me. Do this before you write your article, and you will make much less of a fool of yourself than you currently are in this day and age. Stop being tonedeaf and learn a bit about the industry you purport to be reporting on.

The real purpose of this post wasn’t to pointedly point out the pointless points of this journalistic “epic fail,” however. The data collection of video game companies is an actual issue that needs to be discussed, and as a person with absolutely no credentials in marketing, formal debate or pretty much anything else, I feel qualified to deliver my opinion.

First of all: let’s take a brief step back from this whole “data collection” buzz-phrase. If you’re in the USA (or Germany… sorry, Germans) then you’re probably shockingly aware of the NSA’s breach of what many consider to be a fundamental human right: our right to privacy. I’m going to avoid using the word “Orwellian” (damn, just used it), because if you’ve read 1984, I’m sure the scenarios spring to your mind upon hearing this stuff. We get it. We’ve been violated as a nation, and as individuals. It’s in the forefront of our minds.

The reason I say to step back from it is because the sensationalism of this article and the reality that our data IS being collected is based mostly on the fact that our privacy feels “violated.” The fact of the matter is game developers are not insidiously collecting incriminating data on play habits; they’re simply following a more effective version of the tried-and-true marketing that makes us as consumers want to buy a product. That they’re marketing to kids is irrelevant, as long as you still have some control as a parent on what your child purchases. Am I really saying this? Am I really suggesting there is a lack of parental control in what a TEN-YEAR-OLD buys?

The third graders write about how addicting video games are (I’m temporarily suspending my crusade against the word “addicting,” as I’ve resigned to the fact that the perfectly good word “addictive” has been chucked into the meat grinder of illiteracy). They are naturally offended that their data would be used to fuel that addiction! However, I’m going to be brutally honest and say that our world is full of temptation, and it has been for thousands of years. A rare Bible quote from the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Zynga.” It’s a problem that we have to deal with. If you, the parent, in your smart-phone-buying frenzy, have opened your child up to a world of temptation, then it is YOUR job to teach your child how to deal with it in a responsible manner. If you give your 14 or 15-year-old alcohol, it is not up to your child to decipher how to not become an alcoholic. We do not accuse food companies of foul play when they do flavor studies on how to make their food the tastiest (even if it involves drowning our children in a sea of fat, sugar, childhood obesity and diabetes). But somehow the accountability has been shifted from parents to game developers.

The other half of this issue comes again with the two-dimensionality that journalists, parents, and even some gamers tend to think of the game industry with. The majority of PC and console games available today (not counting Xbox Marketplace or whatever the PS version is) do not involve microtransactions (aka buying with real money powerups, new skins, new weapons, or extra lives). This means that your child is spending 12 hours a day playing a finished product. Many indie game studios like Mojang update their game FOR FREE. Any data collection that goes on by these companies is for the purpose of gauging how well their game went, what parts are good and what parts can be improved upon. They are taking opinion surveys that you don’t even have to fill out. They are doing what every game developer SHOULD do, that every gamedev has a RESPONSIBILITY to do, even: paying attention to how people play their game. If you fail to do that, you are like a car company failing to consider how the driver will feel inside their vehicle. The very nature of the artistic medium in which you’re creating something in forces you as a game developer to recognize how your game interacts with players and vice versa.

Even if you’re from Zynga. Even if you’re trying to get people to buy lives in Candy Crush. Even if you’re just a nice guy trying to make the sequel to your game better than its predecessor. That data is much more valuable to you from a development perspective than it is to the third-graders who don’t like being addicted to games. Gamedevs aren’t the NSA. They don’t single out people, they don’t assemble profiles to incriminate players they don’t like, and they don’t collect data simply for the sake of having it. It’s a business, it’s marketing, and if you don’t think it’s facilitated games being created at a higher level than they would otherwise, I’d suggest you take a page out of the American government’s book and start collecting some data of your own.

~AG

P.S. Don’t forget to visit this post I made about signing up to win a free game! The raffle ends just over a week from now, so get the maximum chance to win by visiting and sharing daily. Small price to pay (much smaller, in fact, than the price of a handy-dandy new game)!

Free Games?!? I’ll take ’em!

Hey, folks! As an added treat to the loyal readers (and opportunity-seizing video game enthusiasts) of my blog, I’ve teamed up with AllKeyShop.com’s affiliate, CheapDigitalDownload.com to sponsor a video game giveaway. No pyramid schemes, no strings attached, just free stuff! Here’s how you enter:

1. On the widget (fantastic link below), log in with your Facebook or email account.

2. Quickly browse through CheapDigitalDownload’s vast selection of PC games (they’ve seriously got a ton…) and choose the game that you want to win. Get the Game URL and paste it on the box provided in the link below. Don’t forget this part: without the URL, they won’t know which game you want if you win (and you can’t enter).

3. Like and Follow their Facebook and Twitter pages to gain entries. To get more entries, just

share and tweet about this giveaway. The more entries you have, the more chances you also

have in getting the game of your choice! Super easy! Get the word out!

This giveaway will officially end on November 20, 2013 and the winner will be announced on the same day. An initial email will be sent to the winner, who then has 24 hours to respond, before a new winner will be selected. Please read full Terms and Conditions of this giveaway, found on the widget (in the link) below.

To join other fun and exciting giveaways, visit the Sponsor’s giveaway blog and join!

Best of luck!

(You can also visit the sponsor’s giveaway site to join more giveaways. If you like. If you like free stuff, that is.)

IT’S LINKY TIME!!!

HERE’S THE LINK! YOU ARE THE 1,000,000th VISITOR! CLICK THIS LINK FOR YOUR FREE CAR AND AIRPLANE AND TO FIND SINGLES NEAR YOU AND TO LOSE 15 POUNDS OVERNIGHT AND TO LAST LONGER… and maybe to get free video games.

(Keep being awesome, readers.)

~AG

P.S. I’ll be posting this link in every post I write from now till the end of the promotion, but if you’re super-duper-über committed to doing it every day, I’d only ask that you do go through my site to get to it (don’t just bookmark like a meanie-face).  Alternatively, you can just go visit my Facebook page here! Enjoy and thanks for being so awesome. 🙂

It’s time for you to make a game.

Hi, folks!

In the past year (in which I hadn’t been blogging much), I learned to program. I don’t mean that I learned complex sorting algorithms and the most elegant solutions to NP-hard problems that keep the Big-O costs of my programs low while solving for the trillionth digit of pi.

No sirree,  I learned to program games. What makes a game tick? How do the different elements of a game go together? What special things can I add to my game to make it more complete, more interesting, more engaging and fun for a player? These are complicated questions that have more to do with thinking about games than programming them. There are TONS (I mean seriously… tons) of examples of well-made games, starting with Pong and working your way up to the newest GTA game that everyone’s raving about.

If you’re good at putting two and two together, this post (and others in the future like it) are going to go into the nitty-gritty of game development. Today, I’m afraid I’m not going to get too deep into things, because I’m going to assume you know absolutely nothing about the development of games and the only reason you’re still reading this is out of some sick desire to learn. Sicko.

I’m not going to be your teacher, folks. I suck at teaching. I’m great at extrapolating on ideas that people have taught me (which is, indeed, the purpose of this post). But a teacher I ain’t. I teach kids piano. That’s about it.

Who WILL be your teacher, then?

Read the rest of this entry

Video Games and Learning: A Non-going Process

Hey, folks! Happy Monday!

I told you all that I’d be writing periodically to tell you about the fascinating things I’ve been finding out about video games in my “Video Games and Learning” Coursera course.
Turns out, not much.

Fact of the matter is, outside of an educational perspective, I could have written most of the material for the course. Talking about the elements of game design that teach a player, how increasing complexity and introducing game elements at different times affects the learning curve, etc. etc. I know this stuff because I’m a gamer (and an attentive one, at that), but the course was written for non-gamers who think it’s a fabulous idea to use games in the classroom.

I’m not on a pedestal, I’m not in an ivory tower. Educators, USE YOUR GAMES. Use MY games! Education departments of the world, hire programmers to work full-time on producing learning games for people of all grade levels and subject areas. Imagine how AWESOME it’d be if you got to kill monsters in “Wuthering Heights: The RPG,” or create epic physics-based puzzles in “Anatomy and Physiology: Zombie Edition.” I understand that courses like this give educators a leg up when figuring out how to teach difficult concepts in a way children will react to, and I appreciate that these resources are out there to improve our education and our teachers.

But I guess I’m approaching education from a game design perspective, as opposed to approaching game design from an education perspective, and I was sorely disappointed. I’ll do a post Friday about my final thoughts on the course, but other than that… sorry, folks! Didn’t turn out to be as beneficial as I had hoped!

Here’s a picture of 9 Charmanders driving a golf cart to make you feel better.

Charmanders-Golfcart

 

 

See you Friday!

~AG

The Storytelling of Bastion: Another Look

Hi folks! Good news in the blogging world, my blog may be eligible to partner with a certain game-distributing website to offer free game promotions to my readers! If you know somebody who loves games and doesn’t read this blog, let them know! If you’re just here for the free stuff, welcome to the club 😀

I’m replaying through Bastion. Don’t ask me why, it’s like that stereotypical pop song where the dude who’s hasn’t thought about that one girl in years calls her up at 2am, only instead of calling girls I’m smashing things up and listening to the sexiest narrator this side of Sam Elliott.

Proper story's supposed to start at the beginning... got any sasparilla?

Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning… got any sasparilla?

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