One of the benefits of being an artist is to be able to communicate your values to the audience. So let’s talk about the challenge of transmitting values through games. How to make a player act according to the moral code held by its protagonist voluntarily? Or the reaction: how do I, the player, can make my moral code to be enforced by the mechanics available to the protagonist?
Here’s a common scenario: you have to save your loved one but the game keeps asking you to enter that sewer level collect some kind of completely unnecessary item. Or maybe you want to escape your average zombie-infested Police HQ, but has to deal with chess keys first. The task structure thrown upon you matters and should not be ignored.
Despite recognizing it as a Genre Great game, I remember I didn’t quite like my first Zelda game much. It was A Link to the Past (aLttP). A Link to the Past is the quintessential Genre Great game. Don’t confuse that with just “Great”. If Genre Great is the top student from the class, the Great is the Nobel Prize winner.
Kian Bashiri, maker of You Have to Burn the Rope and lead programmer of Might & Delight’s Pid, talks to us about the passion, the intellect behind his craft; the values his game tries to defend and maybe… just maybe… how he may suffer from “coding OCD”!
We kind of love Rocksmith. Like, love love. It’s the second game ever to give me hand calluses (love hurts) and the first one that does so without wrecking my controller. So I was kind ecstatic to find the game on E3 this year! And, as a bonus, game director Paul Cross was there as well! ...
I hate the coins from the Super Mario games.
Even when they were born they are merely a vestige from the arcade days of endless gameplay. When Super Mario Bros. introduced the idea of a game with an ending, the coins were merely mending the gap from the concept of playing a something to beat the score. Now, despite the fact games have fully embraced the idea of chasing an end goal, those coins have never disappeared. As we talk about the benefits of applying game mechanics to our real lives, we started to recognize these coins as the most basic achievement unit. Coins are the atoms that form achievements.
The reason why I hate coins is that they are too easy to use. In both games and real life, coins can trivialize the concept of gamification. They blurry the line and, instead of enhancing your experience, game mechanics become an end in itself. That’s the exact point gamification starts being bullshit.
Jetpack Joyride is a bullshit game. There is no better way to put it. Basically, it’s Canabalt without the elegant simplicity, without the context and meaning, without the balanced gameplay that encouraged the player to gain momentum… but with many things Canabalt did not need. Coins and ranks and purchasable items and crap.
Every tourist is an ambassador for its country. As a man who mostly communicates with bullets, Max Payne isn’t perhaps the best man to represent its country.
Max Payne has always communicated through bullets, though. In Max Payne 3, the only difference is that he is now restrained from relying on any other means. As an ignorant foreigner, unwilling to learn the local language and expecting the impoverish locals to know his, Max forces us to play the role of the ignorant foreigner.
I’ve been living in São Paulo, or Sampa for short, for almost a decade now. A German friend of mine asked me how it felt to play as an alienated foreigner while being able to understand everything being said by the locals at the same time.
Finding out the answer scared me.
We all know what a syllabus is, right? The syllabus is the content of that first class you started to attend. It’s probably all you are going to do during the first week of school (so feel free to extend your vacations): to read over the summary of topics some council of elders decided the class should cover. This is the day you’ll find out when the tests are, what the teacher thinks about the students’ presence and the book he will force students to read.
Sadly, many teachers are satisfied by merely reading the syllabus. It’s a pity, for anyone can read the syllabus on their own. No use wasting the teacher’s time with that. What students need, however, is a taste. They need to glimpse the potential that class is going to bring if they apply themselves. This is particularly important given the scarcity of information available about a new class. During my time in college, we had the course’s name, a two-line description and that was it.
Well, fuck that! Let’s have Rocksmith show them how it’s done!
Gamification is a sexy buzz word. It was born from the assumption that people value the things they struggle to obtain more than the things they freely receive. And so, the behaviorist wizard assigned points and levels to everything. His spell dictated that we would become more motivated if we became aware that every level passed or song beaten was a stepping stone, an achievement.
It was under the lure of this magic man that I purchased Rocksmith, a rhythm game you play with a real guitar and whose goal is to teach you how to play it. Perhaps now, with the ethereal motivation provided by gamification, I would be finally able to switch from the G chord to the C chord without having to stop and mentally command my fingers to do so. It was an impulse buy to be sure, but one that ended up being my most played game of 2011.
And here is the twist: gamification didn’t do a damn thing.
If you go to an entrepreneurship lecture, you are sure to hear about an elevator pitch: the concept of communicating a value proposition to someone in 30 seconds. If you ever meet Bill Gates inside an elevator, you only have about 30 seconds to try to sell your idea for him to invest. It’s the ...
There is trouble brewing for the Old Gods. On April 10th, Sony has released some very interesting numbers, announcing a ¥520 billion loss and an operating loss of ¥95 billion. It is the operating loss that matters, for it relates to their actual business activities. Last year Sony had an huge loss as well, but ...
A wise man once wrote what I believe to be one of the core tenets anyone who calls himself a game reviewer should have in mind: if you want to know if a game design works, imagine that game with an endless mode. It’s one of those advices so simple and obvious only a genius could have thought of.
And now that genius went off to make his own endless game, ZIGGURAT.
It’s one of those things that leaves me both excited for the results and frustrated about my own inadequacies. Just like when Erik Wolpaw, who used to write hilariously astute reviews and commentary on games in his Old Man Murray website, went off to write arguably one of the best videogames ever made: Portal.
The result is that Tim Rogers, the number one defender of friction in games, made what is, together with Canabalt, the game with the most friction you can find on the iPhone. ZiGGURAT is a genre great game with so much friction I have the impression my iPhone is rumbling even though it lacks a rumble feature.
It’s late in Arkham Asylum. Dawn will break soon and it seems like the nightmare Joker would unleash onto Gotham was averted. The game is about to end, but, before it does, a call about Two-Face is overheard on the radio. It seems Batman: Arkham Asylum is all but over for Commissioner Gordon, you and me. But not Batman. He flies off to handle another crisis in Gotham City. He must endure. The game offers us a taste of what it is like being Bats, but just a taste. What that ending says is that never truly became him. His martyrdom must continue after the credits rolls.
Sometime after the first game, mayor Quincy Sharp, former warden of Arkham, together with the help of Dr. Hugo Strange, reallocated all criminals to a closed-off area in Gotham City and named that new prison Arkham City. The developer’s goal in doing this is pretty straight forward: to finally get the full experience of being Batman, as he scours the city for criminal activity.
In doing so, what they have managed to do was to corrupt all that understanding of what it means to be Batman that was so well-crafted in the first game. Batman is no longer a hero. He is a “video game hero”, with all game manias that entails.
In their dawn, games used to live in the wild. The savage beasts that they were didn’t care if you managed to collect all the 50 secret gems or if you didn’t realize that fruit basket in the living room was part of a puzzle. These beasts left you to roam without an inkling of direction.
Try to remember the last time you were lost in a game. When you had to wander aimlessly, trying to find something – even if you were still unsure of what you needed to find. In fact, when was the last time you discovered something in a game? Something cool that was not already stated in your objective list? When was the last time you found something that truly surprised you, like a secret dungeon or an item whose existences wasn’t already hinted by the vacant spot in your inventory?
Well, how far back did you have to go? I passed through a couple of Animal Crossings along the way, but was only able to find the “Era of Discovery” – when the blurb “Discover Planet X” on the back of a game box made sense – back in the days of the original Zelda and Metroid. Games during which we were asked to discover what we were supposed to be doing in the first place.
Movies – and by extension, games – are afraid of silence. They are deadly afraid the silence will bore the audience – and a bored audience will walk away. In response, movies and games are now coated with noise, music, action… anything to deter that silence. In the end, they confuse content with busyness.
Machinarium is a game where you play as little robot trying to do some good, correct some wrongs and solve some puzzles as they come along. It is a game very much like a Hayao Miyazaki cartoon, with its whimsical graphics, charming characters, moody soundtrack – and, yes, the silence: various quiet “empty” moments where characters just stand in contemplation. Or maybe that was me? I’m not sure anymore.
We shouldn’t like monologues – particularly in games. Games are about agency. They are about the player acting out its desires. Monologues are contrary to that spirit of agency permeating games. They enforce passiveness and reflection. Above all, monologues are intrusive. Unlike cutscenes, one cannot skip a monologue happening in-game.
And yet here is Dark Meadow! A game that basically works as a one-man show, with a comedian stand-up hoping to entertain our protagonist with his musings via loudspeaker – and it’s captivating!
Hank Quinlan: “Come on, read my future for me.”
In some ways, a game based on Film Noir would be the anti-GTA. Ah, the GTA series! The pursuit of the American Dream! To fight that good fight requires a great deal of optimist, no? The optimist believes the future is within his grasp.
Tanya: “You haven’t got any.”
Noir Films, however, are filled with pessimists who already know that the game they are playing is futile. That what they are playing is actually a poker game of death.
“What do you mean?”
The world is merciless. It’s unforgiving. We are already doomed no matter what we do. In the search of the American Dream, the fall from glory is a surprise; in Film Noir, the surprise would be not to fall from glory.
L.A. Noire isn’t the anti-GTA. It certainly isn’t the gaming equivalent to L.A. Confidential… or Double Indemnity …or even Who Framed Roger Rabbit. L.A. Noire may be many things – but it certainly isn’t Noir.
“Your future is all used up.”
Review scores are tricky; they are not for everybody. For a scoring system to have any worth, it must have consistency. Not everybody is ready for that. You can’t call a game a master-piece only to call it a disappointment at the end of the year. Review scores must also be honest and, believe it or not, even less people are ready for that. Here, I’m not talking about the flawed notion some outlets have that the average between 0 and 10 is 8. That’s just being mathematically deprived. Instead, I’m talking about Metacritic, Amazon, App Stores and whatever other place that aggregates scores from users in order to present a single information: that the cosmos has voted and decided that game X is a 8.6 out of 10.
Guess what? They are all lying.
They are lying because they encourage users to lie in their reviews. Yes, that means the liar is ultimately you, Mr. User.