Monday, December 31, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle: Far Cry 3

So, I wasn't looking forward to Far Cry 3 at all. At first it looked like just another bland (but colorful!) shooter, including all the marketing. (That Vaas quote doesn't mean much out of context...)

But then the power of word of mouth took over. Skyrim with guns? Sounds worth a try. (It's totally NOT Skyrim with guns, by the way. Closer to Assassin's Creed, much closer)

I managed to get hold of a copy (free, actually, with the new video card my sister got), downloaded the game Monday (that's two days ago)... and beat it. Yesterday, just before 4. I was pretty well hooked. I dumped.. probably 30 hours out of 36 or so before I quit. (I'm pretty much done, now. Need to try the co-op at some point, but a mic might be helpful and mine is somewhat broken. If someone wants to play, tell me!)

So here's my analysis of the game, specifically how the mechanics aid the themes of the game. There WILL be spoilers, so be warned, although I don't think spoilers would ruin the story and I'll try to avoid those that do.

Vaas, the main antagonist


For once I actually need to bring up plot. Far Cry 3 is a game where you play a thrill seeking tourist named Jason Brody whose party of 20 something friends (including a younger and older brother and Jason's girlfriend) gets kidnapped to be sold into slavery by a psychotic pirate named Vaas. (He of the "do you know the definition of insanity" quote) You escape (because Vaas is dumb/crazy and lets you run), and are saved by the natives.

Then things get weird. This guy from the village, named Dennis, gives you some tattoos, talking to you about some native 'Path of the Warrior', and sets you on your way to saving your friends and killing Vaas.

Whenever you level up, you get to choose perks that let you do more awesome stuff (seriously awesome stuff) and add to the tattoo on your arm. The tattoos either give you power or represent your growing strength, it's unclear which. Either way, they essentially mean exactly the same thing to Jason and to the player, which is pretty unusual.

So, you have these tattoos, and you've got some objectives to do. You start out pretty weak, with just a pistol and a knife (well machete), but pretty quickly you earn your way up to some basic assault rifles and such. And so you begin your way on the path of the warrior...

The tattoo... 
This is where the brilliance of the intertwined narrative and mechanics come in. The balance is almost as good as can be, too. You go to the center of the forest and meet Citra, the leader (shaman priestess, I guess?), earn some more tattoos, unlocking more abilities... go on a quest to prove your worth as a warrior, get more tattoos, more abilities... and finally beat the game and become the ULTIMATE warrior - both in the story and the mechanics. The tattoo and Jason parallel the perks and the player flawlessly.

As you progress, you steadily become capable of more and more incredible feats, becoming tougher and more lethal with every perk you take. By the end of the game you and Jason will be a murdering machine, willing and capable of murdering dozens of people in a variety (such a variety) of ways without breaking a sweat. The end result is that the player and player character motivations become pretty much the same - always a good thing.

...the perks


Jason's character is essentially defined by two words: 'thrill seeker'. He goes on DOZENS of excursions doing dangerous, adrenaline filled activities like skydiving and snowboarding, and the intro cutscene showing the group before they got kidnapped shows him doing just that.

When he gets the chance to go all Rambo and murder everyone... well, he's cautious at first. After all, 'he's never shot anyone before'. Before long, though, he begins to relish it and see it as the ultimate thrill. Killing without penalty is FUN... wait. Sound familiar?

The parallel between Jason's thrill seeking murdering rampage adventure and the player's escapism entertainment is pretty inescapable. Again, we have mechanics that support this. The combat is over the top and encourages experimentation - you'll have a LOT of "let's see if THIS works" or "I wonder if I can do that" moments, just like you'd imagine Jason having. The vehicles are really fun to drive, but also incredibly dangerous - jumping and rolling out of a vehicle as it accidentally careens off a cliff is a common thing. Everywhere there are animals that can and WILL kill you if you're not careful, but they also reward you for manipulating and hunting them.

Jet ski, ramp, sunset, rapids. Everything a thrill seeker wants. Except death.

The most interesting aspect of this is the outpost mechanic. In the game, Vaas's pirates and later on his bosses' privateers hold outposts that you can claim permanently, unlocking new activities in that area and generally making it MUCH safer (not perfectly safe, though. Enemies will still come through, and the animals certainly never go away). That area essentially becomes a generic (if still rather fun) island getaway, with occasional added violence. But the REAL fun comes from exploring new areas and finding new entertaining ways of killing your enemies. The outposts exemplify this, being both the most difficult and the most varied encounters outside of the main campaign.

But what happens when you clear out the outposts? Presumably you're most of the way there by the end of the game, or possibly all the way there (I wanted to finish up the main story so I still had.. maybe a third of them left? Most of the harder ones) The final ones feel like a theme park - you have all your abilities, and this is pretty much the ultimate test to see how you use them. I spent two HOURS playing around, trying to drop on top of someone to do a takedown using a body flight suit and a parachute. (I figured it out, eventually. There's an achievement for it).

When you have them ALL, however, and you've done all the hunts and gotten all the gear... there's nothing left to do. For you or for Jason. I mean, sure, you can go race 4 wheelers and dune buggies, go skydiving/hang-gliding, or just see the sights (of which there are PLENTY). The main thrill of the kill is gone, though. You're done, and the game has little left for you, and little left for Jason (who has done all that before, MANY times - which is why the killing was just a blast for him. Taking it up to eleven, as it were) There's a reason the story ends with you leaving the island in some way no matter what you do.The island holds no more appeal to Jason, and if paced properly (as in you take your fill of the extras before finishing the story), it doesn't to the player either.

Ziplines. These things are all over the place.


I had a blast with this game. I SLAMMED through it in a couple days, and I don't regret a minute of it. It's the most FUN I've had all year. The mechanics and the themes mesh quite well together, in a way I haven't seen before, and the combat encourages experimentation and variety in a way nothing else this year has - including Dishonored and Assassin's Creed (which this game feels a LOT like, incidentally - especially the radio towers and the outposts), or Skyrim last year (as in the quote from the promos).

The game's parallels between player motivation and character motivation are really interesting. Those themes are definitely there, even though that's not the main message of the story - a fairly simple, definitely blunt "power corrupts" along with "not so different", but the game's mechanics combined with certain aspects of the story dissect the idea of a power fantasy by putting the character in a (relatively) realistic example of playing one out. (Most power fantasies are VERY fantastic. This one makes a big deal out of it being relatively possible) A lot of this stuff you may not even notice while you're playing, but by the time I hit the end, they were pretty apparent, which is the way it should be.

I'm somehow surprised I'm not hearing more about Far Cry 3, but then again I didn't hear much about Assassin's Creed 3 either. It doesn't do anything hugely different, or feel particularly different, but it executed really well, at least for me. I feel like the reason no one was discussing it was because of a bit of a lack of promotion - like I said, I thought it was just another shooter sequel (I didn't know much about Far Cry) until I started hearing from people playing it. The release time didn't help either, coming out right before people started discussing GotY awards, and people didn't have enough time to play it before the discussion was drowned by the GotY talk.

Oh, I suppose I should mention where it is in MY games of the year... fairly high, honestly. As far as FUN, it was incredibly fun. It felt short, because of my marathoning, but it was actually just as long as Mass Effect 3 or Assassin's Creed, and it never overstayed its welcome. (Well, it can, but if it does you just play the not-so-long main story. Because you're bored and want to get off the island. Like Jason would!) It manages to deliver some commentary about games and have some really interesting mechanics while still being fun, something I haven't seen much of ever, let alone this year. As far as number? Eh. I don't know. I'll tie it with ME3 for my personal enjoyment and the walking dead and Dishonored for having interesting mechanics, so I guess that's a win for Far Cry 3? Eh. I liked it, and that's what matters at the end of the day

P.S. I recorded a few videos of post-game outpost reclamations, I'll upload them and add them here when I'm done. I'm planning on doing a video with commentary fairly soon as well, so I'll post that here if it happens.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Arcanauts: Aladraian's Journal - Adventure Finale

This is an excerpt from the journal of the Psion Aladraian Starrunner, apprentice of the great Psiontist Grayson Faraday, following the conclusion of the first of his adventures with the Arcanauts that was extensively chronicled.

25 March 256 A.S. (Date converted to current systems. The A.S. calendar system is an approximation of the system then in use, with year 1 as the year space travel was first discovered on the Motherrock)

The past few days have been like nothing I have ever experienced. I found myself embroiled in the machinations of galactic icons, and I found myself foiling those plots. But that feels almost.. unimportant right now. I came face to face with a primordial, one of those mythical beings of creation... and talked to it.

I... cannot fully convey the feelings I experienced, for I do not fully understand them myself. A primordial is a being of such immense power... it communicated not with words, for words are beneath them, but with primal feelings and images. I was overwhelmed with awe - something I am used to only feeling in my studies of the universe and its secrets.

I will forever be thankful for my companion, Crias, for interrupting me before I put the primordial to sleep. The experience and opportunity I would have missed...

Wait, I should explain. It has been a tumultuous few days. I returned from my absence to aid the party in breaking the final seal in the nick of time, as they would soon have been overrun by the World Builder's men. We rushed to the location of the Primordial, only to find what appeared to be Oona and Lord Ceylon Tuatha themselves, along with their respective entourages, debating the Primordial's fate.

The details matter little, but we dispatched both parties separately without much trouble. Of note is that Crias saved a little elfling child that was apparently inside what had appeared to be Oona - the child is with us as we return to Ferrosa and its fate and history are not yet determined.

Those parties taken care of, I took the amulet containing the name of the Primordial from Zasahl and invoked it in order to ask it to put the colony back together, which it did so, projecting a feeling of confusion when I spoke the name.

As I began to command the primordial to return to sleep, Crias interrupted me to ask the primordial itself what it would have us do, a possibility I admit I had never considered. The primordial's response... I may still be in shock.

The hope I felt... the future felt truly open. I saw visions of endless ages, and then paradise itself, here on Migdol. The Primordial was telling us that it would use its power to heal the planet, to return it to the lush place it once was, before it was ruled by deserts and lightning.

I could not deny its power and motives, and I believe my companions felt much the same way. The primordial bestowed upon me a vision of burying the amulet on the island we were on, and I felt compelled to do so (though not through any power of the primordial). I did, and the primordial approached. I missed what exactly happened next, but when I looked back to where I had buried it, a sapling had appeared. Again I was overcome with awe - I believe that sapling will grow to become a true wonder of this world, a symbol of the primordial's dedication as guardian and caretaker of Migdol.

We are on our way back to the colony... and I know not what lies in our future. I am loathe to separate from my companions, as we have gone through much together, but I must find Faraday. The only clue I have is that he had been asking questions about the Bellerophon Cascade, an area I have heard little about except superstitious rumors. Perhaps discovering more about the Cascade would be a logical next step.


MMOs, or Massively Multiplayer Online games, have a long history, but most of that is the ubiquitous "MMORPG", from Everquest to World of Warcraft. MMORPGs have always been the dominant form of MMO, but recently there has been a push towards other kinds of MMOs, especially MMOFPS like Planetside 2 and Firefall. In this article I'll discuss why MMORPGs are so popular, some of the issues with the way they're constructed, and why I think games like Planetside 2 more naturally use the MMO concept.

Whenever you make a game, including an MMO, you should consider how all the elements work together. When making an MMO, you have to think about WHY your game is an MMO. I think that if it's constructed properly, playing an MMO 'solo' should be a significantly inferior experience, which often isn't the case for games like WoW and The Old Republic. These are games where the main questing is actually balanced towards solo play. I don't know about you, but that seems pretty counter-intuitive to me.

The MMO part of the game and the rest of it should work together to make the full experience. Consider Planetside 2, where you basically have a MMO version of Battlefield - the game is persistent, with consistent character progression, on a massive MMO-sized map with up to two thousand people on a single map, and up to hundreds in a single fight. The multiplayer parts and the shooting parts mesh together to form a single, cohesive game.

MMORPGs don't do this meshing of design particularly well. You have the RPG parts, where you go questing, kill monsters,and level up and otherwise progress your character, and then you have the "MMO" parts - things like warzones and raids. The end result is that you have two very different experiences in many MMOs, the 'leveling' phase and the 'endgame' (You might add 'PvP' to that list of experiences, depending on the game). The sharp divide between these phases is almost certain to lose a lot of people who were fans of the leveling phase - this is The Old Republic's major failure, in my opinion. I personally much prefer the story/questing phase of the Old Republic to WoW, but from most accounts the endgame and PvP are.. lackluster at best.

The reason these "WoW-clones" are so common is much the same reason modern military shooters are so popular - a follow the leader process. World of Warcraft is a massive cash cow, with 12 million subs at peak and STILL more than 10 million (technically it dipped below 10 mil but it's back above with Cataclysm), and publishers and developers think that if they essentially copy the WoW model but make a few changes, they might be able to get a piece of the pie - but just like with Call of Duty in the shooter market, it hasn't really worked for most. Just like with Call of Duty, after the initial breakthrough, WoW is self-perpetuating - so many people play WoW because so many other people play WoW. It takes something significantly different to get a significant piece of that WoW pie, and that's why games like GW2 tend to emphasize how they are different. Guild Wars 2's dynamic events are a good example of a feature in an otherwise very WoW-like game that use the nature of an MMO in an intelligent manner.

The industry seems to be slowly realizing that making WoW clones isn't the best way to make money. More and more we hear less of 'WoW clones' and more of 'WoW killers' - MMORPGs that are supposed to be BETTER than WoW in fundamental ways, like GW2's world dynamism and SWTOR's emphasis on story and voice acting. There's also been more and more studios experimenting with the MMO concept, implementing it more naturally into the game. Even the line between MMO and just a multiplayer game blurs with games like League of Legends and even some shooters - games that still have 'matches' and no persistent play between them. (I'd consider a game to be an MMO if it doesn't have a single player offline component, although most online shooters like Blacklight: Retribution aren't generally considered MMOs)

Personally, an MMORPG seems like a contradiction to me, although that depends on your definition of RPG (Which I'll talk about in another article.) An RPG should be about roleplaying, IMO, and I've yet to see a system that convincingly allows multiplayer roleplaying. Most roleplaying is done out of the given mechanics. Ironically, the best MMOs for roleplaying are actually not MMORPGs - they're games like EVE, where player and character motivations are essentially the same, and the roleplaying comes naturally from the mechanics. Think about it: MMORPGs are all about raids and PvP, and these are all things that are dominated by player points of view - mostly grinding for equipment or points of some kind. Even in The Old Republic, roleplaying is mostly limited to player character interaction with NPCs, not interaction with each other. It's essentially a single-player experience with MMO conventions like guilds and raids taped on to it. Contrast this to EVE, where you hear about corporate plots years in the making, or to a shooter where you have people calling for fire support or commanding a squad - all, essentially, in-character without any conscious effort to 'roleplay'.

All of the elements of a game should work together to form the whole. MMORPGs don't do this particularly well, due to the way they are constructed. I'm not saying that it's impossible to make a natural feeling MMORPG, just that in my opinion the WoW model isn't the way to do it. That doesn't mean they aren't enjoyable, either, but I think it's pretty much indisputable that they could definitely flow better than they do now, and developers are beginning to realize that and experiment with the current dominant model.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What's in a name: Gamer

The video game industry and culture is full of badly defined terms that we throw around all the time without realizing that everyone's definition is a little bit different - terms like 'hardcore', 'RPG', and, the one I'll be discussing in this article, 'gamer'.

So, looking at the definition of the word, a gamer is someone who plays games. Simple, right? But, like everything else, the reality is far more complicated. Language is defined by how it is used as least as much as where the term came from. I mean, would you call someone who reads books a 'reader'? (Or worse, a 'booker')

Gaming is unlike most (not all) other forms of media in that an entire culture has formed around it. I see the term 'gamer' as not saying that someone plays games, because that is so general as to be almost meaningless. Almost everyone plays games, even if it's just Angry Birds on their smartphone waiting in line for their morning coffee. A gamer is someone who would identify themselves as a gamer - video games become part of their identity, in much the same way that computers or comic books or whatever become part of the identity of a 'nerd' or 'geek' (two other ill-defined terms whose meaning has changed drastically in recent years).

A gamer, in my opinion, is someone who plays games as more than just a diversion, whether for competition, social interaction (Farmville doesn't count - there's no true interaction there), to hear an interesting story, or some other reason. I would say someone that just buys the latest Call of Duty, Madden, or WoW expansion isn't a gamer in the way I would use the word - a gamer is someone who enjoys games in general, not one game or series to the exclusion of all others.

In short, a gamer is someone who participates in the culture. A gamer is the kind of person who reads a review of something before they buy it, who is interested in new kinds of games, and who is willing to seriously discuss pros and cons of different games.

Of course, many people use other definitions, and the gaming culture that the term is associated with has many, many subcultures (such as the shooter fans, or people who play only MMOs). The key point, I think, is that they understand enough about the games to look at more than just the name or the popularity of something before playing it.

So that's my definition of a 'gamer'. Like I've said many times above, this is just my definition, and although I've tried to make it as definitive and concrete as I can, of course people disagree, and that's just fine. Evolving perceptions of words like these is how languages change.

P.S. I've got a lot of posts planned out, but I've been busy with finals and now holiday trips and things. Hopefully I'll have some semi-regular content pretty soon after break. The XCOM series is still happening at some point, and me and a few other people are planning on doing an Alpha Protocol Let's Play, so look forward to more information on those in a couple weeks!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

XCOM series update

So several of you gave some input last time, and I've been thinking of some specific ideas since then. The idea at this point is basically to be giving you guys a view of the war as if you were actual civilians - so there will be news articles of various kinds, official government announcements, classic 'propaganda', maybe even a presidential announcement or two for big things (most notably the fact that OMG THERE ARE ALIENS!!!1!).

You'll notice some of that is text based, some is video/image based. There's going to be very few consistent sources of reliable information - I'm going to be deliberately trying to mislead you guys as to what is going on in the actual campaign, making it seem better than it is. Of course, if it's going really well there's no reason to do that, is there? So I'm thinking maybe classic difficulty, although that depends on how good I am. NOT Ironman, but I'll only reload if I wipe because of something dumb - I won't even reload on all wipes, and anything with survivors I won't.

Playing on classic, it's entirely possible I won't win, but I WILL play to the VERY end, and we'll see how well the propaganda can keep up the facade of success. Actually, it might be preferable if I DON'T win, although I'll certainly try.

Oh, as for when I start... I'll probably wait to start posting until January, although I may start a couple weeks before Christmas if I have enough of a backlog of content by then. Probably not.

So, lots of different ideas for things I can do, so very varied content, some video and some audio. The question for you guys for this post is what do you think of classic as the difficulty? I'm thinking that should work pretty well, but normal is an option. I can also do Ironman if you think that's important.

Of course, if you have any other ideas (ideas for specific content is welcome, although I haven't mentioned everything), feel free to offer them as well! Signups are still open, and will be at least until I start, probably later. (If you're nice you'll post them on the initial post, here.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Binding of Isaac vs FTL: A comparison of roguelikes

First off, in the definition of roguelike (the only one that really works for both examples) is a game that requires repeated playthroughs (generally ending with death) in order to learn how to play it properly. This is the genre that made up the term 'losing in fun'. Also, binding of Isaac is ... kind of an arcade shooter roguelike with permanent powerups and other items. FTL is a pausable space sim roguelike where you control obtainable crew and weapons on an upgradable starship. Now, on to the introduction:

Somehow a debate on Twitter over Binding of Isaac came up, with JPH (@ninjagameden) complaining on Twitter (that's not how the debate started, BoI was a tangent) about it and other people trying to convince him "HEY it's not the worst game ever it's totally AWESOME!", eventually it came down to the point where JPH says that he HAS to use the wiki to know what everything does. Let's figure out how much of a problem that is.

Somewhat later, TimePyradox came in with some issues concerning FTL, and how it has specific builds needed to beat the boss that are specific enough to need wiki-ing. That's not really true (sorry), but FTL has other similar problems, and I'll discuss that below.

There's a lot of analysis here about these very specific problems, so this should be an interesting experiment. I'll have an answer as to which issue is the more serious one at the end. Now, one at a time, let's get into this. Binding of Isaac first.

Binding of Isaac
JPH's problem is he gets an item and he doesn't know what it does, and there's too many items for him to be able to learn through repeated plays, so you have to use the wiki during play to know what all the items does. I don't actually know if this is true or not - I'm sure some would agree, but twitter has accepted that he needs the wiki. (note, him specifically. This kind of thing depends on your capability of dedicating time to the game on a fairly consistent basis in order to learn the items well enough not to use a wiki)

He is arguing that FTL does not have this problem, because FTL tells you exactly what each item does, and here's the key part, BEFORE you get it. In Binding of Isaac, they don't tell them until after you get them at best, and never at worst. (Well, technically when you use it. That doesn't help when you get smashed by a giant foot because you're the only target)

In some ways, I think that labeling the items is irrelevant, because if it tells you after you get the item that's fine, as long as it tells you, because you pick up every item. The way Binding of Isaac supposedly works (I haven't played it) is that you take what you get, and develop a play style developed around what you get. Any combination of items (and you get a very specific number of items, usually, due to the way it's set up.) should be viable, as long as you know how to use that combination. Experience obviously helps with that, but it's not NECESSARY.  You also get a pretty definite number of items, each of which benefits you in a supposedly equal way (although some are tradeoffs) Note tarot cards (a specific type of consumable item that do something when you use them) are an exception, but there's a relatively limited number (like 16? Less than 20 more than a dozen) Pills are ALSO an exception, but they have different effects every game, like potions in a classic roguelike, and typically won't hurt you directly in any way. 
This issue (there are others that could be brought up, I'm sure, but this is the big one I've heard discussed)  is relatively simple and easy to fix, so if that's the worst one, then Binding of Isaac is pretty well off in this comparison.


Pyradox's argument is that the builds required are specific enough that you need a wiki or spreadsheet to figure it out. If that was true, then that was bad. But I disagree that you DO. (He mentioned only experience players would when I mentioned this.) I've actually played FTL (I don't think I've written anything on it yet? I should fix that), and I asked Ranneko about this (Thanks Ranneko!), and as far as I can tell, this is just false. Specific builds that need memorization just don't exist. All sorts of tactics are close to equally useful, and you can beat the boss with all sorts of end builds. You DO need to be highly upgraded with full health, high quality weapons, a full crew, and things like that, but that's to be expected at a boss.

The problem, as far as I can tell, is that it's just a massive, MASSIVE difficulty hike from everything else. The rest of the game's difficulty curve as rough plateaus for each sector, increasing moderately whenever you go to a new sector, and then it just JUMPS at the boss. It's unreasonably difficult. It's so much harder new players will likely reach a skill level where they almost always reach the boss but never/rarely KILL the boss. (I'm pretty close to that level) This is an issue. JPH actually mentioned this in reference to Binding of Isaac, but the difficulty of a game (as an absolute, independent of progression. More on that in a second) should progress as a fairly steady incline, and rewards should roughly follow that. Character ability does the same thing in a progression based game, and the difference between those results in a 'perceived difficulty'.

The problem arises here: The absolute difficulty may increase by half again, or double. But the 'perceived' difficulty goes up by much, MUCH more. For comparison (this number is completely academic since there are no numbers involved), that value could be ten times as much as before (Note: as a difference, not a ratio. See post-post-script), the boss is that much harder. I don't think I need to tell you why that's a problem.

There are a few possible solutions, such as lowering the difficulty of the boss, and some other problems, like how it's the same every time (that's more subjective), but these are irrelevant. You can't fix this by something as simple as adding some text to the game, so I'd consider it a more 'fundamental' issue than the one discussed for Binding of Isaac.

Both games when played properly rely upon the experience of multiple plays to become proficient at them, so they do what they're supposed to as roguelikes. (note: FTL does almost exclusively, while Binding of Isaac also has twitch skill and other things that you need to play well. I'm discussing the roguelike mechanics specifically) I'm discussing two specific issues here, and considering they are some of the dominant reasons these games are NOT good (or fun, really. That's the hard part, distinguishing), I think that's a fair (but fundamentally flawed, it doesn't consider NUMBER of issues, just the single worst one) way of judging which is a better game. So qualifiers abound.

I'd say that the comparison of these two issues, which in Binding of Isaac is easily fixed and it's harder to do so for FTL, makes FTL an 'objectively' 'worse' game. This DOES NOT MEAN that it is less fun. It means that its systems are objectively WORSE. Any definition of 'fun' is inherently subjective, and just because a game is inherently 'worse' in this way doesn't mean that it's a problem. Although it is a problem. I would make the observation that they are LINKED, though. Actually, the idea that a game being 'good' is linked to it being 'fun' is pretty obvious, the issue is that when you ask if a game is 'good' you're ACTUALLY asking if it's 'fun'.

Note that JPH was completely unable to handle playing Binding of Isaac because of its obfuscation of mechanics due to a somewhat personal issue with not seeing information, while almost everyone who plays FTL notices how much harder the boss is, although only some people quit over it. For JPH, the game was less fun because of a certain issue he had with playing it, one roughly analogous to that of a colorblind person. (JPH: I'm not saying you're colorblind. Or even that your brain has something 'wrong' with it like a colorblind's person's eyes are. Brains are more complicated than eyes) The issues with the boss make FTL less fun for EVERYONE, making it... a worse game, objectively. So if you don't have the problem with not knowing what stuff does that JPH did in Binding of Isaac, and personal preference is irrelevant (unlikely), theoretically (THEORETICALLY) Binding of Isaac should be more 'fun'. Assuming 'fun' is dependent on a game's systems being consistent and following some kind of logical progression.

P.S. Don't forget to check out my post with my idea for an XCOM Propaganda series! It's the very last post :P Taking signups for soldiers and ideas!

P.P.S. *MATH NERD ALERT* Actually, what I  called a 'difference' between the 'absolute difficulty' and isn't a difference at all, since you can't absolutely define difficulty. Well, I suppose you could, but it makes less sense that way. I'd call it a ratio. Absolute difficulty and character ability have the same unit (strength, basically. Like a Challenge Rating in D&D, applied to the PCs as well), and the ratio of those results in a difficulty, with 1 being, say, average. (You have to define 1 and average is good because it allows lower values and higher much more easily, making the whole system more flexible and easier to use) Note that a difference in that case would ALSO work, but is inferior for the same reason that facing 22 CR as a 20 CR party is harder than facing 10 CR as an 8 CR party. (or more drastically, a 3 CR enemy as a 1 CR party) Note the ratios: 1.1, 1.25, and 3.00. (It might not be that bad, because performance is randomly variable and CR doesn't necessarily follow a linear scale of ability)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

XCOM Propaganda Series - Ideas

So, there's a bunch of people in my internet circle doing XCOM stuff. (Jarenth here and Krellen here), and I particularly enjoyed my first playthrough and I was wondering what I could do that was unique from theirs. One is a traditional LP from the perspective of the player, and one is a narrative driven one from the perspective of the commander.

I had the idea on twitter of a series that is propaganda published either by XCOM itself or by the individual nations. Think like... the Starship Troopers movie. The idea of downplaying the alien threat while emphasizing the heroic actions of the soldiers seems like it could make a fairly compelling entertaining series. I'm not sure what format I'd like to do it in, there are obvious issues with both a text format (here on the blog) and a video format on my youtube channel. First off, I'm not sure at all I have a voice remotely suited to this kind of video, although I could practice a bit and maybe pull it off. There's also the question of variety of shots - I mean, once you've seen a trooper headshot a xeno once, you've seen them all. Some clever editing, clips/shots, and textual/audio context may solve this problem (Basically it just means I have to actually work to make it interesting :D)

I'm pretty sure I'm going to be doing this in some form, although if it doesn't work out I may convert to a traditional LP, or have that going and still do these sometimes (I'm thinking I could do videos focusing on big tech advancements and the introduction of enemies) Part of this post is opening it up to everyone to suggest ideas or suggestions, anything of that nature is welcome. Obviously feedback on whether to do it in text or video would be extremely helpful.

Also if you want to be in said series, post your preferred name, nickname, class, appearance, gender, whatever. I'll probably be starting... next Monday? And do a weekly or biweekly update schedule. Maybe one general "progress of the war" or "be a hero!" video and one video on a more specific topic.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mass Effect - Looking Back

Today is N7 day, November 7th. Admittedly Bioware came up with it, but why not, I'll take it. It gives me an excuse to write about Mass Effect, which I'm always, always ready to do.

It being N7 day, today is a day to appreciate the series and what it did well, the memories it gave us. So let's talk about that instead of the negatives (like we don't do enough of that in my LP... more on that later).

Mass Effect 1

Mass Effect 1 was released, as an Xbox 360 exclusive on Nov 20. 2007, almost 5 years ago. It was developed by Bioware, then mostly known for Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect was the first game they'd made in an original setting, although both of those significantly developed their settings, especially KotOR, which brought a whole new time period to the KotOR universe. I got the original Mass Effect, for PC... I think it was the fall of 2009. I was hooked.

They got so much right. The shooting mechanics were clunky, the pacing was occasionally a little odd, it definitely had the formulaic plot structure Bioware is famous for, but it nailed the setting and the characters. It brought us Commander Shepard, Garrus, Wrex, Tali, Liara, Joker, Saren, still some of my favorite characters in gaming. It brought us the Asari, the Turians, the Salarians, the Krogan, the Quarians, and more, a stable of sci-fi races that was new, diverse, and distinctive. It brought us the Genophage, the Rachni, and the Geth, introducing morally gray conflicts that shaped the entire universe and gave you a chance to affect those conflicts.

Mass Effect 1 still has some of the most iconic moments in the series. Remember Eden Prime, where we first saw Sovereign and began to learn the of threat of the Reapers. Remember the Citadel, where we got our first good look at the culture of the universe and became a Spectre. Remember becoming commander of the Normandy, and giving a speech to the crew that gave you one of the first big opportunities to establish your Shepard's character. Remember Noveria, and discovering the Rachni Queen. Remember Feros and the insidious influence of the Thorian. Remember Virmire, confronting Wrex, the "Hold the Line" speech and meeting Sovereign. Remember Ilos, and Vigil explaining the last effort of the Protheans, flinging a warning to the future. Remember the ending, remember convincing Saren that his was not the way, remember the Normandy leading the charge and defeating Sovereign for good.

Mass Effect 2The hype for Mass Effect 2 was intense. EA had acquired Bioware and with it the series, and ME2 was being promoted as a true blockbuster (despite the January 26 release). It looked like it was going to be great.

And it was, in a lot of ways. The shooting itself was a lot tighter, although the customization RPG aspects suffered. The base mechanics, at least in my opinion, were a lot more enjoyable.

Mass Effect 2 introduced many, many new characters, just as iconic as those from the original games. This is the game that brought us Mordin Solus, Thane Krios, Legion, Grunt, Samara, Miranda. ME2 had a huge emphasis on these characters, with every single squad member (of which there were about a dozen) getting one full mission devoted to them, apart from the recruitment missions for all but Miranda and Jacob, and these missions were easily the best part of the game. This is the game where we killed a Thresher Maw on foot, where we stopped an Ardat-Yakshi from terrorizing Omega, where we helped Mordin stop terrible experiments on the Krogan, where we saved Miranda's sister from her controlling father, where we saved Tali from accusations of unleashing the Geth on the Flotilla, and the game where we flew, and survived, the suicide mission.

Mass Effect 2 was definitely an improvement from Mass Effect 1 in a lot of ways. Conversations were more fluid and integrated into the plot, instead of the ME1 style where typically you got your quests and then you went and did them. It was much more cinematic, with some really great scenes. It had a ton of terrific character development for its huge stable of characters. It further developed the setting, letting us see the impact of the Genophage on Tuchanka, the plight of the Quarians on the Migrant Fleet, and the height of Asari culture on Illium. The suicide mission was an interesting experiment in gameplay mechanics, fusing character input and a cinematic experience in a way that hadn't really been seen before.

Mass Effect 3

Again, Mass Effect 3 was hyped up for months before release. Fans of the series, like me, hoped that it would combine the plot and customization of Mass Effect 1 with the shooting and cinematic experience of ME2, while keeping up the tradition of setting and characters the previous games had established.

Again, in a lot of ways it worked. There's been a lot of negative discussion of ME3, even without the controversy of the ending, but ME3 did succeed in fusing the first two fairly well. It further developed the skill systems and gave much more variety to the  enemies and weapons, making the combat much, much deeper than in ME2. It had a resurgent focus on the plot, with every main mission directly related to the main objective, unlike Mass Effect 2.

War was upon the galaxy, and no punches would be pulled. Right from the very beginning, Shepard tumbled from catastrophe to catastrophe, trying to find some way to save Earth and defeat the Reapers. We went from Palaven, seeing the discipline and heroism of the desperate Turians trying to save their homeworld, to Tuchanka, where we finally resolved the longstanding issue of the genophage, to Rannoch, where the Geth and the Quarians were engaged in their final battle, to Earth, where the Reapers are defeated and Shepard wins. (mostly)

Mass Effect as a series was a grand experiment, Bioware trying to make a series in a completely new world with a grand epic story that the player had unparalleled influence on. Sometimes they stumbled, sometimes they fell backwards, but overall I think they succeeded.

So next time you're discussing the ending, or Cerberus, or nitpicking at some small aspect, or whatever, take a step back, just for a moment, and remember the memories and experiences that the series has given us over the past 5 years. I certainly have, and I thank Bioware for giving me one of my favorite series ever, despite the mistakes I made and the potential for so much more that was squandered.

Happy N7 Day. Maybe next year seeing the bright side will be a little easier.

P.S. Oh, btw, I'm planning on starting my ME2 LP up again next week. It's published now so I have to do it. Someone remind me this weekend that I need to do that. Also if you'd like being a guest commentator for a week or two, and I know you, feel free to volunteer on twitter or in the comments. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Guild Wars 2: Questing

So I caved in to peer pressure and got Guild Wars 2 ... a couple of weeks ago now (time flies fast when you're busy). If you're thinking about getting it and haven't yet.. I hope this helps :) Keep in mind that if you don't like MMOs usually, you'll really have to think about WHY you don't like MMOs before you'll get a good idea about whether GW2 is the one to try. Although no subscription is a nice bonus.

Disclaimer: I've put.. around 50 hours in among 5 different characters, and have each of them done with the first zone, lvl 1-15 (level cap is 80). This IS enough to get a decent handle on the questing and progression systems, but not enough to get to late game content i.e. dungeons and things of that nature. I haven't really gotten that far in another similar MMO anyway, so I won't have as much to say on those topics. I also haven't participated in any PvP, since that's not really my thing in MMORPGs, although I probably will try it out at some point. Again, I haven't PvPed in an MMORPG before so who knows what I'll have to say. Other than queue times suck (I've heard it's hours sometimes)

Now, let's get to the real post. Here goes nothing.

First off, let's get this out of the way: GW2 is NOT definitively the MMO for non-MMO gamers, although it does make some big changes. It is still very much like a traditional MMO. You have your classes, even very archetypical ones, each with their own gimmick. You have your zones, very set apart from each other. You have your crafting, your equipment, your talents, your skills, etc. The combat is even hotkey based, although it does make some significant changes. (I'll discuss that more in a later post, probably Friday) The thing that really obviously sets GW2 apart is the questing system. So let's talk about that.

In your typical MMO, you run around a town area in a zone, seeing exclamation points everywhere, then go do your quests (which in a well designed game are typically in about the same area), go back, get more, rinse and repeat. Every couple rounds you go to another nearby town area. This results in a forced downtime every set of quests - sometimes as little as half an hour and it can probably get up to 2 hours or so.

In Guild Wars, you have three types of quests: Story quests, Heart quests, or "tasks", and dynamic events. Story quests are, basically, your main quest line. Typically you won't spend nearly as much time on these as you will just doing quests out in the world. These are personal quests, instanced (no other players), with cutscenes (basically two guys on screen talking - most of the game isn't voice acted but these are) There's about one quest every couple of levels, and each one shouldn't take more than.. half an hour or so at best. They DO tend to get kind of difficult occasionally, especially since they scale you back HARD to the level of the quest, so no leveling past this. (Although you will still get better skills and things to make it a bit easier)

Heart quests are always present quests that you receive as soon as you enter an area, and almost function as one of those sets of quests in a typical MMO, allowing you to do many different things to advance a bar (individual to yourself - only your contributions add to it) until you're finished, getting a moderate XP reward and access to a vendor. These are what push you from area to area in the zone, since there's about one per level. There's very little reason to go back to to town - there are small vendors everywhere to sell your junk, and any crafting materials can be automatically dumped into a collections area (separate from your bank. It's a really ridiculously convenient system). A lot of the time the only reason you'll head back to one of the larger towns is to repair your armor and grab some more salvage kits (used to salvage useless gear for crafting supplies).

The dynamic events are where it gets interesting. These are cooperative events open to everyone in the area where you perform a variety of tasks - defend against an attack, escort an NPC (they're usually... okay at fighting, and generally you can revive them if they die), kill a boss monster, collect things, and a variety of others. These scale with the number of players participating, so at first you'll just have a couple PCs fighting a few enemies, and by the end you can have a couple dozen staging a fierce defense against waves and waves of monsters. It DOES tend to get chaotic sometimes. Some of these events tell a kind of story - depending on whether you win or lose, a different dynamic event will follow. For example, the last time I was playing there was an event to go attack towers on the outskirts on an enemy base, then go capture the base, then defeat the boss monster that spawned. I didn't lose any of those, but a typical response to a loss would be the enemies stage attack on YOUR base. You can actually lose access to waypoints (fast travel system) and vendors during these events, at least temporarily.

So, the heart events are essentially grinding of a different form, especially so you can complete a zone. Completing a zone requires all heart quests, points of interest (just locations), vistas (basically like the towers in assassin's creed minus gaining the map coverage. Look pretty cool though), and skill challenges, and nets a significant reward. The dynamic events are considerably more interesting, and if you don't participate in them you're missing out on what makes GW2 different - as well as a LOT of XP. If you don't do the events, you WILL end up underleveled pretty quickly. Your mileage may vary, but for what it's worth I do tend to get swept up in the events sometimes (especially the longer ones), and I've heard similar things from other people who don't typically enjoy MMOs.

Oh, another relevant point, especially for people that don't like typical MMOs: No more competing with other players for mobs, resources, or pretty much anything. It's not perfect, but it's pretty dang close. Anyone that damages a mob gets full credit for it (although it seems you have to do significant damage to get a drop), and anything else you can interact with is fully instanced, so it doesn't disappear when another player uses it. This is a REALLY nice system, and one of the smaller things that makes GW2 really better, maybe even more than the bigger changes I've been discussing.

Don't forget to leave a comment, whether you agree or disagree or if I forgot something (or was straight-out wrong, though I hope that didn't happen), whatever! And check back again in a few days and I'll have another post on the combat system up (I'm thinking Friday. I tend to be pretty busy on Thursdays...)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Goal of Games

 I was talking to someone on Twitter last night, and some of the fundamental differences we had in our perception of video games brought up a question in my mind:

Why do you play games? I ask this in all seriousness. Have you ever thought about it? What is it about video games that you enjoy?

This is an interesting question to me because I think video games are more versatile as a medium than almost anything else. We have everything from Skyrim to Call of Duty to Mario, and everything in between. We have games that focus on telling an interesting story, to seeing how many fantastic ways you can kill things, to just making the path to the right end of the level as entertaining as possible.

All these different forms of games are designed to be worthwhile in different ways. Some people play because they enjoy the progression from weak to powerful, from nothing to everything. Some people play because video games offer ways to tell a story unlike any other. Some people play video games because they enjoy the actual act of playing the game in and of itself. Others play video games for reasons that would never even occur to me (not that I can't think of plenty more).

Most people enjoy some mix of the above, and that mix is different for everyone. This is why the quality of a game is so subjective. It is perfectly reasonable for one person to enjoy a game and another not, even if the game is technically "good", because different people like different things.

So next time you're thinking about writing a game off as pointless trash, remember that not everyone is looking for the same things you are.

As a conclusion, I'll repeat the questions I started this off with: Why do you play games? What is it about them that you enjoy?