ludology

All posts tagged ludology

We've been working a lot recently, coming home to squeeze in what time we have left into some of the great titles out right now. I indulged in a week of the Hellgate London beta, which is my first Diablo-esque, and consequently was a virtual ambush of vacuous addictiveness.

Xstine and I have had some great games in Team Fortress 2, which I is part of the greatest game deal of the year, Orange Box. It's got the utterly surreal and anti-genre Portal, and Team Fortress itself is an excellent fast-paces team-based shooter that has ingenious visual design based off 50's commercial art. You can even play the levels with developer commentary, with behind-the-scenes design processes described in detail as you run around relevant parts of the world. Now that is a labor of love.

I also want to say that the character designs for each of the Team Fortress classes is especially well done, with each having unique body/weapons silouettes that are geared towards making them easy to read in the frenetic action. Characters have a concentration of lighting and color saturation in the chest area, and the shapes that the colors and lines form lead the eye to the chest, and by extension to the weapon the character is holding. For example, you have the medic class with a lab coat that opens out to form a V that points back up to his upper body. A tremendous amount of thought has gone into these character designs. My only regret with the game is that its lack of levels really limit the creativity of a team's class make-up.

So anyways, I'm working on my annual portfolio post-mortem. Here's to hoping Helicopter Ben keeps the market buoyed 'til the end of the year, as inflation has taken a backseat to the credit crunch as the big issue. In the meantime, I'll continue to fill my pre-bedtime hours with unhealthy doses of Puzzle Quest; it's mutation of mindless Bejeweled into a satisfying RPG-lite experience is way more playable than the unsummed parts would have you think.


I finished up Bioshock and it was quite a tour-de-force in game narrative, and deserves the kind of critique usually reserved for film and literature, even from the most ardent anti-“game-as-art” critics (read: Ebert). So I gave it a shot. Here is my effort at deconstructing the meaning of Bioshock.

Read it, would you kindly?

MAJOR SPOILERS

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Xbox Live is brilliant. Yeah, I know I'm a latecomer to this, but I held out on the next-gen tsunami until this wave of awesome launch titles has crushed me in the tidal fortitude of an endlessly playable holiday line-up. Within the first taste of depth, in the Bioshock demo, I explored the post-objectivist underwater apocalypse that was so beautifully rendered, populated, to the point of being a recontruction, that I haven't been this immersed in the wetting of my panties since… well… just since. I await this game as a leviathan in the famished bathysphere of the game-narrative abyss, wherein we loath surface-dwellers and their shallow byline plots.

Bioshock, save me!

So yeah, I played alot in the last few days. Crackdown, Call of Duty 2, Lost Planet, and the demos for Stranglehold, The Darkness, and Geometry Wars (which is like Smash TV deconstructed by Malevich into a supremacist "essence" of addiction symbology, with my skill level better described as abstract death-on-death). The first five were, in order, crack cocaine, cinematic until you played the idiotic multiplayer, overly-japanese eye candy, bangbangbang, and bangbangbang in the dark.

This smorsgabord was especially exciting for me given its accessibility. I mean, I could just download a shit-ton of random demos and stuff, turn off the 360, come back home after work and I have all the titles mentioned in water-cooler talk awaiting my perusal. And Stranglehold was more fun than I'm willing to admit as well; having long despised John Woo of being reductively derivative of his own work, I found his game was a satisfying Max Payne knock-off with lots more bullets, table-sliding, bullet-dodging, and just sheer mandarin murderin' madness.

Our project got extended, and I sorely miss longer gaming nights, but such is life. Swim with it.

We had a great movie summer this year, but after E3, it looks like we're going to have an even more amazing holiday season for games. Some the ones that really caught my eye:

Call of Duty 4
Echochrome
Mass Effect
Super Mario Galaxy
Boogie

Also amazing was the Wii Fit "game" that Nintendo introduced, causing me to seriously consider picking up more shares in their stock. Their ability to make disposable fads never ceases to amaze me. Or maybe I'm just so shaken by the prospect of Metroid Prime 3, Smash Bros. (this year!!!), and Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. But even more amazing was EA's admission that "we are boring people to death." Games like Boogie and EA Playground are spreading the crepuscular rays of hope that the industry's great heartless game factory has a human pulse.

And although I keep swearing not to, I can not help but criticise Sony once again for it's utter disrespect for gamers. Hot on the heels of Microsoft's announcement of an awesome retroactive 3-yr warranty for the 360, Sony decided to drop their own bomb. Playstation 3, the 60gb version, is shedding $100 off its tag. Brilliant right?

And then Hirai tells us that that SKU of the PS3 is no longer in production. How disingenous can they get? If that kinda of bait-and-switch is what they think E3 is for (remember the original Killzone 2 trailer? See the latest in comparison), then they've truly lost their minds. And if they haven't, that would be even worse.


Hello from E3 mania-land!

There been much debate about the necessity of the third-person perspective in the esteemed Fallout series, and the apparent lack of it in the upcoming Fallout 3 from Bethesda. With pipe in hand, tweed jacket ensconched, I present my scholarly nerdface, and ruminate on this and other social trivialities.

For me, the third-person perspective and turned-based combat was and is integral to Fallout. Why? Well, ask yourself what was it that made Fallout so memorable. Invariably, the answer will be that feeling of survival, embodied in its post-apocalyptic theme, and your emergence from such a harsh world. Unlike other RPGs, you weren't a hero to anyone but the superstitious lot in your pathetic little village. Out in the wastelands, against bandits, slavers, feral mutations, and that inescapable radiation build-up in your body, you felt fragile and suffocated even as you leveled-up.

With the overhead perspective, you could see the lay of the land, and really drink in how forgotten and lonely each town was. You could see the fallout. Unable even to choose how your character looked on creation, you were just one of many characters, no bigger, no more colorful, just another face from the desert. Until your avatar donned the power armor (and even then), you didn't stand out. It was a starkly egalitarian world.

And then with the turn-based combat, you could experience the tension in immediate survival. You were made to make life or death choices in you tactics against unfair odds, have the time to dread impending death, and watch those actions play out in a violence even more punctuated by how sudden it was compared to decision making mode. Every used action point spelt committal, and clicking the [END TURN] button faced you with consequence and fate. One moment you were the saviour of the wastelands, the next you were a putrid mess of flesh riddled with laser gatling shots. And you had the entire eternity before ending your turn to contemplate it.

So it brings me great pleasure to hear that Bethesda has chosen to make the morally relativist distopia (post-topia?) of the Fallout gamescape true to the originals; perspective and turn-based combat are back! I'm always impressed when a company can take another's vision and step up to the challenge. Conscious of how empty and undirected Morrowind is, I am glad to see how honestly they've taken up the task of making Fallout a different game, and not just a clone in drag. Time will tell, but I'm very excited with the details coming out about what is sure to be a new epic, if only the fanboys give it a chance.

Leaving for DC for our very first excursion to the fabled East Coast, our firm intention is to capitalize on a precious long weekend. For the flight, I am bringing along my Nintendo DS and Hotel Dusk, but the recent announcements from Nintendo have me slightly riled up, if there can be such a state.

Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Geometry Wars DS, Mario Strikers Charged, they all make me happy. But Planet Puzzle League, a revival of the puzzle perfection that was Tetris Attack, has me in throes of ecstasy. Do nerds lose their virginities to the nigh-sexual stimulation delivered upon slabs of unassailable gameplay? If so, then Tetris Attack was my first, and I remember her way too well.

A puzzle game is a funny thing. Its purpose is to stroke you until you are frustrated with mounds of unfulfilled resolutions that dance tantalizingly within reach. Yet pleasure in them is in the play, not the completion. Each time you do it, you learn to can go longer, and in time it's second nature. You gain mastery of a new, simple universe with simple rules, until you meet another player. Pitted against each other, you become addicted to unending contests of attrition.

The perfect puzzle game, which Tetris Attack is, never lets up. The split second of breath it gives you to either save yourself, or let a fuckton of bricks crush the life out of you is like trying to pants Death and escape alive. A perfect puzzle game, like Tetris Attack, doesn't give you or your opponent any cheap saves though. Each near-death experience is earned, and each earned is in turn a riposte, and each riposte can add up to a counterattack upon your nemesis' unpreparéd ego. I would say this game is the purest distillation of human power struggle and its wanton equilibrium ever made.

You know when a game is perfect when in the end a match between equally skilled players is decided not on luck, but on preserverance. This isn't the imbalanced Puzzle Fighters, the analog Wetrix, the stoic Tetris, the feminist Zuma, the arbitrary Lumines, or the shallow Bust-a-Move. This is Planet Puzzle League. Be afraid.

It was during this creative process that I fully realized how important rhythm was to storytelling. I unconsciously discovered the duality of interiorization and distancing between the creator and his artwork.

I wanted to communicate a cinematic experience according to two principles:
First, the succession of images, which is the montage, and second, the direction, the dramatic structure.

Contrary to one may believe, I think it is the second point that most characterises Another World. There is a dramatic tension in the game that does not always rely on visual effects, even though the visual effects appear now and then to reinforce efficiently the direction of the game. This game assists the immersion of the player with no exterior elements to the world (score, energy gauge etc.) displayed on the screen.

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Yesterday I went to Steve and Cindy's wedding in the beautiful Wente Vineyards, famous for exceptional whites. Their Chardonnay was tasty, without any of the acrid pepper in other places we've been to. Our table was all red wine drinkers, and we were all impressed (the champagne was good too).

Being a guest at a wedding of our peers was so different than our own wedding, and I enjoyed it enormously. There is an aspect of surprise and drama in someone else's wedding that you don't get when you plan and obssess over yours months on end. Steve and Cindy are an odd couple, their personalities seemingly worlds apart. But Steve, although a focused, deconstructive mind who absorbs technicalities and figures unlike any person I know, has a special ability. He's an incredibly fast learner. And though I remember he was loath to discuss the word "marriage" a few years ago, he mastered this new skill as quickly as he mastered programming and art.

A relationship, which is just a game, is tough to master, even impossible for some. But I think you get better with it with practice. I think, win or lose though, what matters is you play your best, you learn some skills, and if you fail… well round two is just around the corner. Looks, money, fancy cars, education, all that matters, as life is as much an itemized treadmill as WoW. But in the end, it's a numbers game. The more you play, the better your chances, and the more skillfully you play, the more chances you get. If you couldn't jump over the sonic boom, you'd have stopped putting quarters in. Guys know what I mean.

Do you think that would apply to The Act, a interative cartoon game where the gameplay is as simple as applying the right amount of "charm" in the right context with a twist of a knob? It wouldn't surprise me at all. Art, after all, imitates the game of life even when we don't realize life is a game.

Recently, Xstine (who found a new job at Activision as a leading artist :hat: ) and I have had way too much gaming to cram into way too little time. At the moment, I'm juggling Super Paper Mario, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, WoW, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Guitar Hero II all in the same time-space continuum. I've devised a macro-recording system to help me farm gold in WoW, something my honorable early-WoW self would have disapproved, scripts of repentance in hand. Today, I've learned to play for fun. I'm so glad to be out of those medieval times of dark, virtual chivalry. Now I see the rest of the players as what they are… a bunch of fucking kids.

I like kids, don't get me wrong. I just can't play online RPGs with them, where any second their mom may tell them to get off the computer, even as we stand before the climatic last boss of a dungeon that took two hours to traverse. I will be sure to learn my child some manners; they should at leaast apologise before just disconnecting into the void.

However, what really threw off my gaming rhythm was this gem of concentrated addiction: Desktop Tower Defense. The way TD-style gameplay delivers an IV drip of satisfyingly explodable monsters and perfectly timed upgrades. You feel compelled consume sequential waves of baddies with your arsenal, and even as you play you see what you will do different next time. The wholly deterministic tower placement makes efficiency so tantalizingly attainable before the edifice of your strategy falls apart. The genre is incredibly organic. I think the carrot it dangles was bought at Whole Foods.

So 300 was amazing. The story and dialogue was predictably trite, but the shots were absolutely stunning, especially the long fight sequence in the first battle. Xstine went nuts over the painterly aspect of several shots, the ones that gave an illusion of no perspective points. I loved the claustrophobic set, complete with static props and painted backdrops.

The cherry topping it all was the total lack of political correctness. Asia! These terrorists are from ASIA! Promise! The film vomits patriotism, and makes no excuse for the need of violence to resolve all problems. While the speeches get long in the tooth, it provided ample ampules of adrenaline. So caricatured and comic it was that I don't seen how there can be a hang-up. I'm just surprised as an liberal an industry as Hollywood even let it reach the public.

As if timed by Zeus himself, God of War 2 comes out this week. Today in fact. In fact I don't know why I'm writing this and not picking up my pre-order from the store. I even prepared myself for this release by playing Golden Axe for the first time in a decade. I'm still a badass with the dwarf. While the AI is terrible, the game is still somehow fun, thanks to the visceral and unashamed action. Kinda like 300.

One last thing to check out is this jaw-dropping but heart-warming new game from the creators of Rag-doll Kung Fu. Most surprisingly, it's coming out for the PS3, not the Wii. While Sony's hodge-podge embrace of card-carrying "indie" developers hasn't impressed me yet, this one looks far more substantial than a Flash in the cell like Flow. Keep this up, and I might actually want a PS3. Provided it plays well. User-created content spawns more paupers than princes, and I've grown out of sandbox-style games. They're usually nothing but ludologized technology, and technology grows wearisome. Hurrah for LittleBigPlanet.