Nit: Explanation vs Exploration – Journey with a Map

Nit: Explanation vs Exploration – Journey with a Map

Every game, even the most linear of them, has some degree of exploration. This is a fundamental part of the interactive experience whereas something such as a book or movie is all about explanation and telling (or showing) the user what is going on. But in the world of interactive mediums, there has, especially in the last couple years, been a resurgence of interest in much more explorative games such as Minecraft and Skyrim. But exploration comes in many forms. Is this a mystery where information is what you seek? Are you learning a craft in a trial-by-fire? Is the world your playground with adventure around every corner? All of these are possibilities and many more, but they all have their own unique advantages and challenges. And failure in different areas can lead to many different results. Withholding Information It is rare that a game spells absolutely everything out for a player. It does happen (simulation games especially), but generally there is a progression from ignorance to clarity that helps to guide and inspire the players. What they don’t know is a large part of this informational exploration. A Mystery is Afoot A mystery in this sense doesn’t have to be so direct as a whodunit, but rather it can refer to a lack of context for what happened before a certain point. This can strictly be added flavor and fluff that is purely optional to areas in the main plot that are shrouded in unknowns. The player gets to unravel the secrets and find out all there is to know about all of the world and feel more like a part of it the entire time. The rewards here scale with the direct correlation with the main plot. The risks do as well, though. As a player, it is a wonderful feeling to get to understand what is really going on. Even understanding motivations for the world and its players can make one feel much more like a part of it. The risks come from what the player will do with this information. A common flaw in games such as JRPGs is that the player can and frequently does understand what is going on before the characters. The time delay between when the player knows what’s going on and the game adapts to incorporate that further knowledge can lead to greater and greater disconnects between the player and the characters. Frustration can flare and boredom can set in quickly when it seems like the characters are just dumb or knowingly playing into the enemy’s hand. How can this be avoided? For one thing, a developer can always play a game knowing what the mysteries are and knowing exactly...

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Chrono Trigger: Still mostly a dream

Chrono Trigger: Still mostly a dream

Chrono Trigger is a game that frequently rates towards if not at the top of the best rpgs of all time if not best games of all time. This fact isn’t surprising when one realizes that Chrono Trigger was actually made to be an amazing game. This might seem obvious as in all games are made to be awesome. Squaresoft (now Square Enix) put together a team of very experienced talent they deemed the “dream team” and had them make a game. That game is Chrono Trigger. For those top lists, it’s not surprising that this game lists there especially when paired with nostalgia. For many people writing about games now, this fell into the time when they were growing up and deciding what the standard and best games were. But I’m different. I actually didn’t start playing JRPGs at all until the PlayStation (Final Fantasy VIII to be specific). So for me, this was playing a new game which not only needed to still hold up, but prove to me that it really is one of if not the best JRPG ever created. And in the end, it did. Well… mostly. We all make mistakes Chrono Trigger is not a perfect game. That’s not surprising when one considers that the best games will try new ideas and not all are great. Chrono Trigger is no exception for either new ideas or not that great. Chrono Trigger’s great foray into different territory is a series of action sequences. I hesitate to call this idea new as may much older point-and-click adventure games would have forced arcade sequences as well with a similar result. The sections don’t fit in the game and frequently aren’t fun. Worse is that they are required to progress the story. On the bright side, they tend to be short and not exceptionally difficult (though having to race around a series of catwalks and avoid cutting any corners was pretty bad). They are also rather infrequent. I’m pretty sure these can be seen as a precursor to many side tasks that did become more popular such as fishing, but the future had much better ideas especially not making them required. Another unique idea that even the game gives up on has to do with positional attacks. This may sound like it involves tactics, but it really doesn’t. If the monsters are in a line or close together or the like, some attacks might be able to hit multiple enemies. They spend a fair amount of a tutorial explaining all the different ways this might come up, but I generally only noticed anything positional on a couple attacks that I quickly grew out of. In theory it...

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MOGA Pro Power: Your phone is a real game console

MOGA Pro Power: Your phone is a real game console

I’m a latecomer to the idea that mobile gaming on phones (and conceptually tablets) is actually a way to play and enjoy good and interesting games. As a lover of interesting narratives and unique indie ideas, this market should be right up my alley (assuming I stay away from all of the microtransactions). Unfortunately, it has never caught my fancy before, and I do believe I’ve determined why (and the fewer games on the Windows Phone Store isn’t it). I despise touch controls for most games. For some games they can be great. But generally, the more of a traditional game for other avenues like consoles or PC the mobile game is, the less I feel the controls are acceptable. Virtual joysticks and buttons on the screen at best clutter the game itself and, more often, cause my own hands to get in my viewing area. And besides getting in my own way, it is very easy to miss one virtual button for another since there isn’t any tactile feedback. Enter the MOGA controllers. These are Bluetooth game controllers deigned to be used with phones. Additionally, contrary to what MOGA’s web site says, they work great with Windows Phone 8.0+ as well. I actually have a Samsung Ativ S Neo. And it has transformed my phone from a laughable gaming experience to a wonderful one. Hardware My beautiful wife was kind enough to give me a Moga Pro Power as a gift. Inside the box, I found 2 USB A (standard) to micro (cell phone adapter) cables, a folding plastic stand, a tiny getting started guide, and of course the controller. The cables in the box come in the 3 foot and 8 inch variety. The 8 inch is supposed to go from the controller to your phone to charge it (more on that later) and the 3 foot is just for charging the controller. It’s a shame that it doesn’t come with a wall adapter. As a really minor annoyance (as the box implies), these are strictly charging USB cables. That means they cannot transfer data if, for instance, you connected your phone to your computer using these cables. The guide talked about going to the Google Play store and downloading software and other things for Android but didn’t mention anything about Windows phone. Windows Phone setup is extremely easy overall. While the controller is charged (or charging), switch it to “A” mode. In Settings->Bluetooth, you should see an entry (mine first showed Accessory, but eventually showed MOGA Controller after a couple seconds). Click the controller and it’s paired. That’s all. Now you just need to start your game and all should just work. There’s a couple small...

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Nit: Cheat codes and F2P – Part 2: Pay to Cheat

Nit: Cheat codes and F2P – Part 2: Pay to Cheat

In this continuation from part 1, we’re going to dive into how cheating relates to Free 2 Play (F2P) games. To set expectations, I do not wish to imply that purchasing things in F2P games is inherently cheating. There are even some ways that people may, generally rightly, call purchases Pay-to-Win that I would still argue are not cheating. Then there are the transactions that are subtly to blatantly and excessively cheating. F2P: The good parts I would like to say I like the idea of F2P. Unfortunately, as we’ll run into below, there are a lot of dark corners of it. I additionally run into issues with spending money on F2P games in general. Part of this might be that I don’t like what I can purchase. But fundamentally, I don’t see F2P going away anytime soon. Recently, The Banner Saga devs discussed how people don’t want to pay for mobile games. As someone who loves his 3DS, has owned basically every generation of Gameboy since the original, has owned a couple PSPs, and still actively looks to add a PS Vita and NVidia Shield to his collection, I don’t share that feeling exactly. I do generally not purchase games for my phone, though, which is what the article is discussing. So F2P is the solution to the mobile market for many games so people don’t feel like they are paying initially but end up spending plenty of money in the end. And this isn’t all bad. I’ve brought up before that I happily paid for Lord of the Rings Online and DC Universe Online when they were F2P games. I was having a good experience and wanted more content or features that paying enabled. For instance, the expansion packs provided more areas to explore, story to experience, and frequently characters to play as. To me, this could possibly point more to Microsoft’s approach with Killer Instinct for Xbox One: It is a generous demo, not free to play. To me, it is a great approach to allow people to really get to enjoy your game before charging for it. To me, any developer or publisher who isn’t willing to do this doesn’t have the confidence in their game they should. Or maybe they know the game isn’t good enough which is a separate problem. An alternative I have no problem with but doesn’t appeal to me is aesthetic purchases. Path of Exile uses this as their entire monetization plan, and the fact they continue to run the servers and produce more content says to me that it is effective for them. I’m happy for these purchases to exist, but I can’t justify in my mind paying for...

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Nit: Cheat codes and F2P – Part 1: Cheating in my world

Nit: Cheat codes and F2P – Part 1: Cheating in my world

iddqd. dnkroz. it is a good day to die. And of course any of the many other ways to say /god. For some small number of people, these little phrases will map to enabling God mode in different old games (for reference, Doom/Doom 2, Duke Nukem 3d, Warcraft 2, and Half Life respectively). And I still remember them all off the top of my head. It is sometimes hard to admit, but I used to cheat in games. A lot. I had and used Game Genie starting at the original Nintendo Entertainment System and moved on to GameShark as time went on. Yet today, I go out of my way to not read any sort of walkthrough for a game until I am honestly stuck and never look for ways to cheat the games I play (except infinite lives in Mario; I don’t really understand why lives are there anyway). So is cheating good? Bad? Both? Neither? Well, I argue it’s complicated. The Dark Side of Cheating To get this out of the way, I never support advantages in competitive play without all the players involved agreeing to the rules. If everyone agrees to play by different rules or give a subset of the players a handicap, then there are no issues. But cheating against others otherwise is never acceptable. Even beyond the obvious, though, there are issues with cheating. I started cheating because I used to play games with my father. He introduced me to games such as Commander Keen back in the day and also Wolfenstein and Doom. That said, my father has never had the greatest of reflexes nor liked failure. He is much more in the camp where sufficient planning is important and then a single execution rather than try-fail-repeat-until-success. Because of that, he was attracted to cheating in games to prevent his failure. Unfortunately, this fear of failure passed down into me to varying degrees, but gaming was a large place where it has taken a long time to accept failure. The problem with this mentality is that it essentially shrugs off the idea of getting better at a game. If you never fail at a game, obviously you already have surpassed its challenge and it has little more to give you after the interest of your first experience (be it for the novelty or for the story) has worn off. There’s also the feeling of satisfaction of accomplishing something that felt like a challenge. I linked to this article from 3D Realms when discussing difficulty, but this is functionally the same argument: cheating can make a game too easy. If one considers a game like Doom, there is only so much fun to...

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Transistor – Real Time Tactical Awesome

Transistor – Real Time Tactical Awesome

I don’t hide the fact that I really respect and enjoy Supergiant Games. Bastion was a game with fairly standard gameplay that I felt was well balanced and cleaned up to feel very tight and responsive. Then they mixed in beautiful art, wonderful narration, and a superb soundtrack around a decent story told very well. In the end, I loved that little gem the first couple times I played it and enjoy playing around in the world periodically since. That sets a pretty high bar for Transistor, and I have a tendency to be disappointed when the bar is set too high. In the end, though, I was quite happy with Transistor overall, though it is definitely not a flawless game. Playing an outsider As I like to focus in on what stuck with me last, that means we have to start with the negative. Transistor is a game where the characters definitely have lives that existed before you joined. The idea of a rounded backstory and people with actual emotions is a great feature to explore. What becomes a problem is that the game has no real interest in exploring the backstory so much as assuming you will catch on. This isn’t to say that there isn’t narration. To be completely frank, I felt that there could use to be more times where there wasn’t narration. Looking back, all of the narration did have a feel about it where one friend desperately wants to cling to a past that doesn’t exist while the other cannot respond. The problem is that these friends know things about the world that the player really doesn’t. It turns into not connecting with the story for a large part of it. Logan Cunningham again delivers the dialog in an amazingly emotionally dipped way (not all sad nor happy, but always very appropriate), but he’s bloody always talking. Some of this is likely a complication to pacing. Of course the intrigue gives you something to look forward to narratively even if I feel it also prevents you from connecting with the characters for quite a while. But the story is told in short segments between intense battles. This contrasts with Bastion where each encounter may not have been especially challenging and it was just the number of them that could wear you down. Here, each can easily set you significantly back by the end, so all the story needs to be expressed when the player isn’t fighting for their life. Eventually, I feel the story reveals enough to care for the characters in a “it gets better later” way, but that is no excuse for an entertainment medium. I only knew where to go...

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Magrunner – Dark Pulse: Portal through a Dirty Looking Glass

Magrunner – Dark Pulse: Portal through a Dirty Looking Glass

I managed to pick up Magrunner – Dark Pulse for free from Good Old Games. For free, it’s a great value, but even otherwise it has some good moments. It’s not Portal, but it had moments where it gave a similar feeling of satisfaction. Then there are other moments. Generally this is a game where the problems are just missteps that could probably have been smoothed out with more playtesting, but they can ruin your experience as they are. Fundamentals The game is all based around magical magnetism. So long as you don’t get hung up on the physics, it’s a good puzzle mechanic. Generally, you can make things attract toward each other or repel each other. And that’s the mechanic of the game. That simplicity of concept I think is a great basis for a puzzle game. Like Portal (you can connect to points in space), this allows for the puzzles to play with the mechanics rather than just introducing more set pieces all the time. It also has a story…for better or worse. Overall, it’s a feature to have something else going on, but the story does have a tendency to get in the way of playing the game. This is especially true when the game starts and makes you wait in a room while people talk at you (though they switch to talking to you while you can actually play the game later which is a large improvement). The story is a Cthulhu-horror affair complete with cultists and so on. As a person who respects horror but doesn’t like playing horror games, I generally feel the horror becomes interesting looking static elements in the levels and rarely anything trying to really be scary. The developers also, very appropriately, keep the levels mostly with open pacing allowing you to solve them at your own rate. This makes the story (which also does improve eventually) a nice dash of flavor mostly without getting in the way (usually). As far as puzzles and mechanics go, the levels are solvable with logic and not tricks. Some of the set pieces you need are a bit hard to notice at first glance, but overall, just looking around is all a player will need to be able to progress if they can identify what needs to happen next and works toward it. This gives a good sense of satisfaction as the levels mostly get harder in a reasonable way as time goes on. Generally mechanics are introduced simply and then expanded to be more interesting. Refinement needed The real problem with virtually every aspect of this game is a lack of polish. For many levels, this might be small things like the...

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