Nitpicking

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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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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Nit: Motivation and Progress – Why are we all here?

Nit: Motivation and Progress – Why are we all here?

We play games for a number of reasons. For some, there’s the allure of a good story. For others, its for power and glory and the virtual battle field. But for plenty, it’s an idea that they have when they start a game which quickly fades and results in players not finishing games (note: while that article does bring up that the definition of completion is dubious, I will comment that the first example, The Walking Dead S1E1, gives all achievements for just getting to the end; there is nothing but story achievements). So how are players motivated or not to start and keep playing games? Are all motivations created equal? How does a player really feel like they are progressing? I feel there really are four categories which show a great tie between motivation and progress. None are really exclusive (and all frequently have some level of story), but they all present a different idea of what the player is trying to do that I feel can be a deeper connection beyond genre. It is important going into this discussion to realize that motivation and progress in games always comes shaded by the feelings a player is bringing to the table more than other situations. After all, by the time the player starts to play the game, they have frequently already bought it on some premise. They enter the game (usually) wanting to play it for some reason and then the game has to just nurture that feeling or cause the player to develop a new one to keep going. Implicit Possibly the easiest to discuss, I categorize implicit motivations and progress as things that given or awarded by playing the game, but tend to have virtually no direct impact on the game. The simplest examples come down to strictly numerical guides like points being awarded or the number of the stage increasing. Points are probably more obvious as it can present a competitive motivation to supplement gameplay. I see stage numbers increasing as a motivation primarily in games like puzzle games and, to a lesser degree, platformers. In the end, players frequently want to solve the puzzles for that satisfaction, but seeing the stage number continue to increase helps to keep them feeling like they are moving on and “winning.” Potentially less obvious areas where this can come up are in RPGs with money or levels. By themselves as numbers, they don’t actually do anything. They may give you more abilities in the game world which can tie into explorative motivations, but for some, the number going up is a feeling of progress and motivation. This is a similar aspect to collecting items in games where the...

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Nit: Dialog – An Important Second-Class Citizen – Part 2: Social Order

Nit: Dialog – An Important Second-Class Citizen – Part 2: Social Order

In our conclusion to discussing dialog in video games, we dive deeper into actual game examples of dialog. In particular, I want to look at what makes good use of dialog in games much more than what doesn’t, though I have devised a little test to figure out how the dialog fits (though it is always going to be subjective). After all, games can be different, but it is a shame to believe something is great when it isn’t. Also, to be clear, the images presented are for First class citizens and just spread throughout the post. The social order of dialog Third class citizens These are some of the worst offenders for how to handle dialog. In general, though, games do not wholly sit in this category. For this category, dialog can be confused with loading screens. The game is worse with its addition and better with its removal. This might sound a bit harsh, but poorly handled (which can include the writing quality) dialog can become the thorn in someone’s memory that overshadows the good in the game. Don’t give gamers a reason to hate your game. I feel a lot of JRPGs fall into this category at times. Bravely Default did by the end. Legend of Legaia (one of my favorites) wasn’t immune to it either. Generally JRPGs seem to keep much closer tabs on the dialog immediately for the story but can go off the deep end for everything else (and arguably some of the emotional scenes, but that might just be translation issues). Repeated lines (such as characters talking at the end of a battle or a game you might play a dozen times) also does nothing but slow the game down and make the dialog unpleasant. Child of Light completely falls into this category. The dialog got in the way of the rest of the game, was not enjoyable to read, didn’t give much context that wasn’t generally apparent just from the surroundings, didn’t make objectives clear (which was then made clear elsewhere), and did not make the characters more relatable (arguably making them feel more like puppets). I feel the game might have been more interesting if this was a mute world (could be a unique experience with more miming which shows off the visual artists’ abilities) possibly with a journal written in prose for people who wanted more context (or it could rhyme if it must). Keeping a journal separate also removes the interaction from the primary gameplay and allows those who don’t care to just carry on. But even just cutting the dialog so quests and events just happened I feel would have been more enjoyable. Second class citizens Here,...

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Nit: Dialog – An Important Second-Class Citizen – Part 1: Mechanics

Nit: Dialog – An Important Second-Class Citizen – Part 1: Mechanics

When a game has a story and involves sentient creatures, it is inevitable that dialog will arise in some form. But there are different forms of dialog and different ways to handle the dialog in more or less respectful ways to the dialog itself. But if there is effort being made to create the dialog, shouldn’t we always strive for the best? But what is the best for a given situation? I argue there is a gradient of successful ways to have dialog in games. No one answer is inherently the best, but there are definitely some practices that should cause a designer to think twice. While writing this, I found the article got rather long, so this is split into two parts. Part 2 talks about using the mechanics discussed here in games for better or worse. The tools of the trade Not to say that there isn’t room for improvement here, but there aren’t many choices that game designers face when looking at how to bring dialog into their game. This isn’t to say there aren’t actually a couple of more unique outliers (like this adult targeting game which used minigames to drive dialog), but I find talking about what we see every day more interesting for the pros and cons. After all, a completely unique system to one’s game might be perfect or terrible, but the uniqueness makes it harder to evaluate before execution (in that example, it was claimed the games were too distracting to actually listen to the dialog; I didn’t play the game so cannot personally comment). Presentation An actor’s touch Dialog is coming from someone’s verbal skills even if it is a written note, so doesn’t it improve the immersion if the source of the talking or writing reads it back to the player? Well, generally yes. This can bring the difference between reading a play and listening to an audio recording of it presented by trained actors. There is a lot of emotion and personality that actors can bring to the party. The problem is that actors can bring emotion to the party, but they might not. In the end, acting is a skill that tends to be learned and honed over time. There is a difference between listening to say Liam Neeson or Mathew Perry versus others. Dialog that feels a bit off textually can be skipped pretty quickly, but poorly delivered lines hurts a scene much more. And getting good actors costs money beyond just the audio studio time. Sometimes there is a diamond yet to be discovered which can keep costs down (like having Logan Cunningham as a friend), but more times than not, there isn’t. So unless...

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