Video Games

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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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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Wildstar: Idiot Savant

Wildstar: Idiot Savant

I am not as experienced with MMOs as many others are nor am I the type that needs all the best components. But I do enjoy the MMO experience quite a bit. To me, a MMO is the best type of sandbox game. There is tons to do and progress to be made on all fronts. Additionally you can play with others if you want or, largely, just play by yourself. And while end game content is something I frequently don’t see, that doesn’t mean that I feel my time was wasted. I establish all of this because my perspective on Wildstar is likely different than many others. I feel most people who talk about MMOs like this are more likely to have a standing group of friends to play with or join a guild quickly. They are focused on raids and end game. And I am not. This review is being written about 2 weeks after the game launched. I personally only played the game through a guest pass which allowed me to play for a week without investment, and I don’t have any real desire to go back into that world. But even I can appreciate that there was a lot of work and appreciations for MMOs that went into that world. An impressively complete offering I learned about Wildstar through a friend who loves MMOs. He is frequently one of the earliest people to hit max level (him taking a week in Wildstar was actually rather slow for him) and will play for months afterward. He had participated in the betas, read the forums, and planned with his standing group of MMO players how they were going to play. Part of his excitement came from the fact that Wildstar was launching with tons of features and content. And I can say from my limited time in the game that there did seem to be a lot there. Besides the normal quests, classes, crafting, and dungeons, there was a huge amount of effort that went into housing. You get your own personal house at level 15 and can customize it a ton for both visual and practical benefits. I was impressed by the sheer number of different items that could be put in and customized in the housing areas. It was a fun minigame to really express yourself while also adding things like a garden so you can farm the crops for your crafts. Of other features I’ve only heard about that were all ready for launch, PvP was fully functioning, the auction houses (one for gear and one for commodities) with a much more complicated, almost stock-market-esque purchase and sale order system was ready, the ability...

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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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Child of Light: Artistic Success, Gamers’ Duress

It was only a bit more than a month ago that I expressed why I was looking forward to Child of Light. Now I played through the game with my wonderful but not very video-game-experienced wife and can share our thoughts. In somewhat of a different perspective, I played as the partner rather than the person actually playing as the main character, but my wife and I talked a lot about her feelings as well. And even the artist that she is who studied fairytales and literature in college, she found Child of Light to be rather lacking. So how did it function? The game is set up to have some platformer aspects added on to a JRPG. In between your JRPG action/turn based hybrid fights, Aurora is navigated around the colorful map to usually find whatever her current quest is calling for or to find a path to the next area. Fights start whenever Aurora bumps into an enemy who is present on the map and goes into a combat I have heard described as nearly identical to the Grandia series. For those, like myself, who had never played a Grandia game, this involves all characters, allies and enemies, moving along a timeline at the bottom. At a certain marked point, the character chooses and action and then when the reach the end, they act. Different actions will alter the rate at which the character reaches the end. If they are attacked before then, they are interrupted and sent back to about midway through the timeline. The ally (who I played) is a firefly. This character can fly through walls to get to some treasure chests or switches in the game world. He can also stun enemies to allow them to be avoided or attacked from behind for a surprise attack. In battle, the firefly can either slow enemies or heal allies. He also can go collect more wishes (his unit of effort used to slow or heal) as well as some mana or health orbs to help the characters. At certain points in the game, there are also puzzles. They tend to boil down to casting the correct shadow from some object (which might have to be moved) onto the wall in the background. There can be subtleties to that, but the basic formula holds throughout. Progress in the game comes down to experience points to level up and some gem crafting. When a character levels up, their stats go up and they can purchase a skill along one of three skill paths for a separate permanent benefit (such as more stat improvements or skills). Gems come in many forms to give various physical and magical attack...

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