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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Bravely Default – The JRPG that Could (but could be better)

Bravely Default – The JRPG that Could (but could be better)

Bravely Default was a surprising game for a number of reasons. Innovation was not one of them, but creating a truly solid JRPG experience definitely was. The game’s success shows that gamers do actually care about good JRPGs even in this day. So what was so good? Where were the missteps? And where does that leave us? A true classic Square Enix is not a new player on the scene. In fact, back when they were Squaresoft, they were already making JRPGs that, to this day, rate as some people’s best games of all time (most notably Final Fantasy VII). What is unique about Bravely Default is that it really embraces those days of JRPGs rather than the more modern Final Fantasy hybrid action and JRPG games. And it really works here. The story starts out a bit different with a lot of mystery to keep the plot going. A giant chasm just opened up and swallowed the home town of Tiz, one of the main characters. No one has any idea what it is or where it came from. With everything and everyone he knew and loved gone, Tiz vows to close the chasm and rebuild his town. Along the way, he signs up to rid the world of evil too. It’s a fairly classic tale but with the mysterious twist that I think goes extremely well with the game. I enjoy how the story is interesting and direct about what you are doing. Not only does the game provide markers on the map for where to go (which can be turned off if you don’t want that), but it also provides a one sentence hint for context to also help you with what your next task is. It’s a subtle thing, but I never got lost and it helped to remind me what was going on even after not playing for a while. But as a classic JRPG, the story is only half of the experience. Battles and customizing your characters for battles is the rest. And Bravely Default does well here by not trying to reinvent any wheels really. The combat itself is all turn based with speed determining the order of characters and enemies. There are standard and special attacks and magic and so on as one would expect. The slight difference is there is also the concept of “Brave” and “Default” (the title now makes more sense, but is lame). Default is another word for defend in any other game, but it also gives you one Brave Point (BP). Brave is essentially the opposite; it allows you to burn additional BP (up to 3 additional) to preform other actions. Most actions do not take...

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Nit: Difficulty – Labels and the Spectrum

Nit: Difficulty – Labels and the Spectrum

The challenge a player faces in a game is extremely important to consider. After all, video games are an interactive medium and the challenge really frames how that interaction will go. So how can a game find the ideal challenge? Maybe first, what is the ideal challenge? And truly, how can the challenge always remain fun? The Sweet Spot in Gaming The sweet spot in gaming in regards to challenge really means the player feels like there is a challenge being presented so that succeeding feels like they accomplished something, but the player also does not feel frustrated. Yahtzee Crowshaw discussed this same topic including talking about some of the extremes (which we’ll get to in a bit), but his argument was the same: players want the satisfaction of success without frustration. This isn’t perfectly simple to define what exactly the challenge is. For instance, is the challenge in Pok√©mon the battles or the act of catching all of the critters? In Super Mario Brothers, is it the individual jumping or getting a high score or completing the game faster? My argument is that the challenge and difficulty really targets completing the game. Completion is still a bit fuzzy when there are so many games with emergent gameplay or a concept of 100%. I really mean playing through the story or campaign as is appropriate for the game. Things outside of that target a different demographic and frequently are outside the core experience. There are some games that don’t even have a story at all (like Minecraft), but Yahzee’s game design principles allow us to see we are really looking for the gratification from other contexts. For Minecraft, the difficulty becomes more of a balance between time investment and reward. The sweet spot is when the user feels like they accomplished something by getting all the materials before being able to do what they want. Because everyone gets something different out of Minecraft, it is much harder to “balance” perfectly, but more user driven games also tend to self balance by those who play them (multiplayer is similar, though there also is a degree of match making so everyone feels some success). Take it to the Extreme But some games are hard. Even for people that have a good idea how to play them, there are games like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy that are just hard. The real trick with games like this is to balance frustration and gratification as Dark Souls does like old Nintendo Hard games. In fact, when someone knows what they are getting into (as the back of the Dark Souls box actually warns), there is a huge pay off for getting everything...

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