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Gaming Is Good For Your Brain

I saw this article pop up on my Twitter feed (my apologies if you tweeted it and didn’t get credit), and I have to say, I can definitely see it.  Although since I’m kind of bad at most games, I wonder if it really helps me that much.  Heh.  The main thrust of the article:

A growing body of university research suggests that gaming improves creativity, decision-making and perception. The specific benefits are wide ranging, from improved hand-eye coordination in surgeons to vision changes that boost night driving ability.

People that play ‘action’ video games make decisions up to 25% faster, and they can also pay attention to six things at once – two more than your average non-gamer.  Sounds good, right?  Playstations for everyone!  NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND:

Electronic gameplay has its downside. Brain scans show that violent videogames can alter brain function in healthy young men after just a week of play, depressing activity among regions associated with emotional control, researchers at Indiana University recently reported. Other studies have found an association between compulsive gaming and being overweight, introverted and prone to depression. The studies didn’t compare the benefits of gaming with such downsides.

Though I always wonder if the second half of that has anything to do with gaming specifically.  A person who is compulsive in one aspect of their life may have similar problems elsewhere.  Anyway, the story goes on to say that the most violent games are also the ones that seem to generate the most beneficial effects.  There’s a lot of interesting information here, with a bit of hyperbole, but I think this is my favorite part:

The vast majority of the research did not directly compare gaming with hours of other intense, mental activities such as solving math equations.

Yeah, mostly because you can’t convince a whole mess of 20 to 30 year olds to stop playing WoW to do math problems for 8 hours.  However, there is a large scale study of Starcraft II players ongoing via the University of Vancouver in BC.  It will be interesting to see what comes of that.

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Skyrim Mod Idea

Posting it both to keep it somewhere I’ll see and remember it, and to see if anyone else is interested in it…I’ve been thinking about taking a stab at a mod that would let you use mundane items (like brooms or empty bottles) as weapons.  I just think it would be hilarious to beat a giant to death with a broom, or to wail on a dragon with duel-wielded buckets.  Might even have to add a ladder that can be used, Jackie Chan style.

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Player versus Developer Narratives

David Jaffe, designer of the Twisted Metal series of games, made a splash recently at a DICE summit presentation.  The Ars article linked has a good breakdown of it, and if you want the full talk, go here (he’s a bit obnoxious and vulgar, FYI).  Here’s a pertinent snippet:

My talk is actually a warning, about why we shouldn’t tell stories with our video games. I think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s a waste of resources and time and money, and more importantly I think it actually stunts, and has stunted over the last 10 years or so, the medium of video games. Sort of at our own peril. And to be clear, I’m not talking about player-authored stories, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s kind of a buzzword these days amongst designers, but basically, a player-authored story is something… I mean, the best example these days is… Skyrim and Arkham City are wonderful, but you can also go down the chain of scope to a game like Angry Birds. A player-authored story is basically where the mechanics and the interactive is so compelling and so engaging that the player, by the very act of playing the game, creates a narrative in his mind.

Now, there’s a good bit here to agree with.  I love Skyrim, and if you read the site, you know I’ve actually written an adventure or two I’ve had in it up as a story – a literal player-authored story.  I’m not the only one either.  Other games – MULE jumps to mind – are ripe for this as well, since it’s different every time you play, and can really engage your creativity if you role play it.  But Jaffe’s logic breaks down for me when I think of some of my all-time favorite games, Dragon Age: Origins and Starcraft.  Looking at Starcraft, there was a developer-made story, progressed in a linear fashion, but it HOOKED ME.  I finished that game – I cheated to finish it the first time! – because I HAD to know what happened.  I didn’t create that story, and maybe Jaffe would tell me it would’ve been better as a book or a movie, but I don’t agree.  I felt like *I* did all those things, I was betrayed by Mengsk, I fought the Queen of Blades, it was ME.  Maybe that’s still a player-narrative in his mind, but it doesn’t happen without Blizzard’s story.  Without the story, Starcraft is just a series of skill challenges, which can be plenty of fun, but it’s not the game I love.

I think Dragon Age: Origins is a great example of why a developer driven narrative is still needed.  While I’ve built up quite a player-narrative in my head for the game, often referring to ‘My Warden’ as a unique individual starring in a story of my imagining.  But again, it’s BECAUSE of what we went through.  We killed an Archdemon!  I let out a “Hell YEAH” when she killed that asshole Arl Howe.  How much of that could you strip away, and still inspire me to think of my Warden like that?  To make in-game decisions actually in-character?

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of games I love that work exactly like Jaffe describes, but I don’t know why there can’t be variety.  Just because one set of games works this way, doesn’t mean they all need to or should.

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Skyrim – Mod It

So, Bethesda finally released the long-awaited Creation Kit for Skyrim, so the modders of the world can finally really sink their teeth into the game and start producing outstanding content.  Well, there’s some good stuff already, but the options are now thrown wide open.  If you are interested in giving it a whirl, they’ve got a wiki set up with starting information, including how to install the Kit (not obvious via Steam, at least to me) and some solid tutorials.  I myself am not much of a 3d designer (hence why most of my art resembles The Order of the Stick), but new quests (or adjustments) would be fun.  I added a room in the basement of many buildings (one room, linked in many places) in Morrowind to give me a place to store stuff as well as to ease travel restrictions in that game.  What would YOU add or change?

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Skyrim Screenies

In case you want to see more of my adventures, including me blinding a bear:





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Vintage Gaming – River City Ransom

River City Ransom is one of those games that, if you’ve played it, you probably love it…but not a lot of people have played it.  I came across it by chance at the video store once, played the heck out of it, but it took me forever to find a working copy.  I finally did, though, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite games on any platform.

The story is simple, as you might expect from an early NES game.  You play as either Alex or Ryan, and Ryan’s  girlfriend is kidnapped by a gang leader (Slick) from a rival high school.  I’m not sure why Alex would go on the mission solo when it’s not his girlfriend, but those details were not important, or perhaps were lost in the translation.  Anyway, your goal is to punch and kick your way across town, fighting increasingly difficult gangs and bosses along the way.  If you’ve played Double Dragon or other fighting games from the era, you know what’s up.  What set RCR apart from them was a pretty solid RPG aspect.  You gained money from defeated enemies, which could be used to buy items to increase your stats, replenish lost stamina, and learn new fighting techniques.  There are also weapons like rocks or pipes spread throughout the levels, or to be taken from the rival gang members.

The game has a ton of 8-bit charm.  The blocky sprites are large and colorful, with goofy anime-inspired designs.  The music fits well, and changes when something important is happening.  The gangs are color coded by their t-shirts, and have names like The Jocks or The Generic Dudes.  When defeated, the enemies say silly things like BARF.  But make no mistake, the game isn’t a cakewalk.  The tougher gangs and bosses with wipe the floor with you if you don’t fight strategically and improve your character.

As implied above, you can play it as a 2 player game, though in the US they didn’t include the mode that removed friendly fire.  So feel free to beat each other up if you like, it’s fun.  That’s what the game is about, FUN.  You can play it in emulation on the NES, or get it for the Wii Virtual Console.  Well worth the cost if you like old-school beat ’em ups.

Console Games

Old Game Tuesday – The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

When I was a kid, I rented a ton of games for my various game systems as even then I really hated the idea of wasting what little money I had on a bad game.  I also preferred renting the simpler action games rather than buying them, figuring something like Final Fantasy III, which took upwards of 50 hours to finish, was a better investment than a beat ’em up.

So, it was the video stores that introduced me to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.  I probably picked it because it had ninjas and sort of resembled Zelda.  It plays a bit like Zelda, but if you took the serious parts of it and made it goofy.  If you’ve ever seen some of the more humorous Anime shows out there, you get the idea.  I’m having a hard time describing LotMN as anything but pure fun.  It made a great change of pace after slogging through FF for 6 hours.  And since the most likely way for people to play it now is via the Wii Virtual Console, you won’t have to write down huge, unwieldy passwords.  Definitely worth a play through if you get tired of dancing to lame pop songs on your Wii (that’s what everybody is doing now, right?).

Gadgets Media Sci/Tech

Friday Finds – Buffalo Cash Mob

First, the week in posts:

And the links I found:

A VERY stupid man was caught trying to create a nuclear reactor at home.  This genius caused a ‘small meltdown’ on his stove, and sent a letter to Sweden’s ‘Radiation Authority’, who tipped off the cops.  You thought a meth lab made a bad neighbor.

There is a rat (an ENORMOUS rat) in Africa that chews on a poisonous tree, and then puts the poison on a strip of hair.  Predators that bit them foam at the mouth and die.  These must be the rats that kill you when you are just starting out in an MMO game.

ArsTechnica (via FCC data) has a chart that shows how the major high-speed internet providers stack up as far as providing the bandwidth they claim you should get.  Here in Buffalo we do OK (Time Warner) is right there at 90+% with very little drop at peak times, and Verizon FiOS actually gives you a bit more than advertised.  I feel really bad for Cablevision customers, though.

To end things, a couple of things that might appeal to Buffalonians.  First is a story of how Cleveland is leveraging empty lots as gardens, and just how far it could take a city.  Second is the Buffalo Cash Mob, an idea for a flashmob that has a good purpose – to patronize a locally owned business.  This afternoon/evening, it’s City Wine Merchant.  It’s a great choice, which you can read about at this link.  If you can check ’em out tonight, tell ’em the #BuffCashMob sent you.


Growing Older (But Not Up)

Ways I know I still haven’t grown up:

  1. Video games are still fun.
  2. Most of my favorite movies are animated.
  3. Almost all of my t-shirts are either video game or sports team related.
  4. I cheer when watching a sporting event…even if I’m at home alone.
  5. LEGO stuff is awesome (this will never change).
  6. The best cereal has characters on the box.

What else do you have?

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Call for Contenders – Best Star Wars Game

Since it began all those years ago with Star Wars (A New Hope), Lucas’s universe has spawned dozens of computer and console games of widely varying quality.  I’m very curious to see if we can come up with any sort of consensus of what the best Star Wars games are, and if one rises to the top.  Did you wear out your flight stick playing X-Wing?  Does your nostalgia lead you back to the green and red wireframe of the original arcade game?  Or are you an FPS guy, who things Jedi Outcast might be one of the best of that genre, Star Wars or not?  I didn’t even mention Super Star Wars series which I played the heck out of, or Knights of the Old Republic, so you can see the task at hand will not be hard.  What I want now are nominations.  Give me what YOU think the best Star Wars related game is, and WHY.  Either comment on this post or hit me up on the Twitters.

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Old Game Tuesday – American McGee’s Alice

In honor of the release of the long-awaited sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, I thought I’d talk a bit about the original game, Alice.  American McGee’s Alice (with American McGee, a former id Software employee as the designer) is a third-person shooter and platformer set years after Alice’s original adventures in Wonderland.  If that seems familiar, it’s because other media (including last year’s Tim Burton movie) have done something similar, both with Alice’s story and other fairy tales.

The twist with American McGee’s Alice, however, is that in the time after the original adventures, Alice’s family was killed in a fire, and she’s been committed.  She re-enters a dark and twisted version of Wonderland, and must battle her way through to save it – and her sanity.  And as you can see from the original cover art, with Alice armed with a vorpal blade dripping blood, this ain’t for kids.

Gameplay is pretty standard for a third-person game of the era – mostly fighting, with some jumping puzzles (hope you don’t get TOO frustrated by those), but what makes it is the style.  In a world populated by sci-fi alien-blasting games, this wierdly fantastical world stood out.  If the new game looks interesting to you, check out the original (buyers of the PS3 or XBox360 versions of the game will actually get a code to use to play Alice,  PC gamers are left out of this, which I find very strange), you won’t regret it.

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Old Game Tuesday – Lemmings

Ah, Lemmings.  One of the best puzzle games of the early PC era (indeed, it was developed for the Amiga!), it’s also one of the hardest to describe.  What are the lemmings, exactly?  They just…walk?  That’s the gist of it, really.  You have to guide the lemmings, who don’t really resemble the animal of that name at all, from an entrance to the level to the exit.  To do that, you can convert any lemming the drops out of the entrance into a worker of some type – you can dig, build staircases, create blockers to turn the lemmings around, and so on.  Sounds simple, yes?  Just like most classic puzzle games, it starts simple but quickly gets fiendishly difficult.  Some levels require pinpoint timing and accuracy, conservation of lemmings, and out of the box thinking.

It might interest you to know that the company that eventually became Rockstar North, the makers of the Grand Theft Auto series, is who created Lemmings.  I always love finding these things out, like when I see where else Ben Edlund or Joss Whedon or M. Night Shymalan show up  (Shymalan wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little, por ejemplo).  Anyway, fire up Dosbox and start up Lemmings (you can get it at Abandonia).  You might just find yourself sweating level 21 several hours later.

p.s.  There is nothing more theraputic in life then getting a bunch of lemmings on screen and clicking the ‘nuke’ button to explode them all.  My friends and I may or may not have done just that for the better part of an hour at various times…