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Console Games Featured PC Games

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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Boring site stuff

The Forum Returns!

Ever so quietly, a link to the forum section of the site has returned.  Why?  Well, mostly because I wanted to play around a bit.  It’s been upgraded to the latest version of SMF for the forum software, and has a dice roller to make forum games much easier.  If anyone wants to join – or reactivate a long dormant account – have at it.  What can you do there?  Chat about stuff long form, of course, but I have the itch to game again.  If anyone wants to start up a play by post game of Dungeons and Dragons or something similar, let me know and I’ll dedicate a forum to it. Might very well start up another newbie game myself.  Anyway, you have the link, check it out.

Oh, if you need an account, either comment here, email me at mighty tick at google’s mail service, or send up a signal flare.  Keeping it closed so I don’t have to deal with spam.

Categories
Console Games Featured PC Games

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim First Impressions

I’m only maybe 5 or 6 hours into Skyrim, but I feel like I’ve seen and experienced enough to give you my first impressions.  It’s a downright beautiful game, it set my detail level to ‘High’ based on my specs and it was just ridiculous how good it looks.  I think there’s been an emphasis on the Elder Scrolls games after Morrowind to try and get you into some action right away, and Skyrim does not disappoint.  You start the game as a prisoner (as per usual with these games) and being taken to your death.  You escape when, as they shove your head down on the block for the headsman’s axe…well, you’ll see.  A member of a rebelling group of Nords (the Stormcloaks) helps you, and depending on how you want to play it you can join them if you like.

Let me pause right there and explain how The Elder Scrolls games are different than some other popular computer RPGs.  In The Elder Scrolls, your character is intentionally a blank slate.  You start in prison or under arrest in some way – did you actually commit a crime?  Are you wrongfully accused?  Maybe you stole to feed your family, or you killed someone who was attacking your wife.  You decide, and role play it that way.  Let that color your decisions for the rest of the game.  It’s freeing, especially if you’ve been playing linear RPGs for a while, but for some folks it can feel a bit directionless.  You are helping to create your own story, which for some people is not as much fun as starring in their own interactive movie.  I love it, though.  Similar to that is the fact that Bethesda doesn’t like to limit what you can do, and you can often find quirks in the game which you can exploit to your benefit.  It’s up to you not to game the system too much and ruin your experience.  If you’ve ever had a DM who had to house-rule something particularly gamebreaking out of a DnD session, same idea.

Below, I will talk about my early game experiences, and there are some minor spoilers.

Categories
Life

New Pics of Mattie and Thomas!

My parents were in town the past week or so, and we went to the Buffalo Zoo and the Strong Museum. Here’s a few highlights:

In no particular order, as my in-laws’ camera didn’t have the right date set and I’m too lazy to manually sort all the pics. By the way, if you have an excuse to make it out to Rochester, NY, the Strong Museum currently has the Videotopia exhibit: 60+ classic arcade consoles, from Tapper to Star Wars, Dig-Dug to Ms. Pac-man. I’m assuming their website is ironic, and they really could have a better design if they wanted to…

Mechwarrior!!!

Read the interviews, check the trailers held within, and rejoice. One of the founders of FASA, Jordan Weisman, acquired the license back for the Battletech universe, and is creating a new game! This was one of my favories series, and as I’ve mentioned, one of the games that caused me to want to try PC gaming again (Starcraft and Quake 2 being the others). They are taking the game back, chronolgically, to 3015 and is being treated as a reboot of the universe. I am genuinely excited, and will be following this one closely.

Categories
Console Games

Old Game Tuesday – Final Fantasy VI

fftitle
The Title Screen

There was a time when I was perfectly happy just playing my original 8-bit NES. I had fun, time-consuming games like Final Fantasy and Uncharted Waters, and didn’t need any new console just for better graphics.

Then I was informed Final Fantasy II was coming to that newfangled SNES. Someone brought their system and the game and I was hooked.

I had to have it. So I got a Super Nintendo and FFI and played, and played and played. I couldn’t get all the way through, not without getting stuck or taking time away for a while…usually during the Earth crystal part, or the Tower of Bab-il. Final Fantasy III (which I came to know as VI later), on the other hand, I ripped through without stopping. It remains my favorite FF game in a landslide.

Why did I love it? For one, it was set in a more technologically advanced time, sort of steampunk-ish. That was pretty different to me, as the previous FF games and Dragon Warrior were all more medieval. The wide array of characters (with several battles that had more than one party in play) was something I hadn’t seen before. Graphically, it was an improvement over FFII (with the character sprites being larger and more expressive) and of course the music is fantastic. I was actually spurred on to write this (and play the game yet again) while searching ringtones for Final Fantasy VI. The story is a classic, with the typical ‘rebels fighting an evil empire’ motif…except the bad guy wins (for a while).

Exposition!
Exposition!

One other thing that stood out in going back to the game later in life is the sorts of issues the game speaks about, despite Nintendo of America’s normally draconian editing. Teen pregnancy, suicide, and the death of loved ones (not just vanishing into thin air) were all present. Notably, it’s also a game that did not suffer nearly as much as it’s US predecessor in translation (“you spoony bard!”, actually having no gameplay tweaks to make it easier). I mean, the game features an Opera performance for crying out loud, and I still enjoyed it. That should be all you need to know.

If you like RPG games at all, especially the Japanese style, you owe it to yourself to check it out. In addition to the original Final Fantasy III released in the US, you can also play this on Game Boy Advance and the original PlayStation.

Categories
PC Games

Old Game Tuesday – Stars!

As I roll through these old games, you are going to notice that 4X games are well-represented. One of my personal favorites is Stars!, released wa-a-ay back in 1995. Jeff Johnson and Jeff McBride created the game for their own enjoyment, and decided to release it as Shareware. People still did that back then, you know. I came in a bit later, after Empire Interactive picked it up to sell in stores.

By the way, a bit on 4X: it means eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. The details vary game to game, but in general in a 4X game you start with a base of operations (your home planet in Stars!, or your Settler unit in Civ), from which you expand your territory. You have to exploit the resources of the map, and exterminate your opponents. That’s one that varies now, as there are usually less than lethal win conditions.

Stars! has all the 4x standards. You begin with one planet and a couple of ships. Early turns are spent exploring the nearby systems and colonizing whatever ones are habitable by your (customizable) race. During this time your scientific research is progressing, and some basic improvements are being built. Soon enough, you will encounter your first opponent, ripe for destruction. As time goes by, your research ramps up and you start learning of new technologies, from weapons and shields to new terraforming abilities. If there is one downside to the game, it’s the sheer volume of stuff to manage. There are dozens of ship parts, for example, and a whole mess of hulls for custom-designing ships. It really hepls to try and keep a standard naming convention for ships, creative names are fun but not when you can’t remember the stats for each one. There’s a TON of micro-management in the game, which of course is not for everyone, but can get tedious. Thankfully, planetary management has some helpful shortcuts, including the ability to save preset build orders. You can set a default that any new colony starts to build as well.

There is a lot more I could say – this is one of those games that I always come back to, and it never gets old. It’s very hard to find, I’m not even sure if you can get CD keys for it any more, but if you like this style game and find a copy, try it!

Categories
Console Games PC Games

Old Game Tuesday – M.U.L.E.

M.U.L.E. holds the distinction of being the game I’ve probably played the longest. I was first exposed to it on my old Commodore 64, and though there are many classics from that era (which may be covered here in the future), this is the one that has kept my interest continually since then.

M.U.L.E. is a game of economic strategy. You begin as colonists on the planet Irata (it’s Atari backwards, you see). The goal is to build up the colony for a set period of time based on the difficulty level chosen, and individually, to build your wealth. Up to four players could participate, either human or computer, and there were multiple ‘species’ to choose from with various bonuses or handicaps. Each pioneer picks plots of land (with an occasional auction of additional plots) and then takes turns working them. The M.U.L.E.s (Multiple Use Labor Elements) themselves are robotic assistants that are outfitted with equipment to harvest Food, Energy, Smithore (to make more M.U.L.E.s) and Crystite (in Tournament mode). After each player has their turn, their plots of land experience their growth cycle, assuming they have a M.U.L.E. on them that is outfitted properly. Oh, and there is a bit of game balance each turn. The player with the lowest score gets a boon (bonus money from an inheritance, etc.) and the player with the highest gets smacked down a bit (darn glak-elves).

Next up is the auction…and here’s where it gets nasty. Each player gets a chance to buy and sell the various commodities, either to other players or the store. The store runs out at times, though, forcing you to rely on the other players for what you need to survive. Not enough energy, some of your plots go fallow. No food, and you have very little time to work your plots. If the colony has no smithore, no more M.U.L.E.s, or the cost of them go up. There is a fine line, you want to be the winner, but if the colony collapses, you all lose. You can try and hoard all the energy and force your opponents to pay through the nose – they even provided a way to collude with another player as a feature – but an ill-timed global event (pirates stealing all the smithore!) could be disastrous.

The game was developed by Dan (later Dani) Bunten, who also made several other favorites of mine, Seven Cities of Gold and Command HQ. She pioneered several features that are commonplace in games now, including multiplayer and modem/network gaming. M.U.L.E. is widely available via emulation, with the original Atari 800 version being the most popular. I’ll link it up tonight if I get a chance. Now I’m off to hunt the mountain wampus…

edit: Here’s the link, just go to the download page and pick your version of Windows. Has everything you need. You can even play over the network or internet with a bit of work.

Categories
Gadgets Media

iPhone SDK Doesn't Suck

Gizmodo has a roundup of their iPhone SDK coverage here, but the thing that jumped out at me (being a huge fan of Will Wright) is that the iPhone will have the full-blown version of Spore available for it. Other highlights include VOIP via WiFi and an AIM client, still no Flash though. iPod Touch users have to pay again, too.

Categories
Console Games

Final Fantasy Turns 20

One of my favorite game series, Final Fantasy, just turned 20. 1up has several features on it this week, but I’m pressed for time so hit up this /. article for all the links.

Categories
Console Games Wacky

As If Marching Bands Weren't Geeky Enough

The Cal Marching Band recently performed an opus to video games as their halftime show. Gizmodo has the video here. Complete with a Pokemon fight between the mascots.

Categories
Console Games

Bionic Commando!?!

I MUST HAVE! Bionic Commando on the NES was the first game I ever bought and paid for with my own money, as well as the first one my friends and I finished in it’s entirety. The bionic arm made the gameplay very unique for the time. For the Xbox360 so far, I’d LOVE to see how they could pull this off with the Wii, though.