April 2009

A number of different tidbits on the web this past week have had me thinking about the whole ‘casual vs hardcore’ debate. For one thing, I disagree that casual gaming is the death knell of hardcore gaming, for a number of reasons: (more…)

So I’ve just spend a good portion of my alloted time on WoW for the night chasing after various female NPCs in Dalaran, current mingling grounds of WoW. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes ago, after finding a female Tauren and Orc and chasing them around while waiting on the cooldown of my flower basket to run its course, that it struck me: I’ve spent the better part of an hour stalking female avatars in WoW, waiting for my chance to put bunny ears on their heads. I realise that part of the difficulty of the associated achievement lies in effectively finding and ‘tagging’ players of the opposite faction without being able to talk to them, but that lack of communication is also part of what made me feel not so comfortable with what I was doing. Following someone around town without talking to them, with the purpose of showering them with unwanted attention, doesn’t seem like a good thing to promote in-game. The fact that the players behind those avatars might have been women who, chances are, have had to deal with some form of sexual harrassment in real life as well, that just nails the lid on the coffin.

Ah, the weird things these games make us think of. ..

Braid was short and sweet. Some of the puzzles were almost frustrating, and there was one I couldn’t figure out for the life of me (the solution for it made perfect sense, once I knew what I was supposed to do, though). I’d definitely apply the word ‘gem’ to it: the graphics are beautiful, as is the music, and the gameplay mechanics are comfortable yet challenging for someone with experience with 2D platformers. Even for a beginner, the game is pretty forgiving, since there is no limit to the number of times you can fail and retry, and indeed, all you need to do to try again is rewind as far back as you need to to try again. That the gameplay mechanics fit the themes of the game’s story like a glove is a testament to Blow’s skill as a developer.

While I stayed away from gamefaqs.com the entire time – except for that one puzzle piece – I did go back shortly after finishing the game to see what I could find out about the story. Again, looking at it after reading someone else’s take on it, it makes perfect sense. Without the explanation, the story is intriguing, but not gripping – the gameplay carries most of the weight – but at the same time, I’m not sure how much my reactions to the game were tempered by the net commentary I’ve read about the game.

I’m still not certain whether I thought it was too short or not. I want to say no, because it definitely fell into that sweet spot where the gameplay was refreshing and entertaining throughout – no needless or sub-par filler – but a part of me wishes there had been a little more, which is always a good thing.

I don’t regret spending the money on it, since I’ve only barely just finished the game in two days, and haven’t explored any of the expanded content (speed runs, achievements, secret stuffs). It’s available on Steam now for $15 if you don’t already have it, and it’s still better value for money than going to watch a movie at the theater. Playing the game after reading about the game definitely has me looking forward to seeing what Jonathan Blow comes up with next. It might have even convinced me to be an early adopter.

I’ve recently read and re-read The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design, by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten, and I must say, how wrong can a guy be?

I’d seen the book several times while reading amazon.com’s selection of books on game design, and the cynic in me said the exact same thing every time I read the title: “Yeah, right, it’s probably another compilation of the history of videogames under another name…”. So I passed it up in favour of other books that I’d seen recommended on other people’s blogs.

And then, a couple of weeks after my birthday, my wonder of a wife surprises me with an amazon.com box. Opening it, I see the very same book I have almost scoffed at in contempt so many times before (I am a very cynical man sometimes, my wife can attest to that from countless hours watching prime time TV commercials with me). I thanked her for the thought – it’s not the first time she’s bought me a book on game design – and told myself that, since I had received it in good faith, I should put my cynicism aside and give it an honest chance. So I did. And I was surprised.

I’m not a book critic, so I’ll just say that the book is a very good read, and highly recommendable for numerous reasons, chief among them the emphasis on WRITING for videogames – from story, to characters, to documentation, the book covers a lot of subjects that any aspiring game writer or designer should be familiar with, including things not usually discussed in pure game design books like developing an IP, working with and as part of a team, and more. Of particular interest are the assorted exercises the book encourages the reader to undertake – from playing a game and writing about the experience to writing a full-fledged design document by putting everything learned in the book to good use.

So that’s what I’m doing for the next few days, writing a design document for one of the game ideas I had. It’s fun so far. We’ll see if it stays that way throughout.

I felt it was kinda sad that Life on Mars got cancelled, but at the same time, I think they did a great job wrapping up the story. While I did manage to do a good job of figuring out the story arcs for each individual episode, the ending was a pleasant surprise, considering that they had been dropping a lot of clues that hinted to what was really going on. All in all, good stuff. Might have to watch it again.

Changeling was eye-opening, and the themes portrayed really hit home. We’ve come a long way since the 1920’s, which is a good thing, but there’s still a long ways to go, and there are still people who are seen as second class citizens all over the world. Perhaps that too will change in due time, preferably sooner rather than later.

With Scrubs ending sometime soon too, we’ve been checking out some of the new shows that have been premiering recently. So far, everything we’ve checked out (Castle, The Unusuals, and Cupid) all seem like good shows with interesting premises. We’ll see how things pan out. I think I managed to figure out each and every one of the cases in Castle so far, but the interactions between the characters, especially Castle’s semidisfunctional family, are endearing. I like the characters in The Unusuals too, they all have secrets/flaws/skeletons in the closet, so it will be interesting to see how things evolve. Cupid too is interesting, with a strong pilot episode; I’m hoping they manage to work a few twists into the tired romantic comedy formula and shake things up a bit.

Final Fantasy XIII looks pretty good, I’m glad the demo doesn’t play anything like the beginning of FFXII. It remains to be seen where they are going to go with it, but I’m willing to give it a try. The trailer for Agito XIII also looks good.

Finally discovered who the band that play the song from the Prince of Persia commercial are – Sigur Ros. It’s ironic that the song first appeared in Vanilla Sky, which I saw in it’s original Spanish incarnation and then passed on the Hollywood remake version, because I love the song. The lesson here is don’t let your own snobbery rob you of the possibility of discovering a hidden treasure.

Also in the music department, last.fm is pretty cool. I recommended it to Mrs. Destral after her Yahoo online radio got bought out by someone and they did away with commercial-free subscriptions in favour of the traditional commercial supported free radio experience. While it might not entirely fill the void left by Yahoo Online Radio, it does have a distinct advantage for someone like me, in that last.fm features music from all over the place. It’s nice to get reacquainted with my favourite Spanish and Japanese music. Definitely a good discovery.

I’ve reached the glass ceiling again in WoW. While I do the occasional raid, my schedule clashes with my guild’s raiding objectives, so I’m stuck at doing heroics, dailies, and levelling my army of alts. Patch 3.1 also brought the usual nuisance of having to relocate and update UI addons and respec. On the upside, speccing my kitty druid for 6k critical shreds with only crafted epics and no dungeon gear is nice when that big payoff hits. On my rogue, Adrenalin Rush + Blade Flurry + Fan of Knives is insanely satisfying, and I much prefer combat spec to mutilate. Mage and Warrior are currently both 74 and questing in Howling Fjord. The Argent Tournament looks like a lot of fun, but some of the dailies are irritating in that the travel:activity ratio seems rather weighted towards the former and not enough to the latter. Plus, having people steal your chunks of rock while you’re fighting off mobs is not fun.

Finally, it’s crazy how many ideas for fun games/content can spring forth from playing a game you normally wouldn’t even look at twice while browsing for a game to buy.

Cryptic, NCSoft, SOE and Gajillion have reached an agreement to make Champions Online, City of Heroes/Villains, DC Universe Online, and Marvel Universe Online compatible with each other. Deciding that it would suit their business needs and would fit in with series crossovers, the four developers have agreed to place all 4 MMOs in ‘parallel continuities’ (akin to Marvel’s and DC’s penchant for alternate realities, as exemplified by Marvel’s classic ‘What if…?’ comic series). Players will be able to purchase any of the above mentioned MMOs, and after attaining a certain level, will be able to travel between the four ‘worlds’ by means of time machines, interdimensional vortices, wormholes, and assorted other means. Also, all 4 games to become free-for-all permadeath PvP so the age old antagonism between fans of the rival comic book publishers can finally settle once and for all who kicks more ass.

More news as they become available.