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7:17 PM on 04.01.2014

Talkin to Folks: IGF Interview Audio

So, I have been incredibly lucky to be able to attend GDC this year, and I made it my mission to get a quick interview with as many of the IGF attendees as possible. I was mostly successful, and have been editing them to clear up background noise and dead air. Have a listen, download them if you wanna use them as sources for things, whatever. Occasionally I actually sound competent and get some interesting answers. Listen in 

If you want to hear them as I upload them, follow me on twitter @JoeFancyPants. Thanks for listening!!

1:37 PM on 04.18.2013

Yesterday I Bought a Game

Yesterday I bought a game, and it felt strange.

For you see, I bought it on sale. BUT I did not just buy it on sale, I bought it with Steam Wallet money. BUT it wasn't just Steam Wallet money, it was with Steam Wallet money I earned selling trading cards on the Steam Marketplace, that I earned playing games. On Steam.

Not that big a deal. Honestly, there is no BUT here. I do have to wonder about this whole internal economy thing tho. Because now that the Steam internal economy is starting to really run at speed, I start thinking about Shadowrun. 

Shadowrun is Blade Runner meets D&D pulpy fun, but that isn't why I think about it in relation to my purchase. One of the cornerstones of the setting is Corporate Extraterritoriality, or that a corporation can control land the way a country does. Essentially, they can set the laws and rules on their own property, including issuing currency. This produces a society where employment by a corporation is like moving to a totalitarian state, with it's own money, specific products, and censorship. It actively encourages feeding your effort and money into the system, making a bloated and powerful apparatus that can't help but victimize you to keep operating. So when I buy a game on Steam using Steam money I earned playing games on Steam, it makes me think about hamsters in wheels and other lovely thoughts. 

If there is one thing that playing Diablo 3 has taught me, it's that a Spade is a Spade and a Skinner Box is a Skinner Box. Of course, there are caveats and checks and balances and it isn't an isolated process (somebody had to buy those cards from me after all), but I still feel like we are all in a bus that is slooooooooowly sliding towards something unpleasant.

Or maybe I just need to take a nap. I bought Rogue Legacy yesterday, and I was up really late. It's AWESOME :).   read

5:22 PM on 01.13.2013

I Was Thinking: How Dark Souls could have an Easy mode

So I was thinking, with the recent announcement of Dark Souls 2, along with the statement from series director Hidetaka Miyazaki that he would like to make the game more accessible while maintaining the ball-busting difficulty it and it's predecessor are known for. It certainly caused a bit of a ruckus among the fanbase, and while I can't say that I agree with them that such a thing would be undesirable, I can see why they would be irate about that kind of change. It could be construed as tampering with what makes the game really interesting, and jeopardizing the unique charm of the games. But, what if there was a way to make the game unobtrusively easier for those looking to get into the series, but are too afraid of how unforgiving it is?

One thing to consider about the Dark Souls series (MAN it's nice to call it a series) is that while it has both single player and multiplayer elements, both are inextricably tied to the setting. It is actually explained in universe why other players can help or hurt you while you are playing what would otherwise be a strictly single player game, and the various permutations on the multiplayer are still tied to in universe objects and NPC's. Essentially, there is no difference between single and multiplayer, there is just one game (suck it, Brink). Thus adding in separate difficulties tampers with the nature of the game by causing disparities between players. It adds in divisions that didn't previously exist which would be tricky to reconcile, given the random, drop-in drop-out nature of the multiplayer. For instance, is it really fair for an invading player that an easy-mode invadee has less to fear from the wandering monsters than a normal-mode one? Or, if you invade two otherwise identical players, but one is one easy mode and the other isn't, then do you do less damage to the easy mode one because of the mode he picked? It raises too many balance questions to be really feasible, without creating a disparity that could cause frustration and be exploited by players.

However, there is another option. This option has proven decidedly unpopular among the hardcore that play games like Dark Souls, but I think that it could be used very well in this case, with some provisions. Essentially, Dark Souls could take a page from New Super Mario Bros., and have Luigi help you out.

Now, this being Dark Souls, having an NPC do all the work would make the game completely toothless. It would ruin the challenge, and most importantly, the player would get nothing out of it, losing the point of the experience. Dark Souls is about self improvement, about mastering your fear and learning the game until you can effectively conquer the tremendous challenge it offers, feeling the savage glee of the conqueror. Putting in an invincible computer controlled helper would invalidate that. However, Dark Souls already has something somewhat similar to this in the form of our grossly incandescent purveyor of Jolly Cooperation.

After you first meet the Knight Solaire, you can find his summon sign outside of a few boss areas in the game, and there are a few other potential NPC companions to be found. These AI helpers can be extremely helpful against certain bosses. So what if there was a guaranteed AI helper against any boss? Now, naturally this helper should not come without some fairly stringent requirements. For instance, you may have to attempt to beat the boss without them a certain number of times, say 5. After that, you may get a message telling you obliquely that they are available for summoning right outside the boss door; you have to get there by yourself to summon them. Then, if you do summon them to help you, you would lose some of the reward from the boss, say, half the soul reward. This would provide proper incentive to NOT summon them, as you would lose out on personal reward in exchange for progress. Now, loss of souls is only temporary, and it happens all the time in Dark Souls, but it is still an exchange, unlike the Luigi example. You are giving something up for help, and forcing the player to grind and make up the difference in souls will give them more practice with the game, so hopefully next time they won't need it.

Now, as the nice wall of text has described, we have a fairly in-character and potentially in-universe easy option for the noobish among us, but there are other questions. One thing that we might want to guarantee is that the AI helper cannot kill the boss. Perhaps after the boss has taken a certain amount of damage, the partner backs off and attempts to distract the boss, but not damage it further. Additionally, would the AI character be invincible or not? If it is, then it could make the fight entirely too easy, but if not they could die very early and the entire exercise is moot. This is not a perfect solution, but hey, I was just thinking. What do you think?[img]   read

11:54 AM on 12.10.2012

Couchbound Criticism: Self-Help Hotline

One of the things about video games as a hobby is that it is seen as a waste of time, similar to sitting and watching television or movies. In the minds of detractors, it is a sedentary activity that, while fun, has little in the way of self improvement. Hotline Miami has become a notable exception for me. And that scares me a little.

If you like the concept this trailer puts forward and haven't seen much else about this game, go buy it. Seriously, do it now. At full price, it's $10 and it probably will be on sale for Christmas if you are feeling frugal. It has a pounding, Eighties throwback soundtrack that I listen to daily, and visuals that are the best approximation of a bad acid trip I have seen in a video game. But be careful. It changes you.
To say that a game has changed you is a strong compliment. Art's capacity to inform and change a person is the most important thing about it. We can all think of a piece of media that changed the way we think, about something small or about everything. But, as I said above, this game scared me just a little, enough to give me a shiver. Because it changed me into a frightening human being.

I have been seeing a lot of the marketing for Far Cry 3 lately, touting dark and violent subject matter. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this promotional video, it spells it out pretty clearly.

Standard blockbuster action movie-esque game. The tone they seem to want is that you are a man stuck in the heart of darkness, surrounded by violent insanity, trying to fight your way out. Now, this is suitably edgy, and action packed enough to be entertaining, but it, like many of its big budget brethren, feels the need to give you a purpose for it all, a light at the end of the tunnel. It gives you a reason. And that is bullshit. It takes the teeth out of the violence if it has such lofty context, but that is how they make it palatable. It is intended to motivate you in the long term and make you feel like the good guy, while the explosions and killing are the short term incentive. Hotline is what happens when you take out that long term incentive, that reason. What you are left with is a serial murderer that is a joy to play as.

Hotline kept me playing and playing (I have completed the game 100% four times now since I got it day 1) because it is fast, fun, and brutal. Death is not a failure state so much as a temporary setback, like running out of ammunition in a First Person Shooter. Ran out of ammo/throat ripped out by attack dog? Hit R, keep killing. One hit, one kill leads to a lovely mixture of extreme caution and pants wetting audacity. I still remember the time I ran into a room and managed through luck and balls to beat them all to death with my bare hands. I was killed not three seconds later by a man with a knife. I hit R, and slit his throat with his own knife before I get to anybody else, just to show him.
You get into a rhythm with this game. Run in, die, restart, run in, die, restart, etc. You make plans, strategize, finding the path around the level that works. Everything happens so fast, death is made cheap. There is no dying speech, no grandiose cries of pain. In a split second, you (or they) go from living, running pixel men to quivering meat, bleeding on the floor. And as you figure out the optimal way to get through the level, and you build up that rush of adrenaline until your reflexes are as sharp as needles, you get deeper and deeper into it. Every man and dog blurs together, every attempt is just one R key away from the next, and it just keeps going and going and going and going and going and GOING AND GOING AND

The music stops. Nothing is moving. You are alone in a house filled with bodies. Some are full of holes, other slashed, some even cut into pieces. And you did all of it. You were the aggressor. You were the antagonist here, not them. There was no reason, just your own enjoyment. And the worst part is, the more you do it, the better you get.

When I started to play this game, It would take me quite a few attempts to beat a level. I was cautious, treating every kill like I was jumping a huge pit. Carefully line up my jump, get a good running start, deep breath, and GO. As I played, it got easier and easier. I got faster, more precise, more deadly. I would see a room of three men armed with shotguns, and no longer see a hazard. I saw targets. I got good at killing. This is the first and only time that a game has actually made me feel like I am getting better at killing. Not fighting, not shooting, not combat. At straight, unadulterated, violent murder. And I love it. It's my game of the year for sure. No other game has made me feel so good and so scared at the same time. You should play it too. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

All images used are from Rock, Paper, Shotgun.   read

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