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About
I'm a composer and arranger from Perth, Australia. I'm the arranger/pianist for the Hitoshi Sakimoto albums "Piano Collections FINAL FANTASY XII" and "Valkyria Chronicles Piano Pieces".

I'm a fan of the FF series and the Ivalice games like Vagrant Story and FF Tactics. I also love Fallout: New Vegas and the Elder Scrolls series.
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The Game of Quille is a puzzle game that uses lamps and furniture from ACNL on an 8x8 grid. The goal of the game is to move from one item to another, alternating between RED and GREEN items of furniture, to reach the bowling pins at the end of the maze.

But that's not all - there are extra challenges, like turning on ALL the lights in the room (harder than it sounds, since lights also follow the Red/Green rule), or using a particular piece of furniture only ONCE. Achieving these challenges in the smallest number of moves possible is how you beat Quille.



Thanks to the "Dream Suite" feature in ACNL, anyone can play Quille simply by going to Dream Address 7800-2606-8331 and entering the Mayor's house. 

If you're interested in trying it out, I recommend taking a few minutes to read the Basic Rules and Game Types. If you can finish the room on the hardest mode, in the minimum amount of moves, you will be added to the Hall of Fame!

There will be a new puzzle every week - if you Follow the official blog you'll know straight away when the game has been updated with a new puzzle.




So, come and play! There are also tools to help you make your own Quille room if you're so inclined.

- - - -
My goal with this project is to use the gameplay and online mechanics of ACNL to create my own "homebrew DLC". I'm also hoping to create a new way for people to enjoy the game, by creating and sharing their own puzzles.  
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It's a performance of "Lon Lon Ranch", for solo piano!

YouTube: Lon Lon Ranch

Enjoy Skyward Sword, peoples.

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To tell you a story, a person will usually write it down and then read it to you. With games, the story is written down, then given to the player to read. If the developer has given the player the right "tools", they can tell an amazing story through the game. Storyteller reviews look at this narrative partnership between developer and player, and assess how well the game succeeds as a storytelling engine.

Check out the previous storytelling review to see how the criteria works.

For today's review, it's the latest from Naughty Dog, who are bringing back the magic of classic Spielberg adventure with their Uncharted series.




Uncharted 3 takes you all over the world (like a classic adventure should), and the environments are incredibly immersive. I recommend checking out the featurettes on the detail and research they did for the game. You could take a screenshot at any angle or place, and it would always look like a real location, thanks to the detail in every corner. When exploring an area, I found myself moving the camera around Nate to get the best looking "shot". Experimenting with the camera was especially effective in one of the later chapters, where the hero is aimlessly wandering the desert. Thankfully, in the more action-heavy sequences, the game takes charge of the camera to heighten the drama, and to make sure you can focus on the character's movements without getting disoriented.



In the behind-the-scenes featurette, the developers explain how they use real actors as a reference for the animation, but don't use full on mo-cap and facial mapping. This approach has worked wonders for the animated sequences in the game - the characters interact realistically, and don't look like strange facsimiles of the actors bodies and faces. The characters also never "vacate" the story when it's time for the player to work out a puzzle, or face a dangerous situation - they are always offering advice, shouting in frustration or calling out to each other. This is a game that doesn't divide itself between gameplay and story sections - everything you do in the game is happening to Nate, Sully, Elena and the others as well.


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The game keeps information out of your face as much as possible, keeping the player focused on the scenes taking place. Hand-to-hand combat favours cinematic flair over challenge - I found it more fun to watch than the gunplay. Brawling allows for experimentation and creativity within the environment. Knocking an opponent out with a fish, for example, felt far more satisfying then firing a grenade into someone's face, for it only to knock their helmet off.

While exploring, the game helps you along as much as you'll let it, without breaking the immersion too much. Your travelling companions will hint at solutions, and there is an option to have the game simply tell you the solution if you are stuck long enough. The climbing sections are always surprising and creative, and comprise some of the most exciting moments in the game. Ledges you can jump to are designed to "stand out", which is handy for the player, but the "highlighting" of the correct path does hurt the game's immersion a little. Seeing the path laid out for you so conspicuously is a bit like being able to see the "X"'s taped to the floor of a movie set, where the actors need to stand.



Compared to other game genres, action/adventure has a much less complicated range of actions for the player to perform - shoot, jump, run, climb. There is no branching dialogue or moral decisions to muddle the character of Nathan Drake. Like the previous game, I found that the player's skill at gunplay does have an effect on their "portrayal" of Drake - if you're terrible at it like me, with Drake missing most of his shots, it feels like the player doesn't live up to the expectation that Drake can handle himself in a firefight.

On the other hand, if you're REALLY good at shooting, and play Drake as an efficient killer, it doesn't quite mesh with his lovable, underdog adventure hero attitude. Sometimes the combination of badass and charming action hero doesn't quie mesh. Even so, I can't fault Naughty Dog for trying to combine hero archetypes into something new.



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The story is ever-present in Uncharted 3. This series earns it's mantle of "cinematic" gameplay not only for it's high production values and mastery of genre conventions - it's also a game that makes the player feel like the director of the story, quite effortlessly. The developers put some distance between you and the main character, letting you direct the story around him in exciting ways. The effectiveness of the "scene" is paramount - in a barfight, the player doesn't have to worry about blocking - they can look at the whole scene, pick up a bottle, and discover that Nathan Drake isn't all charm - he can also fight dirty.

The game is linear, but at every stage, Naughty Dog lays out all the tools needed to create an exciting action sequence. Shooting a gas tank, pulling an unsuspecting guard over a cliff, or leaping onto truck from horseback - all of these moments and more have been designed with the player's understanding of action movies in mind. But for the most part it's up to the player to use these tools however they like.

The icing on the cake is that there is a real character acting out these decisions - the game feels less like old-school wish fulfillment (YOU are Nathan Drake!), and more like you are directing the scene yourself. True cinematic games don't just look cinematic - they let you play with cinematic ideas directly.



Uncharted 3 is an excellent storytelling engine for the action/adventure genre. It sits in a comfortable, well-worn part of the entertainment industry and celebrates what makes the genre great, not only through it's polished Hollywood presentation, but it's cinematic approach to gameplay.










Hey you! You like good games right? Then you should join the Gallian Liberation Front, who are always finding constructive ways to show SEGA that we would very much like to play Valkyria Chronicles 3. Pump yourself up with my tribute video of "Conferral of Honors" from the VC soundtrack!

OK! Now, settle down. We're going to a town called Alexandria where this little guy -



is on his way to see a show. It's "Vivi's Theme" from the classic Final Fantasy IX.

And that's all the content there is for today! More articles about storytelling in gaming are on the way. Read them, and find out why I prefer to update about my music!
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This is a response to Jim Sterling's article on Shadow of the Colossus.

Once, the gaming community revolved around brands and mascots - fanboys defending Nintendo, or Sonic, or whatever else. That phase is over now (I would hope), but gaming became intrinsic to our lives during our childhood through to adulthood. Gamers want to bring the medium with them as they get older - something that should be as simple as buying new games for themselves, that are tailored for adults.

Nowadays, the adult gamer knows what they like - just like they have their favourite TV shows, books, or films. The variety of genres in those mediums is massive, and each year the gaming medium is catching up to them by finding new ways to play, and new people to play them. The amount of sub-cultures in a more "established" medium like film is also huge: you have sci-fi fans, fans of rom-coms, fans of classic westerns, the list goes on. And for the most part, these groups leave each other alone. No single sub-culture can convince all the other film-goers that their genre is the best. There is no unified "movie-watching" community - it's just too big. After all, who do you know that has never watched a film? This is what a "medium" should be - too big for anyone to be right or wrong. My question is, will games ever get this big? And do you want it to?

For decades, games have been pushed around by sensationalist or dismissive media - branded a fad, a threat, and a waste of time. In these news stories, the violent games speak for the entire medium. The gaming world's response to that is, time and time again, to choose their own ambassador for gaming - a chosen game that will legitimise the medium as an art form, and not just a toy. Either way, the gaming community remains "small" - the news will call first-person shooters "gaming", and passionate gamers will call artistic games (like Shadow of the Colossus) "gaming". Isn't deciding the fate of an entire medium around one "champion" too simple a solution? When the controversial "Serbian Film" was released, no one had to bring up "Schindler's List" to defend the honour of film-making.

The community rallies around these "champions", and those who support these chosen games are considered "true gamers". To me it's nothing less than the adult mutation of fanboyism. Only now it's not Mario vs Sonic, it's the World vs Video Games. Of course, having a passionate and close community is a wonderful thing, too. But such a community will always remain small, unless we learn to leave each other alone. I don't have a solution to the way gaming is portrayed in mainstream media - I think it's a problem that will eventually solve itself, but for now we should just carry on playing what we will, and make our "small" community "bigger".

Games will "grow up" not after they've won an Oscar, but when someone who has never played a game is just as uncommon as someone who has never watched a movie.

Oh, and what do I think of Shadow of the Colossus? It doesn't matter.
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What is a Storyteller Review?
This is a game review that focuses on how well a game performs as a Storytelling Engine. It's not an analysis of the game's story itself, but rather a study of the "tools" the developer has given the player, to tell that story. You will probably enjoy this review more if you have already played the game. The criteria for this kind of review comes from the questions that enter my mind when playing a game:


World Detail - How much effort has gone into making the game world feel tangible? This includes things like hidden notes/journals, or details in the game world like graffiti, posters and overheard conversations.


Character Detail - How much effort has gone into realistic character design and interaction? Are there varying body types, mannerisms, and voices?


Transparency - How does the developer balance immersion with information? For example, is the player's health quantified by a percentage, or does the screen get darker and bloodier when their health is low? Also, when the player makes a gameplay or dialogue choice, how clear are the specifics and/or consequences of that action?


Narrative Strength - How easy is it to 'break' the narrative you are creating through your gameplay choices, either accidentally or deliberately? And how tempting is it to break the integrity of the narrative to gain gameplay rewards? (For example - playing an 'upstanding' character, then killing an innocent person to get a good piece of equipment, despite it being a decision that an 'upstanding' character would never make).

Sacrificed Story vs. Elevated Story - What comes first, story or gameplay? Are there points in the game where a gameplay situation is 'forced' on the player, even if it goes against their understanding of the story and their character's motivations? Are there any gameplay design decisions that harm the integrity of the story? Or, are there any subversions of this, where story comes first and foremost - where gameplay sections can be approached differently or skipped altogether?

I decided that the first game to review in this style should be the acclaimed, genre-blending Deus Ex Human Revolution. NOTE: There's one spoiler, and it will be marked.




Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in the near future, where a section of humanity is on the brink of gaining total control over their own evolution. The protagonist Adam Jensen, who is forced to undergo extensive human augmentation, is the only playable character, and the story is told from a mixed first/third person perspective, and intermittent cutscenes.

The World - Our Future
A lot of care has gone into creating a world that frequently makes players stop and think about the kind of future they'd like to live in. There is plenty of reading to do in DX:HR, and the "lore" that can be found is pleasingly diverse. The developers "fill in" the gap between our present and the game's future through reports on technological breakthroughs and global shifts of power (although a civil war in Australia would likely be East vs West, not North vs South!).

For every exciting discovery (reflexes at the speed of thought!), there is a sobering report in the newspaper of an experiment gone wrong, or some tragic unforeseen circumstance in another part of the world. You can even read interpersonal exchanges on employee terminals - there's so much content to find. Much of this world's "presence" is generated by sparking the player's imagination through these logs, which is a very effective approach.

You'll also hear people discussing hot button topics in buildings and on the streets, and while these overheard conversations are welcome, they don't feel as naturally immersive as the logs and newspapers. The city hubs themselves are fantastically detailed, but unfortunately they feel more like "levels" than real world locations - crawling around and moving barrels is hardly how I imagined getting from place to place in the future.

The People - Mr. and Mrs. NPC
DE:HR loses points here. Adult man shape and adult woman shape is all you get. There's some variation in hair, clothes and even augmented body parts which is nice, but underneath it all is the same basic build. The 'mannequin'-like effect is compounded with recycled animations, awkward feet-shuffling and over-gesticulating. The conversations themselves flow easily enough, and the voice-acting is adequate, using the usual video game approach - important characters sound important, NPC's sound unimportant. Nothing too cringe-worthy, but there are a few exceptions.

However, when Eidos Montreal put the effort in, it really shows. The handful of first-person conversations, where you need to persuade a character to reveal information or to help you advance in a certain way, are excellent. To succeed in these segments you need to tell the person what they want to hear, but you are also free to use the conversations to reinforce the desired personality you want Adam Jensen to have. In one scenario, I directed Jensen to be very confrontational towards an old S.W.A.T buddy, and watched it backfire and force him to sheepishly admit his defeat to the higher-ups. I was denied access to the police morgue, but learned something about Jensen's past and his attitude towards the importance of duty.



Image from Softpedia

In regular conversations, Jensen stays fairly neutral, but you can "bend" him towards a slightly more friendly, or icy response. There is no outright Good Jensen or Evil Jensen - the player largely decides who Jensen is by how he approaches conflict during missions. There's a big difference between a protagonist that moves unseen through the shadows, and one that will clinically and painfully kill a man with his sword-elbows. It's how much Jensen values human life that determines what kind of leading man he is - and for the most part, that is up to you.

Deus Ex - an Augmented Reality Game
DE:HR gracefully sidesteps the problems of an intrusive HUD by making the HUD itself a point of immersion. The information about your character's condition and surroundings is exactly what Jensen sees through his visual augmentations. It allows gameplay features that would normally be distracting (such as the Track and Mark system, which keeps tabs on your enemies), to become almost tactile in their execution. I winced the first time Jensen was hit by an EMP mine - his senses were scrambled and his entire brain had to reboot. That can't be pleasant.

One of the issues the game tackles is controlled evolution - something I myself participated in while playing the game, although I didn't realise it at the time. When choosing how to develop Jensen's abilities, I would save up my Praxis Points (see below), and only spend them when I needed to adapt my playstyle to survive the next situation. The room is flooding with hostile guards? About time this little vent-dwelling lizard learned how to become invisible.



One thing that wasn't completely clear was which missions required urgency, and which ones didn't. I loved the 'real-time' aspect of the first mission (if you wait too long to start the rescue operation, hostages will die), but it hardly seemed fair. In such a dense game, most players expect the leisure to explore and familiarise themselves first, and a story that can wait. I was also surprised when Pritchard the tech expert chided me for entering the women's bathroom (totally by accident). From the first hour it seemed like this would be a game that was very aware of it's narrative integrity, and the consequences of breaking that integrity. A hero doesn't eavesdrop in a toilet!

However I didn't encounter any more "time limit" moments in the game; I did try to complete main missions that seemed particularly urgent before starting any sidequests, just in case. Nor did I meet any consequences for my less honest gaming habits - for example, I was able to take whatever I wanted from the desks of the officers at the police station, right from under their noses. However, this is all just anecdotal evidence - I hope that others have found more examples of the game taking offense to their thieving and snooping.


More bloodshed if you're so inclined.

In my opinion, Jensen's capacity for violence comes close to breaking the narrative, but it depends on how you play. I get that some players want to play him as a badass killer. The lethal takedowns are gratuitous and flashy, like the developers are showing off, but I can understand the player using them to create a Jensen that shatters his enemies' morale before he shatters everything else. Not that I ever heard any cries of "Oh JESUS, he stabbed him right in the GROIN!" (rather, the enemies just started shooting). To me, at least, the lethal takedowns were hard to justify, when the non-lethal takedown achieved the same end, without the violent death (and the noise).

Happily, the game makes player decisions very clear and easy to execute (you won't accidentally stab someone with your sword-elbows). The dialogue topics are brief - "NON-LETHAL, HOSTAGES, HIT-MAN", etc - but I greatly appreciated having a preview of what my character would say, below the topic. Just in case it didn't sound quite like what my character would say, be it too cold, too "bad-ass", or even too flippant. There were no moments where I was surprised or disappointed with what Jensen said.

"You are Adam Jensen, except when we are Adam Jensen."
So what wins out in the end, story or gameplay? Ideally, they shouldn't be mutually exclusive, but a perfect balance between the two is a rare thing. Deus Ex Human Revolution achieves a nice balance, but still stumbles in many of it's climactic moments. Adam Jensen is the core of the story, and for the most part he is in your control - but when the game takes over the results are frustrating to say the least.

Imagine you're a kid, and that Adam Jensen is your favourite action figure that can do everything. Your best friend, Eidos, lent it to you and told you to play with it however you want. The more you play, the more you enjoy it, and the better you are at playing with it. Then one day, Eidos comes over and says "okay, that's enough, now I want to play with it again".

"But, I'm in the middle of a gam -"
"No, trust me, my game will be just as fun. So Adam walks into this room..."
"Adam wouldn't just walk into the room without making sure it's safe, first."
"Quiet! I made this toy, I know how it works. He walks into a room, and then suddenly BAM!" Eidos pulls out another big action figure with a gun for an arm. "This guy attacks from out of nowhere!"

"Okay, then you use the big guy, and I can use Adam Jensen, and we can play together-"
"NO!" Eidos screams. "We're playing it MY way now! We're playing it my way and I'm not leaving until we do! I've locked all the doors in your house, so we're playing!"
"... Fine. Adam stuns the bad guy with his stun-gun, then knocks him unconscious."
"Nuh-uh! His armour is too strong! He throws bombs at him!"
"But - "

Eidos continues to smash the two action figures together until you both get sick of it, and then his mum Squeenix comes to pick him up. He gives the Adam Jensen toy back, but unfortunately also arranges to have two more playdates in the future.



Maybe you enjoyed the boss fights that came fresh from 1994. But to me, they felt like the developers were wrenching away the super-fun toy and forcing me to play how they wanted. And for what? So they could show me a "cool thing" I care nothing about? I try to avoid acting like an entitled gamer that tells entire companies how to run their business. Actually, it may already be too late for that, but I'll say this anyway:

Developers, fuck your boss fights. If a character can only be described as a "boss", then they aren't a character at all. An equivalent example in film would be the henchman Jaws in the old James Bond movies. At first, I liked the idea of being hopelessly outmatched against Barrett (the toy with the gun-arm). In any other medium, the hero would have needed to find some other way to best him. But in this case what ensued was an unheroic, almost comical mess. I tried the stun-gun on him, which sort of worked. While he was briefly incapacitated I attempted the tried-and-true shotgun to the head - and that still didn't do it. This wasn't going to be Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman. Crickets chirped, the man went "ergh" and somewhere in the code a health bar dropped a little bit. How visceral.

At this point, I was pretty frustrated. Not just because I was unprepared for this gameplay challenge - I was also forced out of the character I'd "made". I had to forget about Jensen's personal code when it came to combat, abandon the grace and cunning of stealth and - god help me - run around shooting explosive barrels when the boss got close to them. Entitled whining may not change a developer's mind, but I hope there are other gamers out there who expect more, a lot more from a story written in 2011, even if it is 'only in a video game'. Until that time, gamers, keep shooting those explosive barrels. They're red, that's how you know.

But enough negativity. Those boss fights are the few crap episodes you skip on the DVD of your favourite series. And, there are some wonderful moments in the game of playstyle positively affecting the story too. If you haven't played up to the second visit to Hengsha, don't read the next four paragraphs because there are SPOILERS.

Upon returning to China, you and your pilot Faridah Malik are forced to crash land, and are then ambushed by mercenaries. Adam Jensen jumps to safety nearby, but the crashed plane is taking heavy fire with Malik still in it. You can then try to save her.

Trouble was, all I had on me was my non-lethal equipment. I didn't have the firepower to stop the mercenaries before the plane exploded and Malik was killed. This was probably one of my favourite moments in the game - Jensen had to leave her behind because fighting would mean throwing his life away, and SOMEONE had to survive to find the truth, dammit!

Or rather, I liked that turn in the story, and that I made that call as a player-director, rather than from a personal standpoint, ie: "what would I do if it was my friend in a burning gunship?" This isn't the story of Casey Ormond the augmented supersoldier, it's the story of Adam Jensen, a character I direct. We aren't the same person, and don't make the same decisions. The actions of Adam Jensen are not for wish fulfillment, they're to serve the story.

Truthfully, I probably could have saved Malik - it would have taken a great deal of effort and time, but it would have been just as rewarding for me, and for the story (NO MAN LEFT BEHIND and all that). But in the end, I chose the death of Faridah Malik - it was the classic tragic event before the third act of the film, when things start to get really serious.

END SPOILERS

Final Thoughts and Score

As a game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is fantastic and fun to play. However, its storytelling potential is a mixed bag. It pulls you into its world with a detailed history and setting, but fails to match that detail in its character designs. It allows the player to define Adam Jensen through his words and actions, but repeatedly snatches that character away from you when a crisis befalls him. Overall, it's an enjoyable journey that is quite immersive, and always thought-provoking.



How was your experience with Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Did it's storytelling grab you, or repel you? Share your thoughts below.
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