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Mandril's blog

2:38 PM on 06.05.2008

The Start of the Affair: I Don't Know What It Was, But It Was Awesome

My story is going to be different from the lot of you. I had no NES, I had no arcades.
This is a confession - I may not be as hardcore or retro as the rest of you. I have never taped music from awesome Final Fantasy scenes, nor have I imagined lyrics to Zelda flute tunes. I have however, learned english by obsessively playing a videogame.

I hail from a rather conservative family. Daddy worked, mommy cooked, I played.
I played with LEGO, mind you. Around this time (when I was about 6, in 1994) I had never even heard of videogames. Growing up in a rural dutch village is like growing up in a different world entirely. I did not miss videogames, because I did not know they existed. I made up my own games, mostly.

I do not recall much from my early youth, but I remember this:
One day, the boy next door came to me with a wonderful contraption his dad had scored. It was an IBM notebook (atleast, I think it was IBM) and we immediately started fiddling around with it. He showed me how to manouvre through the memory and I was truly fascinated. Within no time I picked up all the commands I needed to know. I had mastered the system with complex commands such as "cd C:\" and "dir". Little did I know, this was the simplest challenge yet.

I was just about to lose interest when my companion tactfully revealed a floppy disc to me. There it was; the first game I have ever played. It was... it was... I don't know what exactly it was. An adventure game, that is what it was. There were graphical representations of the landscape, and you constantly had to type in where to move, what to examine and what objects to use. All in english. Yikes.
Ordinarily I would not have learned english until I was 12. Suffice it to say that this was a rather difficult game for me. Moving around the map was my first discovery, after spending a couple hours trying countless commands at the starting position. Soon therafter, I picked up words like "Open", "├ťse" and "Examine", which I used in combination with practially every english word I knew.

I distinctly remember standing infront of a fence, typing in "Open Door" a hundred times over. I remember it so clearly, because I got stuck for a long, long time at that point in the game. I was stuck until I finally discovered the word "Gate". Then I entered a cave, and got stuck again. Mind you, that this is only 3 minutes into the game. I've never gotten further than that, even though I have spend many many hours of my childhood behind that incredibly old notebook.

I had a great time though.

The following year I became aware of the existence of the Playstation, which my parents lovingly purchased for me when it came out (presumably to stop me from nagging their ears off)

Ever since then, I have looked everywhere for that graphic adventure game. Never found it. I reckon it was very obscure. My descriptions may be hardly helpful, but if you have any idea what game this might maybe possibly be, do tell. It was a monochrome game, I should add.

PS: No neighbors were harmed during the creation of this childhood. The dad from the boy next door was a nice man and had no problem with me playing games with his machine, on his attic. No sexual innuendo intended.   read

3:00 PM on 05.06.2008

We are a bunch of retarded chimps, aren't we?

It's been a while since my last c-blog post, mainly because I'm finally working my way through Persona 3.

Why is it, that a self proclaimed "hardcore" gaming blog, needs to summarise every review in quadruplicate?

- A (well written) review with its own conlcusion in the last paragraph
- A useless "Forget it, rent it, buy it" endorsement - completely dependent on how much a gamer is able to spend on his pasttime (This used to be pretty cool, because it forced you to read the review)
- A "Metacritic made us do it"-score, which appearantly excuses certain individuals to skip the wall of text and dump a hateful message in the comments.
- A "Don't hate us, haters!" score explaination that is supposed to convince said individuals that 4/10 means an admirable effort. (Spoiler: the haters aren't convinced)

And then there's all those articles that state how exactly one has to read Destructoid reviews. Those miss their point entirely, because they are aimed at the people that do not read anything but summarising digits.


I'm going back to my highschool simulator. What else is there to do, when school's out?   read

11:33 AM on 04.20.2008

Neglected Perspective: Artistic Games pt 2 - Form & Light

In an attempt to bring a fresh and often neglected perspective to the discussion of whether games are art, I take a look at artistic conventions as used in games.
I am writing this 3-part series of articles not to convince anyone that games are art, but rather to make readers aware of how developers use certain tricks and design elements to improve the appeal of their games - in the same way artists do in paintings or other forms of graphical art.

Artistic imagery can be dissected into 6 aspects: Line, color, form, light, space and composition. Part 1 covered Line & Color, now it's time to take a look at Form & Light.

After alot of research I eventually ended up picking De Blob as a game that makes good use of form. Why it was a tough choice, shall be explained right after educating you about this particular design element.

Forms can be found everywhere in an art piece. They are formed by using different colors, lines or materials.
A form can look exactly like a real object (realistic), or it can be more beautiful than the actual object (idealised).
It can also be manipulated (deformed) and/or simplified (stylized). When a form is hardly recognisable as such, we call it abstract.

Just like colors, there are certain contrasts that can be achieved with forms. Geometric-organic, flat-spatial and clear-vague just to name a few.
One can also seek to balance an image by letting certain forms reoccur in it. We call this form-rhyme, as you're using forms that correspond to eachother, much like poetry.

De Blob, as stated, was a difficult choice to make. There are not many abstract games, in comparison to art pieces. Form contrasts are not used as much as the other design elements are. None the less, there are alot of clever ways in which forms are implemented - mainly in puzzle games. Tetris uses blocks that fit into eachother, for example. But it's not as if the squares every block exists of in that game immediately make you think of Warhol, despite their recurrences.

I don't know how to feel about De Blob.
When I look at screenshots or videos of the game, I see a round, organic jelly-creature hopping about in a world full of geometric, static buildings. An excellent implementation of a geometric-organic contrast. Yet the concept art of this game shows a everything-is-round festival world in which in turn completely contrasts with the actual game.
A lead designer must have stepped up and told his underlings all buildings should be square. That's what I'd like to think anyway.

Shadow of the Colossus is an extraordinary game for so many reasons, the excellent use of light being only one of them. It blends together so many different artistic conventions, and also contains an artistic undertone/message. The biggest achievement here, is how Team ICO managed to mix these elements so flawlessly. There isn't one particular thing about the game that stands out, it is one solid consistent experience.
Let's hear some more about this light thing, first.

You can divide this category into natural and artificial light. Natural light comes from the sun, while artificial light can come from anything ranging from a lamp to a candle.
When exposed to light, objects will cast a shadow. This shadow helps us to understand where exactly the object is placed. The shadow that falls on the object itself this adds dimensionality too. Thanks to this self-shadow you can, for example, tell if an object is round and what structure it has. Sometimes this shadow can even create silhouettes.

Frankly it was only last month I bought and finished Shadow of the Colossus. There are certain aspects of the game I still need to explore upon further. For example: What do the beacons of light that reach towards the sky indicate, and what do they mean, symbolically? You can invest alot of thought into decyphering the design choices in this game.
There is a voice coming from the heavens, accompanied by rays of light, that tells you which creatures to slay. You raise your sword and follow the light it casts to find these creatures. In the same way you find the weak spots of these creatures.

But even when you are not interested in the symbolism this game has to offer, the game benefits of light in many more ways. On the graphical side of things, part of why this game looks so breathtaking is how, in the large and open meadows, the ground seamlessly meets the sky in an enlighted horizon. Gameplay wise, you can only use the beacon of your sword if you are standing in the sunlight, which means you have to avoid standing in the creature's shadow (there's potential symbolism there once more)


I genuinely hope I am inspiring anyone who is reading these articles.
We really shouldn't be wondering whether games are art, because ultimately it doesn't matter if we can file it under the "art" box or not. What we should be talking about, is how games can learn and benefit from these artistic conventions, so that videogames as a medium can evolve.   read

12:46 AM on 04.17.2008

Neglected Perspective: Artistic Games pt 1 - Line & Color

Can it be? Is it another individual who is trying to mingle in the "Are games art?" spectacle?
Another day, another person who is ruminating the remains of the dreadfully dull debate. Are you sick of it? Because I sure am.
As far as I'm concerned, art is largely subjective, and if Mister A thinks Bioshock is art while Mister B objects, good for them! I don't care - I'll allow everyone the freedom to have their own opinion on the subject.

No, I'm going to try my best to steer clear of the grey areas here. Instead, I will take a much more obvious route (atleast in my eyes, considering I'm an art student) and discuss various forms of optical tricks that developers use to make their games, be it unconsciously, more appealing to the eye.

There are certain visual tools that can be used to grab hold of the attention of the viewer. Artists use these methods alot to draw your eyes to certain places, to create a certain atmosphere or to bring more depth the canvas. After applying those techniques, the outcome can be mindblowing. As such, it's surprising to me how little we see those artistic methods return in games.
These tricks are basically art-history 101. You will understand what exactly I mean when I'll discuss the games below.

For every visual, 6 aspects can be examined. These are: Line, color, form, light, space, composition.
For every aspect, I've taken it upon myself to choose a game that best illustrates said subject.

Without further ado, let's start by taking a good hard look at the use of lines in videogames. To illustrate this first part, I'll use the game Okami. Now, I know this game sounds like such an obvious choice for line, but it's a bit more complicated than that.

Every drawing is made out of lines. Contour lines to form certain shapes, and possibly hatching lines to creat tonal or shade effects. Lines can be straight, lines can be jagged, but they can also be gracious and so forth.

Where do we find such gracious lines videogames? Well, often cellshaded games come with a wonderful outline around the characters. That outline not only helps to set apart the character, it changes the entirely look and feel of a game. Cartoon-esque, if you will.
Okami is only one of the many games that makes good use of lines through cell shading, but more notably ought to be mentioned because it uses lines more creatively with the Celestial Brush, blending them into the gameplay.
Another fine example of original use of lines is the free webbased game linerider.

Needless to say, color is awesome. There are so many ways to use color to your advantage, I cannot possibly pick one videogame to showcase them all. I had to make some compromises and eventually I chose for Mirror's Edge.

There are seven color contrasts that can be used to please the eye (To sum them up quickly: Color vs. color-, complementary-, light-dark-, warm-cold-, quality-, quantity- and simultaneous contrast)
With all these effects, the possibilities are endless. Any emotion or atmosphere can easily be portrayed by using the right colors.

Mirror's Edge is actually the game that inspired me to write this article. In this game, the amount of thought that went into using artistic conventions is above par.
The warm-cold contrast especially caught my attention. Those red shoes and gloves this madam is sporting are an excellent way of adding some extra depth to the screen.
As you can see, the color of buildings in the background is much less vivid than those in the front. This quality contrast is used in nearly every videogame that takes the realistic approach.

I'll have to admit I don't know alot about this game. I have not read any previews on it, I've merely seen the screenshots - but they tell me alot.
For example, what's up with the cranes we see in every other screenshot? Maybe you don't know either. Yet if I ask any Dtoider, or any gamer, to guess what they are for, I'm pretty certain most people would say that they are an intergrated part of the gameplay and you are required to walk across them.
Why would they say that? It's the color, obviously. Quantity contrast.
Anyone can tell this game is about jumping on rooftops. All other parts of the game consist of various shades of blue. The game requires you to look at the rooftops. Not until you have examined all the rooftops, will you glance at the surroundings.
Ofcourse this largely happens without you being aware of it, and that's the whole idea behind it. Leading the player to where he needs to be, where he needs to look, without physically holding his hand.

As you might've understood from reading the post title, I am going to cut this article short here. Partially to refrain from stretching your attention span, and partially to save myself from getting a repetitive strain injury, this subject is being divided into 3 posts.
I hope you enjoyed part 1, and remember to leave some criticism/comments below.   read

9:23 AM on 03.21.2008

And the gamers who play them: J-RPGs

Traditions. This article is all about those widely accepted customs.
What better time to discuss this subject than now, with Pascha (or easter, whichever you prefer) impatiently waiting on our collective doorsteps.

Japan is a country which traditions are intensively cherished. While most inhabitants of the land of the rising sun have never been true believers, they absolutely adore traditions associated with religion. In Japan you will find temples-a-plenty, polythe´stic rituals, christian weddings, bhuddist funerals and so on.

Naturally the Japanese culture also shines through in games originated from this country. Although there is more to Japanese games than just this genre, I will be discussing Japanese roleplaying games - J-RPGs for short - with you.

Those who are unimpressed by such games, often tend to point out how the games this genre consists of a plethora of similar games that lack real innovation. And to be honest, they are quite right.
It is exactly this samey-nessÖ that J-RPG fans tend to embrace, though. The formulaic nature of these games has its positive aspects. Start up any Final Fantasy game, and you'll know exactly what you can expect. Two minutes into the game you'll immediately feel at home and be immersed in the vast unexplored world each game lets you discover. That is, if you appreciate this genre. There is no accounting for tastes.

Turn-Based battles and J-RPGs go hand in hand. The turn-based system allows a great degree of strategy to be implemented within the game, but unfortunately it rarely is. The sword, more often than not, cuts both ways: Boss battles are epic, challenging and require you to spot certain attack patterns. Random encounters, on the other hand, are as dull as can be, and simply exist to level up before the next boss battle. You'll be spending alot of time grinding versus these weaker monsters.
J-RPG gamers do not mind investing alot of time playing these games. This type of player is easily emerged in a game world. That world isn't going to save itself, so there is work to be done.

Generally, there are three types of players that play and enjoy these roleplaying games.
The long time fan, the dreamer and the Japanist.

Long time fans appreciate J-RPGs for their rich history and the memories they associate with it. They have thoroughly played hundreds of games from this genre, and love certain franchises not so much for the quality of new additions to said series, as the qualitie of its older games.

Dreamers are very easily sucked into a game. They adore J-RPGs for their length and depth. A cinematic game with an epic storyline full of twists and turns will get this type of gamer easily excited.

The Japanist is obsessed with Japan and its culture. When watching anime, reading mangas and listening to J-Pop is just not enough, this type of person will turn to videogames for relaxation. The character design will entrance him, the Japanesque love story that never quite reaches a conclusion will surely make this gamer salivate.

Here ends our study of Japanese roleplaying games and the gamers who play them.
I'm wishing you all a happy eastern and a memorable crucifiction.
Also, don't forget to comment ;) - I really appreciate the feedback.   read

11:21 AM on 03.19.2008

Shelving the stories in wonderland

Certainly, this game might already be acient history for some, but I am finally discovering the delights of Super Mario Galaxy.
Although I am only halfway through, I feel compelled to write a little something about the storybook sequences that are presented in this game.

Mario games have never been about the story. The cockteasing bitch you have to save is merely a lame excuse to get off your ass and plumber your way through countless mushroom infected enviorments.
Super Mario Sunshine supposedly is the Mario game that attempts to put some logic into the series along with a comprehensible story. While I have not played said game, I do think that the appeal Super Mario games share has never been even remotely connected to the storyline.

But I do feel that in this latest addition to the franchise, Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo has done a superb job in implementing a narrative without doing away the "Mario-ness", if you will. "Your" princess gets kidnapped, only one italian hobo can save her, yada yada - we've heard it all before.
Some people like it, some people don't. Some say that Mario is all about good old fun and not about suspense, others say that Mario needs to get with the times and become a Godfather (I'm looking at you, Suda51)
Nintendo sets its goals high. They want to appeal to a broad market, and therefor aim to please both sides of the spectrum.

That's where princess Rosalina and her army of little star people, called Lumas, come in. Divided into several chapters, Rosalina will read you a bedtime story about how she met up with the Lumas. Cue the tearjerking music, fade in a heartwarming crayon drawing and add a few lines of incredibly simple yet effective writing here and there. It is a winning formula, which stirs up a wide array of emotions. Princess cries, you are sad. Princess laughs, you are happy.

Whether you wish to read these bedtime stories is completely up to you, as they are accessible by walking into a library somewhere in the overview world. As wonderful as they may be, these stories are not forced upon the player. Your average 10 year old kid will not be interested in the sappy backstory, and needn't waste his precious childhood on reading stupid words from stupid books.

Co´ncidentally, Lost Oddysey features a similar systematic in the form of dream sequences. Sadly I have no experience with this game, so I'll pass that one on to the commenters!

PS: My addition to the Monthly Musings theme - which can be found here - reached the staggering amount of 2 whole reactions. If you are brave and willing, please check it out as well ;)   read

6:42 PM on 03.18.2008

And the gamers who play them: Casual Gamers

The casual gamer is a mythical creature. A fairy that promises riches and a happily ever after to greedy stockholders. With a swing of its magical Wiimote, the spell will be cast an abundance of wealth will be yours.

Who is this casual gamer, where did it all begin, and will it ever stop? (Dear God make it stop!)

Let me take you back to the year 2000, the beginning of a new era in videogaming history.
Simple, intuitive games that relatively required little skill were popping up left and right. PopCap Games, now considered a figurehead of the casual gaming industry, was founded in this year. Shortly afterwards Macromedia Flash 5 would be released. This build introduced "Actionscript" to the existing Flash technology, allowing interaction and thus casual gaming to take root in the form of browser based games.

Back then, the term "casual gamer" did not exist, though. There were immersing big budget games, and then there were simple relaxing games. Those simple games became increasingly popular among office workers, and the casual gamer evolved from thereon, into what it is today.

Let us take a closer look at the behavior of this creature.
The best method to gain information on an unknown species (aside from petting them) is by examining their actions in their natural habitat. In this case, PopCap Games. Not surpisingly, it was this company that issued the largest surveys among casual gamers.

Nearly 9 out of 10 PopCap customers cited stress relief as a reason for playing games, while 74% of the respondents saw it as a mental excercise. Shockingly, entertainment comes in third.
But there's more! When asked which way to pass the time they regarded as important, the players picked "playing casual computer games" over any other choice, including "spending time with friends or family" and "watching television or movies".

While the casual gamer is indeed a casual gamer, and excercises the practice frequently, entertainment is not one of the main reasons. Casual gamers want to train their brain. Not unlike other gamers, they also want to de-stress after a hard days work, be it office-work, homework or ironing-those-clothes-work.

If you think that survey solved the casual puzzle, you're wrong. This article cannot possibly be complete without delving into the well the Nintendo Wii dug for us. It is the system that upped the ante: Milking the casual gaming market has become a huge hype.
Release a shoddily put together minigame collection, and the consumer will come running. Or will he? What most publishers are forgetting, is that the casual gamer owning a Wii, is a different casual gamer alltogether. You don't play the Wii in your office as you would play Solitaire, your mom probably does not play the Wii once she's done washing those dishes.
Those remote-swinging grandpas regard the simple multiplayer games as a fitting bonding experience with their (grand)children.
WiiSports is the obvious example here: It is a game with universal appeal, allowing the entire family to participate and providing varying experiences for each family member.

Hypothetical situation: I start up a game of WiiSports with my imaginary girlfriend. We're playing Tennis.
She would undoubtedly dance back and forth with each racket swing. Accompanied by her own giggles and moans, she would try to hit the ball and break every vase in the room in the process. Obviously, my sexy and inexisting companion is having a great time playing the game.
Meanwhile, I have figured out how to carefully place shots, add effect and score those powerfull aces. Right from the start, I realised I did not need to run back and forth like she did. I could just as easily sit in the couch and control my racket with small motions of the wiimote. I've seen the depths of this game.
Still, the hypothetical girlfriend remains. I can't help but have a good time when I see her hopelessly attempting to hit that ball, so the game provides entertainment for me as well.

Another reason parents often state when buying a Nintento Wii for their children, is the educational benefits. This statement could sprout an entirely different discussion. However, it is clear that people generally do not consider the PS3 or Xbox360 consoles as an educational value - not as much as the Wii, anyhow.

To wrap this up, it can safely be said that the casual market that stirs up so much commotion is not as simple as it may seem, nor is it the same casual market PopCap represents.
Take a closer look, and you will notice how diverse these casual gamers can be, and how they all look for different values in games. Minigames can be alot of fun, but they have to be crafted with care in order to succeed. Alienate one family member, and the sunday afternoon family game loses its appeal.   read

5:03 AM on 03.18.2008

A converted lurker

Have mercy on me, robot God.
For I have committed sins against you.
For days on end I visited thou holy website. I drank the water and felt furfilled, without uttering so much as a thank you.
You have shown me the light. I was blind, but now I can see. I am not worthy of kissing thy feet, yet you love me with all your heart.

I pray that you may use me, as a tool in your Greater Plan. To this purpose I have joined the ranks of your army and commenced practicing your Divine Teachings: C-Blogging.

Please accept this sacrifice and forgive my sins.

Also, please cure cancer and kill the boogieman.

Amen.   read

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