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11:54 PM on 12.08.2012

Cut the Rope and Contre Jour: A Few Differences, But Worlds Apart

Physic puzzles, the dominant force in games on the iOS market, and a genre I've remained enamored with. On a whim, I bought several iPhone games in the past week, and have been playing through each of them, including Contre Jour, a suprise-suprise, physics puzzler.

The design of Contre Jour is meant to be simplistic and evocative, with a monochromatic color scheme and limitedly mobile objects populating the game space. The name of the game: get an eyeball through a portal, and collect three sparkles per level on the way.

Before the comparison is made, I have to say that, despite reminding me of Cut the Rope, Contre Jour has an entirely different feeling associated to it. The graphics and gameplay are almost reminiscent of World of Goo, everything being somewhat elastic and sludgelike. But, still, they bear some similarities, and so the comparison can be made.

And at the end of the day, they both have strengths over each other.


Contre Jour enjoys a deliberatly darker style than Cut the Rope, meant to evoke a more chilled or at least mellowed feeling than its cartoon-esque counterpart. However, this leads to the issue of elements blending together, making it harder to immediately differentiate or recall that certain objects may not be as harmless as others at first glance.

Cut the Rope, on the other hand, holds a great advantage by using such vibrant visuals, as it allows for easier identification of game elements with a single glance. For instance, OmNom is surrounded by a small box or other object, usually radically different in tone or texture than the rest of the background, allowing the player to see him quickly and easily.

Even the candy, meant to fall into OmNom's gob, is a swirl of red and gold, and holds a sheen other objects and the background do not possess, drawing your eye when it appears on screen. Even the three stars per level rotate and shine, whereas the sparkles in Contre Jour... they're just there. The draw the eye by being the only thing besides the portal that has a color.

Though perhaps not the best choice to make the portal and the sparkles the same color.

Degree of Player Input

Cut the Rope is, in all seriousness, actually rather limited in terms of how much the player can do to the enviroment compared to Contre Jour. In Cut the Rope, your interactions can usually only be relegated to causing objects to react in very specific fashions: you cut a rope, the candy falls. You pop a bubble, whatever's in it stops rising. You press the Whoopie-cushion, there's a chance you can get the candy moving with some kind of momentum.

Contre Jour allows you to modify the landscape, platforms being somewhat malleable and movable. You can make ramps, inclined planes, curves, in the hopes that these shapes will allow for easier movement of your Eyeball.

Yet oddly enough, the limitations presented by Cut the Rope give the player much more in the way of choice. The objects interact very easily, and the ways you can move the candy is almost innumerable. Through one means or another, you can find a way to get the candy moving to any area of the screen. And this makes for a harder game. The solution isn't always obvious, but the range of the player's input helps to simplify the process.

Contre Jour's additional input more often than not gets in the way. An accidental brush of the thumb could make your previously stable platform into a ramp, leading downwards to a game over.

Less can sometimes be more, and in this case, Cut the Rope proves it.

Difficulty Throughout


If you're making a game that works on the idea that each set of levels becomes progressively more difficult, should it not follow that each level is individually more difficult than the last as well?

Just a thought.


Contre Jour is a fine game. Despite my grievances, its soundtrack and evocative art direction are enough to justify checking it out. I just prefer Cut the Rope, from a design perspective.

[i]I write other things at[i]

[i]Sometimes I write things here cause nobody goes to that one :3[i]   read

8:21 PM on 11.22.2012

Code of Princess - Review

Code of Princess - Review

Fighting games have never been my thing. Memorization and the execution of the physical movements required to waltz is something I have can have trouble with, and as such, keeping the knowledge of which sequence of arbitrary button presses will beat the opponent before they complete their sequence of arbitrary button presses in my brain long enough to use it is…

It's a bit akin to teaching a feral cat to enjoy a bath. It's possible, but the ensuing trial will almost definitely A) be a waste of time for all involved, and B) require several trips to the hospital afterwards.

On the other hand, the half brother of fighting games, the brawler, is something I've been able to get much more into, something easily speculated by my love of Double Dragon and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game. The structure is a bit looser in brawlers, and while combos can be a part of using more powerful moves, they rarely go past two or three button presses.

So naturally, I decided to play Code of Princess, the 3DS exclusive brawler. Now, somewhere along the grapevine, I heard this game was supposed to be a spiritual successor to Guardian Heroes. Further along the the grapevine revealed this was a Sega Saturn game, and further still showed it was considered very good.

Wikipedi- I mean, the grapevine thus exited, and my purchase secured, Code of Princess arrived to me at a rare spot of free time, and thinking that between Resident Evil: Revelations and Penny Arcade Adventures 3, I may be able to squeeze in my latest acquisition.

I only played Code of Princess over that weekend, and I only played it for about 7 hours, start to finish.

Code of Princess concerns itself with four primary characters, each of whom uses an RPG inspired fighting style. We have Solange de Luxia, wielder of Deluxcaliber, a sword about three feet taller than she is. In combat, she drags the sword behind her when running, and brings it up for powerful attacks, often flinging them into the air and wailing on them Devil May Cry-style.

In addition, we have Ali Baba, a thief who uses ninja techniques such as smoke bombs and quick strikes, Lady Zozo, a necromancer who fights with black magic, and Allegro, and elvish bard that fights with area affect music attacks. Each character is fully voiced, and often speak in a very self aware manner, sometimes even talking about common RPG tropes.

Ali Baba: "Look, it's nothing personal, it's just, you're a bard. And by the way, yeah, it is personal."

Each of the four characters feel distinct, and I enjoyed playing with each of them. The attacks are easily made, with the move list at the bottom of the screen if you need it. Along with this, during the game, you switch between three 2 dimensional planes of play, much like Little Big Planet. This allows you to sneak up on enemies, or even strafe around them, to get into a better position. Overall, the combat is fast, fluid, and most of all, fair. There will never be an attack you can't avoid or a move you made that has a one hundred percent chance of working. It's all in the skill you cultivate, and to defeat the final boss, you'll need that skill.

Speaking of, all the enemies are distinct and easy to recognize, and there is usually at least one enemy that only appears in your current area. The boss fights are particularly interesting, with each boss colorful and characterized enough for you to enjoy their company, but just evil enough you feel justified in destroying them. The first major boss you face, and overdramatic ninja master, was a highlight of the game for me, as he continues to make appearances, even after being defeated.

Finally, there's an absurd amount of extra content. Extra quests, co operative/competitive multiplayer, even unlockable characters as you fill certain requirements. One favorite of mine was Sister Hel, a mace wielding, sadistic battle nun, but literally every character in the game (except maybe the bosses) are available to play as, even NPCs and enemies.

There are only a few major complaints I can make. A) the level up system can be a bit grating, where even if you play with only one character, after awhile, you'll need to grind with them to proceed. Which isn't an issue, but when you have 50+ characters you can play with, it can be a bit stale to continue grinding and grinding away.

B) Even though there is a lot of extra content, much of it is similar. Nothing so difficult as a New Game Plus or a Second Quest is given, just hours of extra missions in locations you've been before. However, seeing as it is extra content, I can live with it not being too extravagant.

However, at the end of the day, Code of Princess is an excellent game. The minor issues don't distract from an overall painfully delightful experience. And it is painful.

I haven't swore that much at a game in a long time.

And it felt good.   read

1:58 PM on 07.12.2012

Pokemon - A Retrospective From Ruby Version Onward :)

Before we go any further, I should make a note that I love Pokemon. I adore everything about the series, from the awfully written cartoon to the directors cut versions of the game they insist on releasing (though Black/White 2 may change that :)).

In fact, I adore it so much that I watch the movies with friends on Skype. On that note, I've been into the series since it came out back in 1995, and hope to FINALLY get Black/White soon, after playing with a friend's copy. So on that note, I'd like to make a little look back on the last three iterations, looking at what they did to shake it up each time, and which changes really made the big differences.

So, we start with Pokemon: Ruby version. This was the first game I PERSONALLY owned, though I had played and beaten previous versions that my cousins owned. Good times.

This was the first main iteration of the franchise to have double battles, as well as the first one to introduce individual abilities of each Pokemon, that granted advantages over types or improved certain move types. This added a greater sense of strategy to the game, and the addition of double battles, though not as well implemented as they would be in Emerald, were an interesting curio throughout the game.

Admittedly, I have a lot of nostalgia for this iteration. But beyond gameplay additions, there was something added that made the series SIGNIFICANTLY more interesting. The addition of Pokemon that would only appear in certain areas, directly portraying their environment. Ex: Torkoal, a volcano tortoise, only appearing in magma rich areas. Cacnea, barrel cactus, only appears in sandstorm heavy areas. Wailmer, appears most often off the shore of a city near the ocean. Corsola, ONLY APPEARS UNDERWATER, USING THE DIVE HM. I LOVED THIS ADDITION. Pokemon being designed around areas, rather than the vice versa.

Along with that, the Pokemon Contests were an interesting look at using Pokemon attacks and attributes for things OTHER than battles. The Safari Zone in this game offered the most diverse cast of Pokemon since the Red/Blue/Yellow. The legendaries were also pretty interesting, Latias and Latios being two of my favorite Pokemon. The Elite Four were also AWESOME, using Pokemon types not normally used. The champion specialized in STEEL types, of all things.

Emerald version added plenty of extra content, adding opening animations before battle (a feature present in the second generation, but curiously missing from Ruby/Sapphire), the ability to face previous gyms after beating the game, previous generations of Pokemon being added to the Hoenn regions areas, the BATTLE FRONTIER. It was amazing.

So yeah, I LOVED the third generation. All told, including Pokemon Coleseum (another game I loved) and Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness (a game I was pretty mellow about) I put about 600+ hours into that generation. As such, I was gearing up for generation 4, ready to see what interesting new features and ideas they'd put into this game, adding layers of intrigue.

Ok, maybe I was hoping for too much, but from what I remember, I was SEVERELY disinterested in Pokemon Diamond after I'd beaten it. There were a plethora of reasons, some bigger than others. I found the new Pokemon to be rather tacky additions in some cases, and most of the 'upgraded' features were often just taken from previous iterations and given a new coat of paint.

The Poke Tech was just a new version of the PokeNav, but a BILLION times more annoying because you have to use the touch screen to cycle through the features it offers. The Day/Night feature was expanded, but only affected MAYBE which Pokemon are around in the tall grass.

Along with that, the new Pokemon were less interesting, often covering old ground. There were some of note, the starters being particularly unusual, and Spiritomb and Drifloon being a creepily awesome idea. Otherwise though, I felt like they were a bit less carefully designed than before. Rather than whole areas containing certain Pokemon types, they were just scattered about. A particular design flaw was only 2 fire type Pokemon available in the game, one of them being the starter. End game content was more varied, but otherwise wasn't terribly interesting.

On the other hand, PLATINUM was what Diamond/Pearl should've been. Bigger ideas were added, the Distortion World being a particular favorite of mine. A Battle Frontier was added,
along with a HUGE emphasis on alternate forms for certain legendaries. Several previous 'big 3' legendary groups (First and Third generation) were added, and the Wi Fi features were greatly improved.

Still though, I was wary about Black and White, to the point where I didn't pick them up until I recently decided to purchase a copy. But with what time I had with it, I FELL IN LOVE. This was what new Pokemon generations should be all about. 150 new Pokemon. Emphasis on new battle systems (Triple AND Rotation this time around). Battle and Overworld were given a greater sense of cinematic design. The Musicals were more engaging than the Contests of previous iterations, and were faster paced and required more input from the player to win. And this time around, different versions spouted different AREAS for each. And out of all the Battle Towers I've seen, the BATTLE SUBWAY WAS THE BEST OF THEM ALL.

I'm looking forward to REALLY sinking my teeth into Black version soon, and may even pick up White Version 2. On that note, thank you for your time, I hope my rant will cause you to think about your own experiences with Pokemon.   read

5:37 PM on 06.28.2012

E3 2012: 3rd Parties in First Place

Huh. So, yeah, e3 happened. And, probably more than any other previous year, there was a definite hype deficiency when it came to the the first parties, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. Admittedly, some were less disastrous in this respect in others, Nintendo taking home the gold on this one, unveiling of some seriously impressive WiiU software (I mean, seriously, we're actually getting Pikmin 3! PIK FRIK MIN 3! And as tech demo ish as ZombiU was, it showed some great potential for the Wii U as a console overall. Ooh, Ooh, and did you see The Last of Us trailer? Really cool stuff.

But yeah, there was definitely a lack of excitement for most of the supposedly biggest names in the industry. If anyone, Ubisoft, a third party developer, really stole the show with Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed 3, and Rayman Legends. Very quickly, this year's E3 got it's biggest trending topics and hopeful thoughts from the software being shown off, not the hardware. And why should this be so significant?

Let me back up a bit.

Back in 1995, the first Electronic Entertainment Expo began with the only the biggest contenders showing off their newest stuff, with a particular emphasis on the newly devised Playstation and Sega Saturn. Along with that, the Ultra 64 (prototype name for the Nintendo 64) was also announced. E3 began as a hype fest for the new hardware that the big 3 publishers at the time wanted to show off, and for close to a decade after, that was the most common trend, with the N64 being unveiled in '96, the Dreamcast in '99, Playstation 2 in 2000, and so on.

The software, while given its own level of advertisement, was secondary to the first party publishers' newest devices, and while this is FINE when every company is trying to out hype the others' money maker, a definite reduction in excitement for hardware has emerged from this generation of video game consoles.

Multiple causes for this pessimism regarding new hardware can be pointed to, (consoles are too expensive, there is a chance of it breaking down, maybe a lack of supporting software), but, the conclusion, after years of seeing new hardware teased, hyped, and released, is this: New hardware sucks.

To the eveygamer, new hardware doesn't mean innovative new games that must be experienced or impressive changes from the previous iterations of the hardware. It means expensive hunks of plastic that most likely won't have nearly enough interesting games to be worth buying. This has led to the not untrue assumption that when a new console or new peripheral (Kinect, PS Move) is released, these and maybe even more issue won't make it worth our time and money.

Now, this is a feeling, not a fact. A widely accepted feeling, that the releases of the 3DS, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii can arguably back up. But still, not a fact. However, after reading post after post about how much the Wii U will fail, a console that actually looks to be a rather impressive piece of tech in its own right, it's undeniable that, either from experience or a general consensus, consumers are sick of hardware.

I don't believe I can change people's opinions on whether the Wii U will be worth our, well, attention, nor do I really want to. Everyone will determine what the Wii U is by their own standards, so I look to Nintendo, and by extension Sony and Microsoft when I say this: please, please try harder to meet those standards.

Keep producing consoles, keep producing hardware, keep producing whatever, that's fine, it's what you do. But E3 2012 should be on a long list of indications that people are tired of seeing hardware without support, hearing possibilities of games instead of promises, and being shown the fabulous and amazing things the hardware COULD do, instead of plenty of games showing what the hardware will do.

Start devoting as much time as possible to marketing and producing new games, and plenty of them. Make games, consoles shall sell. Because at the end of the long, exhausting, expense ridden, online distributing, peripheral producing console cycle, consoles will be sold because of software, not hardware. Speaking as a consumer, the day that becomes the accepted ideology is a glorious day indeed.   read

3:08 PM on 06.11.2012

Super Mario 3D Land and the History of Mario: An Exercise in Self Indulgence

Time for some self indulgence, as I've been far too serious as of late. And because I'm the only one that reads this blog, self indulgence is all good.

I've owned a 3DS for close to five months now, and so far I've only bought one retail game for it, that being Super Mario 3D Land. And it is the only game I've seen on the 3DS thus far that could be considered a must own (although Resident Evil: Revelations looks rather intriguing). Initially, this isn't exactly an odd thing. Mario almost always guarantees a high level of quality in his games, and I've always loved the mustachioed plumber's various adventures. That may be incongruous with what follows, but I felt that the latest escapade to the Mushroom Kingdom did not nearly live up to my expectations.

No. No, this is not a review. This is going to look at how the game was made, and why I feel it was rather disappointing in the long run. This whole bit, this is going to be an analysis about part of the history of Mario, the expectations that come following each game, and how that applies to Super Mario 3D Land.

I'm going to make a quick note on the NES era of Mario, pointing specifically to Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Bros 3. Now, on Super Mario Bros. It is Super Mario Bros. Gold standard for platformers for almost a decade. Moving on. As many long time gamers may know, SMB2 was not the same game that was produced in Japan, the American version being a re interpreted game with mechanics used in Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic. Despite this, the game was generally well received, with it's interesting mechanics and multiple playable characters, but it is not considered as notable as the next release in the series, SUPER MARIO BROS 3.

Yes, considered by many, myself included, to be one of greatest and most influential games of the NES era. Following that was SUPER MARIO WORLD, considered by myself at least to be the best 2d platformer ever made, although if inspected critically, it could be seen as a longer and more complex version of its predecessor. But, more on that later. Mario was flying high. Then Super Mario 64 happened.

No, Mario 64 is not a bad game. It set a standard for 3d games for some time, in many ways like its ancestor Super Mario Bros (see where I'm going with this?). It was soon followed by Super Mario Sunshine, which was generally well recieved, but this title didn't reach the same level of acclaim that it's succesor(s) did. Super Mario Galaxy, considered to be a benchmark classic for the 3d platforming genre, with its sequel Super Mario Galaxy 2 considered to be a much better, more complex game than its predecessor. In some ways making it comparable to its 16 bit counterpart, Super Mario World. Huh.

Yes, there is, in my opinion, a sort of pattern that can be derived from the Mario series, especially in terms of when a major console change occurs (Super Mario Bros - NES, Super Mario 64 - Nintendo 64, Super Mario 3D Land - 3DS, etc.). So, on 3D Land. While I do, in hindsight, think of it as a rather enjoyable experience, when compared to the epic, fantastic joy I was able to feel while playing Super Mario Galaxy, the comparison is rather jarring. But, hopefully, 3D Land will be remembered as the beginning of something bigger and greater, and as it stands, will be remembered as the gold standard for 3DS platformers until we receive its successor in the same vein of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros 3 (so long as the above stretch of logic is correct, and not the babbling of a madman.)

Although if the logic listed above is correct, we've got a bit of an odd Mario game before we get there (here's to Super Mario Sunshine 2!)

Note: Written before E3 2012. Then again, New Super Mario Bros. is practically its own spin off a this point so maybe I'm still correct. Who knows?   read

12:00 PM on 06.09.2012

Pikmin: Gameplay Mechanics and Personal Terrors

It may be pretentious to state this, but the real time strategy genre is one of my least favorite type of video game. I often enjoy an intriguing narrative in my games, and barring that, a sense of playing a singular role, which is not usually congruous with how real time strategy is designed. Still, I've tried several games in the genre, and one that has often commanded my admiration is the Pikmin series. Both games in the series thus far have been funny, imaginative, and at times, mildly frightening. And perhaps the most interesting thing about the game could be the controls.

The Pikmin games were designed to be played on the GameCube, and as such needed to be simple enough to play with a controller, instead of the more traditional keyboard that the RTS genre had been home to. Along with that, the game had to be simple enough to work on a GameCube, not exactly the most powerful piece of hardware ever made. With these facts in mind, and the knowledge that some players (myself included) would be introduced to real time strategy by this game, it had to be designed with simplicity, while still allowing for a level of difficulty. And so, the game was designed with these limitations in mind, and produced a fantastic experience overall.

But one minor, almost superfluous mechanic in Pikmin has always disturbed and intrigued me to a great degree, a mechanic that tells a whole narrative about the game just through its existence. When you are not close to any pikmin, pressing A causes the main character, the commander of the pikmin, a generally not directly combative being, to punch forward. Let me state that again. The commander, the one being in the game that causes an instant game over if he dies, was deemed in need of an attack that requires him to be within close range of the enemy. The implications of this mechanic frightens me.

The attack on its own is not terribly unusual. When commanding a large group, it may even be expected that the leader could defend himself. But this attack is pathetic. It can barely do the same level of damage that a single red (standard attacking) pikmin can, but this control option is still in the game.

This says a few things about the game, stating that there could be a situation where all the player's pikmin were defeated, and the player would have no choice but to fight the enemy. No choice but to fight, with an attack that is almost useless compared to the army that was defeated by this enemy.

This implication is frightening, even if a situation similar to above rarely happens in the game. Just the IDEA of being on your last man, and him being as useless as the main character is, is genuinely frightening in its own way.

Food for thought while waiting for Pikmin 3.


11:25 PM on 06.08.2012

E3: The Xbox SmartGlass: A Cynical, Unnecessary Piece of Tech

Umm.... Why?

Really, that's the question to ask here. Why did the Xbox 360 need this? Why is this a good idea? Why will anyone besides Microsoft work on this, when developers have had development kits for the Wii U for the better part of a year, and have created many games for the Wii U accordingly?

Why should we, as consumers, buy this?

The Xbox SmartGlass was announced on the first day of E3, with the first real press conference. Microsoft's. People were pumped and enthused for an incredible display of new software and innovative, new technology. And I was disappointed. I don't even OWN an Xbox 360, yet the lack of new ideas was disheartening. And most of all, the big reveal, the new peripheral, to follow the relative success of the Kinect, was an uninspired and, frankly, pathetic attempt to copy the hardware a competitor was showing off later during the expo.

So that was that. But not just from a hype standpoint, the SmartGlass is blatant copying at its finest, and worse yet, it most likely won't even be a GOOD copy. Let me back this up.

Several E3s ago now, the XBox Natal was announced, bringing the idea of controller free, motion oriented gaming back into the eye of the gaming public. And while attempting to revel in the motion controlled joygasm that the Wii had brought about, Microsoft was developing new and unusual technology, in order to rival the monolith know as Nintendo. THIS IS WHERE GOOD COMPETITION COMES FROM. When someone creates a product and then a competitor creates something similar, but does something the competitor can't or doesn't want to do, the competitors strive to best one another. This is good for them, and also great for consumers. This is why the iPhone is better, because the Android persists to raise the bar in different ways.

And this is also why the PlayStation Move was a flawed premise (though WonderBook may change that).

To date, over 90 million Wiis have been sold, and over 18 million Kinects have been sold, a rather impressive figure considering it was a peripheral. Yet, despite having more impressive hardware, the PlayStation Move has sold a bit over 8 million, and has the least amount of software. Why? Because COPYING HARDWARE, ESPECIALLY IN APPEARANCE, DOESN'T A SUCCESS MAKE. Even if you are piggy backing on the success or change in market that someone else has created, it is extremely rare to create something that looks the same, and generally does the same, that sells the same.

On top of this, the 360 doesn't need another peripheral through which to navigate menus, or an alternative control style. It has both of those already, with its Kinect peripheral. The 360 is an incredibly successful piece of hardware, that doesn't need to copy its competitors to, well, compete. It has a fanbase. That fanbase loves the 360, for its games, for its online, maybe even for its take on motion. What it has never embraced (generality, sorry) is the look, the shape, and the feel of Nintendo.

Finally, who will develop for this? The SmartGlass, by not including buttons, is little more than an iPad for the 360, and all the major software enhancements they indicated at E3 were small, rather insignificant additions, like being able to read Halo 4 stats without opening a menu.

It might not fail. I won't state that with only a first look. But the SmartGlass has started on the wrong foot, after the wrong foot was put through a thresher and bandaged with nails. Development will be filled with trepidation for this hardware, and it will probably be slow going forward.   read

7:53 PM on 05.16.2012

Falling in the Lava: Comedy in Games

Over the past few years, games that use humor as a selling point are becoming more and more prominent, for example DeathSpank or Driver: San Francisco, both of which had a world that was given a sense of character through comedic dialogue and exposition. But creating comedic interactive experiences are not done exactly right on most occasions, by which I mean, where it is not exact, it is often catastrophic, which can be evidenced by Duke Nukem Forever. Humor in video games is an inexact art in the sense that most good humor has to be succinct to have the intended effect, and games can have trouble telling stories effectively, let alone jokes.

And on another note, there's translating humor from culture to culture. As a fan of anime, I've often accepted flat or culturally irrelevant jokes of a work of written or spoken comedy that has been translated from Japanese to English. While not usually hilarious, the jokes can often be smiled at, and give an odd, mildly endearing quality to the work. However, this does mean that moments which are meant to be highly entertaining can become lackluster or even lifeless when translated. And when it comes to video games, and particularly in what is meant to be witty dialogue in video games, this can feel even more lacking. Comedy isn't often effectively conveyed through writing alone, and if it is, the work has to be very concisely and cleverly written, which is a quality that can be difficult to maintain when being translated from one language to another.

However, as noted in a previous post, video games have a large variety of methods with which to tell a story, from the visuals and sound to the gameplay itself. And these can be just as helpful to comedy as they are to story, and a fantastic example of this careful blend of elements is the Capcom developed Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, which is an interesting solution to many of the nitpicking problems I've listed above.

Ghost Trick is a rather text heavy game and, although definitely not a visual novel, it often tries to include a variety of gags and written jokes, which can be anywhere on a spectrum of amusing to cringe worthy (which is par for the course when reading something translated from Japanese to English). But, being a game sold primarily on story and humor, the gameplay being a series of object interaction puzzles, this may have presented a major issue. However, Ghost Trick thankfully sidestepped that particular problem by not only including written humor, but also a variety of animations, music, and sound effects to convey the comedy more effectively.

This isn't an unknown method of creating humor in a video game. For instance, the Mario RPGs often had well written comedic dialogue, but along with that, each character in the games react and emote to each situation in a manner that is both consistent yet oddly hilarious. This is also evidenced in the Phoenix Wright games, which create a significant level of comedy through character animations and sound effects.

Even games that aren't intended to be sold due to their comedic qualities use these methods to give a sense of depth to the world and its characters, one such game being The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Though generally a game enjoyed for its combat and dungeons, the game's art style and sound/music design help to create a cartoon like effect. Link in this game cries out with the same yell that he uses when falling as when he is surprised by the talking boat. When he falls into lava, his shriek, wide eyes, and steaming behind cause both shouts of delight and cringes of sympathy. And the thing is... Link doesn't speak, but he's still telling jokes to the player. Obvious, often slapstick jokes, but they make me laugh nonetheless.

This is the first time I've looked at humor in video games analytically, but it certainly won't be the last. Comedy in video games often allow for the world to be fleshed out and given a sense of character depth more effectively than pages upon pages of exposition and dialogue. So, to recap: written or spoken humor in games CAN work, but only if some seriously amazing writer is on board, and even then it doesn't always work out. But removing a sense of humor only takes away from the sense of a game's intrigue. Instead, keep the jokes, but include secondary methods to convey the humor effectively, such as animations, sound effects, or  shrieks of pain when falling in lava.
[img]   read

1:59 PM on 04.10.2012

Text and 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors : How Games Work with Text

Huh. You know, one of the things I enjoy least in any game is excessive text. Seriously, considering that games have the capacity for not only dialogue and text, but visual art, musical scores, sound effects, and gameplay to present their stories, but still plenty of games determine that TEXT, of all things, is the most effective way to tell a story.

And weirdly enough, it sometimes is. In the anomaly of video games, the rare exception that occasionally just gets this right, the visual novel. I'm bringing this up, because one such example of the best way to use this is present on the DS, in 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors.

When telling a story via video games, gameplay must be used with consistency to the story. If a character has been gravely damaged or otherwise disadvantaged, whatever abilities they possessed should feel less powerful or lacking in dynamic. This is especially true when creating horror games, but other genres can benefit from having a feeling of powerlessness or weakness. But when using text as the primary means through which to tell a story, when specifying an enormous amount of detail, giving the player concrete knowledge of whatever situation the game has placed them in, an incredibly effective way to tell the story via gameplay is to make the player's abilities incredibly limited and lacking in any feeling of power.

For instance, in the first level of 9,9,9, it is immediately established, both through gameplay and through the written story, your absolute helplessness. The gameplay is primarily presented in the form of a first person point and click puzzle game, which on its own is limiting, allowing only a few different actions. Along with that, when puzzles aren't being solved, you choose where you go next and with whom you'll travel, which radically affects the outcome of the story and your available decisions later on.

But, because each decision is not directly connected to the next, it feels as if you are lacking in any sense of strength or ability, as you are unable to affect the world around you except in small, but somehow terribly significant ways. But, what this helps most of all, is the text.

Whenever an overt amount of text is presented in any game, it radically changes the experience. But when it comes to creating a chilling atmosphere, text and written dialogue can do that in an incredibly effective manner. However, it can feel somewhat superfluous if the graphics or gameplay can present that atmosphere. But, 9,9,9 got it right again.

The graphics are mostly still images, either done at low resolution 3d graphics, or beautifully drawn anime style characters and backgrounds. As for audio, nicely done sound effects and well paced music add to the atmosphere, but by not including voice work, the dialogue is helpfully reinforced in the text. And the gameplay, by preventing you to learn about the world through your limited available actions, super charges your knowledge about the area via text. By going for this level of simplicity in all other areas, the areas you explore, the characters, the story, they are all that much more complex and interesting.

Before ending this, it should be noted that this game was a visual novel point and click puzzle game - on the DS. How the text was handled in this situation, perfectly as it was, was to make up for the limitations the DS had when this interactive experience was created for it. Still, it was well done, incredibly enjoyable, and a shining example of when text in games just works.

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8:07 PM on 03.12.2012

Fallout 3, Infamous, and Mass Effect: Decisions, Decisions

With the variety of games that I play on a fairly regular basis, I often try to think about how different games approach their mechanics, even when said mechanics have a similar mission statement. For instance, I was recently playing through Fallout 3, and when it comes to choices made by the player that affects the game world, this game has the best system for how you make decisions. Better than Mass Effect, better than Infamous, Fallout stands out because, up until you have completed the side quest or defeated an NPC or whatever it is the player is doing...

What the player does is always in their hands. Until the very last press of a button. 

Fallout 3, and Skyrim to a great degree as well, give freedom of choice to an exorbitant degree, and as more games go by for comparison, this only becomes more evident. For instance: Infamous 2. Both Fallout 3 and the Infamous series include a morality meter, give experience for making choices, and have exclusive story elements for acting on one decision of morality rather than the other. All three of those mechanics are present in each game, and how each one uses those mechanics is well done. But when it comes to really making a conscious decision, acting is better than speaking, especially in the interactive medium that is gaming. 

Whenever a major choice is presented in Infamous 2, you are usually in a cutscene, and are given as a binary yes or no for your good or evil decision to be made. Just one button press, and you are given your objective of the moment. Granted, Infamous 2 is well designed, and the story in some ways benefits from this split second decision making, allowing the player to get back to electrifying the monsters, the corrupt military, and if feeling malicious, the civilians. 

But, Fallout 3 calls on you to make a decision at every turn of your journey, always calling on you to either continue going along the path you've previously chosen, or finally turn away and stop. In this respect, actions are a much more effective means of decision making in a game than a quick button press, or in the case of Mass Effect, a  quick statement in a dialogue box. 

Again, Mass Effect includes a morality system, experience for decisions made, story exclusives for decisions made, etc., etc. In one way, Mass Effect is rather superior to Fallout in the sense that a descision made can drastically affect the entirety of the story and it's outcome. But again, when a descision is made in Mass Effect, it dictates what your objectives will be, what actions will cause victory or failure, instead of asking the player to act upon the decision they stated through personal actions, it just changes how you can win or lose. 
And as much as I enjoy the story of Mass Effect, I always wish that my decisions could have greater weight by my actions, rather than reloading every time I don't meet an objective associated with that decision. Again, a fantastic game, but it doesn't present decisions as well as it could.

While I've spent the past few paragraphs absolutely gushing about Fallout 3's decision process, I don't think that this process is perfect. The morality system in particular is detrimental to the idea of decision making in general. (Extra Credits already talked about that to a great degree, so if you'd like their take on it, go <a href="">here</a>. I agree with almost everything they said in that video.

But despite that, I hope games eventually get to the point that this process is easily available to implement, because it is the most effective decision making style in video games that I've played so far.

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