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3:55 PM on 09.10.2009

My Hat is Off

Last night at 5 PM EST my grandmother passed away.

I reflected on this for quite some time and turned to video games as consolation. This is not an uncommon practice I think, as video games are a very popular escapist route. As I delved my way further into the high school life of Persona 4, I realized something. My grandmother, who recently passed, was one of the biggest enablers in my life in regards to video games.

When I was in elementary school, she would come to visit me and my brothers once a month. During said visit she would buy us one video game. Since it was largely impossible for three brothers to agree on a single game, we would take turns as to who got to pick the game. As a result I was exposed to games that I never would have chosen of my own volition (thanks for choosing Castlevania on the NES big bro, and little bro, you are welcome for Adventures of Lolo).

I further pondered that when most of us were younger, we had to rely on the adults in our life to provide us with video games, either by giving us an allowance, or by rewarding us. I know that I didn't buy my NES, Master System, Genesis, or SNES with "my own money".

My grandmother meant a lot more to me than a new video game once a month, but in the context of my hobby and this blog, my hat is off. To my parents, my grandmother, my cousin, and any adult that has enabled their kids to play video games. And if you are a parent that has kids and you are letting them game on, ha'ts off to you too.   read

3:17 PM on 09.05.2009

A case to make Quick Time Events better

So I have been thinking on this for a while. It came up during the latest Podtoid and I think I know what my problems are with QTEs. I don't hate them mind you. I will try to sum up what it is I do not like and what it is I do like about them, and what could make them better.

First, the cons:

They take control away from the player. Your character is on the screen doing some acrobatic/brutal stuff and you are just pressing a button now and then.

They distract from game play. As in, tossing out an awesome combo in God of War and then..., a giant X appears. What the..., oh. I looked up at it suddenly because it's not supposed to be there and I lose my 160 hit combo. They make me play Dragon's Lair when I should be focusing on the game. Have you ever been playing a game with QTEs and a specator says "Oh! Sick! That was insane!" but you are stuck looking to see if you need to press X again.

They are very linear. Press X! ok... now Square! got it... now Triangle. oh wait.. I pressed O. This equals start over, or death.

We've all heard these before.

The Pros:

They allow the common man to play Killer Instinct. Did you ever have a friend who played Killer Instinct REALLY well? So well that he could tap out a combo, then go get a soda while his character beat you into a quivering paste? Not everyone can do that. We don't all have the combos memorized. So with 4 simple button presses, we can eliminate the timing and the memorization.

They can define a character concept further. No one questions that Kratos is a bad ass. He is a killing machine, that runs on the organs of dead orphans. He's just that evil and mean at the same time. His combos are insane, but when you, with the press of a single button, grab a flying enemy and tear its wings off it adds punch to that. Not to mention that that act, pressing a single button, and prompting Kratos to do that, further cements that without a combo, without a special power, and without remorse, he can kill you... with one button.

They allow the character to step out of their box. Who has played a game where you fight things and you get a character with 5 combos? When you get to kill an enemy in a way that is not in line with one of those 5 combos, it breaks up the monotony of the limitation. While the argument could be made that better game design should have been on the developer's agenda, even in a game where you have 100 different ways to pound people into the dirt, you can still easily get attached to specific powerful combos and QTEs break this up.

There are many more that I am not listing on both sides, but lets just stop here in the interest of keeping things brief.

So, some ways to make QTE's better?

A lot of these run together....

Don't force them. A lot of developers have already started figuring this out. You can kill most enemies in God of War, or Force Unleashed without a QTE. Not all of them mind you. How about giving the option of the "easy" kill for newer gamers and for the more experience gamers, just show me a cinematic and let me continue without forcing me into it? Imagine a mode that turns all boss battles into QTEs if you turn it on, thus making them easier. If you want to avoid the QTE, you can just fight he bad guy, and you will still get the cinema without the button pressing. Just an idea.

No more starting over/death for failure. How infuriating is it to press one wrong button (because you are playing on the XBOX instead of the PS3, or whatever reason) and have to start over, or die? If this is a QTE I am being forced into, I am being punished twice. Once by being railroaded into the QTE and another time for failing it.

Drop the linear approach. Regardless of your opinion on the latest Prince of Persia game, the battles were essentially QTEs with options and that was rather nice. Why can't we have a QTE where all bets are off? Where each button still is active? Essentially what the developer is looking for is timing and accuracy here. Why not make the QTE much more robust and keep the timing angle? Or give us 3 options to continue the QTE instead of one. Current Gen consoles render QTEs in real time, so its not like a whole new cinema has to be rendered.

Integrate them into the gameplay better. Instead of a giant "A" button flashing, why not flash the color of the button on the enemy or object. Combined with some of the other concepts, this could improve QTEs in a big way.

Any other ideas?   read

4:22 PM on 06.12.2008

Tales of Etrian Odyssey

My most memorable event of Etrian Odyssey was everything to be blunt. Imagine my glee filled eyes as I turned on the game, was told to make characters from scratch (not even a single pregen!), allocate skill points, and (as a Pen and paper dungeonmaster of 10+ years) that there was mapping software included, then to be tossed into an old school dungeon crawl from the days gone by? I just marveled at it.

And to top things off, it was HARD.

The first battle I entered, entertained by the old school Wizardry style interface and attack animations, I lost. I had become so accustomed to "just press attack" (I'm looking at you Square-Enix) style battles, where the only combat situations that are hard are the hidden ones, that my party of newly created characters got a kick in the teeth, a fist in the sphincter, and a heaping spoonful of death... a game over screen with no auto res. No back in church with half your money gone. You are dead. Start over. Hope you saved before YOUR FIRST FIGHT!

Imagine my further surprise, as I carefully mapped all of my progress, when I encountered my first FOE. I thought I was doing good against the monsters, soundly beating them by using special attacks, gained by strategically assigning skill points. Well, this FOE will be no problem. I pull out my fighter's strongest attack and... 1 point of damage. 1! Back to the game over screen. I was terrified of those things from that point on. Even at level 70, the highest in the game, I was leery of the ones in the final levels of the dungeon. Faced with a final boss that is so hard it makes your brain hurt just to consider the next round.... and there is MORE after him? Usually, the post game dungeon is the hard part. Etrian Odyssey IS the post game dungeon.

So in the end, I got to make my own characters, map the dungeon, get the crap kicked out of me, and I loved every minute of it.   read

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