Or maybe I'm Max, or Anan; depends on where and when you're from.
Videogames are pretty neat, my favorites are:(in no particular order)
Final Fantasy VI
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I also like writing about videogames, more specifically about game design.
ABC's of Game ________:
A is for
B is for
C is for Conveyance D is for
E is for
F is for
G is for
H is for
I is for
J is for
K is for
L is for
M is for
N is for
O is for
P is for
Q is for
R is for Risk S is for
T is for
U is for
V is for
W is for
X is for
Y is for
Z is for
There are always exceptions, but for the most part I tend to be attracted to games that test me and make me think in different ways. I want games to force me into situations of constant danger, situations where I have to always be examining the problem at hand, all the while trying to formulate a potential solution with the tools that Iíve been given. Games that make me feel like Iím growing; increasing my abilities to accommodate for an increasingly perilous world.
Last Winter I purchased Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Almost everything about the game instantly resonated with me. Right off the bat I was struck with a style that I had never experienced in all my years partaking in this medium. A world filled with intense symbolism and imagery that called back to a time when people were really pushing boundaries and questioning what exactly human beings were capable of. The ideas that the game presented to the player, at least to me, seemed almost identical to the ones that embodied the Renaissance, which just so happened to be my favorite period in European History.
I was absolutely enamored with the world that Eidos Montreal had created, something that doesnít happen all that often to me. Iím someone who usually plays a game for itís mechanics and systems, and thankfully Human Revolution provided in that department as well.
Even though it has itís share of action and RPG elements, the third installment in this legendary series was the game that really got me into the Stealth genre. A good stealth game provides players with just enough information to evaluate the situation, while letting the players themselves come up with ways to overcome said situation. Human Revolution does just that with itís effective feedback system and fantastic level design that allow for multiple play styles. These play styles are reinforced by the gameís RPG mechanics, which allow for each play through of Human Revolution to be a very different experience.
So, yeah. I loved the game. So much in fact, that I ended up purchasing the first and second game in the series. I might do something with Invisible War at a later date, but for now I want to focus on my experience with Ion Stormís original contribution to the trilogy.
I want to make one thing clear before we get too deep into this. Iím pretty young. I mean, I was around when the original Deus Ex came out, but not really old enough to care. I realize that this was a groundbreaking and extremely influential title, and remains to this day, one of the most critically acclaimed PC games of all time. NowÖ maybe itís just me, but playing a game like Deus Ex for the first time now, and playing a game like Deus Ex for the first time when it was originally released seem like they would be completely different experiences. Thatís why I decided to make this blog. I wanted to provide you all with my experience as someone playing the game more than ten years after itís initial release. I also havenít finished the game yet, so do not view this as a fair assessment on Deus Ex as a whole. Just as my experience after playing a few levels. Now that weíve got all that out of the way, letís begin.
Right off the bat, the game makes quite an impression. It hasnít even begun yet, and itís breathtaking theme has already clued me into the adventure thatís about to unfold. Alexander Brandonís Deus Ex theme, like the game, is extremely suspenseful. Itís subdued, and manages to stay mysterious, while somehow maintaining a general feeling of grandeur. †
The thing that initially pulled me into Human Revolution was the style. I mean, thatís usually the first thing that hits you when you start playing any videogame. The opening sequence should introduce you to the world and how it works. It should entice you, and make you want to explore said world even farther. Itís tricky for sure, as you want to show the player just what this game is all about, while leaving out just enough for the player to learn by themselves. In that respect, I think that the original Deus Exís opening sequence does a pretty good job.†
Itís apparent right away that Deus Ex is all about conspiracy, corruption, and power. These themes are reinforced by the gameís style. The world seems to be in a state of perpetual darkness, trenchcoats and sunglasses are in fashion, and the moral character of almost everyone is in question. Later on in the game you realize that even the organization you work for may not be what they initially seemed. The tone of the game can come off as a bit ridiculous at times with the protagonist often displaying little to no emotion besides complete sternness. †I think this actually works to the gamesí advantage though, creating a sort of tongue-in-cheek atmosphere that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Speaking of atmosphere, this game contains what might be the thickest and most suspenseful atmosphere Iíve ever experienced in a videogame. The afore-mentioned eternal darkness, coupled with fantastic sound design and ambient music make each action taken feel potentially life-threatening. The presentation isnít the only factor however, the mechanics and design of the game also contributes to the suspense. You see, Deus Ex is a RPG-FPS-Stealth hybrid. And the latter of these genres is really what gives the game such a rich atmosphere, but in my opinion, is also the reason why the game isnít quite as good as Human Revolution.
Alright, alright, I have an opinion. Letís all calm down and talk about stealth in the original Deus Ex. I donít like it very much. Maybe Iím just not hardcore enough, but I feel that the game doesnít give you enough information regarding whether or not youíre at risk of being spotted. Thereís no mini-map like in Metal Gear, thereís no light indicator like in Thief, there are no sound rings like in Mark of the Ninja, thereís justÖ nothing. This is exacerbated by the fact that the enemies in the game are inconsistent in detecting you. Most of the times theyíre just stupid, but at some points they'll know your exact location after firing one bullet.
I know Iím making this sound really bad, but to be honest this doesnít break the game by any means. As I mentioned earlier the stealth in the game greatly contributes to itís atmosphere. Because the game tells you so little regarding enemy locations and detection, you always feel like youíre in danger; no matter what, youíre at risk of dying. I like that feeling, and respect a game that manages to evoke it. Whether or not itís worth enduring potentially frustrating gameplay in order to experience said feeling however, is really up to you. The other thing that manages to save the game from itís stealth is the fact that it really emphasizes itís RPG and adventure elements.†
Unlike Human Revolution, the original Deus Ex feels more a Role Playing Game with shooter and stealth elements. From being able to accurately aim with a pistol to swimming underwater, all of your skills are predicated on an upgrade system. Upgrading the various aspects of your agent expands the possible ways that you can complete each level. All of the levels are extremely open ended, and offer a variety of ways to complete them, but some of these ways only accessible with a combination of certain skills, items, and codes found throughout a given level. This really rewards experimentation and exploration, and makes you think long and hard before upgrading a certain aspect of your agent, all the while accenting the gameís depth. The fact that almost all the skills are useful is a sheer testament to the meticulous design applied to the RPG mechanics.†
This emphasis on applying points to skills is appropriate as it highlights the focus on player choice in Deus Ex. Things that you choose, or in some cases, donít choose to do can affect the way that you play through the game completely, along with potentially changing the ending. Seemingly trivial things such as health regeneration are controlled by player choice, as healing different parts of your body with grant you different benefits. The way that Deus Ex handles player choice is extremely impressive so far, as it almost never presents the choices to the player as simply good, and bad, a trap that many games that emphasize choice fall into.
Again, Iíd like to emphasize that this is not a complete and fair assessment of the game, as I havenít beaten it just yet. I have been enjoying it however, enough so that Iíll probably go ahead and finish the game. If I ever get to that point Iíll definitely write another blog containing my final thoughts.†
I was surprised at just how much I liked Deus Ex. In my experience, most groundbreaking titles end up aging poorly, but I feel that issues withstanding; this game is still extremely impressive if only for the gameís ambition and scope. The fact that it contains a deliciously tense atmosphere along with fun and rewarding exploration probably doesnít hurt either.
Words uttered by pretty much every kid to have ever held a controller in his or her hand. Donít lie. I know the phrase has crossed your mind and perhaps passed your lips at least one point in your life. Be it a tricky boss battle, a seemingly directionless world, or perhaps just a convoluted inventory system that wonít tell you how to equip that new tool you just acquired, gamers have been asking videogames what to do since the conception of the medium. And for decades, game developers have been asking themselves just how they should answer that question.
Conveyance isÖ tricky, to say the least. Unlike most other mediums, those experiencing a videogame are playing an active role. The player needs to be engaged, and have at least an inkling of what he or she is doing in order to progress through the game. SimpleÖ right? If all players needed to be engaged was information on what to do next, devs could just stuff their games full of textboxes and annoying side characters, telling you exactly where to go next, what to do next, and how to do it.†
Except not really. You see, because videogames rely heavily on player interaction, the player needs to contribute something of his or her own to an experience. Gamers need to have just enough information to assess situations. How they deal with situations however, in my opinion, should be mostly left to them.
Iím sure weíve all seen Egoraptorís video dissecting Megaman Xís opening sequence; exposing the subtlety at which the Super Nintendo classic tells the player pretty much everything they need to know about the game in a relatively short period of time, but I want to approach the subject from a slightly different angle. The beauty of videogames is that theyíre extremely versatile, thereís no one way to do something. Conveyance being the topic of focus for today, weíre going to be looking at a game that does a great job of informing the player, while leaving just enough for him or her to figure out on their own.
Mark of the Ninja is a game that should be familiar to fans of the stealth genre. Originally released in late-2012, this sneakíemup was lauded as being a return to pure, unadulterated, stealth. If youíre not familiar with the genre, a robust and well featured feedback system is absolutely imperative if you want your game to be good. And thankfully, Mark of the Ninja has one of the most well-communicated and elegant feedback systems Iíve ever had the pleasure to experience. It does a fantastic job at conveying the two things you need to keep in mind during play; sound and light. If something is illuminated itíll be colored as expected. In the shadows however, things are outlined in gray and filled with black. Itís so simple, yet extremely effective, and manages to inform the players whether or not theyíre detected. Sound, on the other hand, is communicated by rings that radiate from the soundsí origin. These even appear when youíre about to place a trap, or shatter a light, informing you just how much noise your action will make. It all works extremely well, thanks to a rather sharp contrast between the rings and the environment.
Enemy movement patterns, an aspect of stealth that many games fail to communicate effectively, are very much apparent after a few moments of observation in Mark of the Ninja. The fact that the gameís 2D makes patterns in general a lot more apparent and predictable, which I feel is appropriate in a genre all about exploiting patterns.
The fact that almost everything you need seems to be conveyed in an effective and clean matter may seem like it negates the need for any player thought or problem solving, but Mark of the Ninja makes sure that the information that it gives players only serve as a tool for making choices and executing plans. See, the game tells you the things you need so you can get to the fun stuff without having to wade through bullshit. The levels in MOTN are expertly crafted so that each encounter has a myriad of different solutions that you need to find and execute by yourself with the tools provided for you. This is compounded by the items, costumes, and moves you gain throughout the game that open up the possibility for even more solutions for avoiding or obliterating obstacles.
To sum up just why Mark of the Ninja is such a fantastic example of conveyance done right in a game; the information it gives you is communicated cleanly and effectively, and only serves as a tool for you to make your own choices, of which there are many.
Of course, this isnít the only way to do conveyance ďrightĒ in a game. In reality there is no one ďrightĒ way to do something when it comes to crafting an experience, but itís still an example that I think devs need to keep in mind when struggling with communicating ideas to players.
(Hoorah, exams are over! I've been itching to get some time in for blogging lately, and the next two months of absolute freedom is the perfect†opportunity†to do so. The "ABC's of game ______" series is something I hope will continue throughout summer, and hopefully beyond. Constructive criticism is appreciated.)
Videogames are a pretty unique medium, in that theyhave the ability to reveal something about the player that they mightíve not even known was there. Games allow people to act out a seemingly limitless number of hypothetical situations, and when faced with those situations, the logic behind the choice that someone makes is actually really important. Take Saints Row for example. It seems like most people forget about the main story in those games, instead opting to wreak mayhem on the city, with a combination of murder and theft. Why do players do that? WellÖ well itís kind of fun! Players choose to do things that in real life are rightfully considered illegal, because it gives them a rush. It satiates the more primitive urges of violence, chaos, andÖ maybe Iím reading too far into this. The point is that videogames can reveal and use humanityís more undesirable traits to their advantage, appealing to, and sometimes humiliating us. And there is perhaps no trait that is more-oft exploited than greed.
Think about every game youíve ever played. Now think about just how many of those games contained a risk-reward dynamic. There are some exceptions, but most of those games were using greed to tempt you. Beckoning you to a rather ravishing looking reward, only to pull the rug out from under your feet, making you feel stupid that you ever even thought about attaining those extra coins, or whatever, in the first place. And thatís one of the things I love about videogames. You can call it an abusive relationship, but whenever a game exposes and shames me for a rather faulty character trait, I smile.
But how can designers create risk-reward systems that are good? How do you assure that youíre reward presents itself as desirable to the player, and that the risk is perilous enough to be of some threat? To be honest Iím not really sure. I doubt thereís one answer to this question, there never is, so instead of trying to answer it directly I thought Iíd look at a game that I think has risk-reward embedded in itís DNA.
The Binding of Isaac is a rogue-like/shmíup/adventure created by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl. The game gives you control of Isaac, a small boy who must descend deeper and deeper into his basement to achieve the end-goal of defeating his slightly-crazed mother. As I mentioned earlier the gameís a rogue-like, a genre almost synonymous with risk-reward, but I think that TBOI does an exceptional job exploiting humanityís tendency to want more. I mean, there are multiple rooms dedicated to gambling in the game!
Each floor gives you a basic outline of the rooms and placement, but leaves out whether or not the chamber in question is filled with blood-thirsty monsters, or a desirable power-up. Itís possible not to explore each floor completely, and just defeat the boss and progress, but what would be the fun in that? I found myself stumbling onto the boss chamber at times, only to choose to venture further into the cold, dark, floor before progressing, my heart filled with hopes of potentially coming across a bucket of lard, a dead bird, growth hormonesÖ yeah, the items in this game are pretty weird. But they all feel appropriately rewarding, and stack not only in effect, but visually as well. Every powerup attained bringing you closer to looking like the greedy, decrepit freak you really are. This lends a sense of excitement to every item encounter, and keeps the reward from getting old, boring, or predictable. The risk component of the risk-reward dynamic is also kept from stagnation by virtue of the games randomly-generated nature, interesting enemy design and patterns, and the fact that the game is incredibly HARD. †
Isaac is also a fantastic example of risk-reward done right in games because the rewards are hidden from you. They might not even seem like a particularly attractive offer if you knew what they were, but you donít. It letís your imagination blow the potential reward way out of proportion, which frequently hinders your ability to accurately judge just how significant the risk is going to be. It pokes fun at you and your overzealousness, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Recently, Voltech wrote a blog asking (and answering) a single question. "What does Zelda mean to you?" I've been wanting to write about this for a while now, and I've got a lot of things to say, so I decided to respond with a blog of my own.
Growing up was always a prospect that excited me as a kid. I imagine most kids fantasize about all the things they could do if they were adults, or even teenagers, but I really could not wait to grow up. The freedom, and to a lesser extent the respect, was what really attracted me to the idea of being a slightly overweight, tired, balding man.
And I guess that's what tempered my desire to get older. As a year passed, one more step toward adulthood was taken, and one more reason not to become an adult was uncovered. Tedious jobs, societal pressures, and responsibilities! Oh god, the responsibilities! I had been so excited at the prospect of additional freedom and power just years earlier, but the idea that those liberties came with things like responsibilities and consequences horrified me.
Pretty much every Zelda game introduces you to Link while he's sleeping. There are definitely exceptions, the first two games come to mind, but for the most part, the Zelda series starts you off as a slightly drowsy child. You're usually woken from your slumber by an unusual occurrence.†
Link to The Past really nailed it's execution of the opening sequence, having you wake up to a mysterious voice and your uncle leaving by unspecified circumstance. Sure you could listen to him, and just stay in bed, but you're curious and that voice in your head is telling you to pursue. It's pouring out, guards are everywhere and insist that you return home at once, but you continue your search anyways. Once you find your uncle, that's when things start getting really interesting. He leaves you with nothing but his weapon and a few words, and you soon become embroiled in a quest of greater scale and wonder than you could've ever imagined.
The Legend of Zelda is my favorite game franchise of all time, because it's almost a perfect portrayal of growth and the responsibility that comes with becoming an adult. Quite literally the weight of the world is now on your shoulders from the minute you accept your quest, and even though you're not sure that you're really the right man for the job, you accept anyway, because someone's got to take responsibility for all this.
Skyward Sword and the original Legend of Zelda did the best job of portraying the initial hesitance but eventual acceptance when faced with responsibility in my opinion. The original Zelda dropped you in the game world with nothing but very brief story exposition. You see a cave, and you decide to explore it since there's really not much else to do at this point. You come across an old man, surrounded on both sides by flame, and the image is initially unsettling. He offers you a wooden sword, and somewhat reluctantly, you take it.
Once you decide to become responsible, the whole game world opens up. And even though at times you may feel overwhelmed by all of this, you push on because you know that doing so will only make you stronger, and will only reveal more possibilities. After besting each dungeon you're awarded with a tool, something to aid you in your adventure, and bring you one step closer to realizing your full potential.†
It's possible that I'm looking too far into this, but I think the Zelda series as a whole really has really helped shape my ideas about responsibility and made me view the upcoming prospect of adulthood in a more hopeful light. I'd be curious to see if you guys have any thoughts on this.
I'm sure not all of you know this, but I'm pretty young. I'm still in high school, and like most high-schoolers, I'm quite naive, and still have a whole lot to learn about the world and how it works. For the most part, I find learning and experiencing new things pretty fun. Rubs a bit of grime from the†lens†in which you view the world, possibly revealing a door to a new set of nearly infinite possibilities. There does however, exist various sets of possibilities that you may never want to consider. Doors that you dread opening. Things that once are revealed, set in place the yearning to re-apply a layer of dirt to that aforementioned†lens.†
My family has a long history of various diseases and medical conditions. Cancer, diabetes, the list goes on. I can't say I know what causes all of these conditions, I suppose it's a mix of an unhealthy lifestyle and genetics but that's besides the point. These... conditions usually end up shortening their time on this planet to quite a significant degree. With the marvels of modern medicine and a change in lifestyle, however, the effects of these conditions can be delayed, or in some cases, eradicated completely. But while victims of the disease may be cured of their physical ailments, the implications of what could have been begin to manifest in both the victim and those close to the victim.
Almost every time I'm reminded that life is finite, I try to tell myself that I'm not afraid of death. I mean, why should I be afraid? It's inevitable, so why would I subject myself or others to toil over something that we as a species can't do anything about?
But if I know that I will eventually leave my family and friends forever, assuming they're still around, then why bother with life? The idea that one day, almost everything that I've ever done will be of little relevance to anyone is a pretty humbling one. I suppose the idea that I'm going to go no matter what I do, also implies that I have nothing to lose in this life, which I like a lot more than the former idea.†
It's hard to think or talk about things like death and mortality, because it seems that every time you might have solved a problem or answered a question, five more pop up in their place. I suppose it's a lot easier to find a more hopeful or optimistic way to perceive reality, which is why I think religion can be so powerful.
Because I'm still a naive teenager though, I try to solve puzzles with pieces that I already have, instead of going out and looking for pieces that would probably make the solution to said puzzle a lot more apparent. I have fun trying to apply things like videogame logic to the real world and vice versa.
There are multiple ways in which videogames approach the idea of the death of a protagonist, not to mention the death of others. The way that games deal with concepts of failure and loss can actually heavily influence my feelings towards said game. I love games like Hotline Miami, but I find the disposable, inconsequential, way in which they deal with death detrimental to the experience as a whole. Though I suppose in Hotline Miami it's a little more excusable, as it contributes to the narrative.
One of my favorite things that developers can include in games is permadeath. I suppose it's because I enjoy the real-world implications the most, which I realize sounds ignorant and selfish. I especially enjoy the way that permadeath changes the way you play a game, the way it makes you contemplate every move you make extremely carefully. There is one caveat, however. I mentioned earlier that I like the idea that you have nothing to lose in life. This means that games that include the type of permadeath that I enjoy are byte-sized rogue-likes; think TBOI and Spellunky. Because the time between your conception and your demise in those games are so short, feelings of loss and frustration are usually minimal. This makes me feel like I was never at risk at losing all that much.
Though I suppose that that logic kind of breaks when you add responsibilities like a family and kids into the mix. See? Whenever you think your close to figuring something out, you realize one thing that completely renders the answer to a question you've been asking yourself for years completely obsolete. One day when I'm older I hope to figure all of this out and appear on talk-shows where I tell middle-aged women it's all going to be okay.
But that's a long way away, and I've just realized I've been rambling for almost ten paragraphs, only to talk about videogames for only two. And that's not okay, because you probably came here to read something about videogames, only to have a chunk of your life sapped away by something you didn't really care about in the first place. That is of course, implying that you made it this far. And if your reading this right now I'm inferring that you did. Thanks.