Blog Post #11

Reading through my classmates’ blog posts and listening to in-class discussions one thing appeared abundantly evident to me. Despite trying to be an understanding person, aware of others’ issues and problems, I remain ignorant of many issues that do not pertain to myself. I had always thought the overly sexualized nature of female characters in … Continue reading “Blog Post #11”

Reading through my classmates’ blog posts and listening to in-class discussions one thing appeared abundantly evident to me. Despite trying to be an understanding person, aware of others’ issues and problems, I remain ignorant of many issues that do not pertain to myself. I had always thought the overly sexualized nature of female characters in most video games mainstream video games today was silly, but I never saw it as such a troublesome issue. Partly because I assumed that most people who play video games simply don’t care. Thinking back, I’m almost ashamed to think that because people don’t care, they didn’t need to be exposed to another perspective. What I’m getting at is that, exactly BECAUSE the video game industry is full of young male customers, the vision and perspective they see needs to be altered not to serve them, but to educate them. The video game industry is actually the perfect platform, because within it exist a vast majority of ignorant males who need exposure to something other than fanservice, who need to start being counter-indoctrinated, and liberated from their simple minds.

Chris’ post about Skyrim, and the role of women for instance, was very eye-opening. I had never considered the reality that many of the women in the world are submissive and without a real independent role. The stupid excuse that, “it’s realistic that way” does not go in a game with dragons, magic, and elves. In fact, it is in exactly THAT world where we need to see equality – a virtual world. What does it say about a developer when they create a world that retains issues from reality, like inequality and sexism? Especially when you’re given a choice to right the wrongs by creating a new world. It says that they are ignorant.

Samantha in her post about GTA as well makes very strong observations. Yes, the developers of GTA are trying to make a game that simulates reality. But in a way where they augment it as well. So why augment the aspects that need fixing within our world? Why make a problem that’s already an issue, even more extreme? In GTA, a prostitute is already an NPC, a bland representation of a real human being. We also have to slap a sexist sticker onto it? Objectify it even more? What are we teaching young males all around the world? That these things are okay? That they’re just “part of our world”? One would argue that GTA allows you to do much worse things than objectify women, but the issue is that, the violent outbursts a player might engage in within the game world are almost NEVER translated into reality (even cases where people in real life go on violent criminal outbursts in the form shootings, GTA is not the reason why), but sexism does translate into reality, because it’s everywhere around us, it’s so integrated into society that it’s impossible to draw the line between the game world and the real world.

Violet as well makes a solid point about who deserves to “survive”, what does a successful survivor most likely look like.
Emi’s post on Bioshock was just as eye-opening and telling of exactly the points I made. It is within the subtle nature of sexism that we find the true problem and potential for positive progress. When these subtleties are changed to support a better world, maybe we’re able to influence more young males and change the way they think.

My Choice: Thief 2014 – Where Game Developers Go Too Far

I talked about Dark Souls earlier and how many things, out of many others, it gets rights. As such, its following is passionate and vast, and it’s mostly considered one of the best games of the decade. Rightly so. How do those observations fare in the world of Thief? Or in any other AAA blockbuster … Continue reading “My Choice: Thief 2014 – Where Game Developers Go Too Far”

I talked about Dark Souls earlier and how many things, out of many others, it gets rights. As such, its following is passionate and vast, and it’s mostly considered one of the best games of the decade. Rightly so. How do those observations fare in the world of Thief? Or in any other AAA blockbuster game. What do mainstream games of today do that players are getting tired of? For this analysis I focus on the level design of Thief of 2014, and a significantly older game I played on a PS2 emulator called Shinobido: Way of the Ninja, which was far more bold and as such, left a stronger impact.
Thief of 2014, like many AAA blockbuster titles has fairly linear map design, even when choice is allowed, it’s superficial choice, as all decisions seem to stem from the designer. Designers manufacture “wow moments” for the player to experience, they place guards conspicuously under chandeliers, or buckets of hot oil, or heavy creates, exactly so the player can quickly dispatch of them if the player pays enough attention. It’s kind of sad, because you are often rewarded for “paying attention” and “straying off the path” (for instance, hiding gold under a staircase or in some remote corner in a room completely out of the way), but then you are quickly forced right back on route to follow the arrow. It’s more insulting that way, when you’re given a pat on the head for thinking “outside the box” inside the box (if that makes sense).
In Shinobido, the protagonist is sent on missions which are usually set in one of about 15-20 different maps. These maps are usually very large, spanning both horizontally and vertically. The player has a mission, and the world is populated by guards and various other enemies. The character is equipped with a number of tools which he acquired during the game, and the rest is up to the player. For instance, the level is set in a village castle? Then the map will be populated by houses, and a great amount of roads, alleyways, and a castle, which hard all sides accessible. How the player decided to approach the world, and what you would find in different parts of the world was realistically dictated. In Thief 2014, you find gold coins atop rooftops (whut?), in Shinobido, you find gold inside a lord’s room. In Thief, you find a golden amulet in a poor home under a staircase, in Shinobido, you find food resources in the storage facility in a building. See what I’m getting at? Things made sense in Shinobido, its level design was not an insult to the player’s intelligence, and it did not need to place little rewards the way scooby doo needs his snacks to get to places.

My Choice: Thief 2014 – Game Mechanics Immersion? Pt. 2

Another aspect of the game, which isn’t really a mechanic, but definitely a source of immersion is playtype choice. Whether the player wants to complete missions aggressively or not is an option which allows for a very drastically different experience. However, one method of playing is definitely more immersive than the other. I’m talking about … Continue reading “My Choice: Thief 2014 – Game Mechanics Immersion? Pt. 2”

Another aspect of the game, which isn’t really a mechanic, but definitely a source of immersion is playtype choice. Whether the player wants to complete missions aggressively or not is an option which allows for a very drastically different experience. However, one method of playing is definitely more immersive than the other. I’m talking about sneaking again. Where playing aggressively requires less skill and effort, playing stealthily and harmlessly requires total immersion in the game. In the aggressive mode, the player can afford mishaps and mistakes, often times ending with the bad guys dying. Playing stealthily requires a player to “listen” to the game, to fully be absorbed in the world, to break it down to its core and see the open path. One problem with Thief on this account is that these methods seem so predetermined that it actually breaks immersion. In fact, more immersive than completing the mission and succeeding the way you’re meant to, is actually failing. Being spotted requires the player to deviate from the main course, and adapt using the surroundings as an aid. This is something developers can’t account for, because a player can fail at any point during their attempt to success, whereas success is dependent on at least a few specific conditions which cannot be altered.
This brings me to the point that Thief succeeds most at being immersive in moments when the player is forced to listen and engage with the world sensually, while deviating from the predetermined path, using the player’s wits, not the developer’s intent to succeed. Using force seems all too easy and as a result, does not succeed in creating immersion.
I conclude my analysis and observation by saying that immersion through senses is a very powerful method of immersion, but it is the mechanics which ultimately sway the game into the immersive territory. When mechanics are working, and when the developer’s touch or traces are invisible, and the player feels like their wits are the only thing that’s keeping them alive, then the game succeeds at drawing the player in.

My Choice: Thief 2014 – Gameplay Mechanic Immersion?

Playing Cardinal Quest 2 motivated me to explore stealth as a mechanic and what it does to immersion. How does a video game that has both graphics and sound quality going for it, create immersion? Is the experience different? Playing through Thief’s beginning you are briefed on the different mechanics your character is capable of, … Continue reading “My Choice: Thief 2014 – Gameplay Mechanic Immersion?”

Playing Cardinal Quest 2 motivated me to explore stealth as a mechanic and what it does to immersion. How does a video game that has both graphics and sound quality going for it, create immersion? Is the experience different? Playing through Thief’s beginning you are briefed on the different mechanics your character is capable of, most of which remain in the world of realism, without too many flashy moves and magical interventions. This was the first step towards immersion. Establishing a rule-base that is within a certain bound of realism. Games that aren’t realistic can absolutely be immersive, the only thing is that magic tends to extend the control of a player to a point where the player might break immersion simply by exploring the options. Example: Shooting fireballs at everything in Skyrim quickly reveals the limitations of the engine in that you can’t destroy many things, melt ice, and the logic of the world in general as such suffers. Being based in realism means that most things make more sense, and don’t seem to jolt you out of immersion. In Thief, you have arrows which you can fire at most things, and that’s about the extent of cool things your character can do at a range. There is a neat dash maneuver that feels very satisfying as you slip from shadow to shadow unnoticed.
I learned that mechanics in a game that work well with the established setting, and don’t have too many instance where they don’t work, tend to keep the player in the game. But only granted that the player is actually in the game in the first place. I don’t mean playing the game physically, I mean being involved in it on a deeper level, where the player almost exists within the game world.

Casual Game: Cardinal Quest 2 – Ultimate Summation

I ultimately unlocked the Thief which proved to be infinitely more fun to play with than the Fighter. Mostly due to the fact that you have a stealth ability guaranteed at the start, which is right up my alley. The reason I enjoy stealth in games is not because I am particularly stealthy or have … Continue reading “Casual Game: Cardinal Quest 2 – Ultimate Summation”

I ultimately unlocked the Thief which proved to be infinitely more fun to play with than the Fighter. Mostly due to the fact that you have a stealth ability guaranteed at the start, which is right up my alley. The reason I enjoy stealth in games is not because I am particularly stealthy or have an affinity for ninja-like behaviour, but because it puts the AI to the test. Any stealth mechanic depends on the fact that the AI can “sense” the world around it, which makes everything that much more interesting. Stealth mechanics give the player the opportunity to outwit the computer, which is usually very easily outwitted due to its highly patterned and usually dumbed-down behaviour. Today’s computers are powerful enough where bots in video games could be infinitely more superior than the player, but that would be no fun, because a computer makes no errors and players do.
That tangent aside, the game revealed to have a number of mechanics which all modern games do, except in a simplified way. Meaning that tactic was involved, and whenever tactic is involved, personalized gameplay is as well. Tactics imply that there is something to consider, that there are more than a few ways to go about doing things which usually result in more than a few different outcomes. Given the randomized nature of roguelikes, and this one being no different, this allows unique playthroughs time and time again, even if it’s the same player playing. This freshness through every action and playthrough play a huge role in immersion, due to a lack of patterned behaviour and events. Nothing breaks immersion like replaying a mission, or trying to beat a certain part of a game by redoing the exact same thing again and again, until you finally get every part right.
In conclusion, Cardinal Quest 2 establishes immersion through 2 ways mainly. And these ways are neither, story, graphics, or sound. They are instead a strong sense of progression, and a tension brought about from the unknown – be it not knowing what lurks around the corner, or whether luck will play in your favor, or whether you will escape the encounter with your head on your shoulders. Cardinal Quest 2 succeeds as a casual game because it doesn’t try too hard to become something more than casual, instead it plays it up, and rewards the player for good effort.

Casual Game: Cardinal Quest 2 – Rogue to Hell

The next playthrough I had used the same starting class available, my first hero, as great as he was, was unable to unlock another class through his efforts. I made a female fighter this time, a slightly thinner version of the same model. It was honestly impossible to tell the gender of these sprites, but … Continue reading “Casual Game: Cardinal Quest 2 – Rogue to Hell”

The next playthrough I had used the same starting class available, my first hero, as great as he was, was unable to unlock another class through his efforts. I made a female fighter this time, a slightly thinner version of the same model. It was honestly impossible to tell the gender of these sprites, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. The female fighter did better. I had gotten a floor further, but not opening the second act. The playthrough was a few minutes longer, but the abilities the “dungeon master” had left along my trail synergized far better than on my first playthrough, this time around I felt I had more control over the world, not only because I had played for longer, but because this character got more lucky. In any case, I had died without unlocking the next Act, which also has an endless mode. But I managed to unlock the Thief class.
The sense of progression was another aspect that made the game so enticing. I wouldn’t say addicting, but it definitely kept me playing, and it did something else as well. It built a world. Speaking of immersion, there is something very interesting about fighting through the same act, knowing that past protagonists have attempted the same feat, and failed along the way, and through their efforts, a new generation of heroes had a better chance. A game mechanic which translates this success onto new generations is morale, which is a currency that remains with the player even after a hero dies. With this currency, you can give the next hero a slight edge in battle. The story builds itself through play I realized. A very powerful idea, to know that all your efforts, failures and successes mean something. This is a great quality of roguelikes which many games don’t seem to incorporate. You die a lot, but death is not in vain, there is some degree of triumph in every death, some inherent purpose to every life. Every hero matters. The scavengers (travelling merchants) become familiar faces to the player, as hero after hero trades some life-saving item for gold. The world grows as you play it, and the immersion is heightened through every minute. The time invested is directly translated to the amount immersed.

Casual Game: Cardinal Quest 2 – Immersion Quest

Although not a huge chunk of class, immersion in videogames was definitely an important topic for me. As someone who realized halfway through the semester that getting into video game development might be an interesting thing to do, at least as a hobby. For me immersion is the greatest feature any medium can offer, not … Continue reading “Casual Game: Cardinal Quest 2 – Immersion Quest”

Although not a huge chunk of class, immersion in videogames was definitely an important topic for me. As someone who realized halfway through the semester that getting into video game development might be an interesting thing to do, at least as a hobby. For me immersion is the greatest feature any medium can offer, not just video games. To be immersed in another’s work is a success for that creator. Whether it is a drawing, a sculpture, a dance, a movie, or a videogame, the ability to draw someone into another world, and for a brief moment, captivate one’s entire being in another universe. I’d go so far as to say maybe that’s what art is. There are various forms of immersion, but ultimately, it all boils down to captivating someone’s thought, whatever that thought may be.
Cardinal Quest 2 is a very immersive game for me, and my personal quest was to see what it is that it does so well in captivating its players. Surely it’s not the pixelated graphics, and low quality sounds. The gameplay as well was nothing to brag about, there were no animations and the game generally looks and sounds very bland. However it all worked. A coherent whole, as simple as it is, is seemingly more effective than an incoherent complicated whole (buggy games with a wide range of underdeveloped features).
I had played for 37 minutes before realizing 37 minutes had passed, and I died for the first time. I was sad that my character died, the lack of animations made the death easier to bare as I did not have to physically see my character get impaled by a Dark Goblin, instead my character just turned in place (similar to the good old Mario Bros death where there is no interaction between the protagonist and the enemy). But I had only realized the impact of my death when I returned to the main menu screen, and saw my first hero immortalized, on the top of the chart (which only had him, being that it was my first playthrough) in all his glory. He had some stats to accompany his position, and I felt nostalgic for a moment, that I will never step into his Lizardskin Boots again, that we once shared a bond of controller and actor, and that bond is now forever severed. The only proof of the bond being the hero chart, which was enough to make me appreciate him and his efforts. I realized I had connected myself with a character that said absolutely nothing, had no story backstory, in a world so unfleshed out that the Mario Bros lore seemed like Tolkien’s work in comparison. How did they do it? Counter to all intuition and theory on immersion, and investment, they did something extremely right.

Console Game: Dark Souls I – Genuinely Hard Core Souls

I started to realize more of what Dark Souls was doing to attract such a passionate following. It’s not trying hard at all, and there’s something so beautiful about it. Similar to the laws of “hard to get” in dating, Dark Souls plays hard to get with its players. Not just through its difficulty, but … Continue reading “Console Game: Dark Souls I – Genuinely Hard Core Souls”

I started to realize more of what Dark Souls was doing to attract such a passionate following. It’s not trying hard at all, and there’s something so beautiful about it. Similar to the laws of “hard to get” in dating, Dark Souls plays hard to get with its players. Not just through its difficulty, but through its overall design. Dark Souls does not attempt to explain the game mechanics to the player, or the narrative, or the lore, or the reason for why things are the way they are currently. You’re not some ideal hero, you’re an undead, a “race” usually considered evil, decrepit, and not protagonist-worthy. There is no handholding, in fact you must hold your own hand along the lonely and treacherous path it has to offer, as you die time and time again at points which were meant to kill the player. The design of the world feels lackluster and all over the place. The combat is unforgiving. The punishments are severe, dying twice in a row loses all accumulated but unstored “souls” (the currency of the game) and sets back progress made to that point in terms of character development, it is like a soft version of perma-death, each checkpoint marking a new point from which the perma-death takes effect. You learn the story through item descriptions and brief conversations with melancholic characters.
It’s a rare thing and the gaming community picked up on it. The gaming community has progressively been getting older and more mature as the video game field itself grew. There are far more players who started their first games as children on early consoles, who are now adults playing games on more expensive consoles and PCs. It seems natural that a mature video game would do so well today. It’s not mature because of its content, but because it doesn’t insult the player’s intelligence in an effort to remain playable by as large a player base as possible. The story is told to the player only if the player reads it. The gameplay mechanics reveal themselves through trial-and-error. Enemies use advanced tactics created by design to keep players on their toes. In fact every aspect of the game is meant to be played by veteran gamers, and it’s a breath of fresh air. This is what makes the game hard core, not its difficulty. If a game is considered hard core only because of its difficulty, then its hard core quality is artificial. Dark Souls, on the other hand, is genuinely hard core.

Console Game: Dark Souls I – Patience is a Stat

However, a compelling aesthetic is not enough to evoke such a cult following that Dark Souls managed to. I continued playing, and died at every point I was meant to die, more times than I’d like to admit, and then reached the Asylum Demon, where I don’t have a problem admitting I died over twenty … Continue reading “Console Game: Dark Souls I – Patience is a Stat”

However, a compelling aesthetic is not enough to evoke such a cult following that Dark Souls managed to. I continued playing, and died at every point I was meant to die, more times than I’d like to admit, and then reached the Asylum Demon, where I don’t have a problem admitting I died over twenty times. It’s a difficult game that’s for sure. Not because the game itself is so difficult, but because it has an unconventional approach to its combat and trap system. Patience is absolute key, but not just any amount of patience, an uncomfortable amount of patience. I reckon if I took my time to analyze situations more carefully, and turned corners more slowly, I would have died less times. It’s not artificial difficulty, it’s a real difficulty that hits every new-coming player just as hard. Artificial difficulty would mean the odds are tipped against you at an amount that simply doesn’t make sense, for instance, basic opponents take one or two hits to kill you, while you take ten to fifteen. This is not the case. The enemies scale well, and most enemies can be dispatched of quickly, given enough patience.
So we go back to patience. There’s something so different about a video game that forces you to slow down and take things a small step at a time in a real world filled with fast-paced gaming, and on a meta-level, fast-paced life and consumerism. It’s difficult. It’s hard to stop and let the opponent go through their entire set of moves so that you know exactly when the openings are. But it’s weird as well, because it brings out an odd feature in people. Many of us would rather rush, without seeing the whole moveset, and fail time and time again. Instead, we can wait, and let the opponent tell us how to beat it, by revealing its patterns of attacks and dodges to us. In fact, one would probably spend less time playing the game with this tactic, than the one most people opt for. So why don’t we? Is it because we’re taught to keep moving forward, cutting corners wherever possible, never fully taking in what any given moment has to offer? Was this done by design? Did the game developers psychoanalyze today’s gamers, especially the age group intended to play the game, and design a game that would be hard for them? Don’t get me wrong, the game is difficult in its own right simply through punishing stats, but the role that patience plays in the game is something that I like to believe was a deliberate move on the designers’ part, displaying a deep understanding of what the modern gamer thinks like, and designing against it.

Console Game: Dark Souls I – CrypticSoftware Games

The popularity of the Dark Souls franchise is incredibly intriguing to me. In terms of playing the game itself, I was very late to the party, and due to living a busy life, could never find enough time to play it. But this summer I decided it was time to see what all the fuss … Continue reading “Console Game: Dark Souls I – CrypticSoftware Games”

The popularity of the Dark Souls franchise is incredibly intriguing to me. In terms of playing the game itself, I was very late to the party, and due to living a busy life, could never find enough time to play it. But this summer I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. I had done a lot of research on the game before playing it, I spoiled the story for myself, and generally knew what it was everyone was talking about (I had done this, thinking I’d never have the time to play it myself). Yet here I was, trying “one of the best games” my brother played. I had never understood the appeal of the game by simply learning about it, but I respected the reception it received from the playerbase. Rarely does a game from a large company today garner such a following. They had done something right and I was about to find out.
The character creation seemed very generic in nature, with one aspect that caught my eye. One of the classes was a very unique choice in that it seemed completely counterintuitive, and in turn, the most attractive choice. I am talking about the Deprived class, which starts the game naked (with a thin garment to censor an otherwise nude body), a club and a plank shield. Of course having heard things about Dark Souls, I imagined that this would be a very bad choice for someone who was trying to experience as much of this game as quickly as possible.
Starting the game I was greeted by an introductory cutscene which despite appearing to be the usual informative cinematic that usually precedes all fantasy stories, was very cryptic and mysterious in nature. It definitely made the cinematic seem less like it was trying hard, and more like it was simply being itself.
Following a brief loading screen, we are introduced to a dimly lit hallway of a prison, with rotting corpses scattered across the screen. The narration done by the same old lady from the opening cinematic, except this cinematic is done from the in-game-engine, and as such indicated that gameplay was about to start. After more cryptic narration, I finally see my character, shortly after which a corpse with a floating orb falls from the only natural source of light (a window in the ceiling). The corpse was dropped, by the silent knight who glances at me for a moment while kneeling, and then disappears without uttering a word. The character stands up, and the game starts. So far the game has established an incredibly cryptic opening that although is set in such a familiar setting, seems so fresh and novel due to its lack of information and general confusion versus establishing a solid narrative foundation on which you will build throughout the game. Another point to consider are the visuals, which are a very fresh take on the theme and aesthetic the game was going for. The game was created by Japanese developers, heavily inspired by European history. This creates a familiar aesthetic as a foundation, taken into directions never seen before. It is a brilliantly fresh approach to an otherwise overdone look, and it works because it is so subtly different.