Saturday, 1 December 2012

On Blasts that may be from the Past

I was having a conversation with my girlfriend's family over dinner and the topic of old technology came up.  We were talking about how they took courses where they programmed computers with punch cards and ticker tape back when they were in university when a completely unexpected fact arose.  My girlfriend has more gaming cred than I do.

You see, her father said that her old Famicom system was still in storage in their basement.  They all went on to describe this fully kitted out system had over 100 games with it in storage for the Famicom Disk System.  Fast forward to her bringing it back to her apartment and setting it up and testing it.  Unfortunately the disk system appears to be broken, but the Famicom itself is intact and working as shown above.

Now all I need to do is find a good tutorial online for how to fix a buzzing Famicom Disk System.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

On the Comparative Merits of RPGs

So I finally beat Legend of Grimrock this weekend after a long period of being obsessed with other games.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience from end to end with few exceptions.  Looking back at my Steam library I can see that it took me approximately fourty hours.  Fourty hours filled with edge of your seat combat, mind twisting puzzles and riddles, and stupid twitchy timing based movement challenges henceforth referred to as "quick-time events lite".  On the whole, I would say I got my fifteen dollars worth out of it and then some.

This got me thinking about why I would rank it right up there with other modern RPGs.  I am going to alarm people a lot here by saying that I have not played Skyrim yet, but I have played Oblivion and all of the instalments of the Fallout series to date so I will use them as a comparison.  Basically in order to make it seem like I have some credibility, just mentally replace the word Oblivion with Skyrim for me.  Grimrock is modelled after really old dungeon crawling adventures such as Eye of the Beholder. However it brings those concepts of game play into the modern era with much smoother real time action and an absolutely stunning visual display.  It is a really well put together and polished game.

However there are some areas where it is lacking in comparison to bigger modern titles.  Areas such as vastness of world and presence of story.  Games like Oblivion and Fallout sport vast open worlds begging to be explored.  A cursory browsing of the intertubes says that the equivalent of a 100% completion of Skyrim would take upwards of 200 hours.  Since the world is so large, it is an excellent and varied place in which to tell stories and both of the Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises are known to have good storytelling.

For for these features we sacrifice much in the way of game play.  I do not remember genuinely difficult brain teasers as part of Fallout, and I never found the combat in Oblivion to be much more than rock'em sock'em circle strafe.  The end result is that we get a decent sized entertainment package, but not the mental challenge that I am beginning to demand out of the games that I play on my own.  When I play games, I want a mental workout.  When I don't want a mental workout, I watch Top Gear.

The first poll results are in!  It seems like a majority of my readers want something resembling daily updates at this point in time so I will endeavour to do that, while still making things enjoyable to read.  I am putting up a new poll asking about blag content.  Don't forget to vote, and don't forget to tell your friends.

Friday, 16 November 2012

On the Expectations of Unreleased Games

A friend of mine made me aware of a new alternate reality MMO game that Google is developing.  It is called Ingress and it appears to be in a closed beta as of now.  It looks really awesome and the only coherent thought that came to my mind after watching the trailer was the above picture.  I got more excited about it than I did about the new XCOM, and that is saying something.  This worries me.

I find that games that generate that level of pre-release euphoria never live up to expectations.  Nine times out of ten they end up being a giant let down at release.  This is not because they are bad games, it is all about perceived relative value.

For example, my biggest at release let down of all time was Spore.  I remember watching the initial game play demonstrations in 2005 and saying to myself, this is going to be the best game ever conceived of by a human.  The most complete simulation of life you could buy.  Fast forward three years to its release in September 2008, and I was one of the first in line to buy it.  I took it home and was disappointed by what I found, a disjoint collection of loosely tied together mini-games and editors culminating in a long and pointless grind in a space ship.  I expected one thing, and got another

I want to emphasize that it was disappointment.  It wasn't that the game was actually that bad.  Its editors were fantastic creation tools and I still have not seen their equal in other games.  The procedural generation systems it used to extrapolate walking patterns based on limb and spine configurations astounded the computer scientist in me.  The user content sharing system was innovative and encouraged people to make interesting creatures and building so that everybody else could discover them somewhere in thier galaxy.  Let us not forget then encountering the inevitably phallic creatures and buildings that others created in your own galaxy.

The big issue was that I had three long years to take what I saw in early alpha, and massage it in my mind.  I created unreasonable expectations that no game could ever live up to.  Ultimately it is my own damned fault that I felt let down. I built it up in my mind based on sparse and incomplete information.  However, in most cases it is also the fault of the industry.  They generate hype on purpose because everybody knows that hype sells copies.  If you can build enough pre-release hype you will have a successful game at release, financially anyway.  Its just good salesmanship.

Share your biggest let downs in the comments below.  Perhaps it can become a great big therapy session taking place in the highest echelons of first world problems.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

On the Social Impact of Gaming

So all of the people over at Last Pick Productions are friends of mine.  They had this crazy idea that people would like to play a game about being a homeless guy on the streets of Vancouver and decided to raise some money on Kickstarter so they could make that game.  They recently made their funding goal and have started production.  Congratulations to them.

Now we all know that people will play games based on basically any concept.  If you want to play a game about nicely asking your neighbours for space, there is Risk.  If you want to play a game about fighting against the return of the elder ones, then there is a plethora of Call of Cthulhu games.  If you want to enter a warzone, pick any recent FPS.  If you want to drive a bus across a desert, if you want to beat random strangers with a bat, if you want to be a video game developer, then there are games tailored specifically to your niche needs.

So its not that surprising that there will be a game about being homeless.  What is surprising is why they are doing it.  They want to raise awareness about the homeless problem that plagues many modern cities such as Vancouver, and hopefully raise some money to help these people in the process.  We all know that as long as a game is enthralling people will play it, regardless of any of its secondary goals.  They may not even consider the reality that it is based on in the process.  The opposite is also true, if the game sucks nobody will play it save the first few.

Last Pick may have already achieved their goal of raising awareness however.  In the process of, in the words of some, trivializing, marginalizing, and making light of a serious problem they have started debates about not just the controversial nature of their game but also the issue they wanted people to be more aware of.  They have already made at least some of the social impact they were hoping for.  Lets hope they go on to also make an awesome game.

If you can think of any other games that tried or are trying to make social impact, please tell me about them in the comments.

As this is a new blag, I really don't know what direction I want to take it in yet or how I ultimately want it to look.  So I will take some polls over the next little while asking questions about what all of you want from it.  Every vote counts!  Make your voice heard!

Monday, 12 November 2012

On the Proper Etiquette of Blagging

I have been informed that I made a major breach of blag protocol.  I did not make an initial post telling my would-be readers a little bit about myself and what I intend to write about.  This is meant to rectify the situation.

My name is Pat and I am a game-a-holic ( HI PAT! ).  I have been working making educational games for about two years now.  The group of developers I work with are games fanatics to say the least, and we all play and make games in and out of the workplace.  Basically my life revolves around games, how they are made, how well they play, and how they affect people.

My earliest gaming memory is of playing the Oregon Trail and the Yukon Trail on early Apple computers in elementary school.  I cannot say for sure if I learned anything that the makers of those games intended to teach, but I do know I learned how to get a high score and then lord it over all of my classmates.  My current gaming vitals include a copy of each current generation console, a decently stocked Steam account, a closet full of various board games, a suitcase full of Magic: The Gathering, and a Kahdor army.

This blag will be a written account of my thoughts, opinions, and experiences regarding games and gaming.  I will be touching on all sorts of games because I play all sorts of games.  Card games, board games, miniatures games, traditional RPGs and video games.  I hope that the things I write here will be both thought provoking and interesting and, if I am doing things particularly well, I hope a few flame wars are started on Reddit over my words.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

On the Rewarding Experience of Gaming

Recently I have been playing two games a little obsessively, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and FTL: Faster Than Light.  I decided to sit down and try to think about why that is, especially since other games that have been released recently have not garnered the same level of obsession.  I compared them to other recent-ish games such as Borderlands 2 and COD: MW3: OMG: TLA and narrowed it down to two things.  You can actually lose at XCOM and FTL, and no amount of mindless grinding will actually achieve victory for you either.

When I say you can actually lose, I really do mean lose in the game over screen, no more progress for you, here is your score, better luck next time kind of way.  The first time I played FTL, I was given a choice between easy mode and normal mode.  I naturally chose the most difficult sounding one expecting less difficult options to be more easy than their names made them out to be like in most games in recent memory. Then something happened that I did not expect, it humiliated me, insulted my mother, and then called my manhood into question.  After about ten attempts, I gave up and tried it on easy.  After several more attempts on easy I finally beat the game.

Some may find this discouraging, but the difficulty of the game, the fact that a single mistake can destroy all of the work done so far made the experience intense and extremely rewarding.  Every time you lucked out and got a really good weapon, it was something to celebrate (briefly).  Every time you lost a crew member it was a significant blow to your play through.  Most importantly, every time you killed the boss it was an accomplishment and something to tell your friends about.  The same kind of thing happens when you play through XCOM in ironman mode.  You make a mistake and a critical soldier dies and that pretty much wraps it up for the mission and in a lot of cases that country as well.  I have yet to complete an ironman playthough, but I am sure I am going to be posting screenshots when I do.

Compare that to Borderlands 2, where every time you die you lose some insignificant portion of the money that you will never use anyway.  Or to MW3, where every time you die you are inconvenienced back in time thirty seconds to the last checkpoint and you now have intimate knowledge of where the enemies are.  Now granted, I don't play either of these games because they are particularly rewarding games to play.  I play Borderlands 2 because it has split screen co-op and I get to play with my girlfriend, and I play MW3 multi-player because I enjoy being called horrible racist names by twelve year olds.  The single player experience is definitely lacking in both of those games.  The end of the game just doesn't have the same thrill of completion or accomplishment.

This brings up another question.  Why do we play games?  As much as I find them lacking, I still play both MW3 and Borderlands 2.  That is best saved for another post perhaps.