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Sideways compatibility

There’s something deliciously ironic (if slightly tragic) about the fact that the Xbox Series S can play PS2 games when no PlayStation console since the first-gen PS3 has been able to do so.

It’s my new favorite piece of evidence that if you’re concerned about artistic and cultural preservation in media generally and games particularly, you basically can’t look to the rights holders. You have to look to the people commonly thought of as pirates.

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Peak gliding

Here’s something that used to be common in 3D platformers that I don’t miss: having to carefully time a second press of the jump button at the peak of your jump to maximize your glide and get enough distance to cross gaps.

This is another example of “What’s hard about a game should also be what’s interesting about it." I enjoy exploring these games’ spaces and finding the paths through them. I don’t enjoy carefully parsing sometimes-misleading jump animations and executing glides with incredibly strict timing requirements just to get around. I definitely don’t enjoy barely missing those jumps, because it usually means falling and having to redo some amount of uninteresting platforming just to get back to where I was and try again. And sometimes it means losing lives and if I fail enough I get ejected from the level completely, so that punishment gets in the way of exploration.

On top of that, it can cause challenge profile confusion. If you try one of these jumps several times and just barely fail each time, what lesson are you supposed to take from this? Should you assume that the timing window is really strict and you just aren’t quite timing it well enough? Or should you assume that the jump you’re attempting isn’t actually possible and you need to go elsewhere? How are you supposed to “git gud” if the game isn’t clear in its feedback on what you’re doing wrong?

I much prefer the design of letting the player just hold the jump button to activate the glide at the optimal time. This also ties in well with the popular mechanic of holding the jump button for longer/higher jumps, since you don’t have to force the player to release the jump button before the jump’s peak to enable them to hit it again. It does arguably lower the skill ceiling of controlling the character, but for me it’s a good trade-off because it lets you focus the game’s difficulty on the things that make it interesting by making the level design richer without increasing ambiguity and frustration.

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DualSense is always listening

From Reddit: First time Souls player. I didn’t realise that the PS5 records your microphone’s audio whenever you get a trophy. Whoops.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

By default, the PS5 saves a video clip whenever you get a trophy.

Of course, the PS5 can’t know when you’re about to get a trophy. So that means it’s always capturing video; it just discards most of it unless you get a trophy or manually save a clip.

But the PS5’s DualSense controller has a microphone array that cannot be removed or deactivated. It can apparently be muted, but it’s on by default with no indicator. And audio from this mic is, by default, included in the trophy video clips. Which means that by default, your PS5 is constantly capturing audio from your controller mic, though in theory it simply discards most of it.

How in the world are people okay with this? How is anyone okay with being surprised that their internet-connected game console is continually recording them without asking permission?

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Mario Kart Troll

It’s scummy that Mario Kart Tour pretends its bots are people, presumably to create fake social pressure to spend into the game’s ecosystem. But what I really dislike about it is that the names they give to your opponents are clearly taken from real user names - because they include things Nintendo would never show to you on purpose. I’ve seen names that use unicode or accented characters to sneak past the profanity filter, and recently I raced against a bot named “Trump2020”.

It blows my mind that Nintendo, of all companies, who are so skittish about online experiences that they’re still using friend codes, have created a way for me to be trolled by online strangers while playing alone in one of their most kid-friendly franchises.

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Key rings and tool belts

The mark of a good Metroidvania is that new items and abilities feel like tools in a belt, not keys in a ring.

There’s nothing wrong with, say, DOOM having the player collect red, blue, and yellow key cards - but that’s just scaffolding. It’s just to provide pacing and a series of objectives. It’s not the heart of the gameplay.

But in Metroidvanias or Zelda-likes, getting new abilities and being able to explore further as a result is central to the experience and one of the strongest rewards it can provide. When done well, the new abilities are versatile and create new possibilities for combat and exploration, opening doors you didn’t even know were there.

If instead the new abilities have single niche uses to overcome specific, arbitrary, clearly delineated obstacles - they might as well be colored key cards for opening locked doors.

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#video gaming #metroidvania

Tags: Thought