Article Tags / essay (49)

Tropes and Trolls: When the Game Is Not What You Think It Is

In games where the player character has a specific goal - save the Princess, escape the testing facility, defeat a nemesis - the player is presumed to share this goal. But even if the narrative does a good job lining up player motivations and character goals, there’s still a wrinkle. The character wants to accomplish something, and the player wants to experience accomplishing that thing. This is why we bother playing games at all, rather than just watching the endings on YouTube. If the player had the exact same motivations as the character, they’d cut whatever corners they could to beat the game as quickly as possible.

The humor in this video comes from the tension between Mario’s goals and the player’s goals. Of course Mario would want to just warp straight to the Princess and save her immediately. But for the player that would mean skipping the entire game, which would completely defeat the purpose of playing it in the first place. As long as Mario has that warp whistle in his inventory, there’s dissonance between what the player wants to do and what Mario would want to do.

So what happens when games create that dissonance on purpose?

The GameStop/OnLive Debacle: How I Like To Think It Happened

GameStop Underling: Huh. That’s interesting.

GameStop Boss: What is?

Underling: These Deus Ex: Human Revolution games Square Enix shipped us include a voucher for a free OnLive copy of the game. I don’t think they mentioned they were gonna do that.

Boss: What? OnLive? But we just bought our own digital delivery game service - Impulse! That makes OnLive our competitor!

Underling: I suppose it does.

Boss: We better open the boxes and remove the vouchers.

Underling: Wait, what?

Blizzard and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DRM

You may have heard that there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle recently in response to some news about Diablo III. I’ll walk you through it - but first, we need to talk about Ubisoft.

On July 28, Ubisoft reported that they consider their constant connection DRM scheme to be a “success.” This despite the uproar and backlash caused by the scheme, the fact that it was immediately cracked, the clear demonstration of the system’s flaws when denial of service attacks locked out paying customers and left pirates unaffected, and Ubisoft’s eventual scaling back of the DRM to a once-per-run validation. Their reasoning?

Uncharted, One Chance, and Cheating

I don’t have much more to say about Uncharted 2, as it turns out, because I didn’t get through much more of it before giving up and sending it back to GameFly. I’m therefore not qualified to review it, but I’ll tell you that the reason I sent it back was because I disliked (a) the combat (b) the parkour (c) the artifact-hunting, which leaves very very little to enjoy. All that remains is the game’s cinematic components, the dialog and characterization and set-pieces. And there’s the other problem: Uncharted 2 is, even more than its predecessor, far too movie-like.

The One Commandment for Game Sequels

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about franchises. Having recently played Mass Effect 2, and then Assassin’s Creed II, and now Uncharted 2, I have a lot of questions about what sequels are and what they should be.

When I played the original Mass Effect, I fell head-over-heels in love. I made three complete play-throughs in rapid succession, I devoured both novels available at the time (Revelation and Ascension), and when called upon to name my favorite three video games, Mass Effect made the cut.

Then I played Mass Effect 2, and now I barely care about the series. I mean, I’ll probably play Mass Effect 3. I guess. Certainly not for full launch-day price. You can bet I won’t pre-order, even if they don’t pull any of my pet peeve shenanigans.

What happened here that turned my devoted fandom to near indifference?

The Superhero Games I Wish Existed

The way things are right now, I still don’t have time to write the in-depth, fleshed-out articles I used to write. But I still have a lot of thoughts about video games, and most of them don’t really fit into 140 characters. So from time to time, I’m going to revisit this space with what’s on my mind.

Today I am thinking about superhero games. These, like film tie-ins, are so rarely done well that it’s actually noteworthy when they don’t suck.

Spider-Man 2 box art
Arkham Asylum box art

Part of the problem might be that superhero games tend to confine themselves to the “third-person action game” format. Sometimes that works - GTA-like mechanics fit Spider-Man surprisingly well, and taking several pages from the book of Bioshock (switched, of course, to third-person) paid off well for Batman.

Real Games Have Curves: Welcome to the Competence Zone

Let’s make a graph. The horizontal axis is player skill. On the far left is no skill - just random button-pushing. On the far right is perfect video game godhood, always doing exactly the correct thing at the correct time in the correct way. The first time you play a game, you’ll probably be somewhere in the middle - farther right if you’re a veteran gamer, farther left if you’re a novice. As you play the game, and learn its mechanics, you’ll trend right as you get better.

The vertical axis is performance level. At the very bottom is complete failure - game over as quickly as possible, not achieving any of the game’s goals. Farther up is the passing line, separating failure below from success above. The line itself is a performance level of just barely passing a challenge - surviving the boss fight with one hit point left, clearing the race course just before the clock runs out, and so on. And at the very top of the axis is absolute perfect performance - winning by the largest margin possible.

Now we can chart the performance levels achievable with a particular amount of player skill: the “skill curve” for a given challenge.