Posts by Tag / Thought (185)

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Backward compatibility would make moving to the PS5 much easier

PlayStation wants to move its established community from PS4 to PS5 quickly. Here’s PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, as quoted by gamesindustry.biz:

These are gamers who are networked and sticky and engaged and passionate about PlayStation to an extent that we’ve not seen in previous generations. As we move towards the next-generation in 2020, one of our tasks – probably our main task – is to take that community and transition it from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5, and at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered on before.

He goes on to talk about how impressive the PS5 is, and how easy it is to develop for, and how great its games will be, as well as how PlayStation itself is improving its internal organization. But I was really hoping he’d talk a bit about how the transition will be made appealing to the existing community. To me, the obvious thing is to make the PS5 not be a hard break from the existing PS4 ecosystem.

When the PS4 came out, I was very disappointed to learn it wouldn’t have any backward compatibility. I’m sure this saved money during development, and of course it meant that old games could be sold to us again as “classics” or via PlayStation Now or whatever, but it still seemed like a mistake. It meant that the PS4 wasn’t just an upgrade to the PS3, the way the PS3 had (originally) been to the PS2 and the way the PS2 had been to the PS1. For the first time, a new PlayStation console came with an entire separate ecosystem. Its value wasn’t enhanced by your existing investment in games and the community. It wouldn’t replace your existing console. It was more analogous to buying a Nintendo or Xbox console to supplement your existing console. And in that case, suddenly it’s a lot less obvious that you shouldn’t just buy one of those instead.

It was a while before I bought a PS4, and longer before I was confident I’d been correct to do so (and my PS3 is still hooked up next to it). If the PS5 wants me to be more confident that I should move over to it quickly, it should at least play every PS4 game, disc and download alike. Similar compatibility for games for older PlayStation consoles would be even better, and while I personally don’t do much online play, cross-play with gamers on at least PS4 seems like it would help too. There are rumors (supported by a patent) that the PS5 will in fact be backward-compatible (though perhaps not for the unusually-architected PS3) but it’s unclear yet whether this is true and whether it would mean we could reuse our old discs and downloads. Guess we’ll still just have to wait and see.

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Bubsy: Twisted Dreams

Bubsy: Paws on Fire! was my first Bubsy game and I loved it and thought it set a new standard for rhythm platformers. After 100%ing it on Steam, I’m playing it again on Switch and it’s still great. And I guess Bubsy must have gotten into my head, because I decided I wanted MORE BUBSY and went ahead and tried the only other Bubsy game made more recently than the 1990s: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. And… it’s decent!

I wasn’t expecting to like it. The game was not well received and got a metascore in the mid-40s on both PS4 and PC. But honestly, I don’t think the game got a fair shot. It was the first Bubsy game in over two decades and even the announcement that the series was getting revived was met with hostility. With expectations like these, the game would have had to be fantastic to overcome reviewers’ predispositions to dislike it, and… it isn’t that. The core gameplay is solid and I enjoyed playing through the levels, but the menus and other connective tissue feel a bit unpolished (including bizarre omissions like not being able to see your current high score per level), the boss fights are tedious, and perhaps worst of all - the game is very short. I fully completed it in something like five hours (about one-third of the time it took me to do the same with Paws on Fire!).

To me, these flaws don’t destroy the game’s strengths and I think a fair rating would land in the “mixed” range rather than the “negative” one. But with the baggage carried by the Bubsy IP, this game was never going to get a “mixed” score. Either it would be good enough to smash preconceptions and rate “positive” or it wouldn’t and it’d be dismissed out of hand. A mediocre Bubsy game is not, in most people’s eyes, a sufficient reason to revive the franchise.

Or maybe I’m just biased because of how much I liked Paws on Fire!. Or both. Who knows.

Anyway, the people I feel sorry for are the long-time Bubsy fans who saw their beloved series was returning. They had to watch the internet mock the very idea of a new Bubsy game. Then when the resulting game was middling and quite short but had promise and could easily have had an excellent sequel, the fans had to watch the internet call it pure trash. Then when another Bubsy game followed, it turned out to be by a different developer in a different genre. The result might be a game that I love, but when I imagine one of my favorite dormant franchises getting this kind of treatment - oof.

So, I’m definitely keeping an eye on Bubsy. I’m quite interested to see what happens next here, and I really hope something does. And for the record, I would be excited to see a follow-up to Paws on Fire! but I would also be excited to see a follow-up to The Woolies Strike Back.

In the meantime - folks like me who enjoyed Woolies and aren’t sated after its short runtime are best advised to move on to its developer’s previous work: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. The gameplay is actually quite similar. That might also have been a knock against the reviews for Woolies (some felt it showed the game was a rushed cash-in that reused most of an existing game design) but it’s definitely a bonus if you’re looking for more Woolies-like game to play.

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Assist Mode is great; I’d like a Forgive Mode too.

I applaud the intent behind Celeste’s Assist Mode that allows for tweaking aspects of the game and lets players of varying skill level and physical capability enjoy overcoming an appropriate challenge. And I hate to come across as complaining about it. But the fact is that Celeste is a game that I found very frustrating and I wasn’t able to fix that with Assist Mode - because Assist Mode doesn’t let you tune punishment.

Celeste is a precision platformer. You have a set of abilities: running, jumping, wall-jumping, wall-climbing, and an air dash. Some abilities are limited and get refreshed by standing on solid ground. You must use these tools to get through a series of platforming challenges in varied environments with their own varied mechanics, such as platforms that move when you air dash or midair gems that replenish your abilities without you needing to land.

Most challenges in Celeste really have two parts: the puzzle of figuring out how to use your limited abilities and the particular environment to navigate each obstacle course, and then actually executing your solution with precise timing and positioning. To use my own terminology, this is a tactical challenge (figuring out what to do) followed by an action challenge (doing it). They are difficult in different ways and can separately be interesting/dull or hard/easy to individual players.

This is risky, because it means a player has to enjoy and be sufficiently competent at both the tactical and the action challenges in order to enjoy and progress through the game. Someone who likes charting a path through each screen but then lacks the reflexes to actually follow that path is not going to have a good time.

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Climbing the Mountain Because It's... Wait, Where Is It Again?

For me, a lot of Celeste’s difficulty felt unintentional.

First, some background about me: I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s hard for me to build mental maps of areas and to visualize where locations and landmarks are in relation to each other - and thus to figure out how to get from one place to another.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, I was once asked for directions to a building that was literally next door to where we were standing. I pointed in the wrong direction. This is not an atypical example.

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3DS Stress

After six years, the circle pad finally broke off my 3DS XL. It happened while I was playing Tri Force Heroes with two friends and quickly put an end to our game (though I suspect most of the damage had actually been done playing Smash over previous years).

If this had happened a couple of years earlier, I would have taken it as an excuse to upgrade to a New 3DS model. But now - this Tri Force Heroes session was the first action my 3DS had seen since I bought a Switch (and the first non-Picross action it had seen in longer). Could I justify the expense of a new device (Nintendo no longer offers repairs for 3DS models as old as mine) that I didn’t have any expectation I’d actually use?

Yesterday I saw a good deal on a refurbished New 2DS XL and was tempted, but decided to pass. And apparently I felt so bad about this that last night I had a dream that I was back in school and my teacher was yelling at me for not having a 3DS because we were studying Tri Force Heroes in class and I needed to follow along.

#gaming #video games #nintendo #3ds

Tags: Thought

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Black Hole Stunt

So. Like. I’ve never played Fortnite. I’m not really their target market. And if I had any doubt of that, the events of the past few days confirmed it.

Because if I did play Fortnite
If it was how I blew off steam and connected with my friends…
If I’d spent money on in-game currency and gear…
If I were a streamer who relied on the game to make content, and in turn provided free marketing for it…

I would be pissed that they took the game down for multiple days as a marketing stunt.

And it would not exactly instill me with confidence that this was an ecosystem in which I should invest time, money, or effort, and certainly not one I should rely on being around and available.

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Look How Far You’ve Come

One of my favorite game tropes is what I call the “Look How Far You’ve Come” sequence that shows up shortly before the ending.

It can be done a variety of ways, but in some manner it reintroduces areas, characters, enemies, or other story elements that you haven’t seen in a while, emphasizing what’s changed and what hasn’t, reminding you where your journey began and how far it’s taken you. It’s a great way for games to add weight, consequence, and meaning to your adventure and actions while making the ending that much more climactic.

One of my favorite examples actually comes from Dragon Quest Heroes II. (Minor spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph.) In the lead-in to the final battle, you essentially go through a nostalgia gauntlet - fighting groups of monsters from each area of the game, in the order you explored them. The fights are easy and clearly more of a reminder than a skill test, and over the course of them every single one of your accumulated party members speaks up about your travels together.

It’s more common for this sort of reflection to be presented in cinematics after beating the game. But I find it more impactful when you can actually play through it. Which of course is why EarthBound has the best ending of any video game, ever.

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Sayonara Wild Brains

I just wrote about how personal variation can result in wildly different experiences of the same game, and now I find I have to force myself to remember this when reading reviews for Sayonara Wild Hearts.

This is a well-received game, with Metascores ranging from 81 on iOS (where the game is part of Apple Arcade) to 82 on Switch and 85 on PS4. I haven’t read every review, but the only substantive complaint in most of the ones I’ve seen is that the game is over too quickly. Whereas I would sum the game up as “beautiful, but only barely playable.”

It has readability problems that make Runner3 look like CliffsNotes. The rules, physics, controls, and camera angles are constantly changing in ways that look great but make it impossible for the player to find a rhythm until they have all the unpredictability memorized. Missing score pickups just costs you points, but hitting obstacles rewinds the song a couple of seconds for you to try again, and if you have to try too many times you can just skip that part of the song - both of which damage the “interactive album” experience.

I feel like if Sayonara Wild Hearts wanted to be a rhythm game, it should have been more readable. And if it wanted to be a playable pop album, it shouldn’t have had failure modes. The compromise we got results in an unfair rhythm game and an album that keeps interrupting itself.

This also feels really obvious to me. Like, when I look at this game, I don’t see how anyone could have come to a different conclusion about it. But while it’s certainly tempting to conclude that all of those reviewers were just wowed by the game’s superficial aspects, I have to admit it’s more likely that my brain is different from theirs, even if I don’t know exactly how.

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Different Games for Different Brains

I’m starting to think that most of the heated debates that happen around game design choices are due to poorly-understood differences in how our brains are actually wired.

Like, I’ve written before about how some people hate punishment in games and others don’t and how this seems to be related to how we process tension, and how it’s easy to think someone else is a wimp or a masochist for the type of gameplay they like when it actually feels different to them than it does to you. But I realized there are other factors here too - punishment is worse for players who have trouble focusing on things that aren’t novel, which, like… that’s straight-up an ADHD symptom, right? I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, but I’ve got a couple of symptoms including that one. Allie has more symptoms, and she’s even more bothered by punishment and repetition in games than I am.

I’ve also talked about how I don’t like games that make you work to find the quality content in exchange for a sense of discovery that rings false for me. But when I saw the following mailbag question in a Shamus Young diecast post, I realized there was something else going on:

Dear Diecast.

The modern Persona games are lauded for their fusion of turn-based combat and social sim gameplay, but I’ve always been bothered by the social sim aspect. It’s less about roleplaying and more about puzzling out the spreadsheet nightmare the designers have conceived so you don’t miss out on story content and have to replay it in new game plus to see it. As such, I always play them with my head in a guide to negate the issue so I can instead focus on enjoying the combat and story.

What’s your thoughts on games that are hard to play properly without using a guide and have you ever found them enjoyable in spite of needing to look things up constantly?

-Victor

My immediate thought was that yeah, I feel the same way about Persona and that this kind of design is stupid in general as just another way to make you work to find the quality content - but I made myself take a step back. It’s not very likely that the designers of several incredibly-popular games are all just making the same obvious mistake over and over and the fans somehow don’t understand the resulting flaws. It’s much more likely that this is another case where players have different but legitimate preferences.

Victor’s question has assumptions baked in - that if you “miss out on story content” you then “have to replay it in new game plus to see it” and that seeing all the story content is the only way to “play properly”. I didn’t notice at first that these were assumptions, because I’m a completionist so to me (and I imagine Victor) they just feel true. Like Victor, I find it hard to enjoy a game if I’m constantly worried that I’ll miss content - particularly story content - particularly if it’s a story I’m enjoying. Like Victor, I often deal with this by using a guide and then lament that the game “requires” a guide.

But like… that seems like something in the area of anxiety or OCD, maybe? I’m not sure exactly what the divide is here, but roughly speaking I suspect some people prefer certainty and control (the completionists) and others prefer exploration and surprise. For the latter group of players, the fact that it’s possible to miss some story content based on your choices is a bonus - it means that you can actually be surprised by what you see, even if you return to play the game again. To me, this is a baffling way of looking at things - but some quick internet research shows plenty of evidence that some people like surprises, some people hate them, and many people in each group do not at all understand the people in the other.

A lot of us have trouble explaining what happens in our own heads, and it’s difficult to realize when something you thought was universal is only true for people with brains like yours. And it’s really hard to see where someone else is coming from if your disagreement stems from one of those things. A lot of the time we’re arguing about things like game design decisions, we’re being much more subjective than we realize, and that leads to heated and unproductive discussions that say more about ourselves than the thing we’re trying to talk about.

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Super Mario Maker 2 showed me why I don’t like 2D Mario

In short: its high strictness and punishment plus its regressive difficulty and locking mechanics behind power-ups make it frustrating to learn to play.

I’ve never really gotten into mainline Mario games, but I was intrigued by Super Mario Maker 2’s story mode, which apparently serves as a sort of extended level design tutorial. It features 120 levels each themed around particular level pieces or combinations thereof, showing you how to use them in play and hopefully providing inspiration for how to use them when creating your own levels. I find tutorial design really interesting, and Mario famously teaches through level design, so I checked it out.