Posts by Tag / Thought (206)

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Crafting a Progression

Like many folks, I was skeptical when the early reveals of Animal Crossing: New Horizons showed that it had a significant crafting element. But when I thought about it, I started to get genuinely excited because I think crafting could be the key to solving the single biggest problem I have with Animal Crossing: its randomness.

A significant long-term appeal of mainline Animal Crossing games is customization. As you get more and more customization options like furniture and decorations and clothing and so on, you can increasingly make your own mark and express your own creativity and personality in the game’s world. The problem is that those options are doled out on a largely random schedule. You can plan to decorate your house in a particular style, but you can’t really take steps toward the goal - you mostly just have to wait and hope the relevant furniture and such becomes available. In the meantime, you make do with what you get - and even if you have most of the furniture in a theme, you might be waiting a long time for the last piece or two and have to make do with mismatched sets in the meantime.

It’s not yet clear exactly how crafting will work in New Horizons but if it follows the precedent established by other games, it could solve this cleanly. Crafting can provide a progression that allows you to actually make plans and take steps toward your goals, and often themed sets of furniture and such are all on the same tier of that progression, craftable with the same materials.

For the first time, my Animal Crossing home decor might reflect a purposeful progression rather than a random mishmosh of whatever the Nooks have deigned to sell. I like that idea a lot.

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Time Enough for Chill

Here’s something I don’t understand - why is it so hard to find chill life-simulator (and especially farming) games that don’t have time pressure? (I complained about this before and it runs counter to best practices for making “cozy” games.)

Like, whenever I’m looking for relaxing games, Stardew Valley is always recommended. And that makes no sense to me. With the game’s short days that penalize you for being out too late, plus your slow walking speed, plus the fact that the villagers you’re supposed to befriend keep moving around throughout the day, I found it tense, not relaxing. I couldn’t freely wander around looking for someone because I was constantly aware of the ticking clock and the need to start heading home with plenty of time left on it.

When I look at other similar games, my eyes instinctively go toward the top corners of any screenshots to look for in-game clocks and I almost always find one. And I don’t get it. These games tend to also have stamina meters limiting what you can do between sleeps. Crops can usually only be watered or otherwise tended once a day. NPCs can only get one gift per day or whatever. There’s already plenty of systems to limit what the player can accomplish in an in-game day, guaranteeing the calendar will advance and the player will see birthdays and holidays and seasons. Why not let that be it, and have time advancement be under the player’s control? Why also tie in real-time pressure to punish players who aren’t thinking fast enough or planning hard enough for what is ostensibly a comfy, relaxed gaming experience?

Is it really just because everyone’s imitating Harvest Moon?

What if we did this instead: you wake up with your full stamina bar. Doing farmwork or other hard labor depletes your stamina bar, but walking around, shopping, talking to people, etc., does not. It is morning until you use up half of your stamina, at which point it becomes afternoon and everyone moves from where they are scheduled to be in the morning during that day/season to where they are scheduled for the afternoon. Once you use up all of your stamina, it becomes evening and everyone moves again. One could easily imagine townspeople manning shops and other services during the mornings and afternoons, and then in the evenings heading to the bar or park or social spaces. So you can do your shopping alongside your farmwork and such, and then once you’re done working for the day you can head into town and relax by shmoozing with the locals. And then it becomes nighttime when you go home, and when you go to bed it rolls to the morning of the next day.

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So there's a thing that games do sometimes that I...

So there’s a thing that games do sometimes that I need a better name for. It’s when totally innocuous actions that aren’t telegraphed in any way as consequential result in significant unrelated content being locked out and you don’t find out until hours later.

As nostalgic as I am for JRPGs, I feel like they are worse about this than any other genre. For example - I was lukewarm on Final Fantasy XII from the beginning, but the moment the game died for me was when I found out a few hours in that by opening a totally unremarkable chest I had locked myself out from ever obtaining the game’s most powerful weapon.

It’s a particularly brutal combination of Guide Dang It and Permanently Missable Content. I know this bothers completionists like me more than others, but it just seems so disrespectful to me. I can only think of it as the game saying “fuck you” to the player. So until I get a better name, the degree to which a game does this is its FUCKYOU index, for Flagrantly Unintuitive Conditions Keep Your Objectives Unobtainable.

#gaming #video games #completionism #Final Fantasy XII #backronym #the things you lock out if you recruit the first optional party member in Star Ocean First Departure are truly ludicrous #not only can you not get the best party member but even entering the room where it happens causes you to permanently lose another member #also you can't get the main character's best attack

Tags: Thought, TOPIC: Completionism, GAME: Final Fantasy XII

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River City Girls’ Boss Fights Punish the Player for Learning

I’ve started playing River City Girls and I mostly like it, but there are some really strange decisions around boss fights that came close to ruining the game for me.

The fights themselves are basically fine (at least the first two, which are all I’ve seen so far). You go up against a powerful enemy with unique attack patterns. They have a lot of health and they hit very hard, so you need to figure out their pattern and the best way to apply your own tools to get in sustained damage while avoiding nearly all of their attacks. They also change their patterns and become more dangerous twice - once when you’ve depleted a third of their health, and then again when you’ve depleted a second third.

It’s really not feasible to predict their patterns and vulnerabilities in advance - at least, I wasn’t able to. They have their own telegraphs but they can usually whip out attacks very quickly and you just have to learn through experience what their attacks are and what their areas of effect are. In short - I’d expect even very skilled players to die a couple of times in the course of learning each new boss.

If I’m correct, then dying to a boss isn’t necessarily a failure. It’s just part of the learning process. If that’s the case, then it’s bizarre how heavily punished it is.

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As a completionist, my thoughts about...

As a completionist, my thoughts about achievements are complicated. But here’s a simple illustrative anecdote.

I’ve been meaning to play Stick it to The Man for a while now, since I found out the story was written by Ryan North. I have it on my PS4 from when it went free on PlayStation Plus, which means it has trophies, which means I look up the trophy roadmap whenever I’m getting ready to play it. And thus far I haven’t managed to get past that step and actually play it. And Stick it to The Man doesn’t even have a particularly bad trophy list. There’s really only one trophy that sounds at all frustrating or unpleasant.

Then I saw the game was only a couple of bucks on Switch during the holiday sale. Switch doesn’t have trophies. So I paid a couple of bucks to buy a game I already have so that I’d have a version without trophies that I could just play and enjoy. I paid extra to not have trophies.

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In-Effie-ctive Surfing

One of my all-time favorite video game gadgets is the jetboard from Jak II. Apart from just being really cool, it made navigating the open world of Haven City much more interesting - it was faster than walking, capable of a variety of tricks and maneuvers, and got brief speed boosts from successful execution of certain tricks. This meant that even just going from one mission to another could be engaging as you practiced stringing tricks together along the way to maintain the top speed boost for as long as possible. This then paid off in the missions that required skilled use of the jetboard.

Effie is a recent 3D platformer by a small team that explicitly takes inspiration from genre classics including Jak & Daxter. It includes a “surfing” ability that’s superficially very reminiscent of the jetboard, as it involves taking your shield (which normally stays collapsed on your back), expanding it, and using it as a hoverboard.

But that’s where the similarities end. Surfing allows you to move faster, but it’s not really any more engaging than walking. You can’t do any tricks, and the only speed boosts are at fixed points in the environment spaced such that you’re not likely to be able to maintain max speed if you’re taking a direct route to your destination. You’re mostly still just holding forward, not practicing anything or getting rewarded for mastery of anything. Even the character’s body movements are bizarrely stiff while surfing, like there wasn’t time or budget to animate it properly (the rest of the game is much better animated).

It’s certainly possible the designers wanted to do more with surfing, but in the end it feels like it mostly exists to justify how wide open the game’s Red Plains of Oblena is - which in turn seems to be so wide open in order to justify the presence of surfing. The Plains’ points of interest are quite spread out and take a while to get between, which is improved by surfing but still not interesting, and this is also the only place you can surf. You can’t do it in the main levels, and the only goal that actually requires it is a fairly easy and dull ring course that’s one of the Plains’ points of interest.

It makes me really curious what the conversations were like during development. I can easily imagine grand plans for both surfing and the open area that there just wasn’t time or money to fulfill, and it would be difficult to remove either late in development (taking out the Plains would require restructuring the game, as it currently bridges all the linear levels, and taking out surfing would make the Plains incredibly obnoxious to traverse), resulting in the unfortunate half-baked state they ended up in. But who knows whether that’s what happened.

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Heavy Feet

Let’s say you were walking along and came to a platform suspended above deadly spikes. To proceed, you’d have to jump to the platform.

A platform suspended above deadly spikes.
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I wish it were standard practice for...

I wish it were standard practice for cross-platform games to allow sharing save files across platforms.

I played Dragon Quest Builders 2 on PS4, and now I find myself wishing I could relax by puttering around my end-game Isle of Awakening in handheld mode on my Switch. But I don’t want to play through the entire game and grind out all the Tablet Targets and scavenger hunts again on Switch just to get back to that state.

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Skill Tests are Delivered Experiences

Somewhere around 2007, I remember there being hand-wringing about how video games had started out as tests of skill and were transitioning to delivered experiences.

There had always been some variety in games, but the culturally-dominant games had once been things like Tetris or Asteroids or Space Invaders - games with strict failure states and no actual victory condition. The long-term hook was understanding and developing the skills required to do better and better on repeat attempts, so these games had high score tables. They were analogous to challenges like the high jump or 100-meter dash.

And as technology improved and games became more mainstream, the culturally-dominant games were becoming things like Half-Life and Uncharted - games where failure was a temporary setback and there was a clear victory condition. Here, the hook was the game’s atmosphere and story and characters and the goal of finishing the game, so these games had save files. These were more analogous to literature and cinema.

A lot of people weighed in on whether it was good or bad that games (as an overall culture force) were becoming more and more focused on delivering experiences. Some people were excited about the possibilities while others feared losing their favorite hobby. But in hindsight, the fact that the discussion was framed this way at all makes it clear just how twisted and limited our view had been by the prevalence of skill-test games leading up to that time. Because in hindsight, it’s obvious that games have always been about delivering experiences. “Mastering a skill” is just one small subset of the many, many kinds of experiences a game can deliver.

Back then, people were talking like there were two types of games - skill tests and delivered experiences - and the market was moving from favoring the first to favoring the second. But the truth is that the market was growing, branching out from the small area in experience space that had been staked out by skill tests, developing areas like “interactive storytelling” and “self-expression” and “relaxing escapism” and many, many more. Skill test games are still around, but now they can be seen as the niche they always were, since games themselves have grown beyond them.

The old perception of games as skill tests does still linger, but that’s not actually inherent to what games are - it’s more a consequence of the limits of the technology of the time and the social and economic structure of game arcades. It’s an accident of history that a lot of people my age grew up in a culture that saw games this way, rather than as (say) a vehicle for exploring emotional states or experimenting with identity or creating collaboratively.

The situation is improving as more people grow up with access to a wide and varied gaming landscape, but you still run into people who think that Gone Home is a failure of a game because it’s a bad skill test, when it was never trying to be a skill test in the first place. And things are a lot murkier with games that overlap niches and provide multiple experiences - some people will tell you that the only proper way to enjoy these games is to embrace their skill-test elements, even as other people plainly state they are only interested in the other elements and the skill-test aspects are an outright obstacle to enjoyment. And of course, the truth is that every game is an overlap that provides multiple experiences.

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My Top Ten Games of 2019

Based on how much joy they brought me, not on objective greatness.

  1. Dragon Quest Builders 2
  2. Bubsy: Paws on Fire!
  3. Dragon Quest Heroes II
  4. Wandersong
  5. Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal
  6. The Touryst
  7. Cat Quest II
  8. Final Fantasy XIV (not yet reviewed)
  9. Muse Dash
  10. Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition

Honorable mentions to Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, Archlion Saga and Quarantine Circular.

Most anticipated game for 2020:

  1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Top five games I’d like to see announced:

  1. Disney Magical World 3
  2. Dragon Quest Heroes III
  3. Dragon Quest Builders 3
  4. Fire Emblem Warriors 2
  5. a followup to either Bubsy: Paws on Fire! or Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back

Some more Bithell shorts and KEMCO pocket-sized RPGs would be nice too.

#video games #gaming #top ten

Tags: Thought