Thoughts

Quick, short, often niche posts about games. Sometimes they are brief looks at concepts in art, design, culture, and psychology. Other times they are reactions to specific news items or just something silly that came to mind.

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Alto's Adventure wants me to wait

I hate how Alto’s Adventure won’t let you keep playing until it uploads your score to the leaderboards, even if the server is slow to respond.

At least, that’s what I assume is going on here. I don’t know what else it could be. I don’t have this problem on PC where I have my firewall set to block the game from connecting to the internet. On Switch, you can’t set that per-game so I have to put the Switch into airplane mode to prevent this.

I wouldn’t even notice this was happening if it didn’t block me from playing. Like how it’s easy to forget how commonplace day-one patches have become until one gets delayed, this problem in Alto’s Adventure makes me realize how bizarre it is that it’s become routine for games to connect to remote servers and upload information without any kind of permission. I never agreed to share my scores and there don’t appear to be any in-game settings to disable this behavior. I have absolutely zero interest in the leaderboards for this game, but it’s acting like there’s nothing the least bit rude, presumptuous, or problematic about it disrupting my play in order to go online and use my bandwidth to broadcast my scores without my consent.

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My Top Ten Games of 2020

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

  1. Animal Crossing New Horizons
  2. Lego City Undercover
  3. One Piece: World Seeker
  4. CrossCode
  5. Mario Kart Tour
  6. Murder by Numbers
  7. Mana Spark
  8. The Alto Collection (not yet reviewed)
  9. Spyro Reignited Trilogy (not yet reviewed)
  10. Stay?

Honorable mentions to games I’m happy about but that are difficult to quantify:

  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (a buggy-but-slowly-improving port of a game I loved)
  • Super Mario 3D All-Stars (I’ve only played Super Mario 64 so far)
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2 (had a blast playing this co-op with PartialCharge, but scheduling those sessions became difficult)
  • The Jackbox Party Pack games, which I’ve enjoyed a couple of with Allie (we mostly like Fibbage)
  • Sorting Therapy (more of a meditative tool than a game)
  • Colors Live (an art tool, not a game)

The game that brought me the most frustration, rage, and aggravation:

  1. CrossCode
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#video gaming #top ten

Tags: Thought

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Hard Mode Mockery

Just once I’d like to see a game use patronizing labels for its difficulty levels, but flip the script from the usual. Instead of positioning easy mode as being for children (“Can I play, Daddy?") it would position it as being for adults with other things to do. Correspondingly, hard mode would be called “Too much free time.”

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The Texture of a World

I’ve written before about the idea that game content can be divided into “structure” (core/main) and “texture” (side/optional). I argued that having texture greatly outlast structure is a Bad Thing, but I noticed that there’s a genre - one that I like - which regularly has texture far beyond structure: open world games.

I’ve been thinking about why this is and I think it comes down to one of the specific advantages of texture I called out before: “[i]t can provide an alternate, calmer way to occupy the game’s world”. Open world games are especially good at providing the experience of occupying a world. (It’s not unique in this - immersive sims, JRPGs, MMORPGs, etc. all also lean in this direction.) So it makes sense that these games would be well-positioned to make good use of texture, even to the point where significantly outlasting structure isn’t a problem if you love being in the game’s world.

I recently played One Piece: World Seeker which is kind of meh as an open world game but by far the best game yet made for letting the player occupy the world of One Piece - something I’ve wanted ever since being introduced to the setting by Pirate Warriors 3 and which was not really provided by Unlimited World Red. I fell in love with it and very much didn’t want it to end. I was glad for all the collectibles and side quests that helped me stretch my time as Luffy (no pun intended). There might not have been a lot of point to running around hunting down all the treasure chests for crafting materials I didn’t even need, but doing so gave me a reason to keep checking in with the Straw Hats and gum-gum rocketing my way around the island.

On the flip side, this means open world games are particularly poorly suited to the PS5’s activity cards, which strip content of the context which is vital for making you feel like you are occupying an actual world. As discussed by Patrick Klepek, using activity cards in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales “turns in-game activities into a long list of checkboxes to work through. . . . One of the biggest joys of Insomniac’s Spidey games is aimlessly swinging around, and it’s clear the distribution of activities on the city map are meant to encourage this behavior. The cards, on the other hand, remove this from the equation entirely.”

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PS5′s limited storage

It’s hard for me not to scoff at Sony’s claims that they “aren’t hearing” that the PS5’s storage is too limited (even before Masahiro Sakurai complained about it). I’m pretty sure “not listening” is a more accurate phrase.

It’s rare I can install a game on my PS4 without deleting something else first, and game sizes are only getting larger. (And it only makes things worse that so many games, even if you buy them on disc, still install 20 GB or more onto the hard drive.) And while I do applaud the PS5’s level of backward compatibility, the fact that it can immediately play existing PS4 libraries (not to mention the PlayStation Plus Collection) means a lot of players already can’t fit their library onto their console.

Not acknowledging that storage is quite limited feels like denial of customer reality - the time and cost of having to download and re-download huge games because you can’t have them all on your drive at once, as well as the fact that the store will eventually be taken down preventing any future re-downloads. If that happened right now with my PS3, I’d mostly be okay - it’s got all the games I really care about installed right now. If it that happened right now with my PS4, I’d lose a lot.

(By comparison, on my 3DS, Wii, Wii U, and Switch, I have never once needed to delete a game to free up space.)

I think it’s plausible that given SSD costs, launching the PS5 with relatively low storage makes sense - but claiming that the feedback isn’t happening just makes Sony look out of touch.

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A Brighter Idea

I’m always a bit baffled and disappointed when a brilliant game design idea isn’t immediately stolen by every similar game that follows. I previously mentioned that I don’t understand how City of Heroes’s simple and clever solutions weren’t copied by every MMORPG with tank/DPS/heals combat or character levels and individual quests.

Recently Kotaku ran an article complaining about brightness sliders in games and implying that no better solution has ever been found, and this reminded me that Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty had a representative gameplay screenshot on the brightness screen so you could see what the game would actually look like based on your adjustments. This game came out in 2008. Why are so many games still just asking the player to make an arbitrary symbol “barely visible” with no real indication what this will mean for the actual gameplay?

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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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