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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One Metaphor Is Enough

I don’t understand the appeal of the toy/diorama/tilt-shift aesthetic for the Link’s Awakening remake. To me it’s an incorrect nesting of metaphor, similar to adding lens flares and related effects to video games.

Like, when you’re playing a game and it’s raining and some water droplets get rendered on the screen like it’s being filmed with a camera with a wet lens - unless you’re playing a game where the conceit actually is that you’re looking through a camera, this is immersion-breaking, not immersion-reinforcing. Like, I was driving around the city rocking out to the radio and looking for trouble, now I’m apparently… watching a video feed of that happening instead? I’m trying to pretend I’m actually in the world of the game - why shove this additional camera metaphor in the middle and distance me from that world?

With the toys - it’s been a couple of decades since I played with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, but the way I remember it, the fantasy wasn’t “Oh man, what if this molded plastic could move by itself?” It was “Oh man, what if the turtles had these crazy adventures I am making up?” The toys were a gateway, a jumping-off point for the imagination. They stood in for the turtles the way they looked and sounded in the cartoon.

When I played the original Link’s Awakening, it was the same thing. In my head, I was on an adventure on Koholint Island. I was getting to know its inhabitants, bravely exploring dangerous dungeons, and prevailing against monsters in combat. The low resolution monochrome graphics, the tinny chiptune music, it was all a gateway.

Updating the graphics to look like plastic toys makes no sense to me. (I didn’t much care for this approach in Disney Infinity either, though there they at least had the excuse of trying to make it look like your actual figures had come to life in a stylistically-consistent world.) Now the fantasy isn’t being on an adventure, it’s… playing with toys and imagining an adventure? It’s pretending to pretend? Again, why shove this additional metaphor in the middle and distance the player from the world?

#video games #link's awakening #toy link #gaming #disney infinity

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Restoration Games

In Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, Clank receives an artifact called the Chronoscepter. It does several things, but to me the most interesting is that when it hits objects like broken pipes and shattered viewscreens, it reverses their timeline and repairs them. Throughout the entire Ratchet & Clank series I’d been smashing up the scenery; I found it surprisingly satisfying to suddenly have a chance to restore it instead.

Since then, I’ve played a few of what I think of as “restoration games” based around this sort of mechanic. Rather than running around causing destruction, Flower, Refunct, and Dawn all have you exploring landscapes to restore life and color. I found them all to be uplifting experiences and I’ve been thinking about why I enjoy this kind of gameplay so much.

Thematically, it’s adjacent to what you might call “rebuilding games” that give you ruined farms (Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, etc.) or towns (Dragon Quest Builders, etc.) and task you with building them back up. I like that a lot too, but I think it’s a different niche - those games are about imposing your own will and design on nature, same as normal “building games” like Minecraft and Terraria. The ruination is just there to provide an excuse for why you have to start the farm (or town) over and build it the way you want to - your first task is to clear it out, not restore it.

Restoration games aren’t about your will and design. They aren’t about construction - they’re about undoing destruction. In a sense they are still power fantasies, but ones where you have the power to reverse entropy. You can wipe away the ravages of time and prevent inevitable loss and decay. You can give death the middle finger.

That’s real power.

It’s an appealing fantasy. I’d like to see more such games.

#gaming #video games #refunct #flower #dawn #ratchet & clank future: a crack in time #restoration games #building games

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No Cloud Saves for Animal Crossing: New Horizons

It’s being reported that the upcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons will not support cloud backups for its save files “to avoid manipulating time, which remains one of the founding concepts of the series.” (Source, translation.)

It’s bad enough that Nintendo doesn’t allow you to back up your own save files manually and makes a paid subscription the only way to protect your data from hardware failures, damage, loss, or theft. That’s already anti-consumer.

But if they’re going to do that, then once you’re paying money for the privilege of backing up your data from playing your game on your console, no game should be able to opt out. It’s ludicrous to charge you for a service and then tell you “Nope, this particular developer didn’t feel like you should get to use the service you’re paying for on the product they sold you.”

Supposedly, developers need “a good reason” to opt out of cloud backups, but in practice the reasons we’ve seen so far usually aren’t good at all. But what I find interesting about this one is how paternalistic it is.

It feels similar to the argument you sometimes hear against the inclusion of easy modes, that somewhere a player might play on easy even though they’d enjoy the game more on hard, and preventing this possibility is somehow worth blocking other people from enjoying the game at all. I don’t care if some player out there uses save backups to finish their insect collection faster or whatever - why on earth is preventing that worth blocking all players from backing up their save in a game that’s intended to be played for months or years?

#gaming #video games #nintendo switch #nintendo #animal crossing #nintendo switch online

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Why do game developers crunch? The market demands it.

With all the bad press surrounding mandatory crunch lately, it’s easy to wonder - why in the world do developers keep doing it when it’s such an obviously-bad idea and it makes people hate you?

Because when they don’t, the market punishes them. Hard.

At E3, Nintendo announced that the upcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons is delayed to March 20, 2020 to “ensure the game is the best it can be”.

This is in line with Nintendo’s philosophy - Shigeru Miyamoto has famously said that “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” (Or words to that effect. Maybe.).

Furthermore, the delay is specifically to avoid crunch and to take good care of Nintendo employees. This is very much the Right Thing to Do.

So naturally, after this announcement Nintendo shared closed 3.53% lower than the previous day, taking more than a billion dollars off their stock market value.

The short-termism the market demands is devastating. Nintendo is one of the oldest and most established developers with plenty of IPs and revenue streams. They can afford to stick to the long view and weather the market’s tantrums in the meantime. Smaller developers without that luxury? It’s no surprise they turn to crunch.

#gaming #video games #crunch #nintendo #shareholders

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Whenever I browse sales on the Switch eShop, I...

Whenever I browse sales on the Switch eShop, I find myself looking at interesting-seeming games and trying to remember whether I’ve looked them up before. Some games go on sale repeatedly and I end up researching them multiple times because I don’t recall that I’ve already decided not to buy them at that price.

So, here’s a new feature I’d like to see - a “below my price threshold” view on sales. Whenever you browse the shop, you can mark games as “not interested at this price”. Then when you go to the “threshold” view, it only shows you games that are currently at a price lower than you’ve ever marked them. So that game that’s been 15% off a few times, but doesn’t really look like your thing? It won’t clutter up your screen again next time it goes 15% off and make you try to remember how you felt about it, but it will show up again when it goes 50% off. (Alternately it could let you specify a price threshold manually - maybe you know you don’t want that game unless it’s 75% off.)

It’s a little hard to explain this concisely and probably not useful to most casual consumers, so I can’t imagine it ever really taking off, but I’d use it a lot.

#gaming #video games

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Lessons Learned Watching Allie Play Dragon Age

Allie doesn’t play many action games. Her PS4 is mostly for Rock Band 4, though she also enjoyed Until Dawn. She’s now trying Dragon Age: Inquisition after hearing a lot of good things about its characters. Watching her play has been instructive. Here are some of the lessons I’ve taken away just from her first hour.

Read more...

#gaming #video games #dragon age: inquisition #difficulty #UXdesign

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I miss Miitomo. I wish that when Nintendo decided...

I miss Miitomo. I wish that when Nintendo decided to turn off the servers, they’d just removed the online aspects from Miitomo and left it as the Miifoto app.

#gaming #video games #miitomo #miifoto #screenshotsunday #nintendo #mobile games #my OC

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Bubsy: I’M on Fire??

Once I finished Bubsy: Paws on Fire! (review forthcoming) I happened to check out the Steam global leaderboards. There isn’t an overall combined leaderboard, but there is one for each character. I was shocked to see that for Bubsy I was number five, and for Virgil, Woolie, and Arnold I was number three. (My position may have changed since writing this.)

For a moment, I got excited - I’m so used to being completely buried in any leaderboard that it didn’t even occur to me that I might be on the first page, let alone in the top five. This was after a completionist playthrough (every achievement and every collectible with every character) but I hadn’t otherwise been attempting to max out my combo chains and get the best possible scores. If I wanted to, I could probably top all four leaderboards.

But then I realized that of course the reason for this was that there’s only a couple hundred people even on these leaderboards. (At time of writing, 200 for Bubsy, 165 for Virgil, 164 for Woolie, and 130 for Arnold.) And for a game that I like this much - for any game that I like enough to get high scores on, really - I’d much rather it be popular enough for the leaderboards to totally drown me. I don’t want to be high on the leaderboards if it means the game is low in the sales charts.

I’d rather have a sequel than a top score.

#gaming #video games #bubsy: paws on fire! #leaderboards #virgil reality is my spirit animal #i want a virgil reality amiibo

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Save My Sanity

Here’s a feature I want all games to have - sanity checks on save file overwrites. It should be easy to overwrite a sixty-hour save with a sixty-one-hour save. It should be harder to overwrite it with a twenty minute save.

The latter is why I stopped playing Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. That game reorders your save slots based on time updated and I got confused and saved to the wrong slot and there was no change in the UX.

#gaming #video games #star ocean #save file #UXdesign

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What Makes A Review Useful?

My frustration with Bubsy: Paws on Fire! reviews has me thinking about what makes for a good review in the first place.

The term “review” is a bit overloaded, but let’s leave aside critical analysis and close readings and focus on the traditional consumer-advice-style review. The goal of such a review is to give potential consumers the information they need to make a purchasing decision - on top of information that comes from elsewhere, such as the product’s current price and the consumer’s current life situation. So what is that missing information that the review should provide?

It’s tempting to say that it’s the game’s quality level. The review should convey whether the game is good or bad - often by providing a number indicating where it falls on the spectrum.

The problem is that once you’re above a fairly low baseline, this isn’t universally-applicable. As long as a game basically works, then people will react to the experience it provides in widely different ways. I have played and disliked many popular and acclaimed games - and while I believe Graham Banas is honest when he gives Bubsy: Paws on Fire! a 2/10 on Push Square, using that site’s own scoring policy I’d easily give Paws an 8 or 9. There’s no way to objectively say that one (or both!) of us is wrong in our assessment of the game’s quality, so it doesn’t seem like that could be reasonably considered the core of the review.

I think the actual core - the missing information that a review should provide - is the game’s audience. Most games that basically work and the vast majority of games that get reviewed would be enjoyed by some group of people out there. A useful review is one that makes it clear who is in this group so that readers can determine whether they are a member. A high quality level for a game suggests that the group is large but doesn’t mean any given reader is necessarily a part of it or that they would like the game.

This is easier said than done, of course. It’s simple to say “If you like Bit.Trip Runner’s gameplay and the Bubsy characters, you’ll like Paws on Fire!” but that won’t be much help to someone unfamiliar with those franchises. Finding the right balance of specificity and brevity is tough. But it’s a worthy goal, and it’s what I try to keep in mind when writing my own reviews.

#game reviews #gaming #video games #bubsy: paws on fire!