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.

|

Compromised Mechanics

I’m fascinated by game mechanics that seem to have been rendered nearly pointless due to what looks like design by committee.

The last few Super Smash Bros. games have had “Challenges” that give various rewards for accomplishing various in-game goals. They’re basically Smash’s Achievement system, but some (generally minor) game content is also locked behind particular challenges.

Each Smash game with challenges also provides players with “golden hammers” that can be used to clear challenges without actually doing them. The challenges feature most or all of the game’s various modes and range widely in difficulty, so if someone doesn’t like a particular gameplay mode or isn’t capable of mastering it hammers let them skip those particular challenges without missing out on whatever content is locked behind them. But only a handful of hammers are available, so the challenges are still a meaningful goal for completion. Players can just file off the roughest, least appealing parts of that goal - which will vary from player to player. And hardcore completionists can still get bragging rights from clearing all the challenges without using a hammer. This is great!

But it seems like somebody didn’t want the individual challenges to lose their potential for bragging rights, because some challenges don’t let you use a hammer - usually the hardest ones for each game mode. As a compromise, this almost completely destroys the value of the hammers. Now you can’t just file off the roughest parts of the challenge completion goal - and why bother filing off the less-rough parts? If you can beat the hardest challenge in a mode without using a hammer, then you can beat the easier challenges in that mode too. And if you can’t, then you’ll never completely clear the challenges anyway, so why bother hammering any? Now the only reason to use a hammer is if you want the specific content locked behind a specific hammerable challenge that you can’t do for real or don’t want to bother with.

Not only have I never used a single golden hammer in any of the Smash games with challenges, when I realized in Brawl that the “Boss Battles” challenges that I knew I’d never beat on the higher difficulties didn’t allow hammers, I lost interest in all the other challenges too. I had a similar experience in the 3DS Smash. It looks like Ultimate is the first Smash where I’ll actually finish the challenges (all I have left are the grind-out-online-matches ones) but the hammers still didn’t help.

I have to wonder whether Nintendo is particularly susceptible to this, because the other example that comes immediately to mind is the Super Guide that can help stuck players in certain Mario titles but carries a lot of weird restrictions. It really should have been permanently available but activated from a menu; instead, it becomes available when you die a certain number of times, guaranteeing that players who want it will need to suffer through the requisite amount of frustration first and that players who don’t will see it as the game mocking their failures.

#gaming #video games #super smash bros #smash bros ultimate #completion #smash bros brawl #super guide #super mario

|

The very first version of the Doctor Professor...

The very first version of the Doctor Professor persona was also my first character in City of Heroes (I really miss that game). This was his bio:

With the combined powers of a doctor and a professor, there is no stopping: Doctor Professor! Armed with a prescription for justice and a grad student in liberty, he uses his vast array of personal gadgetry to fight crime, disease, and ignorance, up close and personal. The Doctor… is in. Evil, take your seats.

He’s a rather different character now, but I’ll always be fond of how he first started.

#screenshotsunday #city of heroes #my oc #video games #gaming

|

An early-game screenshot from the current alpha...

An early-game screenshot from the current alpha of my first game, Detectivania! I’m creating it to teach myself Twine, to answer the question of “what if you had a Metroidvania that was a conversation game instead of a platformer,” and to prove to myself that I can make games instead of just talking about them.

I’m really excited with how well it’s going, and I’m hoping to release it by the end of the month!

#screenshotsaturday #gamedev #twine game #video games #gaming

|

What games would the ST:TNG cast play?

Silly, but something I had fun thinking about.

#gaming #star trek the next generation

|

Q.U.B.E. 2 and Binary Ending Choices

After how much I loved Q.U.B.E: Director’s Cut, it was a foregone conclusion that I’d be playing Q.U.B.E. 2 - even though my favorite thing about Q:DC was the story and Q.U.B.E. 2 did not have the same writer. I expected to be disappointed, but had to give it a chance anyway.

When I played it, I was unsurprised to find that most aspects of the game are polished and improved over its predecessor, but the story is (unsurprisingly) worse. I wrote an overall review but I also want to talk about something it does structurally. It’s something a lot of games do, but Q.U.B.E. 2 serves as a sterling example of how badly it can go. I’ll avoid plot details, but structural spoilers follow.

|

Sequels Dilute Economic Votes

It’s not clear to me the extent to which various game developers/publishers understand that sales within a franchise can be a lagging indicator.

For example, I used to love the Senran Kagura series of games and I was happy to support it by buying the first several installments - especially the ones that were clearly experiments to see if the games would sell in the west. But the series has clearly lost steam, and the last few games have each been noticeably worse than the one before.

Now here comes Senran Kagura: Burst Re:Newal, a remake of the 3DS original for PC/PS4, and it sounds much better. The original story’s emotional and moral depth is what hooked me on the series in the first place, and this title not only returns to the brawler-style gameplay but apparently improves on it.

This is probably going to be the first Senran Kagura game that I rent instead of buying. My willingness to throw money at this series is dulled considerably after playing the fine-I-guess Estival Versus, the disappointing Peach Beach Splash, and the terrible Reflexions - all of which I did buy. So now I’ve supported bad games and won’t be supporting the presumably-improved one.

I just hope that either most players aren’t like me or the decision makers here understand how this works. But I guess if Burst Re:Newal is totally amazing, I’ll probably go buy it just in case.

#gaming #video games #senran kagura #sequels #economic vote

|

A perfect coincidence

The fastest platinum trophy I’ve earned was for Tearaway on Vita which took me a single day. The slowest was for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning on PS3 which took me six years to the day.

Coincidentally, both trophies are named “Perfectionist.”

This doesn’t matter, but I find it amusing.

(Screenshots from https://psnprofiles.com which gives way better trophy collection data than PlayStation’s official site.)

#gaming #tearaway #kingdoms of amalur #trophies

|

Regenerating health and implicit meters

Here’s something I haven’t figured out yet - why do regenerating health and implicit health meters always go hand in hand?

Back in the day, it was normal for most or all games with health to show explicit health meters, whether it be as a number (as in, say, the original Doom), a numeric visual representation (as in, say, The Legend of Zelda’s heart containers), or an analog display (as in, say, Street Fighter II’s health bars). It was also normal for health not to regenerate over time but to require pickups if it was possible to restore at all.

Then we got Halo and Gears of War and stuff and it became common for shooters to have regenerating health and also implicit health meters, generally via making parts of the screen increasingly bloody or dirtied and eventually turning the visuals black and white and dulling the audio. It seems like these always go together - I can’t think of a game with quick health regeneration and explicit health meters, or a game with implicit health meters and no health regeneration.

Why is this? The speculation I have is that in games without health regeneration, health is a resource to manage (do you shoot the enemy from afar and spend more of your limited ammo or charge in for a melee kill at the cost of some health as they attack back, etc.) and thus it’s important to know exactly how much of each resource you have left. Whereas if there is health regeneration, then what’s important to know is whether you are currently in danger, and if so, how much.

What bothers me about this is that, due in large part to how inconsistent the iconography is across games, it’s often difficult to actually understand how much danger you’re in with an implicit meter. This troubled me a lot in Just Cause 3, where the screen gets bloody and then goes black and white as you take damage. But there’s very little readable granularity during the ‘bloody’ phase - I’ve just either taken some damage but not enough to worry about (bloody screen) or I’ve taken a lot of damage and I should run away (black and white screen), without much in between or a good way to tell how quickly I’m taking damage. The result is that I often feel like I’m going along fine until I suddenly get overwhelmed out of nowhere and die, when in reality I was probably in serious danger for a while but didn’t realize it.

I can’t help but feel like a health bar would avoid this problem - I’d always be able to see how much buffer I have and how quickly it’s depleting. Why can’t I have health regeneration and a health bar?

#gaming #just cause 3 #health meters #regenerating health #game design #uxdesign

|

Nintendo Switch Online NES SP Editions are Wasted Opportunities

I was excited when Nintendo released the first special edition of a NES game for their online service, letting you play The Legend of Zelda from the start with a bunch of rupees and items. It was an acknowledgment that these classic titles have in fact aged and working to make them more approachable for a wider segment of modern audiences. That’s really cool! (Though of course it would have been even cooler to have a Game Genie or other mechanism for more cheats.)

But ever since then, all the special editions have focused on skipping content instead of making it more approachable. The worst is the one for Dr. Mario, which just puts you right before winning so you can watch a cinematic that you could just as easily watch on YouTube.

This feels like a really disappointing waste of potential. The special editions could make these classic and historically-interesting games more appealing to play by removing outdated punishment - even an infinite lives cheat would go a long way for many of these titles. I don’t understand who is served by SP editions that just skip most of the game.

#nintendo switch online nes #nintendo switch #nintendo switch online #gaming

|

Two Ways to Play The Sims

I feel like there are two fundamentally different ways to play The Sims:

  1. As an ant farm. You load it up with a bunch of people with varying personalities and goals and then watch them live their lives and bounce off each other.
  2. As a dollhouse. You focus on specific individuals and families and have an idea of who they are and what their life should be like so you decide most or all of what they do.

These two approaches are contradictory because they require different levels of control over the game. Just as you might occasionally tap the glass of an actual ant farm or drop in some cookie crumbs or something to see how the ants react, an ant-farming Sims player might order one of their Sims to flirt with or insult someone to create some drama and keep things interesting. But by and large, this player wants their Sims to make autonomous decisions so the simulation keeps running.

Meanwhile, in actual dollhouses, nothing happens unless the person playing with the dolls says it happens. Similarly, dollhousing Sims players want complete control over their Sims so they can create exactly the story they’re trying to create. These players disable Sims’ autonomy (called “free will” in earlier Sims games) so that Sims don’t make out-of-character decisions.

Now, I have to admit that I’m only inferring the existence of ant-farming players based on design decisions in more recent Sims games. I’m very much a dollhouser, I’ve never talked to an ant-farmer, and it didn’t even occur to me that they’d exist until I was trying to understand some of the changes that came in The Sims 3 and 4. But if they don’t exist, then a lot of those changes are completely baffling.

Read more...

#gaming #the sims 4 #the sims 2 #the sims 3 #the sims