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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How I'd Fix the Combat in Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed

If anyone out there was thinking, “Gee, the combat in Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed sure was mediocre. I wish I knew in long-winded detail how docprof from Pixel Poppers would try to improve it,” then wow is today your lucky day.

And if you weren’t thinking that… well, here are some silly videos I made in that game.

Now, on to the armchair game design!

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I've never seen the appeal of games that push...

I’ve never seen the appeal of games that push “You can kill the NPCs if they’re being annoying!” as a selling point. But what I apparently have needed this whole time is “You can sarcastically dance at the NPCs if they’re being annoying!”

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#gaming #video games #wandersong #you aren't important enough to turn me into a murderer but I am going to stop listening to you and start prancing now

Tags: Thought, GAME: Wandersong

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Achievements and Insecure Design

Achievements do a lot of things, but one of them is to direct player attention. This can be a safety net - say you’re making a game that includes fishing as an important source of food and materials and you’re worried the player might not realize it’s an option and thus have a harder time than intended. In addition to putting in signposts pointing to the fishing hole and having friendly NPCs talk about how great fishing is and such, you could add in an achievement for catching a fish. Like with the signs and NPCs, it won’t solve the issue for every possible player, but it will for some and won’t really affect anyone else. It’s basically just an additional guard rail.

Suppose you instead set the achievement to require catching ten fish. There are a lot of reasons you might do this - maybe catching one fish feels insultingly trivial to reward. But once the player has caught a fish, they definitely know that fishing is an option. They should be able to decide whether it’s something they want to invest time in - maybe they enjoy the minigame enough that they’d fish for fun, or maybe they dislike it enough that they’d rather avoid it in favor of other sources of food and materials, or maybe they’re somewhere in between and will do it when it’s an efficient way to meet a particular goal.

For players who care about achievements, some of them would have gotten ten fish anyway and the ones who wouldn’t now have to either forgo an achievement or spend time on an activity they dislike, making the game worse for them. All because the game wasn’t content to let the player try it once and then decide for themselves.

I’m sure there’s a better name for this, but I call it “insecure design” - game mechanics that use extrinsic rewards to encourage the player to spend a lot of time with certain game modes or content as though the designer is worried that content isn’t enjoyable enough on its own for players to want to bother with it. And much like using engagement rewards, I think it almost always backfires.

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I Miss Rivalries in Senran Kagura

Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal‘s faithful retelling of the original Senran Kagura Burst‘s story is bittersweet. It’s a reminder of why I fell in love with the series in the first place, but it can’t help but also remind me of the fact that the later games have gone in a different direction that I find much less appealing. While I’m enjoying it more than I’ve enjoyed a Senran Kagura game in years, it doesn’t make me confident for the next game in the series if the way they’ve found to tell me a story I like as much as the first story is to just… tell me the first story again.

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FOMO and Giving Games a Chance

I can’t find it now, but some years ago I read an article suggesting that players can generally suss out the shape of a game within ten minutes. That’s enough time to get an idea of the game’s core loop and how appealing it is.

Obviously this will vary from game to game - some openings are more representative than others - but I can easily believe that on average ten minutes is where diminishing returns start hitting hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like one in twenty games that you don’t enjoy in the first ten minutes is one that you would end up liking if you kept going. In which case, you’ll have less good gaming time overall if you give every game a couple of hours to prove itself instead of cutting off earlier.

This makes sense to me, especially as we are long past the point at which there are more good games out there than anyone can possibly play and they still keep coming. But every time I put down a game because I didn’t enjoy the first ten minutes, I get this pang of fear. I think back to some of my all-time favorite games that I didn’t enjoy at first. Star Ocean: The Second Story. inFAMOUS. Mass Effect. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. If I tried those for the first time today, would I get frustrated or bored and abandoned them and miss out on some of the best gaming experiences I could ever have? In truth, any game I put down like that now could be another one of those games - and I would never know.

I have to remind myself that the math still checks out. Most games are not ones I’d love and my time is limited. Thanks to PlayStation Plus and Steam sales and Humble Bundles and so on, I literally own hundreds of games I’ve never played. Even my list of high-priority titles I expect to particularly enjoy has several dozen games in it including some serious heavy hitters that have been there for years. Batman: Arkham Asylum! Her Story! SteamWorld Heist! The list goes on. How can I justify spending more than ten minutes on a game that isn’t grabbing me when Persona 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn are waiting on the shelf?

If I’m not careful, though, this way of thinking replaces the fear of overlooking gems with guilt for ignoring important games. When I play a game that I like but don’t love, I end up feeling bad that I’m continuing with it instead of finally checking out the Yakuza games or something, and it’s just a little bit harder to enjoy my time with it.

It’s easy to say “just relax and play what you want.” It’s harder to do it.

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Tetris 99 Is a Hit

Tetris 99 is fascinating both as a piece of game design and as a phenonmenon. It’s a well-timed deconstruction of the battle royale genre and also an interesting (and by early accounts, successful) experiment in console online service models. I’m a little embarassed that I didn’t predict how big a hit it was going to be, writing it off after playing it once - though in my defense it doesn’t explain its badge system at all and that’s where basically all the strategic depth lies.

I’m happy for Nintendo, but I’m also a little worried about what lessons they’re likely to learn from this. All the previous incentives for subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online have been met with some criticism: You can play games online, but that was free before the service was introduced. You can back up (most) saves to the cloud, but you still can’t back them up via USB. The NES games are neat, but are a tiny set of ancient games we all already have.

I’d love for them to really ramp up the legacy content - put out a bunch of NES/SNES/N64/NGC/GB/GBC/GBA titles. That already wasn’t looking likely, but now I’m worried their takeaway will be “When we put out a few new free NES games, people complain, but when we put out battle royale games, people love us! Clearly we should focus on the latter.”

This might even be the correct takeaway, but it’s definitely not the approach I personally prefer.

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#tetris 99 #battle royale #nintendo switch online #nintendo switch online nes #video games #gaming

Tags: Thought, GAME: Tetris 99

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Is Burst Re:Newal Too Faithful?

When is a game remake too faithful?

I’ve been playing through Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal, a PS4 (and PC) remake of a several-year-old 3DS game. The action has been adapted from a 2.5D sidescrolling brawler to a full 3D one, with many tweaks and improvements to the combat and of course the graphics. The story structure and content are identical, which makes it a weird nostalgic mind trip to actually play. That’s mostly a good thing. But despite featuring easily the best combat the series has ever had, it still has one of the worst boss fights I’ve ever seen.

Late-game spoilers follow, but nothing I’d expect to ruin the game for anyone.

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Switch Screenshots

It still boggles my mind that the Switch has a dedicated screenshot button but no way to take high-quality screenshots.

I understand wanting to avoid the case where a kid quickly fills up their small memory card with huge image files and then can’t download more games or save their progress and doesn’t understand why. It seems totally reasonable to me to take 720p compressed JPG screenshots by default. But why not put in the option to take full resolution PNG screenshots for those of us with more space? I’ve got a 400 GB memory card in there; let me use it!

How do you respect the value of shareable play artifacts enough to constrain the hardware with a dedicated button, but then not provide an option to make good use of it? This is a lot like the compromised mechanics I spoke of before, and I can’t help but notice it’s Nintendo again.

PS4 defaults to JPG screenshots but provides an option to save higher-quality PNGs instead. This reason by itself is why I play cross-platform AAA titles on PS4 instead of Switch. If Switch gave me this ability, I’d happily play them there instead.

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#nintendo switch #play artifact #video games #gaming

Tags: Thought