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.


Kirby's Adventure is coming to the Switch NES...

Kirby’s Adventure is coming to the Switch NES thingy! I have been waiting for this since the Switch NES thingy was announced. So this also seems like a good time to muse briefly on why it’s still my favorite Kirby game: the Copy Abilities.

Back in Kirby’s Adventure, each enemy would literally give Kirby one ability. This meant that they were situational, easy to remember, activated with a dedicated button, and you’d learn to use them well. It was exciting to run into new enemies doing things you hadn’t seen before, because it meant you’d get a brand-new ability to experiment with.

In modern Kirby titles, it’s more like each enemy gives Kirby a form with several abilities activated various ways, making them harder to learn and remember (even the pause screen explanations now take up multiple pages). They’re also less distinctive, as there’s a ton of mechanical overlap between ability sets. It never really feels like it matters which ability set you have, so finding new enemy types isn’t exciting.

It’s less about playing with different tools, learning which are good for which situations, and learning to use them well - it’s more about just grabbing any old enemy to power up, and at best picking your favorite flavor of ability set. And I find I get bored with that pretty quickly.


In the opening movie of Justice League: Heroes...

In the opening movie of Justice League: Heroes, Batman gets called to deal with a robot attack. Superman shows up too, and Batman curtly informs him that he didn’t ask for help. Superman gallantly says, “Well, since I’m here anyway,” and joins in the fight.

When gameplay started, I chose to play as Batman, leaving Superman to the partner AI. As I tried to experiment with attacks and learn the controls as well as the enemy behavior patterns, Superman just waltzed up to the robots and destroyed them.

Never has a game so rapidly, thoroughly, and unintentionally created empathy for the player character.


Games with self-insert developer avatar...

Games with self-insert developer avatar characters who make jokes about how since they’re the developers they are much more powerful than you are like someone inviting you to their house and in the middle of you having a good time they suddenly make a joke about how it’s their house so they could totally throw you out if they wanted and could call the police if you didn’t like it.


I've released my very first game, Detectivania!...

I’ve released my very first game, Detectivania! You play as a master detective who keeps forgetting how to investigate mysteries!

It’s a Twine game, playable in your browser, and it’s about half an hour long. You can play it on Pixel Poppers or on

Making it was a great learning opportunity, and I also published a… postmortem? Making of? A dev blog post about it, discussing the goals, challenges, and lessons learned along the way.

I’m really excited. Planning on doing a bunch of these in 2019. This is just the first. :)


#gamedev #twine game #video games #gaming

Tags: Thought


Dragon Quest Gives Me Pause

Is it a thing for some reason that modern Dragon Quest games don’t want the player to be able to pause?

I was surprised in Dragon Quest Builders that opening the menu or suspending the game (at least on PS4) didn’t pause the game. This would be bizarre in any offline single-player game mode, but in DQB with a day/night cycle, hunger meter, wandering monsters, and speedrun rewards it’s downright obnoxious. I eventually figured out that the game seemed to pause when I viewed the map, but there was no in-game cue to suggest this.

DQB had some other interface oddities (like having ‘menu’ and ‘interact’ be the same button) so I chalked it up to a generally unpolished UX, but then when I played Dragon Quest XI it also was a jerk about pausing. Opening menus or suspending the game (again, at least on PS4) didn’t stop monsters from wandering around or the day/night cycle from progressing (and though I haven’t tested this, apparently cutscenes will continue while the game is suspended). There isn’t even a map pause with this one.

So… is this just a thing? Dragon Quest hates pausing? Enough to buck convention and popular expectation that any offline game would pause in menus and absolutely when suspended and the player can’t even see that things are happening? Enough to - in multiple games across multiple years - punish players for having actual lives with interruptions? Oh, I just started a cutscene and the dog needs to be let out? Ha ha, that was sure my fault and I deserve to miss the cutscene!

It’s such a weird patch of player-hostile design in otherwise warm and friendly games.


Promises vs Teasers

So, Chrono Trigger on the SNES had an opening movie that played if you left the game on the title screen. It was sort of a highlight reel cut together in a spoiler-minimizing way, showing impressive moments from throughout the game with enough context for you to tell they were significant events but not enough context to understand that significance. It was a teaser of some of the cool stuff you’d get to do and see if you played the game, and it was a trustworthy promise because you could see it was rendered in-engine, down to including battle menus for a few of the scenes.

I remember revisiting this cinematic repeatedly during my first playthrough, excited every time by new moments where I’d say to myself, “Oh! I did that! I know what that is now!” After playing the game, the movie became a highlight reel of my own adventure.

On the PS1 port, they replaced this opening with a fully-animated anime-style movie that introduces the cast via a mix of scenes that basically happen in the game and ones that totally don’t. This accomplishes a very different goal - it shows the characters and sets the mood, but it doesn’t really promise anything specific about what you’re going to do in the game, and even once you’ve played it it just shows things generally reminiscent of your adventures - the animators didn’t extrapolate what people and events look like the same way each player’s imagination did. While the result is more impressive than the in-engine visuals, I can’t help but feel like something has been lost. It feels like an advertisement rather than a highlight reel. A teaser rather than a promise. So I’m glad that more recent ports use both movies.

These days games don’t really do the whole in-engine versus animated/pre-rendered scenes thing anymore, so it’s less clear what you’re seeing in these kinds of movies. I’m a few hours in to Dragon Quest XI and by coincidence I happened to rewatch the opening movie and partway through I was suddenly saying to myself, “Oh! I did that! I know what that is now!” I realized that this was an old-school Chrono Trigger style highlight reel, and I got excited to continue on the adventure and find out what all the other moments in the opening were about. It was good to have that feeling again.


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.