Tuesday, 27 October 2015

103% Complete Reviews Undertale and provides tips on writing a good CV

I was hankering for a new PC game when I came across Undertale on the Steam store. It has simple graphics and it was an indie title, so since that doesn't narrow it down much I checked the reviews and found that it had a whopping metacritic score of 98, from a considerably broad range of reputable enough sources. Still worried that this may be Quest for the Crown all over again, I decided to take a chance, which is exactly what you shouldn't do with your CV, get someone to proofread it and give you advice before you send it away. A careers service might do the trick if you have ready access to one.

pictured: A Careers Advice
The first half hour of Undertale was fascinatingly charming with its NES style visuals and sounds. Every room offered a unique charm of its own as I progressed through a dungeon full of terrifying monsters which come complete with... an assortment of personal hang-ups and social awkwardness. The charm of this game so far appears to be that I can 'defeat' all of my enemies by convincing them that they don't want to fight at all and then dismiss them from battle with my mercy. It's a daring twist on a familiar idea, which you may consider doing with the formatting of your CV, depending on the nature of the role. For a creative job, try and stand out from the other applicants in some way. For a more traditional role, you may want to be less like Undertale and more like your traditional JRPG like Final Fantasy II.

This CV is more like Final Fantasy X-2 though, flashy but weird.
Speaking of II, two is the maximum number of sheets you need for a standard CV. If you're currently over that limit, does your paper round from 1994 really need to be on there? Does that GCSE C grade in Home Jazz for that matter? Cut the flab to get a CV that is all killer and no filler. This kind of restraint on needless content works wonders for Undertale at least. Every room in this game contributes enough novelty and charm that you'll find yourself compelled to keep playing every time you reach a save point. There's no grinding to speak of, the random encounters are infrequent enough that you master the patterns of one group of enemies just as you leave the area in which they inhabit. There's no real reason to backtrack, although the game has a lot of neat little treats tucked away for those that do. The story progresses at a steady pace and is told well. The whole flow is so smooth that I only considered taking a break when the difficulty spiked in the latter stages of the game.

pictured: Flowey the Flower!
Like any CV should, Undertale starts very strong. After the brief narrative preamble, your first interaction is with an character called Flowey the Flower and let's just say that he leaves quite the impression. Flowey is indicative of the strength of the character design and dialogue that is to entertain you for the next 5 or so hours. I can heartily recommend this title. Even if you're not usually a JRPG fan, I think this game will still win you over so please, have fun playing and good luck with the job hunt.  

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Ludum Rattus Rattus: A Tribute to all of gaming's Rats.

During a recent trip to Malta's National History Museum I learned that the binomial taxonomic name for the common rat is rattus rattus. Not only is that an excellent piece of trivia to know but it has also made me put other more important projects and tasks on hold so that I can write down as much as I can about rats in gaming until I run out of steam. So let's get ratting! The easiest place to start with rats is their typical prevalence as cannon fodder. Rats are usually plentiful and weak, making them excellent early enemies to fight in RPGs of all flavours. Whether it's your Baldur's Gate here or your Dark Souls there. Rats are usually low in the overall pecking order of minions and mobs.Although it has to be said, rats in games are usually quite large. If even so much as one real rat that size was to be discovered in my apartment there would be Trouble Afoot (also see Radroaches). You also have to fend off any number of rats in the Puzzle Quest series.
Pictured: Big Rat














That is not to say that rats can't be used to great effect as both enemies and allies, but you usually need a lot of them to overwhelm people. The famous card game Magic has a creature card which encourages players to build a strategy which is chock full of rats, negating the usual rule of having only a limited number of copies of a single card in a deck. If you're a Dominion player, you may also be familiar with the card Rats which usually ends up filling your deck with more rattus rattus.



Speaking of rattus, we have the board game Rattus, in which players strive to survive the bubonic plague betterer than each other, with rats being the primary threat to the spread of the disease which halved the population of Europe circa 1350 AD. Damned nuisance rats!

The worst kind of rat is a dirty rat.

It's easy to get caught up in the idea that all rats are about strength in numbers and the spread of disease but there are examples of ludum rattus (game rats) that can actually hold their own as individual fighters. We have the Pokémon Rattata and Raticate for starters. You certainly don't want to fill your six-man squad with just six rats that is for sure and their ability to learn a wide variety of moves is a good way to keep your opponent guessing. Although a Wererat isn't technically a rat, it is certainly worth including a Wererat as an NPC in your D&D campaigns even if just for the phrase 'Rat Empathy' which gives Wererats a racial Charisma bonus against all rats and rat type creatures. These singleton 'Lone Wolf Rats' are certainly the exception rather than the rule though.

There's also Rémy a.k.a. Rat

This pack mentality of rats also spreads to magical rats, spectral rats, mechanical rats and transgender rats, Cranium rats from Planescape: Torment have a nasty habit of casting spells when they gather in sufficiently large swarms. The invisible ghost rats in Twilight Princess actually gave me a start when they attacked me in the Arbiter's Grounds dungeon to weigh me down. Anyone who has played through Space Station Silicon Valley has been accosted by the robotic Rat King and his loyal robot rat servants, only to then possess said Robot Rat's broken shell for further antics. And in the PC Game Rats, one of the tactics for preventing the multiplying efforts of rats is to surgically change the gender of rats so that they are all of one gender to prevent them from shagging. If you get a hold of that game and allow two rats to 'mate' you are treated to some of the most disturbing and inappropriate voice acting that Windows 95 shareware games has to offer.

And on that note, I think I will cull my own uncontrollable swarm of ludum rattus commentary before the plague spreads to other blog posts and 103% Complete devolves into all of the writers simply spamming the word 'RATS!' every week until we pass out. Rats, as their nature dictates are so plentiful that I'm sure I've missed out more than 95% of all ludum rattus species in this article. So I ask you, dear readers... what are your favourite rats in all of gaming? Tell me before it's too late..... RATS RATS RATS RATS RATS RATS


RATS RATS RATS RATS RATS?    RATS!


RATS RATS RATS RATS


RATS

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A Primer on Fan made Card Creation in CCGs.

Popular card games capture the imagination of their player base. In fact, many people prefer the creative element of making their own fan made cards to the actual playing of the game itself. Almost every major card game going has a rich subculture of card creators to go with it.

I've decided to identify a few (but not all) basic categories of fan card and the kind of fan card creator that makes them. After reading this you'll probably have a better grounding for making your own cards if this kind of thing is for you.

Even if creativity isn't your thing, understanding why particular fan creations are good or bad can help you deepen your understanding of the game that you are playing. Let's have a look at some common archetypes.


"Reality Gem" cards -- (based on IPs from other Universes)

This kind of creator is happy to use a familiar and robust rule set to express characters from other universes. I'm personally working on a set of Hearthstone cards featuring some of my friends. Here, the content and visual appeal of the cards is usually more important than actually playing with the card in a real game. That being said, many card creators of this type still strive to make their cards 'balanced' and fit in with the existing cards in the game. 

http://www.pokecard.net 





"Superfan Designer" cards (that are (mostly) well thought out cards that could possibly work!)
Some people, "really go for it", when they make their fan made cards. They find consistent reference artwork, develop all kinds of experimental mechanics and work hard to cost and balance their cards appropriately. Almost to the point where it's sad that these cards will never be playable in the digital CCGs and unlikely to see publication in the physical games. Taverns of Time is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to this kind of epic level card creation tomfoolery.




"Screw You" cards -- (cards which hardcounter a particular play style)

The example given here is actually one of the more reasonable variants on the theme of countering a popular play style in the current metagame by dreaming up cards which would thoroughly counter that particular deck archetype.

In Hearthstone, there is always a particular brand of aggressive deck that dominates in popularity and is often referred to as the 'cancer' deck (I disapprove of that name, personally) and one of those decks was the Mech Mage deck. Rather than finding a way to cope with the existence of such a play style, many players would rather see it eradicated completely.

http://www.hearthcards.net/





"Ones that make it" (some fan cards actually make it into published games!)

Some publishers generate a lot of hype around getting fans to submit their own ideas for cards. In the case of Yu-Gi-Oh! they let children submit drawings of cards that they wanted to see and then got their pro artists to actually produce them. Additionally, Fantasy Flight allowed 2012 Netrunner champion Jeremy Zwirn to design a card to be put into a future expansion of cards.


(pictured) Actual Netrunner card designed by a skilled fan.





"Sonic the Hedgehog" cards 

Just... what.
I mean....
Every single trading card game...
Every single anything...
There's just weird Sonic the Hedgehog fans...
Plz.
http://mtgcardsmith.com/

Why don't you try it yourself at home? Because you're more of a reader than a doer aren't you? Well here's some more CCG related stuff to read./watch.

Gaming Netiquette in Hearthstone



103% and Watchiit Play Hearthstone



Monday, 6 April 2015

Karmafy: It's actually actually about ethics in the games industry.

Check out Karmafy here

Would you like to turn your gaming hobby into a charitable affair? Have you ever seen the Humble Indie Bundle? I love their work but sometimes I just don't want to buy any new games sometimes. But it does turn the act of selfishly buying new games into a charitable one.

How about Awesome Games Done Quick? That turns the indulgent act of watching other people play games into a charitable one. To a lesser extent, even this very blog that you are reading is trying to make a small contribution to mental health causes. I guess that covers peripheral gaming media.

What about playing the games you currently have...? No I don't mean buying new ones, we covered that already. I mean... can you buy anything in your favourite MMO where the money goes anywhere to make a difference to charities? Would you like it to. Then keep your eye on Karmafy.

Better still, what about the process of actually making and selling profitable games on mobile devices? Wouldn't you like to at least offer players an IAP where a specified percentage of the proceeds went to charity? Keep an eye on Karmafy.

It's for a good cause after all.

***

Will you just take a look at this tho?

The Language of Gamergate by Ben Winterton






Sunday, 29 March 2015

Nintendo Goes Mobile: The Second 103% Complete Podcast


(YouTube video above)

Nintendo have signed a deal with mobile publisher DeNA. We chat shit about it for 45 minutes. Listen... or listen to the first podcast instead.


Shell kicking physics puzzles? Where's my Koopa?

Featuring: Ben Winterton, Liam Fielder and Jak Marshall.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Water's Edge- World Boundaries in Ocean Settings- Lee Morris

Large bodies of water have been around in video games since... well, probably something on the
Atari in the form of a big blue square, and right the way through the 8­-bit and 16­-bit eras there was
many a level set over an ocean. It was easy to keep players enclosed within these settings back in
the 2D days as the level boundaries were usually just the edges of the screen. Players were unable
to wander off into uncharted territory.

When 3D games arrived on the scene, a new problem faced developers; if their game featured an
ocean setting and a character or vehicle capable of traversing it, they had to figure out ways to
deny access to the wider ocean somehow. Developers could no longer just hide the horizon beyond
the edges of the screen so they had to come up with inventive ways to physically prevent players
from going any further out to sea.

Controls like those found in Ecco The Dolphin usually make players give up fairly quickly.

These restrictions have come in many forms over the years. I thought the most interesting thing to
do would be to simply compile a list of them along with some of the games they're featured in.

Thought I may as well start with the sort of mundane ones build up to the daft ones. There are
some ridiculous things out there in the water folks. Be warned, be safe, and above all else keep out
the sea.

1. Invisible Walls.

Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Super Mario

Pretty much the bog standard way to keep players enclosed. Just a literal invisible wall that
prevents players from passing through. Some of them just stop you firmly but gently. Some you
crash into like a cat or kid running into patio doors on You've Been Framed. If you set off from the
beach in a hovercraft in Diddy Kong Racing in search of new lands you will find nothing but a
wall with zero opacity halting your efforts and a headache for poor old Timber.

2. Buoys.

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, Diddy Kong Racing, Watchdogs.

It's actually more of a buoys and invisible wall combo as buoys on their own can't keep anyone out
for shit really, can they?

3. Appear at Other Side of Map.

Pilotwings 64, Final Fantasy series.

In some games if you go off one side of the map you magically appear at the other side. I quite like
this as it can sometimes make for a handy short­cut. It makes sense in the Final Fantasy games as
the map is supposed to represent a full planet. It doesn't make sense in Pilotwings unless the levels
were explained away as being small planetoids like the ones from the Mario Galaxy games for
some reason. Shigsy could maybe bare that in mind for a Pilotwings Galaxy game or something.

4. Endless Ocean.

GTA: San Andreas, Morrowind, Just Cause 2.

In a similar manner to the endless staircase in Peach's Castle, wandering out to sea in these games
just goes on forever. The sea just infinitely loops back on itself, without the mind­scarring music
from Mario 64 though.

5. Disappear/Return Washed up Back on Shore.

Majora's Mask.

If you swim too far out from the Great Bay you sort of vanish as the screen fades to a murky
colour and you end up washed up on the shore. They did a similar thing in The Ocarina of Time
with the sand storms in Gerudo Desert. You often get 'lost' in Zelda games and are transported
back to where you're meant to be. I think this really adds to the atmosphere of the series.

And if you look far into the distance, you can see a really unpopular dungeon.

6. Count Out.

Waverace 64.

If you stray to the other side of the buoys and consequently out of the track boundaries in
Waverace, you get a 10 second count out in a not too dissimilar fashion to the WWE. If you run
out of time you have to 'retire' and restart (though you don't have to retire in WWE, unless it's part
of an angle).

7. Automatic Turn Around.

Windwaker, Saints Row series.

When Link sails too far out in Windwaker, the sentient boat (called the King of Red Lions) that
you cruise around on says “We shouldn't travel any further” and turns around with no further
discussion on the matter: "My rudder, my rules”. In the Saints Row games, you are automatically
turned around mid­flight or mid­swim with a message saying “Don't leave! The Saints need you in
Stilwater” (or Steelport in the first two games). They could have done something a bit more
interesting in Saints Row IV considering that the game is set inside a virtual simulation, but
perhaps they didn't want to rip off Assassin's Creed...

8. The 'Animus'.

Assassin's Creed series.

In Black Flag and Rogue in particular here since they are set at sea. If you go too far out a static
wall thing appears and you are told “Desynchronization imminent” and have to turn around. The
idea being that since your character Desmond is hooked up to a Matrix-­like thing called the
Animus and can only relive his ancestor's experiences, he can only go as far out as his ancestor's
travelled as the machine cannot recollect anything beyond what they saw. Clever stuff.

9. Sharks.

Banjo Kazooie, Jak and Daxter, Scarface: The World is Yours,

Now we're getting serious. Probably the best way to keep people out the water in real life also,
several games feature our old Jaws inspired pals, sharks. The one in Banjo Kazooie starts tucking
into your feet even if you just fancy a paddle. Genuinely terrifying in the realistic open world games mentioned as well.

Genuinely terrifying.
10. Tentacle.

Splashdown.

Jet­ski racer 'Splashdown' for the Xbox and PS2 has an absolutely fantastic way to get players back
to the coast; a massive octopus tentacle appears and hurls you back towards the track. It's well
worth looking for on YouTube. You get flung so far. This should be in all games featuring sea I
think. Even in realistic flight simulators that pilots use. Made me laugh anyway.

11. Leeches.

Half Life 2.

If you disappear off the beach in Half Life 2, you get pestered by a swarm of peckish leeches
which get incrementally hungrier the further out you go and consequently leech you to pieces.

12. The 'Brine'.

Dragon's Dogma.

In Dragon's Dogma, a peculiar red blood mist called the 'Brine' swirls around the player in the sea
and eventually causes them to pass out and appear back on shore. Any excuse to keep players land-
bound eh? 'Brine', what do they take us for?

13. Lakitu.

Mario Kart series.

If you fancy leaving shore on Koopa Troopa Beach, Lakitu puts a stop to that and fishes you out.
He's lumped in here with the sea urchins and monsters but he's actually more of a health and safety
enthusiast here really. He's just looking out for you.

14. Sea Monsters/Urban Legend.

Gothic II, Ragnorok.

I've never played these games to be honest but I watched a video online of the sea monster
appearing in Gothic II. Almost seems like an urban myth like the Loch Ness Monster or something
as half the YouTube commenters don't seem to believe it's real or actually in the game. Some think
the footage is faked. Perhaps it is fear­mongering keeping players out the ocean and nothing more?



15. Gunned down.

Farcry, Return Fire, Crysis.

Someone must really want the characters to stay on these islands. Soon as you try to leave the
island in the original Farcry you are gunned down by a helicopter. In Return Fire, you are gunned
down by a freshly surfaced submarine, and in Crysis, things really take the biscuit; if you manage
to swim past the shark mentioned earlier, ships in the distance send cruise missiles to blow you
up... and if you somehow manage to avoid these...

16. Kill­switch.

Crysis.

...your suit has a kill­switch in it which is triggered if you go too far out so you die anyway. Might
as well stay on the island and do all the things, then.

Right so there we go then. Think I'll cancel that charity swim across the Channel.

These were all the real examples in games I could find anyway. Not as many as I anticipated
actually, seems there is plenty of room for more creativity here, designers have barely scratched
the surface! With that in mind, I've come up with a list of extra examples that developers could
pinch for future titles if they wanted to.

1. Seahorses

2. Surfers.

3. Tidal Wave.

4. Hat gets blown off and player turns back to get it.

5. Environmental waste/poison

6. Trunks fall off.

7. Mermaids.

8. Ducks.

9. Console turns off.

10. Telly blows up.

11. Character swallowed by whale.

12. Cruise ship gets in way and refuses to budge

13. Neptune God of sea appears and prods back to shore with trident

14. Character remembers that they left the oven on.

15. Emigration patrol appears and asks for papers.

16. A fine is charged to your Xbox Live, Steam or PSN accounts for crossing into illegal sea.

17. DL Sea. 'Pay £6 for more Ocean' appears on screen and these in-­app purchases go on indefinitely until player is skint and has to turn back.

18. Visible Wall. Just a no­nonsense brick wall around the sea. Maybe with adverts on it like at a football match.

19. Death threats sent to your mobile or paired Android device. “Turn bak or u drown m8”.

20. The ending of the Truman Show/crash into TV set walls.

So there we go, some top ideas there. Fax me and we'll talk.

Hope this list of creative decisions has been interesting. If you find any more examples don't

hesitate to submit them. Thanks for reading.


Liked this article? Why not read more by Lee Morris and his love of Pre-Rendered backgrounds:





Or why not read about finding the right media to tell a story:






Monday, 16 March 2015

The Simpsons Tapped Out is having its comedy donut and eating it


As part of my ongoing professional development as a free to play game developer/analyst I've been playing all manner of games, and one of them is the Simpsons game published by Fox Entertainment. It's basically the Sims and Hay Day with Simpsons IP generously plugged into it. If you're a hardcore Simpson's fan you'll be giggling at all of the references and/or lamenting the creative decline of the series.

(I mean 'The Yes Guy' seriously? Little Britain has more character development FFS)

The game is really well made. Perfect fan service for fans of the show. Everything just bursts Simpsons lore and history. There are so many collectible characters and locations that superfans will be purchasing hard currency donuts all day long to make sure that they have every last minor character and aspirational item.

Name all picture characters and reference the scene where the buildings are featured. Go on. Tip of the iceberg.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out makes fun of free-to-play casual games from the get go and humorously shows the player what lurks behind the curtain constantly. I even have Homer's voice yelling 'Push Notification!' in a monotone voice on my tablet. It's genuinely really well observed.


However the comedy is somewhat marred by the fact that it is still a greedy free to play game. The content is fairly priced and the addicting appointment mechanics and retention hooks are all there and function just the same as your Game of Wars or your Farmvilles.

It pretends to be better than all of those games but is in fact just the same type of game at the end of the day. It's like when comics like Dapper Laughs say that their humour is ironic and satirical when in fact it using the veil of comedy as an excuse for their acts. I feel it hurts the Simpsons brand of comedy, but then again the show as declined so far now that maybe it's not worth worrying about.

I just hope that South Park doesn't perform an intellectual U-turn and cash in like this. I expect better of that show.

~ J ~

***

Liked this article? Why not read more about comedy in video games?





Or why don't you read some tasty 103% analysis about Gamergate?


Monday, 9 March 2015

Free-2-Gay: Kim Kardashian Hollywood does a good thing

I see it as a major part of my job as an analyst in the games industry to keep abreast of any major developments in the gaming scene that I can, including the free to play casual mobile space for sure. That entire first sentence is my excuse for playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood on my tablet this weekend and I'm sticking to it. It's not like I'm hooked... or anything haha. Can you imagine!?!? Ha Ha Ha Ha. Phew-boy I'm glad we cleared that up.

Pictured: A woman.

For those who aren't in the know, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is an energy appointment based upgrade 'em up game on mobile devices featuring both a cartoon version of Kim Kardashian West, as well as the real woman herself occasionally thanking you in pre-recorded messages for installing and updating the game. This game has done phenomenally well financially so it made its way onto my research radar. 
(Unrelated picture of man holding big fish)

The intellectual property of Kim Kardashian West, the real life person, is a huge install magnet for the game and covers the user acquisition strategy for the game basically. The scripting and visuals paint a compelling tongue in cheek journey through the vacuous world of striving to become an A-list showbiz socialite. The emotional core of this game is the desire to become some sort of one-person brand. The actual gaming mechanics are simple, but well made and compelling. But the reason that I keep coming back to this game is to develop my relationship with Steph, my love interest.

A gender binary turned into a gender quarternary. It's a small improvement!

Yeah. Just like that Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a game that embodies all that traditional gamers despise about the current state of free to play casual mobile gaming, has just made it possible to be gay in their massively popular free game. With no great fanfare, I might add. They already had female and male assets in the game anyway (you can play as either for your personal avatar) so the developers, rather than write in extra lines of code to stop men from dating men and women dating women, just kept it simple and allowed for homosexuality to just be a thing in the game. Actually I'm fairly sure you can date anyone in the game, so bisexuality and bi-curious identities can be played. Or you can date nobody. It's your avatar!

I mean when the triple A industry sometimes has gripes about including women in games at all sometimes you think that there would be gay relationships between male characters all the time, seeing how it would save on art assets not to include all those pesky women shapes all over the shop. Nintendo even tripped up on allowing their simple user created art assets to engage in homoromantic liasons in Tomodachi life. Hell, Glu didn't even pat themselves on the back for including this feature in Kim Kardashian as far as I'm aware. They just let it happen in their game. It's almost like the design and code teams thought it wasn't worth the effort to program homophobia into Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. That's probably because it isn't. It's clever/lazy people who work on this game, innit. In subsequent updates one can hope that they cater for even more diverse gender identities. Break down those barriers! (Edit: They didn't)

But hold your horses! Adopting a cute stray cat on the street costs a whopping 20 Kardashian Stars when I can happily walk out into the real life streets of Malta and find half a dozen of them for free! (Edit: #throwbragthursday amirite?) Rip off! Sort it out! Stupid game. Don't play it. They charge too much for cats.

***

Liked this article? Why not read more about representation in video games? 




Or why don't you read some tasty 103% analysis about Gamergate?




Friday, 6 March 2015

Gaming Sniglets (Words that don't exist but should)


For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Sniglets are, as the title of this articles suggests, words that are perfectly functional but aren't currently in use due to them not existing. Wikipedia gives an excellent summary of them, so I thought I would share some of my own gaming related sniglets, or "griglets", if you will (I have stretched the definition of "word" a little here).

Enjoy!


8 bittionaire- Games made in an 8 bit style that also have high production values.

Amiibeau- Using an Amiibo in place of a relationship with another human.

Auteurrorism- Gaming auteurs using past successes to justify terrible ideas.

Auto-slave- Constantly saving manually due to a game having infrequent auto-saves.

Block-Age- The knowledge that one lives in an epoch where every creative asset will eventually have a Lego game of it released.

Delorientation- When you play the first few hours of a game, don't touch it for months, then come back to it and don't have a clue what's going on.

Downloadable Comptent- DLC you only get for completion sake.

EyeP- Intellectual Properties linked to Neversoft.

Famous for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and...erm...


Free-to-pay- Games that charge you a huge amount of money whilst simultaneously being free.

Freload- When playing a team-based of co-op shooter, letting a team player do all the shooting to preserve one's own ammunition.

Invert-blame- Shifting a bad FPS performance from the player to the aim inversion, which has been set against the player's preference.

Merrio- Mario games hacked to make Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck the main character (none in existence at time of writing).

Metatron or?- Passive-aggressive loaded question that pushes a pro-"Zone of the Enders" agenda.

MOMRPG- MMO games aimed at mothers.

Portalso- Games that desperately mimic or reference Portal.

Rumbleback- Reminiscing about dated game peripherals ("Do you remember rumble packs?" "No")

Sagequit- Making the wise decision to stop playing just before getting angry with a game.

SighGN- Reluctantly relying on IGN as one's only source of gaming journalism.

Sixtyfoursome- The belief that the Nintendo 64 was the best video game console.

Smash Brews- Drinks served with good-natured games of Smash Bros.

Smash Bruise- Punches served with bad-natured games of Smash Bros.

Sonly Playstation- Only having access to a Playstation.

Slonely Playstation- The loneliness experienced by a person who formerly had a Playstation and then sold it.

Solecon- Buying extra controllers on the false belief that you will play games with other people.

Tekkentropy- The inevitable tendency for all fighting games to become crossovers with one another.

Thiefa- Football games that look and play like Fifa, but are not Fifa.

Wii You!- Exclamatory phrase shouted in anger at Nintendo when a gimmick is forced on people (e.g. "Can't turn the screen on the Wii U off? Wii You Reggie! Wii You and your Nintendog!")

Xboxing- Putting an outdated console into storage.


Liked this article? Why not read more by Ben Winterton with even more linguistics thrown in:




Or why not catch up on Jak's latest "Casual Picks" article:




Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Roguelikes ~or~ The Death of Gaming and its Infintaneous Rebirth

IIf you could find one game that you loved, that was different everytime you picked it up, would you ever need to buy another game again? If your title was overly-ambitious and dramatic, would you quickly abandon it to talk about the real subject matter? The answer to both questions is yes. Roguelikes.


The term roguelikes refer to games that use randomly generated drops, items, levels and enemies to create a completely different game experience on every play through. You might pick up the game and get the best item ever in the first five minutes; or play for an hour and curse every time you open a chest to find another health draining, hope sucking, 'screw you' sent from the bosom of the unemotional, godless algorithm. I coined the term infintaneous (ah, made-up words...) because many of these games allow you to immediately restart, with endless playthroughs. The real kicker being, every death is permanent, prepare to lose all of your hard earned items and power ups. The only thing you're ever left with are the options to either give up, or roll the dice again. 

The term 'roguelike' itself applies to an old school game called 'Rogue', in which you play a plucky little @ symbol making its way through a dungeon made up entirely of other punctuation and letters found on a keyboard. The walls are #, the enemies are always letters (watch out for uppercase!), stairs are < etc etc. What's quite fascinating about this as a concept is that after a small amount of playing, you start to see through the jibberish letters and actually get a real feel for how the dungeon looks; just like one of the operators in the matrix, but on an Ipad and in your underwear (you, not the game). On one play though, I entered a room to find this symbol \g/ which I quickly realised was actually depicting a goblin torture chamber, at which point I also realised I was genuinely bricking it and started legging it away from a gang of terrifyingly calculated, masochistic lower case g's.

This guy is actually in some pretty serious s*#!

So Rogue was among the first to use the whole randomly generated dungeon crawler thing effectively, and it's a large part of what makes this game really great. You can pick up an updated version either called 'brogue' or 'brogueX' in both the app and play stores. Don't, whatever you do, confuse it with the celtic band of the same name. It's like walking past a lively pub and hearing a party going on that you'll never be invited to.

I've come across a few of these roguelike games and just been completely unable to put them down. Here's a list of the absolute top 3 - you could pick up all 3 for less than a triple A, and in my opinion, more gameplay hours...just saying

Faster than Light
This, ultimately, is a space-management game. Not in the Eve online 'why not just become an accountant and set your desktop background to the milky way' sort of way, but in more of a, keep your eye on the ball because if the oxygen drops in your weapons bay, 'Skippy McBoogers' will be dead and there is nothing you can do to bring him back.

You can do everything right, and there's still a good chance you'll end up looking at this. 

FTL has a lot of the characteristics that both make up a fantastic rogue-like, and feature in the other games on this short hit list:

It's ludicrously hard. It's jam packed with secrets. Unlocking some of those secrets is ludicrously hard. 

If you've ever seen the show Firefly, (and let's face it, you're reading a video-games blog) this is Firefly the Game, except you can get aliens as crew members, and you get to be Malcolm Reynolds, even down to the no nonsense attitude if you want. Random multiple choice events occur on a regular basis, something like "someone beams aboard your ship: Kill them, Side with them, Sell them for meat" but with more flair. The actual writing of the game is superb, it really makes you care about the story that you're creating, which is one that always feels incredibly epic. 

The idea of leading a valiant crew to save the galaxy comes across really well in the tone of the game as a whole; when skippy dies on board, you will both mourn his tragic loss, and recognise that his gave his life serving a greater cause. Just like when Sally died of dysentery on the Oregon trail. Each brave frontiersmen in their own way.

Spelunky
Indiana jones based, this roguelike platformer gives you plenty of secrets to figure out, each one an absolute wonder. These games go back to some of the funnest aspects of games from our childhood which was the sharing and social aspect of it all. "Did you know if you take the golden idol and give it to Sprocketsaur you get a rideable albatross?". 

Simple and flawless gameplay mechanics make this game as close to perfect as any game can be. Like any great game, every time you die, you have no one to blame but yourself. Every death a lesson in how to not play like a total moron. 

You fight fewer nazis than Indi, but you save more adorable puppies (Aww - Ed)

You start in a cave and work your way downwards looking for a sacred piece of ancient treasure. If you've not played it, I won't say anymore than that because each discovery is itself a hidden gem. I will say, I've attempted a new run-through maybe nearing 10,000 times, I've only reeeally made it to the end three times. It is extremely hard.

Binding of Isaac
Combining the best of brogue with some key aspects of Spelunky, and heaps of Macmillanism, The Binding of Isaac is the grand daddy of all modern roguelike games. With hundreds of stackable items and enemies, the combinations of power-ups are nearly limitless, meaning no two play throughs of this game will be identical, or even particularly similar. On top of that, once you kill the main boss, there are at least 4 alternate secret bosses and 8 secret levels just that I know of so far. The game really keeps on giving. You could play it forever. Someone recently asked me if it was a short game, I just said "sort of". With the secrets, unlockables and new areas to find, it's one of the richest games you'll ever play.

The Ed Macmillan aspect of it is definitely part of the enjoyment, but it also makes it an incredibly hard sell. You play as an abused and abandoned child, with a homicidal, overly zealous mother intent on sacrificing him to God. You make your way through underground levels beneath your house to escape her, armed only with your own tears, against an underworld of demons and monsters. So good luck explaining to anyone why you consider that a fun use of your spare time.

It's lucky the internet has already desensitised us all to horrific things.

Like Spelunky, the items you find are usually religious artifacts with power-ups that are loosely based on their real-world historical meaning. So there's even a vaguely educational aspect to it all, if you like Wikipedia-ing all of your pick ups. If you do pick up this game, there is a recently released mega-update called 'rebirth' that contains a ton of extra content and is well worth the extra coin.


In conclusion, roguelikes are a lot like my love for them, essentially endless.


Liked this article? Why not read more by Tom Dransfield and how he wants to make great games accessible to perverts:


Or why not look at other ways of expanding your gaming repertoire:

Monday, 2 March 2015

SpaceChem: A Gamified Programming Course (sort of)

(You will need to allow video footage in your browser for this article)

I remember playing Advance Wars: Dual Strike on my classic Nintendo DS (The big chunky grey variety from the first generation of production) and wondering how on earth the AI in that game worked. I'm sure you've thought the same about games that you've played. How does the computer know how to manage resources in Civilization V? How does any bloody thing in a game work at all? The answer all of those questions, broadly speaking, is one step at a time. 

Vidya games that me and you play use computer code to control the flow of events in an algorithmic fashion. I actually dread using the world 'algorithm' to communicate with people who aren't familiar or comfortable with what is a very scary way of saying 'recipe', a word that almost everyone understands. A recipe is a set of instructions that a chef follows one at a time in a very specific order in order to achieve a desired result. You can't put the Rice-a-Roni in the microwave until you've opened the door to the microwave first and you can't start the microwave cooking until you've closed the door again with the Rice-a-Roni inside. Computer programs obey similar principles. You need to do things one at a time, and in the right order. I'm sure my coder friends are doing some form of face-palm right now, but they're just jealous that they can't make Rice-a-Roni as well as I can.



SpaceChem is Zachery Barth's puzzle game and it challenges you to not only make Rice-a-Roni (represented in this game by fake chemistry) but also to try and do it efficiently. Although getting any solution to the puzzles is satisfying the first time you do it. The video considered to be a poor solution to the puzzle of producing Acetylene, but I had a bloody satisfying time coming up with it! Watch how a single reactor puzzle may be solved.



If you're looking for a puzzle experience that is worthy of your mighty mind, then this game is for you. If you've ever gotten any joy out of complex circuit diagrams or even producing your first 'Hello World!' message (I made the computer do a thing!) then this game is for you also. If you're wondering what all the fuss is about and the above video looks interesting more than it looks scary, you need to give this game a go. And it's not just a series of single reactor puzzles either. The game asks you to make more complex molecules which require several reactors plugged together in sequence. You might need to enlarge this video, It's a two reactor puzzle to make formaldehyde.

 

And these are just from the first hour or so of the game. But what this gameplay footage disguises is that you are stitiching together smaller functions (reactors) to create larger programs (chemical processes) as you make your way through the game. Every level completed feels like a major success and you can always revisit older solutions to improve your score and compete with the rest of the world to find cleaner solutions.

The game costs about £6.99 so I will also take this time to direct your attention to some free ways to have fun learning how to code. The Coding Game and Elevator Saga are both browser based and they challenge you to directly fix source code to progress from level to level, slowly ramping up the level of coding prowess you need to display in order to succeed. Coding is fast becoming one of those skills that are just useful to have for an increasing number of people so you might as well have some fun learning some basic principles of the discipline. SpaceChem is certainly not a bad place to start. I'll certainly want to try Infinifactory (the 3D spiritual successor to SpaceChem) when I'm through with this title.
  

Monday, 23 February 2015

Casual Picks 10: Google Play Games Level 20 Edition (Part 1)

A long time ago back in 2012, I tried to conceal a largely indulgent post about my reaching 20K Xbox Gamerscore by embedding this fact about myself in some analysis about player behaviour. This time I'm going to celebrate reaching Level 20 in the Google Play metagame by analysing my mobile gaming career and reviewing any games that haven't made it into a Casual Picks segment before.

I am classed as a Pinball Wizard without playing a single pinball game. I am skill.
Well first off let's have a quick look at my genre breakdown. High score based Arcade games and skill based Action games seem to dominate. I'm not even entirely sure what is meant by a 'Casual' game that makes it casual above and beyond the general casual nature of mobile games. I've yet to figure this out. Generally I think genre categorisations on many mobile platforms leave a lot to be desired, but that's possibly an article for another time. Let's just say that I don't accept that Angry Birds: Transformers counts as a racing game, nor does Clash of Clans count as an Action game. Sheesh Google! (Apple has it's weird listings also).


There's more complicated enemies than the standard one-hit grey mobs you see here for you to pummel.
Although it is listed as an Action game, I regard games with a competitive leaderboard like this to be arcade games above all else. I honestly wish they would just use multiple tags for games rather than trying to find a unique box for each game. Oh well. I've been playing this mobile version of One Finger Death Punch for about two weeks now and I think I'll easily get just as long out of it again. I would heartily recommend getting the PC version offa Steam if you'd rather have mouse controls instead of touch ones but both games are great. You play a stick man kung fu hero of a 2D plane, fighting of hordes of stickmen who relentlessly attack from both left and right. The core gameplay alone was enough to make me play the PC game for days on end with its compulsive Game and Watch style gameplay on steroids but the mobile version throws in daily league tables and some new other tweaks and additions which enhance or hinder the experience depending on your taste. The FTUE on the mobile version is also very irritating but it'll be no more than a distant memory before you know it. Ker-Pow!

Carrying on with the Arcade theme I guess, we have...

Crossy Road - Hipster Whale - Arcade
This game is worth downloading just to see what happens when chicken and car collide.
This sweet little game is what Flappy Bird would have been like if Flappy Bird was fun or well made (Yes! I went there!) and it's just a particularly unforgiving version of Frogger which uses touch controls. That's it really. Other than trying to beat your highscore the rest of the appeal of this game is collecting other characters to cross the road with. Each new unlocked character can change either the appearance of the level (The penguin makes it snow, for example) or how the move/death animations look. You can pay a tuppence or three to unlock them directly or you can unlock random characters from an in game Gumball machine by collecting coins. Not much depth or strategy but it's an ideal casual game (ah, so maybe that's what that means?) because as well all know,  you can't have steak every day.

...you know what, I'm only realising now that I've played a lot of games that I've never talked about on 103% to make it to level 20. I'll have to continue this journey in a future installment. Those two should keep you going for a while anyway.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Language of Gamergate

[Note- this was written way back in October, but for various reasons has not been published until now. Whilst Gamergate is not the hot button it was back then I feel the points in this article still ring true and thus thought it worth publishing]

Back when I was at university I wrote my dissertation on “Speech Communities” in online forum discussions. The internet is fascinating from a linguistic perspective, as it breaks down the conventional binary between written and spoken language. Despite the relative longevity of the internet there is still surprisingly little academic writing on the linguistic importance of online communications. One key observation that has been made is that the internet allows for language without accountability. 100 or even 20 years ago it would be impossible for someone to disperse their opinions to potentially innumerable people in the same way that currently technology allows. Whilst this allows linguistic patterns to develop more quickly and with a lot less contextual baggage, it also means people can communicate without consequences.

A lot has been written about what has been termed “Gamergate”, and whilst there will never be complete consensus on these matters, I would say the general opinion is that this is an outcry of dismay from the privileged.  And yet in the same few weeks that the story is discussed at length we receive the news that there are apparently more female than male gamers. Is there an answer to this incongruity?

Obviously there is, and I am not going to try to cram in all the gender and media issues being debated heatedly into one article. I think, however, there is something to say on the importance of the internet and how it relates to gaming culture. I write this fully aware of the irony of posting this on a gaming blog.



Gaming culture has, from a very early point, had a very close relationship with internet culture; probably more than any other mainstream interest has with the internet, with the two obvious and clichéd exceptions of cats and porn (though ever the twain shall meet...hopefully). Even though there are, of course, innumerable websites dedicated to cinema, literature, television, music, sports, etc, the internet has generally existed as a by-product of those interests. Comparatively, gaming has regularly embraced and used the internet as a basis for a lot of key parts of gaming culture. It’s easy to recognise the necessity of the internet for MMOs and browser based games, but also the development of modding culture and freeware in the 90s helped form the basis of digital distribution today.

Moreover, there is a perception that both gaming and the internet are a broader part of “nerd” culture. I think these perceptions and stereotypes are being eroded, but I do believe there are certain people in the world who embrace both media, as such digital playgrounds allow for a huge and very involving escapism that even the most bracing novel can struggle to compete with. Therefore, the internet and video games draw in, amongst many others, people who need escapism. This is culturally liberating, but also offers unique language opportunities.

David Crystal's "Language and the Internet" is probably the best text to start with

Although most of the content on the internet is written language, the internet as a medium has a lot of the defining characteristics of speech. Speech is instantaneous, much like writing on the internet on the internet; compare this to other forms of writing, such as letters or a novel, which require some kind of delivery before they will be read. Moreover, in conventional linguistics any example of language with as broad an audience as that written on the internet would normally have some kind of control measure, such as an editor or publisher. With the internet it is possible for anyone to write something with no quality control and a potentially limitless audience. This means that divisive or controversial views can reach a lot of people without the accountability of an official endorsement.

More importantly, individuals can write on the internet in complete anonymity. Again looking to historical examples, there would be very few instances where communications would be made where nothing was known about the party communicating to the audience. In speech the individual would have accent, inflection, dialect, pitch and pace, among many other factors, to inform an audience about certain aspects of the speaker. Likewise, whilst these factors would not be relevant in written text, most written language would be framed in such a way as to give information about the writer. For example, the author would normally be named in a book, article or letter. Naturally there are examples where this would not be true, but none of these exceptions are particularly common or have a very wide audience.

The internet, however, does not have any of these restrictions. Anyone can set up a blog, write an article with whatever content they want and distribute it to as many people as they wish; indeed, the more controversial the article the more likely it will pick up media attention and a wider readership. This can be immensely empowering, as this form of communication removes any social judgements around ethnicity, nationality, gender, age and appearance, which can give oppressed groups an equal platform where previously they would not have it. Unfortunately, with this freedom comes a lack of accountability, meaning that the act of language is completely abstract, and the person saying them can be completely free and anonymous. Sadly, this means that when an individual such as Zoe Quinn puts herself as a figure with defined characteristics she is, in some senses, weaker than those who remain anonymous.



The combination of this linguistic freedom and entitlement of internet gaming culture has proven to be very dangerous. But gaming is modernising. As video games become increasingly more lucrative (and, indeed, increasingly similar to the film industry), the less progressive sides of gaming are challenged. I am a long way off claiming that gaming being part of mainstream culture guarantees fair treatment of people, but the latent sexism, homophobia, and other unpleasant views are being sanded down. Suddenly the world demands accountability where there was not before. And when things change in a way people don’t like they lash out, and blame the people they see as the issue; in this case, the minority of angry people see women in gaming as the problem, and channel their aggression there, as they do not want to have to accept that the problem may lie with them.

Does this excuse the horrendous abuse these journalists are receiving? Of course not. But as gaming becomes increasingly linked to the mainstream so too does internet gaming culture, whether it is ready to or not. Hopefully, as we understand these things more, we can make some progress towards reducing these aggressive attitudes. Maybe one day we can all hold hands, smile, and agree that Final Fantasy XIII is ridiculously shit.