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Archive for February, 2011

Rebuild

Lately I’ve found myself becoming more and more pessimistic with flash games. Developers know how to write descriptions that paint pictures in my mind of huge, epic, exciting adventures, and then when I open up and play the actual games I find them to be bland, boring, inaccessible, repetitive, unimmersive, or any number of other mean words. The point is that I rarely ever seem to find a flash game that actually manages to satisfy me these days.

Most strategy flash games I play tend to get overly bogged down with tutorial text and slow pacing, and I get bored of them very quickly. When I saw Rebuild on the front page of Kongregate I thought to myself, “Oh, a strategy game about managing a town after the zombie apocalypse. That sounds interesting. I bet it’ll bore me to tears.”

Well I’m happy to report that not only did the game not bore me to tears, it sucked me in like a whirlpool.

It may not have swallowed my soul, but it did swallow a few hours of my life.

Here’s how this works. As is explained in a text wall, zombies take over the world and you are tasked with rallying all the survivors you can and rebuilding a ruined city. You have to search for survivors and food, expand your rule and take control of more land, and constantly provide protection from the legions of zombies that regularly attack you for some slightly arbitrary reason.

Rebuild really reminds me of Civilization IV (and the other Civilization games as well, I’m sure). It has the same gameplay routine: Press “end turn.” Look at what your enemies do in between turns. Look over buildings and make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Press “end turn.” Rinse and repeat.

Some people seem to think that a game has to be visceral and have involving combat to really be able to provide a thrill, but I disagree. I spent a lot of my play time in Rebuild glued to my laptop screen, rapidly going through each turn just to see if I was going to survive. The game does a great job at keeping the constant threat of the zombie horde looming over your head, which gives you a feeling of tension even when all you’re doing is managing resources.

Yes, I named my city Black Mesa. Not pictured: city leader Gordon Freeman.

Another concept this game has in common with Civ IV is the variety of ways to win. You can either find a cure for the zombie plague, establish a government, or close the portal that’s bringing the monsters in. Frankly, the “establish a government” path confuses me a bit. How, exactly, does writing a constitution or whatever defeat the zombie apocalypse? Maybe zombies are disintegrated by the shining light of democracy in the same way that vampires are burned by sunlight. Say, this would make a good propaganda ad for kids!

Unlike Civ IV, this game isn’t painfully complicated. I was able to follow all of its mechanics with ease, and that may be because I’ve played a decent amount of strategy games, but I don’t think the game is hard to follow at all, even if you’re new to the genre. If you’re having problems, there’s no shame in playing on easy mode until you have the basics down. And if you find the game too easy, there are plenty of harder difficulties. I still can’t handle hard mode at all.

One concept from Civ IV that this game sadly misses is the feeling of growth and development over time. When I look at my city at the beginning of the game compared to at the end of the game, there isn’t really a sense of accomplishment there. In Civ IV you can clearly see your empire evolve and adapt over time. The only thing that changes about the appearance of your city in Rebuild is that it gets a lot bigger. I would have liked it if subtle visual changes came from each research advancement, especially electricity.

But I don’t really want to nitpick too much. All in all, I had a lot of fun with the game. I’ve beaten it three times so far, and I’m tempted to play through it again right now. If you like strategy games, you should totally click that link at the beginning of the post. I think you’ll like it too. I need to keep games like this in mind when I’m looking for more flash games to play. It helps keep the optimism going.

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Guy of My Dreams

Okay, so if you’ve been checking my blog regularly you saw that three weeks ago I gave praise to the Kongregate developer Nerdook for his wide variety of creative and imaginative games. I said a lot of good things about his game I Am An Insane Rogue AI, applauding its original gameplay mechanics and clever story concept.

Well, this week I happened to stumble over one of his previous games, Guy of My Dreams, which seems to be a game designed specifically to piss me off.

So here’s how this game works. You start off as a 16 year old girl who wants to find love and happiness in her life (and apparently she’s suffering from some sort of illness that causes her life to end at the arbitrary age of 50). So she sets out to find love the old-fashioned way: by finding a guy that looks cute and latching on to him.

Actually, that’s not exactly fair to her. She isn’t the one latching on to the guys; it seems to be quite the opposite. When you see a guy you’re interested in, you just walk up to him and his head becomes glued to yours. Then you can take him wherever you’d like, and if you find another guy you’re more interested in you can press the space bar to drop the first guy off at the nearest dump.

Other ways to lose your boyfriend include walking into a skull which causes him to die, and colliding with any other girl in the game, who will instantly steal him from you. Yeah, apparently no other girl can pick up a guy on her own; she has to steal him from another girl (i.e. you).

Anyway, the amount of happiness you can receive from your boyfriend is measured by how much he looks like your “dream guy” and three randomly generated personality traits, and the amount of happiness each of these traits produces is laughably arbitrary.

Well he may be rude, bad tempered and over-emotional, but he looks just like my "dream guy," so I guess I'll stay with him!

Don’t worry if you can’t find a good-looking guy though, because there are other ways to gain happiness! You pick up folders that apparently make your career better somehow, and you can collect three one-time-happy-bonus items: flowers, chocolate, and jewelry. That’s right, folks. If you want to make a girl happy, you give her flowers, chocolate and jewelry. That’s all she needs.

Oh, wait, let me fix that. Flowers and jewelry won’t make her happy unless she has a boyfriend. So I guess girls can’t appreciate flowers and jewelry unless they have someone to share it with?

Honestly, the way men and women are portrayed in this game just comes off as incredibly sexist. This game seems like it was made by an alien who learned everything it knows about human love by studying romantic comedies.

And I know that at least one of you is thinking this game might have been made ironically, but I really don’t think that’s the case, because Nerdook himself said that this was his attempt at making a “girl-ier” game — meaning this game was meant to appeal to girls. That much is also very clear from the cute, colorful visuals and soft soundtrack. At this point, trying to defend this game by calling it ironic would be like trying to defend Twilight by calling it ironic.

Virtually the only positive remark I can make about this game is that the song that plays in the background during gameplay is great. And of course it’s great, because it’s a remake of a classic 60’s song, Georgy Girl. And I actually think that was a great choice for this game, because it really fits the theme of a sad young girl wanting to find love and happiness.

Other than that, the gameplay is dull and repetitive, and the concepts behind the game are mind-bogglingly offensive.

Incidentally, I know that Nerdook saw this sort of backlash coming, because look at the bottom of this picture:

I get that he doesn’t want us to take it seriously, but the three words that jump out at me are “just a game.” Oh yeah. It’s just a game. Silly me, I forgot that games aren’t capable of making any sort of artistic or meaningful statement, because they’re just shiny little toys for us to play with.

A lot of gamers (myself included) and game developers have been trying to make people take the medium of gaming seriously for awhile now, but Nerdook seems to be on the other side of the fence for that topic.

After I played I Am An Insane Rogue AI, I really didn’t think I was going to ever encounter a game by Nerdook that I would give a rating of one star to. Life is just full of surprises, I guess.


Quicksaving

If I could enact a second game-related law, it would be this:

Every PC game must allow quicksaving.

I got Velvet Assassin awhile ago because I was craving stealth gameplay, and despite it having a lot of flaws, I thought it was a pretty fun game. I stopped playing after the first few missions though, because of the simple fact that it doesn’t allow you to quicksave.

If you die, you have to go back to the last checkpoint, and sometimes those checkpoints are sparse. I’d have to go through several rooms, evading the guards, slowly crouch-walking through and assassinating each one in the same way over and over again, because I couldn’t get past one room that was right before the next checkpoint.

Maybe I’m just not as patient as some of you über-gamers, but I think it’s fair for me to be frustrated by that.

I thought of this today as I was playing Half-Life. This game autosaves at preset checkpoints, but it also lets you quicksave. This is incredibly helpful, because like in Velvet Assassin, it’s very easy to die. I’ve been having a ton of fun with Half-Life, but if it didn’t have a quicksave feature, I probably would have stopped playing it awhile ago. I would never have gotten to experience the entirety of this awesome game.

I’m pretty sure most PC games that don’t have quicksaving lack it because the developers just forgot to include it when they ported it from the consoles, but I have a feeling that some games don’t let you quicksave because they’re afraid we’ll take too much advantage of it. I know this to be the case with Alpha Protocol, because it does let you save at any point, but its save feature only lets you “save the last checkpoint,” implying that they purposely stopped us from saving at the specific point we’re at in the game.

I can see why they wouldn’t want us to be able to quicksave during combat, because we could just keep hitting the quicksave button whenever we land a successful hit and win each battle without utilizing any actual skill. If that’s the case though, how about you only let us quicksave when we’re out of combat? That wouldn’t be hard to do, would it? And I see no reason why we should be forced to repeat the same five combat sequences over and over because we can’t win the sixth.

The bottom line is this: The reasons to include quicksaving far outweigh the reasons not to include it. It’s like including difficulty levels. Everybody should be able to complete the game, not just the obsessive freaks. And if the obsessive freaks want the challenge, then they can just choose not to quicksave.


Games that Pass the Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a little test that people use for movies to see if they have gender diversity. For a movie to pass the test, it must:

  1. Have at least two female characters
  2. That talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.

I figure that this test can also be applied to video games, and for purposes of gender diversity I added an extra rule: It doesn’t count if you create your own female character that converses with a female NPC. If that counted, then just about every RPG would pass.

So either two female NPCs must converse with one another, or if the player character is established by the developer as a female, then it counts if she interacts with a female NPC.

A lot of games fail to meet these requirements, because they either have no female characters or they only have one character who plays the role of “the girl.” Here’s some games I can think of that pass the test.

Obviously these aren’t all the games that pass the test, but these are just some that I’ve played and/or heard about.

Half Life 2


This one doesn’t surprise me at all. Valve really seems to have mastered NPC interaction better than any other video game developer I can think of. There are many female characters in the game, but I can think of only two major female NPCs: Alyx Vance and Dr. Mossman. They’re both very well established characters, complete with personalities, flaws, and motivations. And I know of at least one scene where they talk to each other about  something other than a man.

Beyond Good & Evil


This game has a lot of female interaction by default because the main character is a girl, and there are plenty of female NPCs that she talks to throughout her adventure. This game is a shining example of the gender diversity that should be prominent in the gaming industry.

And I think it deserves special mention because Jade is probably my favorite female character ever in a game. She has flaws, goals, and ambitions; she’s determined, charming, friendly, and she acts like a real person. Hats off to you, Ubisoft.

Mass Effect 2


Right off the bat I can recall a dialogue scene between Miranda and Jack. I’m sure there are more scenes than that one that involve two female NPCs talking, especially since the Asari species is comprised entirely of females (don’t ask how that works). I’m well aware that probably every Bioware game out there passes the Bechdel Test, but I don’t feel like delving into that.

Left 4 Dead 2: The Passing


Left 4 Dead and its successor each had three male characters and one female. Some people criticized the games for that, claiming that each female was just the token girl character of the game. I disagree. Both Zoey and Rochelle are well established and relatable characters. However, neither of these games would have passed the Bechdel Test if it were not for the add-on campaign The Passing, which involves the two groups meeting one another. There’s a chance of seeing Zoey and Rochelle talk to one another at the beginning of the campaign.

Dead or Alive Xtreme 2


Now, obviously this isn’t the kind of game you’d want to use as proof that games are artistic. In fact, this game probably isn’t something you’d want your wife or girlfriend to see at all. But despite the game looking like a Girls Gone Wild video without the nudity, it does technically pass the test, since virtually every character in the game is female.

Don’t get me wrong; I think this game is stupid and insipid. I’m just putting it on the list to show that passing the Bechdel Test does not automatically protect a game from accusations of sexism.

 

Well, that’s all the games I feel like listing at the moment. Incidentally, I’m noticing that almost all the games on this list end with 2. That’s a bit odd…

So now I ask you, what games can you think of that pass the Bechdel Test?