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Archive for March, 2011

Run 2

I was actually going to write about something else this week, but I haven’t been able to get myself to write about it and have instead been playing Run 2 all day. So I figured I might as well talk about that instead.

I kind of want to know what they're doing in this shot. Are they getting to race?

The original Run came out over two years ago, and it was pretty good. The concept was pretty simple: you control a weird gray alien thing and freerun across platforms in space. The big innovative feature was the fact that when you jumped onto a wall, gravity would shift so that the wall became the floor. It made for some entertaining and challenging gameplay where you’d have to observe the level to figure out which way is the best way to avoid falling off the map.

My problem with the game was that while the game made a fairly big deal about how you were navigating in a 3D world, the platforms themselves were completely two-dimensional. This made the level design very limited. Yeah, some of the levels came up with pretty creative ways of throwing you off, but eventually it all started to feel samey.

Well I’m happy to report that this problem is gone in the sequel. Now the platforms are all three-dimensional, and you have to jump between blocks that are set at different levels of height and depth. This opens up all sorts of new possibilities for level design, and if you thought the first game was tough and confusing, you’re gonna have a lot of fun with this one.

That innovation alone probably would have been enough to hold up a whole new game, but it’s only the first of three new ideas that this game came along with. The second one can be seen right on the title screen, and it sort of renders the name of the game half obsolete. See, this game only involves running in half of the levels. In the other half of the levels, you’re skating. The skater is a lot harder to control than the runner, but he can jump farther, so he’s essentially like Luigi in Mario: The Lost Levels (that’s Mario 2 in Japan). Oh, and when the game says that he’s “harder to control,” good lord, it is not kidding.

Could someone please tell me what the hell is going on?!

The last new feature is probably my favorite. In each level there’s one glowy thing called a bonus, and if you collect them you can unlock extra bonus levels. This obviously isn’t an original idea in the slightest, but it adds a lot to the gameplay. They’re always hidden in clever places, and you have to come up with alternate ways of getting through the levels by jumping onto the bottom side of a platform or going on a very dangerous jump to get to it or even just to see it. It makes every level at least twice as replayable. I still haven’t gotten them all yet.

So in summary, this game is really creative and clever. I see no reason not to like it, unless you aren’t experienced with platformers (which is totally understandable, mind you). On the whole, I say you should definitely give the game a shot if you have time.

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Are Games Art?

Okay, now before I get into this, I want to clarify to anybody who misunderstood my last post (and I don’t blame you): I do not think fighting games suck, and I never meant to imply anything like that. Yes, I hate them, but I don’t think they’re inherently bad. That would be ignorant of me, especially since it’s very easy to tell why I don’t like them — I don’t like competitive gaming.

You see, somebody else wrote an entire article responding to my article about fighting games, and it was clear to me that he wasn’t the only one that instinctively thought I was trying to bash the whole genre down. And that was my fault, really. I should have made it clear that I don’t think the whole genre sucks just because I don’t like it.

(As a side note, when he said “In retrospect, went a bit hard on the guy” that was a pretty massive understatement. I’m assuming most if not all of you didn’t get to see his original unedited post, and let me just say that by the time I finished reading it I almost thought he was a troll. But hey, at least he had the decency to edit his post, right?)

I don’t want to spend this whole post going over the whole fighting game topic again, because I’m pretty sure most of you don’t care by now. But I read somebody’s comment on his article that conveniently brings up a topic I’ve been wanting to discuss in detail for awhile.

“All im going to say here is that the fact the fighters are centered around competition, doesnt make the game any less of an art/entertainment medium. If you understand the physics of the game, and than watch a master play, its sometimes some of the most artistic and entertaining things youll ever see in a video game. because they give players the oppurtunity to take what the game has for them, and apply it in amazing and creative ways. something that you dont really get from many games outside of customising the looks of the main character.”

I disagree with this assertion completely. Being able to utilize your abilities in a video game in the way that professional gamers do is an impressive skill, but that’s all it is — a skill. Skill does not translate to art, and I don’t see that as artistic in any way. I’d consider it about as artistic as a successful touchdown in football (i.e. not at all).

But if that’s not art, then that begs the question of what exactly art is.

Some people tend to give art a definition, but some people basically say “I’ll know it when I see it.” At the same time, a lot of people like to make claims as to whether or not video games are art. My opinion is that if you can’t come up with your own definition of art, then you have no business claiming that video games are or are not art. After all, if art has no substantial meaning, then isn’t it worthless as a label?

Some might say you could use a dictionary definition, but I’ve found the dictionary definitions of art to be useless. Here’s the definition of art as given by dictionary.com:

“The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.”

If you strip away the extraneous words, you basically get “That which is aesthetically appealing.” In other words, anything that is beautiful is art according to the dictionary. I think that’s a stupid definition.

So if you want to claim whether or not video games are art, then I challenge you to answer the following three questions:

  1. What is your personal definition for the word “art”?
  2. Are there any video games that fit this definition?
  3. If so, can you name any specific examples? (And don’t just say “Yes I can,” actually name them.)

Anybody want to speak up?

Nobody? Okay, I guess I’ll go first.

  1. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a good definition, and after talking with my brother about it, here’s the best one I can come up with: Art can be described as any man-made creation that seeks to explore or represent something in an intellectual way.
  2. Yes, there definitely have been games I’ve played that fit the bill. Most games, however, do not. Most games focus on entertainment rather than art, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t think that an entertaining game is automatically an artistic game. For example, Nintendo has made a lot of good games, but I can’t think of a single Nintendo game that I would classify as art.
  3. I’m not going to mention all the games I think are artistic right now, but I will mention my top two: Deus Ex and Mass Effect 2. Both of those games explore political ideologies and offer compelling social commentary. Deus Ex in particular goes into some really deep topics toward the end, and the endgame choice you’re forced to make is the most memorable choice I’ve ever had to make in a game.

(FYI, you’re going to hear me talk about Deus Ex a lot from time to time. That game is my sacred cow. And it’s not because of nostalgia, because I was only first introduced to the game less than a year ago.)

I was going to talk in more detail about the artistic merit in both of those games, but I think my post is getting excessively long. I think I’ll be doing retrospective reviews on specific games I find artistic eventually.

Okay then, now it’s your turn!


Why I Hate Fighting Games

For a long time I’ve sort of had a love/hate relationship with fighting games. I’ve always liked the basic concept of them, but I’ve never been able to actually get good at them. For years I’ve put forth an effort to play and enjoy fighting games, but it’s never worked out, and I’ve always either suffered from an endless stream of shame and failure or had to resort to simple and accessible tactics that hardcore players declare “cheap.”

My latest adventure into the genre was with Marvel vs. Capcom 3, a game that my friends and I have been playing together about once a week since it was released. This time I vowed that I was actually going to learn things by researching combos and tactics, rather than my usual method of trial and error. My friend explained to me some of the basic tactics. I looked up combos for all the characters I played as. I actually enjoyed playing as Wolverine and X-23.

But apparently what I was doing wasn’t working, because all my friends have been decimating me, and one of my friends (the one who has been tearing me apart the most) confessed that he made no attempt whatsoever to actually learn the combos and tactics. He just picked up the controller and did whatever came naturally; basically what I’ve always tried to do, and it apparently worked like a charm for him and while I studied and researched my ass off, I got to lose over and over, again and again.

I think I’ve come to fully realize that fighting games are just not my cup of tea.

They’re heavily centered around competition, and competition has never been my focus in games. I’ve always preferred single player and coop. Playing a single player/cooperative shooter or an RPG or an action game is sort of like sitting down to read a book or watch a movie (but more fun, in my opinion anyway). You can immerse yourself in the setting and story, play at your own pace, and find entertainment however you see fit. Competitive games don’t have that level of immersion. When you’re playing against someone in Street Fighter or playing online in Halo, there’s no narrative, no atmosphere, no pacing and no sense of flow for me. You’re just competing over and over to see who’s best at this meaningless skill. It feels like the gaming equivalent of competitive sports, which is fitting, because I’ve never liked sports either (and not just because I’m nonathletic).

This isn’t to say that I’m not a competitive person. I enjoy competition. I’ve played competitively in Starcraft 2, and I had fun with that to a degree. My problem is that fighting games are basically only about competition, and nothing else. I’ve never heard of a single fighting game with a strong narrative and atmosphere, and whenever I ask why fighting games don’t have that, people laugh it off and say that that’s just not the point of it. For all my favorite genres I can think of, there is at least one game off the top of my head that has a strong narrative and atmosphere. For shooters, there’s Half-Life 2. For platformers, there’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. For strategy games, there’s Starcraft. For RPGs, there’s… Well, I think most RPGs count for that. But with fighting games, the only purpose I can see in it is competition.

Fighting games were a dying niche up until Street Fighter IV came along and revitalized the genre. That saddened me. I really wanted to see fighting games die off completely. This got me thinking; I can’t think of any other genre of games that I genuinely hate. I don’t really like sports games or point & click adventure games, but I don’t mind the fact that they exist. Conversely, I would love to see the entire genre of fighting games die in a fire.

This goes much deeper than my lack of desire to play competitively. Most of my gaming friends seem to love fighting games, and a lot of them seem to expect me to like them as well. But whenever I’ve approached a fighting game I’ve always ended up walking face-first into an impenetrable wall of memorization and muscle memory, and whenever I’ve tried to scale that wall it’s always just ended in frustration and irritation.

To me, the fighting game genre is like the popular guy at school who all your friends love and adore, but for some inexplicable reason he hates you and never invites you to any of his big parties. Well you know what? Fuck you too, fighting games. I’ve been trying for years and years to get you to let me in, but if you’re not going to accept me, then I’m done trying to impress you. I already have friends who like me for who I am, and Mr. Shooter and Mrs. RPG don’t expect me to spend a month of my life learning everything about them before I can have fun with them.

Up until a few days ago I was seriously considering buying Street Fighter IV, because I figured that if I could have my own modern fighting game then maybe I could learn how they work. But I’m done. I’m through trying to learn to like these games. I’m not giving any of my money to these developers so they can continue to make games that reinforce the medium as an elitist sport rather than a form of art and entertainment.

(By the way, if you’ve already looked at my About Me page before, you might want to check it again. I decided to make it a bit less insipid.)


NGD Podcast 2: Enough purple rocks already!

This week I decided to get worked up about BIT.TRIP RUNNER.

This game made me think about how fragile the gaming experience is. They worked a lot over the visual design, sound design, level design and gameplay, and yet just a few bad design choices lead to me being frustrated beyond belief rather than entertained.


Manuals

Awhile back I decided to try out Fallout 2, mainly because I had already played Fallout 3 and loved it to bits. I knew that the original two Fallout games were very different than the third, but I figured that I might as well try it out.

Well, as it turns out, I didn’t like it. My main problem with the game was that I didn’t quite understand the interface, and nothing about the interface was explained at all. I had to just learn things on my own, and it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to get good by doing that. When I talked about this on forums, people told me that I needed to read the manual. The Fallout 2 manual is 166 pages long, and when I said that I didn’t want to read all that, they called me lazy.

That bothers me a lot.

Somebody said to me, “Why don’t you want to read the manual, I mean it’s there for you to read it, why else would it be there?”

Here’s my opinion: Games shouldn’t need manuals at all. If you ask me, most games shouldn’t have manuals, and the games that do have manuals (which would probably be complex RPGs and strategy games) should use the manuals simply as indexes for all of the different abilities, statistics, and other information within the game.

Why do I think this? Because when I sit down to play a game I want to do exactly that – I want to play the game. I don’t want to read fifty pages about how to play the game. A good game can gradually introduce the interface to you as you play through the beginning. If your interface is too complicated to be explained within gameplay, then your interface is probably too convoluted and cluttered and needs to be streamlined somewhat.

I know I may be sounding like a twitchy, instant-gratification type of gamer, but imagine if any other art form did this. Imagine if before you watched a movie, you had to read fifty bland pages about the back story of the setting, and that if you didn’t read every boring page, then you wouldn’t be expected to have any idea of what’s going on in the movie. And then imagine that if you complained about this, people would just call you lazy.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that I can sit down and watch a movie with no prior work involved, and I’m also glad that I can do the same thing with most games nowadays. And if that makes me lazy, then so be it.


NGD Podcast 1: I suck at fighting games!

UPDATE: I deleted the video. Partially because it sucked, but mostly because of copyright laws and whatnot. Sorry.

I’ve been thinking about starting a podcast for awhile, and now is as good a time as any, so here goes.

I know that the quality sucks and that this podcast is very unprofessional and unrefined at the moment. I pretty much decided to do this on a whim, so bear with me.

I’m all for challenge in a game. My problem is that this is the easiest difficulty. This is something I’ve noticed about a lot of fighting games, and a lot of games in general.

I’ve been playing video games for most of my life, so I learn controls pretty quickly nowadays. So if I’m playing on the easiest difficulty of a game (a game that has more than 5 difficulty levels, no less) and I’m still getting my ass kicked match after match after match, I think it’s safe to say that they need to tone it down.

Anyway, let me know if you’d like me to continue making these videos. I might make it a weekly thing in addition to the weekly articles. Feedback and suggestions are also very much appreciated.

(EDIT: Also, I forgot to mention this until now, but I’m not sure why the video got cut off at the end. I’ll try to fix that problem if I run into it again.)