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My clumsy adventures into Let’s Play territory continue! A few personal friends and I have started a Youtube channel called Insert Game Here. The first game we’re covering is Super Mario Sunshine. Here’s episode 1:

And here’s episode 2.

Yes, I know the audio for our voices isn’t great. What I don’t know is why episode 2 is so much quieter than episode 1. Bear in mind that I’m not doing the editing this time.

We haven’t decided on what sort of release schedule we’re going for, and we don’t know what we’ll be able to keep up with until we turn this into a routine. Our own work/school schedules tend to conflict with one another, so we don’t know how often we can record episodes. I guess we’ll find out. The important thing to note is that since I’m not editing or uploading the videos, you don’t have to worry about me being lazy and putting off episode uploads for long periods of time.

Alright, now I want to explain what I was talking about with regard to moving platforms in episode 2. I was hoping Aeroguns would add a diagram like I suggested, but he didn’t. In a nutshell, most game devs haven’t figured out how to incorporate the law of inertia into their physics engines yet. The law of inertia states that an object will maintain its velocity until acted upon by an outside force. When I started talking about an airplane and making hand-gestures you couldn’t see, I was talking about this:

If someone or something were to drop out of a moving plane, it wouldn’t just dive straight downward; it would begin moving in the same direction as the plane, and then gravity and wind resistance would gradually turn its direction downward. The same applies if you jump in an elevator, or off the roof of a car as Aeroguns suggested. (Don’t try that at home, kids!)

But in a game, when you jump off of a platform or in an elevator, your momentum isn’t preserved at all. If you jump in an elevator moving down in a typical FPS, you’ll suddenly fly up to the ceiling, and then slowly glide back down to the bottom, and then take falling damage when you land. That’s not how physics works.

Anyway, in other news: Holy shit, has it actually been almost two months since I last updated this blog? Geez. Sorry about that, guys. I got a new job last month, but that doesn’t explain all of the inactivity. I’m gonna try to post more in the near future.

It isn’t too late for a Games of Note 2012, is it…?


LPing is Hard

Hey, do you guys watch Game Grumps? I do. I love JonTron, I love Egoraptor, and I think their Let’s Play show is great so far. I’m especially loving their playthrough of Sonic 2006. I had no idea how bewildering the game is. It’s like every single level has at least one thing horribly, hilariously wrong with it.

Recently a lot of Game Grumps fans have become frustrated by the Sonic ’06 playthrough. I’ve noticed many comments on Youtube and the GameGrumps subreddit complaining about them missing obvious hints about where to go and what to do, and then getting stuck. Here’s an example from today…

In the episode they don’t know what to do when they get to the water. They know Silver (the character they’re playing as) has telekinetic powers, but they don’t know how to use that to get across a very long jump. They try lifting a crate and moving it across with them on top, but it wouldn’t go far enough, and the crates don’t float above the water, so they just die as soon as their power runs out.

When you first reach that point, Silver says “I think I can knock that structure down.” He says it once, without warning. He doesn’t repeat it unless you die and get to that point in the level again. This happened. I think it popped up a total of three times. What this means is that you’re supposed to throw a crate at the wooden structure-thing far ahead of you, which will knock it down so you can jump onto the platform.

So people on Youtube and Reddit tell them they’re idiots for not noticing it.

Here’s the thing. I used to get angry about stuff like this too. I used to get so frustrated whenever (say) Josh on Spoiler Warning made some stupid mistake or couldn’t tell where he was supposed to go even though it was obvious. It used to make my blood boil. “I know he’s a smart guy, how can he not see this shit?!”

Then I tried making my own LP, and I realized that it’s harder than it looks to us viewers. As a viewer, all you’re doing is watching and listening. Jon and Arin are watching, playing the game, having a conversation with a friend, and making sure they aren’t being too boring for the show. You have to divide your attention between your game, your friend, and your show. If you focus on the game, your show will be boring. If you focus on providing entertainment for your audience, then, well, you’ll make stupid mistakes in the game now and then, as Jon and Arin do.

This is harder than it sounds. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. I have, and I can attest that it requires a lot of practice to make your show anywhere near watchable while also not completely fucking up in the game. But if you’ve never done it, it’s impossible to tell from watching.

Now, as for this particular problem Jon and Arin ran into, let’s consider the following:

  • As I said before, Silver only makes the comment about “knocking down a structure” once. Well, once per life spent.
  • Most of the tips in Sonic ’06 are vague at best and flat-out useless at worst. And if we’re talking about what Sonic (or Silver, or any other player character) says out loud, well, I can’t tell you how many times he says something stupid and unhelpful. It’s no use!
  • This is the first time the game has ever required you to knock down any structure whatsoever.
  • The structure is pretty damn far away from the platform you’re on, and it doesn’t really stand out. Hell, I saw Silver’s “hint,” and I wasn’t even sure what they needed to do until they spent several minutes trying to figure it out.

So yeah, if anybody is willing to say this is completely Jon and Arin’s fault rather than the game having bad presentation and horrible design, then I’m not sure what to say to that.

As I said at the beginning, I’m a fan of the show, and I’ll admit that that probably affects my reaction to all this. But I’m also speaking as someone who’s tried his hand at LPing, and I can tell you it’s tough work to do well. It’s easy to think someone is an idiot because he made some stupid mistakes in his LP, but remember that playing a game for a co-commentator LP is very, very different from playing a game by yourself, for yourself.

Also, merry Christmas, I guess.


My Take On “Fun”

Here’s the latest episode of Errant Signal, from Chris Franklin. I’m a fan of his show, as I’ve said before, but I feel kind of ambivalent toward this video.

I actually had a debate with my brother Josh about this exact topic awhile ago. I’ve always been one to claim that Games Must Be Fun, and my brother argued that this mentality is holding gaming back as a narrative medium (basically the exact same point Chris starts arguing at around the 4 minute mark in his video).

One particular point Josh made was, “We don’t have the same expectation for movies.”

My response was, “Actually, yeah, I do.”

Josh: “Didn’t you say your favorite movie was Fight Club? You wouldn’t call that movie ‘fun,’ would you?”

Me: “I… I think I would.”

And I think that really exemplified the crux of the argument. It isn’t a problem with the mentality with which we approach games; it’s a problem with semantics. When I say that games must be fun, what I mean is that games must not be boring. And I stand by that point. If a game is boring, it has failed. The same goes for movies, books, TV shows, etc. It’s the cardinal sin for any medium of entertainment — if it’s boring, that means I’m not engaged and my time is being wasted.

I suppose you could say my definition of “fun” is basically synonymous with “satisfying.” If I say a game is fun, that means I felt satisfied with it after playing it.

The example Chris used for why this is a problem is with Dead Rising. He said gamers hated and complained about Dead Rising only featuring one save file, even though the game did that specifically to force you to make and live through tough decisions. My response would be that Dead Rising’s save feature arguably wouldn’t necessarily lower the ‘fun’ rating for the game if it did achieve its goal. It was designed to heighten tension, and tension can make a game more fun if done properly, at least for me.

I never played Dead Rising, but while I generally despise games that don’t let me save freely and in at least two separate slots, I could see merit in Dead Rising’s approach. After all, I also generally hate games that don’t let you quicksave, but I think Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s lack of quicksaving really heightened the suspense and the horror. If I could have quicksaved, jumped out to see where the monster was and then jammed F9 just before it killed me, I think that would have effectively made the game less fun for me.

I think the problem stems from my and many others’ definition of fun being fundamentally different from Chris’s, Josh’s, and many others’ definition of fun. I guess the easy solution to this would be consulting the dictionary, but I don’t think that will actually change things.

Mind you, I’m not in any way trying to disqualify the validity of Chris’s video. I still think it’s a worthwhile topic to discuss. Semantic arguments are the absolute worst arguments to be part of, but they still need to happen now and again. That’s how language works.


Game-Story-Art: A Gamer Survey for YOU

Heather Young, wife of web-personality-who-I-can’t-seem-to-stop-mentioning Shamus Young, has made a survey of sorts on her blog. She’s compiled a list of different reasons for why people play games, and she wants to know why YOU play games and what you think of her list.

She’s made the list in collaboration with her husband and with James Portnow of Extra Credits fame, and as people have commented she has edited and added extra entries to the list. So far it is as follows:

  • Escape
  • Story
  • Goal
  • God Complex
  • Aesthetics
  • Comfort
  • Achievement
  • Reflex
  • Explore
  • Compete
  • Social
  • Bonding
  • Risk
  • Zen
  • Self-expression
  • Craft
  • Optimization
  • Empowerment
  • Novelty
  • Fandom

Please, go read the post yourself to see what each one of those means.

I really like the list. It reminds me of that BrainHex thing I wrote about awhile back, but it’s considerably more subdivided.

I might as well copy and paste my own response:

I probably have enjoyed games for most of the reasons you’ve listed, but as for what makes me tick the most?

Well, my four general favorite genres are platformers, stealth games, shooters, and brawlers. I think the reason for all of these comes down to what some have called “kinesthetics” and others have called “game feel.”

I like platformers because I like the feeling of nimbly running and jumping across complex environments. I like stealth games because I like the feeling of quickly and cleverly backstabbing an unsuspecting guard. I like shooters because I like the feeling of running across the battlefield and blasting the enemies to smithereens, and I like brawlers because I like the feeling of bashing down (or slashing, or using whatever weapon the game gives me to down) a cavalcade of mooks. Above all, I love the feeling of being in fast, intense situations, and of being fast, smart, powerful and capable.

This is probably a combination of Aesthetics and Empowerment. Those two would probably be highest on the list for me, though Self-Expression would likely be third (I spend HOURS adjusting my characters’ cosmetics and sometimes make up backstories for them).

As for what I don’t like: Risk, as you’ve called it. I HATE when luck is deliberately made a deciding factor in what happens. When I lose, I want to know it was my fault so I can improve myself and do it right next time. If I die because the d20 landed on a 1, I’m going to feel cheated by the designers of the game.

Anyway, I’ve posted this here so that anybody who hasn’t already seen it can do so.I love these sorts of analysis and categorization systems. It’s not that I feel the need to classify myself; I just find it very fruitful to examine the inner workings of one’s own mind.

Post a comment over there and let her know what you think.


Blue Screen of Awesome

Open up your bookmarks tab, ladies and gentlemen, for there’s a new gaming website to spend hours at a time reading at: Blue Screen of AWESOME.

Of course, there has to be at least two billion gaming websites out these days, and most of your time is probably already taken up by Ninja Game Den, so what makes this one special? Well, I’ll give you one word: Jarenth. Or rather, Jarenth is regularly writing articles and providing commentary on games there. Guess that’s more than one word.

Jarenth, as you all know, is a regular commentator at here, Twenty Sided, Chocolate Hammer, and all those other cool places where the cool people talk about cool stuff. Jarenth is also somebody I have occasional conversations with on Steam. Awhile ago he mentioned something to me about him saying stuff about games with his friends on a website of some sort, so I’ve pretty much been holding my breath since then. Just from reading his comments on other people’s blogs one can tell that Jarenth is a really good writer, and I’ve been wanting to see what entire articles of his would look like.

And now their site appears to be open to the public. Well, it’s been “open to the public” for awhile, but he didn’t throw me a link until yesterday, so whatever.

From the looks of it, each cast member has his own little personalized column devoted to some topic, and then they all join together to review big games Rock-Paper-Shotgun style. Jarenth’s little corner is called Indie Wonderland, and it appears to be devoted entirely to writing about cheap little indie games.

I find this interesting, because that’s exactly the sort of thing I was originally planning to do with my blog when I first started. My first two posts were about Plain Sight, an indie deathmatch game, and Plants vs. Zombies, a tower defense game that technically isn’t indie but goes for $10 nonetheless. I was considering devoting this blog entirely to the little leagues, but then I remembered that I generally can’t focus on something for more than eight seconds.

In any case, Jarenth has already written about a few games I was thinking of writing about but never did (Xotic, The Binding of Isaac). You should go read those. His opinions of those games are eerily similar to my own, and yet slightly more eloquent and sexy. There’s also a guy who plays MMOs, and another guy who plays… Soccer, I guess? Whatever. You’ve got time. Go read it. This is journalism, people. It’s serious business.


Tomb Raider

Roughly three weeks ago on an episode of The Big Picture, Bob talked about sexism in gaming and why feminists have such an issue with it.

Now, I’ve had issues with many of the things MovieBob has said in the past. (PC gaming is dead and anybody who says otherwise is in denial, the Hitman franchise is nothing but “flash-in-the-pan,” the entire first person shooter genre is bad for the games industry because of Call of Duty, Metroid: Other M wasn’t a pile of shit, etc.)

But I really like this video of his. He makes great points, and I think he did an effective job at summarizing why pandering, hyper-sexualized female characters are detrimental to games and stories in general.

To summarize: He basically stated that the main problem with female characters posing to look sexy for the camera is that it prevents any sense of meaningful characterization in their poses. While you can generally learn all about the personality and disposition of a male character by looking at a picture of him, with female characters all you can tell is that she’s supposed to look hot.

With that in mind, I want to take a look at Lara Croft.

What, exactly, does this picture tell us about Lara Croft’s personality or disposition? We can assume she knows how to use guns, but other than that, what is she doing beyond posing for some hypothetical camera? Nothing, really. This ultimately looks like the cover of a magazine, where Lara has been told to pose in such a way to make her look as enticing as possible.

This is how Lara Croft has been for a good long while. Supposedly she was originally written to be a sort of female equivalent of Indiana Jones, but it didn’t take long for her to become reduced to eye candy. The Tomb Raider series has basically become infamous for this, and it’s very unfortunate, considering the fact that she’s one of gaming’s only major female icons.

Now let’s look at the new Lara Croft.

This is a wallpaper for the new Tomb Raider reboot (or prequel, I forget which) coming out in 2012. Crystal Dynamics has sought to reinvent the character, and depict her in a different light. This light looks far more interesting.

The dirt, cuts and bruises imply she’s been through a lot of pain, but her facial expression implies that she’s confident and ready to push onward. Brave. Strong. This image is inspiring. Lara looks like a really strong, compelling character.

Let’s look at another wallpaper.

Incidentally: Damn, this shot looks really good. And it looks much better in its non-resized form. We haven’t quite hit photorealism yet, but we’re getting close.

This pose shows desperation. Lara is injured, but she’s doing everything she can to survive. She’s pushing onward in the face of death. Also note that the crashed ship in the background and the debris strewn across the ground imply the damage that’s been done and the situation she’s in. This is powerful visual storytelling. It tells us everything we need to know without using one word.

Neither of these shots, nor any of the other images from the new game, are using her as eye candy. She looks like a real character now. A person with motivations and ambitions. Somebody we can relate to.

I have no idea how good the gameplay and story might be in this new Tomb Raider installment, but just from what we can see about Lara Croft, I’m very excited about this. Color me interested, Square-Enix.


Extra Punctuation: What Human Revolution Got Wrong

So for those of you who don’t know, Yahtzee doesn’t just do Zero Punctuation — he also does Extra Punctuation, a written column on The Escapist. He generally uses it to reiterate and elaborate on some point he made in the previous ZP episode.

So this week he talked about ways in which he thinks Deus Ex 1 is better than Human Revolution. And since I still ardently believe Human Revolution is the superior game, I thought I’d offer my own response.

I’m not under the illusion that he’ll ever even see this blog, but whatever.

1. You know who the danged boss characters are

This I absolutely agree with. Despite my immense fondness for Human Revolution, I have to admit that the boss fights are clumsily done, in terms of gameplay and story. They’re entirely needless and entirely horrible. I’ve heard that some spin-off novel explains who the boss characters are and what they have against Jensen, but fuck that shit, seriously. We shouldn’t need additional media just to know what the hell is going on.

2. There are danged melee weapons

I honestly couldn’t care less about this. Yeah, there’s a complete lack of melee weapons, but there are takedowns, which I think more than make up for it. They make more sense and feel more realistic, just like the rest of the game. One aspect of Deus Ex 1 that screwed with my sense of immersion was the ability to charge up and smack guards with a knife until they fall over. It didn’t really feel right, and something tells me Human Revolution wouldn’t have felt right with melee weapons either.

Also, he compares the takedowns to God of War’s special finishing moves, but the major difference to me is that the takedowns in Human Revolution aren’t quick-time-events. If you ask me, that makes them infinitely better.

3. There’s danged specialization

I agree with his point that Human Revolution basically gives you enough points to specialize in everything by the end, but truth be told, I wasn’t very bothered by this. Yes, you can take almost any approach in the final level, but the point is that all those choices are there. To me the whole RPG thing is less about how you build your character and more about how you play your character. Like I’ve said before, what matters most to me is what you’re actually doing during the gameplay, and Human Revolution has quite a variety of player choice in that regard.

4. The danged endings actually danging mean something

I don’t think Human Revolution’s endings are quite as bad as he described them, but I do agree that Deus Ex 1’s endings are much better. I’ll probably have to devote an entire spoiler-filled post to this subject, but for now let me just say that I sort of agree.

5. I VONTED ORANGE IT GAIFF ME LEMON LIME

Now, this is the point I disagree with the most. How could anyone possibly prefer orange over lemon lime? That just bewilders me, and it really makes me question Yahtzee’s validity as a critic.


Zero Punctuation: Deus Ex

Reminder: Fallout stream is happening today at 7:00 PM, CST. Same time as last week.

Today Yahtzee retrospectively reviewed my old favorite game. And apparently next week he’ll be reviewing my new favorite game.

I was expecting him to review Human Revolution for today, but I guess I forgot that Yahtzee’s schedule basically forces him to always be one week behind. In any case, it’s nice to see he liked Deus Ex for the same reasons I did. And he’s definitely correct in his criticisms; the game looked bad, even for its generation. I wasn’t aware of it being poorly optimized, since I only played it last year, but that’s unfortunate.

I’m interested to see what he’ll think of Human Revolution, though part of me suspects he’ll hate it because it has regenerating health and cover-based shooting.


The Jimquisition: BOYCOTT!

The Jimquisition is very hit-and-miss for me. I often like the points that Jim Sterling tries to make, but his arrogant and over-the-top persona is too irritating for me. I know it’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s an annoying and overused joke nonetheless. I guess that could be part of why I loved today’s episode about boycotts; he had so much to say and so many points to make that he didn’t spend any time pleasing himself.

But I also love the points he made. I’m not inherently against boycotts in the games industry, but we as gamers make up boycotts for the dumbest reasons. Ignoring the examples he already used, people “boycotted” Portal 2 because of its completely innocuous and practically unnoticeable Day One DLC, people “boycotted” Team Fortress 2 because it went free (WTF?), people “boycotted” Left 4 Dead 2 because they wanted Valve to make Half-Life 3.

Huh. A lot of Valve fans try to boycott Valve games. Why? Valve has got to be one of the greatest and kindest developers out there today, what did they do to deserve this?

Anyway, while I do think a lot of game boycotts are outright stupid, there are business practices within the industry that really should evoke boycotts. I have the utmost respect for the people who boycotted games like Starcraft 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2 because of their horrendous DRM.

So I absolutely agree with Jim in this case. If we can stop overusing the word boycott, we can start using it for some actual good.

I also love that he brought up people complaining that Fallout 3 wasn’t exactly like Fallout.

Note: I did not edit those words in. These are the images exactly as they appear on the slideshow.

Also, for the record, that whole thing about me not buying Brink because it doesn’t have female characters, that wasn’t a boycott. That was a simple logical decision. I think it’s stupid and sexist that the game didn’t have female characters, especially since character customization was a major selling point, so I didn’t buy it. And the game turned out to be crap anyway, so I consider it a win on my part.


Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

So Valve just announced a new Counter-Strike game.

I knew Valve was going to announce a new game sometime soon, because there’s no way the company could only be working on DOTA 2. But I must say that I’m a bit disappointed. Of all the franchises Valve could continue at this point, Counter-Strike is the only one I’m not particularly interested in.

If they’d announced a new Half-Life, Portal, Left 4 Dead or Team Fortress game I would be ecstatic. But Counter-Strike? Eh. Another competitive war shooter.

Anybody else disappointed?