Sunday, July 20, 2008

Video Games as Jazz

This is from an interesting post over at Versus CluClu Land about how videogames could be compared to jazz. You should definitely have a read through it.

It got me thinking though about my manifesto (seriously, it is coming) and the kinds of videogames I like. I have noticed a general trend in Western videogame design towards empowering the player more and more in their games. In fact, a lack of this empowerment can sometimes be a detriment to the game's reception by the both reviewers and the general public. And, like my rant two posts ago about the kinds of people that play most videogames, it makes me wonder whether this is as a result of western society's values and ideals.

Individualism is prized highly in my own experience of the West, and it makes sense for them to want that in their videogames as well. In Nigeria, I am still not sure what exactly is prized here. On the one hand, people expect conformity, and in fact too much individualism is generally frowned upon. You are a 'troublemaker' in most people's eyes if you want to forge ahead on your own too often. Women are expected to follow a proscribed path and behaviour, and men are fixed in their roles and their allowable faults. On the other though, people here speak their mind and do not kowtow to anybody when push comes to shove. We are a proud (and slightly arrogant) people. Our wants matter. What kinds of games would we make?

I want to make games that subvert the player's will. This I guess ties in with my mindset. Freedom is all well and good, but I believe that the freedom to do whatever one wants is not really true freedom at all. And feeling entitled to it is also quite frankly a bit immature I feel. If I can affect even just one player of any game I make, and have them look at what freedom is and alter their outlook on the world, I will be happy.

Great jazz music can make one look at one's life, and playing and listening to jazz can lead to a greater expression and appreciation of higher things. I think something like Killer 7 is like both kinds of jazz. There may be only one way to play it, but at the end, everyone has their own idea of what happened in the story and why they were doing what they were doing. This may be the ideal to follow. Neither classicist nor improvisational jazz is basically necessarily better than the other, so maybe fusing the two into some sort of complementary paradox is the way for me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rescue the Beagles: The Review

Ok, time to finally put up this review as it has been long overdue.

Rescue the Beagles was created as an entry into the TIGSource's Procedural Generation Competition that finished not too long ago. It also emerged as the winner out of some quite worthy entries. You can check out all the other entrants here.

Rescue the Beagles started pretty well for me. The menu screen is really simple, and has the wonderful background art as its background. The pixel art is also very nice and the music set the tone for the excellent ingame music.

The aim of the game is rescue the titular beagles from the evil forces of cosmetic testers while navigating a procedurally generated three-tiered landscape and avoiding lawyers, radioactive lip balm and giant yeti-looking creatures. I shouldn't forget to mention that you can defeat all the enemies (except for the lip balm, 'cos that would just be weird) by well aimed throws of owls...or their poop...yeah.

If you're like me, once you read that and see what it looks like, you would be drawn in like a fly to a fly zapper.

And after my first couple of play throughs I was hooked! The fact that Bibi could serve as a spotter of beagles and in that way collaborate with me was also a major plus.

The pacing of the game, the graphics, the sound, it all comes together to form quite an interesting arcadey title. The integration of an online high score table is also a definite plus.

Sometimes I do feel like whatever code was used to generate the levels may be a tad unfair, but that could also be me just being crap of course. I also feel that it requires a few more animations to help players get feedback about certain activities. The falling distance of the player is very short and it takes some time to be able to gauge a safe distance to fall reliably. The addition of a panic animation or something similar could alert the player to the fact that they may be about to bite off more than they can chew. And maybe some sort of indicator could be used to let players know when they are close to losing a beagle.

Aside from those little niggles, I am quite happy with the game. It is perfect for a 5-10 minute break, and there is enough depth in the level flow and control schemes to allow for 'advanced' play.

You can get it here.

We need to be bigger.

E3 is done and most of the gaming web is filled with reports, keynote speeches, interviews, features, trailers, the works. It is also filled with moaning, whinging, and groaning about how lacklustre it was, and how people are just disappointed. Now, this is nothing new of course and so this is not really what this post is about. What it is about is the type of people that gaming seems to attract the most -

Self-centred, immature, twats. There. I said it. I was browsing kotaku, just trying to catch up on some of the E3 news that I had been postponing, and I came across their article on Wii music from the Nintendo Developer Roundtable. If you read that post first, it will explain the rest of my rant to follow.

The responses have just been disheartening. Are people just so blinkered that they can focus on one quote by Miyamoto and take it to mean that Nintendo had betrayed them and it is time to lament the good ol'days? Or is it the medium of text that by its nature can remove the context of a statement without careful phrasing? Or is it just Kotaku stirring up controversy?

Man, I am pissed. Just because he said that since it wasn't gamey it was better than a videogame, doesn't mean that he believes that games are stupid, or that Nintendo won't make 'gamey' games any more. This is a man who designed and put out Mario Galaxy! A game that most people went gaga over online last year. Less than ayear ago! Maybe some perspective is in order? Anyone ever think that maybe Miyamoto was just annoyed at all the press that has led to people believing that normal games are not being put out on the Wii and this is feeding back into the publishers and some developers who now seem to believe that the Wii is not for their more mainstream fare? He hears it again one more time, and he responded a bit testily? Hell, I would! Screw you and your videogames then if Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime, Boom Blox, Lost Winds, Trauma Centre, Mario Kart, Excite Truck are not gamey enough and make our console solely a casual console. Yes! Wii Fit is better than a standard videogame! We are making people exercise. Yes! Wii Music is better than your standard videogame! We want to get people interested in music! We are attracting a crowd that is interested in more than just shooting, jumping, breaking, burning, and destroying things.*

Imagine that, I can say all this and I don't even own a Wii. It's not rocket science to think bigger/wider.

Sometimes I fear that videogames as most of them currently are reinforce this sort of attitude in gamers. Most games offer instant gratification for relatively little input, empower the player and place them in the position of Campbell's Hero archetype. They make the players feel special. And entitled. People whinge when they don't get what they want and refuse to look at a bigger picture or even the other side of the argument. These games do not ask for them to do so either. In fact, games pander to this demographic. I believe game designers should try and take a more active role in trying to destroy this mindset by creating more game systems that subvert or oppose this way of thinking. There should be more games like Shadow of the Colossus where the standard videogame trope of being the powerful hero on a quest to save someone is subverted in a really great way through the use of the gameplay and the visuals.

Where are all the thinking gamers? Do they still only play Go, or chess? Where are the ones that play videogames? The gamers that game not only for fun and relaxation, but also as a source of understanding themselves better, and in the case of competitive games, their opponents as well, or even gaming as a means to enlightenment. Speak up people! Maybe if gamers had more people like that to look up to, maybe we could excise our community from the general mess that the current generation seems to be developing (We could also create a better image of our pasttime. After all, if you meet someone who plays chess or Go, or one of those types of games, it is natural to assume that they must be smart on some level). We should not accept all the limited thinking that is going on!

Then again, maybe the problem is not most gamers and the fact that games could maybe be reinforcing this behaviour. It could just be that the internet attracts a LOT of people, and unfortunately, most of humanity is just plain not interested in thinking or being bigger.

UPDATE: Just ran across some links with game designers talking about implementing some of things I am ranting about on here. One is a link from The Brainy Gamer, who by the way is also a very good example of the kind of gamer I am hoping we have more of. The second is from the creator of The Baron (reviewed here) and Fate (also reviewed by Emily Short here)

*This could be completely wrong of course.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I just finished one of the stories in Knytt Stories! This one was called 'The machine', and although it wasn't hard, I felt like I had to mention this simply because even though I have had Knytt Stories and its predecessor, Knytt, I haven't been able to keep at any of them until I completed them. It was simply enough for me to soak in the music and atmosphere. I felt like I didn't need to finish.

Well, that was until today really. I saw the end coming, and I went to pull the lever. The pay-off was very nice too. Moving through the world I had just saved was a really great experience and a perfect ending in keeping with the mood of the game.

This got me thinking about completing games and the huge pile that I still have to finish on my PC. Console games are easy enough for me to complete. I got my ps3 not long ago and I have already finished Armored Core 4, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Metal Gear Solid 4, Dynasty Warriors 6 and Call of Duty 4. That's a lot of games to finish in less than a month.

Unfortunately, on the PC it is a different story. I have loads of games sitting and waiting for me to complete them. There's Half Life 2: Episodes 1 & 2, loads of indie games (the aforementioned Knytt can finally be removed from that list!), Planescape torment and Diablo 2(both of which I was playing through again although I have never finished the latter), Grim Fandango (first time through, haven't finished yet), Far Cry (stopped once they began to introduce xxxxxxx), and Sins of a Solar Empire (which I got from a friend).

I think what it is is that I no longer have my PC in my house. I game during breaks (and sometimes when I really should be working)at work and it really cramps my style. A lot of these games require quite a commitment of time and more importantly me entering a mindspace that is quite frankly incompatible with the work environment. It's quite interesting to me that I can watch anime or even a movie in bits, pausing whenever I have to get back to work, but I can't do the same with a videogame. Once I pause a game a couple of times to work, I lose interest in going back in. It begins to feel like work I don't have to do. Figuring out the puzzles and going through the motions of actually playing and entering the game's space just fill me with a sense of dread that I have to overcome if I want to progress.

It requires a really compelling reason for me to continue that will make me forget or in fact not even have those thoughts at all. A recent game like this was Shadow of the Colossus. The boss fights were just the right length for me and since there were no levels, moving around to the next colossus was not only stress free, it was actually a very moving experience in a way.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Okay, so it's been a couple of days. Got caught up with work and trying to sort out my IF game-in-progress. I think I need to set myself a deadline of some sort to at least have the first scenario done. I am also working on a post regarding a kind of manifesto of what kind of games I want to make under the 'some kill giants' moniker. I am also working on a review of Rescue the Beagles which is still on my hype banner.

In order to tide you all over until I am done with those, here are some interesting links from my RSS feeds and the web in general.

1. The Last Guy. This is an upcoming game for the PS3, and although I have no clue what the heck it is about and whether it is for the Playstation Network or a physical release, the teaser, and the name, has me hooked. The website itself is a mystery, but they just recently released a teaser vid showcasing something that I do not understand but like a lot! You can find that embedded below:

news via GamerBytes

2. Speaking of deadlines in game development, Codear is having a single-screen RPG competition. More details can be found over on the ludomancy blog, but basically, the competition is what it says on the tin. Design a single-screen RPG before the 15th of August. The owner of the ludomancy blog designed a single-screen RPG a little while back called Hunter RPG which you can find here.

I think I might try and enter this one and I already have an idea for one as well. Time to break out Game Maker.

3. And this, I found out via GameSetWatch. They have just released the free version of their annual career guide magazine. So, if you are interested in getting into the game industry, or just an interested observer, it is worth having a look at either online or via download.

That's it for now, but hopefully I should be able to deliver on my promised posts pretty soon.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Electric Ghost

Just a quick note about my game-in-progress. First of all, I have changed the name from Phantom to Electric Ghost. This is of course still a working title at the moment. I am using Inform 7 to write the game, and I am having a blast.

I initially wrote the beginning of the game's scenario in my diary with some of the various alternate paths sketched out on paper. I then took this and set about constructing the first scenario in Inform. Despite the program's user-friendly syntax, I am still confused as to how to get certain things done. So, I am attempting to dig through the documentation in order to figure out what I am doing wrong and what I could do right.

It is also pretty interesting to see how things never turn out as one planned them. I have already changed about three major plot points just by starting to create the first scenario.

Will probably try and finish the first set of areas, then will see whether I can come up with some puzzles. I realised that my game was going to become a simple choose-your-own-adventure type deal, but I wasn't sure whether that would be enough.

The world I am creating is heavily dependent on mood and obfuscation and I think that having a more interactive environment in which the player can communicate with it will make it a lot stronger.

You can leave the Kitchen Sink.

mI just read over at The Brainy Gamer a very interesting post about Metal Gear Solid 4 and why exactly he felt it overwhelmed, bewildered and frustrated him as a player. You should read the post on his site actually as it is very insightful.

It did make me think about the increasing number of game mechanics and elements in video and PC games and then lead me to think about how games are becoming more about a narrative experience, as opposed to a ludic one.

I am still putting my thoughts together on this, and will probably post on it later on.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

IGF 2009 Competition

Just to let everyone know that the Independent Games Festival 2009 Competition has started receiving entries. I am going to try and get something together (maybe!) in time for the competition.

I am currently working on an IF project tentatively titled 'Phantom'. If that goes well, I might delve into game maker and see whether I cannot make a spin-off of the universe I am building in that.

Here's some of the more important information regarding the competition taken right off their website.

Submissions to the competition are now open to all independent game developers; important dates for IGF 2009 are as follows:

July 1st, 2008 - Submissions are Open
November 1st, 2008 - Submission Deadline, Main Competition
November 15th, 2008 - Submission Deadline, Student Competition
January 5th, 2009 - Finalists Announced, Main Competition
January 19th, 2009 - Finalists Announced, Student Competition
March 23rd-27th, 2009 - Game Developer’s Conference 2009
March 25th-27th, 2009 - IGF Pavilion @ GDC
March 25th, 2009 - IGF 2009 Awards Ceremony

For a complete list of IGF 2008 event information, please visit the official Independent Games Festival website.

If you think you might enter, say something in the comments.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Interactive Movies

While I was playing MGS4, it dawned on me that most of the stand out moments for me in the game were cutscene related. The interactive sections were a sort of bridge to the cutscenes, or I should say the continuation of the story. Even some of the interactive sections were structured in such a way to create a cinematic experience.

A lot of people online seem to use this as the main reason to put down the Metal Gear Solid series, but I feel that there is something going on there. Must games be purely ludic activities requiring constant input from the player? People always argue that that should be the case, especially when the quality of the non-interactive sections is below C-grade movies or books. There is a potential for this style of 'game' to be explored though.

While I was playing MGS4, one of my mum's employees was sitting down and watching me play the game. She then said that it looked like something she would like to play as it seemed that there wasn't much input required from her (I had just gotten to a section peppered with cutscenes). She even asked me whether there were games that would require even less input! Her first point raised something in my mind about those people who are looking for narrative experiences out of their games. A game that was just about its 'gameplay' would hold minimal or no interest to them.

From what I understand, the genre of Visual Novels in Japan are like this. Sort of prettied up choose-your-own-adventure stories. I think a game like Metal Gear Solid 4 could be the next step in this regard. Of course I am not advocating that all games should be like this, but it could help bring in some more people into gaming, and even provide an avenue for the near-dead adventure game genre.

Now that I think about it, games like Killer 7 also used a similar sort of structure. Minimal gameplay mechanics in a linear narrative that string together the story. Maybe Suda 51's and Hideo Kojima's rumoured collabo project would be something like this?

Just a thought.

It's Over...

I finished Metal Gear Solid 4 just before 1am this morning. I saw the full credits roll at about 1.30am. I was spent, I was giddy and I was satisfied. It seems weird to be so pumped about playing through and finishing what some could cynically call an interactive movie experience, but hey, I can't help what I felt eh?

So, what did I think? It was awesome! Well worth the play time and everything. The last boss fight is really of epic proportions, and if you have played through the previous MGS's, a major reward for all the effort. I am still getting the hang of actually writing on the internet, and in this whole blog style, so I won't go into any complicated review or what-have-you, suffice to say that the game was very good and will be time well spent for anybody who does not mind not being in control for the a good portion of the game...well, that and the awkward script and some OTT scenes. I loved that stuff by the way.

1. Excellent production values
2. The last three boss fights are really, really great. Wonderful set pieces all of them.
3. The music!
4. The fanservice and random meta-statements.
5. Snake is really one of the coolest characters in videogames...period.

1. Kojima really could have used an editor and I know some people say that is part of his charm and so on, but really, the whole experience could have been a LOT better without some of the dialogue and scenes.
2. Odd difficulty spikes here and there, but on the whole, I felt it didn't provide enough of a challenge on the first playthrough. Will see if this changes once I try to it on the harder difficulty setting or go for the Big Boss medal (crazy I know!).
3. In terms of gameplay mechanics it is not doing anything interesting.

I can't really think of more to say really. I think it was an excellent game, but I can completely understand sites like eurogamer that gave it an 8/10. It is really good, but stops just short of that 9/10 that marks the introduction of something truly outstanding as a game. As an experience though (and this is of course entirely subjective) it would be a 9.5/10 for me and a fitting end for the old man.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

MGS4 - Update: Before the End

Okay, so I am what I think is the final chapter of Metal Gear Solid 4, and I thought I should put down some of my thoughts.

The game is very well made, and the craft and artistry that went into the development of this game are nothing short of astonishing. The attention to detail and the whole experience of it are really awesome.

Now, this is where I am supposed to go into the parts of the game I don't like. The truth is, I doubt I can say anything that has not already been said in loads of places all over the internet since its launch. The dialogue is awkward, the cutscenes are long, the gameplay can be a bit rough at times (and I mean that in that there is no smooth flow of game mechanics being introduced and so on, like I read somewhere, the gameplay is almost based on the scene you are in at any particular time), and most of the boss fights are pretty dull tbh, even though the cinematic flair of them cannot be denied.

But, all that been said, I really, really like the game. I do not think I could really rate it anything. It is defintely one for the fans of the series, and I don't think that there's anything wrong with that.

Most of my stand out moments from the game are from the cut scenes which I think is a bit sad. BUT, the stand out moment for me, is one of the last boss fights. Wow! It was so tense and just really, really cool. I don't want to give away any spoilers so I will wait until MGS4 saturates in the internet and everybody at least has a vague idea of the set pieces in it, but yeah. WOW. I liked that fight, and the one after that too was pure class as well if a bit on the easy side (and I am playing on the second-to-hardest setting you get at the beginning of the game, not sure what it is called now).

I am sure that finishing this game will embellish it forever in my gaming memory and I can add it to my gaming milestones, except this one will be the first time I ever got completely caught up in an HD experience complete with surround sound. Even Call of Duty 4 didn't do that for me, but maybe it's because it was a bit on the short side. I've also had a lot of fun playing through some of the sections with my girlfriend there and getting all tense on my behalf :-)

Well, will put up my final thoughts in a sort of review once I am done.