Tragedy in Gaming

Brian “Psychochild” Green posts a weekly design challenge on his blog, going forward I’m going to try to post my thoughts on his challenges here.

This week he asks about tragedy in games:

Unfortunately, the common cry when trying to discuss a topic like this is, “but, we want games that are entertaining!” It’s that dreaded “art” issue again, where people who talk about literature want to make games that aren’t fun for some stupid academic reason like “evaluating man’s inhumanity to man.” But, some people may want more.

What do you think? Is tragedy an appropriate topic for a game? If so, how would you implement it in to a game? What about into an MMO?

Back before the dawn of time… okay, so it was like 1980-something… when I got my first computer, one of the first games I played (and also one of the first games I actually looked at the code for) was a little thing called Hamurabi.  If you are unfamiliar with the game, essentially you have land, grain, and people.  You must feed the people and make them work the land.  If you rule well, your people thrive.  If you rule poorly, your people starve to death (among other things).  It is a very simple game, and yet as a kid with an incredibly overactive imagination it was tragic for me to play.  I would get so very upset when I couldn’t manage to keep my people alive.  And not “smashing a fist on the table” upset, but like torn up with worry upset.  My people, my poor starving people!

Later games, like Civilization or even SimCity would follow some of the same themes.  Of course, in today’s gaming space, like any industry on the rise, the focus seems to be on profits, and while tragedy is good, and can even be fun, in the marketplace people are more willing to buy action and adventure over tragedy.  However, I absolutely think that a “tragic” game can work, but as with anything you have to be willing to manage your expectations.  And I mean that as a developer.  If you make a game that isn’t your typical “fun” (blowing things up, crafting items, killing hookers, eating power pellets, etc) you’d best make sure to not spend too much money on it unless you really want to lose money.

As for how I would implement it… lets just skip right to the MMO.  In order to get the “tragic” elements properly, the game would need to be huge in scope, and in fact would be more than one game working together.  I’d build a game with a “ground level” which would be a first person shooter or traditional MMO style game.  You could be a soldier and participate in conflict battlegrounds, or you can take a job in the city playing mini-games to craft items and fill orders or work at the bar or whatever.  A step up would be people playing an RTS like game.  In the city they’d be commissioning buildings and setting up businesses, the jobs that other people are working, or on the military side they’d be designating battle zones and rules of engagement.  A step up from that would be a similar RTS but with more “empire building” elements, setting up trade agreements with other empires, giving direction to the city planners and the military, resource management at a higher level.  From the top down, your empire builder would say he needs more people, the city planners would determine that certain businesses are needed, contractors would bid construction, once accepted players would play games to facilitate the construction, they would also play games to run the businesses and they would partake of the “goods” the businesses provide.  In the other silo, building a larger city means you might need more land, so the city planners put in a directive that land is needed, the military higher-ups would select the desired land and ask for surveys, which bottom level players would do, once surveyed if determined hostile a battleground would be set up and players would play FPS/RTS style fights, and over a given period the side that wins the “map” the most is awarded the victory, opening the land for use by the city planners of their side.  All players would be allowed to “defect” to another empire if they become unhappy with the current regime.

Essentially, the game would have to have many levels and be very complex, because in order for a player to be in and understand their place in the world there needs to be places in the world for them to be.  In a way, these elements already exist in some games, though they are mostly web games like MafiaMatrix, and mostly very simplistic.  The best part about it, in my opinion, is the amount of social interaction it encourages.  A single player can do some elements of the game alone, but they can’t do everything themselves and in order to advance or move around in the social structure one must, in fact, be social.

Consoles and Couples

Something I left off of Monday’s post about Burnout Paradise was its lack of local multiplayer.  They aren’t alone.  Tons of games don’t have local multiplayer.  And even more rare are games that allow more than one player to play online.

One of the greatest features of Rock Band is that my wife and I can both play, and play online.  Now, of course, the interface for Rock Band is pretty simple… but the fact remains, if I wanted to sing, my wife wanted to play bass, my brother wanted to play guitar and my brother’s wife wanted to play drums, despite living a thirty minute drive away from each other, the four of us can do that, my wife and I on our console and he and his wife on their console.

Burnout Revenge had a local multiplayer mode, so the wife and I could race… but if I wanted to go online, she couldn’t play again, because only one player can be online from the same console in that game.  And that’s how most games are: Local or Online, but not a mix of both.

More games need to explore allowing multiple players from the same console play online.  I don’t work at a game company, so I can’t say for sure, but I would love to know what the hang up is.  Do they just not think about it?  Do the games require so much bandwidth that they can’t possibly run two sessions from one machine?  Is there not enough RAM or processing power?  I realize that there would have to be limitations… perhaps in Burnout Paradise, the second (and third, and fourth…) player from a console could only join if the first is hosting the game, and they can only join the locally hosted game.

Since I did name Rock Band as an example where a couple can play online together, does anyone out there know of other games that allow multiple players to be online from the same console?

Burnout Paradise

I have my Criterion Elite license, which means I have won every race, unlocked every car and ruled every road.  I have 350 out of 350 on the Freeburn Challenges.  I have all the achievements you can get without having a camera (and if I ever find a spare $40 laying around, I’ll get those too).  And now I’m spending my time chillin’ helping out other folks on their challenges or looking for races, so I think its fair to say I’ve seen the entire game… so here are my thoughts.

Overall, this is a fantastic addition to the Burnout series of games.  If you like the older Burnout games or like racing games, definitely think about picking this up.  It is worth it.  But instead of looking at the game as a whole, lets take a moment and look at a bunch of the design choices of the game, or missing features, and rate those either as a Pro (good idea) or a Con (bad idea). Continue reading Burnout Paradise

Hey You!

Yeah… you, the guy who just quit out of our Burnout Paradise Freeburn.  Look, I know you want to get all 350 of the Freeburn Challenges completed, we all do, but some of us don’t quit just because the guy in charge picked a challenge we’ve done before.  Hang around and chat and have some fun instead of being the assbag everyone is now calling you because you quit.

You do realize that we talk about you when you leave, right?

Yeah, and some of us even rate you poorly on Xbox Live.  Ever wondered why your carefully crafted star rating is suddenly plummeting?  Yeah, that’d be us.

If we confronted you, you might try some excuse like, “I had to take a break from gaming” but we know you’d be lying, because, Xbox Live lets you see all the people you’ve recently played with on your friends list, so we can see that you dropped our game, without a word I might add, and hopped in to another game, because the list shows that not only are you playing Burnout Paradise still, but you are Freeburning (and it even gives us an option to join the session you are in, not that we would, because you are probably just going to leave again).

So, next time, how about not being a cock and sticking around to play.  You might even try asking the host to pick particular challenges.  You never know, he might listen.

The guys at DICE get it

While my wife may lament the exclusion of female character models in the upcoming Battlefield Heroes, I can’t wait to give it a shot.  This video trailer for the game just shows me that the guys at DICE really do get it.  To have a great game you don’t need gritty realism with guts spraying the walls with every gunshot, you just need to have a game that is fun.

Damn that looks like fun.

Vanguard

No, this is not Brad McQuaid’s failure of epic proportions Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, GameTap doesn’t have that.  Instead, they have the 1981 side scroller Vanguard.  Perhaps Mr. McQuaid’s game would have done better had he not lifted his title from a previous game.

Vanguard - Not a Saga of HeroesVanguard is… fairly awful.  Its typical, side scrolling and shooting while avoiding stuff.  The game has one minor twist in that its not all side scrolling.  It is also diagonal scrolling and top scrolling.  As you progress through the level, sometime it changes direction.  And then at the end of each level, it stops scrolling so you can fight the boss.  The controls are as you would expect, using a dual stick game pad the left stick is movement and the right stick is shooting.  Oh, because you can shoot in 4 directions.  If you do decide to play the game, I give this advice: Ignore the North, South, East, West options for firing, instead use North-East, North-West, South-East and South-West.  Hitting these will fire two directions at once (North-East will first North AND East).  Seeing as your goal is to kill everything, there is never a reason for you to not be firing in two directions at once.

All in all, the game is a bore, and I found myself thinking that I’d rather be playing Defender.  However, I did find the game to be more fun when instead of being some valiant soldier fighting for survival I imagined myself as the invading force.  This was made easier through the sections where you are blowing up alien houses, people and their pets, none of which fire back at you.  To paraphrase a film that does not deserve the indignity of being associated with this game or its review: Anyone that runs is an alien hostile! Anyone that stands still is a well trained alien hostile!

… and… I’m out.

Pyramid Magic

This week for my GameTap review, I decided to take a chance and hit the random button.  With 996 titles to choose from, of course, it landed on Sam & Max first.  After that it landed on a couple of educational type titles that I just didn’t feel like playing, until finally it landed on Pyramid Magic.  Originally for the Sega Genesis and available only in Japan, it looked to be your typical console puzzle game so I fired it up.

I’m sure there is a back story for this, but the story page was in Japanese, and while I speak a little of the language, my grasp of it is not enough to dive in and read a story.  I’m mainly limited to asking where the bathroom is and other such travel necessities.  But, its a puzzle game, so who needs a story?  Right?

Pyramid Magic: an enjoyable puzzle game from 1991The game play works like this.  Every board has 3 boxes: a wood crate, a red chest and a green chest.  So, according to the Old Man Murray “Time to Crate” scale, Pyramid Magic rates at 0 seconds.  Anyway, you have to break open the wood crate to get the red key which opens the red chest to get the green key which opens the green chest that reveals the magic piece of burlap which disables the robot.  Yes, the burlap disables the robot.  Take note of this, because after Judgment Day, you better have your stock of burlap ready to fight the Terminators.  Watch out Sky Net, I’m armed with textiles!  I suppose it is worth noting that in the age of KISS video game design, you break open the wood crate by kicking it… and you unlock the other crates also by kicking them.  I mean, if I’m just going to kick them, why do I need the key?  Because kicking it before you have the key doesn’t work, that’s why.  In addition to the crates, keys and burlap, your intrepid robot fighting archaeologist is faced with a problem: he’s got a bad back, or something… what this means is that you can’t duck.  Instead, to get through small spaces you must pick up large blocks of stone to force yourself to crouch down so you can fit into the smaller space, and then drop the block as you enter.  Of course, it is absurd to think of it that way, which is why I did it, but really is just a way to add another dimension to the puzzle solving.

Every level of the game presents you with the challenge of using the blocks of stone to climb or crouch your way through to the crates to release the burlap and defeat the evil robots.  Or at least that’s what the first 15 or so levels are like, then I got stuck and used all my lives trying to beat one stupid level (not the one pictured).  Thankfully, in the style of a bygone era of gaming, every few levels the game gives you a code so you can jump back in approximately where you left off.

Pyramid Magic is a decently enjoyable puzzle game, in fact since graphics aren’t the main draw to casual puzzle games, it actually holds up fairly well given that the game is 17 years old.  And if you like the game, Game Tap also has Pyramid Magic 2, Pyramid Magic 3, and a Pyramid Magic Special which is billed as a 4th game in the series but uses the graphics of the first so it really may have been the second game, essentially the first with new puzzles.

Bring On The Women!

My wife took one look at Team Fortress 2 when I got it and immediately wanted to play. She took a second look at it, and hasn’t played it… her one complaint, “There are no females.”

Looking out across the FPS landscape, its usually generally a safe bet that my wife won’t want to play them. First off, she doesn’t like PvP in most games. Secondly, the grim and gritty realism that many games try to attain just doesn’t interest her. But when she saw the outlandish graphics of TF2, she was willing to put aside the dislike for PvP (“I think I want to play a Medic.”) and give it a shot. But without being able to play a woman, she lost interest again.

Just this week I was reading Games for Windows magazine’s March issue and perusing the article on the new Battlefield game: Battlefield Heroes. Once again, she saw the stylized graphics and immediately wanted to know more. So I showed her the article and dug around the Internet for more info. Not one single scrap mentions female characters, likely because there aren’t any… no more interest in the game.

I’d really like to play some FPS games with my wife, so, please, could someone put a game with really cool stylized graphics AND have female models in it? Please?

Sam & Max: Season One

For my inaugural GameTap review, I decided to hit one of the original games designed for the service – Sam & Max: Season One. If you don’t know who Sam & Max are, take a moment and quickly skim through the Wikipedia entry. As a kid, I read a few of the comics, but I wasn’t a collector. And at 18, I played the video game. I always enjoyed the humor, and I’m happy to say the humor isn’t lost here in Season One. Playing through the game was fun and funny for the writing, the dialog.

Sam & Max: Season One - Culture ShockActually playing the game, on the other hand, was alternately boring and frustrating. Sam & Max is one of those “click on everything” games. You drag your mouse pointer around the screen and when an object is highlighted, you click on it and you’ll either interact with it, pick it up, or talk to it. Items in your inventory are picked up, your mouse pointer changes and now when you click on things you’ll try to use that item on the object. Its also one of those “you can’t lose” games. There is no time limit. Every mistake, no matter how bad, loops back into the story, in fact, is actually part of the story if you want to hear all the witty dialog. When I say boring and frustrating, what I mean is that the puzzles in the game were either a) painfully obvious and amounted to just making sure I clicked the objects in the right order, or b) painfully obtuse. I won’t ruin the game by using an example from it, instead I will use a classic maddening example from the walk through of the old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure:

Firstly, eat the nuts. If you don’t, you will die of protein loss. Take off your gown, and hang it up on the hook. Then, get the towel and put it over the drain. Wait until Ford is asleep, then nick his satchel and put it in front of the panel. Put the junk mail on the satchel, then press the dispenser button. A babel fish will land in your ear, and you will be able to understand all languages.

Nothing in Sam & Max is quite that bad, but sometimes it does feel like it, especially when you are missing just one element of the “logic” and failing over and over again.

Overall, I love the art style of the games, and the humor, but as a “game” I’d almost rather be watching a cartoon or reading a comic book.

GameTap

I’m introducing a new subcategory under gaming here and it is specifically for GameTap.  I have had a GameTap account for over a year, and in that time I’ve mainly used it to play a few dozen old Atari and arcade games, and the occasional DOS/Windows game, like The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions.  To be honest, I haven’t used the account to its full potential.

Last week while I was working on moving the website, I decided to go look for something to do on GameTap to fill some time and I found Uru Live, the Myst MMO.  I’d seen it before and had always wanted to play it, but had never made the time.  Just my luck, the day I decide to start playing was the day they announced they were planning to shut it down.  Oh well… I guess you can’t win ‘em all.

Getting myself back inside the GameTap tool, however, reminded me of why I agreed to sign up for it in the first place.  With 990 games listed, its a huge library of past games with a few newer titles and some originals within which there has got to be some fun… or perhaps just some lessons to be learned.

So, I’m setting a goal for myself, every week I am going to play at least one game from GameTap and post a review about it.  It will probably be easiest to do on Sunday mornings, so that’s likely when I’ll play and post.  I’ve already downloaded a few old favorites and a few “I can’t believe I never played that” titles, and if I ever get stuck, GameTap provides a handy random wheel spinner that will select a game for me.

Ready.  Set.  Game!

Page 10 of 15« First...89101112...Last »