Save Point

Money can buy everything except “love”, “friendship” and “exp points”.

If You Die In A Cut Scene, You Die In Real Life January 23, 2009

Filed under: Game tropes,Genres,Specific games — haounomiko @ 10:34 am
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One of my favourite things about the Ar tonelico series is that you can’t dodge the consequences of your actions simply by being the protagonist. You are held accountable to the same moral standards as the enemy, and you can’t just get away with the end justifying the means. Sometimes both sides look like the bad guy, and the game doesn’t try to excuse your side just because you’re on it.

The first game has a little of this, but it was downplayed because the story doesn’t revolve around political factions as much as the second game’s does. AT1 hints at it in the beginning, but you don’t see it really blossom until the end of the game. I think in AT2, the story’s genuine acceptance that both sides have a sincere point, and neither is pure evil but neither is perfect, has finally come into the spotlight.

I’m a big fan of that approach. When I was a kid I didn’t really notice, but nowadays I can’t help being critical of games that oversimplify and let the heroes get away with being as callously destructive as the enemy. Most RPGs tend to let that fly (other than the Suikoden series, which as far as I’m concerned is in a class of its own w.r.t. understanding of politics, morals, and the human heart), and I’m used to putting up with it, but it’s truly refreshing to see a game that applies a consistent set of standards to everyone in the story.

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At What Price My Digital Life? December 12, 2008

Filed under: Genres,Metagaming,MMORPGs,Specific games — haounomiko @ 12:40 pm
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I don’t usually play MMORPGs– I had a brief flirtation with Final Fantasy XI a few years ago, but my friend’s sister was always on it, which kept me from putting in enough steady time to get addicted. I’m kind of glad I didn’t blow too much time on it, because I don’t think that MMORPGs are my thing: the social world is too full of inarticulate teenagers, and the objectives are insufficiently concrete (and insufficiently motivated) for me to feel like I’m working towards something satisfying.

However, Second Life is an exception. It’s perhaps the only MMO game that doesn’t actually involve combat unless you go out of your way to join an RP group. Most of the focus in the world is one’s personal image and/or artistic creation. In short, it’s one of the few games that actually has creativity as a primary objective– most games, by nature, are not set up for it– and that intrigues me. I don’t play consistently, but every once in a while I pick it up for a bit and spend several days totally immersed in it.

When I first joined Second Life, I felt a little odd about the way it encourages people to spend money on it– even creating content costs you in-game currency for the necessary uploads, and because it’s creative you have a lot of people selling things, so there’s a big emphasis on spending currency to buy things. And the easiest way by far to get the in-game currency is to pay Linden Labs for it in US dollars, because although you can get a job in-game or “camp” to earn money, these things earn you a tiny pittance, and never enough to afford anything good. Although you can certainly play the game without spending any money and you can find lots of nifty things for free, being stingy in-game is not fun, because the nicest things always cost something.

So my biggest disappointment was that I felt like I was paying money to have fun in this game even though it was supposedly free. I have never liked the idea of spending real-world money to buy game items. Admittedly, you don’t have to spend very much in terms of real-world currency to have plenty in-game, and it’s not going to hurt my pocketbook to shell out the equivalent of $2 US to buy a dragon avatar and fly about the world as a giant golden hydra. I simply had some mental resistance to it.

Lately, though, I’ve been seeing signs in Second Life about digital content creators’ associations and about resisting art theft. I think it finally sunk in for me that these people are artists who would like to get paid for their work. And it occurred to me to examine my resistance to spending money in the game. I realised that I was resisting based on an old idea I had about traditional MMORPGs: that equipment should be earned and not purchased with real-world money, and that using your credit card to equip yourself was a cheater’s trick; that if you spent enough time in the game to need good equipment, you should already be spending enough time actually playing the game to afford it with the money you got from quest objectives; and that if you had to spend real-world money to get enough equipment just to survive the beginning quests, then the game itself was poorly calibrated. But that situation was different. That was paying the game owners for your equipment, which you could also be earning by simply playing the game as it was meant to be played for the things that you were meant to enjoy. The situation is different in Second Life, where you’re really paying the digital artists who spent so much time to make these creations, and where my normal objections do not apply. I usually like to support artists and buy things from them because I believe that art is a job that people work hard at and should be paid for what they accomplish. And, now that I reflect on it, it would be good to support the artists of Second Life by making occasional purchases from them, as well.

So I suppose I no longer feel cheated that I might have to shell out actual money if I want to buy something nice in Second Life. I’m not being ripped off or cheating; I’m doing my part to support the hard work that people are putting into making nice things.

 

Flashback: The Quest For Believable Physics December 1, 2008

Filed under: Genres,Retro games,Specific games — haounomiko @ 4:20 pm
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I finished Flashback: The Quest For Identity, and I have to say it’s actually quite good. The game mechanics– the graphics and scale, and the motions and puzzles– reminded me a bit of Prince of Persia for the SNES, and that makes me very happy. I loved Prince of Persia, and when they came out with the modern sequels, I was so excited– until I discovered that it involved a lot more fighting, and the series has only gone further in that direction since then. I enjoyed the original for the puzzles, and the focus on fighting made it seem rather mundane and rehashed, rather than the unique thing it was. However, I digress.

Flashback seemed, from the credits, to be mostly the brainchild of the director, who had input in many different areas of the game, and my guess is that said director was a big fan of 80’s sci-fi movies in a certain vein. Visually as well as plotwise and thematically, the game seemed like a mashup of some familiar films. Which was a good thing in my estimation, since I think that kind of sci-fi was quite creative. The one thing that didn’t quite match the image was that some parts of the game were actually prettier and less pessimistic than the stories it was probably lifted from, and honestly I liked that too, since the gritty cynical depressiveness of those stories is the only thing I don’t like about them. In sum, the Flashback world and atmosphere was nice for me; however, I can see other players objecting to the fact that the game is neither this classic tone nor that one, so my praise here should be taken as conditional based on one’s own preferences.

I won’t explain the ending in great detail so as not to spoil it, but I was left thinking it was a little awkward in plausibility– the protagonist is in big trouble unless he has a much better idea of how to pilot and program an alien spacecraft than of how to read their star charts, which seems a little unlikely. Still, it was bittersweet, exciting, and not bad at all.

There is one giant hole in the plot that I can’t quite fill, and that is the Bad Sci-Fi Physics. We are told that the aliens disguise themselves as humans, and the way to tell who they are is that the aliens’ molecular density is a thousand times ours. Therefore, they weigh a thousand times as much for their size. If they were actually a thousand times as heavy as humans, they would crash through the floors of all the elevators, subways, and even second floors of the human buildings, which doesn’t support the premise that their disguise works. Therefore they must be very small– probably no more than 1/2500th the size of a human, unless the architects of the future are designing lifts to a much higher specification than presently– with their disguise being mostly a hologram constructed around them. In this case, why are all the buildings in their homeworld, their spacecraft, and so on constructed for creatures that are roughly human-sized? Inquiring minds want to know.

 

MillionHeir: I See What You Did There September 30, 2008

After some poking around, I think I understand better what’s wrong with Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir. This article and its comments clued me in: it’s made, of course, by a PC games company that’s already released similar games for the PC. I should have expected that given its American origins. Of course.

The problem is, PC games of this type don’t, and probably never will, port well to consoles. I can think of two reasons: expectations and demographics.

On the expectations side, we get reactions like mine and those of the review I linked: the idea that DS games are generally more full and rich and varied than MillionHeir, which presents mostly one set of identical puzzles to wade through, a very scanty framework as an excuse for playing, and (insofar as there is a plot) no attempt at making anything endearing. This is fairly normal for PC puzzle games, the market that brought you Minesweeper, free MSN download games, the addictive but basically ugly Snood, and games where the goal is to swat flies and make them splat. Generally, when I think of pretty PC games, I think of MMORPGs, not puzzle games. Japanese puzzle games often have a nice aesthetic or at least simple cuteness, but American puzzle games often don’t try to be endearing; they’re more often humour-centric rather than focusing on genuine appeal. And the console gaming market is used to getting a full story replete with mini-games, serious variety in the challenges, and an emotionally satisfying conclusion even for the simplest of stories. Compared to the average console game, most PC puzzle games fall flat on their face for an audience that expects all of that to round out a decent game as a matter of course.

As a further barrier to sales of these games, as a commentor pointed out, the demographic for this type of game is basically your mom. I can think of no demographic less likely to own a console, unless they’ve been hooked by either curiosity or younger family members. While there are obviously plenty of exceptions, the demographic on the whole tends to think of computer games as an occasional way to pass time rather than a serious hobby, so not only are they less likely to own a console, they’re less likely to buy new games on a regular basis. I don’t think there are enough middle-aged-or-older women who buy console games to justify a port of this type of game, whereas many of them do own PCs and understand how to put in a game disc to start up a game. Even people who do take gaming seriously and know their stuff but gravitate towards this type of game are less likely to even think of looking for their type of game on a console, since they mostly find these games in the PC aisle.

As a result, most PC games aren’t going to get rave reviews from the console gaming audience, who are by and large used to routinely paying high prices for excellent games and tend to feel gypped on purchasing an inexpensive game that doesn’t have much to it. I have to wonder how PC gamers feel when faced with ports of especially complex console games, such as Final Fantasy VII. Do they react with delight at the smorgasbord of features, or is it too complex for their tastes?

 

MillionHeir: None of These Things Actually Belong Here September 28, 2008

I recently had Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir loaned to me. I’d never heard of this game before, and it seems to be American-made, so I was a little dubious about it; it turns out that it was just new, but also that it wasn’t as great as the lender claimed it was.

It’s the kind of game that can provide some mindless fun, but is hardly anything spectacular. The idea is that you are a detective hunting for clues about each suspect on a case. You find clues by going to various locations and finding a list of arbitrary objects in a background cluttered with many more arbitrary objects. The list seems to be randomly generated, and it is never explained what bearing it has on the mystery for you to find a fish, a tire axle, a fork, and three instances of the letter E. None of the characters have any noticeable personality, and it feels very much like playing a kids’ magazine game, but just a bit more difficult.

I wouldn’t particularly recommend it unless you’re bored and you can borrow someone else’s copy. I did have it recommended to me by a GameStop employee who heard that I liked Phoenix Wright. He introduced it with the phrase, “It’s not an attorney game, but…” As if “attorney game” were a whole genre now. I would say, though, that “crime game” is becoming a big genre, particularly on the DS. I think the stylus lends itself well to searching for clues and examining evidence, so perhaps that’s why we’re seeing such a proliferation of them. I do like the genre. I’ve ordered the first Touch Detective game on the internet, so we’ll see how that goes.

In other news: this article on SNES RPGs filled me with nostalgic happiness. I think the author’s rankings seem rather biased towards personal preferences, but overall he’s done a good job, in my opinion, of identifying an amazing lineup of games. Any RPG fan who missed out on that era should go down that list and play every game on it.