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

Thank You For The Music December 30, 2008

Filed under: Hacks,Metagaming,Specific games,The gaming industry — haounomiko @ 10:43 pm
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In the past week, I’ve been playing a ROM of Mother 3/EarthBound 2, with a translation patch by the dedicated people at fobby.net who gave their time to rework this game for the sake of the fandom. As someone who liked EarthBound, but not enough to try to play the sequel with a walkthrough/script or read up on it or anything, I am one of those who would never have experienced the game without their translation. These people have worked hard in their free time without being paid to translate and patch an entire game, just because they cared about it that much, and because of that they’ve been able to bring it to more people who can appreciate it. Such an admirable, dedicated group of fans deserves praise, and I intend to deliver them some, as soon as I dare set foot on the interactive part of their site where spoilers are everywhere.

I have to say I’ve been quite impressed with the translation so far; as I would expect from a group of such dedicated, enthusiastic fans, they’ve done a great job bringing back the feeling of the Mother 2/EarthBound 1 translation. I can’t speak for how close they are to the original, but I trust them to be faithful. Even things like enemy names and English-language puns ring true. These translators deserve a giant helping of applause, and possibly jobs in the industry translating more of our RPGs.

As far as that industry goes, I’m in chapter seven at present, and discovering one major potential reason why Nintendo said they had no plans to bring it over to America: censorship and political concerns. The Magypsies are a group of magic-wielding, millenia-old, flamboyant lipsticked men with five o’clock shadow, and they’re turning out to be a huge part of the plot. They’re sturdily-built limp-wristed men who sit in giant pink heart-shaped glittery chairs. You can’t pretend they aren’t transvestites, and you also can’t pretend they’re really women, no matter what you make the dialogue say. They’re an extremely noticeable, important part of the game, and they are definitely the Good Guys. In Japan, people probably just laugh, but in America’s political climate, I don’t know how Nintendo would bring this game over without a lot of conservative Americans having a fit at the idea that their kids might play a game containing some transvestite characters (and ones who are good people, at that).

Gameplay is a little frustrating because the ROM– and its sound– aren’t perfectly synched with my button-pressing, which makes the rhythm-game aspect of the battles disappointingly chancy. I can actually hear the lag between the sound of my pushing a button and the sound of an enemy getting hit; emulation lag has never been this severe of an issue for me because my timing is often linked to also-lagging cues, but now it’s getting all up in my gameplay by interrupting rhythms that aren’t lagging in my head. Of course, the rhythm isn’t always meant to be smooth, either– the composers have made a great soundtrack full of battle themes that change tempo all the time. Some of these songs are going to take a lot of memorising to begin with. At least I have something to do during the random encounters.

At any rate, I’m enjoying this game (I did mention heaps of appreciation, right?) Due to life circumstances, I might have to put it on hold for a while in January, but part of me wants to just keep on playing.

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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.

 

Failcat Causes Fail November 6, 2008

Filed under: Metagaming,Retro games — haounomiko @ 12:28 pm
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The world keeps turning. I’ve started practicing for Super Mario World speed runs. After completing a few runs with abysmal times, I began to understand that I was wasting a lot of time being cautious. If I play recklessly I might screw up, but if I don’t then my time will be better; on the other hand, if I screw up even once then I’ll have to start over from the beginning.

So I have a lot of practice ahead of me. Last night I nearly completed a decent run, but I died near the end of Bowser’s castle because my cat decided to come over and headbutt my hands while I was playing. She didn’t mean any harm by it, of course, but it was rather frustrating. Back to the start screen for me…

Incidentally, The Backloggery is a site that may be of interest. Although ostensibly for cataloguing one’s game collection for one’s own benefit, I wonder if it will become the seed of a social networking site for gamers. I wouldn’t mind that.

 

The Price Of Keeping Up October 22, 2008

Filed under: Consoles,Metagaming,The gaming industry — haounomiko @ 10:47 am
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Comments on my prior blog entry about the price of games have me thinking. There are at least two upcoming PS3 games that I would love to purchase (The Last Remnant and Heavy Rain), and various others that I’d love to give a spin. It’s gotten to the point where, if the PS3 were the price of the average console, I would say it’s time to buy one. But– ouch. The price difference takes it from a range where I’d easily choose to purchase it, into a range where it’s not as easy of a decision for me. If Sony didn’t charge an exorbitant price for their console, I would shell out for it right now. Would they rather risk that I not do so? This is the direct impact of their decision, which they may have thought wouldn’t matter that much. Right here, right now, it is mattering: I definitely want one, but I won’t just run out and buy one now.

I suspect that because the Playstation caters more towards the older sector of the gaming crowd than the kids, Sony thought they could set a high price since it is a “mature” console. A high price for a working adult is more than a high price for a child, it’s true– but what they may have overlooked is that the price is simply a lot. Even without the downturn in today’s economy, the average American would have to be serious about gaming to buy a PS3.

Would Super Mario Bros. 3 alone be worth $100? I believe so, given what it delivers– but perhaps not to someone, even a serious gamer, who hasn’t played it. When buying a new console, gamers take the risk that there might not be any games on the console that captivate them enough to make it worth the price; perhaps they’ll neglect it and play mostly on some other console. It’s a lot of money down, betting that the reward will be worth the price. Even though there’s a good chance that the bet will pay off, how much money does the average gamer want to stake on that risk? There’s a certain price that gamers are used to staking; when that abruptly rises with no more guarantee of payoff than their usual price, it asks them to put more down for the same quality difference as they always get.

Maybe I’m biased because I’m so used to handheld games right now, so I’ve been buying less expensive games, but I feel like I’m getting just as much bang for fewer bucks that way. On the other hand, I’m going through DS games so much because it’s my only current-generation console, and it’s getting more releases than my old systems right now. The galling thing is that I don’t care a whit about graphical superiority– I just want to be able to play lots of fun new games, and it won’t be long before my TV consoles are obsolete.

 

The Worst of All Good Things October 19, 2008

Filed under: Metagaming — haounomiko @ 8:45 pm
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Occasionally, when I blog about games such as Hotel Dusk or MillionHeir that I find to be not particularly great, I find myself thinking, This game isn’t so bad. After all, I did want to finish it. And yet when it doesn’t win a place in my heart, my primary focus is on my frustrations and its flaws, perhaps because the gaming experience is inherently designed to make an enemy of the player. Getting stuck, getting frustrated, wandering around lost looking in all the wrong places: these are all part of gaming, and something would be missing without them. But players learn to think of these parts of the game as obstacles that get in their way, rather than as a cherished part of gameplay– it’s part of the attitude of tackling an enemy, and tearing the obstacles down is part of the triumph of success.

Sometimes I enjoy a game that is mediocre for the heck of it, for the satisfaction of finishing it and exploring all of it, even if it isn’t the greatest hit since Super Mario Bros 3. But often there isn’t much to say in its favour because the good part was very simply that it was a playable game, whereas there are plenty of things to criticise because games inherently throw negative things at players so that there’s something to overcome.

Perhaps I should give the games I play a rating, or at least a “recommended/not recommended” status. The trouble with that is that it’s usually far more complex. Recommended for who? Rated with what baseline? I’ve tried to stick to descriptions, but that still leaves me feeling that I’ve only conveyed part of the picture. Gaming is a holistic experience that’s very hard to break down. In the end, I think gamers just have to see for themselves.

 

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?

 

Brick Breaking for Brokers July 28, 2008

Filed under: Metagaming,Specific games — haounomiko @ 2:24 am
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Some friends and I have been playing old Super Nintendo ROMs, somewhat at random. We found a version of Arkanoid called Doh It Again, which is aptly-named given how often one ends up saying “d’oh” while playing it. Perhaps the most notable part, however, is that the fanfare music introducing each attempt at a level is strongly reminiscent of a song from Final Fantasy VI, so much so that I often couldn’t stop laughing every time the level restarted. We joked that they wanted to use FFVI’s music but had to pay royalties by the second and could only afford one bar of it.

Really, there’s not much else to say about Arkanoid. I can, however, attest to having seen some amusing gaming shirts in the past few days, including a “Made in the 80s” Mario shirt and a field guide to the various fungi of the Mushroom Kingdom.