Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Dates Of My Top 10 Games

I was thinking just now about my top 10 games list. not the games themselves as much as their release dates and the dates that I first played them. On average, how often do I play a new game where I feel it deserves a place in my top 10? (and you can think about this for your own top 10). Firstly, remember that my top 10 isnt fully defined at this stage, so I may reference games that linger around the 11-15 mark too.

Dates Released
I think that in general there should be a relatively wide range of dates of when your top 10 games were released. Not that is HAS to be that way, there are many factors that can prevent that. Looking at my own, the dates of mine, they are rather scattered: a chunk from 1992-2000, a chunk from 2000-2010 and even one from 2014.

Dates Played
I think it would make sense that somebody's top 10 would be something they played for the first time not too far in the past. Reason being that when you are young you are less aware of what you are missing out on, and any of the games you don't game may be fantastic but you would have no way of knowing. These days you can get at least a vague idea by looking up Youtube videos and through this you also have a higher chance of stumbling across something you never heard of before (I had no idea what Mega Man, Metroid or Castlevania were before I had internet access, and those are big franchises). Also there is the fact that when you are young there is much less buying potential, you'd have to hope that your parents get you a game or you'd have to just get one randomly and hope it's good. For myself, most of these games I played from 2000 onwards. 2000-2003 was a solid set of years for these games. there were a couple before, one being around 1999 and one possible being around 1995 but the bulk I would say linger in the 2000-2003 era. Now more recently there are games I first played in 2007(ish), 2010 and 2014 that all lie in this top 10. Does this mean that on average, the next game that jumps up into my top 10 should be around 2017 or 2018? Of course we also have to consider that as games enter the top 10, something else has to leave, meaning the gaps can get bigger.

I think the experience of getting a new game and saying "this is going in my top 10" is fantastic and I'd love to get it more often. But also consider that as more games add to the list, the "fantastic" range grows too. How far back on my list would i have to go before saying "this game is fantastic"? it's a good question and not one i'm really sure of. I would take a guess at 30 but that's just wild speculation at this point. Do I think I will ever get that same surge of greatness that I did in 2000-2003? no, it was a big moment of discovery that I don't think could be replicated at this point (though I'd love to be wrong on that). If I can just add games to the list that are high enough to fit in (or even close to) by top 10 that would be fantastic (though I'd like some more non-Final Fantasy games to get there to be honest, just for the sake of reducing the risk of not being taken seriously, but such is the way of things).

I'm interested to know how this is for other people. Is it common to have a sudden burst of games you rate so highly all at once or is it more common to be introduced to them bit by bit over time?

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII First Impressions

I have been watching a few Lightning Returns reviews, as in IGN, Gamespot, Gametrailers etc. Overall they've been rather negative (which I just expect for a Final Fantasy game now). They all say the story is bad (which I'm not bothered about in the slightest). Some say that the time limit ruins the ability to explore and this is something I've never understood. Surely you need some sort of constraint to make you need to gather as much information as you can, as opposed to just making everything so easily available that you just go everywhere cause you can. It's because of the time limit that the distance between certain points matters a lot more, plus it makes you think of the implications of unusual layouts that most games don't do. I often hear "I like to take my time" but honestly, given new game+ you will learn and "explore" the world in such interesting ways and honestly, who purposefully plays a game slowly? If you want to discover what the world has to offer, surely you'd be trying to gather as much information as possible and consider it's implications on you (the player). Lightning Returns does just that, it's because of the time limit that learning stuff is rewarded. Plus, the new game+ means that you'll be able to explore more and more every time with greater ease. In fact, long-term restraints is the exact opposite of what FF13 did (which everyone complained about).

No EXP from battles is something that I was curious about at the start because I wasn't sure how it would work, but the reviews have been so dismissive. This is something that irritates me, when people complain about the idea of something before considering (or even having a chance to get to know) the context. You don't get EXP but you do get gil, EP recovery and items. Gil is very important because the harder battles require use of many potions if you're not strong enough. Items includes abilities which can be combined to create more powerful versions with the bonus of additional stat growth. EP is great because there are really powerful abilities that consume EP, including chronostasis which freezes game-time temporarily, curaga and arise. Strangely, when you run out of HP, that's when you have access to reviving spells and items. Items are limited to 6 items total (so no more getting 99 potions) and this is great, it means that you need to be more careful with what types of potions you buy (and there's a lot of variety) and increasing the quantity you can hold means less time being used up going to shops.

Whilst a lot of people have been going "No EXP from battles? A time limit? Humbug!" I have been using those mechanics to consider long-term the implications of my actions. All it does is increase the number of variables to make the information you gather usable in different ways. Put it this way, if you have every played and enjoyed any game without traditional EXP, then you have no reason to assume that the lack of that EXP will be a bad thing. I know I'm going off on a bit of a tangent here but I really need to point this out: you simply cannot make an instant judgement on something if in any other circumstance there is something where you don't judge it from the same parameters! Lack of EXP will make the game bad? Did lack of EXP make Super Mario Bros bad? No? Oh that's different because it's a platform game? What about the platform games with EXP? Are those games bad because platform games shouldn't have EXP? Why would a platform game not be made instantly better or worse with EXP but another game would? Oh it's because any game with turn-based mechanics requires EXP? I guess you must hate almost every board game then. Though again, Lightning Returns still functions as an RPG for the reasons I have stated in the first couple paragraphs.

One review actually said that in order to escape from a battle, you need to both exhaust all your reviving items/spells AND run out of HP... this is completely untrue, you can escape a battle at anytime with no hassle at all, only with the cost that a game-hour will be lost. Speaking of which, thats another thing people have been complaining about, the fact that escaping from battle costs a game-hour, but how is this a bad thing? The idea of this game is that you'll play through multiple times getting better each time (carrying stuff over). It's hypocritical to first complain about how battles dont give EXP and then complain that a particular system that is used to reward those who have played a long time with not only higher stats but extra available time (via the lack of need to escape).

Something that the reviews didn't touch on was the how the game handles speed requirements. Similar to 13 and 13-2, you are rewarded for acting fast, but rather than creating a direct link between speed and reward, there is a speed-threshhold that you need to maintain in order to get as much out of the battle as you can. As long as you're faster than the ATB bars then further speed won't help you any further (though sometimes like in 13, the speed requirements can be really fast). The battle system I would say is not as good as 13 but still really good. Where 13 gave you 6 paradigms with options that didnt have a direct use (via the uncertain variables with auto-attack), Lightning Returns has 3 schemata (kinda the same thing) with 4 options that have a more obvious use. What I'm mostly finding less appealing about Lightning Returns is how the stagger works. There is no balance between stagger boosting and preventing stagger recovery. As opposed to a bar that tells you the percentage of stagger there is a vague coloured squiggly line. Stagger itself seems to be rather binary, in that it's only varied between "stagger" and "not stagger" so the act of balancing and the dynamism between each of the characters isn't in this game so much. That being said, the battle system is still great.

Lightning is alone this time around though the different schemata have so much difference that it's like having three characters to switch between. Each schemata has their own abilities, stats, ATBs and HP. Only one of those schemata needs to run out of HP for you to die. So hey, it's kinda like that "one character dies it's game over" thing that everyone loves to complain about, but I guess nobody will complain about it this time because all three schemata are story-wise "the same character". It's amazing how you can prevent complaints by changing the way something is presented without actually changing the mechanic itself. One thing I am loving is how EP and time work together, and it's making me come up with ideas for EP abilities that I may or may not find later in the game. What if there's an EP ability where you can access any shop on the spot without the time needed to travel (like in FF8)? That would be sweet!

I'm really enjoying this game (a lot more than I did with FF13-2), it is strange but Final Fantasy games always change things around. If I had to compare this to any other games, I would have to say Dead Rising, Valkyrie Profile and Breath Of Fire: Dragon Quarter. The metacritic score for this game is currently 66 for PS3 and 69 for XBox 360 (no idea why they'd be different). I have just come to expect this now, and I won't be surprised if it happens again for FF15. An FF game gets released, everybody slams the games and complains, I love them. Though one thing I do find kind of strange is that when the complainers say that they want old-school traditional RPGs, I agree with them, I just think the Final Fantasy series is still doing great regardless of what they have been doing ("regardless" being retroactive, I withhold judgement of future titles).

PS. I use the word "complainers" because I think the word "critics" is often misused. A critic means somebody who is critical which does not mean they're always negative. To be critical means to be thorough in their assessment.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Adding More To A Game Haphazardly Can Lead To Exploitation

I sometimes feel that Borderlands 2 has no (or little) notion of how numbers work and how numbers effect players' motivations. It comes across as though they just assumed that badass rank is something that the player will get over time. However you can find a way to just grind one of them and the rewards are so high for a slight increase in "challenges" that it makes the payoff hugely rewarding. For example, getting "second winds" with pistols gives you BR towards the "Hard Boiled" challenge:

2 seconds winds with pistols = 1 badass rank
another 3 SWs with pistols = another 5 BR
another 10 SWs with pistols = another 10 BR
another 15 SWs with pistols = another 50 BR
another 20 SWs with pistols = another 100 BR

see how ludicrous that gets? it goes from 0.5 BR per SW to 5.

I ended up running into Boom Bewm's lair, allowing constantly respawning psychos to kill me so I could then get my second wind on them. I don't think the designers intended for people to find a spot where they could "reliably get killed" over and over for the sake of gaining massive points but that's what ended up happening.

The second wind mechanics is something that always confused me too, so you're rewarded more for dying whilst nearly having killed an enemy more so than if you fully kill it?

But really I just wanted to show that if you add "more stuff" to a game then you need to make sure it isn't so exploitative. At least if you actually want to make something exploitative, make it a challenge to figure it out. What I don't want to see is more stuff being added under the assumption that it adds depth, because it may not actually be the case.

On a side note: In the menu screen, why does the EXP to level up display the total amount of EXP in numbers yet the corresponding bar only show the EXP within the current level?

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

My Reaction To The Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Guided Tour Video

So after the first two games (even though I like the first a lot more than the second) I am looking forward to this. Even the "bad" FF games are still fantastic in my book so it's only natural. However watching this raises a slight cause for concern... 


How to explain? It's not so much that anything looks "bad" so-to-speak, but it's the way the narrator describes the features. Using phrases like "more direct control that ever before in the Final Fantasy series" which insinuates that the belief that a turn-based system gives you "less control" is true... now from a complete technical standpoint that is false, and a generalisation. Any game can have more or less "control" regardless of the system they use. Although the way they describe these things  doesn't actually change what is in the game, it makes me weary that they either believe the generalisations or are just going along with them for the sake of marketing, and when they market based on a common fallacy that people make, this brings their motives into question. What I really don't want is for Square Enix to actually go along with that mentality regardless of weather it is for the sake of what they truly believe or pure marketing. Marketing is understandable, they want the game to sell, but marketing based off a lie makes me sad. Can we please stop this trend of calling mechanics "outdated" when they're just different? Can we please stop making hasty generalisations about a game's system just because it does something a particular way? Also, on the subject of control, can we please stop pretending that having more control is always going to be better than having less?

Now other examples of what I'm talking about here include the colour selection for Lightning's clothes and the gross misuse of the word "exploration" which seems to have become a buzz-word during the seventh gen and really is only ever used to describe exploration of the geographic variety (not saying that Lightning Returns only has exploration of the geographical variety by the way, I'm just talking about the way the word is used). I'm also talking about the photo feature which I can't imagine being any use for other than to show off the outfit colours (by the way, the ability to take screenshots in general would be neat, like what the vita does)

Regardless, I am looking forward to this and I'm interested to see how the "time limit" thing in action. I read somewhere before that the game runs off a time limit and you can reset it with a New Game+. I imagine this fits well with a more open-word style game because it allows you to take advantage of learning different locations, the dash feature seems a bit odd but it also makes sense to have that since better equipment will let you do it for longer and this also meshes together with the time limit. This is the type of thing you get in Breath Of Fire: Dragon Quarter or Dead Rising, and I am generally a fan of the whole "start again but keep some of the stuff you got last time" idea, it allows you to adapt and (for lack of a better word) "immerse" yourself in how the world works (I hate that word).

See what I'm doing there? I'm thinking about how the mechanics work in conjunction with each other and how they facilitate each other. That's what I want to see more of instead of hasty generalisations.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Large Punishments For Failure Is A Design Choice

I was browsing Facebook and found that somebody said that in the new Kingdom Hearts HD edition there is a smaller punishment for death. He then went on to say that having large punishments for death is inherently a bad thing and "archaic"

I completely disagree, the size of the punishment for failure is not inherently a bad thing but rather a design choice that may be good or bad. It is not the equivalent of having a long load screen or glitchy graphics.

Now KH as an example I'm not sure, I couldn't say that KH is better off or worse off either way because I'd have to think about it. But the "lack of punishment for death" is absolutely an example of hand-holding (not necessarily easiness, but hand-holding). It does of course depend on the game and what you're doing in the game. If the individual events of the game are really hard then a large punishment for death only adds to that difficulty.

But let's talk about the large punishments in general: If you are sent back a long way for death then this results in the game rewarding certain types of skills that I (as a big RPG fan) find admirable. For example: planning ahead, knowing your limits, being careful. The first point I want to make is that by making checkpoints more sparse, you must therefore as a result approach the game in a completely different way that certain people (including myself) find very engaging.

Planning ahead and knowing your own limits is a big factor in this. It's about conceptualizing the situation and preparing yourself. If you see a bonus 3-hour dungeon with no save points or boss that takes 2 hours to kill, you better be damn well sure that you can do it. The game puts the whole process in your mind and makes you appreciate what your own skills and abilities are. When you finally say to yourself that you are ready, you feel really attached to who you are and what you're able to accomplish. You also get that "on-edge" feeling. I know those are extreme examples, but examples none-the-less

Large punishments by their nature also result in large rewards. If you conquered that 3-hour saveless dungeon, how badass do you feel? how epic was that victory? How proud are you? You managed to climb that mountain.

Small punishments also diminish the effects of decision making with uncertain results. For example, you find a chest, you know it will either contain a potion or it will be a poison trap. Ideally you want it to result in giving you a potion but given the possibility that it may be a poison trap, there is a reason to decide to not open it. Now if you had just passed a checkpoint, you could just open it and then reload back to the checkpoint if it turned out to be a poison. However if your checkpoint was a while back, you have to carefully consider whether or not opening the chest is worth doing given the parameters of its effects. In this scenario, the decision making process has value. It makes you appreciate the consequences of your decision and the decision making process that the game sends you through because the act of making that decision has more quantifiable results.

This doesn't just apply to decisions though, it also applies to skill. If you have far away checkpoints then the risk-reward loop is expanded. What I mean by this is that you need to consider your skill on parts larger parts of the game before you can dismiss it. For example, if you have a platform game that is an hour long with no saving, you need to consider the game as an entire over-arching system as opposed to a series of case-by-case scenarios. Without saving, you may be able to complete level 7 fine, but you can still improve yourself and benefit from improving if you manage to do it without losing lives (for example). But if the game saved between levels, you could complete level 7 once and then erase it from your mind. By removing these save-points, you need to consider and appreciate the game as a whole system. It means that even though you can complete level 5 without issue, it still matters to you because you might slip-up one time and that adds dynamism and value to your consistent abilities (more on dynamism later).

But with larger punishments, you end up having to repeat more gameplay you've already done right? wrong! What actually results in more repeating gameplay is difficulty. If a game has closer checkpoints together then it is fundamentally easier, and that easiness needs to be balanced by making the individual events more challenging. A more challenging game results in more deaths and being sent back more frequently. What has more repetition: a game where you have to play a 30-minute segment twice, or one where you have to play a 3-minute segment 20 times? I'd probably say the playing a 3-minute section 20 times depending on the dynamism. This is one reason I got so bored with Uncharted

About dynamism, just because you are repeating a segment of the game does not mean the game will be *exactly* the same. Different things you encounter can change the tide of how that segment will go. A shorter time-frame means there is less viability for dynamism to happen. If you think of a flow chart: the bigger the flow chart, the more possibility there is for the process to go into alternate routes. When you play Super Meat Boy, a jump over a pit is always exactly the same jump every time with next to no dynamism. Also, given the pure difficulty of Super Meat Boy, you could end up making that same jump 40 or 50 times. I'm not bashing Super Meat Boy by the way, I do like that game, it just works as an example how constant checkpoints don't facilitate for as much dynamism.

The message that I really want to push is that large punishments for failure is not a bad thing by it's very nature. I am sure Super Meat Boy wouldn't be as good if you had just 3 lives and no saving. Super Meat Boy was built for the sake of testing the player to overcome a challenge in an enclosed environment and infinite lives suits that particular game. I am also sure that even big games with big-punishment segments don't need them all the time, and I know that large punishments can hinder a game if the game isn't suited or built towards it. I am not saying all games need to have big punishments for failure, I'm just saying that to erase it as a design choice stifles the ranges of fun players can have and creativity from designers is limited. As I am seeing this "anti-punishment" attitude crop up more and more often from both players and designers, it makes me sad that creativity and the range of fun is being limited like this.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Is Ryse: Son Of Rome Even Legal?

So let me get this straight... in Ryse: Son Of Rome, the QTEs will still be successful, even if you fail to hit the button... what!? so now "press X to not die" has become "press X to not be frozen for a second"... and this game has microtransactions too! now you know how much I hate microtransactions in general, but given that all the attacks are a few simple reactionary button presses (which are essentially QTEs) mixed with actual QTEs which you can't fail, what are they even for? All the skills are passive skills so there's no new attacks to learn. This means that either the game hits a paywall where you need the bonuses to progress or the game is so easy that you don't need them. When you make the mechanics so mind-numbing that there is so little input from them player, microtransactions are nothing but a paywall in disguise

The XBox One has just come out! $500 for the console and $60 for a shitty game isn't enough? You want people to then pay even more money to allow them to get through the game faster? THEY WANT YOU TO PAY MORE MONEY FOR LESS OF A GAME!!! And they describe the microtransactions as a "convenience" and the QTEs with not buttons but with flashy lights. That's what it's all about, deception. They think we're idiots. Microsoft! Crytek! Stop! FUCKING STOP! This is insulting at best! I literally feel queezy thinking about this.

It seems as though they want to bore us. We are approaching 2014 afterall, and we have many many examples of what makes a good game. Maybe that's the whole point. People being tricked into thinking there is a value to completing the game (through their "I've already bought it" bias and achievements) and then being threatened with more time playing the boring game if they don't pay up. Threatening to remove time from our life and turning it into unfulfilled dead-time, and doing this on such a wide-scale that its effectively distributed-murder. (By the way, I understand that the quality of a game comes down to opinion, but opinion only gets you so far)

You know what we call this kind of practice? The kind of practice where you threaten to harm somebody (with boredom in this case) if they don't pay up under the guise of "protection" (or in this case as they call it: "convenience")? EXTORTION! Last time I checked, extortion isn't legal in the US, so why are they getting away with it? Oh that's right, because they're disguising it under "gameplay" and "convenience" just as they tried to disguise their QTEs with flashing lights. I cannot believe for one second that this game was made with the intent of making money from it's quality (as all games should!). I cannot believe that at the end of 2013, they failed to understand what actually makes a game valuable to the player, they must know! they have to know! they've been in the business for so long and they have seen successful games in the past work and sell. I do not believe for a second that they made Ryse with the intention of it's gameplay being worth the purchase

This is why I don't buy into the whole "companies exist to make money" argument. Sure, they do, but that's no excuse for a company to use practices that only benefits themselves whilst also draining away from the overall global value. For example: is it ok for a company to take money from starving families so the CEO can buy his fifth car? no? exactly.

You may think I'm over-reacting but I honestly don't think I am. I hope the gameplay is just a symptom of there being a new console where they want to show off the graphics... but the microtransactions are inexcusable. I cannot see how this game is adding any value, I can only see how it is damaging. I really hope I'm wrong... at least the game's getting bad reviews.