c.e. taillefer

November 19, 2016

Catch Em All, Analogue Edition

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It could be argued that the core mechanic of Pokemon games is training up your pokemon so you can beat the gym leaders, the elite four, other players, team rocket, etc. etc. That’s certainly the tack that Pokemon: TCG takes.  However, Pokemon Go took a different look at the game, building the app around collecting pokemon in the real world. Like the Pokemon games, it’s also digital. What if there was a board game around collecting pokemon? What would that look like?

anarchy

The board would be made up of hexagonal tiles, similar to Settlers of Catan, allowing for different configurations of wilderness for players to search. Pokemon, hazards and helps are on a separate set of exploration tiles, the way sand tiles work in Forbidden DesertShuffle these and lay them out in the configuration shown in the rules for the type of board setting the players are using. (For ex: mountain map would have a heavier concentration of exploration tiles in the rocky tiles, beach map more exploration tiles in the water and sand tiles, etc.) Players take actions to either move, reveal exploration tiles, or capture revealed pokemon. Players can draw cards that either enhance their own abilities or add detriments or blocks to other players. The game ends when all the pokemon have been captured. The win state could be based on a number of different things: hazards beaten or avoided, number of pokemon caught, quality of pokemon caught. It would be easy to add expansions with new settings, or new pokemon to collect. It’s a prime marketing tool for pokemon and trainer figurines.

With Pokemon Sun/Moon out now, there is more than ever to do in the games. What do you play the most when a new game comes out? Are you catching them all, or rising to the top tier of trainer? Do you show off your pokemon’s superior fashion sense?

November 11, 2016

Couldn’t Bear It: Interactive Film

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I’ll be honest, the only game I’ve played that used quick time events at all was Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood – there was one that let Ezio hug Leonardo da Vinci, and I always hecked it up. JUST LET THEM LIVE, UBISOFT!

On the flip side, if by interactive film, we’re talking about things like Bear 71, then I suppose one major difference is I’ve never cried during the first thirty seconds of a game. So thanks for that, NFB! I’m exactly the kind of asshole who gets hit right in the feelings by “narrative is done by animal” stories, right down to when pet finder ads are written from the perspective of the dog who assures me he is a “very good boy, who loves cheese.” I feel like interactive films can be more effective than a game for stories like this one – if they’re meant to evoke a sense of helplessness despite bringing the player closer to the story than a traditional documentary. I’m not responsible for the things that happened to Bear 71, but by linking clips and narrative to my actions, it sure feels that way.

Horror games occupy a similar place for me – I love horror movies. I like to be scared, and I like they’re often one of the only filmmaking spaces where women can tell whatever story they like (and it comes closest to our own experiences despite – or maybe because of – being horror). I devoured a Let’s Play of Amnesia over a weekend night shift, and it was great. I downloaded the free demo, played for about five minutes, and then closed the program, deleted the game, and shut off my computer. Just in case. And bear in mind, I already knew it was impossible to encounter the monster for the first part of the game. It didn’t matter! Just the act of controlling my character was too much stress for my poor tissue paper heart to handle. Same kind of helplessness with not enough distance to protect my feelings – in this case, abject terror as opposed to just helpless sobbing.

Donald Glover yelling "My emotions!"

It’s just a bear but like, bears are chill. They like blueberries. They usually didn’t get mad at you like moose (those bastards). It’s like watching a huge dog get tranquilized! I can’t even spoil anything but the first five minutes or so of Bear 71 because I got too upset. So Spoiler Alert, I guess: they tranquilize a big bear in Banff, and put a tracker on it, and you can use the interactive map to track the bear’s activities, but Mia Krishner keeps talking in her serious voice as the bear and I had to stop. Sorry. I am terrible at games. But really good at emotions!

Actual spoiler beneath the jump:

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November 4, 2016

Con Petire, Right Now: Raiding in World of Warcraft

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It seems only fitting I should talk about WoW, on this the day of the Blizzcon opening ceremonies, right? Right! (Even if I suspect, along with the rest of the world, the big announcement will be about a new Diablo expansion, and maybe two smaller announcements about Sombra and a new Warcraft movie)(please jesus let it be about the Scourge)

In Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says: “What each person seeks is to actualize her potential, and this task is made easier when others force us to do our best.”  There are two reasons I started playing World of Warcraft back in ought five: first, someone showed me the Leeroy Jenkins video, which I argued on Wednesday makes a good satire of what happens when one person isn’t seeking to actualize their potential, whether PALS 4 LIFE meant to satirize flow or not. secondly, someone posted a video of their guild beating C’thun, a 40-person end boss in Ahn’Qiraj. Watching forty people effortlessly move together around eye beams, tentacles, getting swallowed, getting spit back out again and – most importantly – NOT get devoured by thousands of small dragons really made me sit up and say “I want to do that someday.”

Of course, it was a long time from that initial desire to actually accomplishing anything like a C’thun kill – a road studded with elite yetis (seriously – FUCK that yeti in Dun Morogh), failed guilds, new guilds, new failed guilds. Finally, towards the end of Wrath of the Lich King, I achieved a heroic Lich King kill with the raid alliance I was a backup for. It wasn’t without hiccups of its own – as a back up, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to run the fights compared to the others, so I caused a fair share of raid-wide deaths, prompting more than one “Does this mage even know how to play?” comments.

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who the fuck is scraeming “GIT GUD” at my house. show yourself, coward. i will never git gud

But when it clicked – it was magic. When the turtle shell kicker dies unexpectedly, and you jump in to kick a turtle shell and save the day – that’s flow. That’s being in the e-zone, as e-sports players say, presumably. When you brag about your pinch-kicking a turtle shell and someone knows exactly what you mean – it feels great. When you counterspell a move half a second before it murders everyone you know? Flow. But it relies on other people also being their best, to bring you up to your own best. And frankly, humans are fallible. They’re not always – not even often – at their best.

Maybe that’s what makes it so magical when it clicks.

October 6, 2016

Words words words: sharing ideas as a non-artist in a visual world

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Here’s my terrible secret. I can’t draw.

oh right, this was never a secret

oh right, this was never a secret

So how does someone who can’t do art communicate ideas in a clear, brief, visual way? Enter the Pixar Pitch: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Let’s try it with Dragon Age 2:

Once upon a time, the Hawke family escaped a plague known as the Blight, leaving their homeland to find refuge across the sea.  Every day, they struggled to gain entrance into the city of Kirkwall, along with hundreds of other refugees from the Blight. One day, Hawke accepted an offer of work from a smuggler in exchange for getting her family into the city. Because of that, Hawke joins a treasure-hunting expedition to fund her family’s rise from the slums, where she finds an idol made of strange material. Because of that, Hawke, along with her companions, gains power in Kirkwall, despite increasing instability in the leader of the templar and mage forces, caused by the mysterious idol. Until finally, Hawke’s companion blows up the Chantry to force a war between the mages and templars that will require people to choose sides.

Not very elegant, but hopefully hits the major beats of the game. It’s complicated by the fact that unlike a Pixar film, Dragon Age 2 features a number of branching pathways a player can take. There are a few other major plot points the player must achieve not covered by this framework: the death/loss of Hawke’s family members, one by one; the Qunari invasion and defeat by Hawke. But all of these relate back either to Hawke’s rise in influence and power due to the sucessful expedition, or the insanity plaguing the leaders of the city, due to the idol, also from the expedition.

But it still doesn’t tell us much about the look and feel of the game, does it?  Someone reading this could surmise that it’s fairly dark in terms of material, between a world ending plague and terrorists blowing up buildings full of innocent people, or that there are narrative elements that can’t be avoided no matter which path the player chooses for Hawke. But is it realistic? Semi-abstract? What’s the music like? How do people play it?  The Pixar pitch is good for brainstorming, but there’s not enough information in it to fully realize a games vision.

Thoughts? How do you explain stuff to people when you don’t do art?

September 30, 2016

Get your mind into the gutter: Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics

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If you’re into comics even the least little bit, chances are good the name Scott McCloud has crossed your radar. He’s better known for his comics about comics rather than the franchises he’s worked on, and for good reason – Understanding Comics is something I’d consider required reading for anyone working in a creative field.

Of particular interest to me is the concept of the “gutter” – the liminal space in comics (and arguably, in writing and games as well, and films and TV to a lesser extent) where the reader supplies the details of events between panels/sentences/scenes.

"Now you die!"

“I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I’m not the one who let it drop, or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why. That, dear reader, was your special crime, each of you committing it in your own style.”

This focus on reader participation in Understanding Comics began to highlight the ways in which I exploit similar stylistic choices in my chosen mediums of short and novel-length fiction, and games.  For example, from “Haven of the Waveless Sea”, where Fandral Staghelm relives the death of his son:

   “Again.”
       The meaty rip, the buzzing song, the sound of hope dying.
In fact, once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing how often I used a similar “fade to black” style – as a cover for my own inexperience with elves being torn-apart by giant insect lords, or to give reuniting characters some privacy, a la William Goldman but also to poke fun at the reader’s own sense of imagination. All it takes is the narrator stating, “you can imagine the rest” after the beginning of a gory or erotic scene to get the readers actually thinking about it. (Don’t think of the pink elephant!) It’s a great way to pretend you’re a better writer than you are, since the readers are going to imagine whatever suits them best. It’s also one of the reasons why, a friend pointed out, that good tweets work so well as comic strips: they both make effective use to of the gutter to be funny or scary or poignant.
On the other hand, like any stylistic choice, it can be too often relied on.  One of the storytelling experiments I hope to use in my current Twine project is to write the whole story, regardless of how nonsensical or unreal it may seem, to get at the heart of a personal experience through the nitty gritty details. If the goal of a game is to promote both empathy and the sense of helplessness inherent in being trapped in an abusive relationship, going through the painful details with a fine tooth comb seems to be far more effective than letting the reader imagine for themselves, particularly if the project’s intent is to break down stereotypical media portrayals of abusive relationships.
In particular, I’m thinking of the ending of Watchmen by Alan Moore.  How much of a double gut punch is it for Ozymandias to admit his plan was already completed before the heroes ever arrived to stop him, and then to show, in explicit, bloody detail, what that plan entailed?  Moore’s goal was to play on tropes and stereotypes of superhero comics, and it’s effective both in thumbing its nose at the big Villain monologue (quite literally, Adrian says “I’m not some republic serial villain”!) and the amount of destruction that many superheroes cause in the process of saving the world. (Age of Ultron/Civil War in the Marvel cinematic universe tries this also, to lukewarm effect.) Moore’s got an explicit vision to sell in Watchmen, and sets it up via the non-linear transitions, where the reader can partake in their own version of Adrian’s plan before being exposed to the reality.
September 22, 2016

So Hyped for the Destruction of Humanity: One year of Undertale

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I can’t believe Undertale has been out for a full year!  But it must be so; Toby Fox said it and I definitely remember getting my brain simultaneously busted wide open starting the game design program at the same time as my first play-though.

Spoilers for all routes of the game beneath the jump!

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September 16, 2016

I Was Not, In Fact, Prepared: Exploration in World of Warcraft’s Legion Expansion

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My history with World of Warcraft over the past two expansions has been… not good.  I quit in Mists of Pandaria, tired of raiding and overwhelmed by the factions with daily grinds.  It was a job, not a game anymore, and I hated it. They also fired a huge chunk of the Creative Development team, and the seams in the writing were showing.   For the first time since playing any MMO, I played different ones – Wild Star and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn both took over my life for a few years, as well as offline games.  I played Warlords of Draenor for a bit, only because I could finally pay for my subscription time with gold, and because the expansion itself was on sale for 12 bucks.  Friends were getting really excited for Legion, and I did a lot of stuff solo in my other MMOs because people were all resubbing to WoW.

Turns out, it was for a good reason – Legion is flippin’ fantastic.

It’s like a dress that looks horrible on the rack, but makes you look like a superstar when you put it on.  Illidan is coming back, and he’s bringing Demon Hunters? The Burning Legion is a threat again? Whatever.

Blizzard’s taken the best parts of all their previous expansions, and melded it into something really cool.  Players finally feel like they’re the hero of the story, can change things in Azeroth – something FFXIV: ARR was great at.  Demon Hunters are fun to play, and get great cut scenes:

demon-hunter-harbinger-gif

But most of all, there’s an element of surprise and discovery to the exploration of the Broken Isles that I haven’t felt playing WoW since Vanilla.  I’ve been max level for a few weeks, and I am still finding quests in areas I never discovered – despite being the kind of person Bioware complains about on Twitter. Dungeon quests are slotted at the very end of the zone’s main story so you’re not held up from progressing due to waiting in hour long queues as DPS, but in addition to that, there are tons of quest hubs hidden all over the five Broken Isles zones that you can just pick up and do any time.

Still not convinced? How about small, hidden caves all over the coastline filled with orbs that players need to click in a specific order to unlock a world boss? Or that the artifact weapons (upgradeable legendary weapons based on class-related lore) all have hidden appearances and effects that players will have to figure out how to unlock? It’s pretty hard to make discovery exciting and fresh in a post-Wowhead world, but the way it’s been established so far in Legion has made me excited to at least try things on my own as much as possible, to occasionally sad and/or hilarious results. (For example: poisoning nobles on behalf of the Revolution in Suramar City, only to find out that I was poisoning my own allies at the behest of a loyalist. HECK!)

The addition of World Quests to supplant dailies as the end game mechanic was also a great choice – World Quests each have their own individual timers, from a few hours to a few days, compared to the daily mechanism, which changed all dailies, every day at the same time.  It keeps things fresh, and sends players all over the region hunting down the quests with loot or materials that they want, before the timer runs down.  Half the time I begin my World Quests for the evening, and only finish hours later, because I got caught up in fishing, or rescuing a baby bear from an attacking Tauren.  Especially because of rescuing baby bears…

I don’t know what my plan will be any more when I sit down to play WoW.  I’m excited to see what new thing I’ll discover when I log in. Like rescuing a baby manasaber? Or a baby fawn… look, I really love baby animals.

 

March 18, 2016

Just Star-Do It: a Stardew Valley post

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Unlike most who played Stardew Valley right from launch day, I hadn’t been following it’s progression over the past four years at all.  It came up in my Steam queue as a suggested title, and I bought it on a whim.  Looks cute, has farming, supports indie development? Sure, why not.

200 hours later:

what is sleep? what is food?

There’s a few reasons why SDV sucked me, and so many others (it’s currently 3rd on the Steam top seller list) in.  One major one for me is I don’t know when to quit sometimes and SDV capitalizes on that – not in a malicious way, but the mechanics of saving are tied directly to going to bed at the end of the day.  You fall into your little pixel bed at the end of a long day, get a progress update on your farm’s productivity, and the game saves.  Before logging out, however, the cheery 6AM music entices you to just check your mail.  Maybe see if that chicken hatched? All of the sudden it’s 10PM in-game, and another hour of your life is gone.

The simple tasks – farming, brewing, raising livestock, mining for ore and treasures, fishing – are compelling enough to keep players on their own.  But it wasn’t until I started investing in the community that the game really got its hooks into my tender heart.

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November 22, 2015

Officially For Real – The BGNLab is Launched!

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Laurier Brantford professor Scott Nicholson wants to help his students change the world — one game at a time.

Nicholson is leading the university’s innovative Game Design and Development program, unique to the province, which debuted this year at the campus.

Friday marked the official opening of new Brantford Games Network Lab, known as the BGNlab, located on the main floor of the university’s Grand River Hall on Colborne Street.

The former credit union building has been transformed into a gamers’ paradise.

Students wearing white lab coats welcomed dozens of guests into the lab outfitted with computers, white boards, screens, game tables and a huge collection of board games. It’s here that students will work on their gaming projects.

A lounge area, equipped with plug-and-play screens, will be used by students to test games. In an area called the Zone, students will mostly have fun with various gaming consoles and high-end PCs.

The goal of the lab, said Nicholson, is to spark engagement and collaboration between Laurier students, community organizations and local game enthusiasts to develop “made-in-Brantford” solutions to improve lives through games and play.

Read the whole article at the Expositor here.

As you can surmise, the past four months has been something of a blur with starting a new program, full-time work, raising a puppy (yes, he’s still here. More on that later!), house work and frivolous stuff like sleeping and eating.  It also occurred to me at the Friday launch event that as a part-time student, I’ll be part of four or five different cohorts of students, which is a shame because I really like the ones I’m with now.  I know I’m in the right place though, because half of my insomnia lately has been on account of having Too Many Ideas, which is a good problem for a creative type person to have.  It was the same when I was starting Paucity, and we all know how well that’s been going.  That’s not even sarcasm, it’s been going pretty well!

I also want to re-iterate again what a friendly program GDD is to mature students; because it’s not solely about programming, or AAA games, I genuinely feel anyone, of any age, with an interest in games and social change, would do very well here.  Hint, hint, pretty much all of my twitter friends.

February 21, 2014

It was the blurst of times?: Twitch Plays Pokemon & Infinite Monkey Theorem

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Unless you’ve been surfing the internet the past week from a cave on Mars, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, you’ve got at least a passing familiarity with Twitch Plays Pokemon. If not, a brief summary: someone decided to stream Pokemon Red/Blue via Twitch tv, and program it so that chat commands (up, down, left, right, a, b, select) correspond to the player character’s movements in game.  Basically:

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What’s exciting about this is, aside from the hours of entertainment watching Red navigate Giovanni’s tower maze, is that the program essentially allows us to watch and participate in a simplified version of the infinite monkey theorem.  Not only that, since someone set up a competing stream called RNG Plays Pokemon, we can compare how the keyboard smashing gestalt of 80K humans hammering away compares to a computer controlling it all.  (Sort of: Twitch is playing Red/Blue, while RNG is playing Silver).  All the same, gestalt beats singularity by 1 badge currently.

Obviously, with only 6 key presses to complete a game compared to the infinite monkey theorem of 26 key presses to complete a play, we’re looking at probability many magnitudes larger in favour of Twitch.  Plus, to be fair to the monkeys, they’re probably not as familiar with Hamlet as most of the under-40 set is with Pokemon.  Even so, completing simple tasks in Pokemon has been taking anywhere from hours to days. The length of time required to watch until something significant happens is so prohibitive, it’s baffling in its popularity.

At some point, the creator added in a new form of play in addition to the chaos of the PC responding to every keypress, called democracy.

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Players vote by either typing in “anarchy” or “democracy” into chat to move the bar in one direction or another. Democracy mode only moves the character after a key has received a certain number of votes within a 20 sec period – for example, if ten people type “down”, and five type “up”, the character will move down.  It’s slower, but progress is surer.  A lot of viewers (myself included) feel that anarchy mode is the purer method of play.  Think of it as a Nuzlocke challenge for thousands of people at the same time. Released your Charmander? Tough nuts, only Pidgeot can save you now.

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Art by vgstorytime.tumblr.com

Here’s the really fascinating thing about TPP, though.  Not only is the game progressing, but people are weaving in narratives and stories relating to the canonical journey of the player character.  The aforementioned release of Charmander (nicknamed “Abby”), really did happen.  An attempt was made to evolve an Eevee into a Vaporeon to enable Red to use surf, but due to a series of unfortunate spending events, he was unable to acquire a water stone, and they ended up with Flareon instead. When trying to deposit Flareon to withdraw another pokemon capable of using surf, Abby was released, and the myth passed into legend:

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Image by walrusmanipulator.tumblr.com

The Helix Fossil, due to its inability to be used or thrown away, gained a great deal of favour, as did the Moon stone.

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The deep-seated philosophical urge to narrate the progression of Red in the game echoes the concept of existential angst, as Sartre saw it, where human recognition of the utter indifference of situations and objects.  There’s no sense of consciousness in them, which can cause great distress to the soul.  We might not think of it so much when looking at a stapler, but it’s certainly present when gazing out at the infinitely expanding universe – a panicky fluttering of uselessness.

Some of this is alleviated by the nature of the game – there is a defining end, a sense of accomplishment in beating the game. (Whether that’s beating the elite four, or catching every pokemon varies from player to player.) despite the fact that most of the situations in the game result in no proper “progression”, so to speak, there is still a heady sense of freedom in being that dick who types “down” instead of “up” to consult the Helix Fossil. Again.

But all of those individual situations of themselves are not linked in any meaningful way.  They’re the immediate expressions of actions taken by others, and expressed through an object (in this case, a computer program.) In between watching Red circle loops through Team Rocket HQ, there’s still a powerful need to extract meaning through connecting these actions via narrative.  Hence, False Prophet, Bird Jesus, and so on.

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It’s also hell on a date (courtesy of xkcd.com)

Twitch plays pokemon is fascinating because it’s an 8-bit representation of all that German philosophical bullshit about the nature of being that you strained to wrap your head around in undergrad. How do we tell our stories? What is the meaning of our lives in a cold, uncaring universe? When we’re on our deathbeds, we can look back at the journey, all the ledges we fell of off, the hours spent in a dark elevator alone, and say to ourselves, “At least we beat Blue.”

In Pidgeot’s name, amen.