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?
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 Desert. Shuffle 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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
Gamergate* is dead. Indeed, it’s been dead in the water since it began. I’m not going to cover the genesis, or the long arc of harassment and continued misunderstandings about what words like “ethics“, “games” or “journalism” mean. That, as you can see, has already been extensively covered.
But like a rapidly transmitted virus – say, the flu – the reach of Gamergate went far beyond the borders of the nation of ManCavelandia to find coverage in the mainstream media from the likes of NPR, PBS or the New York Post. In no particular order, the death of Gamergate:
No one actually buys the ethics in games journalism defence. It was a slapdash bandaid applied to a bitter ex’s angry blog rant about a claim of collusion that is provably false. More than a few minutes spent in any of the forums for pro-GG posters show that a) they’re primarily concerned with punishing women who critique the game industry status quo and b) they have no fucking idea what ethics in journalism actually means, since they feel like games coverage shouldn’t be critical or negative of a product when that company also advertises with you. No, really.
The smokescreen of ethics probably makes the next point so infuriating.
2) Mainstream media coverage:
In a setting where “fair and balanced” coverage means giving both sides of the story equal play, even if one side is completely ridiculous (looking at you, climate change “debates”), the MSM has been unequivocally critical of Gamergate. New York Times coverage focuses on GG as a movement devoted to silencing feminist critics of games, Forbes ran an article criticizing Intel’s decision in pulling advertising based on the campaign, and big name stations like CNN and the BBC covered the Utah State massacre threats because, well, obviously.
In fact, the only thing GG appears to have been remotely successful at with regards to mainstream media is getting Anita Sarkeesian interviewed on everything, including the Colbert report:
(In a cute piece of irony Alanis would love, most GGers seem to believe this is a coop for the movement because Stephen Colbert argues for boobies in video games.)
3) Everyone knows it’s about hating women.
Chris Kluwe took basically an enormous verbal dump on Gamergate hydra-like head, and nothing happened. (He made a few people cry, maybe.) Nerd idols like Joss Whedon, Wil Wheaton and Greg Rucka have all spoken against the toxic nature of the movement. And yet, it’s Anita Sarkeesian, Felicia Day, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu – all relative small potatoes, until they got national attention for being targets, anyway – were the ones threatened. Those threats were widely reported on, which led to a number of reporters looking into men who have criticized GG, and why they weren’t threatened. Considering this is the media that was hesitant to talk about the Isla Vista shooter’s misogyny, don’t you think that’s a little telling?
4) Games are changing.
Anita covers it a bit in her talk, but the truth is that interdisciplinary programs are gaining ground in universities and colleges, and many media labs and incubators have computer scientists who are artists as well, visual artists who can code, writers who can market. This isn’t just meant to double-dip and save money, but rather reflect the flexibility and diversity of the world in the people who make games, so that games can grow beyond the linear narrative structures and kill-to-win models that dominate a lot of major game studios’ portfolios. Sandbox games like Animal Crossing, Tomodachi Life, the Sims, and Fantasy Life are immensely popular, entertaining and fun. You can’t beat them them. The only way to win is the satisfaction of enjoying the game while playing it.
What’s more, you get games like Fold it, where the satisfaction and enjoyment from the game can also be derived from the sense of purpose that succeeding has applicable, real-life benefits. Check out the latest puzzle, for example, where players need to find a way to bypass a cap on the ebola virus that prevents a cure from binding before the virus can bind to a human host. Terrified of ebola? Be the actual change here.
Gamification has gotten a bad rap because it’s used so poorly in most cases. rewards based systems only work so long as the reward is high enough value for you to press through doing your homework, or chores, or job. But gamification done well broadens the scope and arena of gaming to be pretty much limitless, which is terrifying for Gamergate. How can it be a special club if everyone enjoys it?
*not to be confused with gamergates, or reproductively viable worker ants.
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:
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.
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.
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:
The Helix Fossil, due to its inability to be used or thrown away, gained a great deal of favour, as did the Moon stone.
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.
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.