Lets Play and Archiving Games.

Before we begin, I’m going to request that you watch this video. Extra Credits is an excellent publication and I can’t suggest it highly enough.

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/my-name-is-ozymandias

 

There are a lot of people devoted to making sure older games are still playable. Both out of the industry, such as the System Shock 2 Patch Prodject: http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/122/1226217p1.html and of course the gentlemen who did Black Mesa. As well as inside the industry, such as the Monkey Island 1 & 2 remakes that preserve the ability to go into the original game at any time.

That said, I noticed nobody has brought up another means of game preservation, and that is the ‘Lets Play’

A ‘Lets Play’ doesn’t preserve the physical feeling of playing the game, but rather of watching someone play it. This is a mixed bag. The downside is of course that you aren’t actually  preserving the game itself, because you can’t play it for yourself. The upside is that you can preserve it easier in video format and you can record somebody’s reactions to playing game.

Of course the downside is tragic, and we should make every attempt to preserve the original games, but there are some times where that’s simply not feasible without recoding the game from scratch on modern hardware. We can preserve an old Tomy Tutor and its games, but that would also be fairly inaccessible to the average person, like they discussed about seeing Starry Night.

Lets Play is either a video or a text & picture format, which we have decades of experience of learning how to preserve, and can be accessible to anybody interested in it. You can see the core gameplay and, as a designer, you get the input of seeing somebody’s reaction to it. This gives you a different type of value.

You could argue that it’s not comparable, but it would be vastly superior than losing them altogether. It would be better to have found a script for the original ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’ (1906) in addition to what we have of its remnants, than simply to have had the remnants.

One of my favourite Lets Plays right now is GameCenter CX, which is a well produced show that has a professional comedian who loves games [but is not very good at them] attempting to beat old classic titles. It’s entertaining and gives you a good view of the games, though it is not uninterrupted gameplay. It is subtitled from Japanese, but here’s some examples:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9fg6DJotb4 – Phoenix, an older Famicom title that has a lot of interesting designs, including finding secret warps as a core mechanic.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmyE3TpOglE – The classic Super Mario World, Note that this man is not good at games and your inner child will yell at him at the beginning. But Part 2 has an excellent ending that you have to see.

Most LP simply follow the format of a player playing the game and talking over their gameplay. The nice thing about this is that anybody can do it and, in fact, many people have. A simple youtube search of ‘lets play’ is very revealing. Here’s one example:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL112B22D06879D809&feature=plcp

Not all Lets Plays are video though, This is a playthrough of Phantasy Star one.

http://lparchive.org/Phantasy-Star/Update%201/

The player took the original story in Phantasy star, and added his prose to it. The result is the original game’s story and world with the added layer of depth that this player felt was there while playing. The original games has very few lines of dialogue and while this is more interesting if you’ve played the original, it is still accessible to anybody who wants to read it.

If we can keep an archive of the original games, we should. If we can adjust them to work on modern hardware, we should do that in addition to keeping the original. And if we want to make sure they can get into every household that has an interest in them, this would be a valuable tool to add, not replace, to our current plans. Especially for niche or ‘bad’ games that nobody has any passion to update to modern hardware.

~Jason D.

http://www.PerformancePC.net

The Hero’s Journey

A Hero's Journey?

 

The Hero’s Journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell is a structure that most classical myth takes. It’s a structure that rings true to who we are as people. The structure is visible in everything from The Odyssey to Star Wars, from Buddha to Blade Runner. The monomyth, as it is called, is broken into several parts and in this post I’m going to analyze them with respect to the game Dark Souls.

Dark Souls is a game that will be released for PC in August, and has been available on console for about a year now. This essay will contain some spoilers, but I will intentionally leave them out of context so that none of the story events will be spoiled, just names and locations so that those that have played it will understand.

For further information about The Hero’s Journey and how it relates to storytelling, or just to follow along in this outline, this link has all of the details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

 

Departure
1 The Call to Adventure

The Call to Adventure is fairly clear, you start in a prison cell, and the key is given to you.

2 Refusal of the Call

The refusal of the call is the same in most people, though more often in Blighttown rather than in the beginning of the game. Dark Souls is a difficult game. Difficult, but fair mind you. The refusal of the call is when the player gently puts their controller down (throws it against a wall) and pauses to consider their situation (turns the system off and vows never to play again).  Of course, we always come back…

3 Supernatural Aid

In the beginning of the game the knight that frees you gives you an Estus Flask. This is your primary healing item throughout the entire game. You refill it and re-use it at every stage of the game and it is your lifeline.

4 The Crossing of the First Threshold

The Crossing of the Threshold is a clear event. Once you have defeated the introductory stage, an enormous crow that flies you to the game world proper.

5 Belly of The Whale

The crow flies you to firelink shrine. Here you have left behind the starting zone and can explore. You have little indication of where to go or how to go about your tasks. This is a very daunting situation to someone not familiar with a Castlevania/Metroid style open-world (and hasn’t read a guide).

Initiation

1 The Road of Trials

Games normally exist in The Road of Trials. Many other games such as Megaman or Mario can be said to exist entirely  in this phase. In Dark Souls, this is your exploration, your trial and error, and your advancement through the game.

2 The Meeting With the Goddess

There is a very literal “Meeting with the Goddess” in which the goddess gives you the plot-goal item. When you meet the goddess, you are in a peaceful and calm place, and the goddess is one of the few things in the game that appears not to be hostile to you, and welcome you. Story-wise though, this takes place after the Atonement with the Father.

3 Woman as Temptress

This is an interesting point in the game. There is an entirely optional dungeon that is available to the player, and at the end of it you do NOT need to kill the boss. They do not hinder your quest and there is no reason that you, the player, have to attack her. But she is clearly a boss, she is holding a large and interesting weapon, and at this point in the game you know that bosses tend to offer loot and power. Tempting, isn’t it.

4 Atonement with the Father

There are two possible interpretations of this, both around the same point in the game. The Attonement with the Father is the stage in the myth where the hero must confront the obstacle that holds the ultimate power in their life. The first interpretation is that one of the game’s more difficult bosses, Ornstein and Smough,  represent this. They are guarding the goddess and are your final and greatest challenge before you can see her. Another interpretation is that the world serpents, Frampt and Kaathe, represent your ability to complete the game properly. They hold the key to being able to transport you to the final areas of the game.

5 Apotheosis

In the meeting with the goddess you are given the most reprieve the game offers you. A place of beauty and a room that has no enemies that wish you harm. This is your resting point, and a well deserved one after defeating Ornstein and Smough.

6 The Ultimate Boon

Here the game goes directly into The Magic Flight and elements of the Return, which I’ll discuss in a moment. Later it returns to the ultimate boon when you fight the final boss of the game. The final boss fight is not terribly hard [compared to some of the game's other boss fights] and the battle itself is more one of story and fulfillment rather than some huge final obstacle (not unlike Demon’s Souls final encounter). The Ultimate Boon that is granted to you is a choice…

Return

1 Refusal of the Return

The Refusal of the Return is handled interestingly. In this entire ‘return’ section we’ll be discussing the metagame more than the game itself. If you beat the game, you win, and the game goes into New Game+ and a harder challenge. But many players, myself included, aren’t in a rush to win. If you win you can’t continue Co-op,  Invading becomes more difficult until you progress again. The refusal of the return is handled by the player, not the character.

2 The Magic Flight

This section is shifted to before the ultimate boon, if we’re talking about continuity. Once you receive an item in Apotheosis it is necessary to find more parts of it to make it whole. You could consider this to be a secondary Road of Trials, but given the situation I would consider it The Magic Flight. The Magic Flight is normally an escape with the boon, running from those that jealously guarded it. In Dark Souls, the boon is sealed by those who jealously guarded it. Rather than escape, the flight is to break the seal.

3 Rescue from Without

Placed throughout the game, the rescue from without is your ability as a player to summon helpers for boss battles and difficult levels. These other players appear in your world as white and gold phantoms. These are the only times that you receive direct help in your journey.

4 The Crossing of the Return Threshold

Defined as sharing wisdom with the rest of the world, this section is being the rescuer. You can offer your assistance to other players in the world, giving back to them. In this you enter their world and are their white or gold phantom, their rescuer and protector through their trials.

5 Master of Two Worlds

Once they have mastered the game to a transcendent level, many players will play again in a challenge mode. Play through in human mode. Play the game without ever leveling up (I have done this myself), or perhaps play through in a different character with a different skillset. This shows mastery of the world in every facet.

6 Freedom to Live

This comes to the player, once they feel they have learned the game. This is often considered a level of immortality or enlightened consciousness. In Dark Souls, it is the latter. You no longer fear death. You have prepared.

 

Quantum Conundrum Review

Quantum Conundrum

So what exactly is Quantum Conundrum?

In short it’s a puzzle game from the mind of Kim Swift, one of the creators of Portal. She was one of the original team that worked on Narbacular Drop, the proof of concept for Portal, and stayed on with Valve until two years after Portal was released in ’07.

So if it seems to have it’s design heritage in Portal, you know why. Both games follow the same formula: A silent protagonist is put in a land of ~*Science*~ where they have to solve various standalone puzzles in a linear order to proceed. There is a disembodied master scientist who speaks to the player as they proceed to give comic relief, mockery, and the occasional advice.

Now having said that, this is a great formula to work from and if I were to argue against it, I would have to argue against every platformer that had similarities to Mario. The concept does work quite well and the puzzles are fun and entertaining, leaving you a very triumphant feeling when you accomplish one.

In this game the science takes the form of changing dimensions around you, two of the dimensions affect objects and two affect your surroundings. The two that affect objects around you are Fluffy and Heavy dimensions, represented by objects turning into pillows and riveted iron respectively. By adjusting the weight you can alternately pick up heavy objects to move them, or turn cardboard boxes into sturdy metal crates. The two that affect the world around you are Slow Motion and Reverse Gravity. Slow motion lets you handle timing puzzles and reverse gravity will resolve any issues you have with newton’s old friend.

The game dynamics revolve on combining dimensions to create their effects. You can only have one active at any time, but switching between them is nearly instantaneous. You can switch to Fluffy to pick up and throw a table. Then while it’s in mid-air you can switch to Slow-Motion to jump on the table and ride it wherever you threw it. Likewise you can reverse the gravity to send a box high up in the air, then switch to Heavy to have it come crashing down with great force.

The game’s art is simple and cartoony, supporting the comical backdrop of the puzzles in much the opposite way that Portal 2 handled it’s industrial side. The backgrounds and hallways can be repetitive but the main focus of the game is on the logic and forcing you to take the mental steps necessary to complete the puzzles.

And nothing feels better than having that moment of epiphany when suddenly you have the answer before you.

Quantum Conundrum is only $15 through Steam, which is worth every cent. At double that it would still be a great pick up, and I highly recommend it.

 

 

Professional DotA Updates

Hey Everybody,

For those of you interested in the DotA II Competitive scene, at the end of August (August 31st – Sept 2nd) there is a million dollar tournament, “The International” Sixteen teams from around the world will compete in this tournament from across the world, with “Evil Geniuses” (EG) and “CompLexity Gaming” (coL) representing the USA. Last year’s winners from Ukraine, Na’Vi, still have a strong team and are likely to be the team everybody will be focusing to defeat this year.

If you would like to watch the professional tier games, the best places I can recommend are:

PlayDotA- http://www.joindota.com/en/start

A valuable resource for learning and understanding the DotA 2 world.

LD’s Youtube Channel – http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUpm6ntkYMC-XcwpMyRJDDYA&feature=plcp

LD offers some excellent insight and tends to follow games that aren’t casted on PlayDotA, including some exciting matches in the eastern scene.

 

In the coming weeks we’ll be adding more content to our gaming blog. We’ll be following Dota 2 and be linking some tips on how to improve your game. I’ll also be doing a review of Civ V Gods and Kings after it’s available, as well as looking at the MMO scene. Look forward to it!

~JD

The International tournament roster.

The International DotA 2 tournament roster.