The other night, after 5 years of putting it off, I finally completed Mass Effect. I see now why it’s so well-regarded.
Briefly, here’s what I think was awesome:
Nothing is ever perfect, though. I have the following critiques:
All up, though, Mass Effect was excellent, and good motivation for me to move on to the next one.
Took a break to play Jonas Kyratzes’ recent short game “The Fabulous Screech“.
It was very sweet, and characteristically humorous, but sad. Without wanting to spoil it for anyone, let me just say that anyone who owns a cat will be able to relate to the main character, the eponymous Fabulous Screech, a cat who runs a circus featuring trained humans. Who knew they could talk!
It won’t take more than 20 minutes to play, and though it’s point-and-click, it, like Jonas’ other Lands of Dream games, is the sort where clicking inspires curiosity, not frustration, as almost every visible feature in every scene is clickable, and every clickable feature is visible.
Anyway, go play it. And click on everything. God’s bookshelf is particularly interesting – I was not surprised to learn he’s a Carl Sagan fan, and it was moving to see how all the other gods sent him birthday cards like that – there might be a culture war here on Earth, but it’s nice that all the various deities can be above all that.
PS – for those who read my last post on patronage, Jonas operates under another variety of patronage that you might find interesting – for a small fee, he and his wife, Verena, create pages of an encyclopedia detailing the Lands of Dream, dedicated to and based on guidance from the contributor. I gave a while back, and got in return the World Mushroom, an entry that captures some of things I treasure rather excellently. For a little more, he’ll even frame and send you the original.
Got 10-20 minutes free? Play “Neverending Light“. The games starts with you and your character taking a tour through a cave system full of stalagtites, stalagmites, and awesome voice acting. Needless to say, things go horribly wrong.
Part 1 of an ongoing series.
Like most things, games evolve. Modifications arise over time, sometimes by design, sometimes casually – examples include deliberate design, house rules, misinterpretation, and our innate tendency to search for parsimony and avoid unnecessary complexity. Since game designs are socially transmitted between both players and designers, and elements of game design can be recombined to form new games, these modifications accumulate over time, spawning new games that compete with others for attention and favour. Survival of the funnest, so to speak, with design patterns as genes, and boredom as the key factor leading to game species extinction.
The point here isn’t to assert that the evolution of games is the same as biological evolution, but to draw a few interesting parallels:
None of this is really that revolutionary – game designs are just memeplexes, and Dawkins has already argued quite convincingly that memes and memeplexes evolve along similar lines to genes.
Point three, however, has an interesting consequence that I’ve not seen discussed elsewhere. Assuming the general idea holds, it has only minimal assumptions that any life with rudimentary language and intelligence would most likely possess. Therefore, this seems to suggest that games and play are an inevitable feature of all intelligent life. This seems somewhat intuitively obvious, but its nice, I think, to see why it should be.
I love moral ambiguity in games. I love characters who struggle with intense yet believable emotions, and who are conflicted by their actions and beliefs to the point that they nearly destroy themselves. I love the simple humanity of this, and I love it when this is set against a bleak, gritty setting that offers scope for exploring the darker side of human nature without being too pretentious. I’ll take a plot where simple people tear themselves apart over one in which heroes save the world any day.
I finished playing Iji the other day and it fits that characterization well. Here’s the trailer:
And, here’s why I liked it:
The game begins with the world’s destruction in a massive alien assault. Any hope for a happy ending is gone before you it has a chance to materialize.
Iji wakes up in a lab in an underground base, having been modified by now-dead scientists with game necessary but plot irrelevant nanotech. She’s confused, lost, and angry at the world in a hopeless, self defeating way. Even worse, she shortly discovers that her brother is still alive, but, though he tries to help her, has become hardened and cold, and expects Iji to get over her fears and save the world.
The basic premise isn’t particularly novel, but the way Iji plays out really works. The insanity of the situation she’s in isn’t dismissed as irrelevant with a short angst session early in the game, rather, she breaks down and cries from stress at various occasions, and it just works. She’s not a hero type, she’s just a person, stretched to the emotional limit.
I just loved this – I can’t recall ever seeing a game in which the hero breaks down and cries over their victims. Probably no surprise given the constant reminders that she’s slowly turning into a killing machine. As you play, you pick up logbooks left behind by aliens; early in the game you find a diary entry in which an alien scout waxes lyrical about his lady love, stationed elsewhere in the facility. You can imagine that this doesn’t turn out well.
Anyway, I won’t go into any more detail for fear of spoiling things, but this was one of the most emotionally satisfying games I’ve played in a very long time.
Most of the levels are somewhat linear with occasional secret areas. What’s interesting is that you can approach them in several ways. By no means do you have to go on a rampage, killing everything in sight. In fact, it may well be to your advantage not to (certainly, in the later levels you’re almost forced to just run away from things lest they set you on fire). Furthermore, the game’s weapon options allow for a variety of different tactics in confronting your enemies.
Even more interestingly, though, you can play the game as a pacifist. That is, you can make it through the whole game without killing more than two of the game’s several hundred aliens. Unsurprisingly, this results in the plot taking a fairly different direction.
With a range of different weapons combined with various special abilities and an attribute point system, Iji creates a wide range of options for the connoisseur of killing. Different weapon choices require different styles of play, and not all weapons are effective on all enemies. Multiple weapons aren’t special in themselves, but few games use them to produce diversity of play in the way that Iji manages to.
In some games, only the boss fights require much thinking and observation in order to determine how to defeat a given set of enemies, but in Iji, this is frequently the case. Even on normal difficulty, you have to use your brain.
x-posted in a bunch of places
One thing that’s really fascinating about virtual worlds and MMOGs is the avatars that people choose and the relationship between their choice and their physical selves. It’s pretty easy to find statistics showing that gender bending is a pretty common practice (for example), but there’s not been a lot of research looking at people choices of character race and shape.
A while back, Nick Yee, a research at PARC, published some statistics he’d gathered during his PhD on the relationships between age and gender on player choices of race, alignment, and type of character class. Graphs and notes on those results are available here.
More recently, he’s published another set of results concerning player choices of character shape; that is, whether their character is relatively taller or shorter, how attractive they are, and so forth. These are pretty interesting results, though there’s nothing really surprising. What’s really interesting, though, is the graphs he’s produced looking at the relationship between preferences for different avatar archetypes and for different styles of play.
Anyway, if you’re at all interested in self representation or online games, go take a look. He publishes these results via a blog he keeps called ‘The Daedalus Project’ – it’s not particularly high traffic, but what he does post is well worth reading..