Still getting my butt kicked at NextLevel. I guess that’s to be expected, though. My mechanics are getting better, but I don’t have the reactions to be able to handle most of the guys that play there though.
I’ve been practicing Juri’s main bread’n’butter combos for most of the week, trying to make my links tight and build muscle memory. So far that’s been going pretty well. In actual matches I don’t always make the links, but I’m getting closer. This is where hit-confirming and intuition comes in. I’m nowhere near close enough to be able to hit-confirm my combos on reaction. Or, at least I feel like I’m not fast enough. It’s hard to tell when I’m playing, though, since I’m not paying attention to it. Watching replays would be a better indication. At this point I’m just trying to keep it as tight as possible so if they other player tries to do something unwise during it, I get counter hits.
I’ve also been trying to break my habit of jumping with Juri and instead am trying to use her mixup options. I’ve also worked on consciously varying my timings when I store fireballs, since releasing Juri’s fireballs immediately after storing them usually results in getting hit with something. And then I’m trying to break my habit of holding onto my low fireball when I need to tech a throw. (I might be getting better at this simply because I’m getting better at predicting when the other player is going to go for a grab.)
My thinking right now is that my mechanics will get better however quickly they will. As long as I put in enough practice and develop good mechanical habits, it will just be something that happens through playing. That’s really just work. It’s exercise. The real training is the psychological training, the mindset I need to foster to play fighting games at a high level.
An inherent aggression that leads me to play in a rushdown style. Once you get past buttonmashing in people’s faces, though, that doesn’t work. I’m just starting to get into safe jumps and post-knockdown setups that (actually) work. So what always got me up till now is that even if I would get a knockdown, I’d usually get hit with a wakeup that I wasn’t prepared for or wasn’t able to keep the pressure up. Her forward dash and fuhajin combos are really attractive, but that requires you to know the timings down pat, and the other player can defend if they’re paying attention. Or even, if you don’t know the timings, a shoryuken is probably going to catch you doing something you shouldn’t be. That said, I’ve gotten a lot better at keeping the pressure up once I have an advantage. Especially in the corner. Now I just need to have better control of the midscreen, so I’m not the one that’s getting pushed into the corner.
When I started playing SF4 my inclination was to immediately try to figure out how to do cool combos. I think a lot of people think of combos when they think of fighting games. Combos are cool and they’re useful and they do more damage, but they can be really misleading. You need to know how to set them up. You need to know when and if you can do one. There’s a big difference between blindly following through with the motions you know will get you your nice punch > shoryu cancel, but if you don’t hit that first punch, you’re setting yourself up for a big punish.
I got a bit lucky (or perhaps unlucky) in that Juri happened to be a character that really needs to take advantage of even simple combos to fight. So I gravitated toward trying to do that instead of the basics. I feel that I’m just starting to internalize the fundamentals, and now Juri’s toolset is making more sense in the context of the full SF4 roster.
Juri is a bit more of a character that can adapt to different playstyles and heavily rewards good reading ability. Once she makes a good guess, she has a lot of tools to frustrate your opponent and keep them guessing how you’re going to play. Is she going to dash? Counter? Which direction? Is she gonna divekick? Is she just jumping? My habit has been to use only divekicks or forward jumps as a way to get in on someone, and both of these options are really easy to counter (and really you can counter them both the same way). Instead, need to know when to relax with Juri and take advantage of her zoning game. She can get out as easily as she can get in. Okay, fine, you’re going to crouch-tech and wait to anti-air. I can sit over there and build meter with my fireballs all day long.
Juri is a pretty good character to zone with, since her fireballs are really useful. The only annoying part is that her fireball doesn’t hit the edge of the screen. Any shoto character with normal fireballs can out-poke me in a fireball war. It puts me in an awkward position if the other player is fine turtling. I have to be the one to try and make the first move to close the gap, usually. I can close the gap with a hk shikusen, but that’s usually a horrible choice, as the time it takes to cover that distance is less than the recovery time from a fireball.
And in any case, I watch something like this and realize I’m doing everything completely wrong.
This is a great example of development and flow in a tournament match. Haitani’s matches throughout the tournament were especially worthy of watching. You can feel his brain working. It always seems like he’s just on the brink of losing the round or the match, but then he makes an amazing read. You have to be afraid of his Makoto until you see the K.O.
Notes from my second week of Street Fighter training.
To provide a frame of reference, at this point I’ve played about 100 and change hours of SFIV. I’ve never played a fighting game seriously previous to this, though I have played a couple games here and there.
My main is currently Juri Han, one of the newcomers to SFIV. I’m maining her for no other reason than I wanted to pick a character to focus on and the character select defaulted to her, so I chose Juri.
How the week felt:
- I’m finally starting to feel at home with the game. I by no means have a total grasp of even the basic systems, but my joystick control and play is starting to feel instinctual rather than intentional.
- FADC is beginning to make more sense.
- Completed all of Juri’s trials
- Went to Next Level for the first time (and got owned)
Goals for the next week:
- Practice safe jump-ins
- Be careful storing LK fuhajin against throw-happy opponents
- Use forward dash more
- Make more use of cs.MP & cr.MP
- Stop continuing into senpusha after blocks
- Stop using unsafe shikusen jump-ins
- Make more use of EX kasatsushi
I’m starting a new project. An unorthodox one, to be sure.
I’m learning how to play Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition 2012. Seriously. I mean I’m learning how to play it seriously. Not: “Seriously, I’m learning how to play it.” I’m also learning how to learn how to play it. Somehow I’ve managed to convince my betters that this project is worth an independent study and credits.
There’s not much more to say other than that I’ll be examining the relevant literature, synthesizing it, critiquing it, and attempting to add my own insights. Standard academic stuff.
Though e-Sport and competitive gaming is ascendant in contemporary gaming culture, there’s not a whole lot of literature on it. At least in the traditional academic meaning of the term. While there’s a lot of writing on forums and hours of video on YouTube, the gaming academia still struggles to integrate this layman’s knowledge into formal writing. (Absurd, unpronounceable, and sometimes lewd gamer handles are one difficulty.) There’s a couple books that deal specifically with e-Sport and professional gamers, though they’re few and far between. There’s a handful more written sources from the perspective of players—Daigo Umehara’s autobiography being one example.
I recently read David Sudnow’s Pilgrim in the Microworld, which recounts his experience of obsessing over Atari’s Breakout. There’s not much in it of practical use to me, but it was interesting to witness Sudnow’s initial bewilderment that shortly turned into an obsession. Although Sudnow laments the extent to which he became obsessed with the game—analyzing every minute detail and attempting to create a method that would allow him to perform perfectly—his opinion is counter to the premise of my study. He sees his obsession as something to be avoided; it was destructive to both him and the game. However, it is now quite apparent that many players of games revel in playing games at least as obsessively as Sudnow did, and their lives are the better for it, not worse.
As far as competition is concerned, the most important evolution in videogames since Breakout is that they have become better at being deeper. (Perhaps designers have become better at designing deep games, but I doubt this, and suspect technical limitations rather than human inadequacy.) Breakout, as Sudnow realizes, is barely worthy of anything resembling “deep” play. The game’s mechanics just don’t hold up to scrutiny. Sudnow attributes this disappointment to Breakout’s arcade lineage, which we fortunately eschewed as game hardware became more affordable and moved out of public spaces and into bed and living rooms.
That said, Street Fighter was an arcade game, too. The most important difference appears to rest in the fundamentally competitive nature of the game. Capcom never needed to rely on tricky, randomized mechanics to encourage a steady stream of quarters, but counted on the ability of other human beings to provide worthwhile competition and keep one of the two competitors inserting currency.
New semester. New projects. New building. New apartment.
It’s time to do awesome things.
Field-1 is winding down. We’ve got new audio in, and we’ve managed to solve most of the issues that have been plaguing us throughout the project. (Curse you, ofxGamepad!) We’ll be building an arcade cabinet this weekend and installing it at Death By Audio in Williamsburg. Should have some pics forthcoming. Exciting!
I’ve also started actually working on thesis with my team. We’ve started our devblog which will be updated regularly.
Somehow I’ve also managed to start studying Street Fighter IV as a project about learning how to learn how to play a game deeply. All I really know about it right now is I’m not very good at SF4.
If there is one lesson to learn from playing Go, it is that elegance does not equal simplicity. Go’s deceptively simple rules create deep strategy and elegance, but are by no means simple in their implementation.
What does it mean to “get good” at Go?
One way to evaluate it would be reading ability. Reading sequences longer than about ten stones is still tricky for me, and I often have to check and recheck my predictions. When you play Go, you’re not playing only the game in front of you, you’re simultaneously playing hundreds of possible games.
While I surely want to become a better player in the competitive, ranked sense, I prefer the more aesthetic evaluation of strong play: to be good at Go is to play a beautiful game. If the players are well matched, you can expect the point differential to be minimal. The real beauty of Go comes from the interplay of strategy and tactics, or what we game designers like to call emergent gameplay: the final expression of a starting strategy come to fruition, the success of a risky gambit, the impeccable defense, or the voracious invasion. The real fun in Go isn’t the outcome of the game, it’s realizing the deep meaning invested in each stone placed on the seemingly meaningless, abstract grid of the goban. It’s the courageous placing of stones on the board, the “tak” of the stone as you signal to your opponent: “Here is my challenge to you.”
Got a small coffee from the Mud Truck for a dollar today.
Game Design. Gaaame Designnn. Maybe if I say it enough it will spiral into meaninglessness.
I’ve spent so much time talking, thinking, and doing game design in these past weeks that I’m actually actively seeking ways to not do something game-related. A lot of my classmates are thinking similarly, the irony of which is fully apparent to all of us. I spent my childhood on the playground and creating and playing games with my friends. Now I sit in a classroom and design games and am told which games to play as homework. I’m in grad school for the very thing that distracted me from school in the first place.
I’m posting this late because I forgot to come back and finish the entry after I went to bed. I wrote most of it in the few days after the Game Feel master class with Steve Swink.
I spent the weekend completely nerding out with fellow game designers at a master class taught by Steve Swink at the NYU Game Center. His topic was “game feel,” which I understood more verbosely as the kinesthetic connection between the player and the character(s) they play as.
The event was intruiging on many different levels, although I have a hard time judging the actual utility of the exercises we fiddled with during the weekend. For example, we attempted to replicate the movement system of Super Mario Bros. in a copy with changeable variables. We also recorded 60 fps videos of games of our choice in order to determine response times.
I also get another kind of reaction when I tell someone that I’m studying Game Design.
"Nice. There’s a lot of money in that! I have a [friend, nephew] who works for some company doing some sort of…thing. He does stuff on computers." (Slight hyperbole, but I really have had people respond this way.)
I’m not in it for the money. If I were, it probably would have been much more economically sound to get a Computer Science degree and bust my butt as a codemonkey or develop some killer app that landed me a cozy job somewhere. (Or, perhaps, to be a businessman and make sound investments as a producer, rather than developer.)
Indie developers like Jonathan Blow get a lot of press for becoming instant millionaires (I’m thinking about that article in The Atlantic a handful of months back). Big brand names like [name your modern military shooter] get even more press.
You never really hear any of these people saying that they wanted to make games because they wanted to become millionaires. I’m starting at the bottom. Right now, simply figuring out how to squeeze the right part-time jobs between classes in order to pay for food and rent is my primary concern. Even with all the help I’m receiving, the scale is tipped way too far on the wrong side.
When I tell people that I’m getting a master’s degree in Game Design, I get one of two reactions, without fail. The first is the most pleasing: their eyes open up and they exclaim how the world is a much happier place now that students can receive degrees in games.
"You’re in school, now?"
“Yeah, I’m getting my Master’s in Game Design.”
“Oh, wow! That’s really cool. I play games all the time on my [insert mobile device of choice].”
If this person is a parent, the next question usually involves their children and how I would advise them to play videogames.
The other reaction I get is confusion.
"So, what are in school for?"
“I’m getting a Master’s in Game Design.”
“Wait, so you’re getting a degree in videogames?”
“Well, not really. It’s everything: history, design, programming, art, digital and traditional…”
“Oh, so you’re learning how to code? That’s a booming industry right now, that’s really good.”
It’s been a while since I posted anything. Part of that was because I was caught up in finishing my undergrad thesis and couldn’t be bothered writing posts about my thesis when I should be writing it. More generally, I was conflicted about what Massively Immersive should be. I was trying to produce “content” for some kind of imagined readership, instead of writing for my own sake.
So, I stopped posting. Then I got lazy.
I sat down and reflected on what I wanted to get out of writing MI, and the results are in my updated about page.
Ben Kuchera of the Penny-Arcade Report posted an article on the capital ship space flight sim Artemis, today. Six people, one capital ship. You and your crew fly the ship, together. It can have a game-master. It has LAN capability. It’s super nerdy. Check the video.
Aside from the sheer epicness of the game, I wanted to highlight the designer, Thomas Robertson’s, arguments on videogame storytelling. As Ben Kuchera writes:
Robertson isn’t interested in telling you a story, he wants to provide a game where you can act out your own story, or tell each other stories.
That’s the point, really. Artemis creates kind of storytelling that occurs organically from the players who have a personal investment in the group they’re playing with. Personally, I’m not as averse as Robertson is to games that attempt narrative storytelling, but his statements point at a truth.
Personal taste is the only thing at stake, in this case. At least for Artemis, it’s a taste I can savor.
I’ve completed my “Senior Capstone” project, and now I have more free time than I know what to do with. Of course, I spent a lot of that time playing games. Last weekend was the first Guild Wars 2 beta weekend event, and it was definitely as much fun as I had anticipated.
Here’s the main character I used throughout the beta, Reisc, a Charr Mesmer. I was quite pleased when I was able to make him look like a pirate. Unfortunately he was mutinied and made to walk the plank. (Disregard the tiling on the screenshot, it’s a bug.)
Mike O’Brien, President of ArenaNet, recently wrote a short article about the microtransaction system in Guild Wars 2. They’re currently rolling out preliminary systems for the ongoing beta tests and it has caused a huge fuss which you can observe on YouTube and other blogs. Here’s what O’Brien has to say about the philosophy behind how they have designed the system:
Here’s our philosophy on microtransactions: We think players should have the opportunity to spend money on items that provide visual distinction and offer more ways to express themselves. They should also be able to spend money on account services and on time-saving convenience items. But it’s never OK for players to buy a game and not be able to enjoy what they paid for without additional purchases, and it’s never OK for players who spend money to have an unfair advantage over players who spend time.
This philosophy generally echoes the microtransaction philosophies found in mainstream free-to-play games on the market right now. League of Legends and Tribes: Ascend, for example. In practice this setup works well.
Kidding. I can’t play ME3. Kind of can’t. …Shouldn’t play? My point is that I only have a lackluster word-processor/YouTube-watcher laptop right now. If I wanted to play ME3 I’d have to cope with either Mass Effect in Ballet or some sort of lo-rez pinhole edition. I’d rather wait until I acquire a PC that can respectfully handle the game or until I can commandeer an Xbox for long enough.
Anyways. ME3 has been out long enough that people are starting to finish their first playthroughs and the spoilers and let’s-plays are starting to appear. I’m jealous. Playing a new blockbuster game is an entirely different experience than playing it after the hype has died. Not that the game itself changes after a length of time, though. The Half-Life series is still great, but they no longer retain that certain freshness.
Did you ever play Tribes? I never played the game all that much. I was curious, however. The sheer ridiculousness of trying to shoot people while moving at 150+ km/h was too much to pass-up. My friends and I tried to play it during one of our LAN parties, but we were all horrible at it and we never got around to playing it. We just stood there and jet-packed around failing to hit each other.
The press beta of Guild Wars 2 was released last weekend. I’m not sure if there’s any better way to express the reception it has been getting than: I want to play it right now, and even from the little bit that I’ve seen so far, I would pre-order it. I haven’t been excited enough about a game to pre-order it since the disaster that was Phantasy Star Universe. I’m much more confident about GW2.
ArenaNet has done a great job retaining the flavor of the original Guild Wars while not being fearful of making innovative changes. It looks like Guild Wars, but there’s so much more there.
Underwater combat on three axes. Need I say more?
Yeah, probably. The amount of content available in the game is mind boggling. There are eight starting classes, five races, and and a handful of other variables that combine to create a “personal story”. I never got too invested in Guild Wars's PvE beyond the original campaign, but I can see how playing a linear story in which everyone's experience is essentially the same (and repeatable) can diminish motivation to replay as a new character.
I’m most excited to start digging my hands into the mechanics of the game and start theorycrafting, though. Guild Wars combat had a distinctive flavor as a result of the 8-skill per mission limit, in addition to the different characteristics of the weapons (e.g. short bows and long bows had different flight paths and speeds). The system has changed to be more weapon-specific in GW2. With the availability of a heal on each class and the removal of Monks, I really wonder what PvP will be like.
I was browsing the archives of Game Studies and I found an intriguing article by Vili Lehdonvirta in the April 2010 issue. He argues against the “dichotomous ‘real world vs. virtual world” model” and proposes an alternative model based on Anselm Strauss’s social world perspective.
Now, arguing against false dichotomies is a wonderful endeavor. I fully support it, and whole-heartedly engage in it, myself. As a Humanities student, I have written many analytic essays with the intention to dissolve a false dichotomy.
Something seems a bit off about Lehdonvirta’s examination of Huizinga (via Salen and Zimmerman) and Castronova’s use of the magic circle concept. Lehdonvirta summarizes Castronova in the following way: “Virtual worlds, Castronova argues, are a great place to satisfy this need [for play] in a safe way…The only problem is that the real world is ‘seeping’ into these worlds…Castronova concludes that the impermeability of the magic circle should therefore be protected by law.” Here, Lehdonvirta uses Castronova to demonstrate how imagining a game space as virtual is inherently problematic because the real-virtual dichotomy is false.
I agree with the point Lehdonvirta is trying to make, but I believe he and Castronova are approaching the topic from opposite perspectives, leading to problematic interpretive differences. Lehdonvirta tries to approach the ideas of real and virtual from an objective, scientific point-of-view. From this perspective, MMOs are neither real nor virtual, because real and virtual do not exist; instead, MMOs are an abstract social world. The problem with this idea, however, is that it still relies on things.
Castronova, meanwhile, is not as concerned as Lehdonvirta is about whether MMOs are real or virtual or Straussian Social Worlds. He uses the term “synthetic worlds” to describe what Lehdonvirta calls MMOs, and this term is meant to convey the human construction of these worlds. Whether or not MMOs/synthetic worlds are objectively (scientifically?) real or virtual does not necessarily prevent people from wanting them to be not real. Thus, Castronova highlights the importance of play, while Lehdonvirta does not. I believe that is a mistake.
This weekend, I finally got around to playing Portal 2. Quite late, yes, I know.
It was good. I enjoyed it. I’ll probably play it again with the commentary.
Portal has become so integral to videogame studies—be it design, criticism, literary, or otherwise—that you can’t avoid reading them or discussing it. In order to make your way around the rapidly growing literature on games, there are certain games that you must play. Portal is one of those games.
BioShock is another one of those games. Even though Portal and BioShock are old by videogame standards, I’ve seen them repeatedly mentioned in the more “scholarly” writing on games. Apparently, while community sites, blogs, and the majority of other gaming websites focus on what’s hot now and what’s likely to generate traffic in the future, the academics are focused on games from a couple years ago. Sure, long-form writing on recent games does appear from time to time, but I’ve seen BioShock mentioned more repeatedly than any other game. For example, in the latest issue of Well Played, Yotam Haimberg examines both Portal and BioShock from an Aristotelian perspective.
The frequency with which I see these games mentioned as I’m browsing through peer-reviewed journals makes me wonder if academia is starting to select certain titles as canon for ludoliteracy. By this I mean that there are certain games that are becoming safe to reference, since most of your peers will have also played that game. Right now, the titles that I would call canon would be: the Mario series (as a whole, since the general idea is the same, though, Mario 64 is arguably the oft-referenced title), Portal, BioShock, Pong, Donkey Kong, Pac Man, World of Warcraft.
Of course, this list is limited to what I have read.
The final installment of the discussion between friends in League of Legends.
D (7:30): So is there some sort of “essence of game”? simply trying to define what a game is becomes really difficult and then computers screw everything up From what I’ve read so far, it seems like the most important thing about video games is that it allows us to escape the body (cue posthumanism) W (7:32): in a way that’s different than other texts? or other media rather? D (7:32): Yeah at least you’re more “active” in a video game W (7:33): yeah, there seems to be more room for the reader in a video game D (7:33): Perhaps what we should say about written text is that they’re facilitators facilitators for imagination you read the words and tell yourself the story in order to imagine it to yourself always participatory, though you interact with the words (which are written by someone who has done the work to make the words understandable) you’re already part of the “system” of language, in that you can understand the words then you put the imaginary work into reading (7:35): er you do the work of imagining the text I’m not really sure if any text can work differently than that (written text) W (7:36): I mean, I’d go as far to say that that’s the process by which any text operates
D (7:37): Well, let me be clear there’s a clear distinction between authorship and readership in written text a transference of ownership, as it were if you change a sentence you become the author I think it’s more complicated in a game (7:39): sure, it still operates along the same lines but games seem to blur the line between authorship and readership in both books and in games it seems like the more popular ones are those that do the above better games might have a head start, though I’m thinking Skyrim as a good example (7:41): The Elder Scrolls games are an interesting case, though Perhaps that game is really just a enabler of storytelling? you play the game in the same way that you would write a story if you wrote, words would be your tool but you are gaming, so you use gameplay as your vocabulary ”Game as language” perhaps? W (7:43): this is an interesting line of thought D (7:43): Let me reformulate quickly this is a lot like the conflict between fiction and rules that Juul wrote a book about sometimes it seems like fiction is really important sometimes rules are really important Personally, I think games are much more about rules (and conflict) than fiction fiction is much more in the realm of “the text” rather than “the game” so, for example, in LoL (7:45): the “game” is much more important than the fiction attached to the game hence the ability to classify it as MOBA obviously the rules of the game matter much more than the whole Lore thing they hype up so much (you don’t see LoL lore writing tournaments) But, in Skyrim, fiction is more important Bethesda can do crazy shit with their gameplay and people would still play because it (7:48): because it’s much more important that the player simply inhabits the world rather than being able to do certain mechanical things in the world and here we return to Second Skin W (7:49): so, are you privileging this blurring of authorship/readership here? D (7:49): I think in the case of Skyrim, yes you’re playing a Bethesda game, sure but that’s a brand W (7:49): well, I mean, does the ability to inhabit a world make a game objectively better? D (7:49): Ah no, I’d only say they’re different Perhaps this might be a useful thought any game always has rules and fiction games are different in where those two aspects are located, however in Skyrim, both the rules and the fiction are internal (7:52): In LoL, there are internal rules and fiction, but the internal fiction of LoL is secondary to the external fiction that LoL creates e.g. tournaments, social groups, etc. Yes, Skyrim does that, but for Skyrim it’s only parasitic the game can exist without it LoL is MMO and has to have external fiction it can’t work without it W (7:54): well, if by “can’t work” you mean is not successful, then yes, I’d agree D (7:55): I feel like consumerism is a big hurdle here, though W (7:55): how so? D (7:56): hmm W (7:57): well, actually, I need to sleep, but would be more than happy to continue this discussion later D (7:57): Alright W (7:57): night D (7:57): Seeya
A continuation of the discussion between friends in League of Legends.
D (7:00): You should check out DiGRA I’m starting to notice the hubs of research in this field a large bulk of it is coming from Scandanavia and Denmark IT University Copenhagen seems to sponsor everything (7:02): Jesper Juul being the most well-known alumnus then you’ve got Rules of Play by Salen & Zimmerman that seems to be the touchstone, as it were (7:05): Anyways I have a pile of articles and bookmarks, and thrown-together bibliography once I get it sorted out I can link it to you if you’re curious W (7:05): yeah, I’d be interested in reading some of the more humanities oriented stuff D (7:06): You should maybe start with Well Played you can find it online from ETC Press basically games criticism (vs. non-critical games reviews) Read an interesting one about BioShock the gist of it being that BioShock fumbles the whole Ryndian Objectivism thing when it forces the player to go along with the story W (7:08): hah D (7:08): even the whole Little Sisters thing is just a sham since it really doesn’t matter which choice you make W (7:09): and I guess in objectivism that’s the only thing that matters D (7:09): Right: always make the choice that’s in your best interest but you can’t really I would counter with saying that BioShock is actually intended as a metaleptic experience of the failure of Objectivism you learn about the problem with Objectivism by experiencing it first-hand
W (7:11): I didn’t know there was a word for what metalepsis is speaking in incomplete idioms is one of my favorite things (7:14): although, I don’t know if it’s strictly necessary to be familiar with objectivism to witness its failings in Bioshock D (7:14): right, that’s what I mean oh, and I might be using metalepsis in a slightly different way that normal we ended up using the word a lot in our Crit Theory class to talk about how a text makes a reader experience what a character is experiencing as in the reader experiences what the character experiences (7:16): projection or whatnot might work W (7:16): I guess that makes sense, the text as the passage D (7:16): right, we were talking about Odysseus at the time the Sirens the reader experiences Odysseus’s binding to the mast of his ship as a metaphorical binding to any number of things binding to the determinism of “the text”, for example The whole point of metalepsis, though, is that you don’t need to know it’s happening to you in order to happen (7:19): Thus: you can play BioShock and understand the point their making without realizing that there was a point being made as Aarseth says, the very act of playing the game requires you to understand it you can’t progress unless you get it W (7:20): that’s an interesting thought D (7:20): That’s what makes a game so different than a written work or visual work You can read something or see something and get nothing from it Semiologists would disagree on the written word part though it’s not clear if reading and understanding are linked W (7:22): yeah, I think you could at least make a case for the written work D (7:22): Yeah That’s basically where my thesis is situated W (7:22): but there’s definitely not the same level of feedback well, actually I’d probably backpedal from that statement D (7:23): Yeah W (7:23): I think the process of understanding necessarily changes the text hm D (7:24): This is where it gets interesting In narratology it’s pretty clear that there’s the text as an articact the same as it’s clear that there’s also game as artifact but as soon as you go beyond that and into the abstract… Does a text exist outside of the words in which it is written or told? (7:26): I forget who, but some narratologist (maybe Derrida) said that it seems that the answer is Yes since you can transfer a story between media But then this gets muddy when you switch perspectives to the reader W (7:27): yeah… I’m compelled to say that a text doesn’t exist until it’s read at least in the abstract sense D (7:28): Yeah, this is where semiologists argue about terminology like Barthes distinguishing between “work” and “text” I don’t even really understand the distinction, but it seems to be the one we’re discussing Right, so simply transfer this discussion to games studies Games are transmedial, like texts W (7:29): and it gets even more complicated
A discussion between friends in League of Legends.
D (6:30): Have you ever seen the documenary Second Skin? W (6:30): I haven’t huh, that looks like it could be interesting D (6:31): Yeah I’m watching it right now It’s kind of bizarre watching it though W (6:32): how so? D (6:32): it kinda seems like the general psychology surrounding MMOs has shifted in the last few years Second Skin is from the period where WoW was still pretty “new” or maybe it seems more like an ethnography of a niche (6:34): “Hardcore gamers” W (6:35): h, er, hm it certainly doesn’t look like it casts mmorpg players in a positive light D (6:36): It’s more balanced than it seems It does focus on the extreme cases, but from a film-making perspective it’d be really boring to make a film about the “average gamer” W (6:37): right D (6:39): Man games research is very muddled W (6:40): certainly seems that way D (6:41): It’s pretty clear that this film is about virtual reality and not games but the game aspect of MMORPGs is still quite important but of course the way to even talk about what the “game” of an MMORPG is, even …wut I think I changed sentences W (6:42): lol D (6:42): lol typing and listening does not work I meant to say that it’s not clear what is and isn’t a game in an MMORPG W (6:44): yeah, there’s a social element that bounds and is bounded by the game architecture but it’s not really clear if the “game” aspect is always dominant D (6:45): Right W (6:45): I suppose that’s not entirely unique to mmorpgs or even video games though D (6:45): Yeah W (6:45): although the lines might be fuzzier since you’re not communicating as yourself well, you are, but you aren’t
D (6:47): Yeah, that’s the most misleading thing about the discourse on MMORPGs most people conflate the player and the character but it’s pretty obvious that making the assmption that the character and the player are the same can be dangerous …and then you end up in psychology and theories of self and consciousness W (6:49): yeah, a very tangled web this is D (6:50): I was reading some papers by Espen Aarseth about games typology he’s trying to find a better way to classify games It’s pretty interesting W (6:51): what does he propose? D (6:52): In the most recent one that I know of, he focuses on something like 17 classifications lets see W (6:52): I guess what I meant to ask is what is the end goal of the better classification? D (6:53): ah Basically get away from the popular/journalistic genre signifiers like “Action” “RPG” cause those words are becoming increasingly imprecise they tend to describe the narrative tropes rather than the actual gameplay (I say that, I dunno if he says that anywhere or not) LoL is a good example Is it an RPG? is it Action? is it a Fighting game? (6:55): obviously it’s not one of them, so people call it MOBA but even then, that acronym really just means “DotA clone” and then when you try to describe what this game is, in a precise way that compares it to other games it gets very difficult to clearly explain what LoL would be unless you have a clear understanding of what the significant differences are between, say, LoL and Counter Strike (6:58): By the end, though, it gets a little confused with historical analysis, which I see as problematic W (6:59): I’ll have to check out these texts
I’ve spent some time reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken in preparation for my capstone research project and an upcoming conference paper. TL;DR of it is not too far from the subtitle on the cover: games are doing some amazing things, so why aren’t we using what we know about games to make life better for everyone? Life should be more like a game, rather than less like one.
McGonigal’s book hits on many related topics, including history, ARGs, her personal experiences with game design, and positive psychology. It’s well worth the read, especially if you’re curious about very recent research on how to use games in daily life.
I was a bit hard-pressed to come up with a topic for today’s post. I’ve been spending a lot of time poring over Stephenson’s REAMDE and Murakami’s 1Q84, but my comments on those aren’t yet properly articulated. So, it was off to the blogrolls. SOPA/PIPA has been causing a huge fuss, if you hadn’t noticed. Rather than beat a dead horse, you can find everything on that topic elsewhere.
I found a gem, however. Microsoft has recently released a new, ahem, game. Think of it like a modern take on the oldschool MUD. Unlockable achievements are available, as well. As Peter Bright explains:
As can be expected from a Microsoft game, there is a rich and rewarding achievement system for accomplishing certain feats within the game. These add greatly to the experience. However, they do strike a rather sour note; most of the achievements are unavailable in the game’s hardest mode, leaving players with a frustrating conundrum: do they go for achievements, or do they go for the most exciting gameplay?
Do you have what it takes to unlock the ’chieve for defeating the nefarious Compiler?
This post is going to be a little specialized, since I’m going to discuss a gameplay change in League of Legends (LoL). The TL;DR of it is that I believe the removal of dodge as a global champion statistic is a great example of the problems that result from of imbalanced game design. The folks at Riot have discussed their rationale for removing the dodge stat, and studying their explanations is an intriguing insight into the mechanics of an extremely popular eSport. I want to provide a slightly deeper analysis of why completely removing a statistic from an already established game would be a good design choice.
Don’t know what LoL is, or never played it? I’ll try to explain everything in a way that will make it possible to understand what I’m talking about even if you don’t play LoL.
(If you do play LoL, I would still suggest looking at how I’m explaining the design of the game.)
First, then, if you don’t play LoL and you’re curious about what it is, you can find an unending supply of recordings on YouTube. If live streaming is more your cup-o’-tea, you can find pro player channels on own3D. (I think I watch LoL streams as often as I actually play the game.) Like football or baseball, you don’t actually need to play the game in order to understand the basics what’s going on when others play it.
You can think of LoL like a sport: two teams of five attempt to infiltrate the base of the opposing team. First one to destroy the “nexus” wins the game. It’s a bit like sudden death soccer/football/hockey/etc.
As a player, you control one champion, and you have various statistics and abilities that determine your viable actions in each match. The primary statistics that are immediately visible on your HUD are such:
Now, my arrangement of the above table is intentional, because the champion stats in LoL come in pairs. Attack damage (AD) and ability power (AP) determine the amount of physical or magical damage that your champion deals. Players can counter physical damage with armor, and magic damage with magic resistance. Health helps in both situations. Mana, then, is the counterpart to health: mana enables you or your team to attack enemies. Placing the health and mana bars in the same location on the screen is more than an efficient way to display vital statistics, but also a reflection of their relationship to one another.
There are other statistic pairs that the game uses, too, such as life steal and spell vamp, health regeneration and mana regeneration, and armor penetration and magic penetration. Additionally, attack speed and movement speed don’t maintain the same symmetry as the other six stats, but that’s simply because they aren’t intended to be a pair. The counterpart of attack speed is ability cooldown reduction. The counterpart of movement speed then, is attack range.
Champion gameplay styles, too, can be paired: AP or AD, melee and ranged, tank (typically high health and resistances, with lower damage) and carry (typically high damage but low health and resistance), etc.
And, of course, the game arena is symmetrical. (Well, very close to symmetrical, in any case.)
Some asymmetries exist in LoL’s design, however. In the most recent patch, dodge has been singled out for deletion because of its lack of “sensible counters”, as Morello, lead champion designer at Riot, explains. Like armor or magic resistance, dodge was a “global stat”, which means that it was available to any champion. Unlike resistances, however, dodge uses a percentage chance to negate a physical attack. Dodge ruins the symmetry in LoL’s design; there is no global evasion stat for spells. Morello makes four main points in his post:
High dodge percentages completely counter attack damage (instead of merely reducing damage).
Critical Strike is a damage multiplier, while dodge is an alternative defensive statistic with no “sensible counters”.
Only one champion, Jax, relies on dodge as an integral part of his gameplay style.
The “fun to un-fun ratio is poor” for dodge; there is too much chance involved.
Everything said and done, removing dodge makes more sense than leaving it in. Riot already created counters to dodge, such as the Sword of the Divine, which prevents dodge for a short time, but because dodge was only a problem if someone played Jax, the item was clearly intended to counter only one champion and therefore unfair to Jax players.
Critical strike stands out as another stat with no obvious counterpart, hence Morello takes time to explain why critical strike is not a problem. Morello’s explanation of why critical strike is only a damage multiplier, and not a new kind of damage makes sense. I’m not quite sure that critical strike is completely balanced, as Morello makes it out to be, however. Just as there is no dodging of spells, ability power champions do not have a statistic that offers them a percent chance to double the damage of their spells. (There is, of course, an item that increases AP by 30%. This is a discussion for elsewhere, though.)
Finally, as Morello’s fourth point says in a rather indirect way, if this gameplay change gives players more control over their game, everyone will benefit. For Riot staff, dealing with never-ending balance issues and continuous community fallout because of one champion who takes advantage of an otherwise underutilized statistic is a monumental waste of time. For players, no dodge means that physical attacks are more predictable and their tactical choices are simplified. For Jax players specifically, by no longer relying on chance, Jax will be a more reliable champion.
As a Jax player myself, I’m interested to see how his redesign works out for him. We’ll see what happens, and I’ll probably post some updates once the patch goes live.
I’ve been playing a lot of billiards recently. My school recently put a pool table in out cafe/gameroom, and it’s been in nearly constant use ever since. There’s just something about the physical presence of a traditional game that video games have yet to match. Sorry, beloved technology!
Anyhow, this morning Raph Koster posted about immersion on his blog. Rather than split the discussion, I will direct you there.
"Immersion is not a core game virtue. It was a style, one that has had an amazing run, and may continue to pop up from time to time the way that we still hear swing music in the occasional pop hit. It’ll be available for us, the dreamers, as a niche product, perhaps higher priced, or in specialty shops. We’ll understand how those crotchety old war gamers felt, finally.”
I powered my way through the game in a couple days, clocking in at around 19 hours from start to finish. I think I spent at least three to five hours listening and reading to the “Codex” in-game encyclopedia. I had never played the first Mass Effect, so I had some serious catching-up to do. The Mass Effect series attempts to maximize the personalization of your gameplay experience, and since I didn’t have a ME1 save to use in ME2, it provided me with a “default” ME1 playthrough that I had to learn on the fly. There was a constant sense that I had missed something by eschewing chronological order and starting with the intermediate game in the trilogy.
A degree of haste was constant in my ME2 experience. I skipped some sidequests in order to simply get to the end; my thoughts at the time were simply “I am going to spend ages in this game if I keep running every loyalty quest and every stupid errand for all the street urchins of the galaxy. I just want to get to the end." It was the wee hours of the morning, but I didn’t want to leave the good part for another session. I made do with the quests related to the characters I had any interest in and went through the Omega 4 Relay to confront the potential end of the galaxy and hopefully persuade the end times to wait at least until Mass Effect 3.
I (somewhat) regret the decision to hastily conclude my playthough, though, and I find this feeling curiously exciting. As a gamer that’s played his fair share of RPGs, I’m acutely cautious of any situation in which I must make a choice to split my party. ME2 tries to mask the choices within the dialogue, but it’s still glaringly obvious that my choices will have serious consequences: Someone is going to die, and its probably whoever isn’t with me. It didn’t help that in the particular phantom ME1 playthough I was provided, Shepard had decided to sacrifice members of his crew in order to complete previous missions and that in ME2 everyone went out of their way to provoke a discussion of the ethics of that choice.
In the end, some of my crew died. Nearly all of them casualties of unfortunate accidents, to boot. Could I have prevented those deaths? Of course. The path to the happy ending is all but lined with explicit instructions: maximize your Renegade or Paragon scores, do all the loyalty quests, and get those damn upgrades. Why do I need to upgrade my frigate’s shields? I never even use it for combat…Oh.Ohhhh. It’s a safe bet to assume, at least in a game like Mass Effect, that any important-sounding side quests or upgrades are related to acquiring the ending that you desire. (I’d be curious to see if the Mass Effect design crew had Japanese ren’ai dating sims as direct inpiration.)
I felt bad about letting members of my crew die when I know I could have kept them alive (especially since I had to spend most of the game getting them to join my crew.) This regret is compounded when I contemplate playing ME3 knowing that I can continue where I left off. If I wanted to, however, I could play the entire series through from start to finish in order to acquire the storyline path I desire. The mere availability of this option circumvents any lasting importance of my experience with the game; I can always fix my mistakes.
I think it would be most interesting if the game refused to let me play the preceding games again and forced me to continue using whatever result I wound up with. Ultimately, time is the only thing preventing me from changing the outcome of ME2. Requiring time to always flow in one direction would preserve the emotional impact of my choices and the responsibility I feel when I make those decisions.
Three examinations of the attraction of The Elder Scrolls
You might remember that Bethesda made this game a couple years ago. It was called The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. No, there weren’t any dragons. Yeah, back then all the characters’ faces still looked like they were made out of marshmallows with makeup painted on. Yes, the dialogue was really hokey (but, at least you had a few fleeting moments with the captain of the Enterprise).
No, none of the guards took an arrow to the knee.
Oblivion still holds a special place in my heart, as with Morrowind, as That Game That I Always Wanted to Play Really Bad But Am Inevitably Disappointed Every Time I Try to Play It, But I Still Try, Regardless. In the eyes of video game critics, too, The Elder Scrolls series of games remain important as examples of the abilities and limitations of open-world style roleplaying games.
For all of the shortcomings in the world of The Elder Scrolls, such as awkward rag-doll physics or repetitive textures and dialogue, we still love to play them. We know that the world inside these games are limited, but we tout them as expansive and open-ended. Why do we try to convince ourselves are unlimited?
Here’s three articles that try to explain why:
Jeff Vogel, in this post from his blog, sees the perpetual overextension of The Elder Scrolls designers’ reach as the motivation for a pleasurable gaming experience. The bugs are what make the game fun.
Espen Aarseth used his experience with Morrowind in his article, Playing Research:Methodological approaches to game analysis, in order to explain the necessity of playing games without using walkthroughs or cheats, while also remaining aware of the possibility of straying from what he calls the “model player”.
In the latest issue of Game Studies, Paul Martin examines Oblivion’s handling of the pastoral and the sublime. For those interested in both philosophy and game studies (like me!), you should definitely check it out. I especially enjoyed his handling of the game landscape and the cut-scenes.
Happy New Year, everyone. Hope you had a fun weekend!
So, I watched the documentary Second Skina couple days ago, and I had a rather long discussion about the film with one of my friends afterward. We talked about game studies and literary theory and game addiction. Funnily enough, we talked about it within a game.
As I was falling asleep, I realized something a little bizarre about the film’s rhetoric.
The documentary follows the stories of seven gamers, four members of a WoW guild, two lovers who meet in EverQuest II, and one suicidal WoW player. Sure, the film is about gaming addiction and tries to explain the pros and cons of hardcore MMO gaming, but it was also very much about the body. It’s right there in the title of the documentary.
You should watch the trailer if you haven’t seen the film.
The trailer attempts to lead the viewer in a rather predictable direction for a film about gaming. Stereotypes of the hardcore gamer as a loser/dweeb/nerd/geek, abound. I especially like the quote: ”Your brother might be a gamer, your mom might be a gamer.” The expert makes it seem as if gaming were some sort of Illuminati secret society. Neither the film nor the trailer for it focus on the body. Both take advantage of simple notions of reality, i.e. the idea that the game is in a computer and that the gamer’s lives are not.
The film operates on the assumption that the audience will believe that the gamers are doing something wrong by playing the games that they enjoy so much. They are addicted, the film says. Why is gaming wrong, however?
They’re transgressing the limitations of the body.
The very action of playing a videogame and becoming immersed to such an extent that they believe that they have a “second skin” or that they actually reside within the gameworld threatens commonplace notions of corporeal existence. The seven gamers in the film are constantly portrayed as people in conflict with their bodies. In an early scene in the film, one gamer’s fiancee runs out of toilet paper in the bathroom, and he and his friends cannot understand why it matters to her. (Gamers disregarding bodily functions has become a trope of sorts: South Park; REAMDE, when Dodge has his 24-hour binge gaming session and pisses in a bucket so he doesn’t have to get up.) The suicidal gamer’s attempts to end his own life distill the conflict to an extreme: videogame playing is in direct opposition to life. Gameplay is seen as transgressive. You must not lose yourself in a game. You must not have a second body. Indeed, if you try, you will lose everything.