Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bad Post

A guildmate dropped this in a forum conversation the other day.

Then another guildmate blogged it.

I was inspired:

Bad Post, Bad Post
Bad Post, Bad Post

He stands out in the field
The wooden post of sin
He helps to make a fence you use
To shut things in

He wears an evil tophat
Above an evil grin*
*Ok, no grin; no mouth at all
Or maybe it’s just really small

Bad Post, Bad Post
Bad Post – he’s bad!

I loved reading the forums
Till someone made this thread
But now the trolls are out
And there will be blood shed!

It’s clear discussion’s over
So let us please instead

Just lock the thread
Forget riposte
There’s no redeeming
This Bad Post!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Doctor Who and (Poor) Game Design

First item: Johnny Depp as Doctor Who.

No thanks. Here's the thing: the Doctor is a strange, wacky, crazy guy. Johnny Depp has spent the last twenty years (1990: Edward Scissorhands) being professionally strange, wacky, and crazy. But while that sounds like a good fit, it's not. The Doctor is always a stranger wherever he is - hence the wacky. But he's also almost a thousand years old, and he needs to SHOW that.

Tennant's Doctor was, to a degree, afraid of his age. A little weary and frustrated by it (Waters of Mars), a little wary of the power he knew he possessed. But when pushed to it, he was TERRIFYING. When pushed to the decision-making point, he was an unwavering force and I hope you've got a god to pray to (hi, Daleks) if you're moving counter to his aim. Eccleston's Doctor, in part because of the stories written for him, was more sympathetic (Empty Child) but also had that inner strength, particularly visible in his Dalek episodes. I'm not familiar enough with Matt Smith's interpretation to include him in this comparison.

But anyway, back to Mr. Depp. Strange, he can do. By all accounts the man is a master of the unusual. My issue is that he is SUCH a big person and has been professionally strange for so long, his portrayal of the Doctor just wouldn't be unusual. "Oh, it's Johnny Depp being wacky again." The biggest thing about the Doctor, for me, is that he is unassuming. He is a traveler, an observer, one man wandering the universe with a terrible secret: that he is, more or less, its lone custodian. I'm afraid Depp is too big for the part.

Also: (1) I hope his accent is good, and (2) how exactly is he supposed to fit into the regeneration chronology? This is Doctor Who, not James Bond.

Pre-publishing edit: according to io9, the BBC is denying all rumors of a Doctor Who/Depp movie. Phew.

Game Design: Words With Friends.

Words With Friends (WWF) is a Scrabble-like game for two players, available in the iTunes App Store. Like Scrabble, you've got a board with a grid on it, seven letters of varying point values, etc. But Words With Friends is not Scrabble... and for all its similarities, really it's not even close. The single difference between the two is the damning one: the board layout. Check them out - the first is Words With Friends, the second is Scrabble.

I haven't nitpicked the layouts like crazy, but two big differences are readily apparent.

First, both boards have eight triple-word (TW) squares. However, the Scrabble board puts four of those in the corners, making them hard to reach and of limited usefulness since you must start or end your word on the square to use it. All eight TW squares on the WWF board are out along the edge - more accessible and easier to use.

The second point I'll make is the real kicker, though: the quantity and placement of triple-letter (TL) squares. Scrabble has twelve of them. More importantly, it is impossible to place a word such that you score both a TW and a TL square (which would inflate a Q, for instance, from ten points to 90).

The Words With Friends board has sixteen TL squares (a 33% increase). Even worse, though, is their positioning. Eight are just a single square away from a second TL square. Twelve - Scrabble's entire compliment - are positioned just two squares away from a TW square. In fact, there are eight places on the board where a six-letter word can get you a TW square and two TL squares. "QUOTED" would score 114 points in spite of the fact that four of its letters are only worth 1 apiece. "ZODIAC" would score 123. There are certainly even higher-scoring examples.

What this does is it changes the dynamic of the game. Scrabble is about using letters smartly to create unusual, high-scoring words. Words With Friends is all about board control - playing defensively with small words (or even passing/swapping tiles) until your opponent leaves a TW/TL - better still, both - open for the grabbing. And that takes a lot of fun out of the game. Victories are lopsided, and playing well for 3/4 of the game can be upended by a single calculated word.

So, free advice from me to the designers at NewToy: think about your board layout. WWF could be a better game than it is.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

City of the Daleks - Doctor Who goes gaming

Kotaku has the scoop on the four upcoming "adventure game episodes" based on the newest Doctor Who. The first one, called "City of the Daleks," is due for release in a little over a month, and apparently the four interactive episodes will be the show's summer lineup.

I don't know what to think of this. On the one hand, it's being overseen by the same guys behind the actual show. On the other hand, it's a free videogame adaptation. On the same other hand, Matt Smith looks weeeeeird(er than usual) as a computer generated character. Does it count as the Uncanny Valley Effect if the subject looked a bit off to begin with?

Also, the Phil "writer for Doctor Who and these games" Ford describes the Dalek capital city as "constructed from pure anger and hate." I thought Daleks weren't emotional... just violently xenophobic.

Come to think of it, I think my favorite violently xenophobic alien race has got to be the people of Krikkit. I mean you've got these delightful people who love art and games and live in this utopian society... and happen to think that the rest of the universe must be completely annihilated. See, that makes SENSE to me. Just because you hate all other life doesn't mean you need to hate your own life, too. Go paint some happy trees, Daleks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rhode Island wants to lose money and a court case, too

The Rhode Island Senate is apparently considering a bill to criminalize the sale of M-rated video games to minors (GamePolitics, PDF of the bill) In fact, knowingly selling to a minor could be punished by up to a year in jail (PS, selling alcohol to minors only gets you a fine).

Given other states' (Minnesota, California) successes in passing similar laws, I've decided to save Rhode Island a few thousand dollars by talking them out of it. I'm not a RI resident, so I don't have a specific representative to email... so I just went straight to the top, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.
Dear Pres. Paiva Weed,

I am not one of your constituents, nor even a resident of Rhode Island. However, I felt the need to express my concern over the bill S.2156, which would criminalize the sale of violent or sexually explicit games to minors. There are four important points I feel both you and your fellow senators who have backed this bill should consider:

First, the Parent Television Council recently announced its support of this bill, citing "far-too-frequent" noncompliance by retailers. However, a 2008 study by the FTC found that of all entertainment sales to minors, games had the best denial rate - 80%, vs. 65% for movie theaters and 50% for unrated or R-rated videos (LINK). This percentage has only improved in recent years, and there is no reason to believe that trend will not continue. All major retailers have policies in place to deny sales of M-rated games to minors.

Secondly, while studies have sought to link violent games with such issues as violent behavior, aggressiveness, bullying, and desensitization; no study has ever shown causality and links that have been shown tend to be tenuous or - worse - the result of biased research or faulty methods. While tragedies like Columbine tend to draw news stories claiming the shooters played or even "trained on" video games, the fact is that most children and young adults play games. A better indicator of a problem might be that the person does not engage in the social act of gaming, as was the case of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.

Time and again, psychological evaluations have found issues such as depression, anxiety, family trouble, etc. to be a far better barometer for violent behavior than gaming. The simple fact is that most children and young adults play games, and are not adversely affected by them.

Third, there is the simple constitutionality of the bill. Many state legislatures have implemented bills that sought to criminalize the sale of M-rated games to minors; every single one has been overturned as unconstitutional, usually at great expense to the state. In these economically troubled times, pursuing this bill is simply fiscally unsound.

Lastly, I hope you agree that no legislation can or should take the place of sound parenting. ESRB game ratings, like movie ratings (which are not legislatively enforced), are designed to be a guideline for parents to make informed decisions about what their children experience. A 2007 FTC report showed approximately 90% of parents were aware of the ESRB system, considered it easy to understand, and used it when making purchasing decisions for their children (LINK). Rather than invest state funds into a bill that will undoubtedly dissolve after a costly legal battle, why not use that money to further improve awareness of a ratings system that already works?

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and I hope I have persuaded you and Sens. Ciccone, Jabour, Lanzi, and McCaffrey to take a second, more scrutinizing look at this bill.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mariokart: Blur

Last week I snagged a code for the Xbox Live multiplayer beta of Blur, an upcoming racing game from Activision and Bizarre Creations - and by "racing game" I mean "kart racer."

Bizarre, who you might know as the creators of Geometry Wars, did something pretty funky with Blur - it looks like a modern, real-life racer but it plays like Mario Kart and Burnout Paradise went out to a club together and finished off a bottle of tequila in a dark corner together. The cars and track feel like Burnout, absolutely - but the gameplay is all Kart, from the homing missiles to the mines to the lightning storm you can call down on the leader.

But on top of that, Bizarre has applied the delightfully addictive Modern Warfare formula: experience, in the form of Fans, that you accrue and keep from race to race. Rank up to gain access to new cars and new mods, customizations that tweak how your car performs, how your powerups behave, or how you gain fans. Even at Rank 7 in this limited multiplayer beta, the choices available to me are compelling: do I use a shield that heals me, or one that turns incoming attacks into powerups I can use? How about more damage when I ram someone, or a bigger blast radius on my Barge ability? Do I gain extra fans when I use powerups, or perhaps based on my finishing position?

And speaking of fans, Blur borrows a page from Borderlands as well by offering "challenges" that are tangential to the race itself. Hit enough people with powerups to complete that challenge. Get several successful Shunts (red shell) to complete that challenge. A long drift, a clean Nitro boost, blocking or dodging incoming fire... they're all rewarded with extra fans, essentially rewarding you *again* for playing not just well, but with style.

The developers are soliciting feedback to help fine-tune the balance and the overall feel of the game. Personally, I'm soliciting people to play with. :D I don't know if I'd put this on par with Doubledash... yet. But it's a lot of fun so far.

Day 1 Patch

What's a Day-1 patch? It's the game industry's way of shipping on-time a product that still has bugs. It's why you boot up most games these days and immediately have to update them via Xbox Live/Playstation Network. It's the quintessential unfinished product that goes to market anyway.

Unfinished product? Given the evidence of my last blog, that seems pretty fitting. Sorry about that.

The purpose of this blog is simple: keep me doing something (maybe even daily). Games I'm currently playing, gaming industry news, recent art projects, interesting events - they're all game. Hopefully they're all worth reading about, to some degree.