Archive for the Video Games Category

Sweet Catharsis

Posted in Video Games with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2012 by halbard100

A friend said to me that we all get stressed out. I have to agree. Its that time of the year, the looming cloud of life, projects due, exams are coming up, and things you may not care about are going to have a profound effect on a little number that a chunk of the civilized word tends to use to judge you. I can’t think of a college kid that wouldn’t be stressed at least a little. We say that games provide a safe space to experiment and learn, but also as a form of relaxation to lose ourselves in. Like floating in an ocean without worry. I’ve got to agree.

Confession time, I haven’t actually gotten to play a “real” game in a while. April hit with exams and what not, so the PS3 got packed away, summer came around and the power bill was a worry plus more work, we get to the fall and, boom, more work. It finally got to the point where I just looked at a friend and said “I’m getting so swamped and overwhelmed with stuff I’m just going to set aside time to game. Just stop working on everything for just a bit” Up to that point all I had really played were some Facebook games if that and was wasting time on YouTube. Another buddy was at the apartment loading a game of his on my 3GS to test (It’s called Warp Tunnel go download it!) and we joked about my shelves of games. “I feel like it’s just become a status symbol at this point. ‘Look at all the games I don’t have time to play!'” I remember when a teacher said he’d gotten to the point where he had to make the choice between making a game or playing one. It’s a depressing realization.

Anyway, over Black Friday, I picked up 3 games during GameStops buy-2-get-1: Darksiders 2, Borderlands 2, and Spec Ops the Line. So, sat down, and decided to play. Just an hour a day. Saturday, Sunday, and again today I’ve been playing through Darksiders 2. I really lucked out, the game lends itself well to hoping in and out. Saves are frequent and so far a dungeon is about an hour. It provides a nice mix of exploration and combat, so I get both those frantic moments of button mashing and having to sit down and think hard about how I’m supposed to navigate things. Plus, you can get burned out running around alone in a dungeon, and that also marks a decent stopping point. The point is, I’m not letting myself get so overly consumed that that 6 hours later I’m freaking out about deadlines. That would kind of undermine things.

And I feel great! Relaxed, more ready to go get things done, oddly focused and undistracted, it’s a weird feeling.

We live in an exciting time. There’s game available for everyone, in a number of consumable sizes. So I guess the punch line is: Take some time to yourself and game a little. Just play. It’s good for you.


Looks like Metal Gear Rising is back?

Posted in Video Games with tags , , , , , , , on December 10, 2011 by halbard100

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It has the finger prints of Platinum all over it. Not a bad thing, but you can tell this is coming from the same people as Vanquish and Bayonetta. Very stylized, very over the top, and very fast paced.

I’m a little sad at this change of direction. The old incarnation of Rising as Lightning Bolt Action, seemed more fitting of the MG franchise. I was hoping more for a predatory, stealth, almost ninja (not Ninja Gaiden though) style to it. I liked the idea that they were still keeping the MGS ideas, but making it a more pragmatic action game, or at least seemed to be. With there being strategy to what you cut and how you cut it. And then incorporating a faster, stealth nature on top of it. Instead of the slow moving Snake, you’re more limber, faster and using those tools to reproduce Raiden’s portrayal in MGS4 as kinda jumping out of the shadows, cutting and then vanishing. Like a ninja. The whole cut and take idea seemed to hit on that too. More pragmatism and strategy added.

Now, just kinda looks like a Platinum style action game. Polished, fast paced, stylized and fun, but not very inventive. Plus just being balls to the wall about it. At this point, cutting seems like just a fancy visual thing, without a deeper level of game play coming out of it.

Basically. Looks nice, but just kinda same old, same old. Old Rising seemed to want to break new ground. Kinda makes me think of Ninja Gaiden but with a fancy bullet time cutting system.

But who knows, trailers are usually really hit or miss. Developers want to showcase a specific thing, but you can’t really get a sense of the game. Maybe strategic cutting is still in there, plus the fast paced stealth

As a point of comparison here is the last trailer we saw for rising:

Difficulty you are a cruel mistress

Posted in A Philosophy of Design, Video Games on October 5, 2011 by halbard100

Have games these days made us a little to soft? Difficult curves are a corner stone to the game experience, especially when you look at it versus the consumer. These days, everyone wants to have a nice slopping difficulty curve, so the player won’t get discouraged. There’s a concept of Flow, this perfect state where an equally high difficulty of a game is meet with a equally high requirement of skill, the game is hard but requires you mastering the elements it presents you and ultimately over coming it. You reach this happy moment that in my mind goes a little something like “Fuck yeah! I am AWESOME.” You feel powerful from overcoming this grand obstacle. But, there’s a catch, that fight to succeed needs to feel equally rewarding even in failure. Note, its hard, you are going to fail, its just a fact of experimenting and learning. “Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” But each time, you are slowly mastering your environment, if not in actuality, in recognition. You see what you should be doing and how you are screwing up, but you still are learning and having that ‘Aha’ moment. One thing I hate in games, in a feeling of helplessness, not helplessness given by narrative, thematic, or to build tension for a climax, but feeling like you just have no control over what you are doing from a play perspective. Helplessness to eventually make the player feel powerful is one thing, helplessness of feeling like you have no control over actual play is another. The best example I can think of is fighting games. There is a concept called ‘zoning’ basically controlling space between you and your opponent with reach or projectiles. The problem is there is the possibility that you can do it so well, your opponent can’t doing anything about it. You’re stuck; helpless. I personally believe you can do the same with excessive aggression where you are stuck being attacked. Skill is taken out of the equation for you, and the burden of your victory falls to your opponent screwing up. Keep that in mind: burden of victory, skill, progression, and difficulty.

Now we come to the game that has spurred this: Dark Souls. I love epic dark fantasy and action rpgs, and hearing a game is hard feels more like a taunt than anything else. That and shinny free if pre-ordered collector’s edition art book and stuff. Anyway, there’s been a lot of talk about the difficulty in this game, which got me really excited it. I love that fighting through and the feeling of victory after overcoming the obstacle. But I was meet by something a little different with Dark Souls, it wasn’t so much as the game was difficult as it was difficult to play. I hesitate to use the word cheap but so far I’ve had this overwhelming feeling of just getting pushed around not because I was bad at the game but because I wasn’t allowed to be. With action oriented games, combat is a big deal. Tooling, tightening, and retesting that combat so it feels just right, gratifying and rewarding, often times becoming a puzzle or dance between you and your enemy; a deadly ballet if you will. But this is something that has hung me up with Dark Souls, it doesn’t feel very tight or tooled. There’s a lag to when I attack or try to dodge, there just isn’t a crispness that I feels needed in a game that’s so unrelenting. I miss an attack and the lag from recovery or even wind up gets me killed. Over and over and over again. Its not so much hard as I just can’t do shit. I’m shackled into getting railed, smashed, stabbed, burned, gang jumped and I just can’t react to the moment at hand. Remember that principle of learning from your failures and flow? Yeah, I’m not learning much besides ‘Don’t get hit.’ since if I screw up because I wouldn’t dodge as quick as I press or I get mashy with the button and an extra action pops out and causes me to get smacked and I just die. That’s it. Done. I’m not seeing where I went wrong, not realizing how to play the game and getting that happy moment. I’m getting frustrated, pissed off, and discouraged. There’s no recognition of where I went wrong, and I don’t feel like I died because of my lack of skill but because of the game forcing me to be open to attack. And then there’s just the ration of the damage I dish out and take versus what I’m up against. Even with the weak enemies, I have to work so hard to get a single attack in that deals maybe a fifth of their health, probably less, and yet, they get one hit on me, I’m left open by that initial attack and then the follow up and finally the death blow. Boom, you’re dead fool. And when that victory finally comes, it doesn’t feel gratifying because of pushing me to my limits and knowledge of the game, but instead I feel like I lucked out and just have a ‘Thank god I don’t have to deal with that again’ feeling.

However, conversely, there is something that Dark Souls is reminding me of that I’ve been sorely lacking in my playing and a lot of games these days: patience. Because of the lag in attacking, I have to wait and plan my attacks and pick and choose my moments. I can’t react on a split second. Its rough. Its really rough. And a little frustrating at the same time, because I want a more active role in my playing experience, not a passive on in waiting for an opening. But in a way, this is a throw back to old platforms, you had to keep reactively dodging and taking your time analyzing your environment or your enemies pattern. One aspect of Dark Souls is the parry and riposte system. You parry the opponent’s attack, then respond with what so far appears to be an instant kill against lower enemies. The only problem is that overwhelming onslaught of life ending attacks and I’m leaving myself open as I get ready to try and parry the enemy I’m focused on. Maybe its going to take more practice on my end. I really can’t figure out the timing for the thing to work most of the time. I am personally one who likes to be very forward, direct and active in my combat, usually using a number of whams to make my point, I like sweeping, damaging attacks with a lot of reach, but Dark Souls seems to be pushing me into a more defensive, predicting style of combat that’s not really my strong suit. But as a whole, Dark Souls is poking holes in a lot of the more modern styles of design. Unrelenting and unforgiving. No hand holding, you died, you fucked up, live with it or go home. Like I said earlier, its rough. I think of games from when I was little, the same thing happened, but I never really gave it a second thought. Sure I got frustrated but what choice did I have? Whine, or go back in. Like I said initially, I feel like Dark Souls is taunting me. Laughing at my futility and fueling a fiery rage to destroy it and stand up to proclaim my dominance of it. Perhaps my stubbornness has some how caused me to shift where I am in that concept of flow. Has it pushed me into flow because I want to succeed or has my lack of patience done the opposite and put me into the frustrated zone? Who knows but for some reason I keep going back for more. Okay Dark Souls, I’m ready for my daily ass kicking.

And all good things must come to an end, but it doesn’t make saying good-bye any easier.

Posted in Video Games with tags , , , on June 25, 2011 by halbard100

I honestly never thought this day would come. I have been a loyal Star Wars Galaxies subscriber since 2004 about 8 months after launch and, despite the ups and downs, I have loved every minute of it. I’m even a little surprised at how this is effect me, not quite like losing a friend or pet but like realizing a toy you grew up with and would always look for when you’re feeling down was gone for good. I’m tearing up a little. It goes beyond the game, I’m a huge Star Wars fan, but its really more than that. Galaxies has had an oddly profound effect on my life, it was one of the defining games that made me say “I want to learn to program. I want to make games.” and principles in its design are some that have influenced me, and I will keep for the rest of my life in whatever I work on. For me, Galaxies represents much more than a simple game in a lot of aspects, it was an experience. I made real friends in that virtual world, some I kept up with outside of the game but have ultimately lost touch with, and I have never had that experience replicated in any other MMO or game community I have encountered. The support and comradery of the individuals within was something that really made Galaxies what it was.

Experiments with design that came into play with SWG created a special experience with the way people interacted with each other in the game sense that expanded the traditional thoughts of games at the time or even since. Systems that SWG had are even now coming out in other games being heralded as these innovative features and ones that differentiate the game from its competitors.

SWG encouraged a cooperation and interaction between players. Today that looks like a dying principle in MMO: cooperation and reliance. I think that’s what made it so much fun for me. It was social in a way nothing else really was. Everyone could work together in such a beautiful harmony. The interactions were so deep, someone actually wrote a thesis paper on them — for a Sociology class:

That’s one thing that made the game rewarding and made me feel like I was important, I could influence other people through my actions and aid them in a real way. A simple example was crafting, anything good was made by a player. I remember a player initiated PvP event, the rebels were trying to protect a base in a player made town. I got a message from a friend to show up and help the push, when I arrived I was gifted with a new set of armor from the resident armorsmith, who was probably one of if not the most well known crafter on the server. He happened to be a rebel. I don’t know if that armor helped out or not, but it couldn’t had hurt. The tools presented in the game made the community stronger because of the depth of interaction it offered.

Freedom of play by design is something I harp on all the time. Constrictions that keep a player from playing how they want to play are something I want the industry to steer away from. Its something that made SWG such a beautiful thing to behold. The tag line “Now begins the greatest story in the galaxy… yours” that something that I think has been lost in RPGs, especially MMORPGs. They want to force you into a set allotment with no way of breaking a mold. SWG let you march to the beat of your own drum. Craft, be social, be combat oriented, just do what makes you happy.

Star Wars The Old Republic is right around the corner. It does looks interesting, I will probably be playing it the minute it comes out. It wants to offer you your own deep story and role in the world. But narrative is only one part of the puzzle; that principle of individuality and personal experience has to be expanded outward not just in your character but your effect on the world that everyone shares. SWG offered depth in all aspects from combat to crafting, something most other games take for granted or something throw away. You defined yourself the way you wanted to and from that the way you played the game and how other players would interact with you changed and it wasn’t a simple artificial change but something you could cultivate into a large effect. Placing a house, building a city, taking part in an actual society within the game; you defined yourself in a way that other people could see. I doubt there will ever be a game that can offer the same sort of depth of play that expands into a community driven spirit.

I could talk for hours and write for miles about SWG. I truly love the game. I hope that its spirit lives on and that it has inspired others to push boundaries, especially as games mature. I’ll close this with an excerp from Raph Koster’s blog about SWG closing that illustrates what I’ve found profound about the design: “an imprint on all the games since: a brief moment where you can stop saving the world or killing rats and realize the real scope and potential of the medium.” Realize the real scope and potential of the medium, if nothing else, that has succeeded with me. There is so much to offer in this space and Galaxies really taught me that.

E3 2011: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo

Posted in E3, E3 2011, Video Games with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2011 by halbard100

Unlike the massive recap of last years E3, conference by conference, this year I’m going to be going a more opinionated route. Basically reactions and observations as a whole, instead of doing a glorified list of everything that was said. So:


Kinect, kinect, kinect. Geeze, they’re cramming this thing onto EVERYTHING. I haven’t been very secretive about my opinion of motion gaming. I like to sit on my ass and press buttons, jumping around and waving my fat frame around the room just makes me feel like an idiot. That said, if the implementation of the use of the hardware is practical, makes sense, and does something that can’t be done other wise, it might not be my style, but more power to the developer for doing something forward thinking and interesting. Dance Central, while making me feel and look like a fool, is just such an example of that, seamless, ingenious, and impossible to achieve in any other form, so it isn’t surprising there’s a sequel coming. On the flip side, we have trying to shoehorn the tech into the Xbox genre of choice FPSs. I’m sorry, but opening and closing your hand to fire your weapon makes it seem more difficult to play, not lowering the barrier of entry which is part of the whole motion gaming idea: accessibility and immersion. At least, that’s what the idea should be about. There are some places where you NEED a tactile response: the vibration of a controller or the click of a trigger. And to me, pulling a trigger to fire a weapon just seems more realistic than flailing about midair, even if we’ll soon be able to only have to pull an imaginary trigger, there is still a loss of the physical response. The tech demos for Kinect are always so impressive. I drool and ogle at the possibilities the device can do, but more often than not, those capabilities just don’t seem to translate into a practical gaming sense or to that goal of immersion and accessibility. There was also deja-vu from last year as Microsoft paraded their interpretation of a female using Kinect. While not as cringe worthy, it was still sad. That said, my personal highlight of the night was Tim Schafer coming on with Double Fine’s Once Upon a Monster. There was just something honest and endearing about the presentation and the look of the game. It didn’t seem rehearsed or artificial, just fun. Sesame Street has always had an element of getting up and playing with the characters on screen as far as I can remember (its been a few years), and I’ll put my trust in Double Fine in using Kinect to make it feel like you’re truly playing with the crew from Sesame Street. Just make sure the YEP aliens are in there Tim.

To me, at least lately, Microsoft seems to keep having the weakest E3 presentations, and I think it mainly due to them being watered down with Kinect. There was a Gears 3 demo with Ice-T, a Halo HD remake trailer, and the Halo 4 announcement, but all that sticks out in my mind is the constant push of Kinect surrounded by this air of disappointment and lost potential.


Jack Trenton probably said it best, “This is the second year I’ve come to E3 with an elephant in the room.” I’m impressed with Sony for tackling it head on, I mean, they really couldn’t have been taken seriously if that wasn’t their first point to bring up. The apology even came across as sincere, not simply a PR bit. Sony also pressing the point that they view consumers as their everything. I know that should be obvious, but there is something I like about Sony always mentioning how much they think about the consumers and how much the players mean to them. As a whole, the presentation went pretty standard for Sony: game play and live demos plus a few music videos. The big bit of the night was probably the Vita announcement (Vita is starting to be more catchy with me than PSV). The fidelity and power of the device coupled with cross platform connectivity with the PS3 should pose some very interesting game design down the line. The $250 price point is also a nice bit. Not sure if I’ll be an early acceptor of the thing, but they’re throwing the gauntlet down to compete with the 3DS on the same price point I think. Still, these days, I don’t think any hand held should exceed $200. Hell, I really think that the $170 tag on the PSP is where a hand held launch should be targeted. When you have to start weighing your options between a hand held and a home console, there is a huge issue in my mind. Then again, I guess if all home console are launching at $450 or $500+, $250 is reasonable. Regardless of the cost arguments, I do like the device and look forward to what developers can leverage from it in the coming months. Besides that, there was the typical Sony 3D push. The big thing that I really, really love the idea of is their dorm room size, PS branded, 3D TV, not because of it being a (some what?) affordable 3D TV, but instead of split screen for co-op or competitive games, you can set it so that each pair of glasses sees the respective player’s view as the whole screen. No more shared TV space, no more screen watching either if that’s your thing. That simply blows my, sure its a expensive set for just that, but its cool as hell none the less. For me anyway.

All and all, Sony didn’t hit any extremes for me. I wasn’t bored to tears or on the verge of shouting, but it didn’t give me the urge to call up friends to tell them “Guess what Sony just did!!!” There’s some nice HD collections in the pipe line and some new games (Sly anyone) but what happened to more information on games like The Last Guardian?


God where to begin. Nintendo more than anyone probably had me go through the biggest range of reactions, from “meh” to “HOLY MOTHER OF-”. The obvious big bit of the show was the new console’s controller, yes just the controller. Picture an iPad with Wii Classic Controller buttons and you’re in the ball park. This thing had my friends and I confused for the most presentation as to whether it was a controller or the actually new console. We finally figured out it was just the controller, but that all Wii peripherals were backwards compatible (something that made the initial confusion of device all the worse during the usage trailers). On top of that, we had the name: Wii-U. … Yep that’s the name. The best reaction I heard was on twitter: “the name wii u makes me giggle. It’s like you’re cursing but not really. Then again that’s just me…#weird” I really couldn’t agree more. The Wii name has become enduring over the years as well as leading itself to a number of phallic related jokes in many a dorm room, but many, including myself, were expecting a new name; not to distance the console from it’s predecessor but to show Nintendo’s increasing move towards innovation. On that note as well, the use of the controller with a screen gives me flash backs to the Gamecube-GBA connector cable, something that I think was only taken advantage of with Zelda Four Swords. With the 3DS, Nintendo seemed to be taking the failed concept of the Virtual Boy and perfecting it, so I can only wonder if the Wii-U is being designed with a similar mentality. If nothing else, there are some nice basic ideas you can do with it. The funny bit is though, it makes me think of the Vita and it’s PS3 interaction. Either way, nearly everything seemed like a big tease leading up to showing just a controller for the system, though if you look around online, you can see some pictures of the full Wii-U.

Nintendo, more than anyone else, caused the most rage and frustration coupled with excitement and happiness between friends and I, mostly spurred by whether or not we were being shown a console or just a controller and at how underwhelming and silly the name came across as. That said, a new Luigi’s Mansion was announced, which is a personal favorite game of mine that I don’t think got enough love and almost sold me a GC, probably would have if I had had the money. Not sure if the Wii-U controller with end up being innovative and amazing or just clunky and cumbersome; the thing is BIG.

Keep an eye here for more reactions, random trailer drops, or general emotional filled rants about games and E3 this week. Maybe even a personal video or two, WHO KNOWS???

Too quiet…

Posted in A Philosophy of Design, Video Games with tags , , on April 8, 2011 by halbard100

Well New Year’s resolution to put something up every week kind of fell through pretty hard. Working minimum wage nearly forty hours a week nights kills your drive somewhat. Besides youtube, I’ve kept to my respective cave on the net and haven’t even been using twitter until lately.

But anyway, in other news:

I’m working on a fighting game with a friend and honestly I’ve never been more excited about something in my life. Design is quite honestly the love of my life right now and actually seeing progress on ideas and working with someone else to the same goal is a really gratifying experience albeit a little slow. Also though, working on something has reinvigorated me. I had fallen into a bit of a pit of cynicism about game design (not as a whole, just for me personally) but being to actually see some fruits of labor has brightened my outlook. Go out there and create, to hell with expectations of others or self doubt, just go and make something. Program a small square being able to jump one day, then add a platform the next, and just keep plugging away. I think my biggest issue in the past has been too strong a desire to make exactly what I want in my head spill out into existence in a matter of hours and being held back by the rational that it just wouldn’t happen the way I wanted it. So, I’m taking strides to be a little better at one step at a time and just chip away at it. Its really not something I’m good at, I’m better at just throwing myself at work indiscriminately for MASS amounts of time without a care. Its a tough change of pace. A skype chat about character design here, a text message during work about mechanics there. And if my playing Minecraft (got I love that game waaay too much) has taught me much, I guess you’ve got to lay a foundation before building anything. Or something like that.

In other obscene perkiness, looks like my old class is getting some crazy activity. If you’re in the game industry in any respect check out the whole story here. That’s kinda AWESOME. I doubt its possible to get #ims211 trending, and honestly I think thats besides the point, but for a class that has only been going for a year, I can only imagine the world domination in five years. Guess it shows the power of the internet. (Though I’m kinda jealous the new kids get to have all the fun)

The future looks pretty damn good from this point and I’m looking forward, that or the alcohol has put me in a good mood. Either-or.

I shall now return to the darkness of my cave.

Meant to post this a while ago

Posted in Video Games on April 8, 2011 by halbard100

Wow, this has been sitting as a draft since the 10th of February, but it still seems like a legitimate rant, if a little overly angered. More to come….

This just in: Fox News is retarded and the additional chromosome in the DNA that is humanity.

One of the things that really, really irritates me is willful ignorance and the use of it to deceive. It pisses me off to no end when groups and people like this choose to show games in a negative light or with a negative opinion with absolutely no knowledge and understanding of the subject what so ever. But its not just that, its the choosing to do so. This isn’t some accident because of a misunderstanding, its Fox News forming a completely uneducated opinion and not only not bother to research and learn the contrary but to actively move forward with the ignorance and spread it like some beacon of truth.

We need more truthiness.!5756624/how-fox-news-gets-video-games-so-wrong