Random thoughts and High Horses

There’s an article on Gamasutra where one of the Heavy Rain developers, David Cage, rants about the emotional range of videogames and complains about how we’re mostly settling for the low end of the spectrum, the primitive feelings. Now I applaud any attempt to broaden the spectra of what games are produced and Cage has some good things to say, so this complaint (being directed at a lot of people using similar arguments) might come at a bad time. However, I do not get why every developer with half a name for him/herself must talk down on part of the media like it is absolutely necessary for each and every title to have to have a shakespearian story, convention-breaking characters, completely new and exciting gameplay as well as new community-driven systems or whatever his or her area of expertise is – lest the entire games industry is doomed to stagnate and fall into oblivion. At least Cage acknowledged that there were indeed exceptions to this rule, but I don’t understand why he can’t be satisfied with the niche – it’s not like most movies produced give rise to more than primitive feelings. On a related note and what might well have been a poor joke, former Edge editor Margaret Robertsson tries to deny that games have evolved over the last 40 years by using Rockstar’s Table Tennis as an example that we haven’t moved forward from Pong. She’s right that we’re not a young industry anymore, but using the same logic movies haven’t evolved since Nosferatu (1922) since we’re still making films about vampires.

On a related note, Kevin Kline of Bioshock fame and some unnamed developer point out the value of protoyping by saying that we should allow ourselves to fail more. While I do think it’s a little counter-productive to assume that there’s no good way of finding out beforehand, I can agree that we sometimes need reminders that every craft is an iterative process.

Posted on Jun 27/08 by Saint and filed under General game development | No Comments »

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Lost Winds

Lost Winds

Lost Winds is one of the very first Wiiware games, a platform/exploration game made special by the unique input of the Wii controller much like Kirby’s Canvas Curse. While the controls of Lost Winds are slightly more immediate since walking with the main character is done with the thumbstick, you have to create winds by swinging the wiimote in order to have him jump, attack enemies or activate things in the background. This works reasonably well, the wiimote is nowhere near as exact as the DS stylus but since Lost Winds is a very easy game precision isn’t that big a deal. On the other hand, it never gets challenging either, and the most engaging parts about Lost Winds is when you come up against illogical puzzles or need to clear out tricky jumps when it gets really frustrating at times.

Which is both the strength and the weakness of Lost Winds, it is a very soothing game. The music is calm and enjoyable, the graphics make it look like a fairytale and the gameplay is slow and pleasant. While it’s certainly nice, it doesn’t really pull you in and since it’s a very short game (some 2-3 hours) you are wondering when it will start up until the final boss. On the other hand, it is supposed to be episodic so maybe it’s too early to critisize that; all in all it is well worth the small prize you pay for it though.

Posted on Jun 22/08 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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If there was a stated topic to this blog, this post would be way off it and it’s already been covered to the point of people getting different opinions just to go against the mass, but it’s an important topic to me so I’ll just ignore that. Seeing as it is over now (though I wrote the text below long before it was), this can hardly be seen as propaganda but I’d still like to state that while the critics of the FRA bill had a small victory in the revisions, the fact that it was allowed to pass makes today a sad day for… well, for everyone, actually.

Essentially there’s a bill that would allow FRA, more or less the Swedish equivalent to the NSA, to monitor all electronic communication passing the borders in the name of protecting us from international terrorism. Problem is, internet doesn’t have quite the solid concept of “nations” the way other media might, borderless communication is what it is for. This being the case, information will travel the fastest possible path regardless of where the router is placed, meaning the data could well be crossing borders even when you’re sending a mail to someone living around the block – any and all communication would thus pass through a filter connected directly to the government.

There are the obvious opinions against this, of course. It’s been shown that constant surveillance changes people’s behavior to the worse, there are the bad examples of terrorism hunting gone wrong so far and of course, there’s the nagging reminder of history what has happened before when the state has ready access to the communication and opinions of the citizens. While I personally don’t think (as other bloggers seem to) that this bill will effectively end our freedom of expression, I do think it is a bad idea. Even if we could trust that this would only ever be used to hunt down real terrorist threats the proponents of the bill has so far failed to provide any good reason as to why monitoring communication would actually be helpful.

First of all, considering the amount of data being sent and the amount of ways one can deliver information, I do not believe that trying to scan this data for certain keywords would actually be helpful. It is far too easy to encrypt, obfuscate or smuggle data and the technology is constantly moving forward so I honestly don’t see FRA being able to pick out particularly many needles from this haystack. I could reluctantly accept the tactic as a deterrence, but that would be like killing flies with cannonballs. Bringing me to my second point…

Second, why the rush over this? how many Swedish citizens have actually been killed by acts of terrorism? yes, there are victims from other western cultures but how many are they compared to the amount of people dying from traffic accidents? depression? contagious diseases? it seems the funds needed to monitor communication (which are reportedly quite massive) could be spent in areas where they would do more good. Or better yet, how many people have died as an indirect cause of people becoming more edgy due to the fear-mongering about the constant threat of terrorism? which brings me to my third point…

Third, why is it that people seem to think that more hostility is the best way to counter terrorism? Taken from the TerrorBull website for the War on Terror Boardgame;

The recent additions to the “Terrorism Bill” (2005) make it illegal to glorify or justify terrorism. This is worrying, since justification doesn’t necessarily imply defence; it’s simply the logical reasoning of a cause for an action.

By outlawing this, the British government are practically saying there is no cause of terrorism. You can’t rationalise it. It just exists. It’s a fact of life. Just as you can get killed crossing the road, so there are also countless dangerous dark-skinned madmen, waiting in the shadows, plotting to kill you for no other reason than some insane religious dogma that promises paradise and virgins.

I saw an interview with John McCain on the Daily Show a few days ago and he had the same kind of reasoning, terrorists have no origin other than evilness and no agenda other than to destroy everything we hold dear. While I guess that could’ve been a publicity stunt it’s disheartening that a man with a good shot of being president considers it a good idea to pride himself with not wanting to understand. I do realize that according to Maslow safety is more important than respect and I’m not saying we should just turn the other cheek, but it would be nice to have a more intelligent analysis of the problem and perhaps a plan to attack the root of it and not just defend ourselves against the symptoms.

… Yeah, that’s probably it. Probably nothing new but at least it’s my viewpoint.

Posted on Jun 18/08 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog | No Comments »

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Heavenly Sword

Heavenly Sword

Like Yahtzee, I use the months where new releases are less frequent to check out the games I missed the first time around. Okay, so I honestly don’t have that much interest (and why should I care about a game just because it was once hyped anyway), but Heavenly Sword fell into my lap and since it was rumored to be very short I gave it a go over the weekend. Turns out “short” was an understatement and Heavenly Sword didn’t last more than an afternoon, but since the game was free and my time is not that’s not really a bad thing.

Heavenly Sword has been compared to God of War on most levels, but apart from the general genre and art direction being sort of similar, the only thing that’s a direct copy is the simon says- mini games and the general flow of the game. Like in GoW you kill creatures (well… Unlike GoW you mostly slay humans in Heavenly Sword) in close-quarter battles, but while GoW is a pure hack-n-slash where the enemies are numerous and pouring in, Heavenly Sword is more like a fighting-game where you (usually) fight fewer enemies at a time and base your attacks on blocking and countering the enemies. In theory this should be more interesting but the variety of enemies in Heavenly Sword is very small (this goes for the environments as well, by the way) so it gets old. There are some sections where the swordfighting is replaced with different kinds of ranged attacks, and while this is refreshing and fun some are based heavily on controlling projectiles mid-air by tilting the controller – and as Lair-players can tell you, being forced to control something with the motion-sensors in the sixaxis is usually bad news.

Other than the aforementioned parts, Heavenly sword controls very well, looks and sounds pretty enough and has – despite the lack of decent progression of gameplay elements – enough depth to be fun all the way through. A decent diversion, but it is – in more ways than it is like God of War, even – like a gaming equivalent to a matinée movie. It’s incredibly short and doesn’t have anything in the area of hidden areas or exploration. It has some aspirations of having a dramatic story but the scriptwriters saw fit to destroy all the mood by throwing in some comically inept, cartoon-style sidekicks to the main villains, possibly to make the game more sellable to kids that might not understand the finer points of drama – although why you would want those to play a game where you run a sword up someone’s crotch is beyond me. It’s the sort of thing you usually see at the beginning of every new console generation, games that are audiovisually very impressive because people think the best way to improve games given new technology is to make them more like movies and throwing out the gameplay. But I guess it could be a lot worse.

Posted on Jun 15/08 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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The TIGSource Procedural Generation Competition…


… Has entered the voting stage and 60 games are available for download.

Sadly, I don’t have the time to play and bitch about the entries this time around, but it’s nice to see that the number of people competing is increasing, especially since it’s just for fun and practice being that recognition is the only prize.

Posted on Jun 12/08 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, General game development | No Comments »

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Gotland Game Awards


I spent most of the weekend at Gotland University as a guest judge for the competition they hold for the big projects students produce during the end of their first and second years. Seeing as I was quite active during my years a student there returning to see familiar faces is always a happy occasion, and this visit was no exception. The event itself has grown remarkably since my time there, where in my first year it was a storeroom with games where the public was allowed to enter it is now a semi-open competition with hundreds of thousands SEK in prizes and expert judges (ahem) invited from as far as the United States (including my role-model Ernest Adams, even).

The games didn’t fail to impress either … In fact, since I don’t have any links to them and no insightful critique to deliver, this entire post is sort of meaningless so I’ll just end it here.

I would have posted this when I got home Sunday afternoon, but I couldn’t get the screenshot until now since the server was down. Ironically, I got it from the Swedish Game Awards server, but that’s a story for another day.

Posted on Jun 10/08 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Meta-blog | 1 Comment »

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More on Reviews

I’ve stated my doubt in game review scores before, and this Gamasutra article from Simon Parkin might not bring new views to the table but considering how publishers base more and heavier decisions on metacritic scores, a good, up-to-date reflection of review scores is in order;

“Last month a British games journalist reviewed Xbox Live Arcade’s Penny Arcade Adventures for two different publications. In one of the magazines the game scored 4/10 while, in the other it was awarded 68%

Two weeks later Microsoft announced their plans to remove games with an average Metacritic score of 65% or lower from their XBLA service. If the decision on whether to keep Penny Arcade Adventures on the service were to be based solely on the judgement of this reviewer, its fate would swing on which review was looked at.”

Posted on Jun 09/08 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture | No Comments »