Posts Tagged ‘nintendo ds’

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Scribblenauts Redux

October 5, 2009

I wanted to put a post together over the weekend but it ended up getting taken over by Scribblenauts.

“Balisong” and “Tuk-tuk” are both in there. Good on ya, devs.
pat m.

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“Sambo” Is A Viable Scribblenauts Term

September 23, 2009

…and it summons a watermelon.

Good going, guys.

There’s no point to writing any kind of in-depth insightful commentary on this one – intentional or not, it’s hilariously fucked up.

Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Scribblenauts and see what kind of offensive stories I can put together, though.

Read up more here:

Ian Bogost – Gamasutra

Kotaku

pat m.

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Chrono Trigger DS

December 2, 2008

I’ve been playing through the Chrono Trigger DS remake lately. Yeah, it’s still Chrono Trigger, with a few new gimmicks here and there to spice things up. Worth playing if you never played it on the SNES or PSX, but if you’ve already gone through it a few times you might want to save your time and money. If you haven’t played it, you might want to avoid reading this, as there are mild spoilers.

– The new monster raising mode seems pretty boring so far, and unless it changes dramatically later in the game (I’m almost at the Black Omen) I wouldn’t really bother with it. Sure, you could probably get some nice items from it all, but by the time you can fight the high-level battles your party is already probably pretty dominating.

– For better or for worse, the game was retranslated. The game reads much more smoothly now (“The finest in defensive equipment for my, daughter!” has been fixed, thankfully) but Frog’s accent has been removed to make him speak more like everyone else from the Middle Ages.

-I had never noticed this before, but the game was almost perfectly designed for handhelds from the start. Even though there is no quicksave option, the dungeons tend to be short enough that you can finish one in ten minutes or so. The game is meant to be broken up into small manageable chunks, and with the exception of the new dungeon, it doesn’t keep you in any one place long enough to really get bored. 

– The new dungeon was thoroughly disappointing for a few reasons. Disappointing Reason #1: It took me a few hours to get through, not because it was particularly difficult, but because you had to keep on walking back and forth between essentially what amounted to the same seven screens or so. I think I climbed that stupid mountain at least fifteen times. What’s more, each screen has an annoying unavoidable fight that does nothing but make the fetch quests you’re sent on even more of a pain in the ass. Do yourself a favor and use a FAQ to save yourself one or two redundant trips, at least. The reward items are nice, but half the stuff isn’t as good as your end-game equipment (which you can get very easily before you do the Lost Sanctum) and the stuff that is good doesn’t really mean much because the game pretty much peaks in difficulty at the Ocean Palace. I never understood why people bothered getting their characters all up to level 99/max statistics in this game because it’s not like there’s anything that really gets hard to kill after level 60 or so. I hear there’s a new ending, and a new last boss. Maybe I’ll need to be really buff for that one.

-Disappointing Reason #2: I found the end of the second fight with the Reptites to be one of the more poignant moments in the game; Team Crono has basically been fighting to ensure the survival of the human race, and the Reptites have all been total jackasses up until this point, but once you beat Azala he reminds you that he was basically doing the same thing for his people, and since he lost, the Reptites were doomed to extinction. Even Ayla, despite the fact that she was engaged in a life-or-death struggle with all Reptite-kind, seems to be surprisingly understanding and even sympathetic towards Azala. Considering that non-human, Other monsters are so easily written as straight evil characters without any particular nuance, I thought that Azala’s send-off was really well done. What’s more, the effects were permanent – the only Reptite you see in the game after that fight is running in the races at the Millenial Fair – which is something unusual for a game that’s all about traveling in time to fix things. You can bring Crono back, you can put Cyrus’s spirit to rest, but you can’t make the Reptites and humans co-exist…

…That is, until you go to the Lost Sanctum and discover there’s a whole town of Reptites left. Guess you just killed the Asshole Reptites.

pat m.

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Bet You Can’t Guess How I’m Gonna Relate The World Ends With You To Race

April 29, 2008

The World Ends With You is responsible for the lack of updates over the past week. I guess that’s the up-side of writing about video games; I have no qualms about calling gaming-time my “fieldwork” for the blog and sleeping well at night. And, frankly, games rarely catch my attention like TWEWY, so when it does happen it feels like a disservice not to ride it until it’s over.

For starters: the game is a breath of fresh air. I rarely find myself playing much in the Japanese RPG realm; too often, I find, most of these games are timesinks just as bad as World of WarCraft. I am a bit more willing to make exceptions on the DS, because DS games tend to be shorter by nature (see Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Rings of Fate and my under-10-hour finish time), and designing for the DS seems to push games into far more interesting realms than their console counterparts. The World Ends With You is one of these games – while it is, at its heart, a Japanese RPG in all its grinding glory, all the standard dynamics are tweaked just a little bit to make it interesting. I’m by no means a completist, but TWEWY makes me want to be one far more than any other game I’ve played in the last few years. The combat system is an inspired mix of Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword hack-and-slash and micromanaging abilities, the dynamic difficulties and amazing variety in weapon “pins” keep the combat interesting, and the game doesn’t make you grind or throw you in hundreds of completely random battles – basically, it’s a JRPG at its very best.

I recall reading somewhere that the game was designed after the setting. I imagine that’s not always the safest design strategy, but in the case of TWEWY, which is set in Japan’s teen-pop-culture-land Shibuya, it works just fine. Having spent plenty of time in Shibuya myself, I can appreciate how playing the game – and, in particular, the mind-reading dynamic and Neku’s perpetual loneliness amid a sea of people – reflects a lot of the thoughts and feelings I had while kicking it there myself. Even the map design slightly resembles the actual place, with names changed around some of the prominent spots (Shibuya 109 becomes “104”) and other places, like Dougenzaka or Hachiko faithfully kept in. Sadly, they didn’t include any of my haunts (Guinness Records! Shibuya Kaikan!), but I digress. TWEWY is a traditional JRPG designed around Shibuya’s unique sense of space, and it works very, very well.

You’ll be seeing this a lot – Neku is an Emo.

Part of the game’s allure is that nothing is completely reduced to a video game interaction. NPCs don’t just show up once and disappear, for the most part; the story is very good about keeping the characters versatile, and well-written.

It makes me wonder what kind of other games could be designed around a real-world physical space. And, of course, since this is Token Minorities, it makes me wonder how that kind of game design philosophy could be used to bring out race as a theme. I must admit that I’ve had a predilection for the “hood movie” genre lately, with Friday on the better side and Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood on the not-so-great side. Still, I’d love to play a game where my protagonist was a Friday era Ice Cube, navigating life’s daily challenges as a young black man. Give him the ability to read minds – and maybe the occasional departure into a white upper-class neighborhood – and it’d have lots of potential. Something like Do The Right Thing could work well too.

From a theoretical standpoint, this might be a more promising angle to work in race as a central design theme for a video game. Part of the socially constructed nature of race is that its meanings are constantly in flux; the meanings that we ascribe to race aren’t universal but differ according to time, physical space, and politics. Even words like “Asian” or “Black” don’t necessarily mean the same things – see “Asian” in England, which is generally analogous to “Southeast Asian”, vs. “Oriental”, which refers to East Asians but has commonly fallen out of favor in the United States. Basically, the “racial common sense” (Hi Omi and Winant!) differs by community. Instead of designing a game aimed at addressing Race with a Capital R as it applies to the US – why not set a game in the hood? In the inner city? In the South? In Chinatown? – and design the game around that particular locality, complete with its racial common sense.

It’s that last bit that games set in the hood, etc. have largely failed to do so far. Yes, there are a precious few games with people-of-color protagonists. Some of them have even managed to take the California gangsta-rap life and translate that into a video game experience a la GTA San Andreas. But it needs that last step: a game design, and a complementary story with realistic and well-written characters, that makes the effort to recreate the full experience of a person of color and tell a story about race, rather than offer up the experience with a voyeuristic, identity-tourism (Hi Lisa Nakamura!) appeal.

To be frank, that last step could very well be the difference between a game made in a predominantly white industry, and a game made by a progressive development studio composed of people of color.

pat m.

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Cranky Old Man Ramblings: Video Games and Free Time

April 1, 2008

Okay, so maybe I’m not really that old. But considering I’ve been playing video games since practically before I could walk, I think I’m entitled to take up the Cranky Kong position every now and then.

I leafed through this post at 1up called “Why People Don’t Finish Games Anymore” and figured I’d post on something I’ve wanted to write about for a little bit. Whether it’s generally true that people don’t finish games compared to the SNES days or not, I have no idea, but it’s personally relevant to me, for most of the reasons listed in the article – some games have too much content, others too much grinding, others simply don’t work, and I have more work (and more income) compared to the grade school days where I could reliably count on getting maybe five games a year – but less time to play them. Well said, Ms. Oxford. But for me that’s hardly where the discussion starts.

I tend to experience video games in one of two ways. If it’s a game that is ultimately skill-driven – something where I aim to get more technically proficient, usually in order to dominate my friends – then I’ll pick it up and play for as long as I feel like. These games are really where my heart lies, for the most part; I prefer the “game” part of “video game”. This isn’t just because I like winning, though – it’s also because the experience is, by its very nature, brief. If I’m by myself, I’ll mess around in Capcom vs. SNK 2‘s training mode for 15 minutes or 50. I can play Bleach 2 DS on a train and not feel like I’m interrupted every time I have to turn it off and transfer. These kinds of games require very little of time to make an experience – I don’t have to make time for them.

The other category of games are largely plot-driven – while there’s skill involved in playing through something like Ninja Gaiden DS or Resident Evil 4, my end goal isn’t to get better at slashing up zombie ninjas or anything, it’s to finish the single-player experience. These games require a much more significant minimal investment of time for for me to “warm up”, as it were, and I usually try to finish these in 3-4 sessions if possible. (Incidentally, this is why I’ve sworn off most role-playing games, as most RPGs take at least 20 hours to complete these days, and most of the time I stop caring about whatever is going on after the first twenty minutes. I’m a fickle guy.)

The thing is, the average level of narrative quality still horribly blows in the world of video games. While there are plenty of moments where I sit down and relish a particularly well-designed level or game mechanic that does something that other media could never do to tell a story, those times are the 10%, largely upset by the 90% of the time where I’m either a) impatient or b) embarrassed by how abysmally bad the writing is. Over the past year or so, I’ve found myself watching movies more than usual just because the stories are usually more interesting and thought-provoking (even the bad ones!), and – and this is huge – the entire story can be told in under three hours. This is how I want my games to be. Hello, episodic content. (Also: why I love the Phoenix Wright series.)

To complicate the situation, I am no longer the video game blogging world’s Most Eligible Bachelor (I love you, Shiyuan!), which means that the time I set aside for story-telling is now communal time. There are some people who like watching their significant others play video games, but she is not one of them (and I’m glad, because most of those people are boring. Watching someone get a perfect FF7 save is NOT quality together-time). This means that, ideally, my games need to have a story that is digestible over the course of an evening, more or less, and be an experience that is worth playing and watching. Once again, one of the only games that manages this is the Phoenix Wright series – a case can usually be finished in 2-3 hours or so, and it’s something that can be played fairly easily together. There are some other games that fit here – I watched people play Metal Gear Solid long before I ever picked them up and played myself, and I think the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series might be feasible here too (babygirl loves horror movies; I get nightmares easily). I’d welcome more suggestions in the comments, because frankly, this kind of thing is what makes me slow to adopt new systems.

Incidentally, all of this is one of the major reasons I love my DS. Sure, the dual screen thing is neat, and the touch screen and the mic have their moments. But really, I love that, due to design restrictions or maybe just cartridge space, most games are designed in easily digestible chunks and can be finished in around 10 hours or so. That’s my sweet spot.

pat m.