Friday, March 25, 2016

Vector, among my quest of trying lots of android games

I've been playing lots of android games! I want to find games that use the platform well, and stuff. I've noticed a few things that might go in a future blog post; most notably that puzzle games are the only genre that's consistently good, nothing has a story, and there are a LOT of games where you do one thing and it requires precision but restarting is extremely fluid. Like flappy bird. Anyway.

I'm playing Vector right now, which is a side-scrolling parkour game! I can tell just by playing it that it's pretty old, mostly because there are dialogs and stuff that don't follow modern android conventions. But, here's where my complaints go!

First thing I noticed was that when I started the app, it showed me a Holo-styled dialog fragment (for those not paying attention, that's like three android versions ago) asking me to download extra content. It doesn't explain - I think it's just that for some reason my tablet didn't download the extra content package that was supposed to come with it - but if you tap no, it exits the app unceremoniously. If you tap yes, it downloads a thing, and then starts the game. Gross. Moving on! The opening cutscene is super dramatic. Like, friendo, we've already seen the 1984 Apple ad a million times. We get it. You're not doing something amazing. Mirror's Edge didn't do a great job at this but they still did way better than you. My biggest complaints are all little things! Like, I bought the "full version with no ads" unlock. I had to wait until the game just offered it to me in a dialog box - I went looking for it early on, and couldn't find it in any menus anywhere. But... The game still has ads in it. Including pop-over ones. Did it do anything? I can't tell at all. There are still ads when I bought the adless unlock??? Who did this. Anyway, moving on.

The menus are all pretty un-responsive - there's often no feedback to let me know that I successfully clicked a button. The only hint I have is because I turned on the setting where it shows touches in the developer options for my tablet. There are also a bunch of instances of buttons for navigation doubling over more natural swiping-based navigation... Which is doubly annoying because sometimes the buttons are the only things that work - instead of tapping on the big level preview, I have to tap the "play" button, which is weird, because the level preview matches how other stuff works. Biggest baffling thing? I put my tablet to sleep and it's still playing the music... What? Why is this happening? You're not a music app...

Oh right, speaking of basic android screw ups - when I clicked to buy the unlock, the screen rotated. Why didn't that dialog fragment show up on top of the existing activity? Why'd it rotate back? I guess it's 'cause I had my tablet set in fixed portrait mode, but still... It should have inherited the game's orientation mode... Also, when I use the power button to sleep my tablet on the menu screen, the game has required a force stop in order to keep running two of two times. We'll see if this has any better luck later.

Anyway, as for the game itself - the animation is delightful and fluid. It's one of those "auto-running, press and swipe at the right times to jump and dodge obstacles" kind of games. The problem is that there's very little feedback. I don't know if I've done the gesture at the right time until the animation has started already, which is frustrating!

A big mechanism involved in progressing to further levels is requiring you to unlock tricks in order to progress. Tricks are used to get points in the game, but, notably, you can only do them at specified points when you run past an icon. Big issue: it's really unclear when I'm actually supposed to do the swipe to activate the trick. The time I instinctively press it - when my character starts overlapping the icon - works maybe 30% of the time. I'm having to artificially add in a delay, and there's no feedback about this. It's really unclear when I'm supposed to do it, and like, jeez, just explain how to play the game, okay? Stop making this all guesswork. This also goes for normal jumps and slides - half the time I end up doing an actual jump over an obstacle, instead of doing a fancy vault. Continuing in the vein of poor feedback, I never feel like I'm actually gaining much speed or time or anything when I do tricks! It ends up feeling like they're kind of moot, when what actually matters tends to be more of succeeding at the big things, like actually making a jump to a platform at all, and stuff.

The other big issue I have is that the levels... Don't have any arc to them. I guess this might be a high requirement in such a simple game, but they just lack rhythm. I can't really nail this down, but it means that they're not particularly satisfying, in the end, which means I'm probably not going to play very much of this game.

Sometimes I get the feeling that doing tricks or fancy vaults actually slows me down. Not a satisfying feeling in a parkour game. I'm calling it - bored of this game. Gonna uninstall and post this.

This game is buggy, kinda crap, and loaded with microtransactions. Not recommended.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Minor thoughts on Remember Me

Okay, I'm starting this a quarter through my third playthrough of this game (in a row, mind you, because I will get all the achievements, dammit) and so it's gonna miss a lot of stuff but I don't care, I just want to build this habit. Granted, a lot of these aren't going to make any sense, if you haven't played the game. Or if you have. Because I have completely omitted any other information than the thoughts I had. Whoops :D

  1. I really like that they explicitly make the point that drones only can't scan through walls because of privacy laws. Nice way to limit the technology through non-technological means.
  2. Synchronizing with a remembrane is a good way to make a mechanical abstraction of the action of "repeat the complicated action that someone else shows you how to do". You don't have to manually enter the passcode, you just... sync up with their memory of entering the passcode. Nice.
  3. Maybe we should have a term for the mechanic/genre where you climb along buildings. I guess that's just the direction that 3d platformers have gone. I wish it felt a little more realistic! Also, fluid. It always feels pretty jarring, unless they're taking the "you are a god of parkour" approach of Infamous and (maybe) Assassin's Creed.
  4. Kid X-mas's body just doesn't look realistic.
  5. This train that casually starts moving after you board... Definitely looks like it's not even remotely close to capable of moving.
  6. The dudes in this game all look the same. I'm lookin' at you, Johnny Greenteeth.
  7. Background conversational dialogue, about someone who's nervous: "You're like a cat in a flux chamber." What??
  8. Why exactly is there a minefield in slum 404 again??
  9. A Zorn says "You are subject to a sigma 8 arrest warrant." What the heck would sigma 8 mean?
  10. I really love the Zorns projecting a screaming open mouth in front of them when they roar. It's bullshit in terms of why would you make a robot roar, but like, damn, it's a good visual effect.
  11. "This little red riding hood's got a basket full of kickass!" is a hilariously over-the-top and great line. (Delivered to someone who's been hunting Nilin, and shouting Red Riding Hood-based taunts at her)
  12. They started exclusively using the spammer to activate things after you get it, and barely ever using the "press e to activate". It's kinda sad! It makes the spammer feel more like just a game abstraction and less like it has any specific meaning in the game world.
  13. That carts and tracks puzzle is stupid. It doesn't make any sense. Why were those tracks in that order? Why is this all suspended in the air???
  14. Diktat is a major brand / fashion label in this world.
  15. The cube climbing puzzle in the conception cube is... Well, it's weird and out of place. But it's a clever way to make that kind of climbing puzzle! Having cubes stacked vertically but out of alignment so that you have to shift around consecutive ones to get on the face that matches the next? Yeah, good.

Monday, December 7, 2015


Subnautica is so good! I love it. I was originally going to write about what I like about it - it's beautiful, it seems like a vivid and well-fleshed-out world, it feels like it makes sense, it's got a good balance of hardness vs silliness. The crafting system is obviously far from realistic, but I do feel like it's really consistent. Minecraft always felt a little too symbolic, to me. This stretches the idea of "what can I make" by adding nanotech fabricators, but other than that it feels really reasonable! Your survival gear just requires you to find sufficient quantities of the raw materials. No need for you to "design" a sword on the crafting bench. So I like that. It's very glowy and so far has done a reasonable job of balancing progression (in building more advanced things) against how hard it is to get the required materials. Following is a brief log of my experiences - don't read if you want to avoid being spoiled for the progression in the game!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ways to Categorize and Describe Rhythm Games

How sharp are the edges of the intervals you respond in?

  • Do you need to hit the spot as it passes by you?
  • Are there different degrees of success/failure for each button/cue? in Rock Band/Guitar Hero, you either hit the note or you don't. In DDR, you are graded on how close you came to perfectly timing it.

How wide are those intervals?

How unambiguous are the cues? How clearly does it tell you when and what to press?

  • Rock Band/DDR give you scrolling symbols that pass through a timing line, indicating when you should press the button.
  • Geometry Dash and other running games rely on you to know when to press to respond to an obstacle ("If I jump too early, I'll hit the end of that row of spikes...") but they are still clearly cued on the spot.
  • Rock Band in performance mode (I have never played it. Why would I? But it exists.) doesn't give you any actual cues, it just relies on you to know when to hit the notes. 
  • Crypt of the Necrodancer and Patapon don't tell you what buttons to press. You have to work it out for yourself.

How forgiving is it of mistakes?

  • One mistake and you are forced to restart.
  • More than X mistakes and you are forced to restart.
  • If your score dips below X, you are forced to restart.
  • You always play through to the end of the level.
  • How much do you lose by missing a note?
    • You'll spend the whole song recovering.
    • You'll spend the next few phrases recovering.
    • You'll immediately recover if you can hit the next few notes.

How does scoring work? Is it pass/fail, percentage of notes hit, or graded according to quality of hits? Or something else?

Is there a combo / multiplier system? How high does it go?

  • In some games (Can't think of any examples!) you can basically do unlimited exponential score growth.
  • In Rock Band your combo takes like 40 notes to get up to a 4x multiplier, plus you can use star power to double that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


This post is my first real attempt at distilling into words my thoughts on the subject; I ask you to bear with me, and try to see what I'm getting at before you counterargue. Also, remember two things: that the definition of art must be murky, and that the boundaries between different media and genres are fuzzy by nature.

A few years ago I just decided that I was going to step away from discussions of what defines the game as an artistic medium. I was disillusioned because all the definitions I saw had, at their crux, the claim that a "game" is defined by either some element of challenge to be overcome by the player, or by the requirement that the player make choices. 

These definitions always rang hollow with me. Many games I play have little or no challenge. Some games I play really require stretching the definition of "choice" in order to have them. Does it really make sense to call "when to press the buttons in rock band" a choice? Conversely, there's definitely no challenge in so many relaxation/simulation games, or freeform audiovisual playgrounds. I think all of these can fit together in one umbrella.

A game is any artwork in which the audience's active participation is one of the primary components of its impact.

Okay, there it is. I like this definition. I've been working with it for about a year now. 

It neatly covers why so many videogames are so compelling - they stick with you because you were doing the things. Mirror's Edge gets its kick because of how your control over the main character makes you feel like you're running and jumping across a city. Dragon Age is fun because, by making the decisions about who to do and what to say, you start to feel a strong identification with the character. The triumph at the end of a good Star Fox 64 run is entirely because I was the one who dodged the lasers and shot the enemies. 

It also can be taken as an umbrella definition that encompasses both of the other definitions. If you define a game by a player's choices, well, those choices are necessarily a matter of player involvement. Similarly, you cannot challenge the player without granting the player some means to actively participate.

Furthermore, it meshes neatly together with one of the most fascinating things about video games as a medium in general: the consistent shittiness of their movie adaptations. Why do video game movies suck? It's simple: in the game, you fight against the ridiculous boss five or six incredibly frustrating times, and when you finally defeat them, you let out a whoop of delight and you're flooded with endorphins for your conquest. In the movie, you watch the protagonist get smacked a few times before defeating the boss. When the audience doesn't actually commit to the battle, and therefore doesn't feel the visceral frustration of actually failing, they do not care about the ridiculous situations video games contrive to put you in. Video game movies suck because the believability and power of video game stories always rely on the fact that the player has actually been doing something in the playing of the game - and that the player has changed as a result.

Since the medium's still pretty young, it's not commonplace to find examples of games that have neither challenge nor choice. What inspired me to write this post is one such game (at least, I'd claim it's a game): If the moon were only one pixel. I adore that page because it communicates the scale of space (this is very difficult to do), but also because it's a perfect example of my kind of game: There's no choice. You are not challenged in any way. And yet, the feeling of size and emptiness and vastness that it communicates cannot be replicated without the player actually scrolling through all that space.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The End of an Era

Skyward Sword. I started it and thought "Holy crap! This is the best Zelda game since Link's Awakening!" Then I kept playing. And kept playing. And kept playing. Zelda games have terrible pacing. They should work on that!

I'm pretty sure that game was at least twice as hard as the other zelda games I've played. Granted, that's not saying much, but it was jarring to have to repeat boss fights two or three times in order to beat them. I'm inclined to say that it would be an improvement, but given the pacing issues of the franchise, potentially dragging things out isn't really playing to your strengths. On the other hand, of course: the difficulty did mean I had to actually use my shield, rather than going with an all-out suicide run attack strategy in every situation.

I loved some of the aesthetics in this game - if I could wear Skyloft denizens' clothes every day of my life, I think I'd be a pretty happy human.

This isn't so much an issue with Skyward Sword in particular, but... Seriously. Cut it out with the effeminate people with masculine bodies being played for laughs or villainy. It's extremely tired and painful. While we're at it, maybe you could work on giving women more agency in the story? I know that Zelda was crucial to Skyward Sword - although that's somewhat a departure from the standard for the franchise - but it was really frustrating how all women are demure and cute by default. I just. When I played this game it was incredibly apparent which characters were played as "normal" and which characters were played as funny, and that frustrated me.

I dunno. I think I might just be... Done with Zelda games in general. All the elements in their stories and worlds fit too strongly into the various patterns, and it's just... Eh. I don't really care any more, and it's a 60+ hour time commitment for something I no longer care about. So I guess I give up on them.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Silent Hill 2, or, Shoofle Gets Too Scared To Play

I wrote about Silent Hill 2 today, which my roommate and I finally finished playing last night. I gave up on it previously, much to his annoyance, because it was just too stressful and scary for me to play. That hasn't happened before. He eventually took up the controller in my stead, but after trading it off to me for boss fights a few times, I picked it back up for the final few bits. After I got my thoughts down, I thought I'd collect some lasting thoughts or impressions; in retrospect, I think they're more interesting than the rest of the review. It's hiding behind the link - here's the TL;DR:

Okay, so, I want to try to get some kind of lasting something out of games more often, so I'm going to try to think about what I learned from each game I play. Silent Hill 2?

  1. The absence of enemies defines a horror game. This game got a hell of a lot of mileage out of giving you enemies to fight, and then not giving enemies for you to fight, so you're left with that floaty confused feeling - which intensifies the terror of actually seeing an enemy tenfold. 
  2. Leave the player weak and unable to affect their environment. I didn't often die in this game, but I got hit - it was scary, and I used my healing items a lot in contrast to my hoarder tendencies. I didn't down them reflexively, but it was a fairly regular thing. The disruption of getting hit once in every three battles aided my terror, and when I eventually figured out the combat, it became a lot less stressful.
  3. If the player character responds ambiguously or in a low-key way, the player responds directly instead. This supercharges things like fear and terror, but can easily bite you in the ass for confusing story and plot. If the player sees the character being scared, then the player just watches it all happen. If the character doesn't show terror, then the player will feel it themselves.
  4. Fourth, creepy shit is creepy as shit, but you've gotta play it quiet. Being startled is almost diametrically opposed from being unsettled. The threat of startling overpowers the actual effect of being startled by a million to one.

thanks, silent hill wiki