Archive for August, 2007


Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Starting immediately, I’m removing the Sitemeter statistics from the sidebar. The information was only kind of helpful, but digging around today I noticed that at some point Sitemeter has begun sending out tracking cookies along with the bit of code required. The tracking cookie is fairly low-risk, it tracks some of the sites you go to on the Internet, but it is something that needs to be made known, and was pushed out without my knowledge or permission, which is very wrong.

Apologies to the two or three of you that looked at the statistics, I may have other publicly-available stats at some point. No tracking cookies required. You can get more info here if you wish.

What Hard Games Can Teach Us About Game Design

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote a piece about my perception that video games are getting easier, and implied that the degrading difficulty makes the games less rewarding to complete. I’ll admit that it’s supremely frustrating to make it to an end boss or a particularly tough snag and lose a hundred times (or more) in a row, but the draught of elation you enjoy when you finally clear it is made all the sweeter when it’s chasing so many mugs of bitter defeat.

Games that provide a genuine challenge are one of the main reasons I like to keep my old systems around. The games and their tasks present a set of goals to achieve rather than a ‘to-do’ list on your tour of the virtual game world, slogging through the elements that break up the story.

There is a rather lengthy feature over at Gamasutra with a retrospective on some of the most difficult games and what they can teach us about designing games today. Though he paints games like Defender in a more favorable light than I would he makes a lot of good points. I particularly liked this bit:

“But this is not to say that games must be easy. The impulse to make video games easier can be traced to a fundamental change in perception over what a game should be. The older school of thought, which dates back and beyond the days of Space Invaders to the era of pinball, is that a game should measure the player’s skill. Arcade games, in fact, must make it difficult for a player to last for any great length of time in order to keep money coming into the coin box. The newer concept is that a game should provide an experience to the player. The player is to feel like some character, or like he’s participating in a story, or that he’s making some difference in a fictional realm.”

Of course, there is room for both. Indigo Prophecy wasn’t hard in the slightest, but still very good, and by all accounts Ninja Gaiden was supremely difficult while simultaneously a whole lot of fun.

The article is certainly worth a read, especially if mentions one of my favorite overlooked games, Mischief Makers.

The Modern Arcade

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

In the past I’ve written about the state of my local arcades. How they’re withered husks of their former status. It’s good to see, then that there’s at least one arcade that’s bucking the trend and doing essentially what I’d do if I ran an arcade.

“Funspot is the largest arcade in the world, fostering over 500 arcade games in its three stories of floor space. The arcade has been around since 1952, when it was founded by Bob Lawton. It is located in Weirs Beach, NH, so you have to travel to the middle of New Hampshire to enjoy it. Funspot “offers new and classic video games, an indoor golf center, a 20 lane ten pin & candlepin bowling center, cash bingo, mini-golf, a restaurant and tavern and more! There’s something for everyone!” The mascot of Funspot is a dragon named Topsnuf.”

If you’re an arcade aficionado, you should check out the small picture gallery on Destructoid, as well as the linked galleries. I would quite like to take a trip there myself, the 19-hour drive to do so, however, is prohibitive.

Link! (Destructoid)

XBand Video Game Modem

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Cross-posting from my other site today so that this story will get a few more eyeballs. Enjoy!

While not technically a game, the XBand modem was certainly a unique piece of hardware that deserves recognition.

The XBand itself was a large purple cartridge that stuck out of your Super NES by about twice the amount that a regular cartridge did, and you put a game on the top of it, creating an impressive tower of plastic. Once you turned on the system, you had several options at your disposal: a buddy list, newsletters, email, and a matchup service, plus several more sundry activities that I’m not going to go into here.

Buddy List

The feature that I used most frequently was the game matchup feature. You could choose to search for an opponent either in your local calling area or nationwide. If there was an opponent waiting to play someone in the same game you were seeking with, then your SNES would dial up their SNES, you would connect, and play would begin. Sure, that doesn’t sound too impressive now, but this was before most people had even heard of the Internet, much less had access to it outside of their local library. The system, it should be noted, did not use the Internet at all, but rather directly dialed your opponent. This was fairly important as it helped reduce latency (the time between when you press the buttons and when it appears on the screen), but caused two big problems in my house:

  1. When I was in the queue, folks would dial my number to play. If I didn’t tell everyone in the house what I was doing, there was a near 100% chance that someone would answer the phone, completely screwing up the connection.
  2. While dialing out, I could disable call waiting by prepending a sequence of numbers to my dial-out number. This was fine unless I had to wait on a call. When someone called me, I had no way to disable call-waiting. This meant that inevitably someone would call, there would be beeps on the line, and I would get disconnected

Each match you won gave you a certain amount of points, these points weren’t really for anything except for giving you some meaningless ranking on your profile screen that only you could see. Unless, that is, you had access to the Internet. The site, which is now long-defunct, allowed you to look up players by name and see their stats. It was pretty bare-bones, but pretty useful for seeing if the person that trounced you in Game X was a veteran or just getting started.

Super Mario Kart Record

There was a fair selection of games supported by the service, though the only ones I ever played were Super Mario Kart, Kirby’s Avalanche, Killer Instinct, and Super Street Fighter II. There were also several sports games like Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball and NBA Jam, but I couldn’t imagine tying up the phone line for the length of time it would take to complete just one matchup in those games. Late in the life of the service, support for Super Mario World and Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past was added, though neither allowed you to play the games. Mario let you dial up a random user and chat with them with the built in chat interface (think Instant Messenger with only one person available at a time), and Zelda allowed you to compete with someone else in a silly maze game. These late additions, in hindsight, were probably meant to bolster the use of the system.

Even at its peak, which is right about when I joined, I had trouble finding people to play with. There were virtually no other players in my local area, there were two other then the three I made buy one, and searching nationwide took upwards of 10 minutes to find an opponent, if I could find one at all. After a couple years, the service tanked and the company was absorbed by MPlayer, who was, in turn absorbed by GameSpy. The system was immediately shut down, and now exists only in the memories of those that played it. If you look hard enough, though, you’ll find the occasional player whose eyes will light up at the mention of the ground-breaking service.


Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Imagine my surprise this morning when I had a message waiting for me on my Wii. It’s not my birthday, so what could it be? Some goodies from Nintendo?

Turns out that it was an update to the Channels menu. The message essentially told me that if I wanted to continue to enjoy using the News and Weather channels that I’d have to update. Not wanting to lose my beloved weather forecast, I complied. Now, not only do my Weather and News channels not look different in any appreciable way, but there’s this snazzy new digital clock taking up what used to be whitespace.


Interview 2

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Some time ago, I posted an interview that I did with myself. Now, nearly 5 years later, I was approached for a second interview, one that not conducted by me, for an academic paper. This was done by the wife of the legendary artist who brought us three unforgettable comics (refreshers here, here,and here).

It should be noted that this interview was conducted on the spur of the moment over IM while I was working at my ‘real job’ and I didn’t really have time to prepare, so some of the info may be a little rough around the edges, but I like it that way. Keeps things ‘real’. It also made me think about games in ways that I hadn’t before, which is always refreshing.

This is also the second academic paper that I’ve posted (the first one is here). I feel so… collegiate.

Ethnosemantic Taxonomy of Video Games

I did not grow up playing video games, but I married a man who did. He and his friends play lots of video games, and it is the primary activity and subject of discussion when they get together. Among his friends, I am the only wife who doesn’t play video games. Almost all I know about them is the names of some of the more famous mainstream ones. My informant is my husband’s friend William Morris, who is in his mid / late 20’s and has played video games for most of his life. He has also worked in the video game industry, attended industry conventions where new products and concepts are introduced, and keeps up on the latest developments; he therefore brings more than the usual level of expertise and credibility to the subject. I interviewed him on 07-7-28 via “instant message,” which conveniently constituted a transcript of the conversation, even as it was ongoing. This paper includes a list of questions and a brief essay. Please also find attached a chart.

The following is a list of questions I asked. Some of them are a little opaque out of context; I was responding to information that Will had given me.

1. How many kinds of video games are there, or what is the first basic division?
2. Okay, so four divisions to video games? (answer = no)
3. Does the RPG category break down into smaller categories? And also, can you define RPG?
4. What does MMORPG stand for?
5. Are there categories of single-player RPG?
6. Is there more than one kind of MMORPG?
7. Adventure games: Are there different categories of that category? And how would you define it?
8. So is adventure game a subset of RPG?
9. And action game is its own sort of category, but with no further division?
10. Okay, so Puzzle games: What are they, and what kinds of puzzle games are there?
11. So, would it be fair to say that “sorting” and “other” are the kinds of puzzle games? (answer = no)
12. With the puzzle games, are there different kinds of sorting, different kinds of matching, different kinds of logic, etc?
13. Are there different kinds of FPS?
14. Do you consider the online ones different from the not-online ones?
15. Strategy Games: What are they, and are there different kinds?
16. Okay, so you’re trying to out-plan the computer or the opponent?
17. Are there different kinds of strategy games? Or is war basically the only context for them?
18. Okay, so there’s “big picture” and “tactical strategy”?
(Will comments that strategy games may also be described as “turn-based” or “time-based”)
19. What are those?
20. So, are time and turn categories of big picture and tactical, or are big picture and tactical categories of turn and time?
21. Rhythm game: Are these like DDR and Guitar Hero? How would you define them?
22. So are there categories of rhythm games?
23. So, they vary by which controller you use, whether a dance pad, a guitar, or bongos, etc.?
24. Okay, now god games, what are those?
25. Is there more than one kind of those, or do you perceive them all as being basically the same thing?
26. Alright, another category you gave is “anything that’s a little silly.” (Will then elaborated on his earlier statement)

Will listed, in all, nine categories of video game. The ninth category “Anything that’s a little silly,” is sort of a catch-all; it may contain various elements of the other categories. I was also notified that since video games are still a relatively young media, they have not been subjected to much clear definition; Will felt that at times the lines between varieties were a little fuzzy.

The first (and most elaborate) category of video game is the RPG, or “Role-Playing Game.” This is any kind of game in which the player assumes the role of a character and moves him / her through a story. The traditional RPG is focused on the person of the character or characters. There is a subset of RPG called the “Adventure Game.” This kind of RPG focuses less on the character and more on the story. There are two kinds of RPG, those with a single player and the MMORPG, “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.” These are games in which many people connect via the internet to a game. This game occurs in one virtual “persistent world,” a world which always exists, whether the player is there or not. The players can interact and have adventures together. A well-known example of this is World of Warcraft, with nine million players worldwide, as of July 24, 2007. MMORPGs may be subdivided based on their location; some occur in a fantasy world, some occur in a medieval sort of world, and some occur in a futuristic world. There are also MMORPG’s that focus on some sort of activity, such as driving game MMORPG’s, and First-Person Shooter MMORPG’s; First-Person Shooter is also a major video game category, and will be discussed below.

Another category of video game is the Action Game. This is a catch-all category for games in which, as Will says, “stuff happens.” However, the “stuff” that happens may not amount to a story. Any game which does not fit neatly into the other eight categories and is reasonably fast-paced could be categorized as an Adventure Game.

Puzzle games, in contrast to other kinds of games, favor reasoning skills rather than reflexes and memory. There are logic-based puzzles, as well as sorting puzzles and matching puzzles. A commonly-known sorting puzzle game is Tetris. In sorting puzzles, the player has a supply of things that he must arrange in specific ways, under a “constraint,” something that makes the task difficult (as in Tetris, wherein the pieces keep falling from above). In matching games, the player must arrange pieces on the board for some kind of effect. The category of “logic game” covers all other puzzle games that are not matching or sorting. Many puzzle games incorporate all three, and so may be called hybrids.

First-Person Shooter, or “FPS,” is a style of game in which everything is viewed through the character’s eyes. One never sees oneself. The basic idea of these games is that the player is “running around shooting things” (usually enemy combatants, like Nazis or terrorists). Some games that are also viewed in this manner use swords and shields, etc; however these are still considered FPS. Some FPS games are played online; these provide to the player the added challenge (hence enjoyment) of playing against actual other people instead of playing against a computer, which is more predictable than a person.

Strategy Games are another category. The player must lead a group to some goal, by outwitting, outplanning, and outmaneuvering his or her opponents. All of these are essentially war games. Some focus on the big picture of the war, and others are tactical. Tactical strategy games are more in-depth and focus on the individual units in the war. Strategy games may be time-based or turn-based. When a game is turn-based, each player acts in turn, in a set order. When a game is time-based, things occur in real time; anyone may act at any time. These are more difficult to manage and faster-paced. The “Big Picture” Strategy Games may be either turn-based or time-based, but all of the Tactical Strategy Games with which Will is familiar are turn-based.

In Rhythm Games, the player must perform actions in time with music. There are often on-screen cues as to which action is required. Dance-Dance Revolution is a popular example of this type of game. The players listen to music while watching arrows on a screen, and place their feet in the correct place on a dance-pad at the correct time. These types of games are always very self-explanatory and easy to explain to those who do not normally play video games. Rhythm Games differ based on how the player interfaces with the game, whether it might be a dance-pad on the floor, a guitar-shaped controller, or a set of “bongo drums.”

The final major category is God Games. In a God Game, the player has the ability to do anything he wishes to a group of “followers.” The followers are usually people. The player’s success is measured by the number of his or her followers. These games are usually open-ended; that is, there is no way to finish the game and “win.” These games are subcategorized based on the size of the area the player controls. It could be a whole world or just a city. In any God Game, the game is a microcosm over which the player has total control.

Will mentioned a catch-all category, “Anything that’s a little silly.” These include, for him, anything that’s eye-catching which he can play as a diversion for a little while; usually it’s something that he finds humorous. There are also budget games, “games so bad they’re fun to play a time or two.”

The chart.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

I’m cross-posting this from my other site today. Mostly because the game is so weird that I feel compelled to tell people about it.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man

It’s hard to see a game with a title like Ninja Baseball Bat Man and not be intrigued. Just the title should send wild images running through your imagination. Can the game live up to what you’ve already concocted? Let’s see!

In the world of Ninja Baseball Bat Man, 5 ‘baseball items’ have been stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it’s up to an elite squad of what appears to be robots wearing ninja garb and wielding baseball bats to get them back. This game is a side-scrolling beat ’em up, so you and up to three of your buddies walk to the right (or in some cases, to the left) brutally beating everything in your way to an unrecognizable mess and searching for the missing baseball items (a bat, a ball, a glove, a pair of cleats, a hat, and a statue of ‘Babe’ Ruth). You have to fight all kinds of baseball-themed enemies: baseballs, gloves, sets of catcher’s gear, and etc. Lots of etc.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man screen shot

This is the kind of game that I could easily see some kind of Saturday morning cartoon show based on. A ridiculous team of heroes in a world with a ridiculous premise? Prominently featuring baseball? Mindless Violence? How could it lose?