Archive for the ‘ Other Games ’ Category

The Feeling Of Twisting In My Gut

First off: Hey everybody! If you’re still reading, thank you, if you find this later, thank you. I quick reminder that this blog started off as a way for me to keep track of what I needed to do in World of Warcraft in order to start tanking raids. I chronicled my journey into hardcore(ish) raiding, then into raid leading. Those who followed me got to see my descent into burnout, then watch as I attached myself with almost mindless fervor to the as yet unreleased Guild Wars 2. I played other games as well, but mostly mused and speculated on what would be happening when that game released. Then something happened and I basically stopped talking about Guild Wars 2, and then I got a new job as a game artist myself, moved cities, and used the blog as an outlet for posting recent artworks. Since then it’s pretty much faded into obscurity as I let it lie in a pool of dereliction.

NO MORE!
(probably)

I expect to continue posting art when I remember.  Mainly though, the duties of my position have shifted and afforded me more desire to work on my own projects.  I’ll talk about them here as well as what I’m currently playing and my thoughts on game design and production in general.  If you enjoy them, great!  If not, then I’m sorry I wasted your time.  Mostly I just write for me.  If you’d like to follow a bit more spaztic version of my thoughts, feel free to stalk the living bajeezus out of my tumblr.  Now, without further ado….

Everybody loves Steam Sales, right?  I know I do.  I pick out games I really want then wait until I get that happy little e-mail that lets me know something on my wishlist is on sale, then I either snap it up or I don’t.  I tend to have two categories of ‘stuff that I want‘.  There’s ‘stuff that I want that I’m going to buy right this instant‘, and ‘stuff that I want that I can’t really justify paying money for but I’d still really like to have‘.

This sexy sexy hoodie is, sadly, in category two.  The game I just loaded up, however, was super firmly in category one.  And that game is:

steamworkshop_collection_138290904_collection_branding

 

The description on Steam begins thus:  Congratulations. The October labor lottery is complete. Your name was pulled. For immediate placement, report to The Ministry of Admission at Grestin Border Checkpoint. An apartment will be provided for you and your family in East Grestin. Expect a Class-8 dwelling.  The communist state of Arstotzka has just ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin. Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering ther Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists. Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission’s primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.

Upon booting the game, you are presented with a black screen upon which soon marches the logo to the game in lockstep with the oppressive and forcefully patriotic theme music.  Even just the music and strictly regimented motion of the animation gets my hackles up.  I had reservations about this game even before I bought it.  Now, it’s frankly giving me chills and I haven’t even started.  Eventually though, I do begin a new game and, horrifyingly, I find it’s even worse than I could imagine.

Quickly, I want to make note that when I say it’s terrible, and it’s worse, I don’t mean that to be a slight on the game.  This game has got me by the short hairs and I’m reacting to it on a visceral level.  That’s the whole point, and it’s doing a terrifyingly good job of it.  I haven’t had this strong of a reaction to a game since I played Amnesia: The Dark Descent (which I still haven’t finished, but that’s a story for another bright, sunny, bunnies-in-the-grass day)  Instead of pure, unbridled flight-or-flight terror, this game produces in me disgust, fear, worry, stress, tension, and anxiety.  This is not a game one should play to relax, especially if you’re not a fast reader or very good at hidden object or ‘one thing is not like the other’ type games.  That’s the whole premise.

If you hadn’t gathered by now, your whole purpose is to analyze peoples’ documents and persons to determine weather they should be granted entry into the country.  Everything must match.  If it doesn’t you must deny them entry.  Even if it does and you saw something in the paper about a certain person being suspicious, you must deny them entry and detain them.  If you don’t you will be given a warning.  Even if the papers do match, and you deny them entry because they’re part of an underground human trafficking ring but the government hasn’t asked you to do anything about this, you’re given a warning.  Get enough warnings, and they dock your pay.  Herein lies the rub that sent me over the edge with this game.

Your pay.  This game pulls some mechanics from Oregon trail in a terrible, horrible, gut-wrenching way.  You are paid, and with your pay, you must allocate funds for food, heat and, should your family get sick, medicine.  I was barely making enough to cover everything, then my son got sick and I had to turn off the heat.  Then the rest of my family started getting sick and I had to choose between food or medicine.  We were hungry and we were cold.  All the while I’ve gone to work and I’m presented with this endless stream of people who I have to either allow or deny access.  If I make a mistake I will be reprimanded, perhaps even my already too-meager pay will be docked.  On the other side, the more people I get through the gate, the higher my salary and the better I will be able to care for my family.

So I must be thorough, yet I must be quick, and there is no margin for error or people will die and my family will suffer.  It’s not a fun game, and it isn’t pleasant, but I don’t believe it’s meant to be.  In the way I loved Dear Esther and Amnesia, I love Papers, Please.  Video games, even more than other forms of entertainment like books or movies or music, have the ability to transport us.  They allow us to slip into someone else’s shoes, to experience the merest taste of what another would go through.  These games exist to evoke an emotional response and to enlighten us to situations and considerations we might not previously have entertained.  I would encourage everyone to seek out and play games like this.  They’re not meant to award the posturing masses with row upon row of high scores with which they can use to declare to the world their imagined greatness.  These are games made to make one think, to empathize, and perhaps to open ones mind a bit wider.

I think I’ll continue to play Papers, Please, though I don’t read very quickly and am bad at spotting discrepancies.  I fear my family will die because of my incompetence, though I will try my best.  The true terror though, I believe, comes from the possible parallels we could draw between the world this game presents and the one which we currently inhabit.  I’ll leave that to you though.

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Down The Rabbit Hole

I find it hilarious that my last post featured art I created during my second day at my new job.  Now my next post I can finally show what I’ve been up to.  I’ve fallen down the NDA rabbit hole!  Well, it happens I guess.  For what it’s worth, this is the first game I made.  If you’re interested in buying it you can find it here.  Otherwise, enjoy the artwork!

Reelplate mockup with all symbols.

Reelplate mockup with all symbols.

MagicPoolSatyrUnicorn

And some examples of animations on some of the symbols.  Thanks to anyone who’s still got me on your reader 🙂

Oh Where Oh Where Has Our Dear Tiger Gone

So I hear there’s been some audio news over on the ArenaNet blog. Truth be told I haven’t had time to read and watch (blasphemy, I know!)  But it goes without saying that ArenaNet’s audio team are supremely talented artists in their own right and that the soundscape of Guild Wars 2 is rich, varied, interesting, and every bit as beautiful as the visual artwork of the rest of the game.

I’ve been super busy, and not busy playing other games. I have been poking at Minecraft and League of Legends, but mostly because they are quick affairs that don’t encourage me to continue playing for hours on end.

I make no secret of my desire to enter the games industry. I have a Bachelor’s degree in media arts and animation and by chance I landed in advertising. But my heart belongs to 3D work, so this is ultimately not where I want to be. What’s been taking my time so much lately are drastic steps toward my ultimate goal: Work for a great company, preferably in the game development capitol of America, Seattle.

ArenaNet looks like a fantastic company, and their art department is second to none. They are definitely on my list of “places at which I want to work” (I actually have a list, I’m not some kind of starry-eyed idiot. My backup plans have backup plans), but I have no illusions that I can just walk in the door, proclaim myself a fan and an artist, and get the keys to Tyria. If I want to get to my goals I’m going to have to work for it. I’m going to have to work my ass off.

Hence me being busy. Part of my strategy is talking big, performing bigger, getting advice from the super-awesome, and diving head-first into award-winning mod projects. That indie company I was going to do work for collapsed. I took about a day to be mad and moody about it then I turned right back around and shot for the moon — and landed.

It’s still early days, and things with this group might still crumble to nothing (unlikely) or they might decide I’m not actually the droid they were looking for (more likely). But as I’ve said before, everything I do, I do to better myself. If I were to be released from this project this instant I would still come out ahead: more determined, more persistent, single-minded, and most importantly more hungry for that mountaintop.

Success goes to the most talented. Talent isn’t awarded by luck, it’s earned by relentless perseverance in the face of constant failure. I choose to play charr because of their relentless nature and ferocity. They don’t accept defeat. Seize the day? No, I will rip it… from life’s teeth.

Bonus for putting up with all this navel-gazing: An old WoW buddy of mine commissioned a logo for his beer brewing blog, I’m going to be livestreaming the painting of it tomorrow morning. I’ll make sure to put up a shout-out on twitter.

What Is This I Don’t Even

We’re going to get a little lost here, so hang onto your hats.

Since I finally got my new computer up and running (christened Sissyphus for obvious reasons) I’ve had the opportunity to broaden my gaming repertoire considerably.

Over the past couple of weeks I have played:

• RIFT
• Gary’s Mod
• Team Fortress 2
• Dragon’s Age Origins

Those four games I played for the first time.  One of them is an MMO, another is a sandbox toy, one is an FPS, and one a single-player RPG.  What can I say? My tastes, they are eclectic.

The one thing they all had in common, however, are tutorials.  Running through so many different tutorials got me thinking what I would like to see in Guild Wars 2.

RIFT

I’m having trouble remembering this tutorial.  I know there were pop-ups that explained in words and some pictures what I needed to do based on what I happened to be doing at the time (context). But beyond that I found them unremarkable.  That’s not really a bad thing, though, because a tutorial’s sole purpose is to get you playing the game.

I felt different when it came to crafting, however.  Your introduction to crafting comes through some quests and since I don’t bother to read the quest text beyond the first few quests I do, I was lost pretty quickly.  I know, I know, it’s my own fault for not reading the information that is Right There for me.  Blame it on the promise of fully-voiced games and the need to compress my playtime due to Having A Life.

Gary’s Mod

Tutorial? We don’t need no stinking tutorials!

Well actually, I do.  The only Halflife games I had ever played before jumping into Gary’s Mod was Portal and Counterstrike: Condition Zero (my husband used to compete and I always want to try whatever he’s doing).  I knew vaguely that E was use and Q would call up stuff I could spawn, but beyond that not a heck of a lot is explained with a couple of notable exceptions.

Videos: Upon first loading up my own private game I found a couple of videos right there on the login screen that showed me how to spawn stuff, pose ragdolls, and make a car (I later made a car out of a piece of road with a bunker on top, go me).  Those were pro, and awesome.  I like videos.

Pop-Up tips: I think there were pop-up tips, I can’t be completely sure, they were there and gone so quickly.  I would have liked to be able to access the tips at-will as well as having them pop up at opportune moments.

Team Fortress 2

I think this game wins the Tutorial prize.  I found a quick how-to section and then I played a skirmish with some NPCs.  I tend to be very clumsy in an FPS environment and I’d rather not be getting my face blown off constantly while trying to learn how to not trip over myself.

After the skirmish the game decided I need a little help and suggested I play through the “How to not be bad at a Soldier” tutorial.  So I said ‘OK’ and loaded it up.

Video. Ok cool, I like videos, that’s neat.
Shooting Range. Oh! This is nice, it’s got good pacing and there’s pop-up messages that tell me what button does what.  Even better though, after they tell you that buttons 1, 2, and 3 will select your various weapons you’re then tasked with putting that new information to use!  Learning the information and then performing the action goes a /whole/ heckuva long way to make learning actually stick. (No, I’m not a teacher, akshully)
Demo Round(s). After the shooting gallery the game bounced me into a 3-round match against and with NPCs during which I was expected to put my new skills to use.  I also learned a few new tricks thanks to some helpful pop-ups and idiot arrows. (I am much the FPS idiot.  If there is a dead-end I will find it!)

Like I said, TF2 wins the Tutorial prize.  I’m not sure the exact format would work for GW2, but a system that combines visual and audio lessons (as opposed to walls of text, see next entry) with cementing knowledge by doing, will be fantastic.

Dragon’s Age Origins

I’m sorry Dragon’s Age, I know you’re critically acclaimed and everybody seems to love you, but your tutorials suck.

While playing, I was bombarded with walls of text that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the tasks I was completing at the time.  I can access those popups later, but they’re interspersed with articles on lore (the popups for which are very similar to tutorial popups) and everything just ends up lost in the shuffle.

I can only take Dragon’s Age in small amounts before I get tired of reading my games and go find a book to curl up with in either a more comfortable chair or laying on the grass down in the park.  That might be more of a general criticism of the extensive dialogue, but it still doesn’t fix the tutorials.

Portal

This wasn’t on my list above, but I’d like to mention it anyway.  Portal has, by far, my favorite tutorial of any game I’ve ever played.  When I voiced this opinion in the PIG vent I was met with laughter and an outcry of “But 2/3rds of the game is tutorial!”

Yes, yes it is.  The thing is though, I don’t feel like I’m doing a tutorial in preparation to play the game.  With Portal I was simply playing the game and just happened to be learning new things (and acquiring new skills) along the way.  Weather I had only my two hands or a fully-loaded portal gun I found the same amount of enjoyment and fun from solving the puzzles and working my way through the compound.

So I think my favored tutorial would be something that combines video and audio lessons with immediate opportunities to use the skills learned, along with a little repetition to make it stick.

The perfect tutorial, however, would be the one you don’t even realize you’re doing.

Like Poking At A Sore Tooth

So my husband bought Cataclysm and resubscribed.  He succumbed to peer pressure.  By all accounts, when word spread that he was coming back to WoW there were over 100 people included on the mailing list.  Apparently he was so fun to game with that a mailing list was created to announce his return.  You can imagine my surprise.

The thing with us is, we don’t game together.  This is by design.  We’ve tried and we invariably end the evening on opposite ends of the house sulking and angry.  Maybe it’s a product of differing playstyles, or maybe it’s a personality conflict.  I suspect it’s both.  When we were both playing WoW we both played as tanks (in separate guilds), he as a warrior and me as a druid.  Tanks in WoW are expected to posses a certain amount of leadership.  Draw whatever conclusions you wish.

So he now has Cataclysm.

At this point I must admit to a certain amount of jealousy.  Jealousy over his computer (the fact that it works and isn’t over 8 years old) and jealousy that he has something fun and exciting to do while I wait for Guild Wars 2.  There’s a million other reasons and counter-arguments that chase each other around my mind but it all boils down to that little kernel of unhappiness.

So out of compassion (for he’s not a bad man, and I love him dearly), he encouraged me to check out Cataclysm on his account.  He even made room on his already over-full roster so that I could have two characters on the server he frequents.

I made a goblin hunter, and then I made a worgen rogue.  I spent the next few hours playing the worgen.  I worked my way through the beginning story, found myself confused and lost only once when I had trouble finding a cellar door (wth happened to Wowhead?), and then erupted into the world at large (I think).  The phasing technology that was premiered in Wrath of the Lich King was kinda neat there, and it was cool to be able to turn around and see part of Gilneas descending into the sea, but I’ll be damned if I could tell if I was in The World or some crazy half-persistent limbo.  I don’t like being in limbo.

I wanted to play until I reached a major city (every race has one) but eventually I became frustrated and gave up.  I don’t know if it was a result of the download (nice job on being able to play and download, but Guild Wars beat you to it by 5 years) or something that’s intended, but my map won’t fill in.  This sounds like something inconsequential, but it Bugs The Hell Out Of Me.

So I happily walked away from the worgen (who is now sporting a top-hat and looking sillier after every new armor piece) and did something else for the rest of my Saturday.

Sunday evening my husband encouraged me to give it another go and I fired up my goblin hunter.  I didn’t play the goblin for as long (long enough to find myself shipwrecked), but I found the goblins, simply, /fun/.  In a game that has been compared to a drunken frat party, goblins are the tightly spinning dynamo of ludicrous at the heart of everything that makes you want to /facepalm.

But in a good way.

My feelings towards WoW are obviously mixed.  I think it’s over-priced and definitely over-lauded, but I also spent a solid year as a hardcore raider.  During that time I met some wonderful people with whom I still talk on occasion.  I learned what it is to lead, and I learned my own limits.  Such lessons are invaluable and will follow and aid me even into Real Life.  I started a gaming blog and through that, have met even more new and wonderful people.  In truth, if it wasn’t for WoW I would not have eventually switched my focus to Guild Wars.  I would not have joined Ryan on the Relics of Orr.  There are hundreds of “would not have”s, so I’ll cut the list there.

Like any profound learning experience (I’m not unaware of the irony and geekiness of calling any experience obtained in virtual space a ‘profound learning experience’, but nevertheless it was), the lessons are invaluable, and should be treasured, but I begrudge the pain of having to learn them.  There’s a pull there for me that I don’t want to succumb to.  Raiding hard-core and on a schedule (as any hard-core raiding must be done) put stress on my personal life.  My husband and I both have been on either end as well.

Gaming for us must be casual, it must be spontaneous.  I was worried that giving Cataclysm a try would draw me back and lash me down.  Thankfully, that has not been the case.

After playing 12 levels of worgen, and 6 levels of goblin I’ve come to realize (in my heart of hearts, for I already knew this in my head) that it wasn’t the gameplay that kept me tied to WoW, it was the people.  In the vacuum that I was, playing a new race, in a new area, in a game that has become so different from the one I used to play, I found my interest wavering.  While the game is different enough to be interesting for a time, it’s still terribly the same.  Almost all quests are fetch and carry, kill x of these, go here, do that.

There are some notable exceptions.  As a worgen I had to defend a wounded man from incoming unsavories, as a goblin I got to run down looters with my car and provide entertainment for a company party.  But those glimmering moments weren’t enough to keep me interested through the pages of quest text.  I wanted to know the story, but I do my reading on the couch or in bed, not sitting upright in my husband’s uncomfortable computer chair.

My tolerance for quest text is all but exhausted.  My patience for being led by the hand from point A to point B has come to an end.  I find more enjoyment from the simple act of planning a public rail system in Minecraft than I do from slogging through the Same Old Quests in WoW.  And they really are the same.  By reading the quest text (I do every now and again) I see they have more relevance, but the actions are the same.

There’s nothing there to keep me.  My husband’s online friends are not mine.  My old account has been through no less than three hacks since I deactivated it.  My druid is a night elf now through no action on my part, and it’s altogether too much trouble to try to sort out and pick up the pieces.  That might all sound like specious excuses until I load up my worgen or goblin, play for a little bit, and remember that yeah, it’s not really worth it.

Strangely Familiar

Is she a push-button woman, or a machine in search of a soul?

Behold my Robo-Bug.

She is X-53, daughter of X-52, who is in turn, The Son Of X-51.

My husband spent all weekend attempting to download the RIFT beta without success.  Our connection is slow and intermittent.  The download client doesn’t save progress as you go.  I’m sure you can do the math.

So instead he downloaded Champions Online.  The next morning he woke me up and told me about the game.

Him: I told myself I wouldn’t make a hero in spandex.
Me: Oh?
Him: I made a character in spandex.
I laughed
Him: And then I saw a monkey throwing fireballs. (Said with a certain fiendish glee in his eye. He’s got a thing for monkeys (and squirrels) and he was obviously excited, even talking about buying a subscription.)

So, of course, I had to go see what all the hubbub was about.  He instructed me to try out the character creator while he was gone (I had kicked him out of the house to go find some dinner for us).  Instead I made my own account so that I could actually play the game.

He walked to the store and I was only halfway through character creation when he got back!

I didn’t have anything particularly in mind when I started.  I went with the Blademaster archetype (I wanted something psychic, but I didn’t like the idea of being support… AGAIN).  After that it was just me futzing around with generic hero spandex…. until I found the parts.

I think it was the wings that threw me over the top.  I found the angel ones first and thought “Hey those are cool, but way larger than I want to deal with right now”. Then I found the dragonflies.  I love dragonflies.  I had picked the android head with other appropriately robot-ish features (don’t judge me for my pigtails, yo!) but once I found the dragonfly wings I knew I had to construct some kind of bio-mechanical insect.

Robo-Bug, my husband called her, and quirked an eyebrow at the size I chose to make her knockers.  I told him to shut up and that it was completely appropriate in this kind of environment.

So Robo-Bug was born and she was thrown immediately onto a battlefield.  I ran through some kill-10-X quests, learned how to block (It’s a skill button you hold down…) and then just before being released into the wild found myself in a group activity during which I didn’t actually have to group directly with other players….

Hmmmm, this feels veeeeeery familiar.

When I wasn’t busy being distracted (in a good way) by the bright and happy UI and very comic-book evoking chat bubbles that popped up, I was gripped by a very real sense of jamais vu.  I knew this game.  The NPCs were running in terror, I could hear their screams.  I lifted some rubble off of a failed super-villain after finding my way to his mangled body by following the sound of his voice. (no lie!)  I had to watch that enemy I was fighting for him to power up an attack, at which point I held down my block button… I could block /and/ move.  Later I acquired a skill that would catapult me across the intervening space (even while flying!) to land a blow with my sword and close to melee distance.

Oh yes, I’ve most definitely heard about this before.

It wasn’t all sun and daisies though.  The tutorial area presents a lot of information in a short time and I still haven’t found my character screen (do I even have one?).  One look at crafting made me want to paint the sidewalk with my colorful splatted self, and there were Boring Quests everywhere.

Champions Online feels like a clumsily-executed superhero version of Guild Wars 2.  I’m not sure how long I’ll keep playing, but tonight I’m definitely going to make another character and pretend it’s a charr.

 

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can join the Iron Legion!

For now I’m having fun, and for the price (nothing unless I insist on more robo-parts, which might happen), it makes a fantastic stop-gap for someone who would really rather be playing Guild Wars 2 instead of Guild Wars: Awesome.