Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Last Post: End of Term

Hello, all,

Your final papers are graded (without comments) and course grades posted. If you would like your paper returned, with or without comments, please let me know as soon as possible. Papers can be picked up in my office in the next few weeks - I will be gone over the summer but will hold on to them through the Fall, so you can also retrieve them at the beginning of next term.

Otherwise, enjoy your summer and go play some games!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

GTA activity book

Wow. This is a pretty funny joke that parodies the anti-gaming hype that GTA is for kids.

Citing Games: Some More Examples

Grand Theft Auto III. Rockstar Games: Rockstar North, 2001. PS2.

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Aspyr: Funcom, 2006. Xbox.

For a game that has not yet been released (if needed):

Bioshock. 2K Games: Irrational Games, 2007 (expected release June 1). Xbox 360.

For an ongoing game:

Asheron’s Call. Microsoft Game Studios: Turbine, Inc., Oct. 1999 - present (ongoing). PC.

And some more traditional citations:

Bailey, Tom. “Character, Plot, Setting and Time, Metaphor, and Voice.” On Writing Short Stories. Ed. Tom Bailey. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. 29-79.

Bartle, Richard. Designing Virtual Worlds. Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders, 2004.

Dibbell, Julian. “A Rape in Cyberspace; or, How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society.” (21 Dec 1993) Feb 26 2007.

“The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Clichés” (June 2004). 29 Nov. 2006.

Howard, Todd. “Bethesda Softworks Announces The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.” (22 Oct 2004). 26 Feb 2007.

“The Legend of Zelda Retrospective: Part 6.” Dec 28 2006. <>

“Plot/Theory Analysis FAQ.” Shadow of the Colossus: FAQS and Guides. (26 Aug 2006). Feb 28 2007.

Citing a Videogame

Final Fantasy 17. Square Enix (developer): Square Enix (publisher), 2012. PC (system played on).

Can we play a game now?

Videogames and films could easily be deemed as two of the biggest revolutions in multimedia. It's been since its earliest days, the videogame industry has been fascinated with films and movies, and with turning big-screen stories into interactive worlds and all this with a range of success. But later down the years Hollywood indulged into creating movies based on the interactive storylines and worlds rendered in videogames - again with mixed success. In recent times, Hollywood has been mining videogames (and their predominantly huge male fan base) for box office gold. What makes this art of transition of films to games, analog to digital and vice versa so inconsistent? What makes success to elusive?

In the last 2 decades or so there has been a magnitude of revolutions in films, in multimedia. This revolution is the shift from analog to digital methods of recording and manipulating vision, perception and sound. However, if you think about this, it is interesting that the development of videogames in many ways followed that of film. The only difference being, it took films about eighty years to do what videogames took 20 to do. Still games are trying to get as close as possible to movies, may it be looking photo-realistic, may it be having deep storyline or may it be to inject emotion through games the same way movies do. Movies on the other hand, are trying to cash in on the gaining popularity of videogames.

Videogame developers are passionate about their games. And gamers, are more passionate about the games they play so devotedly for most part during the day (and, even in their dreams!). When a movie based on such a game which is popular and has a massive following comes onto the big-screen, the gamers expect it to be closest it could in following the game. But the game's biggest assets, its interactive form, challenging AI or the multiplayer aspect, the non-linear format are the most difficult to replace. And when the director of that movie manages to encompass all these hurdles and pack it into a linear medium, there are the non-gamers and conventional movie-goers who think it's too radical or a blasphemy or maybe just that the plot doesn't make sense. I remember this incident, I was watching "Doom" in a theatre and right when the pinky monster pops up, the guy (presumably a gamer) sitting ahead of me remarks, "Oh, I would have so landed a headshot on that!" And a person sitting next to me just looks at the guy perplexed and possibly disgusted. He probably did not realize the cult following that Doom possesses among FPS gamers. Still, the gamers did not react favorably to the movie primarily because the movie strayed away from the original game-plot, there were not enough monsters, etc.

A movie has such a wide base of audience that it's almost impossible to have a successful game-based movie that would be an instant box-office hit. It does not take a film fanatic to know that the critics rarely appreciate seeing a video game on the silver screen. Unsurprisingly, it is equally rare to find a film critic who appreciates a good video game at all! Movies like the first Mortal Kombat, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, both Tomb Raider installments followed the respective game plot loyally and have done pretty well among general audience and gamers. Transformers (movie), on the other hand was praised my general public but grossly criticized by the hardcore fans.

The failure to make this transition is solely due to the lack of interactivity in a movie, and without the luxury of a joystick (or a controller) in gamers' hands, he stands no chance to make the incoherent on-screen antics any better. The joystick places the gamers in control of the narrative, essentially allowing them to rewrite the story. Two of the most nerve-chilling games Silent Hill and Resident Evil have multiple successful sequels. However, they each offer a completely different take on fear where Silent Hill often feels more terrifying of the two. There is a reliance on torchlight, for instance, creating a sense of intense vulnerability whilst a hollow morose soundtrack of gothic industrial screams and clangs shake your spine. It does not mimic the high level of monster-slashing action and shock horror techniques used to build fear in Resident Evil. In 2002, Paul Anderson's interpretation of Resident Evil was released, followed by Christophe Gans' Silent Hill in 2006. Both directors admittedly being huge fans of the respective series, thereby allowing the films to remain largely true to the games, each using the same nightmarish creatures to haunt familiar locations. Both directors even recreated some of the most iconic scenes; such as a train carriage showdown in Resident Evil reminiscent of the second game's ending, and Rose Silva's car crash in Silent Hill taken directly from the opening of the first game. This loyalty means that the films also reflect their respective games' portrayal of fear. Unsurprisingly, the critics in both the US and the UK were mostly negative in their reviews where as both films were a hit with the fans, although when reviewing the profit margins it appears that the action-orientated Resident Evil was more successful overall. Nevertheless, gamers should perhaps be reminded that even in videogames, the joystick only gives the gamer the choice to do his own stunts and stuff, rather than the ability to affect the storyline, which is usually pre-determined by the developer. Nonetheless, support from fans means that the industry will continue to push into the cinema and games will keep evolving and getting closer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Closest Chances for Game Movies

sorry for the late paper. I had severe trouble finding a game for my original topic and had to switch gears at the last second. Since it's not appropriate for the paper, I would also like to just point out that with the new Speed Racer movie, we were 20 dollars and a paint job away from a serious F-zero movie.

My full intention for this paper was to write out a summary for a live-action game movie that would be successful enough to reach critical acclaim and hopefully lift the stigma on game movies. For this, I set three simple criteria.

  1. The game has to be obscure so as to not immediately be recognized as a game movie

  2. The game has to have a rich background and history with at least some maturity to it

  3. The movie has to be a side-story of the game's plot and not an immediate rehashing

However, as I spent a whole week searching, I came to realize that no game has actually met all of these criteria. Even if one did exist, it's likely said game wasn't very good, and would not reflect well on it's movie successor once it was revealed it was a game movie. So, I decided to present four candidates that fill most of the criteria, but fall short in some way and present my argument for them.

Psychonauts- Unfortunately, this one fails to have any known backstories worth exploring that weren't fairly well fleshed out in the game. Do we really want to know Dr. Demento's life as a dentist before the game? Also, this game is not as obscure as it would need to be to keep from being immeditately recognized as a game movie. However, the game has three major things going for it. First, the writer of the game is alive and would want to see his character brought to a mass audience again. Second, the game, while not Oscar winning, is definitely an interesting and wonderful world to epxlore. Third, the game ended on a cliffhanger that'll probably never be resolved due to poor sales of the original game. A movie could be an excellent chance to tie up this loose plot end. If anyone could write a movie script for a game, it's Tim Schaffer. Mind you, it'd come off as a bit like Kevin Smith, but is that a bad thing?

Skies of Arcadia- Here's a game with a really interesting world. Technology is steam-punk, everyone lives on islands floating in the sky, and the whole place is littered with bad ass Air Pirates and an evil empire. This isn't exactly a Shakespearian tragedy, but the game does have a solid plot and a very well fleshed out world. On top of that, if we're talking about selling seats, nothing is hotter in the movie industry right now than pirates and fantasy. Like Psychonauts, the fans got a cliffhanger ending that will likely never be resolved, and we're too assume that the main characters had many adventures after this. So, a side story movie after the game isn't unheard of. The game's obscure enough, the world's rich enough, and we have the grounds for an after story. The problem with this adaptation would be the casting. Even with only 6 main characters in the actual game (and only 3 of them actual members of your crew), the movie might have too many characters. Fans would insist on a nod to some of the members of the previous game, and it might bog down the plot a lot. There's only so many cameos you can do in 2 hours. On top of that, casting Vyse, the main MAIN character, would be extraordinarily difficult. Vyse is portrayed in the game as one of the most charismatic characters ever. For some reason, this was accepted in the game. People like Vyse. However, in a movie, without careful casting, Vyse would be a smug James Bond/Indiana Jones wannabe. Finally, even if it does come out, this isn't going to win any Oscars without Peter Jackson directing it

Breath of Fire IV: Dragon Quarter- This one's very interesting. Despite being from a famous series of games, the game itself is an obscure cult classic due to a weird combat system. The world is rich and interesting. It's set in a post-apocalyptic future wherein the people polluted the world so bad that the people can no longer live above ground. Instead, they live underground where monsters roam free and rangers have to keep everyone living from day to day. One of the characters is created for the sole purpose of filtering the air in the underground mine shafts that everyone lives in, and it turns out that she's defective and that living down here for much longer will kill her. From a serious plot stand-point, this game has everything. In a game that's only about 10 hours long, we touch on issues such as class gaps and elitism, the needs of one versus many, the environment, the harshness of dark side of science, government conspiracy and surveillance, terrorism versus freedom fighting, and sacrifice. The game even has an almost tragic ending. The game fleshes out its story extremely well with unlockable side cutscenes extending the story on multiple playthroughs. The best part is, if you cut out the fluff and dungeon crawling, the game could actually be truncated into an actual 2 hour movie without sacrificing anything of particular value. However, this volates the rule of doing a side story. You could discuss the events prior to the game a bit more, but ultimately, this would be a rehash of the game itself.

Phantom Brave- This one has much the same idea to it as Dragon Quarter. Fairly simple plot that covers some deeper issues at its core. The story of a girl that can see ghosts and her ghostly sidekick covers issues of honor, people's inability to accept things that are different, personal sacrifice for the good of others and society, not judging people by appearances, and even that the most insignificant of people can have a major impact on the world. It's a deceptively deep plot with few enough main characters that you could reasonably cover most of them in 2 hours without sacrificing anything. The plot is a bit longer than dragon quarter, but it is still possible to get the whole thing down due to the simplicity of some of the chapters and the fluff nature of others. It even has a bit of a tragic twist at the end of the game. Once again, we're getting mostly the same plot. Unlike Dragon Quarter though, this one has the potential of telling the story from a different character's point of view. The tragic Anti-hero of the game, Walnut, is interesting enough to warrant a main character role in a movie, and a story about him would be one about the redemption of the flawed hero. All in all, it would make for an interesting and very serious film that doesn't have the typical happy video game ending.

In the end, I'm not entirely sure the industry is ready for good video game movies. No one has made a game that fully fits the criteria needed to break that barrier. How long were movies out before we had a good movie based on a book? How long after that before we stopped constantly focusing on the fact that said movie was a book first? If anything, this research has proved that the industry isn't ready yet. A game hasn't come out that's good for movies, but this research does show that there is a good possibility that we will get there in the future.

The Dark Eye and Involving a Player Through Interactive Fiction

Blogger went down for maintenance or something and didn't save my draft >:(

Many developers wish to recreate an experience from a book or movie or graphic novel while being completely faithful to the source material. Many developers also wish to involve the player in a more involved emotional experience than the typical game. Interactive fiction is one format which has had some success in this area.

For the uninitiated, interactive fiction is similar to the adventure game genre. The games focus on exploration, interaction with other characters, and are heavily narrative based rather than reflex based. However, unlike adventure games, interactive fiction is typical much more linear and resctrictive. While adventure games often allow the player to roam around until they figure out what they need to do next and often revolve around puzzle solving, interactive fiction is generally limited to moving from one character interaction to the next on a heavily design-guided path.

The Dark Eye serves as an excellent example of a game that succeeds at getting the player involved in the story while being a faithful translation of its source material in content, tone, and style. The Dark Eye is a piece of interactive fiction that places the player in the role of an unnamed character who is visiting his uncle Edwin. The game uses this overarching plot as a framing device. During his visit, the main character becomes ill dues to the paint thinner Edwin uses to paint. This paint thinner, along with the main character’s decline in mental health due to his nightmares and events in the main story, causes him to have hallucinogenic nightmares. These nightmares are retellings of Edgar Allen Poe stories and the player plays through them from the point of view of both victim and victimizer.

The Dark Eye faithfully recreates three of Poe’s stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amantillado,” and “Berenice.” By using the interactive fiction format the developer, Inscape, can do a more accurate job of placing the player into the shoes of characters in the stories. By limiting the choices that the player has at any one time it is easier to manipulate the player into going a certain direction, interacting with a certain object or experiencing a certain event. This makes it easier to control the pacing and the exact events and the order they take place in for each player. This in turn makes it easier to manipulate the player’s emotional reactions to the story, just like a movie or a book. The framing story is an original story but maintains a faithful atmosphere by creating a very Poe-esque narrative using many of the common themes in his short fiction.

The Dark Eye limits what the player can do much more than most games. Although the ‘nightmare’ sections can be played in any order, within the scenes themselves the player is often very limited. There are key moments when the control cursor is ‘grayed out’ to all action choices except one so that the player can in fact only turn left or pick up the box or whatever might be happening at that point. Yet the fact that the player is given free choice to choose the order in which the stories occur (even going so far as to allow the player to select to play the victim in a story and then at key parts ‘soul jump’ into the victimizer if they so choose) allows for different experiences among each player while still keeping the same story.

In the end, the deciding factor is whether or not this kind of interactive fiction can be categorized with other video games. The limitation of player choice makes it easier and more effective (compared to most games released so far) to maintain a faithful translation that actually places the player into the role of a character in the story and to create a narrative that more easily drives the player. However, the interactivity and choice afforded to the player are major factors of what makes a video game a video game and are the major draw for the medium. Interactive fiction, if handled properly, can be an effective tool but in the end it really must be categorized as a separate entity from games due to its too restrictive nature.

Sly Cooper Movie

The Sly Cooper franchise would make a seamless transition to the video format. First, the game is already heavily reliant upon cinematic cut scenes to carry the story. Second, the game employs a staff of witty writers and utilizes a darker, modern aesthetic that has been well received by gamers of all ages. Thirdly, the protagonists and their setting are very unique and offer filmmakers the chance to create a highly differentiated movie. Lastly, because of its success in the video game market, a Sly Cooper movie has the ability to transcend market segments and reach a broader audience. If successful, the movie could lead way to further games, a Saturday morning cartoon, and various merchandising endeavors.
Sly Cooper and the League of Ragnarok starts in the same way as all Sly Cooper games: with a recollection of past events and the story of how the characters met in an orphanage. One day, Bentley reads about a crime in Eastern Europe, a crime in which a band of techno-terrorists have stolen blueprints to a doomsday device. This band of techno-terrorists, or the aptly named League of Ragnarok, wish to create a 3 year winter causing the destruction of society and its eventual rebirth into a new world order. Sly and Gang must steal the components of the device before the league can build it, in order to foil their plot and save the world. The plot will reunite old friends as they work together to defeat the League.
Their journey starts when Bentley hacks into the League’s computer and copies the blueprints of the Vetr Cannon, a gigantic weapon with the power to change Earth’s climate. This allows the League to ascertain the whereabouts of Sly’s hideout and they are subsequently attacked by Angrbär, the League’s muscle-bound hitwoman. They narrowly escape and retreat to their mobile hideout, Murray’s modified van. Sly and Gang quickly hatch a plan to infiltrate the Jotunheim ruins and stop the device from being activated. During the infiltration, Sly is captured, Murray manages to escape, and Bentley is thrown into the ocean and presumed dead. With Sly and Gang dispatched, The League of Ragnarok is able to activate their device and envelop the Earth in a 3 year winter.
…9 months later…
The world has been shrouded in winter for about 8 months now. Cold, hungry, and deprived of human contact, Sly Cooper sees sunlight for the first time. He hears a woman’s voice asking him if he is alright. Slowly her face comes into focus: it’s Carmelita Montoya Fox! She with the help of Bentley, and Dmitri Louseau the “Lounge Lizard,” infiltrated the League’s underground gulag and extracted Sly. She explains the dire situation and expresses her desire to set aside their differences and work together for the good of the planet. The League has been holding the world’s food sources ransom and charging extravagant prices to everyday citizens. The world is steeped in a permanent -4 degree winter while the League watches from their mobile, floating techno-paradise of Jotunheim.
First, Sly and Gang must discover the position of Jotunheim. Bentley hacks into the Interpol database and is able to locate Angrbär. The team flies to southern Europe and manages to sneak into her lair. After much fighting, Sly and Carmelita interrogate Angrbär and are able to pry the whereabouts of Jotunheim from her. She informs them that the waterborne station circles the equator in order to maintain the chilled climate. However, it must stop every 3 months at an uncharted island in the south Pacific.
Jotunheim is an impregnable techno-fortress equipped with weapons and traps birthed from the twisted minds of the League. It will take all of Bentley’s cunning, Murray’s strength, and Sly’s stealth to infiltrate this metallic leviathan.
Sly and Gang eventually make it to the core of the station where the leader of the League of Ragnarok awaits, along with the power source for the Vetr Cannon. Sly must defeat the evil warlord and disband his league. After a climactic battle, Sly overcomes the odds and incapacitates the evil villain. Carmelita is able to make the arrest and downloads the names of the remnants of the League from his master computer. Sly is able to steal the power source of the Vetr Cannon, a 14 ct. diamond, and reunites with his friends outside Paris. During the epilogue Sly finally conquers his fears and professes the feeling he’s had for Carmelita throughout the first three games. Emotionally and physically battered from the past year of duress under the League has shaken her faith in traditional law enforcement. She too professes her feelings toward Sly and joins their Gang as his fiancée and partner. The movie closes with the wedding in Sly’s new mansion paid for by the stolen diamond.
In all honesty I had envisioned this game as a Saturday Morning cartoon. Each episode could feature Sly’s Gang obtaining an integral piece of info or equipment for the big heist that would end the season. Sly Cooper’s far-reaching appeal and unique aesthetic make it a ripe IP for the big screen. The use of traditional animation cuts down on awkward acting and allows for a truer interpretation of the original work. A properly translated game could open doors for future titles, sequels, and profitable merchandising. A well received movie could also give Sony the mascot they are looking for.

King Kong

This paper is over the interactive translation of the movie King Kong into the videogame, Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie. Why he felt the need to make the title that long is unknown to me.
The movie was released December 14, 2005 while the game was released about a month earlier on November 17th. The reason I mention this is that we have discussed how movies repeatedly use games as merchandise for movies to make extra money and increase hype, and do not give them the due respect they deserve. Generally, my opinion about games based on movies is that they continually feel unfinished and rushed.
I enjoyed the film and honestly felt it had the potential for a great game. The scenery, locations and story made a great setup for a game. There was an amazing world created in the film that gave the game a lot to work with.
I think overall they did a good job of translating the game over. The game had around forty levels, but they were fairly short so you played through them fairly quickly. The story was changed in ways that would make the game stronger. For example, in the movie only Ann Darrow is captured by the natives and lowered over to Kong. In the game you (Jack Driscoll’s character) are captured and watch this happen. Then Carl (another character from the movie) comes and unties you and you sneak away to go rescue her. They use a lot of common creatures and locations from the movie, but make many new experiences that weren’t in the movie. Also the sequence of events in the game is not the same as the movie, but I do not think this takes anything away from the experience.
If they had spent more time on details in the story it could have been a magnificent game. The game became very repetitive, doing the same actions over and over. It seemed in every level you had to use this torch to burn some brush and find this specific stick to open the door, even though there were other sticks everywhere else that would do the job just fine.
The game was clever in some aspects when you could do things like kill some little creature then throw it on a spear to distract the V-Rexes from attacking you. Another interesting bit about this game is there is no display whatsoever. There are no health, ammo, target or navigation icons on screen, only your view. You can hit a button on the controller and he will tell how much ammo is left. Ammo is very limited so you cannot go crazy with it. Many times you run out and are forced to use the spears lying around, which is pretty neat and probably realistic. Also you have to protect the whole team, none of the main characters can die when you are all in battle.
Also you actually get to play Kong occasionally. This seldom occurrence is really a strong point to the game. His controls work very well, sometimes the camera work is odd while playing him but other than that it is great being the beast.
My overall view of the game is that it is good, but could have been amazing if treated more like a game instead of an addition to a movie. I feel they used it to push movie sales and rushed it. They did a good job with the story, as not following the movie but borrowing locations, characters and creatures. They should have just thought the levels out more to reduce some of the repetitiveness.

History in Games Based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Video games have the ability to allow players interaction or participation with historical events to alter the past and play out what-if scenarios. Loose fidelity to historical facts can be advantageous to the game by expanding the interactive experience, but the game’s presentation and execution of a time period could determine if developers’ interpretations succeed in immersing the player in a fictionalized historical environment. Koei’s interpretations of the Chinese historical novels by Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, are provided mainly in the form of two series: Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dynasty Warriors. As both series cater to a different audience, Koei chooses greater liberties in Dynasty Warriors as opposed to Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dynasty Warriors bring effective as well as questionable experiences in the representation of the Three Kingdoms era, but ultimately the former succeeds in merging history and fiction through player interaction.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a simulation game where diplomacy and battles occur in determined turns. The player governs provinces in an overview map where civilians and military are represented by numbers in a provinces’ statistics. In battle, the player controls several generals who have their own units. A unit may attack another unit in various methods, such as melee or special tactics, but the player remains disembodied from the fray. The player cannot directly control individuals within a unit and must partly rely on the game programming to determine how many soldiers die and whether or not a special tactic works. The close-up combat of the action game, Dynasty Warriors brings the player to the vanguard, and players take a direct role in accomplishing tasks that lead to victory. Dynasty Warriors’ strength comes from throwing the player in the midst of a battlefield. Each soldier, civilian, beast, and siege weapon is represented by a 3-D model, along with a health indicator, so the player can count each head if he or she chooses. By controlling a single general, and having some authority over bodyguards and troops, the individual battles of history become more personal as the player succeeds or fails at tasks. Actually taking the role of a general, rather than ordering a general, gives the player a stronger sense of fighting in the chaos of battle and having first-person impact on the expansion of territory.

The vague or broad description of most generals in Luo Guanzhong’s novels allows Koei to fill in their interpretations in their own creative manner. Romance of the Three Kingdoms presents characters through painterly portraits while Dynasty Warriors use both portraits and full 3-D models. Defining features such as Lu Bu’s strength or Xiahou Dun’s eye patch are faithfully represented in either series. However, the depiction of other characters—Zhang He, for example—considerably contrasts from one game to the other. Zhang He does not appear as the flirtatious, effeminate narcist that he is in Dynasty Warriors in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Because of his vanity and an outfit adorned with butterfly wings in Dynasty Warriors, players may take the character less seriously, and the real Zhang He’s character, one of the five top generals of Kingdom Wei, is undermined. His portrait in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, along with other generals (male and female), are drawn with helmets. As generals should be, they appear ready for combat, not ready for a costume party.

Extravagant clothing of characters in Dynasty Warriors helps player-controlled characters and enemy generals stand out from crowds of soldiers, but combined with rock music, heroic or silly poses, fantastical weapons, and gravity-defying action moves almost makes the battlefield appear like a cartoon circus. The more traditional Chinese music and the earthen color palette in Romance of the Three Kingdoms does not jar the player out of the environment. In this case, less is more, and Dynasty Warriors character appearances exceed exquisiteness to the point of ridiculousness while the facelessness of numbers representing soldiers in Romance of the Three Kingdoms leaves room for the player to inject his or her own imagination.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a quieter game compared to Dynasty Warriors, which is truer to the reflective ancient Chinese culture. Dynasty Warriors aims for a younger audience with colorful superheroes and fast-paced action. Koei’s decision to insert various aesthetics, such as gaudy costumes, becomes a distraction and pulls the player from the game even if for a brief moment. In the end, the overall atmosphere of Romance of the Three Kingdoms remains consistent, more accurately depicting the Three Kingdoms Era while still allowing fiction through player interaction.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Books again

Ender's Game into a game... They actually don't say much about the game. Not to force things into categories, but I don't even know what kind of game it is. By the title "Battle Room," it looks like they're focusing on the children's training games. I wonder if it's going to follow the book or have a new story, or if it's just going to be a fighting/tactical game of sorts with more emphasis on the battles themselves rather than characters and the world.

As long as I'm on the topic of books... Using the DS for reading books.

Two Articles

We may not have a ministry of culture like in France, but it is nice to see some government body take notice of games. Hopefully, this will help generate a better view of games in the eyes of parents.

This is a very interesting article about morality in games. She uses MGS to support her arguement. I personally don't believe that the developers are responsible for adding morality in games. I certainly think that gamers should choose to react emotionally to games in any way they want. It's definitely a thought provoking piece.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Simple? Minimalistic? Inane or Intelligent?

I was myself left with these one-worded questions after I successfully "finished" this game aptly named You Have to Burn the Rope. Before reading any further I would recommend you to play this game, so that my post wont spoil it for you. After I read an article on about this insanely simple flash-based game that has become an instant web hit, I thought I should play this game. You are play as this small fella with seemingly unlimited number of axes in his cache. But to kill the level boss you have to just "burn the rope". As if the game elements, graphics, self-explanatory title were not simple enough, the creator also mentions the method to kill the boss!

As the author Kian Bashiri commented, "It's about games being easy and cliched. Some people have said that it's about games being too hard and that's not something I intended really, but I think it applies too. I don't think it's good when a game has 600+ hours of gameplay." This is almost synonymous to what I mentioned in one of my previous posts titled "It really has to be that "f***ing stupid"?" where BioShock director Ken Livine says, "If you want people to follow your plot, it has to be really f****** stupid! In recent times plot has been highlighted as an area in which games fall short, but do we really want to be caught up dissecting a story for hidden messages and meaning. Or, do we just want to sit back and be entertained?"

The full article on can be found
here and the game here.

Exercise on SL

I do triathlons and just read an article in a magazine about SL having triathlon training. I found a link to an article about the same group of people and thought it was kind of interesting.

Writing for Movie-Based Games

To me, a large part of worlds/movies being translated successfully into games is the writing.

This is an interview with a freelance writer, Dalan Musson, who has written for both film and games. The focus is more on games using movie licenses rather than original game worlds, and it has some interesting points of comparison between the film industry and the game industry. Musson also shares some thoughts on writing for games in general.

Bringing it Full Circle: Games with a Message as Translated Spaces

As has been shown throughout the semester, the 4 topics often intersect. So, I thought for my last post, I'd touch on translated games with political messages. A lot of people seem to be under the fully justified idea that the best way to portray a message is to allow the player to play it. This is met with varied results. These range from...

Games based on the Bible:

Games used to Educate about Historical Events:

Games based on Political Events and Ideals:

Games that pass a message about Corporations and Business Practices:

In reality, none of these games have been particularly successful in reaching their audience. Is this because the simulation idea doesn't work or because people don't want to hear it? Do people not like these messages or are the spaces poorly translated? Are some things not meant to be translated into an interactive media? Is it inappropriate? 

Oh, and for future research and semesters, here's a website full of these kinds of games:

On the issue of sequels

This is what I got when I searched for "Best Video Game Sequels". I had no problem finding a share of BAD video game sequels, but people seem to not want to admit that Video Game sequels are occasionally good or even better than the original. As a matter of fact, a quick search of "best video games of all time" revealed a lot of top lists wherein the top 10 were littered with sequels.

A fan grabbed a huge number of these lists and averaged out the numbers, and of the ABSOLUTE top 5 from these averages, 4 of them are sequels. On top of that, save a few lists, most of these lists themselves are filled with almost nothing but sequels. 

Still, fans complain over and over about sequels. Even Zero Punctuation, a very popular online series of review videos, constantly complains about Nintendo constantly remaking their mascots despite often using them as skins to present new and innovative styles of gameplay to the mass market. They're called stale, uninventive, and greedy. At the same time, we call Twilight Princess a triumph of game development.

So what is it that gives sequels such a stigma in the industry? Is it because there's recycled material? Every  company recycles code and material, even in non-sequels. Is it because they're less polished? If anything, sequels are more polished. Is it because they stagnate gameplay? A lot of sequels actually add to the advancement of game design. Ocarina of Time INVENTED the z-trigger lock on system for 3-d adventure games. Is it because sequels create a business model that causes the industry to not want to risk itself on new IPs creating a continual cycle of the same content over and over from company that can't afford to push the boundaries? Okay. You got me there. 

Independent Movie Games

I actually found this while searching for articles for the blog. It's a bit weird, but it's a site with independently created movie games, and they're weird ones. Some of these are literally movie adaptations that SHOULD NEVER be made. We're talking a Casablanca arcade game. I've seen plenty of fan games (some of them good), but this one's new for me. Is this satire over the quality and accuracy of movie games mixed with fandom or is this an honest attempt to create a diversion gone wrong? There seems to be something interesting to talk about here, but I can't put my finger on it. 

Furthermore, why would you remind people of the existence of Howard the Duck?

Extra Bonus Fun (Because it doesn't deserve it's own post):
Charles Barkley's Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden Saga Part 1 of the Hoopz Saga (It's an RPG)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Halo research

After struggling with my paper topic I'm going to change it to focus on the Halo series, not for sure what aspects just yet. Most of links were found while I was looking for certain parts about the series to focus on.

Potential rebirth for a Halo movie?

The early parts of this article try to connect Halo to the Bible. Interesting at first then the stretches start...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Some end-of-term reminders

First, that because we missed a day due to my illness, the fourth short paper will now be due on the 24th of April, not the 15th. Essentially, we're pushing the entire fourth unit back by a week.

The final 15-20 page paper is still due on May 1st. We will not be having class that day; rather, papers will be due in my office at 12:00 PM. (You do not need to post the long paper to the blog!)

Second, a reminder that I will be leaving class a bit early next week, due to what I'm affectionately calling "circumstances beyond my control." I will be on my email all next week, save for Thursday night (during which I'll be waiting for the anesthetic to wear off and feeling sorry for myself.)

If you have any questions about the rest of the term, please email me as soon as possible. These deadlines are coming up very quickly.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Zelda Trailer

Unfortunately, this was an April Fool's joke. It is doubly unfortunate because more effort was put into this trailer than into some feature films.

I'd be curious to see what a person who was wholly unfamiliar with the source material thought of the trailer. How much of the emotion and excitement I/we feel while watching it comes from the preexisting material?

OMG! Uwe Boll strikes back...

...and in a seemingly ridiculous manner! He hits back at the "Stop Uwe Boll" petition and he does that with some really pathetic grammar and sentences framed in such way that will make you ponder. He goes on to refer himself as the only genius out there in the whole industry. Talk about modesty! had this article which contained his response to the internet petition. Even the author of the article Steve Watts cannot contain his amusement!

The article can be found here. A word of warning though, expect some F-bombs dropped every now and then, with a tinge of his "modesty"!

PS: The comments left by the readers are even more hilarious!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Good and Bad Translations

Talks about movies being made into games. Not super insightful, but somewhat amusing and the best made up movie title ever.

On the flip side, a couple of games that made the translation this site says.

Mario's Time Machine

I played this game at a very young age on the PC. I think I first learned of Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci (whom, unfortunately, made me think of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back then), and a couple others from this game.

This takes a different approach to history. It's more of an educational game than an "experience history" kind of game like Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I wonder at what point not staying true to history will be taken as an insult to history rather than taken as a splash of creativity.

Beowulf comes to mind. And a little off topic, when is it advantageous to use CG characters instead of real actors when you use the real actors' faces on the CG characters?

History and Legend in Games

These are two interpretations of the Three Kingdoms era by the same company, Koei. Basically, Romance of the Three Kingdoms takes a more realistic approach while Dynasty Warriors goes for flair and anime style. It's fun to see how the characters look like in one and the other, and then even throughout each game in each series.

Koei has also made games from other historical evidences, like the Nobunaga games and the Joan of Arc game. They take great liberties in their character portrayal...

Why License Games Tend to Fail

Here's a fun article talking about the glory days of the SNES and why (beyond nostalgia) some of the license games of yesteryear were not only good but excellent. It's mostly intuitive, but still a good read.

Star Wars Galaxies: In Retrospect

Since we've discussed this multiple times, I thought I'd look up a bit more about the controversies surrounding Star Wars Galaxies. Not shockingly, the developers say a few things that intend on keeping the space rather than making a fun game. It is interesting to see the thought process on their designing of the game though.

Drama CD

The Drama CD is an interesting kind of translated space that is only found in Japan. They are essentially Japanese Radio Dramas, many of which are based on video games. I've seen Biohazard, Disgaea, Phantasy Star, Guilty Gear, and many others turned into Drama CDs. It often happens with unexpected series, I mean, Guilty Gear?

From Video Game to Traditional Game

Many video games have been converted to CCGs and this practice seems to have picked up recently. WOW, EVE, Pokemon, City of Heroes, Heroes of Might and Magic IV, .hack, Sim City, and Mortal Kombat all got the CCG treatment.

However, making traditional games from video games is by no means a new practice.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Writer Speaks Out

In this article, Justin Marks, speaks out against gamers thrashing game adaptations. He also offers some solid advice on how to fix the problems, as well as why they mostly seem to fail. He offers a unique, Hollywood perspective to adapting games.

Class is Canceled Today

But the classroom is yours, so please start the discussion of translated spaces. I will be in contact this week through the blog.

It really has to be that "f***ing stupid"?

Its seems very disturbing and demeaning to a gamer's IQ or intelligence when a former playwright and director of BioShock make a statement such as "If you want people to follow your plot, it has to be really f****** stupid"! CVG had pointed out an article in PCZone by BioShock big daddy Ken Levine. He goes on to mention the downsides of having a detailed plot in game. He asks, "In recent times plot has been highlighted as an area in which games fall short, but do we really want to be caught up dissecting a story for hidden messages and meaning. Or, do we just want to sit back and be entertained?" In all fairness to him, BioShock was a smash hit in 2007 and was based on a seemingly inane plot.

The article can be found here.

Captain McGrandpa

Captain McGrandpa is an original game on Gametap that is designed to be a massively mutliplayer text based adventure game. The trick is that it's played through the Gametap forums using a specialized text parser. The game changes and the world evolves based on the players' actions. They essentially used the game designer as a sort of GM to react to the players' actions and write the whole thing, writing the code for the game I'm assuming, on the fly as it progressed.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Infocom, old developer of adventure games such as Zork and Hitchhiker's Guide, used to have something they called "feelies" that would come packaged with their adventure games. Feelies were various objects associated with the game, such as sunglasses and pocket fluff with Hitchhiker's, or paper materials that expanded the setting, like books or letters from the game. The wikipedia article talks about them as if they were just copy protection, but people I've talked to who played these games seem to feel that they were more. The feelies, especially the books that described background story and other paper works, often not only expanded the world but were needed to make it through the game. This seems to provide a good mesh of a game and real world materials to add to the experience of that game.
I have been wanting to see the new King Kong movie and just haven't got around to it, since it is on the list I plan to play it and watch the movie. I found this article that talks a little about the game development and adaptation to game from film. It also says that one of the game's goal is to make the user cry, which interested me since we saw that one presentation on why we don't cry in games.

This is for the people who expressed their dislike for Uwe Boll. I didn't know much about this person so I tried to find out a little bit, apparently there are a large number of people, over 18,000 now, who don't care for him.

Wii Shortage

This is an interesting article that states that Wii's have been undersupplied to the US to protect Nintendo against declining profits.The USD has been regaining some of its strength vs. the EURO and JPY. The JPY has also depreciated against the Euro, further reducing Nintendo's profits. (historical FX data from OANDA)


I was shocked to see that no one has brought up Alternate Reality Gaming. From the standpoint of gaming across multiple media and translating an experience from one domain to another, certainly ARGs are worth mentioning. Anyway, it's something worth mentioning since the text from ARGs often can go from text story to sound files, hacking of websites, and even real life meetings.

For people that need a little catching up...

And ARGs are popular enough nowadays that they even have their own network dedicated to finding them...

So why is it important to talk about ARGs in translated spaces?
1. It takes the mystery novel appeal and translates it to a mass audience in real time
2. It's a unique cultural experience with massive insight into game development and the needs of the casual and hardcore gamer
3. It's the only medium where you can get hilariously ironic free referential swag for participating:

From Text to... Text?

You've probably heard mention of it and the devious "kill you 4 hours later" puzzles. For adventure gamers, it is infamous. It is none other than the text based Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy text-based video game. Amusingly enough, it's one of the most accurate translations of a book's universe and mood to a video game ever without being a direct text read-out of the book. Since everyone's doing something new, I thought I'd post on something old (and who wants to read about ET again).

Anyway, rather than rant about my personal experience for 3 pages, I figured I'd just give the gift of letting you experience it yourselves. The following is the 20th anniversary edition of the game brought free by the BBC network. It can be hard if you haven't played a text-based adventure game (and hard even if you have), but it's a good fun read and play. You'll probably feel just as hopeless as Arthur Dent did in the books.

A good reason for this translating so well is the fact that Douglas Adams, along with Starship Titanic, worked directly on this and saw video games as an amazing opportunity for storytelling. Needless to say, as cruel as it is, a lot of love was put into this game.

Just like it's like taking a book out...

This is an interview with Raymond E. Feist, a writer who gave Dynamix game developers permission to make a game based on his fantasy world. He didn't actually write for Betrayal at Krondor (which is why he says when he played it, he was surprised). Feist liked how the game developers worked in his world that he later wrote a novelization of the game (Krondor: The Betrayal) and sequels.

Betrayal at Krondor was well-received by players and critics, as stated by Wikipedia, although I'm not sure if the game sold as well. People today might say it's too much reading, but I don't mind all the reading if it's decent like this game, Quest for Glory, or Daggerfall.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cyber Socializing.

Drifting away from the game/film dynamics for a bit and back to socializing in MMOs, I came across a very interesting study carried out by a UK based university on the topic of cyber socializing. Though the study used a small and self-selecting sample of gamers and is far from being conclusive, the researchers feel their findings should pave the way for further research, particularly whether gender-swapping in an online setting has a propensity for affecting a player's gender identity in the real world. Additionally, all the respondents came from four popular online gaming websites (Allakhazam, Women Gamers, White Wolf and IGN's Everquest Vault), further reducing the possibility for a widely varied population. The Allakhazam site was used as the main recruitment forum because of its large audience. It also caters for more than five MMORPGs, including the majors Everquest 1 and 2, Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Dark Age of Camelot, and Lineage II.

The study conducted by Zaheer Hussain and Mark D. Griffiths (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK) titled "Gender Swapping and Socializing in Cyberspace: An Exploratory Study" suggests that a majority of MMO gamers cross th gender barrier. A test-group of 119 online gamers ranging from 18 to 69 years of age completed a questionnaire. The results showed that just over one in five gamers (21%) said they preferred socializing online to offline. Significantly more male gamers than female gamers said that they found it easier to converse online than offline. It was also found that 57% of gamers had engaged in gender swapping, and it is suggested in the study that the online female persona has a number of positive social attributes in a male-oriented environment.

The original study in .pdf format can be found here.

Event on Wednesday

The AFI Dallas film festival is going on this week, and there's a talk tomorrow evening that fits in with our current discussion about film and games. The panel takes place at 5:30 PM tomorrow, April 2nd, on the 16th floor Wet Deck at the W Dallas Victory Hotel. Free and open to the public.

BLURRING THE LINES: How Does the Film Industry Impact the Gaming World?...and Vice-versa
Co-hosted by the Dallas chapter of the International Game Developers Association
Today’s video games are complex creations with scripts, art direction and fully-developed characters. How are these games impacted by film and its creative practices and storytelling techniques? And how has a new generation of gamers forced the entertainment industry to reexamine the projects it puts onto the big screen? We’ll examine how the creative and business model for each industry is changing.

Gordon Keith, The Gordon Keith Show Panelists: Randy Pitchford; Marty Stratton; and John O’Keefe

Monday, March 31, 2008

Saw Game

The executive producer, and also the writer of two of the
Saw movies, is writing for a Saw game. Here are a couple quotes that jumped out at me:

"We have no idea how that is going to apply to a computer game format, considering that most games are generally pretty simple in it's plotting."

"Maybe its a good thing that Leigh and I are naive to the video game world and that we're writing it like its a movie!"

Despite claiming to be big gaming fans, the quotes don't really give me that impression. Maybe it depends on what kind of games they've been playing, but "simple" in plotting doesn't describe a lot of games that actually have a story script (whether or not they're good scripts is another matter). Simple isn't necessarily a bad term, but I would think people who like to create stories might want to try doing something
more instead of dismissing game stories as bland or simple.

Writing for a game and writing for a movie are two very different things, and I don't think it's wise to jump into one or the other blindly.


I can't believe this person. He purposely makes bad movies to take advantage of a law that is supposed 
to help my country's future prospects. I hope they finally are able to close the loophole. 
Talking about translating games into movies would be more fun if this man didn't exist.

Take-Two, in an effort to escape EA's takeover bid, has told their investors they are interested in pursuing a Bioshock movie 
and MMO and a Civilization MMO. Many of the comments state that this enderavor may fail because 
Bioshock is about exploration. Although Bioshock is linear, you don't even know who your  character is for most of the game. I only see this film doing well as a prequel, focusing on the founding of Rapture, it's rise, and it's ultimate downfall.

This article states that they are wanting to give the MGS Script to Wimmer, the "mastermind" behind Ultraviolet. I wonder if these people watch movies at all? Would it help if someone who knows video games and movies were to write a script?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Translated Spaces: The Last Topic!

At least, the last topic for this semester. For next week's class, please remember to post twice, comment twice, and bring in any game-related films you'd like to sample in class. Obviously we won't have time to watch a full feature, but I'm willing to dedicate at least half of class to discussion of film clips.

Possible subtopics for this unit include: adaptations and interactive translations; games and other media, including films, TV series, novels, and comic books; games utilizing multiple forms of media; textless gaming; historical or non-fiction game types; expanded universes; licensing and intellectual property; sequels and remakes; translated experiences

The Super Mario Bros. Movie: Underappreciated Masterpiece

I've mentioned this a couple of times, but now I get the dubious pleasure of posting it in some context. This article talks about why the Super Mario Bros. Movie is an underappreciated masterpiece. While I don't necessarily agree with all the points (although, some of them are oddly right), it is a hilarious and semi-informative read. Anyway, enjoy!

DVD Bonus Footage:
Of course, if you can't stand ANYONE liking the Mario Bros. Movie, you can always get an alternate and more swear filled perspective.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bragging Rights

There are many many different reasons people play video games. However, it can be said that on average there are four big reasons a person decides to play a game:

1. To be entertained by the gameplay. To feel a sense of “fun” or enjoyment from playing the game.

2. To achieve a sense of accomplishment/satisfaction upon completion of the game. This can be achieved even is the game does not have a set “end” and sometimes even if the player does not finish the game, as games can have several breaks that can give this feeling.

3. To experience a story or characters. This is another different source of entertainment. The story or characters do not have to be well crafted; they merely have to appeal to that particular player’s sensibilities.

4. Bragging Rights.

This last motivation is my topic of discussion for this paper. There is one major motivation I didn’t mention which would be “to be challenged” but for the sake of simplicity in this paper, “to be challenged” will be lumped together with accomplishment even though it is a different sort of accomplishment. Although, as you will see, “to be challenged” is also closely related to bragging rights, although here I am referring more to challenge for challenge’s sake.

Let’s start with an anecdote. I was recently playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl and looked up an FAQ on beating a special mode called 100-man brawl using every character in the game. This is one of the challenges in the game and doing these challenges gives you a reward like a trophy or new stage or what have you. The game gives you these golden hammer items that can be used to automatically complete a challenge that the player doesn’t want to do or might be too hard. I had used one on this particular challenge because I found it annoying and time consuming. The FAQ had this to say about this particular challenge, “Now the last one is a bit of a challenge, not really that hard if you know what you're doing. But it's still very time consuming and some players use one of their golden hammers on it. Don't, you don't need to use one on that, you don't need to use it on anything.” This made me think. Why would you not use any of the golden hammers on anything? You don’t unlock anything special for not using them. Why would anyone want to go through extra aggravation and spend a bunch of extra time doing all the challenges that they don’t actually enjoy doing when they have an item that is specifically there to be used to avoid this?

This is what I refer to as “bragging rights”. The force that drives players to take a route in a game that gives the same result but uses a much harder path. The thing that drives players to spend hours and hours on a game, only to receive a large number followed by their initials. Bragging rights is the motivation for players to be able to say things like, “I have the highest score in Pac-man,” or “I beat Metal Gear 2 using only the knife,” or “I beat Hoshigami.”

This is a long standing tradition in video games. In the early days of the arcade many games had no ending; they were designed to get increasingly harder with no story to progress through due to technological limitations and in an effort to get the player to use more quarters. As a method of motivating these players to keep playing beyond the simple enjoyment of the game, these games had charts that would show the high scores. The better the player did, the higher the score. It became a sort of competition among arcade goers; the person with the highest score could brag that they were better than anyone else at that game. Nowadays, this tradition is still alive. However, there are very few games whose sole motivation is a score. In fact, many games on the market don’t even have a scoring system at all. Players achieve bragging rights through other methods however, often artificially created by the player. It can be something like playing through a game on hard mode to not losing any lives to beating all the challenges yourself, without using a golden hammer to finish one for you. Many games and companies are offering new ways to relive this old tradition, like adding in more difficult modes of play in the game or like Microsoft creating a “gamerscore” for all Xbox 360 games.

This practice raises two questions. Are other players really impressed by the accomplishments of one person in playing a game? Especially now where the games and the market are so different. Can a player really brag to others about his achievement and receive praise or even not end up looking like a loser/braggart? I think that this is much harder to do now and that most players who challenge themselves in this way are really looking for a different kind of end result with their bragging rights. These players feel a greater sense of achievement at merely having accomplished such a large feat worthy of bragging about. In a way they want to be able to brag to themselves to make themselves feel skilled or proud for their achievements.

The other question is: At what point does the aggravation, time, effort, and difficulty out weigh the right to brag? This is really dependent on what the goal is and who the player is. Many players find it too much of a hassle merely to play through a game on a higher difficulty level. They see no reason for it. Yet, it also depends on the developer and how they handled the challenging task, because there is a major difference between and enjoyably challenging and aggravatingly hard. In the end it’s something that has to be determined by the player. And maybe the players friends if they are competitive enough or at least interested enough to react to the achievement.

Indy Games: Think Big or Think Small?

There's no doubt that the Indy gaming movement is garnering a lot of attention right now. It's often seen that larger corporations are too busy with money and sequels to worry about things like experimental gameplay and art. However, there seems to be two ways to approach Indy games. One is to make a small demo game to get across concepts for gameplay without fully fleshing out an experience, and the other is to make a much larger game that creates a more complete experience. Essentially, there's Indy demos and Indy games.

If a developer chooses to think small, there's actually quite a few advantages to go along with it. The biggest of these is that a small team of people can churn out a large amount of content at a very rapid pace. This can effectively allow one group of people to test the waters on numerous ideas for gameplay and keep a fan base that enjoys these demos satisfied long enough to the next demo. Furthermore, this can allow for a group working on a game like this to develop the game in their spare time rather than treating it as a second job. The advent of the casual games market also gives an advantage to this style of thought. While a larger game made by an Indy developer can sometimes be considered a casual experience, the large number of the real casual gaming experiences in the field are definitely shown in smaller demos. A good example of this is Crayon Physics. While not exactly a multi-hour long masterpiece, the goal of Crayon Physics is certainly casual in nature. At the very least, it can be said that Crayon Physics is closer to a casual game than something like Cave Story. Another interesting point is that you can always build up from a smaller game. Should an idea succeed, like the aforementioned Crayon Physics, you can always make a bigger game out of the gameplay later. The final thing to consider about smaller demos is that the smaller Indy games tend to be more serious or deal with the concept as games as art or experiment with weird narratives. While not true in all cases, games, like Mondo Medicals, at least try to stick out in terms of story, narrative, or the design of the game itself. Sometimes the experience is just short enough to try out a new narrative style without irritating the player if the concept fails. Mondo Medicals and it's sequel, Mondo Agency, provide a surreal and incoherent plot, a game entirely done in gray scale, and counterintuitive solutions to the puzzles. It sounds like a bad idea, but those elements make Mondo Medicals charming. In a longer game, they would not be tolerated.

Should a developer think to go large with the Indy game, there's quite a few advantages as well. A wider selection of gameplay is open to a larger game. Small demos are constrained by the unfortunate fact that you can't always fit deep gameplay into a demo. However, a larger game can be much more deep in concept. Audio Surf or Cave Story are Indy games that just wouldn't work as incredibly small demos. Audio Surf's upload element is too key to it's success to put in a short demo with a couple of songs. Cave Story's RPG gunning elements and difficulty make it difficult to place a good time to put a demo. Too early and you don't show off a lot of core gameplay, too late and the players won't be able to beat it. With the rise of Xbox Live Arcade, a lot of major developers are buying a lot more Indy games. More complete games seem to be more likely to be picked up by these developers. A good number of games have been confirmed for the Wii's Wiiware service. The vast majority of these are rather large games that just seem to take up a bit less memory. Behemoth studios has managed to get by selling Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers. Alien Hominid actually sold well as a multi-console budget title, and Castle Crashers got bought as an Xbox Live exclusive. While not massive 30 hour experiences, both games are pretty long for an Indy game. On top of all this, when a larger Indy game is completed, there seems to be a better reaction to its release. Why play a 15 minute experience made in a day when you can essentially play a whole game? The idea with bigger Indy games is to think larger with the gameplay and design the games with the intent to sell.

So, what should an aspiring game developer do? Do you make smaller games in larger amounts and treat them as tech demos or do you go for broke and make the big fully fleshed out titles from the beginning? Both concepts are valid and have their champions, but personally, I have to give a slight edge to larger Indy games. If you can be bothered to spend the time, there's just a lot more flexibility involved in creating a larger, deeper experience. It's also just more efficient to make games from the beginning with the intent to make a profit. If the concept is solid, there's a chance it can be picked up and bought which will make getting an even bigger game into the industry easier. Finally, among the Indy games that seem to have the biggest press around them, the larger ones definitely take the cake. Smaller games have titles such as Crayon Physics or Mondo Medicals. Larger games have Audiosurf, Cave Story, Knytt Stories, Trilby: The Art of Theft, La Mulana, and the list goes on. That's not to say that smaller games aren't a good idea. For a college student who also needs to study, they're the perfect solution, but if someone considers themselves a full time Indy developer thinking big is the way to go.

The More You Know

Since the genesis of video games, certain developers have taken it upon themselves to include messages within their games. These messages can be obvious or hidden, and tend to be positive and can sometimes be controversial. The definition of games with messages for this discussion will be games that released on a major console that included an obvious, positive message and are NOT categorized as edutainment. The reason for this is that console games require a license and are therefore screened, and console games tend to have more financial backing thereby giving them access to the mainstream market. Messages in video games are akin to product placement; they are subtle yet pervasive and synchronize with the theme of the game. Are video games a good vehicle for the dissemination of positive messages? I will argue that video games actually serve to dilute the message due to the fact that that gameplay and storyline take priority.

Advertising, regardless of the delivery vehicle, is meant to generate or enhance recall. In short, recall is what causes buyers to pick one brand over another when they are unsure, indecisive, new, or looking to switch brands. However, positive messages such as saving the rainforest, recycling, protecting endangered species, and animal cruelty require a much higher investment on the part of the viewer. These messages require constant action and engagement and therefore are less likely to be remembered using traditional, passive methods.

Throughout video game history there have been a handful of games that have attempted to deliver a message or generate awareness around a particular topic. While the titles depicted here are of above average caliber in terms of gameplay, they do a poor job delivering a concrete, lasting methods. The analysis of these older games, before moving on to recent titles, will show that the delivery of these messages is hindered by the medium of games and not by hardware or graphical limitations. Growl (Sega Genesis), a beat’em up developed by the Taito Corporation, has the player, a member of the Protectors of Animals’ World Society (P.A.W.S.), defeating a nefarious poaching and smuggling syndicate known as the Rendow Animal Protection Organization (R.A.P.O.). While saving oppressed animals is a noble task, this message is tainted by the extremely brutal portrayals of 16-bit violence. For example, after you save an elephant, he tramples around the screen for three minutes killing all your enemies which explode into 10 pieces under his foot. Also, the first enemy you kill in this game is a woman. Lastly, the final boss of this obscure title turns out to be an alien worm parasite that hid in a human body to control all the poachers. The violent gameplay paired with the odd ending sends mixed messages, thereby leaving the player remembering the quote, “Get lost you wisp!” in lieu of the “save the animals” message.

Kolibri (Sega 32X) and Ecco Jr. (Sega Genesis) were both developed by Novatrade, the creators of Ecco the Dolphin. Kolibri is a very unique shoot’em up requiring the player to save the Earth using a hummingbird imbued with Earth’s power. Ecco Jr. is a toned down, kid-friendly game featuring facts about dolphins and a light-puzzle solving adventure to save the oceans. These two games feature completely different gameplay but share the same themes: they want to make you aware of the beauty and fragility of nature. Kolibri and all the Ecco titles portray the Earth as a living, sentient being. The majority of Kolibri’s manual displays information about hummingbirds, their lives, their habits, and how to build a hummingbird feeder. These aforementioned games serve as poor vehicles because their gameplay mechanics and storylines are too far detached from their message.

Eco Fighters, or Ultimate Ecology in Japan (CPS-2), is an obscure shoot’em up created by Capcom. This game features renegade ecologists, led by Dr. Mori, that fight against pollution on an Earth-like planet. These ecologists use a ship to fight against an evil corporation, a corporation which has every legal right to be on the planet. Once again, the message is lost on the player due to the gameplay and storyline. Dr. Mori even advocates eco-terrorism in his line, “We must fight pollution, whatever the cost!”

Now I will move on to three recent games that will show that, although technology has improved, developers still cannot deliver a clear message and entertainment simultaneously. Finny the Fish and the Seven Waters (PS2) delivers mixed messages. On one hand, the in-game characters are very much against fishing. Conversely, all the lures Finny can collect are actual, licensed fishing lures from Japanese companies. Also, after Kappa the Turtle forces Finny into servitude, he tells him that he must eat to survive. He even says, “Your prey’s will to live is a strong as yours. They will put up a fight.” He actually makes the player feel bad for eating small fish. This is a title aimed at a younger generation that showcases that it is difficult to achieve a balance between generating awareness and entertaining.

Herdy Gerdy (PS2) is an interesting tale of courage, competition, and saving the world through the eyes of a little boy. This game was developed by Core, the same team responsible for Tomb Raider. In this game the player guides Gerdy through the world as he begins to understand himself and his bond to nature. This is a “world where animals have thoughts, feelings and personalities that you must learn to understand and influence.” (Herdy Gerdy synopsis on back of box) This title features absolutely no combat, and the goal is to herd all the animals unharmed into their respective pens using magical herding tools. This eco-friendly title is presented in a beautiful style of animation that captures the personality of each creature.

The final title in this analysis is the hilarious platformer, Whiplash. This title chronicles the escape of two test-lab animals, Spanx, the stupid weasel and Redmond, the intelligent hare. Redmond has been chained to Spanx’s arm allowing him to be used as a weapon. He is also indestructible due to being repeatedly sprayed by mega-hold hairspray. Naturally, the enemy in the game, FD Mann, and the Genron Corporation are made out to be the pinnacle of all evil. Crystal Dynamics actually received criticism from some groups claiming they made light of animal testing. Crystal Dynamics ensured them that this would help raise awareness for the issue. Whiplash actually does a commendable job of reinforcing the “evils of animal testing” message throughout the game. The player receives bonus points for freeing fellow inmates and destroying Genron property. Nurse Carol Ann, an ally in the game, is a Genron employee who has become sickened by the animal testing. Although this is a fun and witty game, it still is not able to fully deliver its message. It is difficult to broach a serious subject with laugh out loud humor. It would be akin to making a hilarious Susan B. Komen flash game.

Attempting to generate awareness or garner support for a cause is a difficult task to accomplish using a console game as a communication vehicle. If a title were to be an obvious an anti-war plug and lacked entertainment, very few people would be willing to play it. No one has yet to find an ideal balance between their pitch and the entertainment value of their game. Thus the message is often diluted or lost altogether when attempting to use a video game. Console games require a heavy investment of time and money, therefore I believe these messages will continue to be communicated poorly as storyline and gameplay must take priority.

Socializing in The Sims 2

The world of The Sims 2 encompasses a social culture where making friends leads to happiness and success. While players can choose how they want to play, socialization between Sims is encouraged through game mechanics. The Sims 2 focuses on relationships in a neighborhood, offering social Sims more advantages than anti-social Sims. One may be aware of how The Sims 2 measures aspects of being social and how the measuring affects gameplay.

Each Sim has his or her own aspirations and personalities, defined by simple options such as putting points in personality attributes and choosing turn-ons and turn-offs. The Sim’s life aspiration, a Sim’s ultimate goal, can also be chosen by the player. While these goals do not specifically state the need for socializing, being social plays a large part in developing a Sim enough to reach his or her lifetime goal. A goal of having a family is obvious in the social aspect while the social aspect in rising to the top of the medical field may not be as apparent. Sims cannot get a promotion at work without friends, nor can they fulfill aspirations to keep themselves happy without interacting with other Sims. Friendships drive Sims forward in life and closer to their goals.

The Social bar represents one of the needs of a Sim, equally with Hunger, Energy, Comfort, Bladder, Fun, Hygiene, and Environment. The Social bar gauges how much a Sim socializes with other Sims. As the bar decreases, the Sim becomes unhappier, so the player must continuously interact with other Sims to keep the meter at a sufficient level. To raise the Social meter, Sims must talk with another Sim, whether in person, on the phone, or through e-mail. A content Sim performs better at work and is generally more willing to listen to the player’s commands. Playing the game with a content Sim runs more smoothly than playing with a discontent one.

Similarly to the Social bar, a meter is used to gauge the experience of dates or outings. The meter measures the agreeability of the player’s Sim to current company. To be agreeable, the Sim must actively pursue approval of others. Otherwise, the meter decreases, and the Sims are left with a poor experience. A poor experience does not help in making friends.

A Sim must make friends in order to progress to the highest level management in his or her career, which will then in turn earn the Sim more income. Like in the real world, friends supposedly give the player’s Sim more credibility that moves employers to promote the Sim. Although being social and maintaining a number of friends is necessary for job promotions, a Sim no longer needs to maintain friendships once he or she achieves the maximum level of the job. Negative marks can appear, friends can disappear, but the Social meter can still be full. In this manner, The Sims 2 sees general interaction between Sims as a social activity, no matter the circumstance of the activity, and yet gives the player many benefits for having friends to draw the player in the direction of having amiable Sims.

Making friends leads to benefits like job advancement. Friends can also leave presents at a Sim’s doorstep, from flower vases to plasma TVs, but only if they have a good time with the player’s Sim. The game clearly tells the player when a Sim’s interaction is positive or negative through conventional icons. Green plus signs and green arrows are good, and red minus signs and red arrows are not. The clear-cut design of good or bad does not necessarily mean the character is not socializing. While a Sim needs to act approvingly at dates or outings—needing green plus signs and green arrows—the Social bar still increases whether the Sim gossips or argues. The player may find playing an anti-social character less fulfilling than a social character due to the amount of content and rewards created for social Sims.

The Sims 2 measures social interaction, and game mechanics encourage socializing. Socializing is a Sim need, and a large amount of socializing is essential to rising in ranks, achieving goals, and staying happy. The Sims 2 is a game not about living and directing a virtual life, but living and directing an actively social virtual life.