Friday, June 19, 2009

Embarking on a DS Journey

So I traded in a stack of my old games in order to procure a DSi and it has been a real treat. I grabbed a few games with it including: New Super Mario Bros, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Final Fantasy IV,
Fire Emblem, and Dokapon Journey. Of these I have easily spent the most time with Dokapon Journey, so let me break it down for you.

Dokapon Journey, from Atlus, is essentially Mario Party, but instead of mini games you find yourself in CRPG style battles with monsters when you land on open spaces as you move across the board (cleverly disguised as an overworld map) reminiscent of a random battle, or in towns where a boss style monster will be standing guard.

The objective of the scenario is to be the player with the most gold after a number of weeks determined before the games starts. Each week consists of seven turns and the number of weeks are chosen during the game set-up, between 1 and 199 allowing a game session of anywhere from 15 minutes to 80 hours. Games can, of course, be saved midplay.

Scrooge McDuck: Regular player, and winner, of Dokapon Journey.

So now that you’re up to pace I’ll explain what makes Dokapon so good. You can also enter battle, cast spells on, and use skills against other players. In a nutshell, PvP. Should you defeat a player you will be able collect any bounties that may be on their head as well as select a looting option to steal a single item from their inventory, a spell, or all their gold. There is another option if you don’t feel a need to take their loot which is to, delectably, prank them by changing their name. I’m not sure about the world at large but this option significantly changes the games ESRB rating when I play it.
It's pretty much just like this.

There are also several game modes to play. Greed Mode determines the winner as the person with the most gold at games end. Death Match is the player with the most PvP kills, and of course a single player story mode. There’s another multiplayer mode that escapes me at the moment. I myself play Greed almost exclusively. Multiplayer can be played one of 3 ways. Over the internets by connecting to another player who owns the game, via local wi-fi with other DS owners in close proximity though only one of you need own the cartridge and finally, hotseat, where you and up to 3 other players simply pass a single DS around when your turn comes up.

For those who don’t own a DS you can pick up Dokapon Kingdom on either the Wii or PS2 that is more or less the same thing with some minor graphical and class selection differences. It's my understanding that they give away PS2's for free, launched from shirt canons at car races and sporting events or as a bonus when you buy a slushie at convenience stores so you don't really have an excuse not to try Dokapon at least once.

For the 20 bucks I paid you're looking at a pretty great dollar to fun ratio.

Until next time, may you stab your friends in the back.


Space Inventory

Whenever I struggle to complete a game, I always check out what the guys over at Game Helpin' Squad have to say about it. From the time I couldn't max my malignancy modifiers in Cyst Warrior to the time I couldn't get past 3.1415926535897932384 in Pi Reciter, they've been there for me. Now they've come out with a solid guide for World Quester 2.

They do things a little differently... I've always been more reliant on Fire Icers and Mathematitions, for example. But it's worth checking out.

- Rook

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wasting the same amount of time, but less efficiently

When it comes to things that are shit, not having the internet is one of them. Not having the internet for 2 weeks in 2009 is the equivalent of sleeping from 1942-1964, accounting for inflation and all that.

In case you also have not had the internet for 2 weeks I would like to share some things I missed:

-Han Solo, PI memed all over the place.

-Penny-Arcade did a thing. My vote goes to Lookouts. I would confidently bet my life savings that Rook has already started a letter writing campaign to ensure Automata is selected.

-Little Wheel was released with a sort of polite golf clap from the indie community.

-Magic: the Gathering was ruined.

-E3 blew its load on every gaming site and nobody cared.

To juxtapose, here are the things that I did instead of the internet:

-Played InFamous

-Played Sacred 2

-Played Red Faction: Guerilla

-Finally got 100% wins in 100 games of free cell.

-Drew a funny picture.

My funny picture

Of all the things listed I would most like to talk about InFamous. Well, I would most like to talk about my awesome FreeCell record but let’s go with InFamous. I will begin by describing it as a bastard child birthed from an orgy involving GTA, Crackdown, and Star Wars: the Force Unleashed. You play a dude with super powers of an electrical nature, able to shoot lightning, make lightning grenades, heal people with lightning, lightning surf, and make shields out of lightning. When you are not doing these things you crackle…sort of like lightning.

More like In-lightning-Famous mirite?

Aside from lightning, one of the neat things is that the city has a feeling of feeling of being alive and not just become people the citizens and bad guys driving and walking around. The game opens with a bomb going off (A lightning bomb) and it turns out you are the bike courier that has unwittingly delivered this bomb. Anyway, when it goes off you get powers and half the people in the city die. It’s apocalyptic destruction on albeit on an island scale and as you play through the game your choice of actions, including how carefree you are with your powers, not only do you change, with your appearance leaning towards a light or dark side reminiscent of the Knights of the Old Republic, but the city itself either gets worse or becomes rejuvenated.

I tried to get a screenshot of lightning but IT'S SO FAST!

So you run around the city leaping from rooftop to rooftop shooting people with your powers and it is good. The short of it is that it has a good story with some big twists, plenty to do, strong controls even with the number of powers available, and stellar visuals. Standing crouched atop a building looking out over your city you can’t help but feel like you’re having a Batman moment. Also, the cut scene are done up like a comic book which adds to the whole superhero thing. So if you have the chance to play the PS3 exclusive I say go for it, and play it evil. I normally play karma games light side but in this case the powers are more enjoyable and the gameplay smoother if you’re not worrying about hitting the civilians your targets are holding hostage. Plus, dark side get's force lightning

Until next time, if you kill someone by accident consider doing it again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Free Thing of the Week: FreeRice

As theories go, Chaos Theory is pretty much the best. It states that while the behavior of certain system may appear to be random, in fact it may be simply a highly sensitive response to initial conditions. It's determinism WITH AN ATTITUDE. Jeff Goldblum used it to fight dinosaurs, making it the mathematical equivalent of a bazooka.

"Dynamic systems aren't the only thing that's 'highly sensitive' around here, LADIES."

This explains how a butterfly might beat its wings somewhere in the world, and cause a hurricane. Inevitably it is always butterflies, and it is always hurricanes.
You'd think a theory that ostensibly describes 'randomness' would try mixing it up once in a while. It is never a frog croaking somewhere in the world, causing some guy to watch an entire Sanford and Son marathon. I mean, yes, there was that one time I went back in time on a dinosaur safari and accidentally stepped on that butterfly, and when I came back to the present my roommate was a total jerk, but that's a small price to pay. I mean, Dinosaur Safaris, right?

Now maybe it's just me, but I am SICK and TIRED of all these butterflies bogarting our perfectly fine chaos. We need options! Luckily there is FreeRice, which does not dissapoint.

Do you know what 'doleful' means? 'Gimcrack?' 'Passerine?' Congratuations. Someone halfway around the world gets some rice, which I think is a much nicer gift than a hurricane. Operating under the same principle as The Hunger Site, which leverages a free cup of food through a daily click of a button and a few flashy ads, there is the distinct sensation of cornucopia. We are so accustomed to the internet being much ado about nothing that to suggest a direct change in the world, even a subtle one, requires a shifting of stance.

Of course, english vocabulary is only the default setting. Brush up on your famous paintings or chemical symbols. Practice your Italian or French, go over world capitals or multiplication tables.

I've spoken about this before, and remarked upon how simple it is to transform a neutral gaming experience into a vehicle for charity. Often there is the question of impact but these questions need not be rhetorical ones. In this case, the question "Does it make a difference?" has a simple and tangible answer: It makes 65 billion rice of difference.

Ultimately it frames gaming as a matter of choice. Yes, I could help Mario get past Bowser, though likely my princess will be in another castle. Or I could help some dude get his rice on.

- Rook

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pod People!

Recently I was invited to present at the University of Bedfordshire's Under the Mask 2009, a conference on the relationship between player and character. Circumstances conspired such that I was unable to go in person, but, age of wonders that we live in, I was able to be broken down into pure digital information and transported through the tubes that comprise The Internet at THE SPEED OF LIGHT. * Thus I was able to be virtually present at an actual presentation on virtuality.

With the help of Bryan Piitz from Georgian Bay Video, I produced this video essay, entitled "Pod People and Swappable Selves: On the Buying an Selling of Avatar." It engages such questions as 'how do players achieve authentic experiences in massively-multiplayer spaces?', 'Can virtual bodies be understood as "genuine?"', and, 'My haircut: is it nice?'

Pod People and Swappable Selves: On the Buying and Selling of Avatar from VideoYEAH on Vimeo.

If you'd just rather have the questions spoiled, the answers are "It's complicated", "Sometimes", and "Sure?"

The paper essay can be read here as a .doc file, along with the other papers presented to the conference. There's some fascinating work on show, and it's my pleasure to have been able to contribute to it.

- Rook

* N.B.: I actually have no idea how the internet works.

Friday, June 5, 2009

+1 Against Recessions

I mentioned yesterday how some coverage of E3 functioned as set-up - not as assessments in their own right, but as a lead-in to gloomy insights about the state of the industry.

Well, if that was the set-up, then this is the punchline.

Harold Goldberg at The Big Money is not buying it, and deigns to say what everyone else is thinking: That when it comes to questions of monay monay, E3 doth protest too much.

"By not mentioning the deep worldwide recession during these days in Los Angeles, it looks as through game makers are firmly ensconced in a video game fantasy of their own design, one that is carefully choreographed to show them all as great heroes and masters of the universe. In this world, they have drawn their swords and vanquished their foes, so much so that the economy needs never to be mentioned."

Oh, burn. ECONOMY burn. You got punk'd by a guy who uses the word 'ensconced,' which I think is when you're entranced by a scone.

As in: "Dude, I am totally ensconsed by that pastry."

Here's hoping we'll see a trend of these type of pieces, which blend economic critique with hackneyed video game metaphors.

"Well, up until now the video game industry has had a star and thus invincible, but recently it's taken a hit from a Recession Goomba and their profits have shrunk... just like MARIO! Now they will either need to get a super mushroom of infused capital, assemble the Triforce of Economic Solubility, or take that warp pipe which leads to the Water World. Of.. of money."

And everyone will be like: Okay, come on. That doesn't make any sense.

Mario doesn't have the Triforce.

- Rook

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I love E3, but it is a complicated and melancholic love. I do not love, for instance, the flashing lights, the scrum of the crowd, the omnipresent rumble of electronic whatchamajiggers - all of these suggest sheer novelty, as if queued within a grand casino. In fact, I'm sure I would absolutely loathe being at E3, which either means I am lucky that I never have, or prudent that I never will. No, what E3 and I have is a long-distance relationship: It does its thing, and I love it from afar.

You see, I love it when people lie. In the epicentre of that digimal carnival, that cross between Xanadu and Faxanadu, I'm sure it all makes sense. Spin, in these places, is de rigueur - not simply a helpful tool, but a way of life. If you haven't believed six impossible things before breakfast, you're under quota.

But take a few steps back, and everything changes: the glitz seems chintzy, the electronic bleeps and bloops sound suspiciously tin-horn, and everyone seems rather crushed by the electronic goodies that surround them. And it's from this vantage that it becomes delightful.

Take this bit from Slate, presented ostensibly to comment on the economic downturn. I submit that this doesn't succeed as news - its function, rather, is parody.

What a garden of delights! We are presented with:

- A booth babe's grammatically unsound, but somehow appealing invitation: "We will waiting for you!"

- THQ's Brian Farrell calling himself a 'pundit,' and sounding like that one kid in sixth grade who doesn't know what a swear word means.

- Bob Ladrach of Digital Extreme Technologies, explains that he is not working on 'virtual reality' but rather 'augmented reality', the difference being that the former is actually a thing and not words he just made up. In Ladrach's words: "It's a new technology that's just coming out. Matter of fact, it's so new that it doesn't even exist yet!"

This isn't a unicorn, it's an 'augmented horse!' They're so new they don't even exist yet!

- Yoon Im of Perfect World extolling the virtues of free-to-play games, first by bragging how one can play without paying a dime, then by extolling the wonderful things that you can pay for.

- A glimpse of Ladrach's imaginary technology, which looks suspiciously like the VR rig that's been gathering dust at Disney's Epcot Center for 20 years. We have seen the future, and it is the present, only worse.

- Jesse Petrilla, the wunderkind behind "Quest for Al-Qa'eda" revealing hisspiritual sequel: Durka 3D: The Fall of Ahmadinejad. You play a "highly trained special forces soldier that's fed up with the current situation in Iran. So you take it upon yourself to singlehandedly dismantle the regime of terror."

- Petrilla continues: "I think a lot of video games have missed the boat, where they're shooting aliens when they could be really addressing curent issues and making sort of a subtle commentary on society as well." Petrilla apparently thinks we should all be killing more pretend Muslims. Thank you for the subtle commentary on society, Mr. Petrilla!

So now I can satirically
shoot people? Why isn't all satire like this?
Jonathan Swift can fricking eat it!

- Finally, in a real show stopper, we have everyone agreeing that the video game industry is invincible and recession-proof juggernaut that will continue to make dollar dollar bills for eternity. This of course is not shot as a valid assessment of economical stability but as elaborate set-up, like investing in a 401K of schadenfreude. What was that thing that goeth before a fall, again?

All this could be a joke. Watching, I laughed (out loud!) like it was something from "This is Spinal Tap." It is done with such sincerity, with everyone clamoring to go forward, not backward, upward, not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom. It makes such sense, you are tempted to forget that it is all malarkey.

If I were to datamine two insights out of this dog's breakfast, they would be these:

1. If you don't know who the joke is on, the joke is on you.

2. The term "spin" denotes not only orientation but sensation. Spinning can be fun: think of tilt-a-whirls and merry-go-rounds. But spin too much and you will want to puke.

Thus: E3, I love you both as a man loves a woman and the way a man loves a fine cuban cigar. Just as long as you stay where you belong... thousands and thousands of miles away from me.

- Rook

Monday, June 1, 2009

Free Thing of the Week: Well Played

Games studies can be a tricky fish to fry. Here is this gorgeous new medium with limitless potential to be poked, prodded and punctiliously ployed, but always, we must realize that what we are studying here is play. You may think it's 'srs business,' but to most other folks, it may well be 'just a game.'

Fun, here, may have some relation to Mark Twain's thinking on humour: "Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog: you understand it better, but the frog dies in the process."

Critics of the time were known to respond: "Yeah, well, your FACE is that!"

Observant readers will note that my analogy has shifted species. How do we get from fish to frog? Well, when a mommy fish and a daddy frog love each other very, very much...

Since games at the best of times need a light touch, it it my double delight when I find critical thought that keeps some life kindled in its subject - Inevitably, these tend to be not strictly endeavors of the mind, but labours of love. Play remains the subject, but it is not captive... it is allowed to roam, free-range.

Thus we have the FREE THING OF THE WEEK, which is not just free as in libre, but free as in gratis. Enter "Well Played 1.0, Video Game, Value and Meaning", a text which backflaps itself thusly:

"What makes a game good? or bad? or better?

Video games can be “well played” in two senses. On the one hand, well played is to games as well read is to books. On the other hand, well played as in well done.

This book is full of in-depth close readings of video games that parse out the various meanings to be found in the experience of playing a game. 22 contributors (developers, scholars, reviewers and bloggers) look at video games through both senses of “well played.”

The goal is to help develop and define a literacy of games as well as a sense of their value as an experience. Video games are a complex medium that merits careful interpretation and insightful analysis."

The plaintext is free on the internet. Free as in, why aren't you reading it right now? We have analyses of old standbys such as Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, considerations of cult favorites like Ico, Silent Hill 2 and Parappa the Rappa. You'll find work ranging the gamut from blockbuster games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Half-Life 2 and indy gems such as Portal and World of Goo.

Oh, and Zork. So that's me in the bag.

Reading these essays, you may find much to disagree with - but everything is put forward so cheerfully, one can hardly protest. These people have found pleasure in these games, and as such they are a pleasure to read. Who was it that spoke of the importance of being earnest?

Oh right. It was this guy.

- Rook