Saturday, July 5, 2014

Baby & Game

Whenever me and the bf have some free time, we pretty much use it to game. We do watch the occasional series or in my case write a bit (reading has unfortunately been put on the back burner for now) but for the most part we try to get some game time in. It's funny how we try to maximally utilize the baby sleep time by pretty much cutting out anything remotely irrelevant and cram in more game time. Make tea? No time. Go to the bathroom? Not now! God forbid he falls asleep while we're out. Run home and maybe there is still time for some minutes of gaming! This is not the actions of addicts, but of gaming deprived individuals (that's what I'm sticking with at least).

Which is why I don't play sim-games - aspertypical.com


It's inevitable however that we go bold enough to try and do something gaming related while the little guy is awake. As much as I love playing "spin the shiny thing", "rattle the plastic thing" or "bang the hard thing", every now and then you need a break from those thrilling games and do something mommy wants to do. This is when the hunt for baby entertainment begins. And I've made some nice discoveries.

Growing up owning a Nintendo 64, I was one of the people who never liked it when other people said that Nintendo only made "kids games" like it was a bad thing. They didn't get it all wrong however. The N64 games are perfectly suited for infants and toddlers!

Watching a Let's Play of Banjo & Kazooie, a game I always liked but found way too difficult for myself to ever finish, I noticed how my little son (currently 8 months old) loved to watch it with me. And not just Banjo & Kazooie, but pretty much anything with big, colorful sprites/figures and not too quick movements. The whole mid-90's segment of video gaming is filled with games that fill that criteria - games like Croc, Spyro, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose and Lester the Unlikely. These are examples of games at least my kid thinks are absolutely hilarious to watch, often having him even laugh out loud at the funny sound effects and animations (or whatever it is that amuses him, I don't actually know!).

Giant carrots are hilarious to a baby - giantbomb.com


My bf who is a massive Sonic fan was also happy to notice that our son loves to watch him play Sonic. At least Green Hill Zone and definitely the bonus stage - especially in Sonic & Knuckles (I guess he likes the "booap booap" sound effect the balloons do). He snaps his head towards any direction he hears the Sonic tune from, his entire face turning expectant, hoping to see some Sonic action.

In non-gaming but still baby-related news we've also managed to identify at least two songs he enjoys listening to, not counting all the actually-designed-for-children-but-nauseating-for-adult-tunes he likes;
Psy - Gentleman, which almost always silences him when he's cranky and
James Blunt - You're Beautiful, maybe that is mostly because of how horribly highpitched the bf tries to sing along.

Me and the bf have discussed how we want to introduce video gaming to our son, when the day comes that he actually wants to play some himself. He is already curiously investigating our controllers (admittedly he is curiously investigating pretty much anything at the moment) and it's not too far off before he hopefully wants to give gaming a try. We both feel that starting out on the older consoles could be a good thing, as the games often are straight forward and designed with small children in mind - Sonic again as an example. Really older games, talking about NES here, might be a bit too unforgiving and difficult for a really small child to enjoy (or maybe that's just my impatient ass who thinks that, the kids back in the 80'd didn't complain!), but the SNES/Mega Drive era could be perfect for a small kid to start with (although in all honesty a lot of those games are pretty tricky as well).

This is where anger is born - gameskinny.com


Maybe the most important thing I hope to teach him is a respect for where gaming is coming from and different styles of designs - a time when instant satisfaction and reward wasn't as prevalent as it is today. Just looking at my own gaming experiences I can see how the instant gratification system has affected me. I don't want to be one of those people who needs a game to be super fun the first 10 min or throw it out, and I don't want my son to be like that either. It's always easy to think you'll do things one way of course, but we'll see how easy it is to put into practice once we get there. Most likely it is something that'll come naturally. Either he will show an interest for the old consoles or he won't. I just hope I can fill his head with some classics before he gets to the age where he feels the need to play whatever his friends are playing. I have really fond memories of watching my mom play games and I hope I can share the same thing with my son.

It'll be very interesting to see what kind of games he eventually enjoys playing, as me and the bf are quite different in tastes. He likes the late 80's-early 90's console platforming games the best and I prefer the late 90's-early 00's pc games the best. It'd be funny if he decided to fill out some genres currently unrepresented in our household - racing and sports games. Time will tell.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Are Video Games Going Full Circle?

My father, who's never touched a video game in his life as far as I know, helped me realize something regarding the video game industry and the state it is currently in. The reason for this post was an article I saw in a magazine regarding the massive interest people are having in Early Access, games that in essence are unfinished. Then there is also an interest in indie games big enough that Steam feel obliged to create something like Greenlight. We also have a sentimental wave going through the video gaming community allowing for a page like gog.com (that's good old games) thrive (as I assume they do, they sure seem to). To this is added an equally big interest in Kickstarting projects, aka throwing money at things that don't even exist yet and possibly never will. All this points at an increasing distrust in the big companies being capable of creating games that are going to be fun. Although the furious kickstarting has subsided a bit, it seems every other game I check out on Steam nowadays is Early Access. I'm personally not particularly keen on buying an unfinished game (although I have) but there is no denying that there is a big interest in these games, and in all honesty it looks like the more broken the game is the more people want to play it, how else can you explain why so many people have paid for a game that is still as broken as DayZ? There is something alluring about the concept and I have been trying to figure out what it is.

Back to my dad, who doesn't care for video games but has a huge interest in music instead. He told me a while ago that vinyls were back "in" and he was very happy about that since he had always preferred those anyway. But there was a time when vinyls were uncool and casettes were all the rage (remember those?! My entire childhood was all about casettes). That didn't last long though until cds were all the rage. And now I wonder if anyone still buys cds anymore, although they're still sold in stores for some odd reason. Nowadays you either get music on mp3 or if you're a connoisseur on a vinyl. There are systems even older than the vinyl, but there is something about the vinyl that eventhough it has its flaws (size and storage capacity) it still perfected some areas that true music lovers hold in high regard (sound quality I think). Sure with vinyls you get some raspiness, but I think that adds to the charm. (Then with a vinyl you get a nice big case, the slip and something substantial to hold and look at. You don't get that with an mp3 and you barely get that with a cd).

And they come in funny shapes - theawesomer.com


But what has that got to do with the video game industry? I believe the video game industry has been around just about long enough now to start making its own cycle, just like the music storage industry. An old system has gotten a renewed life because people were bored or otherwise unsatisfied with the modern option.

Eventhough there were systems older than the NES, I think most people would agree that the 8bit era, and particularly the NES 8bit era got a lot of things right. Some people would maybe say that things were truly perfected in the SNES era, when 2d gaming was done absolutely right in terms of inventiveness and boldness. Or was it? At the time people were clearly not satisfied. The 3d revolution had to come and some games benefited from it and some games not so much. Few were the developers however who dared to stray from the 3d path, everyone seemed dazzled by it and many games were forced into it although they definitely should not have (I am looking at you poor Sonic). Fortunately 2d wasn't completely abandoned thanks to the Game Boy consoles and the success and incredible library of the Game Boy Advance show that many people still harbored a great interest in this type of games. The GBA was released in 2001 or just about when people would have started getting over the initial 3d hype. On the PC and stationary console market however, the quest for the best graphics and most frames continued.

Not like 16bit Mario to 64bit Mario - ign.com


Graphics has always mattered to the video game market, I'm not saying this is something new. All the way back in the 80's companies were talking about how many bits their consoles could produce or how fast their consoles were (I am looking at you SEGA). But after a while I got the feeling it started getting more important than good gameplay and when the ps3/xbox360 were released it felt like they talked more about how pretty their games were going to be rather than how fun they were (although that might be because "fun" is difficult to put down in simple numbers). I don't think I was the only one who looked at the new gen (now previous gen) thinking "yes there is better graphics, but not enough for me to be wowed anymore".

Before that the console gens had enough of a step up in graphics for us to be amazed and probably a bit blinded by the difference, allowing otherwise shitty games to make it into stardom (I'm not going to name any names because I am sure to step on some toes) - NES/MS to Snes/Mega Drive to N64/PS/Dreamcast to Gamecube/PS2 were still big leaps graphic wise. In the details there is a big difference between a ps2 and ps3 game I am sure, the amount of hair on the head/pebbles on the ground/leaves on the tree that you are able to show or the frame rate differs of course. But it's just not enough to cover bad game play or yet another sequel anymore.

Can we even see that many colours? - thepalaceofwisdom.co.uk


People started to look elsewhere for what the big AAA titles lacked and indie developers suddenly found a huge following in their type of games (which sort of coincided with better game creating tools and better ways of disitributing for indie developers). Games that because of lack of funding often had to cut back on the expensive things like graphics. Instead they could offer something that was free and in fact desperately difficult to pay your way into - imagination and inventiveness. Gamers were even willing to pay up front for not-yet-created games just so they could get something else, something different or possibly something that reminded them of what they played many years ago. And they were willing to play these games before they were even finished just to get into it as fast as possible.

Eventhough Early Access might have started as a way for the small developers to get feedback on their games (Minecraft might have been one of the earliest and most popular examples of Early Access) I don't think that is the reason for its popularity today. To me Early Access is a way to get to play a game that is still in changing, where I might have one experience one day and get a new one the next. There is something attractive about a game in change and about being the pioneer who gets into the grit to sort out the issues. It turns into team work where I get to have fun and play a game all the while helping someone at the same time. And who didn't dream of getting to work as a game tester as a kid (I know I did)? It allows for a completely different kind of gaming, one that is somewhat similar to what mmorpgs offer with their patches that often change gameplay a lot. It seems like people enjoy the idea that what they have is not all there is but that there will be new things to learn and discover as time moves on. It is definitely one of the things I can see is fun about Early Access.

Something I've also seen on the rise are people who actually enjoy the Early Access games because they are broken. Games like Rust and DayZ seem to be so popular because of their unreliability and unpredictability and the whackiness that comes out of it. I honestly wonder if these games will retain their popularity once they are done - if nothing else people might feel like they've played the game enough at that point and we'll get the weird situation of a game being abandoned when it is finally finished. This is something that must be insanely difficult to try to replicate, as actual broken or otherwise horribly bad games like Ashes Cricket 2013 or Day One: Garry's Incident just seem to get a really bad reputation and then no one gets near them. Although maybe in those specific cases there is a difference between broken and unplayable games vs broken games released by nice game developers and broken games released by douche game developers. 

That looks painful - steamcommunity.com

In any case it seems like the playerbase wants to revert further and further back into gaming history. There doesn't seem to be much of a limit to how scaled down the graphics can be, just look at a game like Nidhogg or Minecraft, as long as the game play delivers. 2d, pixel or otherwise retrostyle graphics and now even broken games, linking back to trying to get your games to work or badly coded games from the AMIGA era and similar, are making a huge come back. Will it stop at this however? Or will the next big thing be everyone playing MUDs? Because that would be pretty cool.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why Can't I Finish My Games?

When I stopped playing WoW, the fact that I couldn't commit several hours a day to raiding and farming anymore was part of the reason. Another part was the endlessness of the game, the fact that I had ended up in a cycle of repeating actions over and over just to see if I could do things slightly different, slightly better. I loved the feeling of trying out new ideas in old surroundings, finding out new things about myself as a player as I went along. After having done that for 8 years, I finally felt like it was time to take on a different style of gaming. I really felt like I wanted to simply be able to start up a game, go from A to Z and reach an end somewhere. something that would allow me to eventually put the game aside and feel like it was over and done with, and then jump onto the next. I knew there were tons of games out there that allowed me to do this, all of which I had neglected for the sake of all that was WoW. I didn't mind a game being long, but I needed to know there was an end somewhere and that my time invested into the game would lead to me eventually being able to quit it so that I could experience another game. Time for me to take on all the RPGs, FPS and Adventure games out there that I had missed.

I do miss tanking though...


I think the gaming universe is out to get me though, as the new big thing seems to be to make huge games without and actual ending and I just recently noticed how they are basically piling up on top of eachother on my computer. I have this idea that to not bog down my poor computer too much (it's a couple of years old now after all, sweet thing), I'll only ever keep a set amount of installed games on it. At the moment that number is around 14, depending on whether you count emulators or not (in this case, not counted). I try to only install a game whenever I've uninstalled one, a sequence of events which often takes weeks, if not months, before I finally go through with as it normally pans out something like this;

"Hmm, haven't played that game in a while, maybe it's time to get rid of it? But I haven't really finished it, and if I uninstall it I lose my save and have to start from the beginning again, I'll never have the energy for that. Or I save the save file and it will be yet another thing that fills up my computer memory while rotting away in forgotteness... Nah, let's just keep the game a bit longer".

And for the record, I do talk a lot to myself. Not out loud though, 'cause that would be weird right?!

And that's just for the games that do have an ending, imagine how much harder it is when the game is endless! In fact it's virtually impossible for me to get rid of the endless games because there is always a reason to play it sometime in the future. I am really bad at getting rid of things outside of my gaming, it's not any easier when it comes to my gaming. Whenever I install one, it will surely end up lying around in my computer for a very long time to come, making it hard for me to move on to new games I want to try and it bugs me.

Just another turn! - store.stempowered.com


For instance, at the moment I have a couple of oldies but goldies installed that I know I will probably never want to get rid off, because eventhough I play them quite rarely, I do want to play them every now and then and they always give me hours of fun - these are Heroes of Might and Magic 3 and Settlers 2. MtG: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 is another one I like to jump into occasionally for a quick game of MtG and eventhough that happens maybe once a month I would miss it if I didn't have the possibility to anylonger. Or would?! Maybe I wouldn't but I am too chicken to take the risk. Hearthstone on the other hand didn't really stick with me, but I keep thinking I need to give it another chance and then it totally will blow my mind and be my next favorite thing because this is what everyone else keep telling me. Therefor I keep it around, but I should probably just let it go and replace it with a game I actually want to play now and not in an hypotethetical future, like Half-Life 2. I can always get back to Hearthstone later after all (although I am always worried something will happen to Valve or gog.com that will make my games libraries vanish).

Faster Than Light and Steam Marines are endless games (damn rogue-likes) that I am actually playing actively at the moment, so they at least are earning their keep on my hard drive. But even if I am enjoying those games, I am a bit stressed out by the fact that they might be hogging my attention for months to come. I mean, that shouldn't be a bad thing at all because they are fun games! But it's just WoW all over again, I am having fun but still think I might be missing out on something. My gaming time is very limited and any time put into one of the endless games isn't putting me any closer to it's end or to me feeling like I am done with it. In the case of those games I just have to wait until I get bored with them and who knows when that is?

Dem graphix - mobygames.com


The problem is that eventhough I never regretted any of the hours I put into WoW or any game I enjoy playing, I then occasionally stumble upon a game where I think "why the heck haven't I played this sooner?!". Thief The Dark Project and Planescape: Torment are good examples. They remind me that there are so many other good games out there I have yet to try (my list is now very, very long) and here I am just playing FTL all over again or sinking another six hours into HoMM3 which I've already played ridiculously much. When I played WoW all that time I could find myself wondering whether I was actually having fun or just thought I did. If I never played another game, then what would I know what true fun would be like?

It's like that first real relationship where after a while you start to wonder whether you are actually in love with the other person or if you just think you are - how will you know if you never experience another relationship? But then you don't want to give up what you have because as far as you know you're having a good time. But how do you know for sure you are? Yeah you see the dilemma...

Just as with life, my gaming has to enter that perfect balance between not feeling stagnant and at the same time not feeling like you're risking losing anything you like. It's not an easy thing to do, in the end I wish I just had more hours in the day so I didn't have to choose but could do ALL the things. Or maybe I should just accept that as long as I am having fun I'm not doing it wrong.