Missing Translation Review

Since I’m super skint and a major tight-ass at the moment,  I’m just playing and reviewing FREE games on steam. Despite the price tag, or lack of one, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few titles. Missing Translation is one of them.

The narrative is light but basically you get pulled into an alien world and have to find parts to fix the portal that transported you there. To do that, you need to explore (in a very linear way) the world and solve puzzles. Apparently you can also try to figure out the native dialect by talking to people in the world and ‘studying’ at the school, but that is optional and frankly, I didn’t bother.

The puzzles are pretty cool, in my opinion. Although there are no hints or any explanation of what to do (or why), I found them fairly intuitive and very rewarding. For a while there I felt like a flipping genius!

You have to solve 25 levels of three different types of logic puzzles. Note: 15/25 in the first set of puzzles set my brain on fire for a while there… There is no punishment for failure and often it is a mix of trial and error and puzzle planning that gets you through within a few minutes. One thing I did find annoying was that I had to ‘re-engage’ with the puzzle every round (e.g. 1/25, 2/25 etc). I guess this was to give you the option to leave the puzzle without having solved all 25, but it mostly just created dead space between rounds and unwanted extra clicks.

The whimsical ditty playing in the background made playing through so many rounds… kinda nice. The simple art style and black and white palette worked with the game and the simple narrative. There was enough detail to pull me in but not take up too much of my time (I have a 2 year old, I don’t have a lot).

Final thoughts – definitely worth a casual play.


FTI Writing for Games Course (Day 2)

In this session, we took the classic writing rule of “show, don’t tell, and reshaped it to apply to interactive game narrative, so it became “interact, don’t show.” The idea is that you should allow/encourage a player to interact with an object or scene to build an understanding of their world or circumstance, instead of spelling everything out with visuals and/or text. An example of a game that does this extremely well (in my opinion) is Gone Home. The player returns to their empty family home with little or no context of who they or their family members are. The whole game is about exploring the house and interacting with objects, such as photos, notes, audio recordings, personal effects etc, to uncover the family history and the game’s underlying narrative.

The question was then raised – how do you deliver exposition to players? Our presenter then explained lots of interesting ways games are explaining the “detail of what is going on” in the form of character diaries, audio recordings, historic documents, news stories (overheard), emails etc. Very cool.

We then went on to talk about meaningful choice in games, using Tell Tale’s the walking dead as a case study. Tell Tale Games base their games on episodic events and strong narrative that require choices rather than exploration or action.  In the Walking Dead, the player has to make many choices throughout the game, some being simple dialogue selection and some being meaningful choices (these have an impact on the player and sometimes AI). An example of a meaningful choice might be to save or to kill another character. This calls on the player to consider their own beliefs or attitudes in the game. We learned that meaningful choices are expensive and introduce risk during game development so a good narrative designers want to give players the illusion of meaningful choice.

Finally we discussed Generative narrative and authored vs systemic narrative. This prompted me to look up an old game called, Dwarf Fortress, which is touted as the most systematic immersive game ever created. Interesting stuff!

Square Heroes Review

I lost a couple of hours this weekend to a quirky, fantastically fun game of Square Heroes. I must admit, what lured me to purchase the game on Steam was a completely egotistical desire to see the new character names and dialogue I had created, but what kept me playing (between social and domestic obligations) was the kick-ass kills and phat loots!

There is something extremely satisfying about beating a monster with a rubber chicken whilst wearing a tiara. Choosing the right weapon and approach for each type of battle (Gnome Hunt, Team Death match etc.) becomes more important and fun as the game progresses. Don’t get too trigger happy with the big hitters though, as you are likely to annihilate yourself (along with your foes) in a feat of superb suicidal splendour.

I’m looking forward to further improving my skillz, playing the single-player tournament, while convincing my friends to get on-board!

Good Gaming – My Gaming Life

For the longest time now I’ve wanted to write about how games have been an important and joyous part of my life. I’ve put it off for so long because, to give it justice, I would need several hours of writing time that I just can’t justify stripping from the Ruthless series sequel I’m currently working on. After attending an amazing event at the University of Western Australia’s writers festival today, I’ve decided I’m just going to put down everything I can and add to it over time (as I slowly remember games I’ll no doubt forget to include below). Today was spent watching Hex and Bajo from Good Game, interview a number of amazing, interesting and super intelligent game designers and writers (from Bio Shock, Freedom Cry and Far Cry). So now I am inspired!

Below I will mention my most memorable games but I’ve played many many more. I have avoided some because of their addictive and all encompassing nature (I know my weakness and I’m not interested in waking up in a pool of my own filth one day). I hope my gaming story makes you remember your own and perhaps- encourages you to write it down and share it 🙂

I first discovered “video games” when I was about seven years old -that was in 1990. Every year, my family used to stay in a big camping and cabin resort in the South West of WA. We would stay there every Easter with a number of other family friends who all had kids around my older sister’s age. I was the youngest by almost three years, which at that age was quite a significant gap. While the other kids went horse riding, played tennis and pool- activities that meant my size (I was tiny compared to your average seven year old) and my intellectual age were a serious handicap, I preferred to spend my time in the games room- playing arcade games I could barely reach.

I remember wrapping my small, clammy fingers around the joystick of Ghouls and Goblins and plugging piece after twenty-cent piece into the machine. One year I was delighted to find that they had two new games at the camp- Golden Axe and Double Dragon. GA quickly became my new favorite and without fail I would chose to play as the only female character- slaying skeletons, using magic spells and kicking tiny gnomes in the tush for potions and chicken drumsticks. Arcade games were mesmerising to me and if I wasn’t playing them, I was watching someone else play them. Consequently, I had my 8th birthday at Timezone- an arcade where my four best friends and I had free reign to play any games we wanted for two full hours.

One magical Christmas, my cousins got a Commodore Amiga 500. Introducing the PC. Family interaction became secondary to playing Gianna sisters until I puked (I really did play for so long one afternoon that I was sick). My parents eventually caved and bought one for our family. That day I was lost to the world of games forever. The only known Amiga shop in Perth, which was not so close to our house, sold copied games on single floppy disks, second-hand adventures in frayed boxes and of course those awe inspiring plastic wrapped packages filled with disks, maps, code books and guides that had yet to be drooled on by pre-pubescent gamers. It was a good day indeed when my father took me to that shop. Even if we only came away with a $2 copy- I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get home and play it.

I played unknown games like Amoeba, Bally and text adventures such as Sorcerer but also the classics like Lemmings, Indiana Jones, Superfrog, Bubble Bobble and F18 Interceptor. My great love was for the epic Sierra RPGs like King’s Quest, Hero’s Quest, Quest for Glory, Space Quest and even Leisure suit Larry.

I had not yet discovered the console. I had only played Altered Beast on a Sega Mega drive at a friend’s house, which I found intriguing but I still preferred to play on my Amiga. I would play PC games from sun up to sun down and although my parents periodically protested, I am forever grateful that they recognized my passion and for the most part, let me be.

When I was twelve years old I made a friend who owned a Nintendo. I made sure that I maintained a friendship around the use of the Nintendo for fear that I would lose access to the Nintendo forever. Snake Rattle and Roll was my favourite. She didn’t have Mario brothers. I also made another friend who was completely uninterested in games but she had an older brother who was quite the opposite. Soon I was head-over-heels in love with him.

Any opportunity to compare notes on a PC game we were both playing (because I had found out what he was playing and saved up to buy it myself) was a heavenly and uplifting moment. As a serious teenage gamer- one that had money to spend on games and time to expend in a dark, smelly room- my crush was an inspiration and a guide into my own teenage gaming life. When he bought a PlayStation and let me play Loaded and then Reloaded with him and two friends on a Saturday night, I started saving my pennies.

I eventually saved up and bought a second-hand Super Nintendo and Yoshi’s Island. I played that constantly until I finished it. I later brought Donkey Kong, which I also obsessed over until I’d finished. By this time, I was about fourteen years old and I’d made plenty of girlfriends who had no interest in games. Eventually when I realised my crush had no interest in me, I suddenly lost interest in games myself. I didn’t play games of any kind for  five long years. 😦

When I was nineteen or twenty, my boyfriend bought me an Xbox for Christmas. That was a pretty awesome gift (I consequently married him nine years later). I was back on board. I started playing Starsky and Hutch, The Matrix, Call of Cthulhu, Splinter cell, Time Splitters, Halo, Halo and more Halo!

From then on I dabbled in games between computer-science university lectures, worldly travel and eventually a full time job. I began as a web developer and consequently met plenty of like-minded gamers (to varying degrees) in my career. Gaming was no longer an obsession but an excellent casual pastime, a great conversation topic and I’d even roped my partner into playing with me, so occasionally it was a fun Saturday night in.

At around twenty-seven, I discovered DOSBox. So many of those old games still tugged on my heart strings so I revived a few such as Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall and Legend of Kyrandia. They weren’t quite like I’d remembered them (how times had changed) but I still thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Back to consoles- I ended up jumping a generation or two and finally purchased a PlayStation 3. Again I fell in love with games. One of the first games I played was God of War. Wow. How I love that game. I was later gifted Heavy Rain for Christmas by my super husband and that is what I played exclusively until I finished it. I dabbled in Little Big Planet (everyone should) and got more deeply involved in Borderlands 2 and then Portal 2 (angel harps playing here).

Right now, as of February 22nd 2014 I am working my way through The Last of Us. All I can say about that is I am no good at being stealthy and I therefore attract clickers like flies to poop. Speaking of poop- The Last of Us is a truly pants-pooping game.

I am ashamed to say that I already have my eye on another game and will likely get my hands on Gone Home much before I finish The Last of Us. In fact, maybe I’ll just download it now…

Good Game Host

Still in love with those nerdy gamer dudes. My hero- Bajo from Good Game