Mucking About in Unreal4

It seems I have re-found this blog of mine…. I thought I was lost again….

Having worked on a couple of things and then spending time catching up on games and books that I had left behind, I have decided to re-open this blog with my most recent practice with Unreal.

Its kind of bland work, moving things around in the editor making sure the lighting is good and then creating a small cinematic to show it all off.

Now that I am here, this place will probably become a bonfire where I share my tales in Ludos….

or at least I hope it will be….

Advertisements

“Her Story” by Sam Barlow – Theater and Games

‘Her Story’ is an interesting experiment in interactive storytelling. While it can be considered more a game than a theatrical piece or an installation, it has many elements of expanded theater. It is my belief that this game is a step in the right direction towards re-defining what storytelling is and draws many parallels to the ‘Epic Theater’ as proposed by Bertolt Brecht. At the same time it may be what could be the first steps towards creating audiences that possess an affordance and are capable of constructing their own narrative.

The game revolves around a police database filled with video footage of a woman being interviewed with regards to a murder. The entire mechanic revolves around watching one of these videos and piecing together what actually happened. Having watched a video new videos are unlocked which the guest can find by entering a particular key word into the search box. The database is actually quite large and its best to keep the key word as specific as possible.

herstory1

Each video shows an interview the woman gives at a different time period. Each video shows a different side to the woman. But what is most amazing is how much an unreliable narrator the woman is, the story being told changes from video to video, it forces upon us a relationship to the woman we see. Her body language, her reactions, her truths and lies connect us in a peculiarly unemotional yet critical way to the woman in the footage; we bond with the moving, changing and constructed story rather than her herself.

The most interesting part though is that there is an invisible wall between us and the character. This wall is formed by the immersion we have into the interactive piece. The amount of information we learn is completely based upon our biases, our opinions and primarily how much we buy into the experience. The more we role play a detective, or a prosecutor, or a defense attorney, the more we learn. At the end of the day one can merely walk away with whatever they believe to be true, but at the same time there is a draw, a hook, a drive to know who actually murdered this woman’s husband.

Now, I know that this is not in and of itself a theatrical piece but to me it has many elements that are relatable to the ideas that are proposed in the Epic Theater as realized by Bertolt Brecht.

Brechtian theater states that the audience should not emotionally attach to the characters and story but should provoke self-reflection and a critical perspective. In many ways this story forces that upon us. If played with a bias towards whether or not the actress in question is innocent but is best played as a detective breaking down the interviews with an analytical approach and hunting down clues with a hunger for the truth.

Verfremdungseffekt is technique of alienating or creating a sense of detachment in the audience so as to ‘force’ them to be critical rather than emotional. In ‘Her Story’ everything is viewed through a terminal to the police database, the footage looks like that of an old camera. There are no questions heard or interrogator seen, all we see are the responses. Emotionally we are detached from the character we have nothing to form a relationship with her, instead we look for her objectives, we critic her narrative, we question her motives. We use waht we find from this inquiry to delve deeper into the narrative, literally by putting the word into a search box.

herstory2

This is a highly analytical relationship which is very different from most games. Normally in a game that is story driven the narrative puts us in a position to want to help someone, the narrative and mechanics are all based upon an emotional connection we have to our surrounding cast, we are the hero or villain who is all powerful. Yet here we are nothing to this character, we are merely watching her in an awkward Alfred Hitchcock-esque method.

But the whole purpose of alienating the audience creating a distance between them and the theater is to showcase just as the theater which a representation of reality can be changeable so can reality be changeable. And here we are looking at a person who like ourselves is changing over time, her recollection like ours becomes hazier, stories get mixed up words get changed. In many ways it is as though we are in some vague third person way looking at recordings of our lives and the way that we have changed over time.

But here is what keeps me drawn to this ‘game’ such a viewpoint as stated above requires reflection after being immersed, whether emotionally or analytically. The more we contribute in terms of time effort interest the more we receive from the game, the more immersed we become, yet we continue to maintain emotional distance from the character and are connected with the overall experience and narrative without drive. At this point we are immersed in the game and the representation of reality but in some ways are detached from the actors and know that this is merely a representation, merely a game.

herstory3

“On the one hand the spectator must become more distant, on the other he must lose any distance. On the one hand he must change the way he looks for a better way of loo king, on the other he must abandon the very position of the viewer.” – Jacques Ranciere.

While I may be pushing it in terms of co-relation as again this is not a theatrical production. I feel that the core construct of what this piece is trying to be is an attempt at creating a narrative that is both linear yet not a narrative where the audience gets as much as they put in a narrative where the audience is moving towards becoming ‘emancipated’.

A lot of what Ranciere talks about in his speech has to do with the analogy to a teacher-student relationship. In many ways Brecht in his attempt to show the audience a subject has chosen to be a ‘teacher’. Yet what I understood from Ranciere was that the best way for the teacher to teach, they must allow for the student to mire through the world and find the answer to the questions and the teacher without bias must present all that can be mired through. This is what ‘Her Story’ does well. We find a mass of videos based on what we asked for and it now our responsibility to mire through it. Whether we take upon this responsibility and find something new learn something about this person is up to us,we can just as easily walk away or try another search query. This empowers us as the audience to become able to construct our own montage of representative footage, akin to what Brecht used in his works,yet again it is montage that is provided to us by the ‘teacher’ – the game. We are able to represent this woman, this mirage of what is real, throughwhat we have seen and whatwe have decided upon from an analytical viewpoint.

Obviously the game does not speak in particular about a social issue that needs to be dealt with although it does speak a lot about how we change over time and how our memory is exceedingly fickle, I believe that this type of approach can be used to change the way theater and other arts that are pushing to find ways to involve, immerse and empower the audience.

But this game does something more than just allow for a singular experience to be constructed and wlaked away from. Due to its very nature of personal analysis it opens up a forum for discussion. A forum where clues are shared, opinions are argued through, where a discourse about this fictional character and the crime committed are constantly discussed.

Apply this mechanic or tool or experience generating system to a meaningful discourse or a story about a social issue that is currently prevalent. We now have equipped our productions with an ability that can incite to some extent discourse by the audience, with the audience about their own analysis of a piece of story or narrative that may not mean much as itself, but has through being experience, generated meaningful conversation. We have taught not by giving the answer or by telling the guests or the audience what we believe to be the answer but rather by allowing them to search through a narrative to construct their own experiences and then argue about what truly the experiences and the narrative meant and tried to show. And this argument is not a destructive hate filled one that entertains a third party but rather a constructive one which causes people to re-watch to re-experience to search again in thr hope of finding more.

I believe that such games may contain the solution to making an empowered audience, an audience that is not merely given the power to see and do what they want within the construct of affordances provisioned but are able to experience what they want in a meaningful way that can be enhanced through sharing and creates even more inquiry within them.

References:

  1. herstorygame.com
  2. ‘The emanipated audience’ – Jacques Ranciere
  3. Brecht, Bertolt. 1964. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Ed. and trans. John Willett.
  4. http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/brecht.pdf

Games of the Persuasive and Tranformational Variety… if that’s even a thing….

Recently I have been spending more time attempting to define the core concept of  a educational/transformational game – what I want the end result/tranformation to be. As I spent time on why and what exactly it is that I want people to get out of games that unnecessarily teach, I stumbled (and rolled back a few years) across the idea of ’advergames’ and how they have been ‘molded’ into persuasive games (advergames that focus on strong opinions..).

It is all based off the idea of games like any art form can cause have emotional – psychological – expressive – persuasive qualities (Look up Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games book). Games can communicate a form of opinion and narrative which when wielded by someone with strong opinions (not passionate opinions but strong ones… not sure if there is a difference but there feels like there is a difference to me).

There are those games which claim being serious games (pointless name who wants to be all serious and stiff when playing games – remember play is intrinsically connected to fun – refer to my older post… blatant self-promotion…. Sigh…). Serious games are names given to games that think too much of themselves and serious (so-called) game makers are probably full of it (this is an opinion and is in no way proven although it is my serious belief). I mean who wants to play a game that is serious, people play games to have some sort of fun. A serious game is like one of those in-school games that all the kids play knowing full well the game is teaching them something and don’t take seriously at all making up their own rules and giggling while attempting to break away from the seriousness of it all.

[At this point I will stop rambling… at least about my hate for serious game… I mean seriously a ‘serious game’ isn’t that a serious oxymoron. Someone needs to seriously think about the serious concept of a serious game. Just because its ‘serious’ doesn’t mean it is more important or above all else – insert ‘holier than thou’ meme here…]

It is about being a simple idea/opinion. I do not want to teach directly about a concept or enforce or enhance knowledge about a subject but rather merely introduce a thought of ‘Hmm, that’s interesting‘ or ‘I didn’t know that there was another way‘ or even ‘never thought of it like that before‘. I do not want to be all serious about it and force stuff down a person’s throat or make them sit through a lecture-like narrative. In the end if they play a game and sometime later it hits them that such a perspective exists out there in the world, I have succeeded (not really measurable is it…). ‘I want to provoke thought’ (said like a man who dreams of going to Mars in 2025) is a far grander vision than I think what the reality of these games is.

A really smart guy at Stanford – Dr. BJ Fogg stated that ‘persuasive technology is to build interactive technology to affect perception’ (I paraphrase subjectively – this is what I think he means…)

Here interactive technology is a game and it’s agency on perception is through depicting some topic whether it is educational or transformational or whatever – Nowadays it seems as though both educational and transformational games are the same thing (hmm… does transformation educate you or is education transformational ….. maybe both…)

Now here I must place a ‘proceed with caution’ sign, honestly not many people who play such a game will get it. I really do think if you want to change the world and the perception of billions I am not sure if that will happen; maybe if you are backed by a billionaire who would fund everything(?, I don’t even know what everything is…). But if your hope is that even one person changes their perception or picks up a book to know more about what you’re talking about then I go right ahead. Another way to ensure success if that’s what you care about is to keep your audience small. Focus on saying I want to focus on 14-15 year olds who are going through identity-crisis (that may be too extreme of a social aspect but I will assume you get the point and move on) or 9th grade science concepts on magnetism (better example of a focused audience). Then the people you serve are the students of 9th grade science and their educators. Obviously you yourself will need to know more than just 9th grade science or the psycholgy of identity issues to make the game but whatever.

To build such a persuasive transformational game, (not sure if education fits a similarglove but maybe replace strong opinion with educational matter or EM) first have a strong opinion (EM).

Then take that strong opinion and look at some system in the world that best represents that opinion (EM).

Now see if you can mold that system into an interactive format (any system that involves actions rather than thought is easier of course if you want to challenge yourself identity crisis may be for you to take on). Do not perform something like ’gamification’ and cpy real life and add menus and nonsensical feedback —- but truly make a game based on the system.

Resource management games like Cities: Skyline and strategy games like Europa Universalis are good examples of taking real world systems and using them as inspirations for games. The best game of all time in this sort of vein in my opinion is probably Scrabble.

Lastly in order to achieve simplicity and transcendence use your strong opinion (EM) to craft a ‘narrative’ not for the game but for the player to experience as he interacts with the game.

Here the narrative the player experiences should be that new perspective that unknown ‘thing’ you want known. I believe the thought is ‘That goes against my general knowledge’ is the right one that needs to be hit. Later on when the person suddenly recognizes that mechanic in the real world the reaction hoped for is ‘wait a second… that game …’

and by then we will have won.

General Discourse on PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Vita has increasingly become my go to hand-held console. Not even Pokemon got me back onto using my 3DS again. I find myself enjoying the long hours I spend playing games like Persona 4 Golden, Freedom Wars and the recently released OreShika.

Image result for PS Vita

However the PS Vita has not been successful. This can be attributed to the dominance of smartphone and tablet oriented mobile games in Japan, the dominance of consoles and PC in Europe, and the tendency of the American market to be skewed either towards consoles or mobile/social gaming. Another factor is the strong library and market control on hand-held consoles by Nintendo. The predecessor the PS Vita the PSP faced a similar situation (note though the mobile and social games industry had not taken off that much during its time), the PSP still had a really strong showing in the market of hand-held consoles.

It can be argued that the time of hand-held consoles is over with the idea of second-screen gaming and the mobile/social game market booming, hand-held consoles have been pushed out of the market. This is a valid argument yet Nintendo has still maintained a strong showing and its flagship Pokemon and Super Smash Bros titles have still sold like crazy.

It is my personal belief that the PS Vita has been waylaid due to issues in the design of both the console and the games for the console. I believe that it has not been shown in its best light and that by making a few changes and figuring out what works the Ps Vita could easily bring a rise in hand-held gaming.

Let us start with the console itself. There are two features that make the PS Vita really strong. The first is its ability to stream console games over the network. This makes it such a powerful device as it becomes a place to play even when on the move. While the mobile network speeds have not caught up yet, it is my belief that in a few years and with the rise of Wi-Fi enabled cars this will be possible. This is more of a patience game as the surrounding technologies still need to mature and improve to make the most of this feature.

The second great feature is its back-touch screen. This feature suffers from both poor ergonomic design and negligence from the development community. Most games either use the back touch screen for swipe motions during quick-time events or as a substitute for the devices lack of triggers.

This really disappoints me – and it makes a lot of games painful to play (cough… Borderlands 2… cough…). All of the genius minds behind Call of Duty, Killzone and Uncharted: Golden Abyss could come up with is swipe to do a quick time knife kill… really?

Uncharted: Golden Abyss had some interesting features using the front touch screen but I still feel it could have done more. Tearaway tries some interesting game mechanics with the back touch screen but as a game it is pretty weak.

Image result for ps vita golden abyss

So what can be done to improve this? – Firstly change the size of the back touch screen. This is what I feel causes a lot of issues especially with games that have actions placed on the back. Throwing grenades is not something you want to accidently do nor is accidently attacking thin air with a knife when you’re trying to sneak. The ergonomics of this back area of the device needs more work, when in a frantic situation people don’t really care about the specifics of holding the hand-held and optimize their grip for the prominent actions – this leads to rubbing the back screen accidently… so it needs revision – my idea of reducing it comes from their make the non-interactive area larger so that the act of using the back touch screen is not something accidently or mistakenly done but done with a conscious effort – it really makes it more powerful.

I found this conscious choice of using the back screen made feel good in the game Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F which allows for this conscious choice. A player can either use the front screen or the back and I found that in certain cases using the back by choice made it far more useful then accidently touching it. Also Project Diva F comes with some really cool smart-AR features (non-AR code) which really is a cool push to use this device in a different way.

Enough of hardware – the games need to be designed for this console. To be honest PS Vita has not had what the industry likes to call (hype word) a console seller. Nintendo has Pokemon to increase hardware sales, Xbox360 used Halo, PlayStation3 has Uncharted and so on. So what does PS Vita have… Persona maybe…

I have felt that the best games to play on the Vita were the long hour JRPG style games, not FIFA or Killzone or even the awkward Assassin’s Creed Liberation. I feel this is because the strategy RPG games lend themselves to the hand-held affordances of the device. A hand-held is played during travel or as something to pick up and spend a few moments. In games like Persona 4, I can turn it on and just spend a few in-game days upgrading my character relationships, in OreShika I can spend a few moments changing my load-out or upgrading my town or just spend time talking to Kochin (the weasel-girl below). These games lend themselves to the expected usage of a handheld, more of these types of games are needed.

Another factor is that the FPS games and other console-only games do not change from their lazy habits that they picked up from the consoles. The PS Vita has no triggers and two touch screens – it has affordances different from the regular console controller. Again there are no triggers on the Vita… innovation of new ways to bring interaction to the device has to be done and yet the games like Call of Duty Blacklist and Borderlands try to get away with remapping the control scheme to the device instead of changing the whole design of how to play. This is what I believe is causing a lot of trouble for the PS Vita. This issue is also the reason why the whole streaming from console onto the Vita is not taking off as much as hoped.

Games need to be specifically designed for the console. God of War which comes from an age of not having an triggers works fine on the Vita and has been well received.

In my opinion games that work well on the PS Vita are JRPGs, Third person cover shooters and exploration style indie games. There are also games like Destiny of Spirits and Entwined which do a particular mechanic well and don’t have other actions that can be performed.

Currently I am playing Freedom Wars which is a Third person action game and that feels good it uses its mechanics in a way that is great for the bumpers and lack of triggers. Depending on the weapon the bumpers behave differently and are effectively mapped to what actions I would like to perform. It gets rid of a lot of the control schemes by having the controls change based on what state of combat I am in. This makes navigation and the fast paced combat easy to do.

For example when not locked on to an enemy my controls are free roam mode, when locked on an enemy my bumpers and attack buttons go into combat mode and when I am engaged in combat but not locked onto an enemy the controls are in an evasive mode. While it does take some time to have all the modes and button-combos really clear for ease of performance, the slow and steady pace at which the initial missions flow and the tutorial system are really well designed to ease the player into using the different modes and understanding the their current action mode state.

The game also has a UI system that is touch friendly for quick battle instructions so that in the middle of the battle a touch-friendly menu pops up which can allow for ease of play. I find it very useful in situations where I need to give change the fighting style of the party or give instructions to my accessory (in-game companion).

The game is not without issues though, it still has trouble with the having multiple actions mapped to the same buttons causing the character to take cover instead of dodging sometimes due to both of them being mapped to the cross button (X) or using navigation mode instead of shooting because of the enemy engagement being broken. The game also does not make use of the back screen, which to me is a missed opportunity in some ways but understandable.

The PS Vita still needs to be iterated on and games that are designed with its affordances in mind need to be built but if that does happen I truly believe the PS Vita can become a strong contender in the mobile/hand-held games market.

Now on the ‘negative hype’ surrounding the Vita:

While the Vita may seem as an unpopular device it still has pushed out a decent number of units. I believe the issue is two varieties of complaints that keep showing up all over social media that has been creating a ‘negative hype’. This first is why should I spend so much money for a device that doesn’t map controls and the second is that there are not enough games out there. There is another question that crops up which is a combination of the above two. Now as someone who owns a Vita, and as most Vita owners will tell you there are a ton of games out for the Vita, the problem seems to be they are either indie/mobile style games that a lot of ‘self-claimed’ ‘gamers’ don’t consider as ‘proper’ games. The big name companies merely re-hash or as I mention re-map their console games making it feel like an inferior product. As I mention, it needs to be understood what the Vita is meant for as a hand-held mobile console and what games need to do in order to be ‘playable’ on the Vita

Immersion through Voluntary, Intrinsically Motivated Actions

At this point in time a lot of my thoughts have been tending towards the idea of driving player immersion, not in the sense of drowning the player with the lore and expanse of an in-game world, but creating a sense of voluntary acceptance of the rules that have been set out, or rather creating a state where the player enjoys following in the rules.

With this in mind of late I have revisited a lot of the games that have really drawn me in recently and in went about a pondering path of the point where player story (narrative that the player creates for himself) and game narrative (storyline of the game) sort of end up meeting. While these two forms of story may never actually meet bringing them as close as possible drives the player’s ‘need’ to ‘buy into’ the game to enter the circle of ‘game world’ and allow the suspension of disbelief to occur.

I have been running into at an increasing rate the idea of ‘play’ while exploring this drive to immerse players. The definition of play is commonly more involved with the performance of activities somehow linked to pleasure, I find that play has a lot less to do with the actual action that leads to play but rather the mental state that creates the definition of play.

In an attempt to put it in simpler terms I feel that play is more of a mental state while performing an action of any kind that leads to that particular action for that particular person to fall into the category of actions broadly classified as play. It is I repeat the mental state here that is far more important. I find that for an action to be classified as play it needs to be in some senses voluntary a person cannot be forced to or ordered to ‘play’, then the ‘play’ for me is not true play. If asked to clean a room in a terse manner or with a stern order, anybody would feel that this is ‘work’ and not ‘play’.

This then leads to the question of is it truly only the emotion of pleasure that can be associated with play.

I feel that that too is incorrect, play is, for me, in and of itself the sense of emotionally performing an action and/or to perform actions that create an emotional reaction within us. I could ‘play’ a game for hours but if I do not emotionally connect or get emotionally influenced, there is no loss of reality, no suspension of disbelief, no immersion. I turn away from the game and do not play it anymore

I also feel that it now becomes necessary to define work which I simply state as completing a task without a shred of emotional attachment. I feel that if even a drop of emotion whether positive or negative gets involved with our work then it creates a sense of immersion.

Which means even negative emotions can help drive immersion. They may not drive immersion into the task/quest at hand itself, but it definitely drives immersion into other things. As more and more negative emotion attaches itself to a particular state of action then more and more people get involved with other things to avoid this action is what I believe. Think of it as a sense of reverse psychology, in order to not do something people immerse themselves into other things – at least I find it true for myself. Others may find the negative emotions as pleasurable and may chase after it, thus creating their immersion.

A lot of games attempt to have emotions as a part of their story line or in a bunch of cut-scenes in order to create this sense of emotion-action cycle. However I feel that the truly immersive games have the most emotional parts of the game directly encoded into their game play.

*Spoilers (?)*

BioShock does this well, in their child harvesting system. There is a sense of ‘nastiness’ with regards to every child that the player can choose to either save or harvest. It is now a known fact that harvesting all the children actually provides less Adam than saving them all – which in some ways could be seen as indirect control on part of the game makers to give people a happy ending, but playing through the game without such knowledge makes it much harder to discern because when the time for the choice comes the player is truly immersed and is thinking about the choice in the moment not for the future or having a structurally laid out plan… but in the moment as a Big Daddy might burst through and kill the low-on-health player.. this emotional action which in turn causes an emotional reaction is what makes BioShock immersive (although the hacking mini-games are horrible and are in some ways the proof through contradiction for the point in case here). I feel like I am truly immersed while playing BioShock not completing pre-ordained task/quests the choice is not merely meaningful in terms of mechanics but also in terms of emotions.

While the above is merely a small implementation of a choice mechanic that I was affected by other games play (forgive the pun if there is one) on the sense of emotional feedback in their own ways. In fable 2, if my memory serves me correctly the dog’s appearance and behavior changes as the player tends down an alignment. This behavioral alignment also reflects in how the townsfolk treat the dog. Games like Bravely Default force your hand into performing emotionally charged actions. Thinking about it a lot of games try to bring the rational and irrational parts of the player’s mind together by having the player make a persistent choice.

Fire Emblem: Awakening – Characters and Narrative

Today we shall explore the game Fire Emblem: Awakening, specifically the characters and the way the narrative of this game buillds into and out of gameplay.

fe_logo

The Fire Emblem series of games are a what can be called a Tacticle JRPG in a High Fantasy sort of setting with magic and dragons, where people fight with swords and axes. In Fire Emblem: Awakening we play as a stranger (default name is Robin) who wakes up with no memory and help Prince Chrom.

vjnwftufrotoj2lwojji

Just look at the number of them – I am not going to rattle off about each and every one of these guys, but I will mention that all of them are different, can grow differently, fight with  different styles and depending on your style of play are either indispensible or completely useless to your party build.

What is interesting though is the idea that each of these characters has a story to tell, and this story is told not by a bunch of character specific side quests or cutscenes but comes out by growing the relationships between the various characters.

downloadmaxresdefault

A lot of games try to do this as well, Persona2-4 being the obvious choices. So what makes Fire Emblem Awakening stand out so much?

So to start of not only does building up relationship status allow for a bonus stats during the actual tatical battle system but it also permeates into a lot of the storylines of the children that the characters can have… yeah the main characters have kids – awesome right the amount of influence you have on these characters’ life.

Well, if you play it long enough you will realize that the kids are always the same for the mothers and it is simply the father who changes but at the same time the child’s skills are based on what the parents skills were going into the story mission for that child so…. some amount of affordance on part of the players chaoices for marriage pairings. It does create an interesting min-maxing for the best skill combos for the child’s skills.

FEMarriage_zpsfe8abee4

At the same time it makes players invested in protecting and playing with certain characters in order to progress not just the story line but to take advantage of the various boosts and buffs that good chraters relationships create. So in games that are played out in the classic style where death is permanent, each character has meaning and wait especilly if the player is going through the game optimizing his/her gameplay for the best outcomes. It should also be noted that if done properly all of the children can end up more powerfull than their parents.

As players play through this game not only do their actions directly develop the narrative of each character through this epic journey, but alsoopens up avenues of further narrative and character development of other characters.

While I do go on about how great the narrative building is a unique experience of each playthrough there are some flaws. Initial ‘premise-oriented’ character traits are maintained. This means that even if you get two people married to different people, if their intial relationship setup was to be that of a stalker and the stalked then that dialogue kind of still occurs.

This does kind of break down the idea that the player has some agency over the relationship storylines and creates some expectancy that the choices would be far more meaningful and can affect even the dialogue. It could be something that could be developed and implemented into future Fire Emblem games.

26649821

Far Cry 4

No smart-alecky in this week’s title, just plain and simple: Far Cry 4. Also SPOILERS…

I finally finished it, my adventures in Kyrat. I played through it twice (and I will get to why in a moment) and I must say this was a good game. It is on par with the rest of the series and does the Far Cry franchise a lot of justice. I loved the voice acting and the stories that surrounded Kyrat. The world felt alive and lush despite the fact it was occurring in the Himalayas, every character had a story and tale and that gave them a depth that made them important even if they lasted only for 2 hours before dying in some horrific way (Noore).

I especially enjoyed the animals. While I did curse their existence when going up against hunters (who can control them), the animals in this game weren’t merely prey that you could easily stalk and hunt down and recycle for upgrades to your gear. Sometimes you would hear the tiger behind you but it wouldn’t merely be standing behind you ready to be shot, it would stalk you and move in the bushes. The wild dogs hunted in packs meaning unlike say Skyrim where you would be inexplicitly be attacked by a crazy dog, these guys would come at you in a group and try to tear you apart. The work on the animals AI is amazing – probably what I am getting at.

Image result for far cry 4

The open world is lush and amazing the opening colors from the sequence describe the vibrancy of Kyrat perfectly. It is like the festival of colors celebrated in India (although the setting is more Nepal-ish than India-ish). But images here will speak louder than words so have a look

Moving on the game has amazing theming going on with the vehicles, the language people speak, the way people speak English for the most part, even the clothing style of the armies was well themed with the whole Himalayan look. But there are parts that don’t really make sense. The songs on the radio (which honestly got annoying after a while) were in some language similar to the South Indian language of Tamil, in fact one of my friends said he even recognized the lyrics and the song to be Tamil, so yeah about that. Don’t get me wrong the music overall was awesome and all the throw backs to the old style of Bollywood’s 90’s tracks was really cool. I don’t know what Nepal listens to, I’ve never have been there, but would they really listen to some Tamil song pretending to be a Bollywood song (because of Just Dance 2 having it – also a Ubisoft product hmmm), not too sure.

The guns in this this First Person Shooter are awesome, I loved them all although towards the end I did have my favorites and I kind of stuck to them. To list them out:

1. Recurve Bow:

Can have all the weapons that your guns provide (silence, explosion and fire), it is probably the best weapon in the game except when you haven’t realized gravity is a thing and you keep missing cause you aimed to low or too high. Still once upgraded with sights it is is probably the best weapon in the game and my go to weapon. Also is it just me or are bows getting a lot of love in games since Tomb Raider nailed the whole bow physics thing. Hmmm… moving on

2.  Warrior Assault rifle:

This assault rifle is good when you want to finish off a battle in a blood filled rage that doesn’t include stealthy bow work. I used it a lot when i just wanted to get over with the retaking of an outpost that didn’t have any heavy duty gaurds. The Fire rate, accuracy and mobility on this thing when completely upgraded makes it a really good go to weapon when you have no arrows left.

3. Generic Sniper/Shotgun/RPG/Launcher – having no Preference is also a preference

I used my third main weapon slot as a utility for mission based artillery, need a helicopter shot down – carry an RPG, need to silently take out a bunch of guards – equip the sniper. I also filled it with LMGs, SMGs and Shotguns – anything I would pick up off of guards.

Pistol: Not part of the enumerated list…

Didn’t care- I don’t use pistols unless I have no other ammo, which would never happen because the enemies drop a ton of loot. No I am not joking a ton of it, upgrading the ammo bag, gun holster and loot bag would/should be your top priorities. There is an entire level after escaping Yuma Lau’s prisons where I could have gone for a stashed weapons arsenal which instead I got through only with a SMG and an Assault rifle and some throwing knives.

A weapon which deserves a lot of credit are the elephants, here is what the elephants in Far Cry 4 are capable of:

Moving on to the best part of this game:

“Should I stay or Should I go”

This line plays after the opening cut scene that sets up the premise of this game.  Also Pagan Min says quite clearly that he is careful with his words. Immediately what follows is a whole dialogue with Pagan Min (the ‘antagonist’) that ends in him walking away and explicitly telling you, Ajay the protagonist to wait for him. Remember he is very careful and precise with his words…

The whole opening can be seen below:

This is what really blew my mind.

As most people playing a video game would, I began roaming around, exploring the mansion and upon hearing flashing lights and screaming I went down the stairs into the torture room where I got sucked into the civil war of Kyrat. I then play through the game help Kyrat pick a new leader from the two that lead the Golden Path, Amita and Sabal, neither of whom deserved anything. I tried killing them on several occasions only for the game to reset saying – nope can’t do that. After realizing both of them would anyway drive Kyrat into ruin, I finished the game only to learn Ajay (me) could have been king, if Ajay (I) had just waited, as Pagan had told me too. And who else to explain this to me but the man himself who leads the protagonist to the grave of Ajay’s half-sister Lakshmana (the whole point of this game) who was killed by Ajay’s father, to place the ashes of Ajay’s mother (Ishwari) at Lakshmana’s side.

So I did what any person who could bend the space and time of the game world. I booted up a new game to see what happened when I waited.

I waited for about 10 minutes and lo and behold – Pagan Min does come back, he gives me the keys to his kingdom, takes me to see Lakshmana where I place the urn with Ajay’s mother’s ashes and talks about getting to the shooting while the game ends.

So what is playing the game then? Is not playing the game still playing the game, was there any game to begin with or did the game unfold because we decided not to do what we were told to do by the in-game characters but rather follow the instructions that some invisible being put in front of us (UI). Did I really rampage through and tear up a nation merely because I couldn’t hold myself back and just had to be curious about the basement. Who were the good guys and who were the bad guys was there any ever difference between the two. The whole objective of this game was to return the ashes to Lakshmana, so why didn’t I just choose the easy way out the first time? Honestly both leaders of the Golden path lead the country to ruination; so I ran off, acted like a monkey and handed over the country either to a religious nut-case or a wannabe drug lord, how exactly had I helped Kyrat again?

I was lost in thought with all these questions in in my head. I decided to take a step back and finally I just accepted that I had been taken away by this alternate ending and allowed my mind to ponder on something less about the artistic artifact in front of me and more about the people who made it and their intentions. Was this ending just an easter egg or was it truly the primary intention of the developers all along. A game that shouldn’t be played; a game where the ‘obvious choice of a game’ is superceded by the ‘obvious choice of reality’. I mean honestly if I was really in the situation Ajay was in and not playing it as a game I would have never moved from that spot and would have done exaclty whatever Pagan Min said, I mean his face is on the currency and he brutally murdered that army guy with a pen. (Plus there wouldn’t be any UI giving me conflicting information…)

With that I rest my fingers on the keyboard and read over this article for spelling and grammer mistakes, which I am sure it still has plenty of.

Train(s) of Thought #1

I have been wondering about what to write about for a while, with the first 2 posts of this blog which I want to slowly turn into a weekly blog done, my mind was emptied to an extent. I couldn’t sit down and focus on a particular part of a game or anything with regards to design. As I pondered along the lines about why I had nothing in my head I began to wander around in my own mind, which I do very often, but now without much purpose. I am recording my mind as I think. This is pretty much a rambling on various topics and as I think I write.

So….

Madness

Yeah, I feel lost, lost in this endless process of deep thinking about games. I like Bravely Default, should I write about that. But here’s the thing, I view Games as an art form, due to my computational media background. This means to me any thoughts whether superficial or deep about games is subjective, there cannot be facts about what makes good games, well at least to me. I know people will argue otherwise and try to show me some facts, but all I will say is that those facts are merely a common perception due to general similarity between most human psyches. Games are an art form, and any and all views on them are subjective. I remember…Its like,… now for something completely different.. Monty Python.

That reminds me of something I was thinking of in relation with Bravely Default as well, narrative in games. I was recently thinking about content delivery via gameplay which led me to rediscover Janet Murray’s book ‘Hamlet on a Holodeck’, really good book. I keep going back to the idea of narrative as platform agnostic, but as one anime famously quotes ‘it is important to understand the differences in media.’. This anime (Seitokai no Ichizon) was a light novel that was made into both an anime and mange simultaneously, so that statement makes a lot of sense as the opening of such a series, as the author had always intended for the seireis to break into various media. So how do you disperse content in games especially educational content, without banging ‘LEARN’ on the heads of students. I do remember that Extra Credits did a piece on that once….

I feel like I need a tether, something to anchor me to a topic. The importance of limitations – I get it now; they give me a walled room, maybe with a ceiling, that I can explore every nook and cranny of. This may lead to new discoveries and innovation inside of the box. In this open ended thinking of whatever is not very…whats the word… dunno. I now have a new found love for themes and structure and order and anchors, especially limitation-anchors. I understand at this point what many people say when they focus and innovate within an enclosed space, I have always felt that openness is the place to innovate in but now at this point in time  I feel the enclosed pastures of grass is where the mind can do its best deep thinking. Anything that limits you, impedes you gets in you way is a good thing, it helps you grow harder, better, faster, stronger (I love that song (Daft Punk)) by innovating within that space, gives you a goal an aim a target to shoot for and work towards, this deep thinking foray is not really good for me who is so unfocused. I mean really when I want to discuss a game I discuss what I like and don’t like and that means I will like most games, I am addicted to games. I cannot fathom why people claim that sports games are pointless or that shooting games are overrated. I say sure fine that’s your opinion, I still buy every Call of Duty and almost every FIFA and NFL, as I said game commentary is subjective, there is no right or wrong it is a critique. Also I love RPGs…

So back to RPGs like Bravely Default, I am excited about the resurgence in the JRPG genre. Final Fantasy 15 looks amazing, Bravely Default was a smash hit. Fire Emblem and its unique battle mode were superb. But most of all the one game that I feel that brought about this resurgence was Ni no Kuni, play it. This game really worked on strengthening its strengths. Its battle system was near perfect, I say near because art is subjective and I feel as though it could learn from other summoning RPGs like Shin Megami Tensei with regards to strategy, but again that’s my opinion.

NiNoKuni

Its also interesting that this resurgence is in countries outside of Japan (the J comes from Japanese). Japan has become a mobile-game market. The success of DeNA is proof of that, as is the testimonial failure of the PS Vita in the Japanese market. Phones, Phablets and Tablets have taken over this country. It has led to some really bad ports of some of my favorite final fantasy games.

Is it possible that we have entered a new era of technology, with tablets having reached a state where they can completely replace computers. I do not mean the iPad, the iPad still needs a Mac computer to generate content and cannot support itself, but look at the Surface Pro3. I know no one buys Surfaces, but that’s just because Microsoft has bad marketing, look at how they messed up the XboxOne. The Surface Pro 3 is A4 paper size, we all like that size, why?, maybe because we grew up with almost all paper that we print on being that size, most notebooks are also that size and most folders and binders are for that size. We like it, the size ‘feels’ good. Anyway it has an i5/i7 Intel processor which can compete with most major laptops. It has the full Windows8.1 suite which also works very well with touch based computers in my opinion. So it is perfect. To me if iPad and Samsung don’t start moving towards these laplet (like phablet) architecture they may lose out. Also a lot of developers who work on Windows have slowly been shifting to the Surface Pro3, I mean A4 size who can resist, it also comes with a pen like thing…think about it, pen and paper.

Surface3

So with the new waves created by new technologies like the laplets, the hololens, google glass, etc; will come new people attempting to become the hottest, hippest, coolest, something-est surfers riding the new waves of technology. What these surfers bring to their fan-bases will be amazing to see. I do want to just sit back and observe the surfing competitions, but a part of me wants to go out and ride the waves, see what they feel like, see where they might end up, will they end up as large as a internet tsunami or will they merely be a slight increase due to global warming (up to technology hahaha). There has already been a large push to the whole second screen gaming style. Nintendo had it before anyone, they were just to early.

Second Screen

I have also notice an interesting merge between VR and AR. This is leading to ‘Virtual’ artifacts entering into the ‘Real’ world. Dilad screens and Programmable matter may as well be the future. Imagine opening a Dungeons and Dragons box and all it has is this sand like programmable matter. Out of this sand like matter the entire map is built out into the world around us, we now have a true coexistence of the virtual and real words creating immersion as we have never seen it before.

I guess it should be interesting to design games to convey some content in this space of ever changing technology, but also the indie scene has been really growing and most of the games coming out of this Kickstarter indie craze are a bunch of NES-esque games. I wonder what that could end up being….

And here I take control of my wandering mind and end this blog else it will go on forever; (I think a lot, INTP or whatever). Maybe I will let my mind wander again for a Train(s) of Thought #2 maybe not, we’ll see.

Persona 4 Golden on PS Vita

I am adding this commentary on Persona 4 Golden to this website where I plan to write about games and what I think of them, as I think of them. I am adding this because the game Persona 4 Golden deserves attention of some sort… especially because it is on the PS Vita and honestly who owns a PS Vita (except me maybe)… but really play this game, hopefully what follows explains why.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 Golden for the PlayStation Vita (PS Vita) is the enhanced remake of a PlayStation2 game with the same name minus Golden. This enhanced remake for the PS Vita will be examined as it has been exceedingly popular and has in some ways even become a console seller for the PS Vita.

Persona 4 Golden is set in a semi-urban Japanese town called Inaba. In Persona 4 Golden this is the ‘real world’. Here the local and urban cultures battle, finding a way to co-exist as the identity of the town. Constant struggle for identity is a recurring theme of the game and it is a nice touch to have the game’s setting itself undergoing identity crises. The protagonist also has the ability to enter a virtual world via TV screens. This virtual world is a TV set/stage which changes according to the inner conflict of the antagonist’s victims. This TV world is effectively the game’s own ‘virtual world’. The real and virtual worlds of Inaba are also in constant state of push and pull, causing a connection between them to open up for the antagonist to take advantage of.

A driver of the game’s popularity has to do with the way that it makes each action taken by the player to have a meaningful effect on the world. The game does provide certain rules and frameworks to help and guide the player, yet while playing the game the player does not really need to follow these rules. At the same time certain events are simulated to force the player to make a choice of how the protagonist should spend his time, which may lead to the player sacrificing one interaction for another. This blending of role playing and simulation elements causes the game to feel deeper than merely grinding monsters to get the next skill or waiting for the next interesting event to occur.

Gameplay in Persona 4 Golden is built around an interesting mechanic of living through a time period in a town where the story takes place. Planned usage of the allocated time and a steady exploration of Inaba become very important to players. People playing this game must use their in-game time effectively and also remember that travel to some locations or entering in certain places consumes time. It should also be noted that the ending of the game changes based on the relationships built over this fixed period of time and the perfect ending can only be attained if the player has managed his/her time exceedingly well.

Time is a commodity in this game. The game occurs throughout the 2011/2012 calendar. Each day is most commonly split into three time periods Morning, After-school/Daytime and Evening. Most interactions consume one of these time periods. Some consume two of them. Entering the virtual TV world consumes whatever time the player has left going in and immediately skips to the next day upon leaving the virtual TV world. Defeating a dungeon in the virtual TV world will automatically skip through all the days afforded for the dungeon conquest. Keeping track of the flow of in-game time and planning for this flow in the future engages the user in constant and meaningful decision making, as any decision made will have lasting effects

Shin1

At the start of the game, the player is thrust into the world of Inaba. At this point the game does rely on JRPG control stereotypes. The game to an extent gets away with using the stereotypes by fixating on the story telling. As a high school student the protagonist must attend school and learn from the teachers in various classes much like in the real world. There are also exams and homework that must be done. Other activities like cultural clubs and sports clubs are available to choose from. Outside of school life the player can earn money by taking up various part time jobs. The player can also spend time with family and friends to improve relationships; however these interactions can only occur on particular days during certain times and at certain locations.

The narrative of the game apart from the major story points which are scripted to occur is mostly based on what the player does during the time spent in the in-game real world. Every interaction between the protagonist and the people of Inaba during the calendar year of 2011/2012 effects what ending the player is led towards. Effectively, the tale of the protagonist becomes unique to the player’s current play-through; to an extent this makes every play-through a new experience.

As time progresses and the number of meaningful interactions increase, the player steadily starts to build a schedule for the protagonist. If the protagonist goes through this entire schedule and framework as is expected of a high-school student, rewards and skills are gained which help drive the gameplay within the virtual TV world. Wrong answers to test questions and skipping out on work are also afforded by the game with negative impacts that are not immediately obvious but as the game goes on the player will find themselves in a harsh situation. Players then reflect back on the fact that they had not performed the tasks which may have seemed trivial side missions. This creates a loop where interacting with the game and exploring the world in the game drives immersion and the immersion further drives the interaction and exploration.

As time goes by life begins to spiral out of control, when a chain of supernatural murders grip the town. A mysterious TV show called the ‘Midnight Channel’ is rumored to reveal your true love, where as it turns out ‘the true loves’ were actually the victims. The player soon finds out that inter-dimensional travel is achieved through a TV set. The intertwining of these events accentuated by the many individual tales is the driving force of the story. Finding clues about the victims and entering the TV world to fight the TV stage-dungeon that the victim’s inner psyche has created; makes up for most of the traditional role playing game (RPG) elements.

shin2

The TV virtual world in the game is a dungeon system with each dungeon being based on the victim involved and their internal struggle. This is an interesting system which makes the conquest of a dungeon more than merely leading up to boss battle (which it does have), the conquest becomes a journey of understanding what true self means. Each dungeon is based around an inner conflict that each victim possesses. The ‘boss’ are created by the victim rejecting their ‘true’ selves the ‘shadow’ they have cast becoming the ‘gateway keeper’. It is only by accepting themselves for who they are do the characters escape the virtual world. On defeating the ‘gateway keeper’, the victim joins the protagonist as an ally to fight alongside.

In this way the game gives all of the side characters some depth in story. Making them people with whom you can connect with in the game’s real world, delving deeper into their past and helping them and the protagonist (who is an empty shell & a representation of the player) grow. During moments spent connecting with friends and family, they open up and disclose their inner turmoil. The story of their inner fears to the resolution of said fears drives the interaction with the various characters. Growth is reflected via the attachment the player gets to the characters in the game sometimes leading to a relationship, as well as in-game power ups and bonuses. Having the victims joining as allies also increases the number of people you have to connect with in order to gain the perfect ending of the game, which drives the time management portion of the game to an extreme level especially if the player had not been managing the way they consumed in-game days. The large number of mini-stories that are present afford replay-ability, as it is not possible to unlock all the stories in only one play-through, a conscientious choice has to be made as to whose stories you want to explore further.

The majority of the gameplay is consisted of the interactions in the in-game real and virtual worlds which feel independent. However the two are not disconnected from each other. In order to be capable of facing the dungeons and the ‘shadows’ that reside in them each character has a Persona they can summon. For all characters except the protagonist this Persona is based on the inner conflict that they faced and overcame. In the case of the protagonist apart from a starting themed Persona, the player can collect Persona cards as rewards from winning in battles against shadows. These Persona cards can be collected and used immediately and leveled up. Another way to use these cards is fusing a combination to make stronger Personas. A major factor in the fusion system is that the interactions within the in-game real world not only grows the persona of the ally but also  improves your ability to fuse these personas and gives them bonuses. Also a few cards and fusions are locked until a certain relationship level is reached between the protagonist and one of his allies. This card collection system also affords replay-ability and drives many people to play the game to collect all the cards and discover new fusions.

shin3

The game for the most part is open, free and bright. Most of what can be seen is interact-able even if it is in a small way. The interface gives the necessary information of time and space, nothing more and nothing less. While there are menus that can be opened via the buttons of the PS Vita, the most important information for the player throughout the game are what day it is and where the player is. The color palette of this game is filled with bright colors, making the game vivid and enjoyable. This is a welcome change to most games, especially those in the murder mystery genre which tend use darker gray and brown tones.

shin4

It is also interesting to note that in the virtual TV world the screen is framed like a TV to designate that it is occurring in the TV world (as seen in an image above).

The shift to a new hardware is used effectively. The PS Vita is able to render 3D models and images comparable to a console like PS3. This means that the 3D models, iconography and portraits are not detracted from and look even better than what they were on the PS2. Another thing is that the PS Vita is a hand-held making the game portable. So with the re-release not only was story content updated but new features were also added, such as the ability to ask other players for help in sticky situations using the SOS system. Another feature that was added which is an amazing use of the interconnectivity is Voice of the People (VOTP). As time management is such a powerful aspect of this game, players can easily get lost in figuring out their next steps. VOTP showcases the actions taken by other players in similar situations so that the player can then decide what would be the best approach to the next in-game week.

Included in the PS Vita version which was never present in the PS2 version of the game is the character Marie and the storyline she brings. She has no memories and is a character from the supernatural side of the story. Her tale becomes not only a journey of finding out what it means possess a sense of self but is a reflection of the journey that the protagonist is having as he fights through each dungeon. A ‘meta’ sort of dialogue that she has is how memories make a person and as a person makes memories they gain a sense of self – this is a complete statement of as how the players plays the game the protagonist begins to have memories and thus gains a personality. Throughout the game she writes several poems that feel prophetic in some ways. These poems talk about self and personality while at the same time others are subtler hints at the story line reflecting what has been learnt so far concerning the mystery. Marie is an amazing character that the game uses effectively to teach the players to see beyond the immediate game they are playing and even resonates with the player’s personal life as well.

Persona 4 Golden is an excellent game suitable for the handheld PS Vita with multiple save points allowing a person to drop off and pick up whenever and wherever they want. Its ability to allow each player to have their own little hamlet experience in the rustic town of Inaba is powerful. It does suffer from some JRPG tropes, which is offset by the way it connects the story to the gameplay and makes every action meaningful to its players.

My First Steps… choosing my starter.

Here I am blogging about games and game design. Never really thought I would so such a thing but apparently it helps. As I start out on this exercise of writing I decided to do what any right minded game lover would do and get a partner to protect me from the monsters in the wild.

I have played Pokémon all my life, it was the reason why I bought a GameBoy. Forget Mario – I could play his game on my NES at home all alone, but Pokémon that I could play anywhere and with my friends; we could trade and fight and I could go on gushing about this game forever.

So why Pokémon? I honestly never thought about why I love this game so much, no matter what version of game I am playing – even the remakes. I used to speed run these games with my brother and cousins and see who could get from the start of a new game to the end, which we decided was beating the Elite 4 with the unique Legendary of the game we were playing. This game fascinates me, period.

Lets set aside the obvious stuff like the ever increasing graphic fidelity (3D attacks OMG!) and the easy to use control system (esp. now with the 3DS’s circle pad) the really well done collision detection, awesome music, and a story that falls right into that sweet spot of a stereotypical hero’s journey based tale. Honestly, the core game play is basically an extended version of rock paper scissors with Eevee having an unfair advantage. (Also the new Fairy type eeveelution Sylveon is OP). So what makes this game so irresistible?

It is my belief that it is the balance that the game has between the predictable and the unpredictable that makes this game in many senses so addictive. Sometimes the craziest of things work and it just brings a moment of excitement the “Wow did that just really happen?”. I got that very feeling when I caught Mewtwo with a mere pokéball. This near perfect balance of the known and unknown, is what keeps people coming back , it’s like a drug. People bring up the time when they landing a critical hit with their last pokémon in their party to succeed in a gym leader battle, or how they miraculously caught a legendary pokémon in the most dire of situations, or in the silliest way possible. To the people who play this game it provides a more tangible adventure of some sort. While walking in the grass or surfing on the water the unpredictability of what might happen next drives people to constantly play the game and to continue wandering the world of pokémon.

And you can wander for however long you want, because the game never truly ends. It is like an open world of doing whatever you want within this gigantic framework of rock-paper-scissors. You can explore caves, find hidden items, search for the legendary pokémon, with puzzles to solve (The Legendary Golems) and interesting little pieces of lore that surround them all. Sure the story-line may be restricted and restrictive but it doesn’t mean you have to follow that one single path. I beat the 6th gym (Koga) leader in Pokémon Red and Blue before the 5th one (Erika) and the game didn’t stop me in any way. I actually beat the 7th (Sabrina) right after that because I couldn’t find Erika. It may have been bad design, (because they changed it in the remake…), but it let me have an adventure in my own way, on my own terms. This feeling of freedom is just another reason as to why pokémon is so great. On top of this freedom, you can add your own rules like beating the Elite 4 with only fire-type pokémon (which I did).

So the game puts the above together and ends up with this evolving RPG. Sure it has the same old boy saves the world story again and again and sure the game play hasn’t really changed over the years, but the excitement remains. Name another RPG that lets you as the player have control over 600+ different types of character classes, out which you have to pick 6 to roam around with. I mean sure have a party of 6 Pidgeys if that suits your fancy no one can stop you and the you can probably still beat the game. Still the sheer number of parties you can have is overwhelming. Final Fantasy, Namco Bandai’s Tales games and Dragon Quest restrict you to 3-4 party members with archetypal character classes and fixed ability choices. All you do in these games is pop the best equipment you have for the class and your done.

Think about this, what if you could take each of these classes and mold them to suit your needs, to suit your own personal play style?

Add to these RPGs the ability to selectively tweak, train, and experiment with these characters. Beating certain wild pokémon grows your own pokémon in different ways and focusing on one type of attack system helps grow your pokémon in other ways. This gives the whole game a deeper more profound game play. Its like playing an open-world RPG with the powerful affordance of your actions affecting the growth of your party members. All of sudden you start working on optimizing your pokemon – what happens if I breed these two pokémon, can I create a rare type of pokémon by doing this? The world is filled with new things to find, searching far and wide each pokémon the power that’s inside. (totally ripped off the theme songs lyrics, the song is for some reason now stuck in my head by the way).

Enough of this touchy feel-ly stuff you say, just break down the mechanics as to what makes Pokemon awesome you ask. OK…

Right off the bat, the Professors Oak, Elm, Rowan, Juniper (all trees for some reason) ask you for your nameImmediately the experience has become personalized, in fact the game is pushing for so much personal-ization that in Pokemon X and Y, you are asked to give a nickname to your friends, a nickname! So check one, it creates a personalized experience for the player, and we all know that people seem to like that.

These professors then tell you how dangerous it is to wander outside where there is grass because of wild pokémon. To protect you they give you your own pokémon that will help you. BONDING MOMENT… also you can give this cute little fellow (seriously the starters are cute) a nickname…. BONDING MOMENT.

So what do you with these guys, how do you use this pokémon or whatever, enter the RIVAL characters, and instantly you’re thrown into a battle. Here you have 4 options, Fight, Item, PKMN, and Run. You try Run, ‘Can’t run from a trainer battle!’ is the response, okay so you can’t run from a Trainer battle (Teaching Moment). Next you try PKMN, it brings up a list of 6 slots with only one filled, so this is where you can interact with your party (Teaching Moment contd). So the last two choices are Fight or Item, let’s try Item, cool so you have no items but you can use them in battle (third Teaching Moment…).

Now for Fight and this is where Pokémon is amazing… you have two attacks, not one but two. Now they could have simply given you two damage dealing attacks but no, they give you one attack to deal damage and other to effect the stats of the opponent pokémon. So not only can you fight but there is more than just the action of hacking each other down to see who is the last man standing. Players can take a more tactical approach… this is not just a kids game. All of this within the first few moments and without any contextual pop-ups and hints and directions, awesome right. (Less Talk, more Rock right… right..)

Next these Professors who have researched pokémon all their lives give you an empty pokédex (an index of all pokémon and their features) and ask you to fill it up. Cool, now we have a goal. They all also say that we may embark on an adventure where our goal may as well be to defeat the gym leaders and take on the Elite 4 to become the greatest trainer, quite the challenge. This gives us, the players, clear objectives and a well defined path of progression. We can easily check our progress by seeing how many badges we have or how many pokémon we have seen or caught. And each step towards this end goal gives the players a reward,  the professors give the players certain special items and the gym leader’s badges let you use certain abilities outside of battle that helps the progression of the game. People like milestones and rewards on reaching or completing said milestones, we know this right.

Pokémon gives you a personalized experience where most of the game play isn’t taught but is experienced by the player (indirect control?). The game gives you clear goals and sets up milestones to these goals. Each milestone is rewarded and these rewards are meaningful as they let you progress to the next milestone. Also via the pokédex and player badge-case the progression of game is well tracked.

All this means is that Pokémon has a well constructed and smooth process of play, that is intuitively taught. All of the above just to prove this one sentence, I should have said “play game, the truth will come upon you”.

In the end Pokémon is a personalized experience, with clear objectives that I can use to measure progress, with an added sense of adventure and unpredictability wrapped around choices that I make while playing alongside a very deep and insightful customization system, inserted into the simplest and most common game, rock-paper-scissors.

So why do I like Pokemon? I guess I will never know…

Image Sources: Bulbapedia, twinfinite.net, Reddit.com, gamespot.com, pokemon.com