Dogs and Cats Living Together

Wait. What? Kotaku makes another asinine trolling post and the commenters reply with (mostly) reasoned discretion? I’m scared. Hold me.

The roommate picked up Guitar Hero III and his seventh… seventh… guitar last night. We had some good times rocking out on co-op. We got up to Metallica’s “One” before repeatedly failing. That song makes you really feel like a rock star. It should hold us over until Rock Band hits at the end of the month. If you haven’t played the “Cult of Personality” bass line on Hard yet, you are missing out on the best bass line in the series. Do it.

Mondo Medicals

I forgot to post about this. A couple weeks ago, I played an excellent entry in TIGsource.com’s “B-games” competition. There were a lot of quality games (surprising, given the prompt) and I haven’t had the time to play through a significant fraction of them. One I did play however, that absolutely knocked my socks off (for what it was) is called “Mondo Medicals” by a guy whose handle is Cactus. The game is available on his site. You may need a walkthrough on the later stages (I did), but it did more to evoke emotion than most retail games I’ve seen of late.

Here is a writeup of other entrants.

Roll Out

I was a big fan of Katamari Damacy. Big big fan. I had it preordered before all you bandwagoners jumped on. So having a cold or the plague or whatever I have, I was confined to the couch and figured I’d pop in the latest release: Beautiful Katamari. As a player, it is exactly what you expect from a Katamari game – you roll things up, there’s some silly shit, it’s a good time. But as a fan, Beautiful Katamari absolutely fails where the original succeeded.

One of the fantastic things about the original was how seamless the final stage was: you start as a tiny Katamari with gigantic objects in the distance that you can just barely fathom and then you eventually over the course of the stage, gain the girth the roll them up. This is done technically by the “zoom outs”, where each zoom out changes the scale and “rollability” of each object in the game. In the original, this was seamless. You never realized when an object went from background to a game object. But in Beautiful Katamari, that seemlessness is gone. Objects pop into the world when you zoom out (and likewise, small objects pop away). The worst offender is in the final stages where you feel like you have a grasp of the entire environment and then when you reach 300m, thousands of objects just appear out of nowhere. A subsequent “zoom out” then apes the credits of the original by taking you out of the world you were in and sticking you against the Earth to roll up countries. The feel is completely different.

That isn’t all I am disappointed with either. The “wackiness” isn’t there. The king’s quips aren’t as odd or funny as they have been. The songs are mostly reused from the previous game (And why God why did they reuse the Dog’s Barking remix of Katamari on the Rocks?). The level design seems to have entailed throwing maximum amounts of junk into the level with little regard for size or progression. I felt in the final level of the original that there was an optimal path to take – in this version, I feel like you just keep rolling and see what happens. The framerate jumps back and forth between unplayable and silk. It was more consistent on the PS2!

There are things to like, of course. The leaderboards are nice. The variety of presents is expanded and the cousin and presents you used appear on the leaderboard beside your score. The final credits have a fantastic 2d minigame that is actually more playable than the game itself.

But as a fan, I am sorely disappointed. Katamari Damacy used to be an inspiration for game designers – that you could create something with love and playfulness that appeals to the essence of play rather than the serious capital A Art that many designers want above delivering actual fun. There was a license here to recreate that fun and go nuts and it feels like they just went through the motions. Whether it is the fault of the designers, team or management, it is impossible to tell, but the end result is something that is a shadow of the original.

Additives

Finished the main story of Portal this weekend and loved it.  Everyone complains about how short it is, but it does have various high-score and advanced modes that unlock afterwards. It’s best that it doesn’t overstay its welcome like most games this generation.

That said, here’s some interesting metacritic shenanigans: Orange Box averages a 96 on metacritic (PC). However, separately, Episode 2 averages 91, Team Fortress 2 averages 93 and Portal averages 88.  I have no idea where the extra five percentage points come from, other than the Valve love-fest. (Half-Life 2 averaged 96 and Episode 1 averaged 87).

Of course, I am assuming that quality is independent of price, which may be a false assumption.

Spinning Lady

So this is the strangest optical illusion I’ve ever seen. First, I’ll let you get an unanchored look at it:

Is she spinning clockwise or counterclockwise? Most of us would say counter, I assume. But if you look at it for a while, you may start to see her spinning in the other direction. If you see it as clockwise, you may be using more right-brain functions. If counter, left brain.

At first, I thought it was a trick, then I was able to get it to switch and switch back after some struggling. This isn’t a trick. Link to where it was found, via kottke.

Getting Ahead of Ourselves

Bioshock spoilers follow. If you haven’t played through it yet, then what the hell are you waiting for?

I like Clint Hocking. I got to meet him when he came to CMU some time back to assist in Jesse Schell’s Game Design class. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and I admire his work. I just cringe when people use words like “ludonarrative” like he does in his critique of Bioshock. It’s not that the terminology is wrong – in fact, it is quite precise. But I feel like designers and (puke) ludologists want to get high-falutin’ with their discourse before the subject matter warrants it. I don’t feel like we, as an industry, have earned the right to talk like that and take ourselves so seriously. I won’t get into the ‘are games art?’ discussion because it is idiotic, but we really need a greater quality and quantity of titles that deserve analysis before we can start talking like an Ivy League humanities senior thesis.

Regarding his critique, I think he gets Objectivism wrong. While I am no Rand expert, I do have a passing knowledge of the tenets. His main critique of the game is that that for you to be consistent as a character, you should side with Andrew Ryan and not Atlas, because it wouldn’t be an Objectivist approach to help Ryan and the mechanics demand an Objectivist approach. Here I disagree. The mechanics demand that you adapt and survive – this isn’t Objectivist or Collectivist – it is a natural principle. You don’t have the option to walk away.

The choice in harvesting or rescuing the Little Sisters isn’t a moral choice if you step outside the fourth wall. You know that there is some reason that the game designers gave you this choice and you assume that you will be rewarded later for doing the merciful thing. You would be correct in that assumption. This is the same meta-reasoning that you use when you go to the movies. You know that it is likely that the good guy will kill the bad guy, get the girl, etc and wrap it up in around two hours. Additionally, since the Little Sisters are not real, it isn’t much of a moral choice. There are no external consequences for choosing to harvest. It is a math problem.

Since the rescue/harvest option isn’t a moral choice, it becomes an exercise in statistics. This is not inconsistent with the character or the game mechanics unless you have imprinted a moral character onto Jack Ryan that isn’t explicitly spelled out by the authors.

I personally found the ‘would you kindly’ twist to be clever. Clint found it insulting. Now, I don’t want every game to try to ape it. There can only be one Sixth Sense. If every movie tried the same twist, it would get to the point where it was insulting. But here, the authors take what is a given assumption that exists outside the game and turn it into a narrative element.

There were a lot of things that bothered me about Bioshock, some of which I nitpicked unfairly earlier, but as I had time to reflect, there were glaring issues with the narrative that can’t be ignored. For instance, becoming a Big Daddy was supposed to be an irreversible process. Yet, in the “happy” ending you can return to the surface and live a normal life? That was supposed to be a sacrifice – you have broken Fontaine’s mind control and you finally have a chance to make a real self-sacrifice. The “bad” ending makes no sense at all. I’ll just leave that one at that. And why does a Big Daddy attack you in the end (from a narrative standpoint?). It makes no sense at all besides offering a tough firefight to cap off a level.

There are serious issues with Bioshock that we forgive because it is intelligent, different and fun. If the story was perfect, I’d feel folks were justified in nitpicking thematic bugaboos. But it isn’ and we will be trying to hit moving targets if we forget the order of importance: elements, narrative, theme. If the game elements don’t work, the narrative or theme do not matter. If the narrative doesn’t work, the theme doesn’t matter. In this case, the narrative “kinda” works. Let’s get to a place where it works and then we can pontificate on theme.