Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gaming log submission #2!

Sorry for not updating this blog on a weekly basis -- I've been keeping notes on my netbook in Google Docs and not uploading them anywhere else.  :(  In any case, away we go!

(Gaming from 3/12 -- 3/19)

I have spent Spring Break doing relatively little gaming, though I completed an entire research playthrough of Final Fantasy VI.  It is one of my favorite games of all time, and was a pleasure to play through again.  I am doing an interpretation of it as a Wagnerian opera for Karen Painter’s seminar.  

The soundtrack is among my favorite albums ever created -- one of the high moments in “Golden Age” jRPG writing.  There’s a lot to digest there; relationships between musical pieces that mirror the relationships between the characters they represent, neat key relations between different occurrences of melodies in different contexts, etc.  There is even an opera within the game put on by the main characters after they visit an opera house!  It’s going to be a good paper; I just hope that it fits with what Karen wants us to write (she seems fine with the idea, but knows _nothing_ about games, so we’ll wait and see...)

FFVI gets a number of things right.  First, the jRPG genre at large emphasizes storytelling over gameplay experience, and FFVI is very aware of this.  It is a simple task to have characters that are unkillable by the end of the game -- there’s even a spell that will automatically resurrect you when you die!  As a result of this, players are invited to focus in on what the game does very well -- tell a story.  (The gameplay is excellent also, but it’s really the story that carves the game’s place in the history books).  Second, the game has a very musically complex score, with different character themes being related to one another in intelligent ways that underscores the relationships different characters have with each other.  Like Journey last week, FFVI is one of the games that really demonstrates the potential of games as a medium for creative story-telling.   

I believe I have mentioned League of Legends before, but as I continue to play with my regular group, something has occurred to me.  League games unfold over approximately 45 minutes -- very close to the amount of time a single college lecture takes up.  There is a dramatic rise of tension and a feeling of accomplishment almost every time I play a complete game, win or lose.  I’d love for my rock class at 8:00 AM to leave feeling like they conquered something -- I’d even settle for them leaving feeling like they _did_ something besides get through another hour of lecture / review.  Note:  I don’t just lecture; we do a lot of group work and discussion....but at the same time, the average energy level of my 8 AM students suggests that they do not leave class feeling particularly invigorated.  It’d be nice to fix this somehow.  I have not had these types of problems with 9:00 or 11:00 classes -- maybe it’s just the earliest time period that causes the lower energy in the room?

(Gaming from 3/5 -- 3/12)

This week in gaming was dedicated almost exclusively to the new release of the week:  Street Fighter X Tekken.  The game really gets a lot of things right, and I think that it will be around for a while.  In many ways, it is also the first fighter of the generation to truly be welcoming to new players, something I’ll get to in a second.  When Street Fighter IV began the fighting game renaissance, it was released as a game for those of us who had played Street Fighter II in the 1990s; there was an extremely high execution barrier, and we were all encouraged to get arcade joysticks in the Japanese style that cost hundreds of dollars.  Marvel vs Capcom 3 was in many ways even more complex -- in SFIV you can at least tell what’s going on as a casual player.  

SFxTekken adds a number of new devices designed to help players adjust to a “new” 2D fighting game genre -- the biggest one is almost certainly the Gem System.  Each character on your tag-team of two (I use Jin and Xiaoyu from Tekken, but you could just as easily pick Ryu and Guile from Street Fighter if you were unfamiliar with the series) has a loadout of three gems that activate under various conditions.  These gems provide small benefits -- 10% damage boost, 15% damage reduction, 10% increased walking speed, etc.  For new players there are also gems that assist player inputs directly.  Players can choose gems that make special move inputs easier (instead of a fireball being ‘quarter-circle forward+punch’, it becomes just ‘forward+punch’), which is a great boon for new players in that it allows them to have access to all of the tools professional players do.  Similarly, at costs to your super meter (which is what powers high-damaging moves), there are assist gems that will automatically block attacks that you don’t, and gems that will automatically escape throws!  At high level play, this changes the game from rock-paper-scissors (attack-block-throw) to just rock-paper for one of those gems, or just rock for both of them (though if you use both, you will run out of meter very quickly and the gems will then cease to function).  This flexibility is incredible in allowing new players to feel like they can compete, even if they are miles below their opponents in terms of skill.  It’d be nice to be able to provide my poor students some sort of system that gets them halfway there, enabling the sort of practice that creates good students.

Lastly, I really need to borrow a PS3 soon to play through Journey.  It looks and sounds amazing.  I don’t have much to say about it in terms of education, but Journey is going to be one of those games that moves the entire medium forward, much like “Dear Esther” from February (which I will be buying myself soon to support).  I love the idea of exploring different, boldly new types of multiplayer, another thing that Journey does astoundingly well (as did Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, two other PS3 exclusives...though they are outrageously difficult).

Gaming 2/27 - 3/5

I have heard about Peggle for a long time now -- it was seeing it in the McGonigal that finally motivated me to buy it.  It has been the gaming success of the year in my house.  Addie is asking to play without any motivation from me, which is a thing that essentially doesn’t happen...and it’s awesome.

The game is essentially some combination of Pachinko and “Plinko” from The Price is Right.  It is incredibly simple...and as a result, you always have this strong belief that you could do just a little bit better if you tried it again.  They mix things up by allowing you to choose one of ten (eleven in the sequel, which I am beginning to make my way through on my netbook) helpers that provide specific gameplay advantages.  For instance, you can have the computer tell you the first two bounce angles that your ball will make (normally hidden information), or you can have the computer determine how to tweak your shot to make it better.

Lastly, the musical presentation is extremely comical.  When you succeed at knocking out all of the orange bricks in the allotted number of shots (which is the central goal of the game), then immediately, the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony kicks in, and the whole screen is covered in a gigantic rainbow.  It is so positive-energy as to be comical, but I am yet to be displeased when it happens.  The camera also slows down before the last brick is hit, really helping to create that moment of fiero when you emerge victorious.  

Relating all of this to our readings, I find that Peggle is extremely rewarding for an extremely simple amount of effort -- easier to get into than real life, as it were.  It should say something that it is the only game I regularly play on my school netbook.

Gaming 2/20 - 2/27

World of Warcraft is becoming much more fun now that I can speed around faster than most players in my druid’s cat form.  I find myself _really_ missing fast travel from the Elder Scrolls games.  There is no good reason why I shouldn’t be able to teleport around the world map to major locations whenever I want.  It is a waste of time to have to walk everywhere; being able to run 30% faster than everyone else at least places a greater value on my time.  I am really looking forward to Guild Wars 2 which will include fast travel and other various ways to respect my time.  Compared to reality, I currently find myself wasting a lot of time getting from place to place in WoW, which is not what McGonigal or Gee would have me get out of it.

In other gaming:  the latest Kirby game is incredible.  Kirby is a platformer with the option for a second player to join in, much like Donkey Kong Country Returns, Rayman: Origins, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  What makes Kirby shine above the others thus far is that the second player (or third and fourth) is provided with a real sense of agency.  Having a second player around is incredibly useful, since the main player never has to have the Sword, Spear, or Hammer powers in order to accomplish things (those powers are always selectable by the 2nd player).  It has made the co-op experience of the game much, much better than it would have been otherwise, if Addie had to play as Kirby instead of one of the cast that comes built in with weapons.  The fact that she can rotate weapons on command, or even switch to a second Kirby, allows her to have whatever playstyle she wants at any given moment.  It is very nice to have real cooperative play, something that even WoW doesn’t have at the level we are playing; even if we could form groups, I would likely form groups with friends who know what they are doing and therefore are more useful than me, even if my stats would say otherwise.  How can we invite students who perform at lesser skill levels to feel like they can engage with our “smart” kids like Kirby does?  An interesting take away this week.

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