Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday afternoon tidbits

Busy weekend ahead, highlighted by a (hopefully) long Borderlands session. The jump in fun factor between single-player and co-op is enormous with this game. Single player has its rewards, but they're tough to appreciate amid some problems. In multiplayer, the joy rains down from the heavens, and there is no shelter. Excellent game. And not the kind of thing I'd have expected to like so much.

To the links!

-Clink Hocking's Click Nothing Tour hits the road this Sunday. He'll be in my neck of the woods on Wednesday at MIT. Sadly, it's at 4 in the afternoon, which makes it difficult if not impossible for me to attend. I will try.

-Brandon Sheffield intervewed Suda 51 for Gamasutra. Suda is a fascinating guy whose games are always singular creations, and he has some interesting things to say here. Still, I don't know if it's the language barrier or what, but he's also a little curt. You get exchanges like this.
Honestly, I think that that's kind of what art is about, when you just create something and other people put their own meaning into it. I can see that as a critique of voyeurism, while to you, it's just something you made.

GS: Art? Mmm...
Thanks for showing up, Suda.

-Via Game|Life, tickets are now available for PAX East! It'll be held in Boston from March 26-28, 2010. I've never been to an expo like this before, but I suppose there's no way I can duck one taking place in my backyard. I'm still hoping there's some way I can get in for free, maybe by sneaking in through the vents.

-Two interesting takes on the evolution of difficulty in games. Michael Abbott compares the Wii remake of A Boy and His Blob to the original, while C.T. Hutt revisits Earthworm Jim and finds it more challenging than he remembers. User experience is a big reason why games are easier nowadays, but I think there's an even more prosaic explanation.

In the past, games were so short that they had to be incredibly difficult in order to be worth playing. Once you know how to beat a game like Contra, you can blow through it in about 20 minutes. If you could do that on your first or second playthrough, it wouldn't seem like much of a game at all. Even though we often complain about the length of 8-10 hour games today, most of them are significantly longer than comparable titles of 20 years ago. Even a game like Super Metroid, whose gameworld seemed massive at the time, today takes about 4 hours to beat. That's nothing.

(One more example: It took me 12 years to beat Super Mario Bros. We got the Nintendo when I was 6, and I finally beat it when I was 18. Shortly thereafter, I played through the first three Super Mario Bros. games in about an hour.)

-Not related to video games, but I need to thank Kyle Orland for linking the "Eye On Springfield" tumblog in his Twitter feed. This site has improved my life in ways I cannot possibly quantify.

All right, screw this "reading" thing. Pandora awaits!


FelixIncauto said...

I'm really looking forward to Borderlands, I'm not sure if it's all the hype or viral marketing, but it does seems like a fun game. Hope to read a word or two of it from you =).

Dominic said...

I've actually made the argument several times in the past (though maybe not online...) that a high difficulty level in a game is a relic of the past, an outdated marketing imperative. Super Mario Bros. is so relevant for the videogame landscape because it introduced the progression structure (per Jesper Juul's writings) to skill-and-action games, as Crawford called them back in the day. Before, action games were emergent, and adventure/RPGs were progressive; as you point out, the games then had to be difficult if they were to last more than 20 minutes - and make it acceptable for people to pay 40$ or so for them (in 1985 dollars).

High/extreme difficulty shouldn't have its place nowadays - for a type of player, of course. 'The hardcore', as we usually call them (though the name is fraught with peril, according to most), people who take pride in 'beating' games and are stimulated by a good challenge, are in my experience and personal spheres of contacts, few and far between compared to the gamers that want to see the story of a game, or see its art, or somehow see the contents.

I'm not saying the hardcore (as in competitive FPS players and such) don't deserve their ultra-challenging games; but there's no reason to inflict the punishment of extreme difficulty levels on the 'tourists' who are just along to enjoy the sights and have fun. Ultimately, this pretty much boils down to what Ernest Adams said: Easy Mode Is Supposed to Be Easy, Dammit!

Making a game today that follows these conventions would likely not work. I am of course fully aware of the Mega Man 9 case, but I am prepared to argue that it pleased mainly, if not exclusively, A) gamers who were there at the time; B) retrogamers who weren't there but are used to these types of games; in both cases, people whose horizons of expectation includes such a high ratio of deaths/failures to progress. I'd also wager that it is received by the players who enjoy it using the mindframe of those games back in the days - they are not evaluated and approached from the frame of current game production. Of course, without "data", I could well be wrong, but I think I have some ground here. Anyone, share your numbers/impressions on this!

For the tl;dr crowd: extra-difficult games is just a historical contingency due to a marketing structure and technological context of the time when games couldn't be long enough to make them worthwhile; it'd never work today, and that's not a bad thing.

Kirk said...

I'm curious to hear more of your take on Borderlands. I didn't see it coming, either, and now I can't seem to stop playing.

Also, after getting to level 25, I feel like when played solo (I'm not a gold XBLiver anymore), the game is a nearly exact hybrid of Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2. It's not really that much like either of those games, but it is quite a bit like both of them, if that makes sense.

Setting, Music, Stats, Berserker raiders, Crazy-Addictive Leveling up, kinda jank AI = Fallout 3.

Open map dotted by respawning outposts, Universally hostile NPCs, Final objective laid out in the first five minutes of the game, Lots of walking/driving between missions, Repetitive, extremely enjoyable FPS gameplay = Far Cry 2.

As awesome as the next few weeks are going to be, I actually think that Borderlands might end up being one of the more talked-about games of the holiday season.

Its highs and lows are all just too interesting not to warrant further discussion. Even though everything in the game is ripped off (I mean, they had the ghostly vision-lady say both "would you kindly" AND "Our Benefactors," sheesh) - it still somehow feels like fresh.

Kirk said...

-ness. It feels like freshness.

dw said...

Have you ever seen Takashi Murakami's take on the difference between Japanese and American art audiences?

I think I read this in an article by the NY Times: he said that Japanese people were more likely to say, "What a beautiful shade of blue", while westerners would delve into a lots of literary and historical ideas or something.

That reminds me of Suda and Ueda: their games have tons of subtext, but they aren't directly aiming at subtext, nor do they like talking about it.

I heard Tarantino say something similar on Fresh Air: he never thinks about the subtext of the films as he's making them, but just assumes that it will be there in the end.