Rationale and Authorship (Heavy Rain)

July 27th, 2010

Now that we understand the different roles the player commandeers in a video game, we can begin to understand the rationale behind our choices made in Heavy Rain.

Because of the subject matter, I will obviously be divulging major plot spoilers, so I urge you not to read on if you haven’t already completed Heavy Rain. If you have, however, then please feel free to include your own rationale in the comments section below. Perhaps we will compile the most interesting responses in a separate article if there’s enough interest.

Trial #1
Driving into Head-on Traffic

Being the initial trial, the parameters of the Origami Killer’s twisted game aren’t yet so clear. Like many, I presume, I accepted this trial partly under the assumption that the game wouldn’t hurt me – that so long as I followed the rules, Ethan would remain unscathed. This assumption and the supposition that “hey, it’s a game and I should just play along” overrid the consideration set outlined in the previous article. My assumptions turned out not to be true — whether by my inputs or by design, I don’t know — as I completed the challenge, but flipped the car and could not reach my reward.

Trial #2
The Electricity Plant

Considering the pain Ethan went through in the prior trial, I felt a little uneasy about the electricity plant. You could just tell that things were going to get worse. There are two stages to this trial but only one decision, since you cannot bail out of crawling through the glass-filled chamber. The question is whether you’re willing to walk through the electric minefield. The generators instill a sharp sense of fright and my knee-jerk reaction would have been to steer clear. However, above all else, I wanted to relieve Ethan of this burden and I knew that irrespective of me, he would have seriously contemplated this decision. I don’t know very much about power stations and while venturing ahead would obviously put Ethan at high risk, this unfamiliarity with the danger allowed me the waver the ethical dilemma of any unfortunate consequences. As such, I made my way through, but misread the signs and nearly killed myself, prompting Ethan to automatically forfeit.

Trial #3
Cutting off the End of Your Finger

The third trial will always stick in my mind as its the most savage of Heavy Rain‘s emotional string-pulling, and the first time a game made me feel immense frustration and self-hate. You’re situated in a vacant room and asked to cut off the end of your finger in front of the camera with any of the utensils available in the room. The stress is compounded by the fact that you will fail to cut your finger from the bone on your first attempt and have to fight the agony in a second attempt.

This decision prompted a primal sense of rationality, so I was quick to make and execute on my decision. I decided to go ahead with it. There was, of course, some conflict. As a viewer and a director, I knew that I would be putting Ethan in a world of agony that he would never wish to experience and I would certainly condemn myself for watching, let alone participating in. The chips were stacked against me though; I’d failed the last two trials which meant that Shaun would drown to death if I didn’t produce results. There was nothing in my way this time. I could get a tangible result, all I needed was to go through with the torture. Furthermore, having gone through this much pain already, I imagine that cutting off a part of a finger would be within Ethan’s threshold of pain. I acted quickly and chose the first tool I could find: a pair of scissors. I didn’t even look for anything else; who knows, the game might go back on its rules, but I needed to ensure a win here.

Trial #4
Killing the Drug Dealer

Would you kill someone to save someone else? The rational answer is “no.” It doesn’t make sense to forfeit someone else’s life for the potential of saving another’s. Heavy Rain played on these assumptions though. The target is a drug dealer who, when spurred, tried to end your life. In which case, killing a violent drug dealer can almost be regarded as an act of community service; if caught, Ethan could vouch for self-defense. Another fold to throw your deliberation occurs right before you make the decision, when the drug dealer quivers that he too is a father and pleads against his potential retribution.

I chose in favor of my understanding of Ethan, who I believed wouldn’t go so far as to kill someone else. I made this decision before I even went to the house as I believed quite strongly in my interpretation of the avatar. I am pleased with the decision I made.

Trial #5
Drinking the Vial

The final trial is a fitting apotheosis to the game: would you sacrifice your own life for someone else’s? I had a feeling that it would all come down to this, but the means at which it does (drinking a vial of poison allowing enough time for you to free your son) removes any potential distraction; it all comes down to principles.

I chose not to drink the vial. I figured that given my completion of only one trial, it was likely that Shaun would die and that it would be better to let Ethan survive and live with Madison (who can counsel him) as opposed to letting Shaun survive but live with the anguish of watching his father die. In this way, it was better for Ethan as he had an emotional attachment which could aid him if his son did in fact die in the rain. This decision was universal amongst the roles. It is an ethically sound decision that I wanted to see happen and believed that Ethan would too.

End Game

My endgame hinged on my final decision before I left the hospital as Madison: the orchid in the hallway. This opened the way to the house of the Origami Killer, which I successfully escaped from. I also guessed the proper password for the address of Shaun’s whereabouts which lead to the final confrontation. I couldn’t solve the crime as Jayden, so it came down to a battle between Ethan and the Origami killer which I won. In the end, Madison, Ethan and Shaun move into a new apartment together and Jayden retires.

Conclusion

There you have it, the reasoning behind and outcomes of my Heavy Rain adventure. Despite failing terribly at points throughout the game, I succeeded in the end. What about you? What was your rationale and how did you manage your different roles in deciding on your actions? Please let us know through the comments.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit – A Review

July 25th, 2010

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Developed by Intelligent Systems rather than fixed regulars EAD, Mario Kart: Super Circuit plays the Mario Kart formula pretty safe between the lines of the first 2D and 3D iterations of the series (Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, respectively). Rather than attempt to break new ground by introducing new play mechanics, Super Circuit sets its focus on being a well-executed hybrid of previous games.

For players of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, the mixed blood elements, namely the combination of the hop and power-sliding, are readily apparent. In Super Mario Kart, a push of the right trigger causes the player to hop, making it possible to leapfrog over minor obstacles, while, at other times, the hop can be exploited to displace your kart at an angle advantageous for sharp cornering. In Mario Kart 64, players could slip into a power slide allowing for long drifts around corners, closing with a speed boost if the player could sufficiently wiggle the control stick back and forth. Super Circuit kinda does both, leaning a little more towards the Super NES iteration. Hopping is still useful for bookending long turns and avoiding minor obstacles, however, if the player holds their slide down long enough a boost will automatically be granted—no wiggling required. Part of the problem with this design is that rarely is there a turn wide enough for players to earn a boost. Or putting it another way, the duration of time required to stay in a power slide is largely incongruent with the nippy curves and bends Super Circuit‘s tracks provide. Furthermore, the tipping point at which you’ll gain a boost (or not) is too difficult to judge, leaving you dependent on the safer bet of bunny-hopping each corner in a spasm of undercutting leaps and slides.

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In regards these twist and turns, Super Circuit is a constant barrage of immediate, oncoming corners which leave you ill-prepared and exasperated. The flashing direction markers become a point of reliance, yet, through the brief visual disconnects created against the player’s place on the track, these signposts work to frequently hinder the player as much as aid them. Coming into a corner I found myself fraught with anxiety, thrown off by the directional aid and unsure of how to first judge the bend; at which angle to enter, and then whether or not to hold a slide, bunny hop or break-stop my kart. The split-second immediacy of the corners hampers flow and throws any form of tactical strategy out the window.

Intelligent Systems’ pragmatic, hardware-concious approach shines through well on the GBA. The use of bright colours help boost the back-light-lacking GBA screen and cups are streamlined to fit in around a portable-friendly 5-6 minute time frame. A quick run mode where you can play any track is also included for short bursts of play. The fact that the 2D character sprites are now modelled on 3D models (as opposed to the flat, textureless SNES sprites) visually make the competition easier to interpret

Intelligent Systems also display an astuteness in the track designs which draw and build upon prior games. Previous games featured shortcuts, yes, but Super Circuit almost goes overboard with hidden routes. (Such a generous number of shortcuts is quite rare in most racing games). Rainbow Road is an excellent example, ramps outline almost the entire track, peppered for all sorts of creative short cuts when teamed with a mushroom or boost pad. As this video below shows, it’s very easy to shave time off your position with a little bit of risk and initiative.

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Those awesome loop-around ramps from Mario Circuit 3 return in various permutations, as do obstructions which can be avoided by hopping over, like water puddles. Overall, there’s a fine degree of creative nuance permeating each track, from shortcuts (both major and minor), to weather effects which change per lap, and course-specific obstructions.

On reaching the end of this article, I’m feeling a little uncommitted to my criticisms of the boosting system. I stand by what I say, of course, but I can’t also help but get that lingering feeling that I still haven’t grasped the way the Super Circuit is intended to be played. Having gold-medalled all of the cups (bar the SNES ones), at this point, I feel that if I’ve gotten this far without having properly understood the power sliding mechanics, then there must be something awry with the intuitiveness of this mechanic. I’m really unsure to be honest, if you have any experience with this title, then please do give a holler.

User-generated Content as Sustainability

July 24th, 2010

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From Adventure Construction Set to WADs, mods, community tools and those RPG maker games, user-generated content has been a long-running staple of video game continuity. Nowadays, with the infrastructure of the internet and possible global networking, games like LittleBigPlanetWario Ware DIYFlipnote and Mod Nation Racers are overtly orientating their systems around a model of community tools and user-generated content. In a sense, games of this nature have formed a pseudo genre of networked user-generated-orientated games. 

Currently in the games industry, when a game developer creates a worthwhile gameplay system which proves to be successful (Guitar HeroMadden, for instance), publishers often capitalize on the success and sequalize the gameplay out of existence. User-generated content, I think, offers a fantastic opportunity for developers of these tried and true gameplay systems to establish a self-sustaining environment for content and community, effectively consolidating a franchise in the one place as opposed to killing interest by burning out sequels to an annual business model. 

To prove my case, I’ll use the Tony Hawk series as an example. We’re all pretty down on Mr Hawk after each yearly iteration of the Pro Skater series added new mechanics to the point where the franchise became unrecognizable to the mainstream and alienated everyone else. Let’s not even begin on Tony Hawk Ride

Despite the disdain we may carry for Activision and the Hawkster, Tony Hawk’s Proskater 2 is still awesome, is it not? That game and the systems contained within it will always remain good, regardless of how Activision drive the later games into the ground. Theoretically speaking, if Neversoft reclaimed the mantle, streamlined all of the needless complexity of the later releases, packed in a meaty ‘best of’ selection of levels from THPS-THP8 and centered the experience around accessible construction tools and a networked community of level creators, I figure that the Tony Hawk games of yesteryear would have a respectful place to roost and the brand would gain some credibility back. I enjoyed playing and making levels for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, as did millions of other players, and there’s no reason why we wouldn’t want to revisit this franchise if it were given the proper treatment and allowed to grow. Appeasing fans by recognizing the significance of prior titles is a good idea at this point for Activision. Reworking these games in a HD format and creating an environment which will keep this type of game alive, is a step beyond that. 

As we’ve discovered through downloadable services like Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and Steam, old gameplay systems don’t have to fade into obscurity, particularly when they’re still fun. This generation has taught us that well designed games like Mega Man can live forever while those which are a little archaic, like Bionic Commando Rearmed, can adopt modern design sensibilities and start anew. Self-sustaining systems of content like user-generated content – if viable – are an even better means of not only preserving the past, but keeping it fresh and relevant for a contemporary audience.