Wario Land 4 – Hall of Hieroglyphs Design Analysis [Video]

May 8th, 2013

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This morning I was playing around with doing a video commentary piece on Anna Anthrophy’s Mighty Jill Off. I’ve been meaning to write about this game’s level design for a while, but because the game’s only playable in full screen—meaning I can’t play a bit and then type about it, or quickly stress test my comments on the fly—I never finished my article. I knew that the video wouldn’t work because I needed to have taken some notes first, but I gave it a shot anyway, just to prolong my procrastination. After not getting very far, I thought that I could do something similar on Wario Land 4, and came up with the video above. It’s pretty rough (so many “it’s important”s) and I didn’t do any preparation, but I’m still curious to know what you all think of it? Let me know in the comments.

On Games and Non-games, I Made a Game Too [Playtesters Needed]

May 5th, 2013

Over the past week or so, I’ve been having a rather extensive conversation with indie games developer, Dan Cox. Dan has been refreshingly direct and open, so it’s been easy to quickly drill down into specifics. One of our discussion points was, and still is, the difference between a game and a non-game, or more specifically the definition of “game”. We both agree that games involve interactivity, but we disagree over whether they require challenges of player skill. I believe that they do need challenges, something which the academia Dan linked to also supports (that’s not to mention other academics whose work revolves around the premise of games as challenges, Jim Gee and Henry Jenkins are two good examples). One of the questions I’ve proposed to Dan is that if games don’t need challenges, then what distinguishes them from, say, a light switch, which has interactivity, but no challenge? I think that this question gets to the heart of the matter: if it’s not challenges, then aside from interactivity, what makes a game a game?

Some say that differentiating between games and non-games (like Proteus, Judith, and dys4ia) is a value judgement, but this is nonsense. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. A clear distinction prevents unfair and unfavourable comparisons between the two mediums, as some of the coverage of non-games by the games press has been of late. Here is an example of a non-game (well, not quite, but we’ll get to that in a minute) being treated as a game and here is an example of a non-game being treated as a non-game. Notice the difference?

There’s another dimension to this discussion, which is that within the definition of games, there are games which privilege gameplay and those which don’t. Think of games as existing on a spectrum of gameplay. On one side there’s pure puzzle games like Picross DS, on the other there’s games with only interactivity and a few easy challenges like Journey, and between them is, say, the new Tomb Raider game. Picross and friends are all about gameplay. They have no fancy graphics or gripping stories to distract the player, it’s just pure knowledge skills. Tomb Raider has solid, if not generic, third-person shooting gameplay, however, it often puts story and set pieces ahead of the player’s learning and mastery. Journey borders on a simulation, but because its easy challenges are compulsory, it still qualifies as a game. Because gameplay is learning and learning is hard, in recent years, game companies have been pushing the industry closer to the right-hand side of the spectrum, including more passive elements in their games so as to appeal to a larger audience and rake in more cash. That is to say, capitalism is killing gameplay. It’s no wonder I’m a socialist.

So why bring all this stuff up?

A few months ago, I caught onto the recent Twine phenomena and did a little investigating. (For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a super short explanation of how Twine works). What I found was that many of the people out there claiming to be making Twine games are in fact making choose your own adventure stories and calling them games. The only game, as in interactive system that tests the player’s skill, that I could find was, incidentally enough, Dan Cox’s Cnossus, which is a game on the grounds of being so obtuse that just figuring out where you’re meant to be going is a challenge. So in response to all the misconceptions around Twine games, I thought that I’d try to make the first ever video game in Twine. No, not an interactive fiction, text adventure or a poor emulation of a pre-existing game (like quizzes or game shows), but a video game that tests player skill. Furthermore, I wanted to stick to the essence of Twine, text and hyperlinks,. After all, it’s all too easy to just import a Flash or Javascript game onto your main page and call it a Twine game. So, after stress testing a game design and story concept, I finished my Twine game last week. I’m reasonably content with what I’ve made, but it still needs to be playtested so that I can tweak up some of the gameplay challenges. If you’re interested in trying out my Twine game and giving some feedback, then please leave your name and email in the comments and I’ll send you a copy and some information to go with it. Oh, and I’m still looking for anyone who wants to discuss game design for female players. So, if you’re an avid female player or have a female friend, partner, or sister that plays games, I’d love to chat.