ROLE-playing in the world of Skyrim

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Wanted to share this storyteller’s youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLt4dvC3zSbYDeHo-LrMVrvLPH6ktuD2O7 because he has a ton of really amazingly intricate stories built that can enrich the Skyrim experience with elaborate well written character naratives and many interesting ideas of gameplay approaches to complement the actual ROLE-playing. For example i found this story surprising:

Woow! so much story building, and quite elaborate good dramatic stories, too. I quite admire that. This is like using the game/gameplay of Skyrim like a tabletop Dungeon Master would use props and tool, all with the end of telling/experiencing a story. It’s a whole different way of looking at the game and one that adds a whole other dimension.

 

Another fascinating shockingly intricate story. I’m so sorry they disabled the class specialization that was there in Morrowind (was it there in Oblivion?).

Skyrim Playstyles

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I’ve played this game for so long in what i thought were different ways, yet it seems there’s still things I haven’t tried and this video gave me ideas. I’m currently rediscovering on Switch which was fun enough on itself but the illusion playstyle… i never thought it was doable… how intriguing.

Art of Assassin’s Creed Book

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like… woow! What amazing artwork, what amazing artists, what an amazing world. And how amazing that it was actually brought to life in ways that sometimes even surpass the source with a whole bigger than the sum of it’s parts. Available on Amazon.

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Jaco hint: an ax, a Nazi: full of possibility

This week we have a proposal from the gameSketch guessing champ Jaco himself!

 
Usual rules: 3 tries per person. Winner gets to propose a gameSketch. x5 multiplier for first timers. Newcomers: you may ask for 3 freebies even if you didn’t yet guess anything. Outstanding credits: Firefish x34, Jason Clark 10, Jaco x100, Marius, SebastianKErben x18, Radu x45, , 47Crows x19, Ange, PettyX90 x7, Pori x2, Tarpo x5, player347 x9, Diana x6, VideoGamesAsArt x2 , thegazer x9, BiaHawks x7, rsocu x5, Teofil S. Awaiting scenes from you guys.

 

Behind the Cuphead Music

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Interesting peek behind the curtain, nice music on a game with memorable artistic retro visuals.

Facial Capture Tech Discussion [L.A. Noire]

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Great technical insights.

Belgium has not (yet?) declared Loot Boxes Gambling

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This seems a correction to a previous news floating around such as this one. Still, things do seem to be moving in that direction regardless. For example the politician speaking at 8:47 seems to have figured out a niche that will get him what all politicians want: a lot of attention, and since others want that too, i see it likely to have more dominoes falling:

“loot boxes becoming the corn syrup of the games industry” :))

Belgium declares Loot Boxes Gambling

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When I yesterday finally wrote down my predictions for the lootboxing of games I totally did not expect this direction. Even though as a player I’m tempted to be happy of this and the implication, I find it rather scary, as once the govs get a taste of the games industry they might go much further than we as gamers might want, either by finding a new industry to parasite and tax & regulate into stagnation or even the unimaginable, going to deciding for us that all games are “according to a new study” somehow dangerous for us to play and then “for our own good” proceed to banning/censoring a lot of them (already I live in a country where I can’t buy some of the best zombie games). Call me a paranoid if you want to, and indeed I don’t find this probable, but there’s just too many fables of the rabbit calling in the lion to help with the fox and then later with the fox gone getting eaten (and their application in kingdoms past through history).

 

PS: new develompents here

Microz and the Futurez?

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This is a collection of “industry pulse” videos I’ve seen in the past month on the subject, some with what I thought were good points to think about. I had been meaning to make predictions video on the subject, so for lack of time I’ll just mix the predictions in here:

I also believe that this is a consumption of buildup credibility and there’ll be a to them surprising point where all the resentment will bubble up possibly in a surprising way.
Prediction 1: “increase in inequality”: I expect some will get away with it, those who also deliver a particularly good game anyway, but the consumers will build up a resentment towards the system. If you go out and pay 70$ for a game because it is unique and special in some way but reaaaly hate some parts of it, that part of the vote is not getting through, so it remains bottled up, looking for another way to express itself. The reason i make the inequality joke reference here is because big huge games will get away with it, while smaller games I expect will get the builtup sh** storm. Most people are getting the next Red Dead Redemption/GTA game even if it has them, because surely it’ll have great stuff in it besides that, but those same people might then spill a lot of hate on the next ones that try to do similar on a lower budget/expertise.

Prediction 2: “voting with your pocket will remain more important than words”: By this I mean that as longs as consumers will spend lots of money in microz the popular outrage will be irrelevant. This is in the past referenced by games which got bad reviews but great sales or the other way around, where I often found myself defending the great sales and criticizing the imo pretentious reviewers who expected the masses to buy based on their tastes or some moralistic aspect of games when the people, myself included, just wanted quality entertainment, (and not as dictated by the elite). Although from a design & incentives perspective this model Just like how one can easily imagine a vicious cycle for the model, where the devs make your game feel frustrating and incomplete to encourage purchases, there could be a virtuous cycle too, where a BIIIG game, say take AC Origins, in addition (not instead!!! this is the crucial point) to a big world offers also a “store” for other experiences/artwork. This could be virtuous in the sense of creating a financial possibility for great artists to be constantly developing new content. In this model the game itself would become like an “amazon store” for game content. This however is made somewhat unlikely by the incentives of human nature plus a question that i’ve been wondering about a lot for years but never got to write a full article about: “how much of the new-ness of a game experience is in fact ‘the programming’ as opposed to the artwork”. This would be solved if say an ingame store could actually sell you new ways to explore that world or interact with it, but this is borderline impossible on the difficulty scale. Anyway, back to the prediction, I think people will continue to buy great games, but this getting on their nerves will increasingly raise their expectations and lower their tolerance. Also this fits in with the fact that a free game will be more tolerated with this than an expensive one, where there’s the risk of people simply reverting to buying only the biggest titles and drying out revenue for the 2nd and 3rd best, making it a winner take all market like in P1 above.

Prediction 3: “it will become a bashing/bragging point”: I see microz (i’ll use this term to denote micro-transactions+lootboxes+the ecosystem thei incentivize) a similar credibility consumption of builtup past years, just like when govs after years of stability take the rational decision to “monetize” the accumulated credibility through inflation resulting in additional revenue streams: what they have in common is that they’re both rational on the part of the actors, and predictable in their incentives, make big outrage but have an evolutionary competition aspect to it where the actors in the end decide to do it. I’ve seen it also with softwares I loved (Winamp, Nero, Windows, Yahoo, … ) And as there here in games too I expect as one company decides to go this route another more entrepreneurial one will rise by being the new innovator advocating the desires of the customers and getting their praises even as the old titan for a while continues to get the bulk of the income and people. Thus I expect to become even more a badge of honor in some games’ hat when they don’t have microz, this getting them media attention and sales, while the old fans of the older ones will stick to those but slowly drift away. And then the cycle will repeat. I’m remembering here for example how I was very happy to support Good Old Games as a platform that just gives you the game with DRM, and as they were tiny they were a great deal but then as they grew I started to notice a tendency for them too to want to get people to use their own downloader… i see it as an eternal evolutionary competition, but unfortunately from what I’ve seen with countries rarely can a slope be reversed once it starts in one direction, instead it is more likely that some new actor comes in with a new mentality.

Prediction 3: “multiplayer focus”: I expect the issue will more strongly affect multiplayer games… but also for this reason tempt more and more singleplayer games into becoming “social” in some way (a possibility is like MGS5 did), for human nature reasons: you might or might not buy a purple star sparkly cloak for just you too see, but once there’s other viewers many will want to do the “conspicuous consumption” + identity thing. I expect the multiplayer side to get more income on this and thus push it stronger, while the spicy thing for news watchers will be that those same multiplayer players being so aware of social status will also be the likeliest to make very vocal cries of unfairness in a similar fashion to the general cries for social equality. This will be contradicting as the same people will be the ones buying the most to get an edge… but the push of our species as a social one might be very strong (i’ve even heard people advocating getting the state/laws involved on the arguments of regulating gambling or consumer protection). For this double edged reason we should see more PR trickery and spins as well as debuffing of those spins as they fall into disrepute after working a while.

 

Prediction 4: bad but also good design changes to support microz: This seems kinda obvious, but wait, I’ll actually get a bit more spicy speciffic. In some cases they’ll be obvious perversions, like when a game which should be a survival horror can lose it’s character by becoming pay to progress, however interestingly enough it’s the nature of producers trying to please consumers that even while asking for money they might actually satisfy little known consumer needs. For example in the past couple of years I’ve felt a huge undercurrent of people wanting “hard games”. This comes contrary to the previous decade or two when games got easier and easier in order to reach a mass market, but as it did some gamers wanted a return to “bragging rights games”. Interestingly enough with microz I see that as becoming a possibility.  Take for example the last two games I’ve been playing Shadow of War and AC Origins: both are at times shockingly hard. And I don’t think this is accidental. The difficulty gives the dev an opportunity to sell “helping items”. So i find it a makes-me-laugh kind of paradox where a “consumer exploitation” direction will actually respond to a pretty deep consumer need. Suddenly again devs will make hard games.. which sure, some will pay their way through, but some will actually enjoy the challenge and take it as an excuse to spend more time and get more immersed into their favorite fictional worlds.

 

Prediction 5: good things will be done out of self interest : This one’s very Adam Smith-ian. Many people foolishly expect devs to make fantastic content for free, or appeal to a sense of morality and sense of quality, but until the west goes to full on central planning with games made and mandated by gov regulations and all the bad things that entails a more reliable expectation is related to the above. The most interesting element from that news is the pushback coming from Disney now, the worries of the backlash against EA hitting back on the Star Wars brand, something that on the one hand makes me happy as an advocate of “consumer protection via the ‘selfish companies’ ‘ own selfinterest, but also makes perfect business sense as you have wholly different thinking when you’re thinking of all the SW good will built up over decades vs the profits of a certain game licensed with the brand. I find that rational because similar to how i saw the Linux community being a very vocal very small minority on the internet should it happen for example that a new SW movie comes out and somebody googles that and instead of that hits the very vocal gaming community’s outrage… it could be bad for them. This became evident to me recently upon watching a “top disliked youtube videos” and i was surprised to see the top elements being ones which somehow managed to insult the gamers or game streamers.

 

There’s some more thoughts I had, stuff like P6: It’s a form of hidden reflection of the general monetary devaluation of the west or P7: it could pull more free-ness, audience enlarging even while changing types of product… … … …  but i won’t get into more as the article already got too long… hope you found some of the thoughts interesting and thought provoking. What do you think? Any particular prediction that you particularly agree or dissagree with? One that you love or hate… or like me, one that you hate but see as quite logical?

PS: if you’re hungry for more videos/comments on the subject this post http://artsygamer.com/activisions-microtransaction-patent/ has two more interesting ones as well as a nicely heated comments discussion.

PS2: seems like I missed a reaaaly BIG one with the governments getting into the action. When the Jimquisition predicted this I thought it was just a gamer dangerous wishful thinking…

Why Characters Have More Fingers In Japan

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Interesting.

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The cobra swims when the river horses attack

Usual rules: 3 tries per person. Winner gets to propose a gameSketch. x5 multiplier for first timers. Newcomers: you may ask for 3 freebies even if you didn’t yet guess anything. Outstanding credits: Firefish x34, Jason Clark 10, Jaco x101, Marius, SebastianKErben x17, Radu x45, , 47Crows x19, Ange, PettyX90 x7, Pori x2, Tarpo x5, player347 x9, Diana x6, VideoGamesAsArt x2 , thegazer x9, BiaHawks x7, rsocu x5, Teofil S. Awaiting scenes from you guys.

 

Middle-earth: Shadow of War – impressions

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Well, finished it yesterday evening. Surprisingly completely even, 100% main story (including the grindy-er second half), 100% collecting all the “moons” (with the interesting story items!!!), 100% of the spider-web puzzles with the female antagonist backstory, 100% of the forts and so on… I think i’ve still got a few of the challenges, but it’s a wonder even that I did so many given that i mostly ignore them in games… that being said, here’s my quick random thoughts:

– having had played and surprisingly enjoyed the prequel Shadow of Mordor I was a bit saddened to feel the game was more a Mordor 1.5 rather than a new game, or so it felt to me for a long time

+, +, +, +, + The orc simulation/generation/personalities is aaaamazing. Seriously, this is one of the most amazing mix of technology and artwork of our time. I just couldn’t get enough of them, and so sooo many times I would just stare in wonder. In fact they were so good just in that in this game alone I’ve seen tens of characters more memorable and interesting than whole main characters and principal antagonists of many other games. I just couldn’t believe my eyes just how expressive they were, what interesting props they had, how lifelike they felt in their expressions, and how there could be JUST SO MANY so very interesting and unique. Had there been one or two or five, but it was tens and tens of unique characters, each with interesting props, distinguishing silhouettes, all visually interesting and making an impression, and yet all “generated” on the fly for my enjoyment, as if whole divisions of character artists were working just on this just for my game. Aaaamazing! Many of them deserve to be stars of whole stories if not games, they’re THAT good.

– it’s a shame they actually took steps back in some fields from the prequel. For example the prequel had this very cool storytelling via the ps4 controller speaker, at each loadtime I was intrigued and i think more often during gameplay also, the effects on the sounds as well as the directionality made it into a wonderful surreal whisper experience. Another feature that I found was brilliant and unique before and for some reason they dropped it: when examining new objects you would search for a certain spot which would reveal the story, a small minigame forcing you to even better notice the great details on those special story objects.

+, +, – The world is big, and in fact there’s a lot of worlds, with variety from snow to volcanoes, to greenscapes and swamps and forst, all in the form of quite huge maps/locations with their own mood and secrets that you gradually learn. The minus to me is that as in the previous game they felt somewhat bland and generic in the models/textures of the buildings. Nice in the gameplay but visually i couldn’t describe to you much of what made one orc fortress special to another. This is compensated by the gameplay & great simulation, but still, i wouldn’t call the world a delight for the eyes, even if it’s nice to explore.

-, -, -, – corrupting impact of microtransactions to the game enjoyment. I want to clarify, i’m not against the costs, I’m all for the developers getting well paid for such masterpieces, I’m talking about the devious ways in which such decisions corrupt the gameplay and make it less enjoyable or introduce unneeded and undesired grinding an frustration, all of it intentionally with a purpose. Many examples of this come to mind, all of them of course with a speculative element (lacking a counterfactual timeline of our universe), here’s some that come to mind now:

-, -, -, -, +,  – with the orc army being the best point of the game, and some of the best experiences being dynamic such as encountering one, maybe him killing you, meeting him later, then converting him, all of this creating a memory bond with him, while being associated to a location and a set of events. As well as a moving part of the whole simulation, it is such a shame that they break the whole simulation of the world by dislocating the orcs from space and time via the ability to “generate” them from loot boxes. This breaks the whole game “economy”, creating an artificial unlimited outside source that’s unrelated to your experience and your actions in the world

-, -, – I’ve spent many possibly even hours in the “store” section of the menu. Not only is that un-immersive to a fantasy universe, but it clearly was not done for player enjoyment. All the mechanics there, could’ve been a legitimate fun discovery/experimentation/gambling experience, if they were done offline just for your enjoyment, but instead it’s constantly syncing to the server (“validating purchases”, “waiting for response”, “confirming”… ), sometimes not working and locked, but even when it is, for every page view or opening anything there’s always a lot of back and forth, sending and waiting for server response, leading to a very unresponsive laggy experience with lots and lots of waiting and potential breakpoints. It’s like browsing the web in dial-up 90s, you get the page of orcs in the end… but there’s waiting and refreshing involved. This all could’ve been considered a legitimate design direction maybe … if it was done all offline just for you, but it’s for them, not for the customer.

-, – , – this monetization is in some ways a method of “pay to not play the game”, which is never a good sign. In a good game I should be happy to and beg them to give me the opportunity to pay more to experience more of the game, instead of pay more to experience less of it

– the game wasted a lot of my time through having to “destroy” randomized items. Like i’d get a lot of them which are useless, and it takes many seconds to destroy even one, and by the end i had many many tens of them, it was an even bigger chore to manage this than in other such games like Destiny. Also there’s a time wasting loop that goes like this (aggravated by all the serverside syncing): you have a lot of items, which you then sell, to get coins, it’s slow and takes time but now you have the coins. So what do you do with them? You could potentially get a weapon loot box… but 95% of the time you get another weapon which is worse than what you have, which you then sell, but you still have too much money… and so on so forth. If at least the game allowed to spend huge ammounts of the low-value currency to get something better, but that’s payed with a much more valuable commodity: your time.

+, -, + now before you think I’ve spent a ton of money on loot boxes, not so. In fact I played for a while not checking the license agreement checkbox of sending data and i didn’t play with them at all proud of my loophole, and then later when I did I never spent real money, just in-game currency. This is the plus side of the game, that you can obtain lots of (some of) it, that this was possible, and in fact that I could obtain just by having fun in the game a LOT of it… well, ate least the “silver” one. The premium one they offered just once at some point I didn’t realize… but then i never got it again even for major missions as I was expecting. So it’s cool that you get to play with the loot boxes and get lots of orcs just like that, without paying extra, but then again it makes the game feel “incomplete” with >50% of the items there that i never touched because I didn’t want to spend more money on the game. This kind of “a game you bought gives you an incomplete/negative feeling” is one of the reasons I think these monetizations screw up the customer experiences and could result in a buyer backlash when compared to a past where everything in the game was yours and you could make the game fully yours just by taking the time to explore it, while now you pay for it but then get a feeling of intentionally built-in dissatisfaction from it.

– something that can give one an indication of the bad choices and the incentives built in is that there’s actually a  store eitem costing 100$ which doesn’t have the game, nor dlc or content… it just has 12000 ingame currency. And of course you could buy it repeatedly… while the simple fact that it exists tells a lot of story to those prone to thinking of incentives and aware that in fact humans do respond to incentives…

+ the way in which (in-game currency) loot boxes could’ve made a somehow passable design choice (even if less immersive) was in the later game if you think of it as a game mechanic to save you time and give you even more options, to see many orcs. Thus I multiple times just “flooded” a territory with “generated” orcs, and that in itself was initially interesting, while leading to me not playing the game which, again, i find speaks of bad design when inviting to such an extent. I did it partly to do a proof of concept point testing, that even if they limited this for me leaving only the premium currency it would still be a game breaker. This option will likely exist in a future where payed content becomes ubiquitous and it by necessity introduces a game breaking outside source.

+, – the main story campaign was so so. Good enough not to complain, not spectacular or worth remembering. I wish instead they would’ve put that story content into the orcs, giving them more dialogue lines, more custom experiences and quests. As it is the two components of the game actually fought against eachother like two separate games sometimes. This was made worse by:

– , – , – artificial barriers. Unlike I hear many reviewers I actually really enjoyed “playing with my orcs”, i was mind blown by the arenas, and had a lot of fun developing them, picking favorites and trying to help some of them survive through the trials. However it was a shame that the game actually went to lengths to prevent me from reaping rewards from this: I was constantly hampered with the orcs by a level cap for them forcing me to play more of the story missions I didn’t enjoy so much, and during the story suddenly all my achievements with the orcs, from calling one to making use of the army to easier pass a frustrating mission, I kept being locked away from that as if I didn’t do that. Particularly annoying to me was one main mission when in one of the typical worst practices of such open world games they locked me in a room with a boss, which was spawning infinite enemies and regenerating and i struggled a lot, all the while knowing I had built an orc army which would’ve helped a lot. And if this were to happen just once, but it happens many maaany times over. I really find it a horrible design decision (and did so from way back on the old Fallout 2/Baldur’s gate 2 times) when a game which gave you choices in character building or an open world with options and you’ve developed strategies and a certain playstyle you enjoy while relying on it, but then a game decides “to be cinematic” and takes everything way from you to force you to live it’s maker’s very particular limited view of how it should be played there.

+, – i think i saw something like 173h of play on a counter, now on one side this reflects how much fun i had with the game, particularly the fascinating arenas, but also that a huge part of the engame i just had orcs playing against eachother, just so they level up, and also it turns out to be a great source of coin, of which huge quantities are needed for the grindy 2nd half. I enjoyed the parts I did voluntarily from the start of the game ignoring the story whenever I could, but the way they set it up what happened later is that I would just leave the PlayStation on for long periods of time coming back to it occasionally to start a new orc fight and going back away. This management element could’ve been a fun android game, and for me personally it was even enjoyable, HOWEVER, I believe due to the corrupting choice of monetization this is not geared towards customer satisfaction as much as to an intentional frustration buildup to encourage you to buy more. It happened to not have worked on me as I enjoyed it BUT i think this is a bad decision overall and worthy of lower reviews and I’m not surprised hearing a lot of customers just stopped playing after a while. If they had more audio storytelling/in between the different attacks, and with the orcs themselves, that would’ve been another story.

+, – the soundtrack i found like the environments, passable but not memorable and feeling somewhat generic and hard to notice. Except the music that starts when riding a Caragor which got me engaged every single time.

-, + the “challenges” i normally ignore even in games i love such as Dying Light, however I actually played a few of them simply because they are providing small insights at least into the mood of Celebrimbor, the to me more interesting side of the main character.

– the other secondary characters felt very bland and boring

+, + extra points to the game for doing an edgy subject matter (if you strip away the Tolkien skin it hides under), a bit of insight as what could’ve lead to this is done quite beautifully in the nice tribute done to a person (who i presumed died?) at the end of the game, as well as how they get you to care about him via the mysterious helper who saved me more than once out of hopeless spots

Overall I’d say this game was a mixed bag. I personally believe if they didn’t have the design corruptions mandated by microtransactions this game would’ve been worthy even of a 3 on a -5 to 5 scale, particularly for somebody who didn’t play the prequel, however given all the bad customer experiences they chose i couldn’t give it more than 1.5. I enjoyed my time with it, but as it is I find it hard to call it GREAT game as that rating would imply, being a mixed bag of amazing brilliance and wow moments and so-so agravated by bad customer treatment. Again, I want to emphasize, unlike many who complain about microtransactions I’m not against developer monetization, neither do I expect the devs to work for free and great things, I just think this is a sneaky inflationary and somewhat deceitful practice of selling you an “incomplete by design” product and that hurts it. Ff this game would’ve cost double but didn’t have their domino effect of bad choices and instead the resources had been use to do the right things giving a good customer experience I believe I would’ve appreciated it despite the price, but as it is it’s like having a great cake with some rotten parts thrown in intentionally into half of the mix to get you to buy another cake. It’s weird and i think bad business practice alienating customers. Also i should mention i’m not even against “randomized boxes” as much as one might think, i think these could have a valid place in game design, to express statistical probabilities, gambling discovery or as a different type of gameplay… BUT it has to be done for user enjoyment, not the opposite: for his disenjoyment that he may pay to avoid the displeasure.

PS: i think they had a bad (again probably biz/management driven ) title, Mordor 2 would’ve been much shorter and catchier, this title is hard to abbreviate, and i think every company should care about how easy it is to talk about their product

PS2: if you actually read all of the above, I am humbled and honored, thank you for taking the time. It came out much longer than I anticipated… I guess the game took long enough that it spawned a lot of thinking about it.

Super Mario Odyssey – Review

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2017 has been a great year for videogames and one of the indicators is the release of both a new 3D Zelda game as well as a 3D Mario game. It’s also remarkable that Nintendo didn’t announce Odyssey way in advance as they have done with Zelda. The public only learned about the new 3D Mario game at the beginning of this year and the prospect of getting a proper sequel to Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine has driven expectations through the roof. But how good is Super Mario Odyssey and does it have the qualities needed to be another beloved installment in the series? Let’s find out!

 

 

The classic story of Mario saving princess Peach has been used so often now that it became a cliché played upon by a myriad of pop culture referencing works like cartoons and songs. Odyssey is fully aware of this which becomes apparent on quite a few occasions during the main game, but it seems to be indecisive on how to act on it. On one hand it is still just used as an entry point and mild motivation for the character of Mario, on the other hand stakes are seemingly higher than ever with Bowser this time not only kidnapping Peach but also trying to force her into marriage which serves as an antogonistic motif to wreak havoc over multiple kingdoms. It becomes obvious that Nintendo has somehow given up on using story in a Mario platforming game for anything more than an alibi to introduce new worlds and mechanics. Once again, if you are expecting some lore based world building (which for example Breath of the Wild did pretty well) or some serious storytelling you won’t find it here. It’s something that – at this point of the franchise – shouldn’t be expected but it wouldn’t hurt an iconic veteran protagonist like Mario to give him an additional dimension; especially since he is travelling across the world and meets many new faces that – weirdly – are able to be much more interesting characters than Mario himself through their actions and motivations.

 

 

The game itself is broken down into multiple kingdoms, larger areas which led some people to denote Odyssey as an open world 3d platformer. This is not the case. The areas rather act like a mixture of large levels and hub worlds into smaller levels. But what do you do in this game? You need to repair and power up “The Odyssey”, an airship that Mario and his new friend Cappy use to chase after Bowser in his renowned flying fortress aircraft. Powering up the Odyssey works by feeding it “Power Moons” which can be found all over the world. Each kingdom requires you to get a certain amount of those moons in order to proceed but actually a lot more can be found. This serves two purposes:

  1. there are enough “easy” moons so every player will be able to get at least through the main part of the game without frustration; stuck on a certain moon? Just go ahead and find yourself another one
  2. after the main part of the game is over, additional moons will unlock a couple of new areas and outfits so the challenge is there for players not satisfied after they finished the story

Interestingly moons can also be purchased with coins in case you want to unlock the additional areas and outfits but are stuck finding or reaching them. The game really does a great job providing you options so you’re not at the mercy of the lvel designers and that’s a good thing because a lot of them moons especially in the end game can be devilish and sometimes outright frustrating.

 

 

The platforming gameplay is of course the heart and soul of Odyssey and everything from the backflip to the head dive is there. Nintendo also did a great job bypassing a lot of the problems commonly found in 3D platformers by changing the distance between Mario and the camera according to the surroundings. Still, it can be hard sometimes to land on certain platforms or nail a jumping passage without manually moving the camera to a better position which can be problematic when you don’t have enough time to do. So there is still room for improvement in the future but it tells a lot about the genre if Nintendo has been the only developer for quite some time now to try and improve it.

But as usual with Nintendo games, Odyssey does feature a new mechanic. Mario is this time joined by Cappy, a hat ghost that he can throw on objects and enemies. Sometimes, cappy will just get an object (like coins) or defeat an enemy but often the player can take control over an enemy (or object, I’ve been a rock and a tree in this game more than once) and this is where Super Mario Odyssey goes from being a first class 3D platforming game to a showcase of masterclass gameplay design. Not only do the different abilities of the enemies lead to new puzzles never seen before in a Mario game, some of them are actually so superb that a complete smaller budget title could be made out of them. It really shows how the designers were allowed to run wild with ideas and it’s almost saddening to think that Odyssey could remain the only 3D Mario title in the series to feature this mechanic. Another neat gameplay mechanic to shake up the standard 3D platforming gameplay are the 2D sections where Mario becomes an 8Bit representation of himself painted onto a wall with small 2D level layouts to proceed through. They are almost always tailord towards the theme of the respective kingdom you will find them in and feature different mechanics. The whole game is just filled with so much creativity in gameplay design that keeping it all together with nothing more than a boilerplate story and the task of collecting one type of item is remarkable.

 

 

Visually the game is a mixed bag. Technically it aims at a 60 FpS framerate which really supports the platforming gameplay and has been one of the key areas that Nintendo seems to be pushing with their own releases (save for Breath of the Wild). The general art direction for the different kingdoms is also something I’d like to praise. From the very monochromatic hat land to the multicoloured food kingdom there is a lot of variety. Some could even argue there is so much variety that the game lacks some overarching art direction. Where the game is sometimes lacking is in detail. This may have something to do with the fact that the Switch doesn’t have a lot of power left for pushing higher detailed models at 60 FpS, it could also be a general design direction to emphasize the puzzle areas. Either way, the game can look bland at times. The music though is best in class with memorable pieces that you won’t get tired of listening to.

All in all the game is just a bag full of joy, a diamond of design that shines bright even if it very rarely can seem a little bit rough on some of its edges. The main part of the game is easy enough for unskilled players to complete while certainly offering some challenges for players who are not satisfied with the easy go-to solutions. The post-game content is noticeably harder though, giving you the option to perfect your skills if you want to put in the time.

 

 

Conclusion: 4.8 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let me start this conclusion by telling you that I had a lot of moments where I thought “now that’s a 5/5 game if I ever have seen one”. But over time I did encounter some situations where I just wasn’t satisfied fully with the game or even decided to put it down for half an hour. Now Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 aren’t perfect games either (both received a rating of 5 from me) but as I mentioned in one of the reviews: there will never be something like a perfect game. I try to evaluate the qualities of a game based on what I think the game wants to be and offer. To receive a rating of 5, the game can have weaknesses but if the game masterfully does what it wants to do, little issues will not affect the rating of the game at all. This is not quite true for Mario Odyssey I think. The platforming could be just a little bit better and the presentation sometimes takes away from the absolutely brilliant game design. I might be unfair on this but I always think that 3D Mario games could be that little bit better. Still, this game is outstanding! It’s a must buy if you own a Switch and have even the slightest interest in the genre and it’s filled with so much fun and creativity. It can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels and is indeed a worthy entry for the core 3D Mario series. Well done, Nintendo! The year 2017 has been indeed a great year for videogames, and Super Mario Odyssey seems like the cherry on top of the icecream.

A Modern Prince of Persia Retrospective Commentary

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I found it interesting what he looked at and an interesting perspective on things. For me it was however the only one of them I don’t think I finished… though I remember playing it, so maybe I did… but I guess to me the remained a bland one that I didn’t remember and didn’t like the art style or the general “mood” of things… though I can’t explain more even to myself. Getting back to the video though I find it very interesting the idea that the game streamlined the platforming and I can imagine why some people would love it exactly for this reason, while others might miss the feeling of they themselves taking the decisions and even the occasional puzzlement. I’d be curious how Mario players feel about the mobile endless runner Mario as in some ways this would be similar maybe?

 

This one to me was interesting, more so than the bland world of the first in the trilogy, with the character’s emo rock tendencies… well, I found them a curiosity. Didn’t bother but also didn’t delight as it wasn’t subtle enough for my tastes.

 

 

This one was to me and remains the best in the series. If the previous felt like a rebellious teenager pushing everything in your face this one felt like it had matured, with character but with the subtle confidence of somebody who’s been there done that and now is a grownup. But what really blew me away more than anything was the amazing art work. All through the game I could feel the strong concept art of Bruno “Hydropix’ Gentile and many of the places felt not just incredibly original but interesting and having almost a painting quality. But to me it also hooks back into what the first video was talking about, the fluidity: granted it may not be as trivial to navigate as the 2008 version, BUT I did eventually got into the flow, and like with learning how to fly the wingsuit in Just Cause 3 once that happened the satisfaction was even deeper because of the overcome difficulties. The most cathartic moments I remember was after my brain had gotten into a special analysis mode that would surprise myself too, when simply looking at a big room/path I would instantly “get” the path and having had imagined it I could pull it off, and sometimes i was so much into this instinct-reflex mode that my conscious mind would get surprised and even delighted at seeing at the mind-finger speed and being amazed at even solving new and surprising things on the fly. As far as I can remember so many years ago this kind of no-brain-just-instant-reactions was for me on a depth maybe even comparable to the times I was playing Quake 3 arena for hours on end just for that “too fast to think total immersion” feeling.

 

 

Before I end I wanted to mention this one. People have bashed it a lot, and so I ignored it and when I got it for free on PS+ i didn’t expect much. I was surprised. Sure enough i was not by far so impressed by the artwork/story/content/atmosphere as Two Thrones, HOWEVER, i was surprised just how decent/good it was. And even more so about how well the gameplay was tuned into a series of incrementally building platforming sections, which at times actually got hard and challenging all while feeling part of a cohesive gameplay whole.  This game to me felt to me like a set of great and oiled cogs in a machine: maybe not a masterpiece, but I was impressed and inspired to respect at the refinement and quality of them all and how it all worked together so cohesively. And just a very good “flow” overall inviting “just a little bit more” as it came so naturally and… fluidly.

 

 

PC Gaming Part 2 – Frames & time

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Heyho lovely Artsygamer crowd!

As promised in part 1 of my article series about PC gaming, I want to talk about some of the common tech terms, how gaming can be influenced by them and how the PC platform is great for people who care about it.

 

Framerate

When talking about framerate, most of the time it’s a discussion about 30 frames per second and 60 frames per second and which of those two is “enough”. The problem is that through false analogies and bad knowledge some people even thing the human eye is not even capable of perceiving more than 30 frames per second. But let’s take a step back first and see why “Frames per Second” actually tells you less than what you would expect, what people actually mean when talking about frames per second even without being aware of it and what the better metric is.

So, framerate basically is the rate with which your system displays its content on its output. In the case of a game console, this could be what is happening in a game getting displayed on your TV. The framerate is a time dependent metric and seconds are the only time metric that make sense to use so we are talking about frames per second. The reason why this metric is a pretty bad one is because it tells you nothing about the distribution of the frames. If a game has 59 frames rendered in 0.01 seconds each but the next frame takes 0.41s the game clearly runs with 60 frames per seconds but it will be unplayable due to one frame being displayed for over 1/3 of a second every second.

What people automatically asume when talking about frames per second is that those frames are all distributed equally over one second which is not always the case. People have gotten used to using frames per second because framerate as a metric is much older than games. I leave it up to you to read some stuff about movies and filmmaking and frames per second but the conclusion is: framerate is a metric that is actually only sufficient to express a game’s performance in the best case scenario. Since the load of a game on a machine varies and depends a lot on how the player behaves in the game, it’s actually rare for a game to deliver frames with constant timings by itself. Thus the better metric to use is the time that the frames happen to be displayed till the next one (which also expresses the time needed to render the next frame): the frametime.

 

Frametime

So when talking about frametime, we’re getting closer to two topics important for the conversation: the refresh rate of your display and your ability to perceive. We’re going to talk about the refresh rate first because it’s pretty easy: most displays update with 60Hz (this means Hertz and is used in Physics to express frequency). Basically, 1 Hertz is 1 unit per second. So 60 Hertz means 60 units per second. In the case of a 60 Hertz display it means the display will update the displayed image 60 times per second. There are also displays out there which can handle higher frequencies, the more common ones are 144Hz displays.

But can you actually perceive the difference between 30 and 60 frames per second (or, to stay within our newly discovered metric of frametime: 0.0333s per frame and 0.01666s per frame)? Well, yes and no. We need to be more precise here and also shouldn’t generalize too much because there will always be exceptions. If we’re talking about changes in brightness, most humans can’t perceive changes faster than 0.1s per change. This is used in modern lighting where you have very bright light emitted in a high frequency rather than less bright light being emitted constantly all the time. The human eye can’t tell the difference most of the time but it saves power. If we’re talking about movement however, the human eye is incredibly capable. The problem here is that the human brain is equally great in filling in missing information so it’s hard to tell where the limit is but 0.002s should be perceivable for most human beings (that’s 2 milliseconds!).

So if human beings are capable of perceiving 60 frames per second with  0.016666s display time per frame and displays are capable of displaying 60 frames per second (not just capable actually, they do it wheter you want it or not), why do games (at least on consoles) so often focus on hitting a frame time target of 0.03333s resulting in 30 frames per second? Well, the answer here is a mixture of hardware capability and game design focus. Games today often focus on larger areas or “open worlds” and the problem here is that while GPU power in consoles is enough to support those quite easily actually, it’s the CPU power holding those games back and limiting them to 30 frames per second. Of course all objects in the scene are rendered by the GPU, but some instance needs to tell the GPU which objects to render. This instance is the CPU and the whole process of telling the GPU to render something is named a “Draw Call”, because the CPU calls out to the GPU to draw something on the screen. Doubling the framerate then means to at least double the amount of draw calls because that’s required for the GPU to act. And we haven’t even talk about physic calculations, NPC behaviour etc. yet. Many of those calculations are often on the CPU as well. But how does a longer frametime affect your enjoyment of the game?

 

Latency

Latency is basically the amount of time it takes between a cause A and it’s corresponding effect B. When talking about latency in our context I want to emphasise on 2 things: first, the latency between your action as a player and the outcome of this action being presented on the screen. This depends on multiple factors. The first thing is the signal processing of your input device. This is usually quite fast (less than 2 Milliseconds). The next thing is the refresh rate of the code part of the game that processes the input. This of course varies from game to game, but it shouldn’t be complex enough to take up a noticeable amount of processing time. After processing the input, all the code that generates and renders the picture is running. The whole runtime of the code makes up our frametime. After that, the rendered image needs to be displayed by the display. And here another – mostly unknown – topic strikes: enhancement features of TVs. See, most TVs automatically take the images they receive and try to enhance them by applying certain filters and algorithms. This takes up time and although the system is already finished putting out the frame, you will not get to see it. Good TVs offer the option to enable a specific gaming mode in which the enhancements will be disabled. This changes the display lag from otherwise up to 300 Milliseconds (0.3s) to 20 Milliseconds (0.02s). PC monitors in general are between 1 and 8 Milliseconds (0.001s and 0.008s). So in a gaming setup with TV, the latency not caused by code (which we can call constant latency) is roughly 22 Milliseconds (0.022s). If our game now runs at 30 frames per second with a constant frame time of 0.033s, this means we end up at a total latency of 0.055s. If the game runs at 60 frames per second with a constant frame time of 0.016s, we end up at 0.038s. This means lower frametimes will make the game react more timely to your actions.

The second thing is your ability to react to stuff happening in the game which also depends on the latency. If we take our figures, a game running with frame times of 0.016s will enable you to react 30% faster to changes in the game. This increases further if your display can handle lower frametimes, with a 144Hz display that can be served with a 0.0069s frametime resulting in a total lag of 29 Milliseconds (48% faster than our 30 frames per second case). Of course this raises the question if you need this fast reaction times which in turn depends on the game and its mechanics. A fast paced competitive shooter would be a scenario which profits from very low frametimes while a tactical turn based RPG doesn’t need low frametimes to ensure perfect playability.

 

Torn frames

So far we focused on the 0.033s and 0.016s frametime examples, but why is that? I mentioned earlier that frametimes are usually variable and wouldn’t it make sense to just let the game run as fast as it can, ending up with more than 30 frames per second in most cases? Well, let’s enter the realm of image quality.

I mentioned that TVs typically update with 60Hz which means it will pull an image from the system every 0.016s. If our game runs with 0.033s frame timing this means the display will pull the same image twice from the system before the next one. But if our game now runs faster, say with a frame time of 0.02s it means the image pulled from the display will not be fully updated. Instead, a fraction of the old image will be displayed with the other fraction being the new image. The frame is torn. The result is a flickering line that will often appear to travel across the screen. This means image quality will only be intact if the frame times stay at a multiple of the display refresh rate (including multiples of 0.5, 0.25, etc). That’s why frame times of 0.33s are used. The technique to make sure the game doesn’t run faster is called V Sync (which stands for vertical synchronisation; vertical because updating the display happens vertically). V Sync essentially will make the game wait to deliver the image so that the frame will not be pulled incompletely from the display.

 

The PC

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the PC has an advantage because of the potential increase in power and the resulting performance delivering shorter frame times. This is just one of the factors in favor of the PC though. The main advantage is the flexibility. The players can tweak every game to their liking, deciding what is more important to them for each game. On a console, this decision is take away from you because developers created an experience targeted specifically towards the hardware at hand. On the PC, you could even decide approve torn frames for better frame timing if your PC can’t quite handle the game at the visual settings you want.

 

End of part 2

So that’s it. I’ll admit the article was more about explaining some technical details than going into PC gaming really. Sorry ;) But if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I hope you’ve learned a thing or two that enables you to understand better why your games behave the way they do. Maybe you even jumped up from your seat to see if your TV has a gaming mode. That’s great! If you have any more questions or want a certain topic to be covered, I am in the process of thinking about part 3 of the series and what it would be about so your input would help me a lot.

 

Until next time and game on!

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