Monday, October 30, 2006

The Sense of Achievement in Gaming

When the Xbox 360 launched it introduced a new element to games - achievements that are shared on the Live system. Having bragging rights about completing things in games has been standard for years, but now your achievements are posted publically so everyone can see them. Does this make it more desireable to achieve things? Damn right it does. The last thing anyone wants is to feel "lame" so maybe we play a little longer, explore a little further in a game to make sure we hit those achievements. It actually got me thinking about game completion too. In the old days, "completing" a game meant simply tiring of it, or reaching a point where the difficulty went beyond impossible (Space Invaders aliens starting out on the bottom row anyone?). Almost all games today are more like movies, with "stages" and levels with a definite beginning, middle and end.

Is that sense of achieving the end making us play games through to the end we might have otherwise tossed aside for the next iteration of Grand Theft Auto? In my case, I'd have to say yes. I have many games that I've started and "abandonded" and I find myself reluctant to try new games until I've finished those ones off. I feel guilty about those abandoned games and so I go back and finish them up. I'm playing NeoPets: The Darkest Faerie ... yeah another kid's game, but it's pretty decent... long though (just by the nature of what it is, in general it's not a long game).

So are games guilting us in to completion? Maybe. What do you think?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Indigo Prophecy

David Cage's Indigo Prophecy (known as Fahrenheit outside of North America) is an adventure game for the PC, PS2 and Xbox. I played the PS2 version, but the other ones are very similar.

The game is all about story, with the gameplay elements consisting of some arcade-type simon-says action sequences with the dual analog joysticks and some simple puzzles. The game also uses a fairly unique "mental health" meter than can go up and down based upon the things you discover and the dialog choices you make.

The creators call the game "elastic" in that you can slightly change some of the game paths, but only to a small degree--hence, elastic. You are still bound to follow the main story arc, but you hear different dialog and find some other clues depending on your choices.

There are also several different endings, which I discovered after reading an FAQ on the game...turns out I got the "best" one if you can call it that. The story does fall pretty flat at the end, and Cage admits it in his post mortem on Gamasutra.

I did enjoy this game for the most part. The climbing sections (especially climbing down) I found overly difficult and frustrating compared to everything else and there are a few stealth sections that were interesting, just sometimes the difficulty level was uneven. Overall, a good experience. I give it an 8/10.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tomb Raider: Legend

Well I finally finished my first Xbox 360 game. Usually, I don't finish a game that is made in the same year (with some exceptions) but I've been trying out my new LCD TV and it really has brought my 360 playing back to life.

This game was great, and if you have a choice of platforms you don't want to play it on anything other than the 360. The texture detail is incredible, although you can tell the engine in the background is not really next-gen as there was some slow down. Seriously, with that much horsepower there should not be.

Some people have complained about the motorcycle sequences... well there are really only two of them (of any significance) and they are not that long (although the train one seems to go on longer than it needs to). I thought they were just fine and broke up the gameplay a bit.

My biggest complaint is that the game is quite short (which in some ways I don't mind because I get that sense of accomplishment easily) but the difficulty spikes a lot. In most cases, the game is way too easy -- occasionally, there are some places where things have to be so precise that it's frustrating. A better mix is needed.

Overall, Lara returns in a big time positive way with this one and I'm looking forward to other Tomb Raider games from Crystal Dynamics. 8 out of 10.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pushing the "I WIN" button

I was talking to a co-worker the other day about games, and he was telling me about how his kids actually choose games that they rent based upon whether or not they can get cheat codes for those games. He said that if they couldn't hit what he called the "I WIN" button they just weren't interested. They boast that they beat the game, and that "it's not cheating if it's posted out there".

What happened to exploration? Sure, it's great to get to the end, but it's the journey that counts (this applies to many things in life, I'm sure you might know what I'm talking about!).

Many games are frustrating, and I understand the need for some "help" along the way. I've had to do this myself many times, but there's a big difference between consulting an FAQ / Walkthrough guide and blatently using cheat codes to get through a game or become "invincible".

I've noticed some of the games of Japanese origin do not have these cheat codes. Is this because their culture teaches them that this is not necessary? Is providing cheat codes teaching young game players that in life if you get the right code, you can just get ahead and not have to earn or achieve things?

Maybe today I'm being a bit too serious, but it's certainly concerning. Game developers probably don't think about the role they play in teaching - but it's certainly there.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Curious George the Video Game Review

I've been actually making it through more games lately than I would have thought, considering I seem to spend so little time on them anymore. I started out playing Curious George when it first came out because I was, well, curious! I knew it was a "kiddie" platformer, but sometimes the exploration and enjoyment of just finishing a game can make you overlook its flaws.

Let me set the record straight from the outset. This really isn't a good game, nor is it a terrible game. It's actually inconsistent. If it is supposed to be targeted towards kids, that's great but then why make some of the platforming sections overly difficult? I'm not the only reviewer that found this to be true. Some sections require multiple tries to get it right and I can't see a younger audience not feeling frustrated beyond belief at this.

The mini-games are mostly uninspired. What the game does have going for it is decent graphics (the 'toon shading' is particluar effective for this title) and the environments are colorful and well laid out.

I have to give this one a 5 out of 10. If you really think your kids might enjoy it, grab it as a rental. It probably won't last beyond the due date anyways.