Monthly Archives: June 2010

Achievements: What do you look for?

Achievements: some people love them… and nobody hates them.

But for all the love that people have for achievements, sometimes I find them so… boring. Finish the levels for 10 points each. Finish the levels on a higher difficulty for another 10 points per level. Repeat on insane difficulty. Yawn.  And, yes, while sometimes I find them boring, sometimes they really add flavour to the game, and I love them all over again.

Good achievements should cover some practical considerations. I don’t mind achievements per level. They help me gauge which friends are ahead or behind me in the game. That lets me know who I can go to for help, or whom I should watch my conversation around, lest I spoil an ending. So these are useful… but don’t make ALL the achieves about the levels. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was guilty of this. Considering how big the world is, I would have thought there could have been a few more “off the beaten path” achievements. Something to add more flavour. An achievement for picking flowers would have been a welcome change over all of the steps up the guild ladder achievements we got.

After the level achievements, I like off the beaten path achievements.  These could be for various things, excellence in aspects of gameplay (getting great combos for instance) or for exploration. I view these as signposts. If I get all of these achievements, I will have developed my skill at the game, and I will have experienced everything that the developers wanted me to experience during the course of an (above) average game. These could be romance quests, side quests, alternate endings. Things like that.

Now get me the funny stuff, or the stuff that adds flavour. The Easter Eggs. Something where I am surprised to get them. Call of Duty franchise does an excellent job with this, you may have to save a fellow soldier, get around some dogs undetected or whatever,  but all of the sudden: PING! “Oh, I wasn’t expecting that!”  Viral achievements “caught” during on-line play are a new way of adding to the flavour of the game. Fable II did a good job of it with the doll trading mini game: it emphasized an aspect of the game that was clearly important to the developers, i.e. on-line trading and gifting of goods.

Finally there should be a few points allocated for the stupidly hard achievement. And don’t make it a “100% completion” achievement. That’s dull. Make it worth bragging about.  Make it so that people are proud to have that achievements, there is a buzz about it.

What are your favourite achievements? I am woeful at achievements, I get maybe 40% of the achievements  in any game. Sometimes I get more. But so far, I have never got 100% on any game (XBLA included!) What games do you have at 100%?

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Gaming Budgets: Time vs. Cash

Every gamer has a gaming budget, even those with unlimited funds. Cash isn’t my problem, it’s time, or rather my lack of time.  As gamers get older, I imagine this will become the norm.

Gone are the days when I can game all weekend, or stay up until 3AM on a weeknight to get in one more turn. I’m older, have a “big girl” job and I’m a mother and wife. Those things eat at the hours and days. It’s not a complaint, it’s reality. I have only so much time to allocate to all the things I need to do, that gaming must (and should) come second to real life relationships.

I can make more money year after year. Even in hard times, the general trend is to make more money as one continues to move up the career path. If I am wise and lucky, I should have more disposable income over the years. But not time. That I can’t change. We all only get 24 hours a day.

So, I see new consoles coming out, such as the Nintendo 3DS, or peripherals (Microsoft Kinect) but I don’t see how I can afford to get them. There are already so many great  games that I would love to, but can’t find time to play, and play well, that I don’t see the sense in getting yet a new console or peripheral.

And since my budget is getting tighter and tighter, I want to make sure I LOVE the games I purchase. I used to think “Meh, if I get a game and I hate it, no biggie, something else will come along.” Now I don’t have time to not love a game that I am playing. Perceived quality over quantity.

This year my gaming budget consisted of: Dragons Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Games that I bought on the fly, that weren’t part of the budget were: Plants vs Zombies (PC and iPhone) Pokemon: HeartGold and Magic the Gathering: Online. For the first time I moved my gaming budget from where I wanted to, and have historically played (i.e. the Console) to where it was convenient for me to play (on my laptop, iPhone).

 I know that I’m not alone in this, yet many blogs, and news items seem to assume that gamers have enough time and money to spend on an unlimited number of games. As gamers age, our income will tend to increase, but our time budget for gaming will decrease. I wonder how this will change gaming habits, and how developers will react. More iPhone apps for gamers that have only a few minutes a day to squeeze in some play between giving the youngest a bath, and helping the eldest with homework? Or maybe this is why we see the rise of the sequel, the biggest games are sequels and reboots of existing franchises. Sell gamers on something they already know and love.

Have you seen your gaming habits change as your gaming budget slowed down? Have you switched from a cash gaming crunch to a time gaming crunch and vice versa?

Games for Non-Gamers: Cart Racers

Humans are wired to play.

There is a game for every person, if you (or someone you know) hate games, it may be because that person just hasn’t found the right game OR something else made the game unpalletable. This series explores games for non-gamers. This week is Cart Racers.

The first console games that I remember playing, enjoying AND had some measure of success were Cart Racing games. While cart racers didn’t turn me into a self identified gamer, I enjoyed playing games as cheap entertainment on a Friday night with my boyfriend.

Who Is It For?

Non-Gamers who have said the following:

  • Controls are too hard.
  • Games are too bloody and violent.
  • Games are too hard to learn, it will take forever to win or do well.
  • I don’t want to play on-line to have fun, BUT
  • I want the opportunity to play WITH someone.
  • I like something that is a bit fast, but not TOO fast.
  • I want something that I can pick up and play…. and then put back down.
  • I am a bit competative.

What is it? The Game Defined for the Non-Gamer.

Cart racing games are a genre, where you race cars (or something like it) around a track.

Cart Racers often are more “cartoony” and less serious than their straight racing counterparts.  Players can often pick up “power ups” that will do everything from shoot the guy in front of you, to make the player temporarily faster or even make the player temporarily invincible. Tracks are often silly, and couldn’t exist in real life.

Win games, get new tracks and cars to race.

You can play local coop (someone in the room with you) or on your own against the computer.

Why Would Non-Gamers Enjoy This Game?

1. Controls are easy.

The controls are usually extremely easy. Press “X” to go. Turn left or right to go left and right, just like a car. Triggers usually trigger your powerup. Powerups tend to work even if you don’t use them exactly when or how you wanted to.

Yes, there are brake buttons, and sometimes even reverse… but why use “brake” if you want to go fast? Okay, you need to brake to get really good, BUT you can still play and do decently without using anything other than accelerate.

It’s also intuitive, because we know generally how to drive a car. Go forward, try not to crash. Our eyes already know where to look, and we know what to do.

2. Cart Racers are Somewhat Forgiving

What separates cart racers from other racing games, is that cart racers seem to be more forgiving. Half the fun in a cart racing game is crashing, or more importantly (?) causing your friends to crash.  It’s rare to find a game where a mistake (crashing) is meant to be fun and is incorporated into the game.

Cart Racers typically use the “rubber band” method of keeping things exciting. So instead of forcing the player to be great at the game (develop skill), the game adjusts itself so that there is enough of a challenge, but no one is getting trounced. Fall too far behind, all of the sudden your AI partners fall behind too. Get WAY out in front, lo and behold they fall in right beside you. Players can still win, but new players never feel like it’s hopeless. You can pick up a game and within 10 minutes of practice feel as though you have a shot at winning.

3. They are Non-Violent and Just Stupid Fun

Cart racers are meant to be fun in the giggly, sort of way. They are designed to pick up and play. They are designed so that even when (not IF) you crash, it’s still a great time. Even though you “shoot” your competitors, it’s  non-violent.

Advice for the Non-Gamer

Press “X” and go. Have fun.

Other Ways to Make the Game Fun

When I first played cart racing I could barely hold a controller. My boyfriend and I played “cooperatively.”  He would win games to unlock tracks, my job was to play spoiler. I took care of the AI that was threatening my boyfriend’s win. I am not sure if  I could have won on my own in the time that we did, but I felt like I was contributing.  It’s contributing without being condescending.

Games that Fall in this Category

YellingAt Pixels Favorite Pick
I am the only person in the WORLD who loves this game, and considers it the BEST CART RACER EVAH. So take this with  a grain of salt. But I loved Chocobo Racing for the PS2.  Powerups were not random (you could choose them,) you could powerup your powerups and each character had a special ability along with power ups.

Eventually you could make your own custom “dudes.” That I liked.

Important Last Words

While games can be fun in and of themselves, it’s also important to have the right atmosphere. Every non-gamer is a unique individual, and can’t be described in a monolith.  All girls do NOT like pink and cute for instance. Listen to the non-gamer, to find out what she or he really enjoys. Try something out, get feedback, try again.

Excellent Read: Reviewing Games with and Eye to Value(s)

Gamasutra has an excellent article today concerning game reviews, and their lack of depth when speaking to writing and characterization. Yes, game reviews will dissect the ins and outs of gameplay, audio/visual mastery and the replayability of the game, but they often gloss over the literacy of the game. A quote from the article:

Meanwhile, as gamers mature they often become more concerned with exactly those aspects of the game which are being ignored. Does the game contain nuanced characters or does it merely exploit common stereotypes? Does the game make the player reconsider our preconceptions about war or does it romanticize it? Are religious and spiritual issues dealt with fairly or are they glossed over in a way that distorts the issue overall.

In chatting with a friend of mine, his immediate reaction was a defensive one. “Why can’t games just be fun?”

Yes, there will always be room for the “blockbuster” type game where Stuff-Gets-Blowed-Up-Real-Good, but sometimes I want more than popcorn.  Or I want to discuss the games on a higher level. 

I used to belong to a Reader’s Circle: that’s a fancy name for book club. We would spend hours talking about the book in question and being critical of it. Everyone threw around opinions and viewpoints, and we never felt the need to be defensive. It didn’t mean that we hated the book, or reading, but by having these discussions we became better readers. We became more knowledgeable about publishing, character, storyline, universe creation and so on. If gamers can do the same, it’s a win for everyone. Gamers become better gamers, developers may have to stand up and listen and really give us socially relevant and literate games.

And it’s okay to look around and say that the Emporor has No Clothes.  Pointing out the sexism, homophobia, racism or plain old juvenile nature of some games does not mean that games and gaming is not a great pastime. It does mean that we are thinking enough to question what we are being given. It also means that gaming can be considered a truly mature medium, one where we can talk like adults about adult issues, and not get defensive.

Either way: be sure to check out the above article. The comments are thoughtful and measured, and the author speaks intelligently to the discussion.  And let me know: how do you find the literacy in games? Any great or horrible examples of poor writing? What about games where you were unsure if the developers took present day social context into consideration when creating certain aspects of the game?

E3 Impressions… Offhand, not that impressed.

Okay, I’ll admit: due to circumstances (damn work) I am not paying as much attention to E3 as I have in the past.  But I am keeping up to date via my reader, and through chatting with buddies.

Last year at E3, I saw the trailer for Splinter Cell: Conviction, a game that was NOT near my radar, in a franchise I never would have thought I would have ever played. However, the game mechanics caught my attention. The more information I sought out, the more intrigued I became. Eventually Splinter Cell made it’s way into my collection, first day of release. 

Today. Nothing new is getting my attention, and by new I mean games that aren’t on my radar. Yes, Fallout: New Vegas and Fable III has me piddling with excitement. But as I sit here and type… nothing else is coming to mind. Nothing else is jumping up and saying “BUY ME!”

Do, I want Fallout and Fable because I am familiar with and enjoy the previous incarnation of the series, or is it because this new version caught me?

So far, following things on twitter… I see lots of hype for the people who are there (Cirque de Soleil, Free alcohol, more free alcohol, Activision’s bizarre spectacle with celebs onl y and no games… and more free alcohol) and not much for the folks that aren’t (you know… really good gaming hype…)

I want to be caught up in something fantstic. Something that I didn’t know before. I don’t *want* to be one of those people who plays the same old genres, and the same old franchises…. I want another game to grab me and say “Regardless of your gaming preferences: if you are a gamer: you have GOT to see this game in action…”

so far… it hasn’t hit me. But maybe I’m just missing something. Have you seen anything that is really new or isn’t in  your own gaming realm that you got excited about?