Lights Off, Good Old-Fashioned Horror

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d bring out some horror games I’ve been meaning to review for some time now.  When you think of an iOS game, you don’t tend to think of horror, though.  Hell, most games you download through the app store have something to do with angry, flappy birds, smashing candy or playing with your jewels, but it seems that some people are opening up their minds a little.  Some developers are trying out something new with these media and seeing just how well they can excel.  In the case of Lights Off, they’ve created horror and made it even more personal.

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Some of the main things that stand out with this game.  When you start there is a rudimentary story presented, enough to get you into the game but little enough that you feel less than secure about what’s happening.  In Lights Off the main character says he got into a fight with his father, took his keys then left the house.  He then needs to remember where he left his tent since he needs to get out of town for a while.  Maybe it’s just me, but it really does seem like he’s implying the argument got really bad.  Perhaps he’s murdered his father?  I mean, I have had plenty of arguments with my mom, my dad my brothers occasionally my wife, but I have never had to leave town to sleep in a tent, which I keep in an alleyway, to spend the night in a “place where no one could find me.”  Yep.  Maybe it’s not just me.

While you are sleeping in the woods, you are awakened in the night by glowing red eyes.  This makes you wander around at night with a dying flashlight, trying to find a house that some disembodied voice mentioned in passing.  After stumbling around in the dark for what feels like ages, you find your way to the back of a house.  Inside you meet this big, black spooky being that reveals some things about you.  Like, for instance, you are a man.  No really, I had only a few indications to this, but up until I saw a photograph of the character, I was undecided about his sex.  The problem is that in the beginning sequence, when you search for the tent, the sound of the shoes on the ground sounds, to me, a lot like high heels.

LO_town

Later, when you are in the house, your character breathes so heavy, I thought he might need an inhaler.. or he might have just turned into a zombie.  Either one is a viable response.  But his breathing has a bass resonance that seems to sound like a man.  Originally, I was so confident that the main character was a woman that I was getting ready to talk about how I was glad to have a female protagonist.  Considering the implication of murdering the father, women usually have way more twisted motivations for killing their fathers than men do.

LO_parcel

Another issue I had with the game is actually just a double-edged sword.  This game has a fantastic ambiance, and it even suggests you play this in the dark with headphones on.  I wouldn’t recommend it since that might have scared the piss out of me during my playthrough.  One of the ways the game achieves its ambiance is through the liberal use of film grain.  It grants the game a gritty and chaotic feeling that you just don’t get with clean graphics.  It works great, until it becomes so prolific that you feel like you are wearing really really dirty glasses.  At a couple points the film grain got so bad that I had no idea where I was or what I was doing, and I even missed a couple of little scares because of it.  It was like “man I can’t see shit! O, that was supposed to scare me! Ahh ahh….. dammit..”  In earlier levels, the game also has a small area of vision within your screen due to the fact you are using a flashlight, which is really effective and creepy.  This worked out well.

The controls are one thing that I really have to applaud because you never see them.  The left side of the screen lets you walk by sliding your finger around and the other side lets you change what you are looking at by sliding your thumb around.  It is like having two joysticks you can see through to the game itself.  Well-orchestrated and it really did help me get even more into the game.  All this alongside the fact that the graphics were pretty good for an iPad app, and I would say that this is totally worth your time to check out.  Not to mention, this game is free on the app store.  Henry Sorren and Pulp Horror Games have a lot of other games up there, too.  Definitely a good team and you should check out their work

Henry Sorren has also been a sort of sponsor of The Crotchety Old Gamer, providing keys that I was able to distribute to winners in The Crotchety Old Giveaway.  Unfortunately, the giveaway ran for a good length and by the end some of the keys expired, which was a bummer.  Steam keys never go bad, but the app store acts like you are giving away fresh strawberries without any kind of refrigerated storage.  Bastards…

Slaughterball, Bloody Freaking Fun

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Recently, thanks to Erik at Frog the What games, I had the chance to play through a two-man game of Slaughterball.  It is an inventive and exciting game about a futuristic game, based on handball and combined with genetic mutants and freaks.  These people have been altered by companies to run faster, hit harder and have keen senses.  It’s almost like someone tried to create a human “master race” through genetic alteration, but all they managed was a really badass football team.  This game is up on kickstarter and they’ve been funded to their first stretch goal!  Get in there now and you can still get some serious early-backer swag!  You can also head to the Slaughterball website to get some more information about the game itself!

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Yes, that team looks just like a bunch of orcs.

My favorite part of this game is how everything feels like you should be narrating it with an announcer’s voice, and this is what I did.  It was legitimately one of the most entertaining times I have had sitting on my friend’s floor, playing a game.  As it went, we chose one of the four teams that came with the review copy.  I favored the spartan-themed Swords of Damocles whereas my friend went with the buxom Valkyries.  Now the pieces on the board are referred to athletes and the people playing the game are coaches, which makes sense considering either could feasibly be labeled “players,” so they opted to eliminate that distinction altogether.

Each athlete has 5 stats: accuracy, agility, brawling, speed and toughness.  Accuracy shows how good they are at throwing the ball, so when throwing the ball at a goal, you get the number of your accuracy worth of murder dice to roll.  I call them murder dice because they are covered in knives and skulls.  The more knives you get, the better you roll, so get knives.  To get the shot in, you have to get a number of knives equal to or greater than the shooting distance in squares between the shooter and the goal.  All of the tests work similarly with one stat giving you a number of dice and then another being the stat you roll against for the opposing athlete or just quick checks to see if you make a goal or pick up a ball mid-move.

Once you have your team selected, you have to place the little guys and gals on the board.  Everything is pretty well explained, though.  Once you’re all set up, it’s time to play.  Now each team’s turn encompasses three phases: draw phase, onslaught phase, cleanup phase.  The first phase is where you can discard any number of cards and draw more.  This allows you to mix up your strategy at a moment’s notice and keeps you from stagnating in actions.  There are a lot of cards, don’t be afraid to ditch the ones you have for something better!  During the onslaught phase, your athletes can move, chop (attack, basically) and pass or shoot the ball.  Moving and passing or shooting the ball are all pretty self explanatory, but chopping is where you use your athletes to attack the opposing athletes.

Successfully chopping the other team’s athletes is a good place to start really doing damage.  When you chop, it incurs a DnD-style chop test (with the brawling stat) which you roll the murder dice for.  For our game, both teams’ razors ( the skinny, accurate, fast ball-shooter) ended up in the slaughterbox, which is sort of the game’s hospital.  Except instead of healing the athletes, they are allowed to just lay there bleeding while kids and viewers throw popcorn and ice cream cones at them.  Getting off a chop attack will successfully down an enemy and, usually, score you points! Getting off more chops while they are down will get them injured, slaughter boxed, possibly penalized…. and more points!!!

That's not a scar!  I'll show you a scar!

That’s not a scar! I’ll show you a scar!

When you start the game, the goals are closed and the ball shoots out of a ball-port.  These blast the ball high into the sky, at least in my mind.  The athletes run in, grab the ball and then run into the meat grinder at the center of the board.  Wait…. fuckawhadinnabaht!?! No, they aren’t running headlong into a literal meat grinder like ball-playing lemmings, they are running into a section in the center of the arena filled with skin-slashing spikes, sandpaper carpeting and possibly demotivational posters.  It’s like the chokey for genetically-engineered athletes.  The best part is that you get extra damage on opposing athletes for knocking them down in the meat grinder.

Once someone runs the ball into the meat grinder, all the goals open and you can start making shots.  Keep in mind that any time you don’t run open goals or make a shot with the ball, anyone with the ‘Shot Clock’ card can use it to get an athlete in the penalty box, redeploy the ball and get a little edge over your opponents.  The structure of the game allows you to get some serious synergy, too.  During your onslaught phase, you can select three different athletes (indicated with the onslaught tokens) to make two moves each.  These can be used to run, chop, pass and shoot, as stated.  A lot of times I would use one player to run, grab the ball, throw it to another athlete who would run it to the razor or shoot.  My buddy Dave got two goals in the first round of the game this way.  Granted the ball practically deployed into his hands, but you roll a die to determine which port it comes out of, and the dice are always in that guy’s favor.  Gameplay is fluid, thrilling and fun.  Mostly fun.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn't work.  Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back it up.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn’t work. Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back your strategy.

Notice the letters in different shapes on the athletes’ cards.  These show the different types of athletes.  Int he actual game there will be lovely plastic pieces that have differently shaped bases, but the review copy had these useful proxies.  There is the butcher or ‘square B’.  This is a big fucker that will chop anything and often ends up in the penalty box when you can get the card.  You’ll have one on your team.  The razor or ‘circle R’ is a lithe and speedy little fucker with four-arms who can move like nobody’s business.  These guys make a lot of the shots.. at least until they end up in the slaughter box.  You also have one of these.  There is also the cleaver or ‘pentagon C’.  These guys are pretty good defensive athletes.  They have decent accuracy, agility and speed, but they aren’t much for brawling and chopping.  This means you can use them to run the ball and score pretty well if you lose your razor.  Then there are the slashers.  These guys have higher toughness and brawling than your slashers, which makes them decent for defense.  These guys will be good at carving (providing interference for athletes running the ball) and generally defending the guy running the ball long enough to get a score in.  They are a little slower, less accurate and agile than the cleavers.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box…

I may have mentioned that there are penalties and fouls that you can call.  I love the way the rules are explained for this in the game.  A great way to look at the rules is like the truth during a great story: never let either get in the way of a great time!  This means that the referees of the game are all but fucking terrified to step into the arena.  I would be too with these genetically-altered freight-train people charging and chopping each other all over the place!  Each team looks like a scarier version of the Monstars from Space Jam!  Fuck!  So there are penalty cards, which can be used to call fouls.  This represents a time when a referee was paying attention long enough to call a foul on a player, likely getting himself side-lined to the slaughterbox in the process.  The thing is, violence is one way that the sport itself is so popular.  These athletes knock eachother down, injure one another, rub eachothers’ faces in the meat grinder etc. all for points and the entertainment of fans.  It is like soccer would have been in an ancient roman gladiatorial arena and it is brutal, spine-shattering fun.

One thing that I wanted in this game, which really disappointed me, was that there seemed to be no option for a “fantasy football” league.  You know, an option that would let you alter the stats of your team, name your athletes and get more into it?  I told this to Erik, the game’s creator and he said this:

“In league mode you can design your own roster, picking which athletes are on your team, you can spend winnings to increase your traits and skills.  However, there is no build from scratch mode in this release. That’ll be in the next Kickstarter. ;)”

Back this game NOW!!!!!  This is going to be something awesome that we nerds can have for our own!  It will be a sports game that will allow us to weave in our love of football, american football and other sports that will allow us to make our own teams, then compete on a larger level!  I can see this game being the next big international board game, like Warhammer.

I was playing this game and just imagining the athletes in the arena, I want to see this game turned into a show on adult swim.  Seriously, think about it.  The world has enough personality, there are several layers of conflict (athletes against eachother, teams and their coaches, all the athletes on the board and the referees, the fans and the referees), and you can throw in the TnA of the cheerleaders (available as an extra purchase on the Kickstarter) to make it a great show with an an amazing world.  On top of all that, it would be EXTREMELY relevant considering all the violence in sports these days and it already has a nice fanbase going.  For now, this is just an awesome game, and I am still hotly debating backing it although I can’t really afford to right now.  I mean, look at this game!  I only played a scrimmage, although I wanted to get a larger game going.  It is a great time and it allows you to fuck with the rules, bullshit and not get too upset over getting screwed.  You’ll be screwing up the other player at some point, too.  Sure, they are already backed, so let’s work on getting those stretch goals met!

EDIT: I recently caved and contributed 110$ to this campaign.  I got the early razor and the cheerleaders!  Ra ra! EDIT EDIT: I just bumped my backing up to 180$.  The things that made me do this was the fact that I was already at 150$ due to add-ons.  I also wanted to get my mitts on the extra team that was unlocked (Fury) and I wanted to get two teams’ cheerleaders! Sis boom ba! EDIT EDIT EDIT: Yea, changed it again.. hopefully the last..  230$ now so I can get my name on a card and a couple of cheerleaders teams! WOO TAH!

Rhubber Man, Pulsating Arms of Fury!

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Punching its way out of Macedonia, Rhubberman is a game about beating things to death with fists of fury!  It has a flair that feels like it should be in an arcade and from what I’ve seen in the promo video on alt ctrl jam, the native controls invented by the developers would make this an arcade game of demanding coordination.  The best part is that the game in itself is not complex.  Don’t let the enemy aliens stop you from sitting and ruminating on your favorite thinkin’ spot!

Shoopy Games was kind enough to let me demo the game in late August, before there was sound.  A month has gone by and it shows in the game itself with sound effects, music and new enemies!  The player takes the role of a ‘Rhubber,’ one of the denizens of the planet Rh’ubba.  These guys look like mutated biker smurfs with four arms and an insatiable desire for fisticuffs.  Their race is one that miners and they never really wanted to do much more than that.  These fuckers make food out of the radioactive minerals of their world, which is how they ended up looking like Goro’s psychotic cousin.  The developer’s put a lot of time into this game’s lore, too, and you can read more about it on their blog!

In their video, the devs show that they made a pretty awesome apparatus to control the game.  Of course, not everyone is awesome enough to be on the early-adopter’s side of the Macedonian Quad-troller (as I am coining the dev’s hardware), so playing this on the PC is a little simpler.  There are 5 buttons: ‘Q’  ‘Z’  ‘,’  ‘p’ and the spacebar.  Hitting Q and P allows you to extend your upper arms while hitting Z and , allow you to extend your lower arms.  Extending your arms is your only real defense against foes, and there are two types.  Fuck you, I’ll tell you about the goddamn spacebar in a minute!

I love the purple beard!

I love the purple beard!

As you stand atop your pillar of tobacco-chewing rumination, these big red and green fuckers fly out of the corners of the screen to munch on you.  To defeat them, you have to time your barrage of blows and pay attention!  The red guys don’t really do much, other than suck.  They’ll fly at you, sometimes three at a time, and be assholes.  The green guys are real bastards, though.  These guys may slow things down a little, but they can deploy shields, getting them in closer for the kill.  That’s ok, though.  Just makes the fist that much more terrible.

Once you have hit enough enemies to fill the meter at the top of the screen, you can hit the spacebar.  This causes your guy to make a crazy face and shoot all four arms out at the same time, getting more kills and taking out more enemies than you should be able to.

This game is one more about timing than speed, and trying to deploy punches too fast will keep you from hitting the next enemy in time until you eventually get eaten.  It’s a good time and worth a few plays!  My understanding is that the developers are working to get this little arcade game up on itch.io soon, but time will tell!  For now, people can check it out on Alt Ctrl Jam!  Vote it up and see if you can save Rh’ubba or just become the next purple meal on a stick!

What Inception Says About Gamers

This article will fuck with your mind.  It is a personal opinion piece that I have cited the best I can given limited intellectual resources.  I wish I still had access to something like JSTOR from college, but a membership in such a database of works would require current membership at a college.  Oh well, hopefully you enjoy my machinations anyway!

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When you dream, you set yourself aside for a time and drift down into the subconscious place of your mind.  There is an element of entertainment that allows us to do something similar, and it exists in a place you’d never guess: movies.  This mechanism of reality-alteration is known as the suspension of disbelief.  It means that while you watch a movie, you accept for the duration of the film that its reality is plausible and that many of the laws that govern our day to day lives are inapplicable.  Just as with a dream, reality is set aside to allow a false reality to be experienced.  By setting aside the judgments of the ego, you allow the film to supercede even yourself, just as your dream supersedes your personal consciousness.  But there is another form of this that exists, and the location of this is even more astounding: video games.  During a videogame, you willingly set yourself aside to allow the assumed identity of the main character to be taken on.  Many of us commit horrible atrocities during this state, too, but as a movie will not correct you to become more like a main character without your permission, you will similarly not become like the characters of game realities unless you will it.  But one thing that video games do is empower their players, and through the looking glass of the suspension of disbelief, players are delivered onto the doorstep of a self that is capable of changing the fabric of reality.  Video games don’t make you a person consumed by insatiable violence, but they prepare your conscious self to deal with reality.  They don’t make us the most violent people in the world, they make us the most powerful people in the world.

Through the suspension of disbelief, we enter a dream-like state where true reality is willingly set aside.  Now, comparing a dream to a video game, we are the player and the designers; but in Inception, a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio about shared-dreaming, there is a whole structure to generating the dream-world.  In this example, consider the “subject” of the dream to be synonymous to the player in a video game.

First you have the Architect, or the level-designer.  This person generates the world that the subject finds themselves in and makes it as convincing as possible to keep the person from realizing they are asleep and waking themselves up.  They have to get the dream-world itself down to such a perfection that every aspect will be believable, and the world is hemmed in by maze-like logical loops.  In this way, Architects are also like graphics designers, and, in the beginning of the film, we see the consequences for the first Architect for inadequately recreating those graphics, that reality.

The Architect’s function allows the Extractors to do their job and pull information out of the subject’s mind.  Another primary element of the dream is the device in the briefcase.  This object is never fully understood nor explained, but it seems to be what links the dreamers and delivers the sedative that keeps them asleep and allows them to dream so interactively.  This briefcase acts as the game’s engine in that it is the background mechanical element that makes the shared-dream possible.

During the primary operation of the film, where a team convinces Cillian Murphy to dissolve his father’s multi-national corporation, several other people are called in to help sustain the veracity of this dream-world.  Several of the team’s members are called upon to act as Architects, or level designers, for each dream-level that the participants descend.

Most important is the role of the Chemist, who serves as a sort of gameplay designer.  He makes a sedative strong enough to keep the team and subject asleep for the duration of multiple dreams.  He allows them to stay engaged, even if some element of the Architects’ constructions are flawed.  It is also this sedative that brings in the threat of mortal danger during the operation, as anyone killed can now stay locked in the infinite dream-world of their own subconscious.

Now, in this film we see one element that doesn’t seem to match this analogy entirely.  The projections, or people that populate the world, are all generated from the subconscious of the player.  But in a video game, the player does add something to the game.  Without the player, every element of a game is just a piece of a perfect whole, unperturbed by outside forces.  A dimension unto itself.  Only by the player breaching the space of this game do the decisions of the player tell the game where the world will go.  Now, some of these are inconsequential alterations; like losing a few missions for killing the wrong character, as is possible during the assassination missions presented by the story arc of colluding with the Dark Brotherhood in the Elder Scrolls series.  Some of these are serious consequences, such as destroying the entire settlement of Megaton in Fallout 3.  Either way, the projection of the player’s own subconscious self through the medium of their own actions, in a sense, populates the world just as the subject of Inception.

But what of being discovered by the projections?  When the player is pulled too abruptly out of the suspension of disbelief by unrealistic elements of the game, they might begin to behave as someone who knows they are in a game reality, which does not matter.  So they might just go on a rampage, kill everyone in sight and let the cops chase them, as in Grand Theft Auto.  It doesn’t matter, and they can just revert back to a previous save once they’ve had their fill.  Just as the projections in Inception, only to (normally) have them wake back up.  At that point, the player is entertaining the conscious ego that has become bored and knows it is playing a game, rather than engaging their true self and setting aside their personal ego.  Inception sets in one more ingenious piece of the development puzzle, which takes the form of the Forger.  The Forger is a person who, through the strength of their own imagination, is able to make themselves look like a projection of the subject’s subconscious.  The Forger on the operation is then able to engage the subject directly.  The Forger functions as a game’s AI, which is created to be as intelligent as possible to create a more immersive and believable gaming experience for the player by mimicking real intelligence thereby creating a higher level of difficulty.

At this point you might be wondering what what Inception, if anything, has to do with video games and how that ties back to reality.  Freud’s idea of the subconscious mind, or unconscious mind, as represented in the film Inception, is similar to a dark cave; and this is described aptly by Joseph Cambell in his book, The Hero of a Thousand Faces.

“The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors. odd beings. terrors, and deluding images up into the mind – whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared integrate into our lives.”

In the film Inception, Cillian Murphy faces his own subconscious after being conditioned by the team of extractors.   They implanted the suggestion that his father wanted him to live his own life and not be like he was.  Lo and behold, when Cillian Murphy gets down to his own personal subconscious (perhaps ingeniously placed in a massive, technologically advanced vault), he sees a projection of his own father telling him he was disappointed Cillian tried to be like him.

Game developers are capable of the same thing, creating a narrative that we follow through a series of twists and turns, which mimic the dark and perilous caves of our own subconscious, to come to some conclusion about the character and the events in the game.  But because of the suspension of disbelief, we have been personally identifying with the main character’s struggles.  We have followed every twist and turn, and followed along with the narrative.  And, unlike in a movie where you sit impassively denying your own self for about 2 hours, in a game you spend several days engaged with this character.  In an article on Cinemablend, they arbitrarily throw around a range of numbers at 8 – 10 hours, it’s suggested this is part of a modern trend of shortening game-lengths.  Even at that length, you are talking about a length of up to 5 times the length of an epic feature film, which means more time for the player to become engaged with the main character.

In an attempt to utilize the game’s Photo Mode to capture cinematic pictures emulating his real-life works, Ashley Gilbertson recently “embedded” himself in The Last of Us, a video game that takes place in a zombie apocalypse.  It is understandably violent in a graphic fashion.  Gilbertson says in the article:

“To be successful, a player must be the perpetrator of extreme, and highly graphic, violence. I’m interested in a more emotionally engaged type of photography, where the human reaction to a scene is what brings a story to life. That was tough inside this game. Occasionally the characters show anger, though generally they’re nonchalant about the situation they’ve found themselves in. In the end, their emotions mimicked that of the zombies they were killing.  By the time I finished this assignment, watching the carnage had became easier.  Yet, I left the experience with a sense that by familiarizing and desensitizing ourselves to violence like this can turn us into zombies. Our lack of empathy and unwillingness to engage with those involved in tragedy stems from our comfort with the trauma those people are experiencing. [...] I came away from the experience having learnt a couple of things: that the work I usually do is an antidote to the type of entertainment this game represents and that I suck at video games.”

I would argue, however, that Gilbertson’s statement at the end of the article is the most revealing: he sucks at video games.  Earlier in the article he describes how the game seems to make him feel ill, the reason he has to bring it into the Time studio and have his colleague play for him, handing off the controller so the photographer could take screenshots.

This means that Gilbertson was not engaging with the characters and not giving into the suspension of disbelief.  This is understandable since he obviously does not play video games on a regular basis, so it can be assumed he won’t be able to utilize the controller effectively.  He even describes the death scene with intense detail, likely earned by frequent visits to scenes where he is eaten alive.  In that he can only blame his own inexperience with gaming and the etiquette of the controller.

But his own experience is telling about the nature of gamers and gaming: if you do not sit down and take the time to work through the struggles of the game’s characters, you will not be able to associate with that character.  If you look at how old CNN suggests modern gamers are, you’ll realize they are adults with regular jobs, kids and real-world concerns.  This means that they might sit down with a longer game and play for short periods of time.  You know, in between laundry and diaper changes.  Even if they get in 1 – 2 hours every night or two for a couple weeks, that is still the amount of time you might spend with a friend.  Shit, if CNN is to be believed in that article, most gamers play online, so they very well could be playing with friends.  But those fictional characters in that fictional narrative are still characters that you are with.  And before someone says “but you control that character!  How can you identify with a puppet of your own manipulation?” First, you might control their actions, but it is generally understood that the actions of the player are the actions of the character that you guide between cutscenes.  Add to that the dialogue that you hear, and in some cases guide, and you have a fully contextualized expression of the player’s own personal motivations.  Mass Effect is a perfect example of this.  it is a game where you choose the general concept of what you say to others, and you have to choose carefully because in some cases it will get others killed.

My point is that if you play the game and control the character, your actions are inseparable from those of the character and, therefore, the ending to the narrative is a reflection of your own unconscious decisions as they guide this character.  Whether it has multiple endings or one ending, the ending of a game forces you to confront some logical conclusion, guided by the player’s own actions, of the narrative of the game.

Coming back to Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio has a discussion with his new Architect early in the movie at a cafe during a shared dream.  During this conversation, he tells the Architect that, during a dream, you are able to get in between the process of creation and perception to achieve what he calls “genuine inspiration.”  In the film, the only way to sustain this is through shared dreaming, but I submit that this could be an accidental allegory for the video game.  When a developer creates a game, they create an interactive experience that allows you to simultaneously create/manipulate  your world and perceive/discover it.  Of course, some games are too simple for this part of the discussion; but games like Skyrim fit right in there, allowing you to decide who is right and who is wrong in a political clash that shapes the future of the world, choose which missions you complete and when.  You can even personally design the facial structure, sound, race, skills and lifestyle of your own character, features that might draw you deeper into the character.  Hell, even Massively Multiplayer Online games are taking this angle, with Sony going so far as to create Landmark, a game where players have been helping to create the world of the company’s next installment of the Everquest franchise.

The point is, we are getting to a place in video games where one can get in between creativity and perception to achieve genuine inspiration.  Just as the singer in Wallace Stevens’ The Idea of Order at Key West, gamers are getting to a place where they are just as much creating the game as they are playing it.  But what does this mean?  Well, to put it simply, if gamers are able to create the game as much as they play it, it shows that they help guide the characters in games as much as they help shape them.  It is only a short step before they are able to apply this to themselves and make their lives a product of their own actions thereby making their own lives in the image of their imaginations.  And if enough people are able to do this, they will shape the world to fit the image of the imaginations.

Don’t think this is even remotely possible?  Check out game designer Jane McGonigal on Ted Talks and how she thinks that video games will save the world.  And considering that philosophers like Renee Descartes have been using thought-experiments to test or justify various theories like the “brain-in-a-vat,” video games provide a virtual space that multiple people can interact with simultaneously.  Recently, when writers spun rhetoric in publications favored by gamers, the gamers initiated #GamerGate, probably the most successful consumer revolution ever seen.  Even now, they are in the process of altering the fate of games reporting, and that discussion started back in August.  Face it: Gamers are simultaneously the most dangerous and the most capable humans on the face of the Earth because we have be trained to shape our own world to the image of our own imaginations, and they are taught by the most effective teachers in history: game developers.

 

Labzat on the Future of Gaming and GamerGate

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Editor’s Note:

The work that follows does not represent The Crotchety Old Gamer, but I felt that it would be relevant to share the ideas of other gamers from around the world. This is a translated text from Labzat: a Mexican gaming blog. I have been working with these guys to get my work translated into spanish and shared with a broader audioence; and in the spirit of #NotYourShield, I thought it would be interesting to see how gamers worldwide viewed this conflict. It is a little rough at times, but I feel like we share a lot of the same views regarding the situation. The following article has been edited for coherence by myself and translated by a natural Mexican spanish-speaker. Some things may have still gotten lost in translation.

La futura industria del videojuego

Its been a couple of weeks (or more depending on when you are reading this) since the beginning of the game industry’s social media revolution, known as #GamerGate. Many already know what this was about, but now that polemic has been diluted and all that energy of change has been expended on useless discussions. I want to analyze, from my perspective of a foreign gamer (cuz I’m not in the USA), what it means and what it could (or could not) mean for the industry.

The “corruption” of the videogame press

The firs topic within #GamerGate is the corruption of the press. Let me tell you this: I don’t think there is any sign of corruption, yes they are partial but it’s not the same as corrupt. When you write about videogames or any other topic, you always make relations, maybe of friendship or love. It doesn’t matter, the point is that you always have people that you prefer over others. Every media has an editorial preference for some kind of information. For example, my blog Labzat gives preference to discourse about the game industry in México, Spain, and Latin America because it’s my interest to promote the game development in these regions. If there is a private relation between a reporter and a game developer, nobody has to care about it, that is an element of their private life, and it’s hard to say that it interferes with work. Why is that? You could easily say a certain game is “the best,” but the readers have their own voices and opinions; so if you are not objective, they will simply stop believing you and you loose your readerbase. And trust me no body that survives by writing about videogames wants to lose readers.

Where I see a true conflict of interest is in the sponsorship the big companies provide to the videogame press; you won’t care about being impartial when your income is provided, not from the traffic on your page, but from contributions paid by Microsoft or Sony to promote their games. Then you go from being a serious analytic reporter to the slut PR of a company. This produces a decline in the quality of articles: the very short space the indie developers have to promote their projects and the rising of fanboy trolls who just reinforce the idea of gaming as an antisocial activity. Yep, what they blame the whole society for is just the product of their own system. Also, this monetization model sucks because it means indie developers need to pay for reviews to get substantial attention. A couple of times, I have heard rumors in the Mexican indie scene that you have to pay to get reviews. I’m not sure if it’s true and I’ve never seen it directly; but if it is true, we are killing small studios and a lot of new perspectives on the future of gaming.
To solve this, we need to band together as a community and create a new press structure for the highly specialized sector of the infinite universe that is gaming nowadays. The press should also find new ways to monetize in order to be more independent from big companies. Trust me, much more impartial is the site that relies on Google Adsense and ads from other sectors of the gaming world than those who are branded by big companies.

The immaturity of the community and their opinion leaders

Yes, it’s true. Some gamers are just immature, aggressive guys. But don’t forget that most of the games are created with the belief they will be played by a public of 15 to 25, and I feel very conservative about this fact. Unless American teenagers at one point expressed their inconformity and arguments in a clear and polite way (something I have never seen in my life), I think it common sense to expect aggressive reactions to critics discussing videogames they love to play. In fact, I know adults that still react in a violent way.

But I care as much about the visceral actions of the masses as I care for the immature and superfluous declarations of the opinion leaders in the game industry. You can’t be a public figure (as Phil, Anita and Zoe are public figures) and talk without thinking or studying themes like sexism & harassment in a completely serious way. When I read the Phil tweet that states something like “Gamers are the worst, you should nukem them,” I should just remind him of that German dictator who said “the Jews are white collar criminals, lets persecute them.” It might sound like a joke, but declarations like this grant it a whole new level of gravity. A lot of wars have been started because of harsh and careless words.

On the topic of speaking without thinking, Anita basically seems to claim that all games which represent women in a way she dislikes are misogynistic. She sounds like a religious leader who claims her religion as indisputable truth, then sends her followers to vanquish all other religions from the earth. She just says a lot of things then blames gaming, seeing only the surface of topics. I want to see what she thinks of Shakespeare. You know, the part where Othelo kills Desdemona with his bare hands? Or how about Lady Macbeth being the evil force behind all the tragedy of Macbeth? She attacks videogames because developers are nerds who read comics, nearly anonymous to their own audience. I doubt she’d expect a truly intellectual level of discussion, but learning she was artificial and contrived, a lot more voices would likely rise.
Both sides of #GamerGate have made mistakes, but I’m optimistic because I believe that eventually the voices of the trolls and pseudo-intellectuals will vanish while the other side of the community, those without the attitude of children, begin to participate more.

The incapacity of the industry to reach a new market

The videogame industry probably grown the most in recent years; In fact, I’ll bet it’s bigger than pornography. Just imagine that. But when we read articles of the videogame press, it seems that the major industry is always on crisis mode. Like Third World countries, they have a lot of wealth while they simultaneously have a lot of economic problems. Fortunately, it’s easier to understand what is happening in the videogame industry than what goes on in the Third World. The industry is growing up thanks to the new models of distribution and the accessibility to tools to develop games.

But the ones who reap the benefits of this growth are neither the studios, the pulishers nor the gamers. So who benefits? Easy. The digital store owners. They just created a new consumption and production model. A lot of developers produce a lot of games that get distributed at a very low prices because supply is much bigger than the demand. So the gamer gets a lot of games at very low cost or free. They’ll log maybe an hour of gameplay, then forget about them. At that point, gamers don’t play games, they just store them.

When the press writes articles stating “gamers are dead,” they are writing about the gamers who play games and give them the value of a book or a movie. The ones who play to improve their skills on Street Figther, to collects pokemon: the ones who play epic adventures and share it with their loved ones because it was significant to them. It’s sad to read that we have no value to the major press or major companies because we are too few in economic impact for them. But it gets worse! They blame us for their mistakes, for their incapacity to reach the new public that Google, Apple and Steam do! We are not the problem. The problem is yours for generating shity games and reviews. We used to pay more for the games when the games were well-developed and the story, music and graphics were respectively epic, when they cared to utilize the best of technology, give us the best mechanics and polish their code lines to a blinding sheen: When they cared about the game experience. And, yes, we would buy fewer games, but paid much more for them.

It’s fair to recognize, though, that not all the fault lies with the companies, but that it is also ours. We accepted the new system of gaming, of being treated like thieves. We support incomplete games, and never complain about the laziness of developers or the ambition of CEOs. We just sat and and let the industry turn into a bunch of FPS with sepia tones and puzzles F2P. Now what can we expect for the future? I think the industry will turn into two: the massive, fashionable games and the elite games for a very specific public: mimicking the modern film industry.

Influent, Game of Language Learning

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Something that I focus on heavily here is the artistic quality of games, but there is so much more promise and potential to videogames than just art and entertainment.  This Kickstarter-funded piece of educational software displays that games are tools for learning as much as devices of entertainment.  It’s not a perfect language-learning game, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction and a hell of a lot cheaper than Rosetta Stone.

Influent is a game that would, by normal gaming standards, be considered an educational tool because it is.  When you buy the game, you get to decide which language you want to give yourself a primer for.  To begin with, Influent does not teach you alphabets.  I already have some pre-existing knowledge of Korean and because I participated in the Army’s rigorous linguistics program, I know exactly how your brain learns languages because I had korean jammed into my skull so hard that two years after my last tests, I still slip into korean from time to time.  My biggest problem is that I don’t really have direct access to vocabulary lists, so this definitely helps in that way.

Why do I own three shirts but I've got twelve sticks of deodorant?

Why do I own five shirts but I’ve got twelve sticks of deodorant?

The way that you ‘learn’ in this game is by clicking different items with your mouse.  It then appears down below in the written format and someone says it to you.  The korean speaker has a hard time differentiating between the hard and soft sounds, but, whatever, I know enough to sort that out myself.  Once you have a word you want to remember, you hit the spacebar and it goes to a language list.  I tried sorting my vocab into neat lists like “clothing,” “food” and “things a baby might stick in its nose,” but things are sorted out in this game in a way that makes sense for life, not tailored to making little lists.  This is a plus because if you learn vocabulary in a certain context, you might have a hard time remembering it outside that context.  Right-cliking things in the world interacts with them, like opening doors and such.

Sometimes you will need to break apart a collection of items.  Luckily, the game has sorted this challenge out pretty well.  In order to select something that is a part of a whole, you hit ctrl to identify this, like the pillow on the bed or the leaves on a tree.  There is also shift to crouch so you can see things placed under the bed or in a cabinet under the sink.

Once you have your sloppy jumble of words that you’ve heard, it’s time to start trying to sort this stuff out.  There are two modes of mastery: time attack and fly by.  Time Attack is a mode that will time you on how fast you locate the words in the environment.  It says the words and you have to run around like a lunatic looking for them in the apartment.  This is a useful tool, too, because it lets you choose from a list of ten vocabulary words, which you will remember discovering them, even vaguely, in that order, so your brain lays those pathways pretty deeply.  Another feature of Time Attack lets you choose a randomly assembled list that the game concocts for you to identify.

The black vocabulary box OF DOOOOOM!!!!

The black vocabulary box OF DOOOOOM!!!!

Now, it’s good that you want to sort through these lists, but as you find the items, the words appear saying what it is, and someone says it.  It is easy for you to get brain-lazy and depend on that, though, and eventually you are going to have to start stripping the training wheels away.  This can be done easily, and the game encourages you to do it through the use of achievements.  When you do time attacks you’ll want to start getting rid of the visual aide because that will teach your brain to start identifying what those things are just by hearing them.  This is good because, most of the time, you will be hearing language and not reading it.  It prepares your brain for hearing it.  Take away the voice and leave the visual aide in order to learn the words based on sight recognition.  This will be important for learning to read the language.  I am not sure if you can disable both the audio and video for Time Attack to try in some kind of Hellen Keller mode, but the game doesn’t come with a module that signs vigorously into your hand.

Time to zap the fuck outta that vocab!!

Time to zap the fuck outta that vocab!!

Fly by is a mode where you learn vocabulary by piloting a little toy spaceship and zapping the item in question with the lasers.  Hitting control in this mode still works just fine, and it even slows down the speed of flight so you can adequately identify what you are trying to select.  Hitting shift will just make you fly faster.  Be careful, though, because you can crash the ship, which is mildly frustrating as you wait for respawn.

Overall this is a game that clearly has some thought put into it, but there are many limitations.  First off, there are a buttload of nouns, but there are only 5 adjectives and 5 verbs to learn in any language; in case you were unaware, most of language is fucking verbs and things placed to make the nouns interact with each other.  On top of that, this is not a language-learning game, so much a language supporting game.  It is great for studying up on your vocabulary and such, but it does nothing whatsoever to show you how to arrange those into a sentence and then use it to communicate… you know, the purpose of language in the first place.  No language is spoken by a bunch of people standing in a room identifying objects, although that reminds me of an episode of Star Trek for some reason.  On top of that, the game will show you the language as it is written, which is fine for most European languages as they all use approximately the same alphabet.  But if you want to learn something with a totally different alphabet, this game offers no assistance.  It just shows you how it should sound and what it looks like.  If you want to learn how to write that down, it’s on you.  And one thing that ANY student of asian languages can tell you, the stroke order is just as important as learning what to write.

You are correct, sir!

You are correct, sir!

If you need a great study aide, this game could be a great tool to include in your language-learning kit, especially if you’ve grown up playing games that teach you how to do math or something like that quickly.  I know I did.  Math Blaster was hard as fuck!  The thing is, this game has you trapped in your apartment and it is kind of depressing because you can almost tell what happened to this guy.  There is a report left on the printer, right?  Your door is locked and there is a newspaper and a ton of adverts for food places.  This is a guy who recently gave up on humanity and has decided to sit in his room all day learning languages from the disembodied voices in his head and the hallucinations in front of him.  When you pilot the jet in fly-by, your character disappears entirely, meaning that he is totally losing association with reality and even himself!  Then he runs around the house identifying various things in the house.  Fuck the cat, that thing never moves, it must have died long ago, sad and hungry because the owner lost his mind.

Or maybe it’s just a language -learning game that focuses on a small list of vocabulary to get you started with a new language.  Still, it would be nice to have various DLC’s that I could download for free according to new areas that pertain to real life.  I wouldn’t be able to ask about a library or a restaurant or anything.  It’s like a linguistic curriculum with only 10 different lessons.  But if you want to walk away from this game with a bit more of a vocabulary, it’s definitely helpful.  Check it out on Steam for only 9.99$ per language!

The Secret Cove, Former Deckhand Gone Indiana Jones!

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I was looking over this game and deciding whether or not to back it on Kickstarter and decided I would let me wife, the more casual gamer, decide whether we would back it.  She likes to play games like this on her ipad, and I figured, since it is her area I would let her do the honors.  She watched the teaser video and her face started to glow so brightly I needed to don my shades.  She practically ripped the mouse out of my hand so we could back it!

The Secret Cove starts as all respectable adventures from the UK start: a night of drunken reverie in a pub.  On this particular night you listen to some fishermen tell the tale of a lost smugglers’ treasure, so you decide to go all Indiana fucking Jones and look for it.  You wake up on a beach (I’d wager your butt hurts from a forgotten debacle with the fishermen) and your character starts to analyze his life and wonder where he went wrong.  After all,  to end up an out of work deckhand he must’ve missed a good pointer somewhere.  At least your house is nice.

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The boarded up window is a conversation piece…

Well, fuck it’s a lot better than the house I don’t have.  Either way, your character sets out to uncover the lost smugglers’ treasure.  Throughout this sleepy little fishing village you’ll find connections to witchcraft, smugglers, intrigue and mystery.  The world in this will be non-linear. Have you ever played an adventure game?  Often they more or less leave breadcrumbs along a specific path that leads your through the plotline of the game.  You don’t really take part in a developing story as much as you are a sightseer on a virtual tour group of yourself.  The Secret Cove will be a large and open world composed of about 100 scenes you can interact with.  As you progress, more and more of the world becomes accessible.

Fuck!  I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

Fuck! I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

An interesting feature is that the puzzles will remain as relevant to the real world as possible.  I remember playing a game where I had to tie a rope to a sword to create a sort of grappling hook style device so I could climb up out of a subway.  It wasn’t exactly intuitive.  Granted, that was a comedic adventure, other adventures I have played impeded progress just by making puzzles backward and non-intuitive.  When that happens it makes the player feel cheated and a little stupid.  These devs have decided to go with puzzles that are difficult and still make fucking sense to the character.  Like welding metal together or fashioning a crowbar in a town with no Home Depot (hardware store).  The game makes sense and it is all relevant to the work of a British deckhand.  Well… former deckhand turned rogue archaeologist.  Another thing to consider is that some of the puzzles will be inventory-centric item combining puzzles similar to those found in Zork.  These are fun and you end up with a lot of items one you, but it is fun knowing that you had the answer in your backpack the whole time!

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Perfect! My robot penis is complete!

This dev duo known as Cheeky Sprite Studios is working hard to make this game, and they’ve even enlisted Richard Douglas, professional composer, to work with them.  That soundtrack is available as a backing incentive, too.  Their long list of incentives includes things like getting into their credits, having your name etched on a cave wall, the game (duh), artbook, soundtrack and much more.  Want a little taste of what the game will feel like?  Check out The Secret Cove’s website!  Part of these types of games is getting associated with another lovely locale, and this is no different.  The secret cove will feature locations and scenes from well-known Cornish towns and landmarks like St. Ives Wharf, Padstow Harbour, Minack Theatre, St. Michael’s Mount, Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Tintagel Castle and many more.

They have some pretty neat stretch goals involved, including getting this game on Steam Greenlight and having artifacts that will give you something on their website, so come join us on an adventure!  It’ll be a lot of fun, and I promise you can bring a bag of wheat thins to snack on.