Hashtag Dungeon, Preview of DOOOOM!

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Today I spent about 3.5 – 4 hours in one game, so this post is coming a little on the late side.  I promise this was worth it.  Sean Oxspring sent me a copy of this game to preview some time ago and I left it in my downloads.  I can honestly say I will never uninstall this game for the shallow hope I will be able to bring my murderous dungeon of death to others.  This game is a ton of fun and, although it is simple, the open and social nature of this game is what makes it so much more intriguing.  It is the first game that I’ve seen that uses social media as a preexisting  user workshop where dungeons can be made and propagated on twitter.

Starting from the basics, this game has two characters: blue and green… but for the sake of them sounding cooler than just a pair of primary colors, we’ll call them Verdi and Azure.  Through rampant speculation, it looks like Verdi is female and Azure is male as Verdi is slimmer/smaller, but it could just be a wiry little guy.  Either way, to me Verdi is female, Azure is male.  Both characters have the same magic-missile attack, so if they are both guys, the only style differentiation comes from the colors.  After speaking with the game’s creators, I am told that this game will later features varied classes such as knights and rangers!

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At the very least I assume Verdi is female cause it looks like her hair is longer

Of course, you don’t select a character until you’ve chosen a dungeon to run.  What it seems is that you will take a minute compiling various tweets under the #hashtagdungeon with a specified dungeon hashtag.  Mine was #deathtothesheeple and you can run it if you dare, though I haven’t gotten all the way through it myself.  It is pretty tough, sure, but I also get this message as the game crashes.  It is an early game, so it has a few bugs.  This happens to me almost every time I encountered numerous zombies in one room.

___________________________________________

############################################################################################

FATAL ERROR in

action number 1

of Step Eventobj_KnightsGrave

for object obj_Zombie:

Push :: Execution Error – Variable Get -1.xoff(100380, -2147483648)

at gml_Object_obj_Zombie_Collision_205

############################################################################################

 

This is horrifying on its own, considering you don’t have any saves.  Granted, a standard dungeon only takes about twenty minutes to run.  But then again, this is what my dungeon’s floorplan looks like:

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So it is a little bit taxing on a computer, I guess…

Each darkened square is a room, by the way.  If you don’t have the gams to run one of these dungeons without the promise of a saved game, you might want to consider something easier.  This pixelated, retro runner is like Contra and the difficulty is up to the lunacy of those crating the dungeon.  I can tell you right now that there are a decent number of loot and treasure rooms, but getting to them can be a challenge.  Keep in mind, though, this is a good 3 (ish) hours of on-off work.  @hashtagdungeon can attest to that.  They recieved a good 90% of the tweets!

In each room you will find an assorted collection of monsters and enemies, traps and sometimes (if the dungeon creator cares enough) some loot and health!  Once you are in a room, every entrance is blocked until you kill everything in the room.  Keeps adventurers honest.  Personally, I feel that creating dungeons is a big part of playing this game.  After all, if no one makes dungeons, what will players run?

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Shittiest library ever. 1/10 would scream at checkout.

The above is one of the rooms I created in my dungeon.  I feel I started most times at the scenes, which are what the dungeon room looks like.  This one is the library.  I threw in an Oculus (the beholder in the center) and a couple demon dogs.  This screen is where the most additions will be visible.  Even if you don’t create dungeons regularly, you’ll end up coming here just to get a good hold on things that are in the game since last update.  Once you have a scene set in place, you can pick from the traps or enemies.  You can see that I set in four spike pits that will pop up and down as you avoid the enemies.  The traps and enemies will fill that green bar.  The further the room is from the center, the more enemies and traps you can fill the room with, you sadist.

Magic and objects in the special category will fill that bar as well.  Magic contains various spells that will make enemies more powerful.  They’ll shoot out little electric charges, run faster or take more damage.  Those are actually the only spells right now, but the guys over at Hashtag Dungeon are working on a number of add-ins, including a halloween update!  Special objects tend to consist of loot, monster generators and things that contain loot.  This is good, since you’ll die without buffs, and pretty quickly.

The last element is the clutter.  You can see four little pots in the room above.  Those pots are destructible, and they can give you loot and power-ups alike.  As you place them, the blue bar will fill up.  It takes a good bit of clutter to fill up a room entirely, but this is likely to keep people from doing something really irritating and filling up an entire room and making the only way through open by stepping on exploding traps numerous times.  That would be a real dick move… which I totally tried to do.

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I ran for cover a LOT in my own dungeon.

The way this game spreads the dungeon rooms to players is pretty ingenious, though.  As you make each room, you hit TWEET to save the room and simultaneously send out the data to recreate that room in other versions of the game.  I am impressed since I have never heard of anyone else sending out data for mass consumption in 140 characters or less.  These guys deserve applause.

Overall this is a great game and its devs are hard at work trying to make it a reality.  It is a lot of fun creating a dungeon, but then playing it and having others play it?  It is a lot of great fun.  Of course, it won’t exist without your help.  Go check out the game’s website for more info about the game and to sign up for the mailing list.  Vote for the game on Steam Greenlight, please!  This game implements amazing ingenuity and it shows what really lies at the hart of videogames as a whole: the desire to reach out and play with others.  That sounded a little dirty.  LoL!  Either way, vote this game up!  It’s a great example of the experiments of ingenuity that indie gaming allows.  It is great fun now in its natal stages, despite a few bugs, and it will be a monumental achievement once it has gotten a little traction and is able to really take hold of an audience.

 

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Efec and Death, Weird Like This is Tough to Find

Henry Sorren, I am finding, is a guy that created a lot of weird things.  This game is one of them.  There is much in this game that didn’t make sense to me, and I got the feeling that is the way it was meant to be.  Each of the Pulp Horror Games has a feel and tone of its own, and this one is just bizarre.  It is very creepy, and I feel like with headphones on in the dark, I would only have completed this game in pieces.  As it stands, I haven’t completed this one, but it has a haunting spookiness.

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Awful lot of birds…

Efec is you character and he is a vampire.  He has, apparently, been asleep for a very long time, so long that he wakes up and there is a pool on top of him.  Whatever, he doesn’t make any mention of it, Efec seems more focused on this hooded figure.  What does the figure want?  Well, this guy tells Efec that death has been hard on the town, and that Efec is their only hope.  He has to go find and kill death.  Efec responds, sure!  Right after I get something to eat!  Makes sense.  If I was locked in some ancient enchantment for years on end, I would likely want something to eat upon waking.

So Efec wanders out into town to find: absolutely fucking nobody.  Seriously, he says “nobody is in town.”  For half a minute I thought there would be a guy sitting there like “my name’s nobody,” but yea, I guess they all just fucking died.  The really eerie thing about this world isn’t the distinctly heavy side of the building to people ratio, but the ambiance of the world.  It has the same film grain that other Pulp Horror titles seem to possess, but this one has Ave Maria playing the entire time.  And it plays like it is coming out of some dusty old victrola in a haunted attic.

...yea seriously, cause I need blood.  Can I directions to the nearest blood bank?

…yea seriously, cause I need blood. Can I get directions to the nearest blood bank?

After wandering through the town like a groggy anemic, you come to a forest.  In this forest is a well, a house – which gives Efec a ‘bad feeling – and a giant, shrieking spider.  Approaching the spider reveals that someone stole its keys and that its kids are in danger.  Whatever, man, just shut the fuck up.  I will help you get free if you’ll only shut the fuck up!!!  Wandering around, you eventually find the keys.  This is a big relief since you have, like, zero visibility out there.  Of course, you get to repeat the process as you wander through the spider caves.  It feels like there is more distance to cover, all of it in pitch darkness.  At times I found myself using walls to guide myself only to realize that I was walking into walls after a while.  There are a number of doors with hidden keys to find and it is hard as shit; so, with the profound lack of visibility, I was unable to get past the spider caves.  This game is creepy as hell, and fits October perfectly.  Play it through at some point, I promise it will give you the jitters.  This title is another artistic piece by the Pulp Horror Games crew, and it costs only 0.99$ on itunes.  Check it out at risk of your own sanity!

Shadow Protocol, Super-Techno Euro Spy

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I am generally not a fan of mobile games, but some devs have really been killing it lately.  Seriously.  First I discovered Henry Sorren and his horror series, then there is Goodnight Games and this remarkably sweet piece of iOS entertainment.  I grew up playing games where stealth was a challenge and not a super-power, and this game just feeds that sense of profoundly badass precision tempered with a tension I rarely see anymore.  Come disappear into the shadows for a while.  I promise you’ll enjoy it.

In this iOS title you play a member of M.O.T.H., a super-secret organization so shrouded in mystery, not even the game explains what it stands for.  You are a covert operative trained to get in, get the intel and GTFO before the bulldogs catch on to your presence.  In this, as with many other stealth-based games, a main focus of the game is the gear.  Primary among your kit is that black alien suit you are wearing.  It allows you to melt into the shadows, avoid detection and be generally ninja-like.  When you are in the shadows, you are completely invisible and the music reflects this by going all enigmatic.

Another important piece of gear is the hacking device, and it’s what you use to obtain the most important plot-progressing pieces of the game.  Throughout the game there will be terminals to hack, which will give you pieces of intel – usually objectives – and can also grant you access keys to doors.  These doors will be a bland white color.  Other doors seem to have been purchased from the 90’s era FPS games, as they are activated by keys matching the color of the doors themselves.  I didn’t have an issue with this at all; in fact, I found the keys an endearing element of the game, lending a nod to older games and utilizing the game’s isometric view to the best of its coded capacity.

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Another piece of gear is the smoke bombs, which you will use to get past certain types of guards.  Generally, you can avoid the patrolling guards by staying out of sight until they pass then dodging past them toward your goals.  Cameras are pretty easy to avoid just by going into the shadows.  You can even move around in the shadows, you won’t appear on the camera at all.  I guess the villains were too cheap to afford motion-sensors.  Better to waste the funds on stupid muscle.  That always works out well. The last type of guard is a little something of a dick.  This guy sits in one place, usually guarding a door-key.  To move these jerks, throw a smoke bomb and slip past them, getting the key and gaining access.

Guards can be a little easy to get past at times, providing little more than a momentary obstacle, but they all have little surprises here and there.  The patrolling guards will look to the sides, rather than just in front, finding you just around that corner you thought you were safe beside.  Some of the guards go outside the methods you trained them on, so stay on your toes.  There is no telling where the next guy will be and how resourceful you’ll need to be to get past him.  It can be aggravating at times, but for fans of challenging stealth it is worth the play.

Of course, not every situation permits passive avoidance, and there are situations in this game that warrant a more proactive approach.  Before you Assassin’s Creed nuts start going all Altair on these guys, you have no lethal weapons in your arsenal.  All you have is a whip and a taser.  The whip has a slight chance of render enemies unconscious for a second, but there is also the chance that they might just come running after you; since the latter option is far more likely, you won’t be using this much.  Some guards will only move if you try using this thing, so it becomes a necessity in some levels.  The taser is the most proactive item you have, and this disables your enemies long enough for you to get away… so about 3 fucking seconds.  Using the whip will only disable enemies for 1 second.

...because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

…because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

The controls are pretty intuitive, though they can be frustrating at times.  You move via the touch-screen joystick that many iOS games use, and I have had many a time where I was playing too fast and I went the wrong way… in front of a camera.  Items are deployed by hitting the corresponding button on the menu at the right side of the screen.  Most of the items you just tap once and they’re used, but the hacking tool has to be held while a bar fills, hacking the terminal.  This can be infuriating as sometimes you have to do this before the guard gets back from staring at the wall for a few seconds, other times before a camera moves painfully slow into view.

The art and sound of this game surprised me, and were amazingly superior for an iOS game.  It looks and plays like a lost SNES title with art that is fitting and very enjoyable.  Characters walk and move smoothly and scenery is good.  Sound is enjoyable and helps to create the necessary tension that a game like this desires.  Everything comes together here to create a fun and interesting play, and it has a story that is frankly too good for the standard mobile fare. Add to that the fact that this game is a fucking challenge?  Yea, it’s a good play, for sure.  Seriously, though, the game goes from a pretty moderate walk in the park to “Oh my fucking god how did I even clear that goddamn level?!?!” in a few short (ish) levels.  All this, and the game itself is only 0.99$ on iTunes and the App Store.  I recommend this for iPad, but it is likely still very playable on other idevices.  Want to watch the trailer?  Here you go.

Hydrophobia: Prophecy, Drowning in Inadequacy

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This game suffers from being viciously misnamed.  Hydrophilia would be closer to the mark, considering how much attention went into this game’s water physics.  It is just a shame that a game with so much potential fell flat on its socially-progressive pretenses and turned out to be just another bowl of meh pudding.  Seriously, it wasn’t astronomically bad, but it failed so badly at everything else it tried to do that its nothing worth mentioning in the history of gaming.  Then again with how advanced the water physics were in this game, you might liken it to a socially conscientious, non-bigoted Birth of a Nation: it might be a shit, but it is a shit that made powerful contributions to its discipline.  On the bright side, at least there was no one in black face.

So it isn’t so bad that it necessitates drawing a comparison to the most violently racist film in American history, and that is part of the problem.  Aside from the water physics there is nothing else truly worth mentioning.  First, let’s start positive, since there is so little to say here.  This entire game takes place on The Queen of the World, which makes legal doctrines difficult to read in this since there are so many titles and such.  Thing is, the Queen is a massive city-ship built to be humanity’s solution to over population: not enough space on land?  Fuck it, let’s live in the ocean.  Now that is really silly, but the thing is, the rest of the world likely isn’t happy about the wealthy elites retreating to the ocean to avoid looking at the dirty plebs everywhere.  So the ship gets taken over by this terrorist group called the Malthusians, named after Thomas Robert Malthus.  Apparently the guy was a demographic scholar back in the day.  I don’t think he would have gotten behind killing everyone on the ship, though.  Just sayin’

What a cheerful group of boys and girls...

What a cheerful and artistic group of boys and girls…

Coming back to the point, though, the terrorists decide to start blowing holes in the floating city.  Not usually a great idea, but hey, they’re villains in a videogame.  With breaches in the hull, water comes flooding in, and it cascades.  Seriously, though.  It looks awesome when the crashing waves of doom flood in through the doors or walls of an area you were having a pitched gun fight in, sometimes even to your benefit.  And that is about it.  Th water really looks like it is flooding into the ship.  Great.  The rest of the game? Well..

Again, not horrific, but not the magical amazing piece of “epicness” that all the hype back in the day implied!  First, there are these screenshots and such of your character with some magnificent power.  And it is pretty cool when you can lift things with pillars of water and throw explosive barrels.  But that is all you can do.  Oh, and you don’t play the WHOLE GAME with this power!  FUCK NO!  That would be too awesome, too much fun!  You get these powers in about the last 30 minutes of gameplay and then you have to face the only boss in the game with them.  That is like receiving training with your M16 in the military and being told it’s all you’ll need.  Then you get there and they hand you a fucking rocket launcher and a short faq sheet so you can reverse the blitzkreig!

Then there is your gun.  The malthusians typically have shot guns and machineguns while you are stuck with some state-of-the-art pistol that shoots 6 different types of ammo and the above-pictured MAV hacking device.  I want to use a goddamn shotgun!  A machinegun would be nice, but all you get in that department is some kind of automatic round that somehow makes your gun shoot faster.  That’s not how this works, it will still have the accuracy of a fucking pistol!

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I guess the plot holes got to her.

Then there is the story of the game as it develops throughout the game, which is to say it doesn’t.  You get the roughest outline of the idea of a story and then things start happening without any real explanation.  The terrorists are briefly explained in passing, and their goals are only really understood at the end of the game, and even then they’re still a little vague.  There is some kind of backstory regarding Mila Krass, the main villainess, the nanobots she wants to use to kill everyone in the world, and the ship.  But again, there is no real explanation to the player as to why they are here, why she wants them except some video-screens that you could miss if you are in the wrong room at the time.  Most of the plot is delivered through a series of documents and notes that you will most-likely run, or swim, right by.  I shouldn’t have to find the story of the game, you need to GIVE it to me.  The main plot of the game shouldn’t be like a football game at Thanksgiving where a few interested people get into it while the rest of us just ask for the score afterward!

Of course it seems that this was done to provide something to slow the player down as they progress through the game, which plays like a Die Hard movie with a thinner plot and less interesting enemies.  You run through the game so fast because the majority of it consists of you swimming out of the rapidly flooding decks.  You don’t actually fight enemies until a third of the way through the game, which is like serving food twenty minutes into an hour-long lunch period.  It’s just not fun, and I will likely have left to get a hoagie (massive sandwich) at the local Wawa (a convenience store).

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Mila looks more bored than threatening as she slaughters innocents by the truckload.

On the topic of things this game does only half-assed, there is a sort of rudimentary parkour engine in the game, but it’s boring.  Seriously, I am not sure how you can make parkour boring, but this deeply dreadlocked woman is the slowest parkour performer ever.  She makes Altair look like a fucking artists.  It’s like they wanted some elements of Mirror’s Edge in there, but didn’t have time to do it with all the work in the water engine.  Where you do use parkour, it’s slow and encumbering rather than fun and interesting.

But wait, there’s more!  The characters are unbelievably dull and fall into silly stereotypes.  First, this is a game with a female lead and a female villain, which should really be something!  I mean, it gives you a chance to see a battle waged solely between the females.  But then again, you have this snarky, annoying douche-nozzle named “Scoot” talking in your ear like he thinks he’s goddamn Otacon.  He also seems to get off on telling the main character (Kate) what to do all the time, then taking credit for it.  At one point that asshole is like “It’s so draining watching all this action, Kate.”  I imagined him saying this as he sits back in his little spinny office chair on A-deck.  The best part is that later in the game, malthusians storm his area, so he keeps his voice down.  At one point toward the end, Scoot leaves his console as the terrorists might have checked the broom closet that command usually keeps him in.  And then?  Well… he just kinda disappears.  His fantastic exit from the game after guiding you this whole time?  He just walks away from the fucking desk!  And you never figure out what the hell happens to him!

And this isn’t the only character that had a chance at a being interested, but got a bad wrap job.  Chief Bingham… Birmingham…  Mr. B is the chief of security on the Queen, and after you free him from a slow, terrible death he just walks off into a flooded room to “find a gun.”  Not before he has a chance to grumble out some insults of character implying that if you had done your job right, this might’ve been prevented.  That would be like the head of the FBI or NSA blaming their lower-level enforcers for 9/11.  Then you don’t see him again until a later scene in the elevator where Kate looks amazed and Mr. B is killed off camera.  And that’s fucking it!  In the original version there was the implication that Scoot was killed and you meet up with Chief B.  Kate wants to look for Scoot, but they find the room flooded and no Scoot.

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Piece from the end cutscene. Mila Krass dies. Spoiler alert.

Really, this is a game that might’ve been better titled “Water Physics Engine 3D.”  It is more a game about its mechanics than anything else.  There is a lot in here that games like Bioshock could have used in a sequel to make a neat “final death of Rapture” or something, but Hydrophobia: Prophecy just ends up being bland and flat as a stale cracker.  There could have been an interesting conflict between a badass female protagonist and a super-evil female villain.  Not really there.  Could have had a deep plot with connected characters and a plot that felt real and fun.  Scrap it.  In the end, what you have is a reason to market a water physics engine, and in most games the water physics barely even matter.  This is a game to avoid, with only a few redeeming qualities.  This shit ball is 4.99$ on Steam and I would recommend waiting until it goes on sale.  Seriously, it’s that non-fulfilling.

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.

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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.

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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…

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

GG_VJ

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.