Spec Ops: The Line
It’s been a while, so let me recap: “What I Learned” essays are not game reviews in the traditional sense. Rather, I talk about what I learned as a designer from playing the game in question. Sometimes I learn awesome things from terrible games, and sometimes games I love don’t actually give me any new insights.
This past weekend, I played Spec Ops: The Line….
Wait, before I start. This essay will not just “contain spoilers” as we mere mortals understand it — I will ruin the entire game for you. I will spoil this game like five-month old milk. Here be spoilers. Spoiler alert. Seriously, I’m going to talk about the end of this fucking game, a lot. If you haven’t played it, just know that it is not a typical shooter, and the narrative is worth the six or so hours it’ll take to get through it. Come back when you’re done. I’ll be here.
(Oh, and avoid the comments, too. Spoilers there as well, most likely.)
After wrangling an invite and finally getting some time to go out with a few players, I got a chance to play the Ingress beta for a while. For those that don’t know, Ingress is an Android mobile MMP that uses your physical location as part of a global play space. You walk around and claim or attack portals for one of two factions, while people from the rival faction do the same. You accomplish this via the use of items and XM, an energy you collect from walking around (little globes of light fly towards you as you walk close to them). The game tracks local, regional, and global control for each faction.
I learned a few things from playing this. As always with “What I Learned,” this isn’t a judgment on whether the game is good or bad, but rather what I learned from trying to deconstruct what I personally think the game did well or poorly. (Also, this is a beta, so some of this may change.) Continue reading
Today I took advantage of the fact that I live in the southern United States and went to a firing range. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever fired a gun, and it was a pretty different experience than what I knew from movies and novels. I figured since there are probably other writers and designers and RPG fans who have also never fired a gun, I would share a few things I learned that are different from what you might expect.
(For reference, I shot two guns: a .22 caliber Luger and a 9mm Glock. I don’t remember the exact model numbers, however.)
I have a confession: I never played Chrono Trigger back when it was released. In fact, I missed out on all of the RPGs released on the Super Nintendo, due to not having a Super Nintendo. Over the years, I have heard a steady stream of “Oh my god YOU HAVE TO PLAY CHRONO TRIGGER” in my life. A few months back I bought a copy and played it.
And, naturally, I learned a lot.
Permission to use granted by OWbN Girls and Meredith Gerber
No, it’s not a game. It’s an organization. But I still learned a lot about game design from OWbN Girls.
Over the past few days, I’ve been getting a trickle of drama in my various social networks around the group. For those not in the know, OWbN Girls is an advocacy group within the organization One World by Night that strives ”to play fair in the gaming community, educate those that believe in the stereotype [of unempowered female gamers], and engage non-gamers in joining the community.” I admit that I’m not entirely sure what the drama is, but it brought me back to a particular thing I keep picking at: sexism (and really, many different “isms”) in gaming.
The conflict for me is that the extremes are disagreeable. It seems like whenever things like sexism comes up, the two options float to “suck it up and deal with it” or “turn into a politically correct wasteland.” I don’t agree with either option, so I keep picking at it because it’s important to me as an artist and a game designer. It’s a more complex problem than it appears on the surface, which is true of any important problem, and there isn’t a simple, tweet-sized answer. In talking on Twitter to the OWbN Girls account and admitting that it’s a bigger problem, I came up with some ideas on how to extract some of these threads.
First off, I’ve been getting a couple of requests from game designers for me to do reviews, which is flattering. However, “What I Learned” isn’t really a series of reviews so much as a way to deconstruct games I’ve played because I’ve either learned something or it illustrates something I consider important – I’ve skipped fantastic games and blogged about games I didn’t like as a result. As such, I’ve added a bit about my review policies on my bio page – if you’re okay with this and want me to review something, let me know and I’ll see if it works into my schedule.
Secondly, the two games I’m looking at here both address narrative in gameplay, and as a result I need to actually talk about said narrative. While I generally try to keep spoilers down when I do these because I hope that readers are playing these games themselves for their own study, in this case oh my fucking god there are so many spoilers that if you drink milk next to this post it will turn into cheese.
Lately I’ve been going through my backlog of “indie adventure games using VGA-style graphics” (yes, that’s a thing). I’ve been playing through Ben “Yahtzee” Crowshaw’s “Chzo Mythos” series of adventure games. These are free, even the special edition versions, and they’re super-lightweight – I actually have them in my Dropbox so I can keep playing between computers. The second one in the series is “Seven Days A Skeptic,” a sequel to “Five Days A Stranger” that takes place hundreds of years later – it helps if you’ve played the first game, but it’s not strictly necessary. After that, I wanted to give that series a break, so I moved to “Gemini Rue” by Joshua Nuernberger, another one-person indie adventure game set in a bleak future. Both games also have developer’s commentary modes, so I ended up playing them both twice – which is good, because each has an ending that puts the rest of the game into a new perspective, so it gave me an incentive to play them through again right away and see the pieces I missed.
SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT. Particular for “Gemini Rue” – I highly recommend you play it first if you can.
For the past four months, I’ve been playing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on my iPhone, ever since Russell convinced me to check out its conversation and interrogation system. I haven’t finished (or really even started) the fifth “bonus” case, but I’ve played enough to babble about it for a bit.
If it looks like a game and acts like a game…. Let me be clear up front: I’m not entirely sure that Phoenix Wright is a game. As I played it, I discovered that it was part of a genre of visual novels, which I had previously been unaware of. Through the course of play, it’s pretty clear that it’s hard to deviate from the pre-existing storyline, and most of the choices aren’t really choices aren’t really choices at all.