Gaming without your brother

Banner Saga: The Empathy of Gameplay

I bought The Banner Saga when I was still actively engaged in the Go For Rainbow podcast; one of my co-hosts talked about how much he really loved the game. In addition to his personal endorsement, it seems to me that it was always just one of those indie games that I was hearing about, all around. Therefore it seemed like a great reason to pick it up and give it a whirl. A few months ago, I took to Twitter to ask what game I should play – The Banner Saga or some other game, which is what I ended up playing. But in response to the tweet, Stoic Studios (creators of the game) replied to me and said “Banner Saga but we might be biased ;)” which further confirms that it was a game worth giving a shot.

Two days ago I streamed a 4 hour chunk of the game (twitch.tv/LittleSisGaming) and got through that first part of it, although I have to say it kind of felt like I was towards the end of the game. I realized it was odd that I had heard so much low-grade hubbub about the game but never ended up watching any of it in Let’s Plays or anything. The slight surprise in my voice when I see that it’s a tactics game was audible, heh. I thought it was the end of the game because it was the last battle of a large city, and while HowLongToBeat.com said the game should take about 11 hours, I was playing HORRIBLY and lost most of the tactics battles (which lead me to hypothesize that maybe you go through the game faster if you’re just constantly losing, heh).

Far and away, the game is beautiful – in it’s visual art, music, and storyline. Playing it in a small room with multiple lights, I can’t lie that the rising temperature might have been bringing my energy and engagement level down a little bit. Even still, the game is primarily working through a choose-your-own-adventure, watching simple 2D animations, and the exact same gameplay (including the exact same enemies) for the whole game. It dawned on me though that this might be an instance of proceduralism in games, whether intended or not.

Proceduralism (i.e. procedural rhetoric) in games refers to the mechanics of the game enforcing the feel or message of a game, rather than just the visual assets or visual style, or the written dialogue or exposition. One of the primary examples is a game called “The Marriage” – the mechanics of the game reinforce the message from the creator, that marriage gives and takes and the two “characters” balance their existence together, affecting each other. It isn’t just that there is a narrative point-and-click adventure (for example) trying to capture the struggle of a balanced partnership in marriage – the player has to actually struggle with it while navigating external factors.

To be honest, I doubt Stoic Studios was aiming for proceduralism, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the aesthetic they were aiming for included a little bit of mid-game drudgery to further communicate the trudging through snow at the end of the world scenario in The Banner Saga. Is there a space for that kind of game in the commercial world? Usually proceduralist games are hyper-indie – art games, really. Could there be space for a game where the mechanics are unenjoyable because they’re communicating something deeper than “Play game, have fun”? It’s an interesting question; I doubt the AAA space will ever get there but entertainment indies could be approaching. Let me know what you think in the comments; I’m interested to hear some different opinions about proceduralism and The Banner Saga!

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LittleSisGaming Live on Twitch!

The past two weeks have been kind of amazing. I wrapped up my semester, I got all of my new hardware to build my new AMD PC, the motherboard and/or CPU pooped out on me, so I replaced the motherboard, got the second one yesterday, and it also didn’t work, so it might be both again, or maybe it’s been the CPU the whole time? I dunno but what a whirlwind big city adventure (read: highly annoying and I’ve wanted to pull out my hair everyday and I might have actually shed a tear or three yesterday because I was so. damn. frustrated). But I channeled one of my favorite adages – done is better than perfect.

So instead of waiting for replacement parts, we’re running with Twitch TODAY! On my laptop. Which is super beefy, to it’s credit, but you know – smaller monitor, OBS has problems recording the monitor which is poopy for PC games, etc. etc. BUT WE’RE DOING IT ANYWAY! Done is better than perfect. And to be clear, I worked out OBS so the recording will be great.

Today I’ll be going live with Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor around 3pm Mountain Time (which is also 2pm Pacific Time if that helps anyone). In the future, I plan to stream for about 3 to 4 hours, but today I have a DND campaign to get to at 6pm so I’ll be cutting it around 5:30pm. AND this will all be on twitch.tv/littlesisgaming (different from where I streamed all my Extra Life stuff last year so take note). Can you believe the full sister URL/username was taken? Boo.

My schedule moving forward is Tuesday through Saturday, 3pm (Mountain Time) to whenever I feel like stopping, but most likely for at least 4 hours. And that’s Twitch! The lighting it subpar, the mic is good enough, and the setup on my end is a hodgepodge of cords and balancing monitors on books and speakers, but IT WORKS! And done is better than perfect.

Can’t wait to catch some of you this afternoon!

The (Battleblock) theater of multiplayer emotion (Part 1)

Last week I decided it was about time to finally put Battleblock Theater to rest on my Xbox 360. I love Castle Crashers, I loved Battleblock Theater when I started playing it, but never put it at the top of my list of games to finish. When I got my PS4 I thought I would never pick up my 360 again because the PS4 was just so damn pretty. Little did I realize when I made the jump to Playstation that my ISP (Comcast) blocked HBO Go on Sony devices which meant we had to keep watching Game of Thrones on my 360 (obligatory reference to Comcast being the devil). AND THUS the last gen console was on, I was browsing my games, and I booted up Battleblock Theater again.

After I got through the campaign I decided to try to go for some achievements because I was here, I was halfway through them anyway, and most of them seemed pretty easy to get in multiplayer. I rarely play multiplayer in games, even co-op. I get self-conscious about how I’m performing as a teammate or even as an opponent. When people leave a match midway, I wonder if they were disgusted with me and so frustrated they left. I realize how self-centered that all sounds, and believe me I’m working on it, but those are the general reasons why I don’t play games online. I also mostly expected that when I would try to get into multiplayer it wouldn’t match me with anyone since the game is years old. Much to my surprise, I jumped into a quick match almost immediately. And there were no emotes or chat, so I couldn’t be harassed even if someone wanted to harass me! Ya hoo! Small victories!

As I kept getting matched with new team members and new opponents, I was also trying to trade with everyone (one of the achievements is to trade with 10 different people) and I realized I was actually enjoying multiplayer. It was low risk, low cost if I messed up, and we just bounce from one match to the next so there were quick chances to redeem myself. Some multiplayer achievements include playing and rating 10 user-created levels, winning 100 matches, and win one match in every multiplayer mode. As I was whittling away at the list I realized one secret multiplayer achievement is to kill a team mate at least 50 times. I laughed to myself and decided I would just jump in to some quick matches to get the achievement. I was sure I was fairly close already, through doing half the game in co-op with my brother when I first bought it, and from accidentally killing my team mates enough times throughout matches when I was actively trying to win.

What I didn’t really expect is how bad I’d feel every time I threw a fireball to light my own team mate on fire. This person was legitimately trying to win the match, win their own achievements, and I was being the trolling asshole. I felt as if their frustration was palpable. Afterwards I took a step back and realized how affected I was by someone with a gamertag I didn’t even know. I dunno, I guess there isn’t really more depth to this thought at the moment. It hailed back to some thoughts I had while playing Journey, and the MOBA Smite, but in short – it kind of boggles my mind how game developers have struck on something as simple as “make two players match colors and inherently there will be a bond that will promote a certain path of player behavior.” I suppose that was struck upon before game developers though – just by people developing corporate strategy or team building exercises or education or . . . many other applications.

Like I said this is actually the tip of the iceberg on my wonderment and the relationship that can be created between strangers online. I’d like to re-play Journey and write up how amazeballs I think it is. I think my next installment in the near term though is going to be about the deep dark world of MOBAs that I’ve fallen into. Leave a comment if you’ve had a similar relationship with someone if just for a brief moment while playing silently together online; I’m really curious about this social phenomenon and would love to hear more about other people’s experiences!

OlliOlli2: The perfectly aged Tony Hawk successor

I was updating my HowLongToBeat.com profile with games I got and have just tacked on to my already massive backlog. Mostly this meant adding the PS Plus games I’ve gotten since I bought my PS4 on Black Friday. I realized that I’ve crossed the threshold where I can’t see all of my games on my dashboard any more. As I meandered through my library, I noticed there were a number of PS Plus games that I enjoyed but never finished playing through. It hit me that I never kept playing OlliOlli2, so I started it up and settled in to the tutorials to remembered the first time I tried it.

My friend Paul had told me that it wasn’t on the list of free games that pops up for PS4 because it was one of the cross buys. When I found it and played it, I found him the next day and gushed about how fun it was, and how it was obvious (it a great way) how it was made by people that played Tony Hawk as kids and have since grown up.

One of the most notable features of Tony Hawk is its soundtrack. Alternative to most at the time, or at least the crowd that was playing Tony Hawk, you can talk to most anyone who played the Tony Hawk series in middle school or high school and they will tell you it was ear opening. And I agree – although I didn’t go on to buy the soundtrack or even albums from the featured artists, it made me realize that every genre had something to offer and to shut my fat mouth unless I had actually listened to whatever someone was saying was the best music on earth (instead of being the punk saying that rap/country/metal/whatever sucked).

As I worked my way through the beginning levels of OlliOlli2, those same ear tingles hit me. This, was a damn good soundtrack:

It funky, it’s fresh, it’s underground, it’s perfect to get in a zone to. And I think that last part has particular importance for a game of skill, like OlliOlli2. It has to be something you can grind to (HA) without afterthought. While that’s possible to most music, I think this soundtrack in perfectly suited for it.

The other throwback to Tony Hawk that I found while playing OlliOlli2 was the simplicity of the controls. Tony Hawk never did anything crazy with button combos, you just had to time it all to make it happen. And don’t get me wrong, OlliOlli2 is definitely a more difficult game than any Tony Hawk iteration, but the controls are easy and grok-able. To me, that shows the genius of the developers, Roll7.

All of us that played Tony Hawk as kids think we want to play Tony Hawk again. I personally am looking forward to the new installment that was just announced. But do we really want the same experience? It’ll be enjoyable, no doubt, but I think nostalgia hype will ultimately die as a trend because we all crave something new, something original. If we got a game as straight forward as Tony Hawk, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling.

The hole that gets shot through that observation is that the game is a 2D sidescroller with pixel art . . . and that I think does hail to the nostalgia hype. I don’t hate it, I don’t hate the nostalgia hype, but I there’s definitely a limit. And it’s not out of place, right? If you want a 2D side scrolling skate game, because that will require pixel precision execution of moves and combos, then sure – make it pixel art. Can’t argue with the design choice there.

I still have yet to finish just getting through all the stages. And it is a damn hard game. Don’t get me wrong, you will rage quit. But it’s a wonderful, whole experience – from the music to the combos to the art. If you loved Tony Hawk you deserve to give OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood a chance.

An Academic Year in Retrospective

So my last post was super anti-climatic because I was building my new desktop and was going to start streaming and blogging and being a general badass all summer, and while that is STILL the plan, it’s all been put on hold due to a poopy motherboard. Motherboards, amirite? Sigh. But in the interlude of the replacement being shipped to my apartment, I thought I’d wax eloquent for a minute about why I’ve been MIA for the past 8 to 9 months, and what I’ve been doing.

I posted a while back that my new blogging spot on the ‘net would be at my school-mandated, development blog. Turns out most of that was unintelligible fluff, because it was an assignment, and I didn’t put any effort into it towards the last half of my first semester, and onwards, AND the faculty read it so it has to be pretty vanilla. Not that if I was really burning to say something snarky that would’ve stopped me but it just made it easier to post things like “Boy, what a great week of development on our prototype! We hit some roadblocks, but worked together as a team and overcame that hurdle!” *yawn*

I tweeted a week or two ago the following sentiments (PS I’m back on dat Twitter game FUH REAL) but I’ll expound here: loving video games is not a good indicator of your skill at designing video games. Far and away, the program I’m in pushes really hard for every student to internalize good game design principles. The past few days I was reading a book that my therapist recommended to me that has a lot of information I’m not sure I agree with or not but it did talk a lot about finding what you really want to do, no matter how silly it sounds. It made me think back to a year and a half ago when I applied to this program; did I really want to design games? Or did I just want to be more a part of a medium I love? I ask that but I suppose I already know – no, I didn’t want to design games. I didn’t really think about it, might be a more fair deduction. I saw a program about video games and thought YEAH! Video games! Which is kind of a terrible reason to be so far into school debt, but here I am, so where do I go?

In addition to realizing that designing video games is not high on my life goals list, I also have come up empty on the real employment side of things for the summer. I applied to over 60 internships and real jobs, not just in games but everywhere in tech, and had no luck. 3 interviews, and actually one offer for an internship but it would’ve required me to live in NYC poverty so I had to turn it down. To take a small tangent – while I was trying to decide if I should take the NYC opportunity, I talked to a friend who currently lives in NYC and even though my professors were talking me down from accepting, she was very gently trying to get me to take it. She brought up points like “Do you want to be in NYC permanently? Like is this a stepping stone to being here full-time after you graduate?” and I didn’t know and hemmed and hawed, and thought about her experience which was graduating in Seattle with a fashion degree, moving her whole life in a suitcase to live on a floor while she worked retail in NYC just to be in NYC, to make opportunities happen, and now she’s designing at Ralph Lauren. RIGHT!? I MEAN, COME ON!

After I made the decision to turn down the internship, I felt pretty shitty. After contemplation the past two days, I think what I’m realizing is that I just didn’t want to do that work. If I really wanted to be there, that was an amazing shot and I would’ve taken it. But I didn’t want to be. Which might sound crazy to some of you guys. Which I understand. But getting back to my tweets of insight (personal insight, anyway) there’s a chasm of difference between making a living making video games, and making a living consuming video games. And maybe it makes me sound like a lazy, generation XYwhatever entitled asshole, but I’d much rather make a living consuming video games.

So while I’m unemployed this summer, I figured now was as good a time as any to get my Twitch game off the ground. Talk about making money for consuming games, amirite? I also really want to build this brand, LSG. I really do love it, I really do love the WordPress community I became a part of while I was giving this time and attention and energy, and I have also admitted to myself that no matter how much I might love past supervisors, working for a company is just the pits. So much bureaucracy. And so much putting on pants and being somewhere by 8 am. This summer is the proof that I can make money on the internet and support myself. So Twitch is on my to-do, writing here more is on my to-do list, and podcasting of some kind if on my to-do list because it’s just fun. It’s just so much damn fun, you know? You guys know.

So hello again, my old friends. Ya’ll are magical human beings, ya’ll are badasses. I’ll be seeing you around the internet.

Prepare thyself

Dusting this off…

Until next time

Subject meaning, until the next time I post on this site, you should check for actual, regularly blog posts (whaaa-!?) on a blog I’m academically obligated to create for a rapid prototyping class.

That’s right folks; the few short months between my “announcement” post that I was applying to a game production program at the University of Utah and now have flown by and I’m in the thick of my first week in a mind-numbingly busy program. One class is building a new game prototype every 4 weeks. One requirement of that class is blogging often about what we’re learning and doing. So if a professor recommends I blog twice a week about a class, ya better believe I’m gonna do it. Slightly better impetus to write on that blog, than on this one.

Having said that, I love you all dearly so if you’d like to check it out, the URL is http://blogs.eae.utah.edu/lbanks/.

It’ll be interesting trying to write more from an industry perspective, and less from a consumer perspective. I hope to see you all along for the ride!