What I’m playing november 2016

I’ve been busy teaching so I haven’t done much blogging but I have managed to play some games. I thought I would post what I’m playing as a way to get a new post on here to prove this site isn’t dead – if only to myself.

1. Paladins – people say it is an Overwatch clone but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t bought Overwatch. From what I’ve seen Overwatch seems like Team Fortress 2.5 anyway – shots fired! Overwatch is entertaining enough. It is free to play so it has that going for it. It is in beta so they keep changing things which is kind of interesting to observe.

2. Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker – I have never been that big of a Nintendo fan. I had an NES but never an SNES. I got an N64 several years after it was out and never had a Gamecube. Now that the Wii U is nearly dead I decided to buy a Wii and softmod it. So I’ve started playing through the gamecube games I’ve missed. Wind Waker is the first one. I think the only other Zelda game I ever played was Link to the Past that a guy in the dorm in college had on his SNES so it has been an interesting experience. I’m currently at the part where you gether the triforce. It is getting a little tedious so I might give up on it.

3. Alien: Isolation – I heard a lot of praise for this so I was looking forward to it. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. The gameplay seems really straight forward and I don’t like the mini cut scenes that pop up or the pre-scripted story elements. Avoiding the Alien and other things can be quite tense but after it keeps coming back it gets monotonous (or tedious? I guess I should look up the difference between those! Hmmm… well this isn’t any help: “As adjectives the difference between monotonous and tedious is that monotonous is having an unvarying tone or pitch while tedious is boring, monotonous, time consuming, wearisome.” Merriam Webster states that monotonous means “used to describe something that is boring because it is always the same” while tedious is “boring and too slow or long.” So I guess I feel Wind Waker is becoming tedious while Alien: Isolation is becoming monotonous? One think I do know is that this post is becoming tedious!)

4. Candy Crush Soda – I guess it says something about my own perception of what counts as a “real game” that I didn’t originally think to include this or the other android games I play. I was playing Pokemon GO but they banned rooted phones so I can’t play any more. I would like to play Inkle’s Sorcery 4 but I know I would get too into it. Maybe over Thanksgiving. I’ve been thinking about how to use their Inkle Writer in my classes as a way to have students make games that revolve around a theme in the course. It looks more plug and play than twine. I don’t know that I’ve figured out what to use it for tough.

Analog keyboard may become a real thing?

I meant to post this a while ago but I never got around to it until now (when I’m procrastinating instead of dealing with the stress of actually submitting a paper to a journal).

A little over a year ago I posted my idea for an analog keyboard. Well, I ran across a post on PCPerspective about a kickstarter for an analog keyboard. I’m poor so I didn’t back it. And I generally stay away from kickstarting hardware.

More interesting is that I wasn’t exactly the first person to have the idea for an analog keyboard (not that I really thought I was). As it turns out, back in 2012 the Ben Heck Show made their own analog keyboard and in the video they show it working basically how I thought it would:

Analog WASD Gaming Keyboard – The Ben Heck Show by BenHeckShow

Maybe some day one of these will actually be available in stores. Now we just need rumble mice…

Gaming in the Penthouse?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a digital hoarder. One of the things I hoard is pdfs of gaming magazines. There are a few sites out there that post gaming magazines but, of course, they don’t just post gaming magazines. They post all kinds of magazines. Sometimes I will stray away from the gaming mags section into the front page of the site and skim through to see if there are any other magazines that look interesting.

I was doing that recently when I saw this image:

penthouse game and watch

I thought it was interesting that Penthouse would have a picture of the torso of a woman with a Nintendo Game and Watch covering her vagina so I downloaded the pdf — yes I downloaded it for the articles, really!

The “article” is just a few pages of a woman in progressively fewer clothes with some vintage and modern gaming stuff and some text explaining what the gaming stuff is. Oddly, although they credit the photographer, the source of the gaming stuff, and the clothing company, they don’t seem to state the woman’s name. Keep it classy, Penthouse…

Penthouse credits

In this same issue there is also a one page article on current games  but, to make things more interesting, it doesn’t seem like having videogames in Penthouse is a one-time thing because the site where I downloaded the pdf lists recent issues of the magazine and I noticed that this was the previous month’s cover which has a story “Professional Gamers are Making More Than You”:

Penthouse pro gamers

The article is only one page with a half page picture from what looks like The International or some other DotA 2 tournament and 5 paragraphs of text.

So is this a trend within Penthouse or just a coincidence? It would be interesting if Penthouse was trying to attract a gamer market. Other magazines have tried to mix objectification of women with gaming but haven’t really stuck around. What will be next? Mincraft porn?

(I’m afraid to search for that because I’m afraid it already exists…)

Old LAN Party article from PCXL

I’m kind of a digital hoarder and one of the things I like to hoard is old gaming magazines for that mythical day in the future when I will need them. So I make it a habit to check out sites like Retro Mags and Old Game Mags. I’ve recently came across marktrade who is posting his scans on archive.org and while looking through his uploads I came across an article from the November 1998 issue of PCXL about LAN parties. I thought I would post the relevant pages here in case anyone else was interested:

PCXL_03_00034 PCXL_03_00035 PCXL_03_00038 PCXL_03_00039

Antichamber Review

Antichamber
Another review!

Antichamber is a fun puzzle game with similarities to Portal but isn’t as polished. I picked up Antichamber during a Steam sale a while back but never got around to playing it until recently. Featuring a mute protagonist wandering through a series of puzzles by using a “gun” that changes the world instead of shooting bullets and only works on certain surfaces, the resemblance to Portal is unmistakable: Antichamber’s use of different primary colors to signify a material’s unique qualities also evokes Portal II’s paints. However, Antichamber does distinguish itself from Portal by using non-euclidian geometries to give the game a strong focus on changing perspectives and seemingly impossible geometries (which reminded me of games like The Stanley Parable (without that game’s satire or narration) and even games like Prey).


Unfortunately, while Antichamber is quite fun, has a unique aesthetic, and has some quite imaginative puzzles, it is also sometimes frustrating and non-intuitive. One of the reasons for this is that, unlike the other games, it is fairly non-linear and doesn’t have a strong narrative. This means that once you unlock puzzles you can play them in any order you want. This allows you to go back and take, say, the door on the left instead of the door of the right. However, this means you can become confused as to which puzzles you have beat and which you haven’t.

Worse than being lost is the fact that throughout the game you gain new “guns” which give you new abilities but there is no way to tell if a puzzle requires a gun you don’t have yet. This means I spent lots of time trying to solve a solution to a puzzle, becoming frustrated, looking up the room on the wiki, and founding out that the puzzle required a gun I didn’t have yet. Maybe it is a personal failing but I have very little patience for puzzles when I don’t know if it is even possible for me to solve them. I want to know if I am trying the right thing before I spend 20 minutes doing the same thing over and over.

Even when I had the correct gun, the answers to puzzles weren’t always intuitive or clear. More than once I would rub against the walls and jump around trying to find a fake wall or a barrier that would disappear if I went through it in midair. There were even times when I had watched the walkthrough videos on the wiki and still had a difficult time progressing (to the game’s credit, however, this could be because puzzles could be solved in multiple ways and I might have been trying the wrong solution for he gun I had at the time).

That said, there really is a feeling of triumph when you figure out a puzzle and the playing with perspective to move a character from one place to another is quite fun. Combined they give a feeling of discovery that is quite engaging. It is just too bad that it frequently felt like trial and error instead of discovery.

While writing this, I found that the creator did a post-mortem for the game and GDC has it up in two parts. I haven’t watched it yet but it sounds interesting.

Five thumbs up

If it is on sale
And you like Portal a lot
Then you should buy it

 

 

This War of Mine

5506eec2f005etwomwebsitescreensho_thumbThis War of Mine is a fascinating game. It is a side-view game that shows you a cut-away dollshouse-style view of the building you are in. You control a small group of survivors (up to 4, I think) who are civilians trying to survive a war in an Eastern European city. One character at a time you give characters orders like open a door, cook food, go to sleep, or build a shovel. There are two parts of the game: day and night. During the day you control the players and tell them to eat, build things or raise vegetables. Occasionally someone will come to the door to trade, ask for help, or even ask to join your group. During the night you pick one person who goes out to into another building in the city where you scavenge for food and supplies and encounter other groups of survivors who may be hostile, willing to trade, or just want to be left alone. While one of your characters is out for the night, your home can be raided and the others can be hurt so you should leave someone on guard. Managing the physical and emotional health is a huge part of the game. Characters can be hungry, tired, hurt, sick, or depressed. Most, if not all, of these can end in the death of a character.

5506ef0cd4202twomwebsitescreensho_thumbWhen a character dies it is touching because it is (usually) not a death from combat, as in so many other games (although characters can die in combat while scavenging) but from hunger or illness. This makes it sadder because it is such a mundane death. When one of my characters in the game gets shot to death, I am frustrated but when one dies from hunger, I am disturbed.

You can keep playing with fewer characters but, to be honest, I usually quit and start over. In this way, despite the “realism” of the situation I still treat it like a game. The creators of the game try to eliminate that gameness by autosaving and lot allowing you to go back to earlier saves but this just serves to make dying more frustrating and makes me play more conservatively. The game creators might say that is the point but it is a balancing act that I’m not sure is solvable.

There are some issues with the interface that I would like to see ironed out. If nothing is happening during the day, there is a button to end the day and send someone out scavenging but there are times when you are waiting for something like a water filter to work where you don’t want to end the day. In those cases, you have to just sit there and wait when it would be nice to be able to jump head a couple hours.

Another issue is that when you go scavenging it is too easy to send the person to a place without equipment or to have the people staying behind sleep on the floor instead of a bed (which means they will be complaining the next day). There are minor complaints though and don’t really detract from the game.

six thumbs up

feeling bad is such
an addiction in this game
just try not to die

(Coincidentally, This War of Mine is one of a few games I’ve played lately that use a side view perspective which is kind of strange for me because I usually play FPS games. While they have little in common with The Swapper, Another World, and Deadlight, there is the fact that Deadlight and The Swapper similarly take place in dark settings (both in terms of tone as well as lighting) which gives them a tonal similarity.)

Console Wars Review

consolewars

Blake J. Harris’ tale of the rise and fall of Sega is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly frustrating.

It is incredibly fascinating because it gives lots of details on how Sega America was able to make the Genesis as popular but unable to capitalize on that success in the long term.

It is incredibly frustrating because Harris decided to write the book in the form of a narrative and write entire conversations and even thoughts that there really isn’t any way to know if they are based on the memories of people he interviewed, historical documents, or if he just made them up. To be fair, Harris is totally up front about this. In the author’s note in the beginning of the book he writes:

“Console Wars is a narrative account based on information obtained from hundreds of interviews. Re-creating a story of this nature, which draws from the recollections of a multitude of sources, can often lead to inconsistencies; particularly when dealing with industry competitors and especially when dealing with events that took place more than two decades ago. As such, I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the documentary record.”

It also isn’t as if my complain is particularly unique. The New York Times found his reconstructed dialog, “stilted and phony” and noted his use of numerous cliches, “speed is blazing, a woman is doe-eyed, go-getters are scrappy.” The Telegraph also complained about Blake calling a woman “doe-eyed” and wrote:

“Conversations have an eerie, inhuman air: ‘I suppose your jumping to conclusions,’ says one character to another, ‘is a testament to the type of guys we are, and, perhaps, also a sign of the times we live in.’ Other characterisations are sketchy at best: the Japanese people mostly speak in a strangely stilted English (‘OK, then, let us now go on a real vacation’).”

Personally, I didn’t find the dialog particularly bad. I just want to know what people actually said. I wish Harris had just released all the interviews or at the very least had included tons of footnotes (Not endnotes though. Endnotes are evil!(And the Endnote application is even worse!)). Of course releasing the interviews probably wouldn’t have sold as well or gotten optioned for a movie but it would have satisfied me and isn’t that really what is important?

Moving from criticism of the style to discussion of the content, Harris makes a convincing case that the real war wasn’t between Sega and Nintendo so much as it was between Sega of Japan and Sega of America. While the style of the book makes it hard to tell if this is entirely accurate or is jingoism, it is an interesting tale with lots of things that I wasn’t really familiar with as well as a great deal of stuff that I remember seeing as a college student in the early 1990s.

This combination of things I didn’t know anything about and things that I kind of remembered happening made reading the book an interesting experience. Because I was reading it on my Android tablet, I actually spent a lot of time switching back and forth between the book and a web browser looking things up in the attempt to find out more about the people and events. Since finishing Console Wars I have started reading another non-fiction book and find that I am doing the same thing with it. I wonder if the mid-1990s notion of hypertext has been replaced by the ability to just jump from the book to an online text at any point? I found this particularly weird in the other book I have read when it mentioned someone early on and I went online to read a couple articles about that person. Then later in the book when there was a chapter devoted to him I had a hard time deciding if I had already read that chapter or not. However, that says more about me and my attention span than it does about Console Wars.

To get back on topic, despite its flaws, Console Wars is really a must read for anyone interested in the history of Sega and Nintendo in the USA in1990s. The specificity of that recommendation is meant to indicate some of the other flaws of the book because Console Wars doesn’t spend much time discussing what Sega and Nintendo were doing in Europe and only really discusses Japan in comparison to the USA, barely mentions other consoles that were out around that time, and really tapers off before and after the 1990s. Keeping those caveats in mind, Console Wars is really worth reading if you care about the subject mater at all.

Six thumbs up

The shots were fired
Brothers held for questioning
Sonic is missing.

Bravery

I like listening to podcasts in my car, when I’m riding my bike, and walking around campus. So I’m always looking for new ones to listen to. One of my favorite places to look has been a thread on the Idle Thumbs forums which is where I ran across a post about the Spawn on Me podcast. On it they talk about videogames and identity. It has quickly became one of my favorites (except when they talk about sportsball… 😛 ) and often gives me something to think about.

The most last episode I listened to was no exception (I’m a little behind as they have released a new one since then). Titled “Blackademics 101,” the episode features guest co-host Tanya Depass, and guests Kishonna Gray and TreaAndrea Russworm talked a lot about not only race in games but also in academia.

On the episode they talked about getting pushback from students when they talk about race in the classroom and how they have gotten comments about it from students on their course evaluations. This resonated with me because I talk about race in my classes but I haven’t gotten much pushback from students and I haven’t had any mention of it on my course evals.

Now there could be a number of reasons for this:

  • I’m just an awesome teacher
  • I don’t talk about it as much as they do
  • I’ve just been lucky
  • I’m a white man.

Now, it should be noted that last year I did have a white female friend who did have a student mention how her talking about race made the white student feel uncomfortable, so it can’t be that white people are immune from getting such comments on student evals. Of course I also don’t know how much my friend talked about race or in what way. So, as people online love to write, “the plural of anecdote it not data.” So it must be that I’m just awesome…

However, when Gray and Russworm talked about some of the harassment they have gotten online it reminded me of the very minor incident I received a year or so ago and my reactions to it. It happened when someone started found the abstract to my dissertation and posted it in an online discussion thread I had been taking part in. They started trashing it and making assertions. I was worried they were going to start dogpiling me and hunting down personal information. Luckily, none of that happened and in a few hours the thread had died down and nothing has come of it. But in the moment I was worried. I contemplated deleting my accounts and posts or denying that it was me. But I didn’t want to do those because I was worried they would think it was a sign of weakness. Instead, I just closed the browser tab and went away for a few hours and it went away. No harm done.

What I experienced was minuscule and was over in a few hours. I can’t imagine what it is like to be the center of attention like that for days or weeks or months at a time. The urge to bury your head in the sand and never say anything ever again must be very strong. (Even as a write this I’m trying to be both vague as well as non-accusatory so that this very post doesn’t get any negative attention) But they and others who have been the subject of much harsher and sustained scrutiny haven’t buried their heads and that takes bravery.