Wednesday, November 26, 2014

some Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney thoughts

I promised myself that I would actually take screenshots from a game I played and then make a blog post with them. I don't really feel like writing a coherent essay about it, but here are some screenshots and observations from Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney

They used a historical fighting stance! (img)

this trial... inspires her to sell flowers? I had some insight about it that I forgot.
If you're depending on a human being or set of humans to judge a court, logic isn't always the most persuasive thing.
the plot was weird 
Luke demonstrates that the first time you remember something is probably the most accurate, and further remembering actually changes the memory. I was kind of impressed to see this concept in a game, but they didn't go anywhere with it.
We are so tired of self-awareness that we need to be reassured it is fun in a meta-meta moment.
I enjoyed the game but it was basically half of a Prof. Layton game and half of an Ace Attorney game stuck together to make one game. I was hoping for a bit more synthesis of style, like with puzzles you'd have to solve to solve the court cases? No such luck. But it was still fun/ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October BoRT: A playtesting mask

This month's BoRT is about masks in games. I usually play choice-driven games very sincerely, so I don't feel like I'm wearing a mask when I play them. Obviously, I'm not a Japanese high school student or whoever the player-character is, but I usually choose options that make sense to me.

In his Designing Virtual Worlds, Richard Bartle discusses why players play in virtual worlds. He says things like "virtual worlds enable you to find out who you are by letting you be who you want to be." But he's clearly against the mask metaphor--if you become the character you're playing (your "mask"), then you're not really role-playing anymore, are you? For Bartle, role-playing is a kind of psychologically helpful exercise in acting. He's passionate that playing a character completely different from yourself is freeing. It inspired me to create a guardian character in Guild Wars 2 (since I usually play magic-users). But I found that simply playing a different character class didn't make me feel any different about how I played. For me, it took role-playing as a different kind of player (a playtester) to change how I played my characters.

My sister and I have been working on a marriage-relationship-sim game called Personal Space, and lately I have been doing a little playtesting. As a playtester, I want to try different play styles. Instead of choosing what I know will "win," I start role-playing different kinds of players.
no, I don't want to help you right now
My last playthrough, I maxed out my spiritual stat, but I chose somewhat impulsive or selfish replies when interacting husband character. I was studying spiritual writings every week, but there was nothing forcing me to actually change my character's personality. It's a simulation, so there's some limitations to what your character can do, but I felt like maybe I was more like this "impulsive" character than I'd like to be. I study my religion's teachings and I have aspirations at being a more "spiritual" or loving person, but on the other hand, sometimes I'm kind of an impulsive jerk. I'm sure it's possible to role-play a hypocrite in other games, but I hadn't really tried it until I felt like I had to explore different options as a playtester.

I don't think that catharsis or "venting" is helpful for controlling my emotions. But I do think that exploring my options in a videogame is a safe way to see that my habitual way of interacting with others isn't the only way (kind of an odd thing to discover while playing a game I helped write, but there you have it).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Love and Dating Visual Novels

And now, just in time for Halloween, it’s…

Love and Dating games!  What could be more frightening than admitting a possibly unrequited love, or taking that first leap to a deeper relationship, or staying with just one person for the rest of your life?!  Time to face your fears with these visual novels about love and dating!

All of these below are available for free for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Save the Date

Have you ever felt like dating was a game that it was impossible to win? Like all the cards were stacked against you?  Things quickly devolve into the improbable and surreal as you try to overcome impossible odds and save your date in this love sim parody.  

That Cheap and Sacred Thing

If an android could love - true love - how would it manifest?  What kind of a relationship can an android and a human really have, when both are so limited?  Explore these questions in this kinetic novel.

Wedding Vows

Not only does this kinetic novel follow a couple over the course of decades, but it does so in a sweet and non-linear fashion, showing both the influence of the past and its impermanence.  


With a beautiful, ancient Egypt-inspired setting and gorgeous character art and backgrounds, this visual novel examines slavery, romantic and non-romantic love, and our perceptions of our own culture and other people. Make sure you get all the endings and then the true ending!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Results from the videogame preferences and morals survey

Back in March I asked for volunteers for a survey about videogame preferences and morals. Then I had a baby and I kind of forgot about the results for a while. The blog link to the initial call for responses also has information on what questionnaires we used.


We solicited responses from Twitter and Facebook and a forum I frequent and received 75 responses. About 70% (53) of respondents were between the ages of 25-34. 29% (22) were women.

 Some people complained about how I switched the likert scale halfway through (i.e., 1 became "strongly agree" rather than "strongly disagree"), so after about 50 responses I added a heads-up about that. The reason for this switch was to preserve the wording of the original questionnaires. You can see everyone's responses here (yay for open source social science). There are a few different sheets on the results spreadsheet. We used the most conservative method of converting the videogame preferences to subscales (detailed in this master's thesis).

My friend Michael Davison helped with the data analysis (I have done similar analyses in SPSS, but it's been a long time I don't have access to that software anymore). He used the R project software to compute correlations between the videogame preference subscales and the morals subscales and within the subscales themselves. This was an exploratory study so we didn't try to predict the results, although I kind of thought a preference for shooting games would correlate negatively with harm/care, or possibly positively correlate with in-group loyalty.

Probably the most interesting correlation was that preferences for adventure and puzzle games were correlated with the fairness/reciprocity moral subscale. A preference for adventure games had a .33 correlation (p < .01) and a preference for puzzle games had a .31 correlation (p < .01).


I was wondering why there weren't any other interesting correlations between the moral subscales and the videogame preferences. One possible reason is that we had a better range of preferences for adventure and puzzle games (14-100 and 31-93 respectively), whereas the range for Action: shooting was 22-74. It's possible I didn't have enough participants who really liked shooting games, or that there is simply no correlation between liking shooting games and wanting other people to suffer.

As for why a preference for adventure and puzzle games correlates with wanting justice and things to be fair, I'm not sure. Perhaps a desire for fairness and a penchant for puzzle-solving stems from a desire for things to be logical or predictable?


I was hoping to be able to learn the R software and figure out how to compute Bayesian t-tests (this article inspired me) or a factor analysis and try it out with these data, but I'm not sure if I'll get around to it. If you would like to, go ahead!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Video Games Live: hyperreal!

I went to Video Games Live yesterday! I didn't make it to SLC comic con, because I have a baby, but sitting down for some entertainment without waiting in any lines was definitely more my speed. It was pretty fun to hear some familiar game music in a concert hall. Here are some observations I had:

-It was weird to go to a concert a experience music in a way the composer specifically didn't intend. Usually when I go see a symphony I feel like I'm finally setting aside some time to TRULY enjoy this music like I'm SUPPOSED to. But with videogame music, it's more "true to the original" to listen to the music while you play the game. They played two songs from the Journey soundtrack and it actually kind of bothered me that the video clips of the game didn't match where the song occurs in the game originally: "no, you're supposed to be going through the apotheosis level now! And now the credits should roll!" (yes, I can feel your eyes rolling from here. It was just a weird feeling and I wanted to tell you about it.)

-The symphony participated in an OCRemix version of Celeste's theme, and I was weirding out about how it was an orchestra trying to sound like a remix of a digital symphony. So hyperreal!

-At first I wasn't sure why they didn't have a classical conductor, but then I realized that conducting for this concert was a completely different job. Each piece had a video that went with it, and yes, it was synced to the music, so there was some soundtrack-timing-level-preciseness with the tempo that went on (either that or their A/V guys were just really good at adapting to tempo). There was also one part where they took a volunteer from the audience to play space invaders with motion controls and they played the music live. It reminded me of how before movie theaters had speakers, they had organists who made up music to go with the silent films (I went to a recreation at BYU once and it was pretty cool). Most soundtracks these days do have some procedural elements, so it's like the improvisational aspects of performative soundtracks are built-in.

-Another way that game soundtrack music is exciting in ways that classical music used to be exciting is that most of the composer are alive and many of them know each other. So you get things like the composer conducting their own music (when/why did this tradition stop?). The soundtrack world is where our classical music is still living, in my opinion (in that it's both popular and still classical).

-There were some moments where the "founder of Video Games Live!" felt a little cheesy, but in some ways I identified with the "gamer" crowd in that I was pretty excited to hear music from games I've loved. As much as I wish I could help reclaim the "gamer" label though, I feel like it's a stupidly polarizing term, and maybe I'll just be "someone who enjoys videogames, as well as other entertainment media."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

BoRT: Videogames as a comfort during breastfeeding

I mentioned in my last post that I feel like the "how videogames changed my life"-type personal essays help legitimize my time spent playing videogames. Now I'll write my own personal story about it as part of the latest Blogs of the Round Table. "Did you ever find yourself in a better place or positive position as a result of play?"

About two months ago I had a baby whom I'll call Piper. I did use Lumines to cope with some of the pain of childbirth, but at some point I couldn't really concentrate on anything besides the experience of pushing an infant out of my uterus. The birth went fine, and after a week in the NICU with some apnea, we were able to come home with our baby. I had tons of support learning to breastfeed in the hospital, but after I got home, feeding all the time was starting to drain (ha) me. I found ways to watch TV while I fed Piper, but I also wanted to play videogames. 

My desire to multitask while breastfeeding was actually a really good thing. It helped me to improve my breastfeeding posture so that I was slouching back instead of leaning over to feed Piper. It made me learn how to cradle Piper in the crook of my arm instead of clinging her to my breast with two hands. And it also helped me relax during breastfeeding instead of worrying about if she was eating enough or if she was latched on correctly. I was able to play the third Ace Attorney game, which is playable one-handed and easily interrupted. Playing games also helped me to feel like I was more than a milk machine--I was a milk machine AND someone who could connect small logical leaps in a videogame! 

As lovely as videogames are, I feel like I could have made similar progress in my life with other media. What if reading a book two-handed while breastfeeding had been my goal? Or talking on the phone? Maybe I'm giving videogames too much credit here?

Friday, August 15, 2014

On videogame personal essays

I've been reading some of the Games Journalism 2013 shortlist ebook on my e-reader while exercising. First off, it is such a different experience to read games journalism in book-like form. If I feel a little bored, I can't immediately close the tab and start reading something else. So I'm a captive audience. I enjoy most of the articles too, especially the ones that focus on the psychology of videogames, like the one about freemium whales (users who spend lots of money on premium content in free games). There are some close readings of games, and also a fair amount of what I'd call personal essays centered around videogames.

Recently Jonas Kyratzes and Dan Cox (see the comments) mentioned how they're tired of these videogame personal essays. I know in other places people have said that such essays aren't journalism, or that the experience of reading them is unsatisfying. I agree that a personal essay is more like creative writing than journalism. I like reading personal essays about videogames though! I feel like reflecting on the experiences we have in games legitimizes them. It makes me feel better about playing games in my free time. 

I also think that the videogame personal essay is much more accessible than close analysis. Someone who has never played the game you're talking about can still enjoy a personal essay about playing it. It's a little more difficult to engage a naive reader in a technical discussion of a game's design points. For example, I skipped the piece in the games journalism e-book about silent hill savepoints, because it had spoilers for the series, and also because I wasn't sure if I'd really understand the analysis, since I've never played a Silent Hill game (even though I'm pretty sure I've read an article about how awful those save points are). I think this is why the most successful "close readings" of games are often focused on games that are already popular. 

On the other hand, a skillful writer can make game design analysis interesting, usually through the use of diagrams and screenshots. But man, those things are a lot of work! Especially since there isn't a way to take screenshots on the PS3/Wii in the console's software (but even if there were, it would still be a pain to move the files somewhere I could use them). Some day I will do a great game analysis complete with screenshots. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to make Checkers boring

Yesterday on Pinterest I came across a blog post about how to use traditional board games in "untraditional ways" to "make learning fun." I am all for educational games, but the ideas in the post made me cringe.

The first idea was to write subtraction problems on a checkers board, and then have students say the answer to the problem to move to that square. This sounds like a glorified worksheet to me! Checkers teaches good skills already, like strategy and sportsmanship. The other repurposes were similar--have students say the answer to a math fact before going to a dot in Twister or putting down a piece in Connect Four. I saw another, similar post on a different blog that had kids reading sight words in order to play Break the Ice. This kind of modification makes games less fun, because it introduces tasks that are irrelevant to game mechanics. How about using games that involve math facts or words directly, instead of inserting them into otherwise perfectly good games? We go to educational games to get away from the worksheets and flashcards. When a game uses math or reading relevantly, it helps motivate children to learn those skills (I anticipate that this academic article discusses that, but I can't access the PDF. This one looks really good too. U_U). It's not going to hurt a child to drill them on math facts as part of a game, but I think it isn't as enjoyable as it could be.

I had some ideas of games that would use educational material more relevantly:

Math fact games

  • Subtraction War: Like regular War (the card game), except each turn players turn over two cards each. They must subtract the lesser from the greater card (or the second from the first if you're using negative numbers too), and whoever has the greatest difference gets all the cards. Maybe that's too difficult? You can take out the face cards or just assign them all a value, like 10.
  • Prime Climb / Primo: This is an upcoming board game that is kind of like Sorry in that you can oust your opponents' pieces from the board, but instead of rolling two D6s, you roll two D10s. Also, the board is numbered from 1-100. You add, subtract (and multiply/divide if you like) the numbers you rolled from the numbers your pawns are on to move them. This one might be too difficult for lower graders... but maybe not?
  • Dice games like Farkle can be modified to practice addition and subtraction. Here's a great PDF with different card and dice games to practice math facts. 
Language and reading games
  • For sight words, a game like Spot It! only with words seems like it would be pretty fun and effective. They sell a basic English version. Admittedly, this one isn't something you could replicate exactly at home--the algorithm for making a set of cards with multiple images and having one thing always matching between two is actually rather complex. 
  • A matching/memory game using sight words. I wonder if some kind of speed matching would work too, or if that would just stress kids out. 
  • A maze game with images/objects in the floor and written instructions which refer to those objects. 
  • More games for language development on Sublime Speech
It seems like almost any game is going to be getting kids to think about things in a different way (unless it's too easy), but some games address school curriculum needs better than others. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ace Attorney's resourcefulness as an advantage

The Ace Attorney series of games lets you play as a lawyer/detective to investigate and solve mysteries, usually murders. The series is well known for its over-the-top characters and ridiculous dramatic twists.

I recently finished playing the first three Ace Attorney games, and I was impressed with how much they did with what seemed like not very many art assets. The first Ace Attorney episode has 11 characters, only 3 of which are exclusive to that episode. Pheonix Wright himself has about 10 different poses (with variants in how his mouth moves and whether or not he's moving). Most characters you talk to/cross-examine have around 6 different poses. I guess looking at it now, that does seem like a lot of art, especially if one person had to make it all, but it's not an impossible amount. But for a whole team of artists, that's totally doable! The different poses really show the character's personality too. The bizarre personalities and artwork are half the fun!

I found it interesting how the different poses could be combined to create different impressions. While a character might only have 6 poses, different combinations (surprised/worried, confident/thinking) make it feel not as limited. And usually, the character has one or two poses they only use rarely, which also helps give an impression that they have a wide variety (i.e., you don't see a character's whole spectrum of poses in just one conversation). The pose animations are usually super simple too, like one arm moving back and forth. The paucity of poses actually make the characters stronger because they have a few readily recognizable poses, which are carefully tailored to reflect their personality. This contrasts a lot of 3D art where half the characters have the same body and gait. With 2D art it is easier to make a variety of body types, tics, postures, and mannerisms.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Grace's Diary as educational media

I recently played the very short visual novel game Grace's Diary (play it here, more info here). It looks and feels a bit like Hotel Dusk, except it was made for a contest to educate players about teen violence without using violence in the game. You're a teenager concerned about your friend, and you look around your room to remember things about your friend that will convince her that she's actually in an abusive relationship. For some reason when main character is remembering these things that made her uncomfortable it feels natural and not like "here are the signs of an abusive boyfriend!" It's also somewhat difficult to get your friend to leave her abuser.

Seeing how natural it felt to have relationship education in a visual novel made me wonder what other types of knowledge visual novels might be well-suited to teach. With their emphasis on dialog (and choices), I think it would be fairly easy to make educational games about other types of relationships--like how to interact with screaming children, how to assert yourself in a conflict, and how to make a polite request. Of course, writing that type of game assumes you know what the best thing to say is, which can vary a lot depending on the situation.

N.B. It looks like the same developer, Hima, made another really similar game another year for the contest called Janie's Sketchbook. This time the protagonist had some bad relationship habits!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Twine Prayer

About a year ago I wrote a choose-your-own topic prayer in Twine. I think I entered it into a writing competition, so I didn't want to share it at the time, but the competition is long over and I'm happy to share it now. It's a Christian prayer, and maybe its contents reveal more about me than they will about how to talk to God, but I found it an interesting exercise.

Your own kind of prayer. Kind of. (A Twine game)

Much thanks to Dan Cox's tutorial for hosting a Twine game on

ETA: Google drive can't host Twine games anymore, so I changed the links to reflect that.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Indier than Thou (Visual Novel Review)

It's pretty cool to be an indie game developer these days. But while some have seen great commercial success, there are plenty of great indie games that people haven't played simply because they don't know about them. Some may also think that if a game is free, it must not be any good.

This is even more true for visual novels. Visual novels still seem to be in a somewhat awkward niche between “real computer games” and choose-your-own-adventure novels.  That is unfortunate, because these are some of the best interactive fiction I’ve read lately, with powerful twists and realistic characters and a lot of emotional impact.  Since they are available for free for Windows, Mac, and Linux, you really have no excuse not to at least give them a try!



Time-travelling, mad science, and killer robots are great and all, but they are not enough to make a good story.  But SOON is not just a romp through time and space - it also has funny, realistic characters we care about, who make tough choices and change over time. Your sympathies and goals will change as you change time in this choose-your-own-adventure visual novel reminiscent of Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile.

The Dreaming


Don’t be deceived by the simplistic anime art style - this is psychological horror of the best kind. While movies can sometimes make you feel some of the things the main character feels, games and visual novels are a much better medium for really experiencing complex emotional questions such as “Is this real?”, "How can I help someone who seems delusional?" and “Would I know it if I was insane?”.

Romance is Dead


This quirky supernatural romantic tragicomedy’s greatest strength is its characters. The main character’s witty dialogue and intelligence are a refreshing contrast to the angsty indecisiveness so often found in the romance genre. It’s definitely worth replaying several times to uncover each character’s secrets, past, and true motivations. The jazzy music lends a distinctively New Orleans flavor to the game as well.



In Adrift, you are the human in charge of an underwater city, but your body is locked away in a stasis chamber. You must get both robots and humans to be your eyes, ears, and hands in this game that will test your perception, management skills, and creativity.

Friday, March 14, 2014

New Adventure Games

Here's some new adventure games recommendations from my sister:

New Adventure Games

Adventure games, where you make choices or solve puzzles to make your way through a story, used to be one of the main genres of video games.  Though now most adventure games usually have other elements (either RPG/adventure or action/adventure), here's some classic-feeling games for those that still love adventure games.

Gemini Rue


If cyberpunk/mind-bending/noir would be one of your favorite Netflix genres, you definitely need to give Gemini Rue a try.  Its retro graphics feel a little austere at first, but the twisting story and evocative soundscape more than make up for the simple graphics.  Some of the puzzles are a little tricky, but that just adds to the old-school appeal.  ($5-10, PC, iOS, Android)

Detective Grimoire


This detective-adventure game incorporates deduction as part of the puzzles you solve in order to find a murderer at a remote swamp tourist attraction.  With dry humor, whimsical graphics, and plenty of interesting evidence to sift through, this is an entertaining mystery adventure.  The only downside?  At around 4 hours of gameplay, it’s a little short, but it’s also inexpensive.  ($4-7, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android)

Zombies and Elephants


Expressive, suspenseful prose and haunting symbolism set this twine-based text adventure apart from the rest. Warning: Contains zombies and elephants. (Free, all platforms)

The Matter of the Great Red Dragondragon-screenshot.png

This post-post-post-modern Twine text adventure tale both examines and revels in the save-the-world fantasy tale. (Free, all platforms)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Do your moral values and videogame preferences correlate? Help us find out!

You might have seen this survey about how your political compass results and favorite game genre might be correlated. I found it really interesting, but some of my friends pointed out that the political compass has a lot of weirdly-worded and loaded questions. I was also wondering how they measured a person's favorite videogame genre. A friend of mine suggested that if I wanted to, I could do a similar survey using the Moral Foundations Questionaire. Seeing as how half the work of making a similar survey was already done, I found a videogame preferences survey in a master's thesis about personality and videogame preferences, mashed the two together in a Google form, and started trying to get participants.

BOTTOM LINE: I'd love for you to take this survey on morals and videogame preferences. We have 69 responses so far and I'd love you to make that 70, 75, or even 100. Stay tuned for analysis!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why does Bravely Default need freemium crap?

Bravely Default is the "old-school inspired" JRPG that everyone is playing on their 3DSs. The game has a very traditional storyline and a job system that harkens back to early Final Fantasy games. One of your characters has his village destroyed by the evil forces you need to stop. Unlike traditional JRPGs, Bravely Default has you rebuilding the village with freemium-type techniques.

How it works: Each day you can get more villagers from street/netpass (either passing by people in real life or online). You use these villagers to rebuild and upgrade buildings like an armor shop or accessory shop in a menu separate from the overworld. These shops can be accessed in-game in towns and before bosses. High-level upgrades take a lot longer, but if you put multiple villagers on one project it won't take as long. Oh, and time only passes if you are playing the game or have it suspended in sleep mode on your 3DS. This is basically due to the limitations of the 3DS system, which only allow one thing running in the background at a time, but I think this is the reason they have this here at all.

If you're playing Bravely Default and you want to rebuild the town, your best bet is to swear fidelity to the game and always have it in sleep mode. You could play a different game on your 3DS, but right afterwards, you'd want to switch to the game so the timers on your upgrades can keep clicking down. In other words, it gets you coming back to the game; it's "sticky."

But why does Bravely Default need to use these tactics? I've already given them my $40, why do they care whether or not I finish the game? The designers here are in it for the long haul. When you have a game in sleep mode, it shows up for people you streetpass as the game you're currently playing (free exposure). If you're constantly playing the game, you're more likely to talk about it (more free marketing) and maybe even finish it. Since it's the first in a series of games, it's in their best interest to get to you beat this really long game so in a year or two you'll want to buy the sequel.

Of course, that's just my armchair analysis. I'd love it if developers would talk about the data behind freemium techniques like city building and how it affects player attrition and marketing.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

All games have values and send messages about those values

I was discussing with my husband how Redshirt made some of its players uncomfortable for having sexual bigots as NPCs you can't block (I think that's what went on? Also I want to play this game even more now). In real life you can usually block annoying people online, and it usually doesn't impact your social life too much, unless they're people you know in real life. By having harassment as a sometimes unavoidable occurrence, this game was saying that sometimes you have to pay a price for social status, which is being harassed online, and often there's nothing you can do about it (but often IRL there are things you can do about it, from blocking offenders to changing your e-mail address).

Every game has some type of value assumption. In Chess, once the king has been captured, the other pieces are powerless (just like a real monarchy?). In Go, preserving and marking the most territory is the way to win. I know I'm not the first person to notice that game mechanics convey ethical information, but it's still kind of fun to take things apart and look at their assumptions about the world.

Mario: Other animals in the world are hostile. You can defeat them by becoming higher than them. You can only move forward.

Match-3 games: The world is a better place when you group identical objects together. Spending your time grouping these objects is worthwhile.

TinyWings: Even if your dreams are impossible, aspiring to them is still fun.

Many JRPGs: If you come across an insurmountable boss/obstacle, constant practicing will let you beat him eventually.

Most "freemium" games: Time = money

I find that story-based games are more difficult to classify this way. Much of the time, the values of point-and-click adventures rely on what the story is saying and not on the level of mechanics. In some ways, mechanics-based values feel like a deeper way of communicating; it's not just that someone told you that everything in this world would try to kill you, it's that you experienced it that way.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Radiant Historia is actually pretty linear

Radiant Historia is often lauded for being "non-linear." It's a JRPG for the Nintendo DS in which your character experiences "standard" and "alternate" history of his time, and can revisit events in the past with his knowledge from the future. It's a fairly cool premise, I mean, instead of "you have a sword save the world!" it's "you have the power to change certain aspects of the past based on the future so save the world!"

It's almost as non-linear as a novel, except you can't peak at anything further ahead than your current point in the game. I guess I felt excited that I could make choices in the game, but there were only a few choices that actually affected the ending. Most of those choices are in sidequests that are easy to miss (some of which I did miss. Don't worry, I watched the True Ending online). The main storyline choices are "ending that lets you keep going" and "bad ending." I wish that there had been more branches and a better illusion that there wasn't always one right choice. Maybe you need a less epic story to have multiple "okay" endings; where the world ending because of something you did isn't the default "wrong."

Radiant Historia has a fairly interesting battle system. Enemies are in a grid and certain powers can move them around to overlap, and when enemies overlap you can hit both of them at once. Also, if you hit an enemy many times in a row, successive attacks do a little more damage. You can also change the turn order to get everyone doing stuff in exactly the right order. I don't think I properly appreciated this system until a walkthrough got me to string ten attacks in succession (and I think you get more XP if you do more attacks in a row). It makes me sorry that I didn't experiment with it more earlier. 

If you're a fan of JRPGs, I recommend this one, especially if you liked Chrono Trigger, but don't expect a bazillion endings. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Parlor game variants for a baby shower

I've been looking for games that are somewhat baby-themed, so you'd play them at a baby shower, but not really tasteless like the one with plastic babies in ice cubes where you want to be the first whose "water" breaks. Here are some variants on parlor games that I made up and pass my taste test:

Baby Alphabet (based on Traveling Alphabet):
The first player thinks of a baby name. Let's say she says "Jenny." The next player has to think of a verb and a noun that begin with "J" that Jenny, as a baby, might do. In this example she might say "Jenny joins jisaw pieces." Then the same player thinks of a baby name beginning with the next letter of the alphabet, like "Kaleigh." You can play that if a player takes to long to think, then they're out, or you could play noncompetitively.

Infantile Poetry (based on Crambo):
Beforehand, pick a few baby-related nouns and a few childrearing questions. Mix them up, and choose two noun-question pairs for every 3-4 people, who are then assigned to write a rhyming poem that uses the noun and answers the babyraising question. For example, you might pick out "stroller" and "Should you let your baby cry it out?" Players have five minutes to write their poem. The sillier the better!

Blind Conditionals (based on Conditionals):
The first player writes down the beginning of an "if" or "when statement" (preferably having to do with childbirth and childrearing). The first player folds down the paper so her statement is not visible, and the second player completes the statement (in the conditional or future tense) without looking at the first part. This game's success depends somewhat on the absurdity of the remarks, so I'm not sure how it would fare as a baby shower game.

If you're at home and labor starts
spitup will get everywhere.

The Games Bible - for Traveling Alphabet and Crambo (amazon)
A Book of Surrealist Games - for Conditionals (amazon)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Broken Age Act 1 is satisfying, if short. A feminist reading of the ending.

I finished playing Broken Age Act 1 this morning. The ending was a clincher and I'm excited for Act 2. I'm happy to say that I figured out all the puzzles except for one on my own (maybe that means other people would find them too easy?). I've played some other adventure games recently, and one thing Broken Age did well was having the story move along enough that I felt engaged with it. I played Gabriel Knight over Halloween and it also slowly revealed things so that I wanted to keep playing to see where the story went. It had narrative urgency. Broken Age wasn't quiiiite as page-turny, but it was much better than the newer Sam & Max games and the Wallace and Gromit point-and-click adventures (which I stopped playing after an hour or so and feel no need to go back to).

So, not only does Broken Age have narrative urgency, which I consider important in any story-based game, but it also had an interesting narrative--two worlds with details to indicate that they have some yet-unrevealed histories; the feeling that the world is bigger than the little parts you're seeing. The game isn't so dominated by humor that it feels forced, although at times I felt like I was growing out of the humor it had (hanging by your underwear and tree barf are only so funny at my age). I recommend the game, and that you keep playing to the end of Act 1!

Okay, I wanna discuss the ending! Major spoilers!



Vella starts out sacrificed to this Mog Chothra, whom she escapes. Shay escapes mother computer to save creatures from hostiles... but his wolf guide seems to always want to leave before he picks the last one. Shay's ship sustains a hull breech in the last rescue. When Vella conquers Mog Chothra, Shay comes out of it. Basically, his ship was actually this monster, and when he thought he was saving girls, he was acting as a monster eating them. If I understand that right.

I was contemplating this situation. It lends itself to many interpretations, but a feminist/post-colonialist interpretation could see it as how those with more power are unaware of how they oppress those with less power, because they essentially live in different worlds. You really get a sense of how Shay thought he was really helping those "beings" he rescued. I felt sympathetic when he wanted to save every last one! But I think in the same way we can look back on, say, forcing indigenous people into Christian missions, or telling women they're inherently better in some ways because they're women (i.e., benevolent sexism), to one group they look like they're being helpful, but to the other they're not. I felt really insightful when I thought it, but now that I've written it down it seems kind of plain. Rampant Coyote saw it as a critique of the game industry, and I'm curious if he'll still see it that way after he plays the ending. What about you, who are reading this spoilery bit? I'm curious to know what other people thought of the ending.