On Snearing Into Telescopes

Never regret thy fall,

O Icarus of the fearless flight

For the greatest tragedy of them all

Is never to feel the burning light.”

-Oscar Wilde

If only there was an ultimate primal truth that, if understood, could prove to the world, once and for all, what is right and just. Amirite? The world is in some deep shit right now and we could seriously use a pick-me-up. There’s war, politics, a global environmental cataclysm looming, all sorts of mean nasty ugly things and it might do some good to, you know, somehow figure it all out. That way we can all get to work fixin’ up all this silly suffering stuff.

Many people claim to have this Truth© already, but unfortunately for them that leaves them the task of creating a rather large explanation about why It hasn’t been disseminated and accepted across the species called “Homo Sapiens Sapiens”, or if you speak Latin “Man, the Wisest McSmarty Pants”. The truth knowers have yet to get their truth across though and must build elaborate schemes of people being in denial, lacking faith and all sorts of colorful explanations. What a task, to stand on the pedestal of ultimate knowledge! But the knowers aren’t in my telescope. Also, as an aside, if you speak Latin, you are presently one of a kind, and you should get that checked out ASAP.

Some other people will say they are simply in pursuit of this ultimate knowledge and stoically accede that it has not been found, yet. They are faithful that someday we will escape Plato’s cave gleefully into the wax-melting sunlight. And if one is to question them on their holy journey, one might surely receive humanistic philosophical pedantisms aplenty, straight to the face. They believe -No! They are certain– that someday the ‘Wise Primate’ using its intellectual capacity for rationality will someday uncover The Truth of the Universe™. They see this as their goal and will pursue it unto the time they cryogenically freeze themselves, as unreachable in this lifetime as it most likely is for individuals to get to that point. Pursuers.

The first kind of faith might be attacked as mere metaphysical tomfoolery, a faith in something that is empirically contestable and statistically unlikely. The second might be considered the faith in man, however it too is empirically contestable that they should have such a faith in human knowledge. It is also probably just as statistically unlikely that they will uncover anything but their own tracks in their pursuit. Take for instance the question of how many days have gone since they haven’t found The Truth©? Statistically, well, a lot more days than how many days have gone by since they’ve found it, that’s for sure!

Taking a step back from truth talk, and getting a bit more empirical, let’s try to examine for a moment the ecosystem of the pursuer.  What is their habitat? Isn’t it a laboratory, located in outer space, the final frontier? Perhaps for the more powerful ones, yes, but more modestly if not in space, at least it’s in a kind of divorced space from the messy collisions of the mundane rubber hitting proverbial roads. The laboratory is a quasi-enclosed virtual vacuum segmenting wise apes and their smart tools, from their specimens. Think of it like a tree-fort pretending to be a space station where wise and faithful apes can look down on the world and not have to interact with it, at least until lunch time. Or perhaps think of it like a brain living in a vat of juices, floating around in the emptiness of space, looking down at the humdrum Earthly goings-on, with a keen interest in knowing everything.

Oh but me? Perhaps I’m just a little bird on the ground, laughing at the big bird in the sky with my limited and provincial understanding. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, its a spaceship speeding off into oblivion, fueled by denial! Or, if you asked me questions about knowing the universe, I suppose I would just deny knowing anything about all that. I choose not to stand on the pedestal of ultimate knowledge, or to clamor up it.  I don’t care to comment whether knowledge will solve any of the world’s wicked problems. I don’t know that not knowing will solve anything either. Nor do I presently care, but what other Myths about wisdom are out there? I can think of at least two off the top of my head that says knowledge is the actual source (not solution) of the wicked problems, and unsurprisingly they have proven to be much more perennial than the Pursuant’s creed.

 

 

 

 

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Game Formalism: Gaming the game of games

Preamble: This is one of the stupidest posts ever. I’m going to write about game formalism because I need to get this out. It’s not you, it’s me. Feel free to skip this immediately. 


What was I going to say again?

Ah yes, Games Formalism.

Yeah, so I don’t know exactly what games formalism is. Nobody does, according to game design theorists. But they go on to say it’s basically the idea that defining a game as a medium is important. It has something not exactly to do with content.

Now before you discredit me and pour sugar in my gas tank, you should know that I’ve read A Theory of Fun by the poet Raph Koster and I’ve listened to some podcasts by the music theorist Keith Burgun. I’ve even managed to buy and read a book, at arm’s length, on the philosophy of irony by Ian Bogost. Not to mention the fact that I’ve watched at least three Frank Lantz lectures.

Where was I? 

How important is it to define a game and its gaminess?

Really important, that’s what!

It makes making games that easily easier to discuss. We can say, “No, that’s not a game!” or “Yes, that’s definitely a game!”, and other important things. We can also say: “Oh gosh, not another so-called ‘video game’ that doesn’t have actual gaming elements!” We can praise games for their depth too, I mean have you even played golf?

The sky is the limit…

…as long as the sky has some sort of interactive system.

You: Weather system? 

Me: You betcha! Climate change is the game of… ummm… sky!

Climate change houses the game of politics, a system you interact with unironically because you can make a difference. This system inside of systems is like a nesting doll nested within another game… of games. The Game of Thrones is literaturely nested, like a dragon-bird, in the climate change game.

Make sure you win! 

Much like blogging, life’s a game. 

Not… a puzzle.

Life is a simulation in a computer.

It’s a big joke.

I mean, this post is…

A joke.

What do you think this is…

some kind of game?


Post-ambulation: I actually like playing all sorts of “games”, games that are more like movies, or where they are pretty much not games, and games that are deep as fuck, like chess. I actually like those people I mentioned, too. 

Childhood Dream Game: Big Trouble in Little China, The Arcade Game

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Poster Artist: I don’t need no photo, I can draw Kurt’s face from memory!

For childhood me, there were two things that were the absolute best things: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game (1989) and the comedy classic Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Because nothing sucks more than elementary school, bro, I -like- spent my time there dreaming of eating New York pizza and drawing out my magnum opus, Big Trouble in Little China, The Arcade Game.

This movie was perfect to turn into a game! It had two main character players to choose from (like Final Fight). In case of this game you could choose either Jack or Wang. Personally, I liked Wang the best because he actually knew martial arts and Jack is really just a bumbling goofball throughout the movie. There were tons of fight scenes to draw from too, and they had absolutely the best bosses. The three storms all had unique traits as bosses and of course there was David Lo pan and other various magical baddies like the eyeball monster and the crusty sewer demon thing. There were plenty of opportunities for power ups too, the biggest of them all was the weird dry ice stuff that the protagonists drank before the final battle.

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Huge buzz!

In fact, Mortal Kombat’s characters Shang Tsung and Raiden were inspired from this movie. And just because I had to before writing this blog, I searched if someone actually had made a game on this movie. I mean, you never can tell! It turns out there was a Commodore 64 version of this game, but it appears to be total crap. Like a broken Bad Dudes. And upon further interwebs perusal, it seems someone actually made a Bad Dudes ROM hack version and a neo-geo style arcade fighting game mock-up. Oh and don’t forget your board game version as well! (?)

Anyhow, my idea for the game was a side-scrolling beat-em-up, just like the turtles game. Because at least half the movie is crazy fun action, it was pretty obvious how to design the scenes. Upon reminiscing, my scene was from right to left scrolling, as opposed to the conventional left to right. Hmmm…

Nerds like me gushing about the TMNT arcade game

The trailer, for the uninitiated

Sadly, I don’t have any of my original design drawings, but I do remember I had the first level all planned out. The first actual fight scene in the movie takes place in an alleyway in Chinatown, San Fran, where Jack and Wang watch two rival gangs beat the crap out of each other. Basically the good guys are the guys in white and yellow and the bad guys are in red and black. You wouldn’t actually be controlling our main characters, but would be controlling one of the cool good guys. I had it all planned out to how many enemies would come out of alleys as you continue to walk along the main alley (e.g. bad guys x 5 enter through here) and the boss was the nimble bad guy who badassedly suplexes a dude into a shop window in the original fight scene. There would be all kinds of weapons you could pick up like boards, swords and other implements of destruction. The level would end when you reached the three storms. They would kill you and then the cut scene of the semi-truck hurtling down the alley into Lo Pan would end the level. Now that I think about it, it could easily be the tutorial level for the game, teaching you the ropes of the beat em up gameplay.

The alleyway fight scene (cut from TV broadcasts)

I remember showing my design to my friends, my mom and anybody else who would look at my drawings, but absolutely nobody had any interest in both of these things (TMNT & BTiLC) at the same time like I did [I later empathized strongly with The Little Prince having his boa constrictor misunderstood for being a hat!]. Nor were there many aspiring game developers at my elementary school. I didn’t go much further than actually drawing out the first scene because nobody was as pumped up as I was, and I had no idea how one actually makes video games as a 10-year-old anyways.

That’s where my dreams died, kids, and now I’m a bitter old man. If only I had a girl with green eyes!

How about you? Did you have any dream game that you wanted to make? How far did you get?

Design Idea: The Unreliable game system

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Most people are familiar with the idea of an unreliable narrator and most likely you’ve either heard of, or played, the game The Stanley Parable. In that game there is a narrator telling your story and guiding you to where you should go. Yet, you quickly get the inclination that this narrator really doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Playin this game quickly brings the player consciousness to the theme of player agency within a designed game space. Questions border-lining philosophical thought, like “What does it mean if I choose not to play the game as it’s being narrated?” or “Why have I been playing games the way designers always want me to?” start to crop up. Of course, The Stanley Parable isn’t the only game that does this kind of work and there’s a list of games with unreliable narrators being curated here starting with Portal.

What I was thinking would be interesting would be a game that seemed totally fine in many respects, but rather than having an unreliable narrator, the system itself was unreliable. I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of this idea, but it’s still fun to explore. I did a quick google check (right here in the middle of my writing of this) and indeed there is an intriguing Gamasutra article by a fellow named Chris Solarski titled “The Unreliable Gamemaster: Player Motivation in Story-Driven Games“. First off, this article has a much more succinct description of how The Stanley Parable does its special thing. Solarski actually has a pretty well thought-out criticism of story-driven games, rightfully putting Uncharted 4’s story along side The Avengers movies.  He explains that the drama of many stories is the tension between the protagonist’s wants (to get something specific) and their needs (to grow on a personal level). In the case of a narrative game, its the player’s wants (usually to win/finish the story) vs their needs (of some subjective higher experience).  The ending of a good narrative game is kind of like the ending twist in an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but in game form, where for the player experiences a qualitative meaning that is beyond simply winning. The example he gives is from Firewatch, which is a spoiler… so go play it or spoil it for yourself.

In my metroidvania game design idea I actually addressed the need of a player to think about the themes of perspective and truth, not knowing that this is basically good narrative design 101. Now I know, thanks to this fellow Chris! Go check out his amazing article, and totally don’t finish mine!

Anyhow, where was this post going? Right, it’s a game design idea exploration. So rather than actually having a narrator be unreliable, I would have the mechanics and the system themselves be unreliable. Perhaps the game would appear to be a little buggy, but if the player is paying attention it becomes increasingly buggy. The bugs themselves will turn out to be another system in themselves, but they only appeared buggy because the player started in a different and unreliable system of mechanics. The players can play the original game, ignoring the bugs, but it results in a “wow, mechanics game, sooooo mathematical” kind of experience, or they can choose to chase the bug.

I had this idea when I was watching someone talk about how trends in AAA gaming were too hand-holding and had Assassin’s Creed as an example. The video quickly showed the player pick-pocketing money and showing how much money they stole, in text form pop-up. I remember where I saw it, it was in No Clip’s amazing short documentary called Rediscovering Mystery  and it was I believe Jonathan Blow doing the talking. I thought how it would be funny to poke fun at this hand-holding, this overuse of overhead maps and data stuff, to covertly confuse the player. While The Stanley Parable draws overt attention to its unreliable narrator, I wouldn’t make it obvious that there is something unreliable in the game. At least at first.

It can be more of an abstract strategy game, where they are playing and a bug happens. The game might give them data on points or whatever, but they are actually not getting those points on maybe their menu. They can keep playing the game, but as this misinformation builds up they might be thinking, “what the hell is going on here? Is this just a shitty game or is there something else here?” As they pursue this mystery, it should eventually become apparent that this was done purposely. The questions the players might then start to ask are then “Why would they design this in such a way? What is the designer’s motivation?” Perhaps inside of the strategy game if you follow the bug, is a story game.

Of course, it’s to poke fun and to get players and designers alike to examine their expectations of how a game should be played/designed. It’s almost like the counter-argument to player entitlement while simultaneously being another foothold in the ludo-narrative design battle, (itself a smaller version of the quantitative/qualitative paradigms struggle in academia). Of course, the shell strategy game, whatever it is, has to be a good enough game. It can’t just be a shambling pile of crap. It has to draw them in, before it can spit them back out. The joy would hopefully be going back into the game to explore and investigate the meaning of  it’s “bugs” which are themselves the mechanics of the “true” game.

 

Camping out in the foothills of Game Design Mountain

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I started writing this blog originally to document myself making a game. But, after trying to do something on my own, I quickly realized how truly challenging game making is. I learned that coding is not my strong suit too. In fact, everything I did code-wise, I completely forgot in about two or three days. Since failing miserably at coding I just decided that if I had the time and energy for it, I’d do a bit of writing about games and gaminess. I didn’t really have any plan, I just would do what moved me. Sometimes I’ve had the compunction to talk about a specific game that blew me away or had some amazing qualities to it, but most of the time I wanted to dig into a game’s design. For example, my Bloodborne post wasn’t just an analysis that took only from the story itself, my main goal was to analyze the how the developers created meaning with game mechanics and then I used that understanding as a key to unlocking the story.

Recently, I’ve gone through and read Dan Cook’s entire 12-year (at the time of my writing this post) design blog and watched more than a couple of his amazing talks and realized that this is the kind of stuff that I’m crazy for. Another blogger asked me if I was a game designer because I was talking about it with them and that got me thinking. Like a bolt of lighting, I realized that holy crap!, game design specifically is what I’m interested in! Its the subject of game design/game design theory that keeps coming back in my posts, without me considering it to be anything too particularly important. Now, after 53 posts here on my blog, I can say that with that help, I’ve discovered that I love game design. I can also say that I know very little about it as I’m not a game designer.

I’m not really interested in games journalism, game reviewing, or coding, or making music/SFX, or writing stories per se … its the meaning of- and the creation/implementation of rules and how they compliment the other elements, that really draws me in. But I don’t just want to say that its the mechanics. There’ s something more than mechanics, as there’s more to paintings than paint… there’s game designs that can evoke profound and impactful moments within players, like in Inside’s secret ending, or FF4’s Mt. Ordeals moment of self-transformation, or the sheer joy of laughing with family at the dinner table over a game of Sorry!. That too is game design.

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Of course, I’m interested in a great deal of many important things, native studies, public administration, literature, religion, media studies, psychology, sociology, philosophy, science… and all sorts of other stuff, but this has been one thing that has been bugging me for awhile.

Anyhow, it’s definitely a relief to know this about myself, as I’ve felt haunted and a bit exhausted with this compulsion to blindly keep digging into what games are and do. I have a hard enough job in real life and plenty of things to do on my plate, but I often find myself waking up early and saying up late, just to continue researching into games, without even being sure what it was that I was trying to find! I just knew there was something in there that I wanted. Yeah, I’ve been pretty obsessed.

I suppose I can take in a deep breath and stop obsessing now. I found what I was looking for. I find myself collapsed at the bottom of an enormous mountain that lacks any guarantees, a mountain fraught with peril and all manner of challenge. However, I’m quite happy just to know just which mountain it is I’ve been searching for all this time, within the mountain range of game development. We all start somewhere and I just happened to have started verrrrry far away from the mountain range, and this mountain in particular.

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I might have to take a vacation here in the foothills, stock up, gather my wits and do a bit of lowlands sight-seeing before I choose my next adventure. Wish me luck!

Thinking without words

17This is sorta what it feels like to think outside of langauge

This morning I had a personal breakthrough in my work, which is in the region of philosophy of science. That breakthrough came when I dropped all the incestuous vocabulary of philosophy (e.g. the word paradigm), as we typically know it, and just fandangled an idea through mental visualization. The danger here now, in this written post, is to try to put my breakthrough into words. In fact, I would much rather either A: create a visual representation of it; or ever better B: create a non-linguistic activity wherein someone would be able to discover this insight for themselves. But I won’t because C: my blog theme is games. But D… this post isn’t about games. Hey, perhaps if I throw in a tautological statement, everything will make sense!?

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I see little point in telling people philosophical things. They won’t learn/remember them and those ideas or concepts won’t become theirs. Plus they will have to cite you, and students hate doing citations. A philosophy course should not be about answering anything, but providing the student the opportunity to discover answers to the questions that are either on their mind or are compelling to them when they are presented. We only learn what are want to learn.

Questions themselves can often times be misleading as they often come to us in language form. What would you like to eat for lunch today? What is a question before it is uttered? Are they simply curios notions? When a question is asked of us we might find ourselves stumbling over our words if it is something that we learned on a spacial-reasoning level, for example? If we are taking something from spacial reasoning and putting it into linguistic reasoning we get all discombobulated. Sorta like when the dreaded word problems section in math comes up.

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If a train with the unknown velocity of x intersects with a critical mass of teenage angst in a suburban high school classroom, what is the ratio of x to daydreams, per pound of angst? 

Show your work.

Perhaps we are all put together differently when it comes to the way that we think, but I strongly suspect that linguistic-centric people are the statistical outliers. Many academics that I have met tend to be linguistically-dominant thinkers and therefore they tend to think that language for the human race is the medium of thought itself (linguistic-determinists), or if not that extreme, language is the best medium to express thought in. Because I know that I do not need to think in English (or any other language), and I tend to feel the funnel of constraint when trying to put pre-linguistic thoughts into words, I don’t just think differently, I see things a bit differently. The truth is, I feel like I am writing with my non-dominant hand when I am trying to put things into words, except with either hand I’m writing, which is a non-dominant linguistic thought-process. Its like being mathematician in a literature department (or vice versa). Or like being a fish in ummm open air (aren’t I clever?). Apparently angst isn’t a teenage thing, it’s a school thing.

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Now what, if anything, does a bonsai tree have to do with this post? See answer below.

˙ɔᴉɯǝpɐɔɐ uɐ ɟo uᴉɐɹq ǝɥʇ sᴉ sᴉɥ┴ ˙ɯƃᴉpɐɹɐd ɔᴉɯǝpɐɔɐ ɔᴉɹʇuǝɔ-ǝƃɐnƃuɐl ɐ uᴉ uᴉɐɹq ɹnoʎ sᴉ sᴉɥ┴ ˙ʇuᴉɐɹʇsuoɔ ǝɯǝɹʇxǝ ɹǝpun ʎɐʍ sᴉɥʇ ʍoɹƃ sǝǝɹʇ ᴉɐsuoq :ɹǝʍsu∀

Game Design Document

Note: This is not an example of a professional game design document and is just an amateur (at best) rough draft. 

Here’s a very simple game design document I made a while back. If you get a chance to check it out, please tell me what you think or share any helpful design hints.

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  1. Unique Feature/Theme: Exploring identity issues related to paradigm shifts.

There will be androids, cosmic ‘aliens’, humans, ghost-like people, holograms and all sorts  of flora and fauna in this world for the player to explore. The player will go between larger and smaller creatures with apparently limited or greater, or just different, perspectives. The player’s own perspective will be highlighted in the end.

  1. Genre: Metroidvania

My chosen genre is the puzzle-platformer. It is important that I follow the core conventions of the chosen genre. This choosing of genre basically equates to choosing the entire foundation for the game, the entire Christmas tree that will hold up my shining star of a unique feature at the top. In this case it’s not just a puzzle-platformer, it’s the 2-d metroidvania. I am choosing this genre because it seems manageable, emphasizes exploration and I just love it.

It is important to follow the conventions of metroidvanias (e.g. have maze-like level design, collecting upgrades, gravity and having jumping be fluid and precise, this kind of stuff) and if they aren’t done well, the game and the unique feature are pretty much kaput because  my audience’s basic expectations will not be met.  So 90% of the energy for making this game should be building a well-crafted metroidvania.

  1. Setting, and story

Metroidvanias are obviously either set on some far off planet, or set in castles. Mine will be on a planet that seems foreign enough, but will have Earth-like qualities. It will be post-apocalyptic, but what happened before you began the game will be mysterious. I definitely want it to be in the realm of story-telling where the player goes through the game and puts it together themselves. What was that cool word for it? Atmospheric storytelling? Environmental storytelling. That’s it.

The broad narrative will force you to inhabit android clones to play through the game. You will start in some factory, seemingly randomly. Through exploring, you will find tidbits about how the world collapsed, get more factories online and figure out who you are. The story arc for the android(s) will be that you were created by a doctor who lost his daughter and hoped to create her as some sort of underground governmental science project. Nothing too creative, really. A nod to Cave Story, I suppose.

After you first spawn as an android you will be placed in an area where you will, through little exploration or challenge, come into contact with a large immobile non-communicative cosmic alien creature in a room. Interacting with it in any way will result in being killed and forced to spawn again in the initial factory/spawn point. Hopefully this sets up some amount of mystery. Through iteration, I might add more mysteries such as this.

You will go through the game like any Metroidvania, finding power-ups, jumping around, finding secret doors, backtracking, getting energy tanks and such. Eventually you will learn that it might not have been humans that destroyed the world, other possibilities remain. The doctor will have panicked at some point. You will piece it together from the little scraps of logbooks you find, item descriptions, signs etc.  You will never really know what happened to the planet (unless iteration demands it). Is it the giant creepy cosmic alien? Was it the hubris of the rational humans? Was it the alien flaura and fauna? This entire storyline is left unclear purposely as it really is somewhat of a red-herring.

As you go further into the world, the relationship between you and the cosmic being gets highlighted, until you come to a point of realization near the end of the game (3/4ths through?) that the cosmic being is actually the one who is exploring the world, like an investigator,  via the human network controlling the androids like puppets. That is the first big twist and why attempting to interact with the cosmic being results in your player character’s apparent death. You will then try to explore the motivations behind the cosmic being’s presence on the planet. This is an even redder-herring because…

…The second big twist will be at the end of the game, when you find out it isn’t the cosmic being that is exploring the world as an investigator, it is the player that is exploring it and the why of all this exploration should ultimately fall on the players shoulders. It’s both a profound and may also seem like a banal point, but that’s what I got for this game.

  1. Aesthetic and mood

The music and art style will conform to the genre, nodding to the history of metroidvanias. It will have “hi-bit” graphics. I don’t like the less than Super Mario Bros. graphics look that many indie games have seemed to adopt. Think a little less than Shovel Knight or Axiom Verge. Or just the original Metroid.

The game should have a mysterious and alien feel to it. The music and art should highlight this aspect.  It’s about exploring paradigm shifts and not really knowing which is the most true. At first it could be a bit more cutesy, but increasingly twisting the cutesy stuff into something a bit more dark and moody. Chip tune would be lovely for the nostalgic genre feels.

Unique Mechanic: “Shifting”

The familiar conventions of metroidvanias should be present, but there should be mechanics that enhance and match the main goal of getting players to go from one perspective to another. The way that this would be done is through a mechanic I’ll call “shifting”. Shifting will be what happens when your character’s control moves from one player character to another. This will get the player past walls and such.

You can also shift into computer networks, engaging new factories (spawn points). Shifting can happen from android to creature, but for a limited time… perhaps limited by the creature’s hit points. There could be areas where the player must have perfect timing to shift between a series of creatures to reach an android body on the other side of an otherwise unreachable part of the map. New androids could have special abilities as they are either modded or prototypes, but you have to bring them back to home base in order to upgrade. You might be able to have only a certain amount of bodies stored for use at a base.

There are a zillion puzzle ideas that can be built around this idea. If you shift into a damaged android perhaps you have only limited vision, or can’t jump, or whatever and have to figure out how to get through an area without having your upgraded awesomeness that you’ve been working so hard at getting.

Other potential minor mechanics

Thinking: this could be a fun way to bring up a menu and come up with new ideas and look through a beastiary.

Species variety: creatures will not copies of each other, or at least all of them won’t be.

On Designing Against the Meta

One thing that I’ve quite enjoyed in my multi-player competitive games is finding the ‘meta’ and/or trying to invent new one’s. ‘Meta’ basically means the dominant strategy to winning. A meta gets established pretty soon after a game comes out, and then as the player base gets more familiar with a game’s mechanics, the meta continues to evolve with players inventing new metas designed to counter the current meta, and so on and so fourth.

The reason I am writing about this today is I was going through my youtube subscriptions, seeing if I can weed some out, and also to try to figure out why some new videos aren’t showing up on my feed when I am definitely subscribed to their creators. I haven’t found out why I can’t see their videos, but I saw an old subscription and for just the fun of it, I started to watch an old video of theirs. It’s a video montage of these guys basically being amazing at CoD: Black Ops. At one point in a free-for-all match, one of them sets up two sentry guns and just go ham on the other players. It was a dastardly effective strategy that just wreaked havoc on anybody that came into his trap.

Go to 1:16 to see what I’m talking about, or just watch the whole darn thing for old time’s sake

You could say that this is a pretty good meta, for that time, as it laid waste to anybody who came near that part of the map. After watching this, I thought, there is no possible way that you would be able to create a setup like this in the newest CoD game. Or really any CoD after Black Ops 1, in fact. Why is that?

Well I’m sure there are many reasons, but what I want to address is that from a developers perspective, you might not want your players to be able to dominate other players in a game space. Imagine you are a player who just entered that free-for-all match, just to get mowed down by this guy and not having any clue as to how to counter him. You might throw your controller down, pop out the game and try to trade it back to GameTheives for a pittance of its cost. Although you might lose money on it, at least you won’t lose your time and energy on it.

Nobody wants to lose money, so there seems to be a trend of game developers doing their best to constantly update their competitive game to make it fair. I do think that there are some game-breaking issues that if overlooked by developers need to be addressed, but on the other hand I think that devs should have a policy of being as hands-off as possible when it comes to the meta. They should let the players enjoy the meta/counter-meta evolution. I miss the good old days of CoD: Modern Warfare 2, but I also hate them. I loved using the UMP gun which was way overpowered, but not so overpowered that it was game-breaking. There were ways around it, but on the other hand there was for me a game-breaking issue of the One Man Army perk that allowed people to just run around and shoot infinite grenades at people with their “noob tubes”.

At this point I’m not sure that we can go back to a time when devs didn’t micro-manage the meta. We are in a time where developers are becoming more and more beholden to the cries of their fans to update and update more, or else! Recently players pretty much formed a union and went on strike against Ubisoft’s For Honor because I don’t really know. But they were listened to! They developers are addressing the demands of the unionized player base. Infinity Ward didn’t do jack when the player base complained about game-breaking issues with MW2, probably because they were having serious internal team issues, but perhaps also because they trusted their mechanics well enough to let it be. I got so much more playtime out of that game compared to any newer iteration probably because of their indifference, not because of their intense care.

Dark Souls 3, you’re not the bestest game in the world, but you clearly don’t give a crap about what happens in the multi-player world. For that, I applaud you. 

Plus, I hate it when the game changes for no good reason. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Why make damage adjustments to guns when it’s not really that big of a deal? Why not have something be a little over-powered? Let the meta evolve on its own. If you have enough ‘rocks-papers-scissiors’ in your game it will be fine. Just adjust the game-breaking issues while not disturbing the ecosystem of competition. I seriously have no idea how to play Magic the Gathering’s card game anymore, although I played competitively when I was a nerdy high school kid. Or Hearthstone for that matter, since it came out. Of course, these games survive through iteration, by making players purchase new cards and come up with new strategies based on them. So although I don’t play them, it still makes sense to me.

That’s good for card games, but is that really good for shooters, or sports games, and fighting games, where the rules should stay the same while hopefully mechanics are robust enough to let the players keep things fresh meta?

Dear reader, who was bored enough in their lives to get this far in my post, are there any games/developers that you think are examples that don’t micromanage? Is Counter Strike: Global Offensive, released in 2012, an example where the game is still great despite its age? What about Starcraft?

At this point, I can pick up a game and just feel whether or not a game is strongly pro- or anti-meta. If it’s strong anti-meta, I’m not about it… so basically I don’t get deep into any competitive games anymore.

Perhaps I should start playing chess again?

Mother Russia Bleeds (2016)

mrbtitleff3-nes-sage2 “The following is a guest post byThe Evergreen Sage Mage.”

“It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.                                                                Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak.                                                            Augurs and understood relations have                                                                                        By magot pies and choughs and rooks brought forth    …

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