Archive for May, 2011

Negotiating with SMT: Strange Journey

Posted in Games, RPG on May 26, 2011 by link6616

Ah Shin Megami Tensei, you keep reincarnating yourself in more truely goddess like ways. (For those lost on the meaning here, look up what the name means).

One of the more interesting parts of the older SMT games according to long time fans (who would have needed very good Japanese) is that in nearly every fight you have the option of talking to the demons you are fighting. It might be as simple as “Do you think I look scary” or as complex as “Why is your world so screwed,” and in theory at least you have to make a decision based on what you think the demon wants to hear. This is rather like the social links in the later 2 persona games where certain answers will advance the link better. Part of the problem here is that different demons of the same type respond differently to the same answers. So telling one Jack Frost you are here to play, and the other the same thing the 2nd might attack you and the first might join your party.

However, despite this inconsistency that does hamper the gamy element a little, it does present the rather nice notion that all these demon’s are unique, and mostly Jack Frosts will like people who want to play or aren’t afraid of mascot characters. And the uniqueness is a great notion to present because the negotiations are nearly always interesting the demons are relatively simple characters but enjoyable to talk too. This enjoyable to talk to aspect really is what makes the game shine, when you see a new demon I always try and talk to them because I want to know what they speak like, what kind of views do these demon’s mostly have? Are they pro human (rare), curious about us, or just hate us and would rather die than help?

One of the other interesting things that Strange Journey brings to light is that if you have a complex deep growth/formation system in an RPG, and a deep battle system, you risk making the game too hard to see where you need to improve. Was it my tactics or my planning that was wrong? By having a simple battle system you always knew failure was more from planning than in combat options, although you could still have made choice in combat causing you to loose, but those would be more obvious.

Here is an the interview that talks about this.

More later on Strange Journey most likely! (probably on how the low tech helps it stay creepy!)

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The Longest Journey

Posted in Games on May 22, 2011 by link6616

I’ve finally finished up the Longest Journey, a PC classic from 1999/2000 and was totally unknown to me until I’d heard of dreamfall in 2006. A game I wouldn’t play until 2009.

TLJ is a classic point and click adventure and a great example of why the genre is both amazing and terrible at the same time. Using examination fantastically to both help characterize April and her own world. Her book shelf of books she tells us she’ll never read, to her childhood drawings that get her to tell us about her past. One of the key things the examination or looking element of adventures do really well is give characters a way to say things about their world or situation without being forced upon the player. If you had to examine everything and listen to it, it’d be a chore, but the option to investigate allows character development to go as deep as you want without being forced to sit through long monologues, or have dialogue choices just go ignored. Also, it helps define a character outside of conversation with people, as most people have personality even without talking to others.

Oh, and TLJ also tells one of the best stories any adventure game has ever told, builds it’s world fantastically through strong aesthetic design, voice acting, atmospheric music and pretty good writing. It gets a little wordy at times but you really are there for the story. It’s a pretty typical story of girl finding X things and facing a trial for each of them, filled with self doubt and by the end she becomes more confident in herself… However despite that it’s actually pretty well done, and has a slight self aware air to it, as since she’s from a world resembling our own, transported to a magical parallel, she’s read stories and is aware of the tropes of fantasy fiction. And this self awareness actually makes the tropes all the more enjoyable. One of the fantastic things TLJ pulls off is a feeling of culture. Even though you only spend a short time with each culture you encounter, there is a great feeling that is culture actually has a purpose outside of being your backdrop, even if sometimes an entire culture of people is represented as a single person.

But… this is an adventure game, so despite it being fantastic with all this other stuff you need a source of conflict, and we are in the adventure genre so it’s non violent mostly! This means puzzles. And TLJ likes to screw with you. With missable items and some puzzles that would make Monkey Island seem as ordinary as a table TLJ is basically an adventure game you’ll want to play with a guide handy at all times… Thankfully the gog version comes with a guide…

The Longest Journey really makes you think about Adventure games as an overall genre… Outside of them it’s hard to tell a story that’s not about fighting, but in order for the game to not be just a movie or a visual novel you need to do something. Adventure games chose inventory puzzles back when they were just text, and they’ve stuck with them. There are other puzzles, and some games without items like Loom, but mostly it’s inventory puzzles. When going back to play even the best adventure games, it’s hard to not want to just grab a guide before you start, because you know you are going to get stuck.

I think adventure games really need to start learning some new tricks. Heavy Rain despite all it’s hate from many gamers, it’s probably the best example of how adventure games can improve… It has some puzzles, but mostly it’s exploring and going, with your gameplay really just being pressing extra buttons to do things… Arbitrary yes, but strangely works really well. If you got into the story, the gameplay was just enough to feel like something you were doing, while at the same time never had it’s gameplay hold you back. Apparently LA Noire is similar in many ways but without the quick time events that many hated in Heavy Rain, and hopefully a better plot with less holes.