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Am I Smart Enough to Play Video Games?

Apparently, yes we are.

If there’s one thing that modern games (for me, pretty much anything that came post 2000) just don’t get the challenge thing right. There’s something about the way games treat me nowadays that just puts me off – I feel as if they don’t trust me to handle their piece of software right. Why aren’t there instructions on figuring out where to put my shiny spinning disc? Why do they trust me enough to know what a controller is? (Note: I am talking about traditional video games, so visual novels and the like aren’t part of this discussion, really, because their aims are different I think).

Anyways, watching my brother play Skyward Sword, it is unbelievably annoying. The game constantly has to remind you where to go and what to do, even in the middle of a dungeon! For crying out loud, Fi, why are you telling me how to solve the puzzle inside of the dungeon I am in? What point is there in that? Isn’t that why I would even buy a Zelda game, to explore a world and figure out how to traverse its various obstacles, puzzles, enemies, and the like?

No.

Nintendo says you want to buy it because you like pretty colors, and apparently swinging your Wii-mote around until it hits something. So they have to tell you how to do everything through LINES OF TEXT that sometimes seem to go ON AND ON and by the time you thought you can do something, HERE’S SOME MORE TEXT to remind you how dumb you are.

Not to demean the combat. It’s great because it actually forces you to think about what parts of an enemy are vulnerable at any given time (although, I think the ability to make so many mistakes can be weird in a Zelda game, but I can let it slide).. But I don’t need Fi to suddenly appear and say “Do it this way!” Part of the fun is figuring it out. Games encourage, amongst other things, reflexes, association, problem-solving, and thinking in abstract ways. When you intentionally step on the player’s foot in a way that takes these components of the experience out of their hands, that doesn’t help the player get any better. Hence, of course the player will need further tutorials and hints to help because you haven’t helped them learn what to do in the first place because you told them. It’s a vicious cycle, and something Nintendo needs to stop.

You’ve created such an interesting game, so why spoil it by telling the player how to solve it?

Anyway, I guess that means I will like Borderlands 2; I wasn’t too enamored with the first one, to be honest, but I’ll have another go. At least they punish you in some way for dying. Or maybe I should buy one of those Demon’s/Dark Souls games. Hmm…

Anyway, sorry about not talking about Diablo III, but I honestly only played it for 45 minutes or so, not enough for much of anything to say other than “I clicked, I saw, I conquered.”

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Diablo III Beta? For Me?

Ah, yay!

Since I just happen to be a Blizzard Annual Pass person (doesn’t that make me special?), I got into the Diablo III beta (in addition to getting the game for free, relatively speaking, on release).

As there’s no NDA, I guess I’ll talk about it soon. I own the previous Diablos, but I never played them extensively, so this will be something new for me. Point and click, and all that jazz.

I’ll keep ya’ll posed.

Reasons I like Wow: Part 1?

I’ve been playing A LOT of WoW lately.

I’m not much of a raider, to be honest (although I do, indeed, like facing such challenges), but the whole game just has so much crap to do.

For example, I’ve been doing what are called the “Molten Front” questlines/daily quests introduced last year at around this time. The objective is to fight into the Firelands so we can all fight Ragnaros the Firelord on his own turf. But the quests to get there are entertaining in and of themselves.

One involves throwing tiny bear cubs onto a trampoline. Another involves killing enemies in specific ways. And, for those looking for it, there are challenges to be found that are completely soloable and optional. Andrazor, for instance, is a heck of a fight to solo. He’s throwing out fire, flames, and death everywhere, and basically the only way to reduce the nearly three million health is being very, VERY on point with interrupting her spells. That is quite a task and a half, but not impossible. In  addition, you’ve got to pull her in the right spot, or she won’t come down in the right way. See, a quest you can do give you 5 companions who are not the brightest bulbs; the stupid bear tank keeps taunting like an idiot, making it impossible to interrupt or get in range for it. So, you need to clear an area and make sure the bear isn’t going to mess you up. I tank a lot, so I’ve optimized my damage potential even in Raid Finder (why am I 11th of 25 people in a raid? Seriously!)

Once you get it right, thought, it’s quite a feeling to take that down by yourself. You could do it with multiple people…but that sorta takes the fun out, doesn’t it?

And thus we get to Mionelol, soloer of raid bosses. My God, is he excellent. Basically, you have to think out of the box to solo such things with mechanics designed for 10-25 people, and he can pretty much nail it most of the time. He’s never going to get an achievement or anything – he does it just for the challenge. That’s what I like – it’s not all about grinding. People think this is how WoW works, but it’s not. Grinding is a part, no doubt, but if you grind like that all the time in getting crafting mats, grinding raid boss progression, and obsessing over it (like numerous friends who got me into this game in the first place 6 years ago), you’ll burn out. Me, I just play how I want to play, create arbitrary challenges (like grouping with a bunch of idiots, or something), and have fun doing it.

Plus, tanking is a joy. I love doing it, because DPS is really boring. I like having the weight of the group on my shoulders, and being able to time everything perfect so that we win whatever encounter we come up against. Fights with multiple adds who want to kill your more fragile party members are great because they require a kind of spatial awareness that not many games can engender (probably Bayonetta, my perennial example, or Demon’s Souls, which I want to play, really). When you’ve got two different enemies with two different abilities, which is primary? Which is not? Should I interrupt the AoE ability that does tons of damage, or the silencing ability that targets the healer? What’s my interrupt rotation, and are the DPS going to help me or not? It’s a lot to worry about, but I like it – I could never even multi-task before this, and now it’s become rather easy.

I even remember when I first tanked, around the fall 0f 2007. My father, who played the warrior class originally, made us suffer through a 5-man instance run for 5 hours. Let that sink in for a bit. He liked tanking, but he just didn’t like having to deal with the aforementioned skills required. And so, stepping up for my guild, I became a tank. I did the whole first tier of BC raiding (which, for those not in the know, WAS HARD OMG), and even Zul’Aman, one of the hardest instance (10-man version, people) that Blizzard ever devised. People with gear 2 or 3 tiers above me couldn’t do them right, and yet our guild (mostly filled with Chinese exchange students from Canada, but still) was able to down Zul’Jin with lots of hard work and effort.

Enough about my gushing, but WoW is really fun at endgame if you try it. Of course, it’s work to get there, but as far as a challenge/social experience/working together, it’s really an excellent game. And, for those who want PvP…you’ve got that too. Just leave me with my three tricked out tanks (one of each of the plate-wearers – Death Knight, Paladin, and the Warrior).

But really, a good healer helps too!

The Tester…

…is horrible. If the commenters on the YouTube page are any indication, it would seem the viewers understand why as well. Of course, the unfocused rage of the internet doesn’t convey WHY they are angry, so allow me, spokeperson of angry internet video gamers, to tell you why!

It’s obvious, by any standard, that every contestant except Egoraptor is totally out of their minds and/or crazed. At least from what his YouTube videos (Sequelitis, for sure) say, he definitely knows what makes a game tick. These other people…play games. That doesn’t necessarily make you fit for an industry job by any stretch of the imagination. Half of them are so excited about playing games, or getting “the job” that they barely show, to me, what qualifies them to be a tester. Being a tester isn’t simply playing a game – it’s about breaking it, finding bugs, abusing whatever glitches you can find. They pay you to find problems so the developers can fix them.

Seriously, judging a candidate’s quality by TROPHIES? They are worthless little time wasters, honestly, just as achievements, etc, a false indication of “skill”. At most, they represent how much free time you have (which, for some people, is obviously alot). In no way would they quantify your ability to be a game producer, let alone tester!

One contestant was brought to safety because he played a stupid quiz with the “interviewers”. Seriously, what real job requires you to list the names of “triple A games” from various development projects? 

I realize this is a reality show, so why am I pissed? Because it perpetuates some kind of culture of “gaming” that I never, ever want to adhere to, nor do I think we should endorse. How can you get so excited about a handheld? The producer job (as Egoraptor stated later) is the real prize! A video gamer, in some sense, is always a passive consumer of a product. It takes a different mind from playing a game to objectively evaluate the quality of the game. “Fun”, that ever ambiguous measure, isn’t sufficient as a criteria. You have to really dig deep and understand the depths of how even a tiny thing such as level design, or statistics, or order of events significantly affect the flow and quality. What’s the difference between a narrative and mechanics focused game? What are your favorite games? That would seem like the actual job interview. This was just a farce to get Adrianne Curry on camera so that fat guys can ogle her, I guess? Man, was there a lot of fat men objectifying women. God, it makes me sick.

This is just a PlayStation marketing device, and no one should see it as anything else.

The Insider Perspective: Does WoW Need Fixing?

http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=9097559

This kind of thing really chaps my caboose.

What I was met with was a game that was completely at odds with itself, from both a design and narrative perspective. Not only this, but it was a game that seems to not only fail at taking itself seriously, but fails at taking the intelligence of its players seriously as well.

Let’s deal with this first. What is the objective of World of Warcraft’s current incarnation of the leveling process? One, to level up. Two, to provide an enjoyable, questing-based experience to get to that level cap without making the player feel as if he/she is grinding. Three, to provide stories from around the Warcraft universe about the Cataclysm from the perspective of various people living in different place. Lastly, to fix the perpetually (or, at least it felt that way) same “boxed copy” quests from the original WoW that have been hanging in the game since about 6 years before Cataclysm. These are in no particular order.

Given that, they have really stepped it up in that regard. Each zone has an excellent series of quest that, if you’re reading all the quest text and paying attention, really do lend a sense both to the Cataclysm’s influence on world events and the War in Warcraft between the Horde and the Alliance. As a Horde player myself, I enjoy the questing for the story – Silverpine Forest has an amazing storyline that I really don’t even want to spoil (and, given it is free content at this juncture, you should go download a copy). In that sense, narrative cohesion is not even really neccessary; Blizzard is telling the story of an entire world, and that’s a pretty big task, to be honest. It’s not always about the player character, though the player is involved in events that shape how the world’s conflicts work and resolve. This is a distinctly different narrative approach from, say, Skyrim, Fallout, or Kingdoms of Amalur. No one said WoW lets you make your own story. You can RP if you wish, but that’s your prerogative. WoW is, in fact, a linear narrative with a large and interactive world,. with multiple players (rather than YOU, specifically) all partipating in a collective environment. I find that far more engaging than these open world experiences. In addition, these “unrelated” story threads usually coalesce much later into story content, even raid bosses! It’s happened since WoW’s launch, and I find it overly reductive to state these “self-contained” narratives are a problem. That, however, doesn’t help with the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King content, which is outdated (and probably needs an update sometime soon!), but I can understand why such an update is delayed for new content instead – it’s not that easy to write story-lines for the other continents, because they aren’t in the story. A convenient excuse? Perhaps.

In terms of Deathwing, I’m glad I don’t have to see him all the time! Otherwise, it’s not about exploring the world. For me, he’s not an interesting villain anyway, but he shouldn’t be everywhere! That’s what the Twilight’s Hammer are for. Pandaria looks to take this same approach as well (with its lack of a central villain figure like the last three expansions – it’s getting old, guys). Cataclysm didn’t necessarily “fail” as an expansion, but its content is a bit different that the leftover story threads from Warcraft III, which many people wanted to see. As well, the game was made much harder than Lich King’s easy (really, really easy) content grind, and this does turn off players who had been playing just during Lich King.

Now, what you probably noticed is that ” a full world” was not a current objective. I am sure Blizzard realizes they are making an MMO, but much of an MMO’s lasting appeal comes from its end-game. That’s why they have guilds, after all. As well, PvP and Dungeon Finder work even when you’re leveling up, and these can certainly break up the monotony (if you feel that way about quests). WoW can, at times, be what you put into it. Yes, the world has become more empty, but that is because they focused too heavily on the narrative approach; in other words, you can’t have a linear story with a open world MMO and expect it to work perfectly. It’s something they are going to resolve with the next expansion, as the recent press releases have shown.

Quests end up being incredibly repetitive and don’t offer enough gameplay based engagement to support a single player campaign.

I still don’t understand this. The author states that quests offer variety, then says they become repetitive. Which is it? Of course, at some level, much of the game is up to the players. You can certainly go the way of the optimal leveling track, and that will get boring using 3-4 abilities on everything. But experiment a little! That’s why you’re questing, right? To level and learn how to play your class. Now, there’s an obvious divide between leveling and playing end-game, but the spacing of abilities gained is designed for trying this stuff out.

I feel the best solution to this problem would be to look to another game for inspiration. In this case, that’d be Final Fantasy XI. FFXI implemented a wonderful system called “level sync” where if players group up with a lower leveled player, the higher level player’s levels and gear stats are synced with the lower leveled player’s. Thanks to this, players of almost any level can group up together and play together.

There are some problems here, however. My biggest problem with FFXI’s implementation of level sync is that, aside from playing with your friends, there’s no real incentive to use the feature. Instead of this, I propose that grouping and completing quests with friends would provide rewards similar to those you get from doing random dungeons, but scaled so that your rewards come from the EXP you gain at the scaled level.

As for making new players stick with the game, this will not work because of the way the game is designed. If you can get scaled rewards, it simply defeats the purpose of making new content. People would be doing old stuff for the sake of this gear, and Blizzard has to design the game in a way where loot can’t be exploited. This is ripe for it. Now, transmogrification rewards would actually be pretty cool with this system, but not actual, stat-giving loot. I’ve, frankly, done way too many old instance runs to get transmog loot, and that would really bring an incentive if you got, for example, pieces of Tier gear (like, for example, old Icecrown gear that still costs Justice Points – WHY?)

Now, there is a problem here. It means that leveling content difficulty would have to be tweaked slightly. Right now it’s almost insultingly easy, to the point where a player who has learned the ropes of the class they’re playing may well not even die until level 60 or so. I’m not saying that the game should punish players with death, but rather that it should be balanced to be completeable as a singleplayer experience, but ideal in a multiplayer one. This would involve adjusting damage output of the existing content, rather than attempting to tack new content into the world. It’d be difficult, but the increased social experience would do nothing but help the game.

Honestly, people have tried this (see: FFXI), and forcing MMO players into groups within the world does NOT WORK FOR NORMAL PEOPLE. Once you’ve forced them to group up, that takes hours, and who honestly has these hours but unemployed people or students (like me, lol, kidding)? WoW has been redesigned for convenience’s sake in spots, and making easy leveling + cool stories = fun for me. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me! Actually, I have instanced from level 15-85 (ABSOLUTELY NO QUESTS), and you can also PVP your way there as well; see, there are plenty of options! I just wish Blizzard could make these more apparent to the new players. I would also say that this game is absolutely designed to make money and keep you playing; that’s why there is a subscription fee, after all. In that sense, you have to limit the rewards that players can earn per week.

World of Warcraft is always very much in line with the objectives the developers set for each expansion. Although the experiments don’t always work quite that well (Cataclysm, notably, is the biggest reason for subscriber loss), they’re always working to present new ways of playing the game. That’s why I love WoW so much – so much crap to do! They just need to communicate this better. And join a guild, would you?

Concluding, here, WoW has probably the best system of challenge/reward I have seen in a continually evolving game – if they mete out rewards like candy, it just simply cannot work. Grouping with friends who are lower level, then getting items for it, doesn’t give any incentive to raids and the like. If the gear isn’t good enough, no incentive. If the gear is too good, too many players grouping with lowbies alts of fellow guild members. It’s a vicious cycle, and such exploits have happened before (see: Raid Finder, which on the first day allowed INFINITE queuing, netting a great deal of players a full set of gear the first day a raid comes out). So, it’s about balancing new and old players, really. If they just appeal to new players and open worlds, it just cannot sustain itself for long.

Also:

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I said I would do it. Even at 85 and in pretty good gear, we still wiped at least 20 times (with 4 people). We had to take nearly a full group of 10 to do it (on normal, no less!). I’m happy to have gotten the title, too.

Yet Another Re-Do.

After a long period of thinking about the title (and purpose) of this blog, along with concerns about my own life, I felt it was best to start fresh. And what better way to do that than to make the front page look spiffy!

But seriously, I’m not sure if the concept of “theology” and “video games” is anything more than a pipe dream without any real relevance to much of anything. Or, thinking in terms of a disillusioned graduate student, about 10-12 people will ever read/understand something that could ever be written about such a thing.

When I mean theology, I mean the academic type. Christian seems, to me, a lived faith, and I think that comes out in what ever you do. So it is here.

So, instead, to humble myself and in an effort to become better at communicating ideas, I’m going to set some ground rules on the purpose of this blog:

1. Video Games. They are usually “discussed”, but not well. What makes a game “good”? What makes it “great”? Why do I like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past more than The Ocarina of Time? Why do gamers pine for “the good old days”? There is, quite honestly, a lot of untapped potential here, and I haven’t found much that really takes modern games to task. There is a “retro” subculture, but it merely takes the aesthetic while retaining modern values (like Super Meat-Boy, for example).

2. Why does EVERYONE hate Japanese games lately? I find this to be the weirdest problem with the modern video game journalists: they hate them, and not quite for reasons that make sense. I attribute it to a cultural divide between expectations, but even sequels of Western games refine the same concepts, yet Japanese games (in general) are criticized for the exact same thing. As a strong proponent of games from Asia in general, generally preferring them, I’d like to talk in great detail about what people have missed about Japanese games, regardless of genre.

3. Well, whatever else comes to mind. Reviews, covering articles, features, etc (maybe I’ll make some money off the side). But it certainly won’t be theology, that’s for sure. Let’s write about something we can all use! Guest posts are welcome, if you’re into that sort of thing. Podcast, maybe? I’m getting ambitious! I must finish my degree, given where we are in the academic calendar, but I will write as often as possible, and then some when it ends.

Signing out,

ZFO

PS> Seriously, though, who are all those people looking at the Ninja Gaiden Review? It must be Google ImageSearch. I like that piece of work, but it’s not THAT good. Self-deprecation for the win!

Aside

Sex as the End of Human Relations

http://www.1up.com/news/op-ed-mass-effect-3-bioware

Honestly, I don’t get this.

At all.

Perhaps I am alone on this opinion, but I don’t think experience, genetic makeup, or anything else is a constitutive part of your personality; you, and you alone, are responsible for what you do, and rescinding personal responsibility denies part of being human in human society.

That said, when, exactly, did the status “I like sex with men” or “I like sex with women” become an essential part of my personality? I’m not even talking about homosexuality here (or gay, or queer, or whatever). At best, it’s simply a preference; at worst, it’s just weird. Let’s have a conversation, for example. “What do you like to do?” – “Well…I like to shop, play video games, and have sex.”

Seriously, think about how weird this is – humans being reduced to (sexual) preference (chosen or not, that’s your call). What a horrible thought. That’s what “inclusiveness” boils down to in the end. ‘True” equality – the ability to have sex with aliens! That’s what we praise. And this is exacerbated in BioWare games, where the end goal of every relationship ends in intercourse of a kind. Why would that be the culmination of the relationship? The physical pleasure, really? That’s it? I imagine the dialogue options stop at and around that point, other than brief messages to remind you of it.

I just cannot accept that.

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