Tag Archives: immersion

10 single sentence game reviews (part 2)

I don’t like reading reviews. Too many words. That’s why I started writing super short reviews myself. I had fun doing that last time. Did you like it too? Good news! I gamed enough again so here’s 10 more single sentence game reviews!

Walking Dead
Unreadable facial expressions and awkward pauses aside every choice sticks and there are some tough one’s to be made in this tale of people you hate or like or care about.

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Hitman Absolution
I won’t notice that it’s less open than the others because that instant thrill of handling the unexpectedness with brutal decision making is still there.

Dead Rising 2
I felt both laid back by the daylight setting and stressed out by the ticking clock and oh there are zombies too.

DMC
Constantly kicking ass and constantly being challenged doing so and still making you feel like a badass is an accomplishment.

Spelunky
It looks cute and plays delicious but dying a thousand deaths feels like something from an age I left behind on purpose.

Bioshock Infinite
It has pointless looting, unfitting combat and a heroine that looks like a pedophile’s dream but it’s staged in a world I will remember for years.

Tomb Raider
It would only be acceptable if this too gunfight heavy spectacle was not a game about Lara, the undisputed queen of climbing.

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The Last of Us
High polish and pacing trick you into believing that sneaking and choking from cut scene to cut scene is something extraordinary.

Gome Home
In its mechanics I see no innovation at all but damn this love story makes me want to hug and never let go these people.

Dark Souls
Even its insanely cool dark style and setting and glorious world can’t pull me through dying over and over and over again.

That’s it. I have a few more games stacked on my couch. I’m just buying to to release a whopping ten more reviews in a third part. In the meantime feel free to discuss games and gaming with me on Twitter. 

 

 

 

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Game Worlds: Deus Ex’s Hengsha vs Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong

There are two games I played a lot lately and they are both (at some point) staged in a Chinese supercity. Sleepings Dogs with Hong Kong, And Deus Ex Human Revolution with Hengsha. I have an affinity for asian architecture so i´d like to compare.

Different type of games need different levels. One is 1st person and the other is 3rd person and mechanics dictate the environment on both accounts.
Here are the perimeters I used to compare:

Size, Detail, Interaction, Real World Likeness, Ambient Sound and Navigation Benchmark. For shorter sentences i will from now on refer to Deus Ex Human Revolution and Sleeping Dogs as DX and SD. You will thank me later.

Size.
A level does’nt have to be bigger if it’s big enough to enjoy yourself in. A huge damper on enjoyment is the feeling of boundaries in the playing field. Hengsha is the smallest of the two but it’s also designed to function as a maze. This constantly shifts your perception of what the actual border of the level is. You will rarely feel as if you actually hit a wall. It might not appear huge but it does appear endless.

Hong Kong is huge but there are cars. The player’s perception of the size of a world is related to how fast he/she can travel from one place to another. With sportscars as fast as these, travelling from top to bottom takes under 5 minutes. Just a little more as it would take Jensen to travel all of Hengsha by foot. Unlike Hengsha, Hong Kong might still have places you won’t have seen after hours of playing. But you also less likely to care as much. Hengsha’s small size makes it comprehendible enough to make you want to finish the unconsiously set task of exploring it wholly.

Detail.
Or as i like calling it “behind every corner is another corner”. How much is there to see per square mile? This is especially relevant for asian supercities as space can be scarce. SD has its share of accessible buildings and there is no piece of space that appears as if it could use a bit more attention. What Hengsha lacks in space is more than made up for with the fact that you can get into buildings. see people have some chit-chat. climb on top of stuff and joyfully discover little corners every time. Both games are on the same level when it comes to texturing and geometry. The detail is in the number of buildings you can get inside and how they’re connected through vent ducts. alleyways and sewer systems. With a little more effort SD could have some of these but it would be useluss because of the player perspective. DX’s 1st person view allows for much better navigation in small spaces. It would be a struggle to move through such small spaces in the 3rd person view SD has.

So DX has denser connections and smaller streets but it’s not just the view: Again, SD has cars and the streets are wider apart because the cars need to be able to fit through these. Even streets that would be narrower in real life are broadened up for you to keep on driving. This is the part of realism SD sacrificed.

I did some math and a game that would have the level size of SD and the detail of DXHR would take about 3400 years to make.

Interaction.
Your level of immersion is related to how much you can interact with your surroundings. This is part of what makes games like Skyrim and Fallout fun. As pointed here. The good news is that both cities offer a wealth of this. In SD You can shop for clothes, Drink green thea, Do Karaoke, Hurt people (this one’s important) and climb on some buildings. Some. but not all. The game decides whether Wei Shen will climb or not when you run into a wall. This hurts your experience because it breaks the illusion of the game designer’s god hand absence.

Is this important? yes!
For the sake of fun, When playing a game your mind is willing to discard the knowledge you are simulating instead of really experiencing. You know it’s not true but your mind is able to trick itself. It needs some help though. It’s about meeting or breaking the player’s expectations of what is possible. But a players expectation of how a game environment functions is based on the system of how real life environments function. Anything that breaks with the perception of a functioning game world is a reminder that everything is just fake. Dealbreakers.  like the absurd disability to climb a seemingly easily climbable obstacle. Every time Wei can’t somehow climb onto something. you are reminder about how fake this all is.

That won’t happen as much in DX. You can jump on pretty much any platform you see. Which is is quite something for Jensen has a mighty high jump. You can also break into people’s houses. empty their vault and plant their fridges on their beds. Quite the mayhem.  You will never be able to see them come home and freak out though. The ability to move inside buildings gives the player a premise upon seeing a building from the outside. The premise that you might be able to go in. That you are able to get inside the larger geometry at display.

The people on the street also react to you with both games. Nobody likes you carrying a gun, people cower when you assault someone publicly and strangely utter sentences that are non-replyable. The cower in fear part is an important one. Though both games are not specifically meant for you to cause mayhem among citizens, the do account for it. Because many players enjoy doing it and more important: A world with citizens not responding would break your suspension of disbelief.

Real World Likeness.
How much it is like the real thing is not as important as how much it feels like the real thing. Both games are made for a western audience and there’s some tricks to abuse when you want that “authentic” Asian atmosphere. The opening hours of SD display every China cliché you can think of: Busy Night Markets, Red Lanterns, Herbal Thea, Kung-Fu school and  this and that instrument.

Cheap. But you do feel like you’re in Asia. And guess what. You will encounter these in real world Hong-Kong, and not just just in the tourist area. SD’s Hong Kong does look like Real World’s Hong Kong. But there’s more than just the cliche tricks to make that work.

Like the great GTA 4. Immense research has gone into capturing the landmarks, atmosphere and general architecture of  a real city. When playing, you can sense that you are moving around in an actually functional city. Just take a moment and sum up what it would take for a city to function properly.  In SD it’s all there. Everything is accounted for. From city halls, to schools to drainage systems. It’s pretty much based on the real city. They made the floorplan first (aka take a map of Hong Kong and chop bits off)  and then worried about how to put a game in that. Like advocated here.

The exact opposite is DXHR. First came the abilities and the mechanics. Then they built a world to cater for that. Add to that the fact they had to cleverly camouflage a limited size and you have the makings of a super well designed world. But does it look like the real world Hengsha? You be the judge. Here is a picture of a typical Hengsha landscape.

The real Hengsha is about 55.74 km2 more of the stuff above. It’s a small rural island of Shanghai. Did I mention that DXHR is set in the year 2027? Here, Hengsh is a densely packed city with a city on top of it. There is an off chance the year 2027 will be exactly like in the game but i would not bet on it.

It’s forgivable they sacrificed some “realism” for the sake of making it so much fun to play in. SD does it for driving. DX does it for walking and questing.  DX’s Hengsha is not based on the real thing. It’s mashed up of bits and pieces taken from photographs, visits and concept art of other cities. But is does feel like an asian city! For one it has all the cliches and most important is that they remembered what makes Asian city architecture remarkable: that behind every corner is another corner. Fun fact: Making – offs reveal that DX’s Hengsha is based a great deal on Hong-Kong (And Blade Runner, which also takes notes from that city)

SD is pretty much a virtual Hong Kong with bits chopped off. DX is not like Hengsha at all but does have all the sights that are typically Asian. Both went for a balance between authenticity and fun. With a focus on the latter. It does not have to be like it is in the real world if the alternative is more fun. But one way to make a gameworld feel more credible is to incorperate patterns players can recognize from their experiences with real world cities. There is a certain logic in the placement of things in most big cities. DX does not have that logic but compensates in other ways.

Ambient Sound.
We gamers have only sight and sounds to take in the experience of our gaming worlds. That makes both pretty important. Which one makes you feel more like you are actually there? SD is in many ways similar to GTA4. Also in the fact that when you drive, You hear the music of the car radio. That music stops when you get out. But DX has music almost as part of it’s city’s soundscape. It smoothly fades in and out and makes subtle use of oriental instruments. It lingers, is pretty exotic and does a great job in making you familiar with the place upon multiple sessions. (you will visit the city twice in the game and the second time it’s like meeting an old friend).But the ambient sound of SD is very good. As a test: play the game with your eyes closed. You can just completely imagine what is happening and where you are. there all kinds of sounds, close and far. And it varies from place to place.  Add to this the fact that SD’s world has realistic colours and DX drenches everything in the golden hue that marks the whole game. It appears that DX wants to bring you atmosphere and SD wants to bring you location.

Navigation Benchmark.
Suppose you passed out and you wake up in the middle of a level. Just by looking around could you recognize where exactly you are? You would if there was something to see that is particular for that place. Could be a certain unique configuration of walls or a placement of chairs. But it could also be a tall recognizable building. These are benchmarks and most open world make good use of these. Like how McDonalds thought it would be cool to put a huge M on a tall pole. Kids in cars can spot those things from a distance and it makes them crazy. It gives them direction as to where to go. Medieval cities have it too. Often a huge tower. On the other side there is the inside of an Ikea store. Which has 0 benchmarks. They want people to get lost so they stay longer.

Hengsha is like that. It has some recognizable buildings but you wont be able to see them until you’re right in front of those. It’s very hard to navigate through. But then again it’s Asia. Some people don’t like the way it’s designed but i find that more people do. I scanned some forums for player’s reception of it’s design and most of it goes like this. be sure to check the replies.  It’s nice to get lost there in the Hengsha they made,

SD is not like that. You won’t be lost. Some buildings are re-used throughout the map but on a larger scale there is a variance in surrounding depending on where you are. There’s the industrial Area, The upper class area, The deep down and dirty streets and crazy-busy nightlife streets. You can seperate these from each other. Then of course there’s the larger copies of Hong-Kong landmarks. Most alleyways are too much alike but the places that matter, the numberous garages for example. Are so different from each other that  you’ll always be able to tell where you are. And then there’s the smart thing where they place relevant places next to other relevant places. If you see one of them you’ll be able to connect the dots and go “if that’s the garage then i must be close to the clothing store”. mission accomplished.

Conclusion.
On the surface these games’ worlds are much alike but they differ in many aspects.  A big factor  in this is the leaner, more flexible first person perspective which allows navigation in smaller spaces. Then there’s the presence of vehicles which warp the needed space between buildings and overall size. They try to achieve different things. They cater for different mechanics and are effective in doing so. The only thing that is genuinely evil is the fact that some walls cannot be climbed in SD. And there’s no telling why some walls are more climbable than others.

In open worlds this is the grandest of sins.

 

 

 

 

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Meaningful choice for talking about games

We used to talk a lot about the games we played when i was still in school. We shared how we experienced the games. Kinda like reviewing but not criticizing.  It was fun. The games we most talked about in the past four years were probably Mass Effect and Fallout.  Games that were way less discussed were Burnout, Call of Duty and Uncharted. We all played and liked all of them. So why are some games more talked about than others?

 

I suspect that this holds relation to the amount and weight of the decisions players can make in the game, and how much these can diversify the experience. Mass Effect offers choices to follow mulitiple lines of play resulting in different endings. giving different cut-scenes and powers.

This is not as true for a shooter like Call of Duty where you follow a linear path. Race games are the same for this matter. This way, each player’s experience is more likely to be similar whereas those of Mass Effect is widely divergent.This causes conversations about Mass Effect to be an exchange of experiences where with Call of Duty there is not much to exchange since every participant would have the same information.

I’d like to separate single players from multi-player here. Exchanging tactics can be a huge source for conversing! But there is more going on here. Games that were most talked about also allow players to express themselves through actions. “Did you torch the innocent villagers in level 3?” “no, i kept them alive and saved all their children from the monsters”. This is a meaningful choice. An opportunity for players to be either the good guy or the bad guy, Or the neutral lone ranger, Or the badass that sometimes kills just for fun.

 

I think Skyrim puts it on another level by tying all kinds of political issues to its game choices. This as well gives gamers something to talk about.

To finish the game you have to side with either the imperials or the Stormcloak rebels. Do you support the independence and uniqueness of a beautiful country and accept the by coming racist supremacist (but also feminist) ethics of the stormcloaks? Or will you team up with the Imperials, Strengthen humanity’s defense against the douchebag Elves’ upcoming invasion, and turn Skyrim into just another imperial state, giving globalisation a free way?

If you made choices in Skyrim and talk about it with others, you are one step away from a political debate.

The act of talking about a game you play part of a number of activities called “metagaming”, a concept coined by dr Richard Garfield. The creator of Magic the Gathering, which was designed to cater for metagaming as much as possible. He explains its workings and benefits here.

As a bit of a conclusion; one way to get people talking about after playing your game is to give them choices for diverse experiences as well as opportunities for self-expression through action.

Grundysoft is currently working on two games. None of these display political questions but both of them should be well worth talking about!

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Games as holidays

Are you nostalgic? Do you like to bring up fond memories of games you played? Worlds you have visited? like they were that one awesome summer holiday trips “oh remember back when..” or “ooh i miss that time”

I do.
On rainy days, or when i’m in a train looking out the window. In my head i like to revisit some of the places i have been. campsites, amusement parks, festivals, raptures, capital wastelands, liberty cities.
Here’s my top 3:

GTA Vice City: I remember the palm trees, the nice weather and the gorgeous sunsets. But most of all i remember the endless cruising on a stolen motorbike wearing just some kaki pants,flip flops and a hawaii shirt: Total freedom.

Fallout 3: Probably so etched because i played it so much. All the small communities, The landmarks, The endless interconnecting subway system and always something to explore on your horizon. When you think about it a barren wasteland is actually not a place you want to be at all. Not for real.

Shadow of the Colossus: Get this, an wide open space with a minumum of buildings, no lush wildlife, no one to talk to. zero enemies (bar the Colossi) and nothing to destroy! And yet one of the most interesting worlds to explore and arguably the most beautiful.

These games have one thing in common, set in open 3D environment. I have played Full Throttle, Okami, The Sims, Plants vs Zombies, Braid etc and had much fun doing so but i don’t remember them as much as i do with the games above. That because i dont remember them as if i were there. And in gaming there is such a thing as being there. Open 3d worlds take up a space in your memories different from all the other games.

Some years ago i went on a trip to New York but before that i accidentally played GTA 4. And when i was in that city, i actually roughly knew my way around and it felt like i came back instead of being there for the first time. It all felt so familiar.

I like to think of this when i make my games. How people feel during play is one thing but how will they remember it? I tried to build a place like that once. I graduated in environment design by making a game of a deserted island where there was almost nothing to do except walking around. It was called Wandergates.

Although there were a lot of flaws and the game is never released. (you can see it if you ask for it) the exploration and world visiting bug is nested deep deep deep inside my head. I want to make a game that people will remember as a place they’ve been some day.

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