Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Following an interview with Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward, Derrick Sanskrit reviewed its mouthful of an adaptation, Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! for the 3DS. Derrick found that the game focused too much on Adventure Time superfans without welcoming newcomers into the mix. For the uninitiated, Kevin The Beast King provided an apt analogy for getting into Adventure Time:
Being an Adventure Time fan is a lot like being into prog. On the surface, it seems hopelessly goofy, but then one day, you catch a glimpse of a dragon on a mountain doing something crazy, and you think “This seems like harmless fun. I might as well give it a try.” Before you know it, you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, and you end up checking all the animators’ Tumblrs for unused sketches and spend hours discussing what it all means, man.
Hey, speaking of Tumblrs, have you checked out the Gameological Tumblr? It has fun stuff like this gallery of the time the interns, the editor, and the comment cat made automatically generated Miis. And we will be doing some more Tumblr stuff soon. Tell your friends. All of them.
LOUD AND PROUD
Steve Heisler did not particularly enjoy Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two, not just for its repetitive reimagining of the Disney universe as a barren wasteland, but for its incessant need to shout at the player. Moonside Malcontent agreed and was reminded of an era of comic books where every devious rascal or superpowered ne’er-do-well screamed at one another:
These games where everything is said at MAXIMUM VOLUME remind me of those old Marvel comics from the early 1960s where every sentence was completed with an exclamation point. This isn’t hyperbolic, go back and look. Doesn’t matter if the X-Men are facing down the Master Mold or if the Beast wants to know if Bobby Drake is hiding an ice cream soda in the X-Mansion (that scamp!), gotta have that intensifier at that end. At first you wonder if it’s for Professor X’s benefit, if he’s going deaf in his old age. But he can read minds. That can’t be it. Too many sessions in the Danger Room, my favorite theory went. When you spend too much time in a simulated hellscape, how do you know when the room has ended and the real world has come back? Are the echoes of your tortured, forced pronouncements the only feedback that assures you that you aren’t trapped in some psychological test for the famously unstable Professor’s cold, clinical judgment? CAN YOU KNOW???Ahem.
Sidestep of Doom
Ellie Gibson revisited the late ’80s/early ’90s British game show Knightmare in a special feature this week. Knightmare blended live-action role-playing with blue-screen technology to create an interactive program where its young contestants entered a virtual dungeon, guided by a trusted (hopefully) team of three friends. Andy Best recounted his experience just barely missing out on his own quest:
Me and three friends got through the audition process for this and were one of the 10 teams for the first season. We had to go up to Manchester for a second audition, which involved playing a mockup of the game.
Finally, a team won it and took up 4 or 5 episodes, so a couple of teams, including ours, were bumped. And then for the next season, we were over the age limit they had. Boo hoo.
We got the first audition on the basis of a letter I wrote in, talking about our love for dungeons and dragons. Dungeons & Dragons was a big deal in the U.K. at that time and the show was a good bet.
On the bright side, at least it wasn’t Andy making an indescribable blunder in this must-see clip Afghamistam linked us to:
This article is not complete without Knightmare’s all time most legendary epic moment. God dammit, Simon.
Poor Simon. Elsewhere, Captain Internet drew a paralell between the limited degree of control the guides had over the adventurer—”Forward two steps!”—to his experience learning how to move a mechanical turtle with Logo, the educational programming language:
At the same time as this was on, one of my first introductions to the world of computer science was the language Logo. Logo was about moving a robot equipped with a pen around a sheet of paper, and there’s a number of connections between it and Knightmare in my mind.
Firstly, where Logo let me move an actual robot by typing something into a computer, Knightmare was a computer game made real. I remember that both seemed like things that had fallen out of the future.
And secondly, both mainly revolved around saying: “Take a step to the left. Take another step to the left. Take another step to the left. OK, now go forward…”
Of course, technically the idea of “stepping left” doesn’t exist in Logo, as the robot can only rotate, move forward, and move backward. “Left,” “Right,” and “Forward” are also all primitive commands, so you could never define a “Step” function and give it a direction without the computer showing an error. You’d have to write something like:
repeat 3 [stepLeft]
If you want more behind-the-scenes Knightmare dirt, Brig Bother mentioned an interview with Knightmare’s producer Tim Child, conducted by the Brig himself. It offers further details into how the show was made, and it has a handful of hilarious quotes from Child.
No Absolution To This Problem
Reviewing the fifth title in the series, John Teti was reasonably impressed by Hitman: Absolution, despite its lackluster storyline and the questionable presence of sexy, gun-hungry nuns. While John was pleased with the different enjoyable ways to complete a mission, Kid van Danzig was unhappy with the changes made from previous entries, which he felt left the game feeling unnecessarily cramped and overly slick:
Absolution is a really disheartening devolution for Hitman, which had only gotten better with every iteration before this. It would be baffling if it weren’t so obvious—they wanted to make this one sexier, and trendier.
I don’t really throw out those accusations readily—it’s like saying a band’s “sold out,” it’s so overplayed as to border on meaningless—but the design decisions they made for this one are really, really bad, improving the gunplay over everything else. The biggest problem is that new engine—it cranks up visual fidelity but at the cost of maximum level size.
The huge levels were one of the biggest strengths of the series before this point—they allowed a lot of breathing room and expanded the options available to the player. Absolution’s areas are minuscule by comparison—the early Chinatown level tips its hat to the classic Mardi Gras mission from Hitman: Blood Money but it couldn’t really touch it in terms of versatility. They employ tricks to make it seem bigger (alleyways, and small segmented areas), but it isn’t. The biggest practical effect is that you don’t really get the sense of Agent 47 being creative in approach—areas cannot be circumscribed; you always have to go through guards.
Special Agent X Double Seven
Joe Keiser argued that “addiction” in games has become familiar and dull. Joe made a strong example out of Dishonored, a recent game that spurns addictive methods of play, and rewards inventive strategies. Enkidum elaborated on the tricky methods developers use to make their games addictive:
The reason why the addictive games model is so popular is of course very simple: it makes a shit-ton of money, especially when combined with micro-purchases. Diablo III and pretty much anything Zynga has ever made are the best examples of this. And like “real” gambling, Zynga makes almost all of its profit from a tiny fraction of players—I’m not sure how many it is, but it’s somewhere on the order of 5 percent of people who will pump dozens or hundreds of dollars a week into Farmville, or hundreds or thousands of dollars a day into a slot machine. Depressingly, they’re the real profit engines, these poor bastards whose psyches make them easy to exploit.
Sorry if I’m repeating myself, because I think I mentioned this here before a few months back. But I attended this very cool lecture by Mike Dixon from the University Of Waterloo on another trick slot machine designers use to make them more addictive. The big jackpot occurs when you get a 7-7-7, right? Well it turns out that something that really motivates players to continue is when the get a 7-7-almost 7, but the third value ends up being just in front or just behind the 7. This occurs 12 times more often than it would by chance—and only 7-7-X, not X-7-7 or 7-X-7, because the latter two don’t generate the same tension. Dixon was looking at precisely why this motivates people to keep playing, and his results suggest it’s a matter of frustration—people get kind of annoyed, but in a way that makes them want to have another shot—much like a missed layup in basketball or whatever makes you want to do it again right away.
Modern slots also do really clever things like having independent touch-screen “stop” buttons for each of the three wheels. This gives players the sense of control, but of course this is entirely illusory—exactly the same algorithm determines where the wheel is likely to stop, but because you’ve pressed the button you feel like you bear responsibility, and it feels like more of a matter of skill or choice.
Red Stipe Bear
And finally, Derrick Sanskrit put together another rad Alternate Soundtrack feature, juxtaposing A Flock Of Seagulls’ debut album with Jamestown: Legend Of The Lost Colony. Responding to a commenter who offered up a pairing of REM and Carmageddon, Mercenary Security Number 4 offered up the non-sequitur of the week as he recounted this bizarre dream (nightmare?):
I once had a dream in which Northern Exposure had a spin-off called Near Wild Heaven. It starred Michael Stipe as a horse rancher. He lived in a boarding house in an otherwise abandoned Cicely with an old lady and a wild grizzly bear who had also somehow become the mayor. That doesn’t have anything to do with video games, but it certainly changed what I think of when I hear that song.
Okay, cool! And with that, thanks again for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!