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Friday, May 30, 2008

Progress report:
Page 16 complete.

Subject has done adequately to this point. However, every page was finished only in the last few hours before deadline.

The subject now has one full week in which to write Page 17. There is no specific deadline. How early the subject works on and completes the page will determine whether he may post.



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Thursday, May 29, 2008

You can take the kid out of the school…

I'm working on Smilie, I've got a small paying job, I have access to great games, I've got enough free time, I've got friends, I've got music, I've got shows and comics. I've got a decent balance between what I need and what I want. I can live for both the present and the future.

And my past still haunts me.

I still dream about school. I don't know how often, because I don't usually remember dreams. But I shouldn't be dreaming about it at all. I've moved on! I've left it behind! I don't want my past to have anything to do with my present.

I was in school for a decade. That's a long time. Each year had ten months, which is also a long time. And there were weeks, and days, and classes, and minutes, and seconds, and moments. The longer I waited for a moment to end, the less meaning the passage of time seemed to have.

You can't go through something like that and not be affected by it. I get it. But I'm not comfortable playing the victim. No, really, I'm not. I want to play the indignant rebel.

When I'd see reality, all the boredom and struggle and meaninglessness, I'd ignore it and replace it with other worlds. The knowledge that I was supposed to be studying was always underneath the surface, but I could push it out of mind.

Now there's nothing to run from. And yet it's still there, underneath the surface. Deep down, I don't understand that school is over. How could it be? School is a fact of life. As soon as I wake up, I'll see the classroom around me.

I still owe those ten years of homework. I still have ten years of tests to study for. I used to say: "If I ignore it enough, maybe it'll go away." No, I mean I literally said that. But it doesn't go away, does it? Even if every school everywhere were burnt down, it still wouldn't go away.

I want to hate my classmates for that. They never gave me an opportunity. They ignored. They mocked with nicknames. They failed to understand. They did absolutely nothing wrong. They were, on the whole, good people.

I want to hate my teachers. They oppressed. They bored. They were incompetent and unqualified. They didn't understand. They did plenty wrong, but how could they know any better? They were only stupid adults.

I look at myself, and see the effects of school everywhere. And the only person I can hate is myself.

And whatever I hate, I ignore and replace.

So I ask, what if I hadn't been in school?

I'd be incapable of sitting still. I'd be less interested in gamism. I'd sing in public. I'd alienate everyone even quicker. I'd be violent. I'd be loud and obnoxious.

I didn't need less misery, I needed more. I think I've suffered. Well, I haven't. I don't even know what suffering means! So I have bad dreams. Boo hoo. A few bad dreams, on top of a wonderful life, and I come to my blog whining.

I should have learned humility.

I should have learned patience.

I should have learned discipline.

I should have learned perspective.

I don't need a life without suffering, I need a life with the right kind of suffering.

So let's ignore the way schools really are. Let's imagine the perfect school.

It would be harsh and merciless. You can never get away with anything, no matter how small. If you fail a test, you start over until you pass. No exceptions.

It would not try to teach information, because knowledge and suffering should always be kept far apart. What is taught and tested is the basics: dealing with boredom, coming out on top in hostile social environments, perseverance, good manners, dealing swiftly with random and meaningless goals, and most of all a tolerance for every type of pain. Without these qualities, one cannot function in a working society. With these qualities, everything else (including knowledge) can follow.

Granted, school already teaches these qualities. But only to a very small degree, because it is teaching them by accident! As my lack of all these qualities proves, the school system is broken. Where it falls apart is in focusing on anything at all other than general qualities. Specific subjects, like reading and math, should come only later and by the person's own initiative. When you mix the general and the specific together, you lose both the general and the specific. The specific, because the student will learn slowly and unwillingly and forget everything immediately afterwards. The general, because the curriculum is not designed to teach it optimally.

There should not be a set number of years. If someone can learn to lose their personality in less than two years, then they will be ready for life at that point. And if it takes more than ten years, then so be it. But no one may leave who is not prepared for the misery and boredom of adult life.

You think I'm kidding with all this, don't you? I'm not kidding. School left me tiny little quirks, when it should have defined me. I should not be who I am. I should never have escaped school.



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Monday, May 26, 2008

Progress report:
Page 15 complete.

New goal: Page 16
Deadline: Friday (31/5), 2:00 AM



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The Pathetic Life of a Super-Villain

I tend to root for the underdog.

So when I see a plucky little hero, facing an army of hundreds guaranteed to cause massive amounts of damage much too soon to stop, led by a being of unimaginable power who has been planning every contingency for the last five years, I feel sorry for the guy. The super-villain, that is. Because is there any chance in hell that he's going to succeed?

Let's get the whole evil thing out of the way right at the beginning. Yes, the villain is vile. He is homicidal and greedy and if he got his way innocent people like yourself would be in big trouble. Nothing in his sob-story past can justify his actions. And general insanity is a diagnosis, not an excuse.

But does anyone deserve the life of a super-villain?

Think hard: Have you ever read a story involving a contented super-villain?

A villain may try a hundred different plans, each one more ingenious than the last. Not one of them is ever going to last for more than a few minutes once a hero gets involved. It's Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner! And between plans, there are years of prison. So the man is caught in a loop, where he always knows that the closest he's ever going to get to happiness or meaning is the five minutes of anticipation where it looks like he's going to make it.

One side is always going to win, the other side is always going to lose. So it comes as no surprise that a lot of bad guys try to switch sides. It never sticks. Others have tried getting out of the game altogether. That never sticks either. Sooner or later, a super-villain is going to start acting like a super-villain again.

(I wonder why that is. It might be that, robbed of their climaxes so often, they become obsessed with the false hope of winning. If they can beat the hero just one time, maybe that'll make up for all the misery. Or maybe there really isn't any cause, and these people are just wired that way. Some of these characters are so completely devoid of humanity that it wouldn't even occur to them to do anything but crime.)

Whether or not he sees it, a super-villain has nothing to live for. He is never going to get to the top of the world. He is never going to beat his nemesis (though he may come tantalizingly close several times!). He is never going to destroy society, or get rich, or whatever other big plans he has. All he has is the loop. Get out of jail, build a comfortable empire, crescendo towards an actual achievement, see a hero, go back to jail.

Efforts to break the loop are doomed. The best of prisons is still a joke. Brainwashing of either side is guaranteed to wear off or be undone. If a villain leaves town, the hero will coincidentally happen to take a trip to wherever he is on the day of his big job. If the villain tries to stay off the radar, the hero will hunt him down. If the villain is banished to another planet or another dimension, he'll just come back angry. Anything less than death is not permanent enough.

So my first instinct is to yell at the heroes: "Kill him already!" For the sake of society, because the future and certain threat needs to be removed. For the sake of the hero, because if the job isn't finished he can't move on to other things. And for the sake of the villain himself, because what sort of life is he living? End the pain, already!

But wait. Death isn't permanent either. Once a super-villain has established himself, he's created a position in society that will never go away. The next time someone thinks they need this particular set of powers for a job, back out of the grave he comes. You know how it is. And even if he's lucky enough to stay dead, someone else will pop up out of nowhere to take the name (and the misery). And if that person dies, another one pops up. And again, and again, until the original villain is so annoyed by the copycats that he resurrects himself, just to stop involving other people!

There's only one way that a superhero story can have a happy ending. And that's if it doesn't. Let the bad guy win! Let Charlie Brown hit the football!

I want to see Doctor Octopus outsmart Spider-Man.

I want to see Magneto enslave the ordinary humans.

I want to see a season of 24 where Jack Bauer is killed and a big chunk of America is lost.

I want Marvel's new crossover Secret Invasion to end with the alien invaders taking over the world.

I want DC's new crossover Final Crisis, whose tagline is "Evil Wins.", to actually mean it in the end.

I want those annoyingly lucky heroes to get what's coming to them!

Yay, evil!



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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Progress report:
Page 14 completed under the deadline.

New goal: Page 15
Deadline: Tuesday (27/5), 2:00 AM



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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Garden: Rule Systems

There is a set of rules, concerning what may be done and what will happen. When those rules are the dominant element of an experience, you've got a rule system game.

Okay, that's an ugly name. But this Form needs to be recognized in order to understand how a lot of its sub-Forms fit together.

Let's first take a moment to consider: This is a massive Form. Setting rules is a task uniquely suited to a programmer, and programmers do seem to control modern gamism. On a more theoretical level, there are so many different kinds of rules. Rules for moving units, rules for creating units or changing their properties, rules for betting, rules for bidding, rules for interpreting, rules for communicating.

Just about anything can be looked at as a system of rules, and indeed there are some theorists who analyze all games from that perspective. I maintain that often the rules exist only to provide stability, and not as an end unto themselves. This Form is the exception. In this post, I am referring only to games which hold the rules up as the entire point. Rather than using rules to give structure to content, these games let their content emerge naturally from the structure of rules.

What is the content of a rule? It is predictability, or the lack thereof.

If pressing a button always adds 1 to a number, you always know what the button is going to do. In the other extreme, when you pull a card out of a shuffled deck you never know what you're going to get. The predictability and unpredictability of these rules has a tiny value. Not enough value to sustain a game on its own, but if you combine enough little rules like that, some predictable and some unpredictable, you get a much more interesting experience. And the point of that experience is that the player is constantly trying to anticipate and account for what will happen next.

Notable sub-Forms
I am going to split rule systems into three categories. These sub-Forms are commonly seen as totally separate entities, but in actuality they are all part of the same spectrum, so to speak. The sub-Forms are:

Puzzle: A puzzle game is a system of rules whose results are always perfectly predictable.

Strategy: A strategy game is a system of rules whose results are mostly or vaguely predictable.

Luck: A luck game is a system of rules whose results are mostly unpredictable.

Let's start with the luck game. You've got a bunch of rules relying on randomness or unknowable variables. If the game (following those unpredictable rules) goes one way, you win. If it goes another way, you lose. There may be probabilities and statistics (or oracles and horoscopes!) which the player can consult to feel like he's in control of the situation, but he isn't. That sense of not having control, of fear mixed with hope, is exciting. And some people find it fun, apparently. Don't ask me why, I couldn't tell you.

The strategy game is more fair. You don't know everything, but you know enough to use the rules wisely. The unpredictability might be total randomness, or it might be the actions of another player. Sometimes there's an oppressive time limit, whose pressure makes otherwise predictable events harder to consider. That's strategy too. Strategy is the gray area between puzzle and luck- anything between the two extremes counts. I think there are two attractions here: First off, the player needs to stop and think about what will happen next, with the knowledge that his decision will be the difference between success and failure. This is exciting. Secondly, the predictability of the rules let you build routines, so that you can get caught up in the micro-management of the system. This is addictive.

The puzzle game is straightforward. "Here are the rules, here's where you need to get to, have fun." It's totally predictable. In a sufficiently complex puzzle game you can develop routines, but it won't hold your interest for long without surprises. So the baseline of puzzles is a worthless game. Clever gamists get over this handicap by going a level further: inadequately preparing and intentionally misleading the player. The challenge of a good puzzle is not solving a problem, it's figuring out what the problem is to begin with and what tools you have to solve it with. Once you realize that, you have an "Aha!" moment and you're satisfied. And then the rest isn't really so difficult. You feel like you've mastered the game, because you've understood the twisted mind of its creator. (Or the intricacies of its natural logic.) Or to put it another way, you're trying to find the predictability of the system.

I suppose there could be a fourth sub-Form of rule system: a game whose results are 100% unpredictable. Where you can't even imagine how it's going to go, because you know it's not conceivably going to go where you think it will. So you don't have fear or hope, just a perpetual state of confusion. I can't imagine why anyone would want to play a game like that, which is probably why this isn't an established Form. Then again, I could find this type of game in aspects of life. Let's call it the "drive-the-player-crazy game", and never speak of it again.

The borders between the sub-Forms of rule system are not only difficult to pin down, they are also different from person to person. How predictable something is (and thus what you get out of the game) depends on many factors: for instance, the intelligence and experience of the player.

For me, playing Poker would be a game of luck, because I have no way of knowing what cards everyone else will have. But someone who is a keener judge of character than I might be able to decipher what other people's hands are from their facial expressions and behavior. For him, that's a strategy game where the rules are not just the rules of Poker but also all rules of human behavior.

The more you study something, the more predictable it gets. If you've learned every last nuance of a computer opponent's behavioral code (and it is consistent), then a strategy game against that computer opponent is no longer a strategy game at all, but a puzzle! Never mind that it still looks like a strategy game; it's not. But most people can't understand the "artificial intelligence" to that extent, so it's a strategy game. Or maybe if someone's completely inept and unintelligent it'll be a luck game. (His odds, I'm sorry to say, aren't good.)

When you roll a die, that's a luck game. But let's say (disregarding human limitations) that you could control the tiniest wiggle of your hand and calculate exactly how the die would flip around when you threw it. Then it's not a luck game anymore, it's a puzzle. A very very tough puzzle.

Everything has rules. Every line of code in a game's program is part of a rule. On top of that are rules which come from the context a game is played in. So you can identify the three kinds of rule systems in almost every game, whether the gamist intended it or not. A movement game has occasional luck, an action game has occasional puzzles, a piece of music has occasional strategy. If you watch a particularly predictable movie, you're experiencing a strategy game -the rules being the clichés of scriptwriting. Watching other people's behavior, you're either playing a strategy game or a luck game depending on how well you know them. There the rules are that person's usual behavior patterns.

In all these cases, rule systems are subordinate elements to the actual content. And even if the rule system would be bad on its own (like a puzzle that doesn't require thought), it can work well as a subordinate element.

Many games use "mind challenge" as secondary content, which essentially makes them into puzzles. Because if you're going to be fair about challenging the mind, you're going to have to make all moves predictable. Puzzle platformers (platformers which require you to think) are in this category. So are murder mysteries!

And along those lines, you can say that a good storyteller is playing a strategy game himself, where the rules are both common sense and whatever characterizations and settings he decides on from the beginning. Everything that happens in a story needs to follow naturally and predictably from what came before, only breaking one rule if there's another which specifically allows it to. This is a strategy game. (If the storyteller doesn't follow the rules, it doesn't mean it's not a strategy game. It just means he cheated.) So when you experience a story, you're also the spectator of a strategy game, like you might watch a game of chess.

Speaking of chess, I haven't gotten into genres at all, have I? Oh dear. The genre isn't in what way a game is predictable (because there are only so many ways a game can be predictable), but what the set of rules is like.

There are physics puzzles, where the rules are (simplified versions of) the laws of physics. (The Incredible Machine, Armadillo Run, creative lines of dominoes) There are abstract number puzzles where the rules have no relationship to anything real. (Sudoku) There are transport puzzles, where the rules are that you can move around and push or carry things around. (Sokoban, sliding tile puzzles) There are… you know what, this is silly. You know what puzzles there are. And there are a heck of a lot of common genres of puzzle. All I'll say is there are some kinds of games commonly considered puzzles which I don't call puzzles: Mazes, any tests of vocabulary (crossword puzzles) or other knowledge, jigsaw puzzles (which are actually tests of perception), and probably others I'm not thinking of. If it's not a rule system, it's not a puzzle. Moving on…

There are turn-based strategy games and real-time strategy games. Both are competitive: in the former you take turns with your opponent, and in the latter you constantly move at the same time. There is simulation strategy, where the rules are modeled after a real-world system. There are even subgenres of that genre: sports simulation strategy, empire simulation strategy, world simulation strategy, farm simulation strategy. (The appeal of simulations is that even extremely complex and deep rule systems can be accessible to anyone with a minimum of real-world experience.) Moving on, there is trading strategy and abstract strategy and battle strategy (Whoo boy, is that popular.) and bluffing strategy and card-playing strategy and if you take a word at random from the dictionary, chances are you can stick the word "strategy" after it and have an idea for a game.

A luck game is a luck game. It's all the same to me. If you think there are different kinds of luck games that feel different from each other, and would like to list them, be my guest.

I suspect that even when gamism expands to interface directly with our brains, rule system games will still be around, and almost exactly the same as they are now! There will still be gambling, there will still be simulations and competitions, there will still be mind-bending puzzles. Make of that what you will.

Droplets: Rule Systems

Strategy systems are most commonly based on war and sports. No surprise there. What is a surprise is you won't find "love strategy", which makes just as much sense as the other two. Why no romance? The Sims included some simple romance, and it was a huge hit. But no one else is trying. Bring on the procedurally-generated soap operas!

Combining the rules of the real world with abstract rules is a fun recipe for puzzles. Imagine a simulation of society, where you can mess around with space and time in specific ways. Doesn't that sound fun, in an "If only I could do this in the real world" kind of way? Of course, that assumes programmers can get a simulation of society running and somewhat believable. Not much chance of that. Some day, though.

Strategy games tend to have the exact same rules from level to level. In order to keep the game from feeling totally monotonous, gamists like to tack on stories. "If the context is different, maybe the experience will feel different!" The story distracts from the rules, rather than enhancing them. So big stories ought to be the exception, not the rule. Instead the levels should shake things up more, in order to keep predictability a challenge. It's not enough that the goals change- have a few new rules added each level, and other rules taken out! That way, you constantly have to rethink how to proceed rather than settling into easy routines. Explaining the changes in context isn't at all necessary, because who needs a context? If someone tells you "Here are the rules.", you don't say "Tell me the historical and sociopolitical explanations for these rules!", you say "Okay." and start having fun.

When puzzle games have context, that context applies to the whole game. And it never adds anything. Instead, there should be stories behind individual puzzles, stories which have no connection to each other. The context for a puzzle can matter, because it tells you what sort of perspective to take as you look for a solution (and in so doing, it may be tricking you!). This also lets the gamist put in more red herrings than he could otherwise get away with. Who says puzzles have to be simple?

Real-time strategy games already tend to have different sides which are significantly different from each other in gameplay. But they could be more significant. Multiplayer strategy games don't necessarily have to be entirely fair, especially if a game has many varied strategy levels with different rule sets. It's okay in a linear game for one level to make things much harder for one player, because the next level might go in his favor. The practice of "balancing sides" doesn't seem important, or even necessarily beneficial, in that context. And once you start thinking like that, you realize that the experience one player has doesn't have to be even similar to the experience of the other player!

So why can't two players have entirely different rule sets?

Why can't a game randomly pick one of many players, say to the others: "This is who you've all got to beat!", and then give the victim a major advantage?

Why does every player even have to be playing a strategy game?

What if one player played the "god of chaos", and could insert randomness into an otherwise mostly predictable strategy game? Then everyone has to stay away from him, to keep from falling into a luck game!

What if one player were playing a real-time movement game, and the other players were taking turns trying to trap him through strategic construction?

What if some players were managing vast armies of expendable soldiers, and the other players were playing a shooter?

Imagine you're playing a strategy game (where the levels are different from each other), and you're finding one level particularly hard. You keep doing your routines over and over, getting more and more efficient at them, and every time -- you lose. Eventually you have an "Aha!" moment, and then suddenly everything in the level is entirely predictable. You beat it easily, and move onto the next level which is back to really being strategy. See, you've just played a puzzle. But it didn't tell you it was a puzzle. Why should it always be totally obvious whether something is luck, strategy, or puzzle?

You are in a cave. There is a tiny hole through which you can see light, but you can't get through it. It's a puzzle, obviously. But in order to get out, you need to explore deeper into the cave, and learn how the rules of the game work. The more you see, the more rules you can observe and figure out. And you can only get out of the cave once you've mastered many of those rules, by using them all together cleverly. What I am describing is a full-length puzzle game, but one which is one puzzle. A massive one.

A puzzle game, where some of the code that runs the game is editable (in simplified form) from the game itself, and as part of the gameplay! Imagine a large world, where you just want to get to the other side. In order to do that, you're going to have to keep flipping over the way the world works on a fundamental level.

A multiplayer strategy game, following similar principles. The rules to begin with are very clear, but during the course of the game players can pay or vote to add or take away rules, in order to make their units more valuable. The many potential rules are all programmed, and only a minimal number of them become available (randomly) in each game. Everyone is trying to keep the game unbalanced in their favor, and no two playthroughs are the same!
(One version: Several cards representing new rules are displayed, and only one or two of them will get activated at a set point. Until that point, the players pay to change the probabilities of the cards. But it's still up to luck in the end.)

A massively multiplayer strategy game, with hierarchies between players.

Context can be nice in short rule system games. The rules themselves can have an artistic message. This type of game is often pompously called "Serious Games". Well, it's no more serious than anything else, but it's got potential. Especially with multiplayer, where the different rule sets given to the different players can reflect different types of people. Making the game unbalanced can be part of the message, though making it totally impossible for one player takes away longevity.



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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Progress report:
41% of Page 14 has been written.

New goal: Complete Page 14.
Deadline: Tuesday(20/5), 2:00 AM.



A prime percentage? And one that 100 doesn't divide by? Why, that would mean that the number of things to do on this page is evenly divisible by 100. Fascinating. =P

It's rounded down from a fraction.

How horribly inexact.


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tradition and Potential

Disregard what I said in Internet Nations- it turns out I can download games on the Wii! So when Nintendo started selling original games this past Monday, I was right there. I was able to get a new Wii game on the same day it came out, without having to be in America! Imagine that!

This new initiative, called "WiiWare", isn't going to work the same way as normal retail. Normally (as I understand the process) the developer's working for a publisher, who has a lot of control over the game. The publisher manufactures the physical discs and markets the game to the public. Then it gets shipped to the stores, who are only likely to stock and put on display games which are similar to everything else (because they know that's what sells), and even those only for a limited time. The game finally gets sold at either $30, $50, or $60. There's not much room for creativity there. With WiiWare, there's only one middle-man, that middle-man being Nintendo. (Who will censor, but at least they won't try to homogenize.) The developer makes the game, the developer sets a price, Nintendo puts it on display in their store, and people like me buy it on impulse. This system is similar to how games are already sold on PC.

There's potential here. A game like my theoretical Through the Wind platformer might not do so well in the usual market. A dance-like 2D platformer isn't a safe bet for publishers or retailers. But in this new environment, it could exist and find an audience. Without all the middle-men and their greed, there's actual potential for art.

Out of the opening line-up of WiiWare games, the only one to catch my eye was LostWinds. It's a 2D platformer, 3-4 hours in length, 37 megabytes in size and 10 dollars in price. Look at this trailer to see why I was interested.

What we have here is an interesting set of controls. Though this is a platformer, there is no jump button. Instead, you use the remote to draw gusts of wind, which blow your character around.

Now, let's stop there for a moment. Imagine you're walking through the street, when you decide you'd really like to get up to that roof there. Suddenly, a gust of wind comes from underneath your feet, raising you so much that you can grab hold of the roof and pull yourself up. You'd be exhilarated, no?

That emotion is nowhere to be found in LostWinds. The game is perfectly pleasant. But you never get the sense of joy I'd identify with controlling and mastering nature. Essentially, the gusts of wind are not so much gusts of wind as a fancy double-jump. One gust up, one gust left, you're up. The game slows down as you jump, but not to give gravitas so much as to make your stroke more precise. The "wind" is localized, it is simple to control, it can only be used a few times in a row, and it stops in an instantThe "wind" is localized, it is simple to control, it can only be used a few times in a row, and it stops in an instant -none of these qualities say "wind" to me.

In fact, LostWinds feels pretty standard. At first you can only make one little jump, then later you can jump higher and higher to get to new parts of areas you've already been to. It works, I guess.

There's a lot of exploring. You know I'm a sucker for that. But the areas you explore (and are forced to return to over and over) aren't particularly enjoyable. There are occasionally little toys to interact with (like windmills in the background which can be blown around), and that's laudable, but for the most part the world feels like it was built for the abilities, and not vice versa. This is a critical distinction. Using wind to get over a platform which is the exact height you can get over is an obstacle. Using wind to get over a platform which seems too big for any human is fun. But the controls are not designed for that. You're not supposed to control the wind as you see fit, there are rigid limitations (mentioned earlier). The whole experience is mechanical and rusty. So going back to earlier areas isn't a treat ("I wonder if there's something cool there I missed!"), it's a chore. There are collectibles thrown around to encourage exploring further, but since it's never said what you get for finding them all, that's not much incentive.

Why is there so much backtracking, anyway, if the world design isn't distinctive? Well, it's obvious- it's because the world is so tiny, and the gamists don't want the experience you've paid $10 for to be over in a half hour.

But hold up a second - why is it tiny?

The game, as I said, is 37 megabytes. That's because, the method of distribution being what it is, the size limit for WiiWare games is around 40 megabytes. (A typical Wii game disc, by comparison, holds around 4,800 megabytes.) What I haven't said yet is that the game is gorgeous. I haven't said it because I don't care. High-quality graphics, of the sort this game has, take space. That's space which could have been used for making the game better. The 1996 game Super Mario 64, which I've downloaded for Wii and am enjoying immensely and is in a whole different league from LostWinds (though at the same exact price), is eight megabytes. Eight!

People expect lower graphic quality from downloadable games, so no one would have blamed the gamists for simpler visuals. People would have still bought it for the gameplay. And with that extra size, the game could have been less repetitive and more varied. The issue here is that these are developers who are still operating on the same old priorities. A 44-man team, most of them focused on flashiness. It's a new day, folks. You've got the opportunity with WiiWare to pour all your effort and creativity into making a good game. Don't waste it on superficialities.

The usual way of thinking pervades every aspect of this game. The music is prerecorded rather than synthesized, even though synthesized audio is much smaller. I assume this is why there are only three pieces of music in the whole game, repeating endlessly. There is an insipid fantasy story tacked on top, just because it's usual to put stories in games. There are many characters to listen to, even though that is totally disconnected from the premise and tone of the gameplay. There are enemies all over the place which have to be fought, even though the tone of the game is supposedly peaceful and mellow. (This contradiction is resolved by making all the enemies pushovers. But if there's no threat, then why waste the player's time with fighting?) There is a health system whose design makes no sense at all. It's totally unnecessary and redundant to begin with, but it's there because it's a standard feature of platformers. And finally, the game ends with the promise of a sequel, even though this is the sort of simple idea that does not call for a sequel.

The game has an interesting origin story. Apparently the team behind it come up with "Game of the Week" ideas. And one week someone had this creative idea of controlling the wind, and they all decided to run with it. The whole four-hour game was made in three months, in which time (I am judging solely based on the final product.) everyone else added on formula, imitation and flash. And that guy's good idea was turned into a bland game.

It's not bad, mind you. It's quite decent. And I look forward to seeing what new games this team will make, once they get this LostWinds 2 nonsense out of their system.

But WiiWare was supposed to be more. It could be more.



Don't give up on it yet; it's got potential. Give it time.

There is absolutely no danger of me giving up on an accessible source of new and creative games. :) That's true even if it doesn't turn out to be the revolution I'm hoping for.

Great Review.


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Monday, May 12, 2008

Progress report:
Page 12 complete.
Page 13 complete.

New goal: begin Page 14.
(Page 14 is complex.)

Deadline: Friday (16/5) 2:00 AM



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Friday, May 09, 2008

The deadline has passed.
Progress report:
No progress.

New Deadline: Tuesday (13/5), 2:00 AM
Goals: Complete Page 12 + Page 13.



I would have done it, if my family hadn't forced me to come hiking with them for Independence Day. It's my family's fault there won't be posts! Not mine.


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Monday, May 05, 2008

Purveyor of Silliness

As Ariel was walking one day, he spotted it. It was lying on the ground, unwanted, as though someone had thrown it away in anger. And Ariel saw an opportunity to amuse himself. As he picked it up, he suddenly realized it was the most perfect thing he had ever touched. It was a black cube. Ariel could not say why he liked it so much, but he did. It made him happy just holding it and looking at it, and he did so for the whole walk home.

It was not long at all before Ariel realized there was a much greater opportunity here. If this little box could make him so happy, then surely it would make other people happy as well! So he set out to find other people.

The first person he met was busily running from one city to another city, after which he would run to a third city, and back to the first. Ariel ran alongside him, and tried to show him the cube. This man did not even turn his head. Ariel suggested that after he finish his running he might stop and look. While still never turning, the man muttered assent. This was a lie: After he got back to the first city, he might run back to the third city. Or maybe a fourth city. And then to the second. Or he might run in place for a while. In any event, Ariel decided he could not wait until the next city (and he was feeling inadequate trying to keep up!), so he moved on.

As he walked, he considered that the cube was still making him happy. He tried to figure out how. It certainly was a nicely proportioned cube. And its blackness was deeper than any paint. Again, Ariel was convinced that there was an opportunity here. Maybe if he brought attention to the proportions and the color, he could make other people happy!

The second person he met was a little girl. He showed her the cube, and she held it for a few seconds. Ariel tried to call her attention to the blackness, to the perfect proportions, but she had already lost interest. Ariel moved on.

As he walked, he considered the smooth texture of the cube. It was like no material he'd ever encountered! It made him happy to just feel the surface, feel the sharp edges, and feel the weight of it. It was a perfect weight, to be sure- it was exactly as heavy as one would expect it to be, but so exactly that it surprised the holder. Truly, the weight of the cube was a revelation. Ariel considered what an honor it would be for an undistinguished person like himself to share this piece of perfection with others!

The third person he met was a young man who liked throwing things. Ariel, pointing out the perfection of the weight and the texture, eagerly handed over the cube to be admired. Ariel had to walk far.

As he moved on, he noticed that it had a very distinctive smell. This smell was unlike any he had ever perceived before, and it was very appealing. Also, if he held the cube to his ear he could hear a strange sound, which was also distinctive and appealing.

The fourth person he met held it and looked at it for a second, and commented that it was "nice". Ariel excitedly took the opportunity to talk about the texture and the weight and the sound and the smell and the color and the proportions, and was politely asked to go away.

The fifth person he met wouldn't look at it, because "No cubes can possibly be as good as the ones I make!".

The sixth person he met only liked hexagons, and wanted to chop off some edges.

The seventh person he met tried to eat it.

The eighth person he met didn't care.

The ninth person he met ran away.

Ariel decided the cube must have no value at all. Certainly it had made him happy before, but that must have shown only that there was something wrong with him! How could anyone enjoy holding a little cube? It was worthless! And with that thought, he threw it on the ground angrily.

As he walked away, he heard someone behind him. Turning, he saw that someone had come to pick it up. And this person was admiring it. "Never in my life", that person said, "have I touched anything so perfect!".

Ariel was unsure which way to go. If he took the opportunity to talk about the cube, and to show everything he had seen in it to someone else, would that sentiment remain? Or was the statement, to begin with, mere hyperbole?

Ariel proceeded with caution.



I think this is one of the best things I've ever written. Over and over I get to situations like these, and I desperately want to write about them until I realize that there's nothing to say that this post didn't already say better.

I wish there were someone with exactly the same opinions as me on everything. That way I'd always have opportunities with him.


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