The Means vs The Goal: Analysis of The Lego Movie

Okay, I’d better start by saying that I thought they Lego Movie was pretty awesome. The writing was witty, the jokes were funny, the graphics were obviously incredible, it was poignant, heartwarming, and even had a reference to Lindsay Fleay’s Magic Portal! But that said, it got to the end of the movie and something didn’t feel quite right.

So, I started thinking about it. Emmet wants for something. It’s clearly laid out at the beginning of the film. And, at the end, Emmet delivers a beautiful and inspiring speech. But does the bookending work? Emmet wants more than anything to be part of a team. Everything is Awesome!!! But not for Emmet, who wakes each day and follows “The instructions to fit in, have everybody like you, and always be happy!” And, it all seems great, until we see that all the “special people in [his] life” is his potted plant. That is clearly set up as his goal: Emmet wants to be accepted and be part of a team.

And yet, in the end, he delivers this speech:

“You are the most talented, most interesting and extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things, because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you still can change everything.”

It’s a beautiful speech. But can you see the contrast here? Emmet wants to fit in, be liked, and be happy. Now he’s giving advice that’s incredibly Individualist. So, the bookends don’t match. Somewhere along the line, the story stopped being about Emmet’s goals, and started being about individual differences. Basically, it feels like the story’s moral had a bit cut off: “The moral of the story is to be special, to be unique, to be yourself, because…” And there is a “because,” because the story has set it up. But the funny part is, it feels like there was just a rewrite somewhere towards the end, because someone wanted to emphasize that Individualism and focus on uniqueness.

I want Emmet to give a different speech to Lord Business:

“You are the most talented, most interesting and extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things, because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, its about you and me. And we can still change everything.”

Because that’s what the movie is about: “The moral of the story is to be special, to be unique, to be yourself, because its only in being unique that you can truly find a place among others where it is awesome to be part of a team working together; you will fit in, have everybody like you, and always be happy.”

Review: Hector: Badge of Carnage

Okay, so recently I played the “Hector” trilogy of adventure games, developed by Straandlooper in association with Telltale Games. It’s basically a three-part episodic series. I generally don’t like episodic games, as I feel they lack depth from the complex, overlapping, longer story arcs that you see in tv shows but (strangely) not games. Well, I haven’t played them for a while so maybe this isn’t true anymore. But it turned me off them pretty early on.

I’m just going to break this into the pros and cons of the game.

Pros: Snappy dialogue. Amusing characters. Tricky but not absurdly complex puzzles. Voice acting was good, except for the lack of female actor in the first episode (so there was just a Pantomime Dame voice or three)

Cons: Over-the-top grotesque gags (seriously, I love dirty, inappropriate, irreverent things… but this was a little too far at times!). All female characters were especially unlikable slags. Inaccessible player character, protecting a town that was shit. I found myself aligning with the villain’s motivation to “clean up this town” more than Hector’s unwilling desire to find his pants and stop said villain.

Seriously. Like, the protagonist is the smartest of a town of the scum of the world, he’s not really interested in saving people, but for some reason he does. It’s almost like it’s just expected, “Oh, you bought the game, you’re here for an Adventure game, now GO!” And I have to admit, this is actually why I persisted in playing it. It wasn’t hard or overly irritating (no ragequit moment), but I’d spent good money on it and wanted to get my money’s worth. I was mildly more engaged when playing as Lambert, the idiot assistant. At least he was kinda adorable and endearing, like a puppy. His motivation was believable… “I want to help Hector!”

Overall, I’m curious as to how many people actually enjoyed the experience of playing the game. Did they feel motivated by the storyline? I was actually disappointed that it was difficult to get into the game, as the dialogue was well written and the puzzles were enjoyably challenging.

Adventure Fail

So this weekend, I played through one new three-part adventure game, as well as playing the demo of an only slightly older one.

Oh man, they made me rage.

The first thing I noticed was my complete lack of empathy with the player character (in BOTH games), which led to a lack of investment in the goals of the game. I only continued playing them because a) I’d paid $20 for the first, and b) I wanted to give the second a fair chance, considering it’s by an Australian developer.

But I couldn’t get over it. I also couldn’t get over how, despite the stories themselves being fairly interesting, the structure of the stories were so flawed that I was just irritated, left with feelings of “why am I doing this?” and “why isn’t this over?”

This isn’t to say that they didn’t do anything right. There were a few things that impressed me, such as well-planned puzzle arcs and interdependencies. I always like those. Proper reviews to come shortly. But, oh my God (the God of narratives/stories/I think that’s Dionysus? He’s also the God of wine and possibly orgies, so that’s pretty cool), do you want to know why point-and-click adventure games aren’t selling so well? Because the best part of them (the adventure) is so average. The writers… I seriously wonder whether they’ve ever learnt anything about writing for any medium where they have to try to keep the audience’s interest (as opposed to the kind of writing that fills time in transit between more interesting events/locations).

Review: REDDER

REDDER. I freaking loved this game. It’s so simple, but the right balance of easy and difficult!

Making a game that doesn’t require a lot of information to play is always tricky, and Gamejam games that don’t have a tutorial or anything always win an extra award. Redder just relies purely on using ←↨→ and spacebar (although the up arrow also works as jump). Pretty easy- you don’t even need to know the convention of using WASD!

And talk about the right amount of story… that (extremely) brief intro communicates the context of the game exactly. Exciting diamonds = fuel, the spaceship runs out and you, little astronaut, need to go look for more.

It starts off relatively easy, and while “hard” and “difficult” aren’t exactly the right words to use here (for me, they imply “impossible” and “I keep dying”), it becomes increasingly tricky to get to the diamonds, often requiring more and more foresight, skill, and spatial orientation (the map helps).

I’m a sucker for pixel art, and I think it really works well for REDDER. Plus, I don’t know if my computer was somehow glitching (I don’t think so, but I’m open to it), but after you’ve been playing for a while, getting closer to your goal, some trippy stuff starts happening. It’s not enough to distract you, and it breaks up the visual monotony of walking through the same chambers again and again purely because you missed the jump and fell to the ground three chambers below.

I also really enjoyed the music. I would like to say more about this, but all you need to know is that it suits the visual style as well as the theme, and doesn’t get annoying after playing for hours (at least, I didn’t get bored of it. I wouldn’t mind playing it now…)

I played it at AdultSwim Games, but you can find it on its native home at Newgrounds.

Braid

The other weekend, I downloaded and played through Braid. It was pretty interesting, with the fractured narrative being delivered to you like the puzzle pieces you collected through each stage. The time-rewinding mechanic was really awesome, too: it allowed the game to be challenging, but not in that “restart at checkpoint,” way; and the variations created some very interesting puzzle-solving techniques. The penultimate stage (World 1-1), was clearly the most basic and clever use of this forgiving device.

However, I, among many others, have a gripe with the designers.

In a game that focuses on a desire to undo mistakes realised too late (sounds like hamartia to me!), the player’s incapacity to do this WHEN THEY PUT A PUZZLE TOGETHER CORRECTLY is extremely frustrating. What am I talking about? Well, there are these “hidden extras” found in the levels in the form of invisible stars. Collecting the stars changes the ending of the game. Most of the stars can be collected at any time during the game. But one of them is created by incorrectly solving one of the jigsaw puzzles. Please note that once you put the puzzles together, you can’t take the pieces apart. Whoops. I just denied myself a different ending because I did something right.

Now, I don’t care what wanky excuse the designers come up with, such as, “Oh well if things were done right in the first place, then nothing would have gone wrong.” Ah, but see, they created for the player a moment of hamartia: I put together the puzzle in a way which I believed was right, and yet I’ve done it wrong, and now I have to do it all again? Well, screw collecting the stars. Someone else will do it and I’ll watch that on YouTube.

So, does the player/audience enjoy being the one who has hamartia? Of course not. This is why they could, should, never be the Tragic Hero.

Tick Tick Smileyface for me. Thanks for proving me right 😉

Dreamgate Escape

Dreamgate Escape is a super-short flash game, packed with huge amounts of tension and clever mini-twists.

Playing it, you enter a dream world, full of nightmarish intrigue.  You don’t know what will or won’t be significant.

This is a perfect example of a well-made demo:  it wouldn’t be hard to present this to a company and say, “So, it’s just like this… but the journey continues.”

coil

I just played a little experimental flash game called, “coil.”

It has an interesting storyline, and I was, quite franky, saying, “wtf?” with each new level.  I went in there with absolutely no idea of what it was about, so I’m not going to say anything.  The only controls are mouse movement, so it’s fairly easy to play.  It can just be a little tricky figuring out what you need to do, and then trying to achieve that goal.

It’s a little dark in tone, but nothing depressing.  Pretty enjoyable, as it is intentionally twisted, and there’s nothing making the game “cheat” you or make you feel ripped off.  Enjoy 🙂

SissyFight!

I just played SissyFight for the first time.  It was pretty funny.  I played with a friend, and we acted like couple bitches, and it was kinda fun to see how other people responded to it.

I haven’t really ever been the type to get into bitch fights, because generally the best defense is to just smile and walk away.  I guess bullying only works if you let it… This is a gross overexaggeration, but I’ve had plenty of bullying directed at me during my life, but somewhere along the line, I was told (probably by my Mother), that if you just smile and play with them, there’s really nothing they can do.

One of the (obviously more feisty) players decided to accuse my friend and I of being the same person, with two accounts.  Then we went into a game and locked them out.  Win.  Then we played a game with them, and after the game, the feisty one RAGEQUIT!!!