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.

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 😉

Review: Rethinking Agency and Immersion, Gonzalo Frasca

Frasca, Gonzalo. “Rethinking Agency and Immersion: Playing with Videogame Characters.” N-Space (2001). <http://www.siggraph.org/artdesign/gallery/S01/essays/0378.pdf&gt;.

Frasca proposes a design for a game for social change based on the writings of Drama theorists Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal, using a variation of Will Wright’s popular “Sims” line. Frasca argues that gamers aren’t actually concerned about the personal lives of their player-characters, instead desiring a inobtrusive puppet for them to play through (1-2). He notes that Will Wright’s Sims games separate gamers from their characters; thus, the perfect method of character exhibition is found (4). Using the game’s potential for user generated content, Frasca proposes a game where players can create, edit, and upload their own Sims characters to create virtual situations they can observe and ideally learn about (4-5). He describes his design as being a “meta-simulation […] a simulation that allows simulations,” and counts this as directly inspired by Boal’s Forum Theatre, one part of the Theatre of the Oppressed (6).

The biggest flaw in Frasca’s design is one which he notes himself: that user generated content allows for the inclusion of a variety of sometimes good, often inappropriate content (7). Frasca does not, however, look at the shortcomings from a Dramatist perspective—that is, the failures of Brecht, the inspiration for Boal and thus Frasca. In his short essay, drama critic John Gassner mentions Brecht’s emphasis on epiphany without empathy, which gives the epiphany no grounding and thus causes the failure of his plays to educate the audience (Gassner 113).

Also Cited:

Gassner, John. “Catharsis and the Modern Theatre.” Aristotle’s Poetics’ and English Literature : A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Elder Olson. vols. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr, 1985. 108-13.

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!!!