Game on

I know I’m incredibly late to the party, but I’ve just gotten addicted to the mobile game Game Dev Story. It’s a video game about making video games.

Basically, it’s a business management simulation where you have to hire and fire programmers and artists and whatnot and manage your expenses while your company turns out video games. The gameplay gets repetitive if you play too long but it’s a great way to kill time while on public transit.

Currently my company is making book and movie adaptations. We just recently released a romance simulation based on True Romance and a dungeon simulation of eXistenZ, plus an adventure game based on the comic book Sandman.

Don’t ask me how these games work, I’m just the president, that’s for the eggheads to answer. All I know is that they’re selling like hotcakes and I’m making money hand over fist. And that’s what’s really important.

The language of Narcissus

Two warriors cleaving a goblin in two in Dragon's Dogma

So I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned I’m into Dragon’s Dogma. I’m at that particular stage of video game obsession where when I’m not playing it, I’m thinking of playing it.

A related obsession has sprung up for me, though, and that’s the obsession of posting screenshots. You can take and upload screenshots directly from the game. This is not such a big thing for computer players, but trust me when I say this feature is fairly novel for this generation of video game consoles.

See for yourself how much I’m uploading to the official video game website (the answer is several pics everyday). It’s fun to document your fictional adventures and put them up for strangers to view. It’s fun even when no one sees your pics, but it’s even better when random people on the Internet actually compliment you on them.

I did notice, however, that the majority of the screenshots posted are from Japanese players. Not only that, but the uploaders often write a short blurb to which other players respond. I can’t read Japanese but it’s obvious that there’s a community of Japanese players carrying on conversations and connecting with each other through their enjoyment of the game.

However, there is no similar community of English speaking players on the game website. There are anglophone players, but compared to the number and visibility of the Japanese players they’re a drop in the bucket.

It’s not as if the narcissism of the screenshot is unknown outside of Japan. Do I even need to mention that the word “selfie” exists?

I would theorize that the dominance of Japanese players is due to a couple of reasons. The first is that the Japanese Internet is more centralized than that of other linguistic communities. A gigantic amount of Internet traffic in Japan goes through one website, 2ch. It’s my understanding that it’s basically an old school BBS with a few modifications and apparently still has that terrible web design from the 1990s that oldsters might remember. Even if they’re not on it, a Japanese Internet user will at least have heard of the site.

No equivalent website exists for the English Internet. Players would be on several different message boards, blogs, and gaming sites, so one single service would not dominate.

Of course, the Dragon’s Dogma site is integrated directly into the game, so players should at least be discovering it that way. Thus, the second reason I would say that so few English speakers can be found on the game site is due to is popularity – namely, its popularity with Japanese players. An English-speaking player might share a few screenshots and go to the game site hoping for some discussion, then discover that most of the existing conversation is in another language. They might make a few attempts at connecting with other English-speaking players, and a few die hards might stick around, but the majority will retreat to their own gaming forums or even just give up on connecting at all.

There might be all this rhetoric about the Internet allowing one to connect with a yak herder in Nepal, but in truth the Internet is a very segregated place. Users talk mostly to people in their own country. This does make sense, after all – how many Korean TV shows are shown in the USA, for example? Who else would Korean fans talk about their favourite TV show with but with other Koreans? Of course, there are languages with international reach and emigrant diasporas, so there’s still a bit of internationalism online. But not as much as all the ads back in the 90’s would make you think.

News from Gransys

Important news from Dragon’s Dogma:

Throwing rabbits off a cliff

You can throw rabbits off a cliff.

I spent twenty minutes last night doing so.

There’s a quest for killing 45 rabbits, but mostly I did it because it was funny.

Their terrified squeaking was hilarious.

That is all.

EDIT:

I submitted this to the Capcom Dragon’s Dogma website and when I woke up a whole bunch of Japanese people had clicked Like on my screenshot. I guess Asians are united in their hatred of lapines.

New Game Minus

I just got Dragon’s Dogma, which basically means for the next month I’ll only be leaving the house for work and buying groceries. Mostly I got it because it was free on PS+ and I was hoping for some kind of hybrid of fighting game combat and RPG adventuring like I mentioned here. I didn’t get my wish, but I do still like the game.

The combat so far reminds me of Dynasty Warriors. There are special moves but mostly I’m hacking and slashing over and over. Possibly I should try out the rogue or the mage. I’ve only had one God of War fight against a gigantic beast and I was mostly wondering what the hell was going on, after which I won. Fights don’t seem especially difficult yet so I’m thinking I’ll try Hard mode. On a scale of one to ten, ten being Tekken‘s online mode, I would rate the combat difficulty as a three.

However, the game is still pretty damn fun. I’m a sucker for RPGs, especially the open world type, and this hits that sweet spot of stamp collecting and mathematical progression. It’s not a game for playing for short periods, though, you need several hours to properly get into the groove.

The pawn system is great, at least in theory. Your character has a sidekick and can also hire more minions, which are actually the sidekicks created by other players. Pawns only level up when their creator plays so you’re forced to keep replacing your employees. However, most players either half-ass the design of their pawns or they should be arrested for crimes against fashion. I was up until 1 AM last night looking for pawns to hire and I freely admit I was entirely superficial in my hiring criteria. “Too fat. Too short. Name has numbers in it. Outfit looks like shit.”

Speaking of which, who else out there just got Dragon’s Dogma on PS+? Because I hereby propose a pawn exchange. Someone hire my pawn, I spent a long time customizing her to get the right look. She’s a Strider with only the basic gear so far, but I love her like my own daughter. I release her into your care.

PSN: Armacen

You’re not Alexander the Great

Gameological alerted me to this peculiar project to create even more crappily written novellas based on video games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System console. Well, there’s nothing demanding that the submissions be terrible but apparently the original editions were really bad. I wondered exactly what kinds of stories would be submitted so I started looking through lists of NES games, then one thing led to another and before I knew it I was writing a fanfic for Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. An excerpt:

Mike versus Mac

Most of the people reading this weren’t alive during the Moon landings. Most of the people reading this weren’t alive during the Kennedy assassination. A few might be too young to remember 9/11. Somehow, history refuses to be conveniently accessed. Somehow, history happens without us being there.

I think about this as I drive through Los Angeles on my way to a certain house in Carson. Most of the people in the neighbourhood are Filipino, and I even pass Jollibee, a restaurant franchise which has almost all of its locations in the Philippines. Finally I pull into the driveway of a modest home and before I even open my car door the owner comes out and shakes my hand. How are you, he asks. How was the drive?

I’ve never had an interview subject so eager to talk to me. Before I know it, I’m ushered through the house and into the den. “This is where I keep my old stuff,” says my apparent new best friend. There might have been several things on fire in that room, but I don’t notice because my eyes are drawn to a poster on the wall. It’s screaming about a boxing match set for October 5, 1987. Two men, one white, one black, face off with grim determination. Mike versus Mac, it says. The Battle of the Decade.

We’ll see if my inspiration will continue. I’ll have to read some Sports Illustrated articles to check the writing style.

Edit: Hmm, I hadn’t realized how much of a first draft this was but it really needs some revision. Still, the seed has been planted, I just need to build on this.

Hail to the King

You catch a clan member stealing food - what do you do?

I’ve recently gotten into the computer game King of Dragon Pass. You play as the chieftain of a clan of Iron Age barbarians. It’s set in a fantasy universe with dragons and whatnot but it’s still very well-researched with regard to the attitudes and material life of your people. The broad mishmash of Celts/Gauls/Saxons/Norse that the game is drawing inspiration from feels realistic. Wealth is measured in cattle and you must continually propitiate the gods for political legitimacy. Also you can do stuff like take out a lawsuit on a ghost haunting a house.

The game society’s gendered division of power is not so overwhelmingly patriarchal but it doesn’t feel like a sop to political correctness. The way it’s presented in the game feels perfectly plausible and shows that the developers studied their history and/or anthropology. Using female slaves as currency like the Irish did would have been kind of interesting, though – "You want misogyny? Have some goddamn misogyny you unwashed neckbeards!" I imagine the developers shouting.

It’s a very unique take and practically a game in its own genre. How does one classify this? A strategy roleplaying fantasy game, perhaps? There are no real time elements and when you’re not picking what crops to plant then you’re just clicking on choices in dialogue trees. But the roleplaying narrative the game creates for you is so involving that you feel the need to keep going just to see how your clan will fare.

Still, despite my enjoyment, lately I’ve plateaued on the game. I’ll be back and at it soon enough, though. There are trolls out there that need slaughtering, and who else is going to do it?

Roma Victor

Redeemed: Attain 100% in the Single Player Game Completion Stat

So I’ve finished everything that can be finished in the single player campaign of Red Dead Redemption. I feel hollow inside, like I’ve gained nothing but a temporary and meaningless accomplishment. I must play more video games to distract me from this realization.

Quo vadis?

In case anyone was wondering what I’ve been up to. Did you know Red Dead Redemption lets you hog-tie an innocent woman and leave her on some train tracks to get run over? And you can also capture the entire population of a small town and leave them wriggling in impotent desperation while a train comes bearing down the tracks at them?

Are you fit to serve? (No.)

As part of the marketing campaign for Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, Sony Entertainment has released a browser-based text adventure game which is ostensibly a test to see if the player has the right stuff to become a spy for British intelligence. The last time games of this type were popular was in the 1980’s so it’s rather nostalgic to be playing this (admittedly, I’ve only played pure text adventure games as part of my retro-gaming hipster nostalgia freakery).

Still, it’s easy to forget that computers are goddamned stupid and are nowhere near ready to take commands phrased in natural language. Case in point:

Comprehension test: FAILED

AGENT: What’s my first move?

YOU: Hold on

AGENT: We have all day.

AGENT: It’s not like we have a problem with weapons of mass destruction in a Caribbean holiday resort to figure out.

AGENT: Anything like that.

YOU: Pull both white wires out at once

AGENT: Be as clear as you can. Appreciated.

YOU: Pull the white wires

AGENT: NO. Cutting wires at random is my last option. Want others first. Don’t care if you’re an expert. You’re not HERE. Ideas. Fast.

YOU: Call the bomb squad

AGENT: Device right in front of me. Five wires and a USB port. How to handle this?

YOU: Err

AGENT: Keep it simple. Say again.

TIME PENALTY: FIRST WARNING

YOU: Throw it into the river

AGENT: We’ve got the bomb. It’s even nastier in the flesh. Check the photo I sent and then advise me on how to proceed.

YOU: Plug the tablet into the USB port

AGENT: I can try plugging the tablet in. One second.

AGENT: Interesting. It’s displaying … hang on, I’ll transfer an image.

YOU: You need to pull out the white wires

AGENT: Explain your plan first. I’m not starting cutting until I know where we’re going with this.

YOU: The white wires are the main ones

AGENT: So you mean … actually, what do you mean?

YOU: THE WHITE ONES ARE IMPORTANT. CUT THEM

AGENT: No savvy. Re-state?

YOU: Cut the white wires NOW

AGENT: If you think you’ve figured out the image, tell me what you think it means. Then I’ll start cutting.

YOU: It means that all the coloured wires lead to the white one

AGENT: Not sure I understand. Put that another way?

YOU: The white one is the important wire

AGENT: Be as clear as you can. Appreciated.

YOU: The white wires power the bomb

AGENT: Put that another way? Sorry.

YOU: The colored wires aren’t important

AGENT: You’re right. The colours in the picture do match the wires. What do you think we should do?

YOU: Cut the white wires

AGENT: Sounds like you’ve got a plan. Spell it out. Don’t just tell me to start cutting wires.

YOU: CUT THE WHITE WIRES. THAT IS THE PLAN

AGENT: What’s your thinking? Not just going to cut arbitrary wires.

YOU: The white wires are key. You need to cut them first

AGENT: In other words…?

YOU: In other words, if you cut them the bomb won’t go off

AGENT: Keep it simple. Say again.

YOU: BOMB NO EXPLODEY IF WHITE WIRES NO WORKY

AGENT: Try and be concise.

Your progress is currently below average. The HELP command may offer ways for you to improve it.

TIME PENALTY: SECOND WARNING

YOU: Cut the white wires, because they are the important ones

AGENT: So you mean … actually, what do you mean?

YOU: The white wires detonate the bomb. Cut them

AGENT: Break that down for me once more. Please?

YOU: Forget it. You deserve to die

AGENT: So… put that another way?

This is my rifle, this is my gun

I’m kind of obsessed with playing Dust 514 right now. It’s a multiplayer game set in a distant science fictional future where you get to shoot other people. It’s also got aspects of role-playing games in it and I’m a complete sucker for the Skinner box reward structure of the genre, what with all the numbers and flashy virtual items you get awarded for doing stuff. I cannot say more than that, since the game is still in closed beta and I’m bound by the pesky Non-Disclosure Agreement.

I can say that I’ve discovered a second level to the game beyond mere violence and statistics. On the game’s online forums I’ve now started dropping as much homoerotic innuendo as possible into my posts. All the misspellings and competitive posturing can get rather tiresome so now I’m seeing how many times I can insert phallic imagery into my replies.

For level 2 of this meta-game I think I’ll see how well I can make subtle connections between fighting other players and having sex with their avatars. “Have you ever been penetrated by another player’s hot lead injection and been disappointed that you couldn’t return the favour?”

Well, we’ll see how it goes.