Sunday, March 25, 2012
Monday Musings - 26th March, 2012
Mass Effect (PC)
About this time last year i played through Mass Effect for my 2nd time. I started a fem shep, went full Paragon and completed every side mission i could get my hands on. Part of this was to have a really great character to continue on to Mass Effect 2 with. I never did get back around to playing Mass Effect 2.
Well this time i've surprised myself. I have taken my character from the first playthrough and decided to rush through and go full Renegade. I've tried this path before, and found it hard to continue. I just have this issue with purposely choosing selfish, bigoted, and sociopathic options. I don't really know what's changed this time around, but i've been progressing nicely. I just completed Virmire and am about to head to Ilos. I've been choosing the bottom right option for most speech, and choosing intimidate options instead when they present themselves. Most of the time i'm kind of detached and agape at the way Shepard is acting... and wondering how he still has his crew following him.
It is kinda funny how rushing through with a renegade character adds an extra dimension onto the play type. No investigating, no talking to people longer than i have to, no side missions. Shepard is focused only on carrying out his mission, and screw anyone or anything that gets in his way. It'd be kind of easy to respect if he wasn't such a horse's ass. Having a level 46 character with awesome weapons and armour also lends a lot to the single natured badass focus of the this playthrough as well.
After the initial days of the game pass, the rhythm becomes apparent. The intriguing introduction of new game concepts to the tower climbing, coupled with frustration at the hard bits (especially those during the boss battles). All this is followed by the revealing of the tale as the stakes raise more and more with each passing day. Then you have a short reprieve in the bar at night, where you can talk to your friends and some of the regulars before repeating the whole cycle again.
The bar is interesting because of how it links to the nightmare world (as it's not hard to link some of the sheep to their real world counterparts). You can also get drunk which increases your speed in the tower climbing portion of the game, and both in talking to the patrons and responding to text messages on your phone, you influence the morality meter that governs your responses during the next day's cut-scenes.
I'm on day six now. I usually try and play through two nights whenever i play, so i should be done with the game soon. Of course that would be easier if i didn't keep returning to old games on my PC (and i still have two games left from last year to try out)... but progress is being made, and one thing to say about Catherine is it's indeed a unique gaming experience.
English Country Tune (IoS)
This has a PC version too (http://www.englishcountrytune.com).
I discovered this game in an article about extreme game difficulty in the New Yorker. I was intrigued by the demo of the PC version, and decided to review the game for Appspy. The iphone version really impressed me (as swiping your finger to move makes more sense direction wise than using the D-pad... at least i think so).
Basically it's a puzzle game with little information about your goals but it uses 3d surfaces and each universe you play in (which houses a different puzzle) obeys its own sense of physics. Working out what to do isn't that difficult, but the devil is in the details, and solving some of these levels is maddening. Like any good puzzle game though, it's a positive kind of maddening, and thus when you finally reach a solution, you have this immense sense of satisfaction.
Now i haven't delved too deeply into the game (i've almost completed the advanced larval universe), and from the article it seems some of the puzzle mechanics to come are quite intense, but i view the game as a time waster on my phone. I load it up, play around a little and see if i can't come to a solution. I can at least recommend the PC demo (i'd recommend the iphone version, but the price is a little steep...well, steep for iphone pricing), but this is the difference between good difficulty and bad difficulty. Good difficulty puts the player in control, and encourages them to learn from their mistakes and persevere to overcome the game's obstacles. The game isn't being unfair. Bad difficulty is putting roadblocks in the way to cheat the player out of a positive experience.
This is all from one gamer's viewpoint though. Each individual player has their barrier for when a game crosses that line from good difficulty to bad difficulty, and there are those that really enjoy the 'butting their heads against the wall till victory' experience, as the immense satisfaction is worth the frustration. If given a choice in difficulty setting i'll always pick the path of least resistance, but if a game has no choice, and even if it's quite hard, if i sense the need to improve skill instead of the game being artificially difficult, i'll usually stick around. This is why i want to try Demons' Souls and its sequel.
Heh, the last couple paragraphs of the last section was almost a final thoughts in itself, but i'll take one aspect of that discussion and expand on it here. I mentioned playing around in English Country Tune till i could find a solution. This is a very important aspect of any game that is considered to be difficult, and i think it's a distinction between the well made ones and the ones that are made poorly. It's the aspect of being able to play.
In English Country Tune, your player piece is sort of a flopping paddle, flipping end over end onto the surfaces of the object you're on. Not only is this movement fun, but there's a sense of exploration is flopping around, and a curiosity about flipping the larvae around in that universe. I'm still not one hundred percent positive how gravity works in regards to the larvae, so half of the wonder in some of these levels is batting them along and off a surface to see which way they'll fall and how they react (this is made possible by the wonderful undo and restart buttons available). It's the ability to try things without any hesitation or fear that you will be penalised for doing so, and thus these brain teasers don't seem so threatening, almost inviting you to play around till the solution comes to you.
My favourite game of 2010 had a similar joy to it; Super Meat Boy. This was an insanely tough platformer that required your skill to rise to the occasion on almost every new level right through to the end. There was a playful nature to the dangers presented to you however. Part of this was how solid the jumping and running mechanics were, but it was the bite-sized levels coupled with the instant restarts upon death that kept us playing. If something wasn't working, you could easily try something else, and there seemed to always be more than one way to get to the end of a stage.
Even while playing Catherine (even though it has a difficulty setting), i get a sense of this playing around. The bottlenecks usually have a certain technique in mind and especially during a boss, you only have a couple seconds to think of what to do and try it out, but at least on easy, you have a judicious amount of retries available to you, so after experimenting and failing, it's hardly any time till you're back there, trying something new and playing around with the blocks to get to the top.
It's actually this freedom in how to climb (or the illusion of it) that has kept me playing, even on those segments where after twenty retries, i'm still slowly working my way up to a solution. And you know what, sooner or later i work it out and continue either onto the end or to the next bottleneck.
So what about you dear readers? What distinction do you make between a game with difficulty that encourages you to continue, and difficulty that only breeds frustration? Do you have any examples of games that do it right? Please let me know in the comments!
And till next week, happy gaming all!