Olli Olli 2: The tutorial masterpiece

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I never understood sports games, they seemed pointless to me since you could, you know, just go outside and play regular sports? Video games create an amazing media with which you can create anything your imagination allows. So it always proved strange to me that one would put hours and years of work into a game that simulates something that would be cheaper to do right outside your own front door.

 

But Olli Olli 2 gave me a look into why one might play such a game, because, while I technically could put several months of work into learning to skateboard, I have no reason or wish to do so. And Ollie Ollie isn’t the same as riding a skateboard. Yes, there is a man and yes, he does indeed skateboard,but the game has more in common with a rhythm game than it does actual skateboarding.

 

But I never would have even picked up the controller if it hadn’t been for the amazing tutorial.

 

Olli Olli 2 is difficult game; you skateboard in various places with varying obstacles, but the main mechanic is timing: jump at the right moment, land in a very specific window of time. Every landing, every jump, every trick could spell a defeat.

 

And with such high stakes and difficulty a good tutorial is very important. Without one players could become frustrated, either by the difficulty or, even worse, by being babied.

 

The ‘tutorial’ itself is simply how to move forward, how to jump, how to land. It takes about a minute and is just to get in the basics, but when you take a good look at the game, from Level One the the final track, the whole game is the tutorial. Introducing just enough difficulty at a time to create a challenge, but not so much to warrant to use of helpful how to bubbles.

 

It’s pulled off so masterfully you don’t even realize it’s happening

 

More games need to be handled this way. The sea of information delivered by friendly bubbles needs to stop, it patronizes the player and often, with how many people simply skip the tutorial, you would be better off giving no tutorial whatsoever and just saying good fucking luck.  

Missing the Mark

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Wizard101 is a MMORPG about wizards fighting magically with an intricate card system that is pretty much anything you could want in a turn based MMO. It came out in 2008 and is arguably one of the best when it comes to card based multiplayer gameplay.

You might be asking why you haven’t heard of it. And if you aren’t asking that…it’s probably because you knew someone around the age of 10 about nine years ago.

Wizard101 is an amazing game, with interesting tactics, good gameplay, and it’s a game made for children.

However no media exactly hits the demographic they are aiming for and Wizard101 does no better than its peers. The game is whimsical and childlike but you are more likely to find a parent or nostalgic teen playing it than an actual child.

And this is sad because KingsIsle refuses to acknowledge this. It is so in denial that its demographic isn’t little kids they are sabotaging themselves at just about every turn.

This spreads from the frustrating child-locked chat system, to the website interface being split between ‘child’ (player) and ‘parent’ (creepy stalker spectre person?)

At every turn, the game is meant for a child to play; in fact it’s baby proofed and teenager proofed to the point of ridiculous.

However, the gameplay isn’t. It’s charmingly simple, don’t get me wrong, but it is not designed for child use.

The game is played by walking around a large world that is for the most part very open. You run into monsters simply walking down the street and are placed into battle with them, it’s cutesy and cartoonish but the tactics, while simple, are no joke. You are given a card deck, some mana, health, and ‘pips’. Pips are collected throughout the battle, and early on in the game, with no buffs, you get about one per round. Each card takes a differing amount of pips, and will do different damage depending on what element it is, what element you’re fighting, and whether you got a critical or not. The basics are simple and easy to grasp but once you get into higher levels it explains less and less and gets harder and harder to comprehend.

The story is clearly made for children and often talks down to the player. but it’s easy to ignore for the most part, because, just like in any other MMO, the player often doesn’t care why they have to kill ogres and collect their rubies, they only care where the ogres are and what the drop rate is.

I started playing back in 2009 at 11 years old. It was only a year after release and pretty much only children played it at that point. And I got very little out of it. I found the gameplay hard and confusing and the questing wasn’t intuitive to me. I enjoyed what I could do, but often I was simply frustrated and I quickly put the game down in favour of something that made more sense.

However two years ago, I picked the game back up, and I found it fun and engaging. I started a new character and I got further than I ever did as a child in just a few days. But I also discovered that everyone else playing, were adults as well.

 
I feel KingsIsle has missed out on a great opportunity here. No, it was never gonna be the next WOW, but if they had advertised toward adults and older teens, and made the interface less infuriating, they could have had something really good.

Overwatch and Rewards

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Last week, Campster, a fellow member of The Diecast very kindly bought me Overwatch, after I had jokingly suggested begging the internet to purchase me a copy. It wasn’t that this seemed like a game that I would like, in fact quite the contrary. I hated playing TF2 when it was a big deal and even back in the time of Unreal Tournament, I pretty much only played it to spend time with my dad.

 

As I got older I would every once in awhile try out a game in the multiplayer first person genre and within a week or two, would get bored and walk away. And if I didn’t? It was because I had someone to play with to make me want to step out of my casual gaming nook, and out into the world of multiplayer shooters. Whether it was my dad, a friend, or a sibling, there was always someone pulling me into it.

 

And Overwatch is no exception. When the game came out I was neutral to it, I stopped for a moment to appreciate the inclusive characters and enjoy the fact that an LGBTQA+ character had stepped into the limelight of the AAA gaming world and then I moved on, back to my Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and casual rhythm games.

 

It wasn’t until the game blew up that it caught my interest. All of my gaming buddies who I previously played other games with on a weekly basis were gone, into the tempting candy shop that was Overwatch, leaving me behind. And when they did emerge from time to time all they talked about was Overwatch. Some about the skins they got, some about the narrative, and some about the gameplay. But whatever it was, I was out of touch.

 

But since money was tight I decided to wait it out. $60 is no joke and I was sure it would blow over quickly. But days turned to weeks which turned to months, and quickly I found myself missing out on my entire gaming community.

 

But then Campster stepped in, and I found a Battlenet gift code in my E-mail.

 

When it downloaded, I breezed through the tutorial really quick just so I would know what was going on and then quickly joined a party with some of my friends. I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of characters and because of this, got hooked on the first one I played out of the simple anxiety of leaving my comfort zone.

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When you click ‘Tutorial’ it gives you a quick walkthrough of the controls based on Soldier 76, telling you the left shift will allow you to sprint, while failing to explain that this is a unique ability, individual to Soldier 76. So when you go into your first real match and click on a character you think will be fun, easy, or just attractive, you hit the left shift in a tight spot hoping to escape an impending foe and quickly find yourself launching into the air, teleporting, or whatever other abilities your chosen character may have.

 

Despite this, I soldiered on, I wasn’t playing for the gameplay anyway. I was mostly there to understand and talk to my old friends.

 

But then something strange happened. After several hours of play my friends left for various reasons and I found myself alone…still playing the game.

 

Now this was for several reasons, but the one that shines the brightest is the same reason I find myself loving any other game. The reward system.

 

Overwatch, while still maintaining the gameplay of an everyday shooter, has brought something very new to the table. It has a reward system beyond ‘You won’. Now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of ‘But Bay, the entire point is to win! Why should you be rewarded for sucking?’  and this is the exact attitude that often chases people like me away from games like shooters.

 

While a good player may on average get better stats, no matter how good you are, you as a stand-alone player are probably going to win about half the matches you play from just simple variables like: your team, being matched against people with the same stats as you, or even just bad days.

 

So when someone like me comes into play, it’s very easy to get discouraged, because often you feel as if you’re not going anywhere. No matter how good you get or how much you play you will still win and lose pretty equally.

 

And in Overwatch, this is where the leveling system steps in, because your level has absolutely nothing to do with how good of a player you are. It only shows how much you play. And once you ding level 20, you need the exact same amount of XP no matter how high level you get. Plus, whether you win a game or lose a game, you will still gain varying amounts of XP based on your personal stats, rather than based on your wins and losses. And each time you level, you get a crate full of unlockables for your characters, maybe skins, spraypaints, and even gold.  
So when you see someone that’s Level 2000, you don’t think they are some sort of elder god who you can never be, you just consider that if you keep playing, you can be there someday too, and that’s really cool.

Harvest Moon a Sorrowful Parade

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I have written and rewritten the same column about Harvest Moon Animal Parade almost three times now, each time I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of its flaws and upsides so rambly and unreadable I’m forced to start over again.

Now, it’s not a complicated game. And from the outside it’s an indisputable improvement from the previous games. However, when you take a closer look, they replace the issues of the previous games with…other issues.

They got rid of the tutorials that, while a staple of the series, were long, pointless, and annoying. But…they replaced it with a bookshelf full of books that give endless text on how to play. So endless in fact, that in the time it would take you to flip through every last one you could have learned from experiencing the game.

They threw out the purchase of extra land that took three minutes to walk to each and every day (which made it a pain to do your simple, everyday tasks) but, they replaced it with the expensive purchase of ‘Vacation Houses’ that you could store tools at, but not a bed, making them expensive, glorified tool sheds.

But none of that breaks the game on quite the level that the pacing does.

To break this down, let’s look at the story-line…

The narrative takes place in eight parts…

The Beginning

The Red Bell

The Yellow Bell

The Blue Bell

The Green Bell

The Purple Bell

Becoming a Hero

The Summoning

Each bell is personified by one of the five story-related Harvest Sprites.

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And you are tasked with finding them and then doing a series of tasks before moving on to the next. And up to the purple bell, it’s incredibly quick and easy. If you’re lucky you can be done with the first five steps within the first three hours of gameplay. It’s quick and rewarding and you feel like you’re making fast progress.

But then you hit the purple bell and everything comes to a halt. Edge, the purple bell’s Harvest Sprite instructs you to befriend and listen to the wishes of ten villagers. This task isn’t easy, though, and the friend system is based on filling a large number of hearts. The more hearts someone has for you the more they like you, and you maintain hearts by talking to people and most of all, giving them gifts each day. It takes three hearts to get someone’s wish so let’s do a bit of math here.

Let’s say you have best case scenario. You are befriending Hamilton, the town’s mayor, and you are bringing him a ‘Moondrop Flower’ every day, a favorite gift of his, and making some small talk when you bring it.

It takes one hundred points to fill one heart and each Moondrop Flower and chat is collectively worth fifteen points. Now, since this is a best case scenario we will assume you can find him every day, which is unlikely but for the sake of simplicity we’ll pretend. So, since the game requires the full one hundred points for the heart it will take seven days to get one heart.

So one heart a week. That’s fine, three weeks and Hamilton’s all done, awesome. Except when we take into account how long a day of the game takes in real time it really isn’t.

Each hour of in-game time takes one minute, and to live a day out to its fullest each day is about fifteen minutes, plus loading screens, about twenty. So it would take seven hours for Hamilton’s one wish. Ouch.

Now of course you could always simply not use up your entire day, give Hamilton his gift and his chit-chat and go to bed. Except you have to attain a Moondrop Flower for every single day. So let’s say you have bought twenty-one Moondrop Flowers to give to Hamilton costing you 5,040g. For some perspective into the economy of the game, that could buy you three refrigerators.

So to make this money you must be taking time out of each day to work as well so let’s average that to ten minutes a day. Three and a half hours, for one tenth of your goal. Remember that three hours for first five steps?

But since this is best case scenario let’s say you are befriending three people at a time, because while difficult and often enraging, three people at a time is just within the range of possible.

So, real quick, let’s add two other people into our time per day, bringing it back into the 15 minutes a day range. Oh, wait, let’s triple that cost as well, 15,012g, ouch. Twenty minutes a day it is then, have to make that extra money for the other two villagers. 7 hours for just three people.

Now let’s add those other seven people, one will have to be done alone because four a day is really not doable so…twenty-four and a half hours and 50,400g later we finally finish the sixth step. We went from five steps done in three hours to one step being done in twenty-four and a half.

And no amount of cutesy art and farm animals can excuse for an oversight that huge.

Challenge VS Punishment VS Reward




titlescreen_1080Crypt of the Necrodancer is a fast paced top-down 2D dungeon crawler. Gameplay is solely based on the arrow keys. You go through dungeons and fight a mess of different monsters and bosses, much like Diablo and Fate. But in this game, you have to do it to a beat; dancing your way through levels in sync with the  electronic dance music played all throughout the game.

Now, this isn’t the first game of its kind. There are lots of rhythm based games out there and it’s not the first to have rhythm and fighting in the same game.  The game Rayman Legends, for example, has a very addicting musical level in which you fight trolls and avoid obstacles to the beat of various pre-picked songs. And Melody’s Escape has an interesting hook with its running through the map in sync with any mp3 song you want.

But there is something Crypt of the Necrodancer does very differently. Unlike the other few rhythm based games out there,  Crypt of the Necrodancer gives the player full, free range of the space.  In most rhythm games you upload or are given a song to play in sync with, and all you do is press one button over and over in time with the song and that’s it. There isn’t any creative freedom and it’s very limited,  just mindless button mashing. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. I personally love rhythm games and find them a great way to play a game without having to think too much about it, especially if i’m trying to work on another project in my head. But in this game, you are given complete creative freedom, no limits of where you move as long as it sticks with the beat.

At first, I tried to play the game with mindless button mashing as you do with typical rhythm games.  I found it frustrating and tiresome. I kept dying over and over again, and since when you die it sends you all the way back to the first level it was very discouraging. Once I realized I had to really be thinking about it, the game suddenly made much more sense.


Let me explain. The game has randomly generated levels. You’ll never see the same ‘level 1’ more than once and there’s a good reason for that. If they had made level 1 the same every time you would just learn the level. You would start to memorize ‘Right, right, up, left’ sort of patterns, and never learn how to fight each individual monster. It’s clear the game wants you to learn how to fight and not just sit there memorizing the patterns of the map itself.

Learning how each monster moves is actually very important to the gameplay. Each one gets its own rhythm and pattern. If you don’t bother learning that pattern you can easily jump aimlessly into the path of one, losing you the game. And sending you all the way back to the beginning.

This game also has a very short tutorial.  Most games walk the player through every little thing, but since the entire game is played with only the arrow keys, it doesn’t need to explain everything to you. In fact, it leaves the player to discover most of its content through gameplay. The tutorial doesn’t explain anything except the very basics, because it doesn’t need to. The game is intuitive and it doesn’t fail to follow its own rules.   

The game is very punishing. Every time you die you get sent back to the beginning. But it rewards perseverance heavily. As the game goes on you begin getting better weapons and neat random bonuses. The rewards, gameplay wise, are borderline cheating. Most of them you get for free as the game goes on but because the game is punishing, it all feels deserved. You feel like you earned that upgrade rather than in some games where it feels like the game is babysitting you, or in others where you feel unrewarded for your hard work all together.

Honestly, Crypt of the Necrodancer does something a lot of games don’t, and it’s not the rhythm fighting. It manages to balance Challenge VS Punishment VS Reward, and not only does it do it, but it does it well.