Author Archives: Zach

Casual vs. Hardcore…not so simple?

Like Brandi, while reading the chapter from Casual Revolution, I found myself disagreeing with the methods in which casual and hardcore games were compared and analyzed. The descriptive terms used to wholly distinguish casual games from hardcore games were almost dismissive of casual games, delegating them to a class of gamers who are much less involved with the games they are playing.

As I mentioned in class, I believe one of the primary examples of this discrepancy can be seen with rhythm games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. While these games were created to also be accessible to those not adept at playing, they also have significant elements that I would consider ‘hardcore,’ where a user must hone their technique to advance to a higher skill level.

When I first began playing Rock Band, I could barely pass on the Medium skill setting, however with practice, I was eventually able to work my way up to consistently scoring highly on Expert level songs. Likewise, there are many individuals I know who would almost be offended if Rock Band / Guitar Hero were to be lumped into the casual gaming category, simply based on their level of time commitment and advanced skill level. In addition, while many ‘casual gamers’ may play in short spurts, I have known a great number of people who can play online flash or card games for hours on end. These types of people certainly blur the line between casual and hardcore gamer, and it is for this reason I believe the chapter to not accurately describe the subtle difference between the two main types of games and gamers.

The Beatles: Rock Band / Rock Band or Guitar Hero games in general

In thinking about what games to work on for my final project, I decided upon The Beatles: Rock Band as it is the game that has most affected me in the past few years. I have decided to focus on three main points. First, how the creation of the game incorporated many key figures from the Beatles including Paul, Ringo, Dhani Harrison, and Giles Martin, which stylistically, artistically, and kinetically affected the gameplay in significant ways. Second, I’ll focus on how The Beatles: Rock Band has brought The Beatles to a whole new generation of fans which might have otherwise not been introduced to the Beatles. Finally, I’ll write about how The Beatles: Rock Band and other rhythm games in general have helped to bring those not very interested in videogames to games. Depending on how the paper goes during the writing process, I may choose to focus more on certain areas, or exclude an area as I see fit. Perhaps my only question would be is this too broad of a focus, and should I concentrate more specifically on only one or two aspects of the game?

A Hurricane Katrina Game?

While attempting to find some intriguing socially conscious games, I came across Hurricane Katrina: Tempest in Crescent City. After starting off with a comic book-like introduction, it throws you into the world of a young girl who has been displaced from her original home in New Orleans. She falls asleep and then dreams about how she could have helped her mother when the Hurricane hit. I was impressed to see that this game had been sponsored by Microsoft and AMD, two huge technology companies. I’m interested to see where our talks go in the upcoming classes, as this is a type of game that I had never previously paid any attention to, but clearly is important enough to be well supported by major companies.

Lara Croft naked? What is this world coming to?

Out of the readings for this week, I found the Anne-Marie Schleiner article to be the most intriguing. In particular, I found her analysis of the Nude Raider patch to be quite fascinating. It is obvious that many consider Lara Croft to be a modern sex symbol, even though she is a fictional digital character, so it does not come as a surprise to me whatsoever that individuals would go through the pains of modifying the game to produce Lara Croft in the nude.

Her analysis of the nude patch as creating a fetish object of the male gaze is particularly revealing, as it is clear that such mods enhance the gameplay in no way, but merely serve to strip the already skimpy clothing from Croft’s person. The fact that a single search engine logged over one million hits for the patch serves to illustrate the popular desire by fans of the game to witness Lara Croft without her clothes.

In addition, the fact that the official Tomb Raider homepage at one point contained a direct link to the Nude Raider patch only serves to reinforce the idea that the choice to create such an attractive female character was deliberate. Without a doubt, many copies of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were sold solely based on the fact that the main character was a scantily clad and well endowed female. The developers of the game clearly used this identifying factor to their advantage, and their indirect endorsement of a patch meant to remove Lara Croft’s clothing only serves to further their commitment to using their character as a sex symbol.

Fear and Loathing in Subjective Point of View

Out of all the chapters we have read in Alexander Galloway’s book, I found this latest one to easily be the most intriguing. Because I am a most definitely a movie addict, I found his comparison of Point of View and Subjective Point of View to be particularly compelling because of not only its direct applicability to video games, but also its usage in popular movies as well.

As I mentioned in class, one of the first movies that I thought of when considering Subjective Point of View was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. For those who haven’t seen the film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas chronicles a journalist (Johnny Depp) who gets dragged into the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas while taking copious amounts of illegal drugs of all kinds along the way.

One of the most well remembered scenes in this movie is when Depp’s character is in a bar lounge while hallucinating on LSD. The term “unreliable narrator” could easily be used here, as we witness the floors turning into lava and the people around him becoming giant lizards. In another scene, Depp’s drug induced state causes him to witness a woman morphing into a large moray eel. Obviously, such things didn’t happen in actuality, but it is through the Subjective Point of View that we are able to get a look into Depp’s character’s psyche. This Subjective Point of View, when coupled with a fascinating character in a unique position, allows us to get an “inside look” as to the character’s true self, and its effective use in any medium (including movies and videogames) can greatly enhance the viewer’s overall experience.

Reliving the classic games in a virtualized environment?

With Microsoft’s new Game Room for Xbox, they are bringing all the classic arcade games to a virtualized arcade environment for the Xbox, helping those who actually remember what playing games on stand-up arcade classics relive those memories.  Nostalgia aside, this looks like a really interesting way for new and old fans alike to appreciate these classic games in the mall-like arcades that they were first popularized in.  Not only that, Microsoft was able to emulate inserting coins and entering in codes on a virtual keypad, just as you would in an arcade.  It should definitely be an unique game to pick up when it launches on March 24th. As linked above, Engadget has an excellent quick walk-through video for those interested in seeing what the game looks like during gameplay.

Diegetic or Nondiegetic?

While for the most part I found Galloway’s writing to be interesting (though dense) the main issue that I had was Galloway’s treatment of diegetic or nondiegetic operator acts.  Some of his disconcerting and confusing language can be seen in the following passage from page 12:

The second moment of gamic action refers to a process with spontaneous origins but deliberate ends.  This is gamic action as a subjective algorithm.  That is to say, in this second moment, video game action is a type of inductive diachronic patterning of movement executed by individual actors or operators.  We are now ready to explore the second quadrant of gamic action: nondiegetic operator acts.

While I was able to grasp the general idea, I believe he could have chosen to describe these two concepts in a much more straightforward way, and in doing so, it would have made his writing much more approachable to non-academics.

Probabilities of Probabilities

After reviewing the source code from Micropolis in class, one of the things that struck me the most was just how few lines of code made up the entirety of the original Sim City.  Now yes, the original Sim City was never known to be the most graphically intensive games, and playing it now the game seems quaint in relation to modern video games, but it still is impressive to see an entire game’s workings broken down into mere lines of code.  Even without knowledge of the C++ programming language, it is clear what certain code does and how specific actions taken during the game can change the outcome of later events.

The other thing that most impressed me, which we went over in class, was the specificity involved in the events which occur in-game.  When playing a video game, one doesn’t stop to think, “Well there must be a 23.5% probability for this enemy to die once he is shot in the chest,” one just shoots.  But when it comes down to it, every single in game action is governed by such probabilities, and thus games can really be looked at as giant math equations (something which gives me a headache).  Thankfully, these game programmer decisions are never revealed to the user, as not only would they be confusing and disorienting, but they would remove a level of fun and excitement from the game if everything were simply spelled out.

Just how small can a game be while still being playable?

That’s the question answered at where the entire website is only 18×18 pixels. Some of the notable games you can play in an insanely shrunken form include Pong, Space Invaders, and my personal favorite, Pacman.   This little site is ingenious as it shows how the gameplay of these early games can be boiled down to almost nothing while still retaining the key elements that allow the games to be playable (and dare I say it, fun?).  Of course, in Pacman, you’re reduced to only a single “ghost” but any more than one would easily be overwhelming in a game of this size.  What do you expect with only 324 pixels of information?  In any case, if you have a few extra minutes, Guimp is definitely a fun site to check out.

The Essence of Fun

When trying to get down to the purest essence of “fun,” it becomes difficult to quantify something that should be simple.  When Koster describes how many become bored with games that are exceedingly simple or exceedingly difficult, he isolates the true nature of fun.  That is, one can make the connection that in a majority of situations, something is “fun” when it is not only enjoyable to an individual, but it also presents a unique challenge that causes that individual to experience something new or intriguing.  When a game is too simple, we understand all the aspects and angles quickly, and thus it becomes a bore.  Conversely, a game that throws conventions to the wayside and creates a wholly new environment unfamiliar to an individual can sometimes fail to garner the dedication of time and effort requited to fully understand it.

As Koster notes, our brains tend to “chunk” related information learned in order to perform certain simple tasks on an “autopilot” of sorts.  A game in which none of this chunked information could be applied might be considered difficult and undeserving of the time required to truly master the game.  Games, therefore, must strike the perfect balance between simplicity and complexity in order to fall into a category in which a majority of individuals would consider them to be “fun.”  It seems to be the games that can achieve this equilibrium are the ones that acquire the recognition and fans they deserve.