Posts Tagged ‘oxyarg’

In my first play journal entry, I made the assertion that Plants vs. Zombies is “definitely a game and it’s actually really fun.” I think maybe I gave off a mistaken impression in that post that I was super surprised that the game could be fun or that I usually avoid games like Plants vs. Zombies, which isn’t really true. What I meant in that post was that I’d never really thought at length about this type of game despite playing them. Animation and webcomics are my primary creative interests so half my playing games consists of playing games that prioritize qualities  like art direction, narrative, and worldbuilding. That half of my gaming history I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about because it shares a lot in common with cartoons and comics. The other half of my game-playing time is spent procrastinating/unwinding/blowing off steam in “casual” games like Bejeweled, Tetris Friends, or Sushi-Go-Round or a lot of really basic flash games. (I get especially into tetris friends because you can send lines that you clear to your opponent and basically annihilate them; I can be kind of a jerk in this. Tetris Friends, more like Tetris Mortal Enemies.)  I didn’t spend much time thinking about these games because I guess you typically don’t want to expend too much thought on something you use to take a really quick break from obligations and then move on. Actually I don’t know, I might play these kinds of games more often than larger games currently because I never feel like I have the time to play a lot of stuff anymore. But yeah, I guess “actually really fun” was more like an assertion that these games are fun and worthwhile and I like them, directed towards a hypothetical audience that perhaps buys into the whole casual vs. hardcore gamer/fake geek vs. real geek mentality. Not that I thought anybody like that would actually see these posts but honestly I couldn’t think of a title so I was like uh, “sup y’all, playin’ some PvsZ and having a blast, if you think that’s weak you can come fight me.”

Anyway, having clarified that, I’m glad I finally have spent some more time thinking about Plants vs. Zombies type games! Like I said, I like Plants vs. Zombies a lot and I think it’s a worthwhile game. I think I’ve already covered some reasons why I find it really fun to play, particularly the way it structures game challenges around playing with its own established rules and premises. I think that’s definitely a main component of the second part of Plants vs. Zombies’ double seduction, the part that gets you to keep playing the game. I’m not sure what the first part of the seduction is since I feel like that could be different for everyone. Maybe the first seduction includes stuff like the game being really whimsical and cute as well as accessible for pretty much anyone to play with little difficulty. Like I said about its voluntary play aspect, it also makes for a really good casual time waster/relaxing activity since you can pause and leave whenever you want with little consequence. I thought maybe I’d try to further characterize the enjoyment you get from Plants vs. Zombies by breaking the play experience down into LeBlanc’s eight kinds of experiential pleasure: sensation, fantasy, narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression, and submission.

You can ignore my talking, it’s not actual commentary. I thought this was going to be a test-run so I just talked to myself a bit to test the mic but my computer’s being uncooperative so I’m just gonna…go with this.

As far as sensation and fantasy, I’d say you don’t really get extremely invested in these aspects of enjoying the game. The fantasy aspect of the game is pretty apparent in the fact that the game is nothing like real life. The fact that your life is probably never really involves defending your home from a bunch of zombies by planting weird (sentient??) plants everywhere is, in my opinion, a big part of the game’s appeal.  You don’t really become incredibly engrossed in this illusion and you’re not immersed in some kind of expansive universe but still, that make-believe aspect is present and it’s fun.  The sense-pleasure is mostly just kind of enjoying things like the familiar little sounds of collecting suns, planting plants in dirt, and zombie limbs popping off. The actual actions your taking just involve moving your mouse around and clicking a lot. The more you play the more you fall easily into a kind of rhythm that helps a lot in playing. As you can see in the video, the game tends to require you to pay attention to a lot of things happening at once. You need to keep an eye on  approaching zombies, collect suns and coins before they disappear, make sure your plants aren’t being devoured, and keep track of your different plants’ regeneration rates in a timely manner.  When you get used to the game, you become better at managing and multitasking so that you can probably even monitor stuff like zombie progress just by listening to the sound cues and meanwhile you can be planning all the stuff you have to do.

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During my playthrough this week, I chose to focus on how immersed I felt in the narrative of the game. Although I realize that this video only represents a small portion of the game, and I know that without a doubt more elements of narrative would be presented to me had I played further, I felt that during this segment of play, I was often distracted by combat and hacking, and at times lost track of the story of the game. Bioshock makes very, very good use of embedded narrative, that is, narrative that is presented to players in the form of cutscenes, or essentially narrative information that the player has no control over. However, I find that Bioshock presents more narrative material in the form of emergent narrative, mainly through use of audio logs. During this section of play, I found myself taking a completionist approach by hacking anything hackable and fighting each big daddy. Although the big daddy and splicer fights did not take away from the immersion, the hacking did. I found it ridiculous that I am able to hack a sentry turret in the middle of a fire fight. During my playthrough of the first parts of Neptune’s Bounty, I was only encountered by embedded narrative when I spoke to Peach and was encountered by the spider slicer. Other than this, the only narrative I received was in the form of audio logs. Although I recognize that the narrative framework of Bioshock is deep and immersive, I attempted to focus on elements of narrative during my hour of play, and was not given much.

As I continue my journey through Rapture, I choose instead this time to focus on the rules of the game, and how I can interact with them as a player. The two types of rules that I found myself consistently dealing with are Constituative and Implicit rules. I find that Bioshock has a very straightforward play path, created largely by the constituative rules of the game. Another way in which the constituative rules have binded me is my desperate lack of Eve. In the beginning of the video, I am startled by a splicer as I make my way through of the scariest areas thus far. I quickly fire off 3 blasts of electricity, wasting quite a bit of eve. Without eve, I have no plasmids, and without plasmids I cannot progress through the game. As I continue through the medical ward, in an attempt to find the misguided Dr. Steinman, I find my pathway blocked by a large chunk of debris. Here, the rules put in place by the game designers have barred me from reaching Steinman and ultimately murdering him in cold blood. Damn. Since the game has decided that I cannot proceed further into the surgery ward, I attempt to find a way around, or find a way to move the debris. The first idea that pops into my head is the Telekinesis plasmid I have been hearing about. So with a quick blast of my newly acquired Incinerate, I clear a path that was previously blocked from me by the constituative rules by melting some ice. Bioshock’s constituative rules are, at this point, very clearly articulated. I takes me no time to figure out where the environment allows or does not allow me to go, and I am able to easily make the connection that once I have acquired the ability to shoot fire, I can melt the ice that was blocking my path. Anyhow, I continue through the medical pavilion, fighting hordes of deranged doctors and nurses turned splicers, until I am finally greeted by my objective, Telekinesis! Now to deal with Steinman… Back to the surgery ward I go, but my telekinesis does not seem to be working on the debris, might as well kill the splicer throwing grenades at me in the mean time. Splicer dead … debris lifted? I was a bit confused by this, but I suppose I just needed to HAVE the plasmid before I continue on. The programmers, in this instance, are FORCING me to choose my abilities by using the environment as a guiding rule. Interesting. Let’s fast forward, I find Steiman, kill him with a little help from my mechanical friend, and move forward in the game. As I traverse back towards the main medical pavilion, the environment changes. A tunnel collapse forces me to take a side route. The constituative rules have again foiled my plans! A dead big daddy, a splicer attacking a little girl, a woman standing on the balcony yelling at me, Atlas telling me what to do via intercom. I am bombarded by a slurry of new information. I back the small child into a corner, and am given a choice. Harvest the girl, killing her, or cure her of little sister status, saving her, but with no apparent reward for myself. For the first time, Bioshock has confronted me with a moral decision. I choose to save the girl. This decision reveals both an implicit rule, and a foreshadowing to the type of player I will be in Bioshock. In the real world, it is absolutely wrong to kill a little girl. Only the sickest of the sick would do such a thing. But in Bioshock, I can choose to kill a girl with no repercussions for myself. In fact, I am rewarded for doing such a dastardly deed. And if I do so choose to harm the little one, what kind of player am I? I would argue that any player who kills the little girls is considered a standard player, while those who save the girls are dedicated players. By saving the girl, I am guaranteed a reward at a later time. As I am choosing to dedicate myself to playing through all of Bioshock, I choose to save the little girls. This alone is my basis for my choice. Anyhow, onward through Rapture! As you can see at the end of my video (once vimeo finally processes it) I get completely destroyed by the Big Daddy. Ouch…

On the topic of rules, Plants vs. Zombies offers no shortage of material to talk about. Despite being (as discussed a bit in my previous entry) a pretty accessible game with a low barrier of entry, I could fill up many a blog post were I to cover all the rules involved in playing the game. Plants vs. Zombies is essentially all about rules and forcing you to continually learn new rules and how to best work within them. The game is divided into levels and sublevels with each new level introducing some major change, like a change in the environment. The sublevels increase in difficulty within a level and frequently the player is rewarded a new sublevel/level completion plant they must learn to use to complete the coming levels. This screenshot is recycled from my last post, but early levels of the game look something like this:

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Basic strategy: Sun-producing plants in the back where they’ll be protected, line of defense near the front but if you place them a couple rows back it’ll take longer for zombies to reach them which exposes them to more shots before they reach the nuts, middle ground covered with solid shooters (I have a frozen pea shooter in every row because they further slow down zombies.)

So you start out with some basic operational and constituative rules here. Operational stuff would be like: Before starting the game, select which plants you want to use, filling up as many slots as you have available. (You can purchase additional slots later on.) Use suns dropped from the sky in daytime or given by sun-producing plants to purchase plants (which each have different prices and regeneration rates) during the game. Plant different types of defensive, offensive, sun-producing, and specialty plants on your lawn to guard your house against zombies. I guess constituative rules would be things like: The structure of the game is divided into Adventure mode levels and sublevels, standalone minigames, survival mode, and series of puzzles divided into levels. The game is played on an area 6 by 9 squares. Pretty straightforward. The game walks you through the initial stuff tutorial-style.  Once you acquire a plant/encounter a zombie you can view its entry in your almanac.

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“The dolphin is also a zombie.”

Thing about Plants vs. Zombies though is the game doesn’t want you getting too complacent. It’s constantly introducing you to new stuff each level. These new challenges/changes of interest come in different forms: adding new plants with special abilities to your arsenal, throwing a new kind of zombie your way, or changing something about the playing field/environment. Here’s a shot of a much later level that takes place on your roof. This introduces some interesting obstacles. First of all, in order to plant on your roof, you first have to buy pots to place on the tiles so essentially you have to create your own usable field. Because of the angle of the roof, you’ll also need to use new catapult shooters instead of your typical peashooters.  Finally, you have to watch out for new zombie types like bungee zombies that strike from above and steal an object from your field or ladder zombies that use a ladder to climb over your wall of defensive nuts and leave the ladder behind for other zombies to climb up. Essentially, Plants vs. Zombies just keeps introducing you to variations on that initial basic game you play in the first levels by switching up the original rules.

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My nut wall is off and my catapult ranks are incomplete because at this point I’m still trying to catch up with extending my field by placing pots.

All this analysis of gameplay rules makes me wonder about the planning process of games. Like ok, a lot of how the Plants vs. Zombies experience evolves for the player is pretty logical. We’ve got a game that has zombies you defend against/attack and plants you use to do so. So as the game progresses let’s introduce more plants and more zombie types. Let’s also change up the environment between levels so players have to adapt their strategy and they’ll have to use new plant types. Plants vs. Zombies also has a lot of minigames and puzzles which I enjoy and the neat thing about them is they’re all a fun subversion of the rules you’re accustomed to in normal Adventure mode. Each minigame seems clearly the product of one of the game creators thinking, “Well what if instead of this, ____?” Zombotany answers the question, “What if the zombies had plant heads that gave them the same attack/defense capabilities the player has?” I, Zombie answers, “What if the player played from the perspective of zombies instead?” Slot Machine answers, “What if we restricted the player’s agency by eliminating the ability to select plants or to buy them at will and instead left that all up to the chance of a slot machine?” Anyway I think that’s cool how they incorporated these kind of what-if rule subversion scenarios into the game.

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The Bioshock Game Experience

Posted: February 8, 2013 by neumann2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I decided to play Bioshock for my game journal because back when it was released in 2007 I never got a chance to sit down and play through the whole story, so I figured this would be a good time to do it.  Bioshock is a game that rewards the player who really immerses oneself in the story and underwater artistic utopia of Rapture.  It is a beautifully designed first person shooter that not only submerges the player into an eerie underwater metropolis, but also sends you back time to early stages of the cold war.  The reason it was so well received is can be related to Brian Sutton-Smith’s philological process by which games are experienced.  Bioshock is a game that hits all of the marks when it comes to the five elements of a game experience.

bioshock_rapture-wide

The world of Rapture is as creepy as it is visually stunning.  From the moment you crash land into the Atlanic and begin exploring Rapture, it is impossible to stop scanning the game world, because everywhere you turn there are interesting details and locations.  The combination of artificially light, and a world engulfed by water makes for a beautiful game that is a pleasure to play and explore.

One aspect that really stood out during my short play through was the audio component.  The games sound, does an excellent job of bringing the under water world to life.  Whether it is the sound of gushing water, echoes or the clanking of a big daddy, they all contribute to the sense that the player is in an underwater world full of evil creatures.

Although the game world is beautiful and fun to just explore the player actually has to fight the creepers dwelling in the deep.  Sutton-Smith’s third element is motor response.  The combat in Bioshock is intuitive.  There are two ways to kill an enemy.  Right trigger fires traditional weapons like a wrench, handgun or machine gun, while the left trigger is for plasmids.  Plasmids are genetic enhancements that give the player a wide range of special abilities that like lightening and fire.  These combat options give the player a variety of attacks and keep the combat interesting.

Concentration is the next important element of the game experience.  In the depths of rapture there is no telling what creature lurks in the deep.  As the visuals and audio suck the player in, it is easy to get lost in the world of Rapture.  Whether you’re concentrated on killing the big daddy in the next room or tracking down Andrew Ryan and discovering his secrets, it is difficult to not concentrate on the game.

The final component is Perceptual Patterns of Learning.  As the number of plasmids in your arsenal increases, so does your ability to interact with the game world and deal different death blows to enemies.  The player is simultaneously learning the structure of Rapture itself and how different combinations of attacks can eliminate the enemy quicker.