Imma back!

4 July, 2011

Almost a year? I didn’t think I was absent from writing about games for that long. Well the time stamps don’t lie, as the newly coined saying goes. A lot has changed in a year. I have slowly and forcefully broken free of unemployment, bought a new computer, laughed, loved, cried a little, and ate some fantastic sandwiches. I will spare you the details of most of those experiences, except of course one which is very relevant.

3 slices of lightly toasted bread, salami, ham, turkey, provolone cheese, blue cheese dressing, ranch dressing. Taken individually they are simple pieces of food, overlooked in the eyes of many a man, woman, or child. When combined correctly though, children learn of epic poems in school which were inspired by such an unfathomable force of nature. Epics poems written by men and women who have once set lips and tongue upon such beauty, such fulfillment, that love is but a mere soiled cloth in comparison.

But enough about the computer.

Remarkably I was writing about games with an old laptop, 4-5 years old at the time of my first scribblings on a cave wall. I was also playing, or attempting to play games on this same laptop. Of course the monitor had died and I was using an external one. Of course there was really no video card. Of course I had a difficult time playing any game which required extensive 3D graphics. Torchlight was hardly playable. What most people called setbacks though I embraced. Like a man embracing a stuffed animal from childhood, but not as psychotic. Mainly I didn’t have the funds to purchase a new computer, and just had to deal with all the slow loading times and choppy games. Over time the laptop started having hardware interrupts and everything became worse. It took me almost 10 minutes just to start Windows. Notepad took 20 seconds to open. At this point I took a hard look at my laptop, as a father might upon a sick child. Instead of taking it to a hospital like a father should, I decided to make a new one and lock the laptop into a dark closet somewhere within the house. At this time I was about 2 months into my new job, and looking with a friend for an apartment. A tough choice had to be made. In the end the computer won out, not the apartment. Perhaps a foolish choice to some, but not to one with a dying laptop who loves to write about games. After a week of research I found a pleasant deal on a website which had everything I was looking for, and then some. Spec time!

Intel i5 2500k, 8 GB RAM, the rest is kind of technical and boring, power supply, motherboard, case, blah, blah, blah. I had to put it together, which was the first time for me. It went smoothly though thanks to my degree, computer management and information systems, and with the A+ certification study guide book. When I started the new computer, which I named Archie after Night Owl’s vehicle (from Watchmen) which he name Archie after Merlin’s pet owl, it was like turning on a new age in my life. I had successfully went from the Bronze Age to the Information Age, or post-modernism. I rejoiced. Yet things weren’t finished there. Oh no, life was about to change even more.

I installed Steam and started playing Torchlight again, which I could finally play at 60+ fps instead of 5 fps during battles (not a joke or exaggeration). Intel combined, or integrated, its own form of a graphics card with its newest i5, so I figured I should be fine with games. Certainly Torchlight ran fine. Then I downloaded the Witcher, which is a huge game around 15 GB. Our internet is a little sluggish so I went over to my friend’s house to finish the download. We waited in anticipation as the game was finishing the download. He was playing the new Alice so I watched that for a while. Then when the Witcher was all ready I hit the play button. A message came up saying, “Your computer can not handle our graphics so piss off.” Actually the message wasn’t as rude, but it was  blunt as German game developers often can be. I was left in this predicament: I wait to save up some money for a graphics card, I buy the graphics card RIGHT NOW, or just not play the Witcher. Of course I chose the graphics card. I started looking at entry level cards, whichever ones were at a local store. I decided though that I should just spend the money for a mid level card so I wouldn’t have to buy another one for a while. I settled on the Radeon HD 6770, which is a decently powerful graphics card. After installing it I started playing the Witcher and all was fine in the world.

That all happened a few weeks ago and now Steam has their Summer Sale, and I’m going to be bankrupt from it. When I woke up the first day of the sale I had just bought Europa III Chronicals and was looking forward into learning the game. When I exited to head to work though I saw the store page. The sale. I had made a list of games that I wanted to play and couldn’t because of the laptop. After I made the list I decided I would wait until I finished playing the Witcher to buy any more games. Unless the games were on sale, then I would buy them and wait until I was done playing the Witcher to play them. Well there is this combo pack from developers on Steam and the Square Enix Eidos package had Batman Arkam Asylm, Just Cause 2, Supreme Comander 2, and a whole bunch more for only $75. I had Batman on the list, and Supreme Comander 2, but most of the other games weren’t. At the price though I was tempted, and my friend said I might as well buy the package because it was like 30+ games. He made a convincing argument and I bought the package. Then a few days ago Bioshock and Bioshock 2 were on sale for $5 each so I bought those as well. Now Trine is on sale. Tomorrow I’m sure it will be something else. Either way I now have more games than I can handle, and a machine that can play all of them. I have Just Cause 2 on highest settings and get over 40 fps.

Therefore with all these games and new computer I will resume writing with vigor anew. Welcome back. First up: Batman Arkam Asylm.

Sound adds so much to our experiences

11 August, 2010

I just watched a trailer for Dumb and Dumber that was made to have a style similar to the Inception trailers.  Here is a trailer for Inception, in case you have been living in an underwater cave for the past 6 months. Inception is a taut psychological thriller, which still keeps the viewer guessing on what is actually happening after multiple viewings. Dumb and Dumber is a comedy from 1994. If you haven’t seen Dumb and Dumber all you really need to know about the movie is that it was heavily based on slapstick humor, and played on the main characters having no idea of what grand scheme they were caught up with. Now here is the mash-up trailer I just watched.  Part of the reason this mash-up is so enjoyable to watch is because the two movies are about as different from each other as possible. I want to focus on a comment which SilentEcho8 posted for the mash-up trailer:

“this is great. LOL if i hadn’t ever seen dumb and dumber i would think its all serious, this music makes everything epic.”

Now, if I remember correctly, I talked a little bit about music and sound effects in an earlier post about horror games. I discussed then about how sound really affects the player, and can bring the player deeply into the experience or environment. Well its not just horror games that use sound. Shadow of the Colossus has a flowing soundtrack, in which the developers were able to change almost seamlessly from peaceful (when the player is exploring) to hectic (when the player is fighting). Its such a subtle effect, yet so powerful in pulling the player into the world. Another example is in most puzzle games when the player is at risk of losing a game, the music becomes quick, causing the player to mash buttons even faster. Music thus not only serves as a bringing a player into the game world, but also alerting the player when some new event is occurring which needs to be acknowledged. In Morrowind (The Elder Scrolls III) the music would change when an NPC targeted the player, and began fighting. This way the player knows that an enemy is around, and allows the player to prepare for a fight.

Sound effects are just as important as music in games. Take for example most WWII first person shooters. When a player is in the middle of a battle there should be gunfire heard from different directions, maybe off in the distance, away from the player. In the Castlevania game series (namely Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS) the main character grunts when hit, or when swinging a heavy weapon. There are sound effects to know if your attacks are hitting, possibly even different sound effects if you are hitting a target but not dealing any damage. Sound effects are indicators of events that are happening in the game, providing information in a more precise way than music. Take for example when Mario jumps, he makes a noise. There doesn’t need to be a noise, you know that he jumped by seeing him jump. If you take away the visual aspect though, say someone walks in front of you, then you still know Mario is jumping because the sound effect tells you that he is jumping. It doesn’t provide in what direction or speed, but it still provides information. In a first person shooter, if a player runs out of bullets the gun may just make a clicking noise, indicating that the player must reload the gun or find more ammo. In Wolfenstein 3D a player can hear enemies opening doors, which allows the player to react by finding which enemies are coming to attack.

A while back I used to play games without the sound on, choosing instead to listen to my own music while playing. I didn’t realize until recently how much this subtracts from a gaming experience. After beating Diablo II for the first time, I decided I didn’t need to listen to the music anymore, and listened to whatever I wanted. Just a week ago, I started re-playing Diablo II. I turned the Diablo II music up and realized how much it added to the dark mood of the game.  At that moment I swore off listening to other music outside of a game while playing. Maybe it was a drastic move, but I think its worth it in the end.

Now I want to leave with a few questions:

Can a game be made in which each time a player plays through the game the music changes?

Can there be a way for players to select their own set of music for the game, thus changing the genre?

What games have you played in which the music and sound effects still live on in your memories?

(My answer is Castlevania Symphony of the Night)

Companionship in Games

15 April, 2010

I never really thought about it too much before, but there haven’t been too many examples of companionship in the games I have played recently. Certainly there are games that focus on companionship, and the reason I started thinking about this seldom used facet of games is because I watched this review of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. My brother had actually bought Shadow of the Colossus a year ago and presented it to me after trying to describe “there are no enemies, just colossi.” I was amazed by the game. The companionship between the hero and the horse was so subtle I didn’t realize how engaging it was while I was playing. My friend had also rented the game a few months ago, and while I watched him play the bond of the hero, horse, and player started to sink in. My friend was in the middle of a fight, running around off of the horse, trying to find a weak spot to attack the colossus with. In the background the horse was running around trying to avoid the colossus while being close to the hero. My friend then had to climb on the horse while being attacked and flee to a safer area. Without the horse the game would be boring, the player would have no companions to help along the way, no aid when things became difficult. But its not just that, the player feels connected to the horse. They always know it will be there when it is needed, and in areas where the horse can’t reach I actually felt lonely while exploring. I have never played Ico, but I’m sure the bond between the two characters is just as strong (from what I gathered from the video).  I know Zelda does well with the bond of characters too, but I haven’t played many of the recent ones (shame on me).

This is the kind of companionship I am talking about in games. The kind of companionship where each character relies on each other. A companionship where there is a palpable bond between two characters. One where players actually care about the outcome of two characters. I’m not just talking about the story either, because I know most RPGs focus on this side of the story. When things actually happen, like the characters are fighting a boss, you don’t depend on the special connection of certain people, only their powers. Chrono Trigger had an interesting system where the players you had in your team actually affected what spells you could cast. I thought this was a brilliant system that many games overlook. I played Marvel Ultimate Alliance with my cousin and it was similar, but those are the only two games that come to mind. Perhaps what happens is that developers think the story will iron out the characters, and that the player will feel a bond between them when there are cut-scenes or dialog.  This is very misleading. Players tend to bond with characters because they control the characters. When characters bond to each other without any player involvement the player may feel cheated or not immersed.

So what then is companionship between characters? Well, suppose there is an obstacle to overcome, say a stack of boxes. Now the boxes are blocking the path to a cave where a dragon is living. Your task is to kill the dragon. Yet you can’t move the boxes because they are too heavy, and you can’t climb over them because you aren’t tall enough. The dragon has done a pretty bang up job of barricading itself in the cave with a stack of boxes. What if you had a companion though that could lift you on their shoulders so you could climb over the boxes? Suppose you knew the companion couldn’t come with you because of their fear of caves or dragons. Would you still ask for their help to lift you up? Would you leave them behind while you fight the dragon, or would you find some other way for them to help? Do you expect them to ask for something in return for helping you? Would you expect them to be there when you come back? There are so many options that can be explored with interactions between two characters. These interactions are meaningful to the player as long as the decisions are not just a device to add a challenge or to advance the plot. This also bridges over to suspending disbelief in games. When two characters actually care for each other like they would in real life, then that is companionship.

How should developers go about companionship? Well, I know it is difficult to imitate an actual person in a game, which is why AI is so difficult. There are though a limited amount of things that can be done in a certain situation. There can also be emotional ties, where if you treat a character poorly in one situation they will be less inclined to help you later on in the game. Perhaps a continuous flow of emotions, instead of a 5 second memory that often happens in games. Maybe if there is a problem you have encountered before your companion will recall what you did last time. They might talk about what happened last time you tried this task, “Hopefully this wont take twenty minutes like it did before!” or “I remember last time you tried to pull me up you dropped me, I’ll try to find another solution.” It doesn’t have to be too advanced, just a little reminder that they are a person too, and the two (or more) of you are in this together.

Perhaps there are more games that involve this type of gameplay and I just haven’t been exposed to them yet. If you have any suggestions let me know by leaving a comment.

Torchlight, a New World, a New Love

31 March, 2010

On Sunday I bought Torchlight on Steam for $5. Thus began my plunge into the abyss.

When Torchlight first came out I downloaded the demo. I think I played for half an hour before saying to no one in particular, “Hey, this is just a Diablo II wanna-be!” (ok, so I might have yelled a little). I then promptly placed the game into the back of my mind, well the memory of the game. We aren’t cyborgs yet! I didn’t think about it until this weekend, when I checked Steam for any deals. For the past couple of weeks they usually have something decent for cheap. Well here in front of me is “Torchlight $5” and I think to myself, “Maybe I should try the demo again.” I try the demo again, somehow it remembered my character from the last time I played the demo, even though I had uninstalled it. So my character was still there, and I played for about 10 minutes. For $5 I was sold. I should have been sold on $20 the first time I played the demo, but I was half a year younger and naive. What changed my mind? I’ll tell you what:

1) The game-play was smooth. Usually I get these new games and they run like a bowling ball thrown in space. That has nothing to do with game-play, but it impressed me. The game-play is extremely similar to Diablo II, which is actually helpful in this situation because that means simplicity. You just click on the screen and boom you are there, or you click on an enemy and boom you are attacking them, or you click on an NPC and boom they are like, “What do you want to buy from me? I have an infinite supply of potions.” Then you just hold shift and click on potions. You just bought a potion.

2) The game made me realize what I have been missing in games recently: The feeling of actually being the character in the game. Torchlight completely immerses the player in the game. The sounds, the sights, the skills. Everything in the game just works together so well. It might seem cliche at first, but the setting is familiar while still being unique. For example, there is a robot bard that gives you xp and fame points for killing unique enemies.

3) The skills are fun to use. I’m using lightning and can’t help but smile every time I hit an enemy and they are knocked back off screen. I’m just a few hours into the game, but I’m looking forward to starting again with the other classes. I don’t mean this in the, “Oh dang, my build sucks” kind of way, but the “These skills are crazy, I wonder what else there is!” kind of way. With these skills the only way to mess up is to not put your points into anything. The skills work well together, and there isn’t a skill that is too weak. Whoever did the work on the skills should be promptly promoted and set to work on all games which have skills. In Diablo II there were skills that were obviously weak and worthless. The player would need to dump all their points into one skill in order for it to pay off at the end of the game. So far in Torchlight I haven’t had that feeling of desperation.

4) It made me realize why I don’t like playing games online. Some games need to be online, they are built around social interaction, and need the feeling of companionship. Torchlight is not one of those games, and I love it for that reason. You are the champion, there aren’t 1,000 other champions running around and doing the same things you are. It adds more weight to everything you do. In other words your actions have meaning. You aren’t constantly reminded that 1,000 other people are playing the same game you are. You don’t have to worry about someone stealing all the loot, or killing all the enemies and taking the xp. Its intimate. You can go your own pace and actually enjoy the game. Torchlight finally proved to me that online games lack personal experience. Sure, you can interact with thousands of people, but having to see that many people is just distracting your attention from the actual game. In Torchlight I actually want to listen to what the NPC’s say because they move the story forward. I actually look forward to fighting hoards of enemies by myself. I can see my progress, and that is all that really matters to me when playing a game. Also, you know that you can’t depend on someone else to hold your hand through the game. Enemies are manageable, skills work by themselves, you don’t have to find a tank if you are a mage. You also don’t have to prove yourself to someone else. If you die in Torchlight you know its your own fault and you can adjust. In an online game you have to take everyone else into consideration as to why you died, “someone wasn’t doing their job!” Most importantly though, Torchlight has a story that is concise. You don’t have to read through a mountain of text, or run for 20 minutes to find an NPC that advances the story. You are always doing the story, which is how a game like Torchlight should be. After playing Torchlight I realized how much I loved playing Diablo II for the first time, before I went online and ruined Diablo II for myself. In Diablo II when I started playing online I would just worry about leveling up fast, doing Trist runs and Baal runs. Well you know what? I can’t remember most of the story now. I barely remember the III act. I was worrying more about how people said I should have fun instead of actually having fun. That is why I love Torchlight, it forced me to realize that most games should not be online games.

5) I realized how much I love to collect loot. I know it may be weird to some people, but I like to organize my inventory. I like to decide what I need to keep, and what I should sell. I’m not sure why, but it gives me some peace of mind.

That is what I think about Torchlight after only playing for a couple hours. I hope it continues to be fun, which I know it will be. If you didn’t catch the sale that is alright. It seems to go on sale every once in a while. Although, I wouldn’t mind paying full price for it now.

At least do yourself a favor and play the 2 hour demo.

What’s Been Going On?

30 March, 2010

I know its been forever and a day and a few minutes since I wrote anything in here, and for that I apologize. I should be writing in here more often but my brain sometimes disagrees. (Enter bogus excuse here). Oh wait, I didn’t know they had templates for explaining why you haven’t done anything lately. If only they did…

Anyways I will share more of who I am now (in order to win back your loyalty)! These are also some bogus excuses for my absence. Wooohoooo! I’m about to graduate college in a month, so that is keeping me busy and on my feet. 16 credit hours of computers, management, and business ethics! That sounds a lot more impressive than it really is! It is though a lot of work right now, so ironically I am posting when I am most busy. I am also learning about forgotten religions from this book I found at the library called, “Forgotten Religions” Along side of that I am writing several short stories for a new game world. Just the normal things considering creation and gods and goddesses and the such. I wrote the creation part tonight, and perhaps it will make its way onto here. I also have been catching up on LOST, just a few episodes left and I will be up-to-date. Don’t ruin anything for me, and I won’t ruin anything for you. Its almost impossible to bring up LOST without someone blurting out what is going on, so I’m glad to be caught up finally. I just bought Torchlight on Sunday for $5 on Steam. I will be posting about that right after I finish this post. I have been thinking a lot about how people think. I have come to the conclusion that we are constantly changing.

So all in all, I hope you can forgive me for a little lull in the posts. I’m beggin’ ya!

New Game Idea: Snake Tower

23 February, 2010

I know I already promised to be making Symbll, but I must place that project on hiatus. That is right, I put it on the back burner. Reason: I thought up a new idea for a game! Well I’ve thought of several, but this one has the best chance of surviving the rigors of development.

I present you with the concept of Snake Tower (bullshit name for now…I mean secret covert redundant name *Ahem*). The concept is to mix a little game called Nibbler (Snake for those younger ones) with tower defense. How is this possible? Well think of moving around trying to avoid your “tail” and then deciding on where to strategically place yourself as a tower to blast away enemies. The “tail” will actually be walls which the enemies can not cross unless there is no direct path to the object you are defending (in which case it will only slow them down). The player can choose to turn into a tower at any time, which will automatically shoot enemies, at the cost of being stationary. This will add an element of constantly thinking about your position and force you to think of the best place to set up a tower. The object being defended will be an object, possibly animated, which the player will also have to keep track of at all times. When in tower mode your walls slowly crumble, leaving your defenses depleting while you take on enemies. If this seems like a daunting task, well don’t fret! The enemies will on occasion drop power ups, along with dropping a sum of money. The power ups will be temporary, but the money will last until you spend it on upgrades. Every aspect of the game will be upgradable/degradable. The length of the walls behind you, the amount of time the walls last while in tower mode, the width of the walls, the amount of damage the walls do if enemies cross over, and other things that people associate with wall upgrades. Different types of weapons for your tower? You bet! Enemy difficulty? You can control that too! Speed, hit points, defense, its all there! Different level types abound! Numerous play modes! Story modes, survival modes, hardcore modes, median modes, and multiplayer modes!

Expect it for all ages. Release date: this spring for a demo and summer for release!

Ambitious, bold, exciting, beautiful…

Part 2: Linear Games, Linear Stories

7 February, 2010

Often linear games can be more engaging than other formats. Consider that a person who is writing a linear game will know exactly when an event will occur. A writer can then know how characters have interacted, and how players have interacted with their characters. In open ended games a writer must create an immense world in which the player might never fully interact with. I would much rather spend more time creating a full story and character knowing the player will interact with that character, and that they won’t just overlook the character in a crowd. This is why even open-ended games have some linear element to them. I would be grateful to see a game with complete interactivity along with the depth and width of a 100,000 word novel, but its infinitely complex. Its always a trade-off between interaction and story telling. I recently played Bioshock for the first time a week ago. The game pulled me in immediately, and only in a way that a linear game could. For example, if I was allowed to just roam the streets of an underwater city I would have no idea where to start. For the first hour I would probably try to find a purpose to exploring. With the linear story though you are given exactly that purpose up front. Do x to receive y. Meet with x to talk about y. If something odd is going on, the player knows it will be explained soon, without the player having to ask everyone in a town what is going on (receiving the same 2 answers from everyone).

In any other format, creating a strong bond with a character might be difficult, if not impossible. Creating a bond might not be with just a character you control, but other characters in the story. For example in the Mega Man series the player never controls Dr. Willy, but has a strong bond to him because he is Mega Man’s creator. In Resident Evil 4 the player has to protect the president’s daughter, and after a while the player will probably despise helping her out. However, the player still feels a stronger connection to her than a guard in World of Warcraft (or really any MMO). A player could imagine the guard as being the next king and set upon defending the guard from any danger that approaches. After a while of defending the guard the player will probably find it pointless, as the guard will respawn when it dies. In the act of making the game open-ended, the player has no real way to bond with the guard. It is just another object in the world. In a linear game there could be a sequence where the player must aid the guard in defending a castle, and during the fight the player learns about who the guard really is. Perhaps later in the game the player will be able to visit the guard and have a conversation about when they defended the castle together. It seems like a tiny point in what a game is, but these little bits add up to the overall engagement of the player with the game. The experience can be vastly more rewarding than the ability to defend any guard who will never truly interact with the player.

Part 1: Linear Games, Linear Stories

4 January, 2010

Linear games are like books and movies. You are told what happens to a character (or characters) through a series of events. Books and movies show the same material through multiple viewings, yet the way a reader or viewer witnesses the material is different each reading or viewing. Simple actions that the character did in the beginning of a book might be explained later in the story, and in a second reading of the book the reader will know why the character did these actions. It may be very subtle, and these little nuances make a book or movie interesting after many readings or viewings. This is also why people have created book clubs, or why movie critics have differing opinions of a movie. In a group discussion, each person brings their own experiences, which can add new meaning to the material. Sharing the experience with others might open up your eyes to things you may have missed, something that can completely change your perspective on the material. For example, a viewer may have sympathy for a character with Alzheimer’s and the family struggle that occurs with such a disease. If the viewer has a relative who actually has Alzheimer’s and has to deal with these problems, then the meaning is completely different based on their experiences. Maybe the character allows the viewer to speak up with friends and family about the disease. Those people who are told about the disease will in turn have a new perspective on the character.

Linear stories are never static. Even though a story is written down on a medium people will view it differently over time.

Its not the shape of these stories that make them linear, but the direction in which the story takes a reader, viewer, or player. Linear stories guide people through a series of events in which the person has no control over. When referring to games this seems like a paradox because the player is always in control of the character. In linear games though, the player can not control the direction of the story. A player can carry out actions within a linear story, but they can never change the events which occur. Super Mario Bros, for example, is linear because the player either makes it to the next level or doesn’t. Each level is a progression of Mario trying to save the Princess. The levels are events that occur in the story, and although the player controls Mario through each action (jumping over pits), the player does not directly control the course of the story. A player can not find another princess to fall in love with, or find a princess who does not need rescuing.

However, linear story telling is not limiting for either the player or the writer.

Often linear story telling can be more engaging than other forms. (will be continued…)

This Week’s Question: Linear versus Open-Ended?

28 December, 2009

Which game model do you prefer, linear games(which guide a player through the game), or open games(non-linear games which allow for more creativity and offer more side quests than a core story). An example of a linear game would be Mario where you have to complete each level to find out something new. An example of an open-ended game would be the Elder Scrolls series. Can games be both effectively, or are they exclusive? What are the positives and negatives of each?

Today’s Response: What Keeps Players Coming Back To Games!

22 December, 2009

Entertainment, critical thinking, and sense of self achievement.

Entertainment: I don’t always think of games as entertainment. Sometimes games are down-right tedious. They make the player do chores and then don’t reward the player properly. Taken out of context games could be viewed as the most boring form of work. “I sat all day pushing buttons that didn’t decide an outcome in the real world.” I’m sure people will gladly want to join in next time you want to play a game and tell them what really is happening physically. Sometimes I ask myself why I keep playing. Then Diablo II will be sitting on my desktop and says, “PLAY MEEEEEE!!!!” Video games are of course a lot deeper than just pushing a button. Diablo II proves this very well. A player could make it through the entire game by just left clicking, but thats not the point. The point is that demons are running around everywhere and you have the fun task of eliminating them all. Pure entertainment should take us out of the boring world that we spend most of our lives in. Games are meant to take us into other worlds where we can be a knight, a race car driver, or a horse. As long as a game is entertaining a player will come back to play. When games become a chore then players will find other games to play which fulfill their entertainment needs. I am making an assumption that chores are boring, which not be the case, as in Harvest Moon. I suppose a deeper question is what makes a game entertaining? That is a personal question, and I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. For me, critical thinking is high up on the entertaining meter.

Critical thinking: What keeps bringing me back to RPGs and strategy games is critical thinking. I feel a challenge that can be thought through and “solved” is a challenge worth taking on. Brute strength has its perks, but for me its thinking through all possibilities and choosing an action is entertaining. This is a very tricky element to carry out in games. If there is too much information given, then I won’t want to play because I will think it is too easy. If there isn’t enough information given, I will stop playing the game eventually (I’ll try for a while but if I don’t see any way to make progress I become frustrated). I love puzzles, choosing which equipment will give the best outcomes in the battle, or flanking a force in the heat of battle. As long as a game keeps a player thinking about the game, a player will return to play. One of the best ways to keep a player thinking about a game is to give them something they can think about without actually having to physically be playing the game. I suppose this would be taking the game out of the tv or computer and into the player’s mind. When there is a puzzle that I can’t solve I usually think about it all day until I can return to the game. This keeps me coming back to games.

Self Achievement: Feeling that you have improved in some way by playing the game. There are the achievement mongers that thrive on this ideology. Play XBOX 360 or on Steam and you will know what I mean. Although achievements keep a player challenging themselves, I want to focus on personal improvement. When a player can use knowledge from inside a game in the world outside of the game, then they will feel a sense of achievement. I know a lot more about racing after I played Gran Turismo 2, and that made me keep coming back. I would see something on tv about racing, and I would know what the announcers were talking about. I felt proud about what I learned from the game. I wanted to keep playing so that I could know more about racing. There is also a sense of achievement when I obtained the licenses because they were almost impossible to complete. I remember being a little frustrated, but it wasn’t an unfair game so I kept trying until I succeeded. When I did I felt more proud than I had in almost any other game I played. Of course completing any game might give a player a similar feeling. We all have stories of games we played where there were insurmountable odds, but we didn’t back down. We did the impossible in a way that no one else might be able to do, and that is a feeling of self achievement. One can also measure growth in games this way. When they start playing a person might not be able to beat level 1, but after a month they have completed all 100 levels. If a player feels that they are improving they will come back to a game. There is also the dreaded “brick wall” in games where no matter what a player does it feels they haven’t improved at all. Maybe they have mastered the game. When this happens the player might not return but find a new game to master. They will still love the game, but they might not play it for a while.