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About rharwick

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  1. I'm a woman and I play strategy games, although generally not RTSes. But I can think of a few reasons why standard strategy games might not appeal to women. I don't expect this to be true of all women, or all of these reasons to apply to any given woman, but the sum total of them could explain why more women don't seem to be interested. And again, I'm an exception here, so I certainly acknowledge they exist. 1. Lack of character focus. Playing as a nation, or as an arsenal, rather than as characters. It doesn't take a lot to change some strategy games into RPGs, if you make them character-focused, and I'd expect you'd see more women take an interest. 2. Subject matter. These games tend to focus narrowly on war and domination. Why don't women generally take an interest in this? Partly because they're not socialized into it. Maybe it's because women don't get to fantasize about being war heroes; when war comes, we have to clean up the mess. Maybe it's because again, army-scale war is abstract, rather than personal. Maybe it's because war is just one subject, and there are a lot of other facets to history. 3. Time. Strategy games tend to favor people (men and women) with a lot of spare time to learn something complex and abstract. I would say that generally women have less free time than men, as most women still end up shouldering more of the burden of home life and caretaking. 4. Women are not socialized to believe that they can be good at abstract thinking, and then they are not welcomed into those spaces when they try. Not coincidentally, science and math fields are male-dominated. 5. General inaccessibility. An RPG can still be compelling even if you're not all that interested in sci-fi. I'm not sure a wargame about supply lines in WWII can still be interesting if you're not actually interested in the minutiae of WWII. But yeah, I obviously can't speak for all women, and I don't share most of these objections. These are just guesses.
  2. Time to get nerdy. Rob & Danielle's discussion of playing what they have readily available instead of chasing the next new thing, or only playing those bona fide hit games, hits close to home. Since March of last year I have had a system: play 2 games I already own for every one 1 game I buy. It has been a really great system. It has kept me away from gratuitous Humble Bundle purchases, restrained me during Steam sales, and most importantly, allowed me to discover and enjoy plenty of games I'd already owned. What does it mean to play a game? It means I play for a minimum of 10 hours (it's completely unrealistic that I would beat every game I own) or beat the main campaign. Ten hours seems to be a good minimum for me to get a really meaningful impression of a game. Some games take a long time to get started, and I want to give them that time. Other games seem pretty cool after 2 hours and then really fizzle by ten. A surprising number are done before the 10 hour mark. Some games in my backlog that I finally played and enjoyed thanks to my system: Mark of the Ninja Saints Row 4 FEAR 2 Darksiders 2 Sid Meier's Ace Patrol & Pacific Skies And I could go on. Even the ones I haven't enjoyed as much have been largely worthwhile while they lasted. In total, I have ended up playing 62 games in the last year + 3 months, purchasing 30, so my backlog is 32 games less. I've beaten 2/3 of the games I've started. I average 15 hours per game, or 13 hours per game I've beaten. This means I do tend to finish shorter games more often (unsurprisingly), but I'm not necessarily quitting the ones I don't finish right at the 10 hour mark. (But of course the unbeaten played games were never going to average below 10 hours, by nature of the system.) If you've made it this far, you might be wondering, if you cut down on humble bundles and steam sales, doesn't that mean you've reduced the likelihood that your backlog contains hidden gems? Yes, I think that's probably true. My purchasing habits under this system have become pickier. But then, I still have pretty varied taste, so it's not as if I'm exclusively buying big "safe" AAA releases at the expense of other games. (Some games I've bought and played since starting the system are Firewatch, Pitfall Planet, Transistor, Black Closet, Her Story, Invisible, Inc.--in addition to The Witcher 3 and Uncharted 4.) The main difference is that I'm actually playing the games I get, so they don't have time to turn into backlog. On the whole, it's better, because it means I not only buy them but I talk about them, which could be worth another sale or two. Another positive: since I'm buying fewer games and being less tempted by Steam sales, I'm spending more on average on each game I buy. Unfortunately, I haven't been tracking this, but I think I'm going to start. The hardest part of this system is actually my Good Old Games account. I have bought many a game that people remember very fondly, that I feel I missed out on, only to install it and find it just very difficult to acclimate to. Disciplining myself to play those games is proving to be a challenge, as I find I spend the first couple hours just figuring out how I should have played, and then I have to restart.
  3. Firewatch's misdirections are brilliant. They are not there simply to mislead the player. They are a reflection of Henry's developing psychological state, after weeks of isolation, reading a steady diet of suspense and mystery novels. He even manages to suck unflappable Delilah into his paranoia. But what's great is that it's one of those rare, beautiful moments in games where the character you play reflects your player mindset; you come into a game expecting a conspiracy thriller, and the joke is on you, just as it's on Henry. As a game writer, this is the freakin' Holy Grail. And most games only glance at this level of alignment from afar. But then, my experience playing it was that it started as this lovely, grounded human story, and I was going to be really mad if there turned out to be supernatural elements/a secret government experiment/aliens. Because ALL THE GAMES are already about that. So, I was delighted when it became increasingly clear that this was a much more grounded thing. As to whether Henry changes, I don't know what kind of change you were expecting? He changes more than most game characters, who basically go from "I have a lot of people to shoot" to "I have shot a lot of people." Henry learns, like Danielle says, "the woods won't save you from life." Neither will the escapism of mystery novels. I think most people do come away from that game with a sense of this meaning, so I don't think it's unclear. Further, though, I think there's a difference between saying a game doesn't wrap up with an Aesop's fable style proverb at the end that puts a cap on its meaning, and that there's no meaning or meaningful change in the experience. Firewatch has enough text and subtext in it that you can argue from what's actually in the game about whether Henry has changed and how much. (I think the answer is, that he has not made a huge change, otherwise that would undercut the key point "the woods can't save you." But that that knowledge could empower him to take control of a life that until that moment was spiralling out of his control.) That's not imposed meaning; that's learning to tease out what a piece of art is trying to say by looking closely at what it says, replaying it, picking over the hints, and discovering subtleties you missed the first time through. But Henry isn't the only character who has an arc. Delilah also learns a thing or two. She's the one, in fact, who gets the last word on the meaning of the experience. In sum, it's "don't become me." Don't get stuck here, avoiding your problems, and failing to care about what matters. After all, while Henry was too paranoid, there was an actual mystery to solve, one which Delilah could have solved long before Henry ever arrived, if she had cared. So while Henry takes it over the top, Delilah is stuck in a rut.
  4. I think the comparison to smartphones falls apart when you remember that most people get their smartphone upgrade through their plan provider. It's subsidized in the cost of their plan, which they factor as a monthly expense. Yes, their monthly plan could be cheaper without it, but they don't think about it that way. Psychology and how the cost is incurred (likewise with the monthly gym payment comparison) is a big factor. Nintendo has been doing this in the handheld space for years, though, and the sky hasn't fallen. I've bought the upgrades that made sense to me (original GBA to SP; original DS to DS Lite) and ignored the ones that didn't (SP to GBA Micro; DS Lite to DSi; 3DS to New 3DS.) I expect it will be the same with the PS4. Since I'm a PC-first gamer, I will probably stick with my basic PS4 for a long while, especially if Sony follows through on their plans to keep all PS4 games compatible with both. But then, I don't care about 4K or VR. Will they eventually have an upgrade that makes me move on? Sure. Will that be called PS5? Maybe, maybe not. I would love if this meant that consoles got more consistent backward compatibility. That to me is the chief benefit of the lack of distinct "generations" in PC and mobile gaming. I can still play that game I bought 5, 6 years ago on my upgraded hardware.
  5. The Witcher 3 does something positively brilliant with its quest structure. Part of its brilliance is that it's so obvious, and it could literally be copied by every major RPG-maker and it would still work, and yet no one in recent years has done anything like it. You don't have to finish the Bloody Baron's story to continue the main story. You don't need the levels, you don't need the loot. You don't need anything else from the Baron. This is just one example. The game does it a lot: you can involve yourself in things only to the extent that you need to to do your job, or you can see these side adventures through to the very end. This is an amazing choice, as it plays out, because at some point, those loose ends will get resolved, even if you don't do it. The Baron will make his choices whether Geralt helps or not. As Geralt advances the main story, other characters advance their own stories, and if you go back to these places, you will see what's changed as a result. This isn't a fancy AI system. This is solid, thoughtful quest design that asks "Okay, but what if Geralt decides not to continue being involved? How do we make that a valid choice?" Suddenly instead of a world full of NPCs waiting for the PC to act, you have a game full of people who will eventually act on their own, for better or worse.
  6. I think you're answering an argument I didn't make, but that may be my fault for lumping several different questions together or not fully explaining my thinking. Allow me to clarify (hopefully.) I don't think that everything that features meaningful interaction needs to be categorized as a game. On this point, I think we're in agreement. I do think that anything that eschews a more traditional narrative form for an interactive one ought to make meaningful use of interactivity. I think we may also agree on this, but somehow you came away from my post thinking that I thought meaningful interaction = game. I really don't care what you call it. I don't have a problem with calling them games, actually, because I'm fine with shredding the limited definitions of "game" on offer and including all manner of interactive entertainment. But if someone doesn't want to do that, I don't care--so long as they are open to seeing the value in interactive non-games. My point about virtual spaces was not as clear as I'd like. It was not about categorization, but about context. Context doesn't make Rapture a game, but it does make it more likely to be compared to games. That's relevant solely to your question "why try to shoehorn them into a context?" I am saying that it's not the critics who put them in a context, but their creators' own decisions about how to build them and where to sell them that results in inevitable comparisons. It's an audience mismatch, and it's an uphill battle to redefine your genre if you're going to say "well, I don't want to be judged as a game, but I'm going to take exclusivity money from the world's largest console manufacturer and try to sell my limited-interactivity narrative as a game on their marketplace." I think there are friendlier places to release, and I think your audience for this sort of thing expands if you go 2D instead of 3D, mobile or PC instead of console, etc. I don't think you need to make a game, therefore; I just think you shouldn't be surprised if people are confused about how to talk about what you have made. My final point was, again, just that even if the people criticizing your interactive entertainment are largely criticizing it on the basis of its success as a game, they may still have valuable feedback to give about why it falls short as a piece of interactive entertainment to begin with. You may find that they like interactive storytelling fine, but didn't think it was used well and don't know how to articulate that complaint except in relation to games (because that's literally the only other place they've encountered interactive storytelling.) But in general I think creators dismiss criticism of their work with "you just didn't get it" at their own peril. It could be true, that they're not your audience, but you don't know until you dig into the substance of the criticism. Anyhow I intend to play Rapture for myself soon, but I didn't own a PS4 until recently, and it debuted on Steam during a time when I was already playing catch-up with The Witcher 3, which also has some interesting narrative design elements, some of which are pulled with great success out of these sorts of "follow the trail, hit your mark" narrative experiences.
  7. So I think I agree with 80% of what you say here, but I think your last statement merits some unpacking. Primarily, I would like to know what having traversal/interactivity adds to the theatrical experience of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. Is it interesting to find the story pieces in a different order? Does digging through the different nooks and crannies of the world expand your viewpoint? Do you get to make choices that impact the story? Or are you just moving from trigger to trigger? This is a sincere question, since I haven't played it. To follow on that, I wonder whether that interactivity makes up for the necessarily limited nature of actual performance in video games. The tech's getting better, but it still falls well short of real physical actors in most cases. Second, you talk about not lumping these interactive theater pieces into the wrong context, but I think they invite that comparison by nature of the medium they choose and the marketplace on which they sell their goods (the PS4 online store, in the case of Rapture.) And along those lines, I have watched plenty of narratively-inclined individuals struggle with navigating in 3D space in a video game. So they would be unable to enjoy interactive theatrical story-telling for want of a skillset that is primarily possessed by gamers. So, I wonder what the value is of using a medium but not taking advantage of that medium's strengths to enhance your story, while also potentially alienating the audience that would be most receptive to your story. This is not meant as a trap or a trick. I think that there are many so-called Walking Simulators that do use interactivity well to enhance their story (Firewatch, for example), and there are plenty of games that don't incorporate much if any interactivity into their storytelling. (Yet, in that case, it's easy to see how the games themselves need to be interactive.) Ultimately, it's no skin off my back what sort of game or interactive experience people want to make, but it strikes me that some good feedback on the use of the medium could be missed in the rush to defend every so-called Walking Simulator as a genre unto itself. I think you don't need to add combat or puzzles to build a narrative that is meaningfully interactive, and I think that's a discussion worth having.
  8. So, unsurprisingly, I guess, I disagree about being overleveled in The Witcher 3. I turned the difficulty up once I got overleveled because I thought it made the story better. That Geralt can kill these monsters at all is what's extraordinary about him, and he does it by means of exceptional swordsmanship, potions, and signs. And once you outlevel the content sufficiently, you stop needing to use all but one of these. And when your approach becomes completely identical, each fight, the rest of Geralt's job--investigating the monsters--is just pointless busywork. Or to use a concrete example, there's a boss early in the first DLC that Geralt isn't really able to get a handle on before he's thrown into the fray. If I were vastly outleveled for it, that would have made it indistinguishable from any other monster Geralt fights. Instead, I was up against the wall, experimenting with my vast arsenal, trying to figure out what would work best, and genuinely terrified that I was outmatched. (Now, admittedly, I had the benefits of reloading that Geralt does not have. Still, in the fiction, this boss should absolutely not have felt like a garden variety Archgriffin or what have you.) Sure, some people prefer easier game experiences. But I just don't think it being easier is actually reflective of who Geralt is meant to be in the world.
  9. I'm not sure that sequels are bad, in general. I mean, if 90% of everything is crap, I'd say sequels tend to fare better than wholly original material. The reason being that more often than not they are building on a successful foundation. That's not to say there aren't sequels that miss the mark. But I think the fact that sequels often follow successful, beloved properties causes us to perceive them more harshly. I also don't think the stagnation of characters in the MCU is the result of sequelization so much as it's endemic to superhero storytelling, where superheroes need to pull double-duty as symbols. A similar stagnation happens in the comics, where the storytelling is not built around sequels, but around serialization. I think it's also strange that in almost the very next breath, Rob & Danielle rave about a TV show--a serialized story, in other words. How does a serialized story differ from a series of sequels? Well, on the one hand, a serialized story *might* be better planned in the long run than a series of sequels--and I can see how that would make it preferable. But on the other hand, it by definition is not going to give you the complete story you crave. Not until the very very end, and often only if you're fortunate that the show doesn't go on longer than the story the writers have planned, or get canceled prematurely. By contrast, in good hands, a series of sequels is many complete stories.
  10. Idle Weekend May 6, 2016: Top This

    I think a pause button is a reasonable request. But I'm still of the belief that at some level of accommodation to people "simply wanting to experience the game" you are not, in fact, experiencing the game any longer, but a different fun-machine entirely. "Save anywhere" is one of those features. I mean, checkers is a more accommodating game than chess--all the pieces move the same way. But you can't play checkers and say you've played chess. Certainly there are modifications you can make that do preserve much of what's essential while making the game friendlier. As osmosisch points out, the Homeward Bones (or Bloodborne's Bold Hunter's Marks) are a good compromise that keeps the game's systems in-tact while giving people an option. It's an elegant solution to making the game friendlier that respects what makes the design work. So is the constrained fast travel--although that does, as I've pointed out, have consequences for the level design. But you are rather less likely to come up with these solutions if you dismiss the fundamental risk-reward core loop of Dark Souls as mere masochism for the "git gud" crowd. Further, it's an action game, and there will always be some people who can't experience it as a game, no matter how accommodating you make it. But in this era of twitch, is that necessary? Watch a streamer, see the beautiful world, speculate on its story, have none of the frustration, need none of the hand-eye coordination.
  11. Idle Weekend May 6, 2016: Top This

    Incidentally, I wanted to add one thing to my comment on the bosses. Although I don't much like them as a player, as a designer, I recognize that they perform a necessary function in Dark Souls's design. Why? Because they support the level design. The shortcuts in levels are meaningless if you don't need to run back through the levels. Why do you need to run back through the levels? Because the bosses are hard and take several tries to learn. Otherwise, you'd get to a shortcut and you'd be like, "Great I went in a circle, yay me." This is especially true in the Soulsborne games beyond the first Dark Souls, as they all have some form of fast travel and hub areas, so the reward of quicker/less perilous traversal only matters when you need to get to the boss. This is, I think, the heart of the matter. The difficulty serves the design. It's an interesting question about games in general--at what point have you changed so much that the machinery of the design is fundamentally different? You don't like the machine, that's fine. You find it exhausting--understandable. But at what point have you tuned the Soulsborne difficulty to the point that you might as well be playing The Witcher 3, an action RPG with a much more forgiving difficulty curve, equally beautiful world art, and a far more interesting story? So, I think an interesting question is "How can you make Dark Souls less frustrating while still making it work?" Adding a save anywhere system or more checkpoints would undermine the terror (this is a good feeling; it is a feeling shared between player and in-world character, moving through these forbidding places.) Removing bosses makes shortcuts less rewarding. Unless of course, there is some other reason to backtrack. Yet backtracking should always feel like progress, so it's not enough to spread the merchants out. (This is actually the smart part about Bloodborne's design. You use the shortcuts to move forward to the boss, only rarely to move backward.) I am racking my brain for games with a similar system that don't rely on bosses--but here Dark Souls is really just classic Metroidvania, and those games all use bosses and checkpoint systems. I mean, in this respect, Dark Souls is more forgiving than its inspirations, because it gives you a chance to recover what you lost, rather than reloading you at the last checkpoint.
  12. Idle Weekend May 6, 2016: Top This

    Gosh, I disagree with the letter-writer who complains about the checkpoint spacing. I'm not a hardcore fan. Stopped playing Dark Souls after 5 bosses, about 9 bosses in to Bloodborne. The best feeling in either of those games is the feeling of persisting to the shortcut. To the next lantern. Of going forward, even though I'm terrified of going forward and losing everything. And then succeeding. Not dying. Succeeding. You know how I do it? I play online, and I read the messages. I'm almost never surprised by an ambush. The community exists to teach you the game. And not in the "go check the wiki" sense. In the game, as a design, a feature. They leave messages "Ambush ahead." "Watch for traps." "Beware of foe." "Fire is effective." "Sneak attack time." Etc. Of course, I get my face crushed by bosses regularly, and it's painful and I would often really prefer if there were no bosses, most of the time, because while levels are a slow crawl ever forward, bosses are a wall. I agree, that's deeply painful. But traps, ambushes? Tough monsters? Rarely am I surprised by them, and not because I'm reading a guide.
  13. The thing with Dark Souls is that it's a very elegant machine for converting frustration and time into elation. The other thing with Dark Souls is that it's not for everyone. When I think about what I don't like about those games, and how I would fix what I don't like, I realize that those fixes would make the games less special to those who love them. For example, as a narrative-driven person, I find the purposeful obscurity of the series to be maddening. I see the lovely art design and evocative spaces and I think to myself, "too bad there's nothing to do here but kill (nearly) everything that moves." Yet, isolation and confusion are deeply embedded thematic elements of the series, and they go hand in hand with the satisfaction of finding your way and making the place your own. I've made peace with the fact that a lot of people love something that I find more intriguing in the abstract than in actual practice. I think I understand, though, if people are frustrated with the way the series has dominated the last few years of conversation around mainstream AAA gaming, as the discussion can often give the impression to those on the outside that the best gaming experiences are necessarily exclusive and inaccessible. This is unfortunate because Dark Souls is a game in which you are meant to ask for help. It's also I think untrue. Dark Souls isn't great because it's more pure, or keeps bad players away. It's great because for those who do undertake its journey and succeed, the experience changes them--teaching them patience, perseverance, observation and showing them what they can achieve by pushing themselves to their limit. Given that, it's to be expected that people are very passionate about it.
  14. I absolutely agree that there are a bunch of ways to get player buy-in. I probably overstated my original case. I simply meant that walking around watching ghost tableaus play out an exciting story is not nearly as interesting as having a stake in it yourself. But I think you underestimate the importance of the choice in Gone Home to situate the player in the family whose struggles the player uncovers, and the specific circumstances--home from college, new, but inherited house--that make the story possible. I do think that it is more interesting if the player's role in a story is clear from the outset--even if their role is to define their role, as in an RPG--than if they are merely an unidentified observer. This is what I mean about Gone Home's unraveling of past events having importance to the present action in the game. They are important because they matter to Katie, in a way that they would not be as meaningful if you were just an unidentified observer, or if the information about your identity was withheld for a twist. This isn't just any teenage girl's struggles you're uncovering--they're your sister's, and your going away to college is in part responsible for the fact that your younger sister is struggling. You did not do anything wrong, but your absence altered the family dynamic. Further, the final "past" event occurs only a few moments before the game's beginning. The past meets the present at the end, head-on, and all the while the tension is very much rooted in the present "Is my family still whole? Is my sister okay?" This is a question that really matters in the present, different from if you, say, found a dead body at the beginning and were just watching scenes of how it happened. But it's true that Gone Home also incorporates more puzzle-work into the exploration and unraveling of that story, which also buys player investment.
  15. I find this accusation, that people are marking down The Division "because it doesn't have Orcs," a bit of a strawman, but perhaps I've simply missed something. Could you please provide a link or quotation from a review that does this? What I have seen from the major game reviews outlets falls perfectly in line with what you're requesting--i.e., a critique of The Division's execution of its modern setting, not of its choice of setting as such. On the one hand, you're right that if I am served a perfectly executed chocolate tart, it makes little sense for me to say, this is delicious, but it ought to have been a strawberry cheesecake. On the other hand, if you throw in an ingredient that just doesn't make sense in a chocolate tart, it makes sense for me to ask whether that ingredient had any right to be there, or whether the baker would have been better off making a different pastry, if they really wanted to use that ingredient. By that measure, you can observe, for example, that if a game treats certain human beings in a setting that is meant to resemble our modern world as if they were Orcs (monsters, cannon fodder), perhaps they either should have a. adjusted how their narrative handles enemy mobs or b. chosen a setting more palatable to the kind of mass murder MMOs and other action RPGs rely on. This is not a matter of "Oh I prefer fantasy settings." It's an observation that one doesn't simply swap one setting for another without there being moral and narrative implications, that human beings are not interchangeable with Orcs, and if you treat them that way, many players will not be able, for reasons of morality and believability, to enjoy your game. I admit, this is an immensely challenging thing for a content creator. You have to earn your players' trust. It is not a given. You have to convince them early and quickly that you have done your homework and thought through the rules of your world, or they will not willingly suspend their disbelief. In a media of escapism, this is supremely important and should not be ignored in a review, even though it is something that fundamentally happens on the gut level. No matter how beautiful the game is, or how well-designed the loot system is, if it creates cognitive dissonance, a significant segment of people simply will not enjoy it. Those people deserve for their reviewers to warn them of this, just as the systems-design-nuts deserve to know about underwhelming loot systems and the PC-heads deserve to know if a port is slapdash.