Posts Tagged ‘game design’

Cats have nine lives

2011/02/10

(Originally posted #AltDevBlogADay)

 

“Oh no I died again!” – not something you generally get to say in real life is it?  Yet gamers readily accept death as a temporary failure state – just a blip towards achieving their goal.  Death has been abstracted in games in many varied ways over the years and in some games abstracted away completely.  It has been used to provoke emotion, to punish,  to teach, to up the stakes or just to increase a score.

 

But the cat came back the very next day…

 

Arcades with video games and pinball machines are quite rare now in the UK (now they are full of fruit machines) but are still a good starting point for looking in to players’ lives in games.  Lives in Pinball are represented by identical silver balls – a limited resource per game.  A player may start with three balls and might even win extra balls but eventually the game will end with a score.  Score is used as a measure of success across all of your lives, with each finite reincarnation another chance at increasing the net accomplishment.

 

Space Invaders sees the player’s ship explode and be replaced with an identical clone  a limited number of times.  PacMan actually shrivels up in to nothing and makes a pitiful whining noise as his little spherical body implodes at the touch of Inky, Blinky, Pinky or Clyde… but another identical PacMan takes his place.  These games are over thirty years old but the themes of credits, lives and scores still permeate throughout modern games in all sorts of disguises.

 

This kind of death and credit system is useful to monetize failure.  Want to see more of the game?  Well okay then… you have ten seconds to cough up the money and we will let you see some more.  If you do not come up with the money then back to the start for you!  Progression therefore will cost you, mastery of skills and patterns only earned after costly failure.  Is it worth antagonizing a player with this kind of death in games that are not pay-per-play?

 

Mario and Sonic teach via death.  I cannot believe that these games were designed so that a brand new player could get through the entire game without learning through a fatal kind of trail and error.  Punishment for death can increase from the arcades where you can always bribe your way through a section, because in some games you pay in time instead.  After dying a few times in a row the punishment goes from a pained animation to having to restart an entire area – taking away hard fought progress from the player.  While some players thrive on this type of this type of challenge I would argue this action can be demotivating.  Only a certain kind of player continues on to conquer this, others will just walk away in frustration.

 

‘Splosion Man has death but you just bounce right back in a glorious  splodey sentient cloud of insanity.  The game has levels and stages to clear and it is not possible to save your progress in the middle of a stage.  The game does offer the player an option to skip to the next stage if you die in a section too many times in a row.  So a frustrated player can skip forward to see new content and get some sense of progress.  I never took up the option… too much gamer pride.  But I did hear something about a pink tutu you have to wear in the next stage if you do!

 

Games with lives and credits often also keep score, either in terms of points or fastest times.  They promote competition through leaderboards, with players trying to out do each other for bragging rights.

 

If it bleeds we can kill it (apart from if it is the player)

 

There is a snowy mountain path continuing to the NORTH.  To the SOUTH a noisy group of villagers carrying flaming pitchforks are closing in on your location.  They all seem kind of angry.  Well apart from the springer spaniel that is wagging his tail furiously.  He seems to think this is the best walk ever.

 

> NORTH

 

You tripped over something and fell off the cliff, a whooshing sound fills your ears followed by a very nasty crunching noise.  Breathing heavily and looking up you see the villagers standing where you were laughing.  One shouts down to your broken body “enjoy your trip?”  Another takes your INFRARED SUNGLASSES that fell from your pocket before your tumble and puts them on.  “OOOh INFRARED SUNGLASSES, I’ve always wanted a pair of these! I’m seeing red… oh look at that INVISIBLE TRIP WIRE across the path!”  Rolling your eyes, you promptly expire.

 

THE END.

 

If only the player would have typed USE GLASSES.  Ah well.  It was all great playing that text adventure until you died, then you had to consider if you really wanted to play through all *that* again.  It is like not being able to cheat in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.  Part of the reason I like Monkey Island II so much was that you could not get in to that situation.  Sure you could get stuck, but Guybrush could not die (but could certainly embellish the stories he told about it).  The lack of death (but the presence of peril) made the game a very accessible adventure game.

 

In Fable III, you get knocked down, but you get up again.  There is a price though; you get scarred up and you could lose some experience towards your next guild seal.  This cosmetic toll is unbearable to some – I have known people to quit to the dashboard to avoid the auto save kicking in and saving their character in a knocked out state.  Of course others play well but get knocked out on purpose… because scars are cool and perhaps they like the villagers making negative comments about their looks (just another reason to take the safety off).

 

The player in these games has one life that is constantly threatened but never ends.  It gives a player license to experiment without fear of a sticky end.  Games where the player cannot die often focus on telling a story rather than keeping score.  They might also have to fight against the perception of being “easy”.

 

Ouch that really stings

 

There are a breed of games where death is both an inconvenience and a common occurrence.  Gone are the limits on lives and credits.  A player can retry many different things in different ways without fear of being sent back to an arbitrary check point a designer decided would be a good place to start again.

 

In Braid, everything fades and pauses… whoops better rewind time to before that death happened.  No penalty really, unless the backwards noise really grates against you.

 

Crackdown and Bioshock have the concept of clones… so just like Pacman and the hero’s ship in Space Invaders there is always a new vessel for a player to jump in too.  Though in Crackdown & Bioshock the effects of the previous clone are still present in the world.  You literally are a player clone army and in Crackdown II there is actually an achievement rewarded for finding all the ways an agent can die.  Death then can be its own reward.

 

Demon’s Souls adds a community aspect to death.  Death can come completely out of the blue but blood stains can be used to communicate to other wary players what is in store for them – death is a form of shared learning experience.

 

Limbo sees the little boy avatar you control dying over and over again with very little game penalty.  I take it back, the deaths are really quite disturbing and stomach churning though I’m sure there are those reading that just think it is funny!  Heck it is probably a good way of acclimatizing to that kind of horror.  Each death is over so quickly and so little ground is lost that it hardly costs any player time at all to die.

 

These games attempt to limit the frustration of death by placing the player close to the point of failure.  They dust off the player and say “have another go, try something different”.  Many of these games want you to complete them and know that some of the challenges they offer are tough.

 

No you really are dead

 

Something that computers and home consoles can do that I have not known in the arcades is the game save.  A precious area of memory where a player can save their progress through the game and return to it at will.  This allows the paradox of a player dying and a game ending, yet able to return to a certain point of time before that happened.  Kind of like Ground Hog Day, where the entire world in unaware that all this has happened before (and all this will happen again).  The player though has hopefully gleaned some knowledge to progress past that sticky point, so perhaps after x amount of times it will actually happen differently!

 

The downside of this is that the game does not know you played through a section either, so if there are any sections of non-interactive play then a player is doomed to sit through them again and again.  As a player I really, really do hate times where I am forced to sit through sections of the game deemed so essential that I must watch them before interacting again.  Perhaps there is a happy compromise, a separate save file held that indicates if a player has experienced that oh-so-important content once even if they revert to a previous save?

 

Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption do sometimes have fresh dialogue for retrying a totally failed mission from a checkpoint.  GTA does exact a penalty for death (or at least lack of heath) – the player does not automatically revert to a save but instead ends up in a hospital with the contents of their previously bottomless pockets empty.

 

Red Dead Redemption did rely on teaching me that I cannot disarm people in story mission duels via killing me off and reverting me to a save / checkpoint.  I really would have preferred disarmed opponents that had to die to have killed themselves rather than gimping the disarm mechanic and killing me in duels.  Being quite a persistent gamer I believed them to just be formidable opponents, so I did try one particular duel over and over again for an hour before I caught on (sigh).

 

If a player veers away from where the story teller wants them to go, they are killed off and put back somewhere they can make a different choice.  It does become frustrating if that choice is not clear, or if a player sees what they are supposed to do but lacks the skill to do it.  Perhaps worse still, when the player remembers something from several hours ago that would change things now.  Arguably save slots offer redemption for mistakes… at the cost of perhaps many hours of player time.  Multiple save slots also potentially endanger the weight of player decisions.

 

Should a player be able to decide to “cheat” and turn the pages back, or should that temptation be removed?  Do you trust a player to not replay one part of the story again and again to see all the different outcomes?  Does it even matter if they do?  I don’t think so if the player is having fun, but Mr. Resetti would disagree!

 

You wear yellow, they wear red

 

When a hero dies there is a save point or usually a special something that allows them to fight another day.  The same cannot be said of other characters and things the player interacts with in a game world.  You are Captain Kirk, the other characters are red shirts.

 

Games in the Civilization, Age of Empires and Command & Conquer series reward units that survive many battles with experience.  They reward the player for leadership that keeps the minions alive.   Cannon Fodder also had this but had an extra twist.  Giving my squad names and knowing the penalty of seeing a new grave on the hill at the end of the level made me work just that little bit harder to keep my squad alive (see comments from other gamers on this vid).

 

Some game’s deaths actually are a vital part of the storyline and they expect the player to accept that.  Characters in The Sims eventually die if you play with them.  Sure you could just switch characters, keep reverting to a save or allow them to continually imbibe from the water cooler of youth but you are always able to let time take its course and eventually death  will come to collect them.  Then they are gone.  Ok, well you might get a ghost hanging around but they are not remotely the same.

 

Mass Effect makes the player choose life or death for their own team members at points during the game.  Mass Effect  II rewards good leadership and truly knowing the players own team with extra story and different outcomes.  There comes a point where deep knowledge of a the supporting cast strengths and weaknesses can save their lives.

 

Having a player care about their supporting cast is terrible when it feels unfair (why won’t this healing potion work on them this time… it worked the other thousand times?!)  When done right though it gives a player extra emotional investment in not only the avatar they control but more of the world they are experiencing.

 

That’s all folks!

 

I would be very interested in hearing about how you think player death may evolve in the future, more examples of the above and your own personal experiences in the comments.  Many argue games are getting easier – some would say they are becoming more accessible.  A few designers have designed away player death completely in their games.

 

Death serves a few purposes, but chiefly to either completely end a score attempt or to impede progress through a larger game world.  Geometry Wars understands that smashing down a button lots of times should just let the player try again (a touch many gamers I am sure appreciate).  Other games use checkpoints and saves to snatch failed player actions out of the air as if they never happened; or return a carbon copy of that character back to the world sometimes none the wiser of the predecessors fate.

 

While writing this blog I asked an open question on Twitter about player and character death.   The many replies even then just go to show what a wide subject this is in both narrative and gameplay.  Grim Fandango, Planescape: Torment and Die2Nite have been suggested to me as games that explore death itself, though that is a topic for a different article.  As a programmer and gamer I believe the way death is handled in a game very much defines how the game feels and plays overall.  I do hope this article sparks off a few interesting conversations.  You may leave comments here or try joining a conversation on Twitter – I suggest the hash tag #PlayerDeath @paulecoyote.

 

Thanks

Tweeters that helped me out in no particular order: @DaveFeltham @zackfreedman @lingmops @glamgeekgirl @oOSTVOo @twonjosh @paulnew @acroyear3 @BusterMcFearson @Stomp224 @JurieOnGames @ChrisA9 @ColleenDelzer @Renmauzuo @NaviFairyGG @FatalWebMunki @bjoernknafla @daredevildave

 

Also many thanks to my lovely wife proof reading this for me several times before I published it.

 

Paul Evans is a central technology programmer at Lionhead Studios. He has worked on the Fable II, Fable III and other unreleased titles. You can find him on Linkedin, see other things he has written on his personal blog and AltDevBlogADay.org. You can also follow him on twitter @PaulECoyote. Everything in this article is Paul’s opinion alone and does not necessarily reflect his employer’s views, nor constitute a legal relationship.

Book: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information – Edward R. Tufte

2009/09/02

This article is a few notes from the excellent book “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward Tufte.  Though flicking through the pages casually it may seem like quite a dry text on an equally arid subject, devoting proper time to reading through it I have found it enlightening and very interesting.  Though the text concentrates on statistics and their representation in print, there are metaphors and ideas that I believe can be transferred in to user interface design for applications and games.

The format of this post follows the sequence in the book and includes quotes from each part together with my own notes.  At the end of the article I identify how some principles have already been applied to applications and how they might be be applied to games and tools in the future.

Part 1 – Graphical Practice

Strong opening that is illustrated throughout the book.  Quoting & paraphrasing the principles of graphical excellence ([1] p.13,51), graphics should:

  • * Show with clear purpose; description, exploration, tabulation, or decoration.
  • * Reveal data by inducing the viewer to think about the substance. 
  • * Not obscure the data by the technology and methods used to display the data.
  • * Be truthful about the data and not misleading via how it is presented.
  • * Present many numbers in a small space so it can reviewed at a glance.
  • * Encourage the eye to compare the displayed data.
  • * Make large data sets coherent.
  • * Reveal the data at several levels of detail to allow the consumer to see the broad picture through to the fine detail.
  • * Be closely integrated around the context it was designed for, kept nearby with statistical and verbal descriptions of the data.
  • * Use simple methods to display simple data; do not waste real estate drawing graphs if a table would communicate data using less space.
  • * Be a well-designed presentation of interesting data.  A harmony of substance and design.
  • * Communicate complex ideas clearly, concisely and precisely.
  • * Enable the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time using the least ink in the smallest space.

Geographical maps have historically been able to show a great deal of information in a small area.  Overlaying information on to maps can reveal patterns to the eye that might not be readily recognisable from large tables of numbers that might be used to create an overlay

Shades of grey from black to white can show a range of numbers very succinctly without having to decode a legend.  Shades of colour and transitions between colours are harder to decode and can pose accessibility issues.

Graphics are important to convey the “shape of the data” [2] to enable contrast and pick out patterns.  The eye tends to be drawn towards line intersections, slopes, plateaus and clusters of information.

Often time series (snapshots of something over time) require contextual information to be useful, the graphic alone is unlikely to be enough so good labels and/or legends are important.  They are useful in before and after studies (perhaps do and undo).

Some powerful graphics combine time and space with art and statistics – search for images of “A complete year long life cycle of the Japanese beetle” to see different interpretations of [3].  Tufte claims a graphic drawn by Charles Josepth Minard (1781-1870) of the the fate of Napoleon’s army in Russia is perhaps the best statistical graphic ever drawn [4]. Graphic drawn by Charles Josepth Minard (1781-1870) of the the fate of Napoleon’s army in Russia.  It combines several layers of data, including a map, temperature, the numbers of people left in the army and the passage of time.  It cleverly shows the route taken by the men and the toll of the cold climate and various positions in the journey.  One subtle colour is used with much of the data conveyed via line thickness and clearly labelled points of change along that line.  It fulfils the criteria set out by Tufte summarised at the start of this part so it is easy to draw the conclusion as to why Tufte thinks so highly of this graphic.  Indeed at a glance the graphic draws your eye along the important details, and closer inspection does yield greater detail.

The “graphical integrity” section covers the use of graphics over the years to deceive a viewer to support a particular agenda.  Eye-opening in many ways, the section does also cover how not to deceive a viewer.  These boil down to:

  • * Once a unit of size has been decided in a graphic, keep it consistent.
  • * Adding more dimensions to the graphic then there are in the data.
  • * Keep the measure along the horizontal axis consistent.
  • * Accurate labelling.
  • * Keep the “Lie Factor” ([1] pg.57) close to 1.  Lie Factor = size of effect shown in graphic ÷ the size of effect in data.

Part 2 – Theory of Data Graphics

The concept of “data ink” is discussed throughout this chapter ([1] p.93).  Data ink is the non-erasable core of a graphic that displays the variation in the numbers represented.

  • Data ink ratio is:
    • data ink ÷ total ink used to print the graphic.
    • proportion of a graphic’s ink devoted to the non-redundant display of data-information.
    • 1.0 – proportion of a graphic that can be erased without loss of data-information.

An important idea in this part of the book is that less is more.  Within reason maximise the data-ink ratio by erasing non-data ink.  This could mean for example displaying part of the axis on a graph to mark data bounds, or if the data is displayed on a grid only show parts of the grid that directly add value.

Symmetry in data sometimes means that only half of the graphic need be displayed to convey the whole meaning of the data, as the eye wants to complete the symmetry ([1] p.97).

Redundancy in data can also be useful in situations where the data wraps around-for example, a 24-hour clock or a globe ([1] p.98).

Unintentional optical art via moiré effects creating a disconcerting illusion of movement should be avoided.  Cross hatching and fine grids should be avoided – grids can be minimised by using them only around the data variation being displayed ([1] p.120).

Complicated colour keys that require memorisation of vocabulary for a particular graphic can prohibit quick understanding of that graphic ([1] p.154).  Subtle use of colours can be used as a means of identification, but darker & lighter shading should be used for scaling values rather than colour blending.

Creating and maintaining a viewing architecture within a graph is important.  Good architecture should enable the eye to follow several different and uncluttered paths through the data ([1] p.159).  Within the framework the viewer should be able to spot patterns in the encoded data set and easily spot unusual parts of that data.

Experimentation and revision is the key to the concise depiction of information.  Trying different methods of expressing the points, axis, grid and tables can help.  Label important events in data.  Use standardised units for things like money where unit value is effected over time ([1] p.77).

Sometimes the same ink can be use to serve more than one graphical purpose.  For example, a blot on a map can convey an amount via shading rather than just being a binary indication via being black or white ([1] p.139). Too much complexity in multifunctional ink can lead to an encoding that can only be readily understood by the inventor, as graphic perception is very subjective in the first place ([1] p.56).  Some advocate mobilising the numbers being represented in the graphic themselves.  John Turkey inventor of the stem-and-leaf plot wrote “If we are going to make a mark, it may as well be a useful one.  The simplest – and most useful – meaningful mark is a digit”[5].

Data density is the amount of entries being displayed divided by the area of the data graphic.  High density data is desirable but should not come at the expense of legibility of the image.  Many graphics, particularly lower density graphics, can be shrunk down enabling comparison of many graphics in a small space.  This can be particularly useful when comparing time-series style images that are in essence snapshots of a data set over time.

An aesthetically pleasing graphic is one that follows a simple design that avoids distracting decoration and elegantly displays a complex data set.  Something that takes little effort to comprehend yet reveals something interesting about the data. ([1] p.177).  Attractive statistical graphics:

  • * Have a format and design appropriate for purpose.
  • * Use words, numbers and art together.
  • * Reflect a balance, a proportion, a sense of relevant scale.
  • * Are not cluttered from excessive detail.
  • * Have a narrative quality and tell a story about the data.
  • * Look professionally and carefully drawn.
  • * Avoid content-free information displayed on the graphic.
  • * For complex data-sets a combination of descriptive text, tables and graphics might be combined.
  • * Data graphics are paragraphs about data and should be treated as such ([1] p.181), arrange graphics in a narrative.

Use tables for simple sets of comparable values that the eye can quickly cross-reference.  The order values are presented in a table can also provide a narrative to the numbers presented.  Tables should be used in preference to pie charts especially in a series because pie chars can quite difficult to compare ([1] p.178). 

Super tables can be constructed by clustering rows together within meaningful groups.  Additional narrative can be provided by ordering rows within each cluster, and ordering the clusters themselves.  This form of reference can be more powerful than many bar little charts representing the same data ([1] p.179).

Words and pictures belong together.  Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscripts integrate illustration and tables directly in to the text explaining his ideas ([1] p.182) [12].  Forcing the viewer to skip around the display looking for figure or reference elsewhere spoils the flow of narrative.  Words used in graphics should be data themselves or explain how to read the graphic, rather than what to read.

Accessible Complexity: The Friendly Data Graphic ([1] p.183)

Friendly Unfriendly
Abbreviations avoided, mysterious elaborate encoding avoided. Abbreviations everywhere, requiring many trips away from graphic to decode.
Words run in the usual direction for the language. Words run vertically along y axis or in other jarring ways.
Labels explain data, displayed horizontally. Graphic is cryptic, requiring repeated  references elsewhere to decode.
Legends are avoided, labels used on graphic itself. Heavily encoded using shading and colours, requiring repeated reference to the legend.
Graphic attracts viewer, provokes curiosity. Graphic is repellent and filled with unnecessary distractions (“chart-junk”).
Colours are used sensitively for colour-impaired viewers.  Shading preferred.  Blue can be distinguished by most colour-deficient people. Colour used insensitively, red and green used for essential contrasts.
Type face is easy to read, letters are easily differentiated from each other. Type face is difficult to read, letters and numbers can be confused.
Type is upper and lower case.  Serif. Type is single case.  Sans Serif.

Proportion and balance in the content of a graphic are important for creating attractive graphics.  Musical scores provide a good example of how thickness of lines and proportion of symbols can not only look attractive but also carry meaning.  A very lateral example can be found in Jarbas Agnelli, “Birds on a Wire” [8].  Art deco designs can display similar reverence for the beauty that can be found in strong lines and curves of different strengths [9][10].

Graphics should tend toward the horizontal, greater in length than height.  The human eye is naturally practiced in picking detail out from a horizon thus sometimes a floating horizontal line can be made clearer by shading to the axis ([1] p.187).  Turkey wrote [6] “Perhaps the most general guidance we can offer is that smoothly-changing curves can stand being taller than wide, but a wiggly curve needs to be wider than tall”.  Rectangles of a proportion of between 1.4 to 1.8 (1.618 being the “Golden Section” [7]) tend to be aesthetically pleasing ([1] p.189).

When the nature of the data suggests the shape of the graphic follow that suggestion.  Otherwise move toward horizontal graphics about 50% wider than tall ([1] p.190). 

Applications In Software

The spirit of the book is not to follow rigid principles, but to revise and create something that can communicate the complex simply.  Often the realisation of this is something very desirable which can be a pleasure to use. 

Windows 7 Start MenuThe Windows integrated search acts as an intelligent filter for a table of results and is consistent throughout the Explorer interface.

In the example shown to the right we can see that I have typed "snip”.  By the context of where I am typing snip, it has ordered the results found starting with Programs and Control Panel, enabling me to launch the snipping tool by just pressing enter.  In an Explorer Window this would filter files and folders depending on the view type.

 

Ringo says: I've got a hole in my pocket How many games with inventory systems do you think might benefit from taking on this search paradigm?  Especially for games where you have very deep pockets.

Mass Effect was an awesome game, but the inventory management I personally found a chore.  A lot of space (“ink”) was devoted to prettiness rather than content, leading to a lot of navigation through the menus to get at what you want.  There were many button pushes just for turning your unwanted items into the futuristic magic goo (Omni-gel).

RPGs and adventure games have long used maps to show transitions to other levels via “Indy dots” tracing across distances to provide interest while a new section is being loaded.  Mass Effect used elevators to do the covering-up-loading thing, but it also did allow a role-player extra depth accessible via maps; encouraging players to explore to find hidden objects.  Without a doubt, maps can provide a lot of information that is easy for a viewer to understand and drill down to.  Twittervision gives tweets (single line status updates broadcast via a service called Twitter) extra context by placing a speech bubble on a map.  Watching this map update in real time you can see trending conversations for a particular location and across the globe.  I expect we will see more innovative usage of maps as games utilising social networks and reality-augmenting games via smart phones develop.

The Wolfire Editor already employs techniques suggested by this book.  Their excellent article [11] explains what they have taken from Tufte and applied it – I highly recommend you taking a look.  This article put Tufte’s book on my own reading list.

Having worked on Fable II I have seen first hand quite how many variables and stats go in to making a great AAA title.  Designers had to be able to tweak properties of creatures, items, equipment and augments.  Adjusting the price and availability of something creates a ripple effect throughout the entire game.  Make a creature too tough too early and the player might give up; make it too easy and there would be no challenge.  Better visualising this sea of numbers and their effect on one another would have made the designers’ lives easier.

Closing

I would be interested in comments on good examples of manipulating game data in an intuitive way – both in game and in tools.

References

Observations of games at the weekend

2009/01/18

So I’ve set up this WordPress blog.  I think I’m going to try and update it on the weekend… weekdays tend to be a little unpredictable as far as free time goes.  Right now I should be able to take advantage of not being in crunch, so the hours I’m doing aren’t always hugely outside of core hours.  My Windows Live blog doesn’t give me satisfying stats… I think I may let that go fallow.  Facebook is where I update for just friends and family – this I want to try and keep for developer thoughts.

Civilization Revolution

Played quite a bit of this weekend and last.  It is a really good turn based strategy game, and I have had fun playing it.  There are a ton of cool touches that have made me laugh and smile.  The advisors pushing each other out of the way when you skip them before they finish.  There are some funny gifts you get given now and again like dancing bears, jugglers and dancers.  They have made use out of a collection mechanic by having a big museum with busts of various leaders, pivotal people you meet through the games you play, and models of the wonders that you have built over the games you have played.

There is a slight curve on the user interface that I’m not sure I’m all the way through yet – and perhaps that’s why when I jacked up the difficulty again this morning and tried another scenario that I started to see the games numbers.  You know how in the Matrix when Neo starts seeing the world around him as green text flying around?  Well certain predictable patterns that were there in previous levels are not… and the virtual dice would seem to roll against you a little more often.  Perhaps I see this because I’m a developer and know what I’m looking out for.  After all artificial intelligence in games is more about creating a believable illusion of being smart, then academics actually trying to make something smart.

I will go back to it no doubt, the game has unbelievable depth.  If you want to get a kid interested in history this would be a game to give them to play… it actually has historical documentation, pictures and even media clips of the various resources and people that make up the game.

Fable II – Knothole Island Expansion Pack

Fable II is a great game, go buy it.  ;0)  Seriously, despite being part of the team and having played the game in the various states it has been in – to still be wowed and awed by it even after it stole so many unpaid hours of my life shows that the game must be good.

Danni, my wife, loves the game.  She loves the controls, the art, the style and humour of the game.  She finds the menu a little fiddle and because she plays on my gamertag sometimes has to have the orbs and stuff switched off, but apart from that it has been a game that turned the head of a casual / Sims 2 player to a role playing game… which is saying something.  The people who have complained about the lack of depth in reviews just plain didn’t go looking for it.

She is loving the island so far, apart from the dexterity challenges (flit-switch squash, timed run through flames, etc).  I guess the pack is probably aimed more at the hardcore – I think I could do the challenges and find them more fun then frustrating.  The ones who are most likely to know how to download content, have a hard drive, etc I guess are the hardcore anyway.  The extra places to visit and other content like the new potions and enemy variants are cool for all though.  It should be enough to make you want to keep Fable II and not trade it in for a bit longer!

Geometry Wars I

Still on the original Geometry Wars… the other day something in my head clicked and I managed to push through a previous upper score boundary.  That game is awesome, easy to pick up and hard to master.  The whole pushing A button a bunch of times to try again is genius for an arcade game like that.  Still looks beautiful today, without a doubt a modern classic.


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