Co-Ops, Where are you?

December 13, 2009 at 5:14 pm (Game Session) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

We are in the golden chase for a fun, cool co-op game. We’ve been trying a bunch of games that claimed themselves as co-op. There is a mix of positive and negative experiences.

Our list includes: Resident Evil 5, Halo 3, Lego Start Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Fable 2, Beautiful Katamari, Tales of Vesperia.

One of the feature decisions with co-ops games is to split or not split the screen.  In Resident Evil 5 and Halo 3 the screen is split so each player gets a part from their own view. Although you have full mobility and camera control, the sub-screen is small and it’s harder to see things around. Even if your console is hook-upped to a big screen, if you want to play comfy from the couch it doesn’t feel really good. In Lego Start Wars II, Fable 2 and Tales of Vesperia, you shared the screen with the other avatar, so coordinating where you’re heading is important. Specially in Lego Start Wars II where you can accidentally push your partner to a pit and kill him over and over again. In Beautiful Katamari, both players simultaneously control the katamari, as you imagine a lot of coordination is required.

I’m concerned about how publishers stamp ‘co-op’ on their games just because is a buzz word but zero support in the gameplay. In some games it seems to be not distinction between a ‘multiplayer’ and a ‘co-op’. It’s like just the mere presence of a second player allows them to say ‘co-op’. This is rather disturbing and a source of frustration because they offer an gaming experience of cooperation between players that is not fulfill. For instance in Resident Evil 5, the glimpse of cooperation is that if your buddy is grabbed by a zombie you press a button to help him and then just keep shooting around. Now (with your best sarcastic voice) that is co-op :P

In Fable 2, a game that has a lot of (other) good features, player 2 instead of embodying the older sister gets into a second kid. Ok, I understand that Rose might need to say and do things that would be too much for putting that baggage to the player. But there is no adaptation in the ‘co-op’ version for this second Hero! He is never acknowledged in the dialogues. Please, just say children instead of kid. Please, use a plural noun instead of singular. On top of that, the second player is pretty much a ghost, it’s not possible to interact with the objects, like knocking on a door. Player 1 has to do everything. Player 2 comes to live when it’s time to fight. What a bummer for player 2! For such rich character driven game, not recognizing the second player makes the whole experience dreadful.  This is pretty much the same that happens in Tales of Vesperia as well.

Simpler games like Beautiful Katamari and Lego Start Wars II have done a better job for playing together. In Beautiful Katamari you need to talk to your partner to optimize rolling up your katamari, you need to agree to keep moving in a certain direction otherwise you can’t control smoothly. It does indeed create synergy between the players and promotes cooperation. When they say co-op they do mean co-op.

Lego Star Wars II is pretty good in the co-op mode. Since you share the screen you have to agree about where to go, you also need your partner to stand strategically for instance to give enough space for a jump or for avoiding to accidentally push you to your death in a pit. What’s further supporting cooperation is that each avatar that the player controls has different abilities and can resolve specific parts to keep going, for example Obi-Wan can use the force to move blocks and build a bridge, R2-D2 can hack doors.

The social factor in games is really important. It can promote people to play a game, it’s also investing time with your friend, you’ll recall when you were playing together the other day, and what a good time with your buddy you had. If developers are looking into this, they need to be more careful about what they promise and what kind of experiences they want to promote. Not because a second player can log in means that they cooperating or playing together. I’d love to see more co-op games out there, and have fun with them.

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Pure Game

October 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm (Game Session) (, , , , , , , , , , )

We tried Pure on the Xbox 360, produced by Black Rock Studio and published by Disney Interactive Studios. Pure is an off-road racing ATV video game where you do a lot of tricks.


The tutorial is pretty short and straight forward. You have to proof that you can do four things:

  • Complete a lap
  • Preload, prepare yourself to make a jump.
  • Trick
  • Boost, get speed for getting more room for longer tricks.

The voice-off tells you what to press, waits for you, and if you fail it’ll repeat the instructions again. If you suck, it’ll start annoying you by pausing the pausing the game. In fact this will happen a lot during the game as well, you know what you have to do, you’re working on that but that voice is going to drill your head.

A really nice detail is the aesthetic for depicting the controller when showing the buttons, it is covered with dirt, as if you’d been riding on it.

You can build your own ATV, selecting the parts that you want, getting one for speeding or other for tricks. The customization is pretty good. The in-game advertising is in full here, you have a lot of brands to choose from, for instance Elka, Fox, Ohlins, Maxxis, DG, ITP, just to name a few. You can put decals of them when stylising your vehicle. After all those decisions, the tougher one is to name your ATV.

Although you have a lot of choices for your ATV, it doesn’t happen the same when choosing your avatar. You can’t be you, you have to choose from a predefine selection that points to generic populations, a California boy and girl, a latino/a, UK, Japanese. I believe that the stronger connection that you can get is through the ATV rather than the avatar but, only Lord knows why, your avatar is quite intrusive will riding. S/he will turn back to yell something to you, I’ve found that pretty disruptive, breaking my immersion. I prefer when it just cheers or says something when facing forward, and ideally less often.

The sweet part of this game is doing tricks. That’s the game element that makes it different from just a racing game. You’re going fast on those versatile vehicles, you hit slopes to jump and while in the air you show up your awesome skills by doing trick, such as from stretching a leg to the side to a sequence of contortions in a dance with your ATV. This is the challenge. When you do tricks, you get “Thrill”, more thrill you get, cooler trick you can do. As you fill up the thrill bar, it enables from basic jumps (A button) to intermediate (B) and expert (Y). Expert tricks require more time hence your jump has to leave enough space for kicking around.

Time is another element that takes place, your ‘thrill bar’ will start going down if you don’t keep doing tricks. Another way of consuming ‘thrill’ is by boosting to get more speed and consequently higher jumps, so it makes a balance of boost-jumps.

Performing different tricks is better but is not clear which tricks you’ve done so far, the system could offer a way of remembering what’s been done or prompting for certain tricks to do. Since the tricks are related to the left stick position, I try to do the mental note of going clockwise.

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Nigth Raveler

July 15, 2008 at 10:19 pm (Game Session) (, , , )

Night Raveler unleashes interpersonal relationship fantasies.

We play, we experiment with loving links through our little avatars. There is no ‘a way’ to play this game, it will be lead by our curiosity and unconscious triggers.

Its gameplay is really simple but powerful. The player sees buildings and little people at the windows, wire-like lines appear between windows. He controls a little guy with scissors that can cut those wires but only if they are thin. When connections are broken, the avatars run desperately in front of the window, sad faces show up. If isolation is a constant they commit suicide.

It is surprising how those ‘wires’ that start showing up turn into desires.

Let’s make a big party, and let connect of wires, multiple wires from which window. Or in a different mood, we believe in soul-mates and only two of them can be hook up, we’ll cut any other wire out there. There is always the possibility of isolation and self-destruction. Eros and Thanatos.

It amazing finding ourselves doing the former or the later, and the middle one possibilities as well :)

I would like to make a call to NR players, try to bring that second when you make the decision of cutting or not, listen to yourself, experiment doing the other. Although, I doubt you haven’t already tried it :)

The game at Ludomancy blog

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February 7, 2008 at 9:42 pm (Game Session)

Let me start with Magy’s short presentation of the game: “Oasis is like the minesweeper version of Civilization”.  Indeed a very appropriate summary.

Oasis is a sweet little game.  It’s designed in a way that it’d be appealing for both casual and hardcore gamers.

You’re Scarab King, but you have to rebuild your empire first.  Each level is grid-world, it starts covered by fog of war.  You’re standing on one square and can only move to its adjacent. You have limited number of moves before the barbarians arrive.  In order to win, Scarab King has to discover cities, develop technologies and find the obelisk in the oasis.

These simple goals can be approached from different playing styles.  The game offers strategical depth.  It’s upon the player and his “mind consuming” predisposition.  For instance, the way to unveil the map is quite organic; legal moves are only those to adjacent squares from the already known ones.  This is an invitation to a keep going through a path and area at fast speed.  Clicking, clicking, clicking.  But each click is a move… eventually the barbarians will arrive… maybe I should watch out better where I click…  clicking, clicking, clicking.   These approaches are two different playing styles, one would be more casual whereas the other relies on a management playing style.

There is also a clever used of elements for encouraging a balance sweeping of the map: followers and technology.   Cities are the key for the reconstruction of the empire.  They can be found near farming fields.  Building roads between cities makes the population grow.  Developing technology brings new weapons that will help to defeat the barbarians.  However, both building road and technology need followers.  You need people in order to have the work done, you know?  While you discover the map, you find followers.  But you’ll find more followers per square the desert where camps are.   The game “pushes” you to move around cities and the desert.

One great thing is that the whole game can be played with just one button (you could use the keyboard but, who wants it?!). This characteristic is really casual friendly.  With just one click the avatar moves, if the square is already unveiled, it’ll show the option of building a road or for mountains the possibility of mining.   This simple interface makes easy to understand the potential actions, reducing the learning curve.

The barbarian hordes arrive from where the cairn is.  They will start attacking the nearest city.  Hence, it’s better to move troops to that city.  One strategy that the player could use is it to move around the edges of the map and make sure to discover the cairn.  But there might be other attractive square to discover or he can simply invest moves to other purposes.   When the cairn is not discovered, the player has to make his best guess and choose one city to defend first.  This brings an Alea flavor.

Each level takes a couple of minutes.  This is ideal for short session, and I swear you’ll want the next level right away.

In a nutshell, the design of this game is neat enough to fulfill two different playing styles: a casual approach and a hardcore one.   One would be rule by intuitiveness, the other one by close attention to resources and moves left.

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Settlers of Catan

January 18, 2008 at 12:32 am (Game Session) (, )

First time playing “Settlers of Catan” :) Glad we did!

It confirmed once more that there is no better way to get the game than playing. After Michael’s introduction, we started playing, and as we advanced in the game the rules were showing themselves more clearly.

The two “experts” of the game, Michael and Magy, were teamed together. They could make better estimations, foresee strategies while some of us were still recognizing the pieces. This situation reminds me to what Caillois said about the equated powers of contestants “so each may have the chance until the end”, otherwise the game wouldn’t be pleasant. We didn’t have equated powers, it was fun though. But more sessions should be made. Few games support disparity of strength among players. Think about a FPS deathmatch, players start with the same resources. Then if you’re bad at it and your opponent is good, it’s highly likely you’ll lose, and the game won’t be pleasant. However, the game Go allows overcoming difference of strength between players. Handicap is given, the initial setting is changed so both have equal possibility to win.

The Alea ingredient in Settlers was fascinating for me. You roll dice in your turn but that chance might give resources to other players (and none for you). So your turn has effects on others, and others’ turn might have consequences on you due to chance.

In my opinion, it increases the thrill and awareness of the whole game. Using Costikyan’s words, these random elements provide “variety of encounter”.

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