Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iron Brutes Made Me Strategize

Unlike any other "Mario" games that I have played in my life, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (TTYD), seems to be the most absurd of them all. 

When I started playing this video game on GameCube I expected the normal 2D run of the mill: jump on gumbas, use the shells of the turtles (Koopas, I believe) to break blocks, and rush to the finish line of each level. However to my astonishment, this Paper Mario has several puzzles in the games for you to figure out and it's not an all linear game. There is a lot of back tracking and running around aimlessly trying to find the clue or item that you need to continue on to the next Chapter until you fight the "Big Baddy," who is surprisingly not Bowser. 

When Mario is faced with an enemy, instead of running and jumping on it, or simply attacking like most video games, it cuts to a stage where you then choose what action you want Mario (or his partner) to take: jump, hammer, run, special move, etc. After Mario or his partner takes the shot at the enemy (and you better hope your chose the right one) the enemy then gets to attack you. 

The fighting rules are simple: stick to what Mario and his partner can do and win. However, with the limitations on the amount of damage a hit can do the enemy and what hurts the enemy, you must think of some sort of strategy to kill the enemy fast so that you take the least amount of damage. Also, you must strategize who the best partner in the fight will be. 

Take for instance the Iron Cleft (above). Two enemies in chapter three that Mario must defeat in order to continue on in the fighting ring and ultimately beat the chapter (or level). The key thing in this battle is the partner since these two are made of iron and have a spike on their head in order to damage Mario or his partner when they try to jump on them, and Mario's hammer does zilch to them. 

Juul stated that most people only somewhat strategize in a game; always willing to adapt in order to win the goal. After fighting these two guys, that became more prevalent to me. I had went into the fight only expecting to cream these guys with my awesome Mario powers and continue on to the next fight until I beat the chapter. When the fight started though, I realized that it wasn't going to work as I switched from partner to partner (I had 4 partners at the time) trying to find the one that was best fitting to help me to win the fight. Though, my first attempt at winning against these fellas failed miserably, I found myself making strategic (and sometimes desperate) moves just to get that satisfying win in the game. 

The rules makes the game more interesting and challenging, but the strategy is how you go about winning the game. The limits of the game as to what Mario and his partners could do hindered me at the time, however it also made me think about the game and the best way to go about defeating it instead of wasting life after life. When I lost the match, I wasn't mad at the stupid rules that limited my moves, but rather at my game playing techniques, wondering what I could do to beat these guys. After I gained a new partner, I used his abilities and defeated the Iron Clefts; I felt happy and satisfied at my new defeat, ready to take on my next opposer. 

Super Metroid: Limitations, Challenges, and Progression

Largely, Nintendo's Super Metroid from 1994 epitomizes Juul's theory of progressive challenges.  In short, the game describes an intergalactic bounty hunter, Samus, and her quest to rid an alien planet of space pirates (led by the dragon Ridley, pictured on the right of the cover) and uncover the purpose of a recently discovered species, the Metroids.  Appropriately, the game state is shrouded in darkness, only to be illuminated as the player approaches a far-off, undisclosed objective.  In what Juul designates as imperfect information, the player can only uncover the constants, and thus a sense of security within the game, by traversing the dangerous, underground network of the planet, suffering multiple bouts of trial and error while doing so.
Samus encounters the Morph Ball upgrade.

In tandem with this, the player may only progress by acquiring various upgrades and weapons.  Early in the game, Samus must relearn her morph ball ability in order to navigate several nooks and crannies, those of which are pivotal to reach necessary objectives.  In addition, Samus must arm herself with missiles to tear down well-fortified walls.  As Juul discussed in the second chapter of half-real, traditional games, such as Super Metroid, may provide a plethora of options in overcoming a particular challenge, but the outcome is always consistent.  Likewise, the boss fight I partook in gave me a myriad of ways to deal with the foe.  Since the enemy was limited to combat rolls and straightforward projectiles,  I could either A)  evade the mutant hedgehog while in ball form, take pop-shots at the creatures rear and conserving missiles; or B) send a rocket straight down the monster's gullet as it exhales flaming mucus, slaying it quickly but expending valuable resources.  Regardless of what route is chosen, the monster will always be terminated, and a new path or upgrade will be revealed, ultimately progressing the narrative.  Though contemporary games fancy multiple outcomes, distorting the notion of a "positive" outcome, Super Metroid's conclusion is incredibly consistent, save a few random ammunition drops.  

Paper Mario: Thousand-Year Door....Several Decades of Story Telling

In text "half-real" Juul makes the argument that rules of a game are the most important factor of a game and it's worth. Now much like Eric's opinion in his blog on Devil May Cry I tend to disagree with this idea. Rules are just the binder that makes the game a game, and gives guidelines for the social contract on the game; this is important because this is a form of honor and respect even if it is for a single player game toward yourself or toward a computer in a video game. I believe that for video games that the story is more important than the rules themselves in establishing value and importance.
Lets take for example the Mario Sagas, in this case specifically Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Now most Mario games have a similar storyline: Mario goes on an epic quest to save Peach and/or the world, and battle Boss(es) - namely Bowser. Not highly original in the video game world, but it is an important classic storyline that appeals both in game and in literature/movies/plays/etc. Most people appreciate the pure soul traveling to far off lands to be a savior of someone or something; it's understandable that a player wants to be part of an epic quest that has romanticized by history and culture. Now the storyline is fairly simplistic and the character development is pretty much flat, but it is this archetypal story that draws a player in to keep playing these games over and over again. 

DmC: Devil May Cry

In chapter 1 of Juul's book, he implies that when it comes to games the rules are more important than the fictional aspects. I respect his opinion, but I feel that fiction plays a bigger role in games than he thinks. 
The best example for this is the new DmC: Devil May Cry game from Capcom and Ninja Theory. It is a re-telling of the story from the original Devil May Cry series, but with some major changes in the story itself and the characters. The rules of the game have relatively stayed the same; use the character to traverse paths that lead to a set goal in a level while encountering and defeating enemies. The final results are either winning or losing. The rules that define the combat system in the game act as the foundation, but the flair of the actual combat draws in the gamer to keep playing.
The reason I mention the new looks of the characters and the flashy fighting, in my opinion, is that they provide amusing gameplay and acts as a hook for possible buyers. From a economic point of view the gaming market relies on the fiction of games to sell and make profits. To a gamer, like myself, I enjoy to see what worlds and characters are developed and how stories progress, like in DmC or Kingdom Hearts.
There are games that, as Juul mentions, have rules and no fiction that are still successful. Games like Tetris and Pong are great examples of games void of fiction but are still successful. If a DmC programer tried to apply the rules of the combat with no fiction (or more accurately described "flair") than the game would be very unsuccessful.  

Another blog you should check out

This guy works at the UCLA game center. I saw him give a fantastic presentation on the implications of the Wii interface at a pop culture conference a few years ago. Check him out: http://www.erraticplay.com/

INJUSTICE: Gods Among Repetition

INJUSTICE: Gods Among Repetition
            When first reading about game theory, I was not sure that a classic side scrolling fighting game would be a good example to apply theory to. Then I bought INJUSTICE: Gods Among Men (WB Games 2013). I have never been a fan of fighting games until recently, I am traditionally a FPS, MMO, and role-playing gamer. I was starting to become bored with those genres so I picked up Injustice based on a friend’s recommendation. With this game I am very pleased. It is interesting, challenging, and very different from what I am use to.
            Looking deeper into the game I realized it follows Juul’s descriptions on a progression game with emersion completely. The entirety of the play type is to play as a superhero and face other superheroes in one-on-one combat on a side scrolling screen. The game play on varies in the story mode because you are constantly changing the character that you play with which also helps the progression of the story. This type of gameplay becomes repetitive but, the constant changing of characters that you play and fight helps defeat the monotony. The story mode of the game also rewards the player with cut-scenes often enough to make the player want to continue. The progression of the story takes place in these cut-scenes, so each one is another kernel of story to entertain the player.
            Another essential aspect of this game which Juul talks about is algorithms. Injustice is a game of algorithms. Each character has a different set of two to five button sequences that produce a certain move that is predefined.  These sequences can then be input in succession to create a combination of two or more different predefined moves. Each character having different sequences also provides a challenge to player, learning them all. Though with no real world reward memorizing every character can reward a player when playing against real humans, either online or in person. The more rounded the player the more respect they can gain from their opponents. 
              Though repetitive, the game developers made Injustice fun enough to keep the player interested for a long time.