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Sequelitis and Instructive Game Design

Sequelitis ,as it sounds is a trend that refers to sequels or subsequent installments of a franchise deteriorating in quality. But more to the point, today I’m referring to the web series named after the concept; Sequelitis is a series of videos by Arin “Egoraptor” Hanson about the qualities and design decisions of games compared with their sequels.

Similar to say “The Angry Video Game Nerd, Arin hails from a school of entertainment that emphasizes over-exaggerated and often vitriolic reactions to various video games. However, his points are generally concise enough that the viewer exactly why there’s issues with the game. While I don’t fully agree with the arguments he makes during his videos, he nevertheless does seem to introduce a level of critical thinking regarding the games we play and enjoy.

But the premise of the show is something I find a bit questionable. Often times a sequel is literally at most a game that happens to be in the same universe or has the same chronology. There are gamers that fully acknowledge that they’d enjoy this game more if it was a different series and not one where their expectation was one genre. Sometimes the complaints are purely from a gameplay evolution standpoint. In Super Castlevania IV, he talks about how the game evolved in one way but still felt the need to stick to convention (i.e. subweapons). If the whip is so effective, why bother using the sub weapons? It’s certainly an interesting, even convincing point. However, enhanced control is important for a sense of game feel and decision making.

There are always going to be developers that try to plan around an existing control scheme but does this work? I’ll leave you to decide that. For me, stiff controls tend to enforce a specific kind of play style. This is fine for developer intent but player enjoyment can be impacted when there are too many unfair situations.

While the concept of having more challenges that were tailored to the whip would be a natural way to heighten Castlevania IV’s potential, I think the end product is still a solid remake that still requires you to think but still rush through if the player is skilled enough.

In the Megaman X and Legend of Zelda videos, there was a recurring trend of the “Show don’t tell” approach to gaming. For MegaMan X, the very first intro stage, hell even the title screen, allows you to gain a number of insights on how to perform different actions. This approach can also be seen in the game Super Metroid; nearly every aspect of the game’s level design tries to nudge you where you need to go while simultaneously acknowledging the players curiosity. Roadblocks require to think differently about the direction of your exploration. You have an ultimate goal but if you’re dedicated enough there will be ways to gratify you.

In classic games of the 8-bit and 16-bit era, there was a greater utilization of “ante-pieces” and other facets of instructive game design. You’ll often hear many older gamers lamenting the days where you learned by “dying and dying over and over”. There’s a convincing argument to be made about utilizing this, especially for visual and interactive mediums. If you want your viewers and your players to feel more invested it only makes sense to use the mediums entry point in of itself.

But it’s not really a strict division; writing about various emotions and displaying certain facts rely upon execution and quality. While excessive exposition can often ruin the flow of any medium, it is also important for building a character. If a character ismeant to intentionally be sespedelian it works.

In writing classes, you’re often taught to write based upon contextual clues. Rather than saying, the room is messy, say “the room appeared to have been impacted by a hurricane”. In games, players want to experience the game physically rather than being bogged down by reading or tutorials. But this still exists on a gradation. Just because characters and games transmit information through text boxes doesn’t mean that it’s trying to insult the player’s intelligence. Games have evolved in purpose and function from the simple “rescue the princess, kill dictator” plots with the load of teaching increased. By all means, be creative with how you convey your information. However, sometimes you have to look behind the form to understand that they’re still similar functions.

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Bill Peet

When it comes to childhood authors, we often end up hearing the same names.  Dr. Seuss of course, is practically synonymous with children’s literature. Other names which our first grade teachers may have brought up include Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, Jan Brett, or Bill Peet, the last of which is one of my favorite authors.

Bill Peet? Oh, he’s the author of those books sitting on the shelf behind me.  Oh and he wrote the Lorax too(except it was called “The Wump World”).

But in all seriousness though, Bill Peet is a lot more important than one would think.  And that’s because of another ubiquitous name of childhood: Disney.  Shorts like Goliath II, or the designs for 101 Dalmatians?  Those were him.  Bill Peet initially started out as a story man for Walt Disney, and you’ll hear many say he was Disney’s greatest.  He worked with animation legends. Most stories about Walt Disney are rather polarized; it’s either the jovial, creative Uncle Walt, or the harsh, thieving business Nazi.  Peet however had a fairly ambivalent view of the larger than life figure. In spite of the respect Peet held for Walt, it didn’t distract from the fact that Walt could be controlling even with the best intentions.

As an author, Bill Peet always managed to unify whimsy with realism. The animals he drew in many of his stories drew influence from all over the world. The charismatic African animals, to the humble ones living in the swamp. His stories were never too difficult for me to read, but weren’t ones that talked down to the audience either. There was the obligatory children’s story moral, but it always seemed executed in a satisfying manner.

One of my favorite stories(or at least, my most frequently read story) was Buford the Little Bighorn. Long story short, he discovers a talent for skiing because of the over sized horns he once lamented at the beginning. The theme itself is well tread, but the unexpected way it comes about is memorable. I certainly didn’t expect the hidden talent of a bighorn sheep to be skiing.

Ant and the Elephant was another one of my favorites. Not only did it feature two of my favorite animals as the protagonists, but it was an interesting take on the “friend in need story”. Throughout the story, you see animals ranging from the turtle, to the hornbill, to the giraffe, and so on who refuse to help one another even though their talents are capable of providing the exact convenience. The turtle could help the ant cross the pond, the hornbill could flip the turtle right side up, the list goes on. Bar the eponymous characters, they’re not very likable but part of me tries to imagine a more optimistic variant. Ultimately however, it is the elephant helps everyone out with their troubles. And when he tumbles into the ravine, it is the humble ant who eventually saves the elephant. but it goes to show that there is an ability for every situation.

And I do think that’s probably the most important moral of his stories. There’s a unique way that each of his characters is able to find their niche.  From the sea serpent who saves the ship, to the vultures who help the lion play dead, there’s so many unique aspects that reflected in Bill Peet’s stories. He creates this subtle sense of optimism that encourages characters to move outside their boundaries.

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Iron Giant

Warner Bros Animation really doesn’t seem to do very well on the feature film front(though they seem to be remedying it as of this writing). Despite being a major contender in the shorts department with classic tv shows to their name(Animaniacs, Batman the Animated Series), there hasn’t really been that definitive animated film. Sure, Happy Feet has been a success, but likely won’t last much beyond the penguin mania.  But that’s not to say the movies they’ve released have been bad..or at least there’s one worth talking about, hence our title. Directed by Brad Bird(yes, the director who would go on to direct the Incredibles), it’s considered one of the best animated films of all time with poor timing. When I watched the Iron Giant in my earlier of years, I obviously didn’t really contemplate its status as one of the most underrated films of all time. And to be honest, seeing it again it does have its flaws and it can have a rather heavy handed message. Nevertheless, it’s a film which I find thrives more on the emotion of its relationships rather than a story structure.

Story:

Pretty typical regular boy meets imaginary/animal/otherworldly friend who fulfills a lost void in the protagonist’s life. In this case, our young protagonist Hogarth is hinted to have been ostracized in school so he frequently seeks new pets only for it to cause disaster for his mother. Oh, and the film is set in the Cold War Era…perfect time for a giant metallic alien to land on earth.  Hogarth of course befriends the giant and teaches it the main message: “you can be what you choose to be”.  Our obligatory villain in this piece is Kent Mansley, a government agent sent to to investigate the aforementioned alien.

But here comes one of my nitpicks; if the giant can really be what it chooses to be, then wouldn’t all attempts at instructing him be against the message?  Okay, maybe that’s misconstruing things a bit, but the film makes it clear what side we WANT the giant to be(Is “Superman” clear enough?).

Ironically enough, since it’s practically the core of the film,  I don’t think the film developed Hogarth and the Giant’s relationship enough. It mostly stays in the realm of young mentor and mentally immature robot. As stated before, Hogarth and the Giant mainly are there to hammer in the lesson of what the Giant ought to be, not what he was designed to be. The rest is more just padding out the various activities involved in the relationship: finding scrap to be consumed by the giant, teaching the giant brief lessons about life. I would have liked it a bit more if we learned more about the giant, more about some of the major lessons rather than the same constant message. But then again, it isn’t a a bad message.

Positives? Well, I actually do like the parts where Hogarth has fun with the giant, and it’s only made better with the addition of other characters. Dean(whose sort of a quasi-father figure to Hogarth) is a beatnik artist definitely adds a bit of humor with his portrayal, serving as something a straight man to the antics of the main duo. The giant’s animation fits in very well, serving as a jarring alien presence that isn’t necessarily hostile. While I find the addition of “villains” rather tacked on, it nevertheless gives the intense sense of paranoia felt during the Cold War, that the perceived enemy could come from nearly anywhere.

As Warner Animation continues to find ways to compensate for its lackluster performance compared to competitors, Iron Giant still stands as a testament to the kind of quality Warner Bros animators can still produce. It still has its kinks to work out but perhaps it can serve as an example of remembrance in order to proceed with its new direction.

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Music Genres(Off the Cuff #1)

Hello everyone, as you’ve probably already realized this is a blog which very sporadically updates. I sincerely apologize for my combination of laziness and misplaced focus. To space out things a bit better, I’ve decided to write a few more casual posts.  Rather than putting too much deliberation, this is more designed to simply state personal feelings and current thoughts. Let’s see how it goes.

Time for a New Year slate

….

I’m really not someone who remembers too many individual songs. While there are times when I’ve attempted to compile a playlist, generally I just go on Youtube and type in something like “calming instrumentals” or “violin jazz”.  On one hand, it’s not as much of hassle to find new tracks and a wider variety of music rather than going by band. For me, music is more about general ideas and feelings that you experience when entranced and your senses are all freed to your surroundings stimulants. At the same time, it’s made me question whether I have much of connection to the music.

But what does this have to do with genre? I’d probably say that genre has helped me serve as a stable pillar in the organization of what I enjoy. Generally, if you like a genre of music, just listen to that. Quite frankly, there’s such a wide selection within each genre that it’d be fair to assume you’d never get tired.  But the divisions aren’t so simple. These days, an artist doesn’t set out to confine themselves so easily. The more I listen to a genre of music, the more I realize that I can’t like nearly every song with same amount of passion. Sometimes, I want to dance, other times I’m content with closing my eyes.

In addition, it’s worth mentioning a certain universal connection in regards to songs. No matter what “genres” a kind of music fits under, music will continaully be utilizing conventions which can create moods. Perhaps the use of minors to create an uneasy mood, ambient music to create more atmosphere, and the like.

As I continue to explore music in various contexts, I find that it becomes easier to lead yourself by genre for a little while, but it’s always fine to continue bridging.

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Why Disney is evil/contemptible/deragatory adjective/nitpickycriticism/something

When we think about dreams, fantasy, and all the wondrous things in life, what’s the name we think of?  Why it’s Dreamworks of course!  How can you argue with a company with “dream” in its name.  But Disney comes a close second.  From theme parks to video games, Disney is a pretty ubiquitous name.  And in the area of animation, it is those works from Disney which are considered amongst the best(or so records say).  Its influence is undeniable…unfortunately.  For some reason, all of our tastes are dead.  Instead of quality violence and humor from Looney Tunes, Ren and Stimpy, as well as Dingo Pictures(never heard of them? You can blame Disney for that too), we are constantly bombarded by wholesome aesops and sugary sweetness from the mouse company.  It brainwashes people, and makes them mindless slaves who sing songs and make people happy.  And today, we’re here to list the reasons why Disney is contemptible/evil/some excuse to bash Disney because/ irrational hatred.

1. Disney is too kid-friendly
* It’s a sad fact of life, but kids run things in this world.  We want to keep the future generation alive, don’t we? Unfortunately, these creatures are among the most dimwitted and philistine in taste, and wouldn’t be able to spot quality entertainment if it stabbed them in eye with acidic forks.  But, we have to appeal to the children by being nice?  Who cares!  Kids are litttle imps. They don’t deserve sugary entertainment.  And neither do adults.

2. Disney appeals to adults
* Another demographic which continually mucks up entertainment standards are adults.  Perhaps the only people who like Disney are barely developed fetuses and nostalgic nutcases.   Their era has long since past, and we shouldn’t allow them to dictate what is rightfully the decision of the kids.

3. Disney has too many musical numbers
* Music is the worst; Can’t anyone talk normally anymore?  It’s like any random topic needs a musical number to convey their thoughts.  It just makes the movie even more hard to sit through doesn’t it?

4. Disney doesn’t have enough musical numbers
that’s the only reason why people watch Disney anymore, how can they be so stupid?  Get back that Alan Minken guy or something, make some more of those musical films so other companies can copy you.

5. Walt Disney was an anti-semite
It says so on wikipedia!  He was a jerk, which means that he was a nazi, and hated children and was part of an alliance of EVIL.  Because clearly that’s how morality works, right?

6. Disney isn’t like Warner Bros
I don’t even know why Disney is so popular, it’s obviously destructive ducks and trickster bunnies that are the norm

7. Disney tries to copy the norm
I thought they were supposed to be original!  They’re supposed to be the market leaders in the animation industry! I expected more from them.

8. Disney makes loose adaptions of the works
Obviously it is the job of a company to be as close as possible to the source material.  The closer and more accurate the movie is, the better the movie is(just look at Harry Potter!)

9. Disney doesn’t make anymore fairy tales
Similar to my gripe about musicals, that’s what they’re good at isn’t it?  Geez, get your priorities straight, mouse house

10. Disney bought marvel

Marvel is ruined forever!!! nuff said.
11. Disney is too dark

I thought kids were supposed to be able to watch this! Who thought putting Satan in a cartoon was appropriate!  Disney should always be a vessel of sugary sweetness and politcal correctness.

I don’t feel that I need to list many more.  The grievances I hold against this monstrous, monolithic organization are numerous.  Michael Eisner needs to be sacked if the company is to survive, I mean, if the company is to become more…you know what, that’s how confusing this issue is.

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Moral Conundrums/Updates

Everyone’s probably heard of the typical moral dilemma: trolley hurtles down the track.   You have the opportunity to steer the trolley in another direction as the driver, but you will kill one person.  If you do nothing, the trolley will end up killing five other workers.  What option do you take?  What is considered the right option, the moral option?

It can be fun to deconstruct the instinctive reactions to these situations.  Many people seemed to choose to save the five people at the cost of one person.  But with a simpler alteration of the situation, it becomes more difficult to have a concrete answer….

What if you weren’t the driver? Instead you’re just a bystander on a bridge.  You see a portly person. You could pull a lever, revealing a trapdoor, which would cause him to fall.  He would die, but he would be large enough to stop the train.

Obviously, these situations aren’t particularly realistic.  They make very controlled situations, without much acknowledgment for other variables.   Nevertheless, I think it highlights some of the flaws of beliefs such as utilitarianism.  What does it really mean to have “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”?

I feel that it takes years to develop of personal moral code.  There are certain things which can be fallacious;  just because it’s in nature, or is in our instincts, doesn’t automatically make it “right”.   Then again, “right” is very difficult to define.

Anyway, I’m glad to be back in action.  This is actually the first post of the year for me, and I have some other ideas in the works.

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Why don’t you smile?

Warning: This post is more of a rant, so you may ignore this

When we’re children, one of the first things we’re taught are the basic emotions.  Happy, Sad, Angry, Scared, etc.  Usually, there’s a guide, like happy = “smiling face”, sad=”frowning face with a single tear”, angry=”frowning face with downward pointing eyebrows”.  Basic, unambiguous guides to emotion.  However, there is a reason why we come up with so many different words for seemingly the “same” meaning.  There are subtle nuances to an emotion that often require a specific word.  Angry is not exactly the same as frustrated Happy does not necessarily convey euphoric.  And with that increase in descriptive words, there are increases in subtle ways emotions can be expressed in body language.

The reason I’m writing this, is because of some observations about interpreting emotions.  There is this tendency to stick to childish interpretations in order to study a person’s emotions.  For example, why are we so intent on equating happiness with “smiling”?  Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves depending on the emotions they feel.  Sometimes being happy means you’re content and relaxed rather than exuberant and ecstatic.  Anger may mean raising your voice, or throwing things.

Obviously, this adherence to the “smiling=happy” idea is most prevalent in photos.  I am capable of “smiling”; that is, turning the corners of my mouth upward in a presumably positive manner while displaying teeth.  However, it usually requires me to laugh or find something amusing.

But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s manipulative.  People can’t just adhere to a strict guide of conveying emotions.  I know people who aren’t really great at smiling, but they’re still decent people.  They express happiness, anger, and sadness in different ways.  Don’t we all?  If people “smile”, that’s great.  But are you seriously going to hound them because they express their emotions in a different manner?

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