Old games can be really awesome. What I like about many old games is just how different they are. Perhaps in a way similar to indie games now they tried something new and weren’t afraid to fail. Often I find the games aren’t as balanced from years of the genre refining itself and I really enjoy those games. Games don’t always have to be fair and I find fun exploiting the system to make it easier or harder for myself, one such game is Dune 2. Dune 2 is seen as one of the first RTS games, it has incredibly unbalanced unit types but to be honest, I find that part of the charm and is still a hell of a lot of fun. There were also hardware limitations that created issues that effected gameplay such as the max number of buildings you could build, which included both your buildings and the enemies, making you go out on skirmishes to blow a few buildings up before you quickly build more yourself. The polish of modern games make me miss things like that.
There are two problems with old games that both effect Dune 2. 1 of these problems is that as hardware and operating systems move on making it very hard to play the original. In the case of Dune 2 this isn’t so much of a problem because of the wonderful DosBox, but it does effect it’s sister games Dune 200 and Emperor: Battle for Dune .
The second problem is around gameplay elements that don’t give it a little bit of charm. The gameplay elements for Dune 2 that didn’t age well revolve around the face that future RTS games added elements that make it hard to go back to games that lack them. The biggest element that I find hard to do without is the addition of the ‘lasso tool’ that lets you select multiple units.
Feeling like playing some old games I scouted around and found there is a Dune 2 project to create a faithful rendition of the game on newer operating systems called openDune. On top of this there is another project to add lasso support! The project called Dune Dynasty can be downloaded here.
Notes on setting up Dune Dynasty on Mac OS X
On MAC OS X you have to compile the source yourself. It’s not hard but I’ve made a video and will leave my notes in case anybody finds them useful:
First install brew:
Open Terminal and install
brew install cmake
brew tap homebrew/versions
brew install allegro5
Download the dune dynasty source to your desktop
Copy Dune 2 Pak files in directory with created binary file
If you play games on your Android device or iPhone you may have noticed that most of the games are pitched as “free to play”. While they might be free to start playing, they still make a lot of money. In fact, when I had a look at the ‘Top Grossing Android Apps’, 1 out of the top 20 was a paid app and that was the Minecraft juggernaut; all of the others were free to play games. There are three big tricks to free to play games, out of the top games that I have played each one deploys them all.
The first of which is to make the game time based. Most free to play games have a limit on what you can do in a short amount of time. Games like Candy Crush Saga give you a certain amount of lives, games like The Simpsons make actions in the game take time, taking X amount of hours to build a virtual building or unlock a new gameplay element. This has been defended by the development companies as them simply understanding patterns of play on mobiles; while defending their game Dungeon Keeper, developers EA claimed it was designed this way because people only want to play for 5 minutes at a time on a phone. Of course the game developers know that people want to play more or charging users for extra lives/to speed up a building would be a pretty rubbish business model.
The second trick is to adjust the gameplay so that you are incredibly disadvantaged without paying. Games like Candy Crush have a system of throwing the player one or two very easy levels followed by a much harder level that can be brought down in difficulty by the use of a costly power up. Games like Plants Vs Zombies 2 throw in a difficult boss that can be brought down to size by power ups that can be gained with a few real life pounds (or by waiting for to earn the ingame money) . A common grip with gamers is that this affects the design of the game, are you designing a game to be fun or a game to squeeze out as much as it can from the players pockets. There is a conflict of interest for the designer; are they an artist or a businessman?
The third trick is to tie the game in to the players social networks and allow the player to compare themselves to their friends. In Candy Crush you can see exactly what level friends are on and the scores they get. In games such as Clash of Clans you go and see all your friends’ bases and compare how well you are doing compared to them. This comparison with your friends and family is an attempt to spur you in to spending to catch up, remember the whole thing is time based. If your base is not as big as your friends you can wait the six weeks to build the things to catch up or pay a few pounds. You don’t want your friends thinking you can’t play properly.
Educational institutions are playing a game with its students. Gove is probably playing a game with our vice chancellor. All the way to the top. In fact Al Gore once uttered the disturbing phrase:
‘Games are the new normal’
All three of these tricks could be translated in to dirty tricks used by the institution in the game it plays with students and I’ll leave it up to your imagination. The most disturbing thing I find though and the reason I write this post, is the emergence of a fourth trick which is this: All previous tricks must be used to generate positive feedback about the product.
The players of these games find themselves in a meta game when it comes to leaving feedback against the game. Want to build that building at the same rate everybody else is, then like us on Facebook or give us a 5 star android review, if you want some starting gold you better sign in with your Google+ account, the feedback mechanism is part of the game. I’ve heard horror stories of institutions feedback procedures and warning students that if the institution gets bad feedback then their degree is worthless. Students cannot win this feedback game, but equally the institution doesn’t learn anything real about itself. I read a book on the History of western education thought once, chapter one was about the importance of institutions that allow for criticism. I guess they do ‘allow’ it.
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The whole thing had flown me right by, I mean I had some awareness something was going on, but I wasn’t paying attention, and now I’ve missed it. I went to a conference last week on Gaming for Social change and it wasn’t mentioned there; I work in an environment which we call “education technology” and it wasn’t on my radar. I was too busy messing with Twitter lists.
The social experiment in question was “Twitch plays Pokémon” and involved around an estimated 658,000 people. The idea is simple; a single game of Pokemon is played in a chatroom (on Twitch) Players tell the game what they want it to do. It took 400+ hours for them to finish what is a 10ish hour game; the responses, memes, cartoons and work that came from the experiment are amazing and spreading around the Internet like wildfire.
I haven’t made sense out of what has gone on here, but I know it’s important. I know that it is based around play, communication, technology and learning, I know its based around all the things in education that I think matter. I’m annoyed because all those things are important to me and the kids just went and did it while I was too busy thinking about ways to get kids to go and do it.
I think the key is that in such a short amount of time players have gone away and created content around the activity. I am particularly a fan of the cult of the Helix fossil. If one single thing my institution did got that much participation around an online learning activity the world would end, yet it was so.. simple!
Here is a video of some captures of the game in action:
There is another game starting in 23 hours. Maybe I’ll work it all out then.
I feel my last few posts have been a bit negative, I need to cheer up a little, find some good in the world. How about this video of chap wearing a playable Gameboy costume at Ohayocon 2014. It was apparently done using a Raspberry Pi, you can switch games and everything. Now I need to hunt the guy down and find out just how he did it. I would wear this to work.
The playing for change event was a fun day and kick off event for the Games and Social Change Network. I popped along to check it out and wrote some rough notes to remind me what happened, I’ve tidied them up (only a little) and thought I would throw them on here.
Keynote: Joost Raessen
The first presentation was given by Joost Raessens who gave a very interesting keynote. I enjoyed Joost’s presentation because he knew the work of people like Jane Mcgonical and felt sympathetic to their aims but felt there was a gap between the simple, catchy and jolly catchphrase of “Play can change the world” and just exactly how this will translate to any kind of social change. There were quite a few really interesting looking books and references in Joost’s presentation and I had trouble keeping up with them all which ended up in me getting a little confused, fortunately the slides are going online so I will post a link when they are up. I am interested in flicking back to the journalism part of these slides, particularly critical realism because that is always been on my radar under “wtf, there seems to be something here but I’m really confused”.
The Q&A session with Joost was also interesting, when somebody asked about examples of games making a change he cited hopelab who developed a game similar to the film ‘Fantastic Voyage’ where players travel through the human body killing cancerous cells. The effect was children who played the game did a better job at taking their medicine but they also wanted to community to understand what the children were going through but the game wasn’t haven’t that desired effect; this led to the team to designing a different version of the game with a stronger narrative. Joost thought it was interesting that to encourage some compassion the designers needed a stronger narrative, but to teach the children to take their children they needed less narrative and more simple interactions with the game.
Session 1: Rethinking Gamification:
The Rethinking Gamification session was ran by Mathias Fuchs who works at the Game Lab at Leuphana University. This was a very interesting workshop and was explored the relationship between work and play in different cultures. First Mathias looked at current definitions of gamification and quotes about games from history. It started to hit home where he was going when we got to Al Gore’s somewhat scary/toleration/dictatorial stance of:
Games are the new normal
Because ya’know, everything a politician does is a game. He then started to look at a false consciousness (is that the word?) take on societies processes, with quotes such as Mary Poppins:
In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.
When this quote was written the working class had very little to look forward to. The conversation went back and forth looking at pre-digital game such as the methods of composers and Mark Twains system to remember the dates of Kings and Queens.
Back talking about modern era gaming I was stuck by a game that Mathias showed us called ‘Camover’. A German game that rewards players for destroying cameras in public places. A bit scary perhaps. This had completely passed me by but you can read the Guardians take on it here. The presentation session ended on on schools of though on play and how they related. Bataille, Adorno, were discussed and I can’t remember enough to give the conversation justice.
Finally the audience put together a list of quotes to do with work and games from their culture.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game – ice T
Lunch and Super Political Street Fighter
At lunch The Lark performed super political street fighter which was a bit of fun. Members of the audience gave ideas on how they wanted the country to be ran while two dudes dressed as Ken/Ryu battled it out on SF IV to see which ones should be implemented. The social change arcade machine which was supposed to be working at lunch didn’t seem to be working.
The sandwiches were pretty tasty. I missed session two as I was unavailable when they were starting up. I used this time to write up my notes. I am led to belie that they had some physical activities involving the Oculus Rift in one of the sessions. Could have plugged my tutorials on developing content. Drat.
Interstellar Marines is an indie game currently in alpha available on steam. At the time of writing this you can get a copy for as little as $1 in an Indie Gala Bundle, saying that however, if you can afford a little more than $1 then remember the money goes to charity and your getting quite a few good games. Interstellar Marines is currently £12 on steam and giving it away for almost free has really upset some of the current players.
The game itself is in alpha so there isn’t really much to see and perhaps unfair to review; but for a game that is so early in its life what there is to see is very promising. The game itself seems to be built around multiplayer, at the time of writing multiplayer is the only game mode that is available and seems to be be setting the foundations for the upcoming single and coop modes. While the game engine seems to sport a solid FPS engine with most online games showing of a king of the hill style death match, it is the attention to little things that make the game stand out from the crowd. Perhaps unusual for an alpha game the maps are extraordinary well balanced and feature some really cool features. Lights in the map both flicker and move, sometimes they even go out for a short amount of time (I couldn’t work out if there was a way for the player to make them go out), this combined with the fact that maps have a short day and night cycle means that the battleground becomes living and players really have to think about their position and if they use their flashlight or not. I also really like the rain effects on the maps, outside the rain will hit your visor making it hard to see and hard to capture buildings in king of the hill mode (as the players inside the building won’t be affected by rain).
The developers themselves seem to update regularly and post to the steam community. The videos and content explaining what is to come in future updates look really exciting. Looking forward to seeing how this one pans out!
The video game market is changing. A few years ago making a game was an expensive business, too expensive for most development teams to pay up front. So developers went to a big publisher to get some money to create the game, the publisher would then publish the game and take a large cut of the profits. The major problem with this (apart from publishers taking the majority of the spoils and developers often going bust) was that publishers didn’t really care about games the same way developers did. Publishers care about money and if they weren’t sure that your game was going to sell a ton of units there was no incentive to publish it. This lead to the great FPS flood of the 7th generation of consoles. FPS games sold well, so these games would often land publisher deals, games that looked like they showed a spark of something new and innovative were often left behind.
Fortunately the “Publisher rapes developer” model is being challenged. I’m not saying the state of the industry is perfect. I mean is anyone happy with how Microsoft continue to mock Rare fans by forcing them to work on Kinect Sport games? It’s almost like being a really talented singer being forced by a contract you signed to with to lick a hammer to sell records. How about EA selling games at £45 a pop that have been engineered to make you lose unless you fork out for extra weaponry to use online. But still the tide is turning. Indie developers can use tools that have low entry costs such as Unity or UDK or even develop their own tools if they are so inclined. They can then publish the games created with these tools to a variety of different distribution systems such as Steam, GameTap, Android Market etc without falling foul of EA.
Micheael Cusack demonstrates exactly how gamers feel about Microsoft and Rare. Microsoft purchased Rate from Nintendo (which was one of the few great Publisher-Developer relationships)
I am well aware of how the disruptive nature of new technology challenging business models didn’t really work out well for the little man in music industry. I still worry that the publishers of old will still find a way to take advantage of small time developers to fill their coffers. Microsoft and Sony are both opening the doors to their new consoles indie developers, but binding them by rules. We are seeing distribution systems such as iTunes pushing and pushing the in-app purchase model on developers. It shouldn’t be this way! Developers should be calling the shots of how the distribution model works. Systems such as in app purchasing force developers to develop their games in a certain manner. How do we get the player to buy an extra life or that weird chocolate sprinkle candy that destroys all the candy it touches? That’s all well and fine if that is how the developer wants to create their game, but how can we ever call something an art if its creation is based around the way we are going to sell it? All is not lost. There are developers who are publishing games on their terms. Taking advantage of the new business models that they want to and ignoring the ones that will harm their games. I’m sure there are loads of indie developers out there working out cool ways to publish their games and we will see them come to the forefront soon. At the same time we are seeing a rise in new hardware that the publishers of old don’t have control over. Here are a few things I find interesting:
Telltale games: Episodic Content
A lot of media comes in an episodic format; you can buy books, comics, movies and TV shows by the episode. You can even skip an episode if you wish! I find it very odd that games, up until recently wanted you to part with £50 for a full experience, but only let you get as far as you could. If the level 1 boss keeps killing you then good luck getting the rest of that £50’s worth of entertainment. Can you imagine not being able to read book 2 of Harry Potter if you didn’t understand a word at the end of book 1?
I can understand this to some extend as game design often doesn’t lend itself to letting people skip ahead, but I still think it’s odd that few developers allow to buy games in episodic chunks. Sony tried it with the brilliant Siren: Blood Curse, but quickly backtracked when it didn’t look like an instant win.
One developer who has seemingly mastered episode content is Telltale games. Telltale is an independent developer, founded by ex LucasArts employees who are specialists in adventure games. They acquired the rights to work with well know Intellectual Property such as Sam and Max, Money Island, Homestar Runner and produced high quality adventure games based off them (with the exception of their Jurassic Park game, not quite sure what went wrong there).
Instead of reaching out for the usual major publishing agreement they decided to release their games in episodes on content delivery systems. This gives their games a wide audience as the games are released on a wide array of different platforms. As well as having their games available for download without DRM restrictions Telltale pop their games on Steam, Gametap, PSN, Live, Wii Shop. Depending on the content system you can download individual episodes or grab a season pass which allows you to get all the episodes for cheap.
Telltale usually release a new episode in a game bi-monthly, so far so good as they haven’t missed a deadline.
Double Fine: Releasing games they want
Double Fine is an independent developer founded by LucasArts legend Tim Shafer. I don’t know what it is about Lucas Arts, but I guess now it seems many of their mid 90s employees are doing incredible things. Double Fine look to publishers for the traditional publisher-developer funding model, but not wishing to be stuck doing games they don’t enjoy developing branch out to other funding models when needed.
They are most known for crowed sourcing funding for their new adventure game coming out in 2014 called Broken Age. Unable to get a publisher to take the risk of putting money up front for a 90s style adventure game they asked the players to pay. Tim’s fame on works such as Grim Fandango got him the funded he needed.
The most interesting development model they took was to create a bunch of prototype games that they would like to develop further. They got players to donate money (minimum of $1, which went to charity) to vote on the prototype ideas they liked the most. These ideas were developed in to small prototypes which a donator got to download and play. The most successful of these prototypes would then go on to become fully fledged games. While this model might not pull in money to fund the games creation (as it went to charity) it did raise awareness of the games and asked the audience directly what they would like to play; this resulted in a $400,000 take in sales when one of the games developed using this stratergy hit Steam Greenlight.
Steam Machine, Ouya and friends: consoles and cool tech for Everyone
Perhaps it is a little naughty to put these on the list as these are innovations taken by hardware manufacturers and publishers. The Steam Machine, Ouya are both examples of hardware devices that have low entry requirements to develop for. There are lots of these consoles coming out, and lots of interesting accessory such as the Oculus Rift (a VR headset created by crowed sourced funding) heading to them. I think what I’m trying to get at here is the fact that content management systems aren’t the only thing opening up for indie developers. We are seeing a lot of new hardware that has very low entry requirements for as options for them to develop for. It was reported that on the 360 Microsoft charged $40,000 to developers to patch there titles, as an indie developer would you like to sign up to that kind of cost? This charge was eventually dropped, but surely only because Microsoft could see these hardware alternatives that are much more cost friendly to the up and coming indie game developer.
So what does the future even hold for publishers? We’ve seen the big wigs hold on in the music industry. This must be because they have the ability to market music better than the individual does. But do games have the same need? The trump card for the music industry is getting bands played on the radio or a TV performance. What is the video game equivalent of the radio then? If it’s the Let’s Players, then the publishers are in for a shock. Perhaps this explains why Sony and Microsoft’s were so desperate for Twitch TV on their consoles.
Those that play Dwarf Fortress will know that the game is filled with stories; the difficulty getting those stories across to non-players is the fact that the stories exist as a mix of moving ASCII characters, text and applied imagination. There are some really neat examples of stories been told in a comic book style, such as the Bronze Murder art that can be found here. Video wise I haven’t seen much but youtuber user RiqCrow created a short animation showing the story of a ghostly miner in a fortress he played. What’s really nice about the video is that it fits the Dwarf Fortress style perfectly, it’s very well done but comes across as low tech. I love the gritty voices. Enjoy:
‘What is art?’ may be well trodden ground, but well trodden ground many of us feel excluded from. Is art something about mastery? I don’t think it is; but I think that mastery is one of the major blocks that excludes us from the conversation. An artist is not a master of a single thing, a thing which has been accepted as “being art”. They say that the quartet they saw was absolutely perfect, the only perfect quartet, and they know that because they know of such things; of such things which we don’t. There is a saying that a jack of all trades is a master of none, but the idea that mastery has something to do with specialisation in a certain area is the second block keeping us from the conversation. Mastery is more a sureness of purpose, but then not all artists are sure of what they are doing.
So a while ago I played Gone Home. Some people got angry that it wasn’t a game, some people loved the fact it wasn’t a game. But we all still call it a game. It was reviewed on game sites at the least. ‘Game’ is a limiting a word as ‘Art’, in fact even more so. “Are games art?” may be a fight the video gamers are determined to win, but why are we? Lets break down the barriers to be confronted with more barriers. Gone Home is many things, a story, a challenge, an adventure, interactive. Most of the reviews agree that it hadn’t mastered any of the things it set out to do; but it was sure of it’s purpose.
So the reviews are in two camps; those who gave it a 5 for being art and those who gave it a 1 for not doing game things too well. I was just glad I didn’t pay full price. What should I give it? My heart is telling me that it shouldn’t get a grade, because that is my point! Should I exclude you all, do I know such things? But anyway my brain tells me that my Google rank will be higher if I give it a grade, because a grade is a thing that Google will see in a rich snippet. So that’s what art is. something we can explain with microdata for Google to pick up and pass around.
A new breed of game wants us to know that sometimes it is more fun to lose than it is to win. These games play on the fact that every time we lose we learn something new and a story is told. I think that this a place educational institutions should explore, but until then this is a list of my favorite games where losing is fun.
The game sees the players creating an managing a Dwarf Settlement that is drawn on screen using ASCII text characters for its graphics set. This means that developer can throw in new things for the player to manage such as items/characters/monsters in to the mix without having to worry about how they look on screen.
This means there are a lot of items and characters in Dwarf Fortress to worry about, what makes things hard is that they interact with each other in increasingly complex ways. Players will struggle to manage the complexity thrown at them and the Fortress will eventually fall, but a cool story will emerge from the ashes.
My favorite fortress collapsed when some of my dwarfs adopted cats as pets. The dwarfs refused to let me turn them in to cat pie. The cats fell in love and had babies; when then proceeded to have more babies, who in turn had another litter. More of my Dwarfs adapted cats and there was no going back. Soon the fortress was full to the brim and the dwarfs couldn’t work without tripping over a little blighter.
Project Zomboid is a retro zombie survival game. While it may look retro it doesn’t play like it. It’s a zombie survival game with RPG elements. You have to loot houses, build defences and look for foor and supplies. As the game goes on the hoards of zombies get bigger, the power supply goes, fridges and taps stop working. Fortunatly your survival skills also get better as time goes on, so while you can no longer drink from a tap, you can start building rain collector.
The game can come to an end at any time. Desperate for a drink you forgot to read the label of your bottle? Maybe you just drank bleach. I like the fact you don’t always know if you’ve messed up or not. Am I feeling dizzy because I’ve spent to long in the rain and the feeling will pass or should I be worried about that scratch from a zombie.
Dayz is a multiplayer mod for the game Arma II. A mod so popular it boosted sales of the original game by 300,000 in two months. The aim of the mod is simple; to stay alive in a zombie invested town as long as possible. While it may sound like this game is going to be a lot like project zomboid, it isn’t. On one level it would seen there is less complexity to be found in Dayz than Zomboid as there are less items, less places to loot and no things to build (except to rebuild a helicopter or car, which is as hard as nails). However, the game is multiplayer and the difficulty lies in surviving the other players. There are limited number of items to be found in the game world and a friend can be quick to stab you in the back when they discover you have a stash of those all important bandages.
The map layout in DayZ also adds to the creation of a story when the player eventualy loses. All players start near a beach, making it a hotspot for bandits hoping to loot your starting gear. If you survive the early game player controlled bandits you have to make choices, each choice can bring death. Do I stay in the woods where the zombies are scarce but the food even more so? When should I risk a trip in to town or the hospital? DayZ isn’t a fast paced multiplayer game but your life depends on everything decision both you and your fellow players make. Every time you die you’ll remember the decision you made and the player or zombie that took you out .
FTL takes its inspiration from science fiction series such as Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. You manage a small space s
hip crew delivering enemy war plans as they are chased through space by an army of rebels. The gameplay is split in to ‘jumps’. Each jump is a through space and a step closer to your goal. Each jump also runs the risk a space battle with pirates, rebels or
unfriendly aliens. In these battles you must micro manage your crew in a captain kirk style. You make decisions such as should more power go to the guns or sheilds? Should there be two officers in the Engine room in the hope of speeding up your escape or should one be sacrifieced while putting out fires? The consequences of each decision will haunt you in future next jumps. Was it worth sacrificing that crew member for some money to upgrade your rockets?
Faster than light can be won but it isn’t easy. Every time you lose in FTL it will either be because you made a mistake when choosing your course of action or because the constant damages from jumps has brought you down. Both lead to a great player created story of defeat!