Do Endless Games Trade Satisfaction for Replayability?

As online multiplayer has increased in popularity and variety, and as small flash and mobile games have become easily accessible, endless games seem to have become quite common. First I should clarify my meaning of “endless.” Though some games are truly endless, like MMO’s in that you could play them forever and the game never ends, I’m more specifically referring to games that do end, but don’t have an ending. These are games where the only way out is to fail, die, or quit, otherwise the game would go forever. Some of the popular multiplayer examples of this class of games I’m referring to as endless are Call of Duty’s Zombie mode, Halo ODST’s Firefight mode, and other so-called “Horde” modes. On the flash game and mobile game end there are many games that are arguably endless; any auto-run games such as Canabalt where the player helps a character avoid obstacles while running non-stop and jumping games like Doodle Jump all continue until the user fails, quits, or the time runs out (if applicable). All these endless games tend to have great replayability but often seem to provide far less satisfaction than games that end. I find that a large part of feeling accomplished at anything is completion, whether it’s a part or the whole of a project. Endless games subject players to a lack of the great feeling of completing a game. There may be minor feelings of accomplishments after beating certain levels, getting certain scores, or surviving certain challenges, but never that feeling of being truly done. Variety in games is certainly not a bad thing, so I wouldn’t say endless games shouldn’t be made. I’ve had my own share of fun with a variety of endless games. But I worry that they are becoming to popular and people are forgetting (or never learning) how good it feels to complete a “beatable” game. I would like to propose to game developers that while optional endless modes are great for a change of pace, the core of games should be beatable and completable when we desire them to be, so we aren’t infinitely stuck with that feeling of “I could have done better.”  

Duke Nukem Forever Review – Good Fun with a Mediocre Game

Anyone who follows gaming news will know that the first person shooter Duke Nukem Forever has been in development since 1996, the year Duke Nukem 3D was released, and that the 15 years of delays have become quite the joke. Finally released on June 2nd of this year, Duke Nukem Forever was released by developer Gearbox Software, and has been met with generally mediocre reviews. My own experience with DNF was quite positive, but I wouldn’t say that it is a great game. The game feels like a strange combination of outdated design and graphics, modern gaming mechanics, misogynistic humor, and spoofs of modern games all rolled up into a ball of inconsistent difficulty. I should provide perspective on how I played DNF; I sat down with a friend and played the Xbox 360 game on the “Come Get Some” difficulty (the third hardest of four, and the one I would call “hard”) passing the controller back and forth whenever we finished a level or died. I greatly recommend this approach to playing DNF because much like movies that are “so bad they are good” DNF is far more fun when you have a friend laughing with you at the games humor and flaws. With this method we plowed through the game over the course of four evenings in a row.

Low resolution textures become obvious up close.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t had fun completing Duke Nukem Forever, but I would also be lying if I said it was a great game. The Xbox version of the game had poor graphics, especially evident in the low resolution of textures when viewed up close. Halo 2 for the original Xbox could compete with DNF in terms of texture quality, and it would completely crush it if you compared character animation. Early in the game you can “admire” yourself in the mirror at the press of a button, causing Duke to say a cheesy line and increasing your max Ego which acts as your health bar. Looking in the mirror it is immediately evident how cheap Duke’s animations are. His torso doesn’t move as he runs and when you are switching or reloading weapons his arms move so simply it looks like a he’s a minimally jointed action figure. The game does present a greater variety of lighting than some shooters, some levels contain areas that are pitch black providing a use for Duke’s sunglasses’ night vision power. Sadly this night vision lights everything up in a painfully bright light blue and white color scheme, and emits an annoying high pitched note when it’s used.

"Duke Vision" comes with an annoying sound effect and too-bright whites.

DNF’s sound effects are pretty standard overall, the one major flaw I noticed being the silly grunt Duke emits every time he jumps. The witty/cheesy/terrible lines from Duke during gameplay like “Hail to the king, baby” and “Squeal, piggy” were surprisingly varied. By the end of the game I certainly started to notice a lot of repeats, the frequency of his statements and the number of them was balanced well enough that they never became too repetitive which is a rare plus for a talkative protagonist. The soundscape did have one gigantic flaw however, music. The music wasn’t bad, actually some of it was actually pretty good for a FPS, but there simply wasn’t much of it. Many levels in the game had no music at all, and as the game wasn’t otherwise endowed with ambient noises DNF isn’t so much hard on the ears as it is incredibly boring for them. The gameplay heart of the game was unbalanced to say the least. As a practiced FPS player, I found enemies predictable and easy to kill. Most of the mid-level deaths my friend and I encountered were caused by enemies we didn’t see because of the surprisingly narrow field of view, or because we took the wrong approach to a fight on our first try. Generally, cautious play made most fights easy. In contrast, a few of the boss fights and one turret sequence are so hard on the difficulty my friend and I played that we had double-digit attempt counts between the two of us. It didn’t help that the controls on the Xbox 360 are poorly calibrated. The reticle movement on the analogue stick barely has any speed between slow and fast, and that combined with poor aim assist made high speed accuracy difficult. To make matters worse picking up ammo from ammo crates requires that the gun reticle is pointed straight at them while you hit a button, which forces players to look away from the enemies to grab for ammo. Many elements of the game feel modern. Duke has a recharging “Ego” bar that works exactly like shields in Halo, absorbing damage until it is depleted at which point you can only take a couple shots before dying. Only two guns can be carried at once along side a a handful of grenades and other single use items like the ego reinforcing beer. The design on the other hand feels outdated, with lots of relics from old gaming clichés like move-the-barrel physics puzzles and jump pads. Levels mostly consist of narrow hallways connecting slightly bigger rooms with sporadic fights and platforming sections spread throughout both. There are some fun driving sections of the game, but because running enemies over instantly kills them and the aliens aren’t smart enough to get out of the way these driving sections are incredibly easy and don’t make for any interesting battles.

Driving Levels could have been great but are far too straightforward and easy.

All in all however, Duke Nukem Forever can be good fun in a simple minded laugh-at-how-bad-it-is sort of way. The way it strangely crosses old and new game design provided me with a strong feeling of nostalgia for older shooters like Goldeneye and Serious Sam while taking a small step into the modern space. It would be great if the game was better balanced, controlled better, looked better, and generally felt more polished, but after 15 years of development I’m glad Gearbox Software was able to finally release the game. Hopefully having Duke Nukem Forever off the table will allow a new iteration of Duke to be recreated in modern terms, with modern humor mixed with old references. The acceptance of games like Bulletstorm makes me think that Duke Nukem still has a place in the gaming world, it just needs to have a fresh slate to find that place, and for the first time since 1996, that slate is clean.

Puzzling Friends is a Great Experience

Watching someone else play a video game can be surprisingly fun. Watching my dad play our old Atari 2600 when I was less than six years old introduced me to games, and when my dad got a Sega Genesis I watched when I felt too unskilled to play. As I have improved as a gamer, and games have improved, I’ve never lost interest in watching games in the right context. Watching high-level play of competitive multiplayer games is like watching sports; seeing what the best of the best can accomplish is quite impressive. Watching or taking turns playing an adventure game or RPG can be a fun social experience, and sharing the tough or disappointing parts of a game can make it much less frustrating. However, my new-found favorite type of games to watch are puzzle games. I don’t mean games like Tetris or Bejeweled, but games with environmental puzzles and platforming like Portal or Limbo, games that give you “Ah hah!” moments when you finally figure something out. If you have ever played a game that had situation after situation that took contemplation and thought to figure out, puzzles to solve and/or enemies to outsmart, give this a try: Find a friend or family member who you know is a capable enough gamer to handle the game without getting frustrated, and sit them down to play as you sit back and watch in silence. As you watch someone new to a game play through puzzles that you have already solved you can almost hear the gears turn in their head as they play. Some puzzles which you found difficult they will breeze through in seconds, and others that you solved quickly may stump them. With someone else’s brain fumbling through puzzles you’ve solved, they will reveal ideas of solutions that you never thought of. Often they will not work, but sometimes a new solution will work revealing a gameplay option that may not have occurred to you. I recently introduced a friend the XBLA game Limbo which was released last summer, and watched them play in near silence. (I did give them a couple hints and answer a couple questions when they were needed and wouldn’t hinder the experience. I also did plenty of chuckling at the repeated deaths following incorrect solutions.) We were both having a great time, them playing a wonderful game with moral support from me when they got stuck or frustrated, and I got to experience the game through their eyes. Seeing someone else experience those “Ah hah!” moments is great in itself, and better when you remember having that same moment yourself. To anyone interested in psychology, puzzle solving, and games, I recommend sharing your puzzling game experiences with everyone you can. Watching someone solve problems and comparing their process to yours is enlightening about both how similar and how different every person’s brain is from each other’s.  

The Nintendo Wii U – Thoughts and Impressions

Now that E3 2011 has come and gone, it is safe to say the biggest reveal was Nintendo's new console, the Wii U. Six years ago, at the 2005 E3, Nintendo unveiled the original Wii console and began targeting "non-hardcore" gamers to bring into the fold. Though gamers like myself were excited for the potential of the Wii and it's new control scheme it became apparent after release that the Wii was to be a home mostly for mini-game collections, kids games, and other casual distractions. Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to attract a casual audience, but my personal Wii library has stayed quite small simply because when I play games I crave a bit of a challenge, and few Wii games provide adequately. Other complaints about the Wii often include the inaccuracy of control using the Wiimote "waggle", and the lack of hardware power the Wii provides for graphics and other capabilities. The Wii U may be at least a partial answer to these complaints.

The Wii U Console.

The Wii U itself looks much like the original Wii, but with a rounded sleeker design. Nintendo's E3 presentation exhibited that the Wii U is more powerful than the Wii, able to produce graphics on par with the Xbox 360 and the PS3, and finally outputs a HD 1080p image. I'm sure when the console actually launches we will be able to see in more detail just how well the Wii compares graphically with its competitors, but as long as it can at least keep up with the Xbox 360 in HD I will be satisfied; Nintendo's games have tended to be cartoony and youthful instead of realistic so excessive hardware power should not be necessary to create crisp, clean, and beautiful HD games. Unlike the Wii, the Wii U hardware is not compatible with Gamecube games, and thus does not appear to have any controller ports for the gamecube controllers. Wii owners who have great games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Muramasa: The Demon Blade will be forced to buy a classic controller or play on the new Wii U controller instead of the highly effective gamecube controllers. When the Wii came out and was compatible with everything for Wii I was quite pleased because I could sell my Gamecube and replace its shelf spot with the Wii, and I'm disappointed that to play my library I will now need to own both the Wii and Wii U.

The Wii U's new controller.

The most exciting new feature of the Wii U is it's controller. Reminiscent of an iPad with a smaller non-multi-touch screen in exchange for having a border of standard gaming controls. Nintendo's E3 presentation displayed the potential of this controller with uses varying from allowing players to play an entire Wii U game on the screen in case their TV is otherwise engaged, being used as a drawing tablet, or as an inventory screen for an adventure game. I hope the addition of a touch screen to the controller will cause developers to innovate with a variety of great ideas instead of just adding a motion gimmick to every games control scheme. Some of the things the Dreamcast did with the VMU screen in the controller were very cool, and that screen was tiny, black and white, and not a touch screen, so hopefully the Wii U controller, with it's better screen, microphone, camera, and tilt sensitivity, will be the genesis of many wonderful new game concepts. Reviews say that the controller is light and surprisingly comfortable for its size, which is great, but with the screen on board I'm concerned about it's potential battery life.

The underside of the Wii U controller.

With the Wii U capable of using the Wii's library of controllers in addition to its own, additional hardware power, and hopefully an improved online interface Nintendo is in a great position to reclaim their lost hardcore gaming fans as well as hold on to the more casual players. If they can pull it off, it could be great for gaming. However, until I see a great multiplayer purpose for the Wii U, I see no reason to rush out and get one when it finally releases. Both the Wii and Gamecube had a small enough library of "don't miss this" quality games that I plan on waiting for the Wii U to drop in price before considering a purchase. Nintendo has yet to give me a reason to become an early adopter and I fear that as much potential as this console has, it will be primarily first party games which are worthwhile yet again. In a time with too many great games releasing, I find myself prioritizing the great multiplayer games while they still have a community, and unless Nintendo provides this temptation, the Wii U will not be for me. Do you think it will be for you?

Potential for a great Zelda game.

Ability to play on just the controller.

5-player multiplayer using one Wii U controller and 4 Wiimotes.

Dual-screen internet browsing.

All images from nintendo.com. Thanks Nintendo!   One final question for readers, does anyone think Wii U is a good console name?

The Best of E3 2011 Trailers & Teasers: Part 2

Now that E3 is more than half over, and Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have finished their press conferences, there are tons of exciting videos and trailers to see. I'm going to stick with linking to GameTrailers.com because they have consistent and organized E3 video coverage, and had a great live stream of the press conferences over the last two days. So here we go, more of my favorite videos and trailers from e3! Ico & Shadow of the Colossus HD PS3 Release Trailer - Two of my favorite games are getting visually cleaned up and re-released for PS3. I welcome any excuse to play these again. Ninja Gaiden 3 Trailer - Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox did what many games don't and challenged me to improve my skills simply to survive the story. Ninja Gaiden 2 I have so far left unfinished because without the exploration elements from the first game, the constant combat, as good as it was, got a little dull. If Ninja Gaiden 3 focuses on story as much as this trailer suggests, provides both a bit of exploration and excellent combat, and is an extreme skill based challenge, I'm sold. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Trailer - This games looks beautiful in Limbo-meets-Tron way. This is listed as one of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade games this year. Ryse Trailer - I don't have a Kinect, and who knows how well this game will actually play, but this may be the first Kinect game that has me interested. Tomb Raider Cavern Gameplay Video - This gameplay does indeed live up to the trailer I posted a link to in Part 1. My only worry is that aside from failing quicktime events, this game will have little worry of failing. If the game presents a proper survival challenge later on, continuing with this intense atmosphere of desperate survival, then this may be the first Tomb Raider game I buy since The Last Revelation from 1999. Star Wars: The Old Republic Opening Cinematic - Though I have little interest in this game as I tend to avoid MMOs for less time suffocating games, as a Star Wars fan it's hard not to love this trailer. It has awesome action like the newer movies, with plenty of reflections of characters and battles of the old, making for an exciting six minutes. Rayman Origins Gameplay Video - The original 2D Rayman is one of my favorite old platformers, not only because it is a well designed game, but the art and characters are wonderfully charming. The new Rayman Origins seems to be recapturing that charm bringing Rayman back from his Rabbid infested minigame compilations. Wii U Debut Video - Nintendo introduced their new more powerful Wii, the Wii U, which features a brand new control interface with a lot of potential. I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with for the Wii U, but I am quite frustrated that it doesn't play GameCube games like the Wii does. Starhawk Single Player Gameplay Interview - I've never played Warhawk, but this video makes it's sequel Starhawk look great. I hope Warhawk fans are getting what they want, but it looks like a great game regardless. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Gameplay Trailer - More Zelda? Yes please! Puzzle Agent 2 Trailer - Yet another sequel to a game I've never played, but the trailer appeals to me. The sunday-comics or children's book art style combined with puzzles and a good story is something I could really get into. I'll have to check this out on iOS. Captain America: Super Soldier Trailer - I have little hope that the Captain America game will be any more than the typical licensed beat-em-up, but Sega's trailer is fun just to watch. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Gameplay Video - Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one of my favorite Xbox 360 games, yet I haven't beaten it yet because it's just so big. Skyrim looks to be far better, if that's possible, with much more interesting combat, and a much better graphics engine. If this just gets close to living up to my hopes, it'll be one of my favorite games of this generation. Kirby Wii Trailer - We may be finally getting classic kirby gameplay for the first time since the N64. Armored Core V Cinematic Trailer - This trailer is astonishing. It provides no gameplay footage, but it puts the computer graphics in most modern Hollywood movies to shame. Hitman: Absolution Cinematic Trailer - Another great CG trailer, no gameplay. Child of Eden Gameplay Trailer - Anyone who has enjoyed Rez will know just how good this game should be. Inversion Trailer - Though the gameplay looks pretty generic, I like the gravity gimmick in this game. If we are going to have lots of similar shooters, they should have twists like Inversion has as often as possible. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron Trailer - I worry that this game is guilty of overly simple combat that will cause to much repetition, but as I haven't played it yet, I will hold onto my hope for the sake of the games art. The stylized graphics of El Shaddai are just beautiful. Far Cry 3 Demonstration Video - The new Far Cry is looking amazing! There are many good videos that came out of E3 this year that I haven't included either because I missed them or they didn't make my personal cut. Regardless of my taste, E3 has proved once again to be a great time to be an excited gamer.

The Best of E3 2011 Trailers & Teasers: Part 1

With the Electronic Entertainment Expo coming up fast on June 7-9, gaming sites like GameTrailers.com have begun releasing a hail of new trailers and teasers for games. Some videos show off newly announced games, and some just show new content of games that were known. Regardless, its a great time to be a gamer and get excited about our future entertainment. Following are links to some of the videos that piqued my interest. Take a look!   Sonic Generations Classic Gameplay - As a long-time Sonic fan, I've been hoping Sega would get its act together and bring back some classic sonic gameplay, and Sonic 4, while entertaining, didn't really hit the nail on the head. I'm hopeful that Sonic Generations will do a better job. (Hey, there's no homing attack so that's at least one step in the right direction.) Bastion Gameplay and Interview - Bastion is an action RPG for XBLA and PC that grabbed my attention with its surreal art. If the story and gameplay are as good as the developer in the video touts then I'm sold. Deus Ex: Human Revolution Trailer - While I regrettably never played the original Deus Ex, Human Revolution is on my radar. The mood and style remind me of the Metal Gear Solid series, but, if this trailer is any indication, the player gets to be a little bit more superhuman in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North Trailer - This isn't the first trailer I've seen for this game, but it gets the Tolkien fan in me going. A mature action RPG that takes place in one of my favorite fantasy settings, tells a new story, and let's me play couch co-op with my friends? Yes, please! The Witcher 2 Trailer - Though this trailer shows mostly cut-scenes and cinema, I've heard great things about the game and it's predecessor. After watching this I'm tempted to go buy the first in preparation for the second. Too many games to play, just too many... Celestial Mechanica Trailer - Catching my eye with its lovable old-school pixel art visuals, this little metroidvania genre game looks like it has great gameplay focused on defense instead of the all-to-common shoot everything in sight mentality. Hopefully there is more to the game than catching missiles and energy to open doors, because with a strong plot I'd happily pick this up on Steam or wherever else they release it. Prey 2 Trailer - All cinema, no gameplay, this is one of those visually awesome trailers that makes you pray (no pun intended) that the game lives up to the trailer. RAGE Gameplay Trailer - RAGE is starting to look like Fallout, Borderlands, and Call of Duty combined. And thats a good thing! Journey Gameplay Video - I'm a sucker for pretty games, and Journey already has me wishing I could spend a few hours gliding across the dunes. I just hope the game is long enough and open enough that it's gameplay matches the expansive world. Tomb Raider Trailer - As a reboot to a classic series, I'm hopeful for this game. Yet again, if the game can live up to the epic adventure the trailer suggests, I think we'll have quite the adventure on our hands. Darksiders II Trailer - Though I tried the first Darksiders game briefly, and it didn't grab me, I have heard a lot of praise for the game. I can't help but ignore the good looking sequel, and hope Darksiders fans get what they want out of it. Uncharted 3 Co-op Trailer - I'm always a fan of having co-op play in my adventure games, as long as its well done. This looks good to me, I just hope the co-op campaign isn't too short. Hard Lines Debut Trailer - I've been playing games on iOS quite a bit lately, and there is a shortage of good multiplayer games. If this is as much fun as the old Tron light cycle games always were, I'm in. Might Fin Trailer - Another iOS game, this one looks like a fish version of Tiny Wings or any of the popular auto-run genre. It will likely be cheap and addictive, and who can say no to the face of that fish! PaPo & Yo Trailer - When this trailer started I was not expecting the graphical quality the game actually delivers. The concept sounds creative, and the story sounds like an adventure straight out of a children's book. I hope this ends up being great.   And that's it for now! With E3 beginning on the 7th I'm sure there will be lots more coming soon, and hopefully some great new AAA game announcements. I'll try to post more of my favorite new trailers over the next week.