Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh Shoot, Shoot 'Em Ups.

Today I stumbled across a thread about a game project related to a subject of one of my previous blog posts. What surprised me is what type of game it was. Instead of something like an RPG or such it was a shoot 'em up. A bullet hell shoot 'em up even. Since I just complained about beat 'em ups, it seems quite fitting I complain about shoot 'em ups too.

Now unlike beat 'em ups, shoot 'em ups aren't such an exclusive group. But then again, last time I was really referring to an extremely narrow selection of games that has mostly died out nowadays. No More Heroes was brought up a comment, and I said I don't consider it a beat 'em up because it was "too different". I feel I should clarify what I mean, and better clarify how I classify a shoot 'em up in turn, because they are more similar in nature then just the names.

Both beat 'em ups and shoot 'em ups belong in the more general genre of "action games" along with other categories (including platform games like super mario world which my hack is based on). An action game in fact a rather vague and widely applied label, and all sorts of games could be said to be action games as long as they have, well, action. But beat 'em ups, shoot 'em ups, and other categories are not. They have a particular narrower meaning. And it's more in depth then their name would suggest also.

Both beat 'em ups and shoot 'em ups are defined partly by their roots, and partly on their focus. With roots it's primarily that beat 'em ups and shoot 'em ups get basic gameplay elements form old arcade games. Even if they tweak the formula and add new gimmicks, there is usually a definite heritage of ideas that can be traced back directly to an old classic. That is not to say new ideas aren't good and don't happen, it's just that you can see a definite evolutionary line. For focus it's mostly a matter of cutting out everything but one element of combat. In beat 'em ups it's close range combat, in shoot 'em ups it's long range combat. Almost everything outside this focus is usually more or less excluded.

Small side note: Fighting games are like beat 'em ups, except fighters focus on one on one and/or player vrs player while beat 'em ups focus on one vrs. many, and player vrs. mooks. But games can be considered both at once, such as the Super Smash Bros. series (infact I sort of count it as a platformer as well). I still don't think No More Heros has the arcade roots or the exclusive focus to be called a beat 'em up though.

Getting back to what I was saying, shoot 'em ups aren't necessarily as exclusive as beat 'em ups, generally because there are a lot more ways you can handle ranged combat and a lot more diverse classic shoot 'em ups that branched out into a lot of sub-categories. Beat 'em ups never really evolved past River City Ransom and were replaced with newer games that, while still action games involving fights with multible mooks, were totally different in execution and focus. Thats why there is nothing really as universally "wrong" with shoot 'em ups that pops up in most games. But there still is a problem I have with shoot 'em ups in general that has to be looked at.

I suspect people like shoot 'em ups a lot of the time not because shoot 'em ups are good, but because they are simple.

Oh sure, bullet hell games like (most of) the Touhou series are filled with mathematically complex patterns and can be insanely hard, but the gameplay is still brain dead simple. Now I know not everyone likes games like Dwarf Fortress where the online wiki is needed to have the slightest clue what is going on, and thats exactly why shoot 'em ups usually exclude everything but shooting. But there is a fine line between tightly focused and boring. It's probably just me, but I want something else to do besides shooting things. I have always thought Touhou's fangame spin offs like MegaMari were far more interesting. MegaMari isn't a complex game, but it still has so much more involved gameplay just because you have to navigate around and explore, things considered shoot 'em ups almost never do. Not that it's the best game ever, but it's still more interesting then the main Touhou games seem to me.

It's not that I hate shoot 'em ups though. I still find the main Touhou fairly fun, I just wish they would throw me a bone sometime and actually have something besides waves of bullets to get excited about. Any old game can do that if you let it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Beat It, Beat 'Em Ups.

I stumbled across a free little beat 'em up not to long ago. Okay I admit, it was an x-rated one... I was looking for smut, so sue me. But that's not the point. Although I do question a game that basically makes you avoid doing the one thing you want to actually see in order to win... but anyway. Playing it a little I was reminded of all that is wrong with beat 'em up games. Now I don't think the genre is necessarily bad, hell one of my favorite games River City Ransom and Shadow over Mystara are basically a beat 'em up crossed with an RPG, and honestly the RPG bits could be removed and you would still have a solid game (less so in Shadow over Mystara, where half the coolness is the stuff you can get, but I think it still stands true). There are just a few things that annoy me that beat 'em ups do that I really hate. So I am going to make a list for all the game designers out there that read my blog. Which by my calculations is none at all. Well screw it, I'm doing it anyway.


5. Linearity
Often in beat 'em ups, you do nothing but go forward with no side paths or exploration, often without anything but wave of wave of attacks. Maybe it's just me, but I found the open world approach of River City Ransom and the branching paths with hidden rooms of Shadow over Mystara a lot more enjoyable.

4. Boss enemies with insane priority and range.
Yeah I know a lot of beat 'em ups were coin eaters but I would like to have bosses that are possible without dieing 50 times or using that cheap flying kick move over and over. A boss who you cannot frigging hit except by cheesing the system is not a fun boss.

3. Illogical invincibility frames.
One annoying thing about beat 'em up games is that under certain conditions, such as during some attacks or when knocked to the ground or other things, players and enemies will take no damage from anything and will not react to attacks, regardless if it would be logical to be able to hit them. One thing about River City Ransom that made it fun is how BRUTAL the fighting could be, largely because you could air-juggle enemies and hit them on the ground, things you usually cannot do in most beat 'em ups. Usually, combat in beat 'em ups is more like hitting them, waiting until they get up, and kitting them again, or having some enemy do it to you, which is in the end little better then turn-based combat. And that brings me to my next point.

2. Illogical knockdowns
In some beat 'em ups almost EVERY attack will knock you flat on your ass for no reason, or yours will do the same to enemies. There is no staggering or attempt at a sense of balance involved, just down you go. This contributes even more to the turn-like flow of some beat 'em ups, and takes away all sense of skill or stratagy when you are just knocking down enemies with a flying kick. Also the time you spend helpless on the ground is often just way too much as well.

1. Locking the scrolling for encounters.
Seriously, why is this considered a good idea? Not only do you not have the freedom to progress though the game as you please, enemies have an annoying tendency to go off the edge of the screen where you can't see or hit them. I know letting you blow past all of the enemies makes the game a tad to easy to just skip stuff, but at LEAST use locked doors or real barriers, and not this scroll locking bullshit. Heaven forbid make your levels more then one long linear sequence of encounters and instead actually think about obstacles now and then.

(It occurs to me that 3 and 2 could apply to some fighting games also, but much less so because they tend to have very short knockdown times and usually don't abuse invincibility frames THAT much.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Turn on the Fan

I admit I can be a huge nerd sometimes, and at times I can go overboard and become a little crazy about things. I mean the main character of my hack is a catgirl for goodness sakes. Although I originally intended to deconstruct and/or parody the concept at first, I have become so endeared to Jiggles' character it became more of a reconstruction and attempt to make the actual catgirl stock character actually mean something. God how nerdy is that?

But whats worse, I found myself inserting fan wanky elements from other works into my story. For example did you know Killo's castle "Killovania" is more then justr a clever name? It's literally a rebuilt version of Castlevania. He actually went in to the Castlevania universe and yanked part of Choas that was left behind after Soma rejected becoming the darklord. Yeah seriously. And Zuru, the character who runs the shop in my hack, is actually the daughter of Zara, a minor character in Quest for Glory. Not making this up, I wrote all that stuff into the backstory of my hack.

You see, Killo is sort of a representation of me as a person who plays games. He "crosses dimentions" and "projects" himself into different worlds, which is how he mostly gained all his power and knowledge. Every time I play a game, I imagine Killo actually keeps any abilities or sometimes items I find or learn in that game, to the point where he now has tons and tons of them. Sometimes I do things in games JUST to get these imaginary abilities and items, even if they aren't useful in the game it's self, it's useful for my imaginary meta-game where Killo collects them. Jiggles also has gained a bunch of her abilities from me playing her in other games. For example, I sort of want to give her some abilities and items she got in Drawn to Life and her whole outfit and some more items and powers comes from my time playing her in Gaia Online and it's MMORPG minigame (which I might add I haven't touched in ages). So yeah, I am a geek.

I also had a few ideas for fan works. Here are a few:

1. A Quest for Glory fangame sequel staring the son or daughter of the hero and his queen taking place years after the hero marries and becomes king in QFG5. I thought a good deal about this but never worked on it. It would feature a duel-class system where you choose one for the father (out of Fighter/Mage/Thief/Paladin) and one for the mother (where you choose a class representing one of the 4 brides in QFG5, which is basically Fighter/Dark Mage/Dancer/White Mage) and it would decide the appearance of the child and it's abilities based on that (as well maybe the politics and appearance of your home city based on it). The world would be more open and vast but less detailed, using backgrounds and areas form all 5 games, and a OW map to travel.

2. A SaGa crossover fangame that involved a bunch of characters from various SaGa games in a entirely new story. Only thing I really thought about that well is Asellus' role, where she is the chosen leader of her people after the defeat of the Charm Lord and she, being half-mystic, the only one of her people able to coexist with humans (possibly making most Mystics unable to stand sunlight).

3. A sequel to Secret of Evermore, because good god it needs one, bad. Possibly since all the characters form earth left at the end, it would involve several playable characters from the different time period themed towns as they join forces to confront a new evil. Possible characters: Girl from Prehistoria with a grass skirt and top who uses a spear, a thief/pirate from Crustacia who uses daggers, a gladiator from Nobilia who uses swords, a knight from Ebon keep who uses an axe, and, of course, a robot dog from Omnitopia. Yeah I know the dog went home, it's an actualy robot. It's cool goddamnit.

Anyway, yeah, I should get out more.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's Not Polite to Point

Lately one question seems to enter my mind more then any other: Whats the point? Now I am not a pessimist, and I don't think life is pointless (except maybe when I was a teenager, which is par for the course). Well, okay I sort of think life is pointless, but only in a vague way that has nothing to do with our lives. Basically, I think life doesn't really need a point overall, because thats sort of not the point. See my point?

Okay, okay, look at it this way. Whatever the reason life may exist it has little to do with my OWN life directly. It's up to the individual to find their own point. Or not. In any case, my problem is in motivation not an existential crisis. I got most of my existential crises over with over the last 10 years or so. Nor do I (or even at my worst teenage years) have serious thoughts of suicide or anything.

In fact let me talk about suicide for a moment, because I actually see my fair share of people talking about it online, and I often try to talk them out of it (even if I don't really think they would actually do it). The basic arguments I make is that: 1. Suicide is basically giving up, 2. Things do change (often whether you want them to or not I may add), and 3. There is no proof it will actually solve anything. So there. Don't commit suicide. In fact I rather recommend homicide to be quite honest. But just barely, and only because arguments 2 and 3 apply to it, but 1 only applies most of the time. Lucky for me, while desperate times may call for desperate, measures, my time is no where near desperate. So let's just put the whole mess of killing behind me... though it's nice to know if I were staving I would sooner cut people up and eat them then kill myself, isn't it? ^_^ Okay that joke was in bad taste... And so is this one! *SHOT* Okay okay...

Anyway, extremely dark humor aside, talking about various kinds of -cide is not what I wanted to rant about. It was the fact that a lot of things I think of as pointless, even if life on the whole is not. In fact, I quite enjoy my decedent lifestyle. Living off the government, not working or going to school, you know. It's just, actually doing anything with my life, well, that's sort of the spot I am having trouble with. And I think there are a few interesting reasons for this.

A major one is that I think a lot of the motivation behind people comes from social pressures and cues. In my last rant I talked a bit about the Hikikomori/NEET problem in Japan, but I didn't really get in to details. In anime and some real life pictures I have seen, they seem to live constantly surrounded by clutter. The other day I was looking around my apartment and realized just how much it looked like in the depictions I have seen. A pile of trash and empty bottles on the table, trash over the floor, etc. Of course I cleaned up a bit since then, I basically have to. If I don't I get yelled at. Another thing I neglect is showers. But I hardly sweet, and not many people comment on it, so I usually assume they simply don't notice (and they usually don't I think). No doubt if I had regular friends or - god forbid - a girlfriend, that would change very quick.

Whats more I think is motivation to do other things, like work or projects like my hack, would be a lot higher if I had anyone who actively cared. I would probably write in this blog more if more people commented too (hint hint). Let's face it, other human beings are at least %75 to %80 (maybe more) of why people do things. No matter if it's friends or family, or even strangers online, people's motivations are primarily related to other people. Not all of it's for the benefit of said other people mind you, some just want an audience, or enjoy making them suffer. But regardless, other people are usually involved somehow. There are still some motivations that run deeper then that. Basic survival is one, creating something for your own personal satisfaction is another. And those two may be reducible to a simple drive to exist (and continue to exist in some way even after you die).

And as for my hack, well, I think that kinda was a mix of the two. I started it both because I wanted to be part of a great community, and also because I wanted to explore or spread some of my ideas and philosophical nonsense. Jiggles herself is both a character I have RPed several times and also part of a more philosophical outlook on things. The reason why I continue to work on hacking is primarily because of the community (and also the tools are nice and I like asm but still), and the reason I want to tell the story is primarily because of a kind of wish to tell things that hopefully people will take to heart.

The problem is, on both counts I am undermined by things. On the hacking side, I feel I do a more effective job almost making small patches and helping out people, and on the story side I find I do a more effective job just telling people by basic ideas. So I have been sort of in this mood of not really wanting to do any actually work on my hack, despite the fact it really is ultimately my goal.

So what can I do? I think if people were more interested in it directly, or maybe even worked with me on it, I may do a much better job of being motivated to work on it. Maybe thats my problem, I am just no good doing things on my own. I may have ideas, and maybe even talent, but I am just not focused or motivated enough to do stuff. But at the same time, I don't know if I want to work with anyone else either. I am often lazy, and I am controlling, always wanting to follow MY idea, not someone else's. Hence why I didn't join any of the various community projects sprouting up. Besides that, I think I have been drifting away from the community as a whole, mostly because I only post and go on IRC occasionally as most of the time I just don't care to talk.

Though it could also be mostly just being lazy and/or tired a lot. Maybe I also need some time to get back in the mood for hacking. In any case, I haven't completely given up yet, and my deadline is when the world ends in 2012. After that well... If I am still alive, I will see what happens.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Isn't it NEET?

Since I was dangerously behind on my Anime quota, I desided to watch Welcome to the N.H.K., a short show about a Hikikomori/NEET (two phrases that may very well describe me as well) and the girl who loves him desperately clings on to him because he is the one person she knows more pathetic then she is. Though many misadventures, the somewhat screwed up cast goes though a few psychotic episodes, has a few amusing happenstances, and finally manages to fix most of there problems and ends up in a somewhat happy ending though the power of friendship. You know, standard anime stuff. Well almost.

I kind of have a problem with some of the subtext though. Like a lot of anime, there seems to be an underlining subtext of conformity and social unity. Largely this is probably related to the Japanese culture that spawned anime. It is interesting to compare Japanese values and ideals with American ones on this point. Japanese values typically involve more looking out for the collective, and American values typically involve looking out for the individual. This of course, a gross oversimplification, but it's a general starting point.

For the Japanese for example, shaming people is a big deal. People don't typically worry about failing for the sake of their own failure as much as shaming their family, friends, or coworkers, or even people they don't know, and this is seen as normal and expected. For Americans the very idea is almost laughable. It still exists of course, but for the most part Americans are more concern with their OWN status rather then the status of others. In other words, Americans, if their mom catches them in a dirty act is more concerned about what she thinks of them, while the Japanese may well be concerned about what people would think of her. This is of course only a rough expression of something that bound to be more complex in reality, and I have not studied Japanese culture above watching some anime here and there and often looking up things that they reference. Anyway what I am getting at is that the way people act in anime can often not mesh with our ideas on how people should behave and this DOES apply in some ways to people in real life too.

So getting back to subtext then. For me, there are a few problematic elements over and over in anime:

1. "Power of Friendship" - In some ways, I can understand this. The connections between people IS a powerful and important motivator and source of people's desire to accomplish things. The problem is, it can go so far as having people without friends as either worthless or downright evil. Friendship and love DOES motivate people, but it's not the ONLY thing that does, and it's no guarantee that it will make you GOOD. Though Jiggles would disagree.

2. "It can't be helped" - This phrase is uttered again and again (almost surely ironically at least a quarter of the time) in almost every anime whenever a character gives in to some request. No matter how outrageous the request or how untrustworthy the requester, the character will utter this an begrudgingly go along with whatever is requested. Now half the time this is exactly the point of course, to have a character be an extreme doormat for everyone who has any request. The problem is, almost every anime usually has a main character like this and some animes have EVERY character like this in some degree.

3. Loose lips sink people - Although to be sure this also happens in America, the persistent staple of anime of a character overhearing gossip about themselves and being absolutely TORN APART AS IF THEY WERE RIPPED OPEN AND LEFT FOR DEAD. Look, people say dumb things. We all know that. But what makes it worse is the apparent Japanese idea that people have NO worth EXCEPT though their peers. At least America ATTEMPTS to make people reject that notion. In anime the solution is that at least ONE other person needs you.

Now I don't know about you, but I see a very sinister subtext scattered though all this: That people are only worth anything if they are part of the group. There are many other examples, and quite a few that work just as well with American culture, so it isn't just a problem with Japan. Though America tends to try and glorify the individual more, but that just leads to laziness, apathy, and lack of work ethic overall, and I don't think I need to explain examples for that (hint: one is writing this blog).

What makes this worse, and what many people blame for it, is the out of control consumerism. In Japan anime, games, music, manga, and other such things seem to consume large chunks of people's lives, and of course, this in-group dynamic is profitable for this. Everyone buys the same stuff watches the same things, ect. This is why anime and Japanese games is so filled with stuff like Pokemon, which practically makes buying things into the whole MESSAGE. Of course we can't blame only Japan for that, after all, the USA practically gave them the idea. This also seems to extend to the work force as well. It's a common stereotype, seemingly enforced in Japan, that the Japanese workforce is like a brutal devourer of souls, where salaryman are often worked half to death in insanely long workdays for barely enough pay for their families. Also the school system doesn't seem much better. Once again, this is not so much different then in America, but the difference is, I don't think Americans put up with it quite as much.

It's this sort of condition that, I think, is the primary catalyst for the emergence of Hikikomori and NEETs. And here I think it's where my biggest gripe with Welcome to the N.H.K. comes in. It seems to imply these people are simply disconnected from the world. To me it seems almost like the opposite. Here in America, for better or for worse, if you were to try that sort of lifestyle, you would have a few big problems. In Japan, it seems, parents are more willing to pay an allowance and/or let their children stay at home until nearly middle age or older. In America, while it does happen, it's usually not without making the child get some kind of income. The only reason I am able to pay for an apartment is mostly because I get disability benefits, and somewhat because I am in a government housing program. And do I get to sit around doing nothing all day? Well mostly, but I am visited daily by a sort of social worker, and made to clean up after myself for the most part. And I am encouraged by nearly everyone to get a job anyway. Japan seems to have solved this problem in the past with "Problem? What problem?" and suddenly recently decided to say "Ohhhh that problem! I hadn't noticed! Er... Maybe it's that they aren't feed right?"

So what do I propose? Make people WANT to work by fixing the workforce and the education system, and that goes for EVERYBODY. The problem now is, not enough people are seeing how it is worth it. As for me though, I am happy being a lazy bum. Long Live the N.H.K.!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Leave Me Elona

Since I wrote about Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, I have sort of been in the mood to play more roguelikes. One game I heard interesting things about is a quirky little independent Japanese game called "Elona". Apparently it is short for "Eternal League of Nefia" but that would really be "Elon" though I guess using Japanese lettering it would be more like "E-Le/Re-O-Ne" which is slightly closer. Maybe "Elona" results form some method of transcribing the letters E L and N as "E-Lo/Ro-Na". I really have no idea. But it sounds cool anyway. They could have just named it Nefia I guess but that isn't as catchy, and I can't make as good of a pun with it.

Annnnyway, Elona apparently takes after "Ancient Domains Of Mystery" in many ways but I never played that so I have no idea how apt the comparison is. Although it plays like a roguelike, it actually feels in some ways closer to a more traditional RPG. Although randomized dungeons exist, most of them seem like short side areas. The vast majority of the game is traveling on a non-random overworld map traveling between non-random towns, although there is some randomness in play even in non-random areas. All things considered, I am not sure I like this set up as much as just having one dungeon approach like in Nethack, or the one hub town with a few dungeon areas like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. It seems to have much less focus then other roguelikes I have played. On the other hand it allows a more open ended experience.

Because of the open nature of the game, there are a lot of extra things you can do, such as build a house which gets ranked based on what furniture you place in it to get a bigger monthly salary, as well as buying farms to grow crops and ranches where you can breed monsters or other "pets" that you catch. You can even combine pets using a "Gene Machine" to give them better stats, new equipment slots, and new skills. There are a ton of skills to learn and use that can let you gather materials and make items. The downside of all this is that the game very quickly becomes grind-tastic. You need to basically farm money to get deeds for buildings and practice like crazy at skills to make them improve. The game quickly becomes doing the same thing over and over again, which is usually not a problem for Nethack and only is a problem in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon if you are trying to recruit Pokemon. Another thing you have to deal with in Elona is taxes that are billed to you every once and a while, requiring you to take a side trip to pay them or risk becoming a criminal which will cause guards to attack you in towns. Elona seems to be set up for major long term play, and even death only serves to reduce your stats and gold rather then making you start over (though I save-scum like crazy anyway). One gripe I have is it uses a level system like most of the Elder Scrolls games where your level goes up as you practice skills. Really I never understood why people use this system, it makes levels next to useless as leveling up really doesn't do that much. I rather just drop levels altogether. After all if you can already raise skills and stats by practice, why bother having levels?

Elona also has a very odd sense of humor and is filled with odd references and objects that probably won't make much sense unless your Japanese or into Japanese stuff. There are balls you can throw at weak enemies to capture them and make them your pet, "Little Sisters" that join you if you read their diary, a few anime reffrences, and even a man in black leather who will self-destruct himself on you yelling "Foooooo!", referencing a notorious Japanese comedian. There is also Bioshock reffrences by way of Big Daddy and Little Sister monsters. Piled on that, are quite a few sexual references and such. One early event lets you choose a pet from a cat, a dog, a bear, and a little girl (The little girl is the best one because she can equip stuff). Leash and stethoscope items can be used witch make pets blush and call you a pervert. You can unleash pets by using the leash again causing them to mutter something that seems to indicate they secretly enjoy it. You can also marry your pets and ask them to "make a gene" by spending the night with them (and gene files can be used to carry over items to a new game). Gender also has no apparent effect on any of this, so any pairing will work. The game is overall not as well thought out as Nethack in regards to special tricks. In addition to gender and such not mattering for things, I noticed non-organic monsters can still bleed for example.

Overall one of the things I like best about Elona is it's interface. Rather then use simple text, Elona uses graphics, although the animation is more limited then Mystery Dungeon games. The controls, while still similar to Nethack in function, are much simpler thanks to being able to scroll though different inventory modes and menu of tasks that call be pulled up with relatively few button presses. This means that the number of buttons needed is relatively few, and they can be mapped to a gamepad as well, which allows play without even touching the keyboard. Biggest problem I have is I think it should bring up the targeting selector if you don't have a target rather then auto target, but you can manually target things with a button anyway.

In general, despite any gripes, I have been having fun with the game. I am playing a Fairy Pianist (because I am crazy), which is maximized for charisma and such rather then combat, which allows me to have tons of pets to do most of the fighting. Although with a throwing star weapon that causes bleeding, I find I can do okay in combat, though I usually rely on my pets to do most of the damage. In addition, though almost everything kills me in one or two hits because I have very low HP, my evasion rate is very high. Though whenever I try and play my music in public, I usually get hit by a rock and die, though I can practice with my pets fine.

Also I liked the picture I drew today. I think it's cute. :3