Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Remember Thwomp Factory? It's back -- in zine form! After years of punching cars and eating meat from the ground, we're charged back up and ready to go. Covers The first issue is filled with words and pictures about games, mostly video. Unlike the Thwomp Factory blog, video games won't be the sole focus. Take issue #2, for instance: wizards for one and all. There's room for eight-bit Elminsters and Dumbledores, but we're keeping our prospects open for radness, whatever its source. Table of Contents

This 28-page book includes work by Zach Thrillhouse, Abby Thrillhouse, Nick Emmerich, Boris Smelov, Zach Welhouse, Amelia Gorman, and Pocket Aimee. Just as awesome: the full-color cover by Momma P. One side is action-packed and full of words; reverse it and the words have magically disappeared. How perfect for all your Thwomp mini-poster-related needs!

Picture1 Picture 2 If you're interested in a copy of Thwomp Factory #1, send $2 via PayPal to watched at gmail along with your mailing address. Alternately, feel free to use the Paypal button below. PDFs are also available if you are a scientist or Internet visionary. Have moral compunctions about using PayPal? Send an e-mail to watched at gmail and we can work out something via real mail.

Supplies are limited and life is short.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blind Gamers and the Spike VGAs

There are (at least) two really insane things about the Spike VGAs this year.

First, they had Stevie Wonder on the goddamn stage, but they let a shitty indie rock band play instead.

Second, in all the discussions of what Stevie Wonder said - that we need to think about how to make games accessible to people with various disabilities - I've seen nothing about AudioGames, a large community doing exactly that.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Argument from Badass.

So, there's this thing called Divine Command Theory.

It states that morality comes from a divine source, basically whatever that divine source says is moral is. As the wikipedia article says, there is a lot wrong with the Divine Command Theory.

There's also a thing called the Rock 'n' Roll Command Theory. No, really. It states that there are no independently existing badass things. Rather, whatever the source of Badassness does is badass. And the source is (obviously) Iggy Pop.

So no, he hasn't sold out by appearing in Lego Rock Band. Hell, it isn't even an unlikely match. Exposing yourself, self mutilation on stage, not wearing shirts, and pioneering new music genres are not more hardcore than Legos or Rock Band. We only view those things as hardcore because of the wonderful Mr. Pop. Had he started out his career reading Little Women to orphaned kittens that is what would be the source of much pearl clutching and censorship and grounding in the modern day.

But what about all the badass things before he was born, you say? Well, I firmly believe that right now Iggy Pop is going out in his Lego time machine teaching the pre-1947 world how to be badass. (Also, interestingly enough, based on his activities shortly after being born it was cool to look at boobs, and puke all over yourself. The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?)

And of course, we've already been told how to be badass in the present. Buy Lego Rock Band and play the crap out of it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ghostbusters: A Reflection

When I was 8, my friends and I built a Ghostbusting headquarters in my basement. We had a containment unit made out of a desk. Sure, we were participating in the crass commercialism of children's entertainment that would mark that generation and all future ones, but being a Ghostbuster was even cooler than being a Ninja Turtle (and was less likely to get you hurt jumping off playground equipment now often banned).

The new Ghostbusters video game manages, as best it can, to capture that feeling. There are ghosts, and you bust them, and you cause a lot of mayhem in the process, and anything else that goes on is irrelevant. This is the contract you make with the game, and it holds up its end of the bargain. It doesn't matter that it's Gears of War-lite for shooting mechanics, or that the character models are unsettling, or that it's a blatant retread the plot of the first movie. It's just really fucking cool to carry a proton charger on your back and fire it at a giant marshmallow guy throwing cars at you, or stand around in a graveyard yelling at your friends not to cross the streams.

The only design element aside from that I want to call out is the clever use of poltergeisting to block off initially open areas, making the levels feel much larger than they are without using invisible walls.

If as a child you ever pretended to bust ghosts, this is the game for you.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stabbing My Eardrums

Peripherally related to the last post: There's a lot of work that's been put into 2D sprite filtering algorithms over the years, so you can get extremely good results when scaling 8/16-bit style sprites up to modern resolutions. The ones in Genesis Collection are actually very poor, but other emulators have much better results.

I think we should take that theory and apply it to the audio capabilities of those machines, to at least smooth out some of the noisier and higher-pitched effects of the era. At least then I won't stand there trying to cut the dog in Beyond Oasis in half.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fatal Labyrinth: A Review

As someone who played Nintendo consoles as a kid, my exposure to Sega is pretty much 1) Sonic, and 2) the trainwreck they are now. So Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection - the headlining title being the least interesting - is pretty much designed for me. One thing I was stunned to find on it was Fatal Labyrinth which as far as I can tell was the first console roguelike. In fact, released in 1990, it's contemporary with Angband (and so not too surprisingly, it's much more Hack-like than future Japanese roguelikes - persistent levels and only a cursory town).

Honestly? The game is crap, even if you can fly. But as is usual for roguelikes most reviews complain about the reviewer's dislike of fundamental aspects of the genre, rather than the particular implementation. That is if you handed them Shiren, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, and ADOM, they'd review them all the same.

What Worked
The level generation, including secret doors, was fine. I think it was a little more interesting than the random generation present in later Chunsoft-developed roguelikes. Rogue is meticulously balanced in terms of food vs. exploration and Chunsoft games tended to ignore that by eschewing secret doors. While there's an abundance of food in Fatal Labyrinth you can't actually pick it up and need to eat it on the spot, so starvation is a real threat in the early levels if you explore inefficiently.

The "you've been on the level too long" notification, common in Japanese roguelikes, is found here. Probably for the first time. Between this and the food, the game does a good job of forcing you into progressively harder levels at the right pace.

There were breeders, enemies that spawn copies of themselves.

Statistically, the difficulty curve was good, but I'll get to some particulars of why it was bad at the end.

What Didn't Work
The controls. I don't think I was happy with a set of roguelike controls on a dedicated gaming device until Izuna Ni. Notably, you can't turn without moving.

The UI. There's some excuse here for the same reason as the controls (I won't blame it for attack numbers getting truncated to two digits) but in other cases it's horrible. You can't see what an item is until you pick it up, you can't see how satiating food is until you eat it, and if you cancel out of the second or third stage of the three-level menu you need to start over from the first.

Loot is shallow. There's a lot of things (and the full gamut of types - armor, scrolls, wands, rings, and a couple classes of weapons) including some cursed items, but they don't have +X/-X variants variants.

The key place the game falls over is risk management. The primary goal of the player in a roguelike is to minimize the effect of the random number generator, because unpredictability is always what makes you lose. This problem manifested in two ways. First, damage variance was enormous. Tracking damage per hit looked like 12, 5, 106, 45, 19, 2, 95. Especially when you first encountered enemies I had no idea how much damage they could do, even after they hit me half a dozen times. Even if I knew I was safe I had no idea how long it would take me to kill the enemy.

Second, I had no options to mitigate non-damage risks. It's common for there to be rings or scrolls that will prevent some class of status ailment or raise your resistance to it but this game had no such thing I could find. I probably spent 90% of levels 15 to 25 confused, and all the items to fix that are consumable. None of the rings or armor offered me resistance benefits I could see, and the enemy attacks could be done at range so using a bow or shuriken did not help.

Fatal Labyrinth is a game I'm unlikely to ever play again, but as first efforts go it's an admirable re-imagining of Rogue for a console system.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A little more on Flower

The Flower developer diary is interesting. It could do without the Sony PR push, but then Flower probably couldn't have been made as it is without the Sony PR push, so you take the good with the bad.

I don't think I buy the "video game version of a poem" concept. Passage is a video game poem. Flower is a novella. The problem is that most video games are the equivalent of doorstop fantasy - next to George R. R. Martin, most modern literature will look like a poem. By this I'm not just referring to length, but content and structure - Flower progressively presents a theme and has a beginning, middle, and end, just with minimal filler. Actually so does Passage, so maybe I should consider something like Tori Emaki instead. This is a thing that eschews the literal for the aesthetic, which Flower and Passage do not.

It's interesting to see Penny Arcade claim "there isn't enough "product" here to be satisfied" when their own game came under fire for much the same thing at twice the cost and 2-3 times the play length, but far more filler and recycled game mechanics. That may be the video game equivalent of pulp fiction (it's even serialized).