Electron Dance
1Aug/167

Discussion: Adventures in Cardboard

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Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the slightly late July edition of the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.

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  1. I’ve had a brief go with a Gear VR, but it was winter in a pub in Brighton, meaning that the inside of the lens fogged up after just a few minutes of use. I did get to see some horses, however, and later that evening met Alec Meer for about 45 seconds, so that was nice.

    I also purchased a Cardboard set earlier this year, but I went ultra-cheap with a <£10 cardboard set. I also have problems with the straps and on occasion had to resort to holding the thing in place over my face. That can be mildly essential if you're using an app which requires use of the very basic, and not terribly functional, button.

    All in all, my experience was not great, but I didn't expect much, as I'm using a creaky old S4 and the headset I bought was very cheap. I mostly bought it so I could show my girlfriend, and anyone else who was interested, "baby's first VR experience". I have no idea how far outside the games industry awareness of VR goes but there's been enough money poured in now that I expect a lot of people are going to be getting curious in the near future.

    (I just checked. Apparently the set I bought was also v2, and it was a "SPLAKS" set. I suppose we could've made our own, but I don't own a lens grinder.)

    I am also extremely dubious about it as the new hotness, but I'm also keen to give it a go. I think my perspective is that of the rare breed of people who quite liked the Kinect; there were very few worthwhile gaming experiences to be had there, but those few were unique and entertaining.

    A guy I used to work with is putting his own Holodeck together. Check it out at http://www.evryway.com/ – it's still rather rudimentary, but what he's achieved so far is very cool nonetheless.

  2. Shaun, it sounds like VR is a magical thing because somehow you met Alec Meer as a result. I think with Cardboard your experience is extremely variable – depends on the phone, how much is running on it and the Cardboard implementation you’re using. But I think, ultimately, it’s not going to produce the Oculus Rift because a smartphone is just not accurate enough, which limits how much anyone will want to spend on it. It’s a novelty and perhaps a stepping stone to understanding VR for the masses.

    I’m still unconvinced whether this will actually make any money for developers. Will the critical mass be there? Chicken/egg…

    Good luck with your friend’s Holodeck. I remember what Barclay got up to.

  3. That Senet article! Crazy stuff.

    “Maybe – and this seems almost blasphemous – games really have changed. Maybe people have changed, and today we want different things from games than the ancient Egyptians wanted from Senet. Maybe they found the shuffling rhythms of the game of passing to be thrilling, or at least true: the smallness of human life captured against the unchanging vastness of the landscape of the gods. Is that it? Senet is a game in which the player can often feel irrelevant, halting and endlessly undecided when contrasted so sharply with the beautiful order of the three lanes, the 30 houses. And the only objective? The only hope? To get off the board. Not quite an escape. No. More an understanding that we were never meant to be there in the first place.”

    Every time I go home to visit my family, we play a lot of board games. My parents are into Catan, and always up for trying new interesting things. But if we have more than 2 or 3 game nights available, inevitably my mom wants to play aggravation. It’s not like she doesn’t enjoy more complex games, or get why we all would prefer them, but I guess she finds it comforting and pleasing trying to get the 4 pieces “home.” I would never _vote_ to play aggravation, but I guess I’m not wholly immune to that charm. Don’t tell mum though.

    P.s., Looking forward to watching the witness video! It doesn’t count as a spoiler if I was never going to find out on my own anyway.

  4. “Maybe they found the shuffling rhythms of the game of passing to be thrilling, or at least true: the smallness of human life captured against the unchanging vastness of the landscape of the gods.”

    I wonder if this was an influence on 7 Grand Steps. (Anyone play that? You there, Richard?) Like, there was this board-moving/resource management game that was a little involving but kind of tranquilizing and definitely drawn out for how long it went, there were these stories that except for infrequent moments of excitement were pretty repetitive (I mean, you would literally get the same one ten times), but what it did give me was the sense of how families’ destinies are shaped for generations by forces beyond their control. Or maybe I never figured out the systems that would prevent me from occasionally being totally wiped out by famine.

    So I never came back to the other thread because I felt like I should say something about Brexit–it seems like it’s following the 18th Brumaire pattern and repeating as farce, at least I pray that’s what’s happening because it seems as though the US is managing to have one last point where The People can speak and they’re realizing that Donald Trump is an unstable narcisstic sociopathic bigot, though he is doing a lot of harm even while going down to defeat, for instance his rally the other day appears to have basically been an attempt to incite mobs to attack Somali refugees, and on Brexit Cameron’s cowardice is really legendary, I was going to write a browser plugin to change his name to “sniveling pigfucker” but at this point he’d probably rather be remembered for the pig–anyway, it seemed wrong to jack that thread, but on this thread I am totally going to talk about level select screens.

  5. Dan

    Nice to see you again. Now I’ve never heard of Aggravation before but it seems to be a cousin of Ludo (which I have just discovered is because they are both derived from Indian game Pachisi) and Ludo is one of those awful games that is 99% dice rolls and goes on for-evvvver. Playing with children is alright but there’s a sense you’re just living out the life of the dice, minus any story to sweeten the deal. I disengage and feel like I’m killing time, or that time is killing me. That reminds me, I really should write that piece I’ve been mulling over about Chainsaw Warrior, which plants us in similar territory. I’m probably going to write a short piece on Asemblance instead, though, as I’m off on holiday next week.

    Make sure you have 30 minutes to hand to watch The Unbearable Now because, by all accounts, once you start it, it’s impossible to stop. The Pringles of Video Game Video Criticism. That’s quite a mouthful. As are Pringles.

    Matt

    Oh my GOD, Matt, I forgot all about 7 Grand Steps. I may even have a copy in my gargantuan GamesOpen folder. I remember there was a lot of excitement about that and now this thread I’m getting the vibe it’s Ludo with a story :) I really should get it out.

    I’ve retreated somewhat from political news because I feel so much of it is waiting. I’ll be glad when we can stop talking about Trump at last. And Brexit-wise, everything is on hold here until the New Year. And the UK Labour party continues to circle the drain – I just want some goddamn release that isn’t a shooting or knifing or bombing or droning. But, yeah, I doubt anyone will remember Cameron for anything positive in the history books.

    Okay, level select screens: go.

  6. Yeah, aggravation is almost all dice rolls. There are a handful of decisions – maybe 5 all game.

    7 grand steps, on the other hand, that’s a fine game! It starts off simple, but after a while it turns into a crazy balancing act where you have to allocate resources very cannily. Making contingency plans (not loving one child too much more than siblings) is key for bouncing back from random failures that are also maybe your own greedy fault. I think that’s an underutilized mechanic, because normally failure isn’t fun. But here it has a kind of solemn gravity mixed with goofiness. Would play again.

  7. Oh, my comment on 7 Grand Steps probably came off harsher than I meant it. There are a lot of interesting decisions and strategies in the board game part, and it’s not at all dice rolling (most of your moves are deterministic). My feeling bout it is mostly that given the scope of the game it feels like those micro-level strategies aren’t mostly what it cares about. A big part of that being what you say about failure–when I had a whole family wiped out by famine, AFAICT through no fault of my own, I wasn’t so frustrated or feeling like I had failed as saying “Yeah, sometimes it bees that way.” Definitely seemed like it was making a procedural argument for small families though.

    (Also, could you make any sense out of the ruling track game? The king kept telling me to conquer a city and I had no idea how to even try to do that.)

    My excessive harshness is also going to be a theme of my level-select post, because looking back on my comments on Crayon Physics Deluxe boy were they far too grumpy. But… hmm, I may actually have time to start talking about level select screens, bonus goals, and endings now.

    OK, I think I’ve mentioned how I realized that some of my frustrations with CPD came from the level select. You see, there are eighty main levels, and you get a star for solving a level, and as you get more stars you unlock more “islands” (sets of levels). This is a fine mechanism which keeps you from getting locked out of most of the game because you’re stuck on a single puzzle. (There’s also branching unlocking of puzzles within the islands, but you can usually do an end run around a puzzle you’re stuck on, I think.)

    But! There’s one little island in the middle that requires 120 stars to unlock. Which you will notice is more than the number of levels. Well, you can earn an extra star on a level by coming up with solutions that are “elegant” (only one object), “old-school” (no pins or ropes that aren’t in the initial set-up), and “awesome” (you decide whether it’s awesome!)–you need all three to get one star. This wound up turning into something of a grind; coming up with elegant solutions was fun (though often requiring a lot of trial and error if not luck), but the old-school solutions often involved spamming tons of objects while looking longingly at the more, well, elegant solutions that were forbidden by the old-school constraint. And when I’d achieved those two, I generally just marked my elegant solution “awesome” because I needed that star. (Discussed at even greater length here–scroll down for more, follow the link, and note that I miscounted the number of levels–there are eighty levels, so you only need the extra star on half of them.)

    But why did I need those stars? Well, the last level of the last non-central island is called “The End?”, which tells me that there’s more to unlock. And it turns out that on the central island is… a sweet and not overly difficult level that calls back to the beginning of the game, and then gives you a tiny cutscene and credit sequence. But because of the way this was set up (and, er, because I’d miscounted the number of levels and thought there were five more), I didn’t feel like I was done with the game until I unlocked that level. Whereas, if the callback-credit roll had been where “The End?” was, and the central island had contained five of the most challenging of the main levels, I’d have felt like I had finished the main game when I got to the credit roll, and then I’d have explored the extra stars as optional work to unlock the bonus levels. Which would’ve felt less like work. Even though more of the content would’ve been locked in this version.

    (I took about half an hour break to look at my solutions, realize that I’d stopped marking them as awesome when I got my 120 stars, realize that my one-pin one-object solution to Killer H was totally awesome, and decide to get an extra star by doing an old-school solution, which while it was kind of satisfying also involved spamming a lot of objects to get the ball up a hill. As they so often do.)

    A game that does it right is NightSky. NightSky has sets of levels that are unlock linearly within the set, but the sets unlock nonlinearly (something like two sets unlock for each set you finish). There’s one last set of levels which explains early on that it unlocks if you collect a certain number of hidden goals within some of the earlier levels. But this set of levels is after the level that gives you the brief ending cutscene/callback–though they probably unlock at the same time anyway, but it’s listed below it in the level screen. And its art style and music are self-consciously goofy and at odds with the rest of the game (and it starts “Meanwhile in the fourth dimension…”). So it’s clearly signposted as an optional post-completion goal, which means searching for the hidden bonuses isn’t something you have to do to complete the game. Also in the level-select screen you get when you return to a world when you’ve finished it, it marks whether there’s a hidden goal, and whether you’ve found it.

    It turns out I don’t have time to write up my thoughts about Closure, which is what prompted this, but I have thoughts about Closure. TLDR: Don’t design your level-select/hidden goals/ending like Closure.

    And also: Aside from the mechanics of level-unlocking and in-level bonus goals (beyond those needed to complete the level), how you present these things can really affect players’ experience of what they need to do, and whether they’re playing around with the levels or working at them.


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