It’s been almost three months since my last linkdump: I’ve had a few interesting pieces posted at my regular haunts since then and managed to creep into some new outlets, too.
From earlier this month, here’s another review, forever damned to un-publishability, of a game that I didn’t care for: it’s not bad, but it’s not inventive or interesting or engaging, either.
While unwieldy, Master of Dungeon‘s title can be forgiven: it’s descriptive and accurate — this is, in fact, a dungeon-crawling RPG. And the specific misuse of English gerunds in the game’s marketing (“Feel the thrilled battle of beating!”) marks it as an Asian product (in this case, South Korean), even before the chibi-sized sprites drive the message home.
Master of Dungeon‘s choppy syntax may be part of its Engrish charm, but in a game with so many systems at play, it’s a nuisance. There’s an in-game economy, of course, with a handful of merchants and mongers in a hub town hawking wares, but there’s also item crafting and deconstruction, two different upgrade systems, and an expansive in-app purchasing scheme. There are two problems here, the first of which is that the writing in Master of Dungeon is butchered badly enough to render any tutorial or instruction inscrutable — the only way to get the hang of these mechanics is repetition and trial and error.
Sometimes, the things you write don’t get published, and they languish in some site’s CMS like a forgotten doll. This is one of those times, from March: a review of an iOS game I didn’t particularly like but found interesting in terms of execution.
The funny thing about Kids vs Goblins is that it understands something vital about Pokemon that sham companies and cloners like Qeab haven’t taken the time to grasp.
Kids vs Goblins differs wildly in form and function from Nintendo’s oddly prolific pocket monster sim, but it nails the conceit: in the same way that Pokemon sanitizes and bowdlerizes cock fighting, Kids vs Goblins whitewashes its dingos-ate-my-baby narrative about cannibalistic goblins and the fact that its stars a ten-year-old with a spiked warhammer.
I wrote this several years ago as a scattershot attempt to address some of the questions that would later be used as the basis for an interview with Aaron McHardy, lead FIFA designer at EA Canada, published by Paste Magazine last month.
It’s unfocused and weird, but I figured I may as well share.
Sports games occupy a strange and troubled position the games industry’s caste system. They’re generally reviled by the self-identified hardcore, despite selling well and representing one of the few examples of traditional games left in the industry. Games demand multiple players following the same sets of rules, a test that, say, Call of Duty’s single-player campaign fails.
Real-time strategy and fighting games pass this test as well as sports games do, but series like Madden and FIFA are the most visible and well-marketed example of traditional gaming.
It’s also worth noting that the nascent mixed-martial arts genre—no doubt standing on the back of the professional wrestling games that blossomed during the mid-1990s—effectively blurs the line between the fighting and sports genres. This seems pretty obvious.
A subtler observation: sports games can act as fulcrum of design a whole.
Here, I defer to Margaret Robertson, who prompted my line of thinkingalmost three years ago:
Here’s a game design conundrum for you: what do Halo and football have in common? . . .
This is the introduction of an essay I wrote that would later become the piece published in Paste Magazine last month (which I’m quite proud of, by the way). It’s more or less a festschrift on the Pep Guardiola era of FC Barcelona.
While I was pitching the piece to editors, this section was called “artsy faff” that is “largely meaningless to anyone not intimately familiar with soccer, but is also so flowery that it becomes nearly impenetrable.” That’s actually useful criticism, but I like to use every part of the hog, even the parts left on the cutting room floor. I blame Brian Phillips.
Sportswriter Sid Lowe once asked Catalan midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who plays for Spain and F.C. Barcelona, how he deals with defenders. Xavi replied:
Think quickly, look for spaces. That’s what I do: look for spaces. All day. I’m always looking. All day, all day. [Xavi starts gesturing as if he is looking around, swinging his head]. Here? No. There? No. People who haven’t played don’t always realise how hard that is. Space, space, space. It’s like being on the PlayStation.
Xavi’s response seems obvious: passing the ball is fundamental to soccer. But it’s also the teleological apex for Xavi, the Barcelona team he captains, and the recently-ascendant tiki-taka style he champions. That’s what I do, he says — not only now, but always.
The consensus on Mage Gauntlet – RocketCat’s promotional literature, the TouchArcade review that sold me on the game, various forums – is that it’s an action RPG. We have, however, been sold a bill of goods: Mage Gauntlet has more in common with River City Ransom than it does with Secret of Mana.
The problem is that the game’s visual style, theme, and mechanics have all been perceived as belonging to the categorical definition of action RPG: Mage Gauntlet takes place in a fantasy setting, and a couple of the underlying systems are governed by a set of stats affected by equippable items. The SNES-inspired art direction only reinforces the misconception.
So it’s true that Mage Gauntlet plays a bit like Secret of Mana, but the granular experience ultimately presents itself much differently.