Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

All my scheduled games are PC now.

November 30, 2016

(Loosely to the tune of “All My Rowdy Friends” by Hank Williams Jr.)

All my scheduled games are PC now
That I can only really play in the middle room
So I can’t really play while watchin’ TV
While sitting in the living room

I myself have seen my console days
And those games are still at the top of the page
When I need to find a game just to play around
But none of them are scheduled right now
And all my scheduled games are PC now

And I think I could play a Persona game
But I’ve got too many games from Good Old Games
So many that I can’t keep ’em straight

And even though I’m home more these days
See none of them are scheduled right now
And all my scheduled games are PC now

And the leftovers annoy more then they used to
And Bloodlines and TOR took the place of Wii and PS4
And it seems like I really don’t do things quite like I used to do
And none of those are scheduled right now
And all scheduled games are PC now

Yeah, I think I could play Fatal Frame
But those Good Old Games don’t cost a lot of cash
Don’t crash like they did back in 2008

And right now I’m a Toreador playin’ in L.A.
And none of those games are scheduled now
‘Cause all my scheduled games are PC now

And the winner is …

October 10, 2016

… Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, along with Record of Agarest War and Record of Agarest War 2.

I still wanted to play on the PS3 or PS4, because, well, it and the Vita are the easiest to play while watching TV, and the next couple of months will have lots of sports to watch, and I didn’t want to have to sacrifice one for the other. I also knew that I’d always be able to have something on TV no matter what, so it just generally worked the best. But I kept wanting to play Dragon Age: Origins again, but kept balking when faced with the fact that I’d want to play the entire series and that would mean that I’d have to play Inquisition again. I also considered Mass Effect, but while I could tolerate ME2 and ME3 better than DAI, I also didn’t want to play those games as badly. I considered the Persona games — starting from Persona — but wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy the first two games. I also considered a mix of games, but finally remembered that I had Valkyira Chronicles and that it might be fun, and also that while Record of Agarest War was grindy, grinding while watching sports wasn’t all that bad. Thus, the decision.

I started playing Valkyria Chronicles on Saturday. The game is … interesting. The gameplay is unique, as the combat is a hybrid of turn-based strategy and shooter. You select a squad member to “activate” in turn — as long as you have Command Points — and then you get dropped into essentially a shooter, where all enemies that can shoot at that character do shoot at that character, unless you drop into an action mode — like shooting an enemy — at which point the game pauses. And when the enemy is moving, your soldiers get to shoot at them. Thus, I learned in the second combat mission that sometimes it’s best to not activate some of your soldiers because then they will only get shot at during actual enemy combat actions, but will indeed still get to shoot at the enemy as they move. Sure, you might be able to do more damage if you get to shoot during both phases … but you take damage then, too.

That being said, that I had to replay the second mission so many times suggests that the combat might end up being too hard for me to finish the game.

I’m not that fond of the graphics in the cutscenes, with semi-realistic anime figures over almost crayon-drawing backgrounds. But the characters seem interesting, at least. And you get to fill out a squad with characters that not only have their own classes, and not only have their own properties that give bonuses in certain cases, but also like some of their squadmates, which presumably also gives some bonuses. That’s an impressive amount of personalization of those squadmates. The only thing that would make it better, at least for me, would be the ability to create your own squadmates.

Anyway, we’ll see how the game goes, and if I manage to get into/through the Agarest War games after that.

(If anyone is wondering about the context for this post, it’s here.)

Busy Work/Gaming

September 23, 2016

So, recently, I’ve become very, very busy. This was a combination of work becoming really busy and the normal “one-or-twice a year” things that I have to do in September/October, well, obviously, coming due. Normally, I deal with those things by taking vacation around that time, but this year the powers-that-be put a busy time in September and October — as should be obvious from the second sentence of the post — and I’ve already talked about why taking vacation in the busy times really doesn’t work for me. Suffice it to say that with those things coming up and with the work thing, I’m pretty busy right now.

But I still want to do things other than work, like the Hugo analysis and reading (yes, it is still on-going). And one of the things that I really wanted to do was play some games, because after finishing The Old Republic I hadn’t really been playing anything … and even then I was pretty much only playing TOR. So, given that this state is likely to persist for about another month and a half, as per my wont, I made a schedule for it. And discovered that I had a decent block of time weekend afternoons/evenings to play some games. Great! Now all I have to do is choose a game.

The first consideration for me was “Am I going to want to watch TV in those timeblocks?” Because if I didn’t, then PC games work well, and I even have VTMB and KotOR2 games in progress that I could finish, which would be a big plus for me. But if I did, then console/Vita games work better, because while I can play PC games and watch TV that involves me cranking up the volume and mostly ignoring it, so background TV? Good. Semi-interested TV? Bad.

And it turns out that baseball season is ending and the playoffs will run during that time, and I actually like watching the baseball playoffs. And they tend to run at about those times. So it is likely that I’d actually want to watch, and if there’s something on TV that I want to watch I often tend to, well watch that instead of doing what I wanted to do. So that made me lean console. On the other hand, the baseball often ends by the time I’d be starting to play, which might leave me with nothing to watch, which would make me lean PC. However, with the CFL ramping down and the NHL and NFL starting up there’d almost always be some kind of sports on, and in the rare cases where there wasn’t I’m sure I’d be able to find something to have on just for noise so … console/Vita it is.

So, I had been doing a number of things to remind me of the Persona series — watching P4: The Animation, listening to the soundtracks, etc — and so thought that it might be a good idea to replay P4: Golden. Except … I almost finished watching the Anime before revamping my watching habits as part of my rescheduling, and so when playing it I’m really just playing the story that I just watched. Sure, I’ve not only done that before but even enjoyed it before, but right now I’m busy and tired and, well, am just not up for doing that. So I need something else.

I considered playing Dragon Age again … but then I’d want to do the entire series which means that I’d have to struggle with the Dragon Age Keep again and have to deal with Dragon Age: Inquisition again. Yeah, let’s not. So then, maybe Mass Effect? But then I’d have to deal with the stupid resource gathering in ME2 again. Still, I think I could tolerate that more than I could tolerate Dragon Age again.

But what else? Persona 3? The dungeons are grindy and boring, and I only have two 3 hour blocks a week and want to feel like I’m getting somewhere. Conception II? Same problem, only more so. Dungeon Travellers? I think I’d have to start over because I’ve forgotten what secret areas I’ve found. Valhalla Knights? Maybe, but the shopkeeper influence mini-game can be tough on the fingers. Lost Dimension? Replaying it after you’ve seen the entire story isn’t that appealing. Agarest War? That “grinding” issue again. Skyrim? Hmmm … but I’d have to find it first. Oblivion? Maybe. Overlord? Can you play that for three hours and only three hours in a session? LA Noire? Same idea. Saint’s Row? Maybe.

I could always go and play PS2 games, but I moved my PS2 off to make room for the PS4, so that’s a bit problematic, and something that I’d only want to do if I didn’t have anything else to do. Go back to PC games? Maybe. TOR again? I hope not [grin].

Anyway, this post is here mostly because my reasons for rejecting Dragon Age and Mass Effect amuse me, and I needed to write a blog post at some point [grin].

To All the MMOs I’ve Loved Before …

September 21, 2016

To all the MMOs I’ve loved before.
That I played for months or more.
I’m glad they came along.
I dedicate this song.
To all the MMOs I’ve loved before.

So, after having finished all of the class stories in The Old Republic, I ended up musing about the MMOs I’ve played that I’ve really, really liked. And it turns out that there have been three of them, that I’ve loved for (mostly) completely different reasons.

Dark Age of Camelot: This was the first MMO that I ever played. I was drawn to it not because it was an MMO, but because it created three legendary/mythological realms that also happened to be among my favourites. I’ve always been a huge fan of Arthurian legend, and obviously given the game this MMO was going to have that as a major component. But the other two realms — Norse and Celtic — were also among my favourites. The whole “online” thing was a detriment, and not a benefit … but no one else was doing anything like this and no one else was even likely to do anything like this. If I wanted it, I was gonna hafta play this and put up with those icky “other players” that I had heard about.

The game itself lived up to expectations, at least in terms of setting and the link to the legends. The realms were noticeably different, and the classes mapped nice to the legends and, even better, were interestingly different between realms. Classes of the same basic role still managed to look and play differently in a way that linked them to the legends. Given this, I kept creating new character after new character to play around with different concepts.

The gameplay, however, didn’t suit me. It was a bit too hard to solo in the game — which is understandable, since you were never meant to solo — and, more importantly, there was no real overarching story to the game to push you to the next area. Yes, you were encouraged to go to new areas and do new things, but there was no story to follow, and you mostly did that to get enough levels to participate in Realm vs Realm … which I had no interest in. I also constantly got lost because the game — like most MMOs at the time — didn’t give you quest markers, the death penalty was annoying, and I was constantly cash-strapped.

This was my first MMO, and it set the stage for my altitis, because it was always so much more fun to start a different character in a different class in a different realm than it was to actually play a character to the higher levels and even into RvR, at least for me. A game with less diversity would have bored me when it got too hard (I’m looking at you, World of Warcraft), but Dark Age of Camelot kept me coming back to try out new classes and new characters:

City of Heroes: If Dark Age of Camelot started my altitis, this is the one that cemented it. The wide variety of costume and appearance options made creating new characters as actual characters far too easy. The varied powersets worked to create actual characters, and also played differently between classes and often between primary and secondary powerset combinations in the same class. New powersets allowed for new characters, making it all the more tempting to start over with a new character.

While soloing still wasn’t encouraged, it wasn’t as hard as it was in Dark Age of Camelot. Blasters had the hardest time, at least in my experience. There were overarching stories for each area and starting area that were fun, and I loved the few task forces that I managed to play.

However, at higher levels, again, soloing became too hard. Also, again, there was no overarching story to draw you from area to area, so you moved on when you had a high enough level. And finally, my highest level character got stuck in one of the cases where if you were high enough level to move on but your level was a little low for the quests and enemies you had to face.

Given the diversity and the fact that the introductory quest lines were fun, starting new characters became my standard approach to the game. This was my favourite MMO.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: With respect to everything that I loved about the previous two MMOs, The Old Republic is worse. There is less diversity in classes and settings and appearance. But it has two big advantages over the others. The first is that it is much more solo friendly. And the second is that it has a clear and interesting set of class stories that push you on to the next planet and, ultimately, to the end game. Of the three, it’s the game I love the least, but also the game that I’ve actually hit max level in.

The heyday of MMOs seems to be fading a bit; I don’t hear as much about new ones as I used to. Maybe I’m just not tuned in enough, though. At any rate, I wonder if I’ll ever find MMOs that I’ll love as much as these … all of which I either can’t play anymore or, at least, likely won’t play again, or for much longer (TOR).

Tropes vs Women: Are Women Too Hard To Animate?

September 9, 2016

So, the not-quite-latest video in the Tropes vs Women series is Are Women Too Hard To Animate? Female Combatants. It starts off by looking at the controversy over “Assassin’s Creed Unity” where Ubisoft claimed that they couldn’t add playable female characters to the multiplayer portion of the game because doing the animations and models would be too expensive. Sarkeesian notes this about it:

A number of experienced game developers joined the chorus of voices calling out the absurdity of Ubisoft’s claims. Animator Jonathan Cooper, who had previously worked on Assassin’s Creed III for Ubisoft, tweeted, “I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations.” And Manveer Heir of Bioware summed up what Ubisoft was actually saying: “We don’t really care to put the effort in to make a woman assassin.”

This … is pretty much the extent of her research into what it would take to do. She references another case, that of Far Cry 4:

Ubisoft’s disregard for female character options didn’t stop with Unity. Also at E3 2014, the director of Far Cry 4 admitted to a similar issue with that game’s online co-op mode, saying, “We were inches away from having you be able to select a girl or a guy as your co-op buddy.” Again, the excuse for why this option wasn’t available was that it would just be too much work. And yet again, what they were really saying was that they just couldn’t be bothered to do the work it would have taken to provide that option.

The thing is … Anita Sarkeesian, whether you think she deserves it or not, has a name presence in games at the moment, which comes from having made Time’s 100 most influential people list. If she actually wanted to answer the question that she titles the video with, she could easily have contacted Ubisoft and asked them to explain just what it was that would make it be so much work or be so expensive. Given her name recognition, they’d be far more likely to accommodate her than they would be most other people. And yet it seems that Sarkeesian is uninterested in doing the research to find out what was really the case, instead pretty much implying that it wouldn’t have been that hard and that they couldn’t be bothered to do the work. Which is indeed technically true, but obviously it would be more reasonable for them to take that position if it would require re-doing 8000 animations than it would be if it was only a day or two of work.

Now, I’m not an expert by any means, but I have read a fair bit around the issue and I work in software design, so I’m going to take a stab at thinking out what might have happened here, without insisting that anyone is lying. In software, there are usually multiple ways to do something. Some of them are faster but don’t work as well — or don’t cover as many cases — and some take longer but really work. I’d imagine that Cooper’s solution is simply to re-do the skins and re-use all of the existing animations. And this can indeed work. But the risk you take is that if you take detailed motion captures of men and then put female skins on them you’ll end up with female characters that, well, move like men. This can run into a number of issues, from it resulting in characters that no female would want to play to interaction issues as the skin is based on, say, a bigger or differently shaped frame and so it might mess up hit boxes and the like.

Now, if something really will only take one or two days to do but you aren’t sure if it will work, in software the usual practice is to prototype it: implement a quick and dirty version of it and hand it over the testers to see how it works. So it’s quite possible that they actually tried Cooper’s idea and noted that, yes indeed, it looked stupid and didn’t work. Then, left with only the longer option that would take too much work and time for the effort, they decided to not include the option of female characters in multiplayer.

Now, I can’t say for certain that this is what happened. But that they felt the need to mention it at all suggests that they were considering it — and knew that they’d get some push back on not including it. Given that, it’s not all that likely that it would have only taken them a couple of days to do that and yet they still decided not to.

However, this is mostly an aside — despite it being pretty much the title of the video — because the real question here is spawned by Sarkeesian’s conclusion. She says that they couldn’t be bothered to do it, and the question is: Should they be?

Now, up until now what Sarkeesian has been advocating for are things that don’t inherently or necessarily increase the actual costs of a game, and thus don’t inherently impact the profits of the game. Sure, there might be extra work to create female protagonists or to avoid the damsel in distress plot, but for it’s not necessarily the case. Most RPGs, for example, only need to do different skins for the characters to add female protagonists, which is why RPGs have constantly and consistently done that for ages now. So the only risk to the profits of the company are that some players may not buy a game that has a female protagonist or uses a different story. But here we have a case where, indeed, the claim is that it will cost significantly more to add female characters to the game. So while in the previous cases getting more sales by appealing to female gamers would be a nice boost and a reason to maybe give it a shot, here, those extra sales would be required to avoid taking a loss on that specific feature.

This actually hurts the companies that are more likely to want to appeal to new audiences — including the female audience — in order to expand their profile: indie games. Shamus Young recently created a new game called “Good Robot” with Pyrodactyl, and as it turns out it didn’t make as much money as expected. From the comments in that linked post, it seems that this has put the company on a far more shaky financial position than Arvind — the guy who runs it — is comfortable with. So, a company like Pyrodactyl might, indeed, want to try to increase their audience by appealing to female gamers. But, as outlined in the post, every feature that takes time both delays time to market — which can be critical — and the cost of the product, which directly impacts profits. So they assess every feature to see if the effort to implement it will increase sales enough to increase their profits. Thus, the question to ask is: does it actually do that?

I talked about FIFA 16 in another post, as a game that deliberately added female players. What has happened to its sales since the introduction of female players? Well, FIFA 2015, up until this point, has sales of almost 19 million units. FIFA 16 has sales of about 16 million units. While FIFA 15 has had another year to make sales, that doesn’t look like a huge boost in sales. Also, in at least the UK — a very big and important market for soccer — sales were down in the first week. So it doesn’t look like adding female players to the game added to its sales.

So, pretty much every company is going to — quite reasonably — be wary of taking the time to add female characters if they aren’t likely to see increased sales because of it. If Sarkeesian et al can’t appeal to the idea that it will increase profits to add female characters, then all they have to fall back on is the Social Justice argument: game companies need to be fair and need to promote the Social Justice issues that they think are important. But doing so might reduce their profits, and might actually drive indie studios and even studios in big companies out of business. Are they to be required to drive themselves out of business to satisfy an agenda that is not theirs?

This only gets worse if attempting to address those issues can be a no-win situation. The rest of Sarkeesian’s video discusses whether or not they should include female combatants. The reason she has to address it is that it is a feminist question of whether including them is perpetrating and promoting violence against women or not. Sarkeesian argues that it isn’t as long as they are not sexualized and are capable of fighting back, but the issue here is that a company that tries to address feminist issues risks getting it wrong no matter what they do, as some feminists deride them for not having women combatants in the game, and some deride them for having women combatants in the game, which might mean that they don’t even pick up the limited gains they hoped to see by attempting to address those issues.

Assuming that anyone even pays attention to their attempts. Sarkeesian has been better at highlighting games that do things reasonably lately, but it is still the case that games get far more attention for doing it wrong than for doing it right.

So, should gaming companies put in the extra effort to allow female characters if their framework doesn’t really support it? From a strict profit and loss standpoint, they probably shouldn’t. As a long-time RPG player, I really do want to see the choice … but I’d understand if they don’t want to, and instead want to play it safe. The video games industry is too tight right now to afford to guess at what might benefit, and female characters don’t seem to be a benefit.

Finished!

September 7, 2016

So, after playing the game off and on for somewhere between 4 and 6 years, I finally managed to finish all 8 class stories in “The Old Republic”, ending with one of my first characters, a Chiss Imperial Agent. The latest changes that allow you to pretty much keep your levels at the appropriate … er, level only doing the Class and Planet quests really helped, as it reduced the time it took me to complete a planet to 4 hours from somewhere around 12 hours.

In terms of stories, the Agent story was interesting enough and had an interesting ending, if it felt a bit rushed at the end, with everything getting resolved a bit too quickly. However, the Agent’s new role really worked for that storyline. And it may just be that it was the first storyline that I ever finished talking, but I really liked the Sith Warrior storyline. For the Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter, and Smuggler storylines, I enjoyed them, but most of that enjoyment, it seems to me, comes from how they really did let me act in-character in those storylines, as opposed to how interesting the storylines were themselves. The Inquisitor storyline was more interesting itself, the Smuggler storyline was more interesting for how the romance with Risha played into it and the ending, at least potentially, and the Bounty Hunter storyline really worked for my character while staying well out of the way most of the time. The Jedi Knight and Jedi Consular storylines are mostly unremarkable for me; I enjoyed them, but didn’t find them particularly memorable. In contrast, the Trooper storyline wasn’t particularly interesting — although it did kinda make sense for the character — and the choices interferred with my attempts to play as “The Sisko”, as I couldn’t react as he would a lot of the time, making it the least enjoyable of the storylines.

In terms of romances, my favourite was Vette from the Sith Warrior, and I keep getting tempted to replay as a Dark Side Warrior to see how things work out with Jaesa. I also liked Risha from the Smuggler storyline, especially since given her heritage there’s a chance of the character “going straight” afterwards. I didn’t do any romances in the Bounty Hunter and Agent lines, because there just weren’t interesting options. Again, I liked the options in the Jedi Knight and Jedi Consular lines, but didn’t find them that memorable, which this time also holds for the Inquisitor. Finally, again, Trooper fails to make the grade, as Dorne isn’t all that interesting an option. If I had remembered, I might have left the option open with that one woman that you can … ahem, interact with whom you break up with later.

In terms of companions, I again still feel good about the Warrior companions, as Vette, Quinn and Jaesa are all interesting, even if you can’t romance them. Inquisitor, though, may have the most interesting set, and Khem-Val, at the time, was both a great companion to have and kinda fun. Jedi Consular, however, has a similar and somewhat better one in Qyzen-Fess, and like the others have no companions that really irritate me. For Jedi Knight, the companions are all okay, although I did like Kira Carson, the romance option, as well as T7-01. And Scrouge and Doc have their moments. The same pretty much holds for Smuggler, except that Corso is more fun and Guss Tuno is more annoying. Akaavi Spar also inserted herself into the romance when I was doing everything I could to avoid romancing her at all, which was annoying. Bounty Hunter has the absolutely wonderful Blizz and Mako, and the romance between Mako and Torian if you don’t pursue her yourself is just so incredibly cute. However, my character wanted to shoot both Gault and Skadge. Repeatedly. And flush them out an airlock. Agent’s characters are mostly bland, but my character was annoyed by Kaliyo and had no real reason to listen to Scorpio’s rants, and instead really ought to have used the turbolasers on her. For Trooper, M1 4X’s over-the-top heroism was entertaining, but the rest were bland … except for Tanno Vik, whom I hated.

I’m torn on the new combat system/difficulty. TOR’s combat has never been all that much fun, but it’s been mostly innocuous for most of the time … except when the game sprung massive boss fights on you with characters that might out-level you and might have tricks that you don’t know how to dodge or counter when you hit them. Thus my strategy of success through massive over-leveling. Under this model, it’s both easier to over-level and over-leveling is less necessary to win the game. On the one hand, this is good because it makes it easier to complete the game without worrying about getting stuck, which is a problem for MMOs. On the other hand, it makes fighting things irrelevant, which means that if you are killing things just to get to the next mission or back to town it’s pointless since you don’t really need the XP, which makes the combat even more boring. That being said, it allowed me to turn the stealth on for my Agent in the later stages and pretty much bypass all the combat in favour of surgical strikes, which really worked for my character (and helped cut down on the time it took me to do things).

I’m glad that I finished all of the stories. I plan on going through Knights of the Fallen Empire at some point … later. I have other games to play [grin].

Goodbye to Romance …

August 30, 2016

So, in this recent post by Shamus Young, he asks this:

Anyway, preamble over. The question Rutskarn presents is this: What do we think of games where your companions have player-oriented sexuality? People aren’t “gay” or “straight” but instead “attracted to whatever the player is”.

I came across this in Dragon Age 2, and my overall view of the concept itself is that it works when it’s seamless. If in general you’re playing the game and the character just happens to either be bisexual — and thus romanceable by both sexes — or just interested in your character — so hetereosexual if you are the opposite sex and homosexual if you are the same sex — then it seems to work okay. The problem is that if you replay the game with the opposing sex the spell will be broken and you’ll be able to tell that that’s what they did, and the former is actually pretty hard to pull off. For example, in Dragon Age 2 being bisexual worked for Isabella — she’d have sex with anything that moved, really — and maybe for Merril, but it was a little awkward for Fenris and, as some people pointed out, didn’t seem to work at all for Anders given the character that was established in an earlier DLC. And, arguably, if you could pull the latter off without breaking the spell on replays, you’d have a character that you might as well have just made bisexual in the first place.

But for me, it seems that I like my romances like I like my RPGs (everything louder than everything else!). What I really want in a romance is that if I act in accordance with whatever character that I’m playing, I’ll end up with the characters that should be interested in me interested in me, and the characters that should not be interested in me not interested in me. Morrigan, for example, would not — or at least ought not — have liked my Inquisition character, who was a simple and generally good person thrust into the role and not very comfortable with it, but DA Leiliana would probably have liked her. Arguably, if done really, really well — so well that no current game could actually pull it off — this could lead to naturally occurring unrequited love situations, where they like your personality but your character wouldn’t like theirs, and vice versa. Given how the current situations are structured, I’m not sure how much I would enjoy it, but if it was a) done well and b) not totally scripted, having that sort of situation emerge would be very, very cool.

So, having there be a character that I would like to romance but that I can’t romance due to my being the same or different sex as them isn’t a problem, as long as it is made clear in the game that they aren’t romanceable. In Inquisition, that didn’t seem to happen, and so you could flirt with characters that were not at all interested in that way, which was both awkward and I think triggered some disapproval, at which point my gripe was that if it wasn’t possible, why even give the option? It added nothing.

Anyway, as long as there are interesting options for the sex and sexual orientation of the main character, then I’d prefer them to let the relationships proceed “naturally”. If, for example, in ME3 Traynor is the only romance option my character is interested in and she’s not because the character is male, then for me the solution is to add more and more varied options, not make Traynor attracted to the PC just ’cause it’s the PC.

Elements of a Good Dating Sim

August 24, 2016

So I was musing while talking about Huniepop on what makes for a good dating sim … particularly, how you should tailor the dateable characters in order to make a great dating sim. And it seems to boil down to a very simple criteria: ideally, everyone who plays the game should have more than one favourite, but shouldn’t have most of the characters as, in fact, their favourites. And, given that people have a wide range in what they prefer in a date, ideally this means that every character you add has some players who have them as their favourites, and some players who don’t care much for them.

Arguably, Huniepop does this reasonably well. If we look at this poll at Gamefaqs, most of the girls get at least some love, with only Lola and Jessie being in the position of “unfavourite”, with percentages so low that very few players actually liked them. By contrast, there are 5 of them with over 10%, and the highest is my personal least favourite, Audrey, at 17% … only 2% higher than Aiko, who’s probably my favourite. Given that and my own personal experience, it’s also likely that there are a number of people who strongly dislike all of the favourites as well.

The reason you need this in a dating sim is that it should become clear which dates the player wants to focus on relatively early, so giving them clear personalities and looks allows the player to quickly decide where to focus their time, since any good dating sim — and, yes, Huniepop isn’t that great as a dating sim — won’t let you get all of them in one playthrough … or else will have that have … consequences or be a special ending. So players should really want to get a couple of the characters in order to foster player choice, and not want to get a couple of the characters so that they can start ignoring them in order to focus on the ones they like. Also, giving more favourites allows for replay, but if all of them are equally desirable then that could make the game overly repetitive, but leave the player unsatisfied; they’re tired of playing the game, but haven’t maxed out all of the dates they want to max out yet.

Note that this is a different model than that of romances in RPGs, where if there’s only one character that you want to max out your romances with that’s perfectly okay, and players are likely to not be terribly offended by romancing the same character in every playthrough. This is because the main plot and the choices in that are what the players want for variety, and if they have a clear favourite romance it can, indeed, provide an island of stability for each playthrough, unless they decide that they want to change it up or that this character wouldn’t find that romance appealing. Dating sim players are not likely to replay a dating sim just to date the same person, however.

Thoughts on Huniepop

August 17, 2016

Okay, so it’s probably not much of a secret that I actually like dating sim games. The first dating sim game I ever played was a game labeled as — but might not have been called — “True Love”, where you go around an anime life trying to, well, find your true love. While I greatly enjoyed that game, it was only with “Persona 3” that I realized my love for the dating sim elements/genre, and then starting seeking out games with those elements, although disappointingly I don’t have a lot of actual pure — or mostly pure — dating sims.

To me, these games and these elements, if done properly, provide as ideal a role-playing experience as you are likely to get from a game, because even if you have a railroad plot, the whole point of the dating sim, in general, is that you decide what traits you want to improve, what you want to focus on, and who you want to spend your time with. If you do things properly, hopefully you’ll end up with the person who best suits you … or, rather, the character that you’ve decided to play. Sure, “completing” the game by seducing or getting relationships with all of them is entertaining, but ideally you want to focus on the one or ones that you like best, and hope that you can get one of them, as I tried and failed to do in “Conception II”.

So, there was this recent comment thread at Twenty Sided Tale talking about games with dating sim elements, most of which I already had or wasn’t going to be able to get for a while. And then I remembered that someone gave the game “Huniepop” to Shamus to try out, and from various comments it seems that his really big problem with it was the naked/semi-naked anime girls. Since that doesn’t bother me, I went to see if I could get it from Good Old Games. I could. I did. I played it and managed to finish all of the regular girls — including Venus — but not the two hidden girls.

So what did I think of it? I think that it’s designed primarily as a puzzle game with dating sim elements — I remember reading that somewhere — and that means that the dating sim elements are much more shallow than I’d like. Essentially, there are two main stages to the game. The first is the dating sim part, where you interact with the women and try to find out things about them, and try to remember both what you’ve asked before and what they answered before. This is because interacting with the women gives you “Hunie”, which you can use to increase your traits which makes you better at the matching puzzles. If you ask them questions you haven’t asked before, or answer their questions in a way they like, or remember what they told you when you asked them questions, you get a Hunie bonus in addition to what you get just from talking to them.

The second part is the puzzle part, which is a pretty standard Match 3 type puzzle game. This is presented as a actual “date” with the woman, and you are trying not to screw the date up. You have to hit a certain score in 20 moves, and if you do the date is a success and she gets an extra heart (ie you level up). If you hit level 5, if you succeed at a night date she’ll go home with you for, well, you can imagine. This is done with another Match 3, with unlimited moves, but the points level drains quickly, and so while the first puzzle focuses on planning and the use of special items, the second focuses on lots of big moves quickly to keep the points level high.

Every time you succeed, the points required for success increases. This is not per woman, but instead is across the board. Thus, if you went on a successful first date with all of the women, it would be harder to, say, succeed at the second date with Nikki than it would be if you had just done the second date with her first and ignored the others. For me, then, this encouraged me to max out the women I liked better in case it later got too difficult for me to complete the puzzles.

If you manage to succeed, you also get something that works like money, so you can buy gifts for the women to gain affection levels to get more Hunie and that will get you an item to use in the puzzles if you give her something she loves, and also to buy food and drinks to extend the conversations or to “loosen them up”, which does … something. I never actually managed to give one of them a drink.

The interaction with the women is pretty shallow. You can ask them about a set of traits that get stored in their profiles — things like hobby, job, height, and cup-size — and can answer some standard questions that repeat, but you don’t really get to find out much about them … and more importantly you can’t actually really have any impact on their lives or grow their characters. Both Aiko and Nikki hate their jobs, but you can’t really get them to change that or get them to accept that those are the jobs that they’re good at. They just keep complaining about their jobs. Belli has body image issues, but that doesn’t change for the entire game despite one of the proper responses being to call her out on that.

The personalities are a little odd as well. Despite my liking both the looks and general personalities — in some ways — of Nikki and Aiko, both of them are too rude and aggressive for me to really like them. This is especially bad for Nikki, as she’s the main introvert in the game and is generally presented as someone who simply hates people. On the other hand, Tiffany and Belli are probably the two simply nicest women in the group, but come across as bland because they don’t really seem to have anything else. And they have, as the game itself describes her, the “mega-bitch” in Audrey, while the others didn’t really suit me that well.

The voices, however, are actually done pretty well. Each woman gets her own voice that suits the personality, and the inflections often work, especially with Aiko. I just liked listening to Aiko talk a lot of the time.

Ultimately, I think the dating sim elements aren’t prominent enough for dating sim fans and are too prominent for puzzle fans. You have to spend a lot of time gathering Hunie and buying gifts and food so that you can improve your traits and be better at the puzzle portions, which will likely annoy the puzzle fans. On the other hand, the dating sim fans will be annoyed by how shallow the interactions are and the odd mix of personalities, and also the fact that there’s no story or character progression to speak of. If I had been doing a game like this, I would have made it so that instead of the difficulty going up across the board, it went up only for each woman, and then ranked the women in terms of difficulty. You would increase your traits with the XP earned from interacting with the women and from how well you did when you solved the puzzles. That way, puzzle fans could focus on one woman and go up to higher ones only if the first one was too “easy”, while dating sim fans could still pick which ones they wanted to focus on without feeling as much pressure to do all of them. If someone was great at the puzzles, they could jump to “more difficult” women directly and start with harder puzzles, and yet still get the progression.

Of course, if I was really doing it I would have made it a dating sim with puzzle elements, but that’s not the game they were trying to make.

Overall, it was quick but enjoyable. However, as U2 opined, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

Social Justice vs Games: FIFA 16

August 12, 2016

So, Anita Sarkeesian has put out her latest video, and I do intend to comment on it. But, as has happened before, I need to comment on something else first, because it needs to be addressed and if I tried to do it as part of my commentary on the video itself it would kinda overwhelm it. So, let me talk about one of Sarkeesian’s examples of a company finally adding women into the game:

The FIFA soccer game series, which had its first entry in 1993, took over 20 years before finally introducing female teams in FIFA 16.

Now, I knew that FIFA 16 had done this, because it was a key part of the advertising here in Canada, highlighting Christine Sinclair. However, I have never been a huge fan of soccer sims — particularly the more realistic ones; “Superstar Soccer” was fun, though — and don’t particularly enjoy the latest sports sims in general, so I didn’t bother to look up how they did the player ratings in a game that mixes male and female players. Are you going to give the female players ratings measured against the men, and so have even their superstars at about 50 – 60 ratings at best? Or are you going to give them high ratings but then it be the case that, say, Carli Lloyd is considered, under that ranking, to be a better player than Luis Suarez. It’s a tough issue, so what did they do?

Q: How do player ratings work for women in comparison to men?

A: The player ratings will be relative for each gender. We will be assessing female athletes against other female athletes which may mean that an 85 rated female player may not perform the same as an 85 rated male player.

They ranked them relative to other women — thus Carli Lloyd is a 91 and Suarez is a 90 — but if you actually play them Lloyd won’t play as well or pull off the same tricks as Suarez does. This could be problematic except that they also don’t let the women’s teams play against the men’s teams, so essentially the women are boxed off in their own little area, and so their rankings don’t really matter when compared to men. Thus, an 85 woman plays as well as an 85 woman would, which is not as good as an 85 man would.

And here’s where we get into the “Social Justice vs Games” part, because while EA says that this was a requested feature — and I have no doubt that it was — the push for Social Justice and inclusion is probably a major factor in why they decided to do it after 20 years, and why they decided to implement this awkward system to get around the obvious issues. But I don’t think that it will satisfy Social Justice advocates for women to simply be in the game, but that you can’t play as women players in male leagues, or run female teams against men’s teams at all. So, now, if they want to actually allow mixes, how do they get from there given this starting point?

Well, they can leave things as is and just move the women’s teams over. The problem with this is that then Lloyd would have a higher ranking than Suarez, but play a lot worse, and the Canadian national women’s team despite almost certainly having a higher ranking than the Canadian men’s team would lose to them almost every time they played, probably badly. That’s bad.

So, they could redo all of the rankings to make a mixed ranking, where you take all players into account, male and female. This means that Lloyd’s ranking would drop to somewhere in the 60s at best. That’s probably not going to satisfy the Social Justice crowd, and would also mean that female players won’t get selected for men’s teams and women’s teams won’t be put into leagues with men’s tames. So that’s bad, too.

Okay, well then they could leave the rankings alone and just make the rankings “objective”, so that an 85 woman plays the same as an 85 man. This creates the inverse problems of the existing method, as Suarez is now a worse player than Lloyd is in the game despite actually being better in real-life, and the Canadian men’s team would always lose badly to the women’s team despite the fact that they’d almost certainly beat them handily in real-life. As these games at least bill themselves as serious simulations, that’s bad, too.

Or they could just give up and insist that women can’t play against men, which is bad because, well, people will probably want to do that.

If I had been designing it, the first focus would have been on allowing female players to be created in the “Create-A-Player” modes, and then assigned to any team that that mode can assign players to. Then the rating would depend on the person playing the game. If people wanted to create them accurately, they’d do that. If they wanted to create them as being equal or better than men … well, that’s no worse than my putting myself and my co-workers, friends and acquaintances into the game with really high scores when none of us are going anywhere near a playing field. If the player wants some fantasy in their sports sim, who am I to complain?

If they had to put the women’s national teams in, then I’d rank them objectively in relation to the men’s teams … but add an option to allow the player of the game to “convert” them to a men’s team, which would be done by adding whatever rough score you’d need to treat, say, the best women’s player as if she was a man, and the best women’s team as if it was a women’s team. So, when adding a female player to a men’s team or a women’s team to a men’s league, you have an option to say “add 30 to the score to make it competitive”. Again, as this is an explicit option if the player of the game wants to fake it that way, what does it matter?

As it is now, though, it’ll be a rough road to get women players into the men’s teams and leagues.