Feb 9th, 2008 at 06:23:16 - Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS)
One of the most noteworthy effects I experienced playing the game was the affinity I felt for the individual animals in the game. Each animal had a different personality and thus related to me differently. Although the interactions are much more limited and simplistic than real life interactions with people, the characters bear eerily realistic personalities at times.
I only really noticed how much of a connection I felt with these fictional AI characters when I realized that simply playing the game could completely affect my mood. Initially, the jovial nature of the game made it the perfect stress reliever to play during study breaks. There is just something about picking fruit and talking to your neighbors with no major goal or complex challenge that is very serene.
The second time I really noticed a connection to the game was when, I was playing the game on my birthday. I was sick with the flu and nobody was around to celebrate with me. Nobody, that is, but the characters in my town who kept track of my birthday through the DS's internal calendar. The animals in my town claimed that they pooled their money together to buy me a present, which they presented to me as I exited my house. I also received birthday cards from each of them in my mailbox. Not all of the animals in my town sent me letters, however. A couple of new comers to the town who had recently moved in just days before did not send me any card as I did not make any efforts to talk to them much.
The most significant symbol of my connection to the characters came when one of the townsfolk, a bear named Teddy, moved out. I had grown very attached to this character as he always had funny and interesting things to say to me both in person and through mail. He would often challenge me to fishing or bug catching competitions to see who could capture a certain species of fish/bug first, and sometimes he would give me free stuff for my house.
Then came the day when he decided to skip town. It was a sad day indeed. I went over to his house only to see that all of his belongings had been packed away in cardboard boxes. I talked to him and he told me that he needed to move on with his life and that he was leaving town. I begged him to stay, hoping that I could change his mind. My efforts were in vein, however, as the next day he was gone. I was devastated and felt like I had actually lost a friend. I almost felt as if my day was ruined. You could say that the line between the "Magic Circle" and reality had been blurred and that the game was starting to have real world consequences. Needless to say, this game's ability to connect with players on such a personal level is what makes this game so appealing to me.
My observations of the design elements in this game will focus primarily around the design of the game system itself and not the visual environment. As explained earlier, the game is designed to emulate the real world in a miniature, more manageable game world. This game world focuses most specifically on accurately emulating the social interactions that take place in the real world as well as some other things such as consumerism and mercantilism. Most of the game revolves around interacting with the neighbors in your game, buying cool stuff for your home or as gifts for your neighbors, and figuring out a way to have a steady enough income to slowly pay off your mortgage.
These design elements are a much more simplified version of the real world, but still accurately represent them enough so one gets a feeling of immersion. The characters are all designed to be as spontaneous and intelligent as possible, a credit to the way real people interact and behave. To achieve this effect, the game uses a complicated combination of game scripts to keep track of decisions the player makes in order to adapt and learn to a limited extent.
The game is also designed with the intent of propagating consumerism, so it seems. Aside from the fun that can come out of interacting with characters and exploring your town, there is not much else to do but buy and sell things. A character can spend all of his money buying things at whim until his house is too full and he can't put anything more inside; he can save money in the bank and accrue interest, eventually with the hopes of paying off the mortgage; he can invest in the "stalk market" an emulation of the stock market in which turnips have fluctuating prices; or he can donate all of his money to charity. The financial system of the game is designed very much around the same lines as modern day capitalism.
Lastly, the game emulates real world consequences. This is achieved through a system where the game penalizes the player for playing without saving. If a player were to play, even for a few minutes, and turned off without saving, he would receive a lengthy complaint from the town mole named "resetti" telling the player not to turn off without saving. The mole explicitly explains that you shouldn't turn off without saving because in the real world, you can't just turn off reality and reload from an earlier point to try something again. This game is designed with the notion of making players responsible for the actions they make in the game world and have them live with the consequences as they would do in real life.
Overall, the developers did a good job of designing a world within and apart from the real world. You are able to play the game with the knowledge that, aside from some minor emotional distress, there are no real world consequences, yet the game never ceases to link itself back to reality by copying real world phenomena in the way of in-game consequences.
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Feb 9th, 2008 at 05:31:29 - Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS)
Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS is a simple yet engaging simulation game in which your (human) character interacts with a variety of animals and objects. Among other things, you can run errands for your neighbors, dig for fossils, go fishing, and participate in tournaments to win cool swag for your house. Animal Crossing is an open-ended game: although the ultimate goal is to pay off your mortgage to Tom Nook—the local shop-keeper and a raccoon of a baron—once you complete this, you can still continue to play (or so I am told).
One thing that keeps Animal Crossing interesting is the way in which the characters change over time. Some become good friends or dislike one another, some develop goals (such as bug collecting) that effect the shape of conversations with them. One character in my game is really obsessed with fossils at the moment. He’s always walking around with a shovel, spouting nuggets of wisdom relating to petrified artifacts. Animals in the town also remember when you last spoke with them. When I went to visit one in her house, she asked if my thumbs were broken since I hadn’t visited her for over a week. I assume this was an intentional breach of the "fourth wall" implemented by the game developers. It is subtle bits of humor like this dispersed throughout the game that make it a joy to play.
It wasn’t as if she and the other animals were just waiting around for me to play. Animal Crossing has a dynamic game engine, simulating changes and events every time I load the game. Weeds pop up here and there, requiring daily maintenance. When I plant flowers, I have to water them about every three days, or they wither away (but can be revived with lots of water for a few days later). And the greatest source of income, fruit trees, grow in stages, eventually bearing three pieces of fruit, ripe for the picking (and selling).
This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Feb 9th, 2008 at 05:37:52.
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Jan 26th, 2008 at 05:55:43 - Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
For my second session playing Ocarina of Time, I focused mainly on reviewing the elements that made the game shout "Success" to me.
To involve myself in an activity that requires as much time commitment as epic adventure games like Zelda do, I usually need a good story to captivate me. It does not necessarily have to be the most realistic scenario, as long as it is compelling and makes me want to find out what is coming next in the plot.
I cannot say that the very first presentation of the story in the game is what captivated me to keep playing. Instead, what got me involved was the way the game scaled its way up to larger objectives and plot points. I started off in the 3D village of Hyrule not really knowing what my objectives were having negligently skipped a large portion of the opening dialog. What I was able to gather is that I, Link, am special and have been summoned by the village guardian to fulfill an epic destiny.
Relying on this alone to get me to play the game would not be a successful sales pitch, especially since so many other adventure games and stories have traditionally used this formula. One of the things this game does, for example, is give you a small and relatively easy introductory quest to acquire a sword and shield before you can move to a new area of the game world. More than just give you a quest, the game plays upon the players sense of rivalry and pride by having a very pompous and obnoxious NPC doubt your abilities to complete your tasks and interdict your attempts to continue the game until you have indeed done so.
Clever strategies such as the aforementioned help keep the game quests exciting and interesting as they begin to grow in scale and more of the story unfolds. Additionally, the game's use of a tried and true formula that made earlier Zelda games popular ensured that brand recognition keep players on board until more captivating story elements unfold.
The game indeed uses similar elements to previous Zelda titles such as the bashing of arbitrary rocks, bushes, and chests to reveal hidden treasures like hearts to regain health and gems to work as currency. However, this incarnation of Zelda is unique from previous ones in that it uses a 3rd person perspective in a 3D environment but on a mostly 2D movement plane. Although the 10 years of seniority of this game on modern title is apparent in the graphics, this is by no means a deal breaker for adopting the game so late after its release. The graphics are unrealistic, but then again so is the game itself.
While the game requires some level of dexterity for a player to progress, it is not incredibly strenuous. For example, many of your character's movements are conducted automatically, such as jumping over chasms or climbing. This allows for a player to spend more time and brain resources figuring out how to complete quests and fewer resources coordinating button presses (although there is still a degree of dedication required on part of the player's dexterity).
The overall simplicity of character movement and action may also be attributable to the single joystick layout of the Nintendo 64 controller which allowed me to control my character, Link, using only one hand if I so dared and desired. This ability is particularly beneficial to players who find themselves in a lazy game playing mood, or who are just plain lazy like myself, and those who find the need to multitask.
This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Jan 28th, 2008 at 21:24:19.
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Jan 26th, 2008 at 04:57:07 - Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 is one of the most critically acclaimed of all time. When I discuss with my peers the games on their favorites lists, Ocarina of Time almost consistently ranks as one of highest. It is one of only three games ever to get a perfect score of 10 on GameSpot (www.gamespot.com) and is still the benchmark for which all other adventure games are rated today.
Naturally, and quite understandably, people express feelings of pity, annoyance, disgust, and outright hatred towards me when I tell them I have never played Ocarina of Time. As a result, I have been the subject of many defamations, including being deemed inadequate, unworthy of/ not fully living, and my personal favorite, being called a "game-o-phobe". Having just played the game for the first time, over 10 years after its original release, I now understand where all of the passion behind those harsh words originated.
One of the advantages of playing a game on a console is generally simplified controls relative to those of most computer games. Exceptionally well made games take it a step further and make understanding the controls and game dynamics a part of the game experience instead of a prerequisite for enjoying it. Ocarina of Time is no exception, and I quickly found myself involved in the game story and settings.
Readjusting myself to the antiquated graphics of the Nintendo was a lot easier than I imagined it would be, a testament to the game's superior gameplay and story line which made up for where the graphics were lacking. Nevertheless, the graphics were nostalgic, conjuring the feelings I felt when I first played the Nintendo 64: the last console I have ever owned.
I still have many more hours to log before I make significant headway into the story of the game.
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