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    ETA's Katamari Damacy (PS2)

    [February 16, 2008 06:47:24 PM]
    GAMELOG 4

    ENRTY #2

    GAMEPLAY:
    After a little bit over another hour and a half with Katamari Damacy (KD) some of the issues that bother me less in the first hour are starting to bother me a lot more. The controls are really starting to get on my nerves, especially when the ball gets bigger (and to a lesser extent when it is smaller). They seem a little unresponsive, with cost you precious seconds, and moving the camera around it a pain. You don’t have direct control over it, instead you have to move your character and the camera adjusts in response. The confusing and very non-intuitive controls don’t exactly make this an easy task (some movement is done by using one, either the left or right it doesn’t matter, and some is done by pressing both in the same or opposite direction and push up move you left and down moves you right…easy right?).

    Speaking of the camera, it gets the way a good amount when the ball gets to relatively large size. Aside from it being hard to see what is in front of you (making it hard to avoid hazards that will knock objects off your ball and cost you time) it often gets caught inside a building or behind a wall, so you are left rolling around blindly until it adjusts itself. Very frustrating to say the least. Inconstancies in the game world are also starting to make me frustrated. Why can I pick up a penguin but not a barrel that is clearly smaller than the penguin? Since mass seems to have nothing to do with gameplay (and if it does why is there only an indicator that measures the size of the ball and not its mass?) I don’t understand what is the problem.

    With that said the game is still very fun. I am really starting to get into now that I start with a large ball in each level and I can now roll up really big things (like people, benches, fences, vending machines, etc). Interestingly enough some of the levels seem to have an almost racing like feel to them, which I find pretty fun. Getting the ball up to high speeds and plowing through a bunch of objects (while picking them up of course) while avoiding obstacles that would cost you time and knock objects off the ball is really fun.

    The game is also still very rewarding in terms of pure gameplay (of course the cut scenes and dialog are still horrible) but I have stumbled upon something that has actually decreased my enjoyment of the game somewhat. After having to repeat a level a few times I realized that the goal to this game pretty much boils down to memorizing the “best path” in a level (i.e, figure out where to go to pick up small stuff for your ball then get it to a certain size, then move on to the area with the next biggest stuff, and so on). I guess its nothing major, but once I realized this it did affect my enjoyment of the game quite a bit. Still a fun game, but not as fun as before when I was just cruising around and picking things up having a blast getting my ball bigger and bigger.

    DESIGN:
    KD is a very unique gameplay experience and has an equally unique set of design characteristics. I’ll start with the superficial stuff, the visual look and the sound. The in game music and sound effects are nothing special, nor are they bad, They do fit the game quite well however. The half-pop-half-elevator music sound track fits the tone of the game perfectly; it is quirky, lighthearted, and fun. Also, it does a good job of blending into the background of the game and keeping the gameplay relaxing and never too tense. The visuals also set a clear tone for the game. Its is not suppose to be a “serious” game at all. Judging from the art style I would say that it is not even suppose to make much sense. The cartoony visuals are an excellent fit for a game that clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is interesting to note, that even thought the core gameplay mechanic is so fun, I don’t think that it would work with any other visual style quite as well. I can’t picture this game being half as fun if it was photo-realistic or had some kind of dark/grimy art direction that took itself too seriously.

    As mention in my first gamelog, this game isn’t about story, or character or plot it is all about the core gameplay mechanic of rolling you ball around and adding to it. The entire game is naturally build around this mechanic and almost all aspects of the game are executed nearly flawlessly.

    Simply put, all the levels (which in turn constitute the entire game) that I have played so far as excellent and very well though out. Every time a level starts there are sections that you cannot access because your ball is too small. So you roll around collecting what you need to get it bigger. But once your ball is a certain size areas of the game that were once easily accessible to you before now become difficult to navigate or impossible to get into because of the size of your ball. For example, navigating you ball around a tight area like a little alley isn’t too hard until it is the size of a small house. Then it becomes almost impossible and you lose of lot of time having to do it.

    So as one the challenge of getting your ball bigger gets easier (the bigger it is the easier it is to pick up other large things) the challenge of navigating your ball through the environment gets harder. This trade off promotes strategy (or memorizing the best path if you have played the level before) and replay since you always want to beat your best time. This inverse relationship is also where most of the challenge in the game comes from. And despite it sounding deceptively simple, it is quite frustrating and requires a lot of coordination and in advance planning.

    The reward system is also very satisfying and again is derived directly from the gameplay. To be more precise, the reward system IS the gameplay. Other than the time restriction (beating your best) and the arbitrary “collection” (a little gallery of the items you have collected) there is no other reward except for the satisfaction you get from making your ball bigger and bigger and being able to roll up larger and larger items. It is extremely satisfying to roll up cows, cars, people, street signs, and other large items that we in life generally perceive as being “bigger” than us and can’t directly manipulate in real life. It is very fun to get to treat these things as toys that you can manipulate and collect.
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    [February 15, 2008 11:11:37 PM]
    GAMELOG 4

    ENTRY #1

    SUMMARY:
    Katamari Damacy (KD) can best be described as puzzle game (though I wouldn’t say it fits into any genre very well). The object is to roll a ball around an environment, picking up objects that are small enough to get stuck to the ball along the way. The goal is to get the ball bigger and bigger, by gathering larger and larger items, until its diameter is bigger than a certain preset lower bound (given to the player at the begging of the level). The puzzle aspect comes from the fact that you have a time limit to complete your goal and you much pick the best “path” to win (or beat your best time).

    GAMEPLAY:
    The first hurdle for me to get into this game came in the form of the controls. They are fine once you get use to them, but they are not that intuitive nor the best set up that I think could have been used in a game like this. The controls, at first and to a lesser degree still do, feel more like a hindrance to gameplay rather than an efficient way to communicate with the action on the screen.

    The second hurdle was the story and dialog. While some of the random cut-scenes that advance the paper thin narrative are slightly amusing, the dialog that you have to have with this “space king” (your father and the guy that gives you your time limits, ball size, and tips) is mind numbing and dumb. I cringe every time I am forced to go through them (luckily I found out that most, but not all, are skip-able) and they break up the fun way too much. The fact that I have to sit through bad puns and some boring cut scene of a “star being placed back in the sky” (which is the basically a synopsis of the paper thin narrative I mentioned earlier) is a major downer on my fun factor.

    But, lets be honest, the story and the dialog are just window dressing. This game is about one thing: the core gameplay mechanic. And that is where this game truly shines. The core gameplay mechanic is of course the rolling of the ball and getting things to stick to it. This simple little action offers a ton of fun, strategy and rewards. When you start out the ball is pretty small, so you can’t pick up much (maybe some thumb tacks or dice) and are pretty limited in your actions and it can be a little frustrating how little of the world that you can interact with (i.e., pick up). The main goal at this point in the game is to collect as much little stuff as possible while avoiding large hazards (like cats, people, and toy cars all of which knock items off your ball and make it smaller) all the while upgrading your balls size to allow you to pick up larger and larger items.

    However, once you get a decent size ball going the game is insanely fun and the world becomes your oyster. All those things that were once hazards that were to be avoided (chairs, cats, TVs, toy cars, etc) are now fodder to make your ball bigger. There is something very satisfying to me about being kicked around by a cat one minute and having it run in hear of my massive ball only to be sucked up by it a minute latter. Getting revenge: always a fun gameplay element in my book. And in generally I feel very rewarded when I am able to capture bigger and bigger items in my ball that started out life no bigger than a baseball. In fact, I am compelled while playing to see how much more stuff I can get stuck to my ball. That is I want to keep playing just to see what I can roll up next. In my last level before calling it quits to right this up I finally got it big enough to roll up a person, and I know that its only going to get bigger and better from here on out.

    Aside from actually making me want to play more as I get deeper and deeper into the game, I also find myself “in the zone” when playing KD (which is always huge plus and a sign of a great game in my book). As the ball grows you lose yourself more and more in the game as you plow through a house (or whatever the level might be) and just become “one with the game”. This a truly great feeling, and KD is a truly great game with a novel premise and great gameplay.
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    Status

    ETA's Katamari Damacy (PS2)

    Current Status: Playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 15 February, 2008

    Opinion
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