Sunday, February 28, 2010

Strawberry Kiwi Pie

My pie-for-games program at work has been a huge success. The long and short of it is, I want to play a new game that's just come out, so I say that the first person to finish the game and lends it to me gets a pie of their choosing. Cheng won this round with Heavy Rain by lending it to me before he'd even played it, as he wants to play Assassin's Creed 2 first.

ANYway, he requested my strawberry kiwi pie, which is somewhat of a Lisa Brown concoction, and I thought I'd record it here to share (and so I can look it up easily later. I swear I wrote this down on the internet sometime before, but maybe not.)

I always use the crust from this recipe for my pies. It's simple and tasty. If you have another crust recipe you prefer, then go ahead and use it.

2 1/2 cups(ish) of strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise
2 1/2 cups(ish) of chopped kiwi
(I'm really guestimating these amounts, I tend to grab "what looks right." So maybe 4 or 5 kiwi fruit and a container of fresh strawberries)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat Oven to 425 degrees F

Prepare the crust as per this recipe.

Mix the filling ingredients together.

Line a pie pan with half the crust. Pour filling into the crust. Dot the filling with 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. Cover with top crust and slice vents.

Put some foil around the edges of the crust. Bake for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 350, remove foil, and bake for 25-30 minutes more, until it's all bubbly and such.

Friday, February 12, 2010

depict1 and Robot Unicorn Attack

Two games to discuss tonight, go!

First up is depict1, a platformer that's also kind of a mind trip. It's full of smiley surprises, and it has a subtle way of playing with our natural instinct to trust and listen to the tutorial man. In a way, it probes something deep down and makes me a little squirmy, but just barely, and not enough to decrease how enjoyable the game is.

The trick is not to get frustrated by its initial premise and the search for controls. Just check the readme file, it's not that big a spoiler.

Secondly is the ever-popular Robot Unicorn Attack (short ad before the game). Now, I thought that Canabalt was pretty clever, what with its procedurally generated courses and all, but I played it like 2 or 3 times and then shrugged it off. Robot Unicorn Attack, on the other hand, I can't stop!! The music! The rainbows! The sparkles! I cannot resist their juiciness!

It just goes to show how important the theming and aesthetic wrapper of your game can be. (For those who don't feel like playing them or don't have the time, here's the spoiler: it's the same game).

Also, I want that song, surely that song has to be in downloadable form someplace by now, right?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Football insight

While watching the Superbowl tonight, I had an insight. I realized that the time I started enjoying football corresponded with when they started using augmented reality to render the first down line.

I used to be all, "I don't know what's going on! Wait, why are they switching out? What happened? Was that a good thing? Did something good happen?" And I pretty much gave up on attempting to watch the sport.

Now it's easy, I just look at the screen and think "Okay, they have to get to there, got it." Suddenly, football is enjoyable to watch!

It's amazing how a little piece of technology can make something so much more accessible to a casual audience!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Game Design Toolbox

One of my favorite assignments in Game Design was building the Toolbox. We had to think of games we'd played from every year starting when we were 5 years old, and jot down a useful memory about the game. Useful in terms of something we learned from it game-design-wise. It was a very useful tool, and I'm always adding onto it.

However, I wanted to do two things: 1) Put the toolbox in a format that would be easily categorized, searchable, and easy to add on to, and 2) A format that was easy to share with others.

As such, I've started a new blog: Wertle's Game Design Toolbox

I've already copied over the information from the original toolbox, but there is still MUCH to add. For example, as a preliminary exercise, I made a list of every video game I can ever remember having played EVER. Now I have to add each one to the toolbox with a corresponding memory.

I have about 200 entries to add, and that's just video games. I haven't even started a list for other types of games!

This is a huge project, but I intend to catch up, so that eventually adding new entries will be gradual. I also intend to make lots of tags, so that I can look up entries by system, by genre, or by insight.

How long do you think it'll take me to add all my games?


Today's favorite of the Gamasutra weekly indie game pick is Sheep, a game where you are a sheepdog herding sheep! Well, sort of.

See, in this situation, the sheep chase the dog instead of the other way around.

Regardless, I found it had a few nice little twists on game mechanics that I'm used to. For example, the rams will hurt you if they touch you, so you have to keep away from them. But you are still leading them, so you can't let any of them die by falling into water or getting caught by the wolf.

I don't think I'd ever played a game before where you have to preserve and keep safe the thing that is chasing and trying to hurt you. I'd like to explore that idea further!

There are a few quirky things about the game, such as the difficulty ramping being a little sporadic (I found the hardest levels to be sprinkled throughout, rather than each level being more difficult than the last). Regardless, I found the interaction to be fresh and fun, and the music was nice in all of its midi-ness.

It's very short, so give it a try!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I've been keeping my brain filled up on books, but I've been slacking in my intentions to give my thoughts on them. My two most recent excursions have been A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins.

A Confederacy of Dunces was a bit of a rough read, not because it was bad or anything. On the contrary, the dialog brought its characters to life in impressively distinct and colorful ways. It's just that most of the characters are so dreadful and hate-able that it's hard to endure their presence for very long. I kept thinking "if these people don't each get theirs in the end, I'm going to be really upset."

Fortunately, I was not upset! The ending wrapped things up in the most pleasing way it could, and I was satisfied. However, I don't think I'd go on that adventure a second time.

Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, on the other hand, I enjoyed very much from start to finish. Tom Robbins has a way of pouring out words in buckets, and my brain had a way of lapping it all up into order. It's strange, too, because some wordy authors I don't like at all, I just read too quickly and get tangled up in the words. With Robbins, though, everything synched up, and I ended up being delighted by his wordiness. Not to mention the fact that the story was engaging and the characters all felt real.

It was also fun because Josh, who lent it to me, had written notes in the margins and underlined phrases throughout. I love it when that happens in books, because it makes me feel like I'm spying on the inside of someone's brain.

Anyway, if you're looking for a new book to read, I'd highly recommend the Robbins book, but approach A Confederacy of Dunces at your own risk.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Silent Protagonist Does NOT Guarantee Awesomeness

The theme of today's entry is "correlation does not imply causation," except I'm not talking about vaccines. I'm talking about the frequent notion that a silent protagonist in a video game makes for a more immersive experience. A recent Kotaku article got me thinking about this, but I intend to look at the matter in a more specific and less, uh, prickly point of view. Now, I'm going to slim the playing field a bit and talk specifically about silent heroes in first person shooters, in interest of time and clarity of point.

This blog post is Longsville, you have been warned.

The argument goes like this: In an FPS, immersion is very important, and not having the character speak will help the players put themselves into the role of the character, and thus become more immersed. I am on board with trying to solve the presented problem, but I think the proposed solution is making the problem worse, not solving it.

First off, yes, immersion IS very important in a first-person game, because experiencing a game in first person is the LEAST immersive format for interacting with a game world. All the other immersion tricks have to kick it up a notch, because you're already working in a very challenging structure. Playing a first-person game, to me, is like watching an event through a video camera. It sucks to be the camera person, because your world is crammed through such a limited scope, that even though you were there and you technically *saw* the action, you feel like you're missing out on the experience. And cranking up the field of view certainly doesn't help, because generally the only thing you have to anchor your brain into is the weapon you're holding in front of you.

So yes, immersion tricks are very important in an FPS. But is having it so your character doesn't talk a good way to create immersion in the first-person world?

I'm going to look at two pieces of evidence often used to support the silent protagonist argument. One is, Half-Life 2 was awesome. The second is, FPS games where the hero talks have often had terrible dialog.

Let me knock out the second one real quick: I don't believe that the game being in first-person causes the dialog to be terrible. I believe the dialog is terrible because the dialog is terrible. Terrible dialog in third-person games is also pretty terrible, and I could go on, but I've made an entry before about my feelings on the quality of dialog writing in games in general. I'll sum this paragraph up by saying, what the hell kind of argument is that anyway?


On to Half-Life 2. For those of you who've never played it, Half-Life, specifically Half-Life 2 (hereon referred to as HL2) is a game where you never see yourself and your character never makes a peep, EVER. There are no cutscenes in the game, but it has highly cinematic moments and the story is told via how the other characters interact with you. They even occasionally jest at your silence. HL2 is also one of the best first-person shooters ever made, and super awesome fun times.

Now, for me, the most annoying aspect of the game was that my character never spoke. I didn't feel like "oh it's ME in the game" as a result of that, I just grumbled a bit moved on with enjoying myself. That's purely a personal thing, as probably most people don't care about the fact that Gordon Freeman never speaks. Otherwise, it was fun, and pretty immersive for an FPS. It certainly wouldn't make my "Top 3 Games where Lisa Felt Integrated into the Game World," but if we limited the scope to just FPS games (having outlined their default handicap in immersion) HL2 would certainly be #1.

Here's where it gets tricky. If HL2 was Lisa's #1 immersive FPS, and the character never speaks, then having a silent character is a good way to get immersion into an FPS, right? NO. No, you guys, no no no. Correlation does not imply causation! CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!!

First, the thing that makes HL2 super immersive for me is that gravity gun. This is probably a very personal thing, as it is doubtful that many people set out to whitewash Ravenholm once they discovered that the paint bucket would leave a splatter on the surface of anything it collided with. ANYway, the point is, this game has a lot going for it to get the player into it: environmental interaction, great design, inclusive cinematic storytelling, etc.

So lets talk about Gordon McSilent Freeman. The argument says that a silent hero lets players put themselves into that role and act as themselves instead of a character; that argument doesn't really apply here. I was Gordon Freeman, I wasn't me, I wasn't even Lisa Brown in a Gordon Freeman suit. People weren't talking to me, Lisa Brown, they were talking to Gordon Freeman. They made it very clear that I was Gordon Freeman, because everywhere I went every NPC was like "OMG it's Gordon Freeman!" And I felt awesome because everyone loved me. Me, Gordon Freeman. There's an excellent article someplace about how Valve strengthened the character via how everyone in the game interacted with him, and it's cleverly done and you should read it sometime, once I dig it back up to link to it.

Gordon's silence was annoying to me, but it made sense with the game, and it was executed well since you never, ever, ever, EVER saw yourself. If Freeman had talked but I'd never seen him in a cinematic, yeah, it'd be totally weird. So it works for HL2, that doesn't mean it works for all FPS games.

Lets talk about shooters with cutscenes where you get to see the character you are playing, and watch him interact with NPCs, and hear him speak.

Someone once told me, more or less, that if a game HAD to have cutscenes with the main character speaking in it, then the best you could do in spite of those cutscenes was to have the character silent in gameplay. This is COMPLETELY counter-intuitive to me, and I feel the complete opposite is true. If you're watching your character, the person you're anchoring your brain in, and you see who they are and how they act with people, and in gameplay never say a word at the EXPENSE of its use as a storytelling tool, you are working against immersion!

What I mean is, if having the character say something in gameplay would a) Clarify a situation, b) Make an efficient connection between the story and the gameplay, c) Avoid awkward and expository dialog on the part of the NPCs who are talking to you but not with you, d) Delight the player by having his character say what is in the player's mind at the right time, drawing him more deeply into the world, e) Strengthen the anchor between the player's brain and the character he is engaging the world through, f) And you have the talent and resources to write good dialog and get good actors to perform it, and you choose to throw that tool away in order to accommodate protagonist silence, you are throwing away an elegant tool for immersing the player!

To me, Gordon Freeman's silence in Half-Life 2 was NOT a tool. It was something that had to be supported by the rest of the game to make sense and feel right. If you really want to make a game with no cutscenes a la Half-Life, but you can't for whatever reason, then doing it halfway doesn't get you half of the awesomeness. It doesn't work like that! You have to approach it in a different way, and get your awesomeness through a different channel! Character voice is a potentially amazing tool, and you'd better have a damned good reason for cutting it.

And now for your tl;dr summary:

Even though there is a correlation between a silent protagonist and Half-Life 2's awesomeness, that does not mean that the silent protagonist was the CAUSE of Half-Life 2's awesomeness.