Friday, June 5, 2015

The Latest in Stories in which Chris is Peripherally Involved

A couple of days ago, DannyJ came out with the first part of a new story, To Keep the Fire Burning.  I say "first part," but with close to 20,000 words already, it's not like he's scraping FiMFic's minimum wordcount to get it out.

Anyway, as the title probably suggested to you, I'm helping with some of the editing/pre-reading on this one.  It's a crossover with a video game, but don't let that scare you off--I can pretty much guarantee I know less about the source material than you (yes, you), and DannyJ's done a lot of work to make this accessible.  It's also a dark, dystopian-future adventure which moves quickly without abandoning the pony-(or changeling-)ness of its characters; if that sounds like your sort of thing, go give this a try, and see what you think!


  1. From a quick perusal of your guest columns, it seems like there's at least one person whom we can be sure knows more about the source material than you. 17.455K words is a bit much for me to pick up, but maybe someone else can share more about it later! If it's really all that special perhaps I can Spritzlet it or something.

  2. My brother's been trying to get me to play those games. All I really know about 'em is they're supposed to be super lethal, but from what I've seen, they don't seem any worse than the games I grew up with. I'll go ahead and add it to the list, but I'm waiting until it's complete before I start reading

    1. Honestly, Dark Souls IS difficult, but not especially so. Its reputation is heavily exaggerated. If the kind of games you grew up with were oldschool NES or SNES titles where games had to be difficult to have a decent length, then yeah, the Souls games won't seem that insurmountable.

      What really makes it difficult, I'd argue, is that it's very bad at explaining things, so getting into it requires either help from a friend or lots of trial and error. Once you are into it, it's great, but it's still hell for new players.

      As for the fic, I'm sorry to tell you that you may be waiting a while. I'm expecting it to take a long time to complete.

    2. Damn. Well, I'm not exactly low on reading material right now, so it's not really a problem. Looking forward to eventually reading it!

      Yeah, the NES and SNES (along with the Genesis) made up my earliest gaming experiences, Super Mario Bros. being my first video game. Most of 'em weren't too hard, except the ones with shitty controls (Olympic Gold, and Ecco at times). Then again, I've heard a lot of people say Diddy's Kong Quest was really difficult, so maybe modern gamers have different standards

    3. It's all part of audience demographics. It used to be that games were only played by hardcore gamers who were big into games in general and played them all the time until they got good. Since the late nineties, though, casual gamers started getting on the scene, who only play games occasionally, and don't really have time to learn all the intricate complexities of a new game.

      Games geared towards casual players need to not be too difficult and need to be intuitive to learn. Usually this translates to massively dumbing them down so that even three-year-olds can play them (which is important if the game IS rated 3+, I suppose), but it also includes things like tutorial levels, difficulty settings, and prompts telling you which buttons perform which actions, whereas it used to be that you learned the controls by mashing buttons and seeing what happened, and you couldn't progress until you got good.

      Making games with casuals in mind allows a developer to draw in a larger audience and thus make more money, and so almost all AAA games nowadays are a lot less difficult than they used to be, because they spend so much on the budgets of these games with their needless extravagance and demand for shinier graphics that only selling a billion copies will allow them to make their money back.

      And so we end up with a generation of gamers who are used to easier games, because all their favourite titles don't demand so much skill from them unless they decide on their own to ramp up the difficulty. And they often choose not to. Even I often choose not to, because a game like Red Dead Redemption or Skyrim will already take long enough to complete on easy mode, and I don't have the time in the week to repeatedly fail missions.

      Dark Souls is different and earns its reputation as a hard game not for being harder than anything you've ever played before, but for simply not going out of its way to cater to a more casual audience. No difficulty settings, no handholding, and the tutorial itself is terrible and explains almost nothing but the most basic controls. You're really on your own for most of it.

      To some extent, that is a flaw of the game, but it does lend it a level of challenge that most modern games don't have, and I honestly do find that refeshing in today's market. For however much it frustrated me when I was new to it, it's my absolute favourite game right now, and when I last left it, I was on my fifth playthrough.

    4. I remember when I first played Dark Souls. It was on a really old TV that couldn't handle HD settings, so on top of not knowing anything about the game, I also couldn't read any of the small text in the item descriptions or stat pages. I just had to guess what everything did based on the little symbols that represented them. I still had a ton of fun running around and exploring and chopping at things though. You don't need to know what you're doing if you don't have a goal in the first place, after all!

    5. The weird thing about that is it seems like most games these days force you to endure these awful tutorials. The best games I played as a kid didn't even need tutorials because they were so intuitive (e.g. Super Mario Bros., Diddy's Kong Quest). You'd think if they wanted to appeal to more casual gamers, they'd take a page from those games

      I don't see how these games can have any kind of longevity. Not requiring any skill, and even adjusting the difficulty if you're doing poorly, takes so much of the fun out of a game. They're easier to pick up, but I'd think people would get bored eventually

    6. I too am a fan of the intuitive design approach wherein a tutorial is unnecessary, as I think that just works more elegantly in the medium of games, for hardcore and casual players alike. If you haven't already, you can see Sequelitis by Egoraptor for more examples of why this is awesome and why more game devs should do it. But the thing is, modern games have far more complex controls and mechanics and so tutorials are needed.

      When you have something stupidly obscure like a jump mechanic that works by first by holding the sprint button and then tapping it while in motion, how is a player ever meant to figure that out on their own? They can't. Somewhere, you need to add a prompt that tells them the shitty jump controls, because if there isn't one, then you'd get players trying to go through the game without using mechanics that the areas were designed around. Suddenly, a small gap that they're supposed to just jump over become a mystifying and impossible obstacle that pisses them off, and they'll blame the game for that.

      But there is a balance to be struck. A game can over-tutorialise, or it can under-tutorialise. A game that feels the need to tell you to use the left analogue stick to move is an example of the former, clearly aimed at very little children and idiots, and that's an awful tutorial.

      Dark Souls is the other kind of awful tutorial, where it doesn't really explain enough. You get the basic controls, but not really how any of it actually works. Like for example, it tells you that you can backstab enemies that you're behind, but it doesn't tell you that you need to have your shield lowered for it to work, or that there's a certain angle of being behind them that you must be in. And then there's the online play aspect, which is almost entirely unexplained. So yes, a lot of trial-and-error or information-sharing is expected of players.

      As for longevity, I think it really depends on the game. Ideally, a game provides players with three things - context, challenge, and catharsis. Context can be things like story and characters and setting. Catharsis is player satisfaction, which can come with or without challenge. To be truly long-lasting, a game needs all three, but if it's really good at just two of them, then that can also keep a player's interest.

      I play games like Metal Gear Solid for the story, so that's a context focus and I usually start on the lowest difficulty. Mowing down hundreds of zombies in a game like Dead Rising 3 is viceral satisfaction without challenge, and therefore a catharsis focus. Dark Souls I'd argue is an example of a challenge focus, even though I think it does have all three legs, and it would definitely be a lot less fun if it didn't kick my ass every time I played it.

      But plenty of AAA games nowadays skirt by without the challenge part, or at least with making that leg weaker, because they can survive on the strength of the other two. In a game like Skyrim or Red Dead where the game mechanics themselves are so fun to play with and there's a rich and immersive world to explore, higher difficulty isn't a necessity to enjoyment or longevity anymore (even though it'd still probably help).

      Why yes, I do study game design. Could you tell?

    7. It's funny how similar this is to a discussion I had with my brother. Think Sequelitis even came up at one point, though it usually does when we're talking about games

    8. That's because Sequelitis is the greatest masterpiece of our time.