Non-IF Roundup

Recent playing:

launchShot1_miniNow Boarding 1.2. This game has been out for a while, but it’s just received a new expansion covering Caribbean airports — a free upgrade for people who have older versions of the game. Now Boarding is an airport game, which makes it perhaps very superficially resemble, say, Airport Mania.

Fortunately it’s considerably more inventive than that. What I really like about Now Boarding is the way that gameplay evolves. It starts off as a time-management kind of deal, with the player responsible for putting individual passengers on planes, dragging planes to the gate, and doing hands-on customer service. Gradually, though, it becomes more like a tycoon game. You get to hire employees to do the menial customer-management tasks while you yourself take a more high-level view and devote yourself primarily to laying out routes and upgrading your terminals and fleet. Towards the end of the game, you may find that instead of repeatedly creating custom routes for all your planes, you are instead optimizing a set of repeatable loops for the different planes in your fleet. Congratulations: you’ve ceased to be a charter company and turned into a regular scheduled carrier.

Adding new geography is a genuine rather than merely cosmetic upgrade to gameplay, because the strategies for best plane assortment and route layout depend on where your hub is, how close it is to other small and large cities, which airports have seasonal spikes in traffic, and other features of that nature.

DinerTown Tycoon. Longer discussion forthcoming on GameSetWatch at some point, but the short version is that this is a tycoon game set in the same universe as Diner Dash. The gameplay is genuinely different from the Dash series; it’s not flawless and I found some aspects annoying, but it’s reasonably entertaining all the same, and I would much rather have another tycoon game than another time management game in the world.

Gemcraft Zero. Gemcraft, Desktop Tower Defense, and Vector Tower Defense are my favorite TD games. Vector TD is simply very clean and tightly created. Desktop TD is cute and it gives the player control over maze layout, which changes the nature of the strategy challenge. And Gemcraft excels because it allows a very flexible variety of weapons creation and upgrading, along with strategies (move your weapons around to follow slow monsters!) that aren’t available in most TD games. Gemcraft Zero is better balanced overall than the original Gemcraft, where the first epic boss was way too hard for the player’s skill level and then difficulty tapered off into dullness by the end of the game. Zero offers a better distribution of difficulty, multiple “modes” in which to play each level, and some additional strategy elements that, by and large, I found entertaining rather than distracting.

All that said, there were (paradoxically) more hours of gameplay here than I wanted. Specifically, if you play, expect to do some grinding before approaching the “arcane guardian” boss levels. I would have enjoyed the challenge and variety offered by this game much more if there hadn’t also been so much mechanical effort.

Hint: invest in dual gem mastery.

Today I Die. I am glad people are doing this kind of short, evocative piece, which I think of as more interactive poetry than interactive storytelling. This said, I am awfully picky about my poems. One of my particular peeves about inferior poetry is the tendency to wallow in universals, going on about Love, Death, Him/Her, the Heart, Darkness, Silence, Screaming, Pain, etc. etc. etc., with no original thoughts and no command of language. Instead we’re meant to be moved by how *earnest* it is. But I’m not moved.

So, with interactive pieces that are trying to be emotionally evocative like poetry, I am picky in some of the same ways. Passage left me cold because its statements about life felt so banal that not even the novelty of a procedural presentation could save them. At least I Wish I Were the Moon (also by Daniel Benmergui) is memorably specific if very very strange. Today I Die… well, enh. The interaction is not great — one is meant to discover it naturally, but in fact I found (and so did others I talked to) that it is very easy to miss how you get things started in the game at all — and the content is on the flat side.

Virtual Families (briefly). Oh man, is this not for me. It’s like a version of the Sims that keeps all the stuff about making your people clean up their house and do boring chores that you hate in real life; but gets rid of all the stuff about being able to lay out the house in the first place.

Also, it’s one of those games where the world keeps going while you’re not playing, so any given session of play is kind of slow-paced, but on the other hand your little simulated person can get hungry and (I gather) die if you don’t come back and play every day.

Evidently there are people who really enjoy this kind of play, so more power to them; but I really prize games that deliver dense enjoyment or intellectual challenge and then, when they have run out of things to teach me, end. And the last thing I need in my life is another source of dull tasks that I can feel guilty about not doing. Somewhere on my hard drive a little red-shirted woman is sobbing her heart out — if she hasn’t already perished from my neglect.

19 thoughts on “Non-IF Roundup”

  1. Interesting point about Today I Die/Passage. I did enjoy them both, but they are indeed more generic than anything I’d write, as I tend to prefer stories that have a personal feel to them. I find, however, that some people really do prefer universality in game themes and in writing in general. Ah well, I suppose you can’t please everyone.

  2. Thanks re: Today I Die etc. — I kept wondering why people were heaping praise on things that came off as if they came out of Mrs. Beckman’s 9th Grade English, but I wasn’t able to articulate my worries in any way that didn’t come off as trolling. I think there’s lots of potential but maybe they should team up with someone next time?

  3. I liked Today I Die a lot more than his previous efforts, which felt like “try everything in order to see all the possible endings to this non-story”.

    Today I Die, on the other hand, is very well designed: the gameplay never repeats itself, and yet it felt entirely natural. Maybe I was lucky, but I always found the next thing to do very quickly, and that must at least be partly credited to the design.

    If you start analysing it as poetry, it is not great, obviously. But I’m not sure that would be a fair comparison–this is, after all, not a poem, and that single (changeable) sentence at the top is to be seen as part of the greater design, which includes visuals, music and most importantly, the player playing and exploring the game.

    We may not yet have the aesthetic criteria to judge a work like Today I Die.

    1. I didn’t quite mean that I’m holding it to the same literary criteria as a written poem — in that sense, it would easily fail, but I agree that the question is not an interesting one to ask, any more than I think it’s reasonable to say that IF prose is “bad” because the player may see the same room description multiple times.

      I do, however, think that it’s possible for a work to convey more or less meaning. That meaning might not all be something that can be articulated in words; I feel there’s plenty of content in certain classical music, even though no lyrics are involved and I would be hard-pressed to say what the content *was*.

      On those terms, Today I Die felt slight to me. (I don’t know how much difference it makes to my judgment that I struggled with it more than you did.)

      1. I imagine that how one receives the game is probably influenced by what one expects from it. I wasn’t looking for meaning — in fact, it didn’t even occur to me to expect any meaning from it — and pretty much took everything on a simple, literal level. Perhaps consequently, I kinda liked it, simply for the interaction and how the player’s actions affected the game itself.

      2. Okay, but it is a three-minute work. (Depending on the amount of struggling, of course.) Even most short stories require much more than three minutes reading. :) So yes, it is slight; but as the slight and short thing it is, I felt that it was quite successful.

      3. Okay: what is it successful at?

        I don’t mean this in a flippant or aggressive way; I just didn’t come away with a strong sense of what the work wanted to communicate to me, other then some vaguely emo sensibility about struggling with one’s demons and then overcoming them enough to want to live and be with others.

      4. It was successful at teaching me how to play itself, and doing that using nothing but sprites, crude graphical effects, a single sentence and a bit of music that all tapped into my vaguely emo sensibilities. (Is “emo” a real English word?)

        Note that the moves needed to complete the game are quite diverse; and yet the game managed to teach them to me simply by activating the right intuitions using very minimal tools. That is not easy. It gave me a bit of a kick, I suppose.

        It’s something we try to do in IF as well, sometimes, though we mostly rely on pre-learned behaviour. Imagine writing a work that uses only non-standard commands, and teaching them to the player just by mood-setting, without actually mentioning these commands, or even their synonyms. That would be the IF-equivalent of Today I Die. (The moods would almost necessarily have to be rather banal, because, otherwise, how can I ever intuit the right command? But the game would offer something beyond mood.)

      5. It was successful at teaching me how to play itself


        I guess the game that best captured that experience for me was (I Fell in Love With) The Majesty of Colors, which I did find fairly effective. What’s more, I felt in TMoC like I had meaningful decisions to make that were also clearly implicit in the situation and the controls I had available — which is not at all the experience I had with Today I Die.

        I feel like my comments are coming off harsher on TID than I initially intended, mind you.

  4. My two main peeves with Today I Die were the Random Boyfriend and the poetry. I might have given the poetry a pass if it seemed possible to change it along more than a single linear track. (The poetry in Le Reprobateur is the other side of the same coin.)

    But in spite of this I found myself moved (at least, just before the very end).

    There was one gameplay-emergent choice which I thought was significant enough to make a difference to the story, even though it didn’t really have any further consequences: Wbgn qrsraqrq gur cebgntbavfg ntnvafg jenvgu-chefhvg ol fheebhaqvat ure jvgu gur yvtugf, juvyr V qvq gur bccbfvgr, genccvat gur jenvguf vafvqr n yvtug-pbeeny.

  5. There is a significant choice to make in the game, but I think finding it kind of flies in the face of the general form of interaction. This is possibly related to one of Sam’s peeves above.

      1. I’m slow to admit it, but the “poetry” of written text in some of these games does often draw from the confessionalist well that really bugs me in poetry. Somehow it still works for me, but that may be part of the “thrill of the new.”

        What I wish TID would have done differently, and what I think Majesty of Colors had more success at, is to really focus on the idea of choice, which is certainly a strength the medium has over printed word. It would have been nice of Benmergui to include it inside the game somehow, but the idea of the game representing making the (sometimes and for some suffocatingly difficult) choice to get out of bed in the morning would have worked well with a true feeling of choice.

      2. As far as I’m aware, the only significant choice is due to multiple endings. I feel that choices are only significant if options (and some idea of outcomes) can be understood before making the choice.

      3. Belatedly: I’ve tried the alternate endings, and… I guess I’m still underwhelmed by what the game seems to be trying to say, and the choice doesn’t illuminate much for me.

  6. Its pretty interesting how much of an impact an experience can have on one of us. I didn’t read the title before I read the passage, and I mistakenly thought that the Now Arriving was an IF game!

    I tried to picture how this would work, and thought that it must be some complex and elaborate game with multiple levels, stages, and areas. Only later did I realize that it wasn’t IF…

  7. okay, this post is a bit old, but hopefully someone sees this:
    what’s with the spoiler ciphers? they’re so effective i have absolutely no idea how to read them.

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