Look at all the dust around here jeez… does no one know what a feather duster is anymore? Anyway, We are back people! Things have been a little bit hectic recently but hopefully we can put everything back on track! For starters, I’m going to start this recurring theme of articles called “Games you should have played” so we can get some more ideas flowing around here. Hopefully some other people will start posting original stuff, or they can add on to this article theme! Either way, the general idea is to talk about great ideas from games that maybe are a little out dated now, maybe did not really get the media attention they deserved, or maybe are just super cool! I don’t want to spoil any plans, so I’m just going to lead by example with Games You Should Have Played: Metro 2033.
I am going to go on a bit of a rant today about what has gone wrong with the Assassins Creed series lately, not because I have some irrational hatred but because the series means a lot to me. The thing is though, I have decided to protest the newest Assassins Creed game because I don’t agree with the direction that the series is going. I may be one man, but I would like to share my thoughts on why I have made this decision, so when you are ready hit the jump to continue on, and maybe you can understand my reasoning!
The Stanley Parable is a small mod for Half-Life 2 that tells the story of Stanley, who is employee number 427, working for a nameless company where is assigned job is to press buttons that appear on a screen as he is prompted to. You play as Stanley on a particularly curious day. Playing as Stanley, the player embarks on a journey to discover why Stanley is no longer receiving orders. Stanley’s journey is fairly short, it will take less than an hour to complete Stanley’s adventure. What makes the game so interesting however, is how you choose to guide Stanley through his adventure. Other games have claimed to give players freedom to make their own choices that impact the story, games like Fallout and Mass Effect are examples of this. While certain elements of the story may be different for different playthroughs of these games, the majority of the story however, follows the same linear progression whether you choose to be a benevolent hero or a psychopathic murderer. In The Stanley Parable however, the choices you make drastically alter how the story unfolds.
The Stanley Parable has a lot to offer in terms of unique gameplay elements and how the game and player experience relate, I would like to discuss some of the more interesting topics brought out by this game in some detail, so I would suggest that you play through the entirety of the game before continuing, or at the very least watch the full video walkthrough understand what I am about to discuss!
Recently, I have found myself moving away from single player oriented experiences and playing many more multiplayer games. Most recently our suite has been playing Blur, Fifa 12, and Halo Reach. All of these games, with the exception of Fifa are at least a year old, and while Fifa has some interesting new mechanics that I would love to talk about I would like to focus on a group of games that almost every person I know has been in playing. These games are meant to be social, and they are made by a company that thrives off of social media game. You know them; you love them, its Zynga and the Games with Friends series.
It actually started a while ago when a couple of my friends would play Words with Friends on Facebook with each other. Recently the amount of people I know who play Words with Friends has increased dramatically through use of mobile devices. Words with Friends is essentially Scrabble, although apparently the board has been altered a bit so triple word tiles are no longer in the corners. What makes this game so accessible is the fact that you can play it through your Facebook account, on your mobile phone, or both because they all sync! It is through the advent of games like Words with Friends that has lead the community as a whole to ask if there is a difference between heavily narrative driven experiences such as Deus Ex, and much more simple games such as the Scrabble clone my friends and I have been playing in our off hours. Clearly both media fulfill the general requirement of a video game that is its entertaining the player. Both titles succeed in that, but they do it in different ways; where as time is best spent exploring an unfolding tale of conspiracy and a somewhat dystopian future in Deus Ex, time in Words with Friends is spent moving letter tiles around trying to create the most creative words imaginable for the most points.
Interestingly, because Words with Friends uses its own dictionary the player is allowed to try extreme words that would be hotly debated on a normal Scrabble board, and would generally lead to a lack of friends, and not promote friendship like the game claims to do. As my friend put it best, Words with Friends is not actually a word game, it becomes a math game that specifically focuses on maximizing your score by carefully placing letter tiles on the necessary squares such as triple letter, or double word squares, and filling in the blanks with letter combinations until the game accepts a word. This strategy interestingly tends to favor people who play on the computer because of the added dexterity the mouse brings. Players can manipulate their letter tiles much faster on the PC than mobile users can while attempting to do the same thing. Because of this, I think starting games is much more fun when the score is even, but I have found that as I start to play more games with more friends it tends to get somewhat tedious trying to find the best words to play. Sometimes I find myself spending thirty minutes or more moving tiles around only to get impatient and play an easy word for very few points. If slow and methodical is your pace however, Words with Friends may be an awesome game for you!
Another game that recently came out for the Android operating system plays much faster than Words with Friends, but runs off of a similar principal of a mobile social game. The game is called Hanging with Friends and as you may have guessed, it is a new take on the classic Hangman game. Each round, one of the two players gets to create a word from a pool of twelve letter tiles, and arrange them in any way to make a word that is up to eight letters long. The only rules are that the word must be at least four letters, and it must be a word that the game accepts. When you are guessing the word, you are given a complete grid of letter tiles, and are automatically given the last vowel of the word. To incentivize the player to play longer words, the amount of guesses the player is allowed to take when guessing a word gets smaller with longer words. So for a four-letter word, the player is allowed 8 wrong guesses, but for an eight-letter word you are only allowed four strikes.
The pace of the game as mentioned before is much faster, because while I suppose you could take lots of time both playing and guessing words, the trickiest words won’t necessarily be the words that are extremely obscure, but the words that look like other more common words, but that have strange letters in them such as V, W, or B. I am not sure how balanced the system is, allowing eight guesses for four letter words and four guesses for eight letter words, but it seems to work out alright as it adds some advantage to playing bigger words. One final layer of depth that has been added to this game is the addition of three lifelines that can help the player out when they are in a tight jam. The three lifelines are called “Suspects” which highlights four letters, one of which is in the word, “Extinguish” which removes four letters from the board that are not in the word, and “Repair” which removes a strike. Each lifeline is free to use once per game per lifeline, after that however it takes twenty “coins” from your “bank” to spend lifelines. You are given twenty coins every time a player plays two hundred points worth of words. Points are calculated based on individual letter scores along with modifiers identical to those associated with the Words with Friends board, such as double letter or triple word. The game is pretty simple, but laughing at those crazy or funny words you play against your friends makes the experience much more enjoyable.
In terms of gameplay, there really is not very much to complain about, although I know on the Android platform especially the game crashes sometimes, which can be annoying. The only other complaint I would have is more of a warning than complaint. When a game finishes, you are always offered a rematch regardless of whether you win or loose. This is true for both players, so after a single game if both players decide to rematch, then one game will become two games. While that does not seem like a big deal at first, if your friends and you all decide to accept every game, things can get out of hand pretty quickly. As of right now, I have fourteen active games being played with three different people… After a while, playing a couple of three-minute games can easily exceed thirty minutes of playing a mobile game. The other huge problem especially with Hanging with Friends is how much battery power the game takes up, there is a lot of animation in the gameplay screens, and in between every player’s turn an advertisement gets shown, if you are playing as many games as I do while running several different applications, your battery can drain in as fast as half a day. I want to restate that while this game is alright on its own, the real draw of these games is how they bring people together, even my friends who don’t own the game love helping me try to guess words, and often times they will actually guess words before I can!