Archive for category Let’s Try to Understand
I’ve tried to make sense of Dota 2 before, honest. I’ve worked through the tutorials, spent half an hour browsing the different heroes, and played a handful of games against real people. After putting in an actual effort to figure out its appeal, though, I still find Valve’s take on Massively Online Battles Arenas (MOBAs) almost completely impenetrable. Some people feel the same way I do, but there are many others who click with Dota 2 (and other titles from its genre) to such an extent that they’re willing to invest untold amounts of time and mental energy into the game. MOBAs are a legitimate, honest to goodness Big Deal in videogames and, because of this, are pretty hard to dismiss out of hand for those of us interested in the medium.
I couldn’t let 2014 — henceforth referred to as Year of the Dota — kick off without talking to someone who gets this game. I’ve played Dota 2 with Forbes’/Pixels or Death‘s Ethan Gach when both of us were pretty new to it. Since then I’ve seen it embrace him in the spiderwebs of its meticulous design, changing him from average person to the kind of guy who can use the word “gank” without attaching a sarcastic “LOL” to its end. He seemed like the best person to talk to about the Dota 2 phenomenon.
Here’s our discussion:
Life can often seem like a nasty, samsaric ritual. Almost every morning I wake up around 8am, take a shower, change the cat’s water, pour a cup of coffee and do the dishes before starting work. Every evening I take out my contacts, brush my teeth, wash my face and get into bed before falling asleep. These are the kind of things that we all just do and, for the most part, we do them mindlessly and automatically because they just have to be done.
Other parts of our day are usually far less predictable. Whether the spontaneity of a surprise phone call from an old friend or an email from a business client bears good or bad news, at the very least it colours our daily routines with the kind of random chance that makes life interesting (if not always enjoyable necessarily).
I play games — and I suspect a lot of people play games — because they also provide my days with that element of unpredictability. Taking part in an unfolding story or trying to win against a digital opponent makes for pretty engaging entertainment. Despite the fact that games, being constructs of cold hard programming, can only offer us a pre-set variety of outcomes (a variety that is always expanding as developers and technological engineers push the medium forward) they can give us a sense of being somewhere else, taking part in a world of chance — a world that can have more in common with the unpredictable parts of our days than the rote, habitual ones.
That isn’t always the case with Persona 3.
The Persona series is revered, the third and fourth entries to the series being particularly adored. A lot of platitudes are tossed around about these games, including (but not limited to) bold claims like their being “saviours of the Japanese role-playing game.” Obviously this warrants investigation so, about two months after buying a PlayStation Vita and playing three actual Vita games on it, I ended up downloading the PSP version of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3.
Now, a few hours in I’m willing to take a (self-inflicted gun)shot at trying to unpack just what it is that makes this game compelling to so many people.
Michael Campagnaro and I sat down to play an hour of X-COM: UFO Defense, the 1994 alien invasion cult classic for PC. The point of it was to kick off a Let’s Try to Understand series with a game that neither of us had played and know little about, but that has many devoted fans. Because X-COM is a unique brand of strategy and because it was designed 18 years ago, it seemed like a good choice. We strapped on our tinfoil hats and settled into our commander’s chairs in an attempt to fumble our way through saving the world, reconvening one hour later to talk out the trauma of intergalactic warfare as conducted by total newcomers.
A Big Thing with videogames these days is difficulty. Difficulty is an especially poorly explored topic, because most videogame critics and designers+ suck at videogames++, and ESPECIALLY at videogames that have Actual Difficulty. Actual Difficulty is a unique beast; it doesn’t rely on memorization, or on setting you back far from where you were+++. It relies on intricate patterns, robust interactions, and strong knowledge of the underlying system mechanics. Actual Difficulty arises solely from strong design, constant testing, and the type of genius that only years of experience can create.
God Hand has more Actual Difficulty in the first level than most designers can fit into their entire game, and all of it comes from constantly varied scenarios that require a mastery of the absurdly robust combat engine Clover Studios birthed.