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    Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)    by   jp       (Jul 2nd, 2020 at 16:25:33)

    I finished this last night! Yay!

    It took a lot longer than I expected in the end though, which was pretty frustrating. I think I probably spent 4 hours just grinding at the end in order to have a chance at the final battles. Even after all this, I took me three attempts before I was able to beat the final end boss! (I kept on losing during the 3rd battle after defeating the White Witch (1st and 2nd stage))

    Overall I've been super impressed and I'm surprised that, at least in my mind, the game hasn't received more accolades. Perhaps I'm just remembering?

    While it has many "flaws" (for my personal taste) the art direction is superb and the combat system had much more depth than I was expecting - I really enjoyed trying out different spells and tactics during the different boss battles and I had a definite sense of "learning" and "getting better" at the game. The final bits were especially challenging for me since a 1/2 second of distraction could easily lead to a TPK. This is not something I'm used to in RPGs and especially not so in Japanese RPGs. TPKs in a boss battle, sure - but not from your regular random encounters as you move around the world.

    Once I beat the game I did a little bit of pottering about to see if there were a few other fun things I wanted to take a look at. So, I wandered into the Casino! (manned by the undead) I wonder if someone has written a paper or something about why Casinos are so prevalent in JRPGs. They're definitely super common in Dragon Quest games - but, now that I think about it, perhaps I'm biased? (are Casinos in JRPGs a common trope?)

    Due to other academic work (on goals in games), I also noticed something (I find) extra interesting about Ni No Kuni. So, there's a character called Horace who's a ghost and each time you visit a new city you can find him, talk to him, he asks you a riddle/question, you answer, and then he gives you some new spell(s). What's interesting is that you have to type in the answers to his questions/riddles! It's a really "old" mode of interaction that you don't see in modern videogames. The exceptions are those where you type in your character name - but as a regular part of gameplay, it's pretty rare nowadays! So, cool? (and some of the answers were pretty long!)

    During the course of the game you get spells, stories, and information that are all part of a Wizard's book - it's the main place where the game's lore is stored. And the book is beautiful! I wonder/wish they'd publish it as an actual book? Or, if there was a TRPG version of Ni No Kuni - that would be the sourcebook in a 2-book slipcase edition?

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    Viewtiful Joe Double Trouble (DS)    by   jp       (Jun 29th, 2020 at 17:07:41)

    I recall really enjoying the Game Cube game and feeling proud because it was hard and I got to the end. (I'd have to read my old gamelogs from then to see if this was true...as I type this I don't even know if they exist).

    The game remains stylish in the visuals, but pared down of course. The action moves pretty fast and I've had fun so far BUT I have a hard time telling what's going on and I'm worried about the introduction of all the special abilities. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up with them (more buttons and combinations to remember).

    One of the powers is pretty neat though I have trouble getting it to work consistently - you can tap and swipe (left or right) the screen to get the top/bottom halves to be misaligned for in-game effects/objectives. So, if the bottom half has a fire hydrant, when you slide the bottom of the screen it loses the "cap" and water sprays and you can then use the water spray to put out fires on another part of the screen. Or, you can slide the top half of the screen to open up access to an area otherwise closed off. It's pretty neat!

    Bad news is that there are some areas I have a REALLY hard time getting to. These are usually higher up and require the double-jump. I don't know if it's my bad eyesight or if they're tricky in terms of getting into the right position. But, it was pretty annoying to be honest.

    We'll see how long I play, but for now I'm pretty impressed and enjoyed "refreshing" my memory on the GC game. (was there a sequel? perhaps"?)

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    Anno 1701 (DS)    by   jp       (Jun 29th, 2020 at 16:56:55)

    I hadn't played since April so I decided to pick this up just to see where things were at. So, I'm trying to get stuff going on a new island that doesn't have enough fertility, but it has a "watering hole" and I'm supposed to build something there. But, there was no option for that type of building/structure...and I have no idea how to build the thing I'm being asked to build.

    Couldn't find any info online either.

    So I gave up. Sigh.

    THAT being said, there are quite a few things I thought were interesting about the game:

    a. I enjoyed the "advisor" who would let you know when something was wrong and what you needed to do to fix it.

    b. I easily lost track of my production and resources. I think that problem is that it's easy to build a lot of stuff, but it takes time for things to get rolling. It's interesting how this does NOT happen to me in boardgames - mostly because of the limits on actions AND the turn-based side of things. It's easier for me to notice when things produce and so on. Here it's a lot less transparent.

    c. I enjoyed buying random "contracts" to go get looted/treasure resources. And, sailing around to avoid the pirates was an interesting action element to an otherwise "turn-based" feeling game... I wonder if they added this to give players something to do while they wait for their economy to build up (e.g. get to X resources so I can build the next thing).

    d. The road building system is super cool. You basically get two end points and then located them where you want them. It's pretty intuitive and you get layouts that align with what you want. The interface for this was pretty slick IMO.

    e. I enjoyed how the campaign slowly opened up - with new options being added and things being introduced slowly.



    This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Jun 29th, 2020 at 17:01:41.


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    A Mortician's Tale (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 27th, 2020 at 17:48:17)

    Wow, I really liked this. Last time I taught Death, Grief, & Dying, I had students play That Dragon, Cancer. Then I asked them to seek out other games with themes related to the course, and this was one they came back with, along with Gris, which I have queued up.

    So, first thing, the game is short. Like an hour or so. It took me almost an hour and a half because I was trying to win a stupid Minesweeper mini game. But it packs a lot of information and story into that hour. I wouldn't have wanted it to be any longer unless there was a lot more gameplay variety.

    A Mortician's Tale is a death-positive game that aims to educate people about the death industry, burial practices (especially eco-friendly types), cultural differences in death and grief, and so on. They obviously collaborated with Caitlin Doughty, who has become quite well known as a...if this is a term...public mortician? Go read her books and check out her YouTube channel if you're interested in the death industry.

    In the game, you play as a mortician (who looks suspiciously like Caitlin Doughty) for a mom-and-pop funeral home. You check email (you have a friend, a friendly co-worker, a boss, and a listserv that will email you). The email from your boss always has some description of your next job (who died, what their family wants, etc.), and then you go prepare the body. You have a few tools, and you just follow explicit instructions each time. It's a bit zen in that way. Once you prepare the body, you go to the funeral parlor and can talk to the attendees. I enjoyed this because some will be acting quiet and reserved at the funeral, while others will be sobbing, others will crack jokes, others will be on their phones. They'll discuss feelings, cultural differences, wonder whether they've made their loved one happy, and so on. It's often sweet. The purpose is to show the player that there are many different ways to grieve and that not all funerals are alike (point driven home at the end of the game).

    The game's strongest accomplishment is teaching players about alternative (eco, mostly) burial practices, which are gaining popularity in the US. Before I taught this course for the first time, I had never heard of green burials, alkaline hydrolysis, orbital burials, or anything! But most everything I've heard of is in the game, including cremation jewelry. The game also discusses grieving, seeking help, considerations for preparing trans people, wills, religious perspectives on burial practices and corpses, and a major narrative thread shows how small funeral homes struggle in the face of large corporations buying them out.

    There are two cases in the game that stood out. The first was when you get an email about a suicide victim. The game asks you (the character, but you) if you want to take the job (the only choice the game ever asks you to make). If you opt out, then you just get another body to prepare. This is nice for people who may be triggered having to interact with a (virtual) person who killed themselves. The second was when you have to prepare a homeless man. When you take his urn to the funeral parlor, there is no one there to see him. It was sad and made me reflect on inequalities related to death.

    I noticed as I played that I became desensitized in a short amount of time to the work of preparing bodies for burial. This reminds me of Paul Kalanithi's excellent memoir When Breath Becomes Air, where he discusses this at length regarding his time as a hospital resident. When you get a job, you stand over the body and are instructed to clean it with a sponge. The first time doing it, I did it slowly, like wow, I'm washing a dead person. It was reverent. By the end of the game, I was just like yeah yeah, wash wash scrub scrub, into the furnace you go! It's awful! But that's a main theme of the game, our desensitization to death, our distance from it, the impersonal nature of burial practices especially when they become handled by corporate entities.

    Yeah, so I really, really enjoyed this and will definitely create an assignment for my students play this in Death, Grief, & Dying this semester. Perhaps they can choose between this and That Dragon, Cancer. We shall see.

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    The Witness (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 27th, 2020 at 12:49:38)

    Played this for 4 or 5 hours and am over it. This is a puzzle game from Jonathan Blow of Braid fame. It's set on a big, beautiful island that you explore in first-person. Scattered around the island are a number of "hubs" containing grid-based line puzzles with many different rules. These begin simply enough, but I quickly found myself scratching my head.

    A cool thing about the design is that there are no tutorials. Every puzzle follows some logic and you can figure them out by doing other puzzles and observing the world around you. At least, it's cool because you will have great "aha" moments, but it is also maddening because if you get stuck, there is no help.

    The first puzzles just ask you to draw a line through a maze. Then, black and white dots appear and the line must also separate the two types of dots. As you complete puzzles, you will usually see a power cable light up that leads to the next puzzle in the area. Eventually the powered cables open doors and whatnot. So although the island is open, and you are free to explore most of it at any time, it does do a decent job of guiding you through easier areas first. That is, until you discover the town in the middle of the map, which apparently contains the hardest puzzles. When I saw the town for the first time, I was so confused, though based on previous experience, I realized that the answer to "what are the rules of these puzzles" must be in other areas, so off I went to explore some more.

    Suffice it to say that there are many, many clever takes on the "draw a line" mechanic. Another neat thing that The Witness does is force you to use the environment to solve puzzles. In one area, I realized that I had to draw lines around objects in the background behind the transparent grid. In others, I realized that I had to trace shadows cast by tree branches behind me, or trace a line to an end corresponding to an apple on a tree in front of me.

    Despite being periodically like "wooow" and impressed with the puzzles, like I said, they were also maddening because I could not figure out for the life of me how many of them worked. What are all these colored shapes? What do I do with the tetris shapes? I sort of figured out the latter, but only on a surface level because more advanced tetris shape puzzles stumped me. My previous "rules" didn't work, so they must be incomplete. The island is so big that finding where to find a rule can be quite the challenge. Eventually, I discovered a boat, which enabled me to zoom around the island faster and see some things I had not previously seen.

    So, that's about where I stopped, just aimlessly looking at new places in the boat and not feeling like I was making progress. Progress toward what? You would expect a puzzle game in a 3D world to have some sort of story, but although I had the feeling that there was a story, I can't tell you what it is. I don't know who I am, what this island is, why there are line puzzles all over it. If someone said what's the story like, I'd say I don't know. My motivation to continue a difficult or drudging game is often bolstered by wanting to know what happens next, but that doesn't happen here. So I quit.

    Then I watched this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZokQov_aH0

    First, this guy is phenomenal. I will be watching more. But, most importantly, this video confirmed that I made the right decision to stop playing. Watching it, I am certain I would have made some more discoveries, but also certain that I never would have finished because the game is so obtuse. While I appreciate Jonathan Blow's work here on an intellectual level, actually playing it through is not something I would subject anyone to. It turns out that you get no story until you beat the game, and that it's a game about perspective. Like, to get you to think about perspective itself, both in terms of observation and epistemology. Oh man. I don't want to play a 30-hour difficult puzzle game to think about perspective. I'll just think about it!

    If someone was interested in the game, I'd suggest playing it, but not pursuing it too hard. Struggle a bit, but if you really want to stop, stop and listen to someone smart talk about it.

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    Hitman (Complete First Season) (PC)    by   SageSeversonEAE3020

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Thursday 27 September, 2018
    I killed Francesca De Santis with a golf ball and acted as a shrink, before killing my target. Iím starting to think 47 is not only insensitive to his line of work, but also that heís incapable of feeling the remorse or second thought at this point. Whether heís a psychopath or socially modified by the ICA, Iím left wondering how to approach the character I myself control. The creativity and variety of methods and scenarios are astounding to me. Itís as if the game almost wants to think of the ďbeforeĒ and ďleadingĒ up to the actual killing. Whether the game glorifies the killing and creativity Iím not sure, through playing it more Iíll more likely have a better idea of what this game provokes mentally for me. In any case, Iíve really enjoyed dressing up in almost completely unidentifiable costumes, as well as with every contract kill and target, the game presents even more targets, harder scenarios, which means the bigger and more ďVIPĒ the target is, which is reflecting the gameís narrative pretty well, with the shadow client and all.

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