Sunday, January 19, 2014

There is a force stronger than LEGO.

Based on my kids' behavior since the holiday break, I would have to say that there is one force in the world stronger than LEGO.

It's Minecraft.

For those of you unfamiliar with Minecraft, it's a 3D adventure game with whimsical low-res graphics with an emphasis on building structures, crafting objects from mined materials, and basic agriculture. While the graphics look like they came from 1995, I'm not sure you could have built a world as large as Minecraft's back then.

I got LEGO Marvel Super Heroes for PS3 this Christmas. Like most of the other LEGO games, they take a simplified storyline, infuse it with LEGO sets and characters, and have you play through it with the main characters, and then go back later for additional playthroughs with the other characters to find secrets and unlock even more characters. The LEGO Marvel Super Heroes story takes us to Manhattan just after the Avengers have saved it, only to find that the Silver Surfer has crash-landed on earth and Doctor Doom is hot on the trail of the broken bricks of his surfboard. Naturally, when the Silver Surfer appears, Galactus can't be far behind. With a possible grab for cosmic power and the fate of the Earth at stake, a lot of heroes and villains start coming out of the woodwork. All of the major characters from the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy make an appearance, along with some unsurprising additions. You know Stan Lee has to be there, since he's everywhere else.

Normally with that many days off from school my kids (or at least my older one) would have completely torn through the game by now. They had LEGO Batman 2 at 100% in a matter of days. However, they spent the majority of their gaming time during the holidays playing Minecraft, with Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS coming in a close second for my older child and Scribblenauts Unlimited coming in a rather distant second for my younger one. It's even gotten to the point where they're playing with actual LEGO less than Minecraft. Luckily, one of the LEGO sets my older son got for Christmas was a Minecraft set.

More so than for any other game, my kids are watching a lot of things on Youtube pertaining to Minecraft, and even sometimes while playing the game at the same time. I recall watching a few things for Resident Evil 4 in an attempt to improve my Mercenaries scores, but once I got the info I required I went back to playing the game. They're watching Minecraft videos like me binge-watching Community.

As a result of watching all of the videos, they have downloaded some of the texture packs for the game, but they haven't quite figured out the full mods yet. I suppose I'll have to work on that.

Over the last couple of weeks, they have played some of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and have completed all of the levels in Story Mode, but they haven't obtained all of the characters yet. My younger one still thinks that the hub area (Gotham) in LEGO Batman 2 is more fun than the Marvel hub area (Manhattan including the Statue of Liberty, The Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle, Central Park, and Grand Central Station), but he has fewer characters unlocked. It's nice that in addition to things like my kids finding out about Howard the Duck without having to watch the questionable film version, I can find out about oddball things like Superior Spider-Man without having to set foot in the comic book store to be berated about not reading enough titles.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Nobody games in their basement anymore.

I'm not saying there aren't people in their basement  playing video games, but that the early days of video gaming where people played in relative isolation from each other and nearly everyone that played a given game got a personal experience of discovering things for themselves are nearly gone.

The transformation of this went in a couple of stages. At first, established social groups that became gamers shared some amount of information among the group - and I only say some because not everybody was playing the same games in every case. For example, I was playing Centipede when a couple of my friends were playing Dig Dug, and I was playing Gyruss when they were playing Robotron and Sinistar. Not everybody had home systems yet, not everybody had the same ones if they did have home systems, and if you went to the arcade at the mall (back when there were malls that were willing to have arcades in them) it's not like everybody could play the same game since only very few large arcades had more than one of any given game.

Back then, if you heard about something you had to take it with a very large grain of salt since it would be hard to verify the information for yourself for some time. When I had first heard about Defender's glitch with extra lives*, it was not until the game had been out for a couple of years. It seemed like the outrageous rambling of a crazy middle school kid at the time, which it was when I heard it, but it also turned out to be true. I was never able to accomplish it myself as I found the arcade controls for Defender rather daunting, but I was eventually able to obtain the information from several independent sources. (*If you follow the link for this it's discussed in the "Tips and Tricks" section.)

Another thing that I had heard about at the time was the 'black dot' in Adventure for Atari 2600. As usual, the person that told me about it couldn't do it, and they heard it from a friend of a friend who totally swears that they did it. Again, it sounded like a ridiculous fabrication purely intended to make interesting conversation. In this case, the details of their story were sufficient for me to start working on it, as it was a game that I had and was very familiar with. Most of the locations in the game are rather symmetrical-looking and after a while you get the hang of the mazes in the space between the castles and in the castles. In the Black Castle, it is dark and asymmetrical, so you're only aware of the pathways that you're near at that particular moment and there's no pattern that springs to mind. Knowing that you can use the bridge item to cross over/through many of the walls in the mazes, I took the bridge into the black castle and started looking for a room that wasn't accessible from any of the pathways. I had found the room easily enough, but I did not find the dot right away as you had to actually push against the wall before you would hear the telltale sound of having picked up an object. Early on there were a few mishaps with the dot and the bridge as you are only able to carry one object at a time and it was possible to trap yourself in a wall or push the bridge too far away to get out. I was eventually able to do something with the dot, and was able to subsequently explain it to my friends in a way that didn't sound like I had made it up.

After the age of the 2600, there was the 5200, and I don't remember there being the sorts of secrets in those game that one found in either arcade games or the 2600 games. After a while, the NES became the console of choice for many, and that first Super Mario Bros. game just had secrets all over the place. Nintendo starting using this to their advantage, and used game tips and maps as a strategy to sell copies of Nintendo Power Magazine. It wasn't long after this that a handful of publishers started publishing strategy guides, some authorized, some not, and it's become fairly standard for some of these strategy guides to come out more or less when the game does. It wasn't uncommon for groups of friends to share a strategy guide, but most of these early games were still single-player experiences like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Warrior. Most of the multiplayer games at this point were sports titles which were rare to see strategy guides for.

Now, not everything got a strategy guide when it came out, but if you figure if there is something that more than two people are interested in on the internet, there is/was a usenet group for it. (For you whippersnappers, usenet is the framework that discussion groups were built on before we had a graphical user interface for web browsing.) I remember seeing usenet posts about the minutiae of the throw mechanics of Street Fighter II well before I ever played the game.

Now we have fairly full-featured sites like where people can write their own game guides, either general or specific, and submit them to the site. Although most of the content there is focused on current titles, some old games still have a guide or two. In addition, many people post videos of their great gaming moments and unusual discoveries to youtube and vimeo. That trend of video is projected to expand now that the new XBox One and PS4 consoles are trying to include better tools for recording in-game video.

So does this mean that in-game discovery is dead, or will it get constantly spoiled by the internet? I always hoped that some developer would make an expansive world with lots of things to discover and not have every little part of it dictated by the game story or some obsessive count somewhere. If you have a game where it says in the menu that you've discovered 36/40 of the gold bolts, well, you're probably going to go obsessively look for the other four and look them up on the internet if you have to. On the other hand, how bad would it be if different people discovered different things? I know that we want to share information with others on some level, so we have experiences to bond over, and there are some games like Journey that both allow us some measure of individual discovery and shared experience, but it still seems like true discovery is a rare experience now. I kept hoping that I would find an abandoned building or some different forest creature in "Shadow of the Colossus" someplace, but most of that game is specifically crafted for the sake of the specific and finite gameplay. I'm sure that RockSteady would have driven themselves crazy if you could go inside every building in Batman:Arkham City, and again, because the game has to have some limits.

Well, I suppose I should stop rambling - I have to go back and get the rest of the gold bolts in "Ratchet & Clank:A Crack in Time" so I can get going on "Ratchet & Clank:Into the Nexus". Don't worry, I won't need to look them up on the internet. I got the Treasure Mapper for winning the last gladiator challenge.