Medium Term Goals in Video Game Design

“Modern video game design has a problem with player motivation. In Pong you hit the ball until you couldn’t, in Tetris you stacked the blocks until you couldn’t, and in 2D side scrollers like the original Super Mario Bros, you ran left until you couldn’t. But modern, big budget-3D action games don’t have the luxury of such linearity. Tunnels are boring, so games either discard them or disguise them.

But I worry that modern game designers have failed to replace the built-in motivation found in Pong, Tetris, or Super Mario Bros. Too many games just dump content in front of the player and expect them to care enough to plow through it. This failure to provide adequate player motivation in modern games is ultimately due the absence or failure of medium-term goals…”


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Horizon: Zero Dawn is a Model for AAA Innovation


“If you were to break down Horizon: Zero Dawn into a list of gameplay, presentation, and narrative features, it would look like one of the most generic modern big-budget AAA video games in existence. It is chock-full of so many well-tread ideas from Far Cry, The Witcher, Mass Effect, and every crafting game ever on Steam, that it took me a good ten hours of gameplay before my initial bitter disappointment wore off and I began to see H:ZD’s value. Not only is H:ZD a fine game in its own right, but it stands as a prime example of exactly what AAA developers should be doing with their boatloads of money and manpower.”


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Mass Effect: Andromeda Companions Review – Part 2

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“Liam Kosta

More than any other species, humans face an uphill battle from a writing perspective in the Mass Effect series. The Mass Effect games are filled with cool aliens with cool cultures from cool worlds, none of which exist outside the Mass Effect universe. But the humans in Mass Effect are fundamentally no different from the humans in reality, and as a result, the writer needs to work extra-hard to make them interesting. To quote Shamus Young:

“At the risk of getting myself branded as an Ashley Williams style space-racist, hanging out with Jacob in Mass Effect 2 is like going to the zoo to see a labrador retriever. Those are cool dogs, but that’s not why you go to the zoo. In the same way, we’re here to meet crazy aliens, and it’s unavoidable that Jacob will look a little bland in contrast.”

Liam isn’t totally successful as an attempt to make a human character interesting, but he’s not bad. Honestly, I avoided deploying Liam when I first started playing the game, precisely because he’s a human, but the one-on-one conversations with him aboard the Nexus convinced me otherwise…”


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Mass Effect Andromeda: Companion Review – Part 1


“Arguably the highlight of every Mass Effect and Dragon Age game since Bioware was acquired by EA and fundamentally changed its approach to storytelling, has been the companions. Each game sets up a grand, overarching plot that consists of a mostly personality-less protagonist running around a massive world (or galaxy) collecting resources and allies to fight an ultimate bad guy. While the overarching plot is ostensibly the driving force behind the games’ narrative, story beats are typically spread out over a massive RPG game packed to the brim with dozens of characters, environments, and hours of play time. So Bioware resorted to the companion system as a means of keeping a steady drip of interesting sub-plot character developments to fill the gaps between central plot beats.

Whether due to having different writers or just an easier task, Bioware companions nearly always end up more interesting as a whole than the game’s main plot. They tend to be interesting conduits for world building that fill in the minute details of what it’s actually like to live in a crazy sci-fi space opera or medieval fantasy world. Plus the arcs and emotions of unique characters directly affected by the main plot provides a much greater sense of emotional gravity to story events, even more so than talking to random peasants. As a result, Garrus, Tali, Mordin, Wrex, and Legion have certainly left a more lasting impression on the Mass Effect fan base than pretty much anything else in the series.

So how does Mass Effect Andromeda carry on Bioware’s legacy of fantastic companion characters? Here is a review for all six Andromeda companions:

WARNING – Character spoilers ahead, but no major plot spoilers.”

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Playing the Last Guardian is like Going to India


“Before I get to The Last Guardian, a digression…

When I was 23, I backpacked around India alone for two months on a shoestring budget. I stayed in Spartan hotels for roving businessmen or huge bunk houses with 24 beds to a room, usually at a price around $5 per night. I walked ten to twelve hours most days in 90-100 degree heat and 95%+ humidity. I took a few short plane flights to get between major cities at first, but eventually I settled for train rides where I would stuff myself in-between migrant workers in 5th class, two of which lasted 17 hours.

On a daily basis, I was miserable. The physical exertion, heat, humidity, and beating sun took its toll. I had trouble maintaining weight and was chronically sunburned despite liberal use of sunscreen. Then there were the locals constantly trying to beg and scam me, especially the taxi drivers who turned every cab rental into a prolonged battle of wits over how much of my dignity I would sacrifice to save 20 rupees (please don’t look up how much that is in real money). More than anything, I was exhausted. The walking and heat and constant travel and paranoia of scammers with no comfortable respites along the way made the two months feel like an eternity. There were good moments too of course. I saw incredible temples and palaces, I met wonderful people, and I witnessed first-hand incalculably amazing parts of the world that I never thought I’d see with my own eyes.

But I still could not have been happier when I returned to America. The horrors of India were still fresh in my mind and the comfort of my couch at home seemed more valuable than all of the temples and mosques erected by the Mughal Dynasty over a thousand-year period (or whatever).

And yet, after maybe a week, that sentiment started to shift, or even invert. The walking and heat and sun and dirty bunk beds and scammers started fading from my mind while the temples and palaces and curios became more prominent. It wasn’t that I was literally forgetting the hardships (though I’ve certainly forgotten a lot of the little things over time), but rather they were no longer visceral. The weather was torturous while I was there, but I can’t feel the 100 degrees or 100% humidity (or both simultaneously) while I write this sentence in my air-conditioned bedroom. I know Indian taxi drivers are the scum of the earth, but even though I am not a rich man, I can’t say I care too much about the times they charged me an extra $1.50 for a cab ride.

Meanwhile, the temples and mosques and all that great stuff seemed even greater in retrospect. Especially near the end of the trip, I’m sure I was too exhausted and mentally fatigued by seeing the same architecture over-and-over again to even care who built what building when and why. Yet the memories of the beautiful curvature of some ancient stature, the festive buzz of Calcutta on Holi Day, and the spectacular beaches of Chennai, glow in my mind. Today, I consider going to India one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I will die with one less regret.

Anyway, that’s sort of what playing The Last Guardian has been like.”


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Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis


The blog, “It’s Very Bad,” has written a “rebuttal” to my Metal Gear Solid V analysis:

I will attempt to respond to every part of the rebuttal, but there’s a catch… it’s written in Russian. I don’t speak or read Russian, so I am relying on a Google translation. It’s entirely possible that Google might misinterpret some parts, though some sections definitely get their intentions across anyway (like, “To hell with this ‘analysis,’ which invites us to swallow it”). If the author of the rebuttal believes I’ve misunderstood anything, he should feel free to point it out.

I’ll break down my response into 10 parts to correspond with the rebuttal. In each part, first there will be an excerpt from my original analysis in blue, then there will be the Rebuttal in red, and then there will be my response bolded in black.

Continue reading “Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis”

Why Doesn’t Civilization Let You Play as Hitler?


Sid Meier’s Civilization games let players rule over a civilization from its foundation in 4,000 B.C. to a theoretical future era powered by fusion technology. Players pick from real historic civilizations and real historic individuals to serve as avatars in their games. These historical figures are typically the most famous leaders in the given civilization’s history. So the American civilization has Washington, Lincoln, FDR, etc. The Roman civilization Julius Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, etc.

The German civilization has… Otto von Bismarck (who was never actually a leader), Frederick Barbarossa (a Holy Roman Emperor), Frederick the Great (technically Prussian, but close enough), and Maria Theresa (technically Austrian, not close enough).

If you asked a random selection of people in America, Germany, or anywhere in the world to name the most famous German leader in history, somehow I don’t think any of those three would be a common choice.

So why isn’t Adolf Hitler in the Civilization series?


Continue reading “Why Doesn’t Civilization Let You Play as Hitler?”