Monday, September 28, 2009

Ancient Co-op Games

Okay. To preface this post I must say I have been absolutely obsessed with ancient board games recently. Like, I have been playing Chess and Go non-stop. I have even been having Go dreams... like I am playing go against myself and losing (don't ask me how I am not also winning if I am playing myself but trust me I am not).

So in most obsessions of mine curiosity is close at hand. I have become very curious about where cooperative play had begun. Where are the roots of cooperative play? What are the best examples of it from ancient games? After asking myself these questions I started searching.

I honestly haven't found a lot of good examples of it. The strongest ones I can find are either puzzles or games like Chinese Checkers where it is possible to have teams but are not what I would call co-op. The only other examples I have found are mutations of solitaire with multiple players trying to accomplish the same goals (which basically boils down to a puzzle but perhaps I am being too much of a reductionist).

So, with these discoveries I have begun exploring potential routes for co-op games to take. I feel that the strongest route a co-op game can take is a game based around construction rather than destruction. What I mean by that can be explained by comparing Chess to Go or even better Solitaire to a jigsaw puzzle. In Solitaire players are trying to deconstruct a chaotic deck of cards and then reorganize it into their rightful stack, or in peg style solitaire puzzles players attempt to reduce the amount of pegs until only one remains. While in a jigsaw puzzle many "players" are trying to construct a picture from a single starting point.

The reason I feel this construction path is stronger is because it would force players to rely on one another to create a solid construction and foundation. In a destructive game one player could potentially do all the work while the other accomplished little to nothing and they could still be successful. This may work for some players but I feel to create a challenging co-op game all players need to be contributing to accomplish the goal.

However, even in writing this I have found that my point of view comes down to casual/social play vs. core/competitive play. If one player falters it may provide unwanted punishment to players and drive away casual players while on the other hand if a single player is carrying the "weight" of the team they will feel like they are being dragged down.

I dunno, I guess it is something I will continue mulling over. I wish to have a lengthy discussion about it in the near future. Anyone reading this with input please feel free to add something. My curiosity hungers for your input.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Game Review: Scribblenauts

Okay first of all, if you don't already know what Scribblenauts is (which, if you have been following upcoming games at all you should) I am going to explain it a bit.

Scribblenauts is a game from 5th Cell, makers of Drawn to Life and Lock's Quest. All of these games have grabbed a lot of attention from E3 and the game community at large for their unique play style and quirky art style.

Scribblenauts is a puzzle style game actually very similar in style to Crayon Physics. The basic object is to get Character A to Star-Thing B with all the crazy obstacles you could want in between. The trick is in the primary mechanic, the ability to write whatever comes to mind and have it appear on the screen.

Overall the game is a gem in the piles and piles dirt offered to those of us who love the DS. It stands alone as a thoughtful game with personality, depth, and most of all a lot of heart and thought put into it. It shows in every corner of the game from the simple introduction screen to the developer's room I found by accidentally stepping into a teleporter.

The puzzles are fairly simple to start off with and offer an easy way to get into the game and learn your limits (which there aren't many of... but they will be discussed later). As you get further into the game the puzzle start to take on their own style, putting twists on typical game situations. The art and characters give them game its own humor but when combined with the infinite possibilities offered in the game hilarity is a natural bi-product.

I honestly haven't explored the Wi-Fi of this game but I truly hope that sharing levels in Scribblenauts will be the next Little Big Planet. The level editor in my opinion is where this little game will truly shine. I have only scratched the surface of the things you can do in the level editor but it is already satisfying. I can't wait to share some of them with my friends. (yea... gimme your friend codes.)

As a whole, the game doesn't leave a lot to be desired, but as they say the devil is in the details. The one glaring drawback to the game is the clunky movement controls. I have always hated point and click style movement and I personally feel if they had only swapped the D-pad controls with the stylus controls it would have made the game much more playable. I can't count the number of times I have restarted levels due to a clumsy jump where it should have been simple.

The only other major frustration I have is with the player's ability to interact with other characters. The interactions feel very limited unless they are part of the puzzle. For example I wish I could give clear orders to a creature I have created, or I wish that when I spawned a dragon it wouldn't immediately hate me (I wanna ride it!!). However, most of these problems are fixed by the level editor, the more in depth control of the characters in the editor is just what I needed to satiate my hunger for more control.

One thing I must say is surprising about this game is that when I first bought it I thought that a game with so many possibilities couldn't possibly account for all the ideas people have for solving problems. In other such games it can feel like a struggle to try and figure out exactly what the developer wanted you to do rather than being able to what you wanted. However, in this game it feels like (with a few exceptions... the major one being that flying seems to solve almost everything) I can solve each puzzle in my own way.

I guess all that's left to say is I hope to see more games takes risks like this one in the future. It is a pleasure to play and I would recommend the game to anyone of any age.