books and places

Last couple of weeks have meant transfer into the summer mode: mostly focusing on writing the game studies stuff that I cannot get done during the academic year. I have also started to read (both work and pleasure) as much as I can find time for. Summer nights in Finland are great for this. Look Windward, the latest of Ian M. Banks Culture novels, I think, my latest treasure. Not much energy for games, just occasional glimpse of Halo, then some gameplay videos of future releases (curious form of media art, in its own right). Last week I was spending my evenings working on the gameplay experience laboratory specs for our Lab. Looks promising.

worlds in battle

This weekend has meant some catching up with various game worlds. Tried (and got tired pretty fast) to play my way into the Middle-Earth with the EA’s Return of the King. As an interactive movie it works quite fine, but all that repetitive and linear action just is not for me. Just getting stuck and killed all the time, no fun. It might be that either much more experience in some beat-em-ups (Mortal Combat, anyone?) could have changed the situation. Or then just more save points along the way. Now the arduous process of repeatedly getting to the one really hard spot without any chance to save the game, then failing, and being forced to do the same thing dozens of times again is just painful and humiliating.

I was expecting more from the Eidos/Ion Storm Thief III. It is not yet released, but I downloaded and installed a demo version. The only problem was that there were some serious issues with the graphics. So no go there, too.

Most time I actually ended spending with the (now classic, for some) Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. It has very strong emphasis on exploration, but I just wonder what would be the right balance. This time, scenery is beautiful and world rich and detailed in various imaginary cultures, races and intrigues. The only problem is that classic adventure game one: you end up walking from other side of the world to the other again and again in some petty errands, getting confused and distracted on the road. But if you give a player enough freedom, the risk of loss of focus is the necessary counterpart, or isn’t it?

the (un)real middle-earth

There are many sorts of ironies. E.g., it is sometimes hard to make people understand that one can simultaneously be a pacifist, and love games — or fantasy, horror and science fiction, for that. I even intensely dislike all forms of competition, and like to lose, just to make the point. How can I then like games? Well, I do not like all sorts of games, nor do I play the games that I do in particularly competitive ways (some fellow role-players of course might want to abandon the concept of “game” altogether). Nick Yee says that he has not find proof for Richard Bartle‘s “Explorer” type to be validated in his RPG study. Well, we might be a small minority, but we do exist. I am waiting for the Middle-Earth Online just for the opportunity to explore the land, see the places, to get another way of imagining “being there”. That is fun. That is life.

Btw, what is reality? Do you know it? Just remembered one neuroscientist explaining his thesis how our basic brain state is dreaming: our brain is actively generating reality, constructing it. We are not just receiving information from outside, we are actively projecting our own conceptions and gestalts of its character “from inside”. And that is why fantasy is our fundamental condition.

(Another piece of irony: MEO is advertised as the “first Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game based on The Lord of the Rings”. Now that is a slight miscalculation, if I ever saw one.)

While writing this, I found the tunes at RadioDarvish.com. Now this site rocks.

playing for being

Playing Halo, I suddenly remember some evenings of play, when I was a child. Running, evading, laughing and screaming aloud. Other parts in the game remind me from books, movies. Larry Niven and the Ringworld, of course, but so much more also. At certain point all that battle becomes purely mechanic, and then everything is just about reaching out. Getting to the next hilltop, over the brook. Playing for being, being for playing?

tech or not?

E3 came and went, with its various games tech news. New devices, like info on the Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, and an updated Nokia N-Gage were announced. All very interesting and nice, I however find myself also looking for some breaking news on the actual game design areas. Games that received most attention seemed to be safe-and-secure sequels to old success concepts: Doom 3, Halo 2, Half-Life 2. It is hard to build future just on imitation. Nor just on new tech, even if all areas of innovation are important.

Tried out the D&D Heroes tonight — and in game technology terms, it appears superior to BGDA2, but — again! — something is missing. This time, the immense repositories of creative content built for D&D during the years have translated into a shallow and impersonal game setting that does not help you to get immersed in the fantasy. There is a careful line between entertaining stereotypes and near-mythic structures acting as mirrors for imaginative production, and plain old banality.

home from dublin

Last week I joined HIIT guys in a three-day trip to the Dublin’s Media Lab Europe. Many thanks to Simon Jones and all others in MLE who took time to discuss with us and present their work. Interesting stuff. And the beer was great, of course! (Janne and Fernando here, in the mood…)

looking for the right stuff

After BGDA2 (hm.. the Black Isle website seems to be down at the moment), I was encouraged to continue testing other RPG-style games. However, it seems to be that it is hard to say what are the right holding power factors, or the right combination of them, in my case at least. Neverwinter Nights is an old acquaintance, but I do not seem to find time to actually play the Shadows of the Undrentide expansion that I recently installed. And there is the Hordes of the Underdark pack also available, oh yes. Last night we then playtested Final Fantasy: Chrystal Chronicles with Laura (CameCube and two GBAs with cables involved), and even if the collaborative gameplay has its obvious strengths, there seemed to be something missing. Don’t know. Perhaps it is just the lack of history and familiarity with FF series that was holding us down? Might be that trying again would change the feeling, kupo.