Puzzle Shooters? (spoilerish alert)

Jump to the bottom to see the pretty videos, if you’re like me and have no patience…

I just wanted to point out some new games that have come out in the last two weeks that defy standard catergorization, by being creative and putting new twists onto an old game:  the FPS.  You see, I’m not really taken in by the “novelty” of being more real.  COD?  How is Black Ops REALLY that different from the first COD?  How are the newest sports games REALLY different from past ones?  How are the newest fighting games REALLY different from the old ones?  More real, more complex.  (Though I have to say that I found the insanity of the combat and storyline in COD:BO, to be rather… unrealistic, and the people I know who spent time in the Army agree.  I mean, really?  One or two people versus a hundred – or more?  I don’t think so. Special ops only works in real life when they don’t know you’re there!)  Anyways, one way that “new” game types are created is by combining genres.  In this case, FPS and puzzles, as in the two games below. 

In case you haven’t been inundated with the ads yet (I’m sure most computer gamers already know about this, at least) Portal 2 came out yesterday.  Portal 1 was what I have best seen summarized as a “glorified tech demo” in which the developers played with the idea of having a gun that can create a portal you can walk through on (almost) any surface, to (almost) any other surface.  It’s a FPS, but only in that you have a gun that shoots something – but not people, just portals.  In fact, in the entire game, you character is the ONLY human you see the entire time and then almost only through the portals (see about 1:25 in this vid where the character is literally chasing themself through some portals.  Worse than a dog chasing its tail!).  It’s really a puzzle game, in which the goal is to get through multi-dimensional mazes.  The premise is that you are a “test subject” in an Aperture Labs facility, and you learn more and more sophisticated ways of using the portals (and learning about 3D thinking, momentum, velocity, frames of reference, gravitational acceleration, etc.).  You then use this new knowledge and your convenient portal generating gun to escape from GLaDOS, the evil supercomputer AI that is trying kill… ahem… I mean test you.  Spoiler alert:  You DO escape (assuming you win) and leave GLaDOS in a sorry state.  (Destroyed?)

Nope.  Not destroyed.  Portal 2 brings us back to the lab, where we find ourselves as test subject AI robots, that can now work cooperatively to pass the tests… and then what?  I don’t know.  It’s also cool because there is a cooperative mode, where two people have to work together to get to the end.  Finally, there are challenges, for time, fewest steps taken, etc.  Motivation to earn them all, I would say.

Sanctum is the newest and most interesting Tower Defense game I have ever seen.  Again, the developers add the 3D FPS aspect to the game, and learn by trying the puzzles over and over again.  This game has a fair amount of “just in time” info provided, and again, in a first for tower defense, I believe, there is a cooperative mode.  There is also an “infinite” mode in which you try to last as long as possible against wave after wave of alien destruction, which of course is tied to the leaderboards… motivation, anyone?

Both games meet more of Gee’s principles than you can shake a stick at, opportunities for Flow, ways of “cheating” (or is it?), problem solving, identity issues, motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic), reflection, and enough other “educational” aspects that you could make a career of studying them… or at least until the next big thing comes out…

Limbo

Although I don’t get as much time to play video games as I like, I do spend a good amount of time following various blogs via RSS. One of my favorite blogs is The Fox is Black, which is primarily a design-style blog. I originally found it while looking for some new wallpaper. The Fox is Black produces the “Desktop Wallpaper Project.” Here are some interesting ones that the blog has produced/commissioned: http://thefoxisblack.com/category/the-desktop-wallpaper-project/

One of the blog’s recent posts is about the line between art and video games. Here it is: http://thefoxisblack.com/2011/02/17/limbo/ . The post brings up some interesting points:

“Video games can be art and art can be video games, but rarely are either regarded as such. You don’t play a video game, enamored by its beauty. And, if you do, you are probably losing the gameplay. Video games are rarely written up in Artforum and art is rarely written up in IGN. The two worlds do not collide and do not seem to have a reason to, beyond the limits of the tangential video art world.”

“No one actually knows what limbo or purgatory or “the in-between” is like at all. But, if it is actually like this, then I guess we have a beautiful, puzzle filled, black/white/gray pre-heaven to look forward to.”

From the preview, the game looks like it allows the players to explore and figure out what to do by themselves. Has anyone had a chance to play this game?  How do you think video games can tread the line between art and gaming?

Games about Games

We’ve been thinking about what makes a good game design in our Gamestar Mechanic competition. In light of that, I’ve discovered this list of metagames. Some are just abusive like Desert Bus, where you have to drive a bus from Tuscon to Las Vegas for eight hours. Some are minimalistic like Don’t Shoot the Puppy, which is a game of inaction where you try to follow the instruction in the title. My favorite is The Onion‘s parody of violent video games, Close Range–a first person shooter where all of your enemies appear right in front of you. While most of them are amusing, they all challenge some element of game mechanics or design.

A great game design essay.

Raph Koster’s essay on the fundamentals of game design is a classic, and a good read for everyone who thinks about design to encourage participation and/or learning. (That’s right, I’m looking at you!)

If you don’t know about Raph, he was the lead designer behind the classic Ultima and Star Wars Galaxies games, and is author of A Theory of Fun.

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