Monday, September 15, 2008

Spore, Braid & Nintendogs...

First, Nintendogs. I broke down and bought Liza (and I) a DS Lite the other day. I thought it might be more relaxing for her than playing games on her huge MacBook Pro. And I know there are a ton of great games available for it. And I am somehow hoping that I find time to do some DS gaming myself.

Sadly Nintendogs wasn't very accessible as a game. It mostly entailed a lot of yelling at the screen, having the game tutorial break on us (we couldn't progress no matter how hard we tried), and searching the manual for the cheat code to delete the save games so we could start anew. Thankfully, Liza now has a Corgi puppy that is somewhat trainable -- but it shouldn't have taken a thorough reading of the manual and the tedious reverse engineering required to figure out things like "2 syllable pet names work better than monosyllabic names".

We're going to have to borrow some other games or else the DS is going to just sit and gather dust. 

Braid has continued to amaze me. I think that one of the levels (where you have a shadow version of yourself) is too mindblowing for me to ever complete without cheating, but I actually believe I might solve the rest of the puzzles with perseverence. And not just because of masochistic or obsessive-compulsive behavior. It's actually quite pleasurable to try and work out the puzzles even if requires being "stuck" for long periods of time as I try to reverse engineer the level. The game is really making me realize that I need to think more deeply about what it means to be "stuck" and under what conditions this becomes frustrating and leads to quitting vs. when it is OK and actually motivates me to engage in deeper, intensely pleasurable, problem solving behavior.

Spore had me going for a while. After conceding that world exploration and creature upgrades were fun enough to outweigh unsatisfying combat (impossible to tell friend-foe in the heat of battle; impossible to select your guy; impossible to run away when you're about to die), I wasn't prepared for how frustrating the RTS portion of the game would be. Combat was somewhat unmanageable and unexciting when I only controlled one creature. It was completely unmanageable and frustrating during the "Tribal" stage of the game. The camera and controls were part of the issue, but there was an even bigger issue with friend-foe detection and selection. It was impossible to manage my units in any strategic fashion and inevitably we were killed off time and time again. I tried to figure out the social game mechanics of the game (which were kind of fun to play with at the creature level) but found myself puzzled and lost.

I'll probably fire it up again at some point as I'd like to explore more of the features and progress through the game. I am also curious to see how the social and community aspects of the game continue to develop:
  • Will there be socially connected instances or places to hang out? Will there be a deeper guild or alliance system?
  • Will there be mods -- puzzles or scripted scenarios that tell a narrative or provide some other guided experience?
  • Will there be a better way to streamline the discovery of cool new community content and provide rewarding feedback to quality content contributors? I left a comment for some guy who created a creature I befriended (and that became an effective tank for me) but I never heard back. Nor do I know whether he benefitted in any way by getting a note of thanks from me.
In some ways Spore reminds me of Impossible Creatures. The idea (custom creature creator + RTS) sounds great and yields some fun units to play with. But, ultimately, the game suffered because it just wasn't that fun to play.

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