Our Properties: Gamasutra GameCareerGuide IndieGames GameSetWatch GDC IGF Game Developer Magazine GAO

Recent Comments

  • Mao Paulus: Sharon, I do think that you have missed the point. Ernie is trying to say that the current administraion has to destroy everything that makes read more
  • Drum and Bass: who ever did this remix is bad asss http://youtu.be/4EOmY4Bw188 read more
  • fort90: Oops. It's been fixed, thanks! read more
  • Adam: The best Gremlins game I ever played (not that there were that many to begin with) is Atari's rendition of it on the Atari 5200. read more
  • farcodev: So know to listen bjork you need an iThing, well the hipsters will like it for sure (and apple too) read more

About GameSetWatch

GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

Read More

Column: Defying Design

Defying Design: The Safety Net

May 2, 2011 12:00 AM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column analyzes the role of save systems.]

Games are a strange activity. It's something we do for leisure, but when our progress is lost it suddenly becomes "work" to reclaim it. On the whole, games have become increasingly generous with what we have to repeat upon failed attempts.

In the olden days, losing a game of Contra meant we'd have to start all the way back at the beginning. Mega Man had a password system, but it didn't help when the entire final third of the game was lumped together under the same code.

Having recently played Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes HD I was delighted to learn that I could save between each and every battle (except for a couple late game bosses). Had Persona 3 included such a feature I probably wouldn't have given up after losing the better part of an hour's progress to an ill-timed random battle. Initially, I felt like this was such a good idea that all games should allow the option to save at anytime.

Of course, these absolutes are always followed by a string of exceptions.

The ugly side to being able to save at any time (i.e. quick-saving) is that it reduces challenge and tension. If you know death is not the end there's little reason to play cautiously since you'll only be sent back a short ways upon failure. After all, a man with nothing to lose has nothing to fear.

Defying Design: Curiosity Killed the Player

April 19, 2011 12:00 PM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column examines games with unexpected consequences.]

There's a moment in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker when I entered a rich man's house full of extravagant vases. After nearly two decades of smashing ceramics to collect whatever goodies lay inside them, I instantly did the same here. In the Zelda universe these things respawn after a loading screen, so it's a victim-less crime, right?

Wrong. Upon leaving the residence the owner came out and chastised me for my vandalization and forced me to reimburse him for the damages at a costly 20 rupees a vase.

Rather than get angry, I smirked. You got me! Job well done.

It was a harsh punishment (or rather it would have been if money wasn't so easy to come by in that game), but it was completely fair. I hadn't been thinking about my actions and this was a clever way to punish me as well as poke fun at the rest of the series.

Defying Design: Bait and Switch

March 30, 2011 12:00 PM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column takes a look at games that dramatically alter their mechanics in the third act.]

I loved Splinter Cell: Conviction until I hated it. For most of the game it was an accessible (if divisive) take on the stealth genre, mixing tactics and shooting into a quick-paced adventure.

Levels were somewhat open with multiple routes inviting players to shimmy around ledges and crawl though windows before silently taking enemies out from behind. Silenced pistol ammo was an unlimited resource, so shooter veterans could go about popping enemies in the head if they were alone. Even if Fisher was spotted, he could slip away in the shadows and take out the opposition by force before hiding again.

About a two-thirds of the way the game everything changed. The level design shifted to aggressively linear paths with no room for deviation. Enemies traveled in groups, so there was no way to take out more than a few at a time without alerting the rest of the squad.

Worse, none of the lights could be shot out -- something absolutely essential for sneaking. These levels didn't even make sense as Fisher, an agile soldier adept at climbing, couldn't crawl over waist high shrubbery. It was no longer an action/stealth hybrid, but rather a straight up third-person corridor shooter, and not a very good one because Fisher would go down after a scant few shots.

This is by no means an isolated case. Lots of games switch up their focus too much in the third act leaving a sour aftertaste.

Defying Design: The Bodyguard

March 8, 2011 4:33 AM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column investigates the role of female AI partners.]

In Knights Contract, players assume the role of Heinrich, an immortal executioner tasked with protecting a witch named Gretchen. Gretchen is a powerful sorceress adept at casting devastating attack spells, yet she regains health in the most implausible of ways; being held by Heinrich.

Regenerating health while resting makes sense, but there's no reason this should only occur when cradled in his arms. This is doubly ridiculous when in later levels player's control her and she's able to convert her "witch points" into health -- an option that wasn't available previously. Buddying up with an immortal soldier is a sensible move, but this implausible mechanic gives off uncomfortable, sexist vibes. 

Knights Contract is only but the most recent in a long line of games about males protecting females. When this is handled poorly, it can be annoying and offensive. While at worst your charges are a misogynistic burden, at best they function as partners, who use their mechanics to enhance their character's relationships without being helpless.

Ninja Theory's recent Enslaved paired hunchbacked hunk, Monkey, with protecting Trip, who's grafted a slave crown on his head to ensure that he follows orders. If he doesn't, he gets shocked, and if she dies, he dies too.

This could have been a recipe for disaster leading to yet another story of a whimpering woman who can't take care of herself without a beefy protector. Rather than make her an empowered, badass warrior, Ninja Theory gives Trip other talents; notably brains.

Not only is she tech savvy and resourceful -- creating decoys and hacking doors -- she's aware of her shortcomings and does what any sensible person not trained in the art of combat would do when faced with killer robots; she hides. This way she seldom hinders the player from a gameplay perspective, nor is she a damsel in distress.

Defying Design: Have it Your Way

March 7, 2011 12:00 PM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column explores innovative ways at tailoring a game's difficulty towards players.]

If you've never been to a Chang's Mongolian Grill, here's how it works: You grab a plate and fill it with raw meat, veggies, noodles, and a sauce of your choosing. Afterwards, you bring it to one of the chefs who cooks it right in front of you on a giant sizzling tray. With any luck your concoction will turn out well.

Every time I go I have the same reaction; I don't know how to assemble my ingredients for maximum yums. If left to my own devices I'd bury my platter in shrimp and leave no room for veggies and the results would be curiously bland. That's one of the core benefits to eating out; the chef presumably knows what they're doing because I sure as hell don't.

Games follow a similar protocol. With some games what you see is what you get, but others allow you to tinker to your heart's desire, whether you know you're doing or not.

A notable example of this is the "player tailoring" system employed in Tomb Raider: Underworld. Players are given options to determine: Lara's ammo capacity, how easily she gets hurt, the length of time the players have to react to her losing her grip as well as more basic HUD tweaks like removing hint or button prompts.

This gave players ample opportunity to tailor their own experience. Eric Lindstrom, creative director on Underworld, said in a Gamasutra interview, "I believe that there should be the latitude for people to be able to personalize it and emphasize the type of play that they wanted." This way players who enjoy puzzle solving but hate combat can focus on the former and downplay the latter.

Much like the Mongolian Grill, I found these options overwhelming and instead left them all to their default. Lindstrom admitted, "People are not in the business of designing games. They're in the business of playing games," so player tailoring was easy enough to ignore for those (like me) who just wanted to get straight into the meat of the experience assuming the default settings would be well thought out.

The options were certainly appreciated, but without a designer's recommendation it felt too overwhelming to mess with beyond the most basic changes. In short, I didn't want to ruin the soup.

Defying Design: The Notebook

February 17, 2011 12:00 PM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column examines how note-taking enhanced the Zelda series on the DS.]

To crib a phrase from Tracy Morgan, “I like Okami so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.” Though that might not the best idea, because its offspring, Okamiden, hasn't inspired a lot of confidence with my me based on my brief time with it at trade shows.

Aside from the ludicrous premise, (starring the children of characters from the first game who were never mentioned at all, despite only taking place nine months on), I was mostly disappointed that it stripped away the dual analogue sticks and gobsmacking graphics, and added... not that much.

Even the obvious addition of a touch screen to draw commands with the celestial brush was underwhelming since the action takes place on the non-touch sensitive top screen, meaning you have to wait a second for the action to drop down to the bottom screen. In short, it didn't seem to bring anything new to the table.

Curiously, Okami's obvious inspiration, the Legend of Zelda series, adapted to Nintendo's touch-screen handheld in a far more innovative way. As much as I appreciated the new controls for combat and item usage that all could have been done with a d-pad and buttons, albeit less efficiently. What really caught my fancy, and makes DS Zeldas stick out from the pack, is the unique ability to scribble your own notes.

Defying Design: Scare Tactics

January 31, 2011 12:00 AM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column takes a look at how horror games have evolved their controls.]

Ever had a dream where you're in imminent danger, but your legs are too heavy to run away? That's how I felt playing Resident Evil. Hitting left to rotate and up to walk towards the screen was completely unintuitive.

Making matters worse, I'd have to recalibrate my senses every time the fixed camera would shift position. "Move left, no wait YOU'RE OTHER LEFT! No Jill, don't run into the armoire! Go AWAY from the monsters. Ah hell..." 

It's commonly believed that the goal of this backwards design was to emulate the sense of panic one would have when confronted by the unknown. While sensible, it's a personal preference whether you can handle that kind of agitation while scrambling for your life. In the last decade however, horror games have found more intuitive ways to restrict players.

Resident Evil 4 shifted the camera behind the player's shoulder but retained its stodgy movement, disallowing you to move and shoot at the same time. This was a sticking point for many. Not only did it run contrary to how other third-person shooters controlled, it was unrealistic since you can move and shoot simultaneously (if not accurately) in real life. This was especially ridiculous when you had to stand perfectly still to start swiping monsters with a hunting knife. 

I'd argue that this worked brilliantly in conjunction with the equally limited AI. The infected would sprint towards you (ala 28 Days Later) until they got about 10 ft away at which point they'd slowly shuffle forward (ala Night of the Living Dead). They'd tend to surround you, so you'd have to find a gap -- either by blasting them away with a shotgun or shooting their legs, bringing them to their knees -- allowing you to break free from their ever-dwindling radius. Once far enough away you could make a quick 180 degree turn and start shooting them until they'd surround you and the process would start again. What made RE4 so intense was that you were frequently surrounded yet had just enough time to methodically aim your shots so long as you didn't panic, which was much easier said than done.

If you were able to move and shoot simultaneously it would have lead to a lot of circle strafing and the enemies would be pushover unless their AI was tailored for this change. This was implemented in the similar Dead Space, and resulted in a quicker-paced action game where I was too busy shooting to feel any sense of dread.

Defying Design: I Don't Know What Came Over Me

January 13, 2011 12:00 AM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column takes a look at the relationship between playable characters and their controllers.]

Any playable video game character, no matter how developed, is dependent on a player's input. Red Dead Redemption's John Marston may my a caring man, but that won't stop me from possessing his body to hogtie people, throw them over his shoulder, then bring them back to his place and slit their throats just for kicks.

Even a relatively scripted game like Half-Life 2 can be subjugated by hopping on top of Alyx's head while she's trying to talk to me about the fate of the world. While most games ignore this relationship between player and player character, others embrace it by having character's respond to their controller's actions.

This kind of relationship makes up the core of Deadly Premonition's protagonist, Agent Francis York Morgan, whose multiple personality, Zach, is controlled by the player. For example, when York emerges from a car, he'll say "Zach, did you want to have a look around?" Deadly Premonition recognizes that a videogame character is occupied by two minds in one body, so it makes sense that these two distinct personalities -- one created by the developer, and the other by the player-- should have a conversation.

This isn't a new concept, though. Point-and-click adventures are unique because the player character responds directly to the person controlling them. In The Secret of Monkey Island, for example, Guybrush would give his thoughts on situations, yet he wouldn't act unless prompted. Guybrush is very cryptic with his knowledge, never outright telling you what possible outcomes he's pondering. 

As a result, I didn't feel like I was playing as Guybrush as much as I felt like I was hanging out with him, whispering in his ear some things I thought might be funny or useful for him to do. 

Curiously, this fourth wall breaking never felt like it broke the immersion for me. It didn't feel like he was responding to the disembodied spirit that is the player as much as responding to his own haphazard thoughts and realizing "hey, wait. That's a terrible idea!"

Defying Design: Epic Mickey's Epic... Success?

January 2, 2011 12:00 AM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column cues off an earlier one by exploring how Warren Spector and Junction Point's Disney Epic Mickey succeeds at revitalizing the Disney brand to a new audience.]

While Disney Epic Mickey certainly has its share of failures, it's not all bad news. One of game creator Warren Spector's primary goals with the game is to honor Walt Disney's legacy and make Mickey Mouse culturally relevant again. In this sense, Epic Mickey is a triumph.

The general consensus among reviewers is that you have to be a huge Disney fan to overlook Epic Mickey's flaws. This doesn't take into account that just because you go into the game not a Disney fan, doesn't mean you won't end up one by the time the end credits roll.

Admittedly, I knew very little about Disney's history going in. As someone born in 1983, Mickey cartoons were never readily available to me. I'm sure I must have seen some in my youth, but I'll be damned if I could remember any of them. Embarrassingly, I couldn't even recall if he spoke before asking someone prior to Epic Mickey's release. He starred in short films, right? Where do they even show short films anymore outside of DVD (note: I've since discovered some on youtube, but many are copywritten and hard to find)? Perhaps I should have nagged my parents to shill out for the Disney Channel growing up. At the end of the day, I only had peripheral knowledge of these characters and nothing more.

Most of my knowledge of Disney was comprised of my recent trip to Disneyland this summer. I fell in love with the place immediately for reasons far too numerous to name, but what left the biggest impression on me was the rides: The pitch black skies, French architecture, and warm faux-night air of Pirates of the Caribbean, the ghostly dancing projections in the Haunted Mansion, and the psychedelic thrill of speeding along the stars in Space Mountain (still my favorite).

If you asked me about Mickey, Goofy or Donald, however, my knowledge of them would be limited to employees in plush costumes getting their picture taken with children, and random paraphernalia shaped like Mickey's head. As much as I loved the theme park, it was all for reasons having nothing to do with the early animation from which the studio is founded on. Any desire I had to research this had all but evaporated by the time I returned home.

Epic Mickey, however, did inspire me to look into oldschool Disney cartoons for a myriad of reasons.

Defying Design: Epic Mickey's Epic... Failure?

December 15, 2010 12:00 AM |

['Defying Design' is a bi-weekly GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Jeffrey Matulef analyzing gaming conventions and the pros and cons of breaking them. This week's column explores how choice works (and doesn't work) in Warren Spector and Junction Point's Disney Epic Mickey.]

"Playstyle matters."

It's something Warren Spector has said time and time again about his latest game, Disney Epic Mickey. "Every choice has its rewards. Every choice has its consequences. I try really hard not to judge," he said in an interview with G4TV.com. It sounded good on paper, but didn't follow through on its lofty promises.

In an interview with Gamasutra in July, Spector said:

"In Disney Epic Mickey, there is absolutely no good Mickey and bad Mickey, there is no evil Mickey and righteous Mickey; there is no morality system. There is 'what kind of hero am I?', 'who do I want to be?', 'who should Mickey be?' That's all there is. If anybody sees a judgment in this game, it is an absolute failure on my part, and I don't think they'll find it."

Uh oh. It didn't take long to find this. The very first choice in the game is based around saving a gremlin strapped to a catapult or collecting the treasure weighing it down. Clearly the former is the right thing to do and while Spector may not judge you for your selfish action, Mickey's sidekick Gus the Gremlin will.