Nostalgia: The Last Ninja (Commodore 64)

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The Last Ninja Intro. Screen, Image Source: http://www.lemon64.com

So watching TMNT: Out of the Shadows got me thinking about other “ninja” related things that I’ve enjoyed and one of those was an old C-64 game called the Last Ninja.  It may have been out on other computers/platforms, but I played it on the C-64 and had a blast.  It was an isometric adventure game and there were simple elements of combat and exploring (and some slight puzzle elements in figuring out how to defeat traps and barriers in order to progress).

The main character was a ninja (dressed in full ninja garb–which would have been like catnip to me during my teenage years).  The game, as I remember it, was both fun and hard.  You lost life quickly in battles and in the devious traps laid out by the designers.  Taking a trip through the game’s manual, I see that there are six levels in total.  I think I only ever made it to level 3 and I’m not really sure to be honest (I may have only made it to level 2).  I seem to remember completing level one a couple of times, but as I recall, it was a very rare occurrence.

In many ways, this game was the “Dark Souls” of the day.  It was insanely difficult, but it was so beautiful that I would often come back to it again and again to try my luck at it, hoping that “this time, it would be different and I could get deeper into the game’s levels.”  Most of the time that didn’t happen–the dragon trap on the first level was particularly insidious–but every now and then I managed to have a good run.  Perhaps The Last Ninja–and other games like it–are the reason why I don’t play Dark Souls today; perhaps I’ve sated myself on ridiculously hard experiences while gaming and I’m looking  for things that are fun to play (which isn’t to The Last Ninja wasn’t fun, but it was very frustrating, much like the Dark Souls games are today).

The game was published by Activision and had several sequels (which, as I didn’t buy/subscribe to gaming magazines back then due to a limited allowance, I didn’t know about until the rise of the internet).  I probably would have bought the sequels had I known about them, but it surprises me that Activision has never tried to modernize or bring back this old series (if they indeed do hold the rights) like Ubisoft did with the Prince of Persia series.  While game development has perhaps passed The Last Ninja by due to exorbitant budgets and massive development schedules, I’d love to see what an open-world ninja game might look like–something like Assassin’s Creed, or something totally different that we can’t even conceive at this point in gaming?  It’s interesting to speculate, but if nothing else, discussing this game was a fun trip down memory lane.

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Mass Effect Andromeda, Glitches

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Image Source: Gamesradar

So, remember when I said that Mass Effect Andromeda has some odd design choices–well, it also has glitches.  I’ve seen the effects of rushed games before Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was particularly bad (the patches for Assassin’s Creed Unity, however, made the game quite stable and glitch free, but Syndicate was just as buggy and crash-prone as Mass Effect Andromeda.  Here are two fairly egregious examples:

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This glitch came about when I was on the ice world of Voeld (?) and I happened across to “Resistance” fighters who had been “fused” together into one animation rig (take a close look at the aliens head, arms, and legs).  They “phased” in and out of each other but had two heads and you could clearly see that their bodies overlapped one another to create a “Double-headed” character.  Again, with more time in development this would have probably been caught by the Q.A. testers and put on what’s called a “glitch” list to be patched out either before the game shipped, in a day-one patch, or in a successive patch released down the line.

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The second glitch I want to highlight came about on the desert world of Kadara where a “raider” was supposed to be running at me firing her weapon.  However, this was kind of hard for her to do as neither of her arms worked correctly and were twisted out to her sides.  Her running animation also did not trigger, so she just “hovered” around the surface of the planet as if she had invisible skates.  It was both pretty funny and pretty painful considering that I spent the full asking price for the game.  Again, this is something, with enough time, that could have been seen and fixed before release.

EA, Anthem (another BioWare Game) and Quality Control

So what happened?  EA, the publisher of ME:A had another game by Bioware the company that made ME:A under development (Anthem).  Anthem is one that they are positioning to be a competitor to Destiny, a rival game from rival publisher.  This is where much of the focus went.  This new game was developed by a different “division” of Bioware, has a huge focus in terms of resources and talent, and more importantly was working towards a fixed schedule in terms of release date–2018.  EA also has another big game, Star Wars Battlefront II, in which they’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and marketing in coming out Fall of 2017.  So for EA to have done the right thing by consumers by delaying ME:A would have affected the publishing schedule of these two other games in the pipeline.  So they chose to release a game that was “not fully baked” because they didn’t want to impact the sales of these other two games.  So, in essence, EA sacrificed the fans of the Mass Effect brand in order to satisfy the fans of the Star Wars brand and to “win” (or at least make in-roads) against the fans of their rival in business (i.e., Activision and their game Destiny) having built up this fan-base all through the Playstation 3/X-Box 360 era of gaming.

Now I am a Star Wars fan, still a Mass Effect fan, (& based on the trailer) I will probably be an Anthem fan, but I’m no longer a fan of EA.  Doesn’t mean that I won’t buy EA games, but it does mean that I will be both more selective in the EA titles that I buy and I will be sure to wait both on reviews and patches on EA products.  I will probably no longer buy EA games immediately simply because I cannot trust EA as company to have my best interests as their customer at heart–ME:A proves that EA is more committed to sticking to their production schedule and releasing a game that isn’t fully polished just so they won’t risk cannibalizing sales of upcoming products–ME:A needed 6 more months of polishing, but that would have put it in and interfered with their plans for Star Wars Battlefront II and that is NOT the way a company should treat its customers.

Think I’m the only one who feels this way?  I’m at least committed to finishing the game.  Check out YouTuber gamermd83 take on why she “left” ME:A and why the game was such a disappointment to her.

Player Unknown Battlegrounds

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Two combatants with guns square off with one another. Image Source: Crave Online

I won’t get too carried away talking about games exclusively, but I will take a moment to highlight a game that has taken the “hardcore” gamer by storm.  You’d think it would be Zelda and/or the Nintendo Switch based on the amount of coverage that the media is giving both the game and the system (and while they are fun and/or unique), it is Player Unknown Battle Grounds (PUBG–known affectionately as “Pub–Gee”) that currently has the hardcore gamers’ attention.  It is coming to the consoles, but right now it is only available for computers.

What is PUBG?  It is a game where approximately a hundred players are all dropped on an island and must fight it out in a huge Battle Royale until there is only 1 player/team remaining.  You can have up to 4 players on a team and while they just added a first person mode (as if you are looking out the characters eyes), the game normally features characters in the 3rd person mode (as if you watching the character on a movie screen).

The actual design of the game is actually pretty ingenious–I’ll have to give it to the designer.  The map is not quite an open world–it is a fairly large island “sandbox” that has trees, scrubland grass, and buildings.  There are a couple of named areas such as towns, but there are also smaller areas such as “The Barracks,” etc., and other deserted buildings.  Players drop onto the island without any weapons and must scavenge weapons and gear from the deserted buildings.  What is so brilliant about the game however, is the design mechanic of an “electrified shield” that slowly restricts the play area every 2 minutes or so, forcing the remaining players into an ever smaller playing environment until there is only 1 winner.

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A character parachutes into the map.  Image Source: Business Insider

I have seen “streams” pop up from more and more gamers as they play solo or with teams of friends/acquaintances in order to be number 1 and earn the game’s virtual prize of the catch-phrase “Winner, winner, Chicken-Dinner.”  While this game my not be a media darling like The Switch or the newest Zelda game, it is most definitely part of the gaming zeitgeist of 2017 and its design mechanics will surely be used (filtered) into other games in the future which is why I would have liked to have been able to talk about it during my Digital Rhetoric class.

Well, that’s all from me–I’m off to work on my project on Virtual Reality for the aforementioned Digital Rhetoric class–who knows, maybe eventually there will be a Battle Royal Virtual Reality simulator one of these days.

Nostalgia Time: In Search of the Most Amazing Thing & Snooper Troops

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Screenshot: Man jet packing to B-Liner Balloon Ship.  Image Source: Myabandonware.com

So, I won’t bore you but my Digital Rhetoric, while discussing the importance of old Commodore 64 code and the like, wasn’t too interested in my ACTUAL working knowledge of the C64 and its “affordances” (fancy, two-bit academic jargon that means advantages) of the software that I had as a child (& what helped shaped me into the person I am today).  I’m going to take a moment (probably on Mondays, though they may appear on other days) to just quickly go through some of the quirkiest and/or most relevant software and relate how they might apply to today’s world.

Two games that I remember that were the strangest and most intriguing games that I ever got for the C64 were by the same company–Spinnaker Software.  They were called In Search of the Most Amazing Thing (ISotMAT) and Snooper Troops (ST).  While I have the manual for ISotMAT, I don’t have the manual for ST–I can’t remember if ST was bundled in or if it was stuck in the ISotMAT box accidentally (things like that did happen in the early days of software), or what, but I remember that they came together, but that we (my uncle and I) had to figure out how to play ST whereas we had the manual for ISotMAT.

ISotMAT was sort of a “sci-fi” game in a world underneath/beneath the “real world.”  Fraggle Rock was a new and different thing at the time and it had that same “Fraggle Rock” feel.  I remember that it took a while to figure out how to play ISotMAT, but once you understood it, you could have a decent amount of fun with it.  The problem with the game is that it was SLOW.  It took forever for the game to “draw” critical systems onto the screen.  Now perhaps this was a limitation of the C64, but I recall a segment where you needed to drill.  The computer had to draw the drill circling down pixel by pixel and then it drilled and you received whatever and then the computer had to retract the drill laboriously again pixel by pixel.  One drilling session could take 5-7 minutes.  I still enjoyed playing the game however.  So much so, that when I couldn’t figure out a way to get to the ending of the game via the game itself, I actually found a way to “List” (view) the game’s code (it was written in BASIC) and I skimmed the code until I found the ending (all on my own, at the age of 9-11 years old, maybe 12, but that’s pushing it, if I remember).  That’s what I wanted to share with the class as it recalled an example in James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy of a kid who wanted to know more about World of Warcraft, so went to online forums, found a binary code reader, and began to read and manipulate WoW’s code.  Gee was suitably impressed by the young man’s “metacognition” and learning strategies.  My classmates, on the other hand, weren’t particularly interested in much that I had to say, so this why I’m sharing this experience here instead.

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Screenshot: Car beside Detective Agency.  Image Source: Myabandonware.com

ST was a mystery game and I daresay that I liked it as much, and perhaps a little more than ISotMAT.  When done right, I actually like mysteries as a genre, but only in certain instances.  I’ll try to remember to do a post on the rise and fall of my love of mysteries in another post, but ST allowed you to be a detective and it was something that my child self really gravitated to.  It even allowed you to drive a car from house to house as you checked out clues and again, you had to take into account your speed and braking distance, or you could overshoot your target house.  While the game was presented abstractly, the modeling of certain real-world concepts was something that helped child me learn and engage with the world through play in a meaningful way–which is what Gee’s book is all about.

I found two YouTube videos showing ISotMAT and ST.  Now, they’re not the correct format (i.e., C64 version) that I played, but even on different systems they still give you an idea of what the games looked like if you’re interested:

In Search of the Most Amazing Thing

Snooper Troops

Well, that’s it for my trip down memory lane for today–thanks for listening/reading.  I appreciate it.

Sometimes the Bear Eats You :(

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To say this weekend has been a total and utter loss would be pretty accurate.  I had a big project to do and to turn in for today, but little did I realize the amount of crap that life has in store when you are only trying to do the right thing.

Car: First on the list was my car.  I went in for a simple oil change, but the check engine light came on, so I asked if they could check it, but a full diagnostic was over a hundred dollars, far more than my meager budget would allow.  They did give scan the computer and my car has some serious issues that I’m going to have to repair as soon as possible.  I asked them how much they charged to fix a slow leak in a tire and they said they’d do it for free, but then they recommended I replace the tire (I was going to do it when I got the other work done), and since I didn’t replace the tire, they apparently didn’t plug the leak as I had to fill it with air before my drive to school.  That was my Saturday done and dusted.

Project: So I have a project where I have to remediate (change media) of a book that I read for class.  The book was on video games and learning and literacy, and I decided to do screenshots and short video clips to illustrate the book’s points, so it was just playing games all weekend.  Well, yes and no as I had to specifically look (or set up) game play elements matching the scholarship for the book.  Not to say it wasn’t fun, but there are games that I needed to play for the assignment that I wouldn’t have played normally and vice versa.  The PS4 let me save screenshots and clips and then transfer them to a USB drive, but that was my Sunday.

Student Loan: So, Monday was assemble the project, right? Nope–student loan issues came to fore.  I won’t bore you with the details, but needless to say I had to seek alternate funding after a loan that I was approved by my bank for was nixed by MTSU at the last minute.  I spent most of Monday afternoon in a loan office and then had to drive up to school after dinner.  I’ve had 3 hours of sleep and I worked on and finished my project at about 4:00 am this morning (Tuesday).  So, everything’s copacetic, right?

Project x2: Well, it would be if I could actually send the professor the project.  I can’t!  It is 2.95 GB in size, far larger than most email programs will handle.  Free Dropbox access tops out at about 2 Gigs and their are places that will handle large files, but they are “sketchy” at best.  OneDrive will handle 15 GB, but when I tried to upload it, the time-frame was 3 hours.  So I’ve got this nice, multimodal Presentation with screenshots and video clips and a podcast, and no way to get it to the professor.  As I type these words, I’m trying to get it on to a flash drive, but the program is still working even after over 30 mins and I think that it is frozen.  I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do.  It’s here and finished and I want to send it to him, but I can’t and it is so frustrating!

VR Hype!

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Image Source: UploadVR

So this post is late for a reason–I went to the MTSU’s Library and to their Maker Space and scheduled time to use their VR Headsets (for a presentation on technology on Wednesday).  I scheduled 1 hour with Oculus Rift and 1 hour with the HTC Vibe.  These are 2 of the 3 VR Headsets that are currently on the market and after today’s demonstration, I want to get a PSVR (Playstation VR Headset).

It was incredible!

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Image Source: Bestbuy

I tried Oculus Rift first and this was the best starting point.  It allowed me to get used to the VR space.  It is mostly a visual and auditory experience.  It is true and full 3D VR, but movement in the demos was limited.  You can mostly stand in one area or move one or two steps to see all of the content.  The content is fully 3D and moves all around you so that you can look up, down, around, and behind you.  I saw several demos that were really immersive.

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Image Source: YouTube

Moving on to the HTC Vibe, it has a headset like the Oculus Rift, but it also has handsets that are tracked in realtime by two cameras and it allows you to have space to move around and this really opens up the “play” environment.  I was able to look at spaces, but I was also able to look in spaces as well.

Whereas Oculus Rift shows you the potential of VR, the Vibe allows you see how that potential will be realized once the technological limitations are addressed.

I’ll talk more about VR in upcoming post, but I just wanted give a quick impression of these two VR systems.  They look really awesome and change the nature of the interactive experience.  I’m looking forward to getting a PSVR sometime in the near future!

True Story–Most People Don’t Finish Games

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Image Source: Gaming.Wikia.com

Recently, I’ve talked about games growing in scale.  Games are getting longer and longer, and games are becoming a “service” rather than a “product.”  Game publishers feel that this is the way to combat ballooning development costs/budgets and maximize profits, but right not, games are mostly a cinematic, narrative-driven genre.  Games, for the most, tell stories.  There are exceptions (a notable one is one of the most popular games currently out there–Minecraft), but for the most part games tell stories.  But there is a problem with this model.

Most people don’t FINISH the games that they buy.

Think that is an exaggeration?  I’ve recently put a lot of time with Mass Effect Andromeda and looking at the Trophy data (Trophies/Achievements) on their respect platforms.  As most games are narrative based, most games include data on the percentage (%) of people getting the trophies/achievements for the various story milestones and the data is more than surprising–it is almost shocking.  As someone who tries diligently to finish (see the ending credits roll) for the games that I buy, I’m always surprised by the low completion of the story modes in games.

Except for the earliest trophies in the game, which are usually anywhere in the 90-80 percentile, as you get deeper and deeper into the game, the percentages fall, sometimes precipitously.  For instance, ME:A has a trophy for completing what appears to be the middle of the game (Madera, the 4th major planet–the 3rd that you can put an outpost on).  The world before has a trophy completion rate in the 70 percentile range.  The trophy for Kadera is in the 30 percentile range.  This is a drop of 50%.  That means half of the people who bought the game stopped playing (for whatever reason) before the midway point.

Now here’s the problem, go to a Trophy Ranking site like PlaystationTrophies.org (or the X-Box equivalent) and you’ll find similar stats (maybe not as dramatic), but nearly every game that has a narrative, there is a decrease in the percentage of players earning trophies/achievements as the narrative progresses.

As games like Overwatch, Destiny 2, and now Anthem, embrace this game as “service” model, new narrative modes, or new ways of delivering narrative are going to have to devised in order to keep players attention and keep them invested in the game delivery platform.