Month: November 2013

Abnormal Mapping Episode 2: Swapachu

In the second episode of Abnormal Mapping, Matt and Jackson have breaking news about the new console generation, Matt discovers a beloved franchise maybe isn’t as beloved as he thought it would be, and Jackson hears a question so profound it makes him drop his coffee cup.

You can download the episode HERE.

Here’s all the things we talk about!
Games Discussed at Length: The Swapper and Pokemon X & Y
That cool article about the development of Crash Bandicoot!
How much the new Pokemon cards suck. No, really.

Games for next month are as follows!
The Shivah: Kosher Edition
Vanquish

If you want to get a hold of the Abnormal Mapping duo you can get to us on twitter (@abnormalmapping, @litrock, @tylea002) or email us at abnormalmappingpodcast at gmail dot com!

See everyone again soon!

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Matt and Jackson Burn A Whole Podcast’s Worth of Content in Skype

WARNING SPOILERS FOR THE WALKING DEAD THE STANLEY PARABLE AND A BUNCH OF OTHER NONSENSE

Jackson Tyler: considering making 2014 the “Year Of Game”
Matthew Marko: 2015 Year of the PS3 Trail of Tears
Will a video game make you cry?
Jackson Tyler: Will there be a PS3 game in 2015 that *won’t* make me cry?
I think not.
Matthew Marko: hahaha
Beyond 2 Ghosts–Call of Duty
Jackson Tyler: I love that after the tears jokes, Jake and Sean went and made a game which was lauded for how it made people cry. perfect.
Matthew Marko: And Steve.
Haha, the first game that made me cry was Final Fantasy 8. Games have been art since 1999, so sayeth Spielberg.
Jackson Tyler: Gone Home’s not really a tears game? I mean I guess there’s a couple of moments, especially a few near but not at the end but what makes that so great is how it ends up going in the other direction in the final moments
First game that made me tear up was Star Wars Republic Commando, so I am the worst.
Matthew Marko: I’ve read multiple pieces especially from queer writers who stated that they were moved to tears, and I get it, that experience is not represented in that way at all in games
Walking Dead gave me the ugly tears. And did a year later when I watched my gf beat it.
That game’s ending is a fucking kick in the soul.
Jackson Tyler: Does she shoot Lee?
Matthew Marko: YES.
Jackson Tyler: DAMN RIGHT SHE DOES.
Cut. to. black.
Matthew Marko: Yep.
I didn’t expect that to be the ending the second time, but she did it.
She didn’t choke out the stranger, though.
So I got to see that.
that was interesting
also she cut off the arm
Jackson Tyler: Yeah, Clementine saved me on my run
duh.
Matthew Marko: I didn’t.
Jackson Tyler: whaaaaaat
Matthew Marko: Yup.
We covered this.
Jackson Tyler: I know
but still!
The important question though
Matthew Marko: My reasoning was that Lee was going to turn, and massive traumatic blood loss would kill him faster than a bite.
Jackson Tyler: is the Doug question.
Matthew Marko: Dude no fuck Doug.
Jackson Tyler: get outta town
I know you have an anti doug stance for some reason (boooooooooo)
Matthew Marko: NOBODY SAVES DOUG YOU ARE LIKE IN THE 15% PERCENTILE
I’m actually not anti-doug, I just made the obvious choice at the time.
Doug was nondescript.
Jackson Tyler: True, true.
I still think the story’s a lot better if you save Doug
Matthew Marko: the game basically gives you Doug to kill. I think if I had been less invested I would have picked Doug, because he seems like the anti-story choice.
But I typically play games in the way they lay out to me to start with. I’m not a huge boundary-tester until after the fact.
You don’t want to know how long it took me to figure out the ‘trick’ to Frog Fractions.
Jackson Tyler: I think I saved Doug because I heard everyone saved Carley so I wanted to know
Jackson Tyler: YOU PRESS DOWN
Matthew Marko: WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THAT THE GAME OBVIOUSLY LABELS DOWN AS THE OUT OF BOUNDS ZONE
Matthew Marko: it’s a really interesting example of learning through level design
Jackson Tyler: I totally agree with the thumbs criticism that it’s a huge bummer the game isn’t at all educational
Matthew Marko: yep
The weird thing? I tested left and right and up, but not down.
because that was obviously a bounded part of the ‘map’
I found it by mistake trying to get a wayward fruit.
Jackson Tyler: It took me a while but only like 5 or so minutes
Matthew Marko: it took me like 30
I explored the weird branching flavor text path of buying and unbuying upgrades instead
It’s weird because some games I play in that really directed way and some I don’t. and I can’t really tell how or why.
but like … first time I played Stanley Parable? I just followed the full line of narration to the end.
And it was only then I began deviating.
Jackson Tyler: Stanley Parable’s a little different though because that game is all about deviating,so of course you do it “right” first and then start to mess about
It’s way more up front about the way you can fuck about with it
Matthew Marko: From my experience most people deviate their first run.
Jackson Tyler: At the doors?
Matthew Marko: yep
right from the get go
Jackson Tyler: Huh, okay. That actually surprises me
Matthew Marko: because the human reaction to ‘here’s two doors, go left’ is ‘fuck you, right!’
My reaction is “Okay, follow narrator.” “Okay, follow narrator to the ultimate choice and deviate.” “Okay, follow narrator to penultimate choice and deviate,” etc. etc. I played that game like an OCD person.
Jackson Tyler: That was EXACTLY how I played it first time
(with the mod)
Matthew Marko: haha, yeah. that’s a very critical way of exploring the space, I think.
I found every known ending except the Serious Room, Escape Pod, and Button Heaven. So I think I did all right.
and then when I looked those up I did those!
Jackson Tyler: I found a bunch first time through, but never found the baby game
Matthew Marko: Man that baby game one is INSANE.
Jackson Tyler: I never realised you could drop onto that walkway, didn’t look to that side, missed it somehow
and YEAH OH MY GOD
Matthew Marko: haha, it’s weird for me because on that one I explored branching paths the other way, where the first time in the warehouse I just pitched myself over the edge to my death, then I thought ‘hey, I could probably make that fall’ so I didn’t get to the telephone until nearly the very end.
Jackson Tyler: Telephone was ending #1 of the HD remix for me
Matthew Marko: and I think the two telephone ending paths are maybe some of the most thematically interesting
Jackson Tyler: Picking up the telephone is… yeah. Jeez.
Matthew Marko: Yep. And then unplugging the telephone just goes one step further in examining what real choice actually means.
it’s almost an encapsulation of the entire game.
Jackson Tyler: Did you pick up or unplug first?
Matthew Marko: picked up first
Jackson Tyler: I unplugged, didn’t pick up unti a loooot later
Matthew Marko: picking up is basically ‘choice is meaningless because scripting’ and then unplugging is basically ‘but real choice actually something much more powerful that games are incapable of exploring even in the crazy maze of content that is this game’
Jackson Tyler: Picking up is basically “stop playing this game right now – you are going to die.”
Matthew Marko: Yep.
And then the ending to unplugging is ‘choice is so powerful that you have to leave the game to experience it, even if the game can’t exist without you’
Fuck I love that game.
It’s so good
Jackson Tyler: The credits rolling over that out of body experience is great
I love how much better it gets as it goes along
Matthew Marko: Yeah, agreed.
Matthew Marko: it’s the folding in of the various possibilities that makes it.
Jackson Tyler: Because it’s a joke that should run out of steam early
and when you play it through without making a choice and the “story” is about free will you’re all ‘ha ha, very funny video game about a video game good good well wasn’t that a use of my time’
but it goes sooooo much further and deeper
Matthew Marko: I don’t even think it’s much of a joke. I think ultimately its point is deathly serious. The idea of choice in authored media is ridiculous, especially when it’s so regularly presented as a binary, because the end result of trying to allow freedom is actual just madness, but interaction can take way more forms than just choice.
Jackson Tyler: Oh, it’s not, but it’s very on the nose in a way that if you see that, it’s easy to think “I get this entire game’s point completely”
Matthew Marko: I could see that, but yeah, it definitely peels back more and more layers to that.
If you only see, say, the freedom ending and the madness ending, it probably seems way more simple.
those are kind of the obvious ‘indie games are meta’ endings.
Jackson Tyler: Exactly, yeah
UGH the museum!
I forgot about the museuem
Matthew Marko: instead of getting lost in the subbasement of what’s under Valve games.
I love that ending because it points out the basic problem with choice systems in games with clear narrative path. the minute the player says no the thing is over. that path is only accessible by thwarting the narrator and thus the ‘real game’ at every turn, multiple times, until he finally gets so fed up he basically says ‘you don’t want to play this game? fine, we’ll play something else’ and … oof.
I love it. The weird eternal hell of playing games that you aren’t willing to invest in and thus just hop through.
Jackson Tyler: The baby game ending?
Matthew Marko: yep
Jackson Tyler: Or the museum?
Matthew Marko: baby game
Jackson Tyler: when portal showed up
Matthew Marko: when minecraft showed up
I love that those are the two games.
Jackson Tyler: They’re perfect
One is a game praised for it’s creativity and limitless possibility, and it shows how kinda futile and meaningless an exercise it can be
One is a game that’s the most linear and it shows how just glorified “press button to open door” the puzzles are
Matthew Marko: I also think they’re two of the best games in the past decade.
Jackson Tyler: I would agree
Matthew Marko: the museum to me is weird because I think the third layer of the lady narrator is super interesting and I’d like to explore it more, but the museum is very cool.
I love those things in games.
30 flights and antichamber both have them
Jackson Tyler: (they should put one into Gone Home)
though i guess they just did the commentary
Matthew Marko: I need to listen to that commentary!
I LOVE game commentary.
Jackson Tyler: ITS REAL COOL
Matthew Marko: The portal ones were some of the first really critical level design theory I was ever exposed to.
it was formative.
Jackson Tyler: Yeah, it starts off with stuff liken “this glass is here because otherwise you could shoot through here, and we want the player to go down here to get the cube, so they learn X for two levels down” and it’s really simple with how it explains design theory in accessible terms
Matthew Marko: Yep!
that sort of stuff is a hard thing to learn, I think.
especially if your job isn’t to design levels
Jackson Tyler: I don’t think that at all, it’s not especially complex theory compared to any other areas, it’s just rarely discussed among people that play games.
Matthew Marko: I don’t know if you have played Thomas Was Alone, but the Vita version (and maybe the PC version once the Sony exclusivity window is up?) the DLC has a director’s commentary with it and it’s really honest about the problems of that game’s design in way that’s maybe even more worthwhile than the game it’s about.
Well, I guess what I mean is, it’s a thing that is rarely discussed outside of game makers, and game makers used to be far less accessible about their craft.
Jackson Tyler: Oh, true that
Which ends up being why people judge games based on the story or visuals or what have you, because those are things that people understand how to break-down into good and bad
I get incredibly concious now when thinking about games to always bring it back to the mechanics, listening to idle thumbs and watching the way games are talked about on twitter/forums has done that to me
Matthew Marko: haha that’ll be interesting when we eventually talk about twine games
though it’s not as if twine games are divorced from mechanics.
my CTS piece was almost all mechanical
which surprised me
Jackson Tyler: Exactly, it’s not so much about the proportion of mechanics/story, it’s just a way to frame the reaction to the game
Matthew Marko: I suppose it makes sense. that’s kind of what that Anna Anthropy book says, right? The only reason to use games to say something is because games are systems and thus deal with mechanical rules.
Jackson Tyler: Does TWD do that though? After all, that’s very mechanically lose and it doesn’t exactly deal in explicit mechanical rules.
(Not saying it doesn’t, just curious as to how it fits in)
Matthew Marko: Adventure Games were traditionally always about puzzle design tied into narrative bits. TWD has some of that, though it really cuts out most of the ‘puzzle’ design, but it still contains within it the systems of the branching path. I think the difference is that it obfuscates almost all the ‘rules’ aside from the notifications that your decisions have impact (and you can turn that off) and uses the suggestion of other possibilities you don’t choose to give you the rules of the world. You choose X, but Y and Z also help create the boundaries you experience and the way you perceive the world, and all of those are authored ‘rules’ as to the state of the thing. But yes, it’s much less of a systems based thing. Someone on my twitter feed recently was talking about how video games are ultimate far closer to a play than movies, and I think something like the walking dead really offers that. You have a script, the players are there and following the ‘rules’, but you’re given a possibility space to interact within the choices dictated by the narrative framing.
Jackson Tyler: I felt like I got it more with Sean’s breakdown of the ending possibilities on Tone Control, it’s very similar to just narrative storytelling, but uses interaction not to progress the story, but like you say, just to frame it. But I don’t think it’s fitting neatly into the box of using Systems to say something like say, a cart life or papers please does. I dunno, it’s very interesting and cool because hopefully thees games are only the start of the possibilities of games starting to explore all this other stuff
Matthew Marko: Thinking about it, I was going to say it’s a weird offshoot, but honestly there’s nothing different between TWD and twine games but scope and graphics.
Jackson Tyler: No, it’s a choose your own adventure pretty much
Matthew Marko: And ultimately something really fuzzily narrative like TWD and twine still offer you the same end result of papers please or cart life, just in a less surfaced way. by giving you a situation and having you make decisions within the confines of its system (whether it be insane like cart life or nearly invisible like TWD) you’re given not just a space to make choices, but more importantly a way to contextualize your choices and thus reflect on the themes of the piece and on yourself as a person. I think all ’empathy’ games are ultimately a tool for self-reflection.
And I think that TWD is as much of an empathy game at its core as Paper Please, it’s just in a more commercial, traditional shell.
We’re burning like two podcasts worth of content tonight.
I hope you’re happy.
Jackson Tyler: …darn you’re right.
ALL THIS DETAILED AND INFORMED DISCUSSION
Matthew Marko: It’s pretty good!
( he says as he just C&Ps the skype chat into the tumblr )

Thoughts on Consensual Torture Simulator

image

Warnings: language about sex, specifically relating to BDSM

I played through Merritt Kopas‘ Consensual Torture Simulator today, a Twine game about the player’s experience as a dom walking a submissive partner through a particularly intense session of play, where the balance is set as checking your desire to get your partner to the breaking point she asks you to reach while not actually going to far in inflicting real harm to her physically. It’s steamy, but in a literary, introspective sort of way.

What I found particularly interesting is how well the flow of BDSM activity translates to relatively straightforward game mechanics. As someone who has (TMI all through this, but hey, we’re adults) been in a dom situation regularly in the past in very similar circumstances, the thing that I’ve always said about sexual activity in that context is that responsible dominant behavior and pain play skews towards more heady, thinking-over-feeling ways of approaching sex. One has to balance the physical capabilities of both partners to perform actions, your partner’s capacity to withstand punishment, the emotional state of both parties, and the general flow of achieving your stated goals of a session in as fun and elegant a way as possible.

All that stuff is ultimately (even though I’m loathe to use the word) gamification, down to the slang of calling BDSM (or other sexual activities) play, and what CTS gets right is how it feels in a dom position to choose from a variety of potential actions to get specific feedback from your partner. When my partner is standing there expectantly, and I’m given a collection of verbs, do I start with scratching or do I go straight to the cane? The responses are entirely in the form of physical feedback, so whatever justification of choice you have rests entirely on the player.

( The answer, btw, is a slap to the face, because it focuses the attention and causes the pain-as-pleasure response without overstimulating more sensitive areas that receive later attention. This isn’t a justification that the game cares about, as far as I can tell, but ultimately in this intimate space what you bring to the table as a dom hoping for a positive experience for both parties is as important as how the sub responds to your administrations. )

It’s certainly a situation that could be abused, in that you’re given a character who explicitly states a deep trust in you and are given the means to inflict pain on them. Your sub gives you a safe word, supposedly to use if things get too intense, and your character is given the power to break for some care or even end the session outright at any time. The game then basically hands you the same rules of trust that a submissive partner would hand you in the same situation: here’s the rules, here’s the outs, I trust you to make the most of it.

That’s not a light responsibility, so I couldn’t tell you if  the game has a fail state or not because I didn’t try to see where the situation would break down. This scenario is very close to actual experiences I’ve had, and as a person who has accepted that responsibility in the real world I don’t think I could ever go the other way even in a consequence-free space ‘just to see what would happen’. That the game can trigger that response is both a testament to its writing and to how gracefully CTS mirrors actual BDSM play if you go into it with the appropriate attitude. Which is probably why it’s called a simulator.

Consensual Torture Simulator is a great experience in empathetic games, and if you are interested in playing (it takes less than 20 minutes) you can buy it for a mere $2 at Gumroad or itch.io.

REZ HD

I would really love to do more of these in the future, to create photo sets of games I really like. Might as well start out with one of my absolute favorites, Rez HD. If you have a 360 (and you probably do) and don’t own this, you’ve wasted your entire console. Go fix that.