Female Assassins? – That’s crazy talk

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Sometimes I think that what people are asking for is actually the wrong thing. For example, today’s outcry is on the latest Assassin’s Creed and the possibility of being able to select the main character’s gender.

TL:DR – “We wanted a female character option, but it would have cost you a raid tier”

I understand that in some (most) games you do need the option of choosing the main character’s gender. Those on-screen avatars represent you and your actions in that gaming world. Their story is your story and if you are shoehorned into a shape that doesn’t fit then things rub around the edges. Having said that, not all games are about the gamer. Some games are interactive stories. In those, the gender of the character plays an integral role in the story. You are not the star. You are hitching a lift and offering assistance (or more likely hindering) their story, seeing the world from their perpective.

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You are John Malkovick – Disclaimer, product does not actually turn you into John Malkovich or give you any claim over his life.

Sometime the story is about a particular view, opinion or a specific perspective. In those cases, gender is an important part of the story. The re-imagined Tomb Raider had a star that needed to be female. The Last of Us would have been very different if Joel was not male. In those examples, character gender is very important and non negotiable.

Let’s put it from another way. I would be hard pressed to find anyone that had watched the movie would then be able to make the following statement.

Not being a gay male cowboy, I consider Brokeback Mountain to be an offensive product because they didn’t have a main character to which I could directly relate

Token characters have traditionally been used to offer an audience surrogate to a peripheral demographic, but creating characters with a set appearance through the believe that the audience can only connect with someone that looks like them is offensive too. If a character is important enough to appear in a story then are important enough to have a bit of depth and a character’s gender is often a very important part of their personality. If a character’s gender has any impact on the story then it needs to be fixed and offering a token gender choice weakens the story.

So how would I treat equality in a story driven game and a main protagonist of a specified gender?
Firstly I would give them a balanced support cast of fully developed characters.
Secondly I would make the player a little uncomfortable with the character performing an action in keeping with their personality, but not necessarily what the player would choose to remind them that they are the navigator but not the driver.
Most importantly, I would offer multiple protagonists. In a story based game is the perfect excuse for using a switching point of view. It is a common ploy in books (such as Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire) but would not work on stories that focus on a single character. For those cases I would suggest expansions or sequels that display the world from a different perspective (although I am sure that if Ubisoft announced a female only expansion it would be dismissed as a cynical attempt at at appeasement).

What’s the TL:DR?
If a main character is a surrogate for the player and tells the story of the player’s actions in the game world then a choice of gender is a priority feature for inclusion. If the main character is simply a point of view for the player then being able to select their gender is less important and an inclusive story-line needs to be created through other methods.

Hearthstone – Buying Packs (3 of 3) – Short term gain, long term pain?

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So far we have covered that after playing enough Hearthstone you’ll reach an equilibrium level just before your peak rating where you win as many games as you lose.
Then we discovered that the win rating will actually be below 50% as new players with better cards/ability progress through your ranking but you can get closer to 50% wins by having a higher equilibrium rank and this is achieved most simply by having more available cards. Buying decks will boost your rank therefore bumping up your win percentage by a fraction and on that logic we decided that splashing out on the cash so is a good investment in long term success.
Now I’ll show that might not necessarily be true. Continue reading

Hearthstone – Buying Packs (1 of 3 – We Are All Average)

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Yes, that title does say 1 of 3. I’ll do the rest over the course of this week. Don’t worry, they are all short.

@SvelteKumquat‘s tweet having fun in Hearthstone without spending money, really got me thinking. What is the impact of buying (or not) extra packs? When playing these PvP games, it doesn’t matter what we put into them, eventually we all win half and lose half (unless are so good/bad there are relatively few players in the work at your ability level).

Continue reading

Official WoD Pet/Garrison Feature Announcement

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Please note, the following article contains zero official announcements and is 100% speculation based on one flimsy screenshot.

Since this is my first ideas post for a while, I think I need to link to lots of other blogs to grab their attention. Let the self-publicity commence. I will start at the source which today comes from a post by WoW dev Jonathan LeCraft who gave us a wonderful little pet/garrison teaser tweet this week. I was going to make a comment to @Liopleurodonic‘s Draenor tamer post but my ideas grew to more than just a paragraph so I’m housing it here instead. And my final call goes out to @AlternativeChat who wants her beta and garrisons.

Continue reading

Title – Work In Progress

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I have a problem. I am very good at avoiding work. The Other does this through making lists, but then things have to be done so her procrastination is limited. I on the other hand will write a list of things to do, including details of what I need to do before I can do each item. Then I will avoid doing the item until the prep work is completed. I like to get things right first time, but this has evolved into a need to not get things wrong or skipping stuff entirely. If I am unsure exactly what I need to do things get deferred. Continue reading

What you play is what you get

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I’m not emerging from hiding. This is based on some old draft notes that I had and a post from Tobold about the ESO tutorial stirred up some ideas.

The question emerged, how does one create a starting experience that is representative of the later game-play. Traditionally games start simple and add complexity later. Jumping straight into a fully detailed world with no guidance can be confusing, and that will prevent some people from playing further. That is why the tutorial exists. It provides a quick (or sometimes not so quick), run-through of the game mechanics, often twinned with some sort of narrative to introduce you to the game-world. As a simplified system it works nicely. It also introduces the idea that more mechanics will be added over time as a reward for your progress.

There is fairly large problem with gameplay tutorials. If the game finishes great, but starts with just the bare-bones gameplay there is a great risk that the introduction stage will be the only thing that a prospective player ever sees. Tests and review are rarely based on anything more than the first hour or so of gameplay and that is a deliberately dumbed down version of the end-game. Sometimes the tutorial doesn’t play in a way that is remotely similar to later gameplay. Then people who like the end-game give up before they see it, and those that like the intro stop when everything changes. The first hour is the most important because that is where the attention is grabbed. An unrepresentative tutorial creates an unbalanced opinion on the rest of the game.

The gradual increase of complexity also gives rise to the phenomenon of people saying that the game gets better after level x so you have to grind through those levels before judging it. Shouldn’t the whole experience be fun? I don’t want to do 10 hours of boring grind before I get to see fun.

There are some games I have played recently that use a tutorial yet still give you a glimpse of what things might be light at higher levels.

Cardhunter throws you into combat with a group of high level cards and characters against a powerful foe that you completely blast apart. Dragonage 2 has a similar start, throwing you into the game with a high powered character that blows away the opposition (and introduces one spell every couple of seconds to stop yourself getting overwhelmed with all the new stuff). Both of them give you a taste of future power through their framing narrative. One is explicitly about a game and stated that you’ve jumped ahead towards the end. The other uses the an unreliable narrator he exaggerates the story until he is told to dial it down to more realistic levels. What they have in common is that they give you a short taste of power. They open the door to end-game and say “This is what I am about.” They let players form a more accurate impression of whether or not they will like this game while also allowing for the traditional tutorial introduction to play-style and world-building.

The quick power boost at the start to show you what the future holds is nothing new. Go back 30 years and Mario has stars that give you a short burst of invincibility and let you run through a level with fewer worries (and telling you this is what the game is always like if you get really good at it).

I think somewhere out there games have become so complex that they need to be scaled back for new players, but in doing so we have been left with incomplete games through the learning experience. Is it still possible to create a tutorial that accurately recreates late-game experiences? If not then it becomes hugely important that the game allows for frequent short bursts of power both as a reward to the player and to allow them to get a feel of the “true game” at an early stage.

Taking a Break

Another month has flown by and my play time has expired once more. I have things still to write, but I am not going to blog about in-game plans until I am in a position to test them out.

As a result I’ll be putting the blog into semi-hiatus for a while.

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