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The fog rolled across the desolate fields, consuming everything in its path. It brought with it the smell of burnt flesh, gunpowder, and sweat. The screams could be heard through the mist, familiar screams of humans in pain, dying, mixed with the screams of the aliens, their bloodcurdling hoots ricocheting off the eardrums with a sharp pang. His heartbeat quickened, and the blood began to course through his veins as he approached the cacophony of misery that was the fog. He steeled his nerves, kissed the cross hanging from his neck, and sprinted in.

Am I the only one who wants to know what happens next and what was happening in the first place? The narrative is the ultimate captivating medium to transmit a story.  Reading is universally fascinating (specifically fiction) because it essentially introduces a whole new world to the reader. The reader is introduced to the story but not spoon-fed the details, enabling the reader to engage his/her imagination. This engagement of imagination translates into a captivation with the world that the mind inevitably creates when reading. This imaginary sanctuary takes the mind on new adventures allowing him/her to truly immerse his/her self in the hybrid book/imagination world that has been created.

Videogames and movies are much less effective in engaging and holding the observer. The observer is shown what the world looks like and who the characters are. This diluted version of a book disengages the imagination and helps cultivate a mind accustomed to reduced stimulation.  This is not the way to develop creators, thinker, writers, and other members of the creative community, yet the trend in society seems to be heading towards a lower level brain function at an alarming rate.

Reading cultivates the mind and I hope that it does not die out, to be replaced by the likes of movies and videogames as substitutes. Although they have their place, there is nothing that cultivates the mind better than a good book.

By Aneel Henry

A Modest Proposal: For Preventing End-Users from Being a Burden to Coporations or Their Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through the virtual streets of the internet, to see poor subscribers to online games who occupy a prodigious amount of discussions on many a prestigious forum endlessly gripe about “rights” to which entitlement should be granted by subscription to such online games.  These complaints substantially deteriorate the quality of the great internet environment in which so many participate.  These complainers, who know nothing of the law, who want nothing more than to sew unrest, and whose silver tongues are laced with poison of co-creation and open source, are a grave threat to profit; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these “End-Users” sound, useful members of the internet, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many hours upon this subject, I believe I have come up with a useful solution.  The title of “End-User”, though possibly accompanied by respect and prestige in their respective virtual realms, where meaningless prizes and titles may be won toiling  away for hours on end, necessitates a particular lack of physical activity or productiveness in reality, typically resulting in a certain lack of physical shapeliness.  For casual End-Users the effects may be less pronounced, however still present.  While this lack of physique may be scorned in the mainstream media, I embrace those of this physical stature as pivotal in my proposal.

I have been assured by a very knowing colleague of mine at Blizzard, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled.  And I have undertaken extensive research that shows, coincidentally, that the physical stature of a frequent and habitual End-User is remarkably similar to such a child, and that preparation of such sustenance is indeed delicious and nourishing.  This natural resource we have yet to tap is just waiting for some industrious type to come along and procure its obvious benefits.  Any corporation willing to undertake the following method would effectively crush any dissention, provide sustenance to the families of America and increase its customer satisfaction ratings by untold exponential results.

The first step to be made by any ingenuous corporation would be to encourage their End-Users to willingly, or ironically by agreement in a EULA, submit themselves for beta testing or other promotional activity requiring the End-Users to relocate themselves to a testing facility owned by the corporation.  The corporation should make the End-User feel either that he is being included in a special event, access to which would give him something he thinks he will be able take home and shout in the virtual streets, or, for those less enthusiastic End-Users, that he has an obligation beyond challenge in court to participate in this event by the signing of the EULA.  Once relocated, the End-Users of proper stature for the preparation of nourishing food can be immediately taken care of.  The End-Users of a less desirable fitness (those casual End-Users previously mentioned), however, can be contained in the facility and made to play the game, spending time and money on the game while they ripen to the proper physical stature.  Those corporations that are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) can use the inedible parts for other handy uses and flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.  The corporation will be able to sell any excess food that its workers and their families do not consume.

Any corporation willing to follow these humble recommendations will most certainly find itself in a sea of profit and will swell with pride at the customer satisfaction ratings it receives.

Tyler Gilcrest

(Jonathan Swift + Satire = Win)

Dirty Stinkin Cheaters

For generations gamers have struggled to answer an epic question, what’s the difference between a dirty cheater and a clever exploitive gamer?  To better understand the conundrum we must explore the dark and seedy realm of online gaming.

In the not so distant past Counter Strike, or CS, was the preferred format for competitive gaming.  People dedicated their lives to CS, logging countless hours of playtime.  As a veteran CS player, and CS forum troll, let me tell you that there were two types of people that were universally hated, AWPers and Cheaters.  AWPers were a subset of players who exclusively used the AWP sniper rifle.  The vast majority of AWPers would camp out, overlooking the battle, and take potshots at passersby.  AWPing was an easy way to rack up kills but it required a unique skill set.  On certain maps AWPers would have the opportunity to spawn kill, ending a round in seconds.  There was nothing more frustrating then falling victim to a spawn kill.  AWPers were never respected, but they were not banned for their actions.  AWPing was frowned upon, but the weapon was available to everyone.  AWPers were not cheaters; they cleverly used the in game mechanics to gain an advantage. People would constantly gripe, lashing out at these cheap players but no formal action was taken. Cheaters, on the other hand, were hunted down and exterminated

Certain players used external programs to alter the outcome of online multiplayer matches.  If someone was suspected of using an aimbot (a rudimentary auto-targeting tool) they were immediately booted from the game.  The names of suspected cheaters would be posted in various forums and dedicated moderators would always keep an eye out for the usual suspects.  Cheaters were the lowest of the low; AWPers bent the rules, cheaters broke them.

My experience tells me that in most games exploits are frowned upon but ultimately acceptable.  Glitching isn’t noble but it isn’t a ban-worthy offense.  I don’t respect those who use shady tactics but they are still playing the same game.  When a player changes the game using external exploits they have crossed the line.  Glitchers know the game, cheaters stack the deck.

Zack Goldman

You are a part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor! Take her away!

by: Calvin Patimeteeporn

Concerning the debate between whether either storyline or gameplay is of higher priority, I have been primarily set on gameplay first, storyline second most of my life. With my experience with early games, storyline seemed pretty useless. However, these games were usually those where storyline would probably be a liability or completely unneeded.

TET

“Oh no! If we don’t make these blocks line up the whole world will explode!”

This progressed through childhood. When I picked up the Pokemon games, I would completely fly past any text and mash the “A” button to breeze by any dialogue. All I cared about was leveling up and beating the Elite Four, winning over the evils of Team Rocket seemed completely irrelevant and boring.

But one game decided to help me see the other side of gaming, the storyline. This game was, of course, Knights of the Old Republic. While I was already a huge Star Wars fan, I was still intent on hacking and slashing through sith and evil droids with my lightsaber . However, when I sat down to actually play it, I was captivated by the narrative and story-based gameplay. Each event and how people interact with your character was completely based upon the choices made by the character, or realistically, me. This was a drastic change of mindset from Dr. Mario where shoving pills down people’s throats required no thought (though it really should have).

Looking back, I realize now that the combat and interface system of the game were a little choppy and not as great as they could be, but I never really cared about it because I was captured by the storyline like the Millennium Falcon was trapped by the Death Star’s tractor beam. The game provided the characters with choices to determine the players alignment with the Force. Either help civilians and fight for justice, or succumb to anger and unleash fury upon the galaxy. This struck me as a great example of one of Wark’s passages where he states that “The gamer elects to choose sides only for the purpose of the game.” (Wark, 012). While, normally people don’t think about killing innocent civilians and idolizing corruption (or at least I hope they do not) they are able to choose a different persona and run freely in the gamespace. This is awesome (in short). So, of course I did this too:


“Bow to your new Sith Lord, Darth Vortrag Nefarious”

So thank you Star Wars, I’ve developed a whole new view on gameplay vs storyline. When a game, though the controls and interface may be sub-par, the storyline is completely 100% capable of making up for this liability. This also benefits by helping immerse the gamer into the virtual world, which, sadly, is still just a virtual world and that completely inaccurate Sith Lord version of myself (though very powerful) is still just a figment of imagination within a game. But if a game can make me draw myself as a Sith Lord, it is definitely worthy of my praise and admiration.

You will now have to excuse me, I have a Sith Empire to run.

Assisted Suicide

WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VI.

Grandpa, no!!! You can’t die! What will I do? How will I live? I need you, Grandpa; you’re all I have left on this island. Everyone else is dead! No, no, not you too! Please, don’t leave me!

But, it’s too late. Grandpa…Cid…is dead.  After the cataclysm, we both woke up here, on this island. We…I…won’t have enough food to last much longer. My friends are dead. There’s no one else here. I have no reason to keep living.

Overlooking the cliff, a soft ballad plays in my head. Soothing, in a way. A fitting end to a broken life. A relic of a forever-unrequited love, it will always remain. Locke…no, I don’t think he ever knew how I felt. But that was back when I knew people among the living. They’re all gone now. They…must be waiting for me, right? It’s time to join them.

A brief surge of hesitation flashes through my mind and body. Is this wrong? Too drastic? I take a step backwards. No. I need to euthanize myself from this pain of loss and nothingness. The best hope for my current life is unrelenting agony, assuming nothing else goes wrong. But then again, what can?

Tears well up in my eyes. The music in my head grows louder. It drowns out all else, allowing me one final auditory glimpse of the past. Goodbye, faded memories. Goodbye, remnants of a promising life. Goodbye, world.

I jump.

This scene from Final Fantasy VI, in my opinion, is the single most compelling example of why a video game’s story can be more important than its gameplay, if executed correctly. Once Kefka (the main villain in the game) deforms the world by disrupting the very fabric upon which it is built, we find the rune-knight Celes alone, save for her former mentor, Cid, on a scarred, deserted island. The two become close; Celes takes to calling Cid “Grandpa” since she never really had a grandfather and needs someone to protect her. Unfortunately, Cid is old and frail; he’s dying. Having just presumably lost everyone in her life, Celes’ only goal is to make sure that Cid lives.

The player’s only available task at this point is to go get fish from the ocean and desperately feed them to Cid, hoping he lives a little longer. Apparently, it is possible to come out successful in this task, and allow Cid to live. However, no instructions are given at all with regard to the mechanics of “getting” a fish, and even when you do give Cid one, his condition doesn’t seem to improve. Indeed, it seems almost as though developer Squaresoft didn’t want the player to let Cid live because of what ensues with his death. I lost this mini-game, and Cid perished.

After Celes finishes mourning, the screen fades. On the next screen, you see Celes, now in your control, standing near the edge of a cliff. No words are used; you know exactly what her intentions are. Instinctively, you try to leave the cliff. The game does not allow you to do this, furthering the sense of Celes’ hesitant determination. In the end, you are left with no choice but to walk to the edge of the cliff and press the A button, causing her to fling herself off the ominous peak.

You don’t want to help Celes kill herself, but you know that it has to be done. Inside,  you completely sympathize with her and understand her reasoning. By having you attempt to keep Cid alive in vain, the game creates a perfect sense of futile desperation. By not allowing you to leave the cliff, this sensation is only furthered. Throughout her suicidal decision, you are made to feel exactly as Celes does.

Could this be accomplished by a book or movie? Absolutely not. I am fully confident that only interactivity could elicit feelings like this. Considering my hatred for the very concept of suicide, the fact that the game was able to make me accept its necessity is simply astounding to me. Never have I felt an emotional connection with a fictional character as strong as I felt at the precise moment I pressed that button, condemning Celes to her fate.

It turns out that Celes does not die from the fall, but all the same, the buildup to the jump is one of the most involving virtual experiences I’ve ever had. Getting that Triple Kill in Halo or 5-starring a song in Guitar Hero just does not satisfy after you have experienced this true potential of gaming. To all who claim that the mechanics of a game are more important than the enveloping narrative, I say this:

You never made Celes jump.

-Billy Bunce

Did we forget a gameplay vector?

@====={{\\\Breon Guarino\\\\\\

That’s right, you heard me. I’m a TABLETOP GAMER. You might ask what that entails; you might be utterly confused by the miniatures and dice scattered amongst the half-consumed soda cans and dog-eared manuals. I would answer you, but I am elsewhere.

Where I am, I am the tactical commander of a Blood Angels battle-group. I am watching the auspex readings of a dozen squads of elite Space Marines. I am sending troops loyal to the God-Emperor of Mankind to their deaths in battle; I send them to glory. I speak three words, and thirty jump-packs spin up their turbines, thirty power-armored knights fall from the sky into the main gun-line of the menacing xenos. The foul Eldar have made their last incursion on the surface of this planet, and it will be by my hand and my faith in the God-Emperor that they are driven back. The air is thick with ionized air from the pitifully deficient las-weapons carried by the doomed Planetary Defense Force that held the surface long enough for me and my battle-brothers to arrive by drop pod assault.  We were fired from orbit to bypass the danger of anti-aircraft fire; the blessed sons of the Emperor have arrived to purge the xeno filth from a loyal planet of the Imperium. I hear the bark of my brethren firing .75 caliber shells from their holy bolters, and within short moments I hear the secondary explosions as the bolts penetrate and explode a few inches past the first layer of armor, terrain, or flesh that they encounter. I hear cries of “For the Emperor!” and “Death before dishonor!” I see my brother Chaplains reciting the Litanies of Hate among their squads, fearless in their sable armor, masters of the trade of bringing death and destruction. Streams of plasma and melta-weapons bring down the agile but poorly-armored vehicles of the Eldar, and my Assault Marines have torn through the enemy gun-line in a spray of tainted blood and torn flesh.

Shortly thereafter, my turn has ended, and I pass the dice off to my esteemed opponent with a few comments about the wonderful painting work on his miniatures. I am only human, and I watch my opponent’s vehicles prove their offensive worth against two of my support squads. My opponent doesn’t fully grasp that I’ve allowed myself to be flanked for a reason, though, because I still have some  reserves left, and he’ll be singing a different tune once I melta-bomb his sorry little grav-tanks with my fresh Assault Marines on the next turn.

Sure, I’ll grant that I’m sitting at a table covered in painted plastic terrain pieces. I’ll allow the assumption that all I’m doing is playing a luck-based version of chess. A person who sees only these things does not see the story I am creating with every die roll and with the help of my opponent. My miniatures were painted not too long ago, but the Blood Angels are a venerated Chapter that has been in existence since the 31st millennium. I wage war not upon tabletops with good friends but on distant scattered hell-worlds against horrors that would break the minds of less well-versed humans. The Great Age of Humanity has come and gone three times before the battle on my dining-room table, and I fight in the name of the mighty God-Emperor that only just succeeded in uniting humanity once more before his betrayal by his favorite son among the Primarchs, the Warmaster Horus. I insert myself and allow myself to fall into the grand universe of Warhammer 40,000 like a quarter into a gumball machine. Through my battles and campaigns, I forge new legends and lore against the backdrop provided the backdrop of a cold and uncaring universe in which the only hope for humanity is to abandon the compassion and mercy that makes it humane.

Am I playing 40K (as it is often affectionately known by the fan base) for the tactical struggle? Oh, most certainly. It is engaging to work within the rules that are constructed. At the end of the day, it is an honor to test myself and my good fortune against that of a worthy opponent. I love the feel of a good roll in combat, knowing that my squads’ bolter fire has struck true. I love the suspense of an assault phase during my turn and the triumph of pinning down an enemy squad with well-directed sniper fire. There is a thrill to the process, almost as though my war-spirit was being tested in the same fiery baptism that my miniature battle-brothers go through.

However…I could just be playing chess, or the Star Wars miniature battle game.

I play 40K because the story really hits me. The grim darkness of the 41st millennium is a setting in which humans cannot afford to give or take any respite. Travel through the Warp from planet to planet runs the risk of being devoured in transit by otherworldly daemons too powerful for the human mind to comprehend. It is a unique tactical experience, but it is a purely unique experience in storytelling. It is a meeting and melding of LotR, Star Wars, and the compiled world of Lovecraft, with the finest aspects of each. Each victory comes through a moral fog, because the morality isn’t white/black, gray/black, or even simply gray. Each race is unabashedly disturbing in some aspects, from the dogmatic zealotry of the Space Marines and Ordos Hereticus to the frenzied debauchery of the Dark Eldar and Chaos to the planet-rapes of the Tyranid hive-mind. The depth there to be probed is staggering, and one can only truly appreciate the game through the story. This is why I play 40K instead of chess, when given a choice.

Why do I play 40K instead of the Star Wars miniature tabletop battle game?

I play 40K because a .75-caliber explosive shell punching into your chest and detonating within you will clear up that nasty little case of Midi-Chlorians in a hurry. The Force is a sign of the Taint of Chaos, after all.

How to Play

by Theo Dentchev

A lot of people out there believe there is only one way to play a video game: as the developers intended. These people think that anything not explicitly defined in the game is off limits, and everything has to be done within preset parameters.

Then there are those who believe that there isn’t any one way to play; do whatever works. There are no preset parameters: anything is permissible so long as it doesn’t break the game. Basically, provided that a certain tactic is available equally to all players, if it doesn’t stop the game you can (and should) do it.

The former group would say the latter group is “ruining the game.” I hear it all the time in forums. And it seems like the majority of people belong to the first group. The second group usually consists of a minority, but one which is more dedicated to and knowledgeable about games or a particular game.

So who’s right?

I think the first question that need to be addressed is where does the control of the developers end? Some people tend to treat the game designers as akin to Gods; their word is law and should not be broken. I think that the second group would argue that the developers role ends (in large part) the moment they release the game. From then on the game is in the hands of the players. Essentially, the developers have given us the tools and it’s up to us to decide how we’re going to use them. The developers are not omniscient; they can’t predict every single combination someone out there might try. So naturally there will exist tactics and strategies that they were unable to foresee. And there will also exist exploits of the programming which escaped their notice. Should exploits be used? As I noted earlier, the stance for the use of exploits would be that as long as everyone has equal access to them and they aren’t game-breaking they are fair game. People against them would say it’s somehow immoral or unethical; it’s cheating. But is it? What’s the difference between abusing a programming oversight and using a strategy which the programmers didn’t foresee? The answer is there is none. And in the case of the latter that first group of people will use a different word to describe it: cheap. It goes hand in hand with cheating, since both aren’t “honorable” ways to play.

I think perhaps that is somewhat motivated by the fact that in competition, PvP, players don’t like to lose, and channel that resentment towards the tactics of the player. Rather than admit they were responsible for their own defeat, some people would rather be in denial and lash out, try to discredit their opponent’s victory to make themselves feel better. But then you might point out to such a person that they could do the same thing. A common response is that exploits or “cheap” strategies “take the fun out of the game,” and that they would rather win “legitimately” (according to their arbitrary code of honor) rather than win using cheap tactics or “cheating.” They claim they would derive no satisfaction from such a win.

The problem with that position is that they conveniently forget that fun is subjective. For some people the challenge of strong tactics and exploits makes the game more interesting, as they have to think of new ways to address these tactics, and either new tactics are found or everyone uses that one strategy. And if does turn out that everyone uses one strategy, inevitably people will start to find ways around it. Some people will still be better than others. The metagame will evolve. Provided the game is deep enough of course. And if it isn’t, if there is only one strategy (like tic-tac-toe), then that’s just a deficiency of the game. There’s nothing wrong with exploring the limits of a game and seeing how adaptable it is. That’s where the real allure of playing beyond the basic guidelines provided by the designers lies.

And really if you don’t like losing you have three choices: play in an isolated environment where the gameplay and players are artificially limited in their development, or change, adapt to the new strategies which are emerging and overcome them or perfect them. The third option is, of course, to stop playing. It’s better than complaining anyway, for all sides.

So I tried to start this off from an objective perspective, but I think it’s been clear for a while now that I’m quite biased towards one side. I will say though that at one time I used to think like the first group, believing in the concepts of “cheap” and “unfair.” Heck, I still lapse into that sometimes when I lose and frustration clouds my mind. But even then the cold voice of logic underlies it reminding me that those are just artificial constructs of my invention, and that the reaction is born of resentment. If you want to actually improve as a gamer, you’re going to need to learn to shed those notions and adjust your attitude to a willingness to learn from those that crush you, and one day you might actually return the favor. If you don’t you won’t ever beat them.

– TD