Archive for the ‘not interactive fiction’ Category

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Urban Legions, or, And Now For Something I Did Like

April 5, 2009

Urban Legions is in many ways the antithesis of Legends of Zork.  My character Perculia Chuffington (AKA Lady Catfingers) has been wandering around Macropolis for several game days now, wielding a wrench in her right hand and a pair of hedge clippers in her left, and has yet to encounter a single combat.  (She’s also completely naked except for a pleated skirt and a pair of cowboy boots.  I thought about buying her a shirt, but why?)  Since moving to the city she has learned a new magic spell from a librarian, completed the world’s most angry-bird-and-pit-bull-infested paper route, bought some really overpriced marshmallows, given several scratch-off lottery tickets to homeless people, begun investigating a bizarre murder, registered for university, and taken a steady job as a zookeeper; all this despite her shirtlessness and on six hours of sleep.

It’s still very early in Macropolis’s development, of course, and a lot of its vast area is what industry wankers call “open design space” and the rest of us call “empty,” but the potential is palpable, and the non-empty bits are diverting, the main quest in particular.  It’s a mystery, you see, and the quest reward will hopefully be revelation.  Instead of leveling my attack skill so I can fight more monsters so I can level my attack skill, I’m leveling my approval rating (the tracking of which statistic lends the game a certain unusual politeness) so I can talk to a detective about a murder and hopefully, eventually, locate an overdue library book.

It’s not all sunshine and dingalings, though.  Where Legends of Zork is dripping with slickness and polish and gorgeousness, Urban Legions looks like something a career tax accountant put together using MS Paint and a freeware clip art program from 1995.  This isn’t unexpected:  there are (I think) two people working on the game and sometimes none out of two people is artists.  Art, design, and interface are a website’s clothes, though, they’re what it’s judged on before anyone has a chance to get to know it.  You might be the nicest, most fascinating person in the world, but you’re not going to get a date wearing an oversized applique cat sweatshirt, orange hot pants, and a sombrero.  (Unless you’re at a hipster bar and you’re also wearing rollerskates.  That goes without saying.)  I know there’s zero budget, but it’d be worth finding a friend’s kid or some random person on the forums or anyone really with some art skills and an altruistic bent.

Art aside, the main issue I have with the game is the map.  Macropolis is divided into sections (Downtown North, Greenhills, Hovella) and each section contains a number of specific locations (malls, hotels, nuclear power plants, etc.)  There is currently no way to see what locations are in which section without traveling to that section, which takes some of your limited in-game time.  There are helpful quest markers (which could stand to be a little brighter) on the main map, but if you’re trying to find something else – say you’ve just completed a paper route and can’t remember where the newspaper office is – you are just shit out of luck unless you search every section.  Potential solution:  have a list of locations in each section visible on mouseover or first click, or, at the very least, don’t consider a section traveled to (and time deducted for it) until the player’s actually clicked on a location in that section.

Another thing Urban Legions could use is some focus and some follow-through – honestly, right now it’s a bit of a mess.  At the very beginning of the game, Perculia was examined by a doctor to determine her superhero ability (did I mention she’s a superhero, and that this game is about superheroes?  No?) and learned a skill that allows her to use twenty percent of her brain.  This skill has yet to come in handy even once. I don’t even know what it does. When I look it up, it says “Where most people can only use up to 10 percent of their brain, you can use twice that.”  I had thought, perhaps, it would come in handy during combat.    It still might, if I ever find a combat.  I thought the same thing about these weapons, the ones I bought at the hardware store that sells a bunch of handy tools.  It’s pretty clear they’re meant to do something eventually, since they say “500 uses,” it’s just there doesn’t seem to be anything to use them on. (The hardware store also sold a $200 fishing rod I didn’t buy because I wasn’t sure there was anywhere to fish.)

These are the kinds of problems that can be solved with time, experience, and content, though, and there’s just something about this game I like.  I like the freedom to explore the city, however unimplemented it is right now (everything has a description, though, which is something) and I like how the game seems to assume I’m a nice person, and, while a lot of the quirky bits*  seem at odds with the overall tone, which is earnest and factual, I did smile at the Giant Army of Robots and the Cup O’ Pizza.  I am genuinely looking forward to Urban Legions growing and improving, because I think it has the potential to kick some ass.

(To be fair, I’d like Legends of Zork to grow and improve also; it just doesn’t seem as likely.)

* Quirk belonging to the “random nouns are wacky” school, generally, as in “I’m teaching a moose to use a typewriter!  Gosh, is that chicken wearing pants?”  I suppose it’s harmless, but it always feels a little forced.

Update:  Turns out there were combats all along, I just didn’t realize they were combats!  This game makes a lot more sense now!  I may have to buy a shirt!

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There is just so much wrong with Legends of Zork.

April 5, 2009

Before we get uber major xtreme hardcore into the next Spring Thing game, I’d like to take this time – and I can, you know; I’m a doctor – to extend a large amount of kudos to Jim Zubkavich and the rest of the Legends of Zork art team:

Legends of Zork Logo Design: Indigo Kelleigh
Map Design/Icons: Will Makra
Map and Additional Creature Colours: Espen Grundetjern
Location Designs, Additional Creatures & Double Fanucci Line Art: Greg ‘Cornflake’ Brown
Additional Creature Designs: Julie Faulkner
Location Colours: Chris Oatley
Colour Flatting: Tom Liu

Congratulations, guys, the bit that you did was very nice and not at all shit and we are all very proud of you!  Also Indigo needs to finish that 8-bit tarot deck and get it printed up so I can buy it because hot damn WANT.

On the subject of Legends of Zork – oh, and I’m not really a doctor – there is a rather sad little post on their development blog which begins with some denial about their critical reception (“the art looks good; I haven’t played it yet” is cited as an “extremely nice thing” someone said about them) and ends with promises of exciting new features, just buckets of ‘em, and entreaties for feedback.

Oh, little babysitter precious, I got some feedback.  Get yourself a sandwich first.  I’ll wait.  (What is that, pimento cheese?  No eating in the pool!)

Okay.  This, you poor sad bastards, is a list of your crimes.  Mark them and mark them well:

Association with Offerpal. “We don’t think Offerpal’s skeezy at all actually,” you say.  Dude.  Offerpal’s pretty fucking skeezy.  I don’t care if they sell your cell phone number to people who read you lovely bedtime stories about kittens, they are just skeezy skeezy fucks.  Honestly, I would be more likely to play your game just to watch the numbers go up (whee numbers going up!) if I weren’t just absolutely icked out by this.

Underestimating casual gamers. You like Bejeweled?  I like Bejeweled.  Even people who hate Bejeweled like Bejeweled.  You know why everybody likes Bejeweled?  It’s got actual fun mechanics that make it actually fun to play, is why.  Gameplay motherfucking mechanics.  Oh, they’re simple enough; no one is sitting there with a spreadsheet trying to optimize their gem-swapping (well, you never know, I guess), but there is strategy involved.  Do you start at the top to keep from fucking the bottom up, or at the bottom in hope of a cascade?  Should you go for that five in a row?  Would that blue gem be best swapped horizontally or vertically?  Sure, people also like clicking on pretty shiny things and making numbers go up, and there is a chunk of your market that won’t ask you for more, but most people like things that are fun, and without fun gameplay you’re not going to steal any housewives from Peggle.

Your game sort of has mechanics, sure, it’s just that they’re curiously divorced from the combats which are the meat of the gameplay, and despite the fact that they’re simple enough to be boring, it’s not immediately apparent how they work. (That’s right, hit chance after modifiers, I’m looking at you.  Care to explain yourself?)

Automatic combat. People like to make their character do things.  It’s sort of like they’re doing that thing.  Imagine a Tony Hawk game where you picked out a helmet and then the computer did all the skating for you while you watched.  Now imagine a Tony Hawk game where you picked out a helmet and then the computer did all the skating for you offscreen while you watched it roll dice.  This is your game.  This is what you hath wrought.

A very simple thing you could do would be to give people the option to keep fighting or run away.  An awesome thing you could do would be to let them actually use their magic.  (The primary purpose of magic is to zap shit.  The secondary purpose of magic is to go “WHOO I’m zapping shit!”)

Boring automatic combat. I used to play a DOS game called Castle where you’d run your little ASCII smiley face into another ASCII character, one of those Eastern European d thingers maybe, and on the bottom of your screen would flash “You hit the monster!  The monster hit you!  You hit the monster!  You hit the monster!  You killed the monster!”  The reason this was so much better than “Random roll #1 (1-100):  15 / ENCOUNTER RESULT:  YOU WON” was that it actually made some effort to pretend you were fighting a monster.

Pointless items. Nothing that drops in the game is more than a glorified pile of zorkmids.  There are no healing potions, no weapons, no armor, nothing to collect x number of for a quest (there are no quests), no crafting ingredients, no nothin’.  I found a wand-shaped dagger earlier (there are like three images for loot, assigned seemingly arbitrarily – you’d expect a cup to use the goblet image, but you’d be expecting too much) which I autosold along with everything else, completely indifferent to its potential as a weapon.  The one thing items have going for them is that their names are one of the few actual content vectors in the whole game.  (Riff actually spent his skill points on +item specifically so he’d see more item names, because there was not much else to read.  Do you see how this is sad?)

Y’know what?  I’m losing the attention span to keep this list going.  What is wrong with your game, in a nutshell, is that a turn-limited browser-based Zork game could have been awesome and your game isn’t.  It’s not even very good.

Edit:  Yes, I’m cranky.  I’m afraid this is one of those occasions where you’ll just have to deal with me being cranky.  I would feel worse about it if there were any reason to think this game was a labor of love on someone’s part as opposed to an attempt to exploit glitches in the human psyche, the ones that make us enjoy clicking on shiny things and watching numbers go up, in order to separate people from their money.

Tsk bloody tsk.

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In which I check out Legends of Zork, or, At Least the Art’s Nice

April 2, 2009

(Disclaimer:  I don’t work for Kingdom of Loathing, but if they went out of business I would have to get a job, so it’s not necessarily in my best interest to like Legends of Zork and say nice things about it, but I still wanted to.  There’s room on the internet for more than one turn-limited browser game – pretty much by definition, right? – and I was sort of excited about it and now I’ve played it for a day and as far as I can tell it’s just not very good.  It’s a shame for other people’s opinions to prevent one from expanding one’s experience, though, so check it out for yourself.)

One thing I’m finding is that it’s very hard to come up with a battle taunt for a character without any distinctive features.  There are eight avatars to choose from:  blondes, brunettes, redheads, and People of the Ethnic Persuasion, one each male and female.  They are all charming and full of personality but none of them has, say, a cheese grater for a face, which is what you really want as inspiration for a battle taunt.  (“Come over here and I’ll grate you like cheese… WITH MY FACE!”  You cannot tell me that is not brilliant.)  There’s always over-the-top vulgarity, of course (“I’m gonna shit up your nose so hard it’ll come out milk”), but that doesn’t seem very Zorklike and I’m not even sure what that one means.

What?  Name must be 14 characters or less?  All right, fine.  I’ll use my real name and my real battle shout (“Ow!  Ow!  Ow ow ow!”)

The game recommends I go to the White House to go to my first base.  I can’t remember now whether first base includes tongue.

Weapons/Armour: You can buy kittens here. No we’re lying.
Bastards!

Oh, okay, people are not lying about this being Progress Quest except you have to click a button.  Well, at least the art’s nice, I guess.  If I’m just going to watch myself fight, though, I’d like to watch something interesting. Maybe something with, I don’t know, verbs, verbs that describe something happening?  This is what combat looks like:

Okay, the Fanucci cards look like they might actually do something interesting, namely interact with each other when (hee hee) put in slots, but I’ve only got one so far.  It’s going in Body, where it gives me 2%.  Of something.  Apparently.  Awesome.

It’s possible things will get more interesting once I’ve unlocked a new area (maaaaaybe) but right now I’m bored.  For a game based on a text adventure, there is not a lot of friggin’ text.  No descriptions.  No quests.  No sense of purpose.  Nothing to actually do during combat (yes, I do have a level 39 ProgressQuest character somewhere, but, y’know, that you just let run).  Art’s nice.  Did I mention that?

For my first skill I took +25% probability of solving mechanical puzzles.  I sure hope somewhere in this game are some mechanical puzzles, or I’ll have to feel dumb.

What is carrying capacity for?  Everything I find on the ground I seem to sell automatically.  Maybe I only sell it when I click on my house?  So if my bags are full it means I forgot to click on my house?

Oh, exciting, I’ve unlocked a new combat location, which means I get to look at pictures of different monsters with different stats.  Art’s nice.

It looks like someone did bother to design mechanics for this game – looks like a rock-paper-scissory thing that changes your chance of winning depending on what you’re wearing, but there’s still nothing to do during combat itself, so, yawn.

Uh-oh, you’re doing some sterling adventuring here but you’re about to run out of Action Points. If you don’t want to wait until tomorrow for more AP, you can buy some more in the Perks store for a handful of Coconuts.
This is something KoL specifically does not do because it comes off as a skeezy cash grab.  Let’s see, what’ve we got?  Hmm, ten coconuts for 200 turns, two coconuts to remove all advertising… how much is a coconut worth, anyway?  Doot de do OH WOW, “purchase coconuts or get them for free from our friends at Offerpal?”  I am suspicious of Offerpal.

Okay, did I say something looked skeezy earlier?  I totally blew my wad.

Everyone’s got their own opinion about what is or isn’t a valid internet business model, but this makes me not want to play the game in a way that it simply not being a very good game didn’t.  Love horoscopes and flirting tips sent to my cell phone indeed.

Edit:  Oh, and it’s not actually funny. I thought Zork was supposed to be funny.  Remember how on the Dick Van Dyke show Rob used to crack up Buddy and Sally with such comedy gems as “ENCOUNTER RESULT:  YOU WON?”  Remember how he used to trip over that ottoman?  That was great.

I would suspect the money intended to hire the funny writer was diverted to the art department, if I actually thought anyone intended to hire a funny writer in the first place.

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