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Archive for April, 2011

Planet Cracker

Hey folks, if you guys have been following my blog, you would have seen some of my game reviews. But now, in conjunction with the reviews, I’m going to start cracking the games wide open. What do I mean by that? Well simple, after every game review I will conduct a postmortem on the game. What I will be focusing on will be primarily on the level design, storytelling method as well as the design and game principles employed in the game itself.

So, if you are looking for any Planet Cracker posts, all you have to do is either go to my Planet Cracker tab on top or you can look for them in my Planet Cracker categories.

So folks, stay tuned.


Sims Medieval Review

Sims Medieval, a game about the Sims in the Medieval age. Thank you Mister Obvious, for the obvious. Fine, here is something you didn’t know you damn self-deprecating inner voice! It is actually pretty good for a good day or two or three or four… It really depends on your attention span and your need to experiment. I lasted about 2 days, 3 tops.

I’ll start things off with a run through of what you can expect from this new series to the popular Sims franchise by our dear friends at The Sims and EA. So what is new in Sims Medieval? Well for starters you no longer get to control a family of Sims, you only have a preset kingdom to play around with and you have quests to do.

The Sims you control are essentially Heroes, they are just Sims with special interaction options. The game starts off with only the Monarch, your job as a Monarch is to build a kingdom. How do you do that you ask, simple, complete quests. Every quest you complete rewards you with Resource Points, Renown and an improvement to the 4 key aspects of a Kingdom, chiefly Security, Knowledge, Culture and Well Being. Resource Points are basically you Kingdom building currency, you use it to erect new structures and this new structures will increase the maximum capacity of your Kingdom’s Key Aspect. Building structures will also unlock new heroes and new heroes will unlock new quests etc etc.

Every Kingdom has a limited pool of Quest Points, every time you take on a quest you reduce the amount of QPs until you run out. The Kingdom then enters a “Evaluation phase” and unlocks exactly the same Kingdoms except it has more QPs and you have to start from scratch if you choose to play the “New Chapters”. Doesn’t sound all that appealing, but what the game does is it introduces Achievements, when you unlock new “Kingdoms” you get achievements, when gather 500 herbs you get achievements and when you erect 50 buildings you also get an achievement. Hell you get an achievement for getting lots of other achievements and then the game rewards you by unlocking items, hairdos and clothing.

Let’s talk about the actual quests, oh I forgot to mention, you can only play as a Sims if you are doing a quest. Quests are essentially just special interaction options layered over your own special interaction options from your career. After my first Kingdom, I realized that the quest for a new Kingdom were exactly the same as your previous attempts. The only variety comes from the fact that different Hero Sims has a different way of approaching the same quests. The quests are actually well-written and honestly quite amusing as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Certain quests actually allows you to control 2 heroes instead of 1, I’m guessing that quests in the later part of the game will involve more Sims but that would require you to have established a kingdom of more than 50 QPs. Some quest also involves murdering other Hero Sims, one example “Royal Assassination”, this quest involves a Spy assassinating the Monarch, yes your Monarch the one you played with.

Every Hero Sim, has a unique special interaction with people, objects or even places. Here is an example, if you are the Monarch or Tyrant as I like to play it, you have a special social interaction option called Monarch *Geez who would have guessed*. The cool thing about Monarch is you can send people to the stocks or throw them into the Pit to be devoured by some hentai tentacle monster living in it. If you are a Blacksmith, only you can use a forge and mine ores, there is unfortunately no Auction Houses for you to sell of the gems you find, there is however a marketplace so I guess that works out.

Instead of the old Aspiration bars, now we have Focus bars, this is basically the indication on how happy or fulfilled your Sims is feeling at the moment. This is important because most actions are dependent on your Focus level. Need to enter a forest to kill some beasts, your Focus bar better be in the green or chances are you are going to fail and then run out of the forest flailing. This also applies for crafting, the higher your focus, the less likely your spell or concoction of salves will fizzle. One last thing, every quest has a rating, bronze, silver, gold and plat. The higher you Focus the faster the Quest Performance bar fills up and vice versa. You do get more rewards for finishing the quest in platinum so you know where this will lead.

Oh! Remember the good ol’neediness bars? They just got tossed out the window! Well most of them anyway, Need Bars like Hunger and Energy are still around but everything else *including hygiene and bladder* has all been removed in favor of less statistic a player has to constantly monitor. This is after all the Medieval age, who cares about hygiene, they had the Plague for a reason. Which is interesting, because you can actually play as a Physician and one quest involves you and a Merchant uncovering and preventing a potential plague.

In summary, Sims Medieval is a definitely something different from the Sims franchise and it is very refreshing. Graphically, I don’t really see much difference between Sims 3 and Sims Medieval. In terms of gameplay, it definitely adds a new dimension and direction to the game. Story, well it is still a Sims game, need I say more? My only real gripe is the fact that once you have found the playstyle that suits you the most, almost all of your Sims would end up having the same traits and after a few kingdoms, you will realize that how and who you use to tackle the quests is the same. Of course that is just me Min Maxing Resource Points and Key Kingdom Aspects.

So here are my scores.

Gameplay: 8

Graphics: 7

Total: 7.5



Throwing Sims into the Pit

Refreshing gameplay with rich variety

Not Sims 3



Sorely lacking when it comes to Kingdom building

Getting debuffs can lead to a downward spiral of failure compounding your debuffs.

Certain traits will just get your Sims murdered in their profession.

Invasion is not an option

CBC News – Technology & Science – Schools use video games as teaching tools

Mass Effect, a game with a complex story developed in Edmonton, will be required 'reading' for a course in contemporary Canadian fiction at Concordia University. Mass Effect, a game with a complex story developed in Edmonton, will be required ‘reading’ for a course in contemporary Canadian fiction at Concordia University. (Bioware)

LittleBigPlanet is more than a video game in which little creatures made of sackcloth run and jump. It was designed to make it easy for players to make their own levels, turning gamers into game designers, which is why it was one of the games in the curriculum at a New York public school last year.

Students at Quest to Learn, for Grades 6 through 12, usedLittleBigPlanet to adapt, create, and perform one of Aesop’s fables. Katie Salen, a game designer and an architect of the school’s program, explained in an interview that the eight-week project had connections to language arts, literature, math, physics, and computer science.

Katie Salen is a game designer and an architect of the Quest to Learn school program in New York. Katie Salen is a game designer and an architect of the Quest to Learn school program in New York. (Courtesy Katie Salen)Students at Quest, she said, are expected to meet the state requirements for achievement in standard subjects like math and science, but they learn in a “problem-based context. The learning is game-like.”

Learning to adapt

It sometimes involves playing games, but the real objective, said Salen, is to give students the ability to learn. “We’re looking at the notion of how to equip kids in the 21st century to be flexible, adaptive learners.”

Games and game environments are good learning tools, Salen explained, partly because players understand, from the outset, what the objective is. And while players think they are in control, the truth is that games have been carefully designed to give players that belief. Well-designed games are structured to give players the knowledge they need to solve problems just when they need it.

‘[Gaming is] not a marginal pursuit anymore. We’ve got to start thinking about games with all the tools of analysis that are available to us.’Darren Wershler

Then there’s the social piece of the puzzle, an essential component to well-rounded children. Gaming, said Salen, is “hardly at all about the artifact of the game itself, and much more about the social fabric and interaction that gets built around that games as kids play and as they learn how to play and have conversations about that play.”

At Quest, the students aren’t just playing games, they’re inventing them, too.

“We’re interested in putting kids in the role of designers,” said Salen. “We believe that in making games, kids have a chance to go deep into a range of content.”

Sparking student interest

At Argyle Secondary School in North Vancouver, students in the Digital Media Academy (DMA) are also learning to become game designers. In the DMA lab on the school’s second floor, Murray Bulger, who established and runs the program, said the game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids, many of whom spend hours of their free time learning from online tutorials.

Murray Bulger of the Digital Media Academy says a game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids. Murray Bulger of the Digital Media Academy says a game design class is drawing motivated and passionate kids.(Courtesy Murrary Bulger)

Students who could not be convinced to read a book before taking the classes would devour training manuals in an evening, Bulger said with a smile, in preparation for hands-on time with software packages used for design, animation, and 3D modelling. Kids are already playing games, he said, so it makes sense to leverage that interest in the education system.

The DMA begins its second year this fall, adding 24 Grade 11 students to the cohort of 13 that are entering Grade 12. They take core classes in art, design, and information technology. In their first year, all students take a project management course built around game design, which is, Bulger asserted, “one of the greatest models for project management there is. You have to have a number of specialists and you need a large team.”

Other skills developed in project management include creativity, organization and planning, teamwork, and the iterative production process. The subject of game design is so rich, said Bulger, that even if students never do it again, they’ll have learned much that’s useful and applicable no matter what career they choose.

And while the average student already has a basic understanding of video games from playing them — “they’re coming in with this huge knowledge base,” says Bulger — they lack the ability to analyze them. So a key component to the game design class is playing and deconstructing games, everything from Space Invaders to BioShock, to figure out what makes a good experience.

Staying relevant to students

Darren Wershler of Concordia University says Mass Effect is a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives.Darren Wershler of Concordia University says Mass Effect is a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives. (Courtesy Darren Wershler)

Darren Wershler thinks the field of video games in education is filled with possibilities. “To keep pretending that we can leave it out of the classroom, I think, is a grave mistake.… It’s not a marginal pursuit anymore. We’ve got to start thinking about games with all the tools of analysis that are available to us.”

Wershler has been teaching video-game studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., for two years. This fall he joins the English department at Concordia University in Montreal and will be adding Mass Effect to the “reading” list for his course, Contemporary Canadian Fiction, when he teaches it in 2011.

On the phone, Wershler said the game satisfies the criteria of being contemporary (it was released in 2007), Canadian (it was developed by Edmonton studio BioWare), and fiction (it’s an action role-playing game with a deep, complex story).

It’s a good choice for teaching about non-linear fiction and branching narratives, he added. And because the game allows players to choose whether their protagonist is male or female, and to have sexual relationships with other characters, “It’s a good way of introducing topics of gender.”

Today’s writers, Wershler insists, are creating fiction in many different media. The typical English department curriculum, he said, pretends that things like comics, the internet, and video games don’t exist.

“And yet,” he says, “that’s the environment that people who want to be writers or scholars are growing up in.”

Taken from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2010/09/09/f-videogames-education-learning.html