I recently returned from the Penny Arcade Expo!

This is not an extended report, but I can link you instead to some photographs – here – PAX on my Flickr.

I’m particularly fond of the Bioshock booth photo, and I have several more I need to upload.

One anecdote relates to the photo that you might see of my Gameboy DS, which might be difficult to understand. The game I’m playing is “The World Ends With You,” a great one-off JRPG with some interesting mechanics. The game allows you to level up your special powers (called pins) three different ways. 1) through use, which is a standard mechanic 2) through turning off the Gameboy and resting it for a period of time, and 3) by “mingle,” which allows you to get points on your pins for every other person who happens to be using a Gameboy DS in the same area that you are. The idea behind Mingle is that you leave Mingle on and go to someplace where another Gameboy is potentially likely. I would get a few hits, for example, just walking around campus at MSU.

So I attempted to fire up Mingle when there were approximately 3,000 people in the same room as me with a DS, attempting to set the world record for Most DSes played in the same place.

I am pleased and amused to report that, while it was working at first, the Mingle Mode eventually just started crashing me back to the play screen without registering hits. It was definitely overwhelmed. Not before I racked up a few thousand points though.

During the actual record attempt I was playing Final Fantasy 4.

Now Playing: Far Cry 2

Eyes focused, gun in hand, I carefully, strategically approach… the bus stop.

No one there. I’m in luck! Had any other humans been present at the location of the bus, I would have been forced to slaughter them.

The bus itself is driven by no one. The only purpose of a car in Africa is to run people over. If a person in a car happens to see you, they will immediately abandon all other avenues of action in order to turn the car and run you over. That is the law of Africa.

On Being a Late Adopter

I’ve decided to edit the title of this blog to give it slightly better focus. I think it suits the name of my parent web site fairly well. I notice that I tend to discuss games that have been “out” for a while rather than the latest, greatest thing. This is for a couple reasons – I tend to take more time with a game than an early adopter, and I tend to get new games later than most people do, after they’ve been out for a year or so and the price has dropped. Basically, the most logical reasons for it to take a long time for me to review a game, that I figure a lot of people will actually run in to in the real world.

One game I plan to jump on early, however, is Scribblenauts – I can’t think of another time when I’ve counted the days to a release like I’ve been watching this one.

What’s it like being a late adopter? Well, you get spoiled for everything. You know what to expect. I do keep up with a lot of other gaming blogs, so I’m used to getting some important thing revealed to me and having less things be a surprise because I didn’t play them the week they came out. So if I do spoiler games that I’ve been playing, rest assured I’ll tend to spoiler games that have been out for about a year or more.

Fat in Fable

Everything I’d heard so far about Fable II talked about the townspeople, the shallow interactions, the unfair bad guy, and the dog. There’s one thing in the game that nobody talked about, which surprised me a little, and that is the fat woman.

I don’t use “fat” chick in a derogatory manner, but as a descriptor. The first hero that you recruit to your band, Hannah/Hammer, is a rather large woman. She’s tall and strong but also has a large belly and pudgy legs. She’s definitely fat – also useful, likeable, confident, friendly, and the game itself respects her.


I cannot recall ever having actually seen this before. There are fat characters in video games, sure. There’s Rufus from Street Fighter – his story makes him look like a joke but he’s a reasonably good fighter – and Honda who is fat due to sumo. There are also “big boned” women who are curvy and a little on the overweight side, but they don’t usually have bellies to speak of. And there are women who are fat, like the evil Queen in Final Fantasy 9, but they aren’t respected: being fat is just another way of showing how evil, or how ridiculous and goofy, those women are. And even those women are few and far between. Far more likely is the sexy, skinny Ultimecia-type evil queen.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with attractive characters, which I’ve said before. But there’s some room in the world for fat chicks too. And that’s why I’m a little surprised that nobody talks about Hammer: a woman who happens to be fat, but her story arc is not about the fact that she’s fat. Instead, she goes on a quest to help her village, and then finds herself having to avenge the death of her father, which is a properly heoric story. In other words, it’s a story about a fat woman, but it’s not a story about how she feels ugly and wants to become skinny so a guy can take her to prom. (It’s also not a story about how she uses the power of her fat sass to show someone the ways of sass, which off the top of my head is the other acceptable MOVIE you can have starring a fat woman.) OK, one guy called her a troll, but he was obviously a bad guy and I wasn’t supposed to respect him.

That isn’t to say the entire game is respectful about how it handles fatness, but it’s more weird than anything where it comes to your avatar, so I’m neutral on it. Eating any food more substantial than a carrot or tofu (such as delicious meat pie) adds to your “fatness” score, wherein I lose, by my guess, one point of “attractiveness” stat for every five points of “fatness.” This applies unless the villagers looking at me are “fat-loving” in which case I believe it is the opposite relationship; a few people have this attribute. What’s weird is the fact that no amount of exercise, walking to every village or getting in tons of combats, can take away this fatness from eating one item, but if I eat celery it removes fatness. I’m pretty sure the first Fable worked like this too, though I haven’t played it. Overall I prefer how The World Ends with You handled food and eating but Fable is obviously an abstraction.

But people have talked about how weird that is. Nobody talked about Hammer and I think it’s one place where I can say: thumbs up, more like this. She wasn’t even annoying when I had to ESCORT her, and that’s saying something since escorts are usually pretty obnoxious.

What I’m Up To

Hi internet – I moved to a new apartment this week and we just now got internet access again. I’m using this week to catch back up with all my various virtual environments and projects.

Lately playing: Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, which I am probably going to totally finish this week. I broke it out for a short seminar in my school on environment and Level Design and how the story from Zelda relates to Joseph Campbell and The Hero With A Thousand Faces. It’s very interesting how Ocarina does some of the classic heroic tropes directly, including for example the “Belly of the Whale” which is enacted very literally! It makes me wonder if this was considered during the design of the game or just the sort of coincidence that happens from it being a popular heroic trope.

I also picked up Fable II yesterday, and it’s actually interesting the parallels these two games have when it comes to setting a heroic story, and also what is done differently. So far Fable II is a bit of a weird game in some respects, particularly in how I interact with townspeople. The people seem too “simlish” to really develop any meaningful interactions with them; I haven’t found anyone there that I feel strongly enough about to try to date or marry for example, but I am still early on in the game. The economy of the game is also pretty illogical. Then again, so is the economy in Hyrule, where money is typically found by cutting down bushes. I get the feeling that Fable II included crates and barrels that I can break, but which have nothing of use in them, partially as a way to poke fun of the constant crate and jar breaking in Zelda which is useful for grinding cash.

Some sound and fury is being made about the City of Heroes community academically again. It makes me want to write a paper about the positive things about that community. I wonder if I would be heard.

Currently Playing

Just an update to currently playing from my gamer blog – I’m still working on FF4, but off and on I’m playing Mystery Dungeon Shiren, a roguelike game that seems to be more popular in Japan. I’m actually not all that good at rougelikes, but I like them anyway because they’re so challenging.

Else-blog I got a comment about my last recent post reminding me about the Ouroboros function in City of Heroes, which allows any player to repeat any content that they missed at lower levels by temporarily leveling them down to experience it. I hadn’t really forgotten it entirely, but it’s a great point that, with that feature, plus the new Architect allowing people to make missions that level them up very fast, there really isn’t a huge incentive to take your time playing the low-end game. You could always rush to the end, be a level 50, but then go back and play anything that you happened to miss that interested you…

It’s food for thought. I personally tend to play through games very slowly, just because I do a lot of things, play a lot of games at once, and have kind of an unusual usage pattern. For example, this Friday was actually the first time I ever finished Metroid Prime, despite having played it right when it came out at first, and having my own copy for years!

The Endgame

Currently playing: Final Fantasy 4 remake, Metroid Prime, and City of Heroes (a lot).

The renewed interest in City is due to the Mission Architect, a system that allows players to make their own missions in the game. An observation I’ve had from watching how people interact with the Architect: City of Heroes has no real “endgame,” but boy, people are certainly in a hurry to get there. Since the Devs have handed over all of their mission creation kits to players, it’s perfectly possible to make missions that give larger than average experience point rewards and level up faster.

I originally logged Revenant Ember, my Corruptor, on to mess with a new costume, but, since I got invited to a “farming” team I thought I’d check it out and see what this new trend was about. The mission was made up of a bunch of Rikti, but only the Communications Officers since they give larger than average XP rewards per kill. They’re all centered around pods because I guess this makes it easier to group them.

I got a level out of the farm, but it’s kind of a boring way to get a level. It’s probably faster than many other methods but probably also less fun. Normally my method for getting levels on Ember is to tag along while higher level friends take on difficult challenges, and just hang back and buff them, so this isn’t really different from my pattern with the character who hasn’t been experiencing the game content in any particular order. Just hanging out with my friends, even though they’re higher level on the villain side than I am, is still a totally valid playstyle after all.

When I logged in Puma Man later on Freedom (ha ha, it’s still funny, even if I never use the dude) I logged in to an argument on the broadcast channel about why people were farming. “There’s no endgame,” someone said. “The game doesn’t end, we can keep playing it as much as we want,” said someone else, being honest, but also missing the point entirely.

You pretty much have to assume that, if you give something to players that can potentially be exploited for rewards and achievement, a certain population of them will do that. This is true even if there is no reason to exploit it. The content at all levels in the City games is fairly interesting, with just a few dry spots, and the Devs of the game don’t typically only fill in content at the upper end. In World of Warcraft, all the new content is upper-level, but this isn’t really true in City, where new content is typically accessible at level 35 if not sooner. The MA content in particular can be played at any level.

On the other hand, it’s just so nice to be powerful and to get those XP bubbles and the ‘pop’ that if you really just like being high level, you might want the fastest way to get there. It doesn’t really bother me somehow that people want to exploit the MA for XP, except that they’re missing out on missions that might be interesting and fun to do, and, think that CoX is a really shallow game as a result, when they reach level 50 and then discover they missed everything along the way.

On the other hand, it DOES sort of bother me that people who are farming the MA by creating exploitable missions also get more playtime on their missions than mission authors who have written interesting stories and worked hard.

Games I’m Playing

I finished Retro Gaming Challenge! Lots of interesting stuff. Fun game all around with just a few moments of frustration. The play control is much tighter than the old games it’s trying to represent, but, to compensate, there isn’t as much lag in them either. This is particularly notable in Haggleman 3 when there’s 20 enemies on screen at any given time.

Next on the list of things to play for my DS… Princesses!

The eyeeees, they stare. People say I never seem to show interest in cute games, but this isn’t true. I’m just more interested in trying out different gameplay models than worrying about aesthetics.

Short review: it strikes me as a short game, but there are a lot of songs to unlock so I’m not sure if I’m really already at the halfway point or not. I’m much more interested in the “dating game” aspect of the game than in the dancing mechanic, since you don’t see dating games so much in the US, and even when you do see dating games, it’s usually one guy and a bunch of girls, not one girl and a bunch of guys. So that’s cool! It seems like two of the guys have already fallen a hundred-percent in love with me, but not my current dance partner! I wonder if there’s any way to switch to one of the guys who likes me best, or if once you pick a guy you are stuck.

The “dancing” aspect is basically Elite Beat Agents dumbed down, and forcing you to repeat the same songs a bunch of times, so meh to that, even if it’s mostly for little girls and not older gamers like me. The public domain songs they use in it are kind of boring; it would be better just to write all new music than to rearrange “The Saints Go Marching In.”

Art Works

I reformatted the art gallery hosted in this space with some recent examples of 3D work. Only a few pieces right now as a lot of my 3D art time is being taken up with my current MSU project or teaching!

Art Gallery Index

The “art” gallery actually is still mostly my design documents and links but it’s a fresh start for the images section.

Saving Tomb Raider

Crossposted from my LJ.

Apparently, Tomb Raider Underworld, a mediocre game released during a saturated new-gaming season, didn’t do so well. This to me is not a surprise.

I’ve never been interested in playing Tomb Raider games. When I was younger, this was not really because I found Lara Croft all that offensive (though it may have been my stated reason), but it was more because I found all the media coverage of Lara Croft to be somewhat offensive. First of all, no, she was not the first woman to star in a video game. That honor goes to Ms. Pacman, thank you mainstream media.

Now, I’m over the whole Lara Croft thing, but I’m still not interested in playing Tomb Raider games, and that is mostly because of the game. I remember what I did play of the earlier installments – annoyingly exact jumping, frequently getting my too-wide pixel ass stuck in tight rock caverns with no way to move backwards – and the new installments don’t seem to offer anything new from that so I’ll just give them a pass and play more Fallout.

Eidos seems to believe that what they need to do to attract women to Lara is to make her more “female friendly.” Cue an article full of women saying that is stupid. I basically agree.

What they need to do is make the game more fun, but that is going to take a while to percolate, so, allow me to posit the real problem with Tomb Raider… is this. Also, this.

See that? It’s called “there’s nothing interesting to fight in this game.”

So. Here is how you save Tomb Raider, AND attract more women to your game.

1) Don’t change Lara’s body. Lara looks fine the way she is. She should wear fabulous outfits and look great in them. That is part of her job.
2) Add a bad guy. Not just, like, any bad guy, but a totally hot bad guy. A rival relic thief who breaks all the rules. A man with confidence and an evil smarm. A man with a hot, Eurotrash accent. Who takes off his shirt during a cut-scene.
3) Have him maybe summon some ancient creatures with a curse accidentally so when I do have to whip out my pistols there’s something other than an endangered species to fire them at. Something I feel like killing.
4) Vary the set pieces so they travel all over the world, say, chasing this guy, instead of being locked down in one particular temple. Include with this a variety of interesting local costumes for Lara. My husband’s suggestion is to start the game on a cruise ship so Lara has to fight the entire first level in an evening gown. Brilliant.
5) Make Lara in to a good guy who occasionally saves people so we like her a little more, instead of someone who just steals and shoots cats. It might not even hurt to make her a little flirtaous and sexy again. I’ve heard she’s a lot more of an ice queen lately? I haven’t played any of the new games.
6) Add a hot bad guy. Did I say that already? HOT BAD GUY – WOMEN LIKE THAT A LOT

Oh. And it’s OK by me if you go ahead and switch to an M rating so she can show her tits at some point. Or maybe don’t show them, per se, but some Fox-News-Offending righteous sideboob during a love scene would be acceptable. Perhaps a love scene with… I dunno, the hot bad guy.

I will buy this game if you make it, Eidos. Or you could hire me, this is OK.

Amanda Lange's Blog