31 August 2010

Flair, learning and visuals in Wario Land and Wario Land II

Wario Land and Wario Land II are two Gameboy (and/or Gameboy Color) games from 1994 and 1998 respectively. They have a few features I found worth an article.

Flair, or Get smart

Think outside the box

Very fancy mechanics such as breaking the fourth wall happen during boss fights, such as the one with Psycho Mantis. In Wario Land and Wario Land II, the player has to break the wall of the level very often in order to collect coins or find a path to the end of the level. At first sight, this breaking the level could have a negative influence on the magic circle. But in practice, it just rewarded the player for thinking harder about exploration. It certainly did not give the level an impression of open-sandbox-world because the breaking could only happen once in a while, and not everywhere. But it added fun and rewarded the searching player nicely.

In fact, the feeling of a destroyable world was nearly never felt in the two games, except a few times such as during the Wario Land battle with boss Funfun.

In the first level of Wario Land II, the player can choose to stay asleep in doing nothing. This lets Wario sleep and opens a branching in the story. It took me quite much time to figure the way to unlock the alternate story branch, because doing nothing was not an intuitive way to solve a problem. But I found it very funny when I saw Wario concluding the level still sleeping (middle screenshot), while he is usually congratulating the player for the money and treasures he gathered (right screenshot). So it was not frustrating and somewhat rewarding to see this scene happen.

Monster infighting

Monster infighting is tricking enemy monsters into fighting each other. It happens in Doom and (apparently) 70 other games. There is also a little trace of monster infighting in Wario Land, but it is more rewarded than in Doom. Mostly only Pouncers (heavy falling spiked cubes) and Pikkarikun (a cloud throwing lightning bolts) could turn other enemies (such as the small Pirate Gooms) into gold coins. Unlike Doom, there was a strategy for each of Pouncer and Pikkarikun to use them as "infighters". For Pouncer, the Gooms had to be thrown under it when it was up. For Pikkarikun, Wario had to be protected under a floor and a Goom had to pass between Wario and Pikkarikun.

Learning design

The game design = learning design talk by Gee at FDG2010 is illustrated very often in the two games, but particularly well in Wario Land II. The Big Kamukamu (a fish) boss encounter, for instance, is a check that the player can make his/her avatar swim well enough to kill the boss.

As usual, most bosses strategies deal with dodging their attacks, finding their weak point(s) and attacking at the good time. Most have three phases, the third one killing the boss being the hardest and the most intense. However, there is a learning-by-the-example phase before two bosses: Awabo (a bubble) and Ghost. Before those two encounters, Wario sees Captain Syrup, the final boss, being imprisoned by the boss. It ignites a bit of schadenfreude from the player towards the Captain. However, the player is warned: the way Syrup is kicked out is what Wario must avoid when he fights.


Except throwing enemies, burping is the only ranged-attack (first on the left). Japanese version of Crazy Wario is actually Drunk Wario, and Penguins throw beer mugs (second). Surrealism (third). Typical Japanese TV entertainment color shades? (fourth)

28 August 2010

What MEUPORG can teach us

Yann Leroux wrote on March 27th a blog article entitled Ce que MEUPORG nous enseigne (what MEUPORG can teach us). It is an account of what happened on the Internet after a French TV journalist tried to explain what MMORPGs were, and somehow failed. Since the article is in French, here is a (rough) translation.

The MEUPORG story is very insightful. There is not only in it about how video games are mistreated in our society. There is also about how gamers are organized today and how a TV channel reacted to a crisis that happened on the Internet. The beginning of the story is quite ordinary:

  1. Journalist Nathanael de Rincquesen has one minute to summarize a topic in Télé Matin. In one single minute, he can but only rush through it.
  2. He relies on a news article from a French newspaper - Libération - and copying-and-pasting does not help thinking.
  3. He stumbles upon an acronym.
  4. William Leymergie, the host of the morning TV program, interrupts him mischievously.
  5. The journalist continues in his error.

Elements of popular imagination have always been attacked by the media. Then, those media become the elite's spokesperson. But the 21st century has something different; opinions are no more confined in pubs or workshops. The Internet is one of the places where they are created, transmitted and spread. We have now entered an era of commentary economics. It can be rejoicing or deplorable, but it is a fact that should be taken into account. Unlike the past century, the Internet offers a place where opinions can sprout nearly immediately. Some people in the audience are next to their laptop or their smart phone. They are looking for interactivity and will look for online places where they can express what they want to say.

The birth of a meme

A first video is posted on Youtube, it is soberly titled France 2 - télématin - MMORPG . Among others, Korben relays it. The video is seen and commented by a considerable number of people. Starting with this first video, the MEUPORG meme is born. Images, websites, tee-shirts or Facebook fan groups, all relay the journalist's error. The first Youtube video is edited and remixed.

The traditional media have not yet seized the strength of this movement. France Télévision stood silent on Twitter. Journalist de Rincquesen has not yet realized his name is now attached to MEUPORG. The program forum thread is burning and the journalist's Facebook page is filled with ironical comments. Certainly, one might bet this buzz is nothing more than another flash in the pan which the Internet is used to. However, the movement is much deeper. It is not a riot, it is a revolution sign. For those who would not take seriously the puerile lol machine, maybe the Union pour un Meuporg Populaire (translates as Union for a Popular Meuporg, a parody of the UMP French political party name) will provide fuel for thoughts. Gamers are not teenagers entrenched in their bedrooms and isolated from the outside world. Most of them are young adults, aware of what happens in their society. And they know how to make themselves heard.

The media side

The TV channel is living what Mc Luhan coined as the medium is the message: the shockwave has hit it so strongly that it is as if it were anesthetized. France 2 strikes one as being unable to take measures and handle the crisis. However, no doubt about it: crises like this one will multiply and grow in intensity. They do not only concern TV channels. Currently, Nestlé is the target of such an attack on Facebook. Online places are places not only to gather a passive audience but also to question and protest. Some end up finding themselves among wolves when they thought they could shear sheep. Internet will be one of the places where our societies' malaise will seep out.

Every morning, 1.4 million people in average watch Télé Matin. That means the first video posted on Youtube has generated 54% (760.000 views as of August 2010) of their audience. Obviously, this video was not watched 760.000 times in one day - but the 1.4 million do watch the program every day. Anyway, such an increase in the awareness of the TV program or channel among Internet inhabitants would be most welcome if it were positively conveyed. Unfortunately, it is more about destroying the image of the journalist, the TV program, the TV channel and mainstream media in general. The community managers of the TV channel would be expected to intervene and help get out of the crisis. Some are missing the opportunity to show how useful they can be in such undesirable times.

22 August 2010

[Conf] Game design = learning design = game design

On June 19th, James Gee gave the opening keynote at FDG2010. You can find the abstract page xix. Here are some notes I took during the talk.

Games convey learning better than schools do.

A concentrated sample is a basic language sample for a 1-year-old kid learning language. But people do not speak simply enough, they do not send basic samples only. Nature's solution is: kids filter and simplify what they receive, they can only process simple sentences. Kids are built to be limited. What could be a boss battle in language? For games, the problem is: how to be sure players get only the bits of information they need to progress. Games are guided experience on concentrated sample for future learning. Each level is a preparation for the following level, each level is learning. A boss is here only to test if the player is prepared to learn more. A better player is a better learner.

Experts only know one thing, they overvalue it and undervalue their other knowledge. WoW is distributed experts who also understand other classes' expertise. With the Damage Meter add-on, DPS free-riders are spotted.

Learning is helped by the emotional impact found in games. Why would I save people in the game? Why would I play? The story is here to kick-in emotions and motivate players. Stories are the only way to do it.

There is always performance before competence. The problem is trainees need to trust their trainers, otherwise they fear to perform. In games, there is performance: it is players looking at other players or NPC. Bonus: the intelligence is distributed. The community helps learning. This works particularly well with modding.

A game is fair when players admit I can win if I get better.

For Baby Boomers, intelligence meant speed and efficiency. For today kids, it is adaptation.