Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery forces you to pay – or wait – to save a kid from being strangled by Tom Phillips:

You have a finite bar of energy you can hold at one time, and when this is depleted you’ll need to pay up or just wait it out and keep checking back before time runs out. You regain one energy point every four minutes, and there’s no way to regain energy for free doing another activity. The only challenge involved is remembering the game’s clock is still ticking away while you’re doing other things, so you can then return in half an hour to finish what should have been a two minute experience.

The first time the game engineers you will run out of energy is in its first action scene, where – creepily – your character is left in a life or death scenario while you wait half an hour to continue. Charitably you could say this energy system adds a certain cliffhanger-esque nature to Hogwarts Mystery – but the amount of energy needed is a completely arbitrary number, and one deliberately designed to fully deplete your energy bar. The game encourages you to make a purchase and continue immediately rather than wait and leave your avatar suffering. It is especially troubling when you consider the game’s audience.

Too Far From Noise

jpg.jpeg

As a ‘story game’ aficionado, I was hoping to like the well-reviewed and App Store-featured Far From Noise. It is very pretty and it touches on themes like depression and anxiety and despair that are not typically covered in pretty games.

Sadly, I found the game overlong and repetitive. Believe me, it’s not that I don’t understand magic realism or that I need constant action and input, but rather that it is superficial, poorly written, and mistakes childhood anecdotes with character development. It isn’t Philosophy 101 – it’s Philosophy 001.

I don’t find it especially interesting or satisfying to dunk on Far From Noise, given the evident heart poured into the game by its creator. I’m more interested in exploring why it was so well-received by the games press, but I’m also wondering how I can do that without coming across as an enormous asshole who thinks he understands philosophy and games more than anyone else – and believe me, I don’t.

So I’ll try it this way: if you want to read or watch a tale about depression and despair, there are plenty out there for every kind of taste. But if you want an interactive experience that isn’t a text adventure, there are slim pickings indeed, so when a pretty game comes along that references Thoreau and Emerson, it’s praised despite its considerable shortcomings, so as not to discourage others. And given that the games industry exists in a continual state of half-imagined, half-imposed inferiority to ‘higher’ art forms, it’s not surprising that people celebrate the few games that tackle more serious subjects, especially if those games have nice graphics and are bug-free.

The generosity of games reviewers towards Far From Noise doesn’t necessarily stem from ignorance or naivety or insincerety, but rather from their desire to grade on a curve – to judge it solely against other games instead of other media. Perhaps you think that’s appropriate, but I think it holds games back. It makes it difficult to distinguish truly great and beautiful games like Kentucky Route Zero from mediocre games like this one.

We should not be ashamed of expecting better.

Ninja’s Fortnite tournament, a fascinating mix of streaming, participation, $75 paid entry, and prizes ($2500 if you kill him, $2500 if you win a game), reminds me of what broadcasters like the BBC were trying to do in the 2000s. Back then, the tech and logistics for ‘massive’ games was too expensive, but it’s finally here now.

Brutal: CCP pulled out of VR game development because the reception was “even below our lowest expectations.”

I’m still long-term bullish on VR, but it seems like there are several big problems to solve, one of them being the friction of just starting a game, something echoed in the interview: “The ceremony of putting on a VR headset; I often liken it to putting on scuba gear to go diving. Scuba diving is an amazing experience, but it’s a lot of gear to put on, and when you have it on it’s isolating, disorienting.”

Playing Press at Watch The Skies Megagame

I hadn’t anticipated becoming Chief Reporter for the Global News Network after signing up to play the Watch The Skies Megagame last week. Maybe I’d be the Chief Scientist for France, or perhaps the Chinese Premier, helping directing essential climate change research with the world’s leading scientists, or high-stakes diplomacy with India and America.

Instead, I was dashing around a hall frantically writing quotes into Google Docs on my iPhone before a deadline that came every 40 minutes. It was like that first episode of Battlestar Galactica, but with an even shakier camera.

Excuse me, Foreign Minister, I’m Adrian Hon from GNN Press – can I get a comment on the outbreak in Belize? I’m sure our readers would like to know what kind of assistance the Chinese government will be providing. Yes, I’m aware this isn’t the kind of information you give out to anyone, but between you and me, I’ve got 11 million in commitments from three different countries. If you give me a hint… well, you could have a head-start in the next UN negotiations.

If you put a Model United Nations conference into a blender with War of the Worlds, you’d get Watch The Skies, a six hour megagame in which 40 people take control of eight nations, one news organisation, and one mysterious alien race. In our ‘Lite’ version of the game, each nation had four players: the Head of State, Chief of Defence, Chief Scientist, and Foreign Minister, each with their own unique abilities and responsibilities.

IMG_1346.jpg

While there’s a map with tanks and fighter jets, and there’s money and counters and cards, Watch The Skies really is more like Model UN than Risk: to achieve your objectives, you need effective diplomacy, not battle tactics and dice rolls.

There are plenty of other megagames. One is set in feudal Japan; another sees you battling a zombie outbreak. There’s even The World Turned Upside Down, about the American Revolution. There are genuine differences between megagames, but they all have the same delicate balance of roleplay, diplomacy, and utter panic.

Panic, because there’s literally no way for any individual player or even team to fully comprehend what’s really going on in the game. Sure, you’re in secret talks with the aliens and you’re plotting with Brazil and the UK to vote down France’s bid to chair the next scientific conference – but there’s no way you could know that America and China are about to move their fleets across the Pacific to capture a downed alien ship in Australia, or that Brazil is badmouthing you to all and sundry in the hopes of toppling your government.

Not unless you read the fearless, globe-trotting in-game news service, GNN, of course.

lol, jk – we didn’t know about any of it either! Continue reading “Playing Press at Watch The Skies Megagame”

The second case in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective was a lot easier, taking under an hour to fully solve. The game’s mechanics continue to fascinate me and I can see all sorts of ways to extend them with apps…