RIP Flappy Bird; all hail the absurd Flash successor

I’m sure most everyone has heard by now, but Flappy Bird has been removed from sale, so while those of us who already have it on our phone can continue to play it, for everyone else the titular creature has flapped into the sunset.

Insert Metal Gear Solid theme song here.
Insert Metal Gear Solid theme song here.

Do not fret, however! The guy behind games like Super Hexagon and VVVVVV has us covered with a flash game that makes Flappy Bird look like Fisher Price’s My First Difficulty Level.

Presenting Maverick Bird.

If you score higher than about ten I’m pretty sure you’re a legend.*

Have at it! You’ll probably be playing for a while as this game comes complete with Robot Unicorn Attack Syndrome (aka you won’t stop playing until the catchy song is done).

* EDIT: I have surpassed ten and been informed that some of my friends have done likewise. I’m bumping the new score-to-beat up to 20. Mister Adequate has 31. ARE YOU A BAD ENOUGH DUDE?

The Merits of Experimentation

I was recently seized by the desire to play some Final Fantasies so I went back to the beginning and played through I in a couple of days, and then I started II. Now, like Pike when she started it a couple of years ago, I had never played FF2 before now. And like Pike I had heard a lot of polarizing talk about the game, especially with regards to its somewhat unconventional character growth system.

See, in FF2 you don’t gain experience points to level. Instead, much more in the vein of western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls, your characters grow according to what they do in battles. If they take a lot of hits they’ll gain HP and Stamina. If they cast magic, MP and Spirit or Intelligence, depending on whether it’s White or Black magic. Dodge and you gain dodge and agility. You get the idea. This doesn’t just apply to stats though, but also to your weapon proficiencies and magic. Use a particular class of weapon more and you’ll get better with it. Use a particular spell more and it will grow more powerful and more accurate, though also costing more MP.

I’m playing the PSP version which has enjoyed some years of refinement and polish over the original so it’s quite possible that the original’s balance was all out of whack. But I can safely say this system is one of the most engaging I’ve encountered in a JRPG in a long long time. I’m enjoying it tremendously and I cannot even begin to fathom what the complaints are. (I mean, I know what they are because I’ve read them, but if I hadn’t read them I’d never have figured them out by myself.) It’s deeply satisfying to get such feedback and results to how you play and it feels like there’s a lot more freedom here than in typical party-based RPGs.

wow very hate much dissent very opinion
wow
very hate
much dissent
very opinion

But this goes, in my eyes, further than just being a system I am enjoying. What I’m finding is that I’m very naturally finding roles for my party members and that it’s not based on preset things but rather what feels sensible when a role needs to be decided. For instance, at the start of the game Guy, a big dude, seems like the obvious choice for heavy hitter. And he is a pretty heavy hitter. But he’s also loaded with the exact sorts of spells that have moderate, occasional, or intermediate use. I don’t need to stick Teleport on a dedicated mage, and I’d rather have Life on someone with a ton of health. The thing that makes this work is that you can level your spells as well. Guy doesn’t need to spend much time on his magic to still be useful with it. On the other hand Firion is carrying my offensive spells and because the spells grow as you use them, I find myself ensuring I do some casting regularly. I’m still early in the game but it already feels like a much more natural and sensible system than many RPGs manage. It’s a system which influences how I play without dictating it, and a system which rewards investment without being too malleable and having characters end up being very easily swapped because their abilities are tied completely into equippable items. It’s pretty simple to turn Barret into a mage and Aeris into a heavy hitter once you’ve got the materia to do it.

Ultimately what I’m enjoying is that character development fits into this wonderful niche of being freeform and not constricting without simply turning the characters into identikits of each other. By the standards of Final Fantasy this was a highly experimental game and I’m very glad Square made the choices they did with it because it has resulted in a real gem.

What about you guys? Do you have opinions on FF2, or perhaps you’ve come across interesting leveling systems in other games? Feel free to share your opinions, and remember we’re as interested in hearing about games that tried and failed as much as those which succeeded! Not every experiment will succeed, but learning about why one failed is at least as important as why another succeeded.

Why Can’t I Stop Playing The Stupidest Game Ever?

In this post I am actually going to live up to the blog namesake a bit and talk about an Android game. You have probably played it, and if you haven’t played it, you have probably heard of it.

I am, of course, talking about Flappy Bird.

Flappy-Bird-Teaser

It is the dumbest game ever. It involves tapping the screen to guide a bird through some obstacles. You get one point for every obstacle you successfully negotiate and you go until you lose. That’s it.

So why can’t I stop playing it? No, really?

This is my actual face upon realizing that I cannot stop playing this dumb game.
This is my actual face upon realizing that I cannot stop playing this dumb game.

Have any of you fallen prey to this game? What other really stupid games can you not stop playing?

In Which Pike Destroys Her Expensive Mechanical Keyboard

This, my friends, is a sad tale of foolishness and folly, and I share it so that you may, perhaps, learn from my own mistakes.

Three months ago I splurged and got myself one of those super fancy mechanical gaming keyboards. I reasoned that it would be a good investment that would last me forever, and also function as a consolidation prize for having to send Mister Adequate back to England after a nice visit of his.

And oh, it was a lovely keyboard and made the most wonderous clickety-clackety noises when I typed! It was, I was sure, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Until yesterday, when I somehow managed to knock a full glass of chocolate milk right onto the thing.

Basically.
Basically.

As you can imagine, watching chocolate milk seep into all the little nooks and crannies of my prized keyboard was horrifying and put me right into a terrific panic. Unsure of what to do, I unplugged it, dragged it over to the sink, drained out the milk and then gave it a shower. At the time I was fully aware dousing it in water might just have been putting the nail in the coffin but I had no idea how to approach this whole situation and I figured that time was of the essence.

After this I let it sit and dry for a while and then plugged it in and gave it a shot.

The keyboard worked… sort of. Certain keys gave ridiculous results; for example, anything on the numpad gave me “abcdef” and the shift key gave me “333333333”. After a while everything quit working UNLESS I WAS WRITING IN CAPS LOCK. Then nothing would work, and then everything was normal for about three minutes before the keyboard started to press random buttons at random intervals, shutting down various programs against my will.

After several hours of trying to salvage this situation I gave up and bought myself a new keyboard. One which was just as expensive as the first.

Mon visage quand.
Mon visage quand.

Why am I telling you this sad, sad story, dear reader? It is so you can avoid this fate. Eating and drinking at our computer is, for many of us, a fact of life, but I’ve already ordered this keyboard protector because I am clumsy and really should have done that a million years ago. In the meantime, because I am paranoid, I have saranwrapped my super expensive keyboard. Yes, it’s silly. I don’t care. Typing on a saranwrapped keyboard is a lot easier than you’d think and I sure as hell am not going to let this happen again.

Friends. Do not let this happen to you. Get a keyboard protector and/or be careful where you keep your drinks. Just… trust me.

Trust me.

Linux Gaming Has Come a Long Way

Any of you longtime readers who have followed me here from Aspect of the Hare, that blog I started writing some seven years ago or so (any of you guys left? One, maybe two of you there in the back? Hi!) will remember that my operating system of choice was Linux and I was very proud of the fact that I played World of Warcraft exclusively on that system. As a matter of fact I continued to use Linux either exclusively or near-exclusively for a very long time, until probably about a year or two back when I realized that Windows 7 was actually a pretty good OS and I switched to that– largely for the ease of gaming.

Well, on a whim I decided to reinstall Linux today. The first thing I noticed is how easily Steam installs, and the second thing I noticed is that I have over 80 games in my Steam list that I can install on Linux.

Damn.

I remember when Linux gaming involved either playing copious amounts of Frozen Bubble, KSolitaire and SuperTux and then calling it good, or wrangling with Wine for hours on end. And here I am, able to play fantastic games like Europa Universalis IV, Crusader Kings II, and Awesomenauts natively on Linux! And what’s more, they run beautifully too!

Pretty much.
Pretty much.

So if any of you guys out there maybe gave Linux a shot once upon a time and then decided that it wasn’t worth the effort because you wanted to play games, now’s a good time to give it another whirl. And as far as I’m concerned, the future is only bright – now that Steam and the SteamBox are really pushing Linux gaming, things are really starting to get super exciting. Just think where we’ll be in a few more years!

Hail the penguin!

I Will Figure Out Dark Souls If It’s The Last Thing I Do

Quite some time back I tried to figure out the infamous game Dark Souls. I really did. I dumped hours into it, trying to like it. But I didn’t. I found it to be very puzzle-game-esque, which isn’t exactly bad in and of itself, but trying to figure out the puzzle every time you want to beat a sequence just grew tiring to me– especially when you’ve been stuck in the same sequence forever.

However, several months later people are still telling me how wonderful and amazing this game is and so I’ve decided it deserves another shot. I’ve reinstalled it and having put a half hour into it so far I… uh… well my opinion hasn’t changed much from last time. But I refuse to give up for at least another few hours! Eventually I am going to figure out this game!

This is actually occurring in game right now because I'm alt-tabbed out to write this.
This is actually occurring in game right now because I’m alt-tabbed out to write this.

So that is what I am going to do. I am going to play this game, dagnabit, until I like it. Or at least until I remember that I’ve got a great Victoria 2 save going on right now. Probably the latter.

…yeah, let’s face it, the latter is going to happen. Hey, it really is a great Vicky 2 save though. I’ll tell you guys about it later.

Atari Breakout!

Hello friends! Of course, when Pike and I resolve to get the blog going again, we both fall deathly ill and can barely rouse ourselves from bed that exact week! Still, I have largely recovered so here we go with a little blog post!

Here’s what you do: Go to Google Images and type in “atari breakout”. As you will soon see the screen will morph into that precise game, using the images for the blocks! Breakout is one of my very favorite classic games, one I’ve always adored, and it provides a really useful launching off point to show how very very simple systems can still make a very engaging and deep game. If you’re not familiar with Breakout, well, here’s your chance to get acquainted with it – though you might want to hold off if you’re in the middle of an important project ;)

Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness
Awwwwwwwwww yisssss dat 2600 goodness

That’s what Breakout looked like in the beginning and very little has changed. Those colored bars across the top consisted of a number of ‘bricks’, and you use the paddle to hit the ball up towards them, with the objective of breaking every brick. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well it is. But marrying such a simple concept with such a sense of satisfaction is the genius that makes Breakout such a great game – all you’re doing is breaking bricks to clear the screen. You’re not fighting wars like in Hearts of Iron, you’re not shooting mans like in Call of Duty, you’re not going fast like Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed – you’re just breaking some bricks. You’d wonder how it can be so fun and addictive. But that simplicity might be the very reason for it. Anyone can figure out the conceit of Breakout within a few seconds of watching or playing. There’s nothing extraneous to it, not even graphically in the beginning, it’s what you might call a very ‘pure’ game. And when you managed to breakthrough the bricks and get your ball to bounce along the ceiling and the top row? Well, that’s one of the more satisfying experiences in gaming, simple as it might be.

Breakout is a stellar example not just of how videogames began but of what makes them special. With a very simple premise, controls that are simply “left” and “right”, and almost nothing in the way of aesthetics, it’s not something that modern gamers, used to all kinds of razzmatazz and particles and trillions of polygons on Lara Croft’s breasts, might immediately see the value in, but it’s about as pure as a game gets. You’ve got your objective and the means to achieve it, and the only enemy is your own mistakes. It’s pure gameplay, nothing else. That’s something maybe some developers could do with a gentle reminder of in this day and age.

Assassin’s Creed IV, or Pirates!: Murderbowl Edition

I, too, am now making a triumphant return to blogging. As Caesar once crushed Vercingetorix and rode through the great boulevards of Rome, the Votive Games beginning, his conquest of Gaul complete, so I crushed sheer bone idleness and ride through the great cables of the Internet, the Video Games beginning. And I would like to get started by talking to you about the recently released Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Assassin’s Creed, or AssCreed as it’s affectionately called, is a series with a rather interesting history. Back before the first game came out it was quite a curious beast – a game where you play as a member of the Hashshashin order at the time of the Third Crusade, where the Christians have invaded the Holy Land and the Kingdom of Jerusalem exists. This setting comes up now and then in strategy games (Crusader Kings 2 being the obvious example) but an action-adventure game? Much rarer. Also of interest was the fact that the game apparently had a lot of weird futuristic stuff going on. That conceit was well handled by their marketing department because in actuality the framing device of the Animus is revealed in the first few minutes of play.

The game itself was interesting and generally enjoyable but not quite as good as it could have been. Enter AssCreed 2, with the now famous Ezio as the lead. The Ezio Trilogy, including the Revolutions and Brotherhood games, took everything good about I and polished it while taking everything bad and removing or overhauling it. Renaissance Italy is similarly far from a commonplace setting for a videogame of any stripe, let alone an action-adventure game. The step from AC I to II is perhaps one of the seminal examples of how to make a worthwhile sequel that meaningfully improves upon the original. And the same is now true of the step from AC III to IV.


Well… baby steps.

See, the thing with III was this: It was a shiny new engine that allowed all kinds of neat new acrobatics. It included hunting and crafting and the exploration of the American frontier around the time of the Revolutionary War. A fascinating setting and, although perhaps a touch less unusual than the previous ones, still very far from a boring well-worn setting. On the other hand it felt like something of a regression in many ways. The exploration wasn’t tremendously interesting and the story failed to engage. The protagonist Ratonhnhak√©:ton, or Connor seemed a promising character but soon felt too cliched and too typically “videogame lead”, a brooding sort without a sense of humor. In comparison to Haytham Kenway, Connor’s father and the protagonist of the opening chapters of the game, Connor felt uninteresting and uninspired. Kenway, by contrast, wasn’t exactly a beacon of joviality but he was an extremely refined and strong man who projected the utmost confidence and direction. This is not to say that III was a bad game – it was a decent one and I didn’t regret the money or time I spent on it. Nonetheless it lost something that Ezio’s adventures possessed and felt consistently like something was missing.

That something is back with a vengeance. AC IV sees you in the role of Edward Kenway, father of Haytham and grandfather of Connor, and a man of low character who plunders the High Seas of the West Indies. His only real motivation is money and it is deeply enjoyable to see him brush off all this nonsense of Assassins and Templars because he gives no shits, he just wants dosh. I admire that sort of single-mindedness and after Connor’s extreme seriousness it’s quite refreshing to play as someone who barely comprehends morality, let alone cares about it.

But as important as I’ve come to feel a good protagonist is for this series – the lighthearted Ezio, the amoral Edward Kenway, the serious but extremely driven Haytham all outstrip the pride of Altair and the anger of Connor by miles – the game itself has seen meaningful changes. As befits the protagonist the game takes place in the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy, in the aftermath of the War of the Spanish Succession. A whole lot of sailors were left with not much to do when the war ended and a good number of them turned to piracy to get by. So although a large part of the game revolves around the typical AC play of clambering up walls, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, and stabbing dudes in the back/front/face/neck/spine/kidney/liver/stomach/guts/eyes, a huge part of the game also revolves around sailing the seas aboard your ship, the Jackdaw, and getting into a variety of japes with her crew. Most fun of all is fighting naval battles, as you can use a good number of weapons to cripple an enemy ship and then draw alongside her to board her and fight the crew. Upon their defeat you seize her cargo and, well, off you go for more piracy. Now, to be clear, the general sailing and naval battle stuff existed in III and was widely praised as perhaps the game’s strongest element, but it’s still a pleasant surprise to see a late addition to a series be integrated so expertly and given the care it needs. There are gameplay reasons to commit piracy, sure, but I’ve fought a whole lot of Spanish ships just because it’s fun to do rather that for booty and I think that is the mark of a damn sound piece of game design and implementation.

As this article’s title suggests I can feel something of a parallel between this game’s naval aspect and Sid Meier’s Pirates!, which is one of the few games out there to have the same general setting and theme. Obviously they’re rather different games but AC IV definitely feels, to me, like something of a successor to that game – one with a different emphasis and different flavor, true, but still a game which captures what was fun about its spiritual predecessor. Roaming the Spanish Main, singing sea shanties (good luck not singing along IRL when your crew starts bellowing something out!), seeking plunder, and upgrading your ship; although there’s a lot of differences there’s a thread of the same feeling from Pirates! to AC IV and it’s an unexpected and very welcome thing. Combined with the refinements to the on-foot parts of the game and the fact that just running around collecting things is a huge amount of fun, we’re looking at a pretty solid title right here.

Plus, oh my god, forget what I said about Connor that one time – Edward Kenway is the sexiest man in videogames.

Bravely Default Is Looking Super Fun So Far

So let’s talk about Bravely Default, aka Final Fantasy But Without The Name For Some Reason.

I haven't seen any chocobos yet either, come to think of it.
I haven’t seen any chocobos yet either, come to think of it.

Now this is a bit of a backwards case where the rest of the known universe managed to get this game before us Yanks did, much to our chagrin and to the rest of the world’s amusement. There is a free demo on the Nintendo eShop, however, and I recently downloaded it and then proceeded to spend the next four hours playing it nonstop.

As I said at the beginning of the post, it’s basically Final Fantasy, right down to most of the jobs and their roles as well as item names. If you’ve played any old-school Final Fantasy game before, you will jump right into Bravely Default with zero issues. Specifically, Bravely Default is a lot like Final Fantasies III, V, or in a way Tactics, because the focus is on jobs and doing fun things with job combinations. Then you go around and beat on things with a dragoon (“valkyrie”, but it’s the same thing) dual-wielding lances just because you can.

Cooler than you.  And everyone else, for that matter.
Cooler than you. And everyone else, for that matter.

There are a couple of new twists thrown in that are rather unlike previous Final Fantasy games. For starters, the first random battle I encountered included a cat in a wizard hat who promptly one-shotted one of my guys. (This resulted in me immediately exclaiming to Mister Adequate that “You need this game because it is the Dark Souls of JRPGs.”) Secondly you have a nifty little mechanic where you can either “Default” – hunker down, defend, and earn a sort of combo point – or “Brave”, where you spend those combo points to attack/cast something/heal/whatever multiple times. Timing these right can be part of your battle tactics, or alternatively you can just have your dragoon use up all his Braves and then destroy everything at the start of the fight. You know, it’s up to you.

It all sounds so simple, and yet it’s somehow very addictive, and anytime I’ve picked it up recently I’ve wound up playing for a lot longer than I expected I would. In short, if you like grindy JRPGs and giving your nondescript Heroes of Light all sorts of fun class combinations then this might be the game for you. Give the demo a try and see what you think. As for me, I think I’m picking this up when it comes out next month.

[disgusted noise]