Create your own game content, two months before the game is released

Electronic Arts will be releasing Army of Two: The 40th Day in January.   However, potential game customers can get in the game early…..not by playing, but by creating.   The game has a custom uniform and armor creator, which allows players to create their own look, and then play with the custom duds on their own characters when the game is released in January.   Gaming has evolved a great deal over the years, and it’s exciting to see developers embrace the idea that users would like to (and will) create their own content.

My brother and I are still playing the original Army of Two, and we like it quite a bit.   Army of Two: 40th Day will be a day one purchase for us.   When I emailed him to tell him about the custom armor creation, he replied, “I put My Little Pony emblems on your shoulder pads. Deal with it.”   I imagine that the possibilities are endless.   I’m thinking my brother would look great in battle armor emblazoned with the Care Bears or Smurfs.

Announcing the Librarian Gamers Facebook group

Click to Join the Group
Click to Join the Group

On last week’s Lib4Dead Game club post, several folks commented that it would be nice to have a Facebook group to meet other gaming librarians and coordinate times and games to play. Well ask and ye shall receive.   I’ve just created the Librarian Gamers’ Group on Facebook. Here’s the description:

If you’re a librarian, library worker, or library school student, and you enjoy playing video games with others online, then this is your group.   Join this group to find other library folks who enjoy playing online video games. Use this group to meet players, coordinate times, and suggest games to play.   Look for games and gamers in the discussions tab at the top of the page.   Get to know your colleagues through play and maybe talk a little librarian shop at the same time. It’s a professional networking opportunity that is fun and doesn’t require you to leave your couch.

The group is very much a work in progress, so hopefully new members can help improve it.

Click here to join the group.

The Lib4Dead Game club wants you!!

Click for IGNs Review
Click for IGN's Review

“I had a ridiculous amount of fun. That was my first online co-op gaming experience, and I can’t wait for the next one.”

Last night Chad (the other one), Toby, and I got together via Xbox Live to play Left 4 Dead. We had a blast, and we want to let you in on the fun as well.   There’s gotta be some more librarians out there who would enjoy slaying some zombies.   Are there any librarians up for joining us?

To give some background, Left 4 Dead is a game that places four players in a town that has been overrun by zombies. You and your teammates have to fight your way out, armed with rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and the occasional Molotov cocktail or pipe bomb. The game insists that the four players work together in order to survive. It is easily one of the most enjoyable cooperative gameplay experiences you can have.     For more info about the game, click the image on the left.

Since we only had 3 in our party last night, we’ve got room for at least one more. The character of Zoe was played by the computer last night, and while she handled herself well, we’d appreciate another human teammate.   If more than one librarian wants to play, then we’ll figure something out.   If this happens, we could play the L4D multiplayer, which allows for 4 on 4 gaming.

So, what types of folks are we looking for?

  1. You need to   be a librarian, library school student, or work in a library.   While we’re too busy killing zombies to talk shop too much, we do see this as a librarian networking opportunity.   Sort of a get to know other librarians through play, if you will.   We’re not trying to be exclusive here, but if you’re not a librarian, we would   likely bore you with our endless banter of the Dewey Decimal System and comfortable brown shoes while we reload our weapons.   😉
  2. You’ll need the stuff to play, which includes an Xbox 360, a copy of Left 4 Dead, and an Xbox Live Gold membership.   If you don’t have any of the equipment but have questions about what to get, please feel free to contact either Chad H., Toby, or myself.   We can tell you what you need to get started.   With Christmas right around the corner, it’s a great time to get a deal on a console or put one on your wish list.   Left 4 Dead can be picked up and played anytime, so you’re welcome to join us when you get the equipment.
  3. You want to have lots of fun.   You need not take yourself or your gaming too seriously. Toby can tell you that I lit him on fire at least once per chapter with a Molotov cocktail last night, and Chad can tell you that the bullets from my M-16 found his back on more than one occasion.   What’s a little friendly fire among friends?(there’s too many Chad’s around here anyways).   We laughed about it and enjoyed playing together.   If you’re looking for fun cooperative gaming, we’re your group.
  4. You want to have lots and lots of fun.   Again. Seriously.   Last night we played the game on Easy mode,   and only one of us escaped on the last level of the campaign, so we aren’t hard core competitive gamers.   We just want to play with fun folks who have similar interests.

So, are you interested? Do you want to play with a great group of folks?   If so, please leave a comment on this post, or send me an email on my contact page.   I’ll follow up with an email and an XboxLive friend request. We’re having loads of fun, and we’d love to have you.

When are we playing next?

Our next Lib4Dead Game session will be Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 10:00 PM eastern.   We’ll play through the second campaign of Left 4 Dead, which should take about 60-90 minutes.

Family game night 500 miles apart

Last Christmas, I put a request in to Santa, or rather, my Mom.   I asked her to get my brother and I each an Xbox 360 for Christmas.   My brother and I pitched the idea to her mostly as a way for us to play together online and have something in common.   My brother is five years younger than me, is newly married and is working on a new career.   I’ve been married for seven years, have three kids, and have been in my current job and career track for more than seven years.   In other words, we don’t have a whole lot to talk about, as our lives are very different.   Couple that with the fact that we live 500 miles apart and its easy to see why we weren’t as close as we were growing up.   That all changed shortly after Christmas 2008.

My mom came through, and on Christmas day we both received our Xbox 360’s. It honestly wasn’t a surprise, as my mom called me with questions when she was ordering them from Amazon.   😉 .   I got my brother Madden 2009 for Christmas, and we spent some time playing the game together on my folks giant TV (seriously, the thing is HUGE).   After we parted ways for the holidays, my brother and I went back to our own homes and hooked up our new consoles.   Since the first week of January, we’ve been trying to play together online once a week, and it’s done great things for our relationship.   With Xbox Live (you can do the same thing with the PlayStation Network), my brother and I are able to play a game together while talking via voice over IP.   We’ve been playing mostly co-operative games together in our mostly-weekly gaming time.

Co-op games allow us to play as a team in order to accomplish a particular goal or progress in the game.   We’ve played quite   few games together including Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Castle Crashers.   These two games are fun, as you’re playing together as a team, and they both have very similar play mechanisms.   Basically you and your buddy choose characters and you move from room to room, beating up the bad guys until you clear the room. After you clear the room you can move to the next room and repeat the process.   Eventually you get to the end of the level and usually have to face off against a larger boss.   In the process of beating up the bad guys, my brother and I talk about what’s going on in our lives in between shouts of “get that guy” or “nice shot Chad! You’re the awesomest gamer I’ve ever known” (really 😉 ).   The gaming is pretty simple and doesn’t really demand a whole lot from the players.   These games are often referred to as “button-mashers”, as the player is simply mashing a button to make his character beat up the bad guys, repeating the mashing until all enemies are dealt with.

While those games are fun,   I felt Marvel and Castle Crashers were missing something.   I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until my brother and I started playing Gears of War. Gears can be played co-op as well, with each player choosing one of two characters.   My brother and I have played through 3/4 of the game together, and we’ve had a blast with it.   In the game, the two characters have to take on an army of aliens (called locusts).   It’s pretty much insurmountable odds, but by working together, two people actually do have a chance against the locusts.   What makes the game so cool is that you aren’t simply moving from room to room all the time clearing enemies before moving on.   There are elements in the game where the two players are doing two separate activities.   In one scene in the game, I had to shine a spotlight from the roof of a building to keep my brother from being eaten by vampire demon things called Kryll.   As long as I directed the light on top of my brother’s character from the building above, the Kryll (afraid of light) would leave him alone.   In order to keep in the light, my brother and I had to communicate where he was going to move, and where I was going to shine the light.   Also, more locusts were firing at him on the ground, so I had to tell him where the bad guys were.

There are lots of other places in Gears of War where you truly feel like you have accomplished something by working with your partner.   Army of Two, the game we are currently playing, also places a very heavy emphasis on teamwork.   In most cases, one player will attempt to draw the fire of the enemies, while the other player sneaks around and takes them out from another location.   In many cases, waves of enemies keep pouring in, the two players have to work together to figure our the best course of action when they are outnumbered.   Also, both games enable the players to help each other when they are down.   In Army of Two, when my player goes down after taking too many shots, my brother can come drag me to a safe location and bandage me up.   Gears also has this ability to revive a downed partner.   In both cases, each player is very dependent on the other for survival in the game.     The games require you to watch each other’s backs.

In watching my brother’s back, and with him watching mine, we’ve had some great fun together in the games we’ve played.   We’re getting close to beating Army of Two, and we are both hungry for the moment we can say we conquered the game together.   In working together towards that common goal of beating the bad guys, my brother and I have gotten a lot closer.   The games we play (and the ones we want to play in the future) give us something to talk about.   We can talk as we play with virtual guns, shoot the bad guys, strategize about a level, and even talk about how cool the game’s scenery is.   The games give us a place to talk about our lives, to relate to each other, and to grow our relationship together.   We look forward to playing together each week, and when we don’t we really miss   the game, the conversation, and the time together.

The Problem With Achievement Points

I’ll admit it that even though I have a pathetically low gamerscore, I’m looking forward to collecting more achievements while playing games on my XBOX 360.   However, some achievements are not even worth the effort, as this post from GameLemon demonstrates.

All the cheering and joy was suffice it to say, instantly diminished, when we saw what was a remarkably small number of points awarded for investing so much time in a game. Here’s the thing, I understand there are1000 points to dole out for an Xbox360 game and somebody somewhere has to determine what they’re going to be, how many you’ll get for offline play and how many you’ll get for multiplayer, yatta yatta yatta. But for us 360 folk the issue is that there is an amazing amount of imbalance with this system.

Caring About The Prince of Persia

GameSetWatch – Column: ‘Diamond in the Rough’ : Caring About The Prince.

A good review of the Prince of Persia, a game that I am currently playing.   The game has received a lot of flack in the gaming press for being too easy, but this article begs to differ:

This Prince of Persia is many things good and bad, but for me, it has been one of the more enthralling experiences provided by a video game. It eschews frustrating, punishing gameplay tropes, and instead follows a hugely unpopular and successful (at its aim) path: it aims to create a continuous, enjoyable, flowing experience, one unhindered by the mechanical, artificial traditions of “achievement” and “fun” that so many games cling to.

Here is a game that asks you to enjoy yourself, and its fiction, and attempts to make these goals as attainable as possible. I can’t think of a more welcome trend to introduce to the industry, and I wish Ubisoft well, especially if they continue to produce products of such impressive quality and passion.

While I’m home with a cold today, it’s what I’ll be playing.

PS3 A Sinking Ship?

Sony’s PS3 A Sinking Ship: Sales Plummet.

Ouch.   I’ve had a Sony console for the past few generations, and I own a PSP now.   But like this article states, the PS3, at 400 bucks, is a long ways away from coming to my house.

There’s really only one option left for Sony to remain in the game: deep price cuts, and not just for people with good credit. Tell yourself the PS3 has superior graphics if it makes you feel better, but a $400 console with a mediocre game library simply cannot compete against an Xbox 360 priced at $200 in this economy.

Is grinding painful or therapuetic?

Generally, when we think of “grind”, we often hear it in terms of the “daily grind,” the necessary, but not always enjoyable effort that we have to earn a paycheck, perform our responsibilities, and just get to the day.   In Role Playing Games (RPGs), the word grind is used to define the process of playing your character through the game in order to level him up, or make him stronger. In many rpgs, the narrative of the game must often be placed on the backburner while the player levels his character, through repetitive grinding, in order to get strong enough to progress to the next level.       Paul and I have both been playing Strategy RPGs (SRPGs), and we’ve been comparing our thoughts quite a bit.   Here’s what Paul sums up in a recent post:

It is not the game’s narrative that held me in the game’s world, it was my emotional connection with the individual characters. Like many role-playing experiences, the enjoyment is derived from the expanded story and characterization created by the player. Grinding has built up a camaraderie between the game characters and myself.While the game’s attempt at developing relationships has slowed as I’ve continued to grind, my emotional investment with the characters has continued to grow.

As I develop a personal investment in the characters, my commitment to the game and the success of each character grows. This isn’t a unique experience for video games. And the debate over which is more engaging: an open ended user created narrative vs. a tightly channeled game narrative is one that fills message boards on a regular basis.There is clearly a place for both. And some games find a balance between the two (the 12 million playing WOW’s new Lich King expansion are an example).

Is one narrative experience more valuable than other?

On July 21, my wife gave me my first SRPG, Disagea:Afternoon of Darkness.   Since then, I’ve put almost 50 hours into the game, and I’m currently about 80% finished with the game’s narrative.   In the game, after the completion of each Episode (generally a collection of 4 levels), the player receives a pretty substantial piece of the continuing narrative, which is delivered via cinematic cutscenes.   The player works through the levels (often playing and failing levels multiple times) in order to clear the episode and receive more of the story.   The story is the carrot that keeps the player involved in the game.   Up until Episode 11 (out of 13) in the game, I’ve been pretty much able to breeze through   most levels on the first or second try.   A a result, I have been able to receive the carrots fairly frequently.   However, my progress has come to a grinding halt (pun intended) in Episode 11.

In Episode 11, I have now faced a greater challenge than I have come across in previous levels.   The particular level that I am on has stronger enemies and more challenging level design.   After playing and failing to beat the level many times, I finally became aware that the team of characters that I crafted over the previous eleven levels would not be sufficient to clear the level, much less finish the game.   If this was any other game genre (action, adventure, shooter, etc) I would likely give up on the game at this point.   However, because SRPGs allow the player to truly control his experience with character creation and customization, I realized that this was part of the game.   Since I did not have the right mix of characters in my team, I would have to create new characters that would provide more balance to my party.

Unfortunately, you cannot just create new characters from scratch and throw them into battle in the 11th Episode of a game.   If you do, the new characters would likely be crushed instantly in battle.   In order to get your newly created characters ready, you have to return to previously finished levels with weaker enemies in order to level-up the characters. As the new characters defeat enemies, they get experience points, which contribute to their overall levels.   As they get more experience, the will be able to defeat tougher enemies.   In order for me to get past Episdode 11, I have created several Mages (magicians who can attack at a distance) and a few Clerics (magicians who can heal team members with magic).   Prior to getting stuck in the current Episode, I did not need these characters, and saw no need to create them.   However, once I got to Episode 11, I found that my Brawlers, Warriors, and Scouts (all traditional weapon wielders with swords, guns, and axes) would not cut it.   As result, I’ve spent the last 5 hours in the game leveling up my new Mages and Clerics.

Now going back to the drawing board here might really frustrate some gamers, particularly after the amount of time invested in the game.   Going back to a beginning level may seem pointlessly redundant, and I could easily become frustrated that I did not create the right characters in the first place.   Some may find that leveling up can be a ridiculously boring process, since you simply play previous levels in order to strengthen the weaker characters.   I initially thought I would feel the same, but I’m actually enjoying the process of level grinding.   And believe me, it is a process.

While playing the game in the early stages, I was so wrapped up in the story narrative that I did not pay much attention to the development of my characters. Sure, I added armor and new weapons to each character as I acquired them, but my main goal was to strive for the next piece of the narrative.   In the past five hours of the game, my primary goal has switched to the sole purpose of strengthening a handful of characters, not in progressing the story.   This has changed how I’ve played the game.   Before, when I was more concerned about the story, I would use my strongest characters the most in battle while avoiding the weaker ones.   Now that strategy has flipped, as I am now trying to get the weaker characters as strong as the most powerful ones.   Because I am now playing the beginning levels of the game with different characters, I have to employ different strategies than I did before, as each character plays differently. As such, I’m seeing and learning things about the game, and about myself as a player, a bit differently.

In other words, I had gotten quite comfortable with how I was playing the game.   The game shocked me out of my comfort zone at Episode 11, which caused me to stop, re-evlaulate, and play the game in a different way.   I’m now beginning to experience the game at a deeper level than before, and becoming stronger at different elements of the gameplay.     It’s almost like the game recognized my strengths and weaknesses as a player, and in Episode 11, it required that I become stronger in my weaker areas in order to proceed to the next level.   By exploring the game in a different way, I’m learning to master the game in totally different ways.   In the process of grinding, I have found the game to be more therapuetic than I thought it would be.   Kind of ironic, but I guess I’m escaping the “daily grind” by grinding.   However, in the game, I can see immediate results of my grind, while similar results don’t easily manifest themselves in the real world.

Update:   Paul discusses these concepts even deeper at Vs. Mode: Level Grinding in SRPGs as a Research Process.

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