Welcome to GeekOut South-West, where you can read the very best* in geek entertainment, from anywhere on the internet.
Below you will see the Top 10 for this week, which is called Top 10 In-Game Tutorials. You can use this article to get an idea of what games the GeekOut Media writers think are the very best in-game tutorials.
Proceed to the next section to commence reading.
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Since the dominance of the sandbox, railroading gameplay through linear non-divergent story and specific plot paths has become something of a faux-pas in game design, and was never looked upon favourably in tabletop roleplaying. As a player you seek agency, and often that comes from such simple things as choosing which path to take to the same inevitable end, and not following the obvious trail of breadcrumbs laid out for you. These days we laud games for open worlds, multiple endings, and the ability to approach one problem a dozen ways, to play it your way.
All but gone are the days of the 3D platformer, and the rail shooter, technology and computing power has given us the power to create actual worlds and weave beautiful stories into them rather than just telling a story and dragging you by the nose along it.
But is it so bad a thing that we’re better off entirely being rid of it, and casting away the strictly linear narratives of old?
There are times when actually taking your players by the nose and dragging them to the plot is not necessarily an unforgivable act. Here are a couple of examples of uses for, and in defence of railroading your story.
Here’s a nice easy one to get this started off. When beginning a campaign, or game, or whatever interactive experience your trying to share, you’ll usually have a few fundamentals to share, basic bits of information to share that’ll allow the player to understand the experiences to follow. A little bit of railroading aids “showing not telling” like the opening test chambers of Portal encouraging thinking with portals. Obduction drives you down a path in pursuit of one of the world-shifting seeds, and leaves you in a small bubble that tells you everything you need to know about the transition mechanics you’ll be playing with.
It’s a form of tutorial, but done right it’s so subtle that you barely notice it every replay. We’re guided through set pieces that leave us without doubt about where we’re going or what we’re doing for the rest of the game.
There are occasions where your story takes a turn that irrevocably changes everything. No turning back, and no matter what you have done up to this point this moment was unavoidable. Moments like the time-shift in Guild Wars, where the entire “tutorial” felt like an open world in it’s own right, only for everything to change in a single moment. Transitioning from one Mass Effect or Witcher still leaves you with a short period in which games are identical, no matter the decisions you’ve made.
Now, actions and decisions made before this pivotal moment can alter the events that follow, but all paths lead here ultimately. Most games use this kind of narrative, the storyline quests that so often get ignored in pure sandboxes, but there are times where that epic moment changes everything to the point where there’s no going back or wandering off to finish that sidequest you’ve been ignoring.
I’ll skim over this because this one’s more of a cheap trick, somewhat less acceptable. False choices are the doors you walk up to that suddenly slam shut and lock you out, or those decisions that immediately kill you or end the game. Arkham City did that with Catwoman’s story at one stage, where she had the option to simply walk away with loot in pocket, but because the game needed you to save Batman the game simply ended there. Sorry guys, given a real choice I’d have taken the money and run.
A Good Story
Halflife, Telltale Games, Psychonauts, hell most games will railroad up to a point. When your story is good and worth telling there’s nothing wrong with taking agency from the players in terms of narrative direction. In the drive to create bigger and more incredible games let’s not lose sight of a good story and the ways in which we can tell them, putting the player into the hazard suit of a mute scientist as he weaves through supersoldiers and alien parasites to reach the incredible conclusion of his epic tale (that will have been stuck on a cliffhanger for ten years this October) or filling the boots of the intrepid archaeologist as she shoots her way through adventures far more thrilling than any actual archaeologist would ever encounter.
I consider myself a world-builder first and foremost, so I’ll advocate for the ability to wander aimlessly around the whole world and delve its deepest corners and unveil every shred of lore, even if I have to sit and spend time that should be shooting down killer robots reading books on killer robot maintenance. But sometimes when a moment needs to be shared, or an idea is so stunning that it simply must be seen, there’s nothing wrong with putting the plot on tracks and asking everyone to enjoy the ride for a while.
Last week I discussed how an excess of choice can bog down a game, force players into disappointing situations and take too long reaching them in the process.
Choice is not the enemy of fun, quite the reverse. Being led by the nose down a long and bland railroad is just as bad as standing in the middle of a wide open plane being told to get going. Choices, when done right, empower the player, make them feel as though they are important to the world, and to give them greater control over how they choose to play.
Here’s some games that got it right, at least in my opinion…
Much like Borderlands: The Presequel, The Witcher suffers with high quest density which has made it a little hard for me to enjoy it quite as much as everyone else. Unlike B:tPS, the story-quests offer cement choices that alter narrative points as you go.
Now I base this on my limited playtime of the first game, but I do my research, and it doesn’t take long before your descisions in The Witcher start to have their impact. Where you make your stand at Kaer Morhen leaves elsewhere under-manned, meaning that one of your enemies is free to reappear elsewhere later; your attitude toward the rebel group Scoia’tael in the opening chapter changes the way they behave, their strength, and numbers.
Even better, the choices are far reaching, and echo throughout the game, making them feel more impactful. They span games in the same way that a choice might in Mass Effect (but I haven’t even started on Mass Effect so I shan’t go into it) so that your choices give you the sense that the way you guide Geralt changes the whole world. It’s just good design, it makes for a far more powerful narrative, and makes all of those sidequests feel less wasteful.
The very format of the typical Telltale format is entirely based on choice. More often than not your only interactions are choosing what you say, indeed whether or not to say anything, and more often than not those sections in which you are not in discussion then there are no choices to make, actions to survive. By the end of the Walking Dead you have changed the life of the little girl Clem; your every conversation in Borderlands changes your party roster in the final fight; who knows how the Batman series will end.
Many times those choices are ultimately pointless, perhaps taking a slightly meandering path to reach the same destination, changes made only to a few stops along the way, but even if your choices have no impact whatsoever, there’s a little feature that leaves you with the illusion of influence:
“Clementine will remember that.”
Those words seem to echo with every character expression, given that Telltale’s gameplay is it’s narrative a character’s reaction to your descisions is often your win/lose scenario. It’s pretty clear when you’ve hurt a friends’ feelings, and sometimes no decision feels like the right one. Choice as gameplay is an interesting descision but it’s a format that’s working for them.
Slightly different to the other two, Shadowrun is better example of agency, the power of the player. In its’ efforts to simulate a real pen and paper RPG, you have a full battery of choices regarding your character’s creation and style of play. It has little to no impact on story but gives you a wider scope on how you engage, especially when taking into account choice of other party members. Do you build for a high-damage gang of mages? Keep the balance of tank/control/damage? It’s a lot more nuanced than your average strategy game where you have clear roles, respond directly to your situation.
You have various approaches to solving puzzles, hacking, deducing, talking or just plain killing your way through obstacles. Conversations yield different information and alter NPC opinions of you depending how you approach them, and your choice of quests and who to take on those quests can have little impacts on the overall narrative, not a lot, but enough to feel as though you have some kind of power in the world.
While it can’t quite capture the illusion of limitless options that you have at the table, it offers you diversity in a way that similar games – like your isometric hack-n-slash or more action-focused RPGs – simply can’t, and it’s a radical departure from the decision-focused game styles listed above. Your choice is in your approach, not so much your outcome, and that’s where replay value comes from.
Power and freedom stem from the ability to make choices, and while in our modern society we may find ourselves dizzied by the multitude of choices we have, within a well made game we have choices that give us agency. A good game should make us feel important, make us the hero or villain that can change everything with one choice.
Although a really interesting game would be one that shows us how little our choices really mean…
I’m sure I’m not alone on this one.
Life gets in the way. Work, family, demands on your time and responsibilities to uphold, it all burdens us and eats into time that we used to use playing games. Life is important, sure. As much as we’d love to believe that we can all play games and live functioning lives at the same time is optimistic under current socio-economic conditions, maybe one day, one generation, but it won’t be any time soon. I write a lot about games, but over and over again I find I’m returning to the same old examples that I’ve used repeatedly over various articles. (more…)
Ah, the weather outside is frightful and these fires are so delightful. There’s simply no place to go, so let’s make another Top 10 list for all of you wonderful people. Yes, we’re back once more and this week, it’s our Winter themed list on fireplaces. You chose this list, not us, so we’ve had to seriously think about what constituted a good fireplace from a bad fireplace. Be it the tiling and brickwork, or the fire itself, whatever the reason, it had to keep us warm.
Our idea was that we didn’t have to specifically limit to very specific fireplaces, as otherwise, this might get old real fast… Instead, we’ve thought long and hard and devised a list. We’ve checked it twice, now let’s see which of these fireplaces are naughty and nice. Put up your feet, keep comfy and warm, as we go through our Top 10 Fireplaces.
Since games have begun, people have craved to play games within games. Mini-games, secret Easter egg games, you name it – we’ve wanted to play the games within our video games, like some ridiculous game inception. This is part of the joy of games, that you are able to not just enjoy the game you’re in, but any tip of the hat to other games along the way. Today, Joel and Timlah have been looking into the best games within games – and you may be surprised to hear this isn’t video game exclusive.
Join us as we have a look our Top 10 games within games!
10) Tabletop Games – Tabletop Simulator
We figured this might be cheating a bit, but I wanted to give a nod to this fantastic game regardless. Tabletop Simulator gives you a virtual tabletop in which to play your board games, RPGs, card games and more. One of the coolest things about Tabletop Simulator is the fact it’s added in real physics, which means whenever you place a piece in a board game we’re all familiar with, you can’t just click a spot (well, unless the game was made with that in mind). You need to “physically” pick up the piece, then put it down properly. That is fun unto itself.
Impressively, most of this is user created content, which means that fans are the ones who get to decide how to play their games within this video game. Or you could just be like me: When you start losing in a game, simply flip the table at your opponents. Fun times, fun times indeed. Also, lots of lost friends… Please don’t block me.
9) Mini-games – WarioWare
Also somewhat cheating, we’re now picking a game that is actually entirely about playing mini-games. Fans of the WarioWare series will be familiar with what I mean but if you’ve never picked one up before, these are games that ask you to beat mini-games that characters from Warios world challenge you to. WarioWare is the ultimate in producing a game that revolves purely around the mini-games.
Most of the mini-games last no longer than a few seconds, with only the “Boss Stages” taking longer. Even then, the Boss Stages are so short in comparison to an actual boss stage, that you still feel like it’s just a mini-game in a much bigger game… of Mini-Games. Plus the nature of the Wario character helps to spur you on, wanting to beat Wario and his greedy ways at his own games. Damn you Wario, you might be perfect as a villain and as a mini-games guy.
8) Dice Poker – The Witcher
Looking for a quick in-game buck and then feel the rush of disappointment when you remember you’re not playing a freemium game? The Witcher has the perfect solution! Dice games of chance for gold.
In a game filled with very real characters, and darker facets of life, like racism, drug abuse, and worse, it’s nice to take a well earned gambling break.
I’m entirely sure that some of the players have rigged dice. How the hells do you roll a perfect straight bar one dice, and then roll exactly what they need on that one dice in a single roll?
For more information on the risks of playing dice with dwarves in seedy farms in farming taverns, go to Gambleaware.org
7) Waterloo-O – Psychonauts
Every mental asylum has a Napoleon, and this one has a particular mental block keeping him from getting on with his life. His great x10 grandfather – the actual Napoleon Bonaparte – has beaten him endlessly in a game of strategy that is naturally taking place entirely inside his own head.
Now, the game of Waterloo-O itself is not fully playable in Psychonauts, most of the part you play is persuading the pieces to believe in Fred Bonaparte in the hopes that he’ll finally believe in himself, but it has some elements strongly reminiscent of many great board games: resource management, construction, and warfare. It’s a fun little pastiche of strategy games woven into a narrative.
6) Galaga – Tekken 1
Tekken is a fighting series that I hold very dear to my heart. I remember when I played the original Tekken on my PlayStation 1 and found out about Gon, the most adorable little dinosaur fighter ever. Smash mouth, brutal action in this series, a game that prides itself on the players intuition and sense of defensive timing, rather than all out aggression.
In the original Tekken, there was a lovely little homage to Galaga. A fun space shooter, this wonderful game was also a game I spent many an hour on as a child, so seeing it in my favourite fighter was that much more satisfying. Even better, if you beat the Galaga game properly, you unlocked one of the coolest characters in the Tekken 1 roster: Devil Kazuya. If you played Tekken 1 and didn’t know about this little feature, I want you to go dust off your PS1 and play this. Right now.
5) Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax – Saints Row the Third
Saints Row the Third is a game that prides itself on being wacky, crazy and very different to its competitors. So when I heard about this mini-game within Saints Row the Third, I thought “Yeah, this makes sense!” Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax (PGSERC) see’s the Protagonist of Saints Row the Third play in a game-show styled shooting gallery.
What’s made even better is when you play through PGSERC, you are basically playing Saints Row – You’re just shooting guys! But you’re getting scored and having a game show host announce how well you’re doing. What’s more, there’s several levels of this insane shooting gallery! I have a really bad sneaking suspicion that if this was a real life game show, it would be pulled off the air pretty quickly. Thanks Professor Genki and your stupidly adorable cat head.
4) Blitzball – Final Fantasy X
Blitzball is basically a flying version of football.
There, I said it. That’s all that needs to be said. Well okay, there’s a lot more to it than that. Blitzball is a game that requires skill, timing and patience. The Blitzball itself is a spherical ball that has some studded spots coming out of it. As such, it’s not quite the same as kicking a football, but similar. The Blitzball itself is a strong bit of equipment, able to withstand kicks but if it makes impact with you, wow! That hurts!
There is a small period of time where this is in the main story arc, which allows you to unlock Wakka. Once you’ve done the main story tournament of Blitzball, you can then access the game whenever you go to a save point… And it’s a lot of fun!
3) Chicken Kicking – Fable
At the end of the pier in Oakvale, gather honest and noble men to play a game of skill, strength, dexterity, and mental instability! Test yourself and earn the title that you couldn’t be bothered to spend money to get rid of, plus it’s kind of funny hearing people whisper behind you “Chicken Chaser they call ‘im.”
Of all the in-game gambling options in the vast array of RPGs, this poultry-punting pastime is only for the morally questionable, and certainly not for vegetarians. Feathers will fly (because who can resist that joke?).
2) Geometry Wars – Project Gotham Racing
What the dickens is this? Am I trying to deceive you by suggesting that a very well known game in Geometry Wars was actually featured in a racing game?
Well yes, actually. It was made as a sort of Easter egg mini-game inside of Project Gotham’s garage. You were able to play a full demo of the Geometry Wars game and guess what? It was so popular, that it became its own stand alone Xbox Live Arcade game.
The reason this is so far up the list is simple:
- It was a mini-game that was turned into a full fledged game because of how popular it was.
- It only became the most downloaded Xbox Live Arcade game of all time!
- It was made by the devs just to test how to use the Xbox controller.
- The designer of the game’s surname is Cakebread. That’s a point unto itself.
1) Magic: the Gathering – Magic: the Gathering
Unhinged was a parody of introspection, self reference, and in the cards Enter The Dungeon, it becomes a parody of recursion. Both cards force the players to play another game of magic, the winner of which gains benefits within the game currently being played. You’re playing a game of Magic in a game of Magic, a game within a game. What a damn nuisance!
You have to set aside whatever is going on in the game at the time, and play with whatever is left in your deck! It’s a cruel and demented soul that plays that card to force the other player to lose half their life, but why would you do it just to search for two cards? Mean! Weird!
We’ve seen the best of the best in games within games, but sometimes a shout out, or a nod to a game within a game is just as good. These two honourable mentions are an adorable tip of the hat for games within a game.
Nintendo consoles – Pokemon
I can no longer tell whether the Nintendo consoles in the bedrooms of every protagonist in every pokemon edition since Red/Blue is just a consistent piece of not-so-subtle advertising, or whether it has no just become a running joke.
I often find myself wondering if anyone in the pokemon universe plays pokemon. We all know they’ll have Legend of Zelda on tap, but for the kids whose parents hate them enough to force them to stay home and attend school while the other kids are living on the road and combating wild and deadly creatures and criminal organizations, do they get to play the tame home edition?
Pong – Game Dev Tycoon
In Game Dev Tycoon, you play through the game in hopes to be the next big gaming company.
I’ve recently been playing this game through once again and the very first game I made was “Pong”. Okay, it wasn’t the real Pong, but I chose a sport simulation game called “Pong”. As you make the game, there’s a Pong poster that comes to life and starts to play itself when the game is near completion.
This is only in the first level, but throughout the game there are these subtle little nods to games; including Theme Hospital. Because it’s not really a game within a game, but a nod to a game within a game, I thought it still deserved a mention!
For this weeks vote on the next Top 10, 3 of our previously mentioned Top 10’s for you all!
What did you think of our list? Do you think we’ve forgotten any that really deserved at least a mention? Do you agree with our ordering, or has our love for Magic: the Gathering gone a little too far this time? As always, comments below, over on Facebook or Twitter and let us know what you felt! Please remember to cast your votes for your next choice of Top 10! Also, if you have suggestions for future Top 10‘s, let us know!
Welcome to Cosplayer Highlight, where we are joined by an incredible Cosplayer from the cosplay community.
Today we’re joined by a familiar face from a previous Cosplayer Highlight in Komplex from the Cosplay Duo, the British Bumpkins. We thought we’d interview these two lovely ladies separately this time around and see what’s new for each of them.
So read on for another awesome interview with an incredible member of the cosplay community.
Is it better to put yourself in the place of the hero, or would you rather play through the adventure of another? A fully fledged person with a personality of their own vs. a place-holder in whose eyes you see through, and whose life you live.
The name “Mary Sue” applies to any character who serves only to fulfil the private wishes and fantasies of the author. They often have limitless or all too convenient powers and abilities that make them effectively unbeatable, and a bland personality. The problem with the voiceless protagonist is that they tend to fall firmly into that category, Gordon Freeman, Link, Isaac Clarke for examples. There are notable examples of speaking “Mary Sues,” most famous perhaps being Master Chief, who loses points for talking but gains them for hiding his face, allowing the player to narcissistically apply his/her own face underneath the helmet (another common factor of the Mary Sue). (more…)