Monday, 21 October 2013


I signed up to Audible recently, and it's pretty cool (listen to The Things They Carried, it's narrated by Bryan Cranston), but what I noticed was the 'Me' section on the Audible App. It had a Badge Collection, a listening counter, and a listening level, based on how many hours you listened. It seems like a cheap incentive to carry on with the service, but it's clever in the way that it has counters and progress bars for something as arbitrary as listening to audio books. You see this a lot in games, too. You grind through the next activity just to push that progress bar. The activities you're doing are often unfun or mundane, but you just want to push that progress bar up to the next level. A progress or XP bar can be incorporated into any activity, especially school. It's not fun playing through a dungeon or a level that requires repetitive play, but then having a bar to represent your effort, it feels like tangible progress; like you're actually moving forward. This is called 'gamification'.

Audible aren't the only ones doing this. The popular language-learning app Duolingo had courses like levels in a game. You had 10 stages, a certain amount of lives, and a score for every level. There's an XP count, a streak counter, but most interestingly there are tests. The game equivalent would be boss fights; a test that accounts for all you have learned up to that point. Learning another language is certainly difficult, but having an XP bar with an app that teaches you Spanish is genius. For a difficult task, you need motivation otherwise you could easily just give it a pass. You need an incentive. Duolingo has that incentive. It feels like you're making progress with every lesson you do.

For us gamers, we know that leveling up is awesome, but there has to be an incentive for leveling up, like in Call of Duty you can unlock new guns or somesuch equipment, or on Dota 2 where you're more likely to pick up rare items. Figure that out: you need an incentive for the incentive, but it makes perfect sense. You can't just keep leveling up with nothing to go on, you need a reward. You have put in loads of effort to reach the next level, so some sort of reward would be necessary.

It really depends on what you're implementing it into. For Duolingo, perhaps you could get little things like a translating pack for every level that you progress too, that translates a word you're stuck on, kind of like a health pack in a shooter. For Audible, if you exceed a certain level, you could get a free book token. Maybe you do, I haven't got that far yet. Level incentives are important for gamifying your application.

Think about all the good it can do on a broader scale. It's already done good for me; I plough through my school work with the same work ethic I use in matches in Dota or dungeons in World of Warcraft, Skyrim, or Torchlight 2. It's something the younger generation is accustomed to; they're familiar with games like Call of Duty or Skyrim that require level grinding. Incorporating this into something like Mental Arithmetic application for a school will really encourage the younger generation into learning. Winston Church said "I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught." Maybe gamification will solve this understandable attitude toward learning.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Thoughts on 'Beyond: Two Souls'

Despite the awkward title, I was really looking forward to this, I really was. Ellen Page is my favourite actress and Willem Dafoe is awesome too, and Heavy Rain was somewhat competent as well. I haven't played the game yet, but I want to. I know that it's not going to be as good as I hoped, but I still want to see Ellen Page in every haircut ever, and Willem Dafoe to feature in something that isn't bile. But what else would I expect from David Cage? He's not a very good writer or director. I understand that he wants to progress story in his games but he might just be in the wrong medium.

For those who aren't familiar with David Cage, he directed and wrote Heavy Rain and Farenheight/Indigo Prophecy. He's a fan of the 'choose-your-own-adventure' type of genre; not having much gameplay apart from waggles of the sticks, clunky, awkward movement and Quick-Time Events. Actual gameplay, of course, interferes with the story in David Cage's mind. Having a narrative weaved in to gameplay is an impossible task, apparently, so he chooses to have short moments of a benign gameplay followed by a lengthy cutscene, in which your choices have little effect. But enough of that now.

There's no reason why Heavy Rain couldn't have been a TV drama, or a film, or a murder mystery novel rather than a game. Sure, there are choices to be made, but they're really unnecessary once you complete it. In Heavy Rain, on every playthrough, the identity of the killer is always the same, so there's no point replaying a murder mystery if you already know the mystery, thus making that specific set of choices the only choices that matter. So no, Heavy Rain doesn't belong in games because the interaction is little, the choices, while they result in different endings, are pointless and the atmosphere is little.

So how can David Cage make Beyond: Two Souls any better? By the looks of it, it's very style over substance, in favor of pushing technology than making an actual game, and rather trivial. The whole mocap thing with popular film actors is cool, but it's a very defeatist attitude when you get right down to it. Why have respected game industry veterans in on the project when you can greet video games with Hollywood majestic presence? Almost as if Hollywood is the final frontier for games, or specifically: David Cage.

In recent years, game have been trying to be more cinematic, with Max Payne 3 taking seriousness to its ultimate conclusion, DMC: Devil May Cry having an instagram-esque filter with uber-stylish cutscenes, and The Last of Us trying to be the game equivalent of Oscar-bate. I say leave cinema for cinema. Why make a decent movie with scattered QTE sequences when you can make a great game instead?

By the looks of it, Beyond: Two Souls doesn't look like it has the components to be a great game. It might be a super fine interactive movie with two great film stars, but not a great game. It's a shame, really, because now there's little to look foward to in Gaming Season 2013. Hmm. Well at least there was a Terraria update.