LULzing: Sn4tchbuckl3r's Second Chance

From the people who brought you "You sujck at Photoshop" comes an equally funny spin-off series - Sn4tchbuckl3rs Second Chance.

Sn4tchbuckl3r was Donnie's World of Warcraft guild buddy who was often interrupting his angsty photoshop tutorial/relationship crises with increasingly persistent demands to come back and play the game.

This new series sees Sn4tchbuckl3r coming to terms with his MMORPG addiction and seeking help in a new (Second Life/Sims looking) game dedicated to teaching gamers how to be better people.

I've only seen the first episode so far but it's absolute gold. They've made about half a dozen so far with more to come.

Best gag so far - "What's the key command for curling myself up into the foetal position and crying myself to sleep?" "Shift-Command-C - but it's not available until beta 2".

(Evidently there all also plans to revive the "You suck at Photoshop" series too (which recently picked up both the Best How-to and Best Comedy series videos in the Webby awards). A story on Wired tells us that:

"Once fans began to realize this was the end of Donnie Hoyle, there was a sudden outcry of anger and confusion," said Hitch, who voices the tutorials, in a phone interview. "People were sending hate mail ... posting [threatening] comments and generally doing everything in their individual web 2.0 power to get us to bring Donnie back."

Hate mail and threats? - FFS, seriously. What are some Internet people like?

Anyway, I'm happy to hear it will be back as it is a great series.


Still playing: GTA IV

Ok, just a couple of quick updates:

Niko Bellic can swim (I haven't tried swimming under water yet)

The radio stations really are awesome - spent a few hours driving around Liberty City last night to some very cool jazz. The music you choose really does create a different mood to the gaming experience. Given the "reality" (as far as I know anyway) of the city and the hundreds of films set in New York, it's hard not to make connections. One minutes you're driving around Mean Street, another it's Annie Hall. (Now if I can just find a nerdy looking guy wearing glasses playing clarinet to run over with my Hummer/Patriot, the gaming experience will be complete.)

The social commentary keeps getting better as well on the Fox-like (Weasel) radio station - hard-core Neocons banging on about the need to scrap the minimum wage, health care and so on because it's making America uncompetitive - not sure you'll be getting that in Duke Nukem Forever. (And the little ubernerd kid whose solution to world hunger - "it's a supply and demand problem" is to compost a majority of the worlds hungry poor people to increase food production - all played with a perfectly straight bat and all hilarious.)


Playing: GTA IV (Finally) (Spoiler free)

I've been waiting for this installment in the Grand Theft Auto series for a long time - and longer than most given that I've been embracing the role of diligent student and deliberately not playing it until I finished my big uni assignment for the semester. (Ironically, an assignment all about playing games - oh the torture :)

Anyway, 01.30 yesterday morning saw me typing the final words of my critical reflection of the project and so I trundled into work yesterday morning happy as Leisure Suit Larry to collect my copy of GTA IV from a colleague who had been safe-keeping it for me. (I don't have a whole lot of self control when I'm procrastinating so it seemed like the best idea). Managed to avoid ducking home early (tempting as the prospect was) and after dinner settled in for some quality time in Liberty City.

It's funny the impact that working on my uni assignment has had on me, a large part of it was dissecting FPS games into key elements (which applies equally to any kind of game) and I'd say there were at least a dozen points in the game where I found myself thinking - oh, that's clever, I really like how they've used contextual HUD information there. Fortunately, this wasn't too distracting and just added to my emotional enjoyment of the game as an artifact. (Gaah, stop it. Stop it now brain - you don't have to be smart any more, just shut up and drive :)

I will make use of the Jarvinen model (Jarvinen, 2007) - sorry :) to talk about my initial responses to this game though as it's a good way of covering all the bases.
Jarvinen says that all games - sport, cards, video games etc - need to have at least 7 of these 9 elements - Player, Game Mechanics (what you can do), Components (the things you do stuff to), Game Environment (the playing field), Rule Set, Information (your score, health, etc), Theme (story and style), Interface (controllers etc)and Context (when and where it's played.)

Player: I've just been playing the single-player mode so far - there's so much to see and do (and fortunately I think I've made it through most of the earlier necessary-but-trudging training missions). Given the head start that pretty well every other GTA IV player has had on me, I suspect my early experiences of Multiplayer on Xbox Live will see me getting seriously pwned, but that's ok.

Game Mechanics: As I say, there's already plenty of stuff to see and do in the game. I took a bit of a wander around the space after going through the opening sequence and just tried out the buttons and tooled around. This showed me that you in addition to the usual run/jump/fight/steal cars/drive thing you can pick up small items and throw them.

After a few hours play (during which time more activities get unlocked or explained), I can also shoot, stab, use my mobile phone, use the internet, watch tv, play darts, going bowling , hail a cab, climb fences, catch the train, try on clothes, get a lap-dance and give money to homeless people. I can also get drunk, which hugely affects your ability to walk and drive. This is by far the most impressive and accurate re-creation of the way you see things when drunk that I've ever seen on screen. It captures that hazy, sliding around and lurchy quality to perception in a way that actually made me feel slightly ill.

They've done a lot of work with fighting in this game - it's not just a matter of mashing away at punch and kick buttons until your opponent goes down - you need to intelligently move around and duck, block and time your blows. (Or, you know, just shoot tha mutha uckers)

One thing that surprised me a little bit was the fact that I couldn't swim. Jumped in the river and drowned in seconds. Given that your character (Niko Bellic) just got off the boat after spending 7 months in the merchant navy, this is pretty weird. (Maybe he learns to swim later or something, I don't know)

Components: the objects, the stuff in the game, notably the cars/motorbikes/trucks/etc, the furniture and the other characters. In a word, awesome. None of the other GTA games are set in the present and I've always wondered how modern stuff would look in the game - the design is beautiful and the eye candy is delicious. Something else that I've really appreciated so far is that you don't have to grind through hours of (albeit fun) gameplay before you get to drive cooler and better performing cars. I was hooning around town in a BMW clone and fancy sports cars within an hour or so of starting the game.

Game Environment: The other part of the eye candy is the amazingly detailed and well textured world Rockstar have created for you to freely roam around in. (If you're not aware, GTA IV is set in Liberty City, their version of New York City, which closely mirrors the real thing). So far I've still only wandered around the island on the right and the little one at the top and it is just massive. Very easy to just roam about looking at cool stuff. It does suffer from that sandpit game curse of having most of the doors locked but given the size of the place, it's understandable.

Sound is of course the other big part of the game environment and it is equally kicking. World sounds (cars, people on the street, machinery, etc) are crystal clear and spot on and the in car radio stations (something which has always set the GTA series above the pack) have been cranked up another notch of awesomeness. They cover everything from hardcore metal to smooth jazz, electro, reggae, Russian pop (better than you'd think) and at least another dozen disparate genres. Throw into the mix some hilarious and scathing social commentary via the ads and the conservative shock-jock talk radio and peace-love and mung beans community radio stations and you have aural pleasure.

Rule Set - what you can and can't do and your goals in the game. This is partially tied to physics, partially to story and partially just to good practice. As I've mentioned, you seriously can't swim, unsurprisingly you can't jump down more than a flight of stairs without getting squished, the cars handle more realistically that in previous games (and thus more trickily) and as I've mentioned, your skills totally go to hell when you get drunk.

Oh and you can't jump up on stage in the strip club to dance with the girls - evidently management frown on that and the bouncers will beat you.

Information - points, health, money - all that kind of stuff. It also includes maps, mission briefings, stats and the like. The GTA games provide you with a trainspotterish wealth of information about everything that you have done in the game. The stats section, which tells you everything from the percentage of the game you have completed to how far you have ridden trains to how many car tyres you have shot, spreads to something like 7 different (scrollable) screens.

Of course, none of this is generally mission critical, this stuff is presented through the usual heads up display which gives you your map (which makes use of GPS technology to show you the best routes to take) and your health bar (which is discretely - possibly too discretely as I kept losing track of how badly injured I was - tucked on the side of the circle your map sits in). Other information is displayed depending on whether you need it - if you are carrying a weapon you can see how much ammo you have, if the police are chasing you, you can see your wanted level and when you get or spend some money you get a running tally. If you don't need the information there and then, it's taken off the screen to allow you to enjoy the Liberty City eye candy. Very nice design principle that.

I mentioned that you also get a mobile phone - game characters can call or text you (and you can call them) and it also seems to have an organiser (though this hasn't been activated just yet). When you get shot, you see a blood splatter around the outside of the screen which sends a definite message that you need to not get shot again. There are subtitle options - which I thought I'd find useful in working out what the rasta gangsta was saying, but it turned out to be just as slangy and indecipherable in text as sound.

There is also internet access (though I appear not to have unlocked that in the game in any meaningful way just yet) and if you steal a police car you can access their computer network as well. (Again, not yet unlocked in the story but the fact that you can get to the initial screens - just to get a "network problems" message - offers hints of rewards to come.)

Theme: The story and the style of the game - As I say, I haven't gotten far in to this yet, still working through the getting settled, teaching you how to play the game and use the controls and so on phase at the moment. The gist is that you are Niko Bellic, a Serbian (?) guy who fought in the war, made some bad decisions and has come to the U.S for a fresh start, inspired by the stories of success from his cousin Roman. Roman isn't quite the high flier he has made himself out to be and so the direction we are headed (as with pretty well all the GTA games) is to make it big any way you can.

So far there has been a little bit of trouble with Albanian loan sharks, some dealings with Russian gangsters and the befriending of a rasta gangsta.

In spite of all the hype about "murder simulators" and such, there have been a number of positive behavioural messages subtly slipped into to the game already. You are praised for not driving drunk and taking a cab instead and chided for not calling someone when you have to break a date with them. It doesn't seem possible to make money by beating up/mugging innocent people on the street either (not that I've given this a red hot go) - only bad guys. Fortunately, this hasn't detracted from the game experience, if anything, given a little depth to it.

Interface - the controller. The controls for the Xbox 360 seem to have stayed pretty much the same with a few tweaks and improvements. Automatic targetting and free targetting have both been put on the left trigger (the latter using a half squeeze only). Camera control is ok (and I really like the ability to completely remove the HUD entirely - though maybe this isn't a new thing) but takes a bit of getting used to and it would be nice if it locked onto Niko's back a little more but this is a small quibble. It would be interesting to see what might be done with motion sensitivity in the control system but I'm happy as it is.

Context - when and where you play - not so relevant here - although I can see some potential for creating machinima out of this game (it's just so frackin' pretty), so a PC version would be needed for that. (Coming next year apparently).

So yeah, it's pretty awesome.

(The shots that are littered throughout this post are actual gameplay shots as well, not just prettied up cut-scene animations. This really is what the game looks like. Given the eye-candy, I guess another context aspect would be that it would be even better played on a big kick arse 50 inch plasma tv :)


Reading: a bunch of stuff about games

Hoo - frackin - ray.

I've finally finished my monster assignment on "Creating the First Person Learner: Educational Applications of the First Person Shooter game genre". I'll bang on more about it later but I have to say it was pretty interesting and I'm pretty happy with what I managed to come up with. (I just hope that my lecturer shares these feelings)

The list of papers, books, websites and whatever that I referenced is pretty long but offers a bit of an insight into the kinds of stuff that a lot of people get paid to do research on. Frankly, if they are, why not me? :)

(I've bolded the ones that I thought were really interesting if you're into games)

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Bogost, I. (2007) Persuasive Games: Casual as in sex, not casual as in Friday Gamasutra (2844) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 fromhttp://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1937/persuasive_games_casual_as_in_.php

Cheng, P. (2007) Waiting for something to happen: Narratives, Interactivity and Agency and the Video Game Cut-Scene Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA

Duffy, J. (2006) GDC: Top 10 Video Game Research Findings Gamasutra (2645) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2645/gdc_top_10_video_game_research_.php

Eastin, M. and Griffiths, R. (2006) Beyond the Shooter Game: Examining Presence and Hostile Outcomes Among Male Game Players. Communication Research 2006; 33; 448 Retrieved 31st May, 2008 from http://crx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/33/6/448

Endestad, T. and Torgerson, L (2003) Computer games and violence: Is there really a connection? Proceedings of DiGRA 2003 Conference: Level Up . Utrecht, The Netherlands: DiGRA

Falstein, N. (2008) Design Language: The Portal Paradoxes Gamasutra (3616) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3616/design_language_the_portal_.php

Freeman, D. (2002) Four ways to use symbols to add emotional depth to games Gamasutra (20020724) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20020724/freeman_01.htm

Frome, J. (2007) Eight Ways Videogames Generate Emotion Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA

Fuchs, M. (2001) Expositur - A Virtual Knowledge Space (Theory). Retrieved May 25, 2008 from Syl.Eckermann website http://syl-eckermann.net/expositur/theory.html

Fuchs, M. & Eckermann, S. (2001) From “First Person Shooter” to Multi-User Knowledge Spaces. In F. Nack (Ed.) Proceedings COSIGN 2001 - 1st Conference on Computational Semiotics for Games and New Media (pp. 83-87). CWI, Amsterdam.

Gagne, R., Briggs, L., & Wagner, W. (1992). Principles of Instructional Design. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Javanovich. pp 185-204.

Galarneau, L. (2005) Authentic Learning Experiences Through Play: Games, Simulations and the Construction of Knowledge. Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views - Worlds in Play . Vancouver, BC: DiGRA

Gee, J. (2004) Learning by Design: Games as learning machines Gamasutra (2056) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2056/learning_by_design_games_as_.php

Ghozland, D. (2007) Designing for Motivation Gamasutra (1419) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1419/designing_for_motivation.php

Grimshaw, M. and Schott, G. (2007) Situated Gaming as a sonic experience: The acoustic ecology of First-Person Shooters Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA

Guttler, C. and Johansson, T. (2003) Spatial principles of level-design in multi-player first-person shooters Proceedings of the 2nd workshop on network and system support for games (pp. 158 - 170) New York, NY: ACM

Harris, J. (2007) Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes Gamasutra (1937) Retrieved June 6th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2844/game_design_essentials_20_unusual_.php

IGDA (2006) International Game Developers Association 2006 Casual Games White Paper retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.igda.org/casual/IGDA_CasualGames_Whitepaper_2006.pdf

Jarvinen, A. (2007) Introducing Applied Ludology: Hands-on methods for Game Studies Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay .
Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA

Johnson, B. (2001) Great Expectations: Building a player vocabulary Gamasutra (3052) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3052/great_expectations_building_a_.php
Kane, B. (2003) 34 Ways to put emotion into games Gamasutra (2884) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2884/34_ways_to_put_emotions_into_games.php

Jonsson, E. (200?) If looks could kill: An evaluation of eye tracking in computer games. Masters Thesis, Department of Numerical Analysis and Computer Science, Royal Institution of Technology, Stockholm.

Kearney, P. (2005) Cognitive Callisthenics: Do FPS computer games enhance the player’s cognitive abilities? Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views - Worlds in Play . Vancouver, BC: DiGRA

Kent, S. (2004) Manhunt to Mortal Kombat: The use and future use of violence in games Gamasutra (2056) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2056/learning_by_design_games_as_.php

Kuhlman, T (2008) Motivate your learner with these 5 simple tips The Rapid E-Learning blog Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/motivate-your-learners-with-these-5-simple-tips

Larsen, T. (1999) Designing games for novice gamers Gamasutra (3338) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3338/designing_games_for_novice_gamers.php

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). ADDIE Model at Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.learning-theories.com/addie-model.html

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Behaviorism at Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.learning-theories.com/behaviorism.html

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Situated Learning Theory (Lave) at Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.learning-theories.com/situated-learning-theory-lave.html

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Social Development Theory (Vygotsky) at Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.learning-theories.com/vygotskys-social-learning-theory.html

Learning Theories Knowledgebase (2008, June). Social Learning Theory (Bandura) at Learning-Theories.com. Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.learning-theories.com/social-learning-theory-bandura.html

Magnussen, R. (2007) Teacher roles in learning games - When games become situated in schools Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA
McGrath, D. and Hill, D. (2004) UnrealTriage: A Game-based Simulation for Emergency Response Institute for Security Technology Studies, Dartmouth College. Retrieved 31st May 2008 from www.ists.dartmouth.edu/library/58.pdf

McMahan, A. (2003) Immersion, Engagement and Presence: A method for Analysing 3-D Video games. In Wolf, M. and Perron, B (Ed.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp.67 - 86) New York: Routledge

Michael, D. and Chen, S. (2005) Proof of Learning: Assessment in Serious Games Gamasutra (2433) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2433/proof_of_learning_assessment_in_.php

Moore, C. (2008) How to turn your learners into compulsive completers Making Change - ideas for lively elearning Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://blog.cathy-moore.com/?p=204

O’Connell, M. (2008) ADDIE Design Process Canberra, ACT: Flex.Ed/CIT

Oliver, M. and Pelletier, C. (2005) The things we learned on Liberty Island: designing games to help people become competent game players. Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing Views - Worlds in Play . Vancouver, BC: DiGRA

Paras, B (2003) Learning to Play: The design on in-game training to enhance videogame experience
Simon Fraser University 2003

Peters, J. (2007) World of Borecraft: Never play a videogame that’s trying to teach you something Slate 2169019 Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.slate.com/id/2169019/

Pinchbeck, D. (2007) Counting barrels in Quake 4: affordances and homodiegetic structures in FPS worlds Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA

Pinchbeck, D., Stevens, B., Van Laar, D., Hand, S., Newman, K. 2006. Narrative, agency and observational behavioiur in a first person shooter environment. Presented at Narrative AI and Games AISOB Symposium, Bristol, UK, April 2006

Pinchbeck, D. (2008) Story and Recall in First-Person Shooters [Electronic Version] International Journal of Computer Games Technology Volume 2008 pp.1-7
Rambusch, J., Jakobsson, P. and Pargman, D. (2007) Exploring E-sports: A Case Study of Gameplay in Counter-Strike Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA
Ryan, T. (1999) Beginning Level Design, Part 1 Gamasutra (3329) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3329/beginning_level_design_part_1.php

Ryan, T. (1999) Beginning Level Design, Part 2: Rules to Design by and Parting Advice Gamasutra (3332) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3332/beginning_level_design_part_2_.php

Sorensen, B. and Meyer, B. (2007) Serious Games in language learning and teaching - a theoretical perspective Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference: FuturePlay . Tokyo, Japan: DiGRA

Sylvester, T. (2005) Decision-based gameplay design Gamasutra (2264) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2264/decisionbased_gameplay_design.php

Taylor, C. (2007) Reward Players, Don’t Punish them! Game Daily (70504) Retrieved June 8th, 2008 from http://www.gamedaily.com/articles/features/reward-players-dont-punish-them/70504/?biz=1
Thompson, J. (2006, May 24) Proposal is needed to prevent a Louisiana “Columbine” Shreveport Times

Thompson, J. (2005) JackThompson.org Retrieved June 1st, 2008 from http://www.jackthompson.org/index.htm

Wilson, G. (2006) Off with their HUDs!: Rethinking the Heads-Up Display in Console game design Gamasutra (2538) Retrieved June 7th, 2008 from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2538/off_with_their_huds_rethinking_.php