Kenneth on Games: Decision Making in “Thumper”

Thumper is a “rhythm violence” game where you are a space beetle and you are confronting a maniacal giant head from the future. It doesn’t make much sense from the description, and even though Thumper is best described as a rhythm game it’s a bit of a stretch. Most rhythm games don’t offer many opportunities for decision making, whereas Thumper is designed around giving the player a little bit of control over their fate, and then toying with that amount over the course of your wild ride.

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Kenneth on Games: The Climb in “LISA”

LISA is a strong example of what I would call a recent indie movement in “ironic games.” This category covers titles like Undertale or Goat Simulator where a lot of the enjoyment comes from the way that the game subverts expectations. Cynical gamers think they have seen everything, and then these ironic games come and do something completely stupid, but it’s so unexpected that it works. One moment in LISA particularly stuck out to me in regards to this: the two minute climb.

WARNING: Minor spoilers for LISA, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Psychonauts.

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Kenneth on Games: The Action Gauge in “Dungeon Fighter Online”

Dungeon Fighter Online is a game where you go to dungeons and you fight and it’s online. Fighting in dungeons is fun, but the online part means that the game is filled with boring MMO tropes like questing and farming and crafting. This disconnect inspired the very first design essay I’ve ever written, but DFO has recently introduced a “seasonal server” which promises pure challenging arcade action without the grind. One new mechanic introduced in the seasonal server is the action gauge, which is theoretically a great idea, but DFO was clearly not built with it from the ground up and this sometimes causes problems.

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Kenneth on Games: Supports in “XCOM 2”

Alessa “Heartache” Roberti was my best scout. She forged bravely ahead through unknown territory, fearless of any aliens ahead of her. When firefights broke out, she snuck around the side through concealment to clinch the killing blow on a crucial target, only to slink back into the shadows and do it all over again. But then she developed an addiction to grenades and wanted nothing more than to toss them around all day long. How was I supposed to balance a sneaky assassin with an explosive pyromaniac?

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Kenneth on Games: Sister Friede in “Ashes of Ariandel”

The DLC’s final fight has now taken the spot of my favorite Soulsian boss battle in the series, topping the Abyss Watchers. Sister Friede feels as if she deserves to be in Bloodborne with her high mobility and fast attacks. However, in Dark Souls 3 you don’t have nearly as much speed as a Hunter. Instead, Friede’s boss fight is designed in such a way that still makes you feel overwhelmed by her onslaught while also giving opportunities for a slow measly Unkindled to fight back.

WARNING: Boss fight spoilers, and in a Soulsian game that inevitably means story spoilers as well.

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Kenneth on Games: Dark Vision in “Dishonored 2”

When Emily was first revealed as a playable character in Dishonored 2, I was excited. I was less excited when it was shown that she would have completely new abilities. This wasn’t inherently a problem, but I couldn’t imagine playing Dishonored without the Dark Vision ability, which was now apparently limited only to Corvo. A while ago, Bethesda released a new trailer showing that Emily does indeed have Dark Vision. Why is this ability special enough to break the rule that each character has mutually exclusive abilities, and how does it tie in to the Dishonored experience as a whole?

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Kenneth on Games: The Nemesis System in “Shadow of Mordor”

When Shadow of Mordor came out two years ago, I thought its Nemesis System was going to be revolutionary. I thought all the major studios would be tripping over themselves trying to put their own spin on it. I thought there would be Nemeses in MOBAs and MMOs and FPSes and all sorts of games. I thought we were going to enter a new age of emergent narrative in pop culture. I thought wrong. Looking back at the way RPGs and stories have evolved over these past two years, why hasn’t there been anything in the AAA space following Shadow of Mordor’s footsteps?

WARNING: Slight ending spoilers.

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Kenneth on Games: Controls in “Vainglory”

Vainglory advertises itself as “the MOBA perfected for touch,” and to an extent, it’s true. Any MOBA player will immediately find themselves at home with the familiar minions-to-turret lane structure, a recall to shop button, and a jungle with a boss monster. Moving the genre to mobile actually seems to change very little about it, but is this truly the way to “perfect” a MOBA for a new medium? How can a new control scheme affect design?

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Kenneth on Games: Temperatures in “CodinGame”

Every few months, a new “learn to code” game hits the frontpage of Reddit. This time around, it’s CodinGame, which advertises itself as a system that’s not just for beginners, but also for more experienced programmers who can learn from each other. There are plenty of integrated social networks embedded in the game itself, such as rating systems for every coding puzzle. One of the lowest rated puzzles is called “Temperatures,” and I got stuck on this one for days. But what makes this puzzle bad, not from a programming perspective, but from a game design perspective?

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Kenneth on Games: Breach in “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided”

Considering that the latest Deus Ex is about being divided, people have reacted in a strangely harmonious manner. Everyone says that the level design is fun, the story is disappointing, the art direction looks great, and the microtransactions are horrible. But one aspect that the reviewers seem to overlook is Breach, an arcade-style minigame that shipped along with the base title. Breach offers a Deus Ex experience in controlled bursts rather than the sprawling campaigns we’ve come to expect, and this departure represents a fascinating new design direction, although perhaps not a good one.

WARNING: Spoilers for certain events in Mankind Divided.

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