Avalon Code for the Nintendo DS is a game that I hate to review. On one hand the game attempts to do numerous mechanics differently then most RPGS yet all the new mechanics leave us with a very unrefined game.

Credit has to be given for the plot, in a time of war in the world the main character has been chosen to help rebuild the world after Armageddon. To do that he/she is given the book of prophecy, this holds a copy of everything worth saving in the world. Very rarely do we see stories in games revolve around the end of world and having the player’s job not to keep it from happening. The player has two aids in their quest, four spirits that reside in the book and of course the book itself. While each spirits mainly act as a powerful summoning similar to Final Fantasy the book is where you’ll be spending a lot of time.

The Book of Prophecy which takes up the entire bottom screen plays a major role in the game. Just about every piece of equipment, item, character, and enemy can be “code scan” giving you an entry in the book. Each entry gives you a description of the character, various stats related to it and more importantly the mental map of it. The mental map is where the “code” or DNA of the creature resides and this is where the real hook of Avalon Code is. You can basically alter the DNA of everything listed in the book, from weakening or strengthening enemies, to helping your friends. You’ll even get recipes to create stronger pieces of equipment requiring a certain combination of codes. You really have free reign here to mess around with everything which is great. Sadly the game’s biggest hook is also where the most problems reside.

After spending a few hours combing the pages I think I would have liked “The PDA of Prophecy” or perhaps the “I-Prof”. The index of the book does take you to the start of every section, but you’ll have to slowly turn the page on each section to hopefully find the listing you want. Code storage is another big deal; the designers decided that you can only hold 4 pieces of code at any time which means you’ll be spending a lot of time just moving code around just to make simple changes. Also each time you pick up a piece of code and add it to your stock you’ll lose some magic power which is just frustrating. There isn’t an easy way to find a piece of code you need which also requires a lengthy amount of time going through the pages for the elusive piece. The game also doesn’t explain what each code piece does so good like trying to determine the difference between the “fate” code and the “freedom” code. I did like how the more things scanned the book would leveled up giving you access to side quests and even increase the size of the mental map allowing you to alter everything further. Moving on, when you’re not searching the pages of the book you’ll be out in the field fighting.

Combat in Avalon Code is basically Zelda lite; you have an evasive roll and can equip any two weapons at once. Each weapon type has a special move associated with it and the more you use a type you’ll level up in that discipline improving the use of that type. Enemies constantly respawn which can make it hard to get around some of the maps. Being able to alter every enemy allows you to either focus on getting through areas or stay around to get experience for your weapons. Combat overall is adequate for the game but I did have a hard time hitting enemies with projectile attacks.

Overall I find my impression of the game mixed; there are a lot of just plain bad design decisions in Avalon Code. Yet I’ll admit that I find the whole concept very interesting which is keeping me going. The game is very unrefined which is a shame; I think my high degree of patience is what’s keeping me from putting this game down but even I’m finding that the mechanics are starting to wear thin. For people looking for a great, accessible RPG you are not going to find it with Avalon Code. There is a good game hidden somewhere, but you’ll have to dig deep to find it. I really hope that this game sells enough to warrant a sequel as the premise deserves another look at. Avalon Code for the Nintendo DS gets 4 Hope, 2 Ill, and 3 Dog because I don’t know what it means in game

Josh

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You would think that a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood would be easy to understand. Yet here I am scratching my head ,I’ve spend 4 hours on so far; for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, you can learn more about the game here.

I’ve technically finished the game at this point with all 6 girls getting to their final destination and I really don’t know how I feel. Reading some of the responses on the web I’ve read that some people think of this as a “rape simulator” which leads me to ask what game did they play? I know that this game was made to get some kind of an emotion out of the player, yet I don’t feel anything, I feel confused which is about the gist of it. At this point I could take the easy way out and blame the designers, yet I don’t think this is their fault. I think this is all about me and I have a few theories as to why.

1. My brain : I have and will always be an analytical thinker, one of my favorite past times is to break down a game by its systems to see how each piece fits. Then put it back together while seeing what I could have done differently which is great for someone who likes to design. However it makes it very hard to enjoy The Path which relies on each person having their own interpretation of the events. In most titles I have something to work with when thinking about the story or the gameplay, here I have nothing. With last year’s out there title Braid, which had many different ways of perceiving the events. There was still enough of a story told that I could see the game from different view points. Even watching the end sequences I did not feel scared as I tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

2.My personality: Let me come out and say it now, I did not connect at all with any of the characters. Now before anyone says it yes I know that they’re all females and I’m a male, however there is more to it then that. Even for other introverted designers I’ve had a pretty unique life; I suffer from chronic pain mainly in my legs for 13 years. This has given me a unique view on life and a different childhood from most to say the least. I find it very hard to “adapt” my viewpoint to someone else and in games with moral choices tend to follow my own path. I tried to resonate with the girl who has her leg in a brace but I was never emo so there went that idea. My psyche is so different that I could not get behind each one of the archetypes of The Path.

I don’t think that what I’ve commented on so far is considered “bad” in terms of game design. Just very different from what I’m used to which seems to be a pattern with the developers from reading about their previous game. For a $10 game it is pretty polished but I did run into several annoying bugs. First is that the character tends to get stuck on objects which can make exploring the forest a hassle. Second sometimes I picked up items that did not register. The worst bug I ran into was the ending of one of the chapters not happening but luckily the skip feature worked. There are only 2 legitimate mechanics that I can give thumbs down to. First is that for every object in the game each girl has their own opinion on it but the text takes way too long for it to appear on screen. Second I would have really liked to have seen the actual design and style of the forest change depending on which girl you played as, something to further differentiate the girls.

This leads me to the part that I should say whether or not you should buy this game, yet I’m still not sure. I know that not everyone will get this title as it does explore a lot of subject matters not seen in video games. I will say that there are far worst things to spend $10 on; I doubt that we will ever see another game like The Path from any other development house in the world. I feel that maybe I’m just not emotionally intelligent enough for this title which is why I didn’t get it, but that doesn’t mean that it will be like that for everyone. I give The Path “the girl in the white dress”, as I think she could be a great make shift GPS. Now then if you’ll excuse me I need to fashion some kind of “Corvus signal” to have him come to help me make some kind of sense out of this game.

Josh.

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Madworld, wow… ok this is going to be a tricky review. This is Platinum games first title under their new label (originally Clover Studios). Having finished the game on normal in less then a day (which could be a new record for me) I’m ready to write up my review.

Madworld is a stylistic gory beatemup and Sega’s 2nd wave of mature content for the Wii. You play as Jack, a bad ass with a chainsaw on his arm who has entered the game “Death Watch” which is basically “The Running Man” on steroids. Just about everything in the game is over the top, from the violence to the commentary presented on every level. The black and white visuals are impressive and I would be surprised if MadWorld didn’t win the award for most stylish game of the year. So with all that said why do I not love this game?

The gameplay in Madworld is simply lacking and the game doesn’t feel like an action title in the same way God of War or Ninja Gaiden were. Each level follows the same pattern; kill enough enemies in a stylish manner to get a big enough score to fight the boss. There is one gruesome mini game per level and a unique baddie at the end waiting for you. The problem is that I never felt that I was doing anything cool on the same level as Ninja Gaiden or feeling like a bad ass like in God Hand. Enemies are dumb down to give you plenty of supposed options to finish them. However you can only really deal with one enemy at a time (an issue last seen in God Hand) meaning that there aren’t a lot of different ways of execution. Even when weapons and environmental objects are thrown into the mix, you’re still doing the same thing just with a different backdrop. I will give the designers credit for developing a great control scheme making excellent use of the Wii mote. I will say that the QTEs in Mad World felt very natural, which is the first time I’m saying that about them. This is such a shame as I feel like the designers really thrown away an amazing prospect.

I loved God Hand; it is my favorite action title behind Ninja Gaiden Black. I’m not too much of a fan boy to avoid the problems it had. However with some refining God Hand could have been an amazing game and the designers had a chance to do that with MadWorld. The setting, cast of characters and the story are wonderful and they feel too good to be put into such a simplified game. A refined God Hand in this setting would have been a dream to me; the designers missed it. Don’t be mislead by the reviews, this is not a 5 star game or worth $50 period. I’m just really disappointed that they were given the chance to fix the mistakes in God Hand but instead just swept it all under the rug.

Madworld is a stylish, brutal and unfortunately simple game. This is why it gets 3 caution signs impaled to the head, a trash can over it, and then thrown into a turbine.

Josh.

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March ‘09
About the Author: This month’s topic turns the literary focus from the medium, to the author. If you submitted a post to either the January or February topics, feel free to write about the process you underwent in converting literary themes into gameplay. Did you struggle with anything in particular? Are you satisfied that your game design(s) communicated what you intended? Have subsequent comments or idea made you wish you could go back and start he process over? And how much does your design say about you and your own interpretation of the themes of the source material?

Alternately feel free to turn your focus to another game designer or to game designers in general. In literature we frequently “hear” the author’s voice in their work. Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Tom Robbins–these are excellent examples of authors whose voices are quite recognizable. Through reading their works, we feel we come to feel we know them, to understand their philosophies. There are a handful of games where the “author” can clearly be heard through the work. How closely tied is this to the thematic content of the games and how exactly did they communicate these themes to their audience? And should they have, or should video game designer try to remain out of their work, allowing the player to establish their own themes through gameplay?

For this round table entry I’m going to focus on both topics as I’ve had some thoughts I would like to share on them. I’m going to start by looking at my previous entries over the last two months.

Of the game ideas I’ve posted about at that time, Robin Hood and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were the only two books that I had the game idea first before reading the book. Originally when I was thinking of the Jekyll idea there was going to be more action to it almost similar to the Incredible Hulk game that came out a few years ago. Fortunately for my train of thought I picked up a copy of the story and read it before I set down to right up my idea and decided to make some changes to it. In the story there is actually very little time spent with the two title characters as the story centers around a friend narrating the details of the story. Unfortunately for this theme of good vs evil a game couldn’t really be spent from someone else’s perspective. The other element that I found interesting was that while Hyde was indeed a brute he wasn’t this “evil demon” that other forms of the story present. In the book while he was a foul person his problems also came from society’s view on him as an ugly person. At the end of the story there was fear in Hyde at being exposed which someone who was completely evil probably wouldn’t care about.

I think for my game idea I nailed the concept of the battle of good vs evil that takes place in us all but I don’t think my game idea was the best outlet for it. A game could be released that delves into the themes of the story but I don’t think a traditional game based on the book could work. I did like another blogger’s take on the idea which was used for February’s entry.

My Robin Hood idea which was commented on as being my strongest idea was the one that I’ve spent the most time on even though I’ve never read the original story which I want to do at some point. I think this idea works well as the legend of Robin Hood was a myth in itself which allowed me to create a game based around creating that myth. The character and methods of Robin Hood are easy to translate into a game as he is in some way a medieval Batman plus Garrett from the Thief series. Add an in-depth sword fighting system and the game almost creates itself (not literally of course but you get my meaning).

I’m not going to talk about my Lord of the Flies idea as I’ve gone into way too much detail about using it as a source for inspiration in the past. For those interested in my idea based on the concept here is my first idea.

Frankenstein was an interesting story to create a game around as they are many different paths possible for a game. Even with my ideas for both an action game and the board game I’m working on, I bet you guys can come up with many more. For both game ideas the two main themes I wanted to focus on were the error of creating a living being and the battle between both main characters. For the first point in both game ideas, you as the player would determine how tough the game is by creating the monster. The better you make it the harder a time you will have showing how Frankenstein was so obsessed with creating life that it would come back to destroy him. Second, was the hatred and eventually chase between these two characters. They are stuck with each other until one of them dies and neither one wants to call it quits until they make the other one suffer. Moving on it’s time to talk about part two of the round table entry.

Corvus asks if similar to books by prolific writers, does the game designer’s philosophy come through in their games. I say yes when it comes to some of the higher profile designers. When dealing with people at the height of their craft you can just feel their influence in the title, and can sense it when it’s not there. A few weeks ago I commented on how horrible Ninja Gaiden 2 was compared to Black and one theory I had was that the lead designer was fired after the project was started. I also think that certain design teams can project a philosophy as well not just the lead designer. The best example that comes to mind is Blizzard who has developed a very positive impression among pc gamers. I think that raises an interesting dilemma, who does the game’s success come from, the lead designer or the team?

This is where my ego and I are in disagreement over. As someone who spends most of his time on the subject of game design I like to think that I’ve developed my own unique style and thought process when it comes to creating games. However I understand fully that without a team backing me up that the great game idea I have would be nothing more then an idea. An excellent game designer can create unique game properties that couldn’t be possible without him/her, but a great team is required to turn that vision into a reality.

This has been an interesting three month look at literary sources and game design and I hoped that everyone enjoyed my ramblings on the subject.

Josh.

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