A great horror game that you cannot play anymore

Devotion is a first-person Taiwanese psychological horror game that draws inspiration from many familiar aspect of the Taiwanese daily life in the 1980s. The theme focuses on traditional Taiwanese practices as well as many folk religions. The game follows the main character in his journey to discover what happened in his home, and the event that leads to the downfall of his family.

Elememental Tetrad:

Aesthetics: The game has succeeded in faithfully recreating an atmosphere that is very familiar to the Taiwanese, while at the same time introduce many of the cultural aspect of Taiwanese culture to the international player base. The many cultural references and folk religions told through the design of the environment and through collectibles helps to further support the experience of the player. It allows the player to be fully immersed in the story that the game is trying to tell

Traditional talismans are seen on the walls

Story: The story is one of the strong aspect of the game. The game tries to tell a familiar story about a family of famous screenwriter, Feng Yu. Throughout the game, the fate of Feng Yu and his family is slowly revealed, and the purposefully vague memos that the player find during the experience further reinforce the message that the game is trying to convey about the occult and religious practices in 1980s Taiwan.

Mechanics: The game is rather simple in term of mechanic. It is mostly a puzzle solver/ walking simulator with jump scares here and there. It serves rather as a platform to allow the player to explore the beautifully designed environment and to immerse themselves in the experience. The only enemy in the game can one-shot the player, but since there is no life total and the checkpoint system available make this rather trivial, but not to its detriment as it highlights the ‘limbo’ aspect of the game, where the main character is doomed to go through the same environment over and over, until he has atoned for his sin.

The main enemy that the player face throughout the game

Technology: The game was not originally made to be a 3D first person exploration, but in order to deliver the vision of the studio director, the team ended up using Unity to create the very pleasing environment that the player can explore.

The lenses:

The lens of Curiosity: The game is purposefully vague at the beginning, dropping the player in an average apartment in Taiwan in the 1980s. The way that the story is told through memos and imaginary sequences with spirits and ghostly figures further pushes the players on to discover the real truth of the main character. The game never really explains what is happening, instead allowing the player to piece together the nuggets of information to form a complete story, which intrigues the player to go through all the horrors at await.

The lens of Atmosphere: Just like every other psychological horror, Devotion tries to create an atmosphere in which the player can emerge themselves. The familiar aesthetic of a typical Taiwanese apartment which serves as the main setting of the game creates an unique atmosphere where the player feels constantly unease. The game takes something that is familiar to the player, and turns it into a place of horror and danger, thus subverting the player’s expectation in order to more effectively deliver the story as the player can relate more with it.

The lens of Inherent Interest: The game boasts a unique aesthetics of Taiwan in the 1980s. This particular part of history is portrayed through the story of the main character, and it touches on the theme of the occult as well as draws inspiration from many elements of the traditional Taiwanese culture. This would create a distinctive environment for players to experience, which is not commonly seen in contemporary horror games currently on the market.

The lens of Secrets: The game is purposefully designed to let the player experience the main character’s descent into ruin, which is told through bits of information made available to the player gradually. By keeping the story vague at first, the player is encouraged to explore and uncover the secret that plaques the apartment that the player find themselves in.

Baba Is You – A Deceptively Simple Puzzler

Game Summary

Baba Is You is a puzzle game where the rules of the puzzle are the puzzle itself. In each level, the rules of the game a present as blocks which you can interact with, and by doing so, you can create new rules and interactions that change how the game works. The objective is thus to find a way to win the level by modifying the rules in a way such that a goal is reachable.

Official Website

https://hempuli.com/baba/

Game Trailer

Baba Is You – Release Date Trailer

Gameplay Video

Gameplay Video by the Twitch Streamer aliensrock

Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics: The controls are straightforward. You only need to use the arrow keys to move the main character “Baba” around.

The level is a Sokoban-styled 2D space, where all items are represented as blocks which you can interact with. The rules of the game are written as short phrases within the level. “BABA IS YOU” is an example of a rule which gives you control over the character Baba. “FLAG IS WIN” is another example, which allows you to win the level only if you touch a flag.

The catch is that the rules themselves are blocks themselves, so you can move the blocks around to create different phrases and change the rules of the game. Your objective is thus to find a way to win the level by modifying the rules in a way such that a goal is reachable.

Aesthetics: 16-bit music, simple childish graphics, simple controls. The game is simplistic and does not feel overwhelming at first glance. This makes it approachable despite its notoriety as a very difficult puzzle game. 

Technology: Multimedia Fusion 2 was used to develop the interface of the game, as that does not require an engine that does heavy lifting like Unreal Engine. A Lua scripting plugin was used instead to power the logic of the many rules in the game.

Story: The lack of story allows the player to focus more on manipulating the rules of the game freely, allowing them to think outside the box by treating each game object as simply an object, rather than stay attached to any one character and constrict players’ decisions.

#54 The Lens of Accessibility

Accessibility is integral to any puzzle game. If no one knows how to play your game, no one is going to understand how to solve your puzzles. Thankfully, accessibility is something that Baba Is You excels in. My father, who has zero gaming experience, managed to have no difficulty mastering the controls and the main mechanics of the game!

Unlike many other games, Baba Is You does little to directly teach players how the game works. Rather, it subtly tells the player what to do through its level design.

Level 0-1 of Baba is You

In conventional games, this level would simply be unsolvable. This is something that the player would realize almost instantly. However, due to the small space provided for the player to move around with respect to the whole level, players know that there is more to it than meets the eye. As the only other thing that within the same walls as Baba is the rule “Wall Is Stop”, it thus serves as a hint that the player can interact with it somehow.

Once the player interacts with the rule by pushing one of the words around, the rule has successfully been broken and the player realizes that it is possible to walk through walls. The player has thus learnt that it is possible to push away a word from a rule in order to disable it.

The goal is obvious, or so it seems. The flag in the middle of the screen attracts players to step on it. However, they then realize that something is wrong. They then realize that “Flag is Win” is scattered around the level, and not together in a phrase. The player then figures out that they must form the phrase “Flag is Win” in order to turn the flag into a “Winnable” object in order to complete the level.

As seen from this example, the way the level is structured creates a problem-solving path that the player is supposed to take, ensuring that the main mechanic of the game is drilled properly. As the mechanic being taught will be used in later levels with increasing difficulty, it is thus important that it was taught properly in the early levels.

#16 The Lens of Risk Mitigation

It would be very frustrating if the player must continuously restart each level and redo a series of steps in order to try out a different strategy upon failing a level. This prevents players from experimenting with new strategies to complete a level as they would rather play it “safe”, and the game designer from creating puzzles that are more reliant on precision or out of the box as they would take too long to figure out.

Especially in later levels, puzzles can seem complex and overwhelming. However, the game overcomes this by allowing the player to process what is going on with every movement they make. The game only updates when the player makes a move, be it moving a character with the arrow keys or pressing the spacebar to “wait”, which allows the game to update. The player is thus allowed to take their time to calculate their next move, or reflect on what happened if something goes wrong.

The player has the choice to restart the level, but they are also able to Undo each move that they make with no limit. In the game, there is no explicit “Fail” state, which means the player is free to experiment around with various strategies by making use of the Undo button.

#81 Lens of Indirect Control

In some level sequences, the game aims to get players to learn a certain mechanic or interaction. However, the game does this without any direct tutorial specifying what the player needs to do. As such, there are many instances where the game must carefully craft its levels in order to guide the player to use the mechanic.

As the game has a vast and powerful rule set, it can be a sandbox with an infinite number of possibilities. However, some possibilities may not be intended by the level designer. There is thus a need to ensure that the game does not allow players to cheese their way through a level. To achieve this, limitations must be put in place within the level itself.

Level Lake-05

As seen in this level, the rule “Wall is Stop” is locked away on the right side of the screen from the player. This means that players will always be unable to cross the wall as Baba or Flag. They have to make use of the currently available rules in order to win the level.

Celeste

Image result for celeste

Celeste is a 2D puzzle platformer where the player controls a girl named Madaline as she ascends a mountain, Mt. Celeste, all while avoiding various deadly traps and obstacles. At its heart, Celeste is a platformer that caters to both the casual players with its rich and engaging storytelling, forgiving controls, and beautiful audiovisuals, whilst also offering platforming veterans some of the most challenging and satisfying platforming experiences of its class.

The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

Visuals

Celeste makes use of consistent and aesthetically pleasing 2D art that keeps the player engaged through its captivating scenes and visuals. The use of pixel art allowed the game to portray just enough details for the player to recognize elements in the scene, but at the same time leaving much to the player’s own imaginations. The artwork combined with fluid animations, particle systems, and various other visual effects allowed Celeste to keep the player’s attention and interest throughout its levels without ever getting repetitive nor boring.

Narrative & Storytelling

Platformers, especially difficult ones, typically suffer from not being able to generate enough motivation from the player to push through challenging levels. These platformers are often prone to losing the player’s interest as difficulties increases. Celeste was able to keep the player engaged and motivated throughout most of the game by featuring an interesting and unique narrative and storytelling.

Controls & Mechanics

One of the most important aspects of designing a platformer is making the controls feel good. Unresponsive controls, floaty jumps, sloppy physics, and imprecise movements are some of the biggest reasons why certain platformers just aren’t fun to play.

Madeline’s controls are tight, precise, and responsive. It was extremely easy to put her exactly where I wanted with fluidity and accuracy. This allowed some of the toughest challenges in Celeste to feel challenging but not frustrating. Failing a level was almost always due to the approach taken and never the fault of the controls.

The Lens of Skill

Celeste requires little prerequisite platforming skills to be enjoyable. This was accomplished by incrementally teaching the player the movement mechanics that are available to them. Celeste also uses various hidden tricks to assist the player without their knowledge. For example, the game implements a hidden “Coyote Time”, where for a short during after the player has left the ledge of a platform, the jump button would still trigger as if the player was grounded.

When the player is really in need of assistance, Celeste features a difficulty toggle with various gameplay modifications that will make the game more accessible for casual players. This includes the reduction of game speed, extra mid-air jumps, and freezing the game for the player to input a dash direction when executing a dash.

The Lens of Flow

The goal of the game is always made clear to the player at every level. The overarching narrative remains fixed, and getting the player from one area to another is always purposefully driven.

As the player progresses and climbs farther up Mt. Celeste, they also inevitably gain a better feel for the game mechanics by having beaten prior challenges. This allows the level design to become progressively more challenging.

Image result for celeste peak

The Lens of Visible Progress

The levels in Celeste gradually changes as the player progresses. These changes include different visual style of level design, more difficult challenges/puzzles, and even an increase in the intensity of the soundtracks used.

Game rules are sometimes also changed when the player makes it farther up the mountain. For example, towards the submit (and subsequently the end of the game), the gravity is reduced and the player is allowed higher jump distances. This allows for new and different challenges to be added throughout the game.

Analysis through Lenses – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a 2018 crossover fighting game where players combat with their unique skills to smash their opponents off the stage. The game offers both multiplayer and single player mode, but I will be focusing more on the (main) multiplayer mode. This game can be played both by chaotically pressing all the buttons, or with a careful and precise combination of skills. It caters to all age groups.

Lenses

The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad:

  • Mechanics: The goal of the game is to smash off your opponent as many times as possible, by using skills and powers of the character you chose. Each character has a unique set of skills which caters to different players’ playing styles.
  • Story: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate offers a new single player adventure mode called World of Light, where all characters except for Kirby die after being attacked by a series of Master Hands. Although the story is not as intense as other story-driven games, it’s still a fun adventure mode which serves to explain how the spirits of Spirits Mode (which is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s newest feature) came to be.
  • Aesthetics: Visually, the game is very vibrant and “cartoony”.
  • Technology: Information is not readily available but Nintendo has used primarily assembly, C, and C++ in coding their games. The game is played on Nintendo Switch.

The Lens of Surprise:

Throughout the gameplay, there will be random power ups which players can compete to get. This spices up the game as there may be an unexpected turn of events due to the random power ups.

The Lens of Pleasure:

It is very satisfying to see your combination set of skills work and throw off the opponent off the stage, and players get a sense of constant excitement to see what events will happen next and how they should react as they anticipate for their opponents’ attacks.

The Lens of Action:

The game encourages a lot of combination of skills as a strategy, and the freedom and flexibility of choosing a set of skills (by choosing characters) which suits different players.

The Lens of Goals:

The goal is to win the game, by being the player who fell of the stage the least, and kick the most enemies off the stage.

The Lens of Fairness:

Each player is given the same set of characters to choose from, starts at the same time, given the same restrictions and instructions, such that each player has roughly the same chance to win the game.

The Lens of Skill vs Chance:

Although skills can be very useful in the game to get the proper strategy to win, there is still a fair bit of randomness which gives chance to players who do not possess equal skills. The constant random pressing of all buttons can also sometimes randomly lead to the ultimate move to kick off the opponents.

Preferences for VR/AR HMD

For VR HMD I prefer to choose the Oculus Quest all-in-one VR gaming headset. This one sells $399 on Amazon.

All-in-one VR: Simply set up the device with your Oculus mobile app and Oculus Quest has everything you need to explore VR, right out of the box

Insight tracking: Oculus Insight tracking system instantly reflects your movements in VR without the need for any external accessories

Touch controllers: Oculus Touch controllers precisely recreate your hands, their gestures and interactions, so every game is real enough to reach out and touch

Beyond room-scale: Oculus Quest works with your environment, so you can play standing or sitting, in spaces big or small

For AR/MR I prefer HoloLens 2.

HoloLens 2 offers the most comfortable and immersive mixed reality experience available, with industry-leading solutions that deliver value in minutes—all enhanced by the reliability, security, and scalability of cloud and AI services from Microsoft.

Immersive: See more holograms at once through the greatly increased field of view. Read text and see intricate details on 3D images more easily and comfortably with industry-leading resolution.

Ergonomic: Wear HoloLens 2 longer and more comfortably with a dial-in fit system designed for extended use. And keep your glasses on—the headset slides right over them. When it’s time to switch tasks, flip the visor up to step out of mixed reality.

Instinctual: Touch, grasp, and move holograms in ways that feel natural—they respond a lot like real objects. Log in to HoloLens 2 instantly and securely using just your eyes with Windows Hello. And voice commands work even in noisy industrial environments through smart microphones and natural language speech processing.

Untethered: Move freely, with no wires or external packs to get in your way. The HoloLens 2 headset is a self-contained computer with Wi-Fi connectivity, which means that everything you need goes with you while you work.

A woman wearing hololens glass and feels it experience

(I passed the due because I didn’t get this module before 20 Jan. This is a make up homework.)

Analysis of Don’t Starve

Don’t Starve is a survival game where the player aims to survive as many days as they can by managing three conditions: Hunger, Health and Sanity. The player is able to choose from several characters, who each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Game play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9-Wjz_Gn-8
Game’s website: https://www.klei.com/games/dont-starve

Lens #7: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics

  • Rules: If the hunger bar or the health bar reaches 0, the character will die and unless the character had activated a resurrection item, the player must restart the game from Day 1.
    Apart from maintaining the health and hunger bar, there are many other dangers that the player needs to avoid or be prepared for in order to survive.
  • Player actions: Players are able to craft items from a menu and collect items from the map in order to prepare themselves.
  • Goals: The primary goal of the game is to set the highest personal record for the number of days survived. There are also several other goals, like exploring the entire map and solving the puzzles scattered around the map.

Story

  • Back story: Maxwell, the ‘king’ of the The Constant (the playable world), has dragged the player into his world and has forced them to survive within it.
  • The story is not told throughout the game. The player knows the back story and will only know the next part of the story if they manage to complete the game. Hence, players are kept in suspense as they try to survive and complete the game to find out what has happened to their character.

Aesthetics

  • The game has a whimsical, dark look.
  • The animals, environment and music of the game becomes creepier as the Sanity of the character drops.
  • At night, the game heightens the player’s fear of darkness throughout suspenseful music and complete darkness.
The representation of rabbits when sanity is high (left) and when sanity is low (right).
The screen goes completely dark at night. The character is equipped with a torch in this picture.

Technology

  • The character can be controlled fully through mouse and/or keyboard inputs.

Overall, I believe that the game has managed to use each aspect of the Elemental Tetrad to build upon one another and improve the player experience. The technology of the game is simple, which reflects upon the simple goal of the game. The story and aesthetics build suspense and desire for the player to complete the goal of the game. The mechanics and aesthetics works together to strengthen the player’s fear. For example, the rule of the game is that if the player does not find a light source at night in a certain amount of time, a monster that cannot be killed will be spawned and the character will likely die. The light sources that the players must equip will also run out over time. This creates suspense and a real consequence which, paired with the atmospheric tension, heightens the fear that the player experiences when night comes.

Lens #4: The Lens of Curiosity

The player is able to develop many different strategies for each challenge and character in order to survive the game. After each iteration of the game, the player will often wonder how they can tweak their current strategy to survive longer and be more efficient in the next game. Leaving out a tutorial also makes the player more curious as to what comes beyond the current day. The map also has many mysterious items which hint towards a puzzle waiting to be solved.

Lens #31: The Lens of Challenge

The game does not provide a tutorial on how to survive in the world. The player has to experiment and probably die several times in order to gain some experience and survive past the first month. The environment of the game is also constantly changing over time, bringing new challenges to the player. For example, the game has 4 seasons that they cycle through. In Winter, the main challenge is in staying warm and surviving the winter boss. In each iteration of the game, the map also changes. Hence, the game is ever changing and the players will have to figure out how to survive in each iteration. The player also has to figure out by themselves how they can progress forward from the current map. This challenge inspires the players to continue playing and break their own record.

Lens #41: The Lens of Punishment

The game often punishes the players if they do irrational actions. For example, if the player randomly attacks animals or monsters, they will often find themselves dead and having to restart the game. If the player carelessly uses their torch to burn an item near their camp, their entire camp will go up in flames and all the items built will turn to ashes, resetting the progress that they have made. This constant punishment manifests a sense of caution and tension in every action that the player makes. This tension adds to the suspenseful element of the game and makes the game feel thrilling.

Lens #49: The Lens of Visible Progress

The game has a ‘Morgue’ tab that keeps note of the amount of days survived for each iteration of the game. The player will be motivated to continue playing and break their record as they can see the improvement in the number of days survived. The progress of the game can also be observed from the player’s ‘camp’, (the place where they have built most of their items), as the players can see their camp growing and looking more organised as time passes. The number of days that they have survived in this iteration can also be seen easily from the screen, giving the player satisfaction and motivating them to continue playing. All these factors allow the players to see how much they have improved over time and encourages them to continue playing and improving to beat their record and complete the game.

The player is able to view their progress from the current state of their camp, and from the current day counter on the top right of the screen.

Wargame: Red Dragon

Wargame: Red Dragon init screen shot(Game is on Steam)

Wargame: Red Dragon is a modern-warfare typed RTS(Real Time Strategy) game developed by Eugen System. Player is the commander of a customized military force(containing multiple services).

On Single Player Game, the player play the storytelling PvE game. On Multiplayer Game, the player customized their own army and compete with other online players(or AI), the winning goal is customized, like destroying certain number of enemies, or occupying certain zone for enough time.

Background:

Wargame: Red Dragon is the 3rd game of the Wargame Series, the earlier two are European Escalation and Airland Battle. From European Escalation the basic operation and army types are determined, Airland Battle expands the PvE storyline, and as its name expresses, it expands air force into the game. And now coming to our focus, Red Dragon, it continue to expand the dimensions of war from 2 to 3, as adding the marine and navy into the game.

The game continues to maintain the mechanics of the series’ success, but the focus of the war in the franchise has shifted from Europe to Asia, focusing on disputes and fictional wars between China, South Korea, North Korea, Japan and other Asian countries from 1975 to 1991.The game includes more than 450 new units, including naval and amphibious vehicles.

Lens #1: the Lens of Essential Experience

Wargame as its name illustrated, the game should focus on how to create its war and battle to the players, after all Wargame is a war game, the essential experience is the process of war. What the Wargame does, is to divide it into 2 levels. From the macro war level, the experience is turn-based, each player controls its troops(in a macro scale) to move,recover or attack. The former two will decide the troop’s strength, and only when raised an attack, it goes to a deeper level, the battle level. In this level, the game turns to be a high reality RTS game, and its essential experience is the reduction of war, to do this, the developer implemented lots of Lens to maximize its reality of a battle.


Screenshot on a battle: bomber just delivered bombs at hostile infantries.

Lens#22 The Lens of Dynamic State

The most fascinating point in Wargame for me is the dynamic states the game represented. One example is, when infantries get hit by hostile, get casualties, definitely the combat effectiveness will drop, that will be represented in lots of fields, like the weapon accuracy, the response time, the reloading time, and whether or not to accept the command. Wargame Red Dragon implemented all these features, by using Dynamic State of units. During a battle, the unit is given a morale state, initialized as Calm,  when gets hit or friendly forces nearby get hit, the morale state will dynamically change to Worried, Shocked, Panicked and even Stunned(escape in disorder), as the state changes, the main index of combat performance will also get a state-related penalty, as accuracy, response time, etc.

Lens#47 The Lens of Balance

In Wargame Red Dragon, the balance is controlled in many aspects. Like in one essential part, customizing one’s own troop(in the game, make a deck of army cards), the balance is, the stronger the army is, the availability is less and the price is higher.

Take the M1A2 and M1 as example, the M1A2 is much stronger than M1, but it has much higher price and can only be bought 2 in a deck.That is a balance between price and strength, which avoid grind between units, also makes lower strength unit meaningful and useful, in a word, more real.

Screenshot on deck making, to illustate Lens of Balance

Lens #37 The Lens of Cooperation

In Wargame: Red Dragon, the cooperation between different army types and players are very important. Take Air-defence as an example, usually the most important battle unit in the war process is tanks and vehicles, their strength is only on the ground, which means they are vulnerable to air-attack and cannot fight back. That means the ground main forces has to be cooperated with air-defence units, Like radar-guidance missiles: long range, high accuracy and impact but low firing rate and total availability, and most important one, can be anti-radar missile targeted, usually they are used for high-value air target, and there are also cheap, lower accuracy and shorter range air-defence artillery. They are not sufficient as missiles but they can be put in battle with huge numbers and can knit a fire net which the air force cannot pass. In Wargame Red Dragon, their are much more than these two air-defence units to use, and their are much more kinds of cooperation, like anti-tank infantries with flame gun vehicles in a city(former to fight alley stike on hostile vehicles and latter to very effectively destroy other enemy infantries).

Lens#67 The Lens of Simplicity and Transcendance

From the former introduction of Wargame Red Dragon, I think reader must think this is a hardcore RTS game and is very difficult to handle, actually it’s not. Red Dragon uses very genius idea to simplify the damage system into only 2 type, AP or HE(very common and typical seen in vehicle shooting games).AP mechanism is simply collision check, the projectile only dealt damage when straightly hit the target, under AP mechanism, the damage is calculated by AP Power minus the hit-armor protection,takes the M1A2 as example again, if one M1A2 hit another M1A2 in the front, then the damage is the AP power of the firer 24 minus the front protection 22 then plus 1, that is 24-22+1=3, dealt 3 damage. The other mechanism is the HE mechanism, which usually are effective on no-armor or low-armor(0-1 protection armor) units, like infantries, helicopters and air-fighters. The HE damage is AoE type, which means even it doesn’t hit directly, but once the target is in Effected Area, the damage is still dealt, of course with some inner distance-dampling mechanism, in other word, HE damage is minimal to highly-armored unit like tanks, which is also very real.The AP and HE mechanisms together simplified different kinds of weapons, like tank gun, missile, flame bomb,etc .It’s a very genius simplification.

Screenshot on one unit, to illustate the simplified damage mechanisms

The simplification is to make it more friendly to common players, not those hardcore military fans in Wargame. There are also other kinds of simplification in game mechanisms, no need to make it too detailed.But the use of simplicity, is to lower the complexity of both developer and the player. The amount is controlled by how real the game the developer want the game to be, and how the player like. Definitely, Wargame Red Dragon developed a very real game, but with those simplicity, it lowers its complexity but still keeps its transcendence.

Slay the Spire

Image result for Slay the spire
Cards shown in hand represent moves the player takes.

Description

Slay the Spire is an action deck-building roguelike game in which you climb The Spire, traversing three acts with many unique enemies, bosses, and encounters. The levels are procedurally-generated and the gameplay is turn-based. Your actions are represented as cards, and you go about building a deck of cards to progress through the game.

Gameplay Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SZUtyYSOjQ

The Elemental Tetrad: Aesthetics, Story, Mechanics, Technology

Slay the Spire is made very functionally, with the main focus being on the mechanics. The story is sparse, and technology adequate for being a 2D game. The aesthetics are very well done, through simple hand-painted design, the intent, function and purpose of each individual item in the game are conveyed smoothly. The mechanical nature of the game is incentivised making the experience thorough, strategically and careful. The design suits this purpose, and if there was an added focus on the other areas, it will detract from what makes the experience of playing Slay the Spire fun.

The lens of Moments

What I’ll argue is Slay the Spire’s greatest strength is providing the player with moments in the game where they feel like they “broke” the game. By building up your deck of cards, it’s possible for the cards you choose to synergize with other cards. For example, if you have a card the deals 1 damage, five times to an enemy. And you have another card that grants 2 strength to your character (Strength grants your character additional damage per attack). Now instead of dealing 5 damage, you will be dealing 15 damage, just with this simple combination. But if your entire deck is a web of interconnected synergies, you will overpower all the enemies in the game. This definitely provides a sense of accomplishment at how clever or powerful you are for figuring out how to get to this point. It’s what makes the game so rewarding.

The lens of Obstacle

But I’ll argue that the strength of Slay the Spire also entirely lies in the risk or obstacle involved in the game. Enemies you face as you progress higher and higher up the Spire get increasingly difficult. Without proper planning, Slay the Spire is a difficult game. The greediness of the player is also often the main fail state, as there are plenty of risk vs reward events implemented in the game, be that choosing a route to tougher enemies for better rewards or upgrading a card instead of healing.

Furthermore, another obstacle the player will encounter is the randomness of the game. No two games are the same, as levels are generated, enemies, card rewards, events are all random. This makes it hard to plan any strategy from the start. Yet, both these obstacles push the lens of Moments as they feel earned when they are achieved.

The lens of Transparency

This is an important lens in this game (The designers have said that the game almost failed without their new user interface implementation). All enemy intents are revealed to the player before they do their action. This further reinforces the tactical nature of the game as you can account for the enemies’ actions. Planning ahead of the enemy is what makes the gameplay loop of planning and execution so engaging.

The lens of Elegance

I believe that Slay the Spire is an excellently designed game. Each element feeds the other elements, making the experience cohesive and engaging. There are no superfluous elements, and the ones that exist are simple, yet complex due to the synergies with the other elements. Every card combination is balanced, yet still feels unexpected to the player. The risk/reward progression of the game is top-notch. Consequently, it’s clear why this game pushed the deck-building genre into new heights and will no doubt go as the classic.

Analysis of eliza

Short Description of eliza:

eliza is a visual novel released by indie publisher Zachtronics in 2019. It is a game with a story to tell. One that is reminiscent of TV show “Black Mirror”. Set 20 minutes into the future, Evelyn works as a human stand-in (aka ‘proxy’) for the titular Artificial Intelligence ‘eliza’ to provide counselling services for clients who do not wish to go for psychiatric help. Players interact with different people in this world, listen to their stories and see what eliza is to different people.

Website link: http://www.zachtronics.com/eliza/

Analysis of Game:

The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

Story

The story of eliza is one that is thought-provoking. Serving as a social commentary on the technocratic solutions to human problems such as mental wellness and moral dilemmas associated with it. It is also a story of the disenfranchised people who live in such a world with very relatable problems.  Everyone you meet is fighting a battle most know nothing about, and as eliza, you listen.

Aesthetics:

eliza is a beautifully illustrated visual novel. It has a minimal but functional interface that is unobtrusive to the story. Each location is evocative of the atmosphere it desires, from the clean and futuristic Queen-Ann eliza counselling center to the hip sideview depiction of the coffeeshop the main character frequents. Combined with the music, each scene sets the tone for the events that follow. Even the Augmented Reality display eliza proxies wear with the technical analysis and client vitals conveys the feel of it being at the forefront of technology. A lot of care has also been put into the depiction of Evelyn’s phone which serve as a window to the happenings of her world, making it like a unique location unto itself.

Technology:

eliza is available on Steam for Windows, macOS, Linux and is also released on the Nintendo Switch. It does not require much hardware support which is nice to widen the access of audience to the story.

Mechanics:

Players follow Evelyn’s life and listen to dialog with other characters and get a glimpse into her world. Sometimes players are given choices to dialog and the ending is dependent on player choice. While no ending is ever locked due to player choice in the middle of the game, the ending which players feel most satisfied with depends on their choices earlier on.

 Lens #73: The Lens of the Story Machine

eliza is a well crafted story. It follows a Strings of Pearls method, a mostly linear sequence of chapters that do not deviate much. However the player’s choices may open up different side interactions which lead back to the overarching narrative. While it may come across that player choice might not matter, the choices do generate different stories for the player as how they view their relationship with different character changes which may cause different choices to result in players perceiving different endings as the “true ending”.

Lens #01: The Lens of Emotion

As a proxy for eliza, the player is privy to the outpourings of several characters in the game. Most notably are those who have very relatable issues. A down on their luck artist, Maya for example, is a repeat customer the player sees often. Over the course of multiple sessions, you get to know her struggles against an apathetic art world stacked against her, how it feels like its not about art but a popularity contest and culminates in her wondering if she should let go of her long held dream. This is one of many stories the players would hear and their anguish is heart-rending to hear. In contrast even acting as the eliza proxy does takes it toll. It can be quite emotionally draining to listen to all the problems these characters may have. Sometimes it can be boring.

Lens #72: The Lens of Projection

In eliza, a good portion of the player’s interaction with the world is through Evelyn’s phone. With a streamlined user interface, players can read her mail, her chats and various other apps which all add to the world building and help the players feel like they are part of it. Much like how it is very natural to use a phone messaging application to talk to people rather than a talk in person, at times it feels as if using Evelyn’s phone to message people feels more like I am talking to the person than seeing them as a character on the screen. The game even lampshades this with an article detailing that while regular users of eliza speak to a human proxy for the human touch, the mental wellness programs targeted to aid students take the form of a chat application because that is what kids these days are more comfortable with.

Lens #80: The lens of Help

“I just want to help people.” As an eliza proxy, the players get to listen to the troubles of so many people. eliza was originally made to ensure everyone could have ready access to some mental counselling. Not everyone has a support network of friends, not everyone has the financial capacity for psychiatrict help or knows they can. In this story, it goes two fold, Evelyn as an eliza proxy could choose to follow the script eliza gives her or deviate and provide what she thinks is the right counsel to customers. As a top computer scientist, Evelyn could choose to work to advance the eliza AI to potentially help many people at once, or take the other path to help people one at a time. The game portrays that there is no clear answer to any of these questions and supports all decisions the players choose.

VR/MR Headsets

VR Devices

In a VR Headset, I usually look out for the common factors that make a headset distinguish itself from others, like higher DOF, FOV, refresh rate and more importantly for me, an non-tethered headset, which brings a feeling of freedom.

It is of course, difficult to find a good device that does all of the above and still remains affordable. A common few headsets that receive much popularity are the Oculus Quest and HTC Vive.

As such, it is a surprise even to myself, that one of my personal favorites for VR is the Nintendo Labo VR.

Image result for nintendo labo vr
1,280 by 720 Resolution, 60Hz Refresh, 3 DOF. Not the most amazing specs you’ll see.

While it can be coined as “VR but not exactly” by many people, the main reason as to why it catches my attention is the idea of learning and creativity.

Not many people have the opportunity to experience VR, especially kids. With a Google Cardboard-like experience, many people can get their first VR experience, beginning from “building” their own VR headset.

From there on, they can shape their own VR experiences by building a variety of different extensions through the many Toy-Con projects available (elephant, camera, blaster…), or simply experience compatible Nintendo games through the lens of VR. Players also have the option to make their own mini VR games.

Looking at its specs, it is clear that this is not the most outstanding VR device and it definitely can’t compete with other specific sets like the Playstation VR (though Labo is more affordable than many). However its main selling point lies not in its tech, but how it makes VR more understandable through its play experience.

From building to basic programming, the Nintendo Labo makes VR more accessible to people and the idea of VR more tangible. Rather than letting VR seem like something futuristic and daunting, it gently introduces people into the VR space. Especially for kids, this helps with the learning experience and is a great first introduction to VR, which can hopefully ignite an interest in them.

Everyone has different thoughts on what is the best system, and a cool extensive list of VR devices and their specs can be found here.

MR Devices

While I’m not exactly familiar with MR tech (affordability being an issue of course), upon research, one of the headsets that catches my eye is the Microsoft Hololens 2, a popular pick for many.

Image result for microsoft hololens 2
A pricey piece with 52 FOV, about 3h battery life, and more power than its predecessor.

With a stylish design including a flip-up visor and improved fit, it’s cool to see how the device has been advanced for user comfort and experience. Tracking (gesture, gaze, hand) and various sensors increase the possibilities that the HMD can bring, and I’m interested in seeing how the experience is as compared to the Hololens 1.