Saturday, July 28, 2007


Chore Wars

I had an epiphany a while ago regarding the collective and insatiable lust for experience points that drives gamers to perform some of the dullest and most brain-killing tasks ever conceived by the human imagination. To wit, wading through the tall grass in a Pokemon game, searching for endless Pidgeys to slay with my Pikachu. I mean, this kind of stuff keeps people occupied -- if not exactly entertained -- for hours. Clearly, this could be a force for good if only it had the proper focus. Alas, Chore Wars, as devastatingly promoted on Penny Arcade, beat me to the punch.

Wait, What?

Depending on your point of view, Chore Wars is either a resource website for organizing a long-term, live-action role playing game that will infest itself into every aspect of your real life, or it's an especially well-decorated "to do list" organizer. Since it all comes down to your personal perception, you should go with the LARP option.

The game is based around an adventuring party, basically a group of people who agree to play by the same set of rules. It can include everyone in a single household, everyone who works in the same office, or any arbitrary group of people who have access to a web browser. When you begin the game, you create a character sheet for yourself, including a visual avatar and your choice of up to six natural talents, which are used to determine your starting stats and character class. You then have the option to start a party, or join an existing one, provided you have an invitation.

The party leader acts as both game master and participant, and he is responsible for creating the adventures that the party can undertake. The game begins as a blank slate -- filling in which tasks to do and what rewards to associate with them is entirely the job of the party leader. Adventures involve, as the name suggests, chores. These can be your traditional vacuuming, dishwashing, lawn mowing, garbage-hauling tasks, but the game documentation suggests that just about any unpleasant, mundane activity is a reasonable candidate for high adventure. For example, calling in a pizza order is listed under suggestions for chores that require an adventurer's charisma.

The game players then set out into the world of real life and undertake adventures by completing their corresponding chores. When you log back into the system to claim your adventure, you receive bonuses assigned by the party leader:

XP -- This is the big one, as far as the game mechanics are concerned. Every adventure is worth 1 - 100 XP. The site recommends 1 XP for every minute of effort that a chore requires, but the actual value is left to the party leader's discretion. An especially rigorous task may command a higher payoff than a much less stressful task that takes the same amount of time. This can be further fudged by claiming a percentage above or below the base reward if the task turned out to be especially difficult or easy. Your character levels up every 200 XP; higher levels don't require exponentially more XP to attain.

Stat boosts -- Your character has the six classic D&D attributes: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. The party leader decides which of these attributes are involved in a particular adventure and how much they should be boosted upon successful completion of a task. Every time your character levels up, you gain a bonus to the stats that you've been exercising regularly at the expense of the stats you've been neglecting. Your character potentially changes character classes every level depending on how his stats change.

Gold -- Your gold pieces are sort of a measure of "game credit". While your experience points show how much adventuring you've done throughout your career, gold pieces can be saved and spent. But the game system doesn't do anything with gold pieces beyond keeping a tally of how many you have and allowing you to remove some from your hoard. Keeping in the spirit of the live-action element of the game, gold pieces are meant to be exchanged for some sort of real-world reward. For example, if your mother is the party leader, she could agree to take you out for ice cream for 1000 gold pieces.

Treasure -- Your character can earn special items through adventuring -- weapons, cleaning tools, movie tickets, whatever the party leader's twisted imagination can come up with. Like gold, the game system doesn't muck around with special treasure except to keep track of what you have and whether or not you've gotten rid of it. The suggestion is that treasure could represent real-world rewards or favors that could be redeemed from the party leader.

The game also involves combat, but it's almost included as an afterthought. You earn the rewards set by the party leader for completing a chore -- fighting any wandering monsters that the party leader may have designated is completely optional. Still, if I happen to run into a giant rat while Bringing in the Mail, or I get waylaid by a dragon when I'm Mowing the Lawn, I don't mind cracking some skulls open. After all, what fun is it to boost up your stats if they don't let you smack some monsters around?

Mary Poppins Meets World of Warcraft

I tried the game out for a week, and I discovered it to be surprisingly engaging. While I can see this being an effective multiplayer experience, with players competing for housework dominance or hoarding their gold to be redeemed for prizes or favors, it's distressingly effective even as a single-player experience where the only prize you're fighting for is numbers on a computer screen.

It's the "spoonful of sugar" thing. When you're a kid, doing chores typically comes with some sort of immediately appreciable reward. Special treats. Leverage for allowance negotiations. Mom stops yelling at you for a whole afternoon. The list goes on and on. But when you grow up, it seems like there's less and less immediate compensation for doing the dumb things you've gotta do.

But now, there's finally a dangling carrot for us video game junkies to follow around. Every time you get off your fat ass and do something, you get the opportunity to log into a website and play out a roleplaying adventure game! Yeah, there's a little bit of imagination-stretching required, but for the past week, I've had critical success at tricking myself into thinking that five experience points for my level 3 Ranger is all the reward I could ever want for scooping out the cat box. My distaste toward washing the dishes melted away when I realized that it would net me a cool 20 XP. And the two-day hassle I had over trying to get the paperwork in for my passport? Rolled right off my back when I realized that all of the pieces of the ordeal added up to a sweet 150 XP.

I should be ashamed to admit this, but I feel like I'm a slick bastard when I shake down the system for more experience points than a chore is worth. It feels great to get 5 XP for only one minute of work, or 10 XP for only five minutes of effort. I've found myself doing all manner of piddly crap tasks around the house that I otherwise wouldn't bother with, wringing my hands in greedy delight over the extortionistic experience point fees I'm going to charge from the system.

I've gotten to the point where I literally feel like I've won some sort of coup whenever I exchange actual physical labor for growing numbers on a computer screen.

There's a powerful psychological force at play here, but hey, it's being directed toward a good cause, and it actually works. Hard to argue with that.

The other part of the appeal lies in the program's customization and flexibility. You provide the names of all of the monsters and treasures in the game, and you also get to decide what they do. A lot of the fun of the game lies in filling in the details behind every quest. What sort of monsters should attack when you're Vacuuming the Floor? What would be an appropriate treasure to find on such an adventure? I relish any opportunity I get to mold a game world to my personal preferences, even when that world is largely concerned with real life maintenance.

In the end, though, the question is how long this will keep up my interest. Sooner or later, the psychological gymnastics that allow me to accept a work-based exercise as a real game are going to break down, and I'm going to realize that there's not a lot of substance to this experience. Still, with games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Chibi Robo on the market, this certainly seems like an idea whose time has come. And it's free, so why not give it a shot?

I'm gonna go Brush my Teeth. Hopefully the biting rats won't get me.


Friday, July 27, 2007


Casual Versus Hardcore STEEL CAGE DEATHMATCH!

There's no such thing as casual or hardcore gamers.

There's just snobs.

Snobs who think that their tastes in video games are law, and that anyone who disagrees with them is unworthy of sharing their hobby.

That is all.


Thursday, July 12, 2007


Wii Hissy Fit

I will never, as long as I live, understand the "hardcore".

Oh man, you should've seen the GameFAQs message boards lit up yesterday! "Nintendo abandons their fans!" "Soccer moms declare martial law!" "I saw Goody Miyamoto with the devil!"

Over what? The promise of a new accessory that will be able to detect the motion of your entire fucking body with allegedly uncanny accuracy.

I mean, what the hell? As far as I'm concerned, that's a show-stealer. That's motion control to the tenth degree. Did no one look at the trailers for this thing? Can no one imagine the possibilities? Why the hate? Why the accusations of betrayal? Is it because we're going to be asked to exercise, and that's just not cool enough?

Whatever. Wii Fit is officially my most anticipated game for any console. Yes, it even trumps Smash Brothers. Yes, even with a Dr. Wright assist trophy. I'm just that excited about the promise of digital entertainment with real-world control.

So how long before they announce a Wario Ware game for it?


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I, For One, Welcome Our New Wii Overlords

I've been neglecting the old blog for a number of reasons. But the most important reason is also the most obvious: I got a Wii two weeks ago. And for two weeks, I've been in that magical place in my heart where it's more fun to play games than it is to talk about them.

I've had impressions, thoughts, and reactions bubbling and stewing in my brain. There's a question that's been nagging at me for a while now. I've brought it up a few times here at Electric Dilintia. The question is, why do we need a new generation of video game consoles? And I think that the Wii has given enough of an answer to justify its existence.

Total Immersion

I know that I'm going to be playing Wii Sports forever. This isn't a suspicion, this isn't an initial reaction, this is a simple, pure truth. Let me tell you why I'm so sure of this.

When I first hooked up a pair of maracas to my Dreamcast, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard good things about rhythm games before, but I'd never played one myself. But once I got the knack for it, I played it until my arms were sore. The next day, I played it again. I built up my stamina. I played it until I could get through the whole songlist in one sitting. I played it until I sweat. And I never stopped playing until that fateful day when my maraca went dead on me.

Games that involve physical activity are simply more fun than games where you sit down and poke buttons. When you're actually doing the things that take place in the game -- swinging a baseball bat or a tennis racket, throwing a bowling ball -- it's a whole other level of visceral satisfaction. You go from being a spectator to being a participant.

I was worried about the Wii remote. I was worried that the mechanisms in place -- angle/motion detection coupled with a pointer -- wouldn't be sufficient to register the player's real-world actions for translation into gameplay actions. My worries were completely unfounded. Yes, concessions were made. There are ways to "cheat" the system. The important thing is, it can be played the way it was meant to be played, and it works. It works elegantly and beautifully.

Suddenly, 1:1 movement translation isn't important to me. It doesn't matter so much if the remote is capable of translating my movements directly into a game character's movements in real time (even though, from examples like Wii Baseball, the system is clearly up to the task!). The important thing is that it feels real.

I never got tired of Samba de Amigo. I will never get tired of Wii Sports. The controllers don't cost $80 apiece. They aren't awkward to assemble, disassemble, and store. They're completely wireless. And, hopefully, they won't break after two years of use.


Adding to the idea of immersion are the Miis. I've fallen in love with these simplistic, cartoony characters whose body configuration seems to adapt to whatever the situation calls for. User-created content is always cool -- it's part of the reason games like The Sims and Animal Crossing are so addictive. It's like creating a world for yourself.

I started with an avatar for myself. Then family. Then friends and co-workers. Then some cartoon characters I used to draw. It pleased me to watch the generic Miis on my baseball team replaced one by one by the familiar characters of my own creation.

My only concern about the Mii Channel is that the Mii avatars may not get enough use, especially in third-party games. I love using my Miis to the point that I would consider it a selling point, or even a deal-breaker, when it comes to buying a new video game. To wit: the next Animal Crossing damn well better let you use a Mii avatar. Damn well better.

Intelligent Television

When the Intellivision went on sale in 1979, the motto behind it was "Intelligent Television". No mere game console, it promised to be the center of a larger experience, a machine that not only played games, but offered the functionality of a home computer with the comfort and familiarity of the television set.

Promises were broken, gears were shifted, markets crashed, blah blah blah.

But it was a neat idea, almost three decades ahead of its time. And now we have the Wii.

And it's not just a game console.

I have to admit, I'm in love with the interface. Abstracting the Wii's various functions into television channels, to complement the "TV Remote" look and feel of the controller, was a stroke of sheer groovy. It reminds me (and you're welcome to laugh) of Pokemon Channel. It's as if they took Pokemon Channel and turned it into a whole game console. Pokemon Channel, the game that somehow wormed its way into my heart despite its lack of any quality whatsoever. Only now, it's good.

I find it not just nifty, but actually useful. I've been checking the weather regularly, just because I can. I've browsed the news once or twice, but I'd rather do that from my computer. Everybody Votes is surprisingly addictive.

But the big hitters here are the Photo Channel and the Internet Channel. The Photo Channel is the Game Boy Camera and Mario Paint wrapped up in one package. I love the fact that I can take the family's vacation pictures and see them in slideshow format on the television with shockingly little fuss. The "puzzle" mode is more fun than it has any right to be, as is competitive doodling -- two players attacking a picture at the same time.

I don't like how most websites come out on the web browser, but it's awesome to have the power to dial up Flash animations whenever I want. There's nothing quite like crashing on the sofa for half an hour and bringing up endless Homestar Runner cartoons.

Virtual Console

There's a lot of criticism over the Virtual Console, and I have to admit, a lot of it is well-deserved. The system in place makes you wonder exactly what it is that you're buying. Strictly speaking, you're buying points. Nintendo (or... whoever?) gets money every time you buy points, whether you use them or not. Then you take this imaginary money, and you use it to buy... what? A license to download a piece of software as many times as you like, but only to a particular Wii console? So what happens if your Wii breaks? What happens when the next generation of game consoles comes out? What happens if the Wii Store network is discontinued, and you don't have a backup of the software you "bought"? Why is each game its own channel?

These are all valid concerns. However, they're all trumped by the fact that I own a game console that lets me switch between Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario 64 from the comfort of my couch. No extra shelf space taken up, no cartridges to switch out, no power buttons to toggle, no daisy chain of input cords. I can even play wirelessly if I want to bust out the old Wavebird.

I'm only somewhat surprised that I already own (as in, I could rummage around and find a physical copy somewhere in my house) five of the seven Virtual Console games that I bought. I got Ecco the Dolphin mostly to please my sister, and Toe Jam & Earl based on fond memories of renting it when I was younger. I don't plan on repurchasing every game I've ever owned just for the convenience of having it on Virtual Console -- I didn't enjoy, for example, Mario Kart 64 enough that I'll drop ten bucks to have it on my Wii -- but on the other hand, it seems like most of the games I missed out on in my youth were less to do with an inability to acquire them and more to do with a total lack of interest.

Of course, any or all of the things that I like about the Wii could have been implemented on one of the existing game consoles. (And a lot of them probably were on the X-Box, damned if I can be bothered to check.) But if they were add-ons, then their usefulness would be limited only to the people who bought them. By making them part of the console itself, you not only increase the usefulness of the features to 100% of the user base, but you make a console that has a philosophy behind its design.

So in the end, I'm glad I got my Wii. It's gotten me excited about video games again in a way that I didn't think I could. Good stuff.


Saturday, July 07, 2007


Lose Weight Now! Ask Me How!

Click here to lose 1-3 kilograms right now!

Ah, I love internet games.


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