A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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Mario Maker 2 is an art studio

Lowell Kempf
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Our son likes to create his own goals and personal narratives in video games.

Enter Mario Maker 2.

Mario Maker is a virtual construction set that lets you build your very own platformer levels for Nintendo’s mascot to go through. More than that, it has a variety of different art settings so you can live as Mario through the ages.

Man but this thing was made with our child in mind.

One of my earliest computer game experiences was Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set. And, to be honest, I suspect that is a game/tool box/experience that would still hold up today. And the Mario Maker series is exactly like it for Super Mario games.

There is a story-mode that also serves as a tutorial for the frankly ridiculous number of tools that you have at your disposal. As opposed to Mario having to rescue Princess Peach for the upteenth time, he is earning money to rebuild her castle after it accidentally gets destroyed. Which I think is an adorable concept.

But our son isn’t interested in the campaign mode. He’s interested in creating what are more like art instillations than more functional levels. Which is absolutely wonderful. It turns Mario into a pure act of creativity. Whenever we get a new video game, there’s always the question if it will be good for us, Mario Maker 2 has quickly proven to be good for us.

I already consider video games to be an art form but Mario Maker 2 is an art studio.

(And yes, you can share designs via the internet but we’re not having our son share stuff with strangers on the internet. Says the guy whose positing this to strangers on the internet lol)
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Tue May 10, 2022 2:20 am
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Yoshi’s world is beautiful

Lowell Kempf
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After my wife finished Kirby and the Forgotten Land, we needed more cute video games in our lives. So she found the older title of Yoshi’s Crafted World.

Sweet Zelda, Yoshi’s Crafted World makes Kirby seem like Call of Duty!

I have a weird opinion of Yoshi, Mario’s dinosaur buddy. I think he’s a great character and an adorable design. But ever since I found out he exists, he has always felt like his own thing who just happens to be in Mario games.

Mario doesn’t seem to show up in the crafted world so that just reinforces my view

Plot: Baby Bowser broke the magical Sundream Stone and the Yoshi’s have to go through platformer levels to put it back together. No, it’s not Shakespeare.

But, as someone who’s just watching the game, what is incredibly striking is the setting. Yoshi is traveling through a wonder land of kindergarten crafts. If the kindergartners were very talented and had access to infinite recyclables.

The folks behind Yoshi’s Crafted World went all in on their design aesthetic. I understand an earlier game was a yarn world so this is clearly part of the Yoshi brand. The crafted elements are so fully realized that I have to assume they made real models in order to code them. And you can replay levels from the other direction so each element had to be fully rendered from both sides.

I may not end up playing Yoshi’s Crafted World but I am really enjoying seeing it. I can understand why some folks make money playing video games for other people to watch. This way, you can appreciate the artwork that went into creating the game. The lighthearted whimsy of Yoshi makes Animal Crossing look like Silent Hill.
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Fri Apr 29, 2022 7:24 pm
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Okay, Mario and Dungeons and Dragons don’t mix

Lowell Kempf
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One of the dangers of years of playing D&D (or probably a bunch of other games) is the urge to figure out what the class and level of a fictional character would be. I remember watching Brotherhood of the Wolf with gaming buddies and we were constantly adjusting our stats of Fronsac as we watched.

Of course, TSR was as bad as any of us. An early column of Dragon Magazine called Giants in the Earth was literally just statting out whatever fictional characters they thought they could get away with. (No Lord of the Rings because the Tolkien estate was known to be litigious but I did find out about Karl Wagner’s Kane because of it)

For the most part, I’ve grown out of this tendency. But I’ve found myself thinking about how D&D would interpret Mario.

Since he jumps around and kills his enemies by landing on them unarmed, he’s clearly a monk. End of story. That’s not why the Shaolin plumber fascinates me as a D&D concept.

No, it’s the fact that Mario has been in literally hundreds of games. The guy has to have crazy experience points and shot past epic levels long ago. That’s the only explanation for why a plumber monk has taken the time to devote skill points to go kart piloting.

Obviously a first edition Mario just has to walk into the same room as the Grand Master of Flowers and he’d automatically get the title. Mario is the Perry Rhodan of video game heroes. (Yes, that means I’m telling you all I know about Perry Rhodan is that he’s been in over 400 books)

And yes, this whole train of thought is nonsense. Mario has no relationship to Dungeons and Dragons and makes no sense in the context of it. His abilities and limitations are defined by the technology used to implement him and the challenges the designers have him overcome. He can wrestle a turtle dragon into submission but an armless mushroom goblin can kill him with one touch. No edition of Dungeons and Dragons can justify that.

What this entire exercise actually shows is one more example of human natures desperate tendency to explain things and explain them in a format we can claim expertise in.
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Fri Apr 15, 2022 3:26 pm
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Popular histories of video games?

Lowell Kempf
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Thanks to Humble Bundle, I have discovered a publisher called Boss Fight Books that specializes in popular histories of video games.

Popular history, according to my family, is when you still use facts, sources and interviews but simplify and flatten things into order to create a narrative. And probably sanitize things. That definition might say more about my family than the concept of popular history

Boss Fight Books has each book be about a specific video game. More than that, if I understand it correctly, the authors got to pick what the game they wrote about. And it’s usually clearly been a game that was meaningful to the author.

That being said, having the bias completely out in the open makes it more acceptable to me. I don’t view it as propaganda but as fan testimony.

I’ve been reading the books like they are the literary popcorn. They are very light and fluffy. And I’ve been wondering what book would make me feel like blogging about the publisher.

It turns out that it’s the book about NBA Jam called NBA Jam. A wildly successful and influential video game that I never heard of about a subject I’m not really interested in.

(I think basketball is an AMAZING game for hobby and recreation, even though I am beyond abysmal at it. It works perfectly indoors and outdoors and is easily adapted to the half court. But I think sports work better as activities than as entertainment)

And I now know how BOOMSHAKALAKA became a part of global vocabulary.

But the book was actually more about the people who designed the game (particularly Mark Turmell) and the last days of Midway Games. (A history of Mortal Kombat would probably cover the exact same ground as far as Midway’s history is concerned)

And it kept me interested and entertained. Many of the books (not all of them) just use video games to frame the lives of their creators and the fortunes of their publishers. NBA Jam does that in spades. Quite frankly, it was framed like a classic tragedy with a video game back drop.

As I’ve already mentioned, the Boss Battle Books books are written by fans, push the narrative and polish the rough edges. However, they are entertaining and you will still end up learning something.
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Thu Apr 14, 2022 12:28 am
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This time I ramble about Pokémon Arceus

Lowell Kempf
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I am a table top gamer. So why is this the third time I’ve written about video games in a week?

I have not been playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus but I have been watching my wife play it. And it definitely makes an impression.

While I am not an expert in disturbingly wide world of Pokémon, I have played Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Sun, Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Go. And I’ve seen two episodes of the anime. So, I have an idea of how Pokémon works.

And Arceus (I am not going to type out the whole name every time) does shake up the mold. Keep in mind, if you strip away improvements in graphics and refining elements, even I could tell that Yellow (one of the earliest games) and Sun (one of the later games) followed the same formula.

I cannot help but compare Arceus to The Legend of Zelda:Breath of the Wild. That’s because I don’t play a lot of video games and have a very small pool of references. Breath of the Wild, of course, has a vast and sprawling environment, one that you can explore with only a few limitations.

I’m not sure Arceus is a true open world sandbox. As opposed to one giant map, it is made up of admittedlt big zones and you can’t cross from one zone to another. Still, it’s a lot more open than any Pokémon game I’m aware of. You are much more engaged with the actual world and interacting with the environment. (I love the fact the _human_ can hide in the tall grass)

The most interesting part of the environment is, as you’d hope it would be, Pokémon. While this is the not the first time we’ve seen them as an actual part of the biome (Pokémon Snap has done that very well twice) or free roaming Pokémon, it’s still a step away from the old formula.

This is the first time in a video game that nice seen Pokémon attacking humans. (I know it’s happened in movies and cartoons) Pokémon basically have every super power in the book. Actually having them try to kill you is scary and a welcome addition to the experience.

I probably approach video games from my origins as a table top RPGer. What is the world and how can I interact with it? Can I create my own narrative on top of the one that’s been bundled into the game?

Arceus isn’t there yet but it’s closer than any other Pokémon game I’ve seen.
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Mon Mar 14, 2022 4:10 pm
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Link’s Awakening is like an onion, man. It’s got layers and might make you cry

Lowell Kempf
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild turned out household from folks who knew the series existed to fans of the franchise. And while the open sandbox of Breath of the Wild is unique in the series (so far), we decided to dabble and get the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening.

You know, the game is almost thirty years old. I’m going to spoil the big twist at some point in this blog entry. Consider yourself warned and you already know the twist anyway.

Instead of a seemingly endless world to explore, Link’s Awakening gives you a tight series of puzzle-filled dungeons. You know, the kind where you get a new ability in every dungeon and you need to use it to solve the dungeon. Zelda fans say it helped popularize this style of game play across the medium but I have no idea if that’s true.

Video Games are kind of wide, spongy medium full of flamboyant statements. It’s hard to say what and how much anything is true.

Zelda historians also say that Link’s Awakening was the first Zelda game that had a more detailed and nuanced plot beyond beat up bad guys and save the princess. And there is definitely some stuff going on behind swinging a sword.

Spoilers

Spoilers

Spoilers

You already know this. The island of Koholint (That’s in my spellcheck!? Seriously?) is a dream. Nothing is real and Link’s quest to awaken the Windfish will result in the whole place going away for good. And if that’s news to you, don’t ask me about Luke Skywalker’s dad.

Multiple sources have stated that Twin Peaks was a major influence on the game. And that doesn’t surprise me. Twin Peaks played a big role in me appreciating the works of David Lynch. (As opposed to Eraser Head which played a big role in me waking up screaming.) Awakening is surreal, funny and creepy at the same time.

There’s a lot of weird stuff on the island. You not only face conventional monsters but also encounter various Mario foes and Kirby (who, to be fair, probably would want to devour Link and wear his soul as a skin) There is an acknowledgment to the players, if not witihin the text, that this is a video game.

The island, in addition to having more monsters than Keep on the Borderlands, is chock full of quirky NPCs. It feels like Lynch’s Wild at Heart was an influence as well Twin Peaks.

Marin is the only NPC who is remotely fleshed out on the island. She also serves as the love interest and actually gives the story stakes. If Link wakes the Windfish so he can escape the island, she ceases to exist.

I mean, it’s going to happen unless you turn off the game and never play it ever again. But it changes the nature of the narrative. It isn’t just beat up the big bad. It’s about ending the world to save yourself.

Link’s Awakening doesn’t actually give you a morally ambiguous choice since there isn’t actually a choice. But it does ask a morally ambiguous question.
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Fri Mar 11, 2022 1:19 pm
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I want to explore Kirby’s forgotten land

Lowell Kempf
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While I am more of a table top gamer, I married into a video gaming family. Nintendo in particular. Before my marriage, I couldn’t have picked Kirby out of a lineup of Space Invaders aliens and now I’ve played at least three different Kirby games.

(Kirby is a silent but heroic pink blob who can gain the powers of enemies who eats alive. And he is somehow adorable instead of a soul-destroying horror)

So, when the demo for Kirby and the Forgotten Land, every member of the household who isn’t a cat played through it. I had to look up to find this out but this is the first Kirby that’s a 3-D platformer, as opposed to a 2-D one.

And if you’re like me, you need someone to explain that a platformer is a game where you follow a path full of obstacles, puzzles and enemies. And a 3-D ones means the developers can make the environment more complex.

I know there is a _lot_ that the full game will have that the demo doesn’t even hint at. However, one thing that drew me in and made me want to play the full game is the environment.

In the opening cutscene, Kirby and other inhabitants of his pastoral Arcadia are pulled through a portal into a new world. And it is a very promising world.

Kirby finds himself on the outskirts of an abandoned , overgrown city. Flowers growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. Crumbling skyscrapers with vines. We are talking on sad, quiet end of ‘After Man’, post apocalypse. Nature is reclaiming what once was civilization.

And it sure looks like a world made by and for humans, not the adorable creatures of Kirby’s normal worlds. Although I’m pretty sure they will inherit it.

I don’t know if the game will be able to live up to the promise of the setting. My Kirby experiences have had the little pink guy in playful environments. This is Kirby hanging out in a world steeped in tragedy and loss, a forgotten land… Hey, that’s where the name comes from!

I know that the game play is going to consist of jumping, and pushing and eating the souls of your enemies and wearing them as your skin but it’s happening in one evocative place. I do want to guide Kirby on his adventures but I also want to explore this world.
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Mon Mar 7, 2022 7:26 pm
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Should Mario Party Superstars be this much fun?

Lowell Kempf
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Mario Party Superstars reinforces to me that Nintendo has refined history and nostalgia to an exact science. Using a hundred mini-games and five boards from the earliest Mario Party releases, it is asking players to dive back into an idealized past like a Norman Rockwell video game time machine.

(That would make a great name for a Rolling Stones cover band)

And for me, it works. Mario Party Superstars has been a really fun gaming experience.

But here’s the thing. It’s only the second Mario Party game I’ve ever played and the other one is Super Mario Party, the other one for the Switch. I have zero history or emotional connection to the older games.

I don’t think this is some kind of argument that the older games are the best and you young whippersnappers don’t know what it was like back then. (You don’t know what it was like to stay up until eleven to watch a grainy Doctor Who rerun with bad reception. And I hate you because I wish _I_ didn’t know what it was like. Streaming is AWESOME) I think this proves that you’ll get quality of you cherry pick anything to an inch of its life.

Frankly, as a board game/video game hybrid Frankenstein that uses our old enemy Roll-and-Move as a primary mechanic (I still love you, Backgammon), Mario Party is an odd beast. I’m shocked that I enjoy it as much as I do. As a serious ‘game’, it’s lacking but it really makes the party part work.
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Wed Feb 16, 2022 8:18 pm
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Haven’t I played Wordle as Jotto?

Lowell Kempf
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Enough of my family is playing Wordle that I’ve ended up playing it too.

If your family hasn’t convinced you to try Wordle, it’s Mastermind with letters. It’s basically Jotto except that it has a computer moderator and…

Uh, is there any other differences between Wordle and this 64-year-old word game? I mean, beyond the fact that Wordle is online and for one player.

To be honest, I’ve long thought that Jotto had gotten unfairly ignored. What it lacks in flashy chrome, it makes up with rock solid mechanics.

So, I basically think Wordle didn’t reinvent a wheel built in 1956 that rolls perfectly well.
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Sat Feb 12, 2022 2:49 am
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Our child forces us to find out about Among Us

Lowell Kempf
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Our son recently became enamored with an Among Us plush, which meant that we had to find out what Among Us is.

… So, let me get this straight. It’s a video game where Mafia/Werewolf is the core mechanic?

Oh, who am I kidding? I bet it’s one of over a thousand video games that uses the hidden traitor(s) mechanic. The only reason I don’t know about any of them is because it isn’t used in Animal Crossing.

And the two minutes I spent researching Among Us via google made it clear that it wasn’t just pointing fingers and accusing each other. There is also other stuff you have to get done or lose.

Which doesn’t make it any different than the dozens of board games that also use the hidden traitor mechanic as a core concept. I’m kind of OG so Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica is what I think of but I also know that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Still, while Mafia/Werewolf is a simple activity, it’s easy to see why it’s popular and has inspired so many more complicated games. People lie.

When the Resistance hit it big, none of my gaming groups were into social deduction so I was a little bewildered. However, hearing about playground games of Among Us (with all the kids wanting to be invaders), it’s clear that social deduction is not going anywhere.
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Mon Feb 7, 2022 3:41 pm
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