by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Gaming”

Computer Characters, Your Ability to Cheat is Counteracted by the Fact That I Control Your Difficulty Level

Posted 16 March 2008 in by Catriona

Anyone who plays Mario Party regularly eventually comes to complain about certain irritations in the gameplay.

The game—which essentially involves rolling dice by hitting them with your head, moving around a game board, and playing minigames at the end of each round, earning coins to buy stars—is immensely fun, but does have some frustrations, especially the way in which so many of the minigames are chance-based. This is exceptionally frustrating when you’re duelling one-on-one with a player, or playing a battle minigame for some insane amount of money.

But the other thing you tend to notice if you ever approach a Mario Party forum is the insistence by players that the computer cheats to benefit its own players.

And it does.

Nick and I compete in Mario Party 8 on the Wii, but mostly I play it on my DS, which means I’m playing against three computer players. And they all cheat.

Take tonight’s game on the DK’s Stone Statue level, versus Peach, Daisy, and Waluigi. This three-tier jungle board is the only one in which the Star Space is fixed, rather than moving around every time someone buys s star. Technically, this should make it easier, since you don’t spend three turns patiently moving up on the Star Space only to suddenly find it behind you because some computer character has rolled three 10s in a row.

But they still cheat. And I can prove it.

Round 1: I roll a 2. Not the most auspicious of starts.
Peach, of course, manages to roll a 10.

Round 2: Daisy manages to find a Hidden Block, containing a Star. I mean, honestly, it’s only the second round.
Peach lands on the only safe blue square in a five-square radius.
I double my luck by rolling a 4.
Mind, Waluigi is having the worst game so far, and is still only two squares from the start.

Round 3: I land on Peach’s 10-coin Hex and have to forfeit my money. It is at this point that I suspect the game is cheating, and start taking notes. This move, I might add, puts me in last place.
Daisy lands on a square that gives her a Triple Dice, allowing her to roll three 10-sided dice. Hmmm.

Round 4: I miss the magical, coin-dispensing bees by one square.
Thankfully, Peach and Waluigi are both stuck, and can’t get past the second tier, and Daisy wastes her Triple Dice by using it before she has the twenty coins for a star.
I win the minigame despite exploding twice, and move into second place.

Round 5: Uneventful, except Waluigi is still stuck.
A three-versus-one minigame means I have to forfeit money or give Peach and Daisy ten coins each. I fancy the money, and lucky for them I’m good at running away from model trains.

Round 6: It’s looking up, until Waluigi sets off a giant barrel that squishes ten coins out of each of us.
One bonus: Daisy inexplicably spends all her money, and then shows unusual acumen in our two-on-two minigame against the others.

Round 7: I manage to buy three stars and move to first place.
Peach manages to set off the barrel to detriment of both herself and Daisy.
Waluigi moves past the Star Space with insufficient funds, and then lands on the Bowser Square. For once, Bowser’s “Gimme Equality” attack works in my favour, with me moving from five to sixteen coins and Peach from forty-one coins down to sixteen.
I’m sure the computer won’t let this state of affairs continue.
Sure enough, Daisy makes up for her acumen in the last game with unparalleled stupidity in this one, letting Waluigi and Peach get ahead again.

Round 8: I roll a 1. Here we go again.
Daisy uses her Star Pipe to move straight to the Star Space, buy a star, and move to second place. The computer must not like her as much as the others, though, because she lands on the Bowser Square and immediately has the star taken off her. I warm to Daisy.
Another coin-grab minigame lets Peach and Waluigi win back all the money they lost in Round 7. I think I’ve said this before, but hmmmm.

Round 9: I roll a 2.
Peach still can’t get off the second tier, but is accumulating a huge bankroll, especially when she manages to win the minigame despite being set on easy.

Round 10: I finally roll a 10, and land on the magical, coin-dispensing bee square.
Daisy spends all her money again; clearly, the computer has decided that she’s not the horse to back here.
I explode again, but still win the minigame.

Final Five Frenzy—apparently designed to help the last-place character—means the stars drop in price from twenty to five coins. This is bad news if Peach ever gets off the second tier.

Round 11: I roll another 10, but the computer finds a way to make this bad: I land on a square that sends me back seven squares, allowing Peach to squish me with the giant barrel.
Bonus: she also squishes herself and Daisy.
Double bonus: Daisy sets off the barrel again on her turn, squishing herself and Waluigi.

Round 12: I win a Double Dice, which I’m hoping will help me avoid barrels and get to the Star Space.
Peach lands on a Duel Space and duels me for stars; I win, but since Peach didn’t actually have any stars, I end up just winning mine back.
Waluigi also lands on a Duel Space and duels me for stars; again, I win, and again my opponent didn’t actually have a star to pony up.
Daisy, meanwhile, buys two stars and moves into second place.

Round 13: Using my Double Dice, I still only manage to roll a 6 and set off the psychotic barrel again. Thankfully, it takes out Waluigi as well, but he still manages to buy eleven stars.
Peach still can’t make it past the second tier.
Daisy gets twenty-seven coins from the coin-dispensing bees, eight more than I managed.
(Nick, not playing the game, spots a gorgeous owl on the clothesline, which makes for a nice distraction.)

Round 14: Finally, I roll a 10, manage to buy twenty-three stars, and put myself in a comfortable first place. The computer, not to be distracted, has me land on a Duel Space. I duel Waluigi for half our coins, but since I’ve spent all mine I have nothing to lose, and since he only has six coins I have nothing much to gain. I win anyway.
Peach finally manages to get to the third tier, and sets off the barrel again.
Waluigi finds a Hidden Block (and why is it that the compute players always find these?) and gets nineteen coins.

Round 15: I immediately break my run of good luck by setting off the damn barrel again.
Peach finally gets to the Star Space, but thanks to the barrels can only afford thirteen stars. It’s enough for second place.
When Daisy lands on my 2-Star Hex, I’m comfortably in first place with twenty-eight stars.
And the final minigame, a Battle Minigame, affords the satisfaction of blowing up my competitors for more money than usual.

The computer makes a final bid for success, with the Bonus Stars: everyone gets a Friendship Star, Peach manages to snag a Green Star purely on the basis of how many times she set off the barrel, and Daisy’s shopping pays off with an Item Star.

Ah, wily computer! You can cheat and cheat all you like. But I will continue to set all your players on easy.

After all, the way you play, if I set them on normal they’d beat me every time, and—rambling blog posts aside—where’s the fun in that?

Competitive Gaming Anxiety

Posted 14 March 2008 in by Catriona

I’m no good at competitive sports—I never have been.

Much of this is down to natural clumsiness. My clumsiness—I once, as a small child, managed to slip on a boat and end up with my head jammed between two bollards. At least, in retrospect I believe they were bollards—seems to be irreparable, which suits me.

I understand that people say playing sports can actually reduce clumsiness, but I found all the shouting (mostly along the lines of “That’s your own goal!”) rather distracting.

But I’m not also not very good at competitive gaming, and that’s not down to clumsiness.

Some of it’s down to attitude—I’m both a bad winner and a bad loser, and frankly I don’t even like to play games with myself sometimes. But then most of my family are also game-based gloaters—well, alternately gloaters and sulkers, anyway—so I can shake that off.

But gaming also brings out a sort of anxiety. Especially those games that require you to get to a certain point before you can save.

I’m no good at the strategy-style games that Nick so thoroughly understands. I tend to get attached to my little pixellated men, and no sooner have I started to build up my mighty empire—usually by managing to build a well, and perhaps some hovels—then barbarians come out of nowhere and slaughter all my poor peasants.

The same is true for combat-based RPGs, except in that case it’s my avatar that gets repeatedly slaughtered.

Even games that have no combat breed their own kind of anxiety. Nick introduced me to the card-collecting and card-stealing game Packrat on Facebook—the very same game I was wasting the workday playing when my computer exploded, and which is consequently ambiguously immortalised in my astonishingly bad haikus. That rapidly became an obsession but, although the developers claim you can play it solo, there are various tricks built in to induce you to invite friends, such as restricted access to the markets that sell rare cards. And once you’re playing against real people—especially if, like me, all your Facebook friends are people you know in real life—you start feeling a little guilty about nicking cards off them.

This morning, for example, I nicked a high-end card from a friend—a card, in fact, that they would have had to spend some time constructing from lesser cards—and then felt so guilty that I spent forty minutes recreating the card myself and then dropping it back in their pack. (Hey, if you’re reading, I’m really sorry I nicked your Tangerine Turbo!)

But I like puzzle games. Those I can handle.

That’s why I loved Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. Any RPG that uses the Bejeweled playfield as the basic combat mode for defeating the evil Lord Bane is my kind of game. In fact, Puzzle Quest became a bit of an obsession, and led to about six weeks’ worth of conversations along these lines:

NICK: Hey, how did your day go? Productive?

ME: Well, I got past the two-headed ogre in the end, and took his battle hammer as my reward. That’s awesome—I haven’t had any trouble with the liches after that. But then I had to get assistance from a fire-worshipping minotaur cult. I had to find the pieces of their former robotic leader, and reconstitute him so he could take back the northlands from Lord Bane’s emissary, and that was a bit tricky—I had to go through initiations and then fight a fire sprite in a volcano, and I just wasn’t getting the right gems, so I couldn’t build up any mana, and anyway he was immune to my earth magic—

NICK: . . . I meant with your thesis.

ME: Oh, right. That. Okay, I guess.

In fact, I’m now excited to see that there’s a sequel coming out this year, although I’m a little concerned about the introduction of the Tetris mechanic—I’ve never been any good at Tetris.

In short, I suspect I’m the kind of gamer that handheld systems were made for. The PSP and the Nintendo DS—especially the DS—have excellent games, but most importantly they’re really designed to be played solo—even if you do want to use the multi-player mode for the DS, for example, you still need to own a copy of the game for each player.

So, they’re ideal for a player like me. The computer players don’t care if I gloat or smacktalk, and I don’t have to worry about disrupting anyone else’s gameplay.

Now, if I could only convince the computer-controlled characters in Mario Party DS that the entire purpose of the game—its whole reason for existing—is for me to win every single time, we’d be laughing.

An Ode to Pirates

Posted 10 March 2008 in by Catriona

I’m obsessed with Pirates on Facebook.

I’m not as obsessed as some; I’m a mere level 244 Corsair Pirate. But even that level of high-seas ferociousness took some doing.

The game is slightly odd. It’s essentially farming; you roam around the ocean—well, you move forward in what feels like a straight line—picking up various items that you use to buy ship upgrades, or fight monsters, or attack your friends.

I mean, where’s the downside? Where else can you attack sea monsters with dynamite-wielding parrots?

Plus, pirates are awesome. Everyone knows that pirates are inherently cooler than ninjas.

But one of the things that I love most about Pirates is the way in which you need to type in thoroughly bizarre combinations of words in order to heal yourself after a fight. Apparently, the ability to type disconnected pairs of words proves that you’re a “human pirate.”

So, I’ve decided that the only way to really celebrate my joy in Pirates is to write a poem* entirely out of pairs of words that I’ve been asked to type during the healing process. I’ve added punctuation, but other than that each pair of words is accurate.

*Disclaimer: I’m not sure whether people regularly meet poets, but you do meet a large number of them when you work in an English department. Every poet I’ve ever met has been a lovely and extremely talented person. I sincerely hope that none of them think that I think that this is a real poem.

An Ode to Pirates

Weekends with
guess firearms
fantasia, but
[com]pany’s analogy—
wick shadowing
year—moves,
solicited, united.
Thieves and
circus circular
blunder, however,
attempt pianists,
Milton—forward—
theatre, horseback;
the affecting
nominations—tine.

An Exegesis

Lines 1-3: The author celebrates the fascination of a world in which she can spend weekends with fantastic weaponry, especially throwing bombs at fellow pirates.
There is an element of mendacity in these lines, since the author rarely waits for weekends, but instead usually plays Pirates during the work day.
Lines 3-7: A sense moves in of the passing of time, and the author starts to think that maybe blowing friends and colleagues out of the water is not a productive way of spending time.
Lines 8-10: This sense of wasted time leads to remembrance of childhood fantasies of running away from home and joining the circus, as long as it was the kind of circus that Enid Blyton depicted.
Lines 11-13: The author thinks of other, more productive ways of spending time, such as learning the piano, or reading Milton; the thought of the seventeenth-century poet is a particular spur to a sense of futility, leading to the more exaggerated desire for horseback riding, even though horses are ridiculously large and slightly creepy.
Lines 14-15: The surreality of the idea that she would even be capable of riding an enormous horse—with the fangs, and the frothing jaws, and the hooves the size of dinner plates—brings the author back to her senses, and the thought of forks reminds her that her best bet would be to go and make herself some lunch.

Categories

Blogroll

Recent comments

Monthly Archive

2012
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
2011
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
August
October
November
December
2010
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
October
December
2009
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2008
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December