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just_nonplussed Blog

Thanks Mister Yamauchi



Thanks for bringing Nintendo into the future and to the world, away from simply being a Japanese playing cards company. I've had much fun with so many of the products you funded and helped bring to fruition.


What makes video games different from other games?


I remember for a while on internet gaming sites there was a buzz to try to define the unique qualities of video games. My memory is a little hazy but I think I recall gamers and journalists alike saying stuff like, "It's the immersion!", or "It's the interaction!" or "It's the gameplay!". Maybe there was more to it than that but I can't remember. But if you look at all those concepts, you'll find that they are not unique to video games and exist everwhere else.

It's the video of course! The video game. Or the computer game. It is the technology itself; the 1s and 0s, the microchips etc. All of the things that are in video games are going to be inherently influenced by that; it is inescapable because that is the medium... software, computers. The video game is like the place you visit when you go to sleep at night. It is a more limited version of the dream world (or the astral plane) we visit when sleeping. It's not a heavy, physical space. It's light and hollow. Objects more easily deform and are more simple to manipulate. The physics are not the same physics of life.. and the rules sometimes appear to be nonsensical. Well if you find some clay and try to make it look like a human being then it will walk funny and look funny; it might fall down. Same sort of thing.

In a way video game creators have got it easy. It's so CHEAP to make assets and game worlds compared to if you were making them in life or in a film. You can create an environment out of thin air and just have it go on and on.. forests, lakes, deserts.. mountains - whatever you like. Add some flying unicorns in there if you want. These things have to be built but often there are many streamlined processes in place to make this job easier such as SpeedTree or whatever middleware tools they have to quickly generate assets.. or maybe they have some models from an earlier game that they can polish up and re-skin. So straight off the bat, the power of the technology at hand is influencing the kind of game design that creators are creating due to the freedom that is unlocked through the computers we have today. Just look at a game like Skyrim, which is really a world in which a game can take place.

Another aspect of this technology is its permanance. Once a video game is created and burned to a disc it can be kept exactly the same for ever. Anytime you want, any day, whenever, just pop that disc in and the hologram will pop up from inside the TV and that little world will be waiting for you. The horror and joy of it struck me the other day. I realized that even with one game.. be it an old, simple Atari 2600 game or a big complex PS3 game you could play it for the rest of your life and just get lost in it. It's even worse when you have a big collection of games... I mean, jesus... your whole life could easily go out the window. Which brings me to another aspect of this technology: you are playing with a robot. You could be playing multiplayer with someone else... but if we consider 1-player games, and there are lot of them, you don't need anyone else! It's kind of like masturbating Again, there's very little expense involved.. both in social terms, creative terms (relatively speaking), and money-wise too because games are darned cheap if you think about how many hours of potential entertainment you can get out of them. The game designer will play with you, don't worry if you don't have any friends! Awww, there there it's okay.. just absorb the warm glow of the screen and continue tapping 'X' and pressing 'Up'. And the designer is always there. He will never leave because he is programmed in and burnt on your little plastic disc.


Anyway, maybe I will write more about this in future. It just struck me as I was thinking of game ideas.

Symbolic qualities of video games versus formal qualities


After quite a while of playing games you begin to see them in different ways to how they are commonly presented to people. It is like swimming in the same patch of water every day, and then one day you just naturally begin to dive deeper and then when you come up for air you tell people what you saw. Things look different from down there!

The more you focus on something the more you come to know it. Your eyes just begin seeing truth and everything you thought you knew doesn't matter so much. I've focused on games quite a lot, so they tell me things. Lol.

Most gamers see video games in terms of genres. So you have your FPS, your third-person action adventure, your 2D sidescrolling platformer, your fighting game, etc. etc. They all look so different so we must have all these different names for them right? Yes, they all look different but underneath appearence they all share a common language. After playing games recently I was made aware of this fact again by observing the nature of violence and shooting in Resident Evil 4, and the nature of jumping and running in the Super Mario Bros. series. I realized that actually shooting in a game has nothing to do with handling and shooting a gun in life. It is not handled realistically at all in the large majority of games and even in the games that do give realistic treatment, it is still pretend. The same with jumping and running in Mario. I was in town and saw two boys playing parkour and then I tried to do it at some point and noticed how heavy my body was and how much it hurt my feet, lol.

So when games use visual language to describe things we see and do in life I call it symbolic, or representational rather than actual. This understanding compelled me to discover what was real in the experiences I was playing. What was actual? So to me it is the undeniable aspects of the game-playing experience.. the things you cannot hide from. In the large majority of contemporary computer and video games the player controls some kind of vehicle or moves some kind of form around the space. There is a hardware part to this and a software part to this. All those characters are vehicles, the same vehicles as what appears to be shiny new cars in the racing genre. We use the control pad or keyboard and mouse to manipulate these vehicles. This is one core aspect that immediately stuck out to me. But to view it in a more detailed and comprehensive way we can see it all in terms of rules and play. All of what we are interacting with are rules made visual, rules made interactive, rules transformed into living movement. Each design is simply a blueprint of a limited set of potentials that, when turned on, is represented visually. Play arises from all of the relationships between the rules.

We can relate this to other art forms too. Drawing is simply about points, lines and tonal shading. One creates shapes from the lines to build a picture. Being around other artists is interesting when they say things like "I can't draw noses!" or "I can't draw elephants!". Well, if you understand shapes you can draw noses AND elephants! You might need to observe them up close for a bit, but generally if you know how to draw you know how to draw.

It's easier for me to see games in terms of their formal or actual qualities. To me it is a bit of an illusion to see games in terms of their representational designs. Most video games only actually have one core narrative, which is the challenge of attempting to win and not lose. It's a reductionist perspective, and not all games intend to create a challenge but it helps me because when conceptualizing games I have been having difficulty with this symbolic thing, with the images. I am looking at seeing what story will come out of the objective qualities of the game structure first and then building up to the surface. If I am inspired by something that is fine, but I want to be able to engage fully with the formal language because there is something assured about it.

Also, if you are aware of all this when playing games you can have some pretty interesting experiences. I've noticed why in some of my past reviews I have said funny things about particular games. This is a dimension of the subjective experience of the combination of the visual structure and the formal qualities of the game (the mathematical building blocks) but also what we're used to seeing in life itself. Often there is a disconnect between what we see in a game what really is (either in life or in the math structure of the game, or both). For example, if a game is rendered photorealistically to model a particular city but there are things you can do in the city that aren't realistic, such as fly in the air, then a new kind of narrative is created between our assumptions of what is real and not real. 

Every single video game that is and ever will be is just this tension between restriction and freedom. And we can all relate to that I think because the same thing is happening in life too...

Gaming update 8/9/13


Well, Resident Evil 4 is still fun. I wonder what drew me back to it actually. I had a pile of games that I could play instead but I continued with this one. I think partly it was down to the fact that I had only been through the game once before, back in 2004. I remember feeling at the time like I could go back and re-play it, and certainly the replay value was there. In 2005 I went to university and I brought my Gamecube with me. I set it up in the living room and one of my housemates just got utterly addicted to RE4. He wasn't really a gamer either, which was interesting. He didn't play video many games before it, or many video games after.

Anyway, I got carried away again and wrote 9 pages about RE4. I put it in a review if you'd like to read it. Don't worry, there are orderly paragraphs! I meant to only dissect the essence of the game and sum it up in a paragraph or two... but for some reason it didn't pan out like that this time.

Tell me what you think and maybe discuss your favourite memories from the game here. :-)

Also, I uploaded two reviews recently: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron and Picross 3D. Just want to let you know that these are old reviews that I wrote in 2011 for the player review section on Giant Bomb. I still think Picross is great, but maybe the El Shaddai review was a bit pretentious; I don't know. Sometimes playing a unique and pretty game is enough for me.. doesn't have to control amazingly.

Game design concept: Trolley Dash


trolly with food


Here is a game anyone can play. All you need is another person and access to a supermarket. Okay, so I realize some % of the world population can't play this game but you know what I mean. ;-)

Before getting to your chosen supermarket decide on a list of items of food or liquid that you're going to write down. Make sure you think of items that are difficult to find or that are obscure. It is worth actually having three people involved in this game. One person to specifically locate hard to find items, and two to play the game against each other. The one finding the obscure items would write the list and give a copy of it to each player.

The goal of the game is to locate each item on the list and put it in your trolley. The first one to locate and get all items in 15mins (rough time estimate) and come back to a point in the supermarket where the third party is located (he or she could be the same person who wrote the list) wins. :-) If not all the items are found, then the one who gets the most of them wins.

The time aspect is variable and can be changed depending on your particular context, but it does make things a bit more tense because you can't go too fast otherwise you'll bump into other people and the security guard will probably come over and have a little word with you, but if you go too slow then the other player might beat you by finding the items in a quicker time.

For this game you would have to pretend you were shopping like normal customers... just customers who are in a bit of a hurry perhaps? The idea is to blend in to the supermarket environment while at the same time transforming the function of the space through play.

I have not tested this game yet. I haven't gathered the people together. However, as soon as I can then I will test it but I am putting it up here for others to read about and perhaps play themselves. I understand how testing is crucial when it comes to games, so all of these rules are still up in the air.


Gaming update 3/09/13




I thought I would open this blog with an amazing piece of box art from the dusty filing cabinet of yesteryear. I love this box art for the Atari version of Donkey Kong. I loved it when artists had to be creative and envision what the 4-bit pixels would resemble. Mario looks so masculine and fierce! Donkey Kong looks so ferocious and scary. The background kind of reminds me of TRON. This is similar to the terrible Mega Man box art of the 80s, where Mega Man did actually kind of resemble a man. Then he gradually experienced a shrinking and became more and more youthful and boy-like over the years. Also, I bought Donkey Kong on the Wii virtual console. I am going further back in the Mario timeline.. as well as going forward because I am also playing Super Mario Bros. 3.

I stumbled over this box art accidentily while looking at Atari 2600s on ebay. I did have one but it broke. :-( I really want to get a new one but they are kind of expensive and I don't know how long it will last. There is no guarantee with old consoles. But they're not crazy expensive and I will just cave one day and get one. Also, if anyone here can tell me.. what is the difference between an original Atari 'woodgrain' and an Atari Junior? Can all Atari games play on a Junior and vice versa?

To me, Atari is like the 'gamer's holy grail' one step removed from having actual arcade cabinets in your house. And believe me I would if my house and bank account were much bigger. ;-p It is the rudimentary beginings of the art form that is flourishing today. I love the basic graphics, creative designs, and probably most of all the sounds coming from it. These things are like the video game equivalent of cave drawings to the art world. And as someone learning how to design games myself, they give me a lot of confidence that I can do it because all the complexity of the visuals are stripped away and the rules are so naked and visual. A game like Space Invaders for example describes the basic gameplay of something like Vanquish; hide and shoot, dodge. Hide and shoot, dodge.




Also, while shopping today I went and bought some crappy wii games! I got myself The Conduit, a cheesy low budget FPS, Ghost Squad, a military-themed light gun shooter (very low budget!), and an interesting game called 'job island: hard working people' which made me laugh. So maybe I can do something with these things. Lol. You don't know what's good until you know what's bad right?

I am still playing RE4. Will present something on that soon.

I was going to put one of my game design concepts here today but I've ran out of time for now, so I will do it soon.

See you! :-)

Rabbit Catcher + Zombies and stuff


Hey, where did my banner go? It's dissapeared. It better come back soon. Those characters are my gaming guardians. They represent me in the virtual realm.

So, anyway, I thought that I would do another Resident Evil 4 blog similar to last time where I wrote about my playful explorations of the game design and the potential of the rules. But it's kind of a thing that just happened. I played another four or so hours into the story and even though there is always scope for free play, it's been quite linear for now. So I didn't want to bore you. My time is precious when writing and I see your time as precious when reading.

Instead, I think I will play through RE4 and write an analysis of its core mechanics, design, and play experience. Similar to how I did with SMB: The Lost Levels, but maybe a little less formal and academic. However, not at all less thorough by any means. I'm mulling over whether to write the analysis as a comparative essay with other games or simply just the game in isolation. If I could get your thoughts on this, that would be useful to me as you are the audience lol. I make this contribution because I enjoy playing and discussing games, but I also do it to educate and create a more discerning player. Not a consumer. A player with razor sharp discernment who understands what they're experiencing and can see the beauty or ugliness of it. All of this also furthers my personal game design education. Speaking of which...

Life is full of games. If you happen to have a mindset similar to mine then you might even consider life to be a kind of very realistic simulation experience. But even if you don't, inside of life there are rules and laws and choices and outcomes, all of which are also in games. Here is just one example for now. Maybe you have others you can put in the comments?

My rabbit likes staying out late. I need to put him in his hutch or the foxes may come and get him. He doesn't understand this though and tries to run away when I go to reach down and take him. This happens every evening, and it has been happening every evening for 8 years now! He goes and hides under the hutch and will just sit there stamping his foot. I have a stick that I pester him with and I call his name and clap my hands but that doesn't achieve much. If I wait a little he may come out, and sometimes I can just force him out with the stick, but even if I manage to grab him he will kick and scratch me. There are special tactics to get him in. One of them is to simply open the hutch door and allow him to hop in. Yes that's right, I am allowing him to go in there himself; I am giving him the choice in a way between being hassled or between sort of going in voluntarily. He respects this and sometimes obeys. Another tactic is to put food in the hutch to lure him in. Amazingly that does not work much of the time even with carrots. The one I like the most (apart from allowing him in) is kneeling down to stroke him, getting him all relaxed and then gently clasping my hands around his chunky body and placing him in the hutch. There are some more complex ordeals though like opening the back door to coax him inside and then grabbing him because he can't walk properly on the varnished wooden floor and skids about, panicking.

So that is just a little game I play often in life. :-) Add yours in the comments if you like.

My Resident Evil 4 Diary {1}

leon fighting sea monster


I had come to big grey lake. I decided to go into the hut nearby to shoot some boxes for money and herbs, and then use the typewriter. After exiting I ran back into an area that I had previously explored. The undead looking creatures seemed to have re-generated, or perhaps I hadn't killed them all when I first ran through. I knew that I should probably be preserving ammo but I just got this sub-machine gun and it's so fun to use. I ran over to the groaning mob and threw an fire grenade at them. While they were burning I fired a hailstorm of bullets into their living corpses. When they got close I took out my machine gun and thought it would be fun to shoot their kneecaps and watch them get up again so I could do it again until they died. When one got really close I blew its head off. That was fun. I ran over to collect the little chests of gold coins and ammo. Getting rid of the mob allowed me to run around the swamp and explore a bit more than I had previously. I shot two snakes and they turned into eggs. I picked up the eggs and seeing nothing else to do I left for the lake again.

Went to use the typewriter and then jumped into the boat. Explored the lake a bit, circling around the outskirts. I knew there was going to be a big monster coming because I witnessed it earlier with my binoculars. I was impressed at how I was able to explore the physics of the boat and a part of the environment before the encounter though. I was also able to pick up a great big harpoon from the boat and practice aiming it too. The fight was tough. The monster had knocked off the anchor from the boat which was attached to a rope. The anchor had got stuck in the beast and it was riding me around the lake. I kept chucking harpoons into it but it rode me into piles of debris and I kept falling off. When in the water I had to press 'A' rapidly to get back to my boat! Thank god I had those snake eggs! Otherwise I would have been done for.

The beast finally died and I sailed back to land, but upon reaching the jetty I fell sick. This virus in me is doing something to my immune system and my skin... argh! It's pulsing and burning through my veins. At some point I woke up in a little house a little dazed and injured but still alive. After re-connecting to mission command on the walkie talkie I turned around slowly and shot some more boxes. Empty this time. There were also some more barrels which I like to run up to and knife. So many identical barrels in this place.

After coming out of the hut I had walked into a rainy thunderstorm. Instead of going forward I went back again and jumped into the boat. I enjoyed playing on the waves. I spotted some big fish in the lake. I still had the harpoon and wondered if I could use it to get at them. First few shots missed. I backed the boat up a bit and aimed down at the time when the big fish entered my crosshairs. Bingo. I had gotten it. I went over to collect my prize. A huge sea bass! So huge it wouldn't fit in my inventory. I re-organized a few things and stuffed it in there.

Moving on I went back to the first jetty and ran up the hill. A change in weather usually signifies a change in world events. I didn't expect what was to come though! Huge dogs. Their faces exploded in front of me and turned into octopus-like tenticles. I fired relentlessly with my sub-machine gun but one of the octo-dogs jumped at me and pinned me to the ground, mawling me. Even though I had rappidly wiggled the analogue stick from side to side I was still injured badly and had no more herbs.

I ran back to the boat. When I was on the boat safely I saw that the dogs had congregated on the pier. I still had the harpoon! I fired the first few at them but it had no effect. Was it not working? It's got to work I thought... and then it did! They took about two harpoons each to kill off. Relieved and ecstatic I went back to the pier to claim my reward of bullets and what not.


This was a playful description of the 'emergent' play to be found in Resident Evil 4. Most of it was me just messing about.


Understanding SMB: The Lost Levels {Bonus}


thank you mario


Bonus: an instruction manual for 8-3


World eight, level three was for me the hardest area in the whole game. It took perhaps two or three evenings of cursing and strategy-making, with my sister coming over to witness my madness and revel in the nostalgia of it all.

It is the only sky level in the whole game. It takes place in the clouds. If world 8-2 was symbolic of a fiery hell then 8-3 is Marios ascent into heaven. Although frankly I dont know what kind of heaven this, as it is 100x more hellish than the previous area.


1. First, begin with a super jump to give yourself enough momentum to lightly touch the red platform and knock out the Lakitu in one big sweep. It is best to do this bit with speed and power otherwise you might jump up and underneath the Lakitu.

2. Perform a regular jump on top of the Koopa Paratrooper and use the lift gained to land onto the cloud on the right.

3. Next, just fall down the gap. While falling gently tap forward on the directional cross to land on the small bit of cloud next to the spring. Jump on the spring. When jumping I tend to press down on A at the moment in the animation where the spring is most flat. There is an inconsistency to this sometimes and I am still not sure whether it is my fault or the games fault when the spring does not catapult Mario to the highest height possible. But anyway, you will have to get a feel for it yourself and use your best judgment.

4. When on the small red platform you will be dropping down as if you are sinking in mud every time you touch it, so to stall your descent just keep pressing A to jump on the spot thereby spending 50% of your time in the air. You are doing this because there is another Lakitu hovering about near you and you want to time it just right so you can jump on its head when it comes to the right of you. If you dont do this then the next section of the level becomes much harder as the Lakitu throws red spikey creatures all over the clouds and he seems to have an infinite supply of these.

5. When the Lakitu is neutralized you can fall down and super jump over to the next cloud, or perhaps use the lift from the Lakitu to push you forward to it instead.

There are two Koopas here, one on the ground and another that is patrolling an impossibly tight space upon the needle of a three-block structure. These blocks are not mutable and cannot be destroyed with shells. There are a number of strategies one can employ at this point. The most difficult but perhaps most rewarding is to set the turtle that is on the ground spinning and jump over it as it falls off the edge, then super jump over the turtle on the vertical structure just grazing it so it goes into its shell, but managing to send Mario over the edge. Then, if you can muster enough courage, super jump back over the Koopa without touching it this time. Now you are on the other side and you have created a weapon for the oncoming Hammer Bros. juggernaut.

6. This is the running strategy. You have to be quick. The plan is to kick the shell off the pin and chase after it as it knocks down the two Hammer Bros. If you run too fast you will get hammers in your face, but if you run too slow the shell will get lost and disappear off the edge of the screen. If you can perform this you feel great, but its very hard.

Here is another strategy: forget about the turtles. Move past them and jump directly up to uncover a hidden block. A present in the form of a poison mushroom will spill out. Let it go and then jump on the block. Now the first Hammer Bro will come at you. You can use your height to jump on his head or jump over him. Your choice, but personally I would rather jump over him as I might hit his fountain of hammers. And this is a different projection of DIY tools than the Hammer Bros. you have encountered earlier; its not the same behavior so be warned if you think you can find a safe haven underneath the fountain. This one is more like piss coming out of a pewter cherub. It is all over the place.

7. First Hammer Bro is down. Next one is coming up. But dont jump above him because there is a hidden block right in the place the game expects you to jump. Yes, they actually did that. Slow-mo to Mario hitting the block and it pushing him on top of the Hammer Bro. The audience screams! This section is so horrible I would just suggest you do anything to get around it. Anything where you can come out alive is a good strategy. There is no easy way.

8. The next section lets you breath for a moment. It is empty.

9. More Hammer Bros. Just get past them. I employ the dont stop for nothing strategy and jump over them. At this point in the game I just couldnt be bothered to learn their behaviors. Run past them or do whatever you can to reach the next section.

10. There is a pulley system, but it is too high to jump. I had fun falling to my doom many times before I figured out (on my own) that there are two hidden blocks near the pulley. Find them by desperately headbutting the sky and use them as jumping off points to reach the pulleys with a super jump.

11. For the love of god jump on that pole and slide down to your victory. You have just beaten one of the hardest levels in the game.