Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Swappin' Blocks: A Match Three Tale about a game that is not a match 3 game

All right: as promised, a game-related post. What a radical departure! Battleheart: Legacy, Little Big Planet, Reign Maker, Costume Quest, Sunless Sea, Cosmic Encounter, and Dark Souls II,all after the break. And when I say they're after the break, I mean the first post where I didn't get around to talking about any of them at all was so long I've decided to do this in pieces.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Adventures in Cat-Sitting

I've got yet another game post in the near future, but for now: cats, cats, cats. After the break.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Google Custom Search: Customize Your Frustration

A few weeks back, I'd hoped that Google Custom Search would help in my efforts to track down well-written but nonscholarly game criticism. Yeah, not so much, as it turns out. It worked great for Nier, and produced a fairly full body. But when I started to use it for better known games, the cracks started to appear in the system. There were two major problems:
 1) Too much of the same. You know that little notice Google sometimes puts at the bottom of your searches, the one that says they've omitted similar results? Well, Custom Google does not omit that, and isn't the better for being more thorough. When it searches a site, it'll find the most prominent page featuring your search term on the site. Then it'll list it again in the site's monthly archive. Then again in the total page set search. And again. And again. When my first dozen or so results are variations of the same page, that gets frustrating.
2) Cut off point. The other issue is that, even with (or maybe because of) these repeated searches, it's truncating my list. The first page says that there's thousands of entries found, but the time I hit page two, that same number is twelve, and my search is abruptly over. Worse, it's clearly missing some entries; searching "Elder Scrolls" and "Skyrim" brings up results that aren't in just a search for "Elder Scrolls."

At this point, I'm basically stuck with my original method, using the site: search option to check promising sites out individually, which is hardly an optimal method, when you've got just under a hundred sites in your total list. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some sort of threshold limit for the number of sites you're searching, and I've passed the ideal amount, creating all the noise in the system.

If we're going to insist on making this a teachable moment, then this is a good example of mental models in action, or failed action. This idea comes up in HCI (Human Computer Interface) a lot, and it involves how we respond to stimuli. Essentially, humans rarely really understand how the world works. What we do is we create mental models of how we think a given system works, based on how it responds to us. Frustration with a designed product often comes from a moment when we realize our mental model doesn't actually match an object's reality. (Although frustration can come from plenty of other sources too.) A big part of design--and game design, specifically--is how to cater towards players' expectations, or even push their expectations in certain directions. Skeuomorphs are one such tool; making some new technology deliberately look like older technology, so people will go to it thinking they understand its function. Computer design is littered with these; an easy example is the Word spreadsheet--it's really not very much like the print spreadsheet at all in terms of all the extra stuff it can do, but it's useful to start by thinking of it as a spreadsheet. The downside to skeuomorphs is that often people never go any further; they assume the tech just models the tech they know, and never learn what else it can do--or learn where the new version falls short, until it does.

In a nutshell, my mental model of the Google Custom Search was that it functioned like the regular google search I was familiar with, but it looks like it doesn't. Perhaps even worse, it may be that the fault is also that my mental model of the regular Google search was flawed to begin with. It may be time to upgrade my knowledge of how a search engine works--but that still doesn't guarantee I can fix the custom search to work more like I want it to, so it may not be worth the effort.

Mostly, this post is just an excuse to take a break from searching through pages on Elder Scrolls that I don't need. You'd think more people would be talking about the use of scrolls in the game. I mean, it's right there in the title and everything.

Later Days.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Nier: A Criticism Guide

The goal, at the moment, is to take everything I found useful in essayatic criticism for Nier and synthesize it into one place. Unfortunately, instead of doing that, I spent all of the last post summarizing the Grimoire Nier Companion project and Nier's labyrinthine pre-game plot. So this time, we'll do the actual criticism part. Here, then, are the major topics and posts on the funny little mess that is Nier.

Nier: So many article titles with the same pun

In my last post, I promised that I'd be following it up with the actual results of my research. Also that I'd be doing it tomorrow. Well, this particular tomorrow is now over a week ago, and there's a lesson there: always say "next post" not an actual date. Regardless, we are here. So, after the break, there will be a collection of links for Nier-related resources, and a summary of what my research on it has found.