It looks like Untitled Goose Game is a big hit.  It’s well deserved.  Being a horrible goose in a lovely English town turns out to be a universal aspiration.

goose

I bought it on Epic, because it’s not on Steam, and I can’t wait a year for Goose. Epic’s exclusivity deals are annoying, but the Epic store is pretty painless. You can set preferences so Epic doesn’t load on startup; remember also to exit it once you’re done goosing around.

By now you’ve probably heard what the game involves: pattering around town doing mild mischief.  You get the gardener wet, you honk at the boy who’s scared of geese, you shut the shopkeeper in her own garage, you ring a big bell in one yard to annoy the man next door. You have dedicated keys to honk and to flap your wings.

The controls are a little wonky, but I suspect that’s intentional.  You move by clicking a destination– you can also keep moving the mouse and the goose will follow. Double-click to move fast… I had trouble sometimes getting this to happen when I needed it, but I got better over time.

Some tasks are tedious to complete. One that defeated me was “do the washing”: steal laundry from the woman with the bell, and carry it and a bar of soap to the pond next door. You have to sneak items one at a time past the neighbor man, and the last bit of the trek is quite hard. And if he finds your cache in the pond, he will steal every item back from you. It’s fun for awhile, and then not quite so fun.  Fortunately, you don’t need to complete every area, so if one task is eluding you, you can skip it.

It’s not long: it took me about 7 hours, and that includes some of the extra tasks you can do once you’ve finished the game. I’m not sure how replayable it is, but I can see coming back to it now and then. The best comparison here is with Portal: there’s just enough game that you want more when it’s done, not enough that it ever drags or feels padded.

Most reviews find it charming, and it is.  It looks great, and the animations are inspired. The goose and the villagers are perfect. As you are a force of chaos, the villagers are totally dedicated to order. They will carefully seek out every item you’ve moved and put it back in place; you can use this behavior to your advantage.  Most of them will grab items back if you’re right next to them; a few will defend their little turf aggressively. They have short memories and love to go back to their routines, pretending that the little waddling force of chaos was never there.

The interaction when they’re grabbing something or pushing you away is amusing– the goose will flap its wings but then just stand there, insouciant as a cat.  Once you’re out of their space, they glare at you or shake their heads.

It’s curious to spend a whole game as, more or less, the villain.  But it’s the mildest form of villainy. No one can be hurt; only one item is permanently broken.

Impressively, the developers have implemented everything with physics and the villagers’ routines. So behavior is emergent, and often there are multiple ways to solve a problem. It must have been hell to test. Plus, there are extra behaviors that don’t have anything to do with the stated goals. E.g. your honk sounds different if you’re carrying something. You can have fun with the walkie-talkies though you don’t need  to. You will almost certainly ring the bell way more than you have to.

goose2

Something many people have noticed: the credits include a notice reading

This game was made on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to their Elders, past and present. Sovereignty was never ceded.

This turns out to be an Acknowledgement of Traditional Owners— something the government of Victoria actually encourages. The Wurundjeri lands are the northern part of Melbourne. Their language is Woiwurring, in case you want to find it my numbers list. It’s part of the Kulinic subfamily within Pama-Nyungan.

It’s curious that the Australian government encourages and sometimes even requires such acknowledgements (minus the “never ceded” part). It seems like a nice gesture, though probably that’s all it is– Australia is not noted for its progressive politics toward First Nations, and unlike the US there is no form of Native sovereignty at all, and no treaties were ever signed.  (If I’m not mistaken, this here was Potawatomi land, at least as of 1812.)

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I finished my drawing tablet— 29 drawings in all. (I threw out one page; an idea I had didn’t work.) Here’s the best of the second half of the tablet. The last one is NSFW.

natalie

I think this turned out well. (That’s Natalie Merchant, of course.) Well, except that I couldn’t get a deeper black with my pencil.

natalie2

WordPress used to insert a link to a large-scale version of the picture, but it no longer does. So here’s a close-up which gives a better idea of how these look on the paper.

horsie

I thought I should draw a horse. This is the first time I’ve drawn a non-cartoon horse. It turns out that, with a good model, almost anything is drawable. Who knew?

jade-tired

This is Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Curious thing: if you do a Google image search for “woman sitting”, almost every result is at least somewhat sexualized, as if the photographer kept saying “Be more feminine!” Finally I searched for “tired woman sitting” and got the reference pose I wanted.

arno

I like the shading on this one. Drawing the back is a good study for shading, because there’s muscles and bones and stuff, but not much that you can indicate just with lines.

You may have seen this on the Twitters. Manga artist Ikku Masa pointed out that this still from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro has two vanishing points where you would expect one:

ghibli-1

I thought it’d be interesting to “correct” the perspective.  This is more or less what the image would look like in one-point perspective:

Ghibli3

(Yes, I had to take the sliding doors off. Just take it as necessary to show what the entire room looks like.)

Now, why did the background artist “cheat” the perspective? I think the best way to understand this is to concentrate on the blue lines. Moving the vanishing point left, to the center of the back wall, means the lines have to spread out more. That in turn means that the left wall gets a lot bigger. The right wall is bigger too, though not by as much.

The middle frame ends up smaller, including on top, so we see more of the partial wall at the top.  (And because this frame is narrower, including the doors would block most of the far part of the room.)

The overall effect is to make the room look smaller. You don’t feel like you’re looking into an expansive room; it’s more like standing in a tunnel.

What would you actually see in the room?  Well, not quite either view. For one thing, you have two eyes, which see slightly different views. For another,  the moment you turn your head, you’re not getting a one-point perspective at all, but a two-point perspective. Once you look at the left wall, you see it as facing you, not slanting toward the distance.

On the other hand, you wouldn’t see the Ghibli view either. The artist’s choice emphasizes the walls facing us and the floor leading to it. Plus it creates a maximally wide space for the characters to move in.

(One more thought: the tatami mats on the floor, in the original, don’t lead to either vanishing point— or to a single point at all.)

Anyway, it’s a really interesting example of an artist straying from camera realism and getting a nicer result by doing so.

I saw that PC Gamer has a list of their top 100 video games. This is a profoundly silly idea, since they change it every year, making it unstable even as a record of their own opinions. But making lists is fun and I thought I’d try it.

arkcity for blog

Big warning: this is strictly for fun and I may not be any better than PC Gamer at sticking to these opinions in a year.

Part of the amusement value is precisely in the absurd comparisons– trying to decide if (say) The Stanley Parable is better or worse than Fallout New Vegas.

Some reflections, and responses to your shocked protestations, after the list.

Arkham City
Overwatch
Saints Row IV
Civilization 2
Dishonored 2 (incl. Billie Lurk DLC)
Borderlands 2
Mirror’s Edge
Portal 2
Saints Row The Third
Arkham Asylum
Team Fortress 2
Katamari Damacy
Beyond Good & Evil
Borderlands
Empyrion: Galactic Survival
Dishonored (incl. Daud DLC)
Civilization 3
Half-Life 2
Fallout 3
Portal
Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell
Kings Bounty Armored Princess
Jade Empire
Conan Exiles
Oblivion
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
The Stanley Parable
Mass Effect 2
Fallout New Vegas
Tomb Raider (2013)
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Left 4 Dead
Arkham Knight
Sam & Max Hit the Road
Jazzpunk
Gotham City Impostors
Left 4 Dead 2
Bayonetta
Heroes of the Storm
80 Days
Kings Bounty Dark Side
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Civilization 4
What Remains of Edith Finch
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Sim City 2000
West of Loathing
Superhot
Rise of the Tomb Raider
League of Legends
Viscera Cleanup Detail
Kentucky Route Zero
Gunpoint
Space Colony
Mass Effect 1
To Be or Not To Be
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
No Man’s Sky
Witcher 3
Arkham Origins
Telling Lies
Grim Fandango
Tacoma
Nier Automata
Singularity
Skyrim
Dragon Age Origins
Tomb Raider Underworld
Sim City 3000
Fable III
Hydrophobia: Prophecy
Gone Home
Tropico 1
Remember Me
Dungeons of Dredmor
Saints Row 2
Zeno Clash
Gorogoa
Sam & Max (Telltale)
Secret World Legends
Dead Space
Chronicles of Riddick
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Californium
Dreamfall
Bioshock
Bugdom
Fallout 4
Half-Life Deathmatch
Destiny 2
RAGE
Sunset
Monaco
World of Goo
Assassin’s Creed 1
The Longest Journey
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Sleeping Dogs
Max Payne 2
Torchlight
Kings Bounty: Warriors of the North
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Torchlight II
Agents of Mayhem
Don’t Starve
Grand Theft Auto IV
Dota 2
Dead Island
Silk Road Online
Kerbal Space Program
Black Desert Online
Braid
Cloudbuilt

Some explanations:

  • I rank replayability very highly. I’m not one of those people who say “I’ve played this game for 200 hours but it sucks!” If I’ve played a game that long, it’s doing a great job as a game— even if I have a list of complaints about it.
  • Contrariwise, if I liked a game but have no desire to play it again, it’ll be ranked lower than games that invite replays.
  • I’m a sucker for a really original setting or bit of gameplay.  This is mostly important in the middle of the list– things like VTM Bloodlines or 80 Days or Kentucky Route Zero are pretty high just because they’re so dang creative.
  • I tend to get bored with sequels. Some are far better than the original (note how far down Saints Row 2 is), but there’s a certain novelty that makes a game great. And with some series, like Civ, I played the earlier ones so damn much that I can’t even finish a game in the latest editions.
  • That goes for genre too. That’s just bad luck for a lot of games where I played something like it before.
  • I rank a game way down if I haven’t finished it. It’s hard to claim that a game is compelling to me if, y’know, it doesn’t compel me to keep going at it. In some cases, like Fallout 4, I could explain why I was disappointed; in others, like Witcher 3, I’m not even sure.
  • It’s hard to evaluate co-op and team games, because so much of the fun depends on your friends. Just on a gameplay level, I’ve probably overrated the Borderlands games, but I they’re up there because I had so much fun playing with my friend Ash. On the other hand, playing against your friends can be really painful when there’s a huge skill gap, which is why I soured on Left 4 Dead.
  • This list covers several decades.  As noted, I have no interest in Civ now, but I played the hell out of it in the 90s.
  • I really don’t like platformers.

You have to get almost to the bottom of the list before getting to games I actually disliked. If I really bounce hard off a game, I just don’t spend much time on it.

There’s a few games that I installed and tried, but either hated them so much I got a refund, or just realized they weren’t for me (e.g. Dead Souls, SpyParty). I didn’t put them in the list because I don’t want to imply that I have an actual judgment on them.

If you want to write a game that rockets to the top of this list, extremely neat gameplay might be enough (Portal 2, Mirror’s Edge), but balanced variety will really help. The mix of stealth and combat helps send Arkham City to the top, and it’s why games like Beyond Good & Evil and Saints Row IV are so high up there. They’re not only fun, they’re fun in different ways at different times. (The “balanced” bit is important: if you have two types of activities but one isn’t much fun, that’s not great.)

I’ve probably reviewed most of these games on my site or on the blog– use the custom search feature on zompist.com.

Finally, most of the fun of these lists is in disagreeing with them. So I encourage you to take some time to make your own list!

For about a month I’ve been trying to draw a picture every night, to try to maintain and improve my skills. Here’s some of my favorites so far.

They’re based on photos, but done by eye (no tracing). The originals are in pencil on 11″x14″ art paper.

4312-grand-small

That’s where I grew up, though I don’t remember it like that— my Dad later tore off the porch and made a little brick porch instead.

faye-medium

Faye Wong, from Chunking Express.

murray-med

Just to show that I can draw things that aren’t Chinese girls. Oh, and one more Chinese girl:

chinita-med

So, what I’ve learned so far: I can draw if I have reference. Also, despite all the neat toys in Photoshop, maybe I do better on paper. (Compare my last drawing post.) I am trying some drawings without reference as well.

The drawing pad isn’t done yet, so more later…

This is a new video game which sounded really interesting.  And it is!  I just finished it.  Or “finished it”.  More on that later.

This is from the creator of Her Story, which I haven’t played, but if you have, it’s like that, only with more characters and a bigger budget.

tell-lies

All these people are totally [redacted].

You don’t get to shoot anyone; you don’t even get to walk around. You watch video clips from a database, and you eventually piece them into a story.

The clever bit is that you choose the search term in the database.  The game starts you out with the search term LOVE, which returns five videos. You can watch them, and you probably will. Or you can choose a different search term and see what you get.

Now, this is rather close to a project I was working on. For the Verdurian game I’ve been working on approximately forever, I wanted to have dozens of dialog options, and my initial idea was to make the user actually type them. E.g. Ticai finds that her husband is missing, and she could ask her maid about her HUSBAND. But if you could find better search terms, you could get more information.  E.g. you suspect he has a MISTRESS, or you ask if he is CHEATING. If the maid says (say) he is with a mane named ZONVURAN, you can ask about him. As you can imagine, this involves a lot of writing and debugging, which is why I haven’t finished it.

Well, that’s how Telling Lies works. Watching a clip will give you leads to pursue: names, locations, code words, topics. You will probably need to take notes, especially at first, when possible topics proliferate.

Now, because of this, I can’t give you details about the story, even simple things like the names of the characters, because part of the game is finding out these things yourself. You don’t even know what you’re after, at first.  Are these just random recordings? What sort of story is being told? The title of the game is relevant too: some of the people are telling lies, elaborate ones. When, if at all, are they telling the truth?

You also don’t know who you are, except that you’re someone. At the start we see a woman going into a house and booting a laptop, and you see her reflected dimly in the screen from then on. So the idea is that you are that woman, who is doing the search.  (She never comments or helps out in any way.  At intervals, however, the reflection is enhanced and something happens in the house she’s in.)

A key concept: the keywords are tied only to the words spoken in the video. E.g. that initial search will find videos where someone says “love”. This can help you narrow things down, because there’s no need to search for “that long-haired girl” or whatever– only things people say can be searched. On the other hand, one search term gives you a maximum of five videos, so (say) searching for a character’s name will not give you every video where they’re mentioned.

(The game marks videos you’ve seen, which is a help.  So later searches will often give you only a few new clips.)

The end result is that you explore the database in little jumps, for several hours. I never had trouble thinking of things to search for. Intriguingly, every person’s experience of the game will be different, because they’ll see clips in an entirely different order. One player might find a given secret very quickly, another may see it much later, or never.

I’ve read a few rapturous reviews, but this one is closest to how I feel about the game. They call it “flawed but fascinating,” and that’s about right.

First, the fascinating part.  I really did get into the search.  You get to know the main characters and quite a few minor ones.  The overall outline of the story becomes clear soon enough– though getting a grasp on its chronology and even its outcome is much harder. The clips are all well acted and almost everybody has an interesting backstory.  There’s a nice range of tonal variation, from the everyday to the romantic to the dramatic.

More than that: this is about the best experience of detection I’ve ever had in a video game. Most adventure games, even if they have mysteries, don’t let you actually detect; they simply dole out the mystery in the order the developer sees fit; you’re about as useful as a toddler handed a magnifying glass to gape at the clues thrust in your face. Here, even though all you’re doing is watching videos, the game makes you feel like an investigator.  You have to identify the clues, pursue them, and try to piece together the story.

It’s about the best dialog system ever, even if all you’re talking to is a database program. The reason is, you’re not given three options and occasionally an extra one if your Speech skill is high enough. You have to come up with keywords yourself.  This is a trick to an extent, because most of the keywords are obvious, like the names you hear. But you feel like you’re doing work.  Plus, to make any sense of the clips you’ll probably have to take notes on what happened, what the relationships are, whether someone seemed to be lying, and so on.

If all this sounds interesting… well, go and get it! It’s a really different type of game, and quite well done.

The flawed bit mostly has to do with the time limit.  You see,  after five hours you’re out of time– you have to upload your videos and finish the game.  You get some cutscenes and a very terse report summarizing what you were doing.  (At least you learn ‘your’ character’s name, if you hadn’t learned it already.)

To be honest, I pretty much hate this feature. I can see the idea of limiting your search, because after all they couldn’t film an infinite number of clips, and at some point the process would probably become frustrating or tedious.  But, well, I feel like I wasn’t done. I have a good picture of the story– maybe I even have all the big pieces, I don’t know.

But that picture feels incomplete, and I don’t feel any closure. The final report says I found “just under half” of the clips. Another review mentioned the same phrase, so that’s probably normal. But, why do you they want to limit you to seeing half of the game?

Now, it’s completely possible to go back in and keep searching the database!  I did, a bit, but it doesn’t feel the same.  I feel like the game told me it was over and I was done, and shouldn’t it know?  At this point I kind of want to know how far I actually got and not just carry on filling in details.

I could also start over, but that sounds completely unattractive. The clips are well done, but not so amazing that you’ll want to watch them over and over.

A couple of minor cavils.  One: clips often record just one half of a conversation. Often you can find and watch the other half. The process is fascinating for the first few hours, then slightly annoying. E.g.– not infrequently, by using a good search term and seeing clips with the same length, it’s clear that I have both halves of the convo in front of me. But there’s no way to watch them at the same time.  Why not?  The actors are good at actively listening, but in effect we have the watch the same conversation twice.  (You can fast forward, though.)

Another: the database will start clips at the point when your search term is spoken. But generally you want to see the whole clip, and there’s no way to start at the beginning without a slow process of rewinding.

The game includes an in-game notepad, but this is a missed opportunity. I have 13 pages of notes, and it was easier to flip through the pages than to use a computer file. What would have been really useful would be the ability to create a pin board like in detective movies. E.g., a character portrait, room for notes, a place where you can pin the actual video clips. Another place where you can record searches still to be made.

One last discussion point: would this story have worked better as a movie?  That is, is the whole database search an extremely eccentric way to make you watch what could have been presented as a straight story or TV series?

Overall, this is answered by my point about detecting. I think the gameplay works great as a process of exploring a story. About the only thing that compares is an in-person mystery RPG. The idea is good enough that (again, for the first several hours at least), it’s easy to forgive the occasional unexciting clip. Some clues in a good mystery story are red herrings.

That said, I think I like the characters and the themes better than the actual story. But as I can’t tell you what the story is, and as I’m not even sure if I got the actual story, there’s not much more to say about that!

 

 

 

 

So, tonight I finally saw Black Panther, which you may have heard of. If you haven’t, I suggest you go see it; it’s pretty good. This is actually the first Marvel movie I’ve seen. I hear they have, what, half a dozen by now?

We’ll get to the actual people below, but they have to work hard not to be upstaged by the set and costume design, which are some of the best to be seen in any sf/fantasy film. E.g. the big reveal of Africa’s biggest city, Wakanda:

lagos

Whoops, that is Africa’s biggest city, but it’s the real city of  Lagos, Nigeria.  Here’s Wakanda:

wakanda

So, this is a really cool shot, and it kind of ruins one of my jokes, comparing Wakanda to Numbani from Overwatch. This is far better done, not least because it isn’t just futuristic slabs as in every other movie and video game; it has interesting textures and seems anchored to the natural world. The street scenes are great too– it looks like a lively city that definitely doesn’t look American.

Still, I included the picture of Lagos for a reason– as a reminder of how mind-bogglingly large it is (the metropolitan area houses 21 million people, a little more than New York), and that the continent isn’t the basket case some people depict it as. (Nigeria’s per capita income is about the same as India, which today we think of, or should, as a rising power.)

The movie itself has a lot to say about oppression and unfairly divided wealth, especially as it relates to Black people, but its view of Africa outside Wakanda is uniformly negative. It’s the “Third World” that Wakanda hides itself as; the only scene set in non-Wakandan Africa is a human-trafficking operation. Not every movie can be everything, but in this area the movie is maybe a little too American.

Now, superhero movies are kind of forced to have a stereotyped and somewhat dumb structure. First you have to show that the superhero is awesome: they go and beat up normal mooks in amazing ways. But since 90 minutes of beating up mooks would get old, you have to have a supervillain, and the hero has to be beaten, and it’s hard not to make them look incompetent. Finally they get to be awesome again and the villain is decisively overcome.

This was a major problem in The Dark Knight, and Black Panther can’t quite escape it. Chadwick Boseman gets his early awesome scenes, but he also spends a lot of the movie looking kind of lost.

There’s also a special problem with the Black Panther character, which– to be honest– was created by a couple of white guys with pretty retro ideas about Africa, full of rhinos and kings and acacia trees. That is, he’s a superhero but also a traditional king His country is supposed to be wealthy and technologically advanced, yet also an absolute monarchy. (The main driver of the movie’s plot is that the king is chosen via a fight to the death.) The political contradiction was faced in the comics by Ta-Nehisi Coates, but he and Boseman both have problems humanizing the king– both T’challas are regal and austere and a little humorless.  On the other hand, that does give him a real character arc, and by the end of the movie he does have something to smile about.

Fortunately for T’challa and the movie, he’s also surrounded by badass women who don’t have to go through that act-two round of doubt and defeat. The standouts here are his sister Shuri (Leticia Wright) and his main general Okoye (Danai Gurira). I would gladly watch a movie centering on either of them. Okoye is beautiful to watch, making the superheroics look effortless. Shuri has great fight scenes too, but she’s also Wakanda’s Q, its scientific heart, and there’s nothing like her smirky smile when she’s carelessly explaining some tech she knows her listeners won’t understand.

The main antagonist, Erik Killmonger, is unusually good for a supervillain, because Ryan Coogler (director and co-writer) gives him an intelligent ideology and plan. (And at least at first, he’s more likeable than T’challa.) He wants to fight back— he wants to use Wakandan technology to take over the world and “run it right.” When he get a chance to confront the Wakandans, he asks them what they were doing when Africa was being carved up and millions of its people enslaved. No one answers, because they have no answer. They were protecting their little turf and that’s it.

Now, the dude apparently wants to use terrorism to create this empire– his plan consists of shipping out weapons, which he’s hoping will be used to kill a lot of people. So, that’s pretty bad. But he’s useful as a critique of Wakandan complacency, and an object lesson in why alpha-male combat might not be the best political system. And again, all this is way more sophisticated than most superhero stories, which are mostly about supercriminals with no relation to actual crime, and near-supernatural threats with no relation to actual global threats.

A few minor cavils:

  • Bits of the plot were obviously storyboarded, but not thought out. E.g. the operation in Busan (hi D.Va!) made no sense at all: the artifact wasn’t recovered, not enough operatives were sent, and Klaue was not secured.
  • T’challa asks his frenemy M’baku to safeguard his mother while the capital is held by Killmonger. Then, to push an alliance, he says Killmonger will come after M’baku. These statements don’t seem compatible…
  • “Hanuman”?  Yikes.

Even more than the set design, the costume design is consistently great. Okoye and the rest of the all-female royal bodyguard are especially striking in their red armor. The designer went to the trouble of creating designs for each of Wakanda’s five tribes… most viewers won’t notice, but there’s a reason (e.g.) Lupita Nyong’o always wears green. This is great worldbuilding: it adds depth without getting in the way, and it rewards deeper viewing and re-viewing.

Edit: Gaze, if you dare, on Tom & Lorenzo’s overview of the costumes of Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri in particular. Ruth Carter deservedly got an Oscar for this.

Finally, a word on diversity, which is that it’s awesome. If you’re a Hollywood exec, rather than rebooting Batman for the 119th time, let some people tell stories that weren’t often given that chance before. The novelty and passion will make a better film. Also, trust me, give Shuri her own movie.