contentgrrl

I am conTENT. My work is CONtent.

Posts Tagged ‘Planescape Torment’

13 elements that appeal to this gamergrrl

Posted by contentgrrl on November 28, 2007

I ran links to a gamergrrl’s manifestos in my post about misguided gift shopping lists of games. But what appeals to gamergrrls about actual gameplay? Developers and fellow gamers, I can offer my own likes:

  1. I love customizing my avatar. Oblivion has some great tools to customize facial features and other characteristics that make up the personality. Even the Tiger Woods game did a fair job with avatars, and gives you the option to buy new clothes. The faces, hair, and physical proportions still need work, and the wardrobe is definitely appropriate for the golf course (not in a good way). My dear husband recreated himself, me, and our young sons in his game. I kick total butt on all courses onscreen, even if I refuse to pick up a putter in real life.
  2. I love building a well-rounded character. In Baldur’s Gate, I hated when my husband focused on one characteristic like strength to the detriment of charisma and agility. That may be the influence of my time management training, between Franklin-Covey and the Paul J. Meyer system. Even though Diablo II had a rather limited set of characters, I loved building up points so I could use some of the treasures. Lara Croft seemed fairly well-rounded already (;^), but I would have liked to build more than just quest stats, and build skills. A well-rounded character should be rewarded; I think Oblivion did this well, as did Torment.
  3. I love an intuitive interface. I keep seeing these getting better and better: navigation through movement and physical skills, interaction with the environment, talking with other players and non-player characters, selecting spells and weapons, and shopping for stuff. Oh, and thanks for letting me customize the keys I use. Now if only I could use those Lara Croft or basketball moves in real life.
  4. I like beautiful gamescapes, but not to the detriment of gameplay. It’s another thing that makes a game immersive. I won’t say I love beauty and art and graphics, because lately a lot of engines favor looks over substance.
  5. I love clever music. Portal’s closing credits are a hoot (see it on YouTube). Diablo’s themes for various levels haunted me all the time.
  6. I love allies. In Planescape Torment, they gave me much more than your standard fighter/wizard/archer mix of allies. I could actually have conversations with these allies, learn more about the world, discuss the pros and cons about what our troop was doing and could do next. I could even learn new skills (like thievery, weaponry, magic, eloquence, and so on).
  7. I love a story with a good plot. I want to immerse myself in a story. Again, I’ll use Elder Scrolls Oblivion, Longest Journey, Dreamfall, and the Myst series as good examples. Actually, Star Wars Academy was another. You move the plot forward by the choices and actions you make.
  8. I love both laughing and crying. This may be an extension of plot, but it comes up with dialog as well. Planescape Torment actually moved me to both laughter and tears, and not just because I’d been awake for far too long. (BTW, laughing and crying are my litmus tests for a good movie, and extremely rare in a game).
  9. I love dialog that moves the plot. Not the “Wait, I’m a Medic” or “Thanks” and “You’re Welcome” of the new Crysis that Morgan reviewed last night on G4TV. I have to admit that I like the multiple-choice dialog from Baldur’s Gate II, where you made friends and enemies and affected your charisma points by the dialog choices you made. And I’ll say again about Oblivion, while I love using humor, flattery, boasting, or coercion to win over non-player characters, I’d much rather have a good Whedonesque screenwriter write the actual banter, which would give me some better examples that I might want to try out in real life. Oh, and the voice acting has to be good. Sure Lynda Carter (of the original WonderWoman) can do well as an Orc in Oblivion. But some sound bytes are downright annoying.
  10. I gotta touch everything. I want to explore every square yard/meter of a level or landscape for treasure, and clean it up by killing all the Big Bads and their minions. In that, I differ markedly from my husband (and young sons). Have you seen that comedian, Defending the Caveman? It’s the difference between Hunters and Gatherers, and I am the latter.
  11. I love puzzles that make me think and apply what I already know in new ways. Go Portal. Go Myst. And, to some extent, go Tomb Raider, in terms of using Lara’s skills to get to where she needs to go. But most games are still limited when it comes to what you can pick up and use in the environment; a recent exception is Half-Life, where you could break all sorts of things, lift them, push and pull, with a very user-friendly interface.
  12. I love when the game’s karma rewards or punishes moral choices. Baldur’s Gate punished you for selfish choices by dropping your Charisma so low you couldn’t get anybody to give you information or sell you stuff. Oblivion lets you explore being a thief, an assassin, a soldier, a mage, and so on, all in the same game, but completing each faction’s quests definitely has its rewards, and I’m not sure I want immorality rewarded so much; I’d like to see something decremented like your ability to restore life force or mana when you disrespect property, life, or earth. As much as I like Grand Theft Auto as entertainment, it puts a knot in my stomach for how rude Tommy & CJ are, the foul language they and their NPCs use, the disrespect for women, and oh, yeah, the stealing, killing, and outright destruction. There are games where you get to play the cop, but he’s usually an anti-hero, one who’s out to get speeders or break all the rules. Are there any good detective or FBI profiler or spy games? I haven’t really looked.
  13. I love learning something that reflects real life. I’ll say again, my absolute favorite RPG is Planescape Torment (1999) for its exploration of philosophies (such as anarchy, hedonism, entropy, chaos, order, freethought, cabalism, and so on) through gameplay, dialogue, and plot. I also learned about biology and ecology in an old Gaia simulation. I actually learned a thing or two about using golf clubs from Tiger Woods. I’ve even learned a few things about combination shots and English from the old Virtual Pool. It’s too bad that Guitar Hero is only a dumbed-down version of the Dance steps. It doesn’t actually teach you how to play chords. If it did, I’d be all over that. I could really get into a sim for learning how to sail or fly a small plane. I was even lucky enough to be involved in developing simulation training for telecom field network troubleshooting for SBC, now at&t.

Any other manifestos around?

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best ways to help adults learn difficult concepts through interactive design

Posted by contentgrrl on November 8, 2007

I know this doesn’t sound much like the “adult” way to learn, but…Let them PLAY!

When I worked for Creative Education Institute, a good portion of the target audience for the reading and math software was adult literacy programs. They may not seem like difficult concepts, but tell that to someone who can’t read or figure. The programs are very interactive, designed for specific cognitive goals. In the math program, manipulatives (like learning toys) are used in tandem with animation to teach basic operations including addition and division of fractions.

When I taught DOS way back when, one of my most effective lessons was having the students role-play parts of the computer during startup. It was fun, and they actually remembered the sequence.

w3schools.com has tons of Try It examples, where you can play with different HTML, CSS, and other script source code and see the results.

When I was at the SBC (now at&t) Center for Learning, most of the network tech training consisted of lecture and lab. That’s a good thing, as long as the lab exercises are real-life tasks, and it’s fairly easy to restore the system if a student screws up.

Back in ’97 I was lucky to be involved in the design of a telecom technician training simulation, that turned out like a video game. The tech was first instructed with animation how to use metering equipment and a little bit of theory (with quizlike questions interspersed), and then was given a job assignment in a virtual world. Assuming their truck was well equipped, they had to perform all the troubleshooting techniques and procedures required to solve the problem.

But the simulation program had to run on special Silicon Graphics machines, which SBC (now at&t) had to have an instructor travel around with on a truck. And once the monitoring equipment was upgraded (a frequent occurrence), the simulation became outdated. It was expensive to maintain.

Nowadays the game engines are so advanced that it’s cheaper to develop and much cheaper to distribute and maintain. Granted, the last games I’ve actively played/watched were:

  • Planescape Torment — a great RPG exploration of factions holding philosophies such as anarchy, hedonism, entropy, chaos, order, freethought, cabalism, and so on.
  • San Andreas — a stupendous playhouse of a first-person shooter/driver/dancer/whatever. My husband thinks that game companies should integrate all kinds of play, so you only have to have one world, but be able to play all kinds of games in it, including his favorites: golf, racing, and shooting.
  • Half-Life 2 — a groundbreaking sci-fi first-person shooter that gives the user control over so many unexpected items in the environment.

SecondLife looks interesting as a mechanism for developing such environments and training labs, where a gamer or trainee won’t hurt anything in the real world, and I’ll be watching to see what comes out of it.

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