Catherine, as Described by PGDI – Part II

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about describing the mechanics of Catherine based on the descriptions of the Player-Game Descriptive Index (PGDI). I had decided to split it up into two parts, the first post looking at the Customization, Progression, and Social categories. There was supposed to be a follow-up post last week that described Catherine via the Immersion, Mastery and Participation categories, but as you may or may not have noticed, that did not happen. Without going into too many details, I decided that I had written enough for the first month of the semester and met with some professors to greatly adjust what I am doing this semester for their class. Basically, the goals for what I was going to do this semester were inadvertently already met within the first month, and we decided that the rest of my work was unnecessary. So I proposed a new semester’s work and now I will be aiming towards something I wasn’t going to touch this early. There will be more details about that in a separate post. For now, let’s just get down to describing the Immersion, Mastery, and Participation categories of Catherine.

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Catherine, as Described by PGDI – Part I

In today’s post I will be describing the game Catherine through the framework of my model, the Player-Game Descriptive Index (PGDI). Earlier this month, I described the mechanics present in Catherine, based upon a playthrough I completed. To describe the game, I will be using the descriptions provided by my recent posts on PGDI. This will be the first of two parts, and it will be focused on describing the Social, Customization, and Progression components of Catherine. I will do so based upon my field notes and recorded gameplay. The scale I will be using for components is: none < weak < fair < medium < strong <total. A score of none means that the game does not exhibit the component in any way, while a score of total means that every aspect of the game exhibits the component. Few components will be none or total.

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Field Notes for Catherine

For my class on understanding games and impact, we have to describe 60 minutes of gameplay. As I mentioned in my last post, I have chosen to analyze gameplay from Catherine, a game about a man who has a supernatural nightmare that mirrors his real-life dilemma of choosing between a life of marriage or a life of fun. I chose to record my playthrough from start to finish and have divided the video into digestible chunks. In this post I will be providing the video and then following each video will be a description of the mechanics described and used in the game, as well as how the game progresses through its narrative. A side note on the structure of Catherine, as I describe in a previous post, the game is divided into three parts. The first part is a climbing block puzzle, the second deals with narrative decisions that affect the resolution of the game, and the third is a section of narrative feedback, which describes the results of the player’s performance in the first two parts. Keep this in mind when viewing the videos.

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Learning Everything in an Hour

This should be a brief post of my journey of finding a game I could use for quickly absorbing and describing a game’s mechanics. My goal with this was to find a game where the core of the mechanics were described in bulk, up front. The reason for this is that I’m going to have to eventually describe the mechanics in the game, and I didn’t want to have to play the whole game to do it. Instead, I am focusing on what is presented to new players and how it is presented. The aim of this is to describe the mechanics of the game in terms of the PGDI model I created, based on the psychology of player types research. I ended up considering eleven games for this, and played through the intro stages of eight of them. The other three games I relied on my memory of recent playthroughs to determine their usefulness.

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Heaving a Huge Sigh of Relief

Goodness it’s been a while. These last few weeks have been nothing but rush to get significant work done on three projects that plagued be throughout the semester. But they are done for now and I can relax for a little bit. What I’m going to do today is recap the last four months or so, and explain what I am going to be doing this Summer. I’m going to do this in the following way:

  1. A list of the games I played or watched plays of (via roommate or YouTube)
  2. An update on the game project for the semester (The Doors Are Frozen Shut)
  3. An update on the narrative project
  4. An update on the player types project
  5. My plan for the next 3.5 months

I have made links so that you can skip past things like the lest of games. If the more link is showing below, then you’ll need to hit it to use the links. So without further ado.

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Brief: ChatChat

Ever since he started working on it during Ludum Dare, I had been wondering what Terry Cavanagh would produce.  He would say things like “it’s a game about being a cat” and then things like “network coding is tough”.  I’ve been intrigued and amused for a while, but I wasn’t sure it was ever going to go anywhere.  So what happened today? Terry Cavanagh released ChatChat on Kongragate.

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Brief: Players Who Might Like Skyrim

I recently replied to someone who asked, “Is this Skyrim game fun?”  If you don’t know, I have been doing research into play styles (or how we play games).  My reply to this person was that the idea of “fun” was too complex and that different games appeal to different people.  Then I ran my initial thoughts of Skyrim through the DGD1 model from Bateman and Boon (21st Century Game Design), which makes a (newer than Bartle 1996) typology of players based on Myers-Briggs personality types (as well as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter).  This was the results of my initial thinking:

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Einstein would turn over in his grave. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded.
Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Looking God in the Eye”

Just this morning, I was thinking about all the exciting happenings in science and technology lately (particularly the faster than light particle) and my brain suddenly jumped to, “Hey what’s that quote about god playing dice in Alpha Centauri?”  I went searching for it and found a list of memorable quotes from the game, and there it was.  And then, I went on to read all the other memorable quotes from that game, and a great nostalgia kicked in.  And then I thought, “It’s amazing how I remember so many of these and how happy it makes me feel to remember them.”  In fact, I noted that Alpha Centauri holds greater weight in my memory and my emotions than similar games.  Alpha Centauri (Firaxis Games), a response by Sid Meyer and Brian Reynolds to Civilization II by Microprose, is a turn-based strategy game dealing with the far future of civilization colonizing a new planet.

In the great commons at Gaia’s Landing we have a tall and particularly beautiful stand of white pine, planted at the time of the first colonies. It represents our promise to the people, and to Planet itself, never to repeat the tragedy of Earth.
Lady Deirdre Skye, “Planet Dreams”

The game plays similar to Civilization.  You pick a faction, and the world is generated and there is a planetfall.  The ship everyone was coming to the planet on breaks apart on re-entry and the factions are scattered about its surface.  The first objective is survival, the second is domination.  The factions are broken up by philosophy. Like-minded people banded together, and so the game is charged with idealism and a thirst for resources and power.

Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill.
CEO Nwabudike Morgan, “The Ethics of Greed”

And so you play the game.  You build your capital city, hunt for resources, discover new and alien technology, reform the planet to your will and interact with the other factions.  It is, in this respect, very much like Civilization.  Why wouldn’t it be?  After all, it is a Sid Meyer game. It was designed to be a sequel to the original Civilization. It answers the question. “What happens after the space race?”  And the ways to win?

Man has killed man from the beginning of time, and each new frontier has brought new ways and new places to die. Why should the future be different?
Col. Corazon Santiago, “Planet: A Survivalist’s Guide”

Killing everyone is always a staple of Civilization-type games.  You win if you destroy every other faction.  But there are other ways of course.  In stark contrast, you can win diplomatically, by getting everyone to like you well enough to vote you as leader of Planet.  You can also win by having so much energy (money) that everyone must rely upon you to lead them, transcending to a higher state of being (technically, this is the technological victory).

But as the game progresses, you get a sense that what is really the overarching feel of the game is that of dueling philosophies.

I hold a scrap of paper in the darkness and light it. I watch it burn bright and curl, disappearing into nothingness, and the heat burns my fingers. Where has it gone? What has it become? I cannot shake the feeling that I have witnessed a form of transcendence.
Commissioner Pravin Lal, “The Convergence”

The game has in place something called “Datalinks”.  Each time you discover a new technology, or when you first build a new building or secret project, a screen will pop up with a quote, read by a voice actor.  A number of these are quotes by one of the faction leaders.  The things they say at times are chilling and deeply cutting into the philosophy and ethics of the game.  They are read so well and become so memorable that they enhance the game in both memory and emotion.

Imagine the entire contents of the planetary datalinks, the sum total of human knowledge, blasted into the Planetmind’s fragile neural network with the full power of every reactor on the planet. Thousands of years of civilization compressed into a single searing burst of revelation. That is our last-ditch attempt to win humanity a reprieve from extinction at the hands of an awakening alien god.
Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “Planet Speaks”

And the game doesn’t really hide what it is doing.  A good chunk of the Datalinks are about religion or human nature or transcendence.  They are the faction leaders’ philosophy.  I have included one from each faction leader here to give you an idea of them.  The Datalinks provide the player with something very few strategy games seem to have.  Hell, they give you something very few games actually have.  And that something is a strong sense of ideology and character for the roles that you are playing.  It is a story told through snippets of story.  You understand what is going on by hearing the conviction in the voices of people reading these ideas that are so relevant.  You want to read the whole books, but you are only left to imagine them, filling in the gaps with your own philosophy, allowing you to write some of the fiction.

And yet, though these snippets were so fundamental to the enjoyment of the game, they eventually dropped off.  In the expansion to Alpha Centauri (Alien Crossfire), there were fewer new quotations, and many were less memorable, but still served to create the same sense of character for the new faction leaders.  But then, in Civilization III, they were gone, forgotten.  Civilization III has never been to me what Alpha Centauri was.  I enjoy it somewhat, but something isn’t there.  I suppose that some of it could be attributed to being a game of history rather than the future.  Civilization III is about things known, Alpha Centauri is about things unknown.  Even still, there is something in Alpha Centauri that seems missing from many other games.  It is that connection to the character.  In this game you feel as if you know them. You understand who they are.  Most games seem to give you enough to know what they are like, but the connection just isn’t deep enough.  I can imagine a conversation with these people; they are not just representations on a screen somewhere.  I don’t know.  It just seems as though the best parts of games past get cut out for the future.  Then again, this is just like society and the way the world works as a whole.  I leave you with my favorite quote in all of the Datalinks:

Some would ask, how could a perfect God create a universe filled with so much that is evil. They have missed a greater conundrum: why would a perfect God create a universe at all?
Sister Miriam Godwinson, “But for the Grace of God”

(“But for the Grace of God” is her best book.  You should read it.)

Catherine – It’s Just a Little Fun

So, yesterday I popped Catherine into the 360, pretty much knowing what to expect by playing it.  Adult drama with a puzzle game attached.  And I played the game for about three hours before I put it away.  I might not go back to Catherine for a while, but that’s ok.  Three hours was enough for me to really evaluate what I wanted to out of it.  This was the nature of the game’s difficulty in relation to its story.

Now, I could go into a rant here about games and story and how story is treated in Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun (On page 86 Koster even says, “my background is a writer, so this actually pisses me off.”).  Instead I want to talk about how Catherine is fun and what it is teaching us.  I will needless get back to story and challenge just that which Koster is so pissed off about.

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