Gameplay Blog #5 – From Whinging to Binging

Gameplay Statistics – Week 5

Monday, October 2, 2017 – Sunday, October 8, 2017

Days of the week in which games were played: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Total number of video games played: 2
Total video game duration: 15 hours
Communities involved: N/A

Game Platform Duration
Super Mario Galaxy PC/Dolphin (Wii) 45 min
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen PC/Steam 14 hours, 15 min

Total number of non-video games played: 1
Total non-video game duration: 45 minutes (Fluxx)
Communities involved: Co-workers
Number of supplemental game or game-related activities: 0

Tags: PC, Dolphin, Nintendo, Wii, Mario, XCOM, Fluxx


Games for Change

When I started my new job as a junior project manager, I relayed an anecdote my new boss about a game about change.  In my new position, a large component of the work involves change management, and I spoke about the game in this context.  The game is called Fluxx, and its a card game with the basic premise that there is only one basic rule at the outset.  As cards get played, they contain new rules, new victory conditions, and dynamically evolving strategies.  Fluxx is the “game with ever-changing rules.”

Fluxx Cards

Fluxx Cards

My boss decided to buy me this game as a gift after I had been working for a month, with the suggestion that we play it with the project team as an exercise in change management.  That chance finally arrived as I was on a business trip and we had some spare time on the Wednesday of this week.  To be honest, however, this game may have been a bit too much to keep track of for my boss and the colleague I was playing with.  A round of Fluxx can last anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour (according to the box).  This game lasted 45 minutes, and it seemed my opponents were losing their patience with the substantial number of “new rule” cards to keep track of on the table.  I enjoyed myself, even though I lost.  I decided that this game should probably be reserved for groups with a more pedantic bent (for lack of a better term, nerds).

When September Ends

September was a very busy month for me.  Having more free time this week than I have had since May, I binged on games, hard.  This was the biggest gaming binge I’d had in about 10 months.  It felt amazing to get lost in a new version of one of my favourite games. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is mod for XCOM 2 which came out in August 2017.  It keeps the original game intact while adding a new introduction, new game mechanics, and an all-new plotline with additional enemies and bosses while retaining all of the elements in the original game.  All of the original story elements are intact, but this mod merely adds more on top of those already existing.  When XCOM 2 first came out in February 2016, I binged hard on it at that time as well.  Same with the series reboot, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which came out in 2012.

I am quite familiar with from the XCOM franchise.  The original XCOM games were released for MS-DOS in the mid-1990s.  There were a handful of games released with the common theme of battling against an alien invasion force, some of which were based on land and some under the sea.  I was obsessed with them back then, and am obsessed with them now.  The primary gameplay mechanic remains unchanged in the modern successors, being a turn-based tactical strategy game, with some minor tweaks.  As a matter of fact, the original XCOM: UFO Defence is regarded by many (including myself) as the seminal game in the turn-based tactical strategy genre.  That being said, those familiar with table-top RPGs will recognize that XCOM is their digital progeny, especially where combat is concerned. Major improvements abound in every other aspect of the new incarnation of the franchise and every subsequent release.

Original XCOM Screenshot

Original XCOM Screenshot

I spent the entire weekend getting deep into War of the Chosen, while also barely scratching the surface of what the game has to offer.  If I had one complaint about the game, it’s that it takes too long to complete.  I have a love affair with the XCOM franchise, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why it’s one of the rare titles nowadays that captures my attention entirely; it has nostalgia while also having all the bells-and-whistles of a modern game.  It’s absolutely gorgeous from a graphics perspective.  It’s very easy for me to get “in the zone” with this game.  I didn’t know what to call this state in my earlier writings for this course, but from now on I will use the term defined by Diane Carr as the state of “flow [, which] incorporates immersion and engagement and is experienced as ‘an intensely pleasurable, optimum state, incorporating focus, euphoria and high levels of motivation’” (qtd. in Bradford, p. 58).

In my previous blog entries, I mentioned the distinct problem of having a hard time getting into games as I progress further into adulthood.  With XCOM, that problem disappears if I am given enough time to play it.  I only hope I can beat it before my free time is diminished again, or I lose interest because of a long break.  This is something that tends to happen a lot and seems to be the case for not completing Super Mario Galaxy, which I only played momentarily this week (before becoming consumed by XCOM).  That might be another area of inquiry for future blog posts.  In the meantime, next weeks’ blog post will likely be encompassed by XCOM 2: War of the Chosen as well.

Works Cited

Bradford, Clare. “Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning.” Australian Journal of Language and Literacy (2010): 54-64. Web. 11 October 2017.

Firaxis Games. XCOM: Enemy Unknown. 2K Games, 2012. Microsoft Windows. Computer Software.

Firaxis Games. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. 2K Games, 2017. Microsoft Windows. Computer Software.

Mythos Games, and Microprose Software. XCOM: UFO Defence. Microprose, 1994. MS-DOS. Computer Software.

Gameplay Blog #4 – A Chance to Breathe

Gameplay Statistics – Week 4

Monday, September 25, 2017 – Sunday, October 1, 2017

Days of the week in which games were played: Monday, Tuesday
Total number of video games played: 1
Total video game duration: 3 hours
Communities involved: N/A

Game Platform Duration
Super Mario Galaxy PC/Dolphin (Wii) 3 hours

Total number of non-video games played: 0
Total non-video game duration: N/A
Communities involved: N/A
Number of supplemental game or game-related activities: 0

Tags: PC, Dolphin, Nintendo, Wii, Mario

Attitude is Everything

The last couple weeks I was in a really bad mood.  Perhaps that’s why I felt so negative towards the small amount of game time I had. This week was different; things had slowed down a bit at work, so I was able to get some more game time in.  Recall that previously I had felt the novelty was wearing off rather quickly for the Wii games I was playing on Dolphin emulator.  This week I was able to dig in a bit deeper and actually started to feel a bit of challenge with Super Mario Galaxy.

One of the things that kept my attention was the diversity of the levels.  Super Mario Galaxy is a dynamic gameplay experience, and the bosses and mini-bosses are a real treat (even if they are a bit too easy for someone like me).  The video above and the one below show my first encounters with each of these bosses.

Because I didn’t have so much on my plate this week, I was able to play long enough to get “in the zone.”  In the previous weeks, I had waded through the beginning levels of Galaxy at a snail’s pace.  It wasn’t that interesting because they were the early levels and I was learning the ropes.  Although the controls in Galaxy are intuitive, the whole gravity aspect takes some getting used to.  It’s the camera flips and reorientations that are tricky.

Which way is up again?

Which way is up again?

In the 3 hours I played this week, I was able to obtain 28 stars.  Compared that to the previous week where I had taken 4 hours to obtain 22 stars, and those were the easy levels!  This time around I was completing some levels in under 4 minutes.  I also had to look online for hints for some of the hidden stars.  This was much more satisfying than my previous attempt at Galaxy.

One particular novelty I enjoyed was the special “comet” stars which act as modifiers on already existing levels.  For example, after I defeated the Bouldergeist (in the first video above), I had the option to go back and do it again with the “Daredevil” comet.  This means if you get hit once, you have to restart the level.  I found this far more satisfying to complete than the relatively trivial vanilla stars.  I felt good after my game sessions this week.  They offered me a chance to relax and unwind at the end of a crazy September.  The feeling of making quick progress through the game affected me greatly.  I think it tapped into my desire for instant gratification.  This feeling wasn’t getting exploited in previous gameplay attempts at Galaxy because I was still learning and the beginning levels weren’t much of a challenge.

Works Cited

Dolphin Emulator Project. Dolphin 5.0. Independently Published, 2016. Multiple Platforms. Computer Software.

Nintendo EAD Tokyo. Super Mario Galaxy. Nintendo, 2007. Wii Console. Console Software.

Nintendo. Wii Console. Foxconn, 2006. Console Hardware.

Gameplay Blog #2 – Behavioural Clues

Gameplay Statistics – Week 2

Monday, September 11, 2017 – Sunday, September 17, 2017

Days of the week in which games were played: Monday, Tuesday
Total number of video games played: 1
Total video game duration: 4 hours
Communities involved: N/A

Game Platform Duration
Mario Galaxy PC/Dolphin (Wii) 4 hours

Total number of non-video games played: 0
Total non-video game duration: N/A
Communities involved: N/A
Number of supplemental game or game-related activities: 1 (Wiimote Bluetooth Configuration)

Tags: PC, Dolphin, Nintendo, Wii, Mario, Bluetooth, Wiimote


One of the reasons I wanted to include non-video games and video game related supplemental activities in this blog is because I really enjoy these activities.  I have known this for some time now, but haven’t really given it any deep consideration as to why.  I mean, it’s plainly obvious if you look at my Steam profile that I really enjoy Steam sales, perhaps more than I enjoy playing the games themselves (note the completion rate).

560+ games

Perhaps this will be a question I can answer throughout the course of writing this blog.  I thought it might be useful for the reader to understand that, in recent years, my free time is spent tinkering with activities that feed into gaming rather than gaming itself.  The sense of satisfaction I get from solving these problems tends to be greater than the gaming.  If you read my I Player essay, you know that I’ve been concerned with my inability to recapture the zeal I had for games in my youth (Robertson).  Seeing as that tinkering with hardware and software configurations was fundamental to my experience as a nascent gamer, it makes sense that supplemental game activities are one of the avenues I use to capture those feelings of the past.  Writing this out now, I can put it into words: a real-life problem provides a profound sense of accomplishment, not only because of the task completed but also because of the lessons learned along the way.  That being said, let’s talk about one of those configurations.

My History with Dolphin Emulator

One of the biggest issues I had with the original Wii console was that it never offered high-definition display support like other consoles of the seventh generation.  Being a PC gamer, one of the most attractive features about software emulators or ported game engines was the fact that you could run old games with brand-new top-of-the-line hardware and graphics (or, at the very least, significantly improved graphics).

I first heard of Dolphin emulator about 10 years ago when it was merely a software oddity which ran Nintendo Gamecube games in Windows, albeit very poorly.  By 2016, however, Dolphin had evolved to a point where it could interface somewhat reliably with original Nintendo hardware and play a subsection of games from several different Nintendo consoles without any game-breaking bugs or glitches.  In short, it showed massive promise.  The part that intrigued me the most was the hardware interface capabilities of the emulator.  Getting the Wii Remote Plus (Wiimote) controller to interface with Dolphin running on Windows was not a trivial task, but it was exactly the type of problem that I found extremely attractive.  So in late 2016, I purchased a USB Wii Sensor Bar, Wiimote, and an ASUS USB Bluetooth Adapter.  I also found some used games for Gamecube, and Wii for relatively cheap at the local pawn shop.  I was super excited!

Once all the components arrived, it took me several hours of trial and error to get everything working.  I could go into great detail, but the part that’s relevant to this story is that I had to force a Toshiba Bluetooth Driver Stack to work with a non-Toshiba Bluetooth adapter (something you need more than a modicum of technical knowledge to even attempt).  This was the only Bluetooth driver for Windows in existence at the time which could recognize a Nintendo Wiimote.  After several hours and failed attempts, I got the hardware components working perfectly.

I was ecstatic, elated, euphoric.  I was playing Wii games in high definition on my PC with the proprietary motion controlled remote.  This was not something you see every day.  My elation was short-lived, however, because it wasn’t long before I ran into game-breaking bugs.  Super Mario Galaxy wouldn’t even load.  Super Mario Galaxy 2 crashed at the end of the first world, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword looked like a polygonal Jackson Pollock painting.  My efforts proved to be nothing more than a novelty, so I put everything in a drawer and forgot about it.

Dolphin 5.0

Dolphin UI showing several games

This brings me up to the point in time of last week’s blog.  To summarize, I was surprised to find Dolphin thriving and more capable than ever before with a brand new release earlier this year.  After the phenomenal initial experience I had with the Gamecube title Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, I was eager to dust off the Wii hardware I had forgotten about and give it a whirl.

I plugged everything in and was disappointed to find that nothing worked.  The Toshiba stack I installed was still there, but it was no longer attached to my ASUS Bluetooth adapter.  It turns out that Windows had automatically updated the drivers back to the manufacturer’s default.  Things went further south from this point as I tried in vain to reinstall the Toshiba stack.  This turned out to be a big mistake because, after several hours of failed attempts, I discovered that Microsoft Windows had been updated to provide Bluetooth Wiimote support at the simple click of a button.  No special drivers, no hacky configuration, and no more frustration.  I removed all of the previous drivers and turned all the manual overrides I had in place off.  Everything worked.  I felt amazing.  The entire process took over 2 hours, but the payoff was intense gratification.

Mario Galaxy

Super Mario 64 was a seminal game in the 3D platformer genre and an old favourite of mine.  Originally released for the Nintendo 64 console, it was one of the first 3D platformers to have achieved nearly perfect controls and camera movement. With future iterations, I felt that the Mario franchise had taken a wrong turn with the release of Mario: Sunshine (and sequels) for the Gamecube platform by adding gameplay mechanics which were cumbersome and definitely not complementary (i.e. Water hoses, what?).  Nintendo was quick to correct the course with the next-generation release of Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii console.  This was a game I had always felt I had missed the boat on, so I was keen to try it out.  I was not disappointed.

As you can see, the defining gameplay mechanic for Super Mario Galaxy is gravity.  This game is so much fun to play, and it looks great running on my 2015 gaming PC.

I enjoyed the many variations of gameplay for each new “galaxy” that became unlocked, for a time.

I managed to steal a couple of hours per night for the next two nights, collecting a couple dozen stars and unlocking several new galaxies.  After a while, collecting stars started to feel like ticking checkboxes on a to-do list.  Finding my way through the puzzles and problems was pretty easy.  Not like the original Super Mario Bros. which was ruthlessly unforgivable.  I found myself with several dozen extra lives after a couple of hours of play.  It was relaxing, but soon the novelty wore off as I realized just how easy and simple this game was.  With the obligation to write the gameplay blog lingering in the back of my mind, I noticed something.  When I grabbed a new star, essentially hitting a milestone in the game, my instinct was to save and quit thus ending the game on a high note.  Reflecting back on this as I write, I realize this was not how I used to approach gaming.  As a teenager, hitting a milestone only propelled me onwards to the next one with renewed zeal and enthusiasm.  This is just no longer true.  The obligations of reality are just too omnipresent and inescapable.  For the rest of the week, I was too busy to find any more time to play.

Key Insights

Examining the behavioural clues around my time spent on these activities has lead to some interesting questions.  Recall my problem: a lack of zeal in what used to be a cherished and sacred activity in my life.  Deliberately contrasting the supplemental activities of gaming with gaming itself has revealed something interesting; it has occurred to me that my feelings towards video games have changed over the years perhaps as a result of changing personal values.  Why is it so hard to get lost in and thoroughly enjoy video games the same way I used to?

Perhaps the answers lie in the fact that I used to be an extremely lazy person.  Challenge was a rare aspect of life, and so the challenge of video games had high appeal.  Over the course of the last half-dozen or so years, my personal ethics have changed dramatically.  In short, I have risen to meet several major challenges and have changed too as a result.  General satisfaction is a relatively new concept in my life.  Challenge is now intrinsic to my life and career, and with it comes a preceding sense purpose.  This sense of purpose has filled a vacuous hole which has been with me for nearly as long as I can remember.  It seems to me that video games perhaps filled a portion of this hole before.  As normal life has become challenging and purposeful, so too have video games seemingly become more contrived and pointless.  Perhaps this is why the supplemental activities provide so much more gratification: because they are more challenging?

This is not the only piece of the puzzle, however; and there seems more to this story.  I know this to be true because I see a similar pattern with other activities which I used to cherish yet never seem to spend any time doing anymore, like reading and writing.  Perhaps I am merely making excuses for the lack of time spent doing what I used to love so very much.

Works Cited

ASUS. ASUS USB-BT400 USB 2.0 Bluetooth 4.0 Adapter. ASUS, 2013. Computer Hardware.

Dolphin Emulator Project. Dolphin 5.0. Independently Published, 2016. Multiple Platforms. Computer Software.

Factor 5, and LucasArts. Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. LucasArts, 2001. GameCube. Console Software.

Nintendo EAD. Super Mario 64. Nintendo, 1996. Nintendo 64 Console. Console Software.

Nintendo EAD. Super Mario Sunshine. Nintendo, 2002. Wii Console. Console Software.

Nintendo EAD. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Nintendo, 2011. Wii Console. Console Software.

Nintendo EAD Tokyo. Super Mario Galaxy. Nintendo, 2007. Wii Console. Console Software.

Nintendo EAD Tokyo. Super Mario Galaxy 2. Nintendo, 2010. Wii Console. Console Software.

Nintendo IRD. Nintendo 64. Nintendo, 1996. Console Hardware.

Nintendo R&D4. Super Mario Bros.. Nintendo, 1985. Nintendo Entertainment System. Console Software.

Nintendo. Gamecube. Nintendo, and Foxconn, 2001. Console Hardware.

Nintendo. Wii Console. Foxconn, 2006. Console Hardware.

Nintendo. Wii Remote Plus. Nintendo, 2010. Console Hardware.

Robertson, Aubrey. I Player. 18 September 2017. TS. Vancouver Island University.

Toshiba. Toshiba Bluetooth Stack 7.10.12. Toshiba, 2010. Windows. Computer Software.

Valve Corporation. Steam. Valve Corporation, 2003-2017. Multiple Platforms. Computer Software.