Monday, August 18, 2014

Disney Magical World is Full of Surprises

I've been playing Disney Magical World recently. It's well-dressed busywork without a lot of depth but there's a good variety of activities (including some surprisingly nontrivial combat) and plenty of customization options (I want some of those shirts in real life). It's also consistently warm and loaded with treats for the longtime Disney fan - for example, one of the quests is to find a pumpkin so that the Fairy Godmother can make you a coach to ride to Cinderella's ball. If you're nostalgic about Disney, it's a good way to relax after a long day. But there are two particular things about it that have caught my attention.

The first is non-gendered outfits. The game has a ton of clothes you can buy or make, and some of it is traditionally male or female. The game doesn't care, though. It doesn't distinguish at all. Anyone can wear anything, and nobody bats an eye - the only comments that you'll get are compliments on your fashion sense if your outfit is coordinated. My character still runs around in pants rather than a dress, but I appreciate that it's a choice.

It's especially refreshing after the recent controversy over Tomodachi Life omitting gay relationships. It's a silly "life simulator" that encourages you to create characters based on yourself and your real-life friends, who can then fall in love and get married - but only in heterosexual arrangements.

"It's more of an issue for this game because the characters are supposed to be a representation of your real life. You import your personalized characters into the game. You name them. You give them a personality. You give them a voice. They just can't fall in love if they're gay."
—Tye Marini as quoted in Nintendo says no to virtual equality in life game

As noted in that article, Nintendo's initial response to the controversy was to state that Tomodachi Life was intended to be "playful", "whimsical", and "quirky", and that it was "never intended to make any form of social commentary". Which is a weird thing to say about a development decision that must have been deliberate. They had to put in "if" statements and check character genders to prevent homosexual match-ups. I do find it very plausible that they didn't intend to make social commentary, but it's what they ended up doing. (Nintendo later followed up with a much better statement.)

By simply omitting such flags and checks from its clothing options, Disney Magical World is quietly inclusive (of a different group - there are no homosexual relationships in Disney Magical World because there are no relationships at all outside of the canon Disney couples). It was easier to code that way, too.

The second thing that caught my attention is how freemium-like some of the mechanics are - but without the evil. Several of the activities are time-gated - some resources can only be gathered a couple of times per day, it takes a while for your cafe to serve the meals you have prepared, some plants must be watered a few times over the course of an hour or two before they can be harvested. But you never run out of things to do - there are resources and plants that move much faster, and plenty of other activities that are just always available. And just as importantly - you never lose anything. The resources will wait patiently until you show up to gather them. Your cafe won't suddenly become unpopular because it's out of food; it just won't serve any customers until you cook more. The plants won't wither or die if they go unwatered; they just won't grow until you do water them. If the game killed your crops and removed your customer base just because you'd had a busy day in real life, you'd be forced to evaluate whether you wanted to start over or whether you wanted to do something else with your time. But since Disney Magical World never punishes you for having other things to do, it's always pleasant to come back to it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How I Didn't Learn Guitar by Playing Rocksmith 2014

I was intrigued when the first Rocksmith came out - a guitar tutor disguised as a videogame? Learn guitar by basically playing Guitar Hero with a real guitar? It sounded promising, but I wasn't totally sold on the concept. Mixed reviews prompted me to leave it alone and try Rock Band 3's pro guitar mode instead. I didn't really stick with that long, though, as it had the unfortunate combination of (a) being really hard and (b) not actually teaching me to play guitar.

Some time later, I thought of taking up the axe again, rescuing my dusty guitar from where she was languishing in the corner of my bedroom. I got another nudge in this direction when a musically-inclined woman on OkCupid called me out on my profile photo where I'm holding a guitar. ("Can you actually play, or is that just to impress the ladies?" "It's to impress the ladies. Is it working?") Then Rocksmith 2014 went on sale and I read a glowing review of it, and I took the plunge.

(Incidentally, this is the first game I've ever played where I thought, "Man, I actually wish I were playing this with a Kinect." It's obnoxious to have to take your hands off the guitar and grab a controller to do basically anything. It would be amazing to be able to just say "Riff repeater, 50% speed!" and have it drop into the riff repeater at 50% speed.)

The game advises you to play for an hour every day, which I tried hard to stick to. Daily play was easy enough to achieve, but I didn't always manage to last a full hour. At first, it was because I felt like I was learning a lot very quickly, and needed to take a break to digest. But after a few days, it was because I was getting frustrated.

I hit a bit of a wall, and the wall was called "chords". Chords are hard, and the game didn't seem to acknowledge this, which made me wonder if I was just an idiot who didn't have what it takes to learn the guitar and I should slink off back to the keyboard. (I acknowledge that I may be biased by the fact that I took piano lessons from age five to twelve, but the keyboard is WAY more usable of an instrument. You don't have to memorize weird hand positions in order to play chords. You just put your fingers on the keys. But the guitar is just so much sexier.)