Author Archives: Aaron Lynch

3 Indie Games I Have Waited an Eternity to Play (but get to soon)

With the release of BattleBlock Theater today, I want to mention three other games I have been waiting 3+ years to play that are all releasing soon.  Indie developers take their time when launching games, but it usually shows.

BattleBlock Theater (XBLA) – Released April 3, 2013

Behemoth got their start developing Alien Hominid for New Grounds and then for XBLA.  They followed that success with the 9th most successful XBLA game: Castle Crashers. Behemoth is known for developing side-scrolling adventure games with a sense of humor, and BattleBlock Theatre continues that tradition.  Behemoth has a history of developing high-quality games that challenge and satisfy that nostalgic arcade feeling.

SpyParty (PC) – Currently in Open Beta

SpyParty is a game that challenges players to understand details of human behavior unique to gaming.  SpyParty is being developed by Chris Hecker, a former Maxis employee who worked with Will Wright on Spore. The summary of the game is this: there are two roles, spy and sniper. The spy tries to accomplish missions while at a crowded dinner party while the other player (the sniper) tries to identify which of the guests is the other player. The game ends when the sniper (who only gets one shot) or the spy accomplishes his/her mission.  While simple in concept, it’s an ambitious project that needs to be subtle enough to allow a human player to hide convincingly among a host of logic-based AIs, and simple enough enough so players can easily understand the options available to them.  I think this game has the potential to alter the way we think about AI and human interaction in games.

Monaco (PC and XBLA) – Release Date: April 24

I immediately fell in love with Monaco when I first saw it at PAX Prime.  Developed by Andy Schatz, Monaco is a four-player coop heist game where your mission is to get treasure, cash and other precious items whilst killing, tranquilizing and confusing enemy minions.  The brilliance of Monaco is in its line of sight design. In the same way that RTS games use fog of war, Monaco’s challenge lies in what you can and cannot see.  As your character moves, the map changes from blueprint to full color, which builds tension and challenging how you approach each area.  Already a 2010 Independent Games Festival Award Winner, Monaco has potential to be one of the best games of 2013.

Can Video Games Be Sports? Part 2

This is a two part article – you can find the first half here.

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Regional Affiliation

Regional affiliation is one area where eSports still has room to grow.  In every major sports league and international competition, there is always regional ties and consistent teams.  Regional ties create bonds between large groups of people and strengthen local communities:  two people from Boston are likely to have one or two sports topics they can talk about, allowing them to share stories, rivalries and sports heroes.

Streaming video has been one of the best things to happen to online video game competitions, but the side effect has been a lack of physical representation.  This may not seem like a big deal, but regional affiliation gives people a reason to emotionally attach themselves to a team.  If a person moves to a Miami, suddenly they are allowed to cheer for the Heat.  In the same way, while watching the Olympics, you may know nothing about the athletes, but knowing their home country tells you a full story about their background, how likely they are to win and whether you should be cheering for them.

League of Legends and StarCraft 2 both craft teams based on country or region, helping players connect and favor a particular team over another, creating a competitive spirit and letting them have a stake in the game itself. As these forms of competition get more popular and as history starts to develop and team solidify, where a team originated will likely become emphasized. 

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Rule Violations

All competitive players make mistakes.  It’s part of competition.  The stakes are high and the adrenaline is flowing, which causes people to make errors in judgment.  However, the difference between a sport and other forms of competitive play is penalties. In every single sporting event – team-based or solo – players can somehow be penalized for breaking a rule.

There is no need for rules in video games because the game itself can control exactly what players are able to do. Any rule breaking would be the fault of the video game developer, not the player. Salen and Zimmerman acknowledge this principle in their 2004 book Rules of Play:

“There is one category of game in which rule-breaking by players and punishments for violations of the rules are an important part of the overall game structure: professional sports…it is expected, and even anticipated that these kinds of events will occur in a sports game.”

Football adds or subtracts yards from a down when players do something wrong. Basketball awards free throws when a player is fouled. Even track and field disqualifies sprinters if they move before the starting gun is fired.

Each of these sports has built in penalties that allows, but enforces rule breaking, which ultimately can change the outcome.  Video games are built around a strict set of boundaries that logically allow certain types of play.  Because the game is not physical in nature, it is possible to control all aspects of a game.  If the programmers and designers of a video game do not want to encourage or even allow certain kinds of behavior, they change the game.  This is not a criticism of video games, because it is only a lack of environmental control that prevents sports from doing the same. 

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Drawing the Line

I agree with critics who argue that a competitive video game cannot currently be considered a sport.  Nor am I proposing that we broaden the definition of sport to include video games. There might always be a barrier between physical sports and competitive video games, however, I think it is cultural perceptions that places video games in one bucket and sports in another.  There are many similarities between competitive video games and sports. While some critics might be unwilling to move beyond defining sports as a physical game, I think there are more important distinctions between competitive video games and sports that have nothing to do with physicality.

The heightened popularity competitive video games have received is no accident.  Sports are the culmination of how to grow and maintain a fan base. Sporting event companies have decades, if not hundreds, of years of experience marketing competitive games to a dedicated fan base.  We can see how competitive video games have latched on to the tactics traditional sports use to keep people engaged.

Competitive video games may never be an Olympic event, but be prepared for a new subculture that mirrors the sports business model exactly.