Persona 4 - Header

Persona 4 Deep Dive #1: Sexy Loops

This is the first of a series of articles in which I take an in-depth look at ATLUS’ Persona 4, most recently released with the suffix ‘Golden’ on Playstation Vita. Each article will examine a different aspect of what I think makes this game successful, and while I won’t be spoiling any storyline elements, I will be discussing characters, themes and mechanics that might not be introduced until part-way through the game, so if you want to come at Persona 4 completely fresh, you’ve been warned. This first article looks specifically at gameplay structure.

Persona 4 is a game with very sexy loops. Some of the sexiest loops I’ve seen in a game for a long time, in fact. But let’s backtrack a bit. Almost all games consist of an interlocking network of gameplay feedback loops. The player does thing A, which has an effect on thing B, which either increases the player’s ability to do thing A or encourages them to repeat thing A with promise of a greater reward.

In an online match of Call of Duty, the player shoots another player, which increases their score, which indicates their overall ranking in the match, which encourages them to keep shooting players to emerge on top.

In your typical Japanese roleplaying game, of which Persona 4 is a sterling example, the player defeats monsters to acquire experience points, which accumulate to make them level up and become stronger, which allows them to defeat tougher monster and accrue greater numbers of experience points.

In a well-designed game all the various loops should complement one another, combining to create a cohesive whole that sucks the player deeper into the game world. Ideally every action the player can take should have a bearing on every other action the player can choose to take over the course of the game; a good game should make every possible action feel useful.

That’s what I mean by sexy loops; mechanical and narrative loops that mesh well together to create a cohesive experience. And Persona 4, as I’ve said, has some very sexy loops indeed. Continue reading

This Is Videogames

This Is Videogames

Norman had been young in the days before the Ethics Board had been established; not so young that he hadn’t felt angry at the way things were, but too young to really understand exactly what it was he should be angry about. Now, years later, a Board-approved games journalist, he understood, and he was still shocked today at how close they’d come. How close they had come to killing the games industry.

These days it seems pointless to write about the GamerGate hashtag or the points of view behind it; anything worthwhile to say on the matter has been said, and put more eloquently than I could manage, by intelligent people across the internet. I’ve already made it reasonably clear what I think about the ongoing diversity/censorship/criticism debate, so I don’t feel the need to write any more articles about it.

What I do feel the need to do, apparently, is write satirical short stories about it, so here is one of those. It’s set in a post-GamerGate world where the ‘Gaters’ have won; games journalism is regulated, journalists are held accountable for their personal and professional relationships, and the Ethics Board oversees the entire games industry.

This isn’t just a hobby any more. It’s not just a job, either. This is serious. This is videogames. Read it here.


A Numbers Game

Humans like it when numbers go up. When you really think about it, most of what we do is based around making numbers go up. Our economies are based on expansion – numbers going up is good times, numbers staying level is stagnation, and numbers going down is recession. Recession is bad – I think most of us have learnt that by now. The numbers must go up.

At the time of writing it’s early January, which means we’re still recovering from New Year’s celebrations, the time of year where we all get together to celebrate a number going up. Now we’re mostly back at work, the place we go to make sure the numbers in our bank accounts keep going up (or, as is unfortunately too often the case, just to stop them going down.)

A love of numbers going up is built into our genes. We’re biologically programmed to reproduce, to expand, to increase the number of people related to us in the world – perhaps that’s why we’re so obsessed with the idea of numbers going up in our entertainment as well. Continue reading


Considering Medium Strengths

When you write for a range of media you begin to realise that some things are easier to achieve in one medium than in others. A novelist can describe things in paragraph that would take hundreds of man hours to render in a film, and films can tell stories with a quirk of an actor’s eyebrow that would required a day in an expensive motion capture studio to achieve in a videogame.

Artists and writers in any medium want their works to be relatable. That’s probably pretty obvious, but what might not be obvious is that a creator cannot use the same techniques across all media to achieve this.

I’m primarily a novelist (look, here’s proof!) but I’ve also written scripts for the screen, designed videogames and, in a particularly enlightening experience, adapted a novel for film. You know how so many book-to-film adaptations end up being awful? Yeah, turns out there’s a reason for that.

Books and films are very different beasts, and while it might seem that all you’d really have to do is make the stuff that happens in the book show up on the screen, the process isn’t nearly that simple. There’s an economy of assets to consider. It’s certainly not the only thing that makes book-to-film adaptions hard to get right, but it’s what I want to discuss today, because it’s also applicable to games. Continue reading

Ciutadella canyon copy

Times and Places – Childhood, Videogames & You

When was the first time you can remember playing a videogame? My first gaming memory comes courtesy of Virgin Atlantic; I was on a flight from London to New York, and there was a SNES built into the back of the seat in front (more specifically, it was a Nintendo Gateway System). I think I managed to play Super Mario World for the entire of the 8-hour flight, and I don’t think I managed to beat the first level. I was 7 years old.

I remember my childhood in fragments; snatches of times and places arranged into a haphazard narrative of things I did when I was little. I’m not sure if I remember more or less of my childhood than most people; I have friends who remember their early years with storybook accuracy and others who remember next to nothing, so my patchy recollections are probably about average.

What I know for sure is that the memories that are most vivid for me are the ones that involved strong emotions. Lots of things trigger strong emotions when you’re a child. Getting an awesome Bugs Bunny cake when I was maybe three, then being distraught to see it cut up into chunks. Playing a particularly great tag/swordfighting hybrid with friends in some nondescript play park. Getting so impatient with my mum not paying attention to me that I bit her hand, hard, and immediately feeling overwhelming remorse.

Media triggers strong emotions when you’re a child. I vividly remember the room at my grandparents’ house where I sequestered myself and finished Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass for the first time. I can remember the exact smell of the room as I put the book down and spent the next ten minutes just trying to digest what I was feeling.

Videogames feature heavily in my memories of childhood. Perhaps it’s something in the interactivity of the medium that let me get more invested in my childhood games than in books or films. When I was really young I would conscript videogame stories and elements into my real-life play; in that way my game life and my real life became intertwined. Continue reading