Side Quests: Interesting vs. Boring

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Dragon Age II and Kingdom Hearts.

 

Anyone who has played any sort of mission/quest based game is familiar with side quests.  They’re those pesky optional quests that the player can choose to complete or not.  Some are simple, such as delivering a package to the NPC in the next town.  Some are challenging, like cave diving for a treasure.  Then there’s also the invariably hard and cruel ones that have you defeat some optional boss that takes every ounce of your being to defeat.  In either case, side quests come in a variety of flavors and vastly help to buffer the gameplay time.

However, not all side quests were created equal.  In fact, some can be outright snore fests.  Take, for instance, pretty much any optional quest in an MMORPG.  In general, these fall into one of a few categories: kill a certain number of creatures, collect certain ingredients/items, or deliver something to an NPC.  MMORPGs are very formulaic when it comes to this matter.  While these side quests do earn you experience points (exp) and virtual money, they have little else to offer the player.  They are, essentially, what makes a lot of MMORPGs grind-fests as it were.  Single player games can often be guilty of the same thing, especially for the RPG genre in general.

That being said, it is quite possible to make interesting side quests.  There are a variety of routes to go with this, but let’s examine three types of side quests that can actually be interesting.  These are namely side quests that add to the story, side quests that offer worthwhile loot, and side quests that offer an enormous challenge to test the player’s skill.  As a last note before we begin, for the purposes of this article we are defining side quests as any sort of optional task or fight that can be completed.

In regards to the first one, and personally my favorite, are the side quests that add to the story.  To example this, let us examine Dragon Age II.  Quests in this game are divided into several categories, namely “Main Plot,” “Secondary,” “Side Quests,” and “Companion.”  Despite the titles, the latter three can all be considered side quests for our purposes, since no quest in them absolutely needs to be done.  “Side Quests” in Dragon Age II offer the generic set of fetch quests, though they are useful for gold in Act 1 of the game.  However, “Secondary” and “Companion” quests are more than that; rather, they are sequences that add to the story.  For example, each party character has a personal story arc, such as Isabela’s attempts to find a relic she lost at the beginning of the game.  At the end of Act 2 when tensions are hitting their climax, the player receives the option to do a personal quest for her to retrieve the relic.  During this quest, the player learns that this so-called relic is the sacred Tome of Koslun, the entire cause for why the Qunari are in Kirkwall causing trouble.  Whether or not the player does this quest largely influences the main quest.  If the player chose to help Isabela and has a strong relationship with her, she will return with the tome, giving the player a different way to solve the main questline.  If not, the player is stuck with only two real options, both which involve a difficult fight.

As you can see in this example, the side quest can vastly affect the outcome in the story.  That being the case, the side quest becomes worthwhile, whether you do it or not in this case.  Particularly for story heavy RPGs, any quest that can tie into the story, even it’s just about developing the player’s relationship with a character, can increase their emotional involvement in the story.  This makes the game far more compelling to play, even to the point that sometimes you can overlook poorly implemented mechanics to continue the story.  Thus, the quest is interesting, because it can have tangible effects and doesn’t just fade into memory.

Another sort of interesting side quest is one that has worthwhile loot.  In this case, we will look again at Dragon Age II.  During Act 3, the player has the option to slay a High Dragon.  Though I wouldn’t personally say it’s the most difficult fight in the game, it is one that is a challenge and requires quite a bit of micro-managing to succeed.  However, what makes this fight worthwhile to do is that the dragon drops one of the main components for the “Mantle of the Champion” armor set.  Not only is this set extremely good as far as stats, but it’s also probably the most badass looking armor in the game.  Frankly, I could not imagine completing the end game without wearing that armor.  It would just feel too odd and make the end game even more difficult.

Regardless, it is the loot in this example that offers the interesting facet.  In more boring side quests, though the player may get money or loot, it is generally not anything game changing.  In this example, however, the game adds value to the player’s time spent doing the quest.  The rewards, despite the pains in doing the battle, are worthwhile and give the player a greater edge during the last parts of the game.  In that case, then, though the quest itself is straight-forward, the reward creates a side quest that is compelling for the player to complete.

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Lastly, let us discuss the final type: side quests that offer the player a challenge for their skills.  In this case, I’m going to switch series and look at something more classic.  Namely, we’re going to examine the optional boss fight with Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts.  For those not familiar with this fight, let me start off by saying the following: Sephiroth can one-shot you right at the start of the battle.  This fact alone should give you a hint at how hard this boss fight is.  Not only are Sephiroth’s attacks powerful, but his long sword gives him an immense range.  Even if you spend the hours it takes to create the best Keyblade, the fight is still extremely difficult.  One must have honed their skills and strategy in the game for several hours to even dream of taking Sephiroth on, and even then the fight would still be a challenge.

However, that is what makes that “quest” interesting.  The difficulty of the battle is like nothing else offered in the game.  It taxes the player’s time, skills, and reflexes and may even require training to complete.  The consequence, though, is that being able to defeat Sephiroth offers a sense of pride that other fights do not.  The player knows that it is because of their skill that they were able to beat this boss, so they can take satisfaction in that.  In a sense, what makes this type of side quest compelling is the potential bragging rights.  By doing this quest, you join a special club of people (metaphorically) who were actually able to complete it.  All in all, it is these factors that make the optional quest captivating to complete, despite the huge spike in difficulty.

In summary, there are a variety of ways you can make a side quest interesting.  Whether it’s by story, loot, or challenge, each of the mentioned examples above adds value to the player’s time.  In a sense, these quests feel like they have purpose in the game, more than just making the player feel like the game is longer than it is.  They offer compelling experiences that serve to immerse players more, rather than remind them that they are playing a game.  Though fetch quests and other similar low maintenance side quests have their place, one must not forget these should not be the sole form of optional quests.  Players are devoting their time to the game, so one should respect that time given.  Though no simple task design wise to be sure, it is something I hope aspiring developers will consider when developing their games.

 

Dragon Age II is © to Bioware, Electronic Arts, and all affiliated parties.

Kingdom Hearts is © Square Enix, Disney Interactive Studios, and all affiliated parties.

Image: Dragon Age II screenshot of the High Dragon.  Obtained from the Dragon Age Wiki.

Quick Tips for Business E-mails

While e-mailing your friends is easy enough, it’s often a whole other ballpark to e-mail a business or similar professional entity.  Is this too formal?  Will they care I didn’t capitalize this word?  What else should I do?  These are just some of the questions that may pop into your head as you try to conquer your nervousness.  As someone who deals with a lot of professional e-mails in an indie setting, though, there are a lot of common mistakes that get made that I feel the average person doesn’t quite consider.  That being the case, I wanted to impart my wisdom in these four quick tips that will help you compose a better e-mail.

Before I begin, please keep in mind this post will not cover formatting.  This is something that can easily be found in a plethora of other articles should you care to look.  It is also an aspect I feel is less important, since differing e-mail clients will change the format anyway.  With that out of the way, here are my quick tips to writing better business e-mails~!

 

  1. Say something; never leave your body blank

Though I expect some skeptical eyebrow raising from some, let me assay your worries: this does happen.  It’s not common, for sure, but it happens.  Especially in an environment where people will be sending you attached files, some e-mails just arrive with nothing to say.  Let me tell you, this is highly inadvisable.  It gives a bad impression to the receiving party when you say nothing.  Additionally, it makes it easier for them to not notice your attachments, since it blurs the line about what the e-mail is regarding.  So, even if it’s just a file exchange, always write something.  Even if you have to write something generic like, “Below I’ve attached the requested files for Project Name,” that is infinitely better than just sending a blank e-mail.  Remember, this is a business exchange.  You don’t need to write them an essay about this simple exchange, but you should properly state the obvious anyway to keep the line of communication clear.

 

  1. Don’t say too much; the receiving party doesn’t want your life story

Now this one is far more common than the former point.  Some e-mails are just flat out intimidating walls of text.  As a person, I can empathize; I, too, ramble a bit when I’m nervous.  That being said, the glorious thing about writing is that you can edit it down.  Trust me, if you have a huge paragraph, you may want to consider this.

Business e-mails should contain ONLY the necessary information that the receiving party requires.  If the receiving party requested certain files, don’t write an essay about your hard search for them or how your day is going.  Write a proper greeting, mention you included the files, and conclude the e-mail.  That is all that should be in the body.  Did the receiving party request the body to contain a short biography?  Write a proper greeting, mention the biography is below, write the biography, and conclude the e-mail.  Do you see the pattern?  Being concise is key for business e-mails.

There are certainly those who are asking what necessary information versus unneeded information is.  Unfortunately, there is no one catch all guideline for that.  For example, if in a certain file you had to redact something because of privacy agreements, that may be something worth mentioning in the e-mail.  However, perhaps the part you redacted was small and had nothing to do with the core parts the receiving party needs.  In that case, it may be irrelevant to mention.  There are a myriad of circumstances, so what is needed is a case-by-case thing.  My rule of thumb for this, though, is less is better.  Unless the receiving party specifically requested it, it’s probably better to not include.

For those wondering, the reason you want to be concise, is that the receiving party probably doesn’t have time.  It’s great you want to share your life story to everyone, but for business purposes it’s not really the place.  In fact, including too much information is liable to anger the receiving party more than it makes them like you.  The more you make the receiving party have to sift to find relevant information, the more likely they will not want to work with you.  So please, for your sake, keep your e-mails to the point.

 

  1. Write a clear subject line.

This is one you may find in articles about formatting, but I’m going to include it here because it is a frequent problem.  Always be sure to make your subject line as clear as possible.  In some cases, the receiving party will actually indicate what subject line they would like for the e-mail (i.e. your submitting content for a group project).  The best practice is to always use that subject line verbatim in those cases.  Don’t switch words around, don’t add cheeky emotes, or anything else.  Use that subject line exactly because it will make the receiving party that much happier.  For those times where the receiving party doesn’t specify a subject line, pick something that is a clear indicator of what the e-mail is concerning.  Is your e-mail a question about payment?  The subject line should probably be something like, “Payment Question – Project Name.”  Is the e-mail a submission of sorts to some project?  Perhaps include a subject line like, “Project Name– Submission.”  The key with subject lines is to be clear but concise.  I know that’s easier said than done in some cases, but with practice it’s something that can come naturally.  It will help you out too, in the long run, since you’ll be able to go through your “sent” folder and clearly identify which each e-mail was about.  Using a clear subject line leaves a better impression, so it’s good to endeavor to do.

 

  1. Read any instructions carefully

My last tip is one that I feel is most important of all: have stellar reading comprehension.  As a receiving party, there is nothing more infuriating than getting an e-mail that shows the sender didn’t read anything.  It gives the receiving party not only a bad impression of your work ethic, but also your ability to follow instruction in some cases.

Thus, I cannot stress enough how much writing a good business e-mail is equally about reading.  If you’re, for example, submitting content for a project, read all the project instructions and follow them to the letter.  Yes, some of those instructions can be a huge wall of text, but they are there for a reason.  Trust me, the receiving party did not write those instructions for fun.  Being able to follow the instructions not only makes the receiving party’s life easier, but gives them a much better first impression of you.

It is equally important, however, to pay attention to any e-mails you receive from a business/professional entity, etc..  The business, if run well at least, will be following these tips.  In other words, their e-mails, even if they’re long, will endeavor to only include the necessary information.  It is essential you read these e-mails top to bottom, sometimes twice, to make sure you don’t miss anything.  Sadly, as a frequent receiving party, I get many replies that ask questions that were blatantly answered in the e-mail I had just sent previously.  This is why it is important to make sure you understand an e-mail before replying to it.  It will, again, give a bad impression if you’re demonstrating you can’t be bothered to read.

That being said, if you have read everything, it’s perfectly okay to ask for clarification.  The receiving party is usually more than happy to answer reasonable questions that haven’t been addressed already.  It’s also fine to ask for clarification.  This is not quite the same as asking a question.  Rather, if the business answered the question, but you didn’t quite understand something about it, it’s fine to request clarification; just admit you didn’t understand it.  The receiving party will not think less of you; rather, they’re probably grateful you asked instead of wasting their time with confusion.

In summary, please read available information concerning the receiving party.  Tl;dr is not an excuse in a professional setting.

 

Although I could list infinitely more tips, these are ones I feel are overlooked key points that one should consider for any business e-mail.  As harsh as I’m sure some of these tips sound, remember that business communication is, in a sense, a collaboration.  Just as your time is valuable, so is the receiving party’s time.  It is best to endeavor to not waste it.  Simplicity can save everyone from long e-mail chains, and aid in everyone getting what they want.

 

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Image: By naobim on Pixabay

Comics and Diversifying Your Platforms

“Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”

This is a common saying that gets passed around, but I think too few people actually stop to think about what this concept means.  Particularly for indie creators, whether they’re creating games, comics, or otherwise, there seems to be a general trust that goes towards third party businesses as far as making your content available.  Unfortunately, the risk for betrayal is somewhat high and may catch the more naïve off-guard.  Today, I would like to analyze this statement a bit, particularly as it pertains to comics.  Why comics?  Well, I will tell you why.

For those not heavily part of the indie comic scene, Tapas (formerly branded as Tapastic) is one of the most popular hosting sites available right now.  It offers content creators an easy to use platform to post their works, receive feedback, and generally do all the things one would expect a host to be able to do.  Over the past year or so, Tapas has changed focus to their mobile app and its premium content.  In the last few days, Tapas went a step further and redesigned their site.  Their initial choices in the design were to push the premium related content to the top of the page, and forcing the entirely free content to the bottom.  While criticism and feedback have since prompted them to change this, I think it is important one stops to think about this.

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First off, at the end of the day, one must remember Tapas is a business whose goal is one thing: to make money.  As such, it is hard to fault them for wanting to push their premium content.  After all, even if they were a non-profit business, employees, servers, and the like all cost money to maintain.  One also cannot fault the premium content creators either, as they are putting their heart and souls into their projects just as much as any other indie creator.

However, when one considers this in the larger picture, it becomes clear Tapas is pushing an antithesis of what the comic community generally wants: more visibility for indie creators.  Instead of promoting a wide variety of comics, the promotion goes to the most successful and who will make the company money.  Again, while no crime, for the average creator this probably defeats the purpose of why they joined the site.

This is not to mention that, while possibly unintentional on Tapas’ part, their wording choices for how they now view creators is a bit telling of their future business model.  In a post from April 17th, 2017 regarding their updated terms and policies, Tapas said the following:

“Many of the terms introduced along with the Tapas app concern purchases and content we’ve published, versus the self-published, user-generated content we previously focused on almost exclusively. Self-publishing and UGC are not going away, and we remain dedicated to supporting independent creators – we’re simply expanding to offer more professional titles as well.”

In this statement, Tapas makes a clear distinction between self-published creators and “professional” creators; in other words, creators who don’t make them money and creators who do.  This, combined with their initial choices for the redesign, clearly demonstrates that Tapas not only wishes to offer more “professional” titles, but probably promote it imminently more than the “self-published” creators too.  Though certainly a sound business decision, this does leave a lot of indie creators at an impasse.

Thus, let us turn back to the original idea: not putting all your eggs in one basket.  For those who have been using Tapas as their main and only site for their comic, this change suddenly threatens their presence and ability to gain an audience.  Though they may work just as hard as premium content creators, there is a large chance that their work will get buried by these creators simply because of how the business will choose to market.  In the end, this makes it harder for newer creators to even get their foot in the door, let alone have hopes of becoming well-known at some point.

Consequently and in retrospect, diversifying where and how you deliver your content as a creator is extremely important.  For comics, there are numerous other hosting choices such as LINE Webtoon or Smackjeeves, where a creator can try to gain footing.  There is also the option of hosting the comic on your own website, whether it be professionally designed or an impromptu hosting site using blog rolls.  There a ton of options for creators, and there is no real one right choice.  What is important, though, is that you make your comic available in more than one location.  In this way, you will always be protected when a company makes business decisions that aren’t beneficial to your content.  Yes, it is admittedly a lot of work to manage multiple mirrors.  However, the safety net it provides is one that will save stress later, such as in this recent incident with Tapas.

This, of course, applies to other creative mediums as well.  In your love and passion for your content, always remember that it is partially a business.  It is almost always a wiser decision to diversify yourself to protect from an unknown future, and it isn’t a crime to remember using a third party shouldn’t be only beneficial to the third party.  So please post in lots of places and try numerous different things.  One day those third parties you rely on may not be there, and you will have to deal with that future.

 

Tapas/Tapastic is © to Tapas Media, Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From Tapas’ front page showcasing the premium content rolls.

Another Argument for Mechanic Transparency: Dragon Age II Edition

Warning: Semi spoilers ahead for Dragon Age II.

 

Enemy waves are no new concept to video games.  They have been around for years and will probably remain for as long as they offer value to players.  While from my experience their existence can be a bit polarizing, it’s hard to discount them completely given the numerous amounts of players that like the challenge.  That being said, there are cases in which its execution is flawed at best.  One such instance that I wish to discuss today appears in Dragon Age II, where a lack of transparency makes the experience somewhat infuriating.

Before I delve into the brief discussion, let’s first define what I mean by waves of enemies.  In this case, I am talking about games that have their enemies appear in large groups or “waves.”  Regardless of whether the initial wave is visible at the start, enemies will continue to show up in a group at specified intervals.  These intervals can be dependent on time, amount of enemies left, or other factors, as long as a clear, identifiable separator between groups can be determined with observation.  The size of the groups is also irrelevant for the sake of this discussion; all that matters is the game’s enemy mechanics are based on several groups/waves of enemies showing up before full completion of a combat sequence (whether for a temporary sequence or the entire game).

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With that established, let us turn to Dragon Age II.  Unlike its predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins, where most of the combat has all enemies on the screen, Dragon Age II relies on waves of enemies to save on processing power amongst other things.  The various waves show up usually dependent on health and amount of enemies left on screen.  While in some cases the player can escape and get out of the combat sequence (though generally this requires a lot of stubbornness to achieve), in most cases the player is stuck in the combat sequence until all waves are defeated.

Of course, this sounds fairly standard for a “waves of enemies” mechanic, so at what point do I think the game went astray?  As I stated, this has a lot to do with a lack of transparency.  In a lot of games, when it implements waves of enemies, it will have information on the screen for the player.  Generally, this is information such as number of waves that the player will have to face, number of enemies the player has to defeat, or a combination of both.  In either case, these sorts of games make it clear to the player how long they will be fighting.  As such, the player can strategize appropriately.  Especially in games where inventory may be limited, this allows players to choose appropriate moments to use items, or to know when their best opportunity to prepare a trap is.  There are numerous instances where such information can be handy, and for players it makes the experience more satisfying.  Additionally, if a player fails, they know better at what point, and can appropriately adjust their strategy for the next try.  In the end, this results in a more fulfilling experience, since the game is delivering enough information to allow the players to apply their skills appropriately.

Unfortunately, Dragon Age II does not feature this simple information.  Rather, the player is left in a void of uncertainty on how many waves they will face.  While some can be guessed because of certain questlines having consistency, more often than not the player will have to have played the game before to know.  This makes good strategizing near impossible, sadly.  You could be struggling to save a mana potion, only to find out you were on the last wave and could’ve ended the fight quicker if you had taken it.  Another scenario: you went through most of your health potions, used the last one thinking you’re at the end, only to discover there are two more waves.  Numerous situations like this come about, all because the game chooses not to inform the player more clearly about what situations they will be facing.  While some would argue that this makes it so players have to be prepared, there is a point where preparation and strategy must work in conjunction.  Unfortunately, Dragon Age II’s transparency issue makes it so the preparation and strategy are not able to work together.

This lack of transparency results in one simple thing: the combat becomes tedious and somewhat unenjoyable.  The end goal is fairly undefined outside of kill everyone and don’t die.  By consequence, once the player wins there is almost of a sense of anti-climax, since there was no way to identify that would be the end point.  In similar fashion, when the player fails, they feel less like it was their fault; the game feels like it is unfairly throwing enemy after enemy at you, so it was more the fault of a badly designed game than the skill of the player.  Whether that is true or not, players who come away from combat feeling that will not be inspired to continue playing the game.  In the end, a lot of fun is ruined in Dragon Age II, simply from choosing not to be transparent about its game mechanics.

While I do like Dragon Age II just fine, I can identify its combat has this fairly noticeable flaw.  Though many others would point out the terrible, over-used level designs, I think the very nature of its combat exasperates that problem as well.  Had the developers chosen to be clearer about the enemies faced, whether it be by wave number, enemy number, or something else, the game may have had a more robust feeling combat that was skill based.  As it stands, though, the experience can be frustrating.

Overall, I hope this analysis serves as a cautionary tale to indie developers.  Even if the information seems minuscule, sometimes it is better to mention than not mention a piece of information, lest you wind up damaging the player’s experience by leaving out too much.

 

Dragon Age II is © to Bioware, Electronic Arts, and all affiliated parties.

Image: Dragon Age II promotional game screen.  Obtained from PC Gamer.

Why Coraline is a Terrible Protagonist

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Coraline.

 

Recently, I decided to watch Coraline for the first time.  Considering I’m some eight years late, you may be able to guess that I am not particularly the type of person who watches movies often.  This is due to the fact that I am pretty picky with movies.  I’m in no way an expert on them, of course, and I’ve liked plenty of “bad” movies.  However, 90% of movies I watch don’t really do anything for me.  Sadly, this movie was no exception.  That being said, I know this is a pretty beloved movie, so please understand what I’m about to say is just my opinion.  If you love the movie, that’s fantastic, and I hope you’ll continue to support it.  For me, however, the movie had many flaws, the primary flaw being the protagonist herself.  So, without further ado, let’s jump into my analysis of why Coraline is a terribly written protagonist.

Before I delve into that, let me just state the movie does have good points.  The visuals were fantastic, especially given the medium the movie was created in.  I can also appreciate its production value, since getting a lot of the subtle parts of the animation would’ve taken great pains and a keen eye.  I also have no doubts in the creativity of the world and have seen plenty of people have lengthy theory videos on aspects of the movie.  So in this department, the movie is fantastic.

However, where the movie falls apart for me is the story.  In particular, I found Coraline to be a terrible protagonist.

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First, one must understand what composes a good protagonist.  In my opinion, a good protagonist is, in general, likeable.  They are someone the reader can connect with on an emotional level, making the emotional moments of scenes more impactful.  While the protagonist can be a hero, anti-hero, or villain, they always possess certain positive traits.  This can be anywhere from being a good person who gives to others, to a villain who in their evilness has charm and passion for whatever their cause may be.  Of course, said protagonist must also have flaws, such as having a mean streak, being clumsy, etc..  Yet, to have a truly good protagonist, these positive traits and negative traits must be held in a balance, cause too much of either one tips the scale in a bad direction.

Unfortunately, Coraline fails this definition from the get-go.  In other words, she is an extremely unlikeable character, mostly due to the fact she has far more negative traits than positive.

Throughout the movie, Coraline is, frankly, just a brat.  She gets upset about her parents having to work and do other tasks right after moving into a new home.  She gets upset she didn’t get the gloves she wanted, because her parents needed to get her school clothes.  She gets upset with her weird neighbor, Wybourne, at the flip of a dime.  I could go on and on, but at the end, Coraline is not the nicest person to put it lightly.  Now, of course, it is in the spirit of children to be brats on occasion.  However, unlike other kids who have brief moments of sweetness, Coraline does not receive this until the last few minutes of the movie (which is an issue I’ll go into a moment).

At this point, I can hear the angry typing of fans that are going, “But she’s a brat, because her parents are so neglectful!”  There is a huge problem in how this is presented however.  Had the movie begun focused on the family and established at the start they were neglectful, then yes, that would’ve been a more compelling argument.  The movie doesn’t particularly focus on that at the start.  Rather, the focus is on Coraline and her eventual encounter with Wybourne, whom she is fairly verbally abusive towards even in excess for his weirdness.  Since it is Coraline’s brat-like nature that is better established first, her parents’ subsequent neglect winds up feeling more sympathetic.  It is no longer the situation of a girl not receiving her parent’s attention and thus acts out to get it; it is the situation of a brat who demands her parent’s attention 24/7, when her parents are trying to work and provide for her.  In the end, while the parents do have issues, Coraline’s personality is presented as a separate entity from that.  This disassociation makes the neglect feel irrelevant, since for all intents and purposes it seems like Coraline would be a brat without it.

Of a last mention to put a nail in the coffin, Coraline’s positive trait is ruined at the end by her brat nature once again.  Towards the end of the movie, as Coraline faces off against The Beldam, we start to see hope for the character.  She is displaying a lot of courage to save her family, and her character might be redeemed through the act.  However, let’s examine how she eventually escapes The Beldam.  Throughout the movie Coraline has the help of the Cat, whom even at the end voluntarily saved her from doom by retrieving one of the ghost children’s souls for her.  How does Coraline repay this act?  She throws the Cat at The Beldam’s face, risking the Cats life.  Of course, Coraline, as a typical badly written protagonist, receives no consequences for this.  A quick apology to the Cat later solves all her problems.  At the end, no matter how much courage she had, this moment vastly colors her actions with selfishness.  All that mattered to Coraline was escaping with those she set out to save, with little regard to those she hurts on the way.  Thus, at the end when Coraline acts sweeter to her eccentric neighbors, the moment doesn’t feel earned at all.  Rather, it feels like a shallow, forced façade to cover the fact that Coraline is still, at the heart, a selfish brat.

In summary, Coraline is a terrible protagonist because she has nothing but negative traits.  She’s selfish, unkind, bratty, and is only courageous to get the things she wants.  The only time she acts sweet is after she receives the things she wants, and her problems are often solved by quick, shallow apologies.  In the end, not only does this vastly ruin the message of the film about appreciating what you already have, but it also makes the story an unenjoyable experience.  The eccentric neighbors, the weight of the conflicts, and everything about it is lost because there is no desire to see this character succeed.  It’s also hard to empathize with Coraline’s emotions on any level either, ruining each scene’s impact.

Though the story has plenty of other problems in it (like the other characters being flat in general), Coraline is by far my least favorite part about it.  The movie has its merits, but I do not think this is one of them.  If you like Coraline as a protagonist and could connect with her, then there’s nothing wrong with that.  Keep in mind, also, that I can only evaluate the movie.  I’ve never read the book it was based off of, so I cannot speak for how she was written in it.

Regardless, my feelings about the movie still stand.  I hope my analysis has taught something about the dangers of writing a kid too bratty and how some people react to that.  It is a risky route to take, and I wish this movie had made many different choices.  So, whether you liked the movie or not, I feel it’s something to consider if the movie inspired you to create stories.

 

Coraline is © to Henry Selick, Laika Pandemonium, Focus Features, and all other affiliated parties.

Image 1: Cover image for one of the DVDs.

No Post This Week

Hey everyone.  There won’t be a post this week.  I’m very sorry to miss the update day.  Sadly, one of my cats passed away this evening so I’m just not in an emotional fit state to update the blog this week.

Posting should resume normally next week.  Thank you in advance for understanding during this time of grief. 😥

Minimalism vs. Transparency in GUIs

First and foremost, let me make something very clear: I’m pretty critical of graphical user-interfaces (GUIs).  There’s a fine line for me between having an aesthetically pleasing interface, and having an interface that is functional.  In all honesty, this can make or break whether I want to even use a program, since GUIs are the main way users interact with a program’s functions.  Unfortunately, I find more often than not programs and/or games prioritize one or the other instead of achieving a balance.  While this presents a whole slew of issues for software, it is for games where I begin to actively notice it.

From my experience, modern games have begun to favor a rather minimalist approach to games.  Aesthetically, these are usually very pleasing to the eye; not only are they sleek, but they generally offer a maximized view of the main game screen.  Sadly, though, their presence usually comes at the cost of transparency.  By transparency, I mean how clear the game delivers information about its mechanics.  Rather than plain numbers, a game can choose to display that information in a number of ways, such as the red bar commonly seen for HP.  Unfortunately, the use of such graphical cues begins to make the math behind the mechanics hazier.  In turn, it makes it more difficult for a player to strategize, whether it be because they can’t tell which attack is stronger or because they don’t understand how resources are being allocated.

To demonstrate this, let us turn to a survival game I’ve spoken of before: Subnautica.

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In the screenshot above, you can see the interface as it’s been for quite some time.  Of note, I want to focus on the bottom left.  Here we see information displayed about four essential survival components in Subnautica: Oxygen, Health, Food, and Water.  It is through these bars and numbers that one keeps track of the state of their character.  Food and Water slowly decay over time, indicating the need to eat or drink.  Oxygen decays while underwater, and health varies depending on injury, food level, and other factors.  In summary, these bars are extremely important in determining how “well” you are surviving.  Thankfully, while the GUI has some graphical value to it, the numbers also help indicate how nutritious or not a food is.  This is extremely useful for resource management and determining when exactly you should eat.

At current, due to decisions in development, the team is now working on a new interface design.  This design, pictured below, adheres more to the minimalist aesthetic that modern games prefer.

newsubnauticadesign

Arguably, this new interface is far more pleasing to the eye and fits with the general aesthetic style of the game.  That being said, one thing is clearly obvious: Food, Health, and Water no longer have number values visible.  While, of course, there are bars there to indicate the various values of each, the lack of numbers suddenly erases some of the certainty on how effective every resource is.  Does this fruit heal 50% of Food or is it less?  What about this water?  Unfortunately, in a survival game, being able to process this sort of information is important.  Resources in survival games tend to be limited, so suddenly taking away one of the information cues makes resource management all the more difficult.

Although I wish I could say Subnautica was the only game to ever do this, this is sadly not the case.  There are rather a slew of modern games that choose to take away information in favor of aesthetics.  As someone who appreciates and writes about art quite often, I can understand why they would make this choice.  However, as someone who also understands the value of clear information, it is disheartening.  Not only is the trend set to confuse players who prefer to play a game as efficiently as possible, it can make games potentially frustrating when trying to understand how something works.  Understanding the mechanics is a key component to being able to play a game.  Interacting with the mechanics is something one can only do through the GUI, and if the GUI is not clear, the mechanics become unclear.  Inevitably, you can see how this suddenly becomes detrimental to the experience.

All that being said, my purpose in this article is merely to point out a troubling trend.  If you are an aspiring developer, please keep in mind beautiful GUIs should not be the final stopping point.  Rather, one should aim for the ideal of having both information and aesthetics.  GUIs should look nice, but should also enhance the game rather than be an unclear information pit.  While this is by no means an easy feat to achieve, it is the goal that will leave users of a wide variety happy and able to play the game.

 

Subnautica is © to Unknown Worlds all affiliated parties.

Image 1: Screenshot from Subnautica during one of my playthroughs.

Image 2: Screenshot from the Subnautica Trello board.