A new Animal Crossing: first steps

Being one of the many previous players of Animal Crossing games, it’s been a distracting autumn following the rumours, news, and then releases of the new iteration: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp (ACPC). I’ve been playing it on my Amazon Tablet – a decent sized screen – every day since the non-Australian launch nearly a week ago and, with one significant caveat, have hugely enjoyed it. Initially there were high hopes of carefully proceeding, making academic-quality notes along the way through a diligent exploration of all aspects of the environment. However, this went out of the window within about 30 seconds as I was enticed, with glee, to metaphorically run around the world and remember a place that was – is – new and yet so reassuringly familiar.

It looks like Animal Crossing. The colours are vivid and bright. The sounds are familiar from previous games. Run across different surfaces – sand, wooden boards, autumn leaves, and they change. And footsteps are sometimes left behind, quickly fading away. The background music is pleasant, and it’s one of the few games where there isn’t a rapid urge to find the menu option to mute this quickly and permanently.

And, so far, many of the characters are familiar from previous iterations. The grumpy eagle. The administrator who is really the boss in disguise through the games. The sisters who makes and sell clothing. One of the Nook family, the most explicitly capitalist aspect of this (for Animal Crossing and Nintendo) financially and ethically complicated game; but more of that in a future post.

And the relentless positive aspects. It’s true, the animals are sometimes grumpy, or in a mood, or a strop, about something. But “they” are usually genuinely happy when you drop by, want to listen to what they say (it’s a good franchise for teaching people that listening can be both polite and rewarding in some way), and especially when you give them something they want, even if it is usually a fruit, fish or butterfly the could have easily obtained themselves. It’s that last aspect that forms part of the central progression mechanic of the game, but again more of that some future time. For now, it’s just good to enjoy something that is, well, far more enjoyable than certain aspects of social media.

The significant caveat? The overall aesthetic is jarred somewhat by small but garish rolling rectangular banner, advertising guides to get you started and ways of paying money to get shortcut items (“Special Offer!”). It disappears when you move, but when you stop for a few seconds it reappears. I loathe the constant background distraction that is this banner. While it’s understood that this is a freemium game, and in some ways is a belated experiment by Nintendo to see if or how it can recoup investment on such a free-to-play game, this banner feels very un-Nintendo like. The game contains other paths for the company to extract (real) money from players, making this an arguable over-reach.

But for now I’m just ignoring that banner as best I can and playing on, while enjoying a few of the better social media asides and putting a few screenshots on Flickr for anyone to view or use. This looks like being my winter game of choice, unless I reach a point where it is too difficult to progress without paying (real) money, in which case I’ll bail. We will see.

Five hopes for 2016

A new year is upon us, and who knows what it will bring. Global peace, or global chaos? Advances in medicine and science, or pandemics and problems?

However, this is a game research website so I’m restricting my hopes to game-related ones. Here’s five.

1. Google Scholar is still around at the end of the year. I’ve come to rely on GS a lot – though not exclusively – in recent times for picking up on game research articles and papers. Google Scholar Alerts in particular is a nifty thing for being rapidly told when a cool researchers work has appeared. While it’s not the only service of its kind – there’s also academia.edu and researchgate, as well as databases researchers inside a university can use – it’s still a pretty useful source of materials and notifications about materials. The problem is that Google has a habit of shuttering niche services (Reader was far more popular and that didn’t survive), but I’m hoping they won’t take the axe to Scholar, especially as the tiny number of GS staff – less than ten – means it costs very little to maintain. Plus, looking at own citation graph which is starting to tail off is a good nudge to publish more.

2. Let the next Zelda game be a classic. Whenever it appears. Everyone has a different view on the Legend of Zelda games franchise. I really, seriously, enjoyed Ocarina of Time on the N64, to the extent that work was neglected for two months while exploring it as much as the internal system allowed (and occasionally, progressing the main quest). Since then, other Zelda games have fallen short. I didn’t like the constant moon-crashing-into-you time pressure of Mask, and the sailing of Windwaker, though initially lovely, soon became samey. Thus, a classic Zelda game would be most welcome. With just some elements of previous ones, such as shooting arrows while riding a horse, though original enough not to be a total remake. Also, it would be nice to see it available actually in 2016. While Nintendo do the quality-perfectionist-finished-when-its-absolutely-finished development thing more than most, there are limits and many other distractions for expectant gamers.

2.1 While we’re in Nintendo territory, a new Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo 3DS, please. There’s next to no chance of getting that, and I’m not picking up any 3DS-AC vibes so am not counting on that as a hopeful hope. Alas.

3. Reasonable reporting and consideration about Virtual Reality hardware, software and systems. Especially in academia (where you would think that cooler heads would and should prevail) we’ve often seen the “Tech X will disrupt education” vs “The Tech X is dead” polarising divide which doesn’t help anyone. Social media and its tendencies to be a platform for shooting off, and amplifying, pithy soundbites, is not always a great help either; edtech is often complicated and nuanced – like it or not. There is going to be a lot of ephemera around VR for the remainder of this decade at least; too many venture capitalists and companies have sunk too many dollars into this particular tech, and they want their investment plus a bit of profit back. But, as it does, this is leading to a giddy numbers headline race while not answering the reasonable issues educators have (note you can swap out VR for another tech in these questions):

  1. How much will VR cost (that’s the total cost of everything, including time to learn, set-up and run the tech in a educational situation)?
  2. Are there relevant and independently analysed examples of VR use in education?
  3. Is there independent research showing it works in education i.e. VR gives “better” results than using other tech, or no tech at all, in comparable pedagogic scenarios?
  4. How supported and sustainable is VR tech? Will the same kit still be relevant, useful and actually usable across several academic year cycles?
  5. Can the robust and relevant pedagogic evidence for VR to date be summarised in an easy-to-read manner?

…and not uncited “Look, LOOK, at my massive bar chart!!” graphical sales guesses I mean forecasts for 2019.

4. Running on from that last hope, it would be good to see Jisc and similar organisations in other countries more fundamentally commission and update reasonable, useful, timely and evidence-based guides and reports on gaming and other technologies. Yes, there’s an element of self-interest here as I am one of those people who occasionally writes a few of these. But they are needed, especially – as in the previous point – where educators otherwise just encounter polarising arguments and grandstanding while looking for more relevant materials. In the recent case of Jisc it is pleasing to see guides gradually come back to the foreground as something open, free and useful that they provide. Having an explicit guide search option for reducing costs is also pretty useful in these times; the most feedback I received about the gamification infokit compiled last year for Jisc Digital Media concerned the low-cost options as opposed to expensive shiny systems (see 8.5 and 8.6). It would be good to see many more such guides commissioned and updated regularly, not just for games, gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality but for the wider spectrum of other technologies which educators may consider investing in and using.

5. Please: just one decent regular TV series on video games. The UK hasn’t had one since BITS and that was a very long time ago. It’s a weirdly strange thing, this almost total lack of intelligent game analysis on TV, especially as this particular medium outsells most other in the wider entertainment sector. The BBC in particular has a regular film review show, and book review and author programs, and even regular gardening programs – but no games show. It can be done on mainstream TV; Charlie Brooker hosted an excellent documentary on games not that long ago…

…but it was just a one-off, not a series or regular TV slot. So we’re back to games being pretty absent from terrestrial TV, and predominantly mentioned in the mainstream media for some negative reason, whether accurate or just blatant opportunistic bandwagon joining. Just one, weekly, fifteen minutes show that considers the wider range of digital and analog games which a large proportion of the viewing audience choose to indulge in, doesn’t seem much to ask. Or maybe it’s really too late and the audience has already gone to other places.

Anyway; that’s my wishlist. I wish all games researcher, developers and players everywhere a great year of great games, no matter what else happens.

K.K. Faire

Every now and then in Animal Crossing you get a glimpse of the depth of the game (and it is an unexpected and terrifying depth, at times) and the level of thought and attention that was invested in the design.

One of many things you can collect in New Leaf (and some of the other Animal Crossing games) is music. There are various tracks, all by K.K. Slider (a guitar-playing dog – if you aren’t familiar with Animal Crossing, just go with this). Each track fits into a distinct genre. The album sleeves in themselves are particular pocket-sized art covers. But, the music is also playable, so long as you have a record player, gramophone (tends to be a bit scratchy), jukebox or some other player.

And there are many tracks to collect and play.

One of my favorites is K.K. Faire. Here it is:

…and a different version, preferred by some (the drop-off and restart is fun):

I thought this was some kind of Appalachian or deep south or bluegrass derivative, but was wrong. This is a remastered version of a folksong called “Tancha Mebushi” from the Okinawa and Ryukyu Islands of Japan. Here’s the original:

I love that, rather than create a new and random piece of music, K.K. Faire is carefully based on a traditional song.

And someone else has come along, taken one of the Animal Crossing versions, and remixed it. A little bit new-agey, but still an interesting variation:

Also, K.K. Faire has appeared in previous iterations of Animal Crossing. Here’s a Let’s Go To The City version, which sounds a little deeper than the New Leaf version:

…and this version sounds slightly faster and clippier (I don’t have the vocabulary of a musician, sorry):

It should be noted that K.K. Slider has produced other songs for citizens (I can’t really think of them as players) to collect in the Animal Crossing games. A *lot* of other songs. Though if you aren’t familiar with the game, but are more familiar with e.g. Daft Punk, this may be your best route in…

Animal Crossing: some research

As a fan, player, observer and casual researcher, it is pleasing to see that there is a small but regular flow of research articles and papers concerning the game franchise Animal Crossing. Here are five such publications, with links to free PDF versions for each.

2015. Animal Crossing: New leaf and the Diversity of Horror in Video Games. By Ashley Brown and Björn Berg Marklund. [PDF]

2013. Game Cutification: A Violent History of Gender, Play and Cute Aesthetics. By Emily Flynn-Jones. [PDF]

2008. The Rhetoric of Video Games. By Ian Bogost. [PDF]

2007. Touching is good: an eidetic phenomenology of interface, interobjectivity, and interaction in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Wild World. By Bryan G Behrenshausen. [PDF]

2005. Constructing a Player-Centred Definition of Fun for Video Games Design. By Stephen Boyd Davis and Christina Carini. [PDF]

A trip to the hairdresser

The last few days have seen some banging and hammering above the Able Sisters’ shop and yesterday the reason why became clear: a hairdressers had opened there.

Thus, I found myself in Shampoodle, being queried by Harriet (no spoiler: Harriet is a poodle).

Getting a new hairstyle is not cheap.

Cost

You also get asked a ton of questions to narrow down what your hairstyle will look like:

Kinds of casual

…and how it matches your persona:

Loose guy

Cute guy

There’s an interesting thread somewhere in here about gender perceptions within the game, as the “guy” and “girly” difference has come up before in conversation with animals.

But then we move on to color.

Bright color

I selected a bright color. The options given come back to the predominant narrative arc of Animal Crossing, that it is a relentlessly positive game with a vocabulary to match. Other games may have just given me the options of blond, blue, orange and so forth, at this point.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf, on the other hand, gave:

Choices

If I had selected an intense’ color instead, the color options would have been:

  • Burning love
  • Forest
  • Deep Sea
  • Moody

Hair color selected, the rather violent, and totally automated (no actual poodle paws involved) process of getting a hairstyle took place:

Under the dome

Dazed

Hmmm

That was fun. But, the aforementioned financial hit then comes:

Cost

I’ll probably go back over the weekend and try the makeup. Because it’s a game and I can. Wish me luck.