Game Review: Smite

First, let me start by saying that I’m a League of Legends (LoL) fangirl. I tell you this because when I say Smite might motivate me to leave LoL, it should have impact. Smite has all the things I like about LoL, but takes care of a few of the things I don’t; including the excessive number of trolls and flamers that Riot bans people for reporting. More on that another time. For now, let’s talk Smite!

I’ve always been interested in mythology; no secret there. I have written before about Joseph Campbell and his words of wisdom, not the least of which include the hero’s journey and the universality of myths as truths. Smite uses gods from a variety of mythologies (e.g., Greek, Hindu, Chinese, Egyptian, etc.) and turns them into mages and melee fighters. In teams of 5v5, you set off down the three lanes, all full of towers and minions (and yes, there are jungles too) all leading to your goal; the Minotaur. Take down the fierce golden Minotaur, and you claim victory for your team. Simple as that… in theory.

The view is third person, so it feels more like World of Warcraft than LoL in that respect. Movement is very familiar if you play WoW as well: WASD for running, number keys for abilities, and the mouse guiding your direction of travel. Like with LoL, you use favor (aka IP) or gems (the in-game currency that has to be purchased with actual money) to unlock gods and a variety of skins. There are some gods who excel at defense, some at magic use, and some at melee fighting; as in most any MOBA. And, of course, you can purchase a wide variety of items to passively buff any number of stats on each character. One of the great things about Smite (at least as compared to LoL) is the ability to have your items and abilities auto leveled for you. This means those who are consumed with trying NOT to nerf their team can focus on other things. As you’re entering the game, you simply unmark the boxes for either or both when you’re ready to customize your toon.

Since I’m sure you’re well versed in MOBAs by now, I’ll talk about particulars only briefly. The graphics for this game are phenomenal. The detail to the characters both in character select, in the animations for the skins, and in game play is breathtaking. The sounds for the game aren’t spectacular, but they’re not overwhelming either. The characters have their taunts and musings, and the voices are well done, but they are by no means meant to make or break the game. Something auditory, however, that I did find amusing/helpful was a verbal cue for team notifications. In other words, when someone is trying to warn you that the right lane that you’re trying to push is about to be ganked, a voice says, “Right lane under attack!” and whether you look at the map or read the chat log, you know what’s coming. To be honest, I prefer that to a “PING” any day. Especially when people are spamming the ping… but I digress.

In my opinion, the significant advantage this game has over LoL is the immersion. Because this game is done in third person point of view, the game is far more transportational than LoL is. There is no overhead view; you are IN the battlefield. This, of course, makes map awareness vital, but allies and opponents are labeled well from the third person view as well, so as long as they’re visible, you can easily weave your way through the jungles and lanes. Team fights are also facilitated well by the ease of map awareness and the point of view change. Another bonus (or frustration depending on how you play) is the immersion in fights. As a ranged character, every ability is a skill shot; you HAVE to aim your shots and be in range. However, you’re given an arrow to line your shots up with (making my life SO much easier). As a melee character, you can also see where your ability is going to hit (you can walk around with your ability range lit before you take the shot… VERY handy), but when you’re auto attacking, you have to stay oriented; much harder to do when you aren’t look on from above. 

From a psychological perspective, the social aspect of the game is definitely present; there are chat tabs that you’re constantly exposed to in the lobby (much like you are with WoW), and this is where you friend chats pop up as well. Anyone who has managed tabs on a web browser, can manage these. Though the game is in closed beta, current players have been given invitations to send to friends, and you can always request a game key directly from Hi-Rez (mine took only a few hours to arrive). Either way, the ability to play with friends is definitely a motivator for some to play this game. If your friends aren’t on the game (or you want to get REALLY good before you invite them… ahem…), there is still the team play socialization that facilitates cooperation, planning, leadership, and social adeptness. This game has levels, favor, and types of game play which become available only after reaching certain levels as a player; all of these become reinforcers and promote achievement based game play motivation. The increased immersion, thanks to the third person view, makes escapism and transportation easier and more fulfilling.

Whatever your reason for playing MOBAs, this game covers it well. If you’re a player who likes a laid back, stress free game there are solo training matches where you go one on one, and all characters are available for play. You don’t get favor here, but you get to try before you buy and you can get a feel for the game before you wade into the waters as a noob in the pvp realm. Once you get really good, there are ranked games with more game play styles being released soon. Now is a great time to start playing. If you like MOBAs, my guess is you’ll love this one; it’s not out with the old, in with the new. It’s, “Now here’s something we hope you’ll REALLY like!”

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Research Review: First-Person Shooter Games as a Way of Connecting to People: “Brothers in Blood”

I love this article. There are a few reasons for this. First, in the disclosure statement there is a note about how no competing funding was provided for this research. That is important because there have been other researchers (who I won’t name, but I REALLY want to) who have accepted monies for their research which may have been influential in the results of their research. This makes their research controversial and more pseudo science than psychology. So, I appreciate that this research was done without “competing financial interests”. Second, the findings of this back up a lot of my favorite gaming research and it was done in a much different way than the others. Allow me to illuminate.

Frostling-Henningsson studied players in Stockholm in two online-gaming centers (yes, I know we don’t use them much anymore here, but this is a great place for qualitative research). She spent time from September 2006 to February 2007 observing gaming sessions, and interviewing gamers. Her participants were 19 males and 4 females between the age of 12 and 26 years old. These ages are slightly younger than typical gamers, but seem to be more accurate of typical FPS players.

She found themes of motivation for play in the responses of the participants. The first one she found was communication. Players like to socialize. This is nothing new to us. Other research I’ve reviewed here has shown the same theme in EQ and WoW players as well. The second theme she found was connection in ways that were unanticipated. In other words, players enjoyed the fact that real world identifiers (i.e., age, gender, sexuality, or appearance) don’t affect whether we are willing to connect with others. Rather, things like personality, kindness, support, maturity, and game skill/cooperation inform our connections. This is a very positive theme in gaming. It means that gaming transcends borders and boundaries that tend to stop us in real life. It makes us less biased and allows us to judge based on more solid grounds; things that matter. This is consistent with what Chayko (2008) says of virtual connections as well; our sociomental connections (i.e., connections we make in mental spaces and not physical, face to face spaces) are a more real kind of real and tend to be more intimate because we invest more time and energy into them.

The third theme Frostling-Henningsson found was that there is a feeling associated with gaming that participants experience. One unlike that of reading (though described to be similar to that type of immersion) or movies, tv or real life. Gaming allows us access to experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to; running through the Sphinx, or shooting up a hospital whose only inhabitants happen to be brain munching zombies. These things don’t happen, they’re not experiences we’re ever likely to have. Yet gaming allows us to experience them. One of my favorite thoughts in the article come from this section as well. The comment is made by one of the participants that he feels relaxed when he is playing CS but his girlfriend says it’s really just a way for him to take out his aggression. Do you think expressing or expelling pent up emotions is or can be a form of relaxation? I certainly do, but I just might have to research this and let you all know what I find out.

The fourth motivational theme found was that of teamwork and cooperation. Gamers preferred to work together, even when they were on opposing teams. Think of all the meta rules implemented when you and your friends game, “Let’s kill everyone else first, then square off one on one,” or “NO CAMPING, YOU NEWB!” The fifth theme was gaming allowed for an escape from the anxieties and stressors of the real world. However, some of the participants mention that they play CS rather than WoW because they feel some sense of control over just exactly how immersed (or ‘sucked in’) they end up being. I’ve heard that plenty of times, but I’m not so sure my CS playing compatriots are any less ‘sucked in’ than I am by League of Legends, or my brother is by World of Warcraft. Could there be personality, perception, or motivational differences in who gets consumed by which games? Another item on my research “to do” list, I assure you.

Finally, Frostling-Henningsson found that gamers like to play because they feel like the virtual world is a real world, just a different real world. This is consistent with research that says virtual worlds are just as real, if not seemingly more real, as the offline real world. People can become different selves, try on personalities, let their hair down, as it were, and become disinhibited all without worrying about real world consequences. Don’t believe me? Check out last week’s article about permeability between virtual and real worlds. The bottom line is that we’re social beings who love, live for, and grow from all kinds of exciting experiences; real, virtual, or otherwise.

References:

Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities : the social dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. Albany: SUNY.

Frostling-Henningsson, M. (2009). First-person shooter games as a way of connecting to people: “Brothers in blood”. CyberPsychology & Behavior12(5), 557-562. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2008.0345

Skullgirls: This Ain’t Your Momma’s Fighting Game

Let me start by saying this game is a field day for the senses. It appeals to nearly every one of my identities: girl, gamer, musician, media psychology student, analyst, and voyeur. Okay, while I’m not a voyeur in the psychological sense of the word, I do like to look at pretty art/graphics. But still, you catch my drift. This game has it all. It also has, however, a difficulty that any hard core, mortal kombat raving, fighting gamer would drool over like someone was ringing Pavlov’s bell. But, as frustrated as I tend to get when I actually have to put EFFORT into advancing in a game (RPG gamer much?), the art, sound, immersion storytelling, and all over style of this game mean I’ll never put it down; even if I never beat it.

Very reminiscent of Sucker Punch, this game is a 2D fighting game featuring a (VERY RANDOM) variety of somewhat jacked up girls all seeking to defeat the Skullgirl in the hopes of obtaining the Skull Heart. This elusive Skull Heart grants the girl who finds it, any wish she can come up with. The catch, as always, is that the girl be pure of heart (hey, this IS a girl gamers’ paradise, afterall). If the girl is in any way NOT pure of heart, the Skull Heart contorts their wish into something vile and repugnant (the loved one who is returned comes back as an undead monster? Blech!). As for the impure girl, the Skull Heart changes her into the Skullgirl, and she is the one who makes the horrors of her twisted dream come to pass. As you can probably imagine, the girls all have different wishes in mind, or some of them are simply doing their duty (whatever that might be) and protecting the innocent people of Canopy Kingdom from the monstrosity.

When I say that this game is a ‘girl gamers’ paradise’, I am in no way insinuating that males will find this boring. Quite the contrary. The adjustments on reality that are introduced via the characters’ special powers, are very creative, powerful, and crass (to some extent). From a symbiotic hair monster and an undead cat, to a militant princess and gadgets that would make Maxwell Smart proud, this game allows every character to have nearly endless combination possibilities, as well as the ability to combine 1, 2, or 3 characters per player to create a powerhouse team for you to control. Multiplayer is available online, as well as locally, so if you can’t beat the arcade storyline (/me hangs head in shame), there are still options for honing your skills against your less than worthy friends. If, however, you’re socially inept and have no friends (or maybe just don’t have the nerve to challenge them), you can play in the EXTENSIVE (3 chapters and over 20 lessons) tutorials. There is also an option for a training room, in which you can toggle options such as death, number of characters for you and the AI, and whether the AI even bothers to make any moves. This is helpful for working out combos, which, btw, are only listed online (for those of you who are constantly pausing MK to check out the moves list… you know who you are).

Which brings me to my next point: the website for this game is incredibly immersive, the developers of which should be sought out and applauded. Transmedia storytelling is storytelling which uses the strengths of various media, each of which tell stories that combine to create one large, all encompassing story. The Skullgirls site includes social networking via blogs, twitter, and facebook feeds, makes the soundtrack available on Amazon and iTunes, provides videos introducing each character and showcasing her skills, maintains a community for updates to the various platforms and news about developments to come. The game, then, becomes part of a much bigger picture; it becomes another way to enter the somewhat noir world of Canopy Kingdom.

Inside that noir world, whether you’re experiencing it via game or website, you find music and art which have the ability to steal the breath from your lungs. The music is very vibrant, while simultaneously being somewhat eerie, while the voice acting and audio clips sound like something from Bioshock. The art is hand drawn with vibrant colors during the fights, and chalk board type drawings on load screens. The site and game are consistently drawn, however, the site also encourages fan art (for ‘Fan Art Friday’) and features ‘White Board Wednesdays’. The raw art in some places, clashing with the incredibly detailed art in others, makes for an experience not unlike steampunk. The music fits the art theme brilliantly, and the entire experience, including the storyline and the difficulty, is intuitive; right down to the verbage on the tutorial instructions.

As far as the game, itself goes, the controls are adjustable but they’re preset with light, medium, and hard punches and kicks, as well as combos on LB and LT. In arcade mode, each girl has her own storyline which the fighting advances. Who the girls fight on their way to Skullgirl doesn’t seem to be ordered in any particular way, other than the unlockable characters come later in the lineup (obviously).  While you do get an idea of a day in the life of your girls in their initial movie sequences, the site provides information about each of them, down to their body measurements and personal likes and dislikes. The thumbstick and D pad seemed less responsive than I would have liked, but that could have just been the excessive speed with which the AI combo’d the bejeebus out of me. Difficulty modes range from ‘Sleepwalking’ to ‘Ridiculous’, but the bar set by even the easiest mode, tends to be more difficult than any other fighting game I’ve ever played. There is room for the most experienced player to struggle, while allowing every casual gamer to find some enjoyment as well.

This game is stylistically stunning, very creative, features immersive transmedia storytelling, and allows players at all levels a challenge. While the controls are somewhat frustrating, and players enjoying this game should NEVER volunteer for studies correlating aggression and gaming, only the very young or very naive should hesitate to grab this game. If you aren’t sure whether this bold style is for you, a quick stop at the website will tell you all you need to know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way to New Merdian as I AM pure of heart and I have a wish to make.

Mount and Blade With Fire and Sword MULTIPLAYER Review

Check out Part 2 of my M & B review here!

Pretty Horsey!

Review: Mount and Blade With Fire and Sword

Check out my latest review on Level Up Times.

Mount and Blade With Fire and Sword