Style Savvy’s Fashion Limitations

A screenshot from Style Savvy Trendsetters. It shows a woman with long black hair and a thoughtful expression in a shop. The text box reads, Maybe what I need is... something... with an edgy kind of feel to it.

I’ve borrowed a 3DS and have been playing Style Savvy: Trendsetters, the sequel to the 2009 DS game Style Savvy. They are both fashion games that are part business sim: players take on the role of a manager of a fashion boutique and are tasked with picking out items for customers according to their taste and keeping the store stocked. With these two elements, the game combines strategy with creativity in a fresh way. A customer will come in and ask for, say, a bold shirt, and if the player picks a shirt of that taste, the customer will buy it, adding funds to the shop, which the player then use to buy more stock. Customers will often ask for entire outfits in a certain style, or if the player puts together a good outfit on her window mannequin, someone will buy the entire thing. That’s the creative part. The strategy part comes in when the player heads to the buyer’s center to stock up on items. There are a number of brands in different styles, and the player needs to decide which items will best meet her customers’ needs. Trendsetters is different from the original in that it adds men’s fashion, a slightly creepier art style as far as faces are concerned, and 3D.

I enjoy both games a lot, and yet there’s also something deeply limiting about them. Items in the game have a number of different attributes, but the most important are brand and taste, which are related. There’s an edgy brand, a gothic lolita brand, a pop brand, a preppy brand, an athletic brand. So when someone comes in asking for a pop t-shirt, the player just looks for the Mint Sprinkles brand and the customer will be all over it. In the original game, the player had to memorize which brand was which (most were obvious, but some were less so), but Trendsetters adds the ability to search the shop inventory based on any number of factors, including brand and taste, which are separate. In the sequel, if someone asks for bold pants, but the shop doesn’t have anything from the bold brand, AZ USA, something from the edgy brand Stage Dive may do.

So there’s a little more freedom this time around, but it still doesn’t quite capture what’s fun about fashion, which is putting together an outfit with unexpected combinations that somehow totally work, or combining styles that balance each other out. In the world of Style Savvy, only the expected is allowed. Successful outfits generally mean dressing head-to-toe in a specific brand. My favorite kind of outfit is to mix girly dresses with tough boots, jackets, and accessories, but in the game, that would be fashion blasphemy. You can’t mix Stage Dive and Cantata Modo! That’s just ridiculous!

But in the real world of fashion, rules are made to be broken. Traditional rules like “don’t pair brown and black” just don’t hold any more. But I’m a programmer, I know how computers work, and computers need hard and fast rules. A computer can’t judge something as subjective as style (not yet, anyway). So unless a game is purely creative, there are going to be these limitations. I don’t fault Style Savvy for having those limitations; after all, it does quite a good job of making the player feel like a boutique manager within them. But I can’t help wishing that the game gave the player a bit more freedom to mix things up, to create something unexpected.


Chris Traeger’s Evolution

Pardon the television break! I was reading a thread about last night’s Parks and Rec, and I noticed a few comments criticizing the episode for having Chris Traeger behave so out of character, that he wouldn’t despair over being single. I strongly disagree, but I feel like this is going to be extremely long, so instead of taking over that thread I’m just going to post here. Chris was not only in character on last night’s episode, it was an evolution of his central struggle, setting up for continuing his journey this season.

Chris isn’t despairing because he’s single, he’s despairing because he is lonely, and being single is only one part of that. This is actually some profound, meaning-of-life shit he is going through. It’s been established since Season 3 that Chris constantly struggles with his own mortality (last night’s episode reminds us that the reason for this is that he had a very serious illness when he was a baby). It’s one of the motivations behind keeping his body in perfect condition. He says ridiculous things about how he’s going to be the first person to live to be 150 years old, which he will accomplish through eating right and exercising and taking herbal supplements. He’s proud when Ann thinks he is much younger than he actually is. His first freakout about this we see is when he gets tendonitis in his shoulder; he tells Ann he’s “dying”, and he only means this in the sense that everyone is technically dying, yet he says it like it’s this great tragedy, not simply a fact. One of the reasons he is so broken up about Millicent is that one of the reasons she dumped him is because of their age difference–he’s much older than her. Chris has been struggling for a long time with the fact that he is getting older, he won’t actually be able to actually keep his body in peak condition forever, and one day he will die.

Couple this with a second major aspect of his character: his relationships with people are very shallow. I don’t mean he is selfish or anything; one of my favorite Chris moments is in Season 3 when he comforts a random woman on the fourth floor of city hall (“Who was that?” “I don’t know. She looked like she needed help, so I helped.”). He’s a caring person! But nonetheless, he doesn’t engage with people very deeply. In the episode where Ron thinks Chris is trying to be his friend, Chris reassures him that no, “I have me. And five hundred Facebook friends.” The problem is none of his relationships are any deeper than Facebook friends. No one even invites him to the movies until April does after the phone call fundraiser for Leslie. His relationship with Ann was not deep, either (“You turned me into you, and then you got bored because you were dating yourself!” Ann sums it up).

An animated gif of Chris Traeger talking to Ron. The caption reads, I'm not lonley. I have me.


His closest friend is Ben, and even that relationship isn’t very deep. Chris doesn’t see the warning signs about the impending demise of the “Dream Team” in early Season 4, he doesn’t see Ben backing away from the Parks Department as a red flag. He’s close enough with Ben to tell when he’s depressed later on in the season, but that is a much more exaggerated situation (and Ben wasn’t deliberately hiding it from him). On top of that, Ben hurt Chris deeply by going behind his back, and now he’s in a very happy relationship (Chris is, I’m sure, very happy for Ben, but your best friend being in love does often mean you don’t see them as much), and now in Season 5 he’s in DC pursuing a new career path. Chris was also first-party witness to Ben torpedoing his own career out of love; Chris doesn’t have anyone he would do that for, and no one who would do that for him.

So Chris’s loneliness isn’t just about being single. He has no family and no deep friendships. At the end of Season 4, he throws himself into exercising because “stopping is death.” He has a fling with Jen to distract him for a little bit, but it doesn’t last. He’s grappling with his own mortality. Now we can see from last night’s episode that he’s thinking about what regrets he will have at the end of his life. It’s not until Andy says if you don’t have friends and family, you have “Nothing!” that Chris finally physically collapses (“What do you have, Chris?” “Nothing. I have nothing.”). He’s going to die one day and his life is meaningless because he is so alone (of course that’s not true, but that’s how he feels). He says later on in the episode that he hasn’t made his mark on the world. He has sunk even lower than in late Season 4, but there is some optimism in that it looks like he is going to get some help from a “doctor for the mind”, as Andy puts it. I’m looking forward to seeing Chris develop closer friendships and become a happier person who is more focused on living now than living forever. Rob Lowe said in an interview, “No one can keep Chris Traeger down, not even Chris Traeger.” I believe it!

NaGaDeMo 2012: HAX

A screenshot from HAX.

I’ve finished my first-ever game, just in time for the end of NaGaDeMo 2012. It’s called HAX, and it’s a text adventure where the only way to win is to cheat. You can download it from the NaGaDeMo site here. The zip contains standalone distributions for Windows and Mac OS X, as well as the .love file if you’d rather install LOVE 0.8.0 instead (this is the only way to play it on Linux right now).

I had a lot of fun making this game. I’d never programmed in lua before, so that was exciting. I’m pretty happy that I managed to finish this tiny thing in a month, with how hectic my life is right now.

Please play it, and let me know what you think! And also feel free to post here if you have any trouble running it or run into any bugs.

ETA: Seems like there are some issues with the NaGaDeMo games submission right now. For the time being, you can download HAX from Dropbox.

ETA2: It’s available on the NaGaDemo site now!

ETA3: I made a Hint System for the game using Twine, since one puzzle in particular didn’t have enough roadsigns for the solution. So if you get stuck, feel free to get a hint!

NaGaDeMo 2012

I’ve been meaning to start on a new game for a while now, and shortly after I began work on it, I found out that this month is National Game Development Month, aka NaGaDeMo. It’s NaNoWriMo (which I also enjoy), but for games. Sweet. It’s the perfect thing to get motivated.

I’m making a text-based game in LOVE that uses buttons instead of a text parser. I chose this format because I have zero art skills. So far I have some basic game objects and a rudimentary event system. Here’s a screenshot:

The beginnings of… something.

TERRIBLY EXCITING, I KNOW. We’ll see what I have by the time June 30th rolls around. Good luck to all the other participants!

Reasons You Should Play Quest for Glory

QFG4 Shadows of Darkness title screen

The entire Quest for Glory series is now available on!! I didn’t think it would actually happen, to be honest, so this was a pretty awesome surprise to wake up to.

Anyway, people have had to listen to my raving about this series for literally years, so I thought I would list a few reasons why I love them so much, now that they’re actually available, and you can even play them without messing around with DOSBox.

Continue reading

Should Mage Hawke have not gotten a pass?

Back in February, Mattie wrote about Anders, and how Hawke is in a position of privilege in the game, the same way most players are in a position of privilege with regard to the LGBT community. It is a great piece that really got me thinking. There was an idea I saw popping up all over the place back when Dragon Age 2 first came out that said that DA2 missed a huge opportunity with Mage!Hawke, that playing as a mage should have been significantly different from Warrior or Rogue in that the mage should have had to go through what all the other mages in Kirkwall go through. The whole abducted from your family, imprisoned in the Gallows, under the constant scrutiny of the Templars, who will make you Tranquil if you step one toe out of line, or even for no reason at all. I actually think that, for the purposes of DA2 specifically, the team at BioWare did exactly the right thing by giving Hawke the Thedas equivalent of “passing privilege” as a mage, first via bribery and later via her wealth and finally her title of Champion.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that games do have a very strong ability to put players temporarily inside the experience of another person. A while ago, I wrote about a hypothetical game that would allow a male player to allegorically experience–and therefore better understand–rape culture. Games are essentially systems, and oppression is a system, so it’s completely possible to create a game that communicates what it’s like to experience oppression. The problem is, while both games and oppression have rules, the rules of oppression are rigged so that the “player” can never win. This means it’s not very fun at all (to put it mildly). A game where a player is put in the shoes of a marginalized person–such as a mage in Thedas–isn’t going to be any fun. Who wants to play being stuck in a tower, or even confined to one small room, for weeks or months on end? Who wants to play a game where your character can be lobotomized randomly and without reason?

Well, I do. But this game will never, ever be made by a company that’s in the business of entertainment, that wants to make money.

So, what if the player just got a taste of it? What if they had to disguise themselves, tiptoe around Templars, make sure they don’t use magic in battle inside the city, at least in the first two acts, before Hawke becomes Champion?

I believe this strategy would backfire. The player gets a taste of what mages like Anders experience and most would think, this isn’t so bad! It’s annoying, but not worth blowing up a building over! It’s like when games or shows depict sexism as being the domain of openly-hateful old men who just need their butt kicked by and/or a sassy remark from the spunky heroine. At least when Hawke gets a pass that other mages don’t, the player is aware that they have it better than other mages. There’s no way to get most players to truly experience and understand what mages are going through without completely breaking the game (and even then, players would still have the option to turn the game off and walk away, which is not an option real oppressed people have), so it’s actually better that BioWare went in the opposite direction and gave Hawke a privileged position among mages. This way, when Anders does his thing, Hawke and the player are more or less on the same page. In a way, it forces the player to roleplay by making sure Hawke, as a character, and the player themselves have the same reaction: how could you? If Hawke was actually meant to be oppressed, herself, but the game never had the player experience what that actually meant, then for the vast majority of players who don’t experience violent oppression themselves in the real world, there would be a huge disconnect between Hawke’s perspective and the player’s.

I desperately want to see a game that puts the player in Anders’s shoes and forces the player to not only do something so extreme, but to feel as if it’s their only course of action. But while that game could be interesting and meaningful, it certainly won’t be fun, and so we will never see if from any huge studio like BioWare.

Transparent excuse to talk about Dragon Age 3

Wired has an article up today headlined “BioWare: Next Dragon Age Will Draw From Skyrim.” I have… mixed feelings! I love Skyrim. It’s fun as shit and exploring is genuinely fun; it’s always exciting when that chord plays and “MARKARTH DISCOVERED” or whatever pops up on the screen. But ultimately I don’t find it very interesting; I’m not going to write five (or even one?) posts about it when I’m finished playing it. It’s just a good time burning undead and looting dungeons and killing dragons.

I expect more from Dragon Age, especially after DA2. I expect deep characters and actual politics and not a little bit of tragedy. I expect playing a Dragon Age game to be like reading a good medieval fantasy novel, not a Lord of the Rings knockoff or someone’s D&D novelization.

This part intrigues me:

The story of Dragon Age II took place across a decade-long span in the city of Kirkwall, allowing players to see how the city and characters evolved over the years. Muzyka hinted that the next Dragon Age game could take that narrative structure and apply it to a variety of areas, rather than a single city.

I ~LOVE~ the idea of a game taking place over the course of a decade. I was excited when Assassin’s Creed 2 did it, but that game didn’t do much with it. In DA2, it suffered from poor/rushed implementation. No, the guy saying “I’ve been waiting here all day!” for six years is not clever commentary on bureaucracy. But the idea itself is brilliant. If we could concretely see how the world changes based on the events the protagonist is involved in, that would be just fantastic. I just worry that by making a huge world map, larger than DA:O and DA2 combined, it will be impossible to implement the kind of detail that this would require.

Not to mention, I hope characterization doesn’t suffer–it’s what I play DA for. Overall, I just think that sacrificing depth for breadth (face it, it’s impossible to do both; there has to be a balance) is a bad way to go, or at least the way that most other games go. Seeing a game go the Majora’s Mask route and make a small but deep world is something I would love to see more games try, even if it doesn’t completely succeed on the first try.

Also on my wishlist: a canon female protagonist. Both games and all three books have canon male protagonists and it would be really nice if there were some important female heroes in Thedas. (And a rainbow unicorn I can ride to work, while we’re making outrageous requests of Santa Claus.)

What do you want to see in DA3? Where do you want to go?