As the sun sets on yet another "Alternative to E3" blog series, it's time to think about just how much we've not seen and not learned about the video games to be released in the near future. For instance, we did not learn what bananas have to do with Nintendo games; we did not learn how to effectively cast a fire spell with a Move controller; we still do not know why that one YouTube guy is beloved by so many; and we certainly did not figure out what happened to Kentia Hall, wherever it might be. However, we did recently learn that Hawkman won't be appearing in Injustice because of his hatred for Midway, so that's a boon at least. So to speak.
Since we're in the spirit of not being in California covering E3, let's go hit Vegas instead!
I have no idea what games' fascination with gambling is, but there's almost always some sort of gambling station that you can either manipulate for the massive amount of cash required for much of the end game content, or simply play a few times and completely disregard for something that is not random bullshit. This seems especially egregious in JRPGs that generally keep their technology level hovering somewhere between "medieval" and "renaissance". Sort of like how the slot machines in the Wavy Tube Man Chronicles QL were "old, but not old enough".
Slots are the absolute worst. They are entirely based on chance, unlike every other casino fixture. There's a reason why many a "hey, we're off to Las Vegas/Atlantic City/Branson!" sitcom set-up will quickly turn sour for the heroes when they happen to espy rows of despondent pensioners feeding their grandchildren's inheritance into a legion of one-armed bandits. "Boy, this gamblin' hole kind of blows!" one of those sitcom characters will inevitably observe, to canned applause from a device as equally soulless as the fruit machines in question.
Point is, these things are depressing. Why the heck would you want to spend any amount of time on them? Oh wait, because you need to win 7,777-10,000 coins for one of FFXIII-2's achievements. Great.
Something I didn't cover with the slot machines section that I won't be returning to for edits, because it just depresses me now, is how a video game will take the concept and play around with it. For instance, a lot of Final Fantasy characters will have a "random attack" system that is governed by a trio of slots. There's a few JRPG characters that do the same with roulettes too (as well as some particularly spiteful enemies), but more striking is how occasionally entire stages will become giant roulette wheels, like the example on the left from Super Mario Sunshine. It made for a particularly memorable boss fight with Oogie Boogie in the first Kingdom Hearts too, back when you could just about follow what was going on in that series.
I kind of like Roulette a little more than Slots. It's entirely chance, of course, but there is some element of strategy with the many different combinations of outcomes you can bet on. At the very least having six or seven concurrent bets running on the whims of a marble on a spoked wheel makes it more suspenseful. And hey, it gave birth to the concept of Russian Roulette, which gave us the tense scene from The Deer Hunter, the same scene - shamelessly stolen - in Black Ops, a vaguely racist Revels commercialand one really bizarre story moment from Illusion of Gaia where you purposefully condemn a Russian Roulette player to death by using your precognition to fix the contest, which is the only way to procure transportation to the next part of the game. If you wanted a fucking weird SNES RPG to check out and Earthbound's out of the question, there you go.
I really like poker, but only with the following provisos: It has rules that I can follow, it moves quicker the longer it goes on with bigger blinds and the like and that at absolutely no point must one of the contenders turn into a terrifying demonic entity. Poker's a fairly recent addition to games as a side thing, because of the difficulties in programming an effective poker-playing computer. If the whole game involves playing poker with a bunch of likeable, layered game-related personalities and Tycho, then that's fair enough, but it's harder to justify as a minor side-quest. One of the few things (in my opinion, at least) that Red Dead Redemption did right was to create a really compelling poker game that you could partake in if you ever got bored of skinning roadkill and dealing with ravenous cougarmen. Likewise, Tales of Vesperia has a neat little poker game that's easy to exploit and led to a cute few moments with resident taciturn cosplay-bait Judith.
I'd like to poker that?
However, what a game should never do is combine poker with dice. Especially when the dice poker engine is designed in such a way that for every third game you throw the dice on the floor like an ADD-inflicted child and all but automatically lose. Geralt is sharp enough to peg a guy a few hundred feet away with a ballista bolt during the prologue of Witcher 2, yet as soon as he hits the dice poker tables he's throwing that shit all over the place like he suddenly got hit with the DTs real bad. Maybe playing dice poker with random bar patrons just makes him nervous, unlike fighting all those dragons or manticores or 7-foot-tall murderers.
I'd be remiss to not mention the other major card-based activity of gambling locales, that of the humble game of Blackjack. Because it's such a simple concept to grasp, video games are able to rework it to suit their setting, like the absurd Quasar of Mass Effect. The only pertinent qualification to play this game is the ability to count to 21, but there's additional layers of strategy that you'd need a math degree from MIT to fully understand, if that Kevin Spacey movie is anything to go by.
I know a lot of you probably didn't play Deja Vu II: Lost in Las Vegas, because it's old as dirt and borderline unplayable in this modern age of adventure games that don't force you to play hours of blackjack to solve a puzzle, but in this game you're actually forced to play hours of blackjack to.. oh right. Fortunately any modern game that includes blackjack won't force you to play it - that is, unless you want all the achievements. And of course you want all the achievements. Better figure out how to count cards, bucko.
Part of the fun of designing your own game world is designing unique activities (games-within-games!) for that world's inhabitants to play while they're sitting around bored waiting for the heroes to turn up, so they can perform their singular vital chore of telling them which town they're in shortly after some pop-up text has already beaten them to it. I've previously mentioned Dice Poker of the Witcher games and Quasar of Mass Effect, so here's a few more notable examples:
- Pazaak - The game of Pazaak is apparently something the myriad denizens of the Star Wars universe play, or once did since the KOTOR games are chronologically set a long time ago. Or a long long long time ago, since we were already at two "longs" with the original movies. It's a mix of blackjack and dominoes, with you placing various numbered cards down in a grid to reach a golden number before your opponent can. I think. It's not something I wanted to spend a lot of time with, since I had a lightsabre sitting like right there.
- Arcomage - Might & Magic VII's main quest doesn't really involve a lot of urgency. After dropping a few Raid bombs to fumigate your newly won castle keep of its spiders and skeletons (man, do skeletons take a lot of Raid to kill), you discover that the town you now apparently rule by proxy is sitting smack dab in the middle of a potential warzone. The next part of the game deals with you finding a way to resolve this burgeoning conflict by any means possible before your cobwebby new digs gets itself smashed to pieces in the crossfire. Honestly, if I inherited a skeleton-infested castle at the epicenter of World War 3, I'd probably just walk the hell away. Which is what the heroes of M&MVII more or less do by instead going to pubs across the world and playing Arcomage, which is sort of like a version of Magic: The Gathering that's actually fun. You play cards that boost your tower (life points, in other words) and your wall (a line of defense that absorbs damage) and zaps those of your opponent's. You need resources to use the cards you have in reserve, with the stronger ones requiring more resources to activate. It's a very simple version of the popular CCG, but an amazingly well-balanced one for such a throwaway side-quest. There's more than a couple of reasons why digs that game, y'all.
- Fable II - Fable II actually had three of these: Spinnerbox, Fortune's Tower and Keystone. I didn't really care for any of them. I didn't particularly care for Fable II for that matter. But they're remarkable since they were actually sold separately from Fable II in an XBLA release of dubious intent that fans of the first game - whom were eagerly anticipating farting and belching their way through the imminent sequel - could purchase from the service, play a little of until they inevitably stumbled upon the exploit and proceeded to irrevocably spoil their future playthrough of Fable II by becoming filthy stinking rich. But then according to Peter Molyneux, who knows a few things about making outlandish video game ideas feasible in the real world, this opportunity to let players utterly break his game before they could even play it was entirely intentional. Man, the balls on that guy.
So that's just a brief rundown of a few gambling distractions that you might see in many of your favourite video games. I recommend playing very few of them. Stay the hell away from Gamblor's neon claws, kids.