August 14, 2009

Classic Tomb Raider for PS3 and PSP

Good news, PlayStation 3 and PSP gamers! The original Tomb Raider is now available for download as part of the "PSone Classics" collection in the PlayStation Store. The $9.99 price tag is a little steep for a 12-year-old game, but I think it's well the investment. There are 15 full-size levels packed with puzzles to solve and enemies to put down. As far as I know, the game is not in the U.K. store yet, but hopefully it will be soon.

And of course, you know where to go if you need more info or a walkthrough. ;)

UPDATE 8/29/09: Tomb Raider 2 has just been added to the line of downloadable PSOne Classics for PS3 and PSP—and for only $5.99 this time. Looks like a sign of more good things to come.

UPDATE 9/17/09: Sure enough, here comes Tomb Raider 3, also for $5.99. Now that's a bargain.

UPDATE 10/15/09: And Tomb Raider 4 (The Last Revelation) also $5.99.

UPDATE 1/12/11: At last, Tomb Raider 5 (Chronicles) has been added to the list but so far only in Europe. Vote/comment here on the official PlayStation Blog if you'd like to see this title come to the North American PSN as well.

August 12, 2009

Beyond Player Tailoring: A Tomb Raider as Unique as You Are

I considered titling this post "Big Brother is Watching You...Game" but that seemed a bit too sensational. It also trivializes the achievements of the IT geniuses whose work I want to tell you about. These researchers are using Tomb Raider: Underworld to study exactly how gamers play in order to improve the gaming experience.

Anders Drachen, Alessandro Canossa and Georgios Yannakakis of the IT University of Copenhagen will be presenting their paper, "Player Modeling using Self-Organization in Tomb Raider: Underworld" at the 2009 IEEE Symposium on Computation Intelligence and Games in Milan next month.

They investigated the gaming behavior of more than 1300 players who completed Underworld in November 2008. According to the paper,

"Data was collected via the EIDOS Metrics Suite (a game metrics logging system utilized by EIDOS). The data collection process is completely unobtrusive since data was gathered directly from the game engines of subjects playing TRU in their natural habitat (via the Xbox Live! web service) rather than in a laboratory [setting]."

Vast amounts of data were collected ("1 million recorded gameplay sessions of TRU which will form the basis for future research," according to the paper), but for this particular study, the researchers whittled that down to 1365 Underworld players' data in three particular areas:
  • Number of in-game deaths and their causes (enemies, environment, falling)
  • Time taken to complete the game
  • How and when each player accessed the help-on-demand (HOD) feature
The paper details the methods used to crunch the numbers. Most of that sailed right over my head. (Hey, I was an English major.) But by analyzing all this information, the researchers were able to sort the players into four major clusters or types:

Veterans – Players who complete the game very quickly; who die very few times and whose deaths are mostly caused by the environment (traps, fire, drowning); and whose HOD requests vary from low to average.

Solvers – Players who take their time; who die quite often, mainly due to falling; and who rarely use HOD. According to the study, "Players of this cluster…are adept at solving the puzzles of TRU. Their long completion times, low number of deaths by enemies or environment effects indicate a slow-moving, careful style of play."

Pacifists – Players who die primarily in combat, whose completion times are below average, and who rarely use HOD. According to the researchers, pacifists form the largest group.

Runners – Players who die quite often, mainly by opponents and the environment, but who complete the game very quickly. Runners' reliance on HOD varies across the spectrum.

So what does this information tell us about game design and gameplay? According to the Danish researchers, "…the existence of four clusters of behavior, even in a fairly linear and restricted game like TRU, shows that players utilize the…space and flexibility offered by the design of the game, rather than simply using one specific strategy to get through the game." So basically the numbers confirm what we already knew intuitively: different types of gamers use different methods to get Lara from A to B.

In the past, smaller-scale player-modeling studies have been used to design more realistic AI for non-player characters (NPCs or "bots") in sports games and shooters, as well as creating interactive stories that change based on player interaction.

So how will game designers use this information to build a better Tomb Raider? I guess we'll have to wait and see, but these researchers envision on-the-fly player tailoring in which "information about the different player types can be used during play to dynamically alter in-game controllable parameters (e.g., help on demand accessibility, difficulty of jumps) to adjust to the needs and skills of the player type identified in real-time and ensure variation in gameplay."

Can't make a jump? Next time, Lara can go a little farther. Can't defeat that boss? Next time its health bar is a little shorter and its attacks do a little less damage. Spending too long on that puzzle? Suddenly the camera pans to show that elusive switch.

Now that would be cool indeed, though I suppose it could eventually put walkthrough writers like me out of a job.


August 3, 2009

21st Century Gamer Mom

My 16-year-old son finally convinced me to join Xbox LIVE… naturally only after I had unlocked more than 1100 points of Tomb Raider: Underworld achievements on his profile. ;) 

My computer has been in the repair shop for the last few days, so I've been replaying Underworld and the bonus levels, Beneath the Ashes and Lara's Shadow. I freely admit that I suck at Xbox—still can't manage that "Right of Passage" achievement—but what fun!

I've got Mirror's Edge waiting in the wings and Legend for the 360 on order, and I could use a little encouragement. So if any of you would like to add me as a friend on Xbox LIVE, that would be great. My gamertag is stellalune. I don't play any online games—at least not yet—but I'd love to hear your Xbox tips and game recommendations for a new player with some PC skills.