It is recieved wisdom that the collectathon genre of video games had its heyday back in the 1990s with games such as Super Mario 64, Donkey Kong 64, and the Banjo Kazooie series. As the name suggests, collectathons are a particular genre of games that revolve heavily around collecting various items scattered around the game, usually with a heavy emphasis on 3D platforming mechanics.
While the genre has fallen out of the limelight, it has definitely had a noticable impact on later games, particularly ones by Nintendo; both Mario Odsessy and Breath of The Wild (the latter of which I have a lot of thoughts on, good and bad) borrow heavily from the genre with their wide open areas filled with secrets to find. I’d go as far as to say that a lot of modern free-to-play and live-service games such as Destiny 2 use a lot of the same mechanics. The main difference between a live-service open world game like Fallout 76 or Destiny and Donkey Kong 64 is that Donkey Kong 64 didn’t drip feed you the content in order to keep you playing (and hopefully spending money on microtransactions).
The late 90s were also a formative period for me in terms of gaming; I was born in 1992, so collectathons (specifically Mario and Donkey Kong, but also all kinds of cheap and quick tie-in games, such as a PC game of Rugrats in Paris and a Gamecube game of Spongebob Squarepants the Movie) were some of my introductions to gaming itself. The genre feels nostalgic to me. They were also great for kids who might not be able to afford to buy many games, since the focus of them tended to be that they are big, and expansive, and crucially can take a long time to play.
There’s one crucial itch that collectathons scratch however, one that I think they really excelled at, and that’s giving the player a constant feeling of progress and completion. Because there are so many collectibles in the game, you are constantly getting that endorphine boost from obtaining them and completing objectives on the micro- (unlocking that door), meso- (completing a level) and macro- (completing the game) scales. This, combined with the general low difficulty levels, makes the genre really good for playing when you have depression (as I’ve been struggling with). It’s a task designed to be completable that provides clear feedback and a sense of accomplishment, and on bad days that can be really comforting.
I recently completed Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and so I was interested in finding another game that could fill in those days where nothing else is going to get done so I might as well lose myself in a collectathon, and so I picked up the game Yooka-Laylee on my Switch.
Yooka-Laylee (or Y-L from now on in this post, because I can’t be bothered to write out Yooka-Laylee all the time), like Breath of the Wild, was released in 2017. Published by Team 17, it was developed by Playtonic, a group formed by former developers from Rare, the company that made Donkey Kong 64 and Bango-Kazooie. The game is in general a throw back to the golden age of collectathons, as you might expect from the team that created some of the key games of that genre.
Honestly I don’t have that much to say about the game itself. It is very much a game spilt between two time periods. The characters all have weird, quirky designs, usually with a punny name attached to them, with the titular pair, the reptial Yooka and the fruit bat Laylee being a pun on ukulele. Sometimes this works nicely, like the World 1 boss Rampo, a giant stone face at the top of a ramp that you need to make your way up using the game’s main movement mechanic (a legimately charming move where Yooka rolls into a ball and Laylee runs on top of him, allowing the pair to move more quickly while making a fun squeeking noise). Sometimes it just feels weirdly stale, like the floating, talking clouds or the skeleton explorer.
Like, I can see where they are aiming but…I dunno, maybe it’s just because I’ve seen a lot of quirky games, and if I was coming to this fresh as a kid they’d seem really unique, but they still feel like the kind of designs people reach for often in this kind of game. And, for that matter, in quirky, brightly coloured children’s properties in general…except that brings us to the final class of character designs which are definitely not for kids, such as the character who you buy upgrades from who is a…Trouser snake. Literally, he’s a snake curled up so he’s in trousers named Trowzers. Then there’s the plants you meet (who are some of the few female characters in the game) who ignore you unless you are transformed into a plant, and then flirt with you while giving you tips. The game doesn’t seem to know what tone it’s going for. Are you appealing to adults or to kids? I think they’re going for both, but they don’t land it.
This tone problem carries on with the writing as well, particularly with Laylee. She’s abrasive and makes sarcastic and often cruel comments to other characters. I honestly kind of want to dislike her, but at the same time she is coupled with Yooka the chameleon. Yooka has no character. Well, I mean, he does, he’s the one who goes along with all the weird collectathon tasks that get thrown at them, which is technically a character trait I guess, but still. He’s so bland I prefer Laylee, the character who keeps making me go “…wait why am I doing this?”
Y-K is very self-aware, with a lot of references to the fact that it is a game; characters refer to levels, special moves, and the villains in particular are constantly mentioning “the next game” (which has been announced). The game opens with Yooka and Laylee relaxing in their new home, the remains of a pirate ship coincidentally directly outside Hivory Towers, the corporate base of the big bad (a capitalist bee named Capital B). Their initial dialogue almost made me wonder if I was missing a game in the series. There’s no real introduction to the characters or why I should care, even by the standards of collectathons. I at least get why Donkey Kong wants his golden bananas back and to rescue the other kongs. The introduction to the game’s main goal, collecting the pages (or Pagies) of The One Book, is just that Laylee happened to find it in the pirate ship. She doesn’t know what it does, and honestly neither do I even now (there’s some vague mention of it being able to rewrite reality or something?), but off we go to save them from Capital B’s evil machine to suck in all the books of the world!
(Since I messed up the flow a bit by only mentioning Capital B in the last paragraph, I will say he’s a perfectly servicable villain for this kind of game. The parody of corporatism isn’t exactly subtle here; he is introduced in an actually pretty funny scene revealing a gold statue of himself in the lobby of Hivory Towers while berating his right hand man, Doctor Quack, a duck driving around in a gumball machine. I don’t get it either, but along with the saptient shopping trolleys in the third level, he’s one of the few designs I think really stands out.
While exploring the main hub of Ivory Towers, you sometimes get Capital B popping up and saying things like “Thanks for taking out that last minion, now I don’t have to give him a raise!”. It’s a nice bit of characterisation, but most of his lines could have easily come out of a particularly dull set of Dilbert strips. No, that’s unfair. I’m not going to compare the writers to Scott Adams, they don’t deserve that level of slam. And yes, I’m aware having a two paragraph long bracket break here also messes up the flow of the writing. I just don’t care.)
Still, all of this could be ignored fairly easily. I wasn’t coming to Y-K looking for deep writing, or even shallow writing. I was coming to it looking for fun platforming challenges that give me small bursts of that wonderful feeling of completing something.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Y-K actually fufils that very well. It isn’t bad, it’s just medicore. A lot of this is due to the awkwardness of the camera, which is definitely a throwback to the 90’s era of collectathons. This isn’t a good thing. Some of it is due to Yooka feeling overally responsive; there’s a lot of moments when I’m trying to do some precise jumps that get ruined due to what I think is a small change on the joystick, and that would be a small change in something like Mario, sending Yooka and Laylee skidding off a platform. Some of this might just be porting issues for the Nintendo Switch however.
The level designs are also not great. Part of the issue is that with the exception of the first level, they mostly just look the same throughout. Probably the worst one for this is the third level, set in a swamp that is supposed to be a maze, which has a constant murky green aesthetic and no real centrepiece for the level to help position yourself around. Furthermore, with the exception of the bosses, there’s no real variation in the enemies you face. There are bees floating around on metal platforms that shoot projectiles at you, there are jellyfish in the water, there are eyes which possess objects to attack you and every level has it’s own reskin of the default enemy, and that’s about it. The closest you get is some enemies wear hats, and they take two hits to kill. This adds to the feeling of homogenity the levels give.
It isn’t all bad. The second level features an area called the Icymetric Palace, a pun that actually really landed for me since the inside changes the game from a 3D platformer to an isometric viewpoint. Isometric games have a fixed camera position, angled away from all the axes of motion; up/down, forward/back and left/right, or the X,Y and Z axes. In Yooka-Laylee this is particularly welcome because it means you are no longer wrestling with the camera, removing one of the biggest issues with the game.
I do enjoy Kartos (“The God of Ore” as Laylee jokes), an old mine cart you can play a good old-fashioned minecart minigame with in each level. These are just really fun, simple games where you jump around collecting gems (again, with a fixed camera angle).
Another cool mechanic is being able to use Pagies to expand worlds. When you first unlock a level (represented by “Grand Tomes” that you can enter the pages of), you can’t access all it has to offer. However, if you have collected enough pagies, you can use them to expand the Tome, and thus open up new areas to explore, most notably unlocking the boss fights of the level.
I do feel this piece comes off as perhaps more critical than the game actually deserves. The main issue is a constant feeling of mediocrity. It has a lot of fun tools, particularly mechanically with the special moves you can unlock; both Yooka and Laylee get ones that play off their species, with Laylee getting ultrasound and flight based powers while Yooka can eat certain objects to gain temporary abilities like fire breathing, gets some tongue based platforming powers and of course, invisiblity. The problem is that the rest of the game just does nothing with them. The levels are compotent, but boring, like wandering around a town of identical houses. The enemies are bland, the writing just doesn’t quite get to where it wants to be, and the result is a game that I just struggle to care about even though it is of a genre I usually really enjoy.
EDIT: Added in the object possessing eyes to the list of enemies, and also remembered “oh yeah, I liked the Kartos bits!”
I’ve not been updating this much, partially due to a lack of time, partially due to laziness, and partially because I’ve not been doing small posts in between some big drafts: I have two face card posts in the works at the moment. I’m going to try to do some smaller posts, but I’m not going to promise anything.
What I am doing however is a slight rearrangement to the card suit system. I’m going to move posts primarily discussing works of fiction from being classed as Heart posts to being under Diamonds, leaving Hearts solely for non-fiction. This is partially because I don’t want every post to be Hearts, and partially for another reason.
One of the things I’ve always wanted to do for the blog is add artwork for the posts, preferably original. However, my art skills are generally lacking (see the previous post’s artwork), and I can’t afford to pay people to make it.
I was inspired by the cover of Sam Keeper’s most recent book, Who Killed The World, a series of essays on various X-punk genres (cyberpunk, steampunk, solarpunk), which has a fantastic collage as it’s cover, the focal piece being the winged porcupine that serves as the book’s mascot. The book itself is great, but the collage cover is most relevant to this post.
Essentially, when I can, I’m going to making collage covers for these posts. You can see one up above as an example. I’ve made two so far for upcoming posts, as well as BOOSTER Talisman up there, and they have been a lot of fun.
These collages have a couple of rules. First of all, I can’t just look for “the perfect picture”. When making them, I set myself a particular source of images, whether a particular group of magazines, junk mail, leaflets that I’ve collected up for free, ect. There is one exception to this rule, which is that I am allowed one image directly relevant to the topic at hand; e.g. in a Harry Potter post I am allowed one Harry Potter picture.
Secondly, I cannot buy new things for the collages (other than backing paper, scissors, glue and other tools). Everything I use must be either something I already own, something I got for free, or at most something I found in one of my town’s many charity shops.
Rule three is a simple one; I need to be able to explain how the collage represents the post. Not necessarily in the post itself, unless people want that, but I need to have an idea for how it works. In this case, the periodic table represents organisation, the gears are me actually posting something, the Booster in the middle represents my hopes I will obtain a boost to posting here, the talisman is there to represent me moving where I put discussions of fiction, and the hands are me putting this new thing together. The collages will all have the post’s respective card in them as well, as seen here with the four of clubs. This is the other reason I am moving fiction discussions from Hearts to Diamonds: I don’t want to run out of Hearts too quickly.
Finally, all collages in this first wave will be A4 landscape. There is a reason for this that I will discuss later on.
Note that not all posts will have a collage. Sometimes, like in the previous post, I will use a different medium. I would like to get better at all forms of arts and crafts, not just collages, so I’ll be branching out sometimes. They will still always involve the post’s card however. And sometimes I will just not have time; the low the card value of the post, the less likely I am to do a picture for it.
Additionally, I will be doing live streams of me making these collages. These will be held at the weekend in the evening, hopefully both Saturday and Sunday, using a camera looking down at my desk. It will be on my twitch, Heartofaquamarine.twitch.tv, and I’ll post on various places such as twitter to say what time it will be. Please, feel free to come and join!
Game and… is a series of articles in various media focusing on evaluating the mechanics of games, how they are created, how they affect us, and how we can apply them to the world outside of games.
Games and Failure
I die a lot while playing games.
That’s less self-deprecation about my skill in such games and more just due to the nature of many games. Death, and failure in general, in many games is just a set back. You come back at your respawn point, whether the beginning of the level or your last save or your team’s base, and now you can try again with the hindsight of knowing at least some of what you need to do, and where you might have gone wrong last time. Even in games where failure sends you back to the main menu, the option is always there to start again. Even how much of a setback that is decreasing over time; compare Super Mario 64’s removing a life from your stock to the most recent Mario game, Mario Odyssey, which just removes 10 coins in a game where collecting 1,000 coins basically happens by accident as you hunt for the various power moons, the goal of the game .
Games are actually really forgiving of failure. I mean, sure, there are degrees of setback they apply to you; you might get sent back to the beginning of the level, to your last save (which can admittedly be a while back), or have a penalty applied to you until you are able to recover what was lost when you died . In some games, usually strategy or 4X games , you will be made to restart the entire campaign, unless you reload your last save and are able to work around whatever made you fail. But even with all of that, the point is not to say “you lost, look how bad you are at this!” but “You lost. Wanna try again, this time having a better idea of what you need to do?”
Some of this is just necessary. A game aims to keep you playing, particularly when they are using models like games as service or arcade machines  which aim to monitise themselves by having players make small payments over a long period of time, but this has spread out to basically all games, to the extent that having a failure state has been suggested by some as a fundamental property of games; i.e. something may be an interactive experience but if you cannot fail, it is not a game. I don’t want to discuss the definition of a game here. Instead, I want to focus on how the way we can learn from and indeed, use the way games encourage you to continue on, to move past failures and eventually succeed to help us handle other situations.
Games being used in learning is nothing new of course, and nor are interactive experiences, whether on a computer or more traditional “analogue” games, but we tend to classify them as childish, and indeed these games can be patronising. I have fond memories of the Adi and Adiboo games, but I wouldn’t recommend them to an adult who’s maths is at the kind of level Adi covers (partially because I haven’t looked at those games for years; maybe I should get hold of them and have a look) . They are still used however, with the cartoony visuals removed, particularly in subjects like maths and language vocabulary that computers are far better at being able to handle than, say, marking a piece of literary criticism. While I do think that there is a space for Educational Games, particular because the interactive nature of games allows you to learn by actively doing, rather than passively learning, I want to make it clear that this isn’t what I am suggesting here. Nor am I talking about the gamification of learning, where the concept of experience and levels are used to provide a reward for effort and learning successfully. That’s definitely an interesting topic, and it’s on the list to cover in a Games and… article, but it isn’t this one. Rather, I want to focus on the other end of the spectrum; how do we handle failure?
Learning from your mistakes isn’t a new concept, but we can still ask the best way to encourage and assist people in doing so, a question that the field of pedagogy (the science of teaching) has been trying to answer for a while now. Before we continue, it is important to acknowledge that methods of learning are not universal. The following section will discuss a number of mindsets towards and techniques of learning. These may not be directly relevant to you the reader, or indeed techniques shown with a positive lens here may, for whatever reason, not be useful for you personally. However, I think they hold up in enough cases and are underused enough (that is, people who might benefit from them haven’t encountered them) that they are worth exploring here.
One of the most important factors in whether people feel able to learn from mistakes is the surrounding culture and particularly the response of whoever the learner views as a teacher, whether an actual teacher, a supervisor or just someone the learner looks up to. Fischer et al. (2006), a study detailing the self-reported responses of medical trainees to a survey on how they learn from failure, notes that when they feel able to report the failure they learn more from it. Furthermore, they note that there is a culture of covering up mistakes in many hospitals, and as they spend more time working in medicine they find themselves defending individual cover ups while acknowledging that ethically they really shouldn’t . This is fairly common in professions where mistakes can have grave consequences; indeed, some industries use a concept called a blameless culture, where mistakes are not punished so that people don’t feel they cannot come forward to admit that they have made them (Dekker, 2016). This, while a fascinating topic by itself, is slightly off the topic of this essay, particularly as, as I noted above, one of the big benefits of games is that they remove the real life rewards and consequences for the player, allowing them to simply focus on what they can learn from the situation. Now, obviously on a practical level making mistakes with consequences can be an excellent, if, depending on the situation, traumatic, learning experience, but we are discussing using the premise of treating learning spaces as a game and the benefits of doing so, not trying to create a universal system of learning.
Another issue to discuss is why people want to learn. What is their underlying goal ? Two common reasons are to demonstrate how competent you are at something, or performative goals, and learning to improve your own abilities, which we might refer to either improvement or mastery goals. Now, this is one of those awkward situations where I would wager that most people would say they want to learn for the sense of mastery; performative goals tend to be more specifically about showing a particular person or group of people what you are capable of (Wolters 2004). However, it is far easier to encourage performative goals, simply because they are based around demonstrating what you know. Performative goals aren’t inherently bad, but like the negative consequences they often encourage not learning from mistakes but instead avoiding the people you are trying to perform to, while mastery goals tend to encourage using mistakes as a learning experience (Wolters 2004, Turner and Patrick 2004).
Games I think have mechanisms by which they can encourage the player to try to improve their abilities, rather than demonstrating their skill. One is something we will find difficult to transfer to a learning setting, which is the greater ability for the creator to control the learning curve of the game compared to the learning curve of most real life topics. I want to discuss this in another G& essay , so I won’t go into it here, but essentially games are far easier to control and can make you feel like you are improving far more quickly than you are actually learning about the game because you are gaining new tools and powers in a far more controlled environment. However, there are two other ways they encourage you to learn. First of all they are very good at informing you what you are aiming for, giving you a motivation to work out how to overcome the obstacles in-between you and that solution, and secondly games don’t treat failure as a problem. They provide temporary rewards for success, not permanent consequences, and that sequence of short bursts of rewards, even if it is just a pat on the back. This, I think is something we can take over from games. Rewarding people for the entire journey, not just the final destination, and giving them clear reasons to motivate them in the short term; not just a long term goal like “I will be able to communicate in French” but “I will be able to say this thing I want to say in French”. Meanwhile, the games either not responding to your failure outside of a short death animation or, if they do respond, then showing it as a challenge and encouraging you to continue to overcome it. Probably the best example of this is from Toby Fox’s Undertale, which tells you “STAY DETERMINED!”. As I said, failure treated as a chance to try again with new knowledge and experience.
For a concrete example, I do quite a lot of maths in my everyday life, both in my work and my free time. I enjoy maths, and I can do it to a reasonably high level, and I am aware that this makes me fairly unusual. When I try to teach maths and explain the concepts to people who struggle with it, one of the big issues I face is overcoming their fear . Not of mathematics (although for some people that is in there as well), but fear of failing at mathematics, and a corresponding fear of being mocked and mistreated because of that failure. The fear that a single mistake that will hang over you, or worse that you will never be able to move beyond those failures.
Often, the students I am teaching are students doing a scientific subject at a university level, and there’s basically no field of science where maths is not a vital and major part of the research toolkit; even in fields such as sociology statistical analysis is essential. Even knowing this however, for some the anxiety of failing at maths, and being mocked or treated as stupid because of that failure, however temporary, makes actually doing the maths really difficult. This is within a classroom setting, not an exam or, worse, research or designs that might influence the real world. It is in a setting specifically created to give a space to learn without incorrect results causing problems. It is a space where incorrect results should be responded to with “You got that wrong. Wanna try again, this time having a better idea of what you need to do?”
In other words, I am saying that classrooms are gaming platforms, the lessons are the levels and we are all Mario…Okay, I’m not actually saying that, but I think the similarity of both being environments where failure is essentially devoid of external consequences and is simply an indication you need to go back and do some additional work is important. It allows learners to focus entirely on learning, so that when there are consequences, they already have all the tools they need to handle it.
 Given that lives are basically meaningless in a lot of Mario games, a hold over from the days of arcade machines , you could argue that losing one is actually less of a set back than losing coins; really the biggest set back is you do get a Game Over screen when you run out of lives, which sets you back to the start of the level.
 This is a mechanic codified by the Souls games, and other games like Hollow Knight, which make you drop your in-game currency and have a mechanical penalty, usually a drop in maximum health, applied to you. This makes failure, and continuing on despite it, a core mechanic of these games.
 For anyone not versed in gaming terminology, 4X games are a genre of games where the player(s) control a full faction, rather than a single character, and scout throughout the world, build new settlements and technologies, gain resources and battle opposing factions. 4X stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate, and was coined by the game writer Alan Emrich in 1993.
 See “Games and the First Age of Microtransaction” – TBC
 Upon trying to track them down, I discovered the Adi and Adiboo series were created by the french Coktel Vision, which usually focused on adventure games. The games were sold in various languages, with Adiboo (or Adibou in french) seeming to be more well known and spread around than the older Adi. I kind of want to track them down and give them another look; we’ll see how that goes.
 Rationalisations for bad behaviour of individuals of groups you are a member is is a very important topic I’d like to explore. If I ever do I will link it here.
 See “Games and Goals” – TBC
 See “Games and Skill” – TBC
 For more discussion on how I think we might be able to improve maths teaching, see 9 of Hearts: An Introduction to Mathematics.
Wolters, C. A. (2004). Advancing Achievement Goal Theory: Using Goal Structures and Goal Orientations to Predict Students’ Motivation, Cognition, and Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(2), 236-250.
Starting in May 2019, the crowd-funding site Patreon will be increasing how much it takes from pledges it processes, in return for some features I’m not particularly interested in. However, existing creator accounts will be grandfathered out of this, so…I have no reason not to make a Patreon account now.
There’s a link in the sidebar, but currently I’m not doing anything serious with it. I have it set to charge per creation, but I think I am, for now, only going to charge for high effort posts; that is, posts that in the code of this blog, I would give one of the royal cards or an ace. This will likely include any videos I do, since they take more effort, but not streams or other low effort work.
I am currently in the middle of my last year of my PhD, so for now I don’t feel I can do much Patreon only extra-stuff. Once my PhD is done I’ll reconsider this, and work out what I can do. At the moment, as noted above, the account is mainly to avoid the changes being made, but I thought I should note this. This is, incidentally, why I have stopped doing the themed months; I just couldn’t keep up with them while doing my PhD work, and that made me stop working on the blog in general.
In other news, as you might have noticed with the “Am I being lazy” post, I am reposting some of my old tumblr posts here. Some of them will be edited a bit, but I’m mostly happy with the long form posts I wrote on there. I’ve basically left tumblr, and I want to preserve the bits I like. If you want to have a look at my tumblr, which is mainly just me reblogging dumb stuff, you can find it here, or the side blog Blue Sky Self Help I ran with my friend Packbat here.