June 18th, 2010
Since I’m now writing for Kombo (articles have been pending for 2 months now), I lent my ideas to a recent list of anticipated games for E3 and sadly none of my comments were added to the article. So, in the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle, I have decided to post my pre-E3 ideas here, followed by some short after-show impressions.
Zelda: Skyward Sword
Zelda: Twilight Princess was the apotheosis of the Ocarina of Time-era design—a template which was ultimately a 3D culmination of the prior 2D games up to that point. Perfection is nice and all, but it’s been 12 years since the franchise’s last major revision. Aonuma-san and crew must be wary of this, so I most look forward to the way they’ll attempt to reinvigourate the franchise. Wii Motion Plus will obviously be at the heart of their attempt, but I’m also curious as to whether they’ll tinker with the orderly, dungeon-per-dungeon design that has characterised the series since its existence. Okami tried this and mostly failed, I think that Nintendo can reinvent themselves better.
After the show: As expected, the design sensibilities from the DS games have been wisely adapted to the Wii. Won’t know if they’ve made any fundamental changes to the franchise until it’s released.
Dead Space 2
Having interjected the original Dead Space narrative with a supporting comic, animated movie and stand alone game (Dead Space: Extraction), Dead Space 2 stands to represent whether EA are genuine or will waver on their commitment to Dead Space as a trans-media franchise. Dead Space: Extraction worked well as a conduit in connecting the various pieces of narrative, Dead Space 2 has the potential to turn the franchise into a cross-media universe.
Dead Space 2‘s place in the narrative seems to suggest that Visceral Games will finally explicate on the franchise’s psychological elements. Again, I think that there is much potential here and I hope that it ascends beyond mere graphical tomfoolery and blind sided plot twists.
After the show: Meh. More of the same and no commitment to diversification.
Metal Gear Solid Rising
It’s curiosity above all else that has me anticipating the reveal of Metal Gear Solid Rising. How on Earth can Konami develop a Raiden sub-story without narrative complication? The placeholder pic used in Microsoft’s E3 press conference last year seems to suggests that Rising will take place around the events of Metal Gear Solid 4. So, they’ll either focus on Raiden’s rescuing Sunny from the Patriots or go post-MGS4 with a bionically configured Raiden. Either way, expect Devil May Cry-flavoured action in a cybernetic landscape.
After the show: Uncertain as to how Konami will smoothly integrate the slicing controls without killing the pace, but at least it has found something of a niche (“cut!”), even if I disapprove of the violence.
Estpolis: The Lands cursed by the Gods
Already released in Japan, I’m just looking forward to reading more hands-on impression of the action RPG remake of Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals. I’m not sure whether the deviations, such as the screen-filling boss battles, will meld well with the original design, so I hope that the reporters at E3 can find me an answer. Regardless, Neverland, the developers of the SNES original, have recently restored my faith in another SNES RPG classic Harvest Moon through their sublime Rune Factory sub-series, so I am not overly concerned.
After the show: Haha! As if anyone would cover this game when they could write about slow motion headshot and decapitations.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2
I don’t like the way Capcom have part ridiculed Bionic Commando: Rearmed by flamboyantly promoting the inclusion of a jump mechanic in its sequel. I guess it’s a pretty funny jab, but the lack of jump wasn’t just an incidental exclusion in BC:R or the original game. The absence of a jump mechanic supported the titular swinging functionality, so I imagine that by including jump, Rearmed 2 will only further the challenge in dexterity.
After the show: Like Zelda, won’t know until it’s released. Nothing else worth commenting on.
June 14th, 2010
Moving, travelling and then finally starting work overseas has left me with a month-long void of stable internet. I’ve been extremely lucky in that my initial accommodation was smack bang near a free wireless access point, transmitting free, stable internet at the mercy of the CCP’s filter (so no Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, democracy, pornography or anything that is idly swept up). Then I moved across the street into my own apartment and my freebie internet became less stable but still willing to be kind at times, hence I’ve exploited said moments of decent transmission to catch up on my backlog of reading.
In which case I’d like to open a new segment called “Article Spotlight” where I basically take an interesting article I’ve read and use it as a launching pad into further discussion, maybe to develop my own ideas, maybe to critique the arguments of the original author. As was made apparent to me by the direct referencing of other writers by Richard over at the Critical Gaming blog some time ago, there is a vital lack of discussion between most writers on the web. The enthusiast media run a rotisserie of news articles and most blogging communities are too insular to directly address the work of their community. With that said, let’s start.
A Fine Line: Making RPGs AccessibleArticle Link
I currently lack the connection to listen to the respective podcast, so I will just respond to the written article.
In A Fine Line: Making RPGs Accessible, Kat observes the way that the abstract rule systems of most RPGs are often poorly conveyed to the player, citing Pokemon, Resonance of Fate and Infinite Space as specific case studies. What she concludes is that these games largely explicate their rules to the player through text (of which sometimes the text itself is insufficient), as opposed to internalising the tutorial into the functional fabric of the game. Furthermore, she references Final Fantasy VII to say that sometimes these games do not even emphasise the importance of vital subsystems, as is the case with the junction system.
RPGs are quite tricky in this regard since they are more heavily steeped in abstraction than other genres such as platforming, fighting or racing. As an extension to what Kat is saying, I think that the recent trend of adding “RPG elements” to other genres is an attempt to make logical the abstract rule systems of most RPGs. Mass Effect 2, Borderlands, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and GTA: San Andreas are good examples. The core gameplay of these games are not embedded in abstract rules, but rather 3rd person shooting, 1st person shooting, platforming and 3rd person action/driving. Since the “RPG elements” are contextualised with the (more) logical systems of platforming, fighting and action, the statistics and grinding make more sense to the player. The two systems are often compartmentalised due to their inherent nature (menus for RPG elements, live gameplay for main genre, for instance), which make it easy for players to mentally organise the constructs of gameplay. As such, complexity in these games stems from the patterns of relationship which players observe and capitalise on between the role playing and action elements.
I digress. To the point: Pokemon, Resonance of Fate and Infinite Space are badly designed, albeit in a genre which is tougher to design well for (due to the complexity of the abstract, often statistics-driven system). What these RPGs ought to do is to establish their rule structures around logical concepts (or as with Strange Journey, at least throw the player a bone once in a while). Pokemon‘s is fundamentally quite a common sense system as it is based around the elements (water beats fire, for instance), however, as Kat briefly alludes to, Pokemon has evolved to the extent that it requires an encyclopaedic amount of knowledge. Consequently the prior tutorial structures no longer provide sufficient in aiding the player’s understanding of this knowledge. Fire melts ice, but is weak against water is quite easy to grasp. How fire holds up against light, dark or steel is less so.
A good example of a well designed RPG is Paper Mario, previously I commented:
- “Perfect across the board and so far ahead of the curve that it was accused of being an RPG-lite at the time. It took J-RPGs another six years until they began to incorporate real-time action elements into their tiring RPG sub-systems.”
- And it is still ahead of the curve. Providing a counter case study to Kat’s examples of Pokemon, Infinite Space and Resonance of Fate, I’ve jotted down some quick bullet points as to how Paper Mario is an accessible RPG:
- Each attack involves a short, one dimensional sequence of interactivity as opposed to just selecting options from a menu
- The statistics (HP, FP, Star Power) are streamlined and explained promptly and at suitable points in the game
- The statistics in the game increase quite slowly, putting the focus on the player’s mastery of the attack sequences and matching the best buddy character to the right situation
- Mario’s main move set (jump and hammer) alongside his allies have functions outside of battle which help consolidate their purpose within the battle system
- Paper Mario assigns easy to understand visual and functional (attacks) characteristics to Mario’s supporting cast; they each have a sole property which defines them, ie. electricity, invisibility, etc.
- These cast members are limited to supporting roles, emphasising the importance of customising Mario
- The out-of-battle exploration supports the combat in the form of hidden badges
- The menus clearly explain the benefits of equipping each badge
This issue of accessibility that Kat and her Grind cohorts have discussed (godamn internet, I want that podcast now!) is a pressing issue for modern RPGs, particularly now as the genre is losing relevancy to other genres which are streamlining themselves far better. Western RPGs have been a part-saviour here considering their introduction of meaningful contexts, yet most RPGs still seem to wallow in esoteric rules, niche fantasy, high school or medieval contexts, marathon play times and repetitive, meaningless grind. It’s no wonder the genre is losing face in an industry that is slowly realising it’s potential. “RPG elements” is therefore a positive change, change from the ground up through logical contexts and embedded tutorials though, is critically needed.
On the flight over from Australia I began playing Rune Factory 2 and I just don’t understand the logic behind some of the exercises. For example, the player ought to embark on fetch quests and other such time fillers to earn respect and money (since you are COMPLETELY stoney broke to begin with and the market for purchasing seeds is obviously a racket) from the local community. A message board in the town centre displays the citizens minor complaints and on tending to a ‘request’ you must find the villager, talk to them and then serve their need. The problem is you have no idea where these people are. Sure, there’s a whole bottom screen dedicated to a map, but why display their location on the map? Instead you must talk to a faux fortune teller who for a hefty toll (defeating the purpose of the quest now, isn’t it?) with give you a vague and almost entirely useless text description of where this person is located. Helpful, isn’t it?