E3 2013 Game Design Notes and Commentary

June 28th, 2013

I got back from my trip around China last Saturday and it feels like it’s taken ages to catch up on E3 news and videos. Here’s what caught my attention at this year’s show:

New IPs

For a long time I’ve been hung up on the idea that new IPs represent progress in the games industry. This year, though, a few things changed my mind. The first was the E3 Nintendo Direct presentation. Although Nintendo didn’t announce a single new IP, and the coveted Retro Studios game turned out to be another Donkey Kong title, I loved everything they showed. Of the big three companies, Nintendo has the most exclusive and original titles, and they’ll probably have more to show at the next Nintendo Direct in a month’s time. The second thing is something that Shigeru Miyamoto said in an interview with GameIndustry.biz, a conclusion that I was forming myself after watching the three main conferences:

“So this is actually a discussion that I think is tricky to balance, and certainly internally at Nintendo we have people on the teams who say, “Wouldn’t this be better if we created a new IP around it?” But to me, the question of new IP really isn’t whether or not [you have a new character]… I look at it from [the perspective of] what is the gameplay experience in the game you’re playing? For a lot of people, they would say if you take an old game and wrap a new character around it, that’s a new IP, but that game is still old, and the experience is still old. So what we’re doing is we’re always looking at what type of new gameplay experience can we create, and that’s the same for whether we’re playing with one of our existing IPs or we’re doing something new.

Pikmin 3 is a good example; the Pikmin characters were something that were born out of a new gameplay idea when we first came up with that game. We created the gameplay idea first and we decided that the best characters suited for that gameplay idea were Pikmin characters. That’s where the Pikmin IP came from. Similarly, if you look at our booth here, we’re showing it as a showcase of all of Nintendo’s great characters, but in each and every one of those games the gameplay experience is what’s new. So from my perspective, it’s not a question of just how can we create a new character and wrap it around an old game and put that out and call it a new IP. It’s always about starting with a new gameplay idea and a new experience that’s unique from an interactive standpoint and then finding a character that’s best suited with that. In some cases, it may be an existing character, and in some cases it may lead us to a new IP at some point in the future.”

Miyamoto hits the nail on the head. New IPs are often perceived as original and innovative because the difference from established IP is immediately clear: there’s new characters and a new world. The gameplay, however, may be quite familiar. So the only way to really determine innovation is to look at the gameplay of each individual title.

The third thing is the lack of originality elsewhere in the conference. Sony said that they had a whole slew of new IPs coming in the next year or so, but only showed Drive Club and a CG trailer for The Order. TitanFall looks great, but everything else Microsoft showed was more of the same driving and shooting.

The Role of Nintendo Direct

I’m a big fan of the Nintendo Direct presentations, and also the Developer Direct presentations, because they slow down and take the time to explain to the viewer how the games work. As someone that enjoys thinking about game design, I really appreciate this format. Nintendo have copped a bit of slack for not doing a live presentation, but I think they’re better for it. My friend, Richard Terrell, said something that esonated with me recently which is that at E3, the games press is looking for sizzle, but Nintendo are taking the slow and truthful route by focusing on gameplay. I think this summarises the situation perfectly.

Third Party Support at Conferences

As has become increasingly apparent over the past few years, third party exclusives are now something of a rarity. Between the big three, there were something like eight exclusive third party games between them (Dead Rising 3, Ryse, Bayonetta 2, Wonderful 101, Crimson Dragon, Below, D4, and Sunset Overdrive). What’s interesting about all these exclusives is that they’re published by the console manufacturer themselves.

Something I’ve never understood is the air time that Sony and Microsoft give to multiplatform third party games. Sure, if they lock in an hour of exclusive content or get timed exclusivity on DLC, it’s kind of worthwhile, even though such bonuses are often quite trivial to begin with (Batman skins, yes!). However, if the game is identical to games on other consoles, I don’t think that it deserves much more of a mention outside of a name drop or presence in a video montage. Take for example, the trailers for Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III at the Sony press conference or the Metal Gear Solid 5 trailer at the Microsoft conference. These games are coming to all platforms not because of good publisher relations, although it probably plays a part, but because of the direction of the market. So including them in the pressers, even as a gesture, is ineffective.

Sony Exclusives

According to Shuhei Yoshida, Sony have thirty titles in development at their worldwide studios, twenty of which will be released in the first year and twelve of which are new IPs. So far we’ve seen six of the twenty first party games to be released in the first year (Knack, Killzone Shadow Fall, Drive Club, Infamous: Second Son, The Order, and the Super Stardust HD successor) and three of the twelve new IPs (Drive Club, Knack, and The Order). I guess we have a lot to look forward to over the next year or so.

Gameplay, Please

FMVs, cutscenes, non-interactive sequences, and gameplay with a high degree of automation were more frequent than ever at this year’s show and it’s quite worrying. I mean, does anyone have any idea how to play Quantum Break?

Sony’s Presser

TitanFall

Killer Instinct

I found this comment by Eion on Eurogamer to be quite amusing:

“Meanwhile, Tekken Revolution launches tomorrow. It is free to play, with 8 characters free initially. It’s based on a solid, modern fighting game engine from a veteran fighting game developer – not an attempt to recreate an engine that was old in 1996, from a developer who has never touched a fighting game before.

Shocking how badly KI holds up to that kind of comparison.”

Metal Gear Solid 5

Super Mario 3D World

Ryse

Dead Rising 3

Watch Dogs

Final Fantasy XV

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Mario Kart 8

Wario Land 4 – Hall of Hieroglyphs Design Analysis [Video]

May 8th, 2013

YouTube Preview Image

This morning I was playing around with doing a video commentary piece on Anna Anthrophy’s Mighty Jill Off. I’ve been meaning to write about this game’s level design for a while, but because the game’s only playable in full screen—meaning I can’t play a bit and then type about it, or quickly stress test my comments on the fly—I never finished my article. I knew that the video wouldn’t work because I needed to have taken some notes first, but I gave it a shot anyway, just to prolong my procrastination. After not getting very far, I thought that I could do something similar on Wario Land 4, and came up with the video above. It’s pretty rough (so many “it’s important”s) and I didn’t do any preparation, but I’m still curious to know what you all think of it? Let me know in the comments.

The Beauty of Picross

April 26th, 2013

I’ve only just started the 15×15 puzzles, but I thought that I’d jot down a few ideas about Picross DS.

Like Crosswords DS, which I’ve been playing semi-regularly for 3 years now, I guess it’ll take me a long time to finish Picross DS.