June 19th, 2014
This video was too funny to pass up.
For the first time in a long time I was completely satisfied by the E3 showing this year. Loads of great games and plenty of innovation. After hours of reading, watching, and reflection, here are my main take aways from the show:
Video playthroughs focused on select portions of a game accompanied by developer commentary and gameplay trailers with few cuts are the best way to show off your gameplay to a new audience. Montages, CG trailers, early prototype video, and conceptual demos of the developers talking high concept just doesn’t cut it. Let the gameplay do the talking.
Between Nintendo’s Digital Event and the Treehouse Sessions, they covered these bases pretty well. However, the Treehouse videos were often drawn out due to the Japanese to English translation. Yes, I’m interested in Codename STEAM. No, I don’t have 45 minutes to sit through a slowly narrated playthrough with translation delays. Sony’s developer interviews were much more digestible at 10 minutes a piece, but they were too unfocused. Take this video of Hohokum for the PS4. After watching a 9-minute interview, I still have no idea what you do in this game. Start the interview with a short, elevator-pitch summary guys….geeze. The interviews are also inter-spliced with short snippets of trailer footage. It’s a good idea, but there’s not enough gameplay or context in the interviews to be constructive. Sony’s punchy length and Nintendo’s dictated playthroughs together would make a winning formula. Next year, guys.
If you stripped out all the CG trailers and meandering demos from the E3 conferences and replaced them with focused gameplay explanations, they’d be much more effective. I’m an E3 nut, but 1hr and a half of sizzle grows tiresome real quick.
It boggle the mind that Sony and Microsoft continue this pissing match of minor exclusivity. “Console debut”, “DLC first”, “it’s better on…”, “exclusive alpha version”, every time you hear these words—or in the case of self-apparent multiplatform titles, not hear—you know that it’s still a free kick to the other team.
Microsoft’s conference was basically a rehash of what they’ve been doing for the past 7 years: shooting, stabbing, and driving. I have no problem with these kinds of games, but there wasn’t anything genuinely new—unlike Titanfall
The start of Nintendo’s Digital Event was so refreshing especially after two marathon hours of self-important sizzle. It was funny too; I almost fell out of my seat. I also love the idea of Nintendo pushing back against the vocal minority of idiots in the Nintendo fan base. However, it was unfair of them to use Mother 3—a game which they can easily bring over to the virtual console.
Sony gave even more time than last year to indie games and it certainly injected a shot of dynamism into their showing. I’m not sure that Microsoft’s “we have 100s of these games” tactic is as effective as Sony’s curation approach. Giving these games a platform outside of a video montage and winning over some exclusivity on key titles is the best way to demonstrate commitment. That’s to say I think that players are more interested in playing the next great wave of indie games than having a large quantity of indie games to play. After all, we’ve all got PCs. In saying all this, though, maybe it’s just a consequence of the way Sony presented their indie game line up, but it was hard to see how these games were unique outside of their visual flair.
I was surprised that no one said that the new Zelda looks like Killer is Dead meets Skyward Sword. It totally does, right?
Nintendo say that the latest Zelda will be “open world”, but I wonder what that means exactly. Open world design works against the squeeze of gameplay, so I wonder how they’re going to pull it off while still maintaining the high level of gameplay quality that the Zelda series is known for. I guess A Link Between Worlds, which I have sitting on my 3DS SD card unplayed, will answer some of those questions for me. Whatever the case, I think it’ll take all the design ingenuity that Nintendo can muster to deliver on what Aonuma articulated during the digital event.
Splatoon was my game of the show. The genius behind this game makes my head spin. Territory control represented visually and organically as ink. Ink as a central dynamic that syncs into movement speed, traversal options, abilities, game flow and progression, and spatial dynamics. Ink as a solution to the issues inherent to gunplay (easy-to-see bullets that you can respond to, a weight dynamic to aiming, gyro to tune aiming, non-violent gunplay). Motion controls, touch screen controls, and traditional controller inputs. A reinvention of a well-worn genre. In terms of design, this is the most modern and sophisticated game I’ve seen in a long time.
I’m also surprised that no one said that Splatoon looks like a Sonic team game.
Odds and Ends
- Prior to the show I was hoping that Nintendo would announce a new IP. In the end they announced six and they all look fantastic.
- Project Spark was one of the only kid-friendly games shown at Microsoft’s conference and so what did they do? They added Conker to it. Well done.
- There seems to be a lot of different coloured gems in Yarn Yoshi. I hope they’re not just excessive collectables. I’m still not convinced of this game.
- It’s cool that Criterion are working on something awesome and completely new, but showing it off so early is poor form for EA.
- Shape Up treats work out moves as interactions and then builds a game around them. It’s a neat idea.
- Having recently read Alan Moore’s Jack the Ripper epic From Hell, I’m curious about The Order. However, not much has been said about what makes the gameplay unique and what we saw at E3 doesn’t aspire much confidence that it’ll be anything more than Uncharted 2 inter-spliced with Heavy Rain.
- The Grim Fandango remake announcement was the biggest megaton of the show (although the game hardly needs a remake, but I’m open to being proven wrong).
- The additions to LittleBigPlanet 3 look smart and substantial. It’s funny that the same team who worked on Forza Horizon 2 are working on this game.
- I can’t believe that Konami put out another MGS5 trailer. I wish they would explain more about the gameplay. I guess they kind of did that with Ground Zeros… :/
Yep. Very satisfied indeed. What did you most enjoy about the show? Let me know in the comments.
May 12th, 2014
Over the Christmas break, I burned through Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the PS2. It was the first time I’d ever played Mega Man, and now I’m a big fan of the series. A lot has been said about the original NES games, so I’m just going to focus on a few key observations.
Since the platforming gameplay is fairly static, most of the trials (think trial and error) that the player makes are in the robot master battles. That is, testing to see whether a certain beam will take off more damage, whether a new tactic will help you dodge a certain move, etc. This is why the pre-boss checkpoints introduced in Mega Man 3 are so great: they remove the redundant repetition that occurs when the player is learning how to beat a boss. So there’s no need to repeat half the level when you’ve already done it once.
The robot masters get wackier and more obtuse much earlier than I thought they would. And as such, it becomes hard to figure out the their weaknesses, which means more hypothesis testing and trial and error. Since there’s only a handful of beams, though, the player can find out which attacks work best relatively quickly. Like the clues in crosswords, you want the answer to seem intuitive without being too obvious. Usually the combinations make sense, but sometimes they’re a bit less elegant (Plant Man is takes more damage from a Blizzard Attack than a Flame Blast?!).
The original series isn’t as difficult as internet folklore would have you believe. The extra beams and abilities (Rush Coil, Rush Jet, etc.) allow players to scale the game’s difficulty, so there’s plenty of wiggle room.
Besides the inclusion of Proto Man in Mega Man 3, which mixed up the progression structure a bit, the elaborate stories of the later games don’t really complimented the gameplay a great deal. They just pad out the opening introduction.
The warp pads that teleport Mega Man out from the individuals rooms and into the robot masters selection room in Wily’s castle should require that the player press down to exit. Several times I accidentally left the rooms before I could pick up the health pellet.
In Mega Man 4, the final few bosses and levels in Wily’s castle are quite short and easy, throwing the difficulty curve out of whack. It’s nice that they added more content, with the second phase of Wily’s castle, but it could have been better placed.
The charge shot in Mega Man 4 contributed a great deal to the series. The mechanic allows the player to suspend gameplay over multiple areas, allowing them to remain more consistently engaged in the game.
As a kid, I imagine that I would have played a very pure game of Mega Man, focusing on my dexterity and reflex levels. As an adult, I move some of the stress onto my knowledge skills. So I’ll look for patterns or internalise timings.
After beating a level, you’re given two options, “continue” and “level select”. The “continue” option always confused me as instead of allowing you to continue you’re game, you’re put back in the same level that you just completed. It should be relabelled as “retry level”.
Although the series ran out of fresh ideas around Mega Man 4, the later games still had some glimmers of innovation here and there. Gravity Man’s stage in Mega Man 5 is a great example. I think of it as a precursor to VVVVVV.
In Mega Man 5, many of the enemies die after taking a hit from a fully-charged beam, so it’s easy to defeat enemies as soon as they come into view. Since the enemies have no way to counter, the mechanic is overpowered. Some simple dodging or reflecting moves could have gone a long way to making the enemies more effective.
In Mega Man 5 and 6, tank reserves are suspended across game overs, so it’s possible to stock up supplies for the final boss battle. These games are also way too generous with the distribution of tanks. What was once a reward became a right. Find a spot at the start of a level where there’s a free energy tank and go crazy.
May 6th, 2014
A number of readers have requested that I do a write up on my personal opinion on Wario Land 4. So this post is going to be just that, a bit of an indulgence. But before I out what I think of the game, I want to explain why I’m sometimes reluctant to discuss subjective in my writing.
On the subjective
All my ideas for writing come from my gut. I play a game, feel something, and want to make sense of that feeling. So I take notes and let the ideas stir around in my subconscious for a while, waiting for the eventual click to happen. Sometimes it comes straight away, other times I need to gather more evidence from the game, and every now and then it doesn’t come at all and I’ll try and fill in the pieces by talking to others or doing research. Once the insight hits, I’ll start drafting, which brings some of the implications out and forces me to expand on the details, if I haven’t already. Editing then tightens up the argument, and I’ll be left with a nice summative piece that explains how it is that I came to have that original feeling.
It’s through this process of putting in the hard work to make sense of your opinions that you realise that what you’ve unearthed is far bigger than yourself. In other words, I don’t feel that knowing what I think is half as interesting as having the means to understand what you think.
Of course, opinions are helpful and I have no problems using them in my writing. It’s just that it’s important to keep our ideas grounded for the sake of clarity. I like to think that someone who totally disagrees with my ideas should be able to read one of my posts and understand how it is that I came to form my opinion.
Here’s what I think of Wario Land 4:
- Fiery Cavern is the best level in the game. If that wasn’t obvious enough. It’s in a totally different league to the other levels.
- Hotel Horror is the worst level in the game. My original piece on Hotel Horror was scathing, but when I looked closer at the pathways through the hotel, I realised that it fit in with the “optional challenges” theme running through Topaz passage. So it was nice to have something to say about this level in the end.
- Writing about Wario Land 4 has changed the way I see game ideas and level variation. Base level challenges that don’t develop and don’t play an important function in the game (for example, a break from several difficult challenges) annoy me like crazy. This is why I don’t think much of Hotel Horror and Toy Block Tower. At least Palmtree Paradise has a functional purpose, to introduce the player to the jewel pieces, keyzer, and folded level design.
- I’m a bit concerned about the variation and game ideas in the earlier Wario Land games. I played Wario Land 3 and Shake Dimension last year, so I can talk about these games. Generally speaking I can say that Wario Land 3 is a hodge-podge of unrelated puzzle and platforming challenges and the hub-based level design only gives each level’s four routes a handful of arrangements each, so the overall structure makes it difficult for more sophisticated game ideas to emerge. Shake Dimension‘s levels do have their own gameplay concepts, but they meander and lose their focus.
- I remember when I first saw Wario’s sprite. I thought he looked ugly compared to the more cartoony depictions in prior titles. I still haven’t really made sense of this. I just kind of ignored his sprite as I was analysing the game.
- I like how the puzzles are organised in Wario Land 4. In prior games, you had many simple puzzles break up the platforming. In Wario Land 4, with the GBA making the change for action gameplay, the puzzles are segregated into their own areas and many of them are focused on teaching the nuances of the main mechanics. In this way, the puzzle rooms support the action gameplay nicely.
- I first played Wario Land 4 on the plane to Shanghai. At one point, I had finished almost all the levels, but couldn’t find all of the keyzers and jewel pieces in some of them. I can understand that some people felt that some of these elements were too difficult to find and that they don’t like having to play the levels again to find them, but that’s too bad for them. As we know, the game does a good job of introducing the player to the locks and keys through the Hall of Heiroglyphs and Palmtree Paradise. And if you look at the maps for all the levels, it’s clear that the collectables aren’t that hard to find if you keep your eyes open and do a little exploring. Furthermore, the jewel piece chests are positioned equal ways through each level so that the player should have a sense for where they can find them.
- I dig how the narrative kind of sits in the background. It’s really appropriate for this game because, as I explained in the book, Wario doesn’t care about the Golden Diva and the whole back story of the Golden Pyramid. He just wants the treasure. So the player’s put in a similar position to Wario and is likely to respond to the events in the game in the same way. Equally, there’s enough backdrop given for those who are interested in digging deeper.
- The bosses are all, of course, fantastic. Cractus is my favourite. It was a real puzzle analysing all his different phases and looking for patterns in his design.
- I didn’t even notice that Yurei could pick up coins or take the keyzer until I played through the level a few times. I think I might have written the draft without mentioning it.
- I’m not a Wario nut, but I am very fond of the series, though. Wario Land 4 is my favourite game out of the lot, but it’s not my “favourite game of all time” or anything like that.
There you have it, my opinions of Wario Land 4. I told you it wouldn’t be terribly exciting, but I hope it adds a bit of context to the book. I’m always happy to answer any questions that you might have about the game or series, so if I haven’t addressed something you were hoping I’d cover, then feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll get to it.