Friday, October 2, 2015

Visual novels and time travel

If you were to travel back in time to change the future, what would happen to the now obsolete future you left behind? There are various ways of thinking of time related to tome travel. Time can be imagined as a continues line, in which case the future you left behind would simple cease to exist once the past is changed. Or we can imagine time taking the form of a tree, rather then a continues line. In which case both futures would exist simultaneously. Your decision to travel back in time would create a sort of branching path. This would be true for all decision, not only those related to time travel. All decisions made by you and everyone else would in this thought experiment generate additional branches. In effect we would have an infinite amount of alternative worlds, some varying only in the most trivial details, others completely different from our own.

These types of questions are explored in the visual novel Steins Gate, telling the story of a time traveling, self declared mad scientist. The medium of choice, the visual novel is interesting. Since visual novels with their branching paths and multiple endings, are in themselves dealing with time travel. Once the player finishes one path, he is encouraged to load an earlier save file and explore the consequences of changing the decisions made during the game. No time machine is needed, the game itself is the means of traversing time.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

How about a third 64-bit Zelda?

Now when the developer Grezzo has done such a good job porting Ocarina of time to the Nintendo 3DS, and by the looks of it, an equally good job porting over Majora’s Mask, I wonder if Nintendo will let them take their engine and produce an original Nintendo 64 style Zelda game? They have the engine and the assets already, and Nintendo has outsourced their portable Zelda games before. They famously let Capcom develop their Zelda game for the Game Boy Advance.

Being a huge fan of the Nintendo 64 era of Zelda games I would love for something like this to happen. Maybe they could do a new take on Ocarina of Time, creating something similar to A Link Between Worlds with its basis in A Link to the Past. That way Grezzo could build on a version of Hyrule they are already familiar with and it would be the ultimate form of fan service for those Nintendo fans like myself who still consider Ocarina of Time to be the best game ever made.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

3D trophies

Like many 3DS owners I have gradually gone from playing with the 3D slider at max, to now only using the stereoscopic 3D sparingly. I find Smash Bros to be one of those many games that are best enjoyed with the 3D turned off, there is simply too much going on in that game. There is however one aspect of this game that is greatly enhanced by the systems 3D capabilities, that is the trophy collecting. Or more specifically the enjoyment that comes from looking over the status various angles while reading the short and often clever descriptions that accompanies the digital collectibles. This is the sort of thing the stereoscopic 3D is great for, taking an individual object and making it pop out of the screen. Since I will have to wait another month to fill up my shelfs with actual Amiibo figurines, until then these 3D models will have to do. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

I've missed the monkey

The third Monkey Island game, Curse of Monkey Island is one of my all-time favorite games. There is just something about the pirate-themed world Lucasart created for that game, that made me want to move to their imaginary version of the Caribbean and like Guybrush Threepwood become a mighty pirate. So when I discovered that a special edition of the first Monkey Island had come out for iOS, I had to give it a try. Especially now when I have this new phone with its large screen. 

Old computer games can often be a bit hard to get in to, more so then old console games. When it comes to old point and click adventure games, this barrier to entry consists of cheap deaths and bizarre and illogical puzzles. Monkey Island has no cheap deaths, actually you can't die at all in this game. It even makes fun of how easy it can be to get killed in other adventure games. There is this cliff which Guybrush can fall to his death from, but before the player has time to click the 'reload from last save' button that shows up, Guybrush bounces back up, saying something about a rubber tree. 

The other issue preventing modern gamers from picking up old adventure games, the seemingly illogical puzzles are not as bad in Monkey Island as in many other adventure games. The puzzles in the latest Monkey Island game from Telltale, Tales of Monkey Island are more adjusted to the patience of modern gamers. Still the puzzles here in the original mostly make sense, especially in the first half of the game. There are a few puzzles that likely would have driven me mad if it wasn't for the built in hint system and as a last resort: gamefaq. It does wound my pride a bit have to resort to such things but I have to realize that my time is in limited supply these days, unlike when I played the Curse of Monkey Island as a kid. Also there really is no fun in desperately trying every item on everything, just hoping to get lucky. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Second chances

I picked up Mass Effect 2 back when it came out. As a huge fan of the first Mass Effect I was definitely looking forward to it. Still I put it away after only a few hours. I remember thinking it played too much like Gears of War, with its new cover system and more action focused gameplay. Last night I decided to give Mass Effect 2 another chance and this time I didn't have the same issues.

Sure it plays a bit more like a shooter, but Mass Effect 1 had some serious issues in the combat department, so a reworked combat system might not have been such a bad idea. It is easy to forget towards the end of Mass Effect 1, that for the first half of that game your gun is constantly overheating and your weapons skill isn't high enough so your shots are flying all over the place. By replacing the heat mechanic with ammo and making the aiming less dependent on your stats, the combat is actually enjoyable right from the beginning. I'm less certain about the benefits of the cover system, but at least it doesn't ruin the combat. They could probably have cut the number of enemies in half and refocused the game more towards the story and the conversation trees, which is what Bioware does best. But I understand that modern gamers get bored if they don't get to shoot something every five minutes and I think I have gotten more accepting of this since I last gave Mass Effect 2 a try.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ideas for Amiibo implementation in Yoshi’s Woolly World

When Nintendo at E3 announced its lineup up games supporting the company’s new Amiibo figurines, Yoshi’s Woolly World was one of the games on the list. This left me very curious about how they plan to implement this.

Our current conception of how figurines are integrated in to video games is based on the two games on the market today, Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Both have chosen to integrate their figurines as playable characters, but as Nintendo has shown with Smash Bros, this doesn’t have to be the case. In Nintendo’s upcoming all-stars fighting game the figurine will instead be connected to an NPC, who the player can then fight and level up. Of course neither of these solutions seems to fit Yoshi’s Woolly World. Seeing how the game clearly wasn’t conceived with the Amiibo figurines in mind, I’m thinking they will likely have a minor effect on gameplay. My guess is that the figurines will probably be limited to altering the background and maybe the music somehow. For example loading the Starfox figurine could have Fox McCloud come flying by, not in any way affecting the gameplay, more as a piece of Nintendo fan service. For the Mario figurine I thought it could similarly trigger Mario themed fireworks, seeing how there have been fireworks in pretty much every Mario games since Super Mario Bros. Or if Nintendo really wanted to mess with their fans, they could have the Mario figurine set off the hated Baby Mario sound effect from earlier Yoshi games. The figurines could also be limited to just altering the music, for example the Animal Crossing Villager could change the music to some nice Animal Crossing tunes. I could actually imagine the Animal Crossing music being a good fit for a Yoshi game.

Personally I would be satisfied with such a relaxed approached to Amiibo integration in games like Yoshi’s Woolly World and have Nintendo put more effort in the integrating Amiibos in games like Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, which seem a more obvious fit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A gorgeous co-op experience

Child of Light is a truly beautiful 2D experience. I’m amazed by how good 2D graphics are getting. Muramasa and Wario Land looked amazing last gen and now when all the home consoles offer high definition graphics, these new 2D games are just blowing me away with their visuals. Rayman Legends looked fantastic but I would say Child of Light beats it, it’s absolutely stunning. Apart from the visuals the gameplay is fairly generic (altho with some twists), it’s mostly something to do while taking in the beautiful hand drawn graphics.

The game also has an excellent “girlfriend mode”. So if your significant other is attracted to the games visuals (who wouldn't be?) but maybe isn't the most skilled gamer, Child of Light might be a good fit. The second player controls a Navi-like blue ball of light called Igniculus, which can do things such as pull switches and slow down enemies in battle. The look of the game was enough to get my Ghibli loving girlfriend interested in some co-op play, the second player experience seemed to offer enough depth to keep her interested without being so complex that she got frustrated. The second player is mostly active  during the battles, where it is easy to contribute by keeping the Navi lookalike on an enemy and slowing him down. But if the second player really wants to maximize his or her impact on the battle it takes some real tactical thinking and timing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The platformer returns

For a while the sidescrolling platform genre seemed to be a thing of the past, a casualty of the introduction of 3D graphics with the PSX and N64. Having gone from being the most popular form of video gaming to being a niche thing. Now the genre seems to be back big time, especially on the Wii U. Some of the biggest titles for the system are traditional sidescrollers such as New Super Mario Bros. U, Rayman Legends and more recently Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. A lineup of games more reminiscent of the SNES days than the 3D consoles of the past 20 years. The new indie scene on the consoles has also contributed to the genres resurgence, supplying lots of creative platformers. So if you share my passion for the gameplay of the NES and SNES generations, this is a new golden age. Thanks to the increased power of modern consoles and a generally better understanding of level design, these modern platformers are in many ways superior to the classics that inspired them. 

Looking at the recent E3 announcements it looks like this trend will continue, with Mario Maker and Yoshi's Woolly World being two of the top games of Nintendo's E3 press conference. And let's not forget all the console indie games being shown off, we have two new Shantae games to start with and I'm personally very excited about Chariot and Teslagrad. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An unconventional love story

Song of Saya is one freaky game, that’s probably why I love it so much. It’s a visual novel, in which the protagonist has suffered a brain injury which has affected the way he perceives reality. The world around him appears to be covered in blood and gore, and everyone he meets looks like rotting meat-monsters. Everyone except one person, or *spoiler warning* rotting slime monster. This is where the dating sim element comes in, which is central to almost all Japanese visual novels and is the thing which takes this game to a whole new level of freakishness.

The love interest Saya appear in the eyes of the main character to be a pretty young lolita character, in stark contrast to the decaying world around him. In reality she can probably best be described as some sort of extra-terrestrial slug. Due to the same brain injury that makes him perceive all normal humans as disgusting monster like creatures, he perceives Saya as a beautiful girl. This leads to a very unconventional love story that is probably more appealing to fans of Lovecraft, than to your average reader of romance novels.

The disturbing story of Song of Saya makes it a niche product, in a genre that at least outside of Japan has to be described as very niche. Still I imagine this game to be better suited for western tastes than most visual novels. It is relatively short unlike most visual novels and is really more of a horror-story than a dating sim, things that I would imagine would appeal to western gamers. At least I found it to be very enjoyable and I tend to get bored with visual novels pretty quickly.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Disney goodness

I have heard a lot of good about the Mickey Mouse games for Genesis, but never played them myself. I’m however somewhat of a Disney fan, especially when it comes to their classic characters like Mickey. And unless you are new to this blog you will know that I have a passion for 2D platformers. So I was excited to pick up my copy of Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.

It turned out to be a slow methodical platformer, quite different from something like New Super Mario Bros. Something I found calming and almost meditative, perfect for playing while listening to an audio book. A mechanic where Mickey uses his magic paintbrush, and you the player uses your stylus, which includes a lot of erasing or tracing in various shapes contributes to the games relaxed if somewhat sluggish tempo. The game also has a lot of RPG-like elements, Mickey won’t level up but enemies drop money which can be spent to enhance Mickeys various abilities. Upgrades sold to you by none other than Scrooge McDuck, the one Disney character who can always be relied on to try and turn a profit, even when stuck in a magic castle. A design choice which in practice is not all that different from gaining experience points, which would cause the player to level-up, granting the same enhancements that are now purchased from our favorite Duckberg millionaire. The game also offers numerous side quests requiring extensive backtracking, the side quests are more or less optional, but a good idea if you are interested in all the before mentioned upgrades. These side quests mostly involve rescuing or doing favors for well-known Disney Characters, all of them involve some cute and silly dialog which can be considered pure fan service for us Disney fans.

So as I have hopefully made clear, this is not really your traditional platformer, instead it is a platformer which borrows heavily from other genres, but a platformer none the less, and quite a pleasant one.