Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The grumpy old man and his reactionary views

Get your hands off my video games!

I am looking at the lineup of games for Nintendos next handheld, the 3DS and the game that got me the most excited is the remake of Ocarina of Time. A game I already own for the Nintendo 64 (the first run gold cart) as well as two copies of the Gamecube port. You would think I would be more excited about something fresh and new instead of a 3D version of a game I have already played to death. But this is really indicative of my feelings about the modern game industry. I couldn't care less about most of the big name titles released this generation.

Either this means that there has been a dramatic drop in quality in recent years or I am turning in to a sad grumpy old man, reminiscing about the good old days. There are still a lot of new releases that I very much enjoy, but they are either remakes like the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time, or they are "neo-retro". Games made to appeal to our retro sensibilities, games that apart for their nice and shiny graphics just as well could have been released 10 or 20 years ago. Titles that have incorporated few if any of the "innovations" of recent years. The game that is spinning in my Wii right now, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a perfect example of this. Retro Studios have pretty much given the middle finger to the supposed advancements made in their craft the past 15 years and said this type of gameplay was a blast on the Super NES and with some slight tweaks it will be just as much fun on a modern console.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My return to the plastic jungle

Dr. Kong I presume?

It has been a while since I last visited the DK family and their pre-rendered home. Some things have changed since then. It turns out the wonderful plastic jungle is no longer run by the British gentlemen over at Rare. Instead it has been taken over by a bunch of Texans from Retro Studios, mostly known for their work on abandoned space stations. Also the jungle doesn’t seem quite as plastic as before, probably due to it now being rendered in real time by the little white box underneath my TV.

Some things on the other hand have been left unchanged. Besides the camera still being stuck in a side-view angle, the monkeys still prefer to travel in groups of two (this time with Diddy riding on Donkeys back) and their affinity for riding around on Rhinos appear unchanged. Also there are a lot of money being launched out of explosive barrels and highly dangerous minecart rides as well as the famous (some would say excessive) collectathon everyone loved to hate in the Rare games. There are K-O-N-G letters, hidden puzzle pieces, large coins and bananas to collect.

So even if the talented Texans went along and changed around some things, I still felt very much at home in the plastic jungle with my hairy friends.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oh, Come On!

Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll is a cute and fun little Wii game. The graphics are charming and the controls are really good. Unless of course one decides to use the Balance Board which makes the game near uncontrollable.

I would have really enjoyed it if it wasn't for one detail that drove me absolutely mad. Every time you beat a world you have to sit and watch the 10 minute ending credits. Usually this treat is reserved for when you beat the game, this time Sega has decided to be a bit more generous. There are seven worlds in Step & Roll so you will spend a lot of time watching those credits over and over again. And this is not a long game, I probably beat it in around five hours. So a large part of those five hours was spent watching the credits roll. Sure there is a silly little minigame to play while watching the credits but that doesn't help much since it's the type of meaningless minigame your tire of after 2 minutes.

Either the developers over at Sega have a sadistic bent and love to torment their fans, giving the difficulty of the Monkey Ball series that's not a wholly impossible proposition. Or they just suffer from an extreme need for attention. Maybe this is their way to make up for the unfair practice in the early years of the industry when publishers refused to allow developers to put their names in the credits.

I don't know the reason for this highly annoying oddity, what I do know is that it made me want to tear my hair out in frustration. My time has value too Sega! When I only mange to squeeze a few hours of gaming a week in to my busy schedule this is not what I want to spend them on. What's sad is that in six months all I will remember about Step & Roll is likely those never ending credits, not the games charming style, its excellent controls or its challenging yet very satisfying gameplay.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tracing the popularity of the King of Koopas

The latest game in the Mario RPG series is Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. Where Bowser joins in as one of the playable characters. This is not the first time he has stepped out of his traditional role as the fire breathing final boss. He was one of the playable characters in Super Paper Mario and then of course there are all the Mario sports games, where he is an obvious star.

This honor surely stems from the vast love for King Koopa among Nintendo fans. But this begs the question why is Bowser so bellowed when most gamers struggle to remember the names of his fellow final bosses. Who remembers Wart, the evil humanoid frog you face at the end of Super Mario Bros 2? What about King K. Rool from the Donkey Kong games, when did you think of him last? Or what about what about Emperor Andross from the Star Fox series, even I had to look up that guys name. Mario is arguable the most famous video game character so some of that fame is bound to rub off on to his archnemesis but I feel that this is an insufficient explanation, Bowser is simply too popular. Instead I would like to trace the popularity of Mushroom Kingdoms infamous bad guy back to design of the very first Super Mario Bros. The game where Bowser first made his appearance.

Unlike later platformers the original Super Mario Bros only had one boss, you had to face him in a number of incarnations of increasing difficulty but it was always the same guy, the same crazy eyed sprite. At the end of the forth level of every world you came face to face with Bowser. This ensured that every kid growing up during the NES-era had to battle him innumerable times. Unlike your traditional last boss which given the difficulty of games back in the day, only the most skilled kids ever got to even see. I was never good enough at Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World to reach Bowser back in the day. But I surely got to develop a close relationship with him in Super Mario Bros.

Back when games had a minimal story and hair tearing difficulty the last boss all too often remained a mystery, not Bowser. When I think about it the only antagonist that can rival Bowser in popularity would be Dr. Robotnic. The early Sonic games like the Mario games had Sonic facing off against Dr. Robotnic at the end of every zone. Another case where this type of game design surely contributed to the popularity of one of the mediums best known bosses.

Monday, October 25, 2010

From one beauty to the next

I'm taking a break from Final Fantasy XIII and am instead spending spending my evenings with a Wii game. One might think that this move from what is arguably the best looking PS3/360 game to a consoles which hardware is the very opposite of cutting edge, would result in a drastic step down in terms of graphics. But not so, since the game disc that is spinning in my Wii is no other then the stunning 2D beauty Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

The art in Muramasa and the fantastic backgrounds in particular are so mindblowingly beautiful I am even tempted to say it's graphics are better (in terms of looks, not polygons of course) then those of FFXIII.

I have said this before but Muramasa makes this point crystal clear, just because a game is for the Wii doesn't mean it can't look fantastic. It is just a question of picking the right art style, playing to the systems strengths. A game like Muramasa is probably only possible on the Wii. My understanding of the costs associated with producing two dimensional art of the type Vanillaware is famous for makes it near impossible to develop for a high definition system. So it's the perfect example of picking the art style that fits the system.

I remember a few years ago there was a lot of talk about porting the Unreal Engine to Wii. This really was the dumbest idea ever. This was around the time Gears of War was coming out and everyone was excited about how good it looked. At the same time Nintendo were showing off Super Mario Galaxy. I would argue that Mario Galaxy looks just as good as Gears of War, they only have very different graphical styles. Galaxy was as optimized for the Wii as any game could be and it therefore looked fantastic. A Gears port if even possible would have looked like absolute shit on the Wii. Since then a few developers seems to have gotten this and Nintendo is not the only company delivering Wii games with mouth watering graphics. Looking at Muramasa Vanillaware might even have surpassed them in that arena.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wait didn't I fight this androgynies bad guy last Thursday?

A friend of mine sent me this charming rpg chart ^(click it for a larger and more readable version). I'm sure it has made the rounds around the internet for a while but this is the first time it has passed by my eyes. It got me thinking how I used to play Japanese role playing games for their story, but how I now look at the story more as an annoyance in the way of my grinding. The more of them I play the more apparent it becomes that the developers are just pulling some random story clichés and character stereotypes out of some communal hat all rpg developers seem to be passing around. Putting them together in a more or less coherent way and calling it a day.

There is this completionist nature to me that forces me to carefully read all game dialog and make sure that I talk to ever last villager but I wouldn't say that I really enjoy it. What keeps me coming back to this silly genre which hasn't evolved for the past decade or two is that it allows me to turn off my brain, hit attack over and over again and slowly watch my characters grew in strength. There is something both relaxing and oddly satisfying in this highly repetitive exorcise.

When I come upon a town or other plot point I don't find it intriguing that the story is about to progress, instead I get almost annoyed that I have to turn my brain back on and put my leveling on hold to be spoon fed a story that is so predictable and stereotypical that I really could have done without it.

This isn't a call for less formulaic and more original storytelling in role playing games. I just want less of it, much less. Give me a short setup, some silly reason why the androgynies bad guy wants to destroy the world and then let me level up my party without interruptions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mario madness

I have been on this Mario craze lately. I dug up my old SNES and played through all the old Mario platformers. Starting with the All-Stars remakes of one, two and three. Then I moved on to Mario World and after that back to Lost Levels aka the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2.

Surprisingly on this playthrough it was the Lost Levels that I had the most fun with. Maybes this is because it's still relatively new to me. I did play a little of the All-Stars remake as a kid but the difficulty was simply too high for me to get much enjoyment out if it back then. A year or two ago I played some of the Famicom game on the Wii Virtual Console but quickly gave up after realizing that the only way to beat it was by using the Koopa shell trick to get a ridiculous amount of lives.

The All-Stars remake which I started playing the other day offers a more elegant solution. Instead of kicking you back to the beginning of the first level of the World upon Game Over it lets you start at the beginning of the specific level instead. In effect giving you unlimited lives. This is a very welcome change since the brutal difficulty often forces you to replay the same level a dozen times.

The original Famicom game was never released outside of Japan because of its somewhat extreme difficulty. But it is not really the difficulty that is the problem. It is the traditional Super Mario Bros setup which gives you 5 lives then kicks you back to the beginning of the world, that is designed for a game which doesn't require you to replay the same level 20 times. When the difficulty is turned up so high that the game becomes more about memorization that formula simply doesn't work. Thankfully whatever team over at Nintendo handled the SNES port realized this and fixed the game. Making it not only playable but a highly enjoyable challenge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Orthodox space shooting

Why do I love bullet hell shooters? It has nothing to do with their complex scoring systems, their level of customization or their over the top special attacks. No it is all about dodging insane and beautiful bullet patterns. That's what gives the genre it's extreme intensity and makes it so wonderfully satisfying. Add to that some nice techno music and we are in for some fun.

The problem is that in an attempt to improve the bullet hell genre and to cater to a shrinking but increasingly hard core fanbase, developers are adding more and more unnecessary additions to their games. Dodonpachi Resurrection is a good example of this, not only do we have your standard screen clearing bomb, we have a laser canon necessary to counter some enemy fire, we have an extremely powerful hyper canon which functions similarity to the bomb only it lasts a bit longer. Then we have the S/M meter which depending on your play style either increases your multiplier or the spread of your attack. It is easy to see how all this "innovation" can get in the way of what makes Dodonpachi fun, dodging bullets and crazy amounts of them.

Luckily under Arcade mode we have what is called Bomb Style, described as "[a]n orthodox and easy to use play style". Here there is no S/M meter, the powerful hyper cannon is fired automatically when powered up (in exchange for losing the control of the trigger it now powers up much faster), even the traditional bomb is triggered automatically right before you would have been hit by an enemy laser, in essence acting like an extra life. The only thing left up to your control in the laser beam, which I could have done without but since it is the big mechanic setting Dodonpachi apart from its competitor I can live with it.

This way of shaving off all the unnecessary bs leaves the player to fully focus on the bullet patters, nothing else matters. You don't have to keep looking to see if one of the many meters is filled up, you don't even have to keep your bomb finger ready. And that is a God sent since some of those bullet patterns will require 110% of your attention.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Busy dealing with black chicks

I haven't written much on the blog and been fairly inactive on twitter for a while now. I haven't had much time to play video games and even less time to write. My disappearance from the interwebs was recently commented on by one of the hosts of the Apple podcast Kernel Panic. On their spin-off show Beachballed Gabe Glick speculated that I "must be busy dealing with black chicks". Now if that comment is based on my former dating habits or if Gabe is simply projecting his own troubles dealing with a half black and highly pregnant wife on to me, I can not be sure. Either way I always like it when those guys talk about me.

The reason why I haven't had much time to write is a combination of me taking an unusually time consuming statistics class this semester and a lovely new girlfriend. And no she isn't black so Mr Glick can not attempt to claim to be half right.

This however does not mean I have completely given up on gaming. I am soldiering on with Dragon Quest IX and a few hours ago I managed to beat DoDonPachi Resurrection on one continue, something I am a little bit proud of. I am also planning on putting in the last few hours necessary to beat Final Fantasy XIII sometime soon. When I get some more free time I will tell you guys all about it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Completionist hardships

I try to beat all the games I pick up, especially the ones I like a lot. It is almost a compulsive thing with me. When I say beating a game this usually means beating the last boss and seeing the end credits. But with shmups it's not really that simple. Because of their arcade like nature they can often be beaten within an hour. If they come with unlimited continues which often is the case, it's all but guaranteed.

To say that I have beaten a shmup after simply having seen the ending credits feels very wrong to me. I have barely began mastering the game's mechanics.

So on how many continues would I have to beat the game to feel like I have really completed it? One seems to be the natural answer but to 1cc a shmup can be a real challenge. And on what difficulty? Normal is usually considered the standard difficulty. It's by this reasoning I have convinced myself that I have to 1cc on normal difficulty every shmup I start playing.

It took me a while to accomplish this goal with Espgaluda 2 but I finally did the other day. So now I can move on to the next space shooter. I have a few waiting for me in my pile of shame but I have a feeling it will probably be Dodonpachi Resurrection for iPhone if Cave just get around to releasing it sometime soon. They promised it would be out this summer...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grinding with a nice view

With games light on story and heavy on grinding such as Dragon Quest or Pokemon the feel of the world, its charm if you will is of the highest importance. I guess it's like if you were to take a long walk you would like your surroundings to be pleasant. You rather take a stroll through a nice park than an industrial estate.

The slightly futuristic world of Pokemon where man lives a peaceful existence close to nature, offers the perfect atmosphere for long hours of relaxed grinding. The mix of sleek high tech and beautiful green plains and forests makes the repetitive combat much more tolerable.

The highly anime influenced take on western fantasy of the Dragon Quest games is another world perfect for grinding. Even if you are fighting all kinds of evil monsters and have to traverse various dungeons, it's still all very cute and charming. It's like the world of Tolkien was adopted for the under 13 crowd. The Dragon Quest universe is just so darn lovely that I do not at all mind fighting the same silly monsters over and over again.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reading comics on the iPhone

Surprisingly the iPhone is pretty decent device for reading comics. You would think it would be horrible with such a small screen but the combination of the touch screen and landscape mode works fairly well.

If you have gotten used to reading comics in the pocket book format the width of the page isn't that different from the width of the iPhone screen when in landscape mode. Then you can simply pull on the screen to scroll. I prefer to have the view a little bit more zoomed in, so that I have to move the screen just slightly left and right to see the whole page, but that is just a personal preference.

Thanks to the excellent Comic Zeal software I can even read my favorite fan translated manga on the go. It's great not to have to carry around a comic book everywhere I go. Now when people stare at me on the train they think I'm a gadget geek instead of a comic book geek, which for some reason is considered slightly more cool, and I am hesitant to use "me" and "cool" in the same sentence.

In some ways reading comics on the phone is a different experience. Because of the small screen I keep my eyes fixed on one point while moving the page around instead of moving my eyes and neck. In some ways this is a more pleasant experience. I also suppose the jump from actual comics the the iPhone is easier to make if you like me already have spent years reading fan translated manga on the computer. It takes some getting used to not holding an actual magazine in your hands.
The picture at the top of the post is a screenshot I took while reading a manga on the iPhone. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Quiet Country Café

I have been reading this fantastic manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kiko which roughly translates to record of a Yokohama shopping trip. The OVA was localized as Quiet Country Café which fits it much better.

I know this is mostly a gaming blog but this comic is so good I almost felt obligated to share it with you guys. But it is somewhat problematic to write about since I have seemingly yet to really figure out what it is about. It takes place in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic future and the main character is this lovely android woman Alpha, who runs a Café out in the country. The manga tells the story if her daily life, her neighbors and the rare customers at the countryside cafe. Nothing exciting really happens, instead it is more about the highly glorified country life where time seems to stand still. It is all about the lovely atmosphere.

If I were to attempt some rudimentary analysis, I would say the manga reflects a longing among the highly metropolitan Japanese for a quiet life in the country. Where no stress exists and days can pass without you meeting another soul.

The choice of an android as the main character is perfect for this theme. She will never age, for her the passage of time matters little. She is not dependent on her business to survive, the fact that her café almost never gets any customers is not a problem. It only makes that occasional visit more exciting, an event worth writing about.

The very best the genre has to offer

  • Chrono Trigger
  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Final Fantasy XII
  • Final Fantasy XIII
  • Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Door

Those are probably my five favorite RPGs of all time. They aren't written in any particular order, although I might try to arrange them in to a top 5 later.

You might notice that Final Fantasy XIII is on that list. I have yet to finish it but I am near the end so I feel comfortable putting it in there. Actually FFXIII is the reason for me writing this little list. I wanted to illustrate how much I am liking this game. I know the Internet has taken one big collective dump on it but I couldn't disagree with them more, I simply love it. And I wanted somehow try to communicate just how much. I could of course do that by giving it a score, that's how reviewers usually summarizes their opinions. But since I have never scored anything else on this site before such a number would hold little meaning since it couldn't be compared with the score of any other game. So instead I am trying to tell you how much I like it by saying that in my book FFXIII is roughly on par with these other four RPGs. Four games I absolutely love and to me embody the very best the genre has to offer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fighting piracy in the marketplace

Video game publishers are constantly coming up with new more complex anti piracy measures. And the kids on the Internet are getting more and more proficient at cracking them. I have long argued that publishers must look at piracy not as a problem that can be solved by more advanced DRM but as a competitor they have to beat by offering a superior product.

If publishers and torrent sites are offering seemingly the same product it's no wonder consumers are choosing the free alternative.

The most brilliant anti piracy measure I have ever seen must be the Pokewalker packed in with Gold and Silver. Here Nintendo offered a peripheral that not only enhanced the gaming experience but did so in a way which the pirates couldn't duplicate. They simply beat their competitor in the marketplace by offering a better product.

Not all games can include new crazy peripherals but all retail games offer some non-digital content which the pirates can't duplicate, the packaging and the manual. Now days the trend seems to be towards thinner and thinner manuals, that's all wrong! Give us nice full color manuals with content gamers would actually want to read. Don't stop there, throw in an art book, get some big name comic book artist or something to do the art. Maybe throw in some collectible cards, anything to enhance the value of the boxed copy.

And don't forget the box art. Most game boxes look generic and boring. Spend some time on the box art, make sure it's something we want to put on our shelfs. And for God sake use some decent paper. A jpeg I get off the Internet and print on some hi quality paper looks noticeably better then what you sell us. No wonder consumers are indifferent between owning the digital and the physical copy of your game when you have made sure the physical copy isn't viewed as a collectable.

Publishers can never compete with the Internet on price so they have to do so by offering superior content. And they are doing a shit job at it. You don't need a degree in economics to realize that if one seller charges $0 for a product and another seller charges $60 for an identical product consumers will choose to pay $0. Publishers have to offer something their competitor isn't, give the consumers a reason to pay you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why I was disappointed with Mario Galaxy

For me the Super Mario games games can be divided in to two categories. You have the pre-N64 Marios and the post-N64 Marios. They are set apart by much more then the graphical jump from 2D to 3D. When our favorite plumber moved on to the N64 the gameplay completely changed. It was no longer about running from point A to point B while using the jump to overcome various obstacles along the way. Instead it became about exploring 3D environments and collecting stars. Where you before blew through a level as fast as possible you now returned to it over and over again to explore various aspects of it. The Mario games became less action oriented and more of adventure games.

Here my problem with the Galaxy games come in. I was expecting them to fit snugly in the the second category, I was expecting the exploration focused gameplay I had come to love in Mario 64 and Sunshine. This was what the Mario series now was to me and it was what I wanted from a Mario game.

But Galaxy 1 and later 2 were to fit better in the first category along with Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World. While the Galaxy games still offered extremely high quality platforming they were now super linear. Mario ran through a series of small planets until he reached his goal with no real possibility for exploration, not that unlike the original Mario games.

I can recognize Galaxy 1 and 2 as being extremely well made games and I did enjoy them but I still couldn't help being disappointed. I wanted something more along the line with Mario 64, I wanted them to use the power of the Wii to create even more intricate 3D environments for me to explore every little part of. Instead we got an action packed highly linear platformer. An excellent one for sure but for me an unwanted regression to the pre-N64 era of Mario design.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Whomp's Fortress remade

My favorite part of Super Mario Galaxy 2 was the remake of the second course from Super Mario 64, Whomp's Fortress. I have such found memories of Mario 64 that being able to return to one of those classic levels was amazing. That game excited me like few others have, I remember going down to the toy store all the time to play it on their demo-kiosk before I got my own N64, and after I did I put countless number of hours in to that game. Of all the games I have played it might be the one I have the fondest memories of. As my first real 3D game it amazed me to no end, it was like they had created a whole new universe and stuck it on to a cartridge.

When I played through the DS port years later I was surprised how well Mario 64 held up. It was just as enjoyable as any modern platformer, even with the DS's crippled control scheme. Now revisiting Whomp's Fortress again in Galaxy 2 I can't help wishing they would remake the whole game in the Galaxy engine.

They were able to retain the same feel of the original level even while making subtle improvements to the level design. And with gorgeous Galaxy graphics and the much improved camera it was better than ever. If they had remade the Bob-omb Battlefield I might have actually cried.

Please Nintendo, you have shown us how well a Mario 64 remake would work on the Wii so just give it to me. I would pay you lots of money, you could even have my first born as payment.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Time to thank the plumber

I wrote yesterday of New Super Mario Bros enormous success. Mostly undeserved if you ask me; for a Mario game
it was kinda shitty. But it did prove that there still exists a large market for side scrolling platformers. I do believe that it is thanks to this success that Nintendo feels comfortable announcing two big name sidescrollers at E3 this year. If it wasn’t for New Super Mario Bros taking off like it did I don’t think we would have gotten Kirby’s Epic Yarn or Donkey Kong Country Returns.

Retro Studios would probably have been stuck making some bland online shooter like every other developer these days. After their success with Metroid wasn’t that what everyone expected them to be doing? Instead they are making a new Donkey Kong Country which is infinitely more exciting.

With Kirby’s Epic Yarn Nintendo is taking a big risk, not only by putting out a 2D game these days but one with such an unorthodox artstyle. If it wasn’t for the success of New Super Mario Bros would such a creative return to Kirby’s roots have gotten the go ahead?

Friday, June 18, 2010

I think the hamburger-man called them bridge games

New Super Mario Bros Wii was a runaway success, that little bugger even outsold Modern Warfare 2. The first Mario Galaxy did alright but the sales of its side scrolling sibling made it look like an unwanted stepchild. Luckily this didn't stop Miyamoto and his crew from conjuring up a sequel to Galaxy in those seemingly magical offices over in Kyoto. They don't make a secret of the fact that they are going after not only the people who played the first Galaxy but also that huge market made up of those millions who bought and hopefully also enjoyed NSMB.

This is made abundantly clear by the first section of Galaxy 2. The game actually starts out locked in to a 2D view. And then goes on to carefully introducing 3D gaming, like this was some newfangled invention meant to blow us away. Now this was done in such a charming way I didn't mind at all. The point is that Nintendo clearly sees NSMB as the stepping stone on to "real" games, like Galaxy.

Suddenly Nintendo's evil master plan becomes clear. First they get those innocent little non-gamers to dip your toes in to the water with Wii Sports. Then they are expected to move on to slightly deeper waters with New Super Mario Bros. And before they know it they are busy playing Mario Galaxy 2, new converts ready for the world of what Nintendo refers to as core games.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Three dimensional platforming

Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn’t a very challenging game, at least not the regular levels. Some of the levels in the unlockable Secret World are an exception to this and offer some real controller breaking difficulty. You might think I would welcome this; I am a big fan of games with a sadistic twist such as Mega Man 9 and 10. But I have become more and more convinced that really difficult platforming doesn’t belong in three dimensional platformers.

Doing near impossible pixel perfect jumps in a 2D game works because of its fixed camera. When the jumping becomes too challenging in a 3D platformer it no longer works. The camera will often be in a less then optimal position and even if you manage it yourself it becomes hard to precisely judge the angel of your jump in a 3D environment.

When it no longer feels like your fault when Mario falls to his death it doesn’t work for me. For extreme difficulty to be fun it must feel like it is my own fault every time I die. When it starts being the games fault it is not nearly as fun to really challenge myself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ultimate All-Stars

I used to play fighting games growing up but me and my friends were what the Internet elite would refer to as button mashers. If the truth be told, I have never really figured out how to play fighting games. So when games come out like Capcom vs SNK EO which promises to have more casual friendly control schemes I am the first one to try them out. Sadly they never really work.

With Super Smash Bros Nintendo reinvented the genre and made it accessible to a wider audience. Finally I could pull off all the moves in a fighting game, yay! But the Smash Bros games created their own sub-genre and never had much influence on the rest of the genre.

Why am I giving you this lengthy recap of my history with fighting games you wonder? Well I have been playing Tatsunoko vs Capcom and for the first time a “traditional” fighting game has successfully adopted Nintendo Smash Bros controls. And they have done it without compromising the traditional gameplay. It works marvelously and I am finally I am able to enjoy a good fighter.

Of course if you want to you can switch out the Wiimote-Nunchuck combo for the classic controller and play it the old school way (some might argue the way it’s supposed to be played). Maybe more importantly this means a more casual fighting gamer like me can battle it out against an old street fighter player and we can both be pulling of combos left and right.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How to make the perfect Mario game

I have an idea for the greatest Mario game ever. Looking at this old concept art from Super Mario Bros 3 I started thinking, what if there was a Mario game that really looked like this. As a kid the simple sprites Nintendo’s amazing entertainment system was generating on screen were given life by my vibrant imagination. They truly looked to me like the colorful images in the game’s manual. With age this lively imagination has all but died. What I now see when booting up SMB3 on the Virtual Console is a bunch of pixels just barely coming together to look like something resembling a fat plumber with a raccoon tail.

Nintendo has tried to update the graphics in their later releases like New Super Mario Bros but the horrible 3D models almost make me miss the 48 colors of the NES color palette. The gameplay is still there but the visuals have evolved in to something so fugly the Spartans would have thrown it right down the Apothetae after it popped its deformed head out of its mothers beef curtains.

Now beautiful 2D games on the Wii like Muramasa and a Boy and his Blob have proven that this need not be the case. They have shown us what lovely two dimensional masterpieces the Wii can spit out. So it shouldn’t be too hard to make a new 2D Mario with graphics resembling this wonderful concept art. They could use the Wii’s more than adequate processing power to recreate what Mario and his friends looked like in my imagination as a kid.

Just look at this art and imagine how freaking fantastic it would be to play a 2D Mario game that actually looked like this.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Knock it off!

It is no understatement to say that Nintendo hasn’t really taken advantage of the Internet to market their products. So I was amazed when I discovered that they were feeding us fans daily updates on Mario Galaxy 2 via Twitter. This wasn’t what I expected from an ultra-conservative Japanese company.

But my amazement soon turned in to anger, since it seems Nintendo’s Twitter feed is run by a 13-year old. Or even worse some PR person trying to act like he is in touch with the kids of today. Like the constant use of “u” instead of writing out “you”. Or just look at this tweet “NYC get ready, we're coming 4 you next!” can’t you write out “for”. It’s a short tweet so it is not like the 140 character limit is forcing you to type like a retard. This is how the kids I used to play Counter strike with communicated; it is not how a respectable company should deliver their message. Please, for God's sake knock it off!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The evolution of air travel in the Mushroom Kingdom

The flying mechanic works very differently in all of the Mario games. The raccoon tail in Super Mario Bros 3, the cape in Super Mario World, the flying cap in Mario 64, the red star in Mario Galaxy and most recently the helicopter suit in New Super Mario Bros.

The SMB3 loving kid in me wants to say that Raccoon Mario is the most awesome thing ever, not only was it the original but also easy to use and super helpful. Since it's so awesome I want it in every Mario game. Or at least until I think about it some more and start to understand why Nintendo constantly changes the flying mechanic. Each new Mario is very different and the ability to fly high in the air can easily break the games finely tuned difficulty.

The way the raccoon tail allows Mario to fly over almost whole levels makes it very overpowered. But it works in SMB3 since that game is all about giving the player a massive amount of short levels. If the player flies over a few of them it's not really a big deal, there are so many of them and the player will soon get to a level where the raccoon tail is all but worthless.

Mario World on the other hand has fewer levels but much larger once. Levels Nintendo seems to have worked on forever until their level design and difficulty reached almost perfection. The cape is hard to control making it much harder to simply fly through half the level. Which is probably why the younger version of myself never liked it much. But as I grew older and wiser I start to realize how the raccoon tail would have broken that game. It needed to be neutered, resulting in the less awesome cape.

Then we have the flying cap in Mario 64. That games was all about exploring 3D environments and giving the player an unprecedented sense of freedom. The flying cap fits in perfectly with this theme, allowing the player to freely fly around and experience these amazing 3D environments.

Mario Galaxy on the other hand was a much more linear experience then Mario 64. It was no longer about exploring 3D space, instead it guided the player through a set path thereby making sure that the game never slowed down and got boring. Constantly serving up new and cool stuff. The flying cap wouldn't have worked in a game like that, instead we were given the red star. It never played a huge part in the game, instead it was just one of the many action packed roller coaster rides the game was filled with.

You might think that the raccoon tail would have worked in New Super Mario Bros. That game more then any other felt like a new SMB3. And it probably would have in single player. But since the game was also made to work just as well in co-op having one player fly forward at full speed wouldn't have worked. Instead the helicopter suit allows for quick vertical movement but very slow horizontal movement, making sure the other player isn't left behind.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Key Tweaking

My new laptop came equipped with a numeric keypad, it has been a while since I had a computer with one of those. Since I have gotten used to working without one I decided to turn it in to something more useful. I found this handy little program Key Tweak which remaps keys for other uses.

I am one of those people who uses Page Up, Page Down, Home and End expressively and their placement on the standard keyboard configuration is a less then optimal. So I remapped some of the numerical keys to take over those roles. I also added volume control, mute, pause/play, next song and last song to some of the buttons for easier music control. For easier internet use I mapped last page and next page to two of the keys. And finally since the arrow buttons are annoyingly small on my laptop I turned 1,2,3,5 in to arrow keys.

After this change the numpad went from being more or less unused to the new home for my right hand, since I am now using it constantly. This new configuration might seem slightly confusing, especially looking at the image at the top of this post but it actually makes a lot of sense and took me less then 5 minutes to get used to.

Unboxing a beauty - geek porn

I got my new laptop in the mail yesterday. It's an Acer Aspire Timeline 5810TZG, this slim beauty promises 8 hours of battery life by cutting the power consumption almost by half. It has a beautiful 15,6" LED screen, a 1,3 GHz Intel SU4100 processor, 4GB of ram and a 640GB HDD.

I took a few pictures of the unboxing to share with you guys.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The essence of gaming

I wrote a tweet earlier today where I said: New Super Mario Bros is really the Dragon Quest of the platform genre. This was a thought that struck me while playing NSMB. Since I feel unable to fully explain what I mean by this within the 140 word limit on Twitter I thought I would elaborate on it here. So if you want an explanation, keep reading.

The more I think about it the two New Super Mario Bros games and the more recent Dragon Quest Games are really a lot alike. I am also starting to think maybe this is why they are so both insanely successful in Japan.

They both offer what is basically the same gameplay as their more then 20 year old predecessors with very few updates. And since both series more or less defined their respective genres you get a very distilled quintessential gameplay experience. If you play NSMB you are playing the textbook example of a platformer, if you play Dragon Quest you are playing the textbook example of a Japanese role playing game. This makes them very attractive to gamers wishing to re-experience their childhood or get back to the basics of gaming. But it also has the downside of making them feel somewhat bland and not very exciting.

They both take the very fundamentals of their respective genres, shaving off everything but the most necessary mechanics and deliver an extremely high quality experience. But again more or less the very same gameplay experience you have had many many times before.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Holy Trinity of iPhone apps

Dear readers I have had a revelation. It has suddenly become clear to me that almost all my iPhone use, and internet use for that matter is done through three apps: Reeder, Tweetie and Instapaper. I come to all but leave my trusted web browser behind. You could say I have reached a higher plane of internet usage to stay within the quasi religious tone of this post.

First of all we have the Father Reeder. This clever little RSS reader lets me use my Google Reader account to subscribe to the feeds of all the sites I used to visit daily. Now instead I get them delivered to me in a pleasent looking, easy to read layout.

Together with Reeder we have another app which helps me keep track of what's happening in the world, in both its digital and its material forms, the latter form commonly referred to as IRL by the beings residing in the former. This second component of our set of three is the Son Tweetie. This app lets me read the 'tweets' of my fellow nerds in a much more pleasant way then the Twitter website.

Then finally, to complete this Trinitas we have the Holy Spirit Instapaper. This app is very helpful if used the right way. Through my usage of Reeder and Tweetie I often come across articles and other texts that would take me more then the 30 seconds I have available to read. Since both of these apps have Instapaper integration I can with the push of a button save them in my read it later list. That's just what Instapaper is for, it saves articles you feel you lack the time to read at that very moment and re-formats them in to a very readable format. So whenever I want something to read I always have a bunch of interesting articles saved in my Instapaper to read list, accessible both on my phone and PC.

Together these three have completely revolutionized the way I interact with the internet. You could say there has been a reformation in my consumption of web-based content.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Yes I like them big silly coins

The classic Mario games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are superior to the two New Super Mario Bros. games in almost every aspect. Better level design, better looking graphics (yes those 2.5D graphics are horrible) and tighter controls etc.

But the NSMB games have improved on their old school brethren in one important way. And no it's not that you can turn in to a giant Mario, that's just stupid. The massive improvement is those big coins that are hidden in every level. By introducing this collecting element Nintendo is forcing the player to stop and explore instead of just speeding through the levels Sonic style. Plus finding secrets in Mario games has always been fun, finding those hidden warp pipes in SMB1 was maybe the coolest thing in that game. Now we have hidden things in every level and that's just awesome.

In some ways it's like the stars in Mario 64. The way they motivated the player to explore and fully appreciate the games 3D environments. But in Mario 64 the stars were the way you progressed in the game. In the two NSMB games on the other hand they are more of an optional side quest, you can still play through the game the way you would any old Mario game and completely ignore the hidden coins. They are just there for those players who want a somewhat deeper experience, and I want that, I really do. Now that I have beaten Bowser in NSMB Wii I'm not sad that it's over, I'm happy that I get to go back and go through all those levels again trying to find their hidden secrets. That's all thanks to those silly looking big coins, that and the secret exits. Those are awesome too but I will have to write about how much I love the them in another post because now it's time for me to have breakfast.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why iPhone should become the new shooter platform

My recent experiences with Espgaluda II has convinced me that the iPhone could and should become the new home of the shmup genre. I put together a list of my arguments for the iPhone becoming the new shooter platform.

• To my great surprise touch controls work amazingly well for shooters. They offer far better precession then analog sticks while unlike D-pads giving you the ability to choose the speed of movement, simply fantastic.

• I love shooters but I'm not turning my expensive HDTV on it's side. The iPhone screen one the other hand is already vertical so it's perfect for vertically scrolling shooters.

• No international shipping needed, the days of ordering shooters from Play Asia would be over thanks to the app store.

• More then satisfactory graphical capabilities. Shooters don't need massive power, the Dreamcast has been the home for shooters long past it's prime. And the iPhone can definitely output graphics comparable to those on Dreamcast.

• It has become harder and harder for shooters to get access to limited retail shelf space in recent years. Luckily the Internet has no shortage of space and Apple has shown that they will allow all kinds of crap on the app store so a quality shooter shouldn't have any trouble.

• Finally the type of nerds who play this type of games are the same nerds who stand in line for the iPad. It's not like the shooter fan-base is made up of housewives.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Some things should never change

I don't really like fighting games, that includes wrestling games and boxing games like Fight Night. Punch Out is the exception to this rule. But that's not odd at all since Punch Out isn't a boxing game at all really. It might look like a boxing game but it is really more like Mega Man or R-type. It is all about pattern memorization and quick reflexes. That is probably why I enjoy it so much.

Of course there is nothing to say that this can't be what a boxing game is. There weren't any other boxing games around when Punch Out first came out so back then this is what a boxing game was. We could just as well say that since Punch Out was first, this is what a boxing game is supposed to be and everyone else is just doing it wrong.

However that doesn't change the fact that Punch Out is the odd one in the boxing genre. And I'm happy Nintendo are stubbornly refusing to change and implement whatever supposed improvements have been made over the past 20 years, because I freaking love this type of gameplay.

Posted from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Looking good!

Punch Out for Wii looks really good. I can't imagine this game having a big budget and it is for what has to be considered an underpowered system, still it looks fantastic. This type of stylized graphics really are the way to go on the Wii. It took some time but I think finally developers are getting it. At least games like Red Steal 2 are trying it out.

I mean look at Okami and Wind Waker, those two games are for last gen systems and they still look better then 95% of the games released today. An "underpowered" system isn't an excuse for making shitty looking games. You just have to tailor the art direction to the system.

If this post looks a bit weird it's because I'm trying out a new blogging app for my iPhone.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Podcast addiction

For the past few years I have been what I would have to describe as a Podcast addict. A quick glance at iTunes tells me that I currently subscribing to over 50 podcast feeds. A few of those are no longer updated but nevertheless it's quite a large number. The majority of them are video game related podcast. It never ceases to amaze me that such a niche topic such as video games has spurred such a large quantity of Podcasts.

They are of course of varying quality, many offer what you would expect when you put a microphone in from of a bunch of radio amateurs. But others are extremely entertaining, not necessarily because they very professionally produced but because they have real personality. If radio icons such as Howard Stern have shown us anything it's that radio is best when it's personal. When you start thinking of the broadcasters as something approximating friends, even if you have never met them or even talked to them.

For the longest time RetroforceGO was my favorite Podcast, the way they communicated on the Radio made me think of them as old friends. Which probably is the highest praise you can have for a Radio show or a Podcast. Their topic of discussion; old video games was very much secondary to the personalities on the show. Sadly RetroforceGO is no longer updated, even if I will always keep all of their episodes on my iPod.

I have not too long ago stumbled upon a new favorite podcast; the Snatchcast, the official podcast of Pixel Snatch, provocatively named after Japan's censorship of genitalia. The show is really just two friends hanging out talking about video games while making borderline racist and homophobic jokes under various stages of intoxication. It's the close friendship between the two guys and the way they talk with each other as if the microphone wasn't on which makes the show interesting. The video game discussion is really secondary, which is if anything proven by their non-video game spin off show being just as amazing.

I was very pleased when they mentioned me and this blog a while ago on URA Snatchcast episode 20, I took the liberty of making a little sound clip of the mention to share with you guys.

Clip from URA Snatchcast 20

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's all about the grind

Why do I love the Pokémon games so much? It is not that the monsters are cute or that I want to catch them all. For me its all about the grind, Pokémon offers some of the most satisfying grinding in the RPG genre. The reasons for this can be found in what sets Pokémon apart from other RPG's.

First of all your monsters evolve, when they reach a certain level they change in to a whole new form. This works as a huge payoff giving you an incentive to keep on grinding, giving you something to aim for. I want my silly looking Wartortle to turn in to a massive Blastoise.

You can only use one Pokémon at a time, in RPG speech this means that you can only level up one part member at a time. This multiplies the grinding, you have to grind with everyone of those little suckers. But since only one Pokémon gets experience at a time this also means that they level up faster, giving you constant satisfaction. You can have a weaker Pokémon climb a few levels in minutes.

No simple attack command, no MP and you are limited to four attacks. Every Pokémon is different and has a different combination of attacks, meaning you get to switch things up, its not as simple as holding down the A button hitting attack over and over again. Since your Pokémon can only handle four attacks at once you keep switching out attacks, changing the way you do battle as your Pokemon grows stronger. Also there is no universal MP, each attack has its own limited Power Points, so you can't just keep using the same attack over and over again.

No armor and no weapons, the only way to make your monsters stronger is to keep grinding. Since no stats boosts are given from things like armor the game is free to give bigger payoffs from level increases, making grinding more rewarding.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The social optimal level of video game piracy

I have been thinking a lot about video game piracy lately, especially in terms of microeconomics. Putting the legal and moral issues aside it's interesting to consider if it's hurting or benefiting society as a whole. There is no doubt piracy is hurting the industry but it is also obviously benefiting those who get the games for free. Looking at the welfare of society as a whole it would be wrong to only consider one group, such as video game developers. It is possible that some level of piracy is needed if we want to maximize society's welfare.

The interesting thing about software is that it is a non-rival good. After creating one program we can make a copy of it at virtually no extra cost. So the optimal quantity of a video game, lets say Half Life 2 is one for every gamer since the cost of one more unit is zero. For every gamer to want the game however the price needs to also be zero. If Valve charged one dollar for the game there would still be some gamers who would consider it too expensive, they would rather spend their dollar on something else like a candy bar. Since the cost of making one more copy is zero and those candy loving kids would get some enjoyment from playing Half Life 2, society would be losing out the benefit of having those kids playing Half Life 2.

The benefit to the producers of video games, that is the developers, publishers etc is the money they get paid for their game. So the optimal price for them is that which earns them the most money, it seems that for a new game it is $60. So since the cost of making one more copy in the age of digital distribution is zero, the benefit (the producer surplus) from selling one more game for producers would be $60.

What is the benefit in dollars for a gamer in buying a game? It depends on what they are willing to pay for it. If I am willing to pay $100 for a copy of Half Life 2 and I get it for $60, the benefit to me (the consumer surplus) is $40. The added welfare to society from me buying a copy of Half Life 2 would be the $60 the producers benefit plus my $40, which adds up to $100 in added welfare.

The problem for society is that if I had only been willing to pay $20 for Half Life 2 I wouldn't have bought it. Since the cost of making a copy of the game is $0, society has just lost out on $20 worth of enjoyment I could have added to the pool of society's welfare. If I instead had pirated it, I would have created $20 worth of enjoyment at no cost. It follows from this reasoning that society is better off if consumers who would not have purchased the game pirated it.

If we go back to my first example where I valued Half Life 2 at $100, if I had then pirated the game the benefit to me would be $100, the same as the combined benefit of the producers and me if I had bought the game ($60 + $40). So as far as the welfare of society is concerned it doesn't matter if I pirate Half Life 2 or buy it, I contribute just as much to the combined welfare of society. Any harm done to developers is compensated for by an equally large welfare increase for pirates. From this reasoning we can see that the benefit to society from everyone pirating their games, assuming that developers keep making them is one way to the optimal level of welfare.

But of course that scenario is an impossibility since if everyone pirated their games, game development would be unprofitable and no one would make games. Another possible scenario to maximize the combined level of welfare is if everyone who valued the games above or at the price developers maximize their profits at buy the game and everyone else pirate it. That means everyone who value Half Life 2 at $60 or more buy it and everyone else pirate it. If piracy isn't an option for those who value Half Life 2 at less then $60, they wouldn't get to play it and society would experience a loss of combined welfare.

A third possible scenario in which society's welfare is maximized is one where developers make just enough money to keep making games, their revenue covers their costs but leave nothing over for economic profit. So in this scenario a portion of society buy their games and they are just enough to finance the development of video games. Everyone else pirate their games. It makes sense because everyone paying for the game value it over or at its price, otherwise they wouldn't buy it. The important thing is that everyone else pirate it so we don't lose out on their potential contribution to society's welfare.

We could imagine other possible scenarios somewhere in between scenario two and three that would maximize societies welfare, they just have to fulfill two criteria. (1) Enough people who value the game over the price producers charge buy the game so that producers can cover their costs. And (2) Everyone who value the game at less then the price suppliers charge pirate the game.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How retail lead to the pussyfication of 20XX

By adding an in between level store to later Mega Man games Capcom have indirectly removed any challenge from the series. Or rather they have left it up to the player to decide how challenging a game they want depending on how much they choose to utilize the store. Making me wonder why they even included an easy mode in Mega Man 10?

In Mega Man 10 you will have a few hundred screws (the in game currency) in no time, the game practically showers you with money. And they must be using slave labor Mega Man land because everything is dirt cheap, probably why there are almost no humans around. An E-tank to fully replenish your health is 20 screws, a robot bird that saves you if you fall down a pit also 20 screws and an item that halves all your damage is 50 screws.

This means that you don't really have to try and dodge any boss attacks if you don't want to. If you paid a visit to the shop to stock up on E-tanks you can pretty much stand in one spot and fire at the boss since you now have upwards of 18 times the health (9 E-tanks and a 1/2 dmg) you would otherwise.

Mega Man levels are supposed to be well designed balls hard challenges that you try over and over again until you beat them, that is what makes them so much fun. By in effect making the difficulty level optional they leave it up to the player to completely ruin his own experience. Mega Man games now require a large a degree of self discipline from players. It's like climbing Mount Everest with an escalator running next to you all the time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What'cha been playin' now on Twitter

Tired of loading up my site only to realize it hasn't been updated in a week?

Now I have added our new twitter feed to the right hand side of the blog so there should always be something fresh to read when you check in. Even if it will be under Twitters magical 140 word limit.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Puzzle Crack

I have been playing Puzzle Quest for a few days now and I love it. I know I'm a bit late to the party here, gamers have been swooning over this one since it came out back in 2007 and now I understand why.

The rpg and puzzle elements really compliment each other very well and they solve the problem I have with both genres. My main problem with puzzle games and the reason I don't play them more is that they tend to lack a clear goal to work towards. Score chases usually don't appeal to me and playing something like Tetris on endless mode just feel like a waste of time. Surely you could argue that all video games are a waste of time but having an ending to reach gives me an unexplainable sense of having accomplished something. Puzzle Quest's ability to put it's Bejeweled like puzzles in the context of a story solves this problem. Also having the completion of yet another puzzle contribute to the leveling of my character is brilliant, having your character increase in level can make the most mundane activity seem rewarding and a worthy use of once time.

Which brings me to my problem with rpg's, few activities are more mundane then continuously pressing A while fighting the same enemy for the 100th time. Many newer rpgs have tried to remedy this by making the battle systems more complex but all to often they just end up being confusing. There is nothing confusing about Bejeweled, that game is designed to be played by our mothers and doesn't take more then a second to fully grasp. I surprised no one thought of this brilliant formula before.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sit down kids and listen to the old man complain

A month ago or so I wrote up a list of my favorite games of the past decade. I was not alone to do so, most major gaming sites put together their own lists. One game seemed to take up the no.1 or the no.2 spot on almost all of them; Half Life 2. This convinced me to finally give it a try after planning to for years. And I unfortunately cant say that I was blown away. After finishing the first few chapters I almost have to force myself to sit down and play again.

Its not that is a bad game, it does some undeniably cool stuff but its just not all that fun. I am very well aware of the fact that Im in the minority here since this is one of those games usually receiving endless praise from gamers. Reading my "games of the decade" list, a friend of mine told me my taste in games was somewhat quirky. He is probably right, especially this past generation I feel like Im fleeting further and further away from the gaming mainstream, if I ever was anywhere near it.

In some ways Half Life 2 can be seen as the first in a series of big name, big budget blockbusters in recent years that has lead to a new dominance by the west in gaming, leaving Japan behind trying to find itself. With names like Gears of War and Modern Warfare grabbing the attention of the more "hard core" segment of the market. In a sense this, the seventh video game generation is truly the"shooter" generation. A genre in which I usually have little interest. Looking back at this generation the games I can say I have honestly enjoyed are almost all either Nintendo first party titles with their own distinct style or remakes of games from the 16 and 32bit era. I have still yet to retire my PS2, hell it gets more playtime then my 360.