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.