Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bad game design

I have always claimed that Ocarina of Time is a well designed game. When people whined about the water temple I always came to the games defense. However in my quest to collect all the Golden Skulltulas I come across something that I can't call anything other than unforgivingly bad game design on the level of the broken game design you used to see on the NES.

As a kid I was very interested in one lonely tree along the fence at Hyrule Castle, close to where you find Talon sleeping. The reason for this was that the ocarina sounded different when played close to this tree. How I even figured this out I'm not sure. This oddity seems to have been fixed in the Virtual Console version, but have come to find out that this tree holds an even bigger secret. If the song of storm is played close to this tree a secret hole will open up in the ground. In which one of the Golden Skulltulas can be found.

This is so completely random that I have no idea how anyone could ever figure it out. Why would the rain make a hole appear in the ground? And why at this completely random spot of all places? It is completely impossible to figure out without a walkthrough. If there was nothing of real value in the hole I guess it could be excused as a cool secret but hiding a Gold Skulltula in there is just a big fuck you to all those players who try to collect them all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Predicting number of 3DS iterations with fancy statistics

With Nintendo's history of releasing numerous itterations of their handhelds most gamers expect this to be true for the 3DS as well. I thought it would be interesting to use some statistical methods to try and predict the number of 3DS iterations we should expect.

I put together a nice little graph showing the number of version released of each system, that would be the red dots. With the exception of the Game Boy Color the number of iterations seem to increase in a fairly linear fashion. So I used the ordinary least squares method to fit a straight line onto the graph. The slope of this line is calculated so that the distance between the line and the dots is the smallest possible. We can use this to predict the number of iterations the 3DS will have, based on the assumption that the relationship between handheld generations and number of versions is a linear one. The results are presented in the table below, the most interesting being our prediction of four versions of the 3DS.

So if you are one those people who have put off your 3DS purchase hoping for a new and improved model to come out, now you have some pseudoscience to support your decision.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Random thoughts on Zelda

Here are some random thoughts that popped in to my head while playing Ocarina of Time.

#1 Stackable tunics - Having to switch tunics when visiting the fire and water dungeons can be a bit annoying so I thought it might be handy if the tunics stacked on top of each other. Plus it would be hilarious to see link running around in a rainbow colored tunic.

#2 Where did all the skeletons go? - When young Link traverses Hyrule field at night he is constantly attacked by evil skeletons. Seven years later they are all gone. This doesn't make sense to me, you would think the undead would enjoy living under the rule of someone like Ganon. Sure I can see the King of Evil not getting along with the Zora or the Gorons but the skeletons?

#3 Zelda is whole lot easier if you speak English - This might be an obvious one but when I first played Ocarina as a kid I hardly spoke any English. This made the game a lot harder. Like in the second dungeon when you have to drop a bomb in to the eye of that huge Dodongo scull, that is almost impossible to figure out if you can't read the inscriptions telling you to try it. Or getting the fire arrows by shooting the rising sun over Lake Hylia. I thought I was a genius when I figured that out the first time, not knowing I was standing next to a sign telling me to do just that.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Too much stuff

The negative side effect of becoming more powerful in Ocarina of Time is that your screen becomes increasingly cluttered. Every time your health increases by one, another heart is shown in the upper left corner. When you get over ten they even start a whole new row, getting in the way of all those surprisingly sweet looking early 3D graphics. Then when Link gains his magic power you get an ugly green tube-thingy underneath the hearts. The absolute worst is when the Fire Mountain Fairy grants you additional magic, which should be welcomed since it's so useful, but it looks awful as that green tube is stretched out over half the length of the screen.

The screen is already cluttered from the start with the A, B and C-buttons displayed prominently. In the bottom left corner there is a rupees counter and in the bottom right hand corner there is that God awful map. Thanfully at least the map can be switched off, otherwise I might not have been able to keep playing.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bottles worth their weight in gold

It is rare that you meet someone who has all four bottles in Ocarina of Time. The first three are easy to get, everyone has those. The fourth one on the other hand is a bit more tricky. I never managed to get it as a kid, so this time I made a point of getting it as soon as I had all the necessary equipment

It is a bit silly how much more powerful Link becomes after getting his hands on an everyday item like a simple glass bottle. By filling it with a fairy he literary double his life. Equipped with four of those babies he becomes near invincible.

The tricky part of obtaining the fourth bottle is that you have to track down all ten of the Big Poes haunting Hyrule Field. The impressive size of which blew my mind as a kid, but also makes this ghost busting exorcise more of a challenge. Their locations are not completely random however, except for one they all appear near different landmarks. Hyrule field is a pretty empty place so if you see any thing that stands out like a big rock or a collection of trees, chances are there is a Ghost hanging around.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The magic of Kakariko Village

Back when Ocarina of Time came out in the late 90's I had a friend who used to pretend like he lived in Kakariko Village. He would run around with the construction workers by day, maybe help the lady with her chickens for a while. Then play the Sun Song to switch to night time, have supper with the workers, relax around the beds for a while. Then again change night in to day and get back to work. With the help of a child's imagination he turned Zelda in to Animal Crossing.

It is easy to see where he got the inspiration from. Nintendo did a fantastic job at making Kakariko Village feel like a living place. A lot probably has to do with all the workers aimlessly running around, but also the way all the inhabitants talked about each other, making you feel like you got to know them a little. In that aspect it really was a lot like Animal Crossing.

Nintendo later tried to recreate this feeling when designing Majoras Mask. All the people of Clock Town were giving their individual routines they followed in the days before the moon crashed in to earth. At specific times they would leave their house to visit the milk bar or drop by a friend. Yet Clock Town never felt as alive and active as Kakariko Village. Maybe it was the lack of construction workers constantly running around the place or by partitioning the huge city in to parts they lost something Kakariko Village had be being one single open area.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sneaking in to Castle Town at night

There are several ways to enter Castle Town at night in Ocarina of Time. You can hang out around the castle and wait for nightfall. Later in the game you learn a melody that can turn day to night, so you can of course use that. But the absolutely coolest way to get in to town at night, and the way I originally did it as a kid, is by standing on the drawbridge leading in to town and wait for the sun to set. When nightfall comes the brig is pulled up and you will simply slide off it in to town.

Castle Town is definitely worth a night time visit. There is a lot going on in town at night. So it is a really rewarding secret little secret. There is even a special store that is only open at night where you can play a treasure chest mini-game. Here is another secret, and more of a real one this time. Later in the game when you get the Lens of Truth, you can use that to look through the treasure chests and find out their content beforehand, that way you are guaranteed to always win the treasure chest game, pretty cool.

As you might hear from the tone of this post I'm really enjoying playing through this game again. It's such a good game and I have such fond memories of playing it as a kid.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Playing Zelda on the cheap

After some serious consideration I decided that my 3DS purchase would have to wait. Even after the price-drop Nintendo's handheld still costs a little over $250 here and with a dual stick redesign looking like a real possibility I just couldn't justify it to myself.

That said the rerelease of Ocarina of Time got me really excited to play that game again. Luckily for the more financially challenged gamers there is still the Virtual Console version. So I decided to go with that one instead. Of course there are no new textures like in the 3DS port but the emulation is really good, making the game look a lot sharper then I remember it looking on N64. The Gamecube controller also works very well for the game, it's such a comfy controller. Playing the Ocarina with the C-stick feels a little awkward but pulling back on the stick to ready the slingshot and then releasing it to fire feels great, I like it a lot better then how it worked on the N64 controller.

I have just spent two hours with it so far but overall it feels great to be back in Hyrule. For those readers who are interested in my rediscovery of a decade old game, I will keep writing about my experience as I fight my way to Ganon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mario coasters

I have been recreating some of the more memorable Super Mario sprites using plastic beads, or pearls as we call them where I come from. Not only is it something fun to do with the girlfriend but with the use of an iron they can easily be turned in to pretty sweet coasters.

After trying out some different methods I have found that the most fun thing to do is to find a sprite I like with google and then try to put together a pixel perfect recreation of it by simply substituting every pixel with a pearl.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Make your own fun

Kirby games have always been super easy. Those of you who played the very first Kirby game might remember being chocked by the ability to simply fly over much of the early levels. In Kirby's Epic Yarn the adorable yarn incarnation of Kirby has lost his flying ability but the game is still as easy as Kirby games have always been. Kirby is more or less invincible and the levels aren't really a challenge.

That is unless you choose to make them one. If you right from the start decide that you want to earn a gold medal on every stage, an achievement earned by collecting beads the games own version of the tradition video game coin. And to get your greedy little hand on all the hidden treasure. Then Epic Yarn will actually become a decently challenging affair. Otherwise the game could be compared with a pleasant walk in the park. You simply make your way through a series of beautiful and cleverly designed levels via the use of some basic platforming and just enjoy the ride.

In that way it reminds me a lot of New Super Mario Bros for DS. That game was ridiculously easy unless you tried to collect all of the great coins. Which was the aspect of the game that I enjoyed the most and also what I spent the most time doing. But I guess if you were satisfied by casually making your way through the game and enjoy the experience of finally playing a new Mario side scroller that would have been fine too.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Troubled times

The initial failure of the 3DS and the price drop that followed show the troubles video game publishers are now facing. On one side they have to deal with a global recession and on the other the challenge posed by digital distribution and the low cost alternative it has made possible.

With the sluggish recovery of the world economy consumer spending is low, especially on luxury goods like video games. When times are tough it is hard to convince consumers to spend $60 on a new game and especially several hundred dollars on a new system.

This situation is made even worse with the emergence of a new low cost alternative in Apples iOS market place. Offering consumers a much more affordable alternative. Of course these $1 games are lacking in quality and content compared to their pricier siblings. But for the price they are sure to offer compelling alternative, especially to the portable game systems which also offer mainly simpler gaming experiences.

The good news for the old giants is that the economy is bound to (eventually) recover, bringing consumer spending on entertainment up with it. The bad news is that the low cost alternatives are likely to become more plentiful and increase in quality as more and more developers shift development to the platform. There is always the danger that gamers who put off purchasing a new portable for budget reasons will get so used to gaming on their phones that they find that they can do without a dedicated portable gaming machine.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The evolution paradox

The truth is that I'm a bit of a retro geek. I still got my Super Nintendo and Dreamcast hooked up to the TV, most the "new" games I play are remakes of old classics or new entries in decade old series that gameplay wise are pretty close to being remakes. Yet I have largely had a positive reaction to new creative control inputs such as the DS touch screen and the Wii motion control. This might seem surprising given my more conservative tastes.

What is the explanation for this inconsistency? It might be explained by my Nintendo fanboy-ism, I have certainly been accused of this. But I would argue that the it has more to do with me simply being dissatisfied with direction video games has taken the past two generations. But still playing the same games over and over again gets old. These new control methods allows me to experience my favorite game series in a new way without having them evolve in the direction of shooters or introduce a competitive multiplayer mode.

Take a game like Skyward Sword or to a lesser degree Twilight Princess. The overall design of the Zelda series hasn't really changed since the N64. But the motion control allows the player to interact with this traditional series in an exciting new way without dramatically altering the key game design. Something that fits my tastes perfectly.

The X stands for extreme

Somehow I missed the whole SNES generation of Mega Man games. Luckily there is a fantastic Mega Man X collection for Gamecube. Thanks to it I have spent a few evenings with the first Mega Man X.

At first it really gives the impression of being an 'extreme' version of Mega Man but it quickly conforms to the standard Mega Man formula, even if it is more similar to the later games in the series with Mega Man's extensive abilities. The last two Mega Man games I played were MM9 and 10 which both went back to the very early Mega Man setup without the charge shot or the dash or the slide move. Which was probably because these supposed enhancements never in fact enhanced anything. The charge shot seems nice at first but you soon realize that the enemies health and the difficulty of the boss fight have been recalibrated to take your new stronger weapon in to account. So you are now almost forced in to always run around with a fully charged weapon, which gets annoying. It would have been better to simply leave it out. Also the dash move seems cool at first but ends up taking away from the slow methodical pace I have come to expect from Mega Man games, but then that was probably what Capcom wanted to to with the X series, create a more action filled platformer.

Something I did like however was the wall jump mechanism. Not only did it make the platforming more forgiving it also added a whole new way for Mega Man to interact with the levels. Since I have always felt instant death holes to be a bit cheap in games otherwise using a health bar. The wall jump also allows for the level design to move somewhat away from the very traditional sidescroller layout the series has previously used. So that was very much a welcome addition.

Aside from the way Mega Man controls the classic Robot Masters and the world renowned evil genius Dr. Wily are replaced by animal inspired robots which are now led by the much beefier Sigma. The original cast of bad guys felt like they were taken from a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at 8-year olds, this new cast feels like they comes from a cartoon marketed to 12-year olds. I personally did not like this change at all. The original cast of evil doers always felt charming and completely non-threatening, that really appealed to my tastes in cartoon characters. Gameplay wise figuring out which weapon to use against which boss also seemed to make a lot more sense when the bosses were simple Robots instead of animal robots, which element they were tied to made more sense.

Mega Man, both the character and the whole world surrounding him has always felt very 80's to me and the traditional action-platforming feels typical of the 8-bit hardware. I can see Capcom wanting to move away from this in order for their mascot character to stay relevant. The esthetics has been changed up to be more 'extreme', they even added an X to the title and the gameplay has become faster and more action focused. The problem with this is that I loved the old Mega Man and everything about him. This revamp is still enough like the original series for me to appreciate it and it is interesting to see a new take on the Mega Man formula but it is not what I would call an improvement.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wii U is as much a successor to DS as to Wii

The Wii has been a huge commercial success for Nintendo, by far outselling its competitors. But its appeal was still largely limited to devoted Nintendo fans and the new casual market, with more hard core gamers shunning the system. This stands it contrast to its handheld sibling the DS which has been embraced by casual players and hard core gamers alike. Nintendo made no secret of their goal to appeal to both these markets with their new Wii U system. They want to recreate the success of the DS in the console arena. How are they doing this? Basically they have adopted the DS to the living room. The DS brought two innovations to the hand held market, its two screens and the touch screen, both found on the Wii U.

With the tablet like design of the Wii U it recreates the two screen setup of the DS. Your TV serves as the primary screen with the controller adding a second screen to your lap. The DS showed how useful a second screen could be, sometimes being used for new clever forms of gameplay but more often used to display data that would otherwise clutter up the primary screen or be delegated to the pause screen, like the map. At the very least the second screen should offer a more immersive experience by moving all forms of clutter off the primary screen, at best it could be used in clever ways to enhance the experience. My previous suggestion of moving the notebook in LA Noire from the TV to the controller is one possible way.

The second innovative DS feature was its touch screen, also found on the Wii U controller. In some ways this is an improvement over the DS with the screen being much larger. The iPad is a great example of how much more a touch screen can used for simply by increasing the screen size. In other ways it would seems to be less useful then on the DS, on which both screen are the same size and quality making it easy to simply use the touch screen as the primary screen in touch heavy games. This setup would be much less appealing on the Wii U since gamers would likely prefer to have their HDTVs acting as the primary screen, making it harder to use touch controls as the main control mechanism. Arguably this is already a problem with the 3DS on which only the upper screen has 3D support and widescreen.

Possibly the critical design choice that made the DS unlike the Wii appeal to the hard core crowd was not one of its innovations but the fact that it retained the traditional button setup, making all this new functionality optional. Something that was not the case with the Wii where the design of its controller more or less forced developers to implement motion controls. In this aspect the Wii U is more like the DS with its dual stick and traditional button setup.

For big Nintendo fans such as myself, we can purchase the system secure in the knowledge that there will always be high quality first party software there for us to enjoy no matter who else choses to embrace the system.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In support of a Pokèmon holocaust

With every new installment of Pokémon Nintendo has insisted on introducing 100 new Pokémon. This is usually welcomed by hard core fans who relish the idea of being able to add another one hundred Pokémon to their previously complete collection which they transfer from game to game. But the sad truth about every new generation of Pokémon is that they are becoming less and less imaginative and are oftentimes very derivative of earlier generations of Pokèmon. So even while the game mechanics improve with every new game the quality of the monsters you are tasked with collecting is decreasing. There is no wonder that fans get so excited every time Nintendo decides to remake an old Pokémon game since it means they get the updated mechanics of later games while they get the charming creatures from the earlier games.

In every Pokémon game the player is encouraged to catch 'em all. When I was a kid this meant 150 pocket sized monsters, 151 counting Mew the special Pokémon Nintendo reserved for their Pokémon events. This was a manageable number that kids could actually aspire to collect. Now there are 646 of them, all of which you have to beat down near death (or unconsciousness) and then attempt to trap in a magic red ball. A much more daunting task then back in the day, it is questionable if any new player would even dare consider trying to fulfill the series catchphrase and really catch 'em all.

For your older players like me which has stuck with the series through the years even if we might have skipped a generation or two, the main appeal of the series is likely to be the nostalgia factor. Red and Blue or maybe Gold and Silver was such integral parts of our childhood that we love to every few years step in to the shoes of a young boy trying to be the very best by capturing all sorts of bizarre looking creatures. But this nostalgia is largely bound up in the first batch of Poèmon like Pikachu, Squirtle or Bulbasaur. As these Pokèmon are replaced by Game Freak's latest creations the appeal of the series lessens. Not only are they less charming then their older counterparts they don't trigger the same sense of nostalgia for older gamer, the very reason they are still playing Pokèmon.

That's why I recommend that Nintendo starts killing off Pokémon as soon as possible. Let's shrink the Pokèmon population to maybe 200. They could keep most if not all of the first gen Pokémon and some of the later fan favorites like Pichu. The rest of them would have to go for the betterment of the Pokémon-kind.

LA Noire could be the perfect Wii U game

When watching Nintendo's big reveal of Wii U I couldn't help but think that it was a cool piece of electronics but they failed to convince the audience that this new controller would actually enhance the gameplay experience.

It was not until last night when I was watching a buddy of mine play through LA Noire that it really clicked for me. In LA Noire you play as a detective inspecting crime scenes, interrogate suspect etc. while doing all this you constantly pick up your notebook which has all the information on the clues you have gathered, evidence collected and it is even used as the interface during interrogations. It would not be an exaggeration to say you spend a good part of the game with the notebook filling up the screen. It struck me that this game would be so much better with the Wii U touch screen since all the notebook functionality could simply be moved to the second screen.

It would be more like having an actual notebook in front of you the whole time, when needed you could simply look down on the second screen and use the touch screen to flip the pages. You could even whip out the stylus and take note. This would greatly improve the game interface but more then that it would bring you one step closer to feeling like a real detective. Which is to be honest the reason everyone fell in love with LA Noire, it's a lot of fun to pretend to be a detective.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What the Wii U needs is a mascot

What is Nintendo's new Wii U missing? I'm probably alone to be of this opinion but I would have loved it to have it's own mascot. Something along the lines of Disc-kun who always appeared alongside the Famicom Disc System in all advertisement. Some adorable little character to associate with the new system.

Obviously this would have no affect of the actual hardware which is arguable what I should be interested in. But using a cute mascot to market the system would really appeal to the 12 year old fanboy still living inside of me, who sees Nintendo less as a game company and more as a way of life. To that Miyamoto-worshiping little boy some new big eyed creature would be the perfect prophet to bring the good news of salvation inherent in two screen console gaming and convoluted control options.

Pulling out the SNES box still tucked away safely under my bed it it easy to see what sold me on the system. Sure the collection of fantastical Mario characters gracing the box informed the consumer of the Super Mario All Stars packin, but more then so for the younger version of me Mario was the very embodiment of Nintendo and their video game system. I wanted the magical system waiting for me inside that box not because of the boring red Nintendo logo printed on it but because it had a freaking wizard Mario on it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

You might have nice legs but you're no Hylian princess

I started playing Okami the other day. It is one of those games I have wanted to play forever, I have had both the PS2 and Wii versions sitting on my shelf tempting me every day for over a year. But I never really felt that I had the necessary 80 hours to spend on it. But now with some newly acquired free time I felt it was finally time for some serious gaming.

Surprisingly playing Okami only makes me want to turn the console off and go dig up Wind Waker from my GameCube collection. It is no secret that Okami borrows heavily from the Zelda series and that is fine but the thing is that Zelda does everything Okami does only better. Aside from its Zelda like gameplay the other draw the game had for me is its gorgeous cell-shaded graphics. But they are still not as beautiful and charming as Wind Wakers cell-shaded graphics. The Zelda like gameplay and the graphical style remind me so much of Wind Waker and of how much better a game it is, that I can't really appreciate Okami for the quality game it surely is.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Surprisingly the best 3DS launch game came out 7 years ago

It turns out that the best 3DS launch game was also the best DS launch game and the best Nintendo 64 launch game. How can that be you ask? Remember back to the DS launch in 2004. One of the games to launch with the system was a port of Mario 64 with lots of extra goodies. Mario 64 for the N64 was an absolute master piece and is arguable the best 3D platformer ever made. The DS port was superior in many ways but its one big drawback was the lack of an analog stick. Moving Mario around with the d-pad didn’t really work and the packed in thumb pad was not that much better.

Luckily it turns out that the 3DS analog nub works with old DS games, which means that Mario 64 DS just turned in to the definitive version of Mario 64 and one of the greatest games ever. You just need a 3DS for this magical transformation to be possible.

If you skipped over the DS version of Mario 64 because of its awkward control here is a rundown of what makes it so great.

First of all there is 30 new Power Stars to collect, taking it to a total of 150.

Then there’s the improved graphics, they are not a huge improvement over the original but on a small DS screen (or 3DS screen in this case) they look fantastic.

More characters, unlike the original you can now play as Yoshi, Luigi and Wario in addition to Mario. You even start the game as Yoshi, it’s a real shocker or at least it was back in 2004.

A new multiplayer mode has been added and it works with download play. It is not a Monster hunter competitor but being able to play Mario 64 with your friends is kinda wild.

Lastly there are some real addictive mini games, but they are the same ones that later showed up in New Super Mario Bros. Nevertheless it’s a great little addition.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A traditional genre adopted for the modern gamer

As a kid I loved adventure games, as I am sure most early computer users did. But as I have grown older I no longer have the patience necessary for the genre. Puzzles that make no sense just make me angry and carefully moving the pointer over every pixel on the screen to discover clickable items is terribly frustrating.

Thankfully the guys over at Telltale have attempted to fix adventure games and have put out a series of games that are surprisingly playable, even for those with a shorter attention span. Especially with their latest Back to the Future game it feels like they have really nailed it. They have successfully adapted the genre for the modern gamer.

First of all they have divided up their games in episodes. By breaking them up in to smaller pieces, they have made a genre which gameplay by its very nature includes at the very least some hair pulling, a more manageable challenge.

Then in the back to the future games they have eliminated the uncertainty of what to do next by making the next goal very clear, not only using character dialog but by having the goal you are supposed to focus on next pop up on screen. This removes the part of all adventure games where you used to just wander around trying to figure out which puzzle the game wanted you to focus on next. This might seem like it would take some of the fun out of adventuring and maybe it does, but it also saves a lot of your valuable time. Sometimes adventure games can feel like a real time waster and then it helps to have a clear goal to focus on. You might not know how to achieve said goal, but you know where to direct your attention.

When playing these types of games you will eventually get stuck. It’s really unavoidable and it’s an experience maybe best likened to repeatedly banging ones head in to a rock wall. You will stare at the screen until your eyes start to bleed, at which point you turn to gamefaq for the solution, meanwhile hating yourself for being such a weakling. At least that's my experience. Here Telltale has a better solution. A five step hint system, where using the last step might be about as shameful as turning to gamefaq, but where the first few hint merely points you in the right direction. It will feel almost as you figured it out all by yourself.

Then there are small things, like drastically reducing the amount of interactive items in each area, cutting down the amount of items in your inventory at once and only allowing you to access a relatively limited part of the game world at a time. And maybe most importantly making sure that none of the solutions are too bizarre and that all the puzzles make sense.

Telltale might be accused of taking the difficulty out of the genre and making adventure games for sissies. But I do commend them for creating adventure games that I can enjoy as much today as I did as a kid, even with my limited free time and lack of patience. Characteristics I feel I have in common with most modern gamers.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Would you really tap that?

Looking closely at the Princess Toadstool sprite from the original Super Mario Bros it really makes you wonder if she was worth all that hard work. To save this maiden of questionable looks Mario had to fight his way through 32 levels, face off against 8 incarnations of King Koopa and being told 7 times by a bunch of mushroom heads that 'our princess is in another castle'.

The quality of chicks in the Mushroom Kingdom must really be low for that endeavor to be worth it. If Rosalina was around back in the 80's I bet her Royal Highness would still be stuck with the Koopas on 8-4.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sleeping with the iPhone

I often listen to my iPhone while lying in bed at night but have always been annoyed by the high volume, even when pulling the slider to near zero. Yesterday I found a great app to help me with this problem, I also though I would share some basic tips for sleeping with Steve's little black beauty.

First of all my latest discovery is the app Volume Control by BahnTech, it is basically an app that allows you to manipulate the sound level with more precision. In the iPhone's normal iPod software the sound is controlled by a slider, Volume Control instead allows you to set the sound level anywhere from 0,01 dB to 1,20 dB. To set the sound level to the lowest possible level might theoretically be possible with the slider but in reality almost impossible to do without muting the thing. To have this increased level of control over the volume is a welcome addition for those like me with sensitive ears. My only complaint is that I would like to be able to go even lower in terms of sound volume but it seems that this is a system limitation and that this app gives you the highest degree of control possible for the iPhone.

Another tip is to use the iPhone's built in sleep timer, a function cleverly hidden within the Clock app. This function is easy to miss but under the Timer function you can choose between different alarm sounds, one of these being "Sleep iPod" which of course isn't an alarm sound at all but an effective sleep timer. So if you are listening in bed at night it might be recommended to set the timer to an hour or two, since listening to the latest Dr. Dre song on repeat all night is unlikely to contribute to your beauty sleep.

Then of course there is the possibility of setting the phone to Airplane Mode, effectively turning off the devises phone functionality. There is as far as I know no proven link between cancer and cell phone radiation but I still feel a bit uneasy about sleeping with my iPhone so close to me brain or penis area. So I chose to turn on Airplane Mode at night, this is also serves as a very effective protection against drunk dials.

Before ending this post I would like to call attention to the fact that I deliberately avoided making any jokes about Apple nerds having to sleep alone with only their beloved iPhone as company, since I do think I deserve some credit for avoiding such an obvious joke.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sneaky exploiting iPhone developers

A company run by evil ninjas.

Sometime in the run up to last Christmas when I was filled with the Christmas spirit I downloaded the special Christmas themed version of Angry Birds, the popular iPhone game. Not only was this a cool Advent calendar style game where a new level was unlocked every day, it turns out that it my purchase also included whole other seasons.

Now in the days before Valentine's Day a new update was released adding a whole bunch of Valentine's Day themed levels for free. I thought this unexpected generosity was pretty fucking awesome and I felt really good about the guys over at Rivio. But this positive feeling quickly disappeared when it turned out that to unlock the last three levels in this love themed expansion I had to post some kind of advertisement on Facebook. I simply refuse to spam my Facebook friends since I know how much I hate it when my own news feed gets filled with farmville updates and the like. As a result the completionist in me is quietly weeping.

In a way I have no right to complain since I am getting this whole Valentine's Day expansion for free but I really do hate it when developers try to turn me in to a human spambot.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Should we be looking forward to Paper Mario 3DS?

If you are following the 3DS news you have probably seen some footage of the Paper Mario game for Nintendo's new handheld. This might be the game that convinces me of picking up a DS but it depends entirely on who is developing it, something Nintendo has been very tight lipped about.

As all of you surely know it was Square who first turned Nintendo's Goomba stomping plumber in to a RPG hero with its Super Mario RPG on the SNES. After the relationship between the two Japanese giants turned sour the responsibility to continue the Mario RPG series was handed of to two developers.

With Nintendo's own internal studio Intelligent Systems creators of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem handling the console games, now titled Paper Mario. They quickly proved just as or even more apt at putting together a high class RPG without losing the Mario magic, then the RPG masters at Square. Especially the second Paper Mario game, the one for the GameCube was fantastic, one of my all time favorite role playing games.

The handheld games on the other hand were handed off to AlphaDream know for... well nothing other then the Mario & Luigi games really. Even if they supposedly had some big shots from Square working for them all of the Mario & Luigi RPGs turned out to be disappointments. AlphaDream was able to put out some mediocre RPGs but failed completely when it came to making their games feel like Mario games. Add to that an increasingly confusing control scheme, that just got worse with every game and you have a series of games even the most committed Mario fan like myself had to struggle to get through.

Now of course the big question is who the developer behind Paper Mario 3DS? The fact that it carries the Paper Mario name would make us think it's a Intelligent Systems project, which would be very promising. But at the same time it is a portable game, an arena traditionally handled by AlphaDream.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nostalgia for cruel and unusual game design

Sometimes I get an itch for some of that cruel and unusual game design of the late eighties. Like how shooters like Gradius or R-Type get progressively more difficult while you collect power-ups to be able to handle that increase in difficulty. But then when you die (and you will) you lose all those power-ups, instantaneously making the game unplayable. It doesn't matter how many extra lives or continues you have saved up, all you can do is push the reset button.

To add to this highly problematic game design, most of these games aren't primarily reaction based, they are memorization based requiring you to play the same level over and over again. You might feel like you are getting better at the game but what you are really doing is just memorizing enemy placements and patterns. So when you get to a new level it's like jamming your head straight in to a rock wall. This combination of memorization and de facto one life game play is intriguingly sadistic.

Me being a very troubled individual I went to the Wii Virtual Console last night looking for just this kind of abuse.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Should we just wait for the 3DS Lite?

Looking at the history of Nintendo handhelds any prospective 3DS buyer surely has to ask himself if it isn't worth waiting for the next superior model? For a 3DS Lite or 3DS SP.

If we look back at Nintendo's handhelds starting with the old grey brick from '89 we see an increasing trend of iterations. Building on the original Game Boy we had the Game Boy Pocket, the favored accessory of the first generation of Pokémon kids. Then we had the Game Boy Color which kinda straddled the line between being its own console and another Game Boy iteration. Sure the games were in color now but that was about the only thing new about the GBC.

After the gimped Game Boy Advanced we got the Game Boy Advanced SP, which thanks to its addition of a backlight made a bunch of previously unplayable GBA games playable. Finally gamers could tell apart the enemies from background in darker games like Castlevania. And we can't forget the Game Boy Advance Micro, which delivered on what the Game Boy Pocket had promised 10 years earlier, a Game Boy small enough to fit in your pocket.

Then we have Nintendo's most successful and maybe therefor also most iterated upon handheld. The Nintendo Dual Screen or maybe it was the Nintendo Developers System, that was never really made clear but the abbreviation DS wasn't hard to remember, not even for Nintendos new market of grandmothers who got their own series of brain training games. They even got their own system, the Nintendo DSi XL, with extra large screens for those who had trouble reading that pesky little text. That one was guaranteed not to fit in anyones pocket.
But before that there were two other iterations. Shortly after the original DS Nintendo put out the Nintendo DS Lite, the version that not only played great games but also looked nice. Then of course there was the Nintendo DSi, which was pretty much a DS Lite only with the GBA functionality removed.

So for the Game Boy we had one maybe two iterations, for the Game Boy Advance we had three and for the DS we had four. Making it very likely we will see an updated version of the 3DS in the not too far off future. When I look at the 3DS launch line up of games I can't say there is anything I just can't wait to play.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The downside of character creation

I have spent most of the day in bed due to a terrible cold. To keep myself busy I decided to give Dragon Quest IX another try. It's a game I really looked forward to and picked up day one but then quickly tired of. It really is a lovely game but it has one big shortcoming, like the JRPGs of the late eighties it lets you yourself design all the playable characters. This might sound like a good idea and it is in the spirit of the D&D style pen and paper game the whole video game genre is based on. But it results in your party being kinda bland and lacking in personality. This is a shame since these types of games usually offers the player a wide array of characters with distinctive personalities and rich back stories. I understand the reasoning behind this, with the inclusion of multi player in to the DQ series it might have been necessary. But it comes at the cost of a much weakened single player experience.

This shortcoming becomes even more evident when comparing it to another JRPG I have been putting some time in to, Tales of Vesperia for the 360. In terms of gameplay its pretty average, just another yearly installment of Namco Bandai's long running series. But it does have some excellent characters that could just have well been taken from some big budget anime series. The Tales team knows how to take advantage of this by constantly throwing in some fully voiced skits or short conversations between the main characters to keep the game interesting and masking their other failings.

When going on a grand adventure I want a compelling party with me. The Tales team obviously gets this and put some real effort in to their character design. If you ask me Level 5 made a mistake to sacrifice this aspect of their game to make Dragon Quest IX more multi player friendly. It's a shame since their game is so wonderful in many other ways.