Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Greener Pastures

It's been fun, but we're moving on to bigger and better things!

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review - Knights of Pen and Paper


APRIL 16, 2013 - When a game sets out to be something that lovingly riffs on other games, it should probably remember that it needs to be a good game itself. While Knights of Pen and Paper is by no means a bad game, it's not really something easily recommended over the plethora of other mobile RPG's available. It wants you to look at silly design ideas of other RPG's, by making you experience them all in one game.

The concept is appreciably straightforward: you're playing characters around a table who are about ready to enter the world of their Game Master, who is going to take the party on a strangely formulaic adventure. It's a very Munchkin or Knights of the Dinner Table approach: lovingly reference the games we grew up playing, both tabletop and video, but acknowledge that they can be super silly. The only difference is that Munchkin is a fun card game, and Knights of the Dinner Table is a funny comic. Knights of Pen and Paper, however, attempts to dish out meta-humor, and instead falls flatter than a week old cup of Mountain Dew.

A not-uncommon scene of the game.

While assuming the role of the players as one would assume control of a party in any given RPG, you must complete quests, travel the world, slay the baddies, and get the gold. The perspective you see in-game is always behind your players, all donning hats to represent their classes, grouped in front of the GM as he takes you into this mad-cap fantasy world. The visuals behind the GM constantly change between static environments, but you never leave the players who are playing it and their table. It makes for a nice and easy touch-interface because it doesn't have any moving parts. And it's a nice attempt at being meta, but ultimately feels uneventful and bland.
One of the quests early on is to obtain 20 apples from rats. To get this quest you have to open the quest menu, sort through a bunch of different quests, some of which are inexplicably higher level than you, and then have a villager tell you why you need to kill a bunch of rats. Then, you can start battling the rats. To do so, you bring up a battle menu, select the number and type of monsters you wish to battle at a time, and then hop into some standard turn-based affairs akin to the original Final Fantasy, or more contemporary titles like Etrian Odyssey. Widdle the monsters down to zero hit points, and collect your rewards. I find a certain pleasure out of more straightforward RPG's like the older Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei titles, so it's not the combat that bothers me. The problem here is the quest design. Clearly, we're making fun of the dumb quests typical in early levels of any RPG, and more specifically, the inane quest design of turn-of-the-century MMO's like Everquest. But if you're going to make fun of the quest design, you cannot turn around and design your quest in exactly the same way. When it reaches the point that I had to kill some 30-35 rats and epic rats just to get the 20 apples I needed, we've gone too far. That is some grinding-for-the-sake-of-grinding RPG mechanics that makes me pine for the days of finding bear intestines in World of Warcraft.

The character creation/level-up page.

So the quest design is mediocre at its best, but there are some more intriguing aspects of the game. The character progression system is evocative of Etrian Odyssey. Instead of a skill tree, each class has 4 abilities that you can put points into to improve with each level. You can start to really synergize with other classes, and form some very unique combinations. You can eventually get your own World of Warcraft style 5-man dungeon going with one tank, one healer, and 3 different types of damage. It's a rather satisfying thing to watch your characters progress in the same way that it's cool to see your business blossom in some business simulator. Unfortunately, you have to sit there fighting 35 rats to start getting anywhere. I'll also say one really nice thing about the combat: if you just want to do a standard attack with your weapon, you can just tap the enemy and you do damage, rather than having to dig through a menu. Even more awesome, if you're using the touch menu at the bottom, and you're down to only one enemy, hitting "attack" will just automatically attack. You don't have to constantly re-select the only opponent standing on the field arbitrarily. I know it's a small thing but I always find it frustrating to basically say "Yes, I really do still want to hit the only person I can right now."

Financial progression is also painfully slow, and it is the key to getting anything else in the game. You earn money that you can use to buy either health items and equipment from the local store, or to buy things for the "out of game" aspect, like stat-boosting pets, tables, and additional players to serve as extra party members. It's kind of neat, but it creates a strange split between the meta game and the in-game, and everything is just so expensive that you're going to need to kill a LOT of rats and skeletons to start getting anywhere.

There's no real story to the game; it's built on a very pickup-and-play premise. All you do is quest after quest, moving to different towns when necessary to complete aforementioned quests. It's all very standard affair, dragging along some attempts at tongue-in-cheek references to both video game and tabletop RPG's. One of the quests had me visit a village called the Wizards of the East Coast, referencing the publishers of Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. Oddly, it was on the west side of the map, so it took me awhile to find. But that's really about the best of the referential humor you're going to see out of the game: something that might make you exhale through your nose loudly as your plucking away at the menus buried within menus.
Visually the game is trying to evoke a feeling of "the days of old" with 8-bit, pixelated graphics. Knights of Pen and Paper has it's own style, and I'll give it credit for that. Some of the stuff in the "meta" side of games look kind of weird and out-of-place, like an oddly less-pixelated cartoon beaver that just hangs out next to the DM. Accompanying the visuals is an immediately forgettable soundtrack that tries to be retro, and just feels dated and cheap.

When it comes to RPG's, there is a wide selection of games to choose from, even on just the Android and iOS platforms alone. You may be hard pressed to find sizable RPG experiences at only $1.99, for certain, but you won't be so hard pressed to find more unique experiences for just a little more cash.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Cost of games in the coming generation

Have video game costs actually gone down for the consumer? Are they on the rise again? Are developers finding ways around those costs? And will this coming generation be sustainable for developers?

"Money, it's a hit" Pink Floyed - "Money"

  Talking about money and video games is almost too broad a subject. There are literally dozens of things you could talk about, and now more than ever, dozens more distribution methods you could examine. I'm going to try and take a broad look at the rising costs of development, how they impact the prices of games, and take a look at whether or not we're actually paying more for our games than we ever have. There's also the aspect of whether or not the coming generation of gaming can maintain increasing costs, or whether this industry has perhaps overloaded it's slate.

  First of all, there's no surprise to see that consoles themselves have just been rocketing skyward each generation, although none of them compare to the long-term costs of owning a high-end PC. Handhelds have also seen this trend, with the Vita costing as much at it's launch as the Wii did when it launched 5 years later. (The Vita is arguably more powerful than the Wii, and handheld, so that's not terribly unexpected.) With the WiiU currently priced at $349 (we're going to forget the $299 model exists, okay?) and current consoles 360 and PS3 ranging from $250-$300 (depending on which bundle/deal you get), the only logical conclusion is that the next consoles are going to have two options. The first is to be unreasonably expensive ($599 US dollars!) or go the mobile contract route. Intersting, you can get an XBOX 360 for $99 but it requires a 2-year gold subscription for $14.99 a month. If I had to guess, Microsoft is testing the waters for the viability of that as a permanent pricing structure for the "720" system.

Is this our Console Future?

  As a bit of a side, I like to crack a joke at the $600 price tag of the PS3 at launch, but the NeoGeo was $650 at it's launch in the 1990's with it's games running as high as $200 a pop. So, I think we can all agree that we are far from the craziest pricing structures thus far.

  In researching the costs of games back then and now, the most noticeable trend I've found is that games are far, far more regularly priced now than they have been. I posit that it's related to the growing "legitimacy" of the medium for averaging out a price, much like music and movies. But back in the SNES days, you could find games ranging from $50-$60, and if it was a SquareEnix title, it could be as far up as $80. I remember a $70 dollar price tag on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars being the reason I had to rent and re-rent that game to completion. My tiny, tiny allowances just couldn't make that difference in any reasonable time. These days, nobody's putting their game higher than $60 on a shelf, and if it came out on a 'last gen' system (read also, Wii) it was $50. 

I loved this game. I still do, but I did back then, too.

  Speaking of game prices, I think there's a lot of different perspectives of costs for games these days.There are so many ways to approach the concept of "value." Does a game like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance justify it's $60 dollar price tag with a 5 hour story mode and some challenge modes? Does DmC? Why would you buy those when you can get Ki No Kuni for the same price, which features tons more gameplay time and content. Why are you buying any of these when you can get the nearly bottomless, insanely replayable (and arguably one of the best games ever made) Persona 4 Golden for the Vita for $40, or Etrian Odyssey IV for the same price on the 3DS? One step further, why would you buy any of that, when you can by $40 dollars with of 99 cent apps on your iPhone or Android, and get content-filled games like the unreasonably popular Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Super Hexagon, and so many others on a device you likely already own? It's a strange, strange market right now, and a lot of developers are using mobile and Facebook games to help make a quick, easy buck, which helps offset their crazy big triple A games like Halo, Madden, or Mass Effect. But, at which point are game companies going to look at this and realize that they could just make slightly better mobile games, and just make pure profit from those? It honestly seems crazy to think that Activision is still making console games when they could just keep trying to make an Angry Birds and make just as much of a profit.

Money Pig.

  Interestingly, if you look at the costs of games back in the old days, you'll find that, despite price-offsetters like Downloadable Content (DLC) and Special Editions, we're getting way more for our money now than we ever have. According to an article at, when you start filling in for inflation, you'll find that games were almost twice as much as they are now. It's a tad abstract of a concept, but I think you can also thank the growing rise in video game popularity as one of the ways publishers can offset game's costs without throwing the price up. If you look at 1UP's chart, a copy of Street Fighter 2 was $74.99 back in 1992. Factor in for inflation, and you're looking at $121.99, were that game to come out today with the same profit goals. Compare Street Fighter II to Street Fighter X Tekken right now, and there's no doubt that we are getting more for our money. More characters, more stages, better visuals, online play, tons of features and modes. Arguably a less competitive game, but I'm not touching fighting game talk with Kilik's 10 foot pole. But for as much slag as Capcom seems to get for their on-disc DLC, and rightfully so, I think it is fair to say that they're still giving us a better deal. Right now on Steam, you can get SF x Tekken, with all of it's character costumes, new characters, weird gem things, and more, for $69.99... just $20 more than the game itself, and still $50 dollars cheaper than Street Fighter II cost. (Again, conceptually speaking). But then again, even if you don't look at inflation, Street Fighter II was -still- five dollars more.

  Have your own favorite game from the $90's? Use this awesome Inflation Calculator to find out how much it would technically cost if it came out today!

  So if we're "technically" paying less for games that are miles above their predecessors in terms of necessary manpower, visual fidelity, live orchestra soundtracks, online server maintenance, voice actors... what are publishers doing to make a profit? In a lot of cases we're seeing DLC become more and more prevalent. Map packs, exclusive weapons, character packs and now Season Passes, allowing you to get everything for a cheaper up-front price. In fact, for many, DLC is the only way they make money. Look at the mega-hit League of Legends. It's a free game that you could play forever without paying a dime, and eventually earning all of the characters and levels yourself. But, for a very small fee, you can unlock favorite characters early, as well as tons of costumes to dress them up in. It's all strictly for the looks, but it's proven a lucrative business model for them. And it's a model that continues to grow. Most MMO's have taken a Free-to-Play style similar to that, where the only profit comes from additional benefits. Team Fortress 2 relies solely on it's Mann Store for profit, and most mobile games have entirely micro-transaction based constructions, like Jetpack Joyride. Heck, even Triple A games are starting to do it. Mass Effect 3's multiplayer allows you to earn trading card game style "booster packs" filled with weapons, consumables, and characters, that can be bought with either currency earned in-game, or with micro-transactions.Technically, you're essentially buying "Ain't nobody got time for that" cheat codes to help speed things up for you. It's hard for me to figure out whether or not I like this. I mean, I don't -have- to buy a thing. But I want that top hat on my Medic, damnit!

  Remember when we used to bitch about in-game advertisements? Kind of starting to miss those. At least they didn't cost me anything.

I'm not going to lie. I bought all of the Mass Effect 2 costumes through this that I could. I wonder how much this helped offset costs.

  So this is all fine and dandy for smaller games, and multi-player titles, but what about the next big Infamous? What about all of those neat little games Sony showed off at their press conference for the PlayStation 4? How will they offset their costs? Will they just raise the prices? Will there b e some sort of subscription service to help keep it low? Will Sony rely on some other methods to keep things priced low? They haven't even announced the cost of the console itself yet, so it's really hard to get a feel for what we're going to b e experiencing soon. If I had to make a guess, I would say that Nintendo, of all people, is going to be the only place you find the standard pricing structures for games stay in place, at least for the next few years. I foresee a lot more Season Passes, Free-to-Play Content, and micro-transactions in the future.

  All this makes me wonder: have video games grown to large? How many studios have we lost in the last generation? THQ is the most recent example, and they were all about a lot of these pricing models. Just look at the DLC page for Saint's Row the Third. Does that mean these models don't work? Or do they just not work unless your games make a certain sales threshold? Are there better ways of doing this? And despite being some big gang-buster of a game, how do you argue yourself against something like the Humble Android Bundle, which gives you 6-10 games available on Steam, and -all- of your Android Devices (including phone and tablet). And those games cost whatever you want to pay. Sure they incentivize you to spend a little more, but you still never pay more than $10 bucks to get the whole pack.

All of these for a dollar! (if you're a soulless monster)

  I think I've left a lot more questions than I have provided answers, but that's for two reasons. I haven't decided, myself, how I feel about all of these. Obviously if I think something's too gross I just won't buy the game, but there is kind of a point where being in -every- game is too much, right? I also just wanted to throw down some numbers and let you think about it yourself. Has this made you realize that we're not as bad off as we thought, or are you still just as dubious as ever of game purchases? And, finally, which of these do and don't cross your mind when making judgement? I'd love to see if maybe there's something in particular people like or dislike, and discuss on that further!


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How was that Dead Space 3 game?

A look at Visceral Games' 3rd foray into the world of space madness.

 Dead Space was the game that made me happy I bought an Xbox 360. At the time, my computer was nowhere near prepared to run that kind of a game. I had purchased the console originally for The Orange Box and Bioshock, and nothing else for a good while. It was Dead Space that made me come back to the console, and I was elated to do so.

 It was scary, immaculately crafted, science fiction and horror bundled into one package with my name on it. It was a unique take on the third person shooter that revolved around dicing your enemies to pieces rather than running for the usual headshot. As every game with a gun wanted to be Gears of War and Halo, Dead Space was more interested in a new combat mechanic, an intuitive and world-integrated user interface, a series of unique tools for the job, and an arsenal of strange enemies to learn and experiment with. It was truly a fresh experience in every way.

I cannot stress to you enough the importance of taking those arms off. Maybe go for a leg first to hobble him?

 From a narrative perspective, it was a tad shallow, but it laid some fantastic groundwork and ultimately paid off on everything it wanted to deliver. With its none-too-subtle examination of how religion can make people a little more than crazy, a new twist on traditional gameplay, and some of the best sound design in the industry, Dead Space was hands down one of the most unique experiences on consoles.

 Dead Space 2 was an evolution on the previous title in just about every direction. New tools, new suits, new hacking mechanics (the computer kind, AND the monster limb kind), a new location, and what is perhaps the most solid narrative experience I have ever encountered; cutscenes are straight-up gone. You want a CG movie, go watch Wreck-it Ralph. (No, really, go watch it, it's great.) Video games have a unique space to work with in ways we're typically unfamiliar with. There are only 3 moments in the entire game that the camera breaks off of Isaac. While you can lose direct control of Isaac, you are never removed from the nerve-rending setting of Titan Station. Dead Space 2 was missing giant boss fights, opting instead for big arena set pieces and the occasional "holy crap" set-ups, but it was perfectly executed. I could not tell you a single thing "wrong" with Dead Space 2.

Never breaking camera made for some amazing action sequences, like jetting through exploding space stations.

 As you can imagine, Dead Space 3 has some lofty competition from itself...and pretty much only from itself. Games like Amnesia and Slender are more terrifying in their own way, but they’re also built around removing power from the player. But Dead Space 3 was probably Visceral Studios’ most ambitious title. Adding in a full drop-in/drop-out co-op immediately had many worried. How scary can it be if my buddy can just drop in and help me go plasma cutters-a-blazing? The answer: by still being Dead Space.

 Drop-in co-op wasn't the only new feature. If you factor in a gun-crafting mechanic, a wardrobe of suits, the most enemies, the grandest locations, and half a dozen different modes: you've got a lot to do. In previous Dead Space titles, all you had was New Game + to go through again and again. This game features 4 modes, each with their own New Game + capabilities, some of which require you to survive the nightmares alone. With all of these crazy new mechanics being implemented into an otherwise perfect run of a series, it's not hard to see how they may have stumbled a few times. I'm of the mindset that trying to expand your game should be valued, even if not everything panned out the right way, and in that spirit, Dead Space 3 is a total triumph. It's just got a few edges that need to be smoothed over if they go ahead with a future installment.

 I played through all of Dead Space 3 with the same co-op partner, and I can tell you that it works really well. Puzzles from single-player have cooperative requirements in the two-player mode, making things feel like more of a cohesive tag team experience. There are also exclusive co-op only zones to visit, which sucks to miss out on if you're playing by yourself. However, they're only important to the story of newcomer John Carver, so missing out on them doesn’t really ruin the overall story. As I understand it, those are some of the best experiences in the game. I was running as Isaac, so I missed out on Carver’s freak-outs, and Isaac had little to none. So far, no co-op game has really hit the level of truly asymmetrical gameplay that only those types of games can provide, but Dead Space 3 is so close to that mark, it has me salivating for more.

Co-Op means fun for everyone! And by Everyone I mean two people.

 I love the new weapon and armor mechanics. Gone are credits for arbitrarily buying things out of vending machines. Now we have a more "in-universe" mechanic of gathering spare parts as currencies that you use to build weapons, upgrades, health packs and other necessary items. It does a great job of fleshing out the vending machine and bench systems of the previous games. The build-your-own weapon system is fun for a guy like me. You can go as simple as a tricked-out Plasma Cutter (the standard Dead Space tool), or go with a stasis-bullet firing submachine gun with a cryo-torch strapped to it that also happens to help pick up ammo and give you and your partner extra damage. It's a bit weird to look at the system in the beginning, in no small part to a slightly muddled user interface, but when you really start to figure it out, it's an absolute joy. Or, if you don't like it, just buy blueprints with upgrades and move about your business, that works too! The key theme here is options, and I am always in favor of them.

It's like the Build-a-Bear Workshop, only slightly deadlier!

 While we're on the topic of weapons and weird designs, there are some particularly frustrating moments in the game where you are required to have a particular kind of weapon. There is no precedent in any of the games for some of these, and if you don't have them, it’s impossible to move forward on the higher difficulties. My partner and I coordinated our weapon types for effectiveness; he didn't have anything rapid fire. As Carver, there are a number of segments where you -need- a rapid fire weapon, because what you're attacking requires being hit a certain number of times, not taking a X number of damage. It's kind of ridiculous as there is no lead up to that mechanic. It's entirely invisible, and only used in a couple instances. We had to stop playing the game at that point for a few hours, read up on how to beat it, and then finish it when we weren't so flustered. That's just never an experience you want in your game, and it's a real odd thing to slip in there.

 The story is pretty grandiose, and it's clear that the narrative isn't just about isolated incidents any more. Some people may hope for them to reel it in a bit, but from a narrative point of view, the Necromorph plague is just too big to be contained to small space stations. At this point it's either "keep going bigger," or pack it up and move to something new altogether.

 Early in the game, you're treated to hovering around giant, derelict space vessels that give you some real, unprecedented freedom in space. I cannot think of another game that gave me that "I'm in space!" feeling. It was a rush. Unfortunately that whole series of experience and gameplay goes away for the later two-thirds of the game when you reach the planet's surface, and while that makes obvious sense, it is kind of a bummer they couldn't have more on the surface to replicate just how expansive those first parts felt.

 But as I've said, not everything works. Transitioning in and out of story sequences is far from as seamless as it was in Dead Space 2, and in many cases (almost every case, if you're Mr. Carver), it's incredibly disjointed. It really is unfortunate they didn't create a second set of camera work for Carver to keep the story locked to each character's perspective the whole time. Even more mysterious: in single player Carver just shows up sometimes because he's supposed to have been with you this whole time, even though he's not helping you take out Necromorphs unless your buddy is controlling him. It's a step backwards in terms of the Dead Space narrative style, but with some more time and refinement, it can be absolutely the best co-op narrative experience in a game. Especially if they emphasize the moments where one character slips into hallucinations and sees things in areas completely differently from the other, or if characters have to split up altogether.

 At this point, I've completed Dead Space 3: Awakened, the downloadable content that expands upon the story of Dead Space 3, and the reason I bring this up is because of the common complaint/worry that Dead Space 3 isn't "scary" enough. Some said it isn't "Dead Space" enough, which I don’t really get. There's space and there's death, you've pretty much covered the game's promises right there. But Awakened, if nothing else, will flip that perception on it’s head. While I would gladly defend Dead Space 3's atmosphere and tone, I would bend to the argument, if only a little, that it's less "scary" of a game. Awakened settles the argument that co-op means less frightening, as it is easily the -most- terrifying Dead Space content, hands down.

It gets real in the Awakened DLC.

 There’s a feeling that Visceral Studios went big, and it hit pretty well for the most part, but because the games before it were these perfect experiences that were tighter than a facehugger's grip, it just feels a little more flat. It's not, to make a comparison, hollow and devoid of atmosphere like Resident Evil 5, but it is every bit as solid of a cooperative gameplay experience, if not more so. Additionally, the Awakened DLC does a great job of adding to the plot with some of the series' best atmosphere, some amazing battles, and even a pretty unreal ending.

 Have you had a shot at Dead Space 3 yet? What were your feelings on the design choices? Were you playing co-op or solo? How would you have changed things up? I would love to hear from you in the comments!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Discussing more than just the news from today's Nintendo Direct, but the ramifications it will have on the company for the foreseeable future.

  There was a metric shit-ton of information coming out of the Nintendo Direct transmission today. Over the past year, Nintendo has been bringing information straight to it's fans through it's social media outlets more and more, and this previous one may just be the biggest one of them all. In fact, there was so much news, and so many big news items, it kind of felt like I was watching a mini-E3 presentation. But rather than just rattle off the announcements verbatim, which you can get from literally every other news site, I wanted to talk more about some of the far-reaching effects many of these announcements can have. I want to spit some meta-game about Nintendo's communication styles, and what it means for us as gaming folk, as well as take a look at what crazy things have started and where they'll be going.

  The Nintendo Direct communications are interesting, in that they are a direct contact to their own fanbase. They are preaching to the choir, so to speak, so rather than just telling you how awesome they are, they tend to spend more time saying things like "we hope you will be excited," and "we hope you understand it will take just a little more time." Both Iwata and Reggie come off more humble and friendly, and while any coherent person is aware that this is all being heavily PR filtered, I think this approach is much easier to receive than Sony and Microsoft's general "you're going to love us because we said so" approach. Ultimately, the fact that Iwata, the president of Nintendo, takes as much time out of his schedule as he does to talk to "me" directly really helps ground the company. I think this wins them a lot of favor with people, which is a great way to make them more receptive to anything you have to say.

    The discussion of MiiVerse may have been a bit dragging, but what's most interesting about it is that Nintendo didn't just throw it out there and leave it to die; it's going to continue to evolve and grow as a service. It's going to allow developers to directly interface with their fans through Nintendo's channel, which has this weird cross-promotional synergy that, if I were a developer, especially a more indie developer like WayForward, I'd be way more excited about.

  I'm not sure how I feel about this "new" Virtual Console set-up. Sure, adding all the features for MiiVerse and save slots to it is amazing, but the fact that it's a limited run, and that I continue to have to pay for it is weird. Yes, if I own it on the Wii and transferred my stuff over, I can get the enhanced version for only a dollar to a dollar fifty, but... I don't know. Shouldn't I kind of just get the upgrade? It seems like a bit of a good faith venture to me, but I suppose it's not like the efforts are free. I'm more concerned that there's still no way to just have my Virtual Console games already purchased available on all platforms, including the 3DS. But hey, we're getting GameBoy Advance games, finally, so that's pretty slick. Now if only we'd get that Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Genesis....

  There's also this weird Famicon deal where you can essentially rent a game for 30 cents, for 30 days. I'm not really sure how I feel about paid, limited time demos, and I foresee a lot of people being confused about not being able to keep the game, so let's see how this all goes.

  Smartphone integration for MiiVerse is a huge thing. Not only is Nintendo letting other companies have at an aspect of their little empire, but it opens the door for other opportunities as well. If you remember back in the days of Mario Kart Wii, there was a special Mario Kart Channel that you could upload to your Wii interface. This would allow you to check in on leaderboards and the like without actually loading up the game. If they could start integrating apps like that into smartphones, it could really take individual games to a whole new level of connectivity.

  I'm just going to say The Mighty 101 is possibly the game I'm most excited about right now. Platinum Games making games for the WiiU makes me all kinds of excited. Between this unique IP that looks like a wonderful puzzle/brawler, and Bayonetta 2, there's a lot to love between this business partnership. Seeing the Platinum Games office showcase during the Direct was incredibly interesting to a gaming nut like me, and I hope to see more of these in future shows. As a side note, remember how Bayonetta had a ton of Sega references when it was funded by Sega? I wonder if Bayonetta 2 will have a ton of random Nintendo references... Finger's crossed!

  If we're following along in chronological order, this is the part where Nintendo did something unthinkable. They basically tipped their hand without really having a whole lot to show for it. Things that you would imagine to be saved for E3 were just mentioned here, including the acknowledgement that Smash Bros. is coming along and will be shown at E3, there's a new Mario game by their EAD development staff (think Mario Galaxy and Mario 3D Land), AND they are working on a new Zelda. Now sure, it's all common sense that this is happening. Nintendo has always been one for secrets, sometimes announcing games mere months before releasing them. But now they're telling us about projects before they have so much as a screenshot? Madness! I'm curious to see how this new cycle works for Nintendo. Will they be guiding us along the development process more closely now, to allow us to see how our favorite games are being made? It's an interesting concept that I hope pans out.

  An HD remake of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was announced. Easily the best Zelda that doesn't have "Majora's Mask" in the title, I'm nothing but ecstatic to see this game getting released 10 years later! (I'm so old...) What's more, is this kicks open the door I was waiting for: classic Nintendo games in HD. How much longer do we have to wait before we see Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword in HD? How about a high-def remake of the Metroid Prime trilogy? Or Mario Galaxy, which I consider to be one of the best looking games of the past decade, low resolution not withstanding. It's not uncommon for studios to put out HD remakes of their best works, and Nintendo is no stranger to making excellent remakes of their games. And it's not just about putting them in HD: the combination of New Play Control with Wii-motes, and the GamePad functionality opens up a variety of gameplay enhancements that Nintendo could add! It's a very exciting road to travel down, but in the same breath, I really hope it doesn't detract from all the new ideas I want to see coming out.

  New ideas like the new Wii Play title, for example. I know, I know, mini-game collections are the devil, right? To hell with all that, I love getting people together to play dumb mini-game games, and Wii Play was actually one of the best ones on Wii. Seeing all the crazy things they can do with this is going to be very exciting. That Wii-Mote/GamePad game of twister was interesting looking. If you haven't seen the footage yet, I highly recommend seeking it out. This is the kind of meta-game gaming that I love. Also? Two-players using the same GamePad to do a little game of Foosball is fucking brilliant.

  I had to surgically remove my heart to be able to talk about Yoshi's Epic Yarn long enough to not devolve into a mass of girlish screams of joy. Kirby's Epic Yarn was one of my favorite games of the past few years for a number of reasons, not least of which was that it just grabbed the pleasure center of my brain and massaged it ever so gently. Now, Yoshi's going to be involved in a similar game with a similar artstyle, and I couldn't be happier. What they currently showed looks maybe a little -too- much like Kirby's Epic Yarn, so I"m hoping it continues to evolve the look further. Considering Yoshi himself gets a power up that turns him into more of a yarn-skinned plushie instead of just a 2-D outline shows me that they've definitely got something up their sleeves.

  And just when I thought my heart couldn't take any more! Mr. Iwata mentions that they're working on a new partnership with a renowned developer. So that's exciting... Oh, Atlus? That's interesting... Hey I recognize those guys, those are Shin Megami Tensei dudes! AND THOSE ARE FIRE EMBLEM DUDES! AND THEY'S GONNA BE IN THE SAME GAME?! Yeah, needless to say I'm pumped to hear more about this title. And my curiosity is peaked at the mention of working on additional collaborations with more developers. This is a good thing, and I can't wait to see where it goes.

  Well actually we can see one place it's going right now:

  I have no idea what this is that Monolith Software is cooking up. It looks incredibly similar to Xenoblade, so that's already a really good thing. It looks mad JRPG, but it looks rather stunning, so I hope to hear more about this before too long.

  So, what are the ramifications of this new Nintendo Direct? New directions for content, including developer behind-the-scenes stuff. Not taking any shit and jumping right into new game announcements. Illustrating a continuing growth and push on Nintendo's side for new content and amazing software. In short; the WiiU is going to have a nice, strong catalog moving forward. If they can maintain this kind of momentum, there's no doubt they're going to be doing very well for themselves for this console life cycle.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pokemon X and Y - What Will This Game Need?

Hopes and Fears pepper my excitement for the new generation of Pokemon

  In case you haven't seen it yet, Pokemon X and Y were recently announced, setting up a new generation of Pokemon, finally moving to the 3DS. Here's a look at the trailer to catch you up:

  This trailer shows that there are a lot of things Game Freak is doing with their series, and the bold direction they're taking it in. I would hesitate to say it's a bold "new" direction at this point. From what I can tell, and from previous track records, I'm expecting a big safety net under this game. I remain hopeful, but cautiously so, that this game is going to be more than a graphical update with a few dozen new critters. Honestly I'm a little bit -too- reserved, I think. There are aspects to the game shown in this trailer that have me nervous. They tug at raw chords in my heart left over from games like Pokemon Colosseum and Pokemon XD, a game so aware of how bad it is that it is literally laughing at you in it's title for buying it.

  The best way to approach this is to do kind of a step by step analysis of the trailer and go from there.Let's start with that hideous yellow rodent who has become the face of Pokemon. I hate him. I always kind of have. He isn't that cute, he's supremely annoying, and there's a lot of residual spite coming from Smash Bros. Melee. More importantly than my animosity  though: if you watch the video, he appears to be standing on the Eiffel Tower. This is backed up by the epicenter of his doomsday thunder bolts being shot across the globe, and then later when you see the tower in the background. It appears that we're going to Europe this time, and that's pretty interesting. I love Europe. It has a lot of flavor and style, and I think GameFreak is good at capturing those types of elements and bringing them to the forefront.

  I'm not a fan of these new forward facing camera angles. The scene in particular of the male character running at the camera looks painful. I'm really hoping that's just showing off the engine and not indicative of the actual game, because running towards the camera with only inches between it and your character makes for some terribly frustrating gameplay. You can't see anything in the direction you're going and end up bumping into all sorts of crap.

  I'm not sure how to feel about that weird space building in the middle of a displaced canyon, either. Is it a new city, or some villain HQ? The taste that won't wash out of the back of my mouth is how much the structure reminds me of Pokemon Colosseum and XD designs. It reeks of the Orre region, and I have spent years trying to erase that from my memory. But I can never erase the save files those games have imprinted on my soul. I really wanted that Lugia, damn it.

  New starters, let's talk about them. At first glance I have to say this may actually be the best set of starters I've ever seen. I don't dislike a single one of them, and they all show some promise. First, we've got Chespin, the Grass type.

I shall call him Chesapeak. 

  Look at that adorable mother fucker. He's so happy to see you! Him and his weird leafy coat and flipper paws. He looks like some kind of otter covered in seaweed. It might be a bit of a unique twist if he actually becomes a grass/water type, but the two-toes leads me to believe he's actually supposed to be more like a mole or prairie dog. So I'd put my money on another grass/ground starter for this li'l guy.

You will be Miss Terious.

  Then we have Fennekin, whose name I'm not terribly fond of. Was Fennix too "low fruit?" Fennec fox + pheonix? Hm. Anyway. I don't really know where this thing's going to go. It might pull a Typhlosion and stay pure fire, or even go fire/normal, which would be kind of weird. How about fire/psychic? How cool would that be? This is clearly the "for the ladies' starter, but that's fine. I think it's still pretty precious, but then Fennec Foxes are fucking adorbs. Seriously. Look at this shit:

  Hulk Hogan himself would be reduced to a quivering pile of girly shrieks in the face of this thing.

Benjamin Froaklin, at your service.

  Now I will gladly admit that I have favoritism towards water types. I like water and I like sea animals. Blaziken was the first time I ever started with a fire type, and I still default to Mudkip every time since. But this guy. Holy crap do I love him. I was a bit "meh" at first, but once I realized he looked like Benjamin God Damned Franklin, I was on board. Don't quote me on this but I wouldn't be surprised to see him go water/ poison if he does anything than stay water. Which I hope he does. As a water lover, nothing is more boring than the fact that the first two generations were strict water. Then again, I would never have guessed water/steel for a penguin, so anything is on the table at this point.

What's cooler than being cool? Steel Cold.

  Initially, I was a bothered by the new attack animation stuff. I kind of hated it in the Pokemon Stadium series. It always looked... off. With sprites, it's easy to just kind of let it go. Seeing things like Froakie actually jump in there and mess a Pokemon up kind of makes me a little happier. However, between this and what appears to be a needless "wild such-and-such has appeared" animation, I'm just the slightest bit worried that combat is going to slow down in favor of wasting my time with constant zooms and drawn-out animations. 2D sprites in a 3D plane is indeed a favorite look of mine in games, so I'm kind of bummed to see it go fully polygonal, but we'll see how the final thing shapes up.

  It looks like the new gyms are continuing the tradition of one-upsmanship that the series has been taking with it's gyms lately. The gyms of Pokemon Black and White 2 were indeed the best gyms in the series to date. Each one felt unique, had it's own rendition of the standard gym theme, and were each a set piece all their own. Hopefully that kind of pomp continues onward.

  How about those new mascots, eh? The sort-of-titular Xerneas and Yvvetal are already pointing me to the belief that this generation will continue the ever-worsening Pokemon names. I loved a lot of the 5th generation, but the names were just getting worst with each one. Also, sword-leg rainbow stag? I'll try anything out, but that's kind of weirding me out.

  So a lot of that laid out my fears of the series, which basically amounts to it being more the mocking visage of Pokemon XD than a Pokemon proper. Considering it's the actual Game Freak company behind it, I remain positive that I'm being paranoid. Although, how quickly this is being turned around is unusual. Barely a year after the last release, and only two and a half years after the last generation? I'm sure they've been working on it for a long while, since they've had their hands on the 3DS tech, if I had to guess. So it's probably not as "rushed" as it feels like it might be. In fact, given the general distance between localization stints, I'd say the game is closer to done than not, and that Japan is going to have to wait for the localization to finish around the rest of the world.

  I wanted to also just throw out this little article I read, discussing the likely etymology of the names X and Y. I love crap like that. Overall, though, I don't know. At the risk of sounding greedy, I need more to get excited about this. I need to know that there are going to be cool Spot Pace and Street Pass features. I need to know that there is going to be something new about this besides a Dragon Quest camera angle. I need to see that I won't have another dozen rock/ground and grass/poison Pokemon. I'm not asking for a revolution here, but it's Pokemon. Some evolution is in order, I think. Also I want to see what the new ghost Pokemon are. I love those guys.

  So how about you? What are your hopes and/or fears for a new Pokemon game on the 3DS? How many new little guys do you think we're getting? How do you feel about what you've seen thus far? I'd love to get a discussion going in the comments!


Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Been One Wii-k

That's right. I went there.

  The Wii U has been out for a week, and I've already started referring it to the Wii, having pretty much phased the original console out of my head. Fact of the matter is this: Nintendo has caught up to the whole "HD Console" after 6 years of leaning on the Wii for as long as it could. In a single week, library of games not withstanding, it has completely surpassed it's competition.

  Granted, with 6 years of planning, every failure would weigh them down infinitely more. Every "negative" is much heavier reason not to get it in this current environment. Where the longevity of the system lasts as updates to the XBOX and PS3 arrive is big cloud in the sky. However, one look at the market for iOS and Android games and the way they're being moved to the big PC with Windows 8, and I think you'll see that the trend here is moving away from power-hungry machines, and more or unique experiences. And with history as my only source, Microsoft and Sony are more interested in an arms race with the same old thing. Where the Wii was, in all fairness, a gimped experiment hamstrung by an effort to move away from high-cost consoles, the Wii U is a perfection on the Wii's attempts at bringing the new. Historically, consoles are always about either evolution or revolution, but the Wii U manages to strike both.

In case Nintendo's incredibly vague marketing has you confused, yes, it's a new console, not just a new controller.

  Evolution comes from the improvements made in the realm of things that are a staple of modern online connectivity. When the Wii came out, nobody hard heard of an iPhone store, and even Steam was only starting to pick up... well, you get the idea. Digital storefronts were pretty weird and clunky all around, so it was easy to settle with Nintendo's hat-in-the-ring. Also that Wii shop channel music could calm a charging rhino. With the Wii U we have a much smoother interface, but like the 3DS, there's still an issue of just wanting the ability to browse based on categories.  It's easier to get what you want and go, and at the end of the day you either check it obsessively like me or you wait until somebody tells you to get the bestest new game, and then you just go find it with the search. On the downside, WiiWare and Virtual Console titles are still tucked under the "Wii Channel," which straight up boots an emulation of the Wii, and forces you to go into the Wii Shop Channel to find what you want. It's clunky as hell. Considering how easy throwing GameCube games in the Wii was, I'm surprised they went so weird this time around. Also, when the DSiWare evolved into the 3DS eShop between generations, everything in the DSiWare rolled into the new shop. That is not true of the Wii U eShop. Here's to hoping that with a unified account system being found in Wii U's Nintendo ID, we can move towards something cross-platform, akin to Sony's excellent dealings between the Vita/PSP and the PS3 with the Sony Network. It wasn't right to have to buy Super Mario Bros. on the 3DS when I have it on the Wii, and as time goes, it's less and less excusable to continue that kind of practice.

  I also wanted to mention that the fact that you can buy almost every retail game that comes out on Wii U in both a digital format as well as the standard physical is amazing. It's finally time people started catching up to services like Steam, who even then usually has to wait for some releases to finish making a PC port after the console launch. I don't foresee myself buying anything more than I have to in physical formats. Now you might be one of those "I like everything on the shelf," type people, and that's cool, I get that. But that doesn't take away from the fact that Nintendo, who had a bare-bones online presence with the Wii and DS, has suddenly caught up and blown the other guys out of the water. Sony getting a Day 1 digital release was cause for headlines at IGN. Now it's an every day thing, thanks to Nintendo's push.

  The Wii U has tons of other neat features like a browser that you can access while your game is paused. As somebody who is dumb and likes to Google the answers to Subject 16's puzzles in Assassin's Creed, or the day-to-day guide for unlocking your social links in Persona 4, I bloody love this. The 3DS has it, and I know from experience that it's useful. You can also access TVii here at some point, which promises the ability to meld all your streaming services and TiVo together, but that feature's not up and running just yet. I think, once it is, the Wii U will be the only console you want to experience streaming media on. That is, of course, unless you're already using it for that.

  I'll readily admit that I stopped using XBOX's ridiculously degenerating interface. Combined with requiring me to pay to use my XBOX to stream Netflx and Hulu, despite them being free to stream on literally every other device in existence, there was just nothing left that system could offer me. Achievements don't mean anything when it's that much weaker and plays the same games as my PC and PS3.  Admittedly, I never had a problem with the PS3's interface, but let me tell you, there's something about that GamePad that just works. You only need the pad, because it doubles as a universal remote, making the process of setting up your nightly Star Trek: TNG session that much easier. Technically, you don't even need to do that if you're interested in just watching Netflix on the GamePad. It seamlessly transfers from big screen to little screen, which is great for when you're sitting at your computer away from the TV. I suppose if you had kids it could be useful to keep them off the big TV. Or (and let's all be brutally fucking honest here, people) if you're on the toilet and you don't want to stop watching 30 Rock.

  Let's talk social, because the Wii U just may have done it the best damned way possible. The XBOX has taken great strides for online play with your friends, and admittedly they still do it best. What the Wii U does do, however, is create a sense of community around it's games. When you boot the Wii U on, your GamePad hosts the Wii-like tile menu, while your screen is overrun with Mii's surrounding game icons. Each one of those Mii's is another person out there in the Nintendosphere, all of whom leave comments on each game's Miiverse page. Miiverse is kind of like Twitter, Facebook, a little bit of DeviantArt, and Reddit all rolled into one surprisingly cohesive package. Except here, the people are (generally) better, there's no advertisements, and nobody can ruin your day with downvotes!

This is what happens when you say you liked Mass Effect 3's ending on Reddit.

  You can load up the Miiverse and search for a game you like, or a game you're interested in. On that board, you can view posts based on tags, or just run down the list to see what's up. There's conversations taking place, people can post screenshots directly from their games, and you can even leave drawings or hand-written messages. It's insane the amount of talent people have been showing off in the Miiverse. Tons of sketch art and scratch art for all your favorite games. You can follow anybody and see whenever they post something, so if you've picked up on a few awesome artists, you can catch every surprising masterpiece they post.

  The Miiverse doesn't just stop at being it's own thing, though. It can be implemented into every and any game. In Nintendo Land, it's there to talk about what you thought of a game or post your high score. In New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, it will pop up during certain benchmarks to ask you to express yourself, sometimes in colorful ways. It's going to be a non-issue for some people, but I find it really enjoyable. And whatever moderation Nintendo has is doing an alright job. I've only seen one poorly drawn scrotum all week! Once the Miiverse hits mobile phones and PC, I honestly seeing it be the answer to Facebook for people who just like games, and as a way to keep up with what your friends are doing. The only other competition would be Steam's new community that's only been around for a couple of months. With a few more improvements, and a couple of firmware updates, there's no reason Miiverse couldn't continue to grow into something, well...

  My only real beef with the Wii U itself is that they've seemed to take up Sony's plan of being slow as hell whenever you get a new game. Never mind the hour-long "Day 1" download, booting up a game that needs any updates installed is way more painful than it needs to be. We're talking upwards of 5 or 6 minutes. I'm hoping something down the line will help ease those installations because they are rough.

  Something that's going to make the Wii U a tough sell to a lot of people is "I've already got a PS3 and/or Xbox, why do I need this?" I don't know what it will take to convince you to get one. What it comes down to is this: Nintendo consoles have always been seen as only profitable for Nintendo. The Wii U changes that. There's no reason not to port anything on the Wii U. There's no weird tiny discs, there's no technological ravine between it and the other consoles, and the digital front is heavy. You're already making games for XBOX and PS3, just throw in another port. On top of that, the Wii U is superior in both hardware and software to the XBOX. At this point it's PS3 and Wii U to get your bases covered. If you're one of those people who has just condemned themselves to a life of thinking "I don't like Nintendo or anything they do," well then there's really nothing that can be said to convince you otherwise. I can tell you why it's great, but you'll find an excuse not to believe me. And that's true of any console, not just Nintendo.

This is how I imagine anybody who uses the phrase "fanboy" to try to win an argument.

  There are more ways to play games, better ways to stream videos, and awesome ways to connect with your friends and communities. There is a lot of potential here. With the new consoles from the other guys inevitably on the future, I'm curious to see what all happens in the next year or two. Even just looking at the horse power behind my computer and my XBox and PS3, I'm positive we're not going to see -that- drastic of a tech shift; the Wii U will not be another Wii. Plus, with more "normal" ways of gaming, it'll be easier to convince people to make games for the system. The Pro Controller bridges the gap between the Wii-Remotes craziness, and the fact that only one GamePad can connect to your system. I think the longevity is there, but it's really dependent on how Nintendo continues to evolve the platform. Also looking ahead, don't be surprised to see Sony try to integrate the Vita better, or to see Microsoft's push it's "Glass" down your throat just as much as it does Bing.

  If I sound like I'm overenthusiastic about the Wii U, it's because I probably am. Maybe it's this new Bupropion I'm taking, but I really do like this system. I won't deny my love of Nintendo, but there are two things to understand about said love. 1: I give everything a fair shake and a fair chance. I really do. Ask me about the Vita, I'll tell you I absolutely love the thing. 2: There's a reason I love Nintendo the way that I do. They can be the most infuriatingly stubborn company, but when they want to do something, and really get it right, nobody can do it like they do. And while the technology might not be 100%, and a new console should probably happen sooner rather than later to stay 'caught up' with the competition, I think the Wii U really is a new way of playing, and for the better. It's versatile in a way that no other console is. It's 'new' without being something so drastic as just the Wii-motes. It is, at the risk of sounding hopelessly glassy-eyed, the future.

  But hey that's just me. Do you have any questions about the Wii U I can maybe answer? Do you have your own thoughts on your console? I'll be talking software down the road here, I wanted to focus more on the 'Out of Box" experiences you'll be having for now. I've spread myself a bit thin on games... 6 on the Wii U alone, not to mention Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Persona 4: The Golden, Professor Layton: The Miracle Mask, Virtue's Last Hope, Crashmo and holy fucking hell I need to stop buying games. I also need a month or five off of work to catch up. Hopefully this all means I"ll have more to talk about, as more game-specific discussions (let's not call them "reviews," per se) will start coming down the pipe. I look forward to conversation!

Oh and look, I have a Twitter account! Aren't I novel?