I read somewhere, sometime ago from a log cabin heated purely by burning underwear that the developers of the recently released Indie game, Shovel Knight, asked themselves something along the lines of: What if games were still being made for the NES today? Or maybe a better way to phrase it is: What if no console was released after the NES and still today games were being developed for it?
When we finish a console generation, who says we are we finished with that console generation? Sure, hardware is the clear dictator of this. Time passes, new hardware is developed, beckoning the crowd to demand a new console and POOF! New consoles are here. Games like Shovel Knight show us just how wacky the gaming industry is though. Technically Shovel Knight (and many indie games which look old school) wouldn't be able to run on the NES, but it was certainly developed with the idea that it could of. More than just looking old-school, many indie games show us that we aren't finished with the old 8 bit and 16-bit era. Shovel Knight shows us that there are still game-design ideas to be expanded upon.
I think it's also understood that when new consoles hit the markets, developers need some time to get used to new development tools. Hence, slow software releases out of the gate. When developers have finally gotten their juicy bear claws around a particular console, for example Naughty Dog and their acclaimed game TLOU, what does this actually mean? It means better optimization, it means less slimy bugs, it means just an overall (pair of overalls), better feeling game. Does this actually mean though that developers have fully grasped a particular console? In terms of technology, sure. But Shovel Knight shows us that there is a bigger picture at work...
To be edited and continued. Work is a cluster ball right now.
Well, since I can't create a user review for Shovel Knight, I thought I'd just through it the good ol' blog!
There are things in this universe that light a fire in my underpants: Video games, movies, chicks, bicycles and tiny logs engulfed in flames. Why these things spark my interest is probably due to a few tangible tangerines (and reasons). Experience is the big one. Experience has no doubt shaped my life interests. I've played Video Games since the early 90's. The developers of Shovel Knight have too, and probably earlier, and they want to use this nostalgia to create a roaring bonfire in my underwear drawer.
Which they have. All of my underwear are now on fire and my bedroom reeks of burnt cotton. Turn on Shovel Knight and your are transported to a time where 8 bit graphics were king, video game soundtracks were catchier than "Hit my donkey butt one more time" and listening to Nirvana got you all the chicks. Shovel Knight is an incredible game at dishing out homage to the classics. Classics like Mega Man 2, Castlevania, Zelda 2 and Super Mario Brothers 3. It pulls elements from these titles and integrates them into the 21st century. It's Shovel Knights greatest highlight AND greatest downfall.
Shovel Knight is a game which borrows too much from good sources. My initial exuberance at the sight of seeing and playing a game which reminded so much of the most brilliant games on the NES would eventually wane at about the half way point. I kept waiting for that point in which Shovel Knight would eventually grow into its own beast, and sure there are traces of this (and the finished product is technically a new IP), but Shovel Knight never can escape its own inspiration. Maybe the developers at Yacht Games never wanted this to be the case, or maybe they did. I'll never know this. And it's the only thing I'll never know because I know everything about everything else, and you can quote me on that.
The issues with Shovel Knight aren't huge issues. In fact, it's a debate whether these issues are even issues.
The relics are a thing of debate. Any suggestions geared towards improving or changing the way relics are used all seem to be drawn from how other NES games handled their "relics" or special items. For instance the relic system should have been more like Mega Man, where each relic had its own limited supply; or some kind of system where if you used certain relics in a level, your progress would be branded as using those relics--a system which would encourage the player to only use normal armor and shovel to complete each level. I've even heard the rumor that Yacht Games were considering not even including Relics to begin with.
How Shovel Knight handles difficulty is a thing for debate too. Checkpoints are far too often for some and maybe not enough for others. Your first play through you'll probably never die because you lost all your life (with exception of stepping on an instant kill thing, like spikes). With 2 life refills and a large life bar, Shovel Knight could take 20 uppercuts from Mike Tyson before even starting to feel a trace of an itch. Bosses moves are easy to dodge and the ways to kill them are easily exploitable.
I almost feel like Shovel Knight is simply designed for the purpose of respecting the great games of the past rather than taking what they did so well and building on it. If you stripped Shovel Knight down to its core( the Knight and his shovel, that glorious "8-bit-esque" artstyle, wonderful controls and fighting mechanics, excellent soundtrack) we have a bunch of solid aspects that are partly borrowed from great games of the NES era and have partly been built fresh from the ground up. However the game itself feels almost completely borrowed, like that can opener I took from my buddy last week and never returned.
I really like Shovel Knight and I love talking about all its references. I just wish I could talk about more unique, soley Shovel Knight stuff that somehow doesn't directly refer to an old NES game. Ya dig? (I had to get one pun in there).
Steam sales came and went and with them I picked up a bunch a games that mainly are junk but one game I bought I'd thought I'd just replay it immediately on a higher difficulty: The Witcher 2 on "Dark" difficulty. Not the hardest difficulty the game has to offer but certainly harder than when I first played through it.
On "Dark" I've been getting punished like a stubborn child who continues to drop the "F" word around his super, pious parents. The rate at which I died at the start of the Witcher 2 on dark reminded me of the deaths I was tallying up in Super Meat Boy. It was bloody pathetic.
I've always had a love-hate relationship with games which let you choose the difficulty from the start. I know why its there and am glad all types of gamers can choose an initial level of difficultly for which they want, but at the core of my stone-cold heart there is a wish that developers never bothered with it. I feel the games which exemplify the very best of game design, don't need different levels of difficulty from the get-go.
Back in my day, when I climbed rock faces and wrestled mountain goats just to make it to kindergarten (aka the NES era), you just started the game and didn't worry about choosing a difficulty. Did that mean that developers back in the late 80's and early 90's didn't give a rats about making their games easier (or more challenging) for certain players. Obviously not. Take a look at Mega Man. Mega Man 3 (or any mega man for that matter) is a lot easier when you know the right order to beat the bosses in--every boss is vulnerable to at least one of another boss's power. OR, you can just beat the whole game using Mega Man's regular power blast. Many people have beaten Mega Man 3 the former way, not many have beaten it the latter way.
Then there was the whole, once you beat the game you unlock a higher difficulty thing. Like the original Zelda (Yes, technically you can unlock this mode from the start too with a quasi-password). Dungeons and items were moved to different locations and you would encounter stronger enemies quicker than the first run through. I think its easy to assume this is similar to the modern way of how developers vary the difficulty in their game.
I find that the way games vary their difficulty these days is by upping the difficulty of the A.I, increasing the amount of damage they do to the player, increasing their numbers, removing excessive health packs and armor, etc. This is incredibly uncreative and I'm not sure if the developers themselves know which difficulty is the best difficulty for their game. In the Witcher 2 on Dark I'm far more vulnerable than I remember. Sure, it makes me think about combat strategies more, but that's it really. All I'm thinking is, "I better do this fight pretty flawlessly or I'm Toast McGoast." At the end of the day I'm just getting more of the same with the Witcher 2. Which is ok, I guess.
When I see varying difficulty from the get-go with any game, I'm not really disappointed, I just know there is no point to playing through again just for the sake of enemies doing more damage. So unless I'm ga-ga for cu-cu puffs for the game world, I would much rather see more of Dark Souls type games where developers think of other ways to vary the difficulty within the only ONE mode, or a Legend of Zelda type thing where a new difficulty is unlocked which does more than just add more enemies.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Now, I have to go back to work.
There's a level in the first world of DKC Tropical Freeze that drove me nuts because there is no checkpoint. The level must be finished in one go. And guess what, the platforming is bloody difficult.
While obviously I had to play the previous few levels to get to the one I'm talking about, it wasn't until this bloody level (God I wish I knew the name of it. I mean I could go to my Wii U right now and turn it on, or search the internet, but I'm too god damn lazy and can't be bothered.) that I realized just how good DKC TF actually was.
Sure I already knew the graphics were beautiful, and the controls were tight and the soundtrack was amazing, but this hair pulling level shows just how darn good the level design AND game design is (actually, I read on the internet that Time ATTACK also really opens up just how well every level is designed).
Now, level design is an easy concept to understand. Game design is not. What do I mean by great game design. I guess, the term is quite broad. It probably represents all the aspects that make up a video game. But for me it stands for something far more specific. I see the core concept of game design being about how the gamer is able to learn the mechanics of the game (without tutorials) and sharpen those mechanics as the game progresses.
In so many games today it's really, really hard to understand this concept, from my perspective. So many games today are about gaining skills and abilities and leveling up (or just find cheap ways to get around A.I. ---like so many action games these days), that it's really hard to tell if the gamer has mastered the mechanics or is just some super powerful hero (or some dude who figured out how to cheat the system). Not to say that one way is the right way and the other the wrong way. Just thaemt there is a difference. Look, I wrote a whole blog on this topic awhile back so I don't want to make this blog about this topic.
I'm hear to chat about DKTF. The level I was just talking about, is so tough and you die repeatedly, but each time you die you learn a little bit more about the level the obstacles and how to control DK. By the time you've completed it, though you haven't technically "leveled up" like in some World of Warcraft way, you will probably feel like your personal DKTF skills instead have leveled up. I'm not going to suggest that tutorial levels are a waste of time (which they are--and a blog post for another day), but with great game design, the gamer will learn through trial and error. With every trial and error, the gamer realizes something minor. They make adjustments. They try new ways to approach the same situation. The best modern examples of learning through trial and error that I can think of, besides DKTF, are Braid, Knytt Underground and DARK SOULS.
I can now say my two favorite full-on console games of the last few years are DKTF and Dark Souls. Though I might take a lot of shit for this, DKTF makes the Wii U worth it.
While for the most part Super Mario 3D World has been fairly easy, there were certainly some levels that evoked memories of gaming rage. Gaming Rage was a big part of my childhood, eluded to in my Favorite Gaming Moment #3 and #1. It's hard to explain really. Rage just happens uncontrollably. I swear, I throw something, I just want to punch the nearest person. And I'm such a nice dude, really. And I could never win in a fight. I'm scrawny.
The Snake Chamber (I'm not sure what it's really called, the Snake Nest?) in the original BattleToads was an absolute pain in the ass (if you omitted the warp). Now, most of your buddies probably couldn't even get to this level, let alone beat it. Actually, actually, the entirety of BattleToads is no day at the beach. It's no trip to Olive Garden with the parents. There are no FREE bread sticks in BATTleToads. Just Pain. The learning curve is steep and you will die over and over again.
The Snake Chasm comes first to mind because it's sort of situated in the center of the game. When you first appear in this bizarre space, you're wondering...what the hell is going on. There is no clear beginning or end. Just this massive snake which comes out of the wall and goes on it's merry way then disappears somewhere on the other side. How do I conquer this robotic reptile? The quick answer is you don't. You ride the snakes. You ride them till the cows come home.
There are four parts to the Snake Dungeon. Part One is very forgiving, since there are no DEATH SPIKES. Fall off the Snakes all day, doesn't matter. You'll just land comfortably at the bottom. Fall off the snakes in any other part, and you're DOOMED. Spikes are a one hit kill. None of this, loose one health. You're just DEAD. Instantly. As you progress further into the bed of snakes, Spikes appear everywhere. You need to jump around them, in between them, over them, under them and in the most precise fashion you can imagine. All while the snake you're riding on is moving. And some of those snakes move incredible fast.
The last part of the Snake Kingdom teaches you a lesson in controller breaking. There are moments where not only you have to avoid Spikes, but also grip the side of a moving snake, then plunge into the abyss hoping another snake will be crossing at the same time to save your watermelon underpants.
The reviews for Thief are fresh of the panini press and now the entire gaming community is disappointed. Well, with the reviews I guess. But since the reviews are across the board suggesting that the new Thief is bordline something you sweep under the carpets for the mice to eat, there isn't much light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who have this thing on pre-order. I'm not here to talk about that though. I'd rather just use this as a great segway to attack a different issue which I've attached before in the past. Though last time I'm pretty sure I was the one who got beaten up worse.
In Thief they're called Focus Abilities; in The Last of Us I'm going to call them...Focus Abilities; in GTA V I'm going to call them....Let me think...Focus Abilities; in the Tomb Raider reboot I'll call them...ummmmmm....Focus Abilities! Yea that's it! They're everywhere now.
Now, before you crank-out your super keyboards and begin dissenting like the dickens, I actually do like these abilities in CERTAIN games; games where they actually sort of make sense in terms of the gameworld. Like if the main character was a superhero, for instance Spiderman. I'd expect to be able to have the power to shoot webs, take a stronger than average beating, get a boner for red heads and have this "Spidey-Sense."
In the previous list of games mentioned each have a main character who is not a superhero of any kind. He/she is just some human being who just happens to be really NATURALLY good at certain things in life. This is what we call skill, and it is the gamer who in turn helps them utilize this skill to the maximum. Which, in turn, means the gamer controlling them has skill. G@mER $kiLLz (I got mad mario kart 64 skillz, yo!). However, for some reason, we have the ability to do something SUPERNATURAL.
In Thief, actually, I hear the main dude got in some "Accident" which would explain how he so conveniently got these focus abilities (Did this accident make him want to steal stuff too?). I guess all superheros at one time needed some freak "accident" to happen to give them super powers (instead of death). Yet, it's still easily arguable (and far more likely) that this accident, in this instance, was contrived for the sake of adding in Focus abilities, not the other way around.
Ok. Ok. Enough blabbering and on to more blabbering. What are the reasons these DEVs have felt the need (the need for speed) to put these powers into their games? I came up with Two REasons. Maybe ya'll know more.
1) Bring the masses in. AKA: Make the game a little easier and save some time. This means, more sales and more cash baby. Then, SEQUEL.
The original Thief series is NOT a walk in the park. Unless it's a walk in the park with your girlfriend when something is on her mind, cause that could be hell. While they're a couple of examples of modern games bringing some serious difficultly (Dark Souls), this is certainly a minority. The idea for most DEVs is to get as many people into their game as possible. Finding your way around a 3D digital space, especially an extremelly dark one, is not that easy and requires a lot of patience. So why not highlight the important crap!? Yes, I'm looking at you too new Tomb Raider. There is without a doubt no question that Focus Abilities in the games I've mentioned today-- TLOU, Tomb Raider, Thief and GTA V-- are there partly to make the game easier. Just like when you die too many times in Super Mario 3D World (and Land) and you get a free Stone Tanooki suit.
2) Bring in the ACTION baby, the SPECTACLE. I need EXPLOSIONS and I need BRIGHT LIGHTS. Tonight, we Party!!!
A game based purely on stealth sounds cool but I think the DEVs fear the game will become boring if the only thing you can do is stick to the shadows and cling to the ceilings. So, it's time to enhance the gameplay. Give the gamer more tools to solve the task at hand. Stuck in a room with clickers? Don't worry, hit this button and now you can see them through walls!!! Just look at those effects. The world is now blurry and the sound is distorted and now you're just in the AUTOZONE ready to buy a pair of bearing pullers. About to crush that car? It's all good dude. This black guy can make time go slow and you'll avoid not only that station wagon but also that pile of dog-doo on the sidewalk.
In Thief the focus abilities can be turned off. BUT, but, but, but, BUTT, this still doesn't change the fact that the gameworld was most likely designed with the focus abilities in mind. Now if you check out the reviews for Thief, level design seems to be an issue. I'm of the belief that if these DEVs had to design the gameworld darn well knowing there would be NO focus abilities, they would have designed the world differently. Sure, I guess that doesn't guarantee brilliant level design, however it would have meant for no BS. Straight up, pure organic fruit cups, where the DEVs know the gamer is going to need to get through this without any help from SUPER POWER McGEE.
Last week I bought a Wii U. Yup. It happened. 4 months ago a 3DS XL and now a Wii U. And I'm here to talk about it. Here it goes.
For those who know me or see what I write on Gamespot (forums, comments, blog), it isn't hard to tell that I'm a major supporter of Nintendo. You would have to be flat out silly not to recognize Nintendo as one of the industries most important companies, plus I have so many darn, awesome childhood memories with the NES, SNES, N64 and Gamecube that it's hard for me to say anything negative about a company that brought me so much digital pleasure growing up. But grow up I did. Now I'm a big boy (27) who works full-time, pays rent and bills and plays video games less and less.
Part of me feels like I'm in a position where I HAVE to like the Wii U. Sort of like the person who buys the most expense Apple computer or top of the line BMW. You want your purchase to be justified and reassured that it wasn't a wasted 500 bucks (console, games, extra controller), right? I mean, this is how I look at all my purchases these days. If I buy something then regret it, I feel like I wasted money. And guess what? I don't like to feel this way. In a time long long ago when dinosaurs took big dumps across the earth and I lived with my parents, buying things and not liking them wasn't such a big deal. I still had extra cash. I just moved on. Yet, the question in question is still the question: Do I actually really like the Wii U or am I just convincing myself that I like it?
I hope to explore this topic more in the coming weeks. I'll probably pick a topic and explore it in depth. Starting with the Gamepad.
The opinion that Nintendo needs to do what it can to pull itself back into booming positive sales figures by firing Iwata and putting in his place someone that better "understands" the Western market is asinine. Not because it could possibly increase sales (which is the obvious way to look at it) in the future, but what it does to the integrity of Nintendo. Nintendo is a company which has been one of the (if not the) leading innovators in video games in hardware and in software till this very day and will continue to be if they maintain their same leadership. Nothing suggests otherwise. When someone looks at anything solely in terms of profit and increasing sales, something which Nintendo has never prioritized, innovation and creativity ALWAYS fall to the background.
A main complaint about the Wii U is that it has lost third-party support more than any other console in the history of consoles. Low sales figures are certainly a reason for this, why produce a game for a system that nobody owns? Yet another reason, a more important reason, is because right now risk-taking in game design is at an absolute LOW. Sony designed a console that was easy to design for, one that is pretty much a PC. Microsoft did the same thing, of course. In the world of PC, Playstation, and XBOX gaming, video game design will continue on the way it was before. The developers who made games for the PS3 and Xbox 360 don't need to learn anything new or think outside the box. If you just watch any interview with developers about creating games for "Next-Gen" hardware (specifically the PS4 and XBONE), you'll find their answers to be rather deadpan and redundant. Answers like, "yea, we're looking forward to putting more stuff in our games and boosting the graphics; where we were hitting design walls before, we can bulldoze right through those now [...until we hit are next wall]".
To give third parties what they want, Nintendo needs a device that looks and acts like the other devices on the market. This way it is absolutely no pain for them to bring their game over to a Nintendo console. Now, at the end of the day, we have not two, but three video game consoles that from a hardware standpoint are virtually the same thing. For major third-parties, game design is about producing something that has been tested to work. The way they impress you (and by distinguishing it from what came before it) is by boosting the graphics, the frame-rate, the amount of crap you can do in a game. Nintendo has rarely thought this way. Video games to Nintendo are about producing a product that survives the test of time, a product that is replayable alone and with your buddies. Everything else is lower in the totem pole.
Sony and Microsoft exclusives are pretty much in line with what is being produced by third-parties in terms of gameplay design. Which is, visuals and a gameplay structure that has been proven to work. For example, games like Uncharted, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us and Assassin's Creed are all very similar type of games and are marketed as such. Microsoft does the same thing with Halo and Gears of War, visuals are at the helm of design. Third Parties and Exclusives on those two consoles are almost all indistinguishable (There might be an exception or two -- little big planet). While it may seem like nothing, The Wii U has a much stronger and clearer identity than both the PS4 and XBONE. The software you can play on the Wii U is vastly different, within its own library and weighed against the software on other platforms.
In this sense Nintendo encourages third-parties to think outside the box. To put a game on the Wii U isn't as easy as just porting the game over. Visuals can no longer be the priority. Take Zombie U: Zombie U was a struggle for Ubisoft. It required them to break from their comfort zone and put in probably the most video game design effort they put into a game since the first Far Cry. Anyone who has played Zombie U KNOWS that Ubisoft was on the brink of creating something absolutely brilliant. Far more brilliant and unique than anything they're producing today. However there were bugs, probably due to rushing it for launch, and many of them. Whatever the reason, fans of the game still scream for a second. When Watch Dogs arrives on the Wii U the impact will be far less remarkable. Sure, Ubisoft will find a few clever uses for the gamepad but at the end of the day it will still just be Watch Dogs, which is playable on all platforms.
They are always easy ways out. Nintendo could just produce a PC in a box right now and maybe see some higher sales figures. Is this is the answer though? Is this the right thing to do? I personally would love for Nintendo to keep thinking outside the [PC] in a box and keeping designing hardware that hasn't been tested before. To continue to lead innovation through software and creativity then to see Nintendo just become another "Box."
Here's to another Nintendo console that's more baffling to Western consumers than the Wii U!
If my gaming career has a core, something that all other games revolve around, that core is probably the Zelda franchise. While I don't just buy Nintendo consoles for Zelda, seeing that I usually buy Nintendo consoles far before Zelda is released, it certainly is a mammoth contributor. This isn't to say I've loved every Zelda installment, because I haven't. But let's just say that no game in the existence of gaming combines so many of the gameplay aspects that I love so well like Zelda does.
When I was a kid I could complete a game in one sitting no problem. I had the time and ability to shut my brain off for extended periods of time. Now I'm 27. For the last few years no single player experience has really grabbed my attention for that long (I say single player because I've been guilty of playing Day of Defeat and Torchlight 2 for over 4 hours online and with friends here and there), including Skyward Sword. If I can recall right, I'd say the longest contenders have been Dark Souls, Red Dead Redemption, and Knytt Underground; playing each of those games for 2-3 hours straight on a few occasions. Woah dude, big deal. Well, as a 27 year old with bills up the butt to pay, a full-time job and yes, other hobbies, that's a long time.
I'm saying all this because Zelda: A Link Between Worlds came out yesterday and I played it for 2 hours the first night then 6.5 hours the second night. This game is that good.
Got my hands on the PS4 for a hot second. I gripped the controller like the behind of a babe. Caressed it. Got to know it. Yes. It is better than the dualshock 3. The triggers and the sticks especially. The center pad is a nice touch (and a nice pun). And it still feels like its in the dualshock family, which may be a good or bad thing depending on who you are. Wait. Who are you anyway? Why I otta…
Knack was the only exclusive to play. Got in game and took a look. Isn’t this the ps4? Where are the better graphics? Hm. We’ll never mind. I don’t get all hussy fussy over graphics so I scratched my nads then started gaming. Doesn’t take long to notice when a game is crud. With knack it took about five seconds. Crap controls, sloppy animations, generic everything. Is Sony serious? I put the controller down, took a deep breath, and told myself to come back in six months.