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Rotondi Blog

Greasy Penguin High-Five

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I used to skateboard a lot.  When I began I sucked.  After some years I got pretty good.  I remember skating at this park in Southern China, must have been fifty people watching me doing tricks down a four-step stair case.  

The coolest thing about skating, and so many other things in life, is that you get better at it as time goes on.  We find some things we're interested in and fine-tune them.   Gaming is something I've always been good at.  Maybe nowadays not as much as I used to be, but when I was a kid I could beat so many challanging NES and SNES games pretty flawlessy.  I remember watching some of my buddies play Mega Man 3 was worse than those cramps you get when you have to crap real bad.  

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TOP MAN First

Great single-player experiences like so many games from the golden 2D era, along with 3D games like Half-life, Starcraft, Mario 64, Starfox, Super MEat Boy (obviously this list can be expaneded upon) have such an excellent learning curve.  This idea that you learn the gameplay mechanics, then master them.  What separates you from another gamer is purely based on natural skill alone.

With many games today, I'm noting the amount of natural skill that goes into the game is shrinking.  I'm not saying it's disappearing altogether, just that it's being subsidized to make room for what I call "Artificial Skill."  Maybe it's more like "The Illusion of Skill."  This usually stems from RPG elements.  For instance, after you gain a certain amount of experience points or whatnot, you can increase how accurate you can shoot, reduce gun recoil, clip capacity, gain special abilities, yadayadayda.  

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Now that ya'll slowed down ever so nicely I guess I'll just give you what you had comin' anyways

There is something to playing a game for such an ungoldly amount of hours that you end up gaining so much of experience that you can updrage your character to the SUPER MAXIMUM DESTRUCTION HEMORAGE.  But maybe this amounts to nothing more than buying all the fanciest golf equipment in the world and still being absolutley terrible at golf.  Actually, that analogy doesn't really work.  If the fancy gold equipment actually made you better at golf, then when you took off the equipment you played really badly again, then I think the analogy would work a bit better.

God do I have no idea what I'm talking about.  I really don't.  I thought I was on to something, and maybe I was, but I can't feel it anymore.  It slipped out of my grasp like a greasy penguin high-five.     

Superherosack Mode

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My recent review of Tomb Raider has made me think of two more things to blog about.  One you'll get now.  The other you're going to have to wait for like a good little boy or girl.  If you do turn out to be a nice patient one, who knows, mayble I'll give you a cookie.  Or a pretzel.  Or a Boeing 757.  

Two games I've played recently utilize a gameplay mechanic that I'd like to call SuperHeroSack mode.  I'm not sure how many other games are doing this but I do know that I want developers to stop implementing this crud into their video games.  It doesn't make sense and it substantially takes away from the intergrity of the game they're designing. 

Tomb Raider's Superherosack mode involves pressing the R2 (or L2...I forgot which one) button.  This changes the entire perspective into some dark blurry mess, where targets, goals and objectives become some blurry highlighted mess to stand out.  

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THERE HE IS!

I know what the main idea behind this is.  To immerse the gamer, to help the gamer, to add some strange new feature that will make ignorant chumps get goosebumps.  To me, the idea of knowing (better yet, NOT knowing) what to do and where to go is something that is a key component to any great game design.  It's so key that if you mess it up, essentially making it way, way too difficult or the more common path, making it way, way to easy can turn the final product into 3 month old sushi that's been sitting in the sun. 

The reason I call it Superherosack mode is because having a mode like this makes Lara more of a superhero.  She has skills that shouldn't exist in her gameworld.  Look, I don't nitpick over what's unrealistic and realisitic.  Mainly because I don't care.  But I do nitpick over what is not consitant or relevant to the particular world we're givin.

In Tomb Raider we're left with a dark world. A world that should make more sense to navigate around naturally, without the aid of Superherosack mode.  Of course we don't need to use this mode, and could just run around figuring out stuff on our own.  But there's a sense that this world was created with the knowledge that superballsack mode would be available at all times to the gamer.  And certianly not implemented after the game was finished.  

Superherosack mode is also in The Last of Us.  Joel can use his Spidysenses to listen ever so closely to the things around him, like he was some dog listening for a distant storm or an owl listening for some tiny mouse to fart too loudly.

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Color Inside the Lines Jimmy!  Jesus Christ!

The funny thing about Superherosack mode, no matter the game, is that these are things we should be able to do anyways.  Like in The Last of Us, why do we need this?  Can't the gamer just listen for where the enemies are?  This seems a bit more natural and far less work.  Sure, having the outlines of our enemies exact locations is nice and makes things a bit easier, though I can't help but feel it doesn't make any sense.  The world is dynamic, we can't just go "into the zone" like spiderman.  Are ears hear everything as much as we only want to hear the dirty, squeeling sounds of our partner during shimmyshimmybangbang.

Tools or Shows?

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              I'm not sure what developers usually first think of when they come up with a new game.  Cheese on a stick?  No.  Maybe the better question probably is, what is it about their new idea for a game that really convinces the people with money to actually go ahead and fund this crazy project?  Is it story?  Is it gameplay?  Is it return on investment?  Is it a more abstract concept? Or maybe it's just a bunch of cool ideas put together.  Like sucking on a freeze pop in palm springs while your waitress crawls under the table looking for your hot dog. 

 

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Lately I've been on this beer induced bender thinking about how any great video game of the future should begin with the principle that a game should in someways serve as a tool for the gamer.  Meaning, gamers should can it with the movie dribble and start focusing on killer software. 

It started when with this corny note by Kyle Bosman on his latest episode of "The Final Bosman."  He mentioned something he really liked about this dude (let's call him Fred) who played Street Fighter religiously.  Fred said that he always played Ryu because he wanted to express himself through the character.  

What makes a game a "tool" is exactly what makes Fred able to express himself through Ryu.  In all honesty, I don't know much about fighting games.   But I do know that while they look simple, it actually takes quite a bit of work to master them and find your own style.  Finding your "own style" or finding the way you like to play isn't always possible in video games.  Mainly because most games are not designed to be a "tool" for the gamer, but instead to serve as something more passive.  Like you're just some shlep sitting in a cart stuck to some tracks.

 

 

 

Think of a game as being a the paintbrush and paint and it's the gamer's job to make the picture.  Think of a game as just being like the software tools that helped make that game in the first place.  In this sense the gamer plays a much more active role.  I'll tell you right now, GTA, TLOU, CoD, Battlefield are all not good examples.

Wow.  I think it's important for me to stop here for a second and mention that I don't touch myself every night, nor do I feel what I'm talking about right now is the only path, or the best path, to making a great game.  It's just one sort of concept that maybe I prefer over others.  For instance games that are heavily scripted or too cinematic, games with dense stories that we must tolerate from beginning to end.  Those experiences are far more passive and less enjoyable and certianly have less replayability and less overall gameplay time.     

The most recent footage of Dead Rising 3, however, seems to be a good example of what I'm talking about.  If you haven't seen it yet it's up on Gametrailer's website.

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I'm tired and I have no continues left.  

Laughing Gas Required

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                  I'm just finding too many games these days far too serious for their own good.  I'm not to sure why this is.  Maybe all these people making them are just way too stressed out.  I've watched my fair share on interviews with writers, programmers and game directors over the past few months and they all are very similar.  Sure, what is being said ranges from interview to interview, but all these dudes are looking mighty serious.  Not really smiling or joking around.  Just explaining game details in a stern voice and occasionally talking grandiously about their game as a whole.   Maybe they're just too self-conscious that we won't like their game or that we'll think what they've been doing for the last 2 and a half years has been a waste of time. 

 

Kevin Levine on Laundry

April 2013 

It takes me an hour to iron my underpants

It takes me just about an hour to iron all my underpants.

 

             Maybe this is just a big catharsis for designers trying to show the world that what they do is not only art but important to society as well.  I can see that point.  I know there's a lot of gamers out there too who feel video games are so much more than just time-killers. There's nothing wrong with sticking up for this.  And guess what, it's not just in gaming that this is going on in either.  This type of behavior is everywhere.  We all try to sell to people the idea that what we do for a living is important, even if its contrary to common belief. To do this we more often than not take the serious route.  Seriously explaining things, seriously going about our work, seriously ordering french fries at McDonalds.   Rarely do we see people having a bit a fun with what they do for a living.  Like letting their pants drop.

 

Miyamoto on Life

April 2013

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In the volatile world which Pikmin 3 is set in, the player will find him/herself constantly in an exestential state subconsciously focused on finding where the universe begins. 


         I'm not suggesting that games need to be a big pile of smelly jokes.  Nor am I suggesting that every developer needs to make games like Nintendo. Back in the Golden Age of gaming games couldn't take themselves seriously.  They were 8 bit blocks of rainbow colors.  Only with the most recent generation of consoles has their been an incredible increase in the amount of what I call "Serious" titles and an incredible decrease in what I call "Fun, creative orgasm" titles.  The latter category has gone the way of the casual, while the former category has taken over the PS3, the Xbox 360 and the PC world.  

         So I don't have any hope for anything anymore.  Except banana splits.

            

Striving for Perfection

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The idea of perfecting something is not a bad idea.  Before I explain what this means in terms of video games let me start with another subject:  Beer.  

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I'm not a huge beer drinker, but I do enjoy an occasional trip to the bar or even a six pack at the house.  Lately, I've really come to respect German beer.  Or at least the philosophy behind it.  

Recently I was in Cologne, Germany.  I went into a small bar and it wasn't long before all the locals knew I was American. One of the first things a local said to me was, "I bet in America you have all different types of beer at the bar.  Here, we only have two.  Two is all you need."

I thought about this after I got back to the States, as I was sitting at a bar near my apartment with over 150 different types of beer.  Whether you like German beer or not, the Germans have a few beers and over the years have worked on perfecting that one recipe.  For them, it's not worth it to try to make seasonal beers, or even try to sell four or five different types.  One brewery has one beer.  There job is to make that beer as good as they can.  If you're personally not a fan, you can try a beer at a different brewery.  

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While we have beer choices, the quality of each choice is slightly adulterated and inexperienced.  choices and options sell here, not one great quality beer.  I'm sure if Americans only had 5 beers to choose from, regardless of how good those beers are, we'd all think we were living in a communist nation or something and protest against it.  

I actually think the beer suffers in the States for other reasons, as well.  Like, Americans just like flavored things too much. Americans drink beer bursting with ballsack flavor (hops, fruit, etc..).  After a month or so we get bored and go to the bar or package store looking for a new product.  New B.O. flavor.

In Video Games, I love the variety.  Get as many different minds working on different types of video games as possible. I love it.  However, I have nothing against certain developers working on a game over and over and over again.  The minds behind Dark Souls, for instance.  I hope these guys make 10 Dark Souls games.   I thought the first Dark Souls was the best games in a long, long time.  But I still think there is a lot of room for improvement.  

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New IP's and New Franchises bring novel excitement, sort of like a new flavor of soda or like a new cookie by Nabisco or something.  If Mario Galaxy is one of the best rated games of all time, then Nintendo SHOULD have made a sequel and even third and fourth.  

Games of Today

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I was in the comments section of some article the other day and saw someone post something along the lines of, "Who needs next-gen when you have GTAV?"  Then someone quickly responded to that post with something like, "Because next-gen will make GTAV better". 

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The best games I've ever played in my life, I never once thought they could have been better if the developers had had more advanced technology to design them with.  What made them so special was how they used the technology that was available and made the perfect game for that technology.

Recently the guys behind Forza were talking about how the new Forza title is the game they've always wanted to make, but they never could because the technology (XBONE) wasn't there.  I mean sure, I bet all developers can think of a game they would ideally want to make if the technology was available.  Like a virtual gaming experience, where you physically play as Master Chief or something.  It's easy to have a big idea.  What's challenging is having the RIGHT idea. 

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So often have I played games where the developers strive for too much.  They want their games to do 500 things and cure cancer.  In the end their cool creative ideas don't fit with what they are physically capable of achieving.

Imagine computer hardware never improved after today.  Forever we are stuck with this generation graphics cards and CPU's and whatnot.  In this hypothetical scenario, I believe there are a lot of gamers who would think games could no longer improve.  However developers would be forced to sink both their boots into this generations technology and not have one foot in, and the other foot thinking to far into the future.    

I feel that games that leave an impression that they can be improved on when better technology becomes available aren't usually good games to begin with.  Next year's technology is irrelevant to the great games of today.  

 

 

 

 

Killing Fake Humans Still should Be Ringing Some Bells

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I liked Yahtzee's Extra Punctuation this week (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/10467-Killing-is-Too-Easy).  Especially the questions he posed at the end:

"A saying I'm fond of is "Blame the audience, not the author". Rather than consider games full of killing to be in the wrong, here, I might invite you to consider what is wrong with our society that such games find a large audience. Why are we all so keen on death? "

To be more specific, Why are we all so keen on death of other humans no matter what situation the game puts us in?  Now, I'm not saying gaming needs to do away with killing.  I personally have no problems with slaying dragons, shooting zombies and machines or murdering anything that is basically "made-up" (sci-fi, fantasy, etc...).

Too many AAA developers are using this formula though, because games like Battlefield, Call of Duty, Bioshock Infinite, The LAst of Us, Grand Theft Auto (this list could go on) are so popular among gamers these days.  They have huge audiences.  And the main focus of these games is to kill other humans.  

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Yahztee said his big complaint with killing too many humans stems from an issue with storytelling.  Sure, I see his point.  But I think there's much more to it than that.  Why is killing hundreds of other human targets satisfying?  Why is it fun?  The next generation of consoles are on the horizon and the graphics are only going to get better.  What about the the next generation after that and games are pretty much life like, are these same large audiences going to continue loving these games that use human violence as their main objective?

Whatever I guess.  I've played my fairshare of these games.  Nowadays the idea of playing as a character who kills other humans (no matter the reason) is a gaming trope that's been beaten to oblivion. 

Bigger Is better, but not always

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Take it from me.  Or don't take it from me.  I don't care.  The point is, I'm at work sitting around watching my co-worker do everything.  No, I'm not a manager.  Just a regular guy who games when he can.

The Division is not floating my boat.  People went crazy over that whole "shutting the door thing."  (If you don't know what I'm talking about, just watch the E3 video and you'll be caught up to speed and not think I'm a lunatic spitting cheese doodles anymore).  I'm not sure why this a major achievement.  I mean, I have a few guesses.  An animation like this has never been done before so we all get off on it.  But what does that actually mean?  It tells me that gamers just want games to look more like real-life.  

Is this the ultimate goal?  Is this what we're all waiting for?  The point where video game graphics and reality are indescernable?  Then what after that, I ask?  Virtual Reality?  Some rod that once inserted into our skull pulls into an alternate universe where there's some epic space battle going on?  At what point are we not even playing a video game anymore but something else?

Hardware improvements are tangible, and seem to make more sense to us.  The PS4 feels next-gen because it looks next gen.  The games look better.  There's more power in the box.  It's the obvious step to take.  When the Wii came out we didn't see the hardware improvements.  The games only looked slightly better to the Gamecube.  Likewise with the WiiU.  It doesn't compare power-wise to the XBone or PS4.  

What am I talking about?  On one hand we have two companies who are pushing forward by improving hardware.  The graphics are getting more "life-like," so the big developers design games by making them bigger and more beautiful then their last creation.  Take The Witcher 3 for instance, the developers are taking their last idea and just making it bigger and better.  Then what about The Witcher 4, I ask?  Will the Witcher 4 be 300 times as large?  What about GTA6?  I mean, how big do you want it?  Is bigger always better in this case?  

I'm not saying every developer is doing this.  I just think too many are thinking with hardware, large scale, epic stories and large cinemativs in mind, and not focusing on innovation and creativity.  I guess it makes sense because the latter two are the hardest to think of.  Gamers typically want to same experience, or at least one they're familiar with.  

This is why The Division is getting a lot of hype.  It's exactly what we've played, just on a much bigger scale.

I'm still sitting on my Office Chair

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A lot of gamers are saying they'll buy a Nintendo WiiU when Metroid or Zelda get released for it.  Others are waiting for some third party games. Then there are those that would rather just see Nintendo fall into a pool of acid never to be heard of again, so that Sony can then just rule the gaming universe.

The Wii U World is slower than my dog when he runs his bum along the backyard.  A common reaction for us has just been to complain.  Either release the games or go home!  I think a lot of us have forgot that if you like Nintendo, even if it's just for a couple of games, it's probably a good idea to go support them and buy a Wii U.  If all of a sudden millions of gamers who were waiting on the new Zelda U went out and bought a Nintendo Wii U today then this would only help speed up matters and possibly even help get more third-party support.

Too Many Balls

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I think major developers are trying to juggle too many balls. Theyre not the soft, plush ones either. In fact, they are not balls at all. More like flaming sticks or butcher knives. Actually, I dont even know if thats the right way to describe it. Maybe theyre just juggling a mix of those, like a tennis ball, a melon, a torch and a machete. When they mess up they got a burnt juggler or one without any fingers. So maybe they should just stick with only tennis balls until they know what theyre doing.

In The Last of Us we have a story that expands too much time and goes to too many locations. While all of this may have been deemed necessary by the writers for the sake of the plot, these same moves smothered chances of ever finding the appropriate kind of gameplay for the creative (and brilliant) apocalyptic world The Last of Us was set in.


It was strange to see The Last of Us span so much time because the way the setting and original scenario were set-up. Any one-day would have been more than suffice to fill an entire game. Instead we play moments that are broken apart by cut scenes, a black screen or words that tell us time has passed. Almost always I was more interested in the time we were skipping than where this silly (and predictable) tale of escorting Ely to the Fireflys was heading. Linear games become a lot more linear when you can actually see the end of the path, not to mention having a guide to walk you there as well.


I think Naughty Dog greatly underestimated the power of one day. A lot of random, awesome stuff could have happened to both of these characters in such a short period of time, especially when youre fighting for survival in the world theyre living in. When too much time goes by, gamers tend to push forward just for the sake of pushing forward and nothing related to the characters. We dont feel that were actually building on anything because more time has passed when were not playing then when were actually playing.

There are too many locations. Everything is just too spread out. We search, we push on to find the designated room of clickers or human targets, we push on to find some space to search again, we push on to find a cut scene, then a new place is upon us again. Sometimes its a different city or remote location, sometimes its just further down the road. Too many locations lead us to memory loss. Frankly, all the areas of The Last of Us are plain forgettable (except for oneIll get into this later) mainly because you just breeze through them so fast.


However I do recognize that I come from the opinion where density is king. One big building designed like an actual building where you can go in all the rooms, all the floors and is all ingeniously crafted and laid out according to the science and specifics behind The Last of Us apocalypse would have been a masterpiece in my mind. Heck, the plot could have been as simple as, get to the top of the building get Ely and bring her back down or something. All you have are the supplies in your backpack, use them wisely. There would have been such an attention to detail, making all the floors feel different through exploring the deadly nature of the infected. This means more types of infected enemies and more types of environmental hazards brought on by the infected.

I need to stop talking about The Last of Us..This blog is clearly unfinished. So I'll probably change the subject tomorrow.