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Rotondi Blog

My Favorite Video Game Moments 1 of ?

I want to chat to myself about some of my favorite and first ever gaming moments.  Come to think of it, they actually are some of my earliest memories of all my memories as a human being.  That's the kind of impact gaming has had on me I guess.  So instead of trying to wipe them away with Sham-Wow, let's celebrate them.  

My older brother was gaming before I can remember.  He was a legend and without him I'm not sure I would have been the same gamer I am today.  He taught me everything I know about NES games and Genesis games.  However he gave up gaming after that but whatever! That's not the point.  

The point is I remember we were down on Cape Cop at our summer house and he had that NES powered on and I'm not sure if I knew it at the time, since I was like 8 or soemthing, but he was playing Metroid.  He was like 2 feet from the television.  IF my dad had saw him he would have killed him.  But my dad was mowing the lawn or something, maybe buying lobsters.  Whatever, he was doing something!  

MY brother was at Mother Brain.  One of the most epic final boss battles ever, as far as I'm considered.  The deadly music, tthose incredibly annoying spore things, the sound of your missles chewing up the doors and slamming on Mother Brains face, the lava pit, and of course the slow frigging fram-rate because there's absolutley so much stuff going on at one-time it's ridiculous.  Then he got to the section after, where you have to climb out of the level and get back to your ship before the planet explodes.  The timer comes on the screen and the pressure is on to climb those platforms.  I remember him falling.  I remember him not making it out of there and my brother throwing the controller against the wall.  

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Blog Gone Wild

Depending of the stage you're at in life--high school, middle school, college, after college and jobless, after college and got a job, family man, family woman, a bum under a bridge--your perspective of video games IS going to be different.  I've said this time and time again, my tastes in gaming have changed over the years.  Certain titles that I used to love, I still love. Some, quite the opposite.  

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"Many gamers don't realize, twas' I who cut the cheese."

My roommate has a PS3 and a Gamefly account.  For the past 2 months we've been checking out some PS3 games I've been missing out while I was away in China for 2 years.  After we got through a few games I went searching through the entire PS3 gaming library for games that are just good old fashion fun for two people that are sitting in the same room. And frankly, there isn't many.  Most Sony games want you looking like this: 

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If you think I have bad posture now, wait till you see me in 20 years.

So we do what we can and take turns playing single player campaigns like Infinite, Metro, Tomb Raider, Just Cause 2, Dark Souls, The Last of Us...you get the idea.  And now we just wait for the next Grand Theft Auto and a couple other odd balls.  

Yesterday I was making dinner and I heard my roommate come back from a day out at his friends house.  Immedietly he brought up the Wii U.  Now, he shart talks the Wii U like the best of anybody, saying the same nonsensical things that most gamers say on the internet about the Wii U:  It's a stupid console.  However he comes back and admits that, yes...the Wii U is fun.  Why?   Because they have games that are fun to play that can be played by more than one person at a time.

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Beam me up, Scotty.


 NintendoLand.  The game that keeps on giving.  The dream that keeps on wetting your sheets.  The potato that keeps feeding the kids.  The computer that keeps your dad occupied while you steel booze out of his liquor closet.  The tie that gets you all the ladies, cluding, the bride, while you're at your best friend's wedding.  The sunshine that makes all the ladies take their shirts off on the street. 

Look no further, climb no higher, swim no deeper, this is a blog gone wild.

An example of Innovation "In the Game"

I mentioned in my previous blog that I would get into some examples of innovation in the gaming industry that doesn't have to do with hardware.  This means, a game that innovates through gameplay or some other aspect of the game itself. The more I rode my bike and drank beer and thought about this the more I realized that this is a much harder case to prove.  What I mean is, it is extremely hard to innovate this way.  Keep in mind I'm talking about recent games, games after the year 2000.  If I were to start at the dawn of gaming then sure, we could all come up with a handful of examples. But I'm talking about NOW, or the recent NOW.  One good example is the gravity gun from Half-Life 2.

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Where'd the pizza go?

 

I don't have any hesitations to call this an innovation.  Not only is the gravity a gun that hadn't been seen before in games, it changed the way gamers looked at the environment.  Thanks to the awesome physics in the Source engine, gamers could play around with objects in the environment to solve puzzles, destroy enemies and just have some darn good ol' fun.  

If my sole reason for calling the gravity gun innovation was based on "it hasn't been seen before in gaming" then at that point I would have to have hesitations.  Game creators design new weapons all the time for games, we can't just call them innovations because of this alone.  

I'm absolultey not saying the Gravity Gun is the only example in recent years, it's just that this is a much more foggy area of discussion.  Some other examples that come to my mind could be found in games like Shadow of the Collusus, Mario Galaxy, Max Payne, and Journey.  

I guess my point with these last two blogs is to point out how hard it is for something actually to be considered innovative. Innovations don't pop up like a bag of popcorn, and as fans we can't just ask for them left and right.  Creating something innovative almost stems from luck and timing more than actually creative talent.  For developers to sit around and wait until they think of something innovative before starting their new game would be suicide.  

Two examples of Hardware Innovation

I think there's a lot of confusion to what an actual innovation is in terms of RIGHT NOW in the gaming industry.  We often think certain things are innovative when they're not and sometimes we think things aren't innovative when they actually are.   Well guess what?  I'm here to get the ball rolling on this one.  Who knows, I may end up being just as confused as everyone else but I'm here to give it a try.  And please note, I do not think innovation equals a great gaming experience.  Sometimes (probably most of the time) games that harness the energy of successfully tested formulas and perfect those formulas even more are often the games that are the best.

As obvious as it may sound, I feel innovation can come from two places in the gaming world, hardware and software. Essentially, some innovation happens in the video games themselves and some aspects happen in the hardware you play those games with.  Let's start with the obvious (and not obvious...), shall we?

INNOVATIVE HARDWARE

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There is never a better opportunity to punch someone in the gut than when they're wearing one of these...


The Occulus Rift is one of the more recent examples of hardware innovation.  While the idea of virtual reality is not something entirely new, previous VR devices were heavily limited.   The concept of someday being able to take any game for next-gen or PC and experience those games in a virtual reality type setting, however, is something new.  It changes the way we interact and perceive games.  For instance, Marcus Beer mentioned that Doom 3, a game that he didn't find scary at all when he played it on a regular PC, said that when experiencing it on the Occulus Rift made the horror come to life.  From a development standpoint, it changes the way developers create their games, full well knowing that many of their fans will be experiencing their games through the lenses of an OR and not just a normal television.  I don't know if the Occulus Rift will take off, nor do I know if it actually is making games more fun to play, but I think we're safe to say this is innovation.

For those of us who don't know (everybody knows), in almost every gaming situation the controller is the only way we can interract with our video games.  You could try shouting at your SEGA Genesis all you want, those rings you just lost ain't gonna' pick themselves back up.  Console controllers have been building off each other since the original NES controller, sure they've been adding buttons here and there.  An early version of the thumbstick was introduced by Nintendo with their N64 controller and then that inspired the famous dual thumbstick controller from Sony.  No matter how you look at it in any of those cases, what we have is a gamer pushing buttons.  As far as I'm concerned the first major innovation since the NES in regards to controllers were released for the Wii.  

 

B000IMYKQ0-1-lg.jpg Mostly referred to as "gimmicks" to sell consoles to the casuals and to cover-up the Wii's inferior hardware, whether you like it or not the Wii Remote is the dawn of motion controls and a major innovation in the gaming world.  The gamer can no longer get by with soley just pushing buttons.  Even till now does this upset gamers who are so bent on sticking with "what works."  This is a deep irony for me because these are the same gamers that blame Nintendo for not changing anything up, when it's actually them who just want Sony to be producing the same ol' Dualshock until the Playstation 500.  

But I get it.  It's tough.  I grew up on the NES and have mastered the art of "button pressing" over the years on many different consoles, including PC.  When Nintendo asked gamers to give up those years of ingrained muscle memory and try something new, I understand why many gamers didn't want to do this.

In no way do I think Nintendo found the new best way for us to interract with video games, however they did find another path that works really really well.  Many motion control games on the Wii shine.  More importantly, they offer gamers variety in an industry that is plagued by the same experiences and two other companies who wouldn't dare to take a risk like this. Here's to Nintendo for doing things first.

 

 

I'll do the second part tomorrow.  This is taking too long.  WAH!

In Control of Your Games

As certain games continue to get more and more realistic I suspect that we are going to need more buttons on the controllers. When you have a gameworld that features 80 trillian polygons, groundbreaking A.I, and a physics system that makes the original HL2 engine look like Pong, the gamer is probably going to want more out of there character than just the normal run, duck, jump and shoot commands.  

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What button scratches my butt again?

 

In the long run it is impossible for developers to make games like The Last of Us, Just Cause 2, Grand Theft Auto, etc... and have the controls be 100% perfect. It's inevitable there will be glitches and fustrations along the way.  So while certain developers want their titles look and seem as realistic as possible, from the input perspective this just isn't possible.  

Obviously some genres have it easier than others.  For instance:  Side Scrollers.  Sure, you could have a game as simple as Knytt and Super Meat Boy and the controls should end up being like gravy.  But even more complicated side-scrollers like Mark of the Ninja with more character controls still feel tight, smooth and like warm pumpkin pie.  

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Um, do you mind just stayin' there for a sec?  I think I just pulled a back muscle.


So let's just say 2D games have it easier.  You can even say that first person shooters have it easier as well.  Gamers aren't asking much out of that genre anwyays.  We just need to move, aim and shoot.  Ok, it does get more complicated than this, like how do the weapons feel and react, hitboxes, etc.., but for the most part the formula has been hammered out already (well, the two formulas, the old-skool fast paced Unreal controls and the new skool CoD controls).  Keep in mind this is not to say first-person shooters won't suffer the same fate as many third-person perpective games will as they also push for more realism.

For me it all boils down to what is possible to achieve and what actually works.  While it is starting to be possible to create gaming worlds and engines that mirror our world, it is still impossible to have a character be controlled by a gamer in a way that reflects that same realism.  This explains why more games are using quick-time events, cut scenes and character animations to fill that disparity than ever before.   What I fear is that this is starting to pull the gamer more out of the game than in the game.

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Those blisters from NES Mega Man days are coming back again.


Then there are other cases where developers will take that risk and give the gamer more controls than ever before. This scenerio usually leads to 50% coolness, and 50% hair-pulling fustration.  Just Cause 2 is a good example of this.  The concept of what can be achieved is pretty awesome, but most of the time you'll just be screaming at the TV because the main dude you're controlling is haveing a squat instead of beaming out his manly grappling hook. Sometimes you're just standing an inch too close or too far from something to have the controls do what you want them to do.  Sure, to an extent this is what we call a learning curve.  The controls take a bit of time getting used to.  But what we're getting used to is their quarks and their imperfections.

A game with good controls by no means feels and plays like another game with good controls.  Mainly because great controls are often predicated by the gameworld they live in.  This is why I feel the controls of games that strive for realism end up falling short. However a game like Super Mario 64 (or any of the Mario games really) have incredibly sharp and pinpoint controls.  This is one reason why Mario games made such a good transition into 3D and, quite frankly, are the some of best games the gaming industry has ever seen.  What you'll notice in Mario games is that the world itself is shaped around those controls, and vice-versa.  It's not a case of, let's create a magical place then later on figure out how to control Mario through that magical place.  It's a case of, this is what we want Mario to be able to do, now let's build the world around that. 

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That's some serious butt burn.

In Just Cause 2 where you're actually have to spend time getting used to these bonky controls, in Mario they feel natural and almost come as second-nature.  I remember when I first played Super MArio 64 I just ran around for an hour without going into the castle because the controls were that much fun to dick around with.  In Just Cause 2 the fun is not with the controls themselves but with the potential of what the controls can do.  A potential that costs much more fustration than its worth.

While realism ( a different type of realism than what games like Tomb Raider are going for) does play a part in a game like Dark Souls, the controls are kept simple and match the gameworld exceptionally well.  Yet at the same time they still have that "Mario" quality about them in the sense that it's interesting to just move your character and watch him/her swing a sword or whatever weapon you happen to be holding.  

As obvious as it sounds, controls for me are a big part of what makes a game or not.  Maybe this is why I tend to think simpler looking games are more pleasurable because the controls are better.  I'll take playing Mark of the Ninja over The Last of Us any day of the week.  I'll also take driving an M5 over my Toyota Corolla any day of the week.  Only if I could figure out a way to afford one.  

Greasy Penguin High-Five

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

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?

              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

                  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

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.