Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rumors of Zelda

I tend to avoid Twitter like the plague, but it's been brought to my attention that some information about the next Zelda has come to light via several tweets.  As far as I can tell they boil down to these three bits of information:
  • The next Zelda will have voice acting for every character expect Link.
  • At the beginning of the game players will have the option to choose Link's gender.
  • This new entry in the franchise will be released on the Wii U and NX platforms.
Whether or not any of this information is accurate remains to be seen, but assuming that it's the truth I'd like to weigh in on each bullet point.

First off, I'm not so keen on voice acting in my Zelda experience.  If anything I wish the developers had gone in the opposite direction and embraced purely visual storytelling like Hyper Light Drifter or Journey.  At most, I hope the dialogue is limited to narration segments and interludes in a style similar to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.  My biggest worry is the game will be filled with overly chatty characters and cutscenes.

Letting players be male or female version of Link sounds great.  I just hope they borrow a page from the Resident Evil playbook and make the difference meaningful in some interesting ways.  Perhaps some unique character interactions, a special dungeon, or gender specific quest line?  Much like how Clare and Leon, or (if you're old school) Chris and Jill have subtle variations on how the overall story plays out despite both visiting the same areas and doing the same kind of things.  At the very least it would offer players some incentive to play through the game a second time.

Speaking of second times, really hope they don't push this out on their NX console first.  Nintendo pulled that kind of crap with Twilight Princess by limiting the number of copies available for the Gamecube in a bid to boost Wii sales.  As an aside I wonder if there will be any significant changes to the NX version when compared to the Wii U version?  Graphic fidelity and frame rates are probably a given, but until we know more about Nintendo's new piece of hardware it's unclear if there will be any motion controls or touchscreen support let alone something new.

I've always been a casual fan of Zelda, but it feels like other games have improved on (and in some cases outright surpassed) the formula that used to make the series so impressive.  Maybe the NX interface will bring something new to the equation?  I imagine there will be some kind of gimmick...for the Kingdom of Hyrule's sake please don't be VR.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pipes and Plumbers

I don't own a Wii U, but I have a brother that does.  Recently, I had a chance to sit down at his place and try it out.  None of the games made much of an impression on me save one, Mario Maker.

I'm a big fan of games that let the player make their own levels (link), and Mario Maker is no exception..  The tool set is robust, yet easy to learn.  Level testing is also a sinch.  Sadly, the system by which user-created levels are found, shared and filtered leaves something to be desired.

I found myself wishing for an over-world map so I could combine levels into a mini-campaign of sorts...and in the game's defense there is a challenge mode where-by players can enjoy a sequence of levels customized by choosing one of four options, "easy," "normal," "hard," and "expert."  The problem was when I tried "hard" most of the levels were really just logic puzzles.  Meanwhile "easy" resulted in levels that were a joke, auto-win scenarios that either required me to simply hold right on the D-pad or (in some cases) do nothing at all.  Don't get me wrong.  These "bot" levels were impressive from a design standpoint, but the act of actually playing them was rather dull (at least for me).  Perhaps if there were some include/exclude filtering options using tags, I would have enjoyed that aspect of Mario Maker more.  As is, the level tagging system felt clunky and underutilized.  In truth, the kind of levels I really wanted to play were the more traditional kind you might find in a classic Mario Brothers game.  Since I didn't find many levels like that though I made a few myself.  Here's the names and ID codes:

Mushroom Heights

Air and Sea

Double Trouble

Cave Coins

Turtle Terrace

By all means check them out if you have a copy of Mario Maker and like levels that aren't heavy on the gimmicks.  They're also pretty forgiving so finishing all five shouldn't require a major time investment.  "Less frustration, More fun," was my motto while making each one.  If you have any similarly themed levels you'd like to share feel free to post them in the comment section bellow.  I'll give them a try on my next visit to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Iron from Ice

Telltale has their fingers in a lot of pies not the least of which is George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire."  I've read all the books released to date, but the HBO mini-series only held my interest up to the third season.  It's my understanding that Telltale decided to base their game more on the TV series than novels.  Not that it really matters though because the characters from the main storyline only make cameos in Telltale's game.  So instead of the adventures of Daenerys, Tyrion and John Snow the narrative focus is on the trials and tribulations of House Forester.  I have no beef with this and found the characters introduced by Telltale to be interesting for the most part.  True to the source material they start dropping like flies from the get-go.  Decapitations, dismemberment and one scene that's particularly heart wrenching (in the most literal sense) are just some of the messy ends that can occur.  Oddly, nudity is absent for the most part.  Perhaps it's not Telltale's style...

Certainly there's very little the player can do to change House Forester's fate.  The most in-game decisions change is a few lines of dialogue here and there until the final chapter where, based on a chose made at the end of the previous chapter, the story can deviate in one of several different branching paths.  Even then there's a great deal done to ensure the final outcome is basically the same.  Needless to say, if you take a fatalistic outlook then you can probably derive more enjoyment from Telltale games than those who want to be masters of their own destiny.

Regardless, I get why Telltale chooses to embrace this narrow design philosophy, it saves them a lot in terms of development resources.  That said, I wouldn't mind paying a bit more for their products if it meant empowering the player in meaningful ways.  Only seeing fifty percent of a game's content might sound like a waste from the standpoint of a developer, but as a player it offers a major insensitive to try multiple playthroughs.  As is, it doesn't really matter if you roleplay House Forester as a proud family filled with righteous indignation or a bunch of backhanded schemers more likely to respond with cryptic silences than words when called out on their lies.  Either way the plot inexorably hits on all the same key points on its way to the inevitable conclusion.  Something really needs to change.

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the Telltale formula grafted onto an SRPG or RTS.  What they got going could enhance the fundamental gameplay of other genres in a revitalizing kind of way.  As it stands though Telltale games are basically visual novels with some QTEs sprinkled in.  I'm not saying that's necessarily bad, but I do think their games have the potential to be truly special.  They just have to take House Forester's motto to heart.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Blast from the Past

I had a little bit of free time last Friday so I took an opportunity to visit the "Game On" exhibit at the Miraikan in Odaiba, Tokyo.  Needless to say it was a very nostalgic experience.  I also snapped a few photos while I was there (sorry if they look a bit blurry - low light, no flash allowed).  Here's a sampling in this blog post along with some accompanying text based on my impressions.

A bit before my time, but my understanding is
part of the popularity of Pong was the lack
of social stigma associated with men and
women playing it together.  Considering there
was a line of couples waiting to play, I think it
still holds appeal in that regard.
Computer Space was the first commercially
available arcade game ever made.  Sadly it wasn't in working shape (along with Centipede and the original vector graphics Star Wars rail shooter).  I did get to play Space War though which was just adjacent. 
Practically every gaming system ever manufactured was on display with at least one game available to try out.  In this photo (from left to right) is an Atari 7800, Sega Genesis, Gamecube, PSX and original XBOX.  They also had a Dance Dance Revolution machine and a full set of
Rock Band musical instruments.
Before the Nintendo Gameboy, these little handheld devices used the same technology as digital watches to create simple games.  My childhood memory is a bit fuzzy, but I do recall playing "Fire," Octopus," and possibly "Popeye."
I had Kerbal Space Program flashbacks while
playing Moon Lander.  I was able to land safely
the first try, but on the second attempt I deiced to
go for a suicide didn't end well.  Funny
enough the failure message read something along
the lines of "you just destroyed a 100 Mega Buck
spacecraft."  I wonder if the technician I saw
working on the broken Hang On machine was
thinking something along similar lines with
regards to the museum visitors. 
I used to have an Apple IIc with this exact game and joystick.  Inside the display case is floppy disk copy of Prince of Persia which I also played extensively.
The original version of Space
Invaders was pretty creepy
looking.  Aside from old classics
like Galaga, Missle Command,
and Dig Dug, there were also
a nice mix of modern shooters as
 well as artsy titles (Papers
Shadow of the Colossus,
and Viva Pinata).
I was aware of Steel Battalion, but I never
thought I would ever get a chance to play
it for real.  The controls were a bit intimidating
to say the least.  Thankfully a kind Japanese man
helped me through the rather complex startup sequence.
Sadly, I wasn't able to flip up the cover on the emergency
escape button in time to preserve my meager progress
before being destroyed.