Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kirby has a happier anniversary than Mario, Link, and Samus combined!

In the flurry of Nintendo news that happened tonight (alot more than I have even posted about), some information slipped in about a Kirby Anniversary game coming to the Wii. The best part is that unlike the Mario Anniversary game, they put more than 20 minutes effort into this.

Rather than just copy a compilation games (Like Super Mario All Stars), Nintendo is putting 6 different Kirby games from different systems on here, including Kirby 64. It also comes with alot of extra features, like episodes of the awesome cartoon series, plus the usual soundtrack and behind the scenes info.

It is surprising how much more effort they put into this compared to it's Big Three. Mario got a $10 game sold for $30, Zelda got a concert, but no game, and they just plain forgot about the Metroid anniversary.

Then again, I guess I can't blame them for downplaying Samus from the media after... ...

Dark times indeed....

Namco is creating the next Smash Bros. game, and a bigger 3DS is on the way!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention, if anyone didn't know already, that the new Smash Bros. game will be on BOTH the Wii U and the 3DS. I'll be happy to have some Smash Bros. on the go and at home!
Well, I can't say I expected this.

Tonight, Nintendo held a conference where they announced a few big things, the first of which is that Namco Bandai is working with the Nintendo to create the next Smash Bros. game. This sounds like it could go either way, but I am happy about it. This means (hopefully) that these two fantastic things might happen:

  1. The game will be finished sometime in our life cycle. Brawl took a ridiculous amount of time to finish, and even then it had problems with balance and too many clone characters. Hopefully Namco joining up means they will be working overtime to get this game out sooner.
  2. Namco could bring along some of it's own characters to the fun. I will be truly shocked if Pac-Man isn't featured in the game.
Also, Nintendo unveiled a new version of the 3DS called the 3DS XL!

That looks roughly the size of a George Foreman grill.

The screens are each roughly 90% bigger than the normal version. This will be a welcome addition to me, even if that will never fit in my jeans.

I do however worry that this is further proof that Nintendo is dropping the ball. Both of these would have been huge announcements for E3, so why did we hear about them weeks later? Plus, why doesn't this new 3DS have a second control pad? This would have been the best time to fix that issue! Not to mention, because of the size of it, the Control Pad Pro attachment won't fit on it now! This seems like a no brainer!

I still can't figure out why Nintendo would wait to unveil all this information at E3, but that is their loss! Either way, I'm still gonna play the hell outta some Smash Bros. when it comes out.

Sonic all the way, baby!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Okami is Okam-ing back.... ... I'm sorry for that pun...

So, this is pretty awesome for anybody who missed out on this.

OKAMI is an action/adventure title in the vein of THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. It was released originally on the PS2 and the Wii, so if for some reason you never played this game, here is your chance to correct it... assuming you have a PS3. It's got support for Playstation Move, but find me a person who owns AND still uses his Move Wand and I will be impressed.

The Fundamental Flaws of the "Morality System"

Many avid gamers may have noticed that many developers love putting "Morality Systems" into their video games. The idea is novel, if not usually underwhelming. The idea is that if you give the player different choices in the game, he will become more invested in it. A great way to make the player feel involved is to let them have the fate over the characters and world in the game. This is essentially a form of what RPG's have been doing since the days of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest on the NES. An RPG's main focus is on how you character adapts to the world around him, though. A Morality System's main focus is on you changing the world around your character. The problem is most of them don't work.

... Well, it is a bit more specific than that. There are two main problems when it comes to designing "moral choices" in a game.

Number 1: Choice means nothing without conflict.

Let's think about this for a moment. When you go to a restaurant, you have to choose what kind of food you want. The conflict in that situation would be deciding which of the food choices you want to eat. There could be many different options, but you are probably only gonna have room for one type. That choice, of which dish you want to eat, now has conflict. Either way, you are gonna be satisfied, but you had to give up one of the options. Most games, however, don't have options that can cause conflict for the player. For many games, they rely on a good or evil choice system. It means that the player's character will do a "good" or "evil" thing that will affect part of the story. The problem here is that it usually doesn't.

That is the look of a man who has no clue what to say till you tell him to say it.

The Mass Effect series was built around the idea that every choice that the Player made wold affect the entire series, including how it would end. And, true enough, there were some pretty deep moral choices put into the game. At one point in the second game, you were to decide the fate over an entire race. They had been an enemy throughout the entire game at this point, and you had an unique option. You could either Brainwash (or Reprogram) them to join your cause, or you could destroy them all. Now, if you have ever watched Extra Credits (and if not, you really should), you may have seen an episode where they discussed this very point. It made the writer of the series, James Portnow, sit and stare at the TV for half an hour as he tried to decide what to do.

Here is the episode in question. Give it a watch if you want!

For him, this was a big moment. It forced him to consider what his views are.
For me, it was simple: Brainwash them.

Now, you can see where the developers were going with this. They meant to make the player really consider how his actions would affect the world. And to many, it did work. I mean, it made James Portnow stop in his tracks to consider the ramifications. When I played this game however, there was no moral choice here. I viewed the choice as to how it would affect my gameplaying experience. In either option, the robot enemy would be out of my way. So now, the choice became, do I kill them off, or make them my allies in the game. Being allies would probably help me win the overall series alot easier, while killing them would not affect my gameplay at all. No matter which option I chose, they were out of the way. So why not have them help me? This is where the flaw was revealed to me. The choice became less about morality, and more about game difficulty. It just became about whether I like tougher gameplay or easier gameplay. Now, maybe if up to this point, I had more interactions with this race besides making sure my bullets hit them, it might have meant more to me. The only person of this race you interact with can't even be affected by this choice, so there goes any emotional connection. The developers really wanted me to consider how this would affect the game world, but in the end it made no difference at all.

Number 2: Morality is biased.

The biggest challenge a developer faces when making morality choices is deciding what is moral. Despite what many people like to think, there is no universal "good" or "evil"... at least not that any human can figure out. Every person has their own idea of what is "good" and what is "evil", right and wrong. That whole idea is probably not gonna sit well with people, but hear me out. Each society has their own views on what is right and wrong. We grow up learning these "values", and then teach them to our children. Think about how in places like areas in the Middle East, women are treated like property. We can sit here and think about how disgusting that is, but for the longest time in our history, we did the same thing to African Americans. Think about how you see some Christians talk about God's love towards everyone, while others say God hates gay people and anyone who disagrees with the church is going to hell. These aren't people being evil (even though it can sure seem like it). They are simply doing what they "believe" is right.

Ok, that was alot of heavy, but necessary, discussion. Lets move back onto topic. Game makers who put "good" and "evil" choices in a game have to assume that the people playing it will have the same views as them. The best example I can give is Fable 3. This game series has always tried to create deep, emotional choices for the player to make. The problem is that they labeled each choice as good or evil.

Being royalty is fun...

Near the end of the game, you are proclaimed the king of your kingdom. You are tasked with saving the kingdom from an attack that will happen in 1 year. The former king ruled with perceived cruelty, but you learn that he was simply trying to make sure he had the resources to fight this upcoming war. So when you become king, you are immediately presented with choices that will affect your kingdom. You can choose the good option, which repairs the damages the former king did to the kingdom, or you can choose the "evil" option, and continue the hardships so you can make sure the kingdom is ready for war.

Do you see where the problem is in this situation? The evil option decrees that everyone suffers, but gets to live another day. The good option means everyone is happy... until... you know...

Why can you not just have the hardships for one year, then after the war, restore the kingdom to normal? Why can't, as king, you explain to your citizens that war is coming, and everyone needs to stop partying and get ready to defend?

Because the game won't let you. There are no reasons in the game for this. The developers just took out the options. Still, at least you are faced with a choice... or are you?

You can supply the funds yourself to defend the kingdom from the money you make when you go on quests and from buying real estate. And since buying houses basically lets you print your own money, that means you can do the good option AND still win the war. So now, that question of morality was destroyed with an act of laziness. My theory (and it is just a theory) is that someone saw the earlier flaw, but instead of reworking the game, just slipped in this little "get out of jail free" card. So, not only did your choices suck, but you didn't even have to make a choice.

I wanna give one more example from this game, before I move on. There is a choice as King to either remove the alcohol tax, leave it alone, or raise it. Now, since the game labels "remove tax" as the good option, I chose it. Next thing I know, everyone in my Kingdom is drunk. I'm not sure about you, but I have a hard time thinking that everyone becoming an alcoholic in the face of Armageddon is the "good" option.

Yep... we're ready for war now...

So, we know that choice (for a gamer) means nothing without conflict, and that everyone has different views on "right" and "wrong. How can a developer implement moral choice into their game that will involve the player? Well, it is easier than you think: Take morality out of it. The developer can still give the player choices that can really make them think, but without calling things "good" or "evil". The goal should be to make the player make a choice that will affect his gameplay. The best example I can think of to look at is Fallout: New Vegas.

Yes, believe it or not, this bug-ridden glitch fest did something right.

Now, New Vegas still had it's "Karma" system, a feature that stuck around from Fallout 3, but let's ignore that for a moment. They added a unique feature that too few games have thought to add: Factions. Every town and every group in the game had a "faction" that they represented. Many of them were enemies to each other, but to the player, he basically starts out neutral to everyone. To go on a mission for someone in the game, more than likely, you'll come into conflict with another group. They may not want you to do what the first group asked, and then you are presented with a choice that has conflict for the player. What benefits to my gameplay do I get for picking a side? Maybe one side will offer you more money. The other side might offer a great weapon you had not found yet. One may have a character on their side that you enjoy talking to or doing missions with. The player now has to think, what option do I want to let me further enjoy the game? There is no simple option because each player may want different things. One may want more money, so they can buy a house in the game. The other may want that rare weapon instead. Maybe they want both, and now they have to really think hard. This choice means more to the player because it will affect his gameplay. In Mass Effect and Fable, many of their choices were meaningless because they didn't affect how the player would interact with the game. But in this game, the choice meant that the player could either get one great option, or a different, but still awesome one. Now they just had to choose which one.

Not every game needs to have factions, but you should make sure that if you want to have choice in a game, the conflict has weight for the player. If you simply make the player choose between options that only really affect the story, and not the gameplay in any real way, they will only focus on what will help them finish the game. Naturally not everyone who watches this video will agree with me. That is my main point in this article. Your view of the "right" thing to do may be different than mine, but that doesn't mean that it is a bad option, or that mine is the bad option. To me, morality systems are not working, but to you, they may be the best thing about your game. Just don't expect everyone to agree with you... I know I won't.

Is the iPhone the end of traditional gaming?

Of course not... at least not in the traditional sense.

It would be easy to think that gaming is being torn apart, since traditional gaming generally means whatever Nintendo is cooking in the kitchen. Nintendo use to bring us beautiful pies and cakes made of wonderful ingredients. Now, they are bring us half-baked cupcakes that taste kind of salty. They still taste good, and you'll probably want to eat another, but you're kinda hesitant, and hoping they have something to wash it down with.

Cooking analogies are fun.

The reason why we feel Nintendo is dying is because they seem to be losing their grasp on their audience. They cannot fathom focusing on a certain group of gamers (casual, social, core), because they use to have all of them under their thumb. Back in the NES-SNES days, you could rely on Nintendo to have your fix for whatever. You want some challenging Mario games to play? Nintendo. How about a great puzzle game? Nintendo. Shooters? Racing? Multiplayer? Nintendo had you covered. Unfortunately for Nintendo, however, gaming began to evolve and split up.

The audience for games has grown, but rather than liking all game types, they have split into different groups. The hardcore gamers themselves, who grew up with Nintendo, became two different groups. One group will not touch a game unless it reinforces their masculinity. Repetitive shooters, samey sports titles; They all came from this group, who don't want anything that seems "childish" or "feminine"... in the most juvenile sense... but instead want an unchanging male-power fantasy. And I truly mean unchanging because any significant change to the formula will drive away this audience. This is basically the "jock-frat guy" version of a gamer.

We also have the second of the "core" audience, who are the most likely to be reading this. There is no real term for them that fits, so I will call them "Classic" gamers. These are gamers who are deeply invested in games as a whole. They will play those shooters, but for many different reasons than the "manly men" crowd. They play them because of memories of Doom and Duke Nukem on their old PC's. They'll often play them for the challenge and difficulty they bring, and usually for the story they tell. They too, want nothing to change on them, but at the same time they demand that things reinvent themselves. These are the people who complain about "another war game", but flip their lids over the announcement of a new Zelda that is usually the same version as Ocarina of Time. Think of the people who groaned and complained about The Wind Waker for using "kiddy" graphics (again, a juvenile view of what mature is... you'll see that alot), and celebrated the graphics and style of Twilight Princess.

Personal opinion: Wind Waker was a beautiful painting, while Twilight Princess looked like crap.

That's some nice looking... flat textured grass there...

This group of classic gamers are insanely hard to please, so I cannot blame developers for overlooking them as much as they do. Not that they should be, but I can't blame them from a business perspective. Besides, as much as this group (that I can usually count myself in... generally speaking) wants to believe, they are a rather small percentage that makes up the gaming audience. The first group has way more sway with developers and publishers because they are a larger crowd, like it or not, but they still usually just half-ass it so they can focus on more original titles for classic gamers and their own thirst for creativity. The biggest crowd with the most cash to spend, however? "Casual" Gamers.

Considering the majority of the population have become smartphone users, they have now become targets for game developers. Everybody loves to play a quick game, whether with their friends or just to kill time, so that means possible income. But this crowd does not want to spend $60 to play some RPG with complicated controls. They just want to play something simple to grasp, like Angry Birds or Draw Something. This is fantastic from a business perspective because that means they can take games that would normally be considered a "minigame" to classic gamers, and make them into quick $1 games you can play while waiting in line at McDonald's. And since about everyone has a smart phone, you know you can sell it pretty easily.

Now, this is causing many developers to switch to making casual games because they are a business, after all. This is a large, new source of income, and it can't just be ignored. So while many classic gamers were ready to write off iPhone, they noticed a trend happening. Console makers wanted in on this crowd, and Nintendo was leading the way.

Why don't I have arms?... or that guy have legs?

Wii Sports brought in alot of new people to console gaming. The idea of a cool "virtual reality" game, the likes of which were usually left with buggy prototypes and science fiction, was too tempting for anyone to pass up. I have grandparents who were all excited to get the Wii just so they could go fake bowling, and that normally high $300 didn't sound that high. Nintendo was ready to accept this new crowd in, but quickly stumbled at the realization that maybe their existing audience didn't want them to come in.

Nintendo kept trying to find ways to appease both crowds, but usually failing to appease either. Causal gamers did not want the complexities of Zelda and Mario, while classic gamers did not want to simpleness of the Wii series of games. Casual gamers slowly got bored, as the only real appeal they had was the welcoming Wii Sports, while classic gamers began to write off the Wii as a casual system, and moved on the Microsoft and Sony. They would be back for the occasional Mario or Zelda title, but ignored the system otherwise. Nintendo needed to focus on either one audience or the other, because they were not gonna be able to keep both. So naturally, for their next system, who would they decide on?


Ok, quick tangent on this game, which took up an unspeakably long amount of time at E3. This is NintendoLand; Nintendo's sad attempt to make a game for both Classic and Casual gamers... and neither of which will really want it. The complexities of Nintendo's classic franchises are too big of a barrier for casual gamers. They had a hard enough time trying to explain the Luigi's Mansion minigame to an E3 audience that got it after the first 30 seconds. The classic gamers gave it a nod in the vein of "Oh, that's cute. I might mess with that. So where are the real games?.... Wait, that's it?!?". This game has almost no audience, and is a sign the Nintendo slipped into a goldmine of money, but they have no idea how they got there or how to stay.

Back on topic now...

So now, Nintendo is bending over backwards to try and impress an audience that has a 5 second attention span, and Sony and Microsoft are trying to bend even further. They are lucky enough the have the developers that Nintendo scared off to keep making them some cash, but they are still spending too much wasted energy trying to convince people that they are the home versions of the iPhone.

Man I'm getting tired of writing, but luckily we're about at the point. This went on much longer than I intended.

So with big companies trying to ape the iPhone's success, what is to become of traditional gaming? Well, not much actually... though don't expect everything to stay the same either. Big epic adventures are not going away, but if they want to survive on this new medium, they have to learn to adapt. The biggest issue gamers have with the iPhone craze is the lack of buttons. Classic gamers see this and think "Well, I can't play Skyrim on that.", and they aren't wrong. What this means is that developers have to learn to work with the new control option given to them, and how to make it become engrossing. Think about how The Legend of Zelda DS games used only the touch screen to play them (if I recall correctly). The developers saw a new tool, and figured out how to create an engrossing title with the use of a stylus and touchpad. We NEED developers to take that same approach to making smartphone games. How can we take this game style and mix it with new controls? The Wii developers tried this as best they could, but no one would want to choose Wii controls over standard buttons and sticks. Smartphone gamers have no choice in control options, so developers need to learn how to use what they have, rather than pining for what they lost.

Gaming is continually evolving, but that doesn't mean everything will go away. We still play classic-style platformers to this day, even though 3D seemed likely to kill it years ago. We will learn to adapt our games to new styles of play, because we will never want to give them up. So have no fear classic gamers. I don't believe your 13 hour gaming marathons are going to end... though they are gonna be changing, just like the progression from the NES and Genesis era to our HD era.

Oh, and don't use fake buttons on touch screens. They work terribly and are imprecise... Keep trying guys.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Welcome to The Opinionated Gamer

This site (or Blog for now), will be about opening up discussions on various topics in video games. Now "Opinion" is in the title because this is all just an opinion. Meaning this is not the place to complain that some stranger in a top hat doesn't agree with your view on Call of Duty or Mass Effect 3.