Is Super Mario Bros. 2 bad? Was the Sonic series ever good? Who is the Ben Kingsley of video games? What does that even mean? You asked our opinionated columnist video game questions. He answered, in depth.
It's the beginning of a new tradition: you tweet at me (twitter.com/number108) with questions regarding videogames, the videogame industry, life, or whatever, and I compose a maybe-thoughtful, maybe-tossed-off, always off-the-cuff, sometimes brutally honest, and sometimes brutally sarcastic and insincere reply. It's more or less the opposite of Kotaku's "Tell Us, Dammit". It's more like "I Tell You, Dammit".
Why, you ask, am I deeming myself important enough to answer your questions? I don't know! I have 1,600 Twitter followers — and climbing — so maybe I should involve you all in this process a little bit more, instead of just talking at you.
That, and the kinds of enormous things I tend to write on this website involve an exhausting amount of brain-work, and for what? I confuse some people and piss other people off. If you claim to have ever gotten something tangible out of one of my enormous messes, I thank you: you're a sweet person. You don't have to lie for me this month.
The best part of this setup is that you are limited to 140 characters for your question, and I am limited to the breadth and depth of the universe in my replies. Don't expect a novella for each answer — you'll find that I am capable of brevity. And how! And what beautiful brevity! And what beautiful, beverage-like brevity!
The genesis of this idea, if you must know, is that I found the column I'd written for this month lacking in the usual psychedelic flair, so I figured to tack a question-and-answer ("Q&A", as some call it) section to the end. Stephen Totilo retweeted my tweet re: asking me questions, and I ended up with way more than I'd originally planned. I had so much fun answering them that I realized I'd just written an entire column.
This column is a result of a mere four hours of Twitter-question-fielding. For the next one, I'll keep the question lines open all month. Just follow me on Twitter and tweet at me with your questions.
Of course, keeping the lines open all month will mean that I will get far more questions than I did even today. What I mean is, for the next one, only the very best questions will make it in. So be thoughtful — and maybe even polite — if you want me to address your question.
Let's'a go, then~~~
Oh, hello, Bryan Lee O'Malley, author of such works as "Scott Pilgrim" and "Scott Pilgrim Volume 6"! How exciting that a genuine celebrity would be the very first person to ask a question in my proposed question-and-answer experiment — and four minutes before Kotaku's own Stephen Totilo retweeted my tweet where I asked you all to ask questions, even.
As far as I can tell, there are two types of crotchety game connoisseurs in the world — those who gripe about how the hell the hero of such and such game can carry all that stuff in his limited / tiny backpack / rucksack / duffel bag / hip pouch, and those who moan and groan about all those missing frames of animation between a game character facing one direction, maybe while sprinting very quickly, and then facing another direction, also sprinting in that same direction.
I am both of those types of crotchety game connoisseurs. For the purpose of this mini-essay, I'll pretend that I'm more of the second than of the first.
Until fairly recently, the games industry was all about making games that photographed well. What you wanted was to make games that could produce sweet screenshots that you could either put in a spread in a game magazine or on the back of the game box itself.
Time rolled on, and — we're talking about Japanese games here, right? Let's say we're talking about Japanese games. From my "experience working in the Japanese games industry", I can say that Japanese game developers really haven't moved on artistically since the 16-bit days, and I mean that in the worst way: the "level designer" of Devil May Cry 4's job was to decide that "the first level takes place in a cathedral", then drink a cup of coffee, then drink another cup of coffee, then go to lunch, then get back to lunch and email a couple of girls he's stringing along. Games have moved into polygons and high-definition and fully animated cut-scenes, and they're still thinking of screenshots. What I'm saying is that no one screenshotted Super Mario when he was in the middle of his turning-around animation. It was always millimeters away from stomping a goomba or a turtle shell, or nothing.
The turning-in-place animation is low-priority, is what I'm saying. And it's weird, and sad. It's the kind of thing that, most of the time, only a non-gamer will walk into the room and point out to you. You might have been playing games your entire life up until that moment, and then someone comes into the room and says, "How is that guy just turning around instantly, on a dime, like that?" And you go, "I don't know." At this point, though, the game has already got you, just like a job might get you — "as long as I keep copying numbers from this document and pasting them into the appropriate cells in this here spreadsheet, my kids can get their cavities filled for free," et cetera.
It's weird that the turning-around animation is so low-priority, seeing as it was such a huge, crucial visual friction in the original Super Mario Bros. Nothing in Super Mario Bros. leaves a bigger — if not more exciting — impression in the human subconscious than the feeling and the sight of Super Mario grinding to a stop as he changes running directions.
These are the frames of animation for Super Mario in Super Mario Bros.
* Standing still
* Walking (one foot forward)
* Jumping (fist raised up above head, legs spread)
* Throwing a fireball (hand raised up near face)
* Screeching to a halt so as to turn around
What we're looking at, here, is "screeching to a halt" accounting for one-fifth of the frames of animation for the main character. In short, the changing-direction animation is Very Important — it's twenty percent of the game, even.
How did we lose touch with the need to see our characters change directions? Where did it go?
In a third-person shooter like Gears or War, or a survival horror game like the original Resident Evil, we have to maybe-painfully rotate our dude around like he was a tank. That doesn't look natural at all.
In real life, it's possible to turn around while walking by doing no more than digging in one heel (the rear foot), turning your head over the shoulder corresponding to your rear foot, and then swinging the heal of your front foot pendulum-like in the direction of the point on the ground just beyond the tip of your other foot's toes.
I'm sure I missed a few details of the action. It's as easy to write about that simple, everyday action as it is to tell an authority figure — maybe a police officer — precisely what you have to do with the brakes, clutch, shifter, gas pedal, and steering wheel to save your car from skidding out of control off an icy road.
Humans are remarkable machines for being able to process complicated actions like this without ever putting them into words. It really says something about us, that many of the things we're able to do second-nature-style, instinct-like, require much floundering and flubbering and stuttering to properly elucidate in language.
Few people have the attention to detail required to put into words the exact process of turning in place while walking, or of oversteering a car. Maybe only three or four of these people, in history, have ever been game designers. Maybe Shigeru Miyamoto was one of them, and maybe he wasn't. The fact would seem that the nature of the complexity of while-walking body-rotation eludes most people, to a point where it literally becomes a thing they don't know they're doing.
In a game like Devil May Cry, where placing the character at strategic points on the screen is necessary at every waking moment of the game, the player doesn't want to have to endure any extra frames of animation. It's clear that the designers of such games as Devil May Cry are approaching the game as a work of technology less than as a work of art. The game wants you to play it technically — "stylishly" taking a backseat to "technically" most of the time — and surgically. These demands demand that the character rotate instantly on a pin, snapping to face his next target.
The fact of the matter is that, for the purpose of something like Devil May Cry or Dynasty Warriors, "naturally" just isn't "stylish" enough. That's more or less how it is in real life, as well. This is the kind of world we live in — "natural" isn't "cool". The difficulty settings for Rainbow Six: Vegas were "Normal" and "Realistic", for example. "Reality" is not "Normal".
The solution would be to make turning around stylish. Wait, isn't turning around already stylish? Isn't "how to turn around while walking very quickly" one of the items on the final exam when graduating from runway model academy? Maybe they'd just have to design a game from the ground up to have turning around being this amazing, gorgeous thing that is addictive to behold in itself.
Actually, they already did that. And by "they", I mean Hideki Kamiya, the creator of Devil May Cry. The game is Bayonetta. Try twirling the left analog stick around in Bayonetta. Your player character just swirls around on one heel, like she's ice-skating. It looks fantastic, and it's functional.
I like to say that many games will never be art because any jerk can just pick up the controller and swirl and analog stick around while making NASCAR-fan noises, making the main character look like a complete jerk-off. You only need to let someone play John Woo's Stranglehold for two seconds before they discover how hilarious it looks to make the guy slide violently back and forth across a counter top. Then there are those games where you can just jag the analog stick quickly upward, then release, letting it pop back to center, to generate the effect of the player character moving forward without his feet having actually moved. The way that works is, you trigger the part of the "player movement" animation that includes the actual movement, and cut it off before the part that plays the more complex part of the animation. You can do that in Final Fantasy XII. It really makes that game look retarded. I used to be great at finding the dumbest things you could do in any given game. Trust me on this. I'm a regular expert. I used to complain about these things, and how the games should know better than to let me do them so easily. I used to be like, "If they'd hire me, I could tell them about all this dumb stuff you can make the guy do in the game, and they could fix it all". I never really believed that anyone would hire me: I'm sure that if they didn't already know how dumb that shit was, they'd see that shit and be like, "well, none of this will show up in screenshots", or "well, duh — we're not going to play like this when we make a trailer". You've got to really wonder, though. I mean, I wonder, myself, all the time.
Hi, Stephen Totilo! I told you I would have you this column today, though at the time of this writing I have about six billion questions — that's one from every person on earth! — and I am pondering replies that would allow me to write something more interesting than the column I was going to give you. So I'm going to turn this in to you tomorrow, instead. Is that okay? [Note from Tim's editor: What Tim wanted, Tim got.]
Games like Dragon Quest and Mother don't use any particularly revolutionary type of friction. It's the same sticky, crunchy variety found in the majority of popular and successful action games, only it's presented in a more cool and calculating manner. Usually, this is in the battle systems.
When you attack an enemy in one of the first-person, pre-"VIII" Dragon Quest games, you don't see the weapon — you only see the swish of it moving through the air in front of the enemy. Then comes a beautiful little ear-popcorn of an impact sound effect. The impact sound effects are so pristinely designed that they turned many young children (like myself) into the zygotes of fully-grown noise-rock connoisseurs.
The enemy flashes as the impact sound effect crunches head-first into your eardrums. The text-window ticker at the bottom of the screen outputs the damage total.
Before the attack, the text window at the bottom of the screen tells us, in plain words: "Billy attacks the Slime". We hear a little happy bleep sound effect signalling that a player action is about to happen.
It's telling us who's attacking, because, in Dragon Quest, you put in your battle commands before the "action phase" of the battle plays out. If we have a full party of four members, it's been maybe thirty seconds since we tasked Billy with attacking the Slime.
"Billy attacks the Slime", it says, and then — this is most crucial — a brief silence transpires. This lasts just a fraction of a second. Then, bam, there's the impact sound effect, then the damage total.
This is a "swishy" friction — like in Space Invaders, where you send your bullet into the air with your mind's hands clasped in prayer, hoping for a hit, anticipating the enemy's movement pattern. In Dragon Quest, you might be hoping that the player character — whose HP are low — isn't dead by the time his attack turn comes up, because his hit or presence could make, break, win, or lose the battle.
The hit itself becomes a legitimate game-friction once the player experiences a missed attack. A missed attack progresses much like a successful hit. That is to say, the text window at the bottom tells us who is attacking whom. Then, the micro-silence transpires. Then, we hear the dreaded "missed" sound effect. Experiencing just one missed attack — a seemingly random, senseless, sad, cruel moment — is enough to turn the space between every "Billy attacks the Slime" text window and impact sound effect into a hopeful, god (or machine)-fearing hot pocket of catharsis.
What you do, then, as a game designer, is you spam this friction over and over again, until toasty.
Mother games' battle systems operate with the same principle of brief delays ("stickies") between narration menu and attack impact. Like in Dragon Quest, stronger weapons, which are more prone to miss, have longer delays between narration and impact. Critical hits are preceded by mega-long delays which also, sometimes, preface misses.
What you're doing is turning each input action into a slot machine of the brain. When you put a nickel into a real-life slot machine, you have this little hope in your brain that three seconds later you're going to be up to your ankles in nickels. You watch the wheels spin, you hear them click to a stop, you develop a little plastic fetish, a little crush on glass and neon, and then you win — or, more likely, you lose. Dragon Quest, being not in the business of dispensing nickels, feels pretty alright about letting you win most of the time.
Mother apes slot machines even more closely, in that your hit point totals actually roll down, like a slot machine, when you're hit. This makes you press buttons feverishly: maybe you've been hit for more damage than you can have hit points. This doesn't kill you outright — the hit points roll down slowly. You speed through the next round of menus, selecting a potion to rescue your dude from the brink: heal spells and the like cause your hit points to count up from the precise position they were rolled down to at the moment of the healing taking effect. The tiny pause and flash of the screen as the rolling-down of hit points turns around into a rolling-up is an essential friction to the Mother series, and one not imitated in other games.
The reason is that Mother, amazing as its stories may be, only "uses" Dragon Quest as a template. Hit points rolling down or up was an essential innovation: they were making numbers fun, at a time when other games were trying to make things not need numbers.
At the end of the day, the important thing to note is the impact sound effect, and the pause before its sounding. Other RPGs never got this right. Series came and went, assuming that all they had to do was cover the fundamentals of Dragon Quest. They were, however, just about always missing the true meaning of the friction.
Remember how, in the original Final Fantasy, you can see your characters on the right side of the screen, though they're conspicuously sequestered inside a rectangular box? The enemies, meanwhile, are inside a square box just to the left. Why are the enemies and heroes in separate boxes? The answer is that it spurs your imagination. It also, somehow, makes it less weird that the heroes step forward, swing their weapons, and then step backward a full two seconds before the impact graphics and sound pop over the enemy sprite. Why do they do that? Of course, the players and the enemies are so far apart because graphics weren't sophisticated enough for the heroes and enemies to mingle swashbucklingly on the screen. The biggest question, however, is why does the original Final Fantasy say the name of the attacking character and his method of attack even though it's clear, at the top of the screen, that the heroes are attacking, and it's clear which enemy is being attacked because of the impact sprite? The answer is a misty phantom, speaking to a handful of intrepid game designers' lack of an inherent, perfect understanding of friction.
If you ask me how Final Fantasy got by long enough on its two half-decent sequels before releasing its first amazing game (IV), I'd say it's because the menu cursor movement and selection sound effects are perfect.
Also, since you asked so politely, I will tell you that Level-5's Inazuma Eleven is home of the absolute best menu sound effects of all-time. When I told (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross composer) Yasunori Mitsuda that the menu sounds in Inazuma Eleven were something I would gladly listen to in the dark through jazz-worthy headphones, he blushed, and indicated that he'd spent "a maybe-embarrassing amount of time" perfecting them.
Pac-Man CE is one of the best games of all-time (as I've said in my review on Action Button Dot Net), maybe because it represents the creator of a bona-fide cultural icon (Pac-Man) looking at his creation and realizing that, even then, it wasn't perfect. Pac-Man CE elevates Pac-Man into a whole new experience simply by perfecting the original experience.
Pac-Man CE DX, however, elevates Pac-Man CE into a whole new experience by applying imagination on top of perfection.
Most importantly, it does this by pushing Pac-Man beyond "Pac-Man".
Pac-Man is a game about the hunted, suddenly empowered (by nature, god, technology, whatever), becoming the hunter. Ghosts (of the past?) chase Pac-Man around a maze. He eats a pill and becomes a superman. Now those hunting him flee in terror. You can decide for yourself whether or not this is abstract art. I will decide for you that it is a fantastic idea for a video game.
The idea of Pac-Man CE DX is that it takes a risk, namely by imagining a new pseudo-rule-set on top of the existing rules. The longer Pac-Man runs and survives, the more enemies he attracts. Ghosts sleep throughout the maze, representing points which cannot be passed. Travel near a ghost and he awakens, his first thought being to chase you. Now you have to run away from him. The more fruit Pac-Man eats, the more sleeping ghosts materialize in the maze. If you eat fruit on one side of the maze before awakening and enraging the ghosts on the other side of the maze, the sleeping ghosts will disappear. This is good, because it makes traveling easier, and bad, because it lowers the maximum number of ghosts you can possibly eat the next time you find a power pill. (The more plainly I talk about this, the less I would want my grandmother to read this. (She's been dead for fifteen years, so maybe it's okay.))
Ghosts snake behind Pac-Man in a single-file train of death, echoing his every turn. The longer you make the chain, the more amazing the thrill will be when you pop a power pill and start eating ghosts. However, you're also generating a risk unique to Pac-Man games: you might attract so many ghosts that the train grows too long for you to escape using the same turning tactics you'd used just two minutes earlier.
You can experience this best in the "Ghost Combo" mode, where the game affords you sleeping ghosts in monstrous numbers. With relative ease, you can attract a ghost-train long enough to fill the entire maze, necessitating perfect knowledge of its every turn. A maze literally packed to bursting with ghosts is only possible in Pac-Man CE DX, and realizing this possibility is an experience so rewarding you won't understand the appeal of the original Pac-Man anymore.
It's like a magic trick: all at once, you understand that Pac-Man has always been a puzzle game, and that, until CE DX, it just hasn't been a very good one.
Also, it's loaded with friction. The friction of grinding around corners and the friction of controller thumps and screen quivers when eating ghosts or power pills in Pac-Man CE was fantastic. To this, CE DX adds the friction of the slow-motion zoom-in during close calls.
I can't emphasize this enough: the slow-motion close-call zoom-in, while grinding back and forth in a rundown between the front and back of a universe-chokingly long ghost-chain is one of the greater thrills born in this year in games. It puts many modern game design trends into perspective — especially quick-time events and "bullet time". Making the player press a button to activate "bullet time" slow-motion, and giving him only limited use of that technique, is, quite frankly, silly compared to how Pac-Man CE DX (and other games, like the Xbox Live Indie Game Weapon of Choice) handles it: as you near death, the game slows down.
Pac-Man "purists" might argue that this "breaks" the game. Well, they can go to hell. Living or dying isn't such a big deal in Pac-Man CE DX: this is a game where the bigger "Oh Shit" moments come when you've screwed yourself. Slow-motion lets you realize the gravity of your own self-screwing, and maybe change a thing or two. Usually, you can change one thing, though not the other, and the other is, three times out of five, the one that keeps you alive.
Pac-Man CE DX: fantastic game. Game of the year, probably. (Maybe tied with Super Meat Boy.)
Vanquish is "sort of" the successor God Hand, in the same way that it's "sort of" the successor to PN03, in the same way that Platinum games is "probably" the successor to Clover Studio.
Vanquish has some problems — boring bosses, boring vehicle segments, boring plot, boring characters. Its good parts, however, are interesting enough to elevate the game from "boring" to "pretty much not irrelevant".
The best part of Vanquish is that it's the first "Japanese" Third Person Shooter. Rather than be like Bullet Witch (which is fantastic, by the way) and Quantum Theory (which is awful (and fantastic)) and just be a straight-ahead shooting game that cosmetically attempts to look exactly like something American, Vanquish sees fit to actually do something sort of new with the formula of a game where you watch a guy from over his shoulder as he shoots hundreds of other guys.
Quantum Theory, for example, is trying to be Gears of War with more vintage-Japanese-animation-inspired character designs (and also terrible everything else). However, it doesn't dare to look at the deepest, most subliminal inspirations of Gears of War.
I'm talking about American football. Nearly no one outside of America knows what American football is, or, at least, they don't know enough about it to be able to spot its nuances in other works of media.
Gears of War is simultaneously a game of inches and a game about linebacker-sized dudes Going For It on fourth and sixty-five. The "stop and pop" cover-based game mechanic stresses defense over offense. The medium-term goal of Gears of War is to clear every enemy in the area. The short-term goal is usually to clear every enemy you can clear from your current position. Your current position is either the only place you can be without dying at this very moment or a place you've already been. Gears of War is about "painting" the battlefield with safety. You stop, you pop, you earn a better grasp on more strategic position, you move forward.
Vanquish, on the other hand, is more soccer than football. It's almost as though the game designers understood how integral football was to Gears of War, and decided that, in order to make a "Japanese" — or, well, "Not Completely American" — third person shooter, they could possibly start with soccer.
Soccer, like wearing skinny jeans, is a sport that is more or less about ball placement. A skilled player can put the ball anywhere on the field, from any time, from any position.
Well, the one place a typical player can't put the ball simply through a little application of will is, of course, the inside of the goal. That's the tricky part. Scoring a goal in soccer is a momentous occasion. In American football, you can score a goal by soldiering forward and not messing up. In soccer, you're going to end up face-to-face with a goalkeeper — essentially, a rival with a terrain advantage. You couldn't make it harder to score a goal in soccer if you put the goal on top of a hill.
So, ball placement: soccer is about choosing where to put the ball at any given moment. When choosing where to put the ball, the player has to consider the position of his other teammates and their formation, and his rivals and their position. Soccer is about positioning the ball with a little preemptive thought about the path each play will take. As your rivals out-think and out-maneuver you, play after play and plan after plan fall abandoned by the wayside, scrapped in favor of new tactics.
Vanquish is like soccer in that the player controls both the athlete and the ball. At any time during any given firefight, the player can use a dash ability to sprint, near-invincible, to and from any position on the battlefield from or to any other position.
In short, from anywhere on the battlefield, you can put the hero anywhere.
How do you craft a challenging gun-battle in a modern shooting game if the position of the player character is always only temporary, where the player can zip to any position he desires? This is the tricky part. One important point is that the player has a wider selection of close-range attacks than the usual modern shooter's "hit a guy with your gun" animation. Enemies have a wide variety of melee attacks as well, turning close-range battles into a more interesting risk-reward gamble than even something like Gears of War's chainsaw battles.
The trickier way to make interesting gun battles in a game where the player can put his character anywhere he wants at pretty much the touch of a button is to design amazingly interesting levels, and to place enemies in interesting places. This forces the player to think about more than "how do I kill all of these enemies?" Now the player is wondering: "Which enemies do I kill first, and from where?" Defeating enemies in different locations from different locations results in freeing up and making safe different parts of battlefields — both high grounds and the areas most easily accessible to gun-bullets fired from those high grounds — as well as opening up different possibilities for clearing up the rest of the battlefield.
Where the most banal battles in a game like Gears of War or Call of Duty might be about as challenging and exciting as forcing a draw in Tic-Tac-Toe, interesting battles in Vanquish can be as complex as solving a Rubik's Cube (or at least spinning one around until you've got a couple matching colors on each side).
The sad part about Vanquish is that the level design is often not exciting. The game ends up not being a massive event, and is instead a little, nifty distraction.
Meanwhile, God Hand is less like any other videogame and more like . . . immediately inheriting the ability to play any guitar scale in any key from any position on the neck and being asked — maybe at knife-point — to play a bitching solo that entertains yourself more than anything ever has before.
In God Hand, the level design doesn't matter. In Vanquish, it does.
In short, they're only kind of the same thing. The only way to make Vanquish a spiritual successor to God Hand is to craft a single stage about as exciting or iconic as the maze in Pac-Man, and then fill it, slowly, with a parade of increasingly more difficult — or, at least, bigger or more plentiful — enemies. This would continue until the main character was dead, or until the stage was so full of enemies that neither the PlayStation 3 nor Xbox 360 would be powerful enough to process all of the blazing-hot graphics popcorning around inside the TV screen, turning your console into either a Red Ring Of Death or a pipe-bomb, whichever came first.
Man, that game would be sweet. I would play that game all night (and then probably sleep all day).
As-is, I would say that Vanquish is possibly more of the successor to Megaman X.
As for your question on whether or not Super Meat Boy is the Super Mario Bros. of this generation — it's not. It might, however, be the Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels of this generation. Or maybe it's the Ghouls ‘n' Ghosts of this generation — or at least the Super Turrican 2 of this generation. (Hint: I really like all of those games.)
Did you tweet at me from an iPhone? Did it auto-fill "continue" as "continental"? Your iPhone has been poorly trained.
We keep playing Tetris because Tetris lasts forever and it is impossible to "win", and we humans, even the pessimistic ones, can't let go of the idea that we can always get "better" at trying something that's impossible.
We continue to play Team Fortress 2 because it's a great game with simple, airtight mechanics. Also, our friends play it. Also, we can make new friends while playing it. New friends might play in ways we haven't precisely seen before. It's immensely satisfying to see something different in something we thought we knew perfectly. Moments like that make it worth following something closely for years.
We keep playing Dragon Quest IX because the game changes and grows, and we can play while bonding with our friends and talking about other things.
We replay old games the way people cheer when a band covers a song they know, the way people in a club get up and dance when a DJ puts on a song they've heard before, even if the DJ was playing a song they'd probably like just five minutes earlier.
I have a few friends who ask for no guacamole at a Mexican restaurant, who say, when I encourage them to try the guacamole because it's fantastic at this particular restaurant, "I don't like guacamole". A little questioning reveals that they haven't liked guacamole for their entire lives, because they tried it at Taco Bell once, years ago, and it made them sick.
Guacamole at Taco Bell is not guacamole. It's tenuously avocado-flavored sauce. Avocados are finicky vegetables. They rot quickly. Guacamole has to be made from fresh avocados, and it won't keep more than a couple of hours. Any guacamole meant to be shot out of an aluminum gun is not made from fresh avocados, and no doubt contains so many additives and preservatives that the presence of avocado is irrelevant.
In other words, people get attached to both positive or negative opinions following a single good or bad experience. I hear and see people arguing all the time about whether such-and-such was "actually great" or if it's "just nostalgia". I argue that it's always a little bit of both.
It most certainly could be. In fact, the creator has even called it that in so many words.
When I talked to Gran Turismo director Kazunori Yamauchi in 2009, he said that the game is, in fact, a role-playing game. The player obtains licenses, earning access to new circuits and cars. He earns money by winning races. He spends money to purchase cars.
Cars are like weapons — they can only accentuate the player's innate abilities. Unlike in a standard role-playing game, where the character gains power and ability by simply playing ceaselessly and persistently, in Gran Turismo the up-leveling happens inside the player's brain as he unlocks new brain-places and connects gaps between previously existing patches of wisdom.
Surmounting a challenge in Gran Turismo requires knowledge of yourself, the challenge, and the tool — the car — you use. You have to learn each car's personality in about as much detail as you get familiar with the life and back-story of a character in an RPG.
In 2004, Yamauchi told me that, during his years as a young gamer, he much preferred Choplifter to Super Mario Bros., because he could imagine it was him inside that helicopter.
Maybe Choplifter is a role-playing game, too.
"Role-playing game" is a loose term. It doesn't just mean dungeons, dragons, menus, and monsters. It can mean a game where you have to invest a little bit of your own brain in the name of pretending what's happening in the world of the game is "real" or "important".
Sports games and role-playing games have more in common than you might ever think at first. Shingo "Sea Bass" Takatsuka, director of the Winning Eleven soccer series, told me that he considers the Winning Eleven series "role-playing games". He says that, outside basic knowledge of game controls, attack plans, and the basic rules of soccer, the key to playing the game well is understanding the personalities and playing styles of individual players. Players' abilities are represented by a few convenient integers, though outside of that, players with similar ability ratings might be capable of doing completely different things. Mastering the game requires understanding who can do what, and how.
Full disclosure: Hey guys, I know this guy. This guy is my bro. He's cool.
Kyle, were you and I talking about my idea for a suite of sumo games? One would be sumo as a board game — on a go board, each player using only three stones. Another would be sumo as a first-person shooter: your gun fires one type of bullet, and all it does is knock your opponent backward. (Your gun projectiles can also bounce off walls and come back to haunt you. (Player movement speed would have to be a little slower than the speed of bullets. The speed of a player being knocked back by a bullet would have to be faster than the speed a player can move on his own.)
The third would be a minimalist take, with Pong graphics: two paddles start face-to-face inside a square arena, several blocks apart. The player can move his paddle left or right, pressing one of two buttons to fire one of his two projectiles (representing his left and right hands). The projectiles fly forward. If the projectile hits the opponent, the opponent is pushed backward. If a projectile hits the wall behind the opponent, it bounces toward the back side of the opponent. If it hits him then, it pushes him one square forward. If the projectile misses the opponent, it continues toward the player who fired it. Now he has to dodge his own projectile as it comes back. If he dodges it, it will hit the wall behind him. If he lines himself up and takes a hit in the back, it'll move him forward. This is the only way for a player to move forward, regaining ground. If the bullet misses him after its second bounce, it continues toward the opponent again. If it hits, the player is pushed back. If it misses, it touches the back wall and disappears. The player can only have two active projectiles on the board at a time. Projectiles will all be the same color (white, on a black background). A ghosty trail behind the projectile makes it easy to understand which direction the projectile is heading. The key thing to note here is that, outside of the exact instant the projectile is fired, the player can neither tell nor care which projectiles on the field are his: the only important thing is knowing which way the projectiles are moving, and what to do about or with them (try to be hit from behind while avoiding hits from the front). If your paddle moves forward past the center line of the playing field, the opposing player will be pushed backward so as to maintain the minimum distance ("minimum" in so much as if you were too close to the other player, it wouldn't be fun anymore). Any player pushed back to the line behind his back will "fall out" of the ring, losing the match.
I feel like that could be a pretty interesting game! Maybe I'm just a weirdo, though. I guess if it were truly interesting I'd have made it myself, already. Hey, you out there — reader person — if you make this game, send it to me for evaluation / tuning, and then let's sell it. I'll take a medium-sized cut; you can take the rest.
This gives me a similar idea for an FPS based on the rules of the game of Go. That one would be hilarious — the whole of the play experience is in creating barriers or obstacles, attempting to trap the other player in a situation where he can't move. Maybe there could be terrain. Bullets would be person-height orbs that rolled along the ground. Press the right trigger to fire. Hold the trigger down. Use the right analog stick to move the ball. If it collides with the other player's projectile, it might bounce back a little bit, possibly rolling off the playing field. Press the left trigger to stop your projectile anywhere. This game would be downright god damn infuriating to make, balance, and turn into something that is actually fun for anyone who doesn't at least own an MIT sweatshirt.
Uhh. As for your question — I don't know why people don't make sumo games! Probably because sumo is a sport where matches typically last two and a half seconds. The game would have to be more about raising your sumo wrestler, or chilling out (eating, watching TV) with other sumo wrestlers. As with most sports, sumo athletes spend more time training than they ever do competing, though to be certain, the ratio of training time to competition time is exceedingly higher for a sumo than for an athlete in any other sport. These are men who work out for eight hours a day and eat for four hours a day.
In short, the only way to make a sumo game would be to make it a life-sim to rival Harvest Moon, complete with courting your future wife. It would have to be more or less a mini-game collection with a story shell.
If I start thinking about what that game would be like, I start thinking about what any such game based on any sport would be like, and the potentiality of the Awesome Factor is enough to just about make me cry. I don't want to cry, so let's stop talking about that.
Why the hell not? I dare say the world would be a nicer place if people developing videogame went on making the games they'd like to make. Maybe they're not just serving your nostalgia: maybe they're indulging their own. A lot of people making games like games — and most of them used to like games. Maybe if more people stopped to remember the games they used to like, we'll end up with better games all around.
That, and original PlayStation is well on its way to being as cool as the NES. Seriously, have you looked at a screenshot of Crime Crackers lately? That's some dope stuff, right there. I double dog dare people to make more games that look like that.
Megaman Legends, for example, looks modern as hell. They made the PlayStation sing with those graphics. If you were to brush up screenshots of that — eliminating jaggies, et cetera — and show them to someone who'd never heard of the game, they'd swear to god that game was made today.
From another angle, there's the question about whether or not games are "art". Now, thirty years after its release, I'm pretty sure Pac-Man is art, even a work of "modern" art. The less the creator says about a game, the more "art" it becomes. No one was saying anything about PlayStation 1 or Sega Genesis games. They're going to put Jumping Flash, Mega Turrican, and Ranger-X in the Louvre someday, mark my words (please don't mark my words).
I could be a jerk and say that if they had TVs to play videogames on in the 1880s, their culture surely would have been transformed enough by the presence of television to make games into objects that reflect a society nearly unrecognizable from what we think about when we think about the 1880s.
Or I could say there'd be a Call-of-Duty-like game based on War and Peace.
Well, hey, maybe there would be. Why don't we have Call-of-Duty-likes that take place during the Napoleonic Wars? Maybe it would require too much creativity.
I'm pretty sure we'd see a lot of chess games, and a lot of games about Shakespeare and the Bible.
I'm sure George Bernard Shaw would have made Professor Henry Higgins into a Super Mario, as well, instead of writing "Pygmalion".
Square-Enix is a company from whence, let's face it, all of their actual creative talent has fled. When it was announced that a team of unproven newcomers were making Final Fantasy XIII, many critics were disheartened. I, however, quite against my typical instincts, was optimistic. Maybe it's just that I was pessimistic enough about videogames in general to assume that people I didn't know were a thousand times more likely to make something decent than any of the people I did know.
Well, Final Fantasy XIII was the weirdest kind of train-wreck. Now there's this Final Fantasy Versus XIII thing, and god knows what in the hell it's about. They announced it five years ago, and they're just now starting to say that it's maybe, kind of, sort of a sandbox action game. I don't know. I just don't know about the whole thing, or any particular piece of it.
Square-Enix is a weird beast. They said, as Final Fantasy XIII's release loomed nearer, that they had enough unused stages and world-pieces to build a whole other game. I don't know why they actually let the director say something like that in a public capacity. It pointed right at the should-have-been glaringly obvious fact that Final Fantasy XIII was a game made by artists — and I mean artists in the technical sense, not in the romantic one.
Square-Enix seems to make games by throwing art at them. The director of Final Fantasy XIII — who hasn't earned enough of my respect for me to bother typing his name (that's not to say I disrespect him: I'm sure he was under a lot of pressure, et cetera) — confirmed in a postmortem in Game Developer magazine that his game, indeed, was one completely and abjectly without direction until the crucial final moments of its development. This is why characters' dialogue during field segments consists entirely of "Let's go!" and "We have to keep fighting!", not anything remotely related to the flying bioluminescent scorpion exoskeleton ghosts and/or rhino-sized riderless flying motorcycles barrel-rolling inside and outside the psychedelic purple and crimson titanium racetrack we're walking down, which is also suspended in the clouds high above the earth located inside of another earth. When an environmental puzzle pops up in a level, the game trains us to complete it by use of an obtuse, in-your-face text balloon, not by, you know, making the characters talk about it and how to solve it. This is a high sign that the people making the game had no idea what it was about, or at least that the voice script for incidental dialogue was written and recorded with no knowledge of where these voice clips were going to go. Final Fantasy XIII — and anything Square-Enix makes, recently, to be honest — is a collection of proofs of concept that, at some point, someone sighed, threw their hands into the air, and declared that everyone just get on with it and glue them together into a popsicle-stick-Eiffel-Tower of an alleged video-game.
All signs point to Final Fantasy Versus XIII being essentially the same thing, except that it's taken a year longer — at least — to develop, and that it's by the Kingdom Hearts team, so it's likely going to be so bad that to play it will be tantamount to wishing either you were dead or that everyone who knew your name was dead.
Final Fantasy Versus XIII is going to be Kingdom Hearts without Disney, and without any of the Final Fantasy characters non-Disney-fan-people needed to see screenshots of before they decided they were going to pay money for something that had Fucking Mickey Mouse in it.
I'm being mean! Well, I don't care. I don't care what the game looks like or what anyone says about it. It's made by people whose previous games I've despised, and with development techniques I'm stone cold convinced just don't work, so fuck that game in the top of the head with a basketball pump.
I will, of course, as a "fan" of Final Fantasy, play the game, and if it's good, or great, or fantastic, or spectacular, I will not hesitate to say so.
(Do you see what I'm doing, here? I'm being pessimistic. The pessimism helps me to appreciate the game more, if it's any good at all.)
I think this is because games like Team Fortress 2 are home to exacting high-level play. Players work hard to get good — and then better — at playing an FPS. They don't want newcomers to just walk in and score a "free" killing shot. And they don't want to get anything for free themselves, either, because they know their abilities and they know their limitations. They worked hard to get as good as they are. It's an image thing, either way.
What happens is, with something like a hardcore FPS, you get so good at it that you want to feel like everything that happens in the realm of that game is either completely under your control or at least completely under the control of all of the people in that game and shaping it.
I'm no hardcore FPS player, though I'd still say that it's infuriating to lose a race in Mario Kart because some jackoff in eighth place got a blue shell and shot it while the person in second place was just recovering from falling off the track, meaning that while the blue shell hit me, the person behind me was exempt, and able to cruise just past me as I recovered. That's some evil shit, right there! The guy in last place is in last place for a reason, man: because he sucks. I'm not going to say anything about "fair" or "not fair", though how sick is it that the guy in last place is given a little toy that really does no more than irritate all of the other racers? What are we teaching the children?
In an RPG, the world itself is a character. We expect it to have a temper, an attitude, and a playfulness. Diablo, with its infrequent unique item drops and sometimes savagely overpowering enemies, walks the fine line between playing a videogame and having a riveting chat conversation with an artificial intelligence who claims its finger is hovering an inch above pressing a button that can destroy the universe.
I feel like I've hinted at this in a previous column: I want to make a game that makes someone feel the way they feel when they look at their chat client's buddy list and see a little pencil icon by your name. They sit there, wondering what you're about to say. And then, maybe, you never say anything. Maybe you went to bed after typing a letter — maybe "a", maybe "k" — into a chat message and then not pressing enter. That's cooler than "poking" someone on Facebook.
I talk all the time about someone making a sandbox RPG that's basically Grand Theft Auto IV, except a romantic comedy instead of an action movie. I'd say that, in order to make a game like that work, you'd have to at least supply some kind of brisk action bits, so why not get that across by shoehorning in some casual-game-like mini-games, somewhere? Maybe your main character works in a flower shop. Harvest Moon has always done this rather nicely.
I keep coming back to Harvest Moon in my thoughts today. Maybe that means something.
Also, you all should listen to this question-asker's band, Laserbeat.
Hey! That's a two-tweet question! You're cheating. I'll answer it, anyway.
I would say that the celebrity-game-developers thing is a little bit of both of those things you say, and also something else. Sid Meier, Hideo Kojima, and Tim Schafer all make good games, and they all also make games with a bunch of flaws in them. Even Fumito Ueda makes flawed games — hell, his games are downright boring 99% of the time. They're often about as riveting as clipping your toenails while trying not to slip down the side of a chair shaped like a pyramid. No offense to Mr. Ueda, however, because in addition to being boring in tactile ways his games are also brilliant.
Ueda is actually the perfect example of why I think we need more superstar celebrity game developers: being a name is only one part of "having a distinctive style". The other part includes actually having a distinctive style. Kojima has a distinctive style — however, he only seems to be capable of expressing that style in the form of Metal Gear Solid games.
Kojima said once, in an interview, that he feels like animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, always coming back "out of retirement" to make one last masterpiece. (Okay, he didn't actually use the word "masterpiece".) The thing is, Hayao Miyazaki's "one last" score isn't always the same god damn thing involving the same god damn characters. It's something new, more or less. As Alfred Hitchcock — and someone else — once said, all an artist ever does it tell the same story again and again, perfecting it. Hitchcock was a man of allegedly no emotion or social skills, so all of his stories were about death. Hayao Miyazaki is a conservative communist who cares about the environment, so his films reflect that; like Hitchcock, he's courteous enough to keep changing the characters and the scenery. Kojima doesn't do that.
It's a real shame, because Kojima has a bigger name than most other developers. I'm pretty sure that Zone of the Enders, in 2001, was the first Japanese action game on a home console to ever carry the director's name on the front of the package in its American release: "A Hideo Kojima Game". Many years after that, Kojima started Kojima Productions, an imprint of Konami that puts his name right there, front and center.
You'd figure that, with this degree of notoriety and name recognition, he'd be able to make games that aren't always about the same damn thing. Well, he doesn't.
Games seem to be made — and packaged — by people who assume that gamers are nostalgia-loving twits who don't like trying new things, much less learning to read new words. Numerals are things gamers have seen before, and they can more or less make out words like "Call of Duty" by shape alone. What I mean is, game publishers seem to assume that players aren't very smart, and like playing games that they've mostly played before, maybe with a little bit more lag in the multiplayer.
What I'd love is to see a wide variety of games coming from a single marquee creator. And I'd like to see games try to put more words on the cover, sometimes, maybe to say God Hand is "from the creator of Resident Evil". Then Kojima could make something else, and they could just put the words "From Hideo Kojima, the creator of Metal Gear Solid" . This way, it could sell a couple more copies than it would have otherwise (or if it had just been another Metal Gear Solid game).
Meanwhile, Fumito Ueda makes his games very different in structure and mechanics, while similar in feel. Then Tim Schafer makes whatever the hell he wants to make, and has the balls to back anything up, whenever. So, good on those dudes.
I reckon you can learn anything about anything from anything, so long as that last "anything" is made with a careful enough attention to detail.
As for whether or not games can teach us anything meaningful about sexuality — if you play one of those Japanese sex-simulating graphic adventures with an open mind and not (just) an open fly, and if you're also a psychopath, you might learn how to not completely turn off girls long enough for them to lock you in their bedrooms with them and swallow the key. Like, bring them flowers instead of choosing the "I hate you and I wish you were dead" dialogue choice.
As for sex and sexuality, I'd say games are, already, at the very least, a springboard into any kind of casual conversation that could eventually lead to an Adult Relationship.
Also, if you're already in an Adult Relationship, here's some advice: next time you're having sex, try playing this music on a loop in the background:
If either you or your partner can keep up with the tempo of that popping bass line, neither of you will ever be dissatisfied with the other. Next thing you know, your kids will have moved out and you'll be causing car accidents together in the Goodwill Store parking lot.
That's not a question! If you were to phrase it as a question, it would be "Why is Super Meat Boy GOTY?" I am wary of answering "Why" questions.
I'll be brief, and I'll try not to also be snippy: Super Meat Boy is a game that controls exactly the way everyone involved in making it wanted it to control. It's the simplest, stupidest kind of platform game, and it's perfect. It's the Super Mario Sunshine "special" stages, in 2D, and long enough to feel like it'll never end, ever.
It's an original 2D platformer with controls that are not exactly like Super Mario Bros. 3, and it feels a hell of a lot better than Little Big Planet.
Its friction is enormous.
If I saw a panhandler sitting on the sidewalk and holding a sign that said "Missing both legs, will work for food — and by the way, I hate Super Meat Boy", I would literally run up and kick over his change cup.
I've only ever written about games as a hobby, and it's something I do while playing games, most of the time (I keep a document open and just type and type in it while I play). I can't imagine that developing games full-time will make me any more busy than I have been for the past few years (trust me, you don't even want to know what I've been doing). If anything, I'll be playing games more often — for "research" — which means more note-taking, which could mean more writing.
What I'd really like to do — rather than write about games, or even make them — is to host a TV show. Like "Top Gear", except about games instead of cars, and with me instead of Jeremy Clarkson. I'd be negative and snippy about everything, and also have celebrity guests. People would probably hate it (and me), and it would be awesome.
Popcap is a name I hear a lot. They did Peggle, right? I played that for maybe a half an hour earlier this year. I guess I can understand the appeal, though if you ask me, if could be a lot stickier.
Someone else asked about Vanquish, and I already typed too many words about it, so here is something I didn't write in that reply: I like how the character is obviously inspired by (ancient Japanese dystopian science-fiction animation hero) Casshern.
You mean like the way Final Fantasy XII apparently feels like an MMO, only offline?
MMOs present giant, sprawling worlds with a sense of urgency, gravity, and weight in the mere act of traveling from point A to point B. I think that's cool. It makes even offline RPGs feel more "epic".
All the rest of the stuff — people using words like "aggro" and "tank" and "mobs" when they could (probably) be just speaking in more natural sentences with a few more words in them — can go straight to hell and beg the devil for a glass of ice water for eternity, for all I care.
Ziggurat is an action shooting game with what I think is a novel idea grafted right onto it. It has a science-fiction theme and an open-ended plot that leaves enormous room for interpretation — and infinite prequel possibilities. In fact, one could say that Ziggurat is the "final boss" of a much longer game, clipped out and placed in your lap without any context.
The gun the player uses in Ziggurat will exhibit hopefully-picture-perfect executions of frictions sticky, crunchy, swishy, and electric — with every press of the button.
I don't want to talk in any more detail about it until I have something to show you all. I hope that'll be by GDC 2011. It's turning out well.
I'm the game designer, level designer, and director. Bob is just some chump who looks at the code. The guy doing the most of the programming is someone that my friend Brandon Sheffield, editor-in-chief of Game Developer Magazine, has told me to never link on Kotaku. He told me this after I linked him to the guy's personal website. "Don't ever link this guy's website in one of your articles on Kotaku, because someone will offer him a six-figure job."
Well, I'm a chance-taking man. If you love something, let it go: here's
Sonic so was good, dude. Did you ever play Sonic the Hedgehog or Sonic the Hedgehog 2? Those games were the bomb — and The Bomb 2. To be certain, no videofriction in existence is as irritating as the lingering pseudo-tactile memory of Sonic the Hedgehog creeping slowly up a hill, accelerating from a stopped position. However, the frictions that do work are magical.
Sonic and Sonic 2 had remarkable level design. Sonic 2 is an example of a game with everything gone right. It's just big enough, it has a just-realized-enough world and characters, its art design is a Felix the Cat (and other classic cartoons, you know, the ones where the flowers dance)-inspired sci-fi pop-art masterwork, its level designs are inventive enough without stepping into ridiculous territory, and its music contains brain-imploding levels of awesome.
Its music, by the way, is by Masato Nakamura, bassist and principal songwriter of Japanese pop band Dreams Come True.
Seriously, if you can get enough of this, you are not trying hard enough.
I could write on and on about Sonic — and maybe I will, soon — and I warn you: I am an unapologetic Sonic fan. However, I'm also an unapologetic Sonic fan who is not going to lie to you: you know all those people who say Sonic CD is some work of pop art? I'm not one of those. I will be the first die-hard classic Sonic fan to step forward and say Sonic CD sucks. Its music, graphics, and character designs are endlessly fascinating, though the experience of playing the game, of plunging your arms elbow-deep in its labyrinth of cold, gelatinous idiosyncrasies, is about as much fun as having someone put a gun to your head and tell you they're going to pull the trigger if you don't sneeze within the next six hours. It's like, sure, that sneeze is probably going to happen. You could put the gun away. And there's also that thing about how, while playing Sonic CD, you're never sure if you're doing it right, or if a "right" even exists, and when you do know for sure you're doing it "right", you're not really sure how we got from wherever we were to "doing it right".
Also, you know those people who say Sonic 3 and Knuckles is "the best game in the series"? Don't listen to those people. Sonic 3 and Knuckles isn't the best game in the series so much as the one with the most stuff in it. We mustn't confuse "having a lot of stuff in it" with "greatness". Less is more, sometimes, and sometimes more is more; more often than not, however, more is more, and more is great, and a little bit less than too much is fantastic. Sonic 2 is a game with more than enough and less than too much. If you haven't played it, track down a Sega Genesis and a copy of the cartridge. Don't go for any of that modern, emulated, remade bullshit. Sega must give employees bonuses for porting Sonic 2 from one console to another in less than an hour.
Everything after Sonic Adventure is, yes, objectively bullshit, and Sonic 3 isn't very good (too ugly, too weird), though Sonic and Knuckles is a fascinating romp, so try that.
The capital glory of Sonic (and Sonic 2, and Sonic and Knuckles) is that you can play like a chump and still have fun; then you can see someone who is fantastic at the game play a round and you will freak out to realize the game can be played this well. When you watch someone play Sonic and Knuckles truly well, it has an effect like the first mate telling the captain to turn the cruise ship around 180 degrees, then they sail for thirty seconds and lo! An island full of bikini models. The captain scratches his head: "Why didn't we see that on the way here?"
That's one of those legitimately-good-enough ideas that I can't help believing someone is developing something like that on the 3DS right now.
To quote Mister Horse on "Ren and Stimpy", "No sir, I don't like it".
I tried that Dance Central game at Fry's a couple weeks ago. It really wasn't my thing. I don't really feel like I'm doing anything in that particular game. I'm sure the developers realized that people wouldn't feel like they were doing much of anything, so they made it so you can't actually lose. It's a demanding, difficult game, even for a person with a flawless natural sense of rhythm and scorching-hot dance moves, like myself.
I'm sure someone could develop fun games for the Kinect. It just doesn't look like anyone was able to do that before they actually launched the thing.
The most popular games these days are about guys shooting guys. Guys who shoot guys tend to shoot guys with guns. Guns are things you hold in your hands. So if you want to make a game about guys shooting guys, and you want to use the Kinect to control it, you're going to have to relieve the player of the satisfaction of having something in his hands while he pretends to shoot people. You know, controllers' shoulder buttons morphed into triggers for a reason. Someone out there is Doing It Wrong.
I like the PlayStation Move. I like the Wii Motion Plus. So far, my potential for liking the Kinect is a ghost — a ghost I can only see when I look in the mirror to adjust my hairstyle or bow tie, a ghost that disappears when I turn around to face it. Maybe, someday, I'll be walking down the street, maybe whistling a merry tune, and I'll have a eureka moment in which I suddenly want to make a game for the thing. I'll tell you what, though: that day was definitely not today, or yesterday, or the day before yesterday.
Off the top of my head, I'd say Toshihiro Nagoshi. He's got his "Gandhi" — Super Monkey Ball, in which he appeals to the masses by creating something pure, optimistic, and hopeful — he's got his "Sexy Beast" — the Yakuza games, in which this previously-believed-gentle soul unleashes a fury of dark anger and violence — and he's even got his "Bloodrayne" — F-Zero GX, a frivolous, airy, fluffy work based on an existing videogame franchise that took itself way too seriously. Only F-Zero GX is a fantastic game, though maybe under the influence of enough alcohol "Bloodrayne" could also be a fantastic film.
Now, if you were asking me which videogame developer Ben Kingsley would play if they made a film about that game developer, I'd say Peter Molyneux.
Maybe a better question would be "Who's the Peter Molyneux of film actors?"
Or "Who's the David Mamet of game designers?"
I personally would love to become the Woody Allen of game designers. Though I would settle for the Larry David of game designers. For now, I probably need to work on being the me of game designers.
Purple! Particularly in the rich hue of subtly reddened indigo favored by the Egyptian queens and, for many years, the Caesars.
To best experience this color in videogames, please stare at the hero's clothing on the box art for Dragon Quest V.
Also, play Dragon Quest V. It's the best game ever made which stars a hero dressed in purple.
The attract mode for Earthbound / Mother 2 is my personal ideal. It shows scenery that sets the mood for the game. However, it also offers you music that doesn't occur elsewhere in the game. It's a celebration of the game's content, which also hints at something outside the game (the music).
Wild Arms had a fantastic attract mode, too — and I'm not talking about the (also excellent) animated intro with that amazing theme music. I'm talking about the part that comes after the title screen. It's a story scene that has seemingly no connection to anything that happens in the game. You might even finish the game later, and still have no idea what that scene means.
To talk more about RPGs, I'd say that any Dragon Quest has a fantastic attract mode, with rolling fantasy scenery displayed under that rousing theme music. It's simple and effective.
I'd love to see games get more creative with attract modes. I'd love to see an attract mode for a game like God Hand, in which we see the player enter the first stage and promptly uppercut the first opponent into the air. Then time stops, and reverses, and we see the guy get uppercutted again. Then he just keeps uppercutting over and over again, in fast-motion and slow-motion, all sped up and slowed down and weirded out as the music screams and warps and all that.
Discomfort can be cool, though I don't think Manhunt does it right. Manhunt is too schlocky and over the top. Also, it's not fun. In order for discomfort to work, the player has to feel uncomfortable about having so much fun, the way, say, "Pulp Fiction" makes you feel bad about laughing when a guy dies. With Manhunt, it's like, "Press this button right now to put a plastic bag over a guy's head, then keep pressing the button to keep the plastic bag over his head until he dies". They've got to punch that up a bit. You need to make me want to do it, and keep doing, before you can work on making me feel bad about wanting to do it. Right?
As for crying: I personally wouldn't want people crying while playing a game I made, unless it was at the very end. First of all, the first half of the compound word "videogames" is "video", meaning something that we see and/or look at. If you're crying, your eyes are all teary, and your vision is pretty badly impaired. How can you continue to play with impaired vision? Maybe you'll die repeatedly at the part that makes you cry real tears of real emotion, and then you'll have to keep playing it until you are desensitized to its terrific sadness. By that point, you'll be conditioned to think the game's sad part ain't no big thing, and then you'll be like, "Well, whatever".
As for making someone cry at the very end of the game — I guess that's your own business. In a film, crying at the end is a way to get the person to walk out of the movie telling people it moved them. However, movies are much less often — than videogames — things that people fail to finish. If someone gets to the end of a videogame, that means they obviously liked it a whole bunch. You probably don't need to make them cry to make them endorse your game on their Twitter account. Plus, we're talking about dudes, most of the time, here. They're not going to say "Buy this game — I cried at the end". They're going to say, "Buy this game — you fuckin' shoot like eight million fuckin' dudes in it." I suppose the secret is to find a game that makes you shoot eight million fuckin' dudes and then cry about how awesome it is to shoot eight million fuckin' dudes.
Or just make people not cry at all. Life is sad enough, sometimes. Most of the situations in which a human is going to end up crying are things that can't be avoided either way. If someday I get married and my wife dies of cancer at an old age, I'm probably going to cry; do I need entertainment preparing me for that by allowing me to vicariously experience a fictional person's sadness? If anything, experiencing spousal death via Hollywood entertainment would further remove my eventual sadness from genuine human nature, because maybe I'd think, "Oh, this is like that movie, lol". One of the most romantic days of my life, I was (much, much younger, and) kissing a girl I'd known for many years, for the first time: at one point, she laughed and said, "Oh man, that's just like that episode of ‘Friends', where Rachel laughs while kissing Ross," and I was like, "Oh." That felt really weird. I'm trolling the question, at this point, and I'm being trite, so I'll stop.
I would put God Hand on there. I would tell every student to beat it during the first week. I would make them all turn in their memory cards or save files at the beginning of the second Monday's lecture. I'd take them home and make sure everyone had cleared the game. I'd give extra credit to students who had the "Shacho Punch" in their repertoire. Any students failing to complete the assignment would be laughed out of class.
Students would be forced to write a comprehensive essay on all of the bad things about God Hand, the things that would be changed if you wanted this triple-A concept to become a triple-A game. The students with the most pointed observations would be screamed at angrily in class, and told that they wouldn't know a good game if it punched them in the throat.
The final exam would involve each student being individually locked in a room with me for six hours. We would play Advance Wars on Nintendo DS. Students would have to survive the entire six hours against me in a custom map. They could not possibly win this map — trust me, no one can. The only options are survive (miserably) or die (possibly for real (the mind makes it real)).
Serious answer: I'd make them play probably a whole bunch of the games on this list.
I don't think cut-scenes are evil. It simply depends on the method of their delivery, and the type of game you're using them in. An RPG — sure, put a lot of cut-scenes in there. You're telling a story, after all.
My preferred method of delivering narrative is to let the atmosphere tell the story. "Let the world happen".
Ken Levine, director of Bioshock, says the world is the best narrator. I would say I agree with that wholeheartedly, and I would also like to point out that, in addition to a world that was also a narrator, Bioshock also had a guy's disembodied voice, talking to you constantly over a walkie-talkie, who was also a narrator. So maybe what Mr. Levine meant was "the world is the best narrator, though having a person who is also a narrator in addition to a world who is the narrator is like having the best narrator plus a more conventional narrator, which is like getting an extra narrator for free". It's like going to buy a Bugatti and having the dealer throw in a Prius for free. On the one hand, what the fuck? On the other hand, hey, that Prius gets 60 miles to the gallon.
Games that get cut-scenes right include Gears of War, in which cut-scenes seldom last more than five seconds and usually happen in the environments in which the game action is taking place, and Grand Theft Auto IV, in which cut-scenes are either ridiculously well-written or experienced as simple dialogues between the main character and a passenger while driving a car from point A to point B.
It's definitely possible to add crunch to Farmville. In fact, you can accomplish this with five easy steps:
1. You sign a piece of paper on which I have written many lawyer-approved words.
2. You give me a million dollars.
3. I confirm that the million dollars is safely deposited in my Swiss bank account.
4. I send you a design document.
5. We get hells of rich.
Sure. See the above response re: adding "crunch" to Farmville.
It is, and it isn't. There's the arm-flapping-idiocy type of motion-controlled gaming, like anything on the Kinect, and there's the nuanced, wrist-flicking type, like Wii Sports Resort and maybe that upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
That said, I'd love a game that used a treadmill as a controller.
To be safe, you should just do what I did: start exercising now, and by the time the "strenuous" workout games proliferate, you'll be so fit from running ultra-marathons that the games will have no effect on you, and you can say, in an utterly honest, serious tone of voice, "Yeah, I just can't get a workout from that game."
This is what happened to me and Dance Dance Revolution. Before the first time I ever played the game, I'd run so many hundreds — maybe thousands — of road miles that I was not able to get a workout from the game. I was too fit to get a workout from or even enjoy the lower-level songs, and I wasn't good enough at the higher-level songs to be able to last long enough (or enjoy myself enough) to get a workout. So back to the treadmill sprints and heavy-bag-poundings for me!
If everyone were generally as fit as me, game companies would be forced to use motion controls to make actual fun games, and stop forcing us to simply flap our arms near-aimlessly in the name of fitness.
I was going to just say "Fun", then I felt like that would be mean.
Then I was going to say "Millions of dollars", and then I realized that they both make millions of dollars.
Then I was just going to say "A future", and then I realized that both of them have futures.
So instead I'll be snippy and say that we really don't need distinctions between "hardcore" and "casual". Tetris is a hard(core) game; Super Mario Bros. is a hard(core) game. Each attract casual players, and each have depths of high-level play techniques.
In other words, the primary difference between games being perceived as "casual" and "hardcore" is that "hardcore" games inspire gamers to endure simulated "hardships" in order to complete them. "Casual" games are frivolous little flings. Super Mario Bros. is a string of hardships that can be appreciated as a frivolous little fling. In other words, make a triple-A hardcore action game with a "world-narrator" narrative instead of a typical narrative-narrative, and you've got a hardcore game with casual appeal It's really not rocket science, really.
I wouldn't say so. See my above response about how games should, ideally, be casual and hardcore at the same time. "Casual, with depth".
The last time I mentioned this concept at a triple-A game pitch meeting, someone's toupee broke a hole through the ceiling.
Really, guys, it shouldn't be that much of a new idea.
Right now, people are just finding their feet. Kids who grew up playing The Real Shit and The Good Shit are getting into games, and it's easy to convince a certain caliber of investor to give you Big Millions to make games if you show them casual games' sales figures and talk about social networking integration, et cetera. So all we've got is a bunch of dudes raging against the un-money, in hopes of money.
I feel a bout of incoherency coming on. How much longer can I keep this up?
Money. Lots and lots of money.
That's a good question! Keep in mind that, back in the 1990s, Final Fantasy VI was cutting-edge. The makers of Final Fantasy VI, these days, are still cutting-edge. What has changed, you see, is the cutting edge itself. It's all high definition and 3D and all that shit, now. Even back in 1994, the year that birthed the beauty of Final Fantasy VI (a fantastic game by any stretch), the makers were only cramming in an interesting story and world because they'd done everything they could with the cutting edge, and couldn't do anything else aside from cram in a story. They were waiting for the cutting edge to change, is what they were doing. Finally, it did. Lately, it's changing so quickly that no one has time to get exasperated with the current state of the technology and settle down trying to (continue to) crank out dollar-printers by making them more interesting as narratives.
What I'm saying is, I have a theory, formulated with many years of research, that many game-makers are only in it for the chance to play around with the newest technology toys.
I'm being vague, and that's because my answer is "Hell if I know!" Though hey, at least there's a "That would be pretty cool, though" orbiting out in the atmosphere of that "hell if I know".
A better question would probably be "Why hasn't Square-Enix made a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest themed Monster Hunter clone?" ("Final Fantasy Hunters" or "Dragon Quest Hunters". Hey! (Square-Enix: call me. I will write you an air-tight design document, complete with menu mock-ups (the menus are very important), within a week.))
It needs more friction.
I must have played it a million times on the PC before I figured out how to actually, properly play it with a real deck of cards.
I always like Minesweeper better.
If they'd put Final Fantasy and / or Disney characters on the cards, they could sell a million copies of it on the PSP to Japanese kids for around $75. It'd come with a pewter figurine of a Tetsuya Nomura rendition of the King of Hearts, probably holding a pistol to his head with one hand and carrying a crystal orb in the other.
Gears of War, beyond all others. Well, not beyond Gears of War 2. The Gears of War games are fantastic. The level design and game design are perfect. The story, while dealing solely with meatheads shooting evil meatheads, moves forward with a sense of brilliant purpose. They're excellent games with so many frictions placed so perfectly in all the important places. I want to marry them. Also, I want to be friends with Cliff Bleszinski. Maybe someday he'll take me for a ride in his Lamborghini. Maybe we'll go to the mall and drink Orange Juliuses. Then we'll go to Champs and look at shoes while talking about sports or sharing weightlifting tips. Then I'll say something funny and he'll laugh so hard they have to take him to the hospital, and I can stand by his bed and cry when they tell me he's in a coma. I'll cry so hard, and for so long, that he'll have woken up and made three more games before I stop crying, because that is how much we would be bros.
That's all for this month!
I'll do this again next month. Feel free to ask me questions about anything game-related! Just tweet "@number108", and include the tag "#kotaq".
Please, no questions via email, Facebook wall post, or comments on this Kotaku post. I want all of the questions to be in one easy-to-see place, so question-askers can see what questions have been asked. If you like a question, retweet it: I'll take multiple retweets to mean the question is an urgent one, deserving of an essay-length answer.
Ask me for tips and tricks, "which of these two games is better", "what's the best game starring vikings of all-time", things like that.
I'll endeavor to answer every question — I'll pick out a handful of questions worthy of an essay, and then I will answer the rest with 140-character one-line quips. It could be amazingly fun! Or it could be a disaster. I'm sure it would be an amazing disaster, either way.
(Full disclosure: this entire thing is a ploy for me to get more Twitter followers. So follow me on Twitter!)