Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Wish List

Here's my wish list of what I'd like to see from this current generation of videogames:

1) The return of cel-shading. Cel-shading was a beautiful graphic style that was used almost as common practice with such games as Okami, Jet Set Radio, Dark Cloud 2, Zelda: The Wind Waker, Rogue Galaxy, and many more. But now there are practically no games at all that utilize cel-shading. However, the ones that do use cel-shading are some of the best looking games this generation. The two that come to mind are Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm and Valkyria Chronicles; both are some of the best looking games this gen, and looking at them makes me wonder why cel-shading isn't used by other developers. I was surprised to see that Level-5 didn't incorporate any cel-shading in White Knight Chronicles.

2) An original fighting game. I'd love to see a new IP enter the fighting game realm against all of the long-running series. Fighting games have returned to popularity, but the series that still live all have established styles. I'd like to see a new style of fighting game brought into this generation. A fighting game for this gen.

3) The return of platformers. Most games in the past were 2D platformers; unfortunately, this genre has nearly died out, with only Mario still going. I'm hoping Sonic's return to 2D will be great with Project Needlemouse, but we can only hope. Two of my favorite games are 2D platformers, Donkey Kong Country 2 and Klonoa 2; these were incredible games, and I don't see why they can't have a place in the current market. Sony may push away any 2D game brought to them, but the Wii is a great place for them, as seen by the Klonoa remake and Muramasa. At least I can always count on Vanillaware for great 2D games.

4) More 'simple' games. In this current generation, every game is "huge", either in storyline, gameplay depth, production values, or whatever. Developers try so hard as if game's have to have a huge impact on us. In the past, games could leave a huge impact with more heartfelt and straightforward stories than the plot-twist laiden games of this current gen. ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are great examples where a fantastic story can be told with minimal dialouge and big budget cutscenes. Then there are games like Klonoa 2, which told a story that was simple, yet very heartfelt. Some good examples from this generation would be Super Mario Galaxy and Zelda: Spirit Tracks; both had good, heartfelt stories that were told in a simple manner.

5) More original stuff. The past generations have brought so much originality and style into videogames, but this generation feels like it has contributed almost nothing. The past generations brought us ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Odin Sphere, Paper Mario, Viewtiful Joe, Zelda: The Wind Waker, Kingdom Hearts, WarioWare, Guilty Gear, Disgaea, and many other original and stylish games. But this gen is just laden with sequel upon sequel. Bayonetta, Valkyria Chronicles, The World Ends With You, Knights in the Nightmare, No More Heroes, Super Mario Galaxy, and Osu!Tatake!Ouendan! are a few games off the top of my head that were very original and stylish, but that's not nearly enough compared to the past generations. Developers need to stop being so scared to try new things, because if they don't get some courage, then this generation will never move forward.

A Matter of Taste

If there is something I've come to notice over the course of this past decade of gaming, it's that many peoples opinions of games is highly dependent upon their taste and preferences.

I am no different. I highly prefer Japanese developed games, mainly because they do not use realistic graphics, usually have a lot of color, and outlandish storylines and style. I just like all that stuff. But, of course, there are people who do not, and it's all perfectly understandable. I've come to fully understand that people will push a game aside simply because it doesn't appeal to them. Take Bayonetta for example, the game has a female protagonist, outlandish style, and a jazzy/pop battle theme. Those elements alone are enough to push people away. But it's those same elements that make me love Bayonetta.

I kind of wish that I didn't have such strict tastes in games, because it keeps me from playing many gems. For example, there's Mass Effect 2, which is getting rave reviews and is recommended for everyone to play it, but I just can't find anything I really like about the game. Sure, the graphics are increidble, and there is the story, but gameplay is what appeals to me most, and it just seems like the gameplay portions are just like a 3rd-person shooter. That's just been a part of my criticisms with games; even if there is a fantastic story, I need some engaging gameplay to back it up, otherwise the game just feels like a chore. I am by no means saying Mass Effect 2's gameplay is bad, but I will say that it lacks innovation. Truly the only innovation that Mass Effect 2 has, is how the player causes impact on the story through selecting choices. Personally, I don't find that nearly enough for me to play the game. In my opinion, a better choice would have been to have the choices be involved in the gameplay more, instead of choices on the wheel. Such as putting the player in a battlefield where I can kill anyone, the enemy or my allies, and have the player play it out himself/herself.

But, enough about my criticisms, back to teh matter of taste. The market as I see it, has practically split into a Western side or a Japanese side, and the players preferences lie in one of the two. Of course, there are many people who play both types of games, including myself, but those people usually have a preference with either side, like myself. This wasn't always the case. For in the 90s, everyone enjoyed all types of games, although they all mainly came out of Japan. It was around the time when the PS2 and Xbox came along that the western market grew and a new audience was made. This is the audience that grew up to now play GTA and Call of Duty. And it's those types of games they prefer. This market is growing at a fast rate, and it seems the Japanese-interest market is shrinking. Hence why we see many Japanese developers making games that they hope will appeal to the western market, such as Capcom and their Lost Planet, Dead Rising, and Bionic Commando franchises.

Where this all will lead I can't be sure. I just hope it doesn't lead to an even greater deterioration of the Japanese market that has already occurred. It seems each year I am getting less and less Japanese-made games. It was only 3 years ago that we got Okami, Odin Sphere, Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid 3, Twilight Princess, and many more. I love the gems of the past, but I don't want them to be the best forever. New kings must be made, but so few games seem to be up to the task. Only Bayonetta and Super Mario Galaxy have truly impressed me this generation, and even they could have been better.

What I truly want is an RPG to finally top Chrono Trigger for me. That's what I look forward to the most.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Personality to make Identity

After some relaxing and listening to several videogame OSTs, I’ve come to realize another reason why I am so disappointed with most modern games: they lack personality. Personality, by which I mean, a form of identity that seperates a single game from all other games. In the past, the gaming world was full of these games, and, no, it is not because the industry was a less crowded market. There were as many games 10 and 20 years ago as there are now, it is simply that videogames have simply become too streamlines. Everyone is essentially copying off of one another with every 3rd-person shooter following the RE4 formula now, and 50% of games made being Halo clones. When one picks up a game nowadays, it’s almost instantly playable because of how familiar it is. In the past, games all had their own identity. Sonic was the super fast platformer, Mario was the bright and colorful plat former, Metal Slug was the super-fun and violent shooter, Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Super Metroid, Ristar, Donkey Kong Country, and Megaman. These games all have platforming and action as part of their gameplay foundation, however, one can never say that one game is a clone of another, because each has such different music, graphics, atmosphere, and ‘feel’ to them. Sure, one who has played Megaman can have a general feel of how Super Metroid plays, but they are far from clones.

I blame technology for this lack of personality in games these days, mainly voice acting. Developers these days, mainly western developers, put so much focus on making their games ‘Hollywood’ that they forget their making a game. In the past, when voice acting wasn’t possible in games, far more emotion and personality was received from games. For example, Sonic 1, 2, and 3 are fantastic games, and they presented a story without any dialouge, and showed progression without any cut scenes. Sonic games were also ‘epic’ before the word had become tossed all over the place in the videogame world. Sonic would start his adventure in grassy field, but eventually make his way into space and fight a giant mechanical monster! All of this was truly epic and exciting, all without a single piece of dialouge.

I don’t mean to say that dialouge is bad for videogames, as it has benefited many games, especially RPGs, in the presentation of story telling. It is mainly action games that utilize voice acting in the wrong way. Look at Uncharted 2, the game had a huge script and tons of cut scenes, so much so that one could forget their playing a game and feel more like they are playing an interactive movie. I suppose that it isn’t such a bad thing, since Uncharted 2 is a very good game, it is simply that I wonder if Uncharted 2 didn’t get sucked into the Hollywood style of games these days, it could’ve been more like a next-gen 3D Metal Slug type of game, that had just one great action sequence after another. If I were to play Uncharted 2 without any cut scenes, I would still get the same feeling of progression, and I feel that I would get a greater attatchment to Drake as a character, for it would feel more-so like I’m controlling him, rather than simply directing where he should go. The games that always pull of cinematic direction so well in action games are the Metroid games. Metroid games have no voice acting, yet the present the character of Samus extremely well, by utilizing the fact that there is no dialouge to provide the feeling of isolation to the Metroid games.

But, back to personality and identity, something that troubles me about modern videogames is how western developers utilize realistic graphics. This causes games to feel ‘real’ and make the characters look like actual people. While it’s understandable why people like this graphic style, I do not. Utilizing realistic graphics makes games feel to serious and grounded. If I wanted to see what people look like, I can just walk outside. Videogames should be used to show fantasy; something I can’t see in my own backyard. Basing character design on realism isn’t a bad thing, but the world itself should not be ‘human’, nor the character themselves. An example being Bayonetta, who is mostly realistically proportioned, but her powers and actions are something unrealistic, afterall, her clothes are made of her own hair.

Games in the past that have had fantastic identity are:

-Donkey Kong Country 2 ~ just an incredible atmosphere that was made by the game’s fantastic graphics, diverse level design, and incredible soundtrack. The soundtrack is what truly stands out in this gem to make it a prime example of individuality, particularly the track Stickerbrush Symphony.

- Kirby series ~ the Kirby videogame series is incredible, for Kirby games truly have their own identity as a happy and cheerful dream in which you fight nightmares. This contrast is what makes Kirby games so endearing. The art style is simple yet excellent in presenting itself, and Jun Ishikawa’s incredible soundtracks help bring the Kirby world alive.

- Odin Sphere ~ here’s a game that became the epitome of personality and atmosphere. In the past, game designers had to take their concept art and transfer them into game graphics, well, Vanillaware took the concept art and used it as the backgrounds, the character spirites, and the effects. The result was a game that felt like playing a moving piece of art. The presentation also aided in presenting the incredible story, which was further emphasized by the fantastic soundtrack. Odin Sphere was poetry in motion.

- Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil ~ this game was a true piece of personality. The graphics used cel-shading to create great character models and a beautiful world, the story itself revolved around the world and the characters, thus making the story feel even more involved in the gameplay. Then there’s the fantastic soundtrack, which complemented each stage, boss battle, and cutscene very well.

Of course, those are only a few examples. The Megaman games, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy VI, SoulCalibur, Okami, and so many more can be mentioned.

Videogames have come to have a very dull identity, mainly due to how western developers are dominating right now, and how they mainly utilize realistic graphics and portray realistic things. This causes out market to be strewn with war games, GTA games, and sports games. It just gives gaming this dull look like it’s some real life simulator. Games should take us to far away places, not put us in a real life situation. Many argue that it isn’t a real life situation because where else can you walk down street and shoot a cop and hijack a car. Well, that’s not true, because you absolutely could do that in real life, it’s just that you shouldn’t. I want to experience things that are impossible in real life, like playing as a supersonic hedgehog, or riding a mototrcycle into space to fight a god.

Why is it that games of fantasy are so rare these days, but were persistant in the past? It is simply because the games that delve into fantasy and have fantastic style and personality all come from Japan, and now that Japanese developers are shrinking, we are getting less games from them. It really sucks. Because every game I buy is from a Japanese developer, I find Japanese developers love to do what they do and are never afraid to dwelve into the deepest realms of fantasy. It is Japan that provides us with incredible adventures such as Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Bayonetta, Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Odin Sphere, Megaman, Super Mario Galaxy, and the Zelda series. So many incredible worlds and ideas have come from Japan. It’s not to say western developers are not creative, that isn’t true at all, but Japanese developers seem to always take more advantage of the freedom that game development gives them to truly create something with an identity all it’s own.

Times are Changing

The problem is that people seem to see videogames as an ever-growing and expanding medium that must consistently change to meet the desires of it’s audience. I find that to be very false. Videogames are like books. They are not a medium that needs a different form to be better in any way, a videogame is a videogame, just as a book is a book. The true essence and quality of a videogame comes from the people who develop the game and how they execute the game itself, just as a book relies on the words of the author.

The way I see it is that developers nowadays see videogames as something to be “mastered”, like there is a goal videogame development is working towards. Well, this “goal” does not exist, for there is no such thing as a perfect videogame, nor a perfect story, perfect graphics, perfect music, or anything like that.

A videogame’s true excellence relies upon it’s execution. When the developers have a set goal in mind for what they want to create, and when the creator is given a blank canvas to paint their masterpiece, they do so with the utmost passion.

Developers nowadays try to put every single aspect of modern technology into their videogames, specifically, they are trying to take the powerful aspects of Hollywood and put them into videogames. Putting the benefits of modern technology into a videogame isn’t a bad thing, what is bad is when the videogame forgets what it is: a videogame. Videogames are interactive experiences that we play. How the player interacts with that experience is up to the developer, but the fact that the videogame is a videogame is something that should never be forgotten. This was my biggest problem with MGS4, there were so many cut scenes that gameplay time practically matched cutscene time; furthermore, the interaction of the gameplay was severely lowered in comparison to MGS3; making gameplay feel like less of an experience and more of a chore to reach the next portion of the story. The only exception being the final boss battle, which was excellent.

A contrast to MGS4’s lack of strong interaction is another cinematic masterpiece: Shadow of the Colossus. There are virtually no cut scenes in the game whatsoever, yet Team ICO created such a dramatic experience by sucking the player into the game with simple yet strong gameplay elements, alongside great camera angles that made the battles almost cinematic in presence. Furthermore, the game creates a dynamic story out of it’s gameplay alone. Very little text is shown in the game, yet the story is so powerful simply through superb execution of gameplay, music, and artistic direction.

Another example is the Mother series of games from Nintendo. An incredible series that touches the player on a psychological level through the everyday feeling that we experience every day: laughter, anger, fear, happiness, and sadness. One can argue, well if it’s simply the story that is so good then it should’ve just been a book, what makes it a great videogame. It is because games with excellent storylines that offer the level of interactivity that the Mother series offers can only be experienced to their full potential through the interactivity that videogames provide. This is what is so vital about the RPG genre in games, they rely heavily on story, so to be truly excellent, the developers must execute the interactive with said story to be truly legendary. For example, (WARNING: SPOILERS for Mother 3), in Mother 3 you got to name your entire family, and in the story your mother is killed and your brother lost forever, the player is unaware that this is going to happen, thus making the loss extremely painful, and perhaps even reflect on the player’s own relationship with his/her family.(END SPOILERS).

So much excellence in videogames have come from the past generations. A time before touch screens, motion controllers, and HD graphics. Legends such as Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, Megaman X, Sonic 3, Final Fantasy VI, Super Mario 64, StarCraft, and many more. What made these games fantastic weren’t any types of gimmicks or “flavors of the month”, just excellent execution. It didn’t take much to be an excellent videogame in the past, just a creative mind, proper knowledge of how to execute one’s creative ideas, and the passion to develop it all into a final product.

Yet, here were are in the present day. Natal is going to be released at the end of the year, as is Sony’s motion controller. The world is obsessed with ‘casual gaming’ and the Wii, and several masterpieces are being over-looked because they are played like games of a dead age, an age that existed only 10 years ago. I find that this “evolution of technology” is not expanding game development, rather it is simply opening one door and closing another. If developers continue to step in this direction, game development is going to be extremely limited. Natal is by far the most restrictive, for it throws away buttons entirely for a camera controller. Natal has a lot of possibilities with it, but it cannot be seen as the future of gaming, for it is simply an accessory. Games such as Final Fantasy XIII and Bayonetta could never be played on Natal. So are developers supposed to throw away the action and RPG genre all together to compromise with this “future”?

Then there is this changing gaming market that we live in, where innovation has gone from different gameplay systems, such as Chrono Trigger multiple endings and team attacks, to clever use of gimmicks, such as utilizing a remote to match a person’s hand gestures so they can play table tennis in a videogame. This is where innovation now lies: utilizing technology to fool a player into thinking they playing something that it incredible, but it is simply something hollow. Uncharted 2 may have incredible graphics, top-class voice acting, and great cinematics, but it is still a simple 3rd person shooter, the same that we played 3 years ago with the first Uncharted, and even before that with Gear of War.

Innovation doesn’t come from technology, rather it comes from excellent ideas and proper execution of technology. Playing a game online is not innovation, but utilizing the internet to create mass communication within a single-player quest is innovative. Of course, I speak of Demon’s Souls very clever use of online functionality to allow player to communicate and help each other in the main quest by giving each other messages and loot. Furthermore, innovation doesn’t require technology, not at all. A great example is a game many are now becoming familiar with: Bayonetta. Bayonetta provides innovation in it’s superb gameplay, which revolves around utilizing two weapon sets at one time, as well as many accessories, techniques, and transformations; which can all be utilized in a wide variety of manner; thereby creating a very unique experience for players. While many developers brag about how one can make several story decisions to change the outcome of a game’s story, Team Little Angels brings that aspect to the gameplay itself, creating a great feeling of individuality and freedom to what the player ‘feels’ the most in videogames: the gameplay. This feeling of freedom in gameplay is usually exclusive to the RPG genre, but now falls into the action genre. An excellent achievement in my eyes.

Bayonetta is a fantastic example of an incredible gaming experience on the current generation of consoles; yet, what is so excellent is how it is not at all reliant upon the technology of this age, for the gameplay ideas it has could have been utilized in past console generations, it is simply that they have only come to existence now. It makes me wonder what the 3D action genre could have been if the ideas utilized in Bayonetta were done 10 years ago.

What truly is the saddest thing about videogames in this present time is how there is a severe lack of passion in game development as opposed to past generations. Not to say that there is no passion in videogames anymore, games like Bayonetta, The World End With You, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, No More Heroes, and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep show a lot of passion from their developers. It is simply that there is far less passion shown by game developers these days. I believe it is that developers want too much to utilize the technology they have that the ‘essence’ of their vision is lost among the millions of polygons.

What I find myself in now is a videogame slump, where I am simply finding myself playing the same games over and over again, but not nearly as excellent as they were in the past. This is not simply a matter of nostalgia blocking my vision of incredible games, rather it is simply me not having my vision clouded by the powers of technology.

The RPG genre is one that has been criticized most as deteriorating. This is, in a few ways, very true. However, this is mainly due to a lack of courage from developers to truly take risks and spark innovation in this current age. An excellent modern RPG is Persona 4, easily one of the best RPGS of the past recent years, and this is mainly due to it’s excellent execution and innovation in gameplay systems. The result being an RPG that goes far deeper than most RPGs in the past have ever gone, resulting in an RPG that required time and effort, rather than being ‘accessible’ like most RPGs in the past have been. It’s not as though games need to change drastically, it is simply that games need to become more experiences rather than simple ’press a button to do this action’ games. That’s just what Persona 4 was: an experience. It’s use of the color yellow, a small cast of great characters, and the emotions and problems within those characters was what made the game so enjoyable, but what made it even more enjoyable was the fact that you as the player were interacting and controlling said characters. The art style, the music, the gameplay challenge; everything just came together to create one form: the experience that is Persona 4. There are, of course, many other game experiences, and it’s these games that become legendary.

Two games that come to mind when I think of a game experience are: The World Ends With You and the Kingdom Hearts series. TWEWY was a game that brought you into the modern world of Shibuya in Japan. The excellent art style portrayed everything from the buildings that stand in Shibuya in this very day to the graffiti on the streets; then the incredible soundtrack brought the emotions of the streets into the game itself. Everything from the dialogue to the clothes the characters wore; it all worked towards making one definitive experience that was The World Ends With You. The Kingdom Hearts series is a series that has created it’s own identity. Everything from it’s characters, it’s art style, it’s storyline, it’s gameplay, to Yoko Shimomura’s incredible soundtrack all belong to Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts alone. Individuality is a key component of both of these games, making them both games I have a lot of respect for, and for their creative developers.

So much is possible with videogames these days. No, it is not because of advancing technology. Videogames have always had boundless potential. It is simply up to the developers to grasp that potential and make the videogame experience they want to make. Perhaps I am wrong about technology closing doors for developers, perhaps it will greatly benefit games in the future. However, until I am proven wrong, I will stand by the games that I treasure most as the true icons of gaming. Games should not be viewed in cycles of generations. Each generation has it’s own legends that must always be remembered. If we forget about the teachings of the past we are only taking steps backwards. Developers shouldn’t look to the past as something that cannot be surpassed either. Saying that a game cannot surpass The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as a 3D adventure is foolish, because thinking like that will only limit the potential of a developers game. Surpassing the gems of the past is what all developers should aim for, for the developers of the past cannot make games forever, young blood needs to arise to provide new better experiences. The torch must be passed; however, this new generation needs to prove itself worthy first.

While I still remain hesitant, I look forward to what the future brings.

All in the Execution

In looking through same of my old games and looking at the games that I will be getting in the coming year, I've thought about why I am so critical of games and why as time has gone by I've bought less and less videogames.

It's simply that people have become far too reliant upon technology. As a result, games have become very formulaic; not in terms of depth, but in execution. In my opinion, what matters most in a game is not in what it "is" but the execution of what it "is".

Videogames have been around for over 2 decades now. As a result, pretty much all genres have been established, and now people are building those genres up. However, the problem here is that people are trying to build the genres up with too much complexity. Filling games with tons of options doesn't make a game better. What does make a game better is taking those complexities and executing them to make the experience one worth experiencing.

The goal of videogames should be to provide the best experience possible; however, without proper execution, this experience can be terrible, or simply non-existant. Execution is the name of the game, and it seems developers are forgetting this fact all together in this current generation. This simple fact comes from developers over-looking the small things. Look at Metal Gear Solid 3, the ending where the player actually has to pull the trigger was incredible and really helped draw the player into the experience.

This experience is what matters the most. Whether it be experience in story, music, gameplay, or a mix of them. Odin Sphere and Grimgrimoire are great examples of great execution of story, while many old arcade games are great for their focus on gameplay.


My name is Hassan Orlando Tate, but on the internet I go by Pheonix03. The Phoenix is one of my favorite mythical beasts, and 3 is my favorite number.

This is a blog that I made on a whim, simply to write down my thought on videogames, as well as the storylines, music, and artistry within.

I am a deep thinker, and I am huge fan of videogames, and I have been since I was 3 years old. However, as I have grown, I have come to think of videogames in a more complex manner.

I am very open to what videogames I play, however, I have a strong preference for Japanese developed games, for I find the style of Japanese developed games more appealing, and I find Japanese developed games more enjoyable as well.

This blog is simply one that contians my criticisms of videogames in modern day, usually in comparison to games of the past generations.

To give you the idea of what kind of gamer I am, here's my Top 10 game of all time:

3)Chrono Trigger
4)The Legend of Zelda series
5)Viewtiful Joe
6)Odin Sphere
7)Chrono Cross
8)Metroid Prime
9)Super Smash Bros. Brawl
10)Muramasa: The Demon Blade

As one can see, I am huge fan of stylish and original games. There are many others I enjoy that aren't in my top 10.

The posts I make in this blog are my opinions. I am by no means pushing my opinions on others. We all have our own opinions and ideals, and it is part of our nature to live by those ideals; thus, please respect my opinions as I respect your own.

Also, I will try to be as professional as possible, but I will at times be state some biased comments. Sorry, but I am only human.