Thursday, March 31, 2011

Different Genres, Different Strengths. Why?

When I was young, I didn't really think too critically about videogames. When I bought an RPG, I knew I would be in for lengthy cutscenes, a great story, and great music; and when I bought an action game, I knew I was in for some high difficulty, good gameplay, and a simple story. But, not that my mind has matured the way it has, I have to ask: why? Why must the genres remain separated in the priorities they take when executing their games?

Take the music present in so many great JRPGs over the years. Powerful and emotional themes that emphasize and enhance the narrative. Pieces like "Star Stealing Girl" in Chrono Cross, or Hepatica (KOS-MOS) in Xenosaga III. Why are such emotional musical pieces that emphasize the narrative so well, and provide such an emotional impact restricted to the RPG genre. And yet, the RPG genre restricts itself with simple execution of gameplay. For satisfying gameplay we look to action games, yet these games usually have such simple storylines that provide little drive to follow the story and the player instead focus simply on the gameplay, which in turn reminds the player they are playing a game thus reducing the immersion into the experience and thus hurting the overall satisfaction. Why can't there exist a game that breaks down these "genre gaps" and provide a "full" experience of everything gaming can offer?

I believe that the game that truly satisfies me will not have these "genre gaps". Games like Okami and Bayonetta have come close, but Bayonetta could have used a more coherent story and needed to be much longer; Okami is the closest a game has come to this ideal, as it only really needed a slightly stronger battle system and to be more difficult.

It's really the strong sense of immersion (which results in emotion) that RPGs have that makes them so satisfying to play, and the graphics, art direction, music, and storyline often all come together so well to provide that power immersion. However, gameplay tends to always take a backseat to the visual and aural elements of RPGs. The only RPG that I really think about the gameplay is FFXIII. FFXIII came close to this ideal as well, but it needed more depth to the combat (despite the combat being the best RPGs have to offer) and the story could've been more emotional towards the end. The fact that FFXIII came so close to the ideal gives me hope that FFXIII-2 may achieve it, with the satisfying gameplay of an action game alongside the powerful story and immersion of an RPG.

Some games have attempted to bride this gap. Games like the .HACK//GU series, which are action RPGs, but have strong narratives and great music; another CyberConnect2 developed game, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, also did a good job at trying to reach this ideal, by being a fighting game with a focus on gameplay, but an equal, if not stronger, focus on graphics, music, and expressing the story visually and not just through words. While both games are far from being the best, they give me hope that CC2 may achieve this ideal with Asura's Wrath, which has been promised to blend narrative and gameplay together. It will be interesting to see what AW brings to the table.

Odin Sphere is also a game that came close to this ideal. If the gameplay provided more complexity, then it may have achieved this ideal, for Odin Sphere had one of the most powerful narratives I've experienced in a game, and Vanillaware's trademark 2D graphics alongside the beautiful soundtrack just made the game a true visual and aural tour de force.

I am starting to see these genre gaps to become smaller and smaller, so soon there may be game that totally lack a solid definitive genre. I hope that day comes soon.

At the moment, I'm really looking at PlatinumGames, Vanillaware, Square-Enix, and CyberConnect2 to deliver the game that will completely satisfy me. Not that I'm not open to other developers. There's always bound to be some surprises on the horizon (El Shaddai perhaps?).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Satisfaction

I talk a lot about satisfaction in my blog entries, but I've never really gone into just what that satisfaction is. Well, that's what this blog entry is all about.

Satisfaction, at it's core, is simply the sense of fulfillment. However, what goes into that sense of fulfillment changes from situation to situation, and from person to person. Because of the wide range of things satisfaction can entail, this blog is specifically about my satisfaction. Furthermore, when the term satisfaction is brought up, people's minds tend to go in many different directions. For some satisfaction involves the act of 'winning', for others 'taste', and others think of 'sex'. Such is the essence of satisfaction; it covers a wide range of emotions and actions, many of which are part of our daily lives. However, the satisfaction I'm covering in this blog entry is focused entirely on the satisfaction that the videogame medium can provide.

Videogames are a creative medium, they are crafted from the hands of creator's to form something new. In this sense, videogames are like books and movies. But videogames have a major element that makes their potential for satisfaction go beyond books and movies, and that is the factor of interaction. The ability to interact with the object the videogame have made puts videogames second only to reality in terms of the potential for satisfaction. However, in reality, we are hindered by the rules and regulations of not just our different societies, but by our very being. Videogames, however, can go beyond reality into the realm of fantasy, where anything is possible. This makes the videogame medium a middle-ground between reality and the realm of books/cinema; a fantasy we can interact with. It is that factor that makes videogames such an alluring medium to me, and why I believe it has the potential to satisfy like few other things.

Satisfaction in videogames can be broken down into separate factors. But first, lets break down the raw essence of satisfaction. Satisfaction is the end product of two main factors: drive and struggle. And it is the intensity of those two factors that leads to just how satisfying a videogame is.

The drive is what ties the player to the game itself. This can be how powerful a game's story and characters are, or how believable the world is. Regardless of what encompasses an game's drive, it is what pushed the player to move forward into a game and just how passionately a player does it.

The struggle is the challenge given to the player. A journey without hardship is simply a fool's errand, and nobody is satisfied with being a fool. To put struggle in it's simplest terms would be to call it a game's difficulty level. However, the execution of that difficulty is the truly key factor, for there is a fine line between challenge and frustration.

Both drive and struggle lead to satisfaction. One passionately drives themselves through massive struggle in order to reach their goal, and in doing so receive satisfaction. That is the satisfaction in a nutshell.

Now I'll break satisfaction down into different factors in terms of game design:

1) "Graphics"

"Graphics" is a simple term of what is essentially a game's visual design, not just polygons and sprites, but exactly what the player is seeing. Visual design is a major factor in satisfaction, for the player it is the one thing that the player is always paying attention to. A game needs to be seen to be played, thus the burden placed on a game's visual design is huge. Something I find very critical with a game's visual design is that a game doesn't just rely on the amount of polygons that are in it's models, but what those polygons form and how they are executed in the interaction element of the game. This puts huge impact on character and world design, as well as what those characters are doing and how they are interacting with their world.

Character design is a very important factor to me, because, simply put, if characters aren't attractive, then the amount I care for the characters is hindered. Now that may sound terrible of me, but the word "attractive" can mean a lot of things. For me, it means "identity". Who a character is, and what a world is, can be expressed fully through what they look like.

For example, in Okami, the characters had very simple character designs. This was a very unique style of execution, because all of the characters in the story were very simple in their personality, therefore, they had no need to extremely detailed facial expressions. We knew who the characters were just through what they looked like, and through their simple actions. This by no means hurt the story of Okami, for while the cast was drawn in a simple style, the story made up for it with the sheer amount of these characters you meet. As a result, the drive through the story was not to protect a few deep and developed characters, but a whole nation of simple people with simple problems. There's a reason Amaterasu is the most detailed main character in the game, and that is so the player understands that they are the powerful being that will protect these simple people. Furthermore, the execution of Issun's character is also driven by his seemingly simple character design. Issun appears as a simple dot throughout most of the game so that the player never forms a specific identity for Issun, which is extremely important, for Issun turns out to be the game's most complex character. The story forges Issun's identity, and the visual execution of Issun throughout the game enhances his character development. Even the world of Okami itself is simply beautiful, and the way the player creates that beauty by interacting with the world is a great example of supreme visual design and interaction there-of. Okami is a supreme example of visual design merging with story.

This forming of a character's identity through their design is seen in many other games; especially fighting games. In fighting games, the characters tend to just jump out at the player, and as a result, we see some of the best character design in fighting games. This factor of "jumping out" at the player is a feature I would like to see go into other game genres as well, for a character should always have that "wow factor" that makes them an idol. Bayonetta is the most recent example of such an "idol" character. Her character design, as well as how she moves, are a true visual expression of the term "sexy". She is the quintessence of "sex appeal", thus making her an idol. Her character development in the game develop her character further into a very likable character, but from a visual standpoint, her sex appeal is her "wow factor". Another character that comes to mind is Haohmaru, of Samurai Showdown, who expresses the quintessential form of the samurai. This "simplicity" seen in the designs of Bayonetta and Haohmaru is by no means bad, or deterring of their characters. Quite the opposite actually, as it gives them appeal at the eye level. The player can instantly see the power of their presence and who they are. Of course, the characters are more than what they appear, but the first impression is the most important, and an attractive first impression is the best. The appearance of Bayonetta and Haohmaru, is in contrast to characters seen in western-developed shooters that have a more realistic look to them. This visual direction is very unattractive, and essentially eliminates any potential for one of these characters becoming an idol, because their appearance tells us almost nothing, and thus the player is not given a good first impression and lacks any desire to find out more about this character. Of course, exceptions exist, such as Halo's Master Chief.

2) Sound

Music is the eternal muse. It has the power to put visions of beauty, rage, and serenity directly into our minds. A truly perfect musical score to a videogame would allow a player to play the game without ever having to open their eyes, for the music would "show" them all they need to know. It is because of this incredible potential that music has, that one should expect a lot from the musical score in a videogame. It should not simply be music playing in the background, but actually be part of the experience as a whole. It may go without saying how music should be executed in a game (sad music should play for sad scenes, intense music should play for battles, etc.), and yet so many musical scores fall flat of what they can achieve. This is usually because the music ends up feeling like a seperate entity than the graphics and gameplay, which it shouldn't be.

Music ties almost directly into the drive of a videogame. Music can make a soul burn hotter than any graphics, and music can make a major cutscene much more impactful. It's all about tying the element of music directly into the gameplay and visual design. That leads to a powerful drive, which will inevitably lead to a stronger satisfaction. However, that drive means very little without a struggle, which leads to the final element of satisfaction in games:

3) Interactivity

Interactivity is how one plays the game and just what it all entails. This is a section I can only speak the importance of but not truly explain it, as game design is an ever changing process that has seen many changes throughout the existence of the videogame medium. There is complex game interactivity (Zone of the Enders) and simple game interactivity (Super Mario Bros.). But, regardless of the execution, what matters is how satisfied the player is with the actual controls and how well they interact with what the player is seeing and hearing. The interactivity of a game is essentially how one interacts with what the player is seeing and hearing.

However, beyond simply the controls lies the element of struggle. The struggle entailed in the gameplay is equally as important as drive, for if the "fight" was too easy, then the player never truly receives that sense of accomplishment; however, if a game is challenging, but the player has no drive to face that challenge, then there is no possibility for a sense of accomplishment. Thus the two factors of drive and struggle balance each other out.

It is important to note that drive can come from many factors, as can struggle. Their existence is known, but what they are made of can change from game to game. For example, a JRPG tends to rely heavily on it's story for drive and gameplay for struggle, while a 2D run-and-gun shooter relies on it's challenging gameplay for both drive and struggle. However, to see what factors a game relies on for it's drive and struggle factors is part of the lure I have towards videogames.

For me, I have had many satisfying game experiences. Great storylines, challenging gameplay, beautiful music, gorgeous visual designs, and very unique experiences all around. However, I have never played a game that fully satisfies me. I'm not even sure if a game ever will fully satisfy me because I don't know what complete satisfaction feels like. Regardless, I will continue to play games in order to find the one to satisfy me in ways that only the videogame medium can.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Genre Standards

I've heard a lot of criticism from others that I shouldn't compare a game I'm currently playing to another game from the past, and judge the current game against the the game that I hold as the "golden standard". Apparently this is a poor way of judging a game. But despite those criticisms, that's just how I do things. If a game is clearly in a certain genre, I am going to judge it against the game I hold as the standard of that genre; just as someone judges a sequel against the original.

These are my genre standards:

3D Action: Bayonetta

I have never had a true standard for the 3D action genre until Bayonetta, because before Bayonetta came along, I was never truly satisfied by any 3D action game. This is mainly because I saw so much potential in the genre going unfulfilled. I don't think any other 3D action game will knock Bayonetta off of her throne unless a Bayonetta 2 is made; but, hey, the future is full of surprises.

2D Action: Viewtiful Joe

VJ is the best when it comes to 2D action. If Muramasa had a little more 'oomph' to it's gameplay and a better story, then it would've probably beaten VJ, but it didn't, so, yeah, it's VJ. The only 2D action games coming in the future will probabaly only be from Vanillaware, so it's all on them to knock VJ off of his throne.

3D Fighting: SoulCalibur series

I love the entire SC series, and no other 3D fighter has come even close to knocking it off of it's throne. The future is unpredictable, but I doubt any 3D fighter will top SC for me.

2D Fighting: The King of Fighters XII

Games are all about satisfaction, and KOFXII is the most satisfying 2D fighter I've ever played. Arcana Heart 3 is a close second, but KOFXII is just raw energy in a game form. It's very balanced and fights are just intense. KOFXIII has a good shot at beating it though.

RPG: Chrono Trigger

FFXIII is an incredible RPG experience, but CT remains the epitome of the genre. CT took players on a believable and charming journey that was full of incredible moments. No RPG has marked more memories into my head than CT. Maybe FFXIII-2 can beat it though.

Action-Adventure: Okami

The Legend of Zelda series had been my standard for this genre for the longest time, but Okami took the Zelda formula and actually managed to improve it vastly. Not only that, but provide a sweeping storyline that is usually reserved for RPGs, and a battle system striaght out of a 3D action game. Okami remains not only the best action-adventure game I've ever played, but the best quality experience I've ever played.

2D Platformer: Yoshi's Island

This is the holy grail of 2D platforming. While Yoshi's Island had great crayon-esque graphics and a great soundtrack, it was the gameplay that really shined. YI was original, challenging, and creative. Plus, it has one of the greatest final boss fights ever!

3D Platformer: Super Mario Galaxy 2

It's hard to choose between Super Mario 64 and Galaxy, but Galaxy just improved upon 64's playability to the point where it's the more satisfying experience. Galaxy 2 had it's flaws, but it's still the best example of a 3D platformer.

Strategy RPG: Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword

Balance. That is the key to the perfect SRPG. A developer needs to balance story, gameplay, and presentation, or the entire formula just leans to much to one side and the satisfaction is lessened. Fire Emblem balanced all of these elements perfectly.

Action-RPG: The World Ends With You

Odin Sphere means a lot to me, but TWEWY is as close to perfect as a game can get. The presentation, gameplay, and soundtrack were all supremely original and stylish.

Real-Time Strategy: Grimgrimoire

GG has the gameplay of Starcraft, with a superb twist-driven storyline, and a beautiful soundtrack, all wrapped up in Vanillaware's signature style. It's just a beautiful experience.

FPS: Bulletstorm

The one FPS that satisfied me.

Racing: Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Mario Kart is the best and DD is the best of the series.

The "Next Generation" 5 years in

[Written in February 2010]

It has been 5 years since the current generation of home consoles began with the Xbox 360 in 2005. A lot has happened over the years. We've seen online gaming explode in popularity, graphics almost reaching photorealism, and the rise of downloadable games. However, with all these technological advancements, have videogames truly gotten better? Does this current generation of consoles deserve to be called the "next generation"?

My answer is a reluctant "yes", simply because, in my opinion, this generation just barely qualifies as "next generation", for nearly every game made these days could have been done in the past. Sure, they wouldn't have been as pretty, or had the best internet functionality, but what do those two things matter when considering the game itself?

Videogames are meant to be played. Lately, it feels like I'm watching more than I'm playing in videogames. Videogames like Mass Effect 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 simply came across as a chore, because while the games have detailed graphics and high production values, when it came time for me to take control, the game just felt so basic; thereby making the gameplay simply a means to progress the story, rather than something to be experienced. In so many games these days, it feels like you "play to watch", rather than "play to play" like it should be. Story is an important part of videogames, but games should always be equal parts story and gameplay; and if there must be a focus on story, the game better be an RPG. When I play an action game, the gameplay should be the main highlight.

Simply put, I am very disappointed with this generation of videogames. This disappointment stems from the standards that have been set by the past generations and this current generation not meeting those standards. This current gen has seen many, many great games, but very few have been truly impressive.

This is a result of game developers focusing too much on technology, which is taking away the originality and style that developers had in the past.

For example, look at Capcom's Street Fighter IV. Street Fighter IV is a huge step backwards from the masterpiece that is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Gameplay, style, music, whatever you look at, Third Strike did it better than SFIV. This was due to Capcom's decision to appeal to a mass market, and induce nostalgia by esentially remaking Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Furthermore, Capcom has ditched 2D sprites for 3D models, which further appeal to the mass market.

In the past, there were revolutionary games that set standards of how we play games. Games such as Metroid Prime, Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Pikmin,Metal Gear Solid, Viewtiful Joe, SoulCalibur, and many more. These games set standards because they took many risks in their design and brought fresh ideas to the market. Now the market is saturated by sequel upon sequel, which only improve upon their predecessors through better graphics without truly advancing gameplay.

Unfortunately, this generation has seen a decline in the diversity of videogames in the market as well, with RPGs being a rare sight now, as well as pretty much any genre that isn't a 1st or 3rd person shooter. This market is dominated by one thing: the almighty dollar. The result is killing off developers left and right, and causing developers to take very few risks; which is a shame.

I have enjoyed many games with generation. The highlights of this generation for me have been Bayonetta, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, the World Ends With You, SoulCalibur IV, WarioWare Smooth Moves, King of Fighters XII, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm, Valkyria Chronicles, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Uncharted 2. But, the true standouts of this generation are the games that I play and realize that I am truly playing a "next generation" game, these games are:

-Bayonetta: gameplay, gameplay, gameplay, that is what Bayonetta delivers in spades above every other action game in existance. Bayonetta's gameplay depth showed me what was possible with a lot of creativity, superb design, and great execution. It helped that the game was gorgeous as well, but the gameplay was the first great step forward that the 3D action genre needed this generation.

-Super Mario Galaxy: Galaxy was truly a game from Nintendo, because there was so much gameplay diversity in Galaxy that it felt like a completely fresh experience. The gameplay design of Galaxy is simply genius, and really felt like a step forward in game design after the stellar Super Mario 64.

-Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm: I am no fan of the Naruto manga series, but this game is something to be admired by every game developer on the planet due to CyberConnect2's incredible graphics and animation. This game brought cel-shading to the next level, and is not only well detailed, but is almost unbelievable in motion; rivaling that of animation. The animation in this game is beyond anything any other game has accomplished. Omitting the factor of art direction, NUNS is the best looking game out right now; and I think the only game to surpass it will be it's sequel.

-The World Ends With You: an incredible gaming experience that completely takes advantage of it's hardware. Every facet of the DS hardware was used in TWEWY to great effect, from the incredible graphics, fantastic soundtrack, and superbly executed gameplay. TWEWY is a shinging example of how to use the freedom given to you as a game developer and let your creativity flourish.

My disappointment has been explained in my other blogs, so I will stop here with the complaints.

I am very critical when it comes to choosing which games to play, especially in this current generation. I believe there is so much more than can be accomplished with modern consoles, but very few are taking advantage. However, the future is looking rather bright with Metroid: Other M and Zelda Wii coming from Nintendo, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 from CyberConnect2, Final Fantasy XIII and Versus XIII from Square-Enix, Vanquish from PlatinumGames, and several mystery titles that could be legends in the making, such as MistWalker's 'The Last Story', Monolith's 'Xenoblade', and Vanillaware's next game.

Appreciation of the Past - Metroid series

[Written before the release of MOM]

If I had to describe the Metroid series in one word it would be quality. Very few videogame series get so much quality out of a single game that way the Metroid games do. When people say quality these days, they usually think of high production values like top-class voice acting, high quality cutscenes and motion capturing, and photo-realistic graphics. Well, that is not quality. That is just showing how deep a publisher's pockets are. True quality is when all facets of game development come together to form a game that is not different pieces meshed together, but graphics, music, gameplay, sound design, level design, art design, and execution that all form to make one identity all it's own. That is the quality that is Metroid. When play a Metroid game, you know you are playing a Metroid game. Whether it is ambient music that seems to meld into the background, the incredible art design, or the haunting isolation that follows Samus wherever she goes; it is all distinctly Metroid.

Metroid owes it's existance to the brilliant minds at Nintendo Research and Development 1. The two main minds behind the creation were the late Gunpei Yokoi (R.I.P.) and Yoshio Sakamoto, who continues to direct the Metroid games developed by R&D1.

So, what has the Metroid series accomplished throughout it's history? Well, Metroid created the aspect of an "open world environment" before anyone else, and utilized the concept to great effect. The player is thrown into the Metroid world without any hint of where to go; this has always been a staple of the franchise until Fusion. This immersed the player into the isolation of being alone on an alien planet. This gave Metroid it very own "flavor", even seperate from other Nintendo gems, such as The Legend of Zelda. Super Metroid's isolated atmosphere also helped build the foundation of survival-horror games; one could even say that the Metroid games are sort-of part of the survival-horror genre. Then there was Metroid Prime, which developed the sub-genre of first-person adventure games. While it's true that it was a shooter, Prime had many adventure aspects to it that gave it a truly seperate identity among other FPS. And, of course, the level of quality that Metroid games provide in both the 2D and 3D realm is truly excellent, and sets the bar for other adventures in both the 2D and 3D realm.

Gameplay has always been excellent in the Metroid games, both the main series and the Prime series. With the constant gaining of power-ups and enhancements, Metroid games always provided a sense of progression. But, it wasn't just the platforming and shooting that made Metroid games fantastic. Superb level design made traversing the areas of planets feel very engaging and never boring. Furthermore, combat was never so simple as simply shooting the alien creatures; strategy and thought had to be put into encounters, because enemies usually always had strengths to kill you, but weaknesses to exploit. This made combat in Metroid's very satisfying. The variety of enemies and bosses are incredible throughout the series, as everything is exploited to provide each boss with a unique touch; for example, Quadraxis' enormous size, Ridley's severe agression, the platforming element to the Kraid battles, or the distortion of gravity when fighting Nightmare.

You can't talk about Metroid without talking about the music. The original and Return of Samus had great themes, but sound director, Kenji Yamamoto, went all out on Super Metroid, providing a soundtrack that was both atmospheric and beautiful. His work would continue to impress throughout his work on the series. What is so truly excellent about the music in the Metroid series is how atmospheric it is. The theme of Norfair sounds like the erupting of lava, the gentle melody of the Phendrana Drifts sounds like the gentle falling of snow, and the eerie Sector 1 theme provides the feeling of isolation and fear. The music blends so well into the levels themselves that one tends to forget music is even playing, as it all just feels so natural.

Then, of course, we have the heroine of the series: Samus Aran. Up until Metroid: Other M, Samus has never spoken a word, yet we know Samus so well. Samus has shown us her strength, skill, maternal instincts, vengeance, and sadness to us; all without speaking a word. Nintendo must be praised for their ability to tell such a story without any dialouge. Well, it's less of a story, and more of a biography of Samus Aran that we are watching play out before us. Samus is alone in all of her adventures, thus making the experience that much more personal for the heroine. Something else I like about Samus is how despite being encased in armor, she still displays her femininity very well. It makes me very excited to know that Sakamoto plans to go even further into Samus' character with MOM.

The debate over which Metroid is the best is a debate that has raged on for well over a decade, and continues to this day. Super Metroid is a true legend of gaming, as it took the Metroid formula and executed it superbly; just looking at the title screen, and the player knew that they were in for a great experience. Metroid Fusion took the Super formula and enhanced it with more intelligent enemies, more diverse boss encounters, and added more of a narrative; a truly great successor. Metroid Prime took the Metroid series into 3D in the form of a FPS; and the result was nothing short of phenomenol. Prime took every aspect of Super and put it into the 3D realm; furthermore, Prime took every advantage of the 3D plane and used it in it's combat, platforming, and presentation. None of the games were slouches when it came to quality either.

Personally, I cannot choose a favorite out of the whole series, but splitting the series into the 3D and 2D realms, I'd have to go with the original Prime being the best 3D, and Fusion being the best 2D game. Yes, I said Fusion. It only beats Super by a hair, mainly due to Fusion's stellar boss battles. Combat has never been as satisfying in a Metroid than in Fusion, and that's including the Prime games.

Metroid games have influenced me in a large way throughout my life playing videogames. The main influence Metroid has on me would be the Metroid game's execution of it's presentation. When a game creates an atmospheric world, I always compare it to Metroid's worlds. I have never experienced such superbly executed worlds as I have with the Metroid games, because the Metroid developers understand that it isn't all in graphics and how detailed it is. It's about level design, art design, and how it is executed through the graphics and music, and how the player interacts with the world through gameplay. It is a complex process, and that is why so many games cast aside the complex process and just make the environments "pretty" and say that it was good. However, Nintendo always grasps the challenge and conquers it. Also, the Metroid Prime games changed the way I though about first-person shooters. In my opinon, the Prime games are the best executed FPS games to date. The way the first-person view is executed is incredible, from steam foggin up Samus' visor, or the relfection of Samus' eyes in the visor; it truly felt like the player was Samus. The controls were also very refined and worked perfectly without any clumsiness. Prime is truly a grand achievement in gaming, just as much as Super Metroid was. And, of course, the Metroid quality is some of the best you'll find in gaming, rivaled only by Team ICO's games.

So what can the modern market learn from the Metroid series? Modern videogames have come to gain too much of their identity from their production values. Relying on detailed graphics, extravagant cutscenes, and Hollywood caliber voice work and directing. While such merits aren't a bad thing, they are used far too often to mask a game's lack of identity in a market saturated by the same types of games. Games need to develop themselves to stand out among the crowd like games in the past did. Metroid did this by utilizing it's art direction and atmospheric design. Every aspect of a videogame should work towards the common goal of giving a game a sense of personality; everything from graphics, music, art design, and level design, and executing the gameplay so that the player becomes enthralled in the identity that all those different factors create. That is what every Metroid game does, and what modern games could learn from Nintendo and their legendary series.

Appreciation of the Past - Yoshi's Island

How do you top the best 2D platformer ever made? Simple. You make a sequel that is even better! That is what Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was, and still remains to this day.

Yoshi's Island is an incredible game, even by Nintendo's high standards. The graphics were presented in a very unique "crayon" style that made the entire game look like a drawing. It was cel-shading before cel-shading even existed. Then, of course, there was Koji Kondo's increidbly moody and chatchy soundtrack filled with happy forest tunes and haunting dungeon themes.

But, where Yoshi's Island truly shines, and what makes it a classic, is the incredible gameplay and variety. The gameplay itself consisted of jumping, ground-pounding, and throwing eggs. The game mechanics were very fun, but what truly pushed Yoshi's Island past it's predocessor was the incredible amount of variety in which the player utilized the gameplay mechanics. The level design was incredibely varied throughout the games 8 world, utilizing careful platforming, precise egg throwing, running, and puzzles to make each level feel like it's own beast. No single level can be approached the same; whether it was a level drenched in complete darkness, or one that had mud as the running platform thereby making Yoshi run slower and jump shorther. Plus, the game had many transformations for Yoshi to utilize in various environments. The result was a game expereince that never got boring because the same tactics in one level don't work in a different one.

Furthermore, the boss fights were increidbly varied, and required a sharp mind and skill to take down. Whether it was fighting a raven on the moon, or taking down a frog from teh inside-out, each boss was unique and challenging. The most impressive boss fight in the game, however, is the final battle against Baby Bowser. As if the game didn't have enough variety in gameplay already, the game takes a complete detour from the norm and turns into a psuedo-Fantasy Zone style game, with Yoshi throwing eggs into the background where a giant Baby Bowser runs ever closer to Yoshi trying to crush him. The end result was something increidble, because the game actually forces the player to execute a game mechanic that they've been using the entire game in a whole new way. The change made the final battle very exciting and full of tension, because the player had to adapt to the new situation in the game's final encounter.

In my opinon, Yoshi's Island's final boss battle is one of Nintendo's greatest achievements; because it is a shining example of what Nintendo does best, and that is innovate gameplay (plus, the music is simply incredible). There was so much innovation in Yoshi's Island alone that it became a classic, and stands as one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time, if not the best.

So, what is it that modern developers can learn from Yoshi's Island? It is that a game thrives on it's variety and depth of gameplay; which is something that has been lacking considerably in videogames nowadays. The average length of videogame these days is around 8 hours. Why is that? Also, these short games aren't usually the type that one will go back and play multiple times. Why is that? It is because they lack gameplay variety. A videogame's gameplay needs to interact with every other factor of the game so that variety can be achieved. Level design is absolutely crucial to this, because if every level is the same, then the player will simply be initiating the same actions over and over. Furthermore, enemies must be diverse as well, or every action to take down an enemy will be executed over and over by the player as well. Repitition and predictability of gameplay does not make for an engaging experience. Nintendo understood this, and that is why Yoshi's Island is filled with gameplay diversity and unique gameplay execution. Most modern games beieleve it's fine to have repititous gameplay if the story is engaging or if the game is visually stunning. Story can only carry a game so far, and if I'm only playing the game for story, it simply ends up feeling like a chore to play through, and the story isn't worth slogging through hours of boring gameplay. And visuals tend to grow dull over time; once the initial "wow factor" is gone, the visuals become completely reliant upon art design, and if that isn't up to snuff, then it just becomes boring. Games should never be made to play through once, especially if the game length is only 8 to 10 hours. Reliance on story and graphics is what is killing innovation in modern games.

However, these problems do not face Nintendo. Super Mario Galaxy felt like the spiritual sequel to both Super Mario 64 and Yoshi's Island. As the gameplay variety in Galaxy was superb, and a fantastic display of how to develop a game around gameplay, while still having excellent graphics, story, and music.

Yoshi's Island showed me just how creative a game developer could be in not just execution of graphics and music, but gameplay as well. When gameplay is creative and unique, the player can become enthralled in it, and that leads to total satisfaction. Satisfaction is what all games should provide from their gameplay, and Yoshi's Island showed the world just how satisfying gameplay could be.

Appreciation of the Past - Paper Mario series

Nintendo's huge library of games covers nearly every genre there is, but one genre has had a limited presence in the world of Nintendo, and that is the RPG. However, Nintendo does have an RPG series, one dedicated to their most famous mascot: Mario, and that series is the Paper Mario series. Sure, there was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars for the SNES, but that was co-developed by Squaresoft, and that became a different RPG series: the Mario & Luigi series of games. But this post is about the 3 classic Paper Mario games: Paper Mario, Paper Mario: the Thousand Year Door, and Super Paper Mario.

The Paper Mario games are classics because of how incredibly unique they were. Of course, the "paper" graphical style is immediately eye-catching, which felt like the spiritual successor to Yoshi's Island and Kirby Dreamland 3's "crayon" graphical style. The best thing about the graphical style was how it was able to express the personality of the characters so well. It was more expressive than both 2D sprites and 3D models, because in the transition from artwork to game graphics, nothing was lost. The result was not only something that looked unique, but worked well into the game's presentation of the story and classic humor of the Paper Mario games.

Speaking of which, the Paper Mario games have some of the most unique stories in the Nintendo library. This is due mainly to the fact that the PM games aren't afraid to have both humor and heart in their stories. The humor in the Paper Mario games is superbly written and delivered, whether it's Bowser being pissed that he isn't the one to kidnap Peach, or every female character in the name flirting with Mario; the humor was always unexpected and witty. However, outside of the humor, always lied a lot of heart, usually involving a character nobody thought they'd control: Princess Peach. The Paper Mario games are truly where the princess in pink shines as a character. She has a strong personality and never sits back when she is kidnapped. Her play sequences offer unique gameplay sequences and always add some heart to the story. Her story in The Thousand Year Door was especially excellent, in my opinion.

Music has always been a unique factor in the Papaer Mario games as well, usually breaking away from the norm and having a wide assortment of themes. The result is something that works very well into the story, as the pieces vary depending on the emotions playing at hand, thus music ranges from humurous themes to heartbreaking ones. Of course, the series has it's fair share of great battle themes as well.

Gameplay may not be where the Paper Mario series shines brightest, but it is not without it's charm. The gameplay always had the player involved and never simply pressing buttons for commands. Depth was always added teh further the player went into the game, keeping the game from getting repetitive in it's battles. Furthermore, TTYD added the presence of an audience that watched your battles and either aided or hurt you depending about your performance.

What truly makes the Paper Mario games stand out is not just their presentation, humor, characters, and story, but how all those factors came together to give the games their unique charm. There are really no other games like the Paper Mario games, not in terms of presentation, story, or humor. When Nintendo makes a videogame series, they always aim to make it something entirely unique, and with Paper Mario they truly succeeded.

The Paper Mario series' latest release was the recent Super Paper Mario, which was an excellent RPG/platformer hybrid with very unique gameplay mechanics, awesome characters, presentation, and, of course, a story full of humor and heart.

In the wake of many RPG series becoming dulled with over-used battle mechanics and cliched storylines, Nintendo dares to make us laugh and cry in an RPG series with a presentation and charm unlike any other. I hope the PM series continues on the Wii, because it is a series that provides a true breath of fresh air in a market saturated by over-used ideas.

Appreciation of the Past - Rhythm Heaven

Rhythm Heaven, also known as Rhythm Tengoku Gold, is a rhythm/music game from Nintendo. To get straight to the point, what is so incredible about this game is its incredible integration of music into the gameplay. The result is something that goes beyond other music games like Dane Dance Revolution or even Nintendo's own Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents series; for the gameplay in Rhythm Heaven isn't completely under the jurisdiction of the music, nor is the music under the gameplay's jurisdiction, rather, the two elements of gameplay work hand-in-hand to form something completely original. You as the player are creating the music in the game, but your actions are being led by the music itself.

The gameplay is incredible as well. Unlike other music games where you follow a pattern or sequence, in Rhythm Heaven, you input various touch screen actions that go into the actions that your character performs. Like all of the great Nintendo games, RH's gameplay creates complexity out of simplicity, as everything is done with taps and flicks, but the amount of diversity and creativity that went into the game is astonishing. Furthermore, the music games in Rhythm Heaven are incredibly intuitive, similar to the WarioWare series, which is no surprise, because the game design of Rhythm Heaven was done by none other than Yoshio Sakamoto and his team at Nintendo R&D1.

The word "innovation" is thrown around a lot these days, even by myself I'll admit; but Rhythm Heaven is a true example of innovation in modern gaming. It utilized the DS' touch screen so creatively that no other systemn could playa game like Rhythm Heaven and provide the same satisfaction of gameplay. If there's one thing that Sakamoto knows how to do, it;s to take full advantage of a systems abilities, and utilize them to their fullest. First with WarioWare Smooth Moves on the Wii, then Rhythm Heaven on the DS, and soon another Wii offering in the form of Metroid Other M. Truly, I expect MOM to take completel advantage of the Wii system, and the result will be a truly satisfying experience.

I can't show a gameplay video of Rhythm Heaven, because simply watching the game does it no justice. It is a game that truly must be played to completely understand.

A new entry in the series is being developed for the Wii, which is bound to be great.

Exceeding Expectations

[Written in February 2010]

If there's one thing I've learned through all my years playing videogames, it's that I have no idea what I want in a great game. Like everyone out there, I have my expectations for videogames before I play them, but I've found that it's wrong to have these expectations. Because, due to my expectations, games simply become less impressive.

For example, I've played every Legend of Zelda game out there, so before I played Twilight Princess, I had expecations of what I was about to play. All of these expectations were met in a great game, but none of those expectations were exceeded. As a result, I was disappointed with Twilight Princess. I've found that, while it is good to meet expectations, it's crucial to exceed all expectations to go from being a great game to an incredible experience.

And with that said, let's fast foward to 2009 when Nintendo released another Zelda game: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Spirit Tracks was a game that I had expectations for, both as a Zelda game and a DS Zelda game; since it was preceded by Phantom Hourglass, the stylus controls couldn't provide much of a surprise. It looked as if Spirit Tracks was destined to be "more of the same", but leave it to Nintendo to prove me wrong. Spirit Tracks blew away all my expectations. Whether it was the incredible graphics, the surprisingly fantastic soundtrack (which was incredible and original given Nintendo's great track record for awesome soundtracks), very clever dungeons, puzzles, and boss battles, or the surprisingly fantastic storyline. Spirit Tracks was both innovative and brimming with quality. These are all components that are always tied to Nintendo's Zelda series, but not since The Wind Waker has such quality been executed with such passion. One need only look at the very clever Fire Temple, or better yet, the incredible climax to the adventure. Spirit Tracks really blew me away with it's execution.

Then there are games that exceed expectations by doing the unexpected and break traditional ideals held by certain genres or games in general. For example, Persona 3 and 4 are some of teh best RPGs in recent years, this helped in large part by their incredible execution. Nearly every song is a vocal song, the atmosphere is very modern, and there is an emphasis on the people of the game, as oppossed to focusing on some world-endangering crisis. There really aren't any other RPGs like the Persona games, which both exceeded my expectations, or, to put it a better way, changed what my expectations were. The World Ends With You is also a great example of a game like the Personas, where the presentation and execution are something never seen before; though in TWEWY's case, gameplay was also a defineing factor of it's excellence.

I love when games completely change what I come to expect from videogames as a whole. These games are rare, but it's fantastic to experience these games. Games like Shadow of the Colossus, Metroid Prime, SoulCalibur, Viewitful Joe, and Bayonetta. Games that exceed expectations to the point where just what those games accomplished becomes what I come to expect from their respective genres, and if other games don't measure up, then I am simply disappointed.

The great thing is that with these games, their creative ideas and superb executions all are things I could never come up with. So when there are surveys that ask "What do you want in this videogame?", it really feels like a pointless question, because I while I do have high hopes for videogames to be creative and innovative, my ideas aren't something that can influence them. The developers are game developers for a reason, they're the ones with the talent. So if you ask me what innovation I want to see out of videogames, I'll provide my input, but really all I'm saying is "surprise me." Afterall, there's no way I could come up with awesome game ideas such as the Kirby series, the WarioWare series, or Super Mario Galaxy.

Why Bayonetta is my favorite game

Bayonetta is my favorite game. Although, unlike many other people's favorite game, it isn't so obvious why. So here's why:

- Bayonetta has the most satisfying gameplay I've ever expereinced. I have always been interested in the action games, but when it came to 3D action games, I have been met with only disappointment after the original Devil May Cry. Devil May Cry, while excellent, was a very rough game that had a lot of untapped potential. In my opinion, no 3D action game after DMC1 dwelved into the untapped potential of 3D action. 3D action games over the past decade have felt very limited; mainly in that combos were very short and the amount of freedom given to the player was very limited. Furthermore, 3D action games never really felt satisfying. They simply felt like more of a chore than an experience; I mean, sure, God of War had epic scale battles, but that was more of something you watched, mainly due to the QTEs that would break up the flow of the battles. I thought the potential would never be realized, that is until Bayonetta. Leave it to the Hideki Kamiya to bring out the potential of a genre he cultivated.

With Bayonetta, the combat is simply spectacular. Bayonetta is built upon the same foundation of Devil May Cry, but developed the formula to whole new level. The combat is a beautiful. It flows and it has depth, but most of all: it has freedom. In past action games, the combat felt so limited, like there was a set path you had to follow to achieve goals. In Bayonetta, there are so many options that everyone who plays the game will play it differently than someone else. The amount of weapons, techniques, and accessories all come together in an excellent free-form battle system. Truly, Team Little Angels has made gameplay perfection.

Furthermore, the combat is insanely satisfying. From the Torture Attacks to the incredible enemy AI, the combat all comes together in one fantastic package. The use of button-mashing sequences in Bayonetta simply further enhances the satisfaction. That combined with the awe-inspriing action on-screen all makes for a fantastic experience. It really isn't so much the scale of the enemies you fight, but the fact that you, as the player, are part of this incredible scale and fighting it.

And, of course, there is Bayonetta's diversity of gameplay. From the large assortment of enemies, to the motorcyle and missle sequences; Bayonetta's gameplay never gets dull; even through multiple playthroughs.

Gameplay doesn't get any better than Bayonetta's.

- Next comes the presentation. Detailed graphics mean nothing without a great presentation. Art direction and style mean everything in a game's presentation, especially in an action game. Bayonetta's presentation of gameplay is one of the best I've ever seen in an action game. Sure, the film-strip cut-scenes are very bad, but when it comes to what you see throughout most of the game, it's beautiful. Bayonetta herself is a spectacel for the eyes with incredible animations all emphasized by the stylish weapons she wields. Her sexy style is something refreshing in a character because it's something never seen before in an action game, and from the stylish techniques to her beautiful voice, Bayonetta is always the highlight of the screen throughout the whole game. Furthermore, the gameplay never stops once it gets going. Only in boss battles does there ever occur a break in the action, and it is always used to push the battle forward, never halt or pause the excitement.

Bayonetta's boss battles are easily some of the greatest moments I've experienced in a game. The graphics are astounding, and not simply in detail, but animation and interaction. Animations of the enormous bosses are astounding, but none of that would mean anything if the boss was sationary or locked in place. No, not in Bayonetta. In Bayonetta the bosses are always moving and attacking fiercely with never a dull moment, especially on the harder difficulties. The spectacle of the battles goes even further by having the bosses interact with the stages Bayonetta is on.

Furthermore, Bayonetta has some of the most epic boss battle themes ever. A lot of passion went into each boss theme, and the result is something that enhances the action to an even greater level. A simply mind-blowing presentation, but that's to be expected from the developers of Okami.

- What all these factors create is combat that feels "alive". This is what makes Bayonetta my favorite game of all time. Bayonetta is the first game that I've played that felt like more than a game. Bayonetta is an experience. Hideki Kamiya put it best: Bayonetta is a game you feel. The gameplay gives the player freedom, and the presentation gives the player excitement. All of these apects makes for something that feels like no other game. Many other games have come close to being an experience, such as Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Metroid Prime, and SoulCalibur; and there are several other games that are better than Bayonetta. But Bayonetta excels so much at what it does right, that it is impossible not to be impressed by it all.

There may be games with better stories than Bayonetta. There may be games with better detailed graphics than Bayonetta. There may be games that have higher production values than Bayonetta. But none of those games will ever feel the way Bayonetta does.

My Most Influential Games

I've played many, many games since I began playing games when I was around 3 years old. As we grow and play more games, our vision and expectations of games get shaped and molded by the games that influence us the most. The games that have influenced me the most are:

- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Epic. The word "epic" gets thrown around a lot today, by me included, but the first game to define this word for me was a Link to the Past. The game world was enormous, and so much was open to player right from the start. Furthermore, the game provides the player with a whole other world halfway through. A Link to the Past really opened my eyes to how vast a game world could be, and just what a true adventure game was.

- Super Mario 64: Freedom. Not only did Super Mario 64 bring the world of 3D to gaming, but it executed it perfectly. Mario 64 showed the world just how to interact and play in a true 3D world through superb platforming and level design. Super Mario 64 not only showed the industry how to execute 3D gaming, but created a whole new path for games to travel down, and showed just what games were capable of.

- SoulCalibur: Quality. SoulCalibur is the epitome of quality in videogames, even to this day. Everything about SoulCalibur was perfectly realized. The graphics, the art direction, the music, the characters, and, of course, the gameplay. What SoulCalibur did was show me how intricate a videogame could be while still being very focused. I never thought that such quality could come from a fighting game, but the effect of SoulCalibur showed me that there is no better genre suited for such quality. The graphics presented animation that was super smooth, the music was epic and heart-pounding thus making each battle feel like a true battle, the art direction created fantastic set pieces for these battles and fantastic characters to take place in those battles, and the gameplay brought everything into the hands of the player. To me, the SoulCalibur series remains the standard of quality in games today, and the only fighting game that transcends it's genre and stands alongside the greatest videogames ever made.

- Chrono Trigger: RPG. The first game I played that felt like it transcended past being just a game and became an experience. The graphics were fantastic, backed up by a superb art direction by Akira Toriyama; the characters were fantastic, and were emphasized by the battle system itslef, whcih utilized team attacks. Furthermore, the story was fantastic without being convuluted like so many modern-day RPGs. But, what made the game feel so personal and enjoyable to me was Mitsuda's incredible soundtrack, which was so diverse and charming that it became a legend. To me, Chrono Trigger executed the JRPG formula better than any other JRPG, even to this day.

- Super Metroid: Atmosphere. This game showed how perfectly realized a videogame's world could feel. Super Metroid's world felt alive and thriving, and the player explored this alien world. The result was a game that was more engaging than any other game I've ever played before. I would play Super Metroid non-stop because I wanted to just keep exploring and see what was behind each door. Furthermore, the fantastic soundtrack helped bring the player into the world, so much so that I would constantly forget the music was playing, rather, it felt like the music was part of the world itself. Making a fully realized game world is difficult, but Sakamoto and R&D1 pulled it off with flying colors.

- Odin Sphere: Beauty. One annoyance I always had with videogames is how so much was lost from the artworks from the game's designers to the actual game's graphics. Vanillaware stopped all of that by providing a game so beautiful and well-crafted, that it could only be called a work of art. One of my biggest disappointments with the game industry was the decline of 2D gaming. Vanillaware is keeping that alive, by not only keeping 2D gaming alive, but bringing it to a whole new level of quality not dreamed possible in the past. Odin Sphere showed me just how beautiful games can be, and that the videogame medium is not so different from that of manga or anime.

- Bayonetta: Climax Action. Finally! Finally, a truly satisfying 3D action was made. Bayonetta changed my way of thinking for videogames by showing me just how satisfying a single videogame experience can be. Furthermore, Bayonetta showed me that the direction videogames are going is completely unneccessary, for Bayonetta doesn't use motion controls or a camera, or any type of gimmick. It's all controlled with a controller that's no more complicated than a PSX controller. Bayonetta showed that through innovation and creativity, a truly satisfying experience can be made through gameplay alone. Climax Action is real, and all it took to create was to not be afraid to take things to the next level. "Taking things to the next level", that is what every game developer needs to do now, so that this new generation can truly kick off.

However, to have been unsatisfied with every action game until Bayonetta means that a precedent had to be set beforehand. And this is true. Before Bayonetta, before Devil May Cry, before them all, there was an arcade, and in that arcade was .......

Metal Slug: ACTION!!! No game personifies action the way the Metal Slug series does. Metal Slug showed me everything that the action genre was capable of. The pacing was brilliant with action happening non-stop from screen to screen, yet it was never boring, as it was never repeptitive. The level design was incredible, keeping the player engaged constantly throughout the incredible action experience. Nearly a dozen different weapons, mechs and tanks to go into, and huge bosses; and all of going by at a brisk pace. The gameplay was also very simple, thus allowing SNK to rack-up the difficulty, which Metal Slug is known for; it also allowed the game to be just so fun. All of that combined with a pounding and catchy soundtrack just make each Metal Slug enjoyable from start to finish; especially Metal Slug 3, the magnum opus of the series. Metal Slug is the game that made me fall in love with the action genre, and it's the game that became the golden standard of action for me.

Of course I've played many other games that were influential, such as Sonic, Yoshi's Island, and Street Fighter II, but the ones above are teh ones that really shpwed my views of gaming as a whole. If I were to say what game have influenced me the MOST, that would go to Metal Slug, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, SoulCalibur, and Bayonetta. These are the games that made me the gamer I am today.

A Limit to Satisfaction?

[Written in April 2010]

When i look at games to day and compare them to games of the past, I am annoyed by how the increase in tech hasn't benefitted games nearly as much as I thought it would in the past. What I see in modern day games is that they are limiting themselves. Uncharted 2 for example had some great action scenarios that pushed one's adrenline levels. Too bad there were only around 3 of them. Why weren't there more? Did Naughty Dog think that was enough and that filling the game with cut and paste gameplay from Uncharted 1 was fine? Games should fully satisfy a player, and to do that developers need to transcend these "limits". Limits are everywhere. Some games are limited by their specific genre, their audience, their themes, or even their stories.

One game that always comes to mind when I think of games trancending their genres is SoulCalibur. Before SC, fighting games just took the simple route of cool characters, cool theme songs, and crazy powers. SoulCalibur took the foundation of games like The Last Blade and Tekken and took the genre to new hieghts with mind-blowing graphics that most wouldn't try so hard for in a fighting game, and a truly epic soundtrack that sounded like it should be in a major RPG. Furthermore, the SC games have a pretty strong story element to them too. These are all things one wouldn't expect from a fighting game, but it had it, and that's what makes SC so amazing.

Then there are games that laugh at limits and just blow minds. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is an artistic masterpiece that shows the power of 2D graphics on modern day systems. Muramasa, as well as Odin Sphere and Grimgrimoire, are the games that I dreamed about as a kid when first looking at sprite-based games like Fatal Fury and King of Fighters. Okami is yet another game that just destorys the limits of what people thought were capable with graphics.

Then, of course, there's Bayonetta, which laughs at limits. Bayonetta is everything an action game should be, because it pushed not only how insane an action game could be, but how much of that insanity could be in control of the player.

I suppose this argument comes from my disappointment with God of War 3. God of War 3 showed a lot of graphical potential, but failed to execute it in any impressive way. This is extremely evident in the game's final boss battle, which couldn't have been more underwhelming and dull. Muramasa had more intense action than God of War 3, and it was made by only 21 people. GoW3 had a multi-million dollar budget and years of development time. It really goes to show that it isn't about what a game looks like, but how much passion you put into the project.

Games like Bayonetta, Muramasa, and Final Fantasy XIII have shown me just how capable modern-day games are as a medium. But a handful of games can't satisfy me forever. C'mon developers, show me something!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why 'Asura's Wrath' could become my favorite game ever

I don't get really hyped for many games, the only one's in recent memory that I got really hyped for were Bayonetta, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Now, I have a new game that I'm really hyped for: Asura's Wrath. The reason? Because I think it could be the most satisfying game I've ever played, thereby making it my favorite game ever.

I know it's pretty dumb to get hyped for a game that has only two trailer out, but I can't help but see what AW is capable of. Now, a lot of what makes me excited is knowing AW is from the same team behind the Naruto Storm series. The action in those games is visually incredible, but it has a pretty simple execution. CC2 has confirmed that AW will be pretty hard and very un-free, both elements that tell me the game won't be one of those games that simplifies it's gameplay to make it more accessible, something the Naruto games need to be considering their audience.

The trailers also speak a lot about the game. Right away, the graphics are absolutely mind-blowing. Not only is AW easily the best looking Unreal Engine 3 game I've seen, but it's possibly the best looking game I've ever seen. Just witnessing the mass amount of spears hurling toward Asura is a sight to admire. And knowing CC2, we can expect scenes that eclipse this one in magnitude throughout the game. The game also animated just as beautifully as the Naruto Storm games, if not better.

Also, quickly apparent, are the QTEs. I'm not a hater of QTEs, I actually think they can be really fantastic when executed well, and AW's look to be the best I've ever played. I was instantly impressed by the QTE pushing the left and right sticks upward to pull spears out of Asura's legs. The control sequence reflects the on-screen action perfectly, something I never seen in a QTE (though I've never played Heavy Rain). I'm sure AW will be filled with QTEs, which makes me very excited.

Next comes the music, which will be composed by Chiyako Fukuda. The music in the trailers wasn't too impressive, but considering his superb soundtrack for the dot//HACK and Naruto games, I'm excited to hear what he will develop for AW, a game that is supposed to be about pure drama and rage.

Now, the core gameplay, which can be seen in the second trailer. The game looks diverse without being overly complicated. The element of grabbing enemies and parts of the environment has me excited as well. It also looks like it will have counter attacks as well. This is the area where I know the least, and unfortunately, it's also the area that I care most about. Hopefully, this turns out to be the game's best factor.

Another element is virtually unknown at this point: story. At the moment, I'm more looking forward to how CC2 will execute the story, rather than the elements of the story itself. The way CC2 executed some of the story sections in Naruto Storm 2 were excellent in portraying the emotion of the situation. I hope AW has many dramamtic scenes like Naruto Storm 2 did. CC2 has experience in developing storylines, as they are the people behind the entire .HACK story-lines. I have high hopes for the story.

And, finally, the execution. All of the elements I mentioned above aren't just individual factors, they are all executed together in perfect harmony. I hope that the entire game reflects trailers execution, and if the Naruto Storm 2 is anything to go by, then it will.

So how does this all translate to AW being my potential favorite game ever? Because AW looks to take action games to a whole new level, a level even higher than what Bayonetta took it. By combining the visual and aural elements of a fantastic presentation with immersive and satisfying gameplay will provide elements of a perfect execution. That immersion is key. Bayonetta's gameplay was intensely satisfying, but it was more traditional in it's visual execution (behind-the-back perspective). But with AW, if it uses the camera like Naruto did, then AW will be like playing an action-drama straight out of Hong Kong cinema. Asura's Wrath may finally be the game to break down the barrier between the game and the player.

My problem with the FPS genre

If there's one game genre I feel hasn't come close to reaching it's potential, it is the first-person shooter genre.

I don't play too many FPS, mainly because they don't show any potential of actually taking the critical leap forward from 10 years ago. With modern technology, so much is possible. A lot of great graphical execution happens in many modern FPS, but it's mainly all in the background. What annoys me the most about the FPS genre, is that it has the most potential to be a true "experience", but it never plays on these capabilities.

Two things come to mind when I think of moments in FPS that could be considered elements of an "experience": one is how the player could see Samus's eyes in the reflection of her visor in the Metroid Prime games, and the second is at the end of Halo: Reach when your helmet cracked and the character throws the helmet off. These two instances are there to remind the player that they are looking out of the eyes of a character in the game rather than just a moving screen with gun pointed out.

But why are the elements so simple? Why not have the helmet cracking when taking damage to the head occur throughout the game, and then give the player the option to continue to play with the helmet cracked or throw it off and leave them subject to more damage? Why not bring that whole armor damage system to all parts of the armor? When armor takes to much damage it'll over-heat, and the player will experience more damage if they don't get the armor off before it explodes, and getting the armor off can be executed through a short QTE sequence. All of this sounds a bit tedious, but it's all for the sake of bringing the player into the gaming experience.

It's fine if a game is simple like a Mario game, but there's so much potential to make a game an "experience", to really suck the player into it, and make the player forget they're just pressing buttons, but actually shooting, running, and jumping.

I thought the Metroid Prime series had the most potential for this FPS immersion. After seeing Samus' eyes in the first Prime game, I was hoping for more in future games in the series. Stuff like seeing Samus' hair move in front of the field of view when taking a hard hit, her visor cracking after getting into critical damage, hearing her breath heavily when in critical damage or running for an extended period of time, and having more realistic reactions to damage and jumps. I loved it when Samus would put her hand in front her face when taking heavy damage, but I wanted to see that taken to the next level, such as Samus actually getting knocked to the ground, and pulling herself up (all seen in first-person view of course). Even more visceral elements, such as Samus' helmet taking such a blow that the visor completely breaks, and blood dyes a part of the screen red, thus reflecting Samus' head bleeding. This visceral experience brings the player not only closer to the action, but closer to the character of Samus herself. That is immersion, that is "experience".

Little elements like that are what changes a videogame from simply being a game into a full-on experience. Something the FPS genre is truly capable of. With the FPS, the identity of the player is lost because all the player sees is what the character sees, and soon, the game just becomes a big screen rather than looking through an actual character, but if the character makes themselves known to the player, then the immersion goes up. It feels less like the player is looking through a TV screen, and more like the player is experiencing this character's adventure through their eyes. It's relative to how there are books told through an omnipotent narrator, and books told through the first-person. It completely changes the tone and experience of the story, and it would do the same for a videogame; I guarantee it.

I may wish for all this, but I am ignorant. I don't know how games are made. What I want to see may never come to fruition because it isn't possible, but I still hope I live to see a game like this one day.

2011 Update

It's been well over a year since I've touched this blog. The main reason being that I kinda lost interest in expressing my opinion. I'm still not too interested, heh. But I'll give it one more shot.

Well, a year can change a lot. So ...

My Current Top 5 Games:

1) Bayonetta
2) Okami
3) Chrono Trigger
4) Final Fantasy XIII
5) Metroid: Other M

My top 3 remain the same, but FFXIII and MOM changed a lot about what I think of games, and became instant classics for me. The funny thing is that both FFXIII and MOM were recieved with very mixed thoughts from both critics and the public. I loved both of them.

Now, I'll focus on just what 2010 did for my mind-set with videogames by going through each major title:

1) Bayonetta - showed how gameplay can be a true experience without any gimmicks or excessive QTEs. Bayonetta remains the most satisfying game I've played yet, and remains the only game I could "feel". I was beginning to give up on the 3D action genre, but Bayonetta revived my love for the genre, and now I hope for Ninja Gaiden 3, Asura's Wrath, and, possibly, Bayonetta 2 to keep the genre original and satisfying.

2) Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 - this game may be the best looking game money can buy at the moment. The first Storm was beautiful as well, but Storm 2 executed the graphics even better than the first by providing battles that felt like I was playing an anime. The barrier between game graphics and animation is almost broken thanks to people at CC2. What was also impressive about Storm 2 was how it was actually a quality experience with great gameplay, a fantastic soundtrack, and a great execution of the Naruto story. Storm 2 is also one of the few fighting games I have been satisfied with this gen.

3) Final Fantasy XIII - finally a next-gen RPG where I actually love the gameplay! In past RPGs I've played, the gameplay was always something of a chore that I wanted to just get through to move the story along, but in FFXIII, I wanted to fight battles because the battle system was just so satisfying. On top of that, the story, graphics, soundtrack, and overall experience were just fantastic. FFXIII truly represents the modern-day RPG for me, and I can't wait too see what FFXIII-2 will bring to the table.

4) Metroid: Other M - this game was an experience because it sucked me into the gameplay experience like no other game. This was done through the superb graphic direction of the game which consisted of sleek graphics, a soft and moody soundtrack, smooth transition from gameplay to cutscene, and a simple control scheme. Everything just clicked together to make a game that wasn't a sum of it's parts, but rather something whole. Not just the adventure genre, but videogames as a whole can take notes from MOM and what it accomplished.

Other games like Vanquish and Super Mario Galaxy 2 were very impressive games, but they didn't change my outlook.