Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Un-Wonderful One Double One

  …Ugh! …

  Well, … ugh!  Nobody is going to like what I have to say.  Nobody is going to respect what I have to say, because it is aesthetic rather than scientific.  What I have to say is going to go over like a Valiantium Blade straight through the heart of the struggling, game deprived WiiU.


  … I hate the Wonderful 101.

  At first I pegged the Wonderful 101 as a cute, if over-the-top, superhero game that mysteriously baffled reviewers.  The dialog around Wonder 101 is mixed; how can you say it isn’t good until you tried it?  Of all of the reasons to try it, I think that I was looking for something new and different, something to sit alongside Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3 and Wii Fit U, and heck, consider NintendoLand and Ducktales Remastered.  Without the Wonderful 101 my collection is a greatest hits parade of yesteryear. 

  Boy is this one off the mark.

  Bad gaming experiences often tell me a lot about myself.  Wonderful 101’s earliest levels seemed to begin easily enough, aside from some unfortunate do or die kill moments, known elsewhere as Quick-Time Events.  Wonderful 101 demands much more skill during these short video moments, and correspondingly slows the passage of time to a crawl, calls out the move that I’m expected to do, and starts a counter.  Tough but fair, I said then.  I usually hate Q.T.E.s but I’m not so far above them that I can’t sit through new efforts at the beleaguered game mechanic.

  Subtle evidence began to pile up of conflict with my gaming needs.  Muscles tensing dangerously, with nothing to do.  Heightened heart rate.  Broad confusion.  Moving the core Wonderful One (the avatar) moves the whole formation while it is being built, at first not disruptive at all, but suddenly growing far more relevant.  That’s not to say I wasn’t enjoying the witty banter, or the silly characters struggling to hold a tableau.  The game is legitimately charming.  Made in the era before everything had to look like movies, the Q.T.E.s would be cut for something closer to Golden Axe, hardly my favorite but certainly no slouch.  Consider Golden Axe where all of the allied character unite up to beat up an army of chicken/lizard riders; that description is not far off of everything I like about the Wonderful 101.

  I’m still not exactly sure what I’m rebelling against, but it is clear that rebelling is the correct world.  I’ve just defeated stage 4, the GEATHJERK officer 6th class Laambo and his mount, the Diekuu Ohrowchee.  The battle quickly abandoned the flow of stages and accomplishments that I’ve been getting used to for something completely different, indeed, strongly cinematic.  I hate cinema in my games, with such a passion! >:o

  The tension came to a head in this stage, to say nothing of outright despairing confusion.  Probably my own fault: Wonderful 101 is not a game that takes well to being played during the News broadcast!  But dammit … I am not pleased by any stretch!

  … And I told you that this would be emotional and not rational.  I like games that please the emotional core.  I hate movies, chief among them Hollywood, that tweek the emotional core and try to force a reaction.  I have never, in all my years, since Dragon’s Lair nor all through generation 6, never have I suffered cinema in my games gladly, finding something refreshing and pure in the simple joys of mastering an infinitely deep mechanic.  Yeah, one can already see where this leads to deep abiding love for Mario and Zelda, and Tetris, and Donkey Kong (arcade, mainly, though the Gameboy version was better), and Metroid, and Star Fox, and so many others.


  …Well, I wanted something different.  And I was warned about this one (when I cite this Metacritic link, I refer to the number of mixed, and outright bad reviews on offer; dissenting opinion is usually a sign of strong emotional reactions and polarization).

  …but polarization isn’t a bad thing is it?  Nintendo has always been walking that line, and some of their best efforts came out under the most stringent criticism (Metroid Prime, LoZ: The Windwaker, Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island, all great stuff).

  …sometimes we all need to step outside our comfort zones… I guess that means suffer a little {grumble, grumble}.

  I’m going to leave off from Wonderful 101 for a while, but not trade it in.  It will probably cost me something, like a shot at playing Splinter Cell: Blacklist or Rayman Legends for a while.  But I think I will hold onto it.  In time, think of its collector’s value.  There may never be another game like it, because this one sure didn’t sell

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Super Mario 3D World, 100%

  Well, it has taken me nigh two months, but I’ve made it, I’ve reached, and I don’t feel like doing it again (for a while).

  I’ve mainly been playing in front of the news, using the length of the news broadcast to determine the time invested.

  I mostly sleep-walked through the first 8 or so stages, mainly coming to life and responding to the challenges after the first time up the giant cat tower with Bowser.  Of course, as Mario veterans know, the first few worlds are just there to whet the appetite, and the special worlds definitely delivered challenges to remember.

  I had the bulk of the game wrestled in something like a month ago.  By this time, I have every stage (ugh!) played 5 times over, once with each playable character (oh boy), with every star, stamp, and top-of-the-flagpole (ha ha) including all specials worlds and Champion’s road.  I am officially out of Super Mario 3D World content, and I can’t be bothered to go back anytime soon.

  So, truth time, Player 1.  Is Mario spent?  Is he stagnating?  …Yes.  SM3DW recaps a lot of the Super Mario franchise succinctly and does a great job of communicating what is great about it.  It feels like another trip around the block, maybe through new worlds, displaying new skills and abilities, but it is very much like core Mario.

  Is Mario unfun?  Heck no!  This is certainly a great game, and not many today keep me going for two months at a go, not even Pikmin, Zelda ALBW, or Pokémon Y could.  Challenges were never unfair, though some were intensely demanding, as if … how to scale this…

  I felt like Rayman Origins had more unfair challenges.  I felt like Metroid Prime 2 was the most bland and repetitive.  SM3DW felt like a serious challenge, but it stayed away from both of those extremes, always skirting them though.  I remember that I couldn't quite power through Super Mario 3D Land; my interest faded before the end of the special worlds.  Well, I’ve cleared 3D World now, so it ended just in the nick of time.

  Finishing the game, my final score shows 650 lives spent on the effort.  Now that’s a nice feature; if and when I do attempt this game again, I can aim for a score lower than 650 lives lost.  Oh God, I threw so many Princesses away on the Champion’s Road course.  Do you know that sensation when you just start zoning out, and the button presses are on automatic, there is no emotional response because it is inefficient, you enter the zone and don’t care how many lives are lost, but you just keep going until the job gets done!  I must have zoned out maybe twice, and of course my casualty numbers go way up then!


  What else I have on the WiiU includes The Wonderful 101, which I have not seen for about a week or more, and of course there is yet more to see in Wii Fit U and NintendoLand.  I’ve finished Pikmin 3 a while ago, but I have popped back in once or twice.  And I have finished Ducktales Remastered, but of course, there is yet more to be unlocked in the art gallery.  With February winding to a close, I am getting worried again.  I wish that I could buy more games, but I have real money problems developing in the near future.  The last thing I bought on the 3DS was Attack of the Friday Night Monsters: Tokyo Tale.  There wasn't much meat on that one, though, and it is already long finished.

  Maybe this is a good time to take Nintendo up on their offer of a download through Club Nintendo for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ducktales Remastered WiiU, Revisiting an old Gem

  So I’m catching up on the WiiU library, which is harder than it looks because there is such a great library there already.  Ducktales Remastered is budget priced title that I’ve found wasting away on the shelf, in new condition of course, so I snapped it up recently and have only just finished a first playthrough.  My reasons for picking it up certainly include nostalgia, as I remember playing the NES original, and watching the Disney cartoon as a kid.  There is certainly a solid and visually impressive game here, but also some details to note in its artisanship. 

  For starters, the introductory song is cut.  An 8-bit remix is audible on the title screen, and the title screen has no story beats at all, merely a quite pretty scene of Duckburg with Launchpad flying foolishly overhead in a red copter.  I want to start here and comment on first impressions; this title screen is distinctly game-like.  While anyone could excuse Wayforward for porting a Quicktime of the original cartoon’s introduction, and that would have been far lazier a fix, Ducktales Remastered remembers its game origins and keeps the intro simple and subdued.  That said, the original 1989 game featured a still image of Scrooge McDuck on a plain blue background, with the usual title screen text.  This version is subtly improved, at the risk of advertising features that won’t appear anywhere in 2013’s Ducktales.

  Ducktales NES title screen.  

  The scene of Duckburg would conjure ideas of adventuring in Duckberg; disappointingly for some perhaps, this is not a Grand Theft Auto clone.  Launchpad’s wild ride might suggest players would take a spin of the whirly bird.  Again, the helicopter is featured only as it was in the NES original.  The most telling attribute is the chiptune, which sounds reminiscent of the NES sound board, even if it is cheating a bit.  In fact, that may be the key, as the title screen menu functions identically to the NES version, even if it looks fuller and more lively.  Player’s expectations for visuals have increased in 24 years, and Ducktales walks a tight line between staying true to the classic and Turnerizing it.

  In 1989, beginning the game would move immediately to a menu, its borders stylized to look like Scrooge McDuck planning a world trip. 

Image Credits to Corona Jumper

  But in 2013, Scrooge has to fight his way to this desk, through the halls of his money bin.  The Beagle Boys have a far improved role this time around, with Big Time serving as a preliminary boss to shake down the player and ensure that the basics are known.  This early level isn’t the only new change, but it is telling: the title screen strayed far from the cartoon, while the pre-level pushes content from the 1987 cartoon front and center, complete with original voice acting by the cast’s Alan Young and Frank Welker, among others.

  The extra run time is used to go effect, at least as according to 21st century games.  The plot is thickened, names are dropped of places that are said to contain treasure.  The productions are certainly top notch, and nostalgic charms abound as Huey, Dewey and Louie call on the “Junior Woodchuck Guidebook,” or exclaim “Quack-a-roonie!”  None of these references made it to the NES version; certainly the technical limits meant that they couldn’t!  But do these additions mean that Wayforward is straying from the mold?  Certainly there is a lot more work involved in just getting to the game than pointing to a destination and going...

  Like the NES original, the player is free to tackle every stage in whatever order they should want.  However, each stage comes loaded with its own special story dialog before each stage.  Remastered remains very faithful to the plot of the original, and only slightly easier.  It still demands control precision, and it punishes mistakes readily.  It is still very easy to miss with only three lives and limited health, and there are no new save points.  Although the cutscenes charm on the first pass, players will soon find themselves skipping every one, for no better reason than because they have seen them all before. The difficulty and the production value are much more in conflict, and I can't hide a bias that story beats are always easier to deliver in a non interactive format, like the cartoon, movie, or comic book line that inspires the game.

  In 1987, the game prioritized gameplay over story.  There was certainly some kind of plot there, but it hung together with only the barest of text and limited set piece moments.  Looking to the level design to tell a story was also a bit of a stretch, as most levels focused on difficult challenges with cameos by the Ducktales cast.  One could fluff a story, certainly, of Scrooge wandering a maze of mirrors in Transylvania, or riding a mine cart, or getting stuck in the snow, or else “Now Gizmo Duck can blast that wall!” before spending an eternity looking for the wall in question.  ’87 had only limited tools available for conveying meaning through its mechanics, and the primary meaning it could was always “fun!”

  Not so in 2013, when gameplay can be interrupted, in the Amazon nine times over, to convey a brief snipit of fully voice-overed flavour text or the lastest blunderings of Launchpad and Fenton Crackshell.  It changes the pacing slightly, pushing fun challenging gameplay aside for something still fun, but now trying to be just as true to the cartoon.  The voice acting is top notch, and the animation, while repetitious, adds greatly to the charm.  There is a lot to like in the new version, and it transparently reaches for many new tools to keep up its storytelling ability.

  Bosses return from the original, bigger and in some cases meaner than before.  Clearly, the designers were hoping to catch old veterans off guard, and I would wager that they have done so very well!  Larger, screen filling sprites, and new hazards fill the boss fights, amping the tension, and keeping interest.  After battle new story beats pull the player back into the Ducktales universe, suitably releasing the tension very cleanly.

  Finally, replay value in Remastered is tied to a short list of unlockables, all of which have to be purchased, and some can’t even be purchased until a certain number of previous artworks are purchased.  There’s a lot of rules here for a simple content dispenser, and no real game to speak of.  I could see myself revisit in time, and then spend the resulting riches on the music files, but I can’t see going back to the game just for that. 

  Ducktales Remastered is a fine original product; it combines the wit of the cartoon series with the fun gameplay of the 1987 original.  Something tells me though, that a good collection should have both, so if you happen to have an old cartridge lying about, keep it handy, maybe set it next to the new version, and give it a run every so often to see the classic artwork and music.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Valentine's Day Love'em and Hate'em Double Whammy

  Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody!  Who’s up for a double whammy of love'em and hate'em articles? 

Chibi Robo III

  Well, the event horizon is crossed.  I’m officially unwillingly to soldier on.  Chibi Robo: Photo Finder ties all of its progression to its camera mechanic, which is outright torture.  Strictly speaking, matching the outline to the object in the lens up to 70% is a pass, while the game teases and challenges players to reach for 100%. 

  The trouble is that it is February; I’m stuck indoors while it is quite cold out.  Bothering with the 3DS during the cold is counterintuitive, and the camera is pretty low quality anyway.  Far too many of the pictures become NostalJunk puzzle pieces, for reasons that elude me (probably camera failure, since Telly conjectures that lighting is the problem).  Replacing the spent frames is painful, and consequently the amount of grinding needed to advance is off-balance and very intimidating.

  But let’s not pretend that all of the problems can be laid at the feet of Old Man Winter.  I confess, I feel kind of fish-out-of-water over here.  Chibi-Robo’s claim to fame, making monumental adventures out of mundane domestic scenery, is strongly compromised by the world inside the game.  Having “unlocked” the next gallery, I’ve found the world expand in frustratingly small ways.  New toys introduce themselves to Chibi, complete with more chores to do, that are truly mundane and boring chores, and no new vistas to explore. 

  I mean to say that Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder is everything that I feared a game about being a domestic robot would be about, boring and cramped.  I say this with a voice filled with dread.  It feels like work, boring, thankless, unpaid work!  The balance in Chibi Robo: Park Patrol was dead on perfect.  Sure that game made you work, but it promised you a chance to rebuild the whole park however you wanted, offered vehicles to drive, enemies to fight off, and friends whose stories you could advance.  There was good stuff in Park Patrol, but I can’t find it in Photo Finder

  Add to this statement that Photo Finder ties what advancement there is to the camera, and well, I’m not sure I can interest myself in going on!

  Eh.  Too bad, they can’t all be brilliant games.  And I’m out $10, but it could easily be worse.  I still remember when I bought that awful Dokupon Kingdom for $40!  Ew!

  Since the following article is pretty summarily finished, and finished short, I thought that I would collect a few rambling thoughts from of late.

  As of the Nintendo Direct recently (Feb 13th), Steel Diver Sub Wars has been available as one of Nintendo’s first experiments with “free to play.”  No sooner did the game go live that comments sections across the Internet lit up with memes, such as “I wish I could purchase the Blue Marine…” or “I wish I could do a barrel roll…”  One may mistake this to mean that Steel Diver is a new Star Fox, and I couldn’t really fault them for the idea.

  Steel Diver inhabits something of its own universe, and welcome cameo appearances aside, seems to have its own cast.  Where the submarine simulator really feels like Star Fox is the, well, feel of it.  It is fully natural to put the Sub into full ahead, and proper voice acting tells you now in Full Ahead, reinforcing the idea that you are actually in a submarine movie rather than a space fighter.  There are no faces, except for a handful, such as the tutorial leader, who leads you through the paces of learning to navigate the sub.  It is tempting to forget that you have other speeds, including dead stop, which is critical to remaining hidden.  Piloting in Steel Diver is its own challenge, with its own needs and skill requirements. 

  Weapons in Steel Diver are much more limited fare.  The A button controls the full ahead torpedo, complete with zoom lens to aside targeting.  The X button fires homing torpedoes, but I haven’t yet figured its function… there is no lock on cursor, so… not like Star Fox I guess.

  Navigation is strongly linked to the stereoscopic 3D; I bet you could figure it out with the slider turned to the off position, but you would miss out on critical information.  Similarly, if players are wondering about their position relative to themselves, they can get a still 3D object view of the submarine by pressing Start.  This pauses the game and allows the player to spin the sub around on the display, revealing critical data like proximity to the water line and sea floor. 

  It is very much like Star Fox, in that collisions are common.  Sub crew voices from unseen sub crewmen report whenever the player blunders into collisions, reinforcing the submarine movie feel strongly, and there are no collisions where players could go through objects like in Star Fox.

  As I said above, the stereoscopy greatly enhances the experience.  Pressing Y will ping the radar, lighting up both on the radar and on the main screen targets, objectives, rings to navigate through, box pickups, and many other Starfox-like objects.  I only found the stereoscopy become a problem once, when I passed through a speed ring.  The periphery of the screen blurred greatly, adding a sense of speed, though naturally enough the center of the forward display was clear, and thus it drew the eye comfortably enough. 

  Steel Diver’s main act is submarine combat, which is slow and plodding.  Subs are expected to slowly advance toward each other, using tools like the periscope or “mask” to hide their approach.  Frequent use of radar is also a necessity, but can give away the player sub’s position in a critical second! 

  Sub combat has enormous nuance, and it is so much the focus that Steel Diver lists multiplayer online above single player!  Nintendo wants you to know that this is meant to be played with friends, and they’ve removed just about every objection one could have.  Chatting with friends has been stylized into its own setting-appropriate work out by the use of Morse code.  Players communicate with friends by means of only one button, and the software is very good at distinguishing dots and dashes.  Well, okay, two buttons if you need to put spaces between words.  Whoneedsdat?  At the time of this writing, the biggest mystery is cryptography, as I haven’t found any options to prevent codes from being intercepted; there is a real potential for such code transmissions to become part of the fun, as players device their own codes to try and communicate with local friends against online enemies.  My one fear then becomes – can modern gamers used to having everything done for us see the value in simple Morse code transmissions specially coded by friends?  Only time can tell that answer.

  The greatest thing missing is the capacity for memes.  Don’t get me wrong, “Dive!”, “Surface!”, and “Up Periscope!” are all memes I remember from times long, long ago myself.  But Nintendo has set its sights on creating a fun game, rather than a string of Internet chatter that recalls a fun game.  Steel Diver reflects this in its slow pacing very well; the game is methodical and pedantic until players reach a moment of elation in victory, or self cursing in the knowledge they’ve been made!

  Also at the time of this writing, Steel Diver: Sub Wars does not have a Miiverse community (nor any means by players to make their own, Nintendo! L)  I expect this to be changed shortly, because the game is great silly fun that can be more fun socially.  If any of you out there are wondering about Steel Diver: SW, give it a look see, as it’s free.  Purchasing the full version requires $10 on the eShop.  I don’t think this qualifies as a “free to play” game, but it certainly is much more respectful of gamers, and much more deserving of being loved in its own right.

  Some final house keeping.  NintendoLife reports that Steel Diver's team includes Giles Goddard, a Briton and one of the first western coders to break into Nintendo's halls.  This includes being involved in development of the Super FX chip, making his involvement with Star Fox pretty solidly fundamental.  As for whether or not Steel Diver is Star Fox, well, I'm out of money after that Chibi-Robo thing.  Sorry, I won't be able to continue digging!  It undeniably feels like Star Fox, and one should "Be careful! It's a trap!"  Yeah, General Ahkbar says it better...

I don't mind calling Steel Diver a "StarFox-like" game, in the same way we already talk about "Rogue-likes" and "Metroidvanias."  Nintendo has its own classification for Steel Driver, calling it a "contemplative FPS." This description is accurate, and is sure to lead to recess bullyings with the cool kids.  But there is something I like in the juxtiposition of such ideas.  Slow paced, reflexive, high tension, high risk-reward, and so on.  I can't hide how thoroughly I'm contemplating this...

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Chibi-Robo II

  Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder is a game played out on very tiny counter tops, thus reducing a game about a 4 inch tall robot to one about an appropriately sized protagonist on a series of stylized stages.  I hesitate to call this platforming, as Chibi’s jump is vestigial.  The point of the counter tops is … I don’t know.  Perhaps to contain the action.  Perhaps to ensure players don’t get lost.  Perhaps to feel boxed in, despite being open to the air. 

  Coming from Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol, it is very limiting!  The previous entry offered wide open spaces that Chibi could customize, running amok amidst flowers and toys bigger than Chibi!  It felt like it worked with its concept, turning a tiny space into a grand adventure.  Photo-Finder is all about the photo’s, all about them, and the experience feels reduced and diminished because of that focus.

  Getting around from desktop to desktop is simplified, with means the fun was taken out of it, by means either a teleporting device, or a toy helicopter.  Again, comparing unfavorably with Park Patrol, the helicopter is piloted for you by Telly, the smart-phone inspired character who contacts Chibi wirelessly with useless status reports that interrupt the flow of whatever Chibi is doing, and who bookends all file and software functions like saving with more text.  This is too bad though, as I was going to comment that Telly is much more user-friendly than Chet of Park Patrol, who did much the same but used an obnoxiously sharp squeak noise for his voice and apologized profusely for everything.  I much prefer Telly, but the design intension is refined, not changed.
Telly, photo by BommerCannyBoskov
Chet, photo by ColourH4AR7

  Anyway, helicopter.  Park Patrol gave Chibi several tools and vehicles for getting around the park quickly, everything from old bikes to ride quickly, to installing underground sewers to cross the park in a hurry, to a roadster friend, Chassy, who will come when called after Chibi completes her story events.  Using the vehicles presented new challenges, like dragging the peddles around the touch screen in circles.  They could be annoying in their design, but their designs permitted different flows, something as simple as pedalling faster to reach a destination faster, or slower to saunter through the fields of flowers.  None of this is in Photo-Finder, as destinations are reached instantaneously and effortlessly, with no skill to display in the task.  It has the effect of making the whole world feel abbreviated, making Chibi’s world feel very small indeed.

  Arrival is much more focused as well.  Chibi can venture to the various desktops either to perform some kind of job, which means that he will be called on to put the majority of his energy into their tasks, or to explore, Chibi-vacuum in tow.  While the desktops leave nothing hidden, frequently friends like Super Geotron X and Mostardin and Ketschburg are present with small quizzes.  Completing them can earn Chibi some extra happiness points, but if he is there primarily for happiness points, he is going to want to use the Chibi-vacuum to clean up the paste-like dust that is spread about.  Chibi-Robo cannot return saddled with trash, but he can dispose of it with , a talking trash receptacle. 

  Looking forward, Photo-Finder has clearly set itself up to deliver more content through the same means.  Chibi can explore the museum by porting about, can earn happiness points by doing small chores or quizzes, and can take jobs working for the toys he meets, earning still more happiness points.  There is certainly room for more toys to meet and jobs to do, but so far, most friends only ask Chibi to do one thing each.  The only catch to this is that, at least 2 days in, I haven’t figured out when and under what circumstances the jobs are unlocked!  They may appear daily, but I’ve seen the job list reset to empty under mysterious circumstances.  Save scumming is also to be avoided, as the game saves promptly after every result. 

  The game, as it exists in the virtual world, isn’t very robust at all.  But Skip and Nintendo did bring another feature to the table, which has just now popped into my Chibi-computer.  The Chibi-Robo community is called on to vote on favorite NostalJunk, and whole challenges are organized around it.  NostalJunk, and the camera, is the new draw for Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder, and so very little of the game makes sense absent this new mechanic. 

  And that seems a great place to leave off.  Tune in next time (even though I really don’t know when “next time” will be) for a full aesthetic break-down of the camera, including why I hate it so so so much!  Spoiler: the answers are in no way shocking! 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Nintendo’s Last Game

  The following is not a Ninten-DOOOMed article, or at least I hope it won’t become such as I write it.  With the financials of the gaming world now out in the open, I revisited the most recent video of an Internet Z-lister I find funny, the Game Overthinker.  It revisits a couple of ideas that have come out recently during Nintendo’s worrisome financials.

  That Nintendo is openly contemplating a new third pillar, its “quality of life” platform.  This article is not strongly interested in the new platform, except from the day (which I hope never comes) that Nintendo finds a new business more lucrative and less chaotic than the entertainment technology industry.  In so few words, I look forward into my crystal ball and see my worst fear, that there will no longer be a Nintendo game on the store shelves (or digital shelves, whatever).

  The last idea of GO’s video is that the impending, one-box future of video gaming will sweep up Nintendo and everybody else shortly thereafter.  He points out several good reasons why this is a fight Nintendo is doomed to lose; everyone is.  Cost, convenience, and many other reasons point to dedicated hardware and optimised, tailored machines and software losing out in the fullness of time.  In a moment crafted to sound inspiring, GO finishes his video with a speech that he hopes that Nintendo “fights” this future “like hell.”  So it got me wondering …

  What would that fight look like? 

  What sort of actions could Nintendo take to “leave footprints so deep, the world will know that gods once walked the Earth”?  If Nintendo is truly doomed (or it’s just fun to speculate about it being doomed) to lose its independence and become just another content maker working on a one-size-fits-all super TV, then what should their last act be?  If they transition out of the industry entirely, now making hospital software etc that cures patients to the catchy tune of the Poké-Center, all while feeding healthy doses of eggplant, how does Nintendo leave the games industry? 

  How could Nintendo go out with a bang?

  Full Disclaimer: Yeah, I know, this is silly, but it feels a lot more positive than the usual Nintendooomed articles!  Common, admit it!

  Option 1:  Bowser retires, Mario has a competent nemesis who leaves him locked away and hanging!
You know that old adage: leave ‘em wanting more?  What if Mario has his longest adventure yet, but “Our princess is still in another castle, and now you will never leave!”  Yeah, that would probably just piss everyone off.  Let’s try another:

  Option 2: Say “Fuzzy Pickles!”

  The number of memorable scenes Nintendo has brought us over the years, and a last act that plays to those memories seems suitable.  The exact format is something to parse, but I see something playable, maybe vaguely Paper Mario like, each world campaigning through the back catalogue with the barely remembered stuff crashing the party!

  Option 3: Come on in, take a seat…

  With Nintendo determined to stick to its own hardware, we might as well get a decent chair out of the deal.  Nintendo entered the market from the arcade scene, and NintendoLand strongly shows it.  Something closer the SEGA’s Hang-On might make a better claim, but I bet Nintendo could do a good job of it too!

  Option 4: The Be All and End All

  It would take some doing, but I’ve long since given up claiming that Nintendo can’t.  If Nintendo can’t make a living selling software anymore, then why not ruin it for everyone, creating a perfect game, one that lasts forever.  Donkey Kong (1981) is already very close, but like most other games players get tired of it eventually.  This idea tends to line up with the typical requests, such as a Nintendo “open world sand box” that often lends itself to ridicule, but before I get lynched over it, this is more of a long term goal, something to pursue throughout the lifespan of the WiiU and well into the next console. 

Option 5: The shameless request line

  Something I’ve long struggled to try to assemble is a Super Mario/Smash Bros roleplaying game.  I don’t mean Dragon Quest, think older.  I mean Dungeons and Dragons.  In practical terms, nobody is making great money there, but it is the epitome of great adventures, long after pioneer companies like TSR have been bought out.  As computing gets cheaper, I see this sector continuing to struggle to include it in its business model, while there could be potential for Nintendo to bequeath its franchises to its fans without intermediary.  It is extremely unlikely, as Nintendo only trusts individuals, and its IP are corporate assets protected by law, but we can always dream, can’t we.  Dream, and keep trying to do it as a freebie!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Chibi Robo: Photo Patrol

  First, some housekeeping.  Sorry for the delayed schedule this month.  Trouble is brewing on the job side.  Sorry folks.  I hope not to keep you waiting in the future, but ... you know...

  Second, thank God for the eShop, as its low $10 buy-in makes today's post possible!  Yeah.  Today we will be discussing Chibi Robo: Photo Finder, the latest iteration of one of those "new IP" that Nintendo doesn't have.  Well, new as of the Gamecube era.  I caught up with Chibi late in the Nintendo DS era, during Park Patrol, and that experience colors just about everything else about this game, and for the most part colors it wrongly.  I've thought about what the difference is, and I think the vast majority of my reaction can be summed up in broad discussions of art:

  Photo realistic, or Animation.

  Animation doesn't have to look realistic, as we, as a culture, have become long inured by "cartoons" delivering the fantastic, indeed the whimsical, and bizarre.  Imagination is limited by animation, and with greater skills, imaginations expand to fit animation.  Chibi Robo: Park Patrol is shamelessly low resolution, even suffering the odd frame skip every once in a while, but I sure didn't care, as I was having way too much fun steering Chibi Robo through his adventure, building his park, and playing with the toys that I worked hard to build.  ... you can sense there is a "but" coming, right?

  The Nintendo 3DS is, if anything, much higher resolution than the Nintendo DS, but a far cry from the Gamecube, falling somewhere above the N64 for processing, but much closer to it for visuals.  It is a famous platform for jaggies; 3DS owners usually counter with arguments about the stereoscopic 3D effect balancing it out.  Chibi Robo: Photo Finder must be the ultimate argument to silence such enthusiasts.  This is the face that greets all gamers who dare to help Chibi with his tasks:
  Chibi Robo attempts to navigate in a much more photo realistic sense than most other IP coming out of the family of Nintendo companies.  While it can be seen in previous Chibi Robo visuals, the developer, Skip, always carefully steered away from "realism" toward safer, more cartoony shores.  Voices speak in simlish. Faces of humans are rarely if ever seen, even if they talk to Chibi frequently.  Careful actions are taken to make Chibi’s world seam unreal enough to avoid the limits of his medium.  And they are smart actions…

  Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder dives deep into cinema, simlish voices intact, low resolution images abounding, the flaws of the camera on display for all to see, and all characters dancing about in communicative gesturing in full 3D.  It’s, something else.  Further yet, Chibi’s supporting cast retains their lovable Japanese-ness.  Consider the example of Super Geotron X, a die-cast robot toy descended of TV greatness.  The toy itself is realistic, metallic, and full of buzzing, whirring, flashing mecha.  Picture your favorite Japanimation with giant robots, I’m sure that you know the type.

  Now picture this friendly robot standing over Chibi (and by extension, you), beaming brightly from his incandescent eyes, as a wave of particle lights stream into your face in full stereoscopy.  It must be time for Quizz!

  Surely this scene is deliberate – you couldn’t accidentally create something so horrifying as a bookend for playing with measuring tape!  And I can’t shake the feeling of how … different this feels from the previous Chibi-Robo.  Smart readers could probably already sense that I haven’t seen Chibi-Robo for the Gamecube, so I can’t comment on the general progress of the franchise.  But three games and three distinct hardware systems in, and I could bet this is something pretty close to the original vision of Chibi-Robo.

  I’m not the type to admit gladly that graphics matter to me, but I will be the first to ponder the meaning that is intended to be expressed.  My suspicion is that Chibi-Robo is intended to be a toy robot one might see on his/her own carpet one day soon.  Real, or realistic.  The DS was simply too low res to permit this effort, and the visuals of the Gamecube original certainly support that vision.  But the real tragedy is that … I don’t think the 3DS is up to the task either!   Sure it looks like Skip is pulling hard on the visuals, and probably having way too much fun at the unintended consequences, but there is the truth of it.

  Even photographing the stuff out of my own world, Chibi isn’t ready for reality quite yet!  That should be qualified though, for of the cast that I’ve encountered so far, Chibi is by far the easiest character to look at.  This stands out strongly compared to the rest of the larger Nintendo family, most of which are resolutely kept in the design of cartoons, no matter how close to reality their actions.  Chibi wants most to be a part of our lives; who can really refuse him?

I’ll be posting again as I soldier on.  Topics to look forward to include the use of the 3DS camera to capture Nostaljunk, the rest of the cast, and Chibi-Robo’s general emotional presence.  

Learning to Finish

2014, 02, 03 @ 08:42

  This is a new feature I hope to keep up for the near future.  I sometimes take on new projects, some of which show up here on this blog, but don’t always come through to completion.  As a way to keep myself honest, and possibly also start promoting the finished versions, I’m going to be blogging about them and the process in detail.  Prepare to enjoy my impending and spectacular failures! ;)

  So last night I dug out the simplest, easiest, smallest project I think that I ever cooked up but could never make progress on.  This was Druid, and no, that isn’t the final title.  Druid had some greater ambition, but I’d some time ago scaled it back to the bare minimum, and I have some confidence that this minimal approach could work on just about any platform.  To prove the point, I’m going to be working in Wario Ware DIY.  Again, the point is to learn to finish.  I’ve been sitting on this idea for way too long.

  On Why I Choose WW:DIY

  WW:DIY is an odd duck of a platform, but it catches a lot of flack for its sharp limitations, even as those limits are built around “finishing.”  That is expressly why this platform is being chosen.  It limits the total number of interactible objects to 9, enough to do some things but not enough to get distracted by the dreams of “more.”  Each object can only have 5 interactions with other objects, so it forces the designer to think carefully about how to make the most of each.  Finally, this shouldn’t be seen as the be all and end all of the project, but an important step to building a model.  Granted, all it builds is a 6 second, one input type of model, but every project has to start somewhere.

Druid: Getting started

  In its most basic form, Druid challenges to player to defend his woods from Lumberjacks that emerge from town.  Thus, the player character Druid needs to be able to move in the game, and at bare minimum, “Pac-Man” up the Lumberjack bad guys.  Wario Ware DIY imposes strict time limits, so there is no room for any other complication.  Success means get them all fast, defeat means going too slow.

  To begin this project, though, Wario Ware needs art.  I spent thirty minutes last night, and built up a forested background (as seen from overhead), the player character Druid himself.  I also added a cottage in the south of the field, from whence the Lumberjacks will come.  More art coming tonight!

2014, 02, 03 20:35

  So I’ve been able to revisit the task, and added simple art for L.Jack, or lumberjack.  WW:DIY supports copying, but in a round-about sort of way.  For now, I hustle together some simple art, one panel of animation worth, and hurriedly begin designing the AI for it.

  Because this is where WW:DIY is at its weakest.  Just making the Druid move in the game is problematic, but tracking what gets done has to be done with the “switches,” essentially flag variables that are mapped, one to each object. 

  L.Jack has his behavior programmed in: he will leave the cottage in the south at a random number between “1:1 and 5:1”; WW:DIY apparently uses a base 4 counting system similar to Super Mario Bros. to represent time.   His collision with the Druid player character causes his movement to stop, his switch to switch on, and counts towards the victory condition for the game.  Even this simple design requires sacrifices, as there is no way to get a pair of coordinates from tapping on the screen; to simulate player input in moving about, I have Druid track in on any L.Jack that the player has tapped on.  It is a weak illusion, but it expands normally.

  I copy L. Jack five times, then tighten up the programming to make sure all variables are pointed at the right objects.  Druid can stalk the Lumberjacks and is rewarded for “tapping,” not touching, each one.  In practice, if a group of Lumberjacks are caught hiding behind each other, than they can evade being tapped.  This certainly doesn’t seem fair, but I’m rapidly nearing my patience limit for WW:DIY anyway.

  The point is, that the game aspect is now, as per the original vision, mostly complete.  WW:DIY covers us further, by having a built in music composer, including maestro, who happily whips up several quick melodies on the spot.  I write in some brief instructions for the player, then ship it!  Yes, ship.  I haven’t a clue how this gets seen by other people, but it is down now.  It certainly isn’t very good, but it is ready, in that one could sink an awful lot of energy into the idea from here, but not improve the gameplay substantially.

  From here, the game has to be realized again, in better media.  All and all, I think I spent about an hour, maybe an hour and a half in this prototyping stage.  I will post again when I have more.  For now, here goes my best effort to try to upload it to Youtube!

2014, 02, 06

Sorry for the delay, this was held back by life.  Next post incoming shortly...