Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 1, 2014

Starcraft 2’s Single Player is still captivating

I’m replaying Heart of the Swarm’s campaign. It absorbed me for nearly the entire day, and I’m only like 60% done with it! Damn!

Granted, I am very partial to RTS games. The Terran campaign can seem a little gritty at times because there is too much Tychus…. or something. I don’t know. I don’t think I like Raynor. There is something about the Terran campaign that is throwing me off and it isn’t the race (I mostly play Terran in single player). Maybe it is the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type mission splits that leaves a feeling of “I didn’t fully complete this campaign.”

I think the Blizzard team should be commended for making a Zerg only campaign really compelling as it is very hard to have conversations with hydralisks. I can’t really find fault with anything they did. It’s all top notch stuff. As much as one can do for a single player campaign.

I do notice how the first three planets actually revolve around your opponent. One planet is you vs. Terran, another planet is you vs. Protoss, and the third is you vs. Zerg. The other two planets are ‘space ship battles’ and ‘special ops station stuff’.

I do like how Blizzard is introducing new things into the mythos of Starcraft. I thought the Primal Zerg worked. What I don’t particularly like is someone pressing the reset button on Kerrigan which voids the entire Terran campaign. However, Blizzard is not afraid to let characters die.

One weird thing is the NPC you get from the Zerg planet. His voice acting makes me think he is Dinobot from Beast Wars. Every time he talks, I am thinking “Dinobot!”

I think when HOTS was released, it of course will have tougher scrutiny. But the campaign is aging very well. I can see myself playing through it YET AGAIN sometime down the road. The only real failing of it was dealing with the inconsistencies of the Terran campaign (like when Raynor suddenly remembers about swearing to kill Kerrigan after Fenix died).

Bringing back Stukov was a brilliant move.

I’m hoping something happens in the Void of the Legacy (I know it is Legacy of the Void, but it seems more fitting to Starcraft for it to be the other way around) because HOTS seems like a reset button to WoL. I expect Void to start off with Zeratul being put on trial for running around chanting prophecies. The first missions will be Protoss vs. Protoss. Then Protoss vs. Zerg and Protoss vs. Terran when Zeratul tries to make alliances with both. I bet only the last six missions or so actually are about the Xel-Naga and the Evil Onessssss. I expect Blizzard to do another Tassadar with killing off Zeratul at the end.

I hear Heroes of the Storm development is delaying Void of the Legacy. Oh well.

Speaking of Warcraft the movie, have you seen its logo? It looks like it came from Starcraft.

I suppose much emphasis will be placed on the Red Vs. Blue and focusing on their perspectives. That is what made the RTS campaign story work was the different perspectives. I don’t see how that can be made on film but who knows. The director of the Warcraft movie was the same guy who directed Moon.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 1, 2014

Email: Confession: I used to love Wind Waker but…

I have a confession. Wind Waker used to be my favorite Zelda game.  Here’s the thing, it was not the first one I played.  In fact my first Zelda was the original Zelda followed by Zelda II.  But for whatever reason I missed out on all the ones in between until Wind Waker (long story).  Now I totally get why it wasn’t a massive hit for Nintendo.  At a time when Nintendo was dealing with a “kiddy” image on the Gamecube, doing a cartoony cell shaded Zelda was not a good idea.  Even when I first saw it, I was like “really.”  I’m not going to go all out and say I was one of those who protested it and kept an open mind but I know I’m not the majority and trying to convince the masses to overlook the visuals, well I’d have an easier time making water not be wet.  Even the much lauded sailing didn’t bother me. Then again I was young and in college and perhaps I was ok with wasting time sailing around and just exploring each area in the ocean and seeing what there was to find.
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Fast forward to the HD rerelease of Wind Waker.  I ended up getting the WWHD bundle because the store was out of the NSMBU bundle so it was Wind Waker, Skylanders or Nintendoland. You see my dilemma.  Going back to Wind Waker, now that I’m older it is amazing how much the game wastes your time.  Sure you have the swift sail which speeds up sailing but I don’t know if you knew but in order to get it, you have to visit the auction house and hope that the time you visit, it’s on the block or wait around and bit on heart pieces and other crap.  Given how much the swift sail was touted, why was that not available from the time you buy the sail on Windfall Island?
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But one thing never mentioned in various criticisms of Zelda is the wall you hit after the midpoint of the game. (Spoilers ahead) After you beat the tower of the gods, get beat up by Ganondorf and find out Tetra is Zelda, you’re sent back to the ocean to find the sage temples.  This is where the game’s terrible design really shows.  Up to this point, you had a general idea of where to go and what to do but if you try to go to either sage temple, one is blocked by high winds, the other by a large stone statue head. What do you do?  Well you talk to the fish by feeding him, he tells you the islands where you can get said items to get you through the doors.  When you travel to those islands, one is covered in ice and the other is a volcano. What do you do? Feed the local fish AGAIN and he tells you the island where you can find the ice and fire arrows, but you sail to THAT island only to find it inaccessible. The fish here only mentions how you can’t get inside.  So now what?  Well the first time I played this I ended up sailing the ENTIRE Map, feeding every single fish for advice and it wasn’t until the very last panel I reached where he informed me to shoot arrows at the tornado and THEN you gain the song you can play to get you to the inaccessible island to get the fire and ice arrows to get into the ice and volcano islands to continue the freaking game.  I have no idea how I had the patience back then.  I didn’t want to look it up online because I like to challenge myself.  And sure there was a lot of mindless wandering in the original NES Zelda, but there I felt like I was making progress.  In the original Zelda, I’d wander around just to see what there was and I found useful items, hidden areas, things I would want to return to later. In Wind Waker, it’s all vast ocean with a few small islands where you can do more Anouma puzzles that only gets you more heart pieces or treasure maps that leads to more pointless sailing around (oh goody).  Not to mention some of the most tedious side missions like taking pictures to make a figurine collection or swapping various items with shop keepers that only gets you a heart piece.  At least in Ocarina the long trading sequence game got you a bigger, stronger sword.
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But I didn’t tell you about an even bigger flaw no one points out.  Once you get the items that make the sage temples accessible. You go into either temple and you STILL can’t enter it. Why?  You have to find the sage to play the song to open the door inside and to do co-op puzzles with your sidekick.  Meaning back to the ocean, luckily by this time you can warp to the respective islands.  One is on the island of bird people and the other is on the forest island.  But the game doesn’t mention this or indicate this in any way.  If you try to get the forest sage first, the game will not let you. Even though you got the item and can reach the Wind Temple, you HAVE to do the Earth temple first with its respective sage.  The fact that THIS is never brought up in criticisms of the game nor was it fixed in the HD remake is mind boggling.  I gotta wonder how many people thought the game was broken when they went to Forest Haven and couldn’t find who they were looking for and gave up, if they didn’t already prior to this point.  I stuck through it because I was young and stupid I guess.
There was a bright point in Wind Waker.  There’s a place called “The Savage Labyrinth” on the beginning island where one of the Triforce shards is hidden.  This is nothing but a gauntlet of enemies. None of which drops health.  You progress through one room after another as the enemies get stronger, the deeper you go.  It’s all combat, no puzzle nonsense, of course this is Anouma Zelda so the enemies aren’t that hard to beat and if you got all the bottles and stocked up on potions, you can survive it fairly easily. The best part comes is after you reach the room with the Triforce piece, you can still continue deeper where the enemies get even harder though the reward is just a trinket mask that isn’t that important but it was satisfying to be able to engage in some worthwhile combat.  This concept did carry over to Twilight Princess in the Geurdo Desert when you removed the missing Bridge of Eldin piece, but I don’t recall anything like that in Skyward Sword and definitely nothing like that in the DS Zeldas. Guess Anouma didn’t want gamers enjoying mindless hacking and slashing through waves of enemies.
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Some would argue Wind Waker’s ocean encourages exploration like Skyrim or GTA or the original Zelda would, but the ocean for as big as it is, is full of a lot of nothing.  You occasionally encounter a giant squid to fight, there are all the little islands to explore that are almost all some sort of puzzle or you can search for treasure but nearly all the treasures you find are just rupees which are pointless since all the enemies drop all the arrows, bombs and hearts you’ll ever need or heart pieces which just make the game easier than it already is.  I remember when I played the original NES Zelda, the first time I moved the Armos and found the secret shop with the blue ring and after that spend a good amount of time grinding Rupees to get it because who wouldn’t want something to reduce your damage?  I know Anouma claims this new Zelda’s going to have a big open world but I honestly expect it to be Wind Waker on land meaning vast expanses of nothing littered with small areas of puzzles to get heart pieces and Rupees.

 

Yes, Wind Waker is very lame game. I have noticed that younger people tend to not notice the time-wasting aspects of it. My 14 year old nephew doesn’t mind the game. I expect that to change when he gets older.

It is easier to catalog the good things about Wind Waker instead of the bad as it is a much, much shorter list. Wind Waker is very bright and inviting game. It is not brown or gray or drab like many other games. I will give it that. Wind Waker’s idea of adventure on the ocean is very sound (the idea, not the implementation) as it is found in the deepest of mythology such as the Odyssey (a shame there is nothing mythological after that). The immersion of being out on the water is cool because there aren’t that many ocean type games. The final battle is pretty cool.

But that’s about all I’ve got.

You know, it is fun to see Nintendo developers’ opinions as a strange type of parallel universe. In this universe, Zelda 2 is The Worst Game Ever Made along with Zelda 1 and Twilight Princess. The best Zelda ever made? Oh, that Wind Waker. The only good thing with Link to the Past would be cutting the grass. This is the world Nintendo developers live in. It is quite fascinating and horrifying to see gaming from their perspective.

 

Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 30, 2014

Zelda was GTA before GTA

One of the most important aspects of Classic Zelda were the maps and the exploration.

 

 

You get the idea. Each Zelda game offered you many days of exploration. Ocarina of Time was characterized as ‘you can do anything in this world’!

When GTA 3 came out, analysts treated it as a novel thing. But as we know, video games perform jobs. The job that GTA 3+ was doing was done earlier. If people wanted the job GTA did, they would play Ocarina of Time during the Fifth Generation. With the Fourth Generation, they would play LTTP or another adventure/RPG game. With the Third Generation, it was definitely Zelda. There weren’t many games that allowed you to roam around in a non-linear way.

Ever since Zelda has been transformed to be about ‘story’ and ‘puzzles’, the value of the Zelda product has fallen sharply. No one talks about the vibrant world of Skyward Sword or Twilight Princess or Spirit Tracks or Wind Waker.

I don’t see any reason why Zelda cannot be getting GTA or Skyrim level sales today.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 30, 2014

Email: Dungeons of Dredmor

Hello Malstrom,

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I usually don’t write game recommendations, but Dungeons of Dredmor (DoD) is one of those games I have kept coming back to every time I was wondering what to play next and I just had to share.
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DoD is a true roguelike, unlike for example FTL, which is often described as a rogue-lite or roguelike-like or whatever. You have a randomly generated multilevel dungeon, movement is turn-based and when you die you die. You can turn permadeath off if you like, but that ruins the point; I’ll go into that later.
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However, instead of being this really hardcore, all serious RPG for elite players with ASCII graphics, they decided to make it fun and inviting with a good measure of geeky humour. Take character creation for example: instead of allocating stat points you just pick seven skills you want to use and that’s it. The skills themselves range from typical skills like swords, axes, crossbows and various schools of magic, to some really weird ones like vampirism, piracy, economy, mathematics, veganism, hunting, archeology or communism. So yes, you can play a communist sword dual-wielding vampire mathematician fire & blood mage. Does that make sense? Who cares, it’s fun, you can even randomise your starting skills.
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The game itself is fairly straight-forward, you move, you attack, use skills and try not to die. You can play for five minutes or for five hours if you want to. The fun comes from the depth of what you can do with these simple tools, there is almost always a way out of a tricky situation if you are careful and think. The humour is a bit silly with all the pop- and geek culture references, but it is still charming in its own way. I have died countless times and I always find myself coming back, trying to make it a little bit further than the previous time, trying a different build or trying to play my previous build in a better way. Picking a skill like vampirism or veganism for example changes completely how you approach the game: vampires cannot eat food and must instead drink corpses and vegans must not hurt animal-type monsters or eat meat, not even accidentally, or they suffer penalties.
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Here is a WTF episode from TotalBiscuit where you can see it in action. He loves it as well:
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Of course like all roguelikes it can sometimes be unfair or frustrating, but that’s part of what makes the genre. Sometimes dying is fun. You can clearly see that this is an indy game where actual effort when into making it. The game is not on GOG (yet?), but you can buy it DRM-free on the developer’s website for Windows, OS X and Linux for just 5$. There is also a free expansion and two paid expansions, they add some nice extra content on top of it all. For some reason the Mac version of the expansions cannot be bought from the developer’s website, but the Linux version works on OS X as well.
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Now I’d like to explain why this type of game is fun. Most modern games are meant to be beaten: you press buttons and as you keep pressing buttons you slowly move forward until you eventually beat it. This is especially true for RPGs with their stories. As long as you keep playing your stats will keep improving until eventually they are high enough for you to overcome the end boss and win.
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Roguelikes are different, they are not meant to be beaten. It reminds me of arcade-style games where you aren’t really meant to beat it, you just play and see how far you can make it before the eventual Game Over. Every time you make it slightly farther and one day you might beat it. Or not.
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While this may sound frustrating to a modern gamer I find it strangely relaxing. Knowing that I am supposed to beat a game puts a sort of “stress” on me, like I have to beat the game. Knowing I’m not supposed to beat it removes the stress. It’s like playing a card game or a sports game: sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t. The focus is no longer on finishing it like a sort of duty, it’s on enjoying the process of playing instead of the result.
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Making such a game puts certain requirements on the design. First and foremost it has to be accessible and fast. With a 20 hour AAA game no one would want to have to start all over. All those *hours* would be wasted. Dying in Super Mario Bros. is not that bad, because getting to where you lost can be done in a few minutes, but imagine dying in Mario 64 and having to do every star all over again.
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This type of game design requires the game to be distilled and refined to its purest core. You have already written more than I could on the topic of arcade games. When it comes to RPGs then roguelikes are their arcade equivalent. Character generation is blazing fast, progress is made instantly, there is no fetch-questing, no cutscenes, no stupid NPCs. When I die it is not just a loss, it is also a new opportunity to learn from my mistake. Next time I can play better, or I can play differently. It’s like a board game, every time the pieces are re-shuffled and every time you have the same chance to make it to the end and win, or die in the process. This is also where I feel that rogue legacy made a mistake; in RL you use your gold to buy permanent upgrades, thus making every run easier than the previous. Rogue legacy is impossible to beat at first, but eventually your stats will allow you to win. Some runs even only serve to grind money and then fail hopelessly at the boss, just so the next generation could have an easier time. What Rogue Legacy does is not necessarily bad, but it goes agains the spirit of roguelikes and their board game design. The same also goes for FTL and its stupid unlocking of ships through random events. In DoD I don’t have to unlock and classes, it’s all there from the start. The player’s odds of beating the game on the first attempt are the same as on the thousandth attempt. The only variable is your personal skill and experience.
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With games becoming more and more like endless hamster wheels with all their “experience”, achievements, unlocks, tiers, ranks, ladders and whatever they come up next it’s nice to see game that’s all about just having fun with the *process* of playing. That’s the reason I play in the first place, I can’t get any sense of satisfaction from artificial shiny stickers. Thanks for reading through my rambling this far.
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And this is our advertisement for the day!
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Just joking. I haven’t played it yet. Maybe I should do so.
Having Mario on the goddamn box. Nintendo crams out so many low effort EA style games with Mario slapped on them these days that they have to give some colored plastic to make the supposed good ones stand out from the shit pack.

And maybe I’m wrong here feel free to correct me but since when do they put those games journos awards on their boxes? You would have never seen that on Super Mario Bros. 3 or Wii Sports. Nintendo didn’t need to put such meaningless awards on their boxes because their games spoke for themselves, the mere sight of SMB3 on a shelf was a holy shit must buy now moment Nintendo is admitting 3D Mario has no such allure. Perhaps this is just another sign that they really REALLY want to be EA.

I looked up the red 3d World box and didn’t see any journalist quotes on it. Am I missing something?

 

 

Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 30, 2014

Email: Blizzard’s Hamster Wheels

Master Malstrom,
This is just a short response to your comments on Blizzard’s hamster wheels. Since Blizzard and Nintendo and heaven knows what other game companies probably take the time off to read your blog, I thought I’d give them a piece of my mind.
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You said that Blizzard 2.0, or modern Blizzard, didn’t trust its gamers to play for “fun” but rather for “progression”. Why is this? Don’t they trust us enough to actually see if their games are enjoyable or not so instead they force us to slog through hours and hours of tedious grinding just to get past their gated systems?
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I’ve got news for them. We don’t enjoy certain games because they hook us into playing for long periods. We voluntarily play for long periods because the games we loved were enjoyable. We weren’t forced to spend time, we LOST TRACK of it. If a game wasn’t enjoyable, so much for that. I’m not going to waste time on it when I have better things to do.
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Does Miyamoto honestly think that the joy of Mario is in spending hours and hours practicing collecting coins or stars or what have you? No. That’s just icing on the cake. We enjoy Mario because it took us on a grand adventure that made us lose track of the hours we spent. Sadly I couldn’t say that for his modern 3D Mario garbage, but that’s another story.
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Does Blizzard seriously think that the joy of a videogame is in spending days and weeks and months preparing for some endgame E-Sports scenario? I don’t think so: the entire E-Sports scene erupted in South Korea not because Starcraft forced people to play hours and hours to get so inhumanly good. People played SC for hours because the game was fun to begin with. We didn’t need to wrestle with that APM nonsense to get good at the game. Same deal with classic Doom and the older FPS titles.
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To all other video game companies out there: do you seriously think meta achievements make a game enjoyable? Think about that for a moment. Do I really need to be told, via Achievement trackers, that such and such a thing is possible within a particular game so as to get me to go back and spend heaven knows how long just to complete it and get a virtual gold medal I can brag to all my social media friends about?
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Did Castlevania Symphony of the Night resort to telling players that it was possible to get 200.6% completion rate on the map and fill out the Bestiary using Achievements? Did it even remotely let players know you can glitch the game, enter glitchy portions of the castle and get more than 400% on the map? “Hey, we want to let you know that if you manage to open the hidden passage in the Clock Room, you’ll get an Achievement!” Yeah right.
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Did Ikaruga even need to tell me via Achievements, back when it wasn’t yet on Steam, that it was possible to clear the entire game without firing a single shot?
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Did Final Fantasy 1 need to inform me via a Tracker that if I finish the game with four White Mages then I can post it on Facebook?
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Do we really need games to stroke our E-youknowwhats to make them seem enjoyable? No. We played them because they WERE enjoyable, e-peens be damned.
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This embarassing “industry” has gotten everything confused. “Man oh man, if players don’t keep coming back to our games then we’re done for. Let’s give them a bunch of meta achievements to ‘build a community’ around the game and keep them interested.” Hm, I think I just described modern World of Warcraft…

 

You’re right on with World of Warcraft. The only E-Peen in Vanilla WoW was with Raid Gear. It took a long time for people to get such Raid Gear. I didn’t really raid much in Vanilla WoW. I enjoyed just bouncing around the world. My favorite was doing PvP and trying to take over certain towns. This was all before Battlegrounds. Aside from the raiding guilds, there wasn’t any E-peen that I can remember out there (and the game was significantly tougher in various dungeons and environment).

What drove me away from WoW was the constant E-Peen. It was the people who had to buy all the pets and mounts because they are clearly better than those who don’t buy all the pets and mounts. It goes on and on. It became clear to me that many people were playing WoW because something was terribly amiss in their life. They needed progression in a video game to make up for lack of progression in their real life. And none of this included raiding.

I really enjoyed Starcraft 2’s single player. In fact, I might go through Heart of the Swarm again. I also greatly enjoy Starcraft 2’s multiplayer until I get bumped up to Diamond or Master League and then I have to do 100% crazy APM or get dropped out. There is no variety. I either get dropped out of the league (not fun) or I have to keep playing crazy (not fun). The end result is me not having fun. The ladder system made me stop playing Starcraft 2’s multiplayer. Maybe I should try the non-ladder games of Heart of the Swarm more. To be honest, most of my fun in RTS multiplayer came with 4 vs 4 games of craziness. Does it require some skill to do well? Maybe. I just enjoyed seeing massive battles take place. I enjoyed seeing if I could be the ‘top player’ in my team. Warcraft 2 was fun. Starcraft was fun. Even Warcraft 3 despite its earlier gameplay issues was fun.

It is all this ‘outside-the-game’ game that is killing the game. Browder said in the latest dev chat that “HOTS was always planned to have progression.” My idea of progression are the icons in Warcraft 3 that you got as you won more and more games. I thought that was cool. They would reset after a ladder reboot. And if you didn’t like how you were playing, you could just start another account. Warcraft 3 had three accounts you could make. I liked that. I do not like this ‘one permanent account’. How am I to try out another race without screwing me up?

The original Battle Net had some problems especially with the bots. However, there was much freedom in how to play. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the tone of the game seems very different in something like Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3. The progression is displayed, openly, on everyone’s accounts (which we cannot hide or reset). The progression makes other gamers rate us and value us. “Oh, you are in Bronze League. You are not a worthwhile gamer.” WTF is with that? Maybe that person has kids to take care of and can’t play the game all the time. There were always ladder in the past games, but they weren’t the main focus of the game.

Again, I really do enjoy the single player Starcraft 2 and even Diablo 3 (first time you play though it) because there is nothing progression about it. Nothing about it has people rate you as a gamer.

We’re not playing as gamers anymore. This progression out-of-game crap has created a pecking order of aristocracy that is zapping the fun out of the game.

Here is what is so mystifying about Blizzard lately. Blizzard is still making high quality art/sound/ and even gameplay. I’ve been replaying the older Blizzard games and, while they were good, the new stuff is so much better. I cannot fault the graphics or sound or even gameplay of Diablo 3 or Starcraft 2. I play these games and have much fun. What drives me away is the out-of-game progression model. I may want to play Starcraft 2 some of the time, but fuck it I don’t need the ‘aristocracy ranking’ of the ladder system (e.g. E-Peen). “Does that mean you are teh bad, Malstrom?” No, it just means I know it is a video game, and it annoys me that people keep treating it like the goddamn Super Bowl.

When I play Bomberman, I don’t need a progression model. The game is just fun to play.

Judging from Call of Duty, many gamers today don’t play games for fun or gameplay. They play to ‘fill up bars’. Perhaps this is the market Blizzard is responding to. Blizzard has been heavily influenced by Xbox Live and, we can assume, games like Call of Duty. All these ‘fill up bars’ isn’t helping Blizzard’s sales and really wrecking Blizzard’s reputation.

Can we have a Blizzard game where we don’t “fill up bars”? When people imagine Warcraft 4, no one is imagining an ‘out-of-game progression system’ where they fill up bars. “You have played 99 games. Look at how many experience bars you have leveled up for ‘Orcs’.” WTF is with this? It is not fun and extremely annoying. This endless progression makes me feel I can never win so I stop playing.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 29, 2014

Email: Zelda 2 – It could be worse

Sure, Miyamoto has convinced nearly everyone that Zelda 2 sucks, and that’s aggravating for the fans. But at least we can still play and enjoy it. He could have gone insane like George Lucas and used every resource at his disposal to replace the original with his vision of what it should have been. Although Aonuma has done that already with his games, he’ll never be able to erase the originals from existence.

Here’s a fun thought experiment. Imagine if the only Zelda 2 we could buy today was a “special edition” that played like one of the putrid DS games, and that the only way to play the original game was to dig up a working NES and a cart. Doable, sure, but a massive pain in the neck for anyone who’s not really passionate about it.

I’ll take crap from other Zelda fans over that reality any day. I’d rather just agree to disagree, but just like there’s a “silent majority” of Zelda 2 fans, there’s a “loudmouth minority” of other fans hell-bent on tearing it down. What is their problem? Are they so insecure about the games they like that they have to tear down the ones they don’t? I don’t really like Ocarina all that much, but I don’t feel the need to go after someone who likes it.

One reason is because I said it. If I said the sky was blue, people would be upset and say, “How DARE someone say that!”

There’s never been a backlash to Zelda 2. Zelda 2 was well received in its day. The Zelda brand got stronger.

There’s a modern phenomenon that if a modern politician bashes someone like Thomas Jefferson, what is going on is that the modern politician, knowing he cannot measure up to a classic icon, chooses instead to tear him down in order to bring him down to his level. Classic Zelda games must be bashed and attacked and found to be ‘full of faults’ in order to hide the mediocrity from the modern Zelda games.

Is modern Zelda fun anymore? Does modern Zelda have the replayability of the earlier Zelda games?

There is another issue I think should be brought up to Zelda fans. We consider bullshots and using CGI (pretending it is actual gameplay) to be fraud. In two instances, Nintendo showed off Zelda trailers in order to incite people to purchase the hardware but then made the game look completely different. The Gamecube trailer of the Link versus Ganon battle got people very excited. What they got, instead, was Wind Waker. With the Wii U, we got a very pretty Zelda demo of Link fighting the giant spider. What we are getting instead is an anime style Zelda.

This is worse than the Killzone  2 trailer controversy. With it happening once, Nintendo could coyly say that the graphics had a change due to creative vision. With it happening a second time, it is clearly deliberately designed to commit fraud against the customers. Nintendo KNOWS a certain art style gets people excited. It not that they are deliberately not making it, it is that they advertise the next Zelda game to be X when knowing it will be Y instead.

Aonuma says Zelda Wii U will get back to the spirit of the original Legend of Zelda. Does anyone really believe this? Especially coming from someone who has publicly stated he hated the original Legend of Zelda?

Zelda fans beware: you are being played like fools.

One thing many people cannot emotionally accept is that Shigeru Miyamoto doesn’t have any credibility anymore. Aside from blaming marketing for the failure of the Virtual Boy (really?) or pushing for another expensive sequel to the commercial dud that was Pikmin, Miyamoto has been saying ridiculous things. He has said that Super Mario Brothers 3 is not a good game due to its poor level design. Really? I think Super Mario Brothers 3 is a fantastic game and still holds up. It is more fun to play that decades old game than most ‘new’ Mario games. And I know this is a consumer opinion shared by many. The question is, “Why is Miyamoto so wrong?” Then we can modify the question to, “Has Miyamoto ever admitted or been publicly criticized as wrong?” He never has! Whenever a Nintendo game sells well, it is always due to Miyamoto’s “genius”. When a Nintendo game sells badly, it is always due to the ‘marketer’s incompetence’. I wish my career had this tidy arrangement!

Am I attacking Miyamoto? No. I am pointing out how distant he and many at Nintendo have become with the market. It is hard being an old man to be in touch with the youth. Does anyone think games like Captain Toad with its stupid puzzles are going to generate hardware sales? Nintendo’s behavior for Generation 8 has been so odd because in Generation 7, Nintendo knew how to make the correct software the market wanted. Either Nintendo suddenly lost the ability to make software people wanted or it doesn’t want to make such software. After all, Nintendo stopped making Super Mario Brothers for twenty years! What the hell!? Nintendo is not stupid. They are doing it on purpose.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 29, 2014

Different contextual era sales cannot be compared

I have a riddle for the reader. PONG sold several million copies. Halo, however, sold many more than several million copies. Therefore, is Halo a more popular game than PONG? Did Halo have more impact than PONG?

This question is very important because a similar question led every analyst into Wrong Land at the dawn on the Seventh Generation which caused them to miss the DS/Wii landslide completely. The analysts, in their great wisdom, would compare the sales of all the game consoles of all generations. PS1 and PS2 had very high sales. Therefore, PS3 would also have very high sales, and it meant that console gaming was growing faster than ever. After all, the modern consoles were selling more than PONG machines and even the Atari 2600. They were selling more than the NES. Certainly that meant this form of gaming was more popular then, right? All the analysts believed this.

You cannot take a sales number at face value especially when you are comparing times as vast as decades. One big error the analysts missed was the trend of population growth. An area, like the United States, will create more sales over time (barring recession and depression) because of increased population growth. This is why real estate in growing areas tends to rise in value. Another error the analysts made was not taking in account markets available. Globalization was not always around especially in the early 1990s. The 1980s was still dominated by the Cold War. Much of the console growth has been riding these trends.

But was console gaming actually becoming MORE popular? We know that there was more money being spent. However, this is easily observed by young gamers coming of age with considerable disposable income that they are spending for gaming.  In terms of social penetration, gaming wasn’t really growing.

One thing I have never seen an analyst do is to detail how exactly the gaming market was born. To them, the gaming market was ‘always there’ and anything before the PS1 is considered ‘Land Before Time’. When a product expands its market, that market is called a Cold Market. It is not used to the product and must be explained what it is. When the market is used to the product, it is a Warm Market. In sales and marketing, it is much harder to sell to Cold Markets than to Warm Markets.

When PONG came out, was it selling to a Cold Market or to a Warm Market? It could only sell to a Cold Market. Aside from a few Space Wars nerds, no one knew what a video game was. Everything had to be explained to people. Aside from less population and available markets, PONG could never sell as much as a modern video game because of the massive Cold Market. Despite that, it is what makes PONG such a landmark game. Turning the Cold Market warm is what Great Products do. Anyone can sell to an already warm market. This is why PONG is considered the more popular and impactful game than Halo. PONG grew the market.

When we come to the Second Generation, we have consoles that have the innovation of ‘cartridges’ or change-able games. The Atari 2600 is considered extremely popular and impactful because, like PONG, it GREW the market. Gaming penetrated more and more of society because of it. The Famicom in Japan also holds that appeal (in Japan). The NES, most uniquely, revived a Crashed Market (and it was crashed) and grew the market further. There was a reason why there was so much Mario Mania and Nintendo mania at the time.

From this time onward, gaming never grew more into society. Gaming got bigger with growing populations and emerging markets as the Cold War faded. Young gamers grew up and would buy multiple game consoles. Gaming, essentially, wasn’t going anywhere and, should the macro-economic trends reverse, gaming would see utter decline. This was already beginning to occur in Japan.

This was the philosophy behind the Nintendo DS and Wii. There is no such thing as Casual Gaming. Casual Gaming is what people say because they cannot or are unwilling to understand the above. Video games have always been casual. It is ludicrous and message forum poppycock to think gaming has always been ‘hardcore’ until the Wii made its appearance.

The analysts did not understand this. They did not understand the social phenomenons of the PONG, Atari 2600, and to a lesser extent, the NES. To those that did, it was easy to recognize Wii’s explosive market power before it launched.

Lately, I’ve been talking about Nintendo First Party software quality and the decisions of what games are made. It is easy to look at the Mario games and to see a slam-dunk argument of 2d Mario sales far, far outpacing 3d Mario sales. It is not that the 2d Mario sales were greater than 3d Mario. It is that 2d Mario was a phenomenon and 3d Mario, aside from Mario 64’s launch, never has been and never will be. The market greeted 2d Mario’s return with ridiculous software and hardware sales with NSMB DS and NSMB Wii. NSMB Wii’s release caused the Wii selling 4 million in December 2009 which exceeds any month by any console ever. It won’t be broken for a long time.

Metroid also is fairly simple. The best selling Metroids are Metroid Prime and the original. Those two also coincide when Metroid was a mini-phenomenon.

Zelda becomes trickier. Some people are going through Zelda sales and declaring, “No matter what the console, Zelda consistently sells 3.5 million units. There is no decline there.” Including population growth? Including new markets? It is not decline but serious decline.

There is also the error of the pre-Fifth Generation sales. There was no NPD back then. What were the sales? Nintendo isn’t giving out the data. We don’t really know.

It is humorous to note that the people looking at the Zelda sales and declaring ‘there is no decline’ are making the same exact mistake the analysts made about the console market before the Wii launched. Population growth, new markets, and even kids growing up with disposable money are conveniently ‘forgotten’ because that would be some critical thinking. People don’t want to think. They want to just post a sales chart, spanning decades, and hit people over the head with it declaring that sales from a Cold War era where much of Europe was out of reach is the same context in a globalized era with generations growing with the gaming habit and disposing high income at it. It is also making the tragic mistake of comparing Cold Markets to Warm Markets.

The original Legend of Zelda was a Cold Market game. The same can arguably be said of Zelda 2. Zelda 1 and, especially 2, get the unique honor of being severely supply constrained. There was that microprocessor shortage of the late 1980s making games like Zelda 2 and SMB 2 sell for $100 at some places as people drove from state to state to get them. Zelda was definitely a phenomenon then. Not as big as the Mario phenomenon but nothing really has been.

Further illustration of how strong Classic Zelda sales were was how much greater competition there was back then. Aside from Zelda 1 and 2 competing against each other, there were so many great adventure games back then. Crystalis, Battle of Olympus, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game, Ultima IV, Ultima V, Ultima VI, Guardian Legend, Blaster Master, Faxanadu, Shadowgate, Goonies II, Maniac Mansion, Nightshade, Pool of Radiance, Prince of Persia, Rygar, Star Tropics I and II, Willow and this doesn’t include other RPGs such as the Dragon Quest games or Final Fantasy. There were MANY adventure games for the NES that Zelda I and II had to compete against. Link to the Past might have had even more challenging competition. Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Addams Family, Equinox, Pocky and Rocky I and II, Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Shadowrun, Bart’s Nightmare, and that doesn’t include the RPGs such as Final Fantasy IV or VI or Chrono Trigger. SNES was home to some of the best adventure games. LTTP had tough competition. The N64 is a barren wasteland for adventure games. Gamecube, the same.

“But Malstrom, what about other consoles?” What should be noted is how much more difficult it was to make an adventure game due to rising production costs. It certainly was more expensive than 8-bit and 16-bit eras. How many companies could make something like Ocarina of Time? Not many.You might have the Grand Theft Autos, Elder Scroll games, and Fallouts, but let us remember that those are sequels to PC games. Zelda has never been a competitor to PC games or PC-like games. Zelda is also not competing against smartphone games or pinball games.

What comes next is my favorite Nintendo fallacy: “The reason why the sales are low is because it came out on a console with a low install base.” If this reasoning was ever true, then Nintendo should cancel the Zelda series as well as any other Nintendo series that uses such reasoning. The reason why is because the purpose of First Party games is to create the hardware install base. A First Party game ‘riding’ the hardware install base is a worthless First Party title. Ocarina of Time had no problems selling very strong on a small install base. Pokemon had no problem selling strong on an aging hardware platform. Blaming the install base or the hardware for the software’s sales is someone who doesn’t want to admit that the game may not have been good.

Big budget adventure games are rare. There is no reason why Zelda shouldn’t be putting in Ocarina of Time numbers all the time. I believe Twilight Princess sales demonstrate what the normal Zelda sales range should be given increase of population growth, additional markets, etc. Zelda sales languish in the three to four million because something is scaring people away from the game. The NES Zeldas had microprocessor shortages, a Cold Market, less population and markets to sell to, and much, much more intense competition. Modern Zelda should be selling three times what the NES Zeldas did by removal of those challenges. Instead, people are acting that it is ‘fine’ that Zelda is selling at 3-4 million. Yet, has Zelda ever been a social phenomenon since Ocarina of Time? No. Fan response from each game has been nothing but a string of disappointments.

What is most fascinating, and should be focused on, is Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. People say Twilight Princess sold merely due to the excitement of the Wii. But why would Wii Sports purchasers want Zelda? They certainly didn’t carry over to other games. And why would they not buy Skyward Sword if they all bought Twilight Princess? We know the Zelda fans are there. Skyward Sword had a much larger install base to sell to than Twilight Princess did. “But the Wii was on the way out.” So was the Gamecube. A more likely explanation is that people liked Twilight Princess but didn’t like Skyward Sword.

And to those who keep insisting that Zelda sales are ‘stable’, consider profitability. It is costing more and more to make a Zelda game. If Zelda games keep selling at a similar trend (despite population growth, despite new markets), Zelda’s costs will eventually overcome any and all profitability. Change has to come eventually.

So yes, Zelda the game series is in sales decline. I doubt Aonuma is the one who can turn it around. After all, he’s been behind seven Zeldas and the only time the series did anything was with Twilight Princess which was Aonuma designing against his personal inclinations (which should tell us he is the wrong man for the job).

So the lesson for today is that sales numbers are not equal especially when the sales are decades apart. They cannot be equal due to…

-Different population sizes.

-Different number of markets.

-Lack of Warm Markets.

-Different Macro-economics.

-Used much more finite supply of cartridges.

-Much more intense competition.

No one is asking for a remake of Zelda 2 or early Zelda game. What people are asking for is a Zelda game that is made in the same blockbuster style and spirit of the early games. It’s obvious Nintendo has been designing Zelda games with the intention of them not to be very popular. Nintendo knows the Wind Waker art style is intensely unpopular, but they returned to it and keep shoving it in our faces. Nintendo knows Zelda’s gameplay does not revolve around puzzles, yet they keep injecting more and more into the games.

Recently, I had my 14 year old nephew play Link to the Past. He has already played Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, Link Between Worlds, and Ocarina of Time. I just sat back and watched him. He played on an emulator on my computer where the controls weren’t all that good (they never are without the original hardware). Despite that and no influence from me, he was playing LTTP like crack and couldn’t get away from it. His brothers were amazed at how into the game he was. Unlike the NES games, LTTP still is very accessible.

What’s going on here is that LTTP has aged well and is a high quality game. It was a high quality game when it was released. No one really has anything bad to say about this game (except for me which I think it is too easy. LTTP is so easy that even Reggie Fils-Aime can beat it!). LTTP is consistently fun. You don’t really hit walls of boredom in the game.

I do not want more LTTP. What I want is Zelda games made with similar quality. We’re not getting that from modern Zeldas for whatever reason. Zelda games were popular and remained intensely popular among players. I can’t find anyone who regrets buying Zelda games at the time. Today, all I hear is buyer’s remorse over purchase of a Zelda game. This is very sad.

Zelda should be making GTA level or Skyrim level sales today. So why isn’t it?

Those who played and loved Classic Zelda know why it was good. But those who didn’t play and love it then will be at a loss and constantly confused. Aonuma is not a fan of Classic Zelda. Even with  LTTP, he only liked that he could ‘cut grass’ with the game. Aonuma is someone who does not understand Zelda’s appeal. This is why I target him specifically in the criticism.

Why did Nintendo put someone in charge of Zelda who was never a fan of the game? THAT is the question that needs to be answered.

Email was just a link to the trailer:

It of course does. But this isn’t a Zelda game, it is a Dynasty Warriors game with Zelda IP.

 

 

 

Posted by: seanmalstrom | July 26, 2014

Email: Nintendo gives SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD a special Red case

Don’t know if you’ve seen this but Nintendo is re-releasing SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD in a red case like Mario kart 8.

Well it makes sense give a game that flopped in sales and is the worst selling 3D Mario game a special red case and people will surely buy it. I mean where’s the red case for New Super Mario bros. U, you know the game that is keeping the Wii U alive.
I mean how much does Nintendo love this game?
You’re right. NSMB U does not get a red case. And why re-release it? It isn’t like it is sold out or anything.
I don’t get angry at these things anymore. I just laugh that Nintendo thinks it can make the market go its way.

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