Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 15, 2015

ESA finds ‘game journalists irrelevant’

Take a look at this. No one cares what game journalists say anymore. Just as print magazines were replaced by digital magazines, digital magazines are being replaced by Youtube Personalities. And you know what? Five years or so from now, Youtube Personalities will be replaced by something else.

I cannot wait for the day when AAA game marketing campaigns are found to be irrelevant. Can you imagine what will happen when buying purchases are governed by people’s experience of the product instead of the hype of the product? Oh, the Game Industry will rue that day.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 13, 2015

Email: Super Mario RPG

The Super Nintendo really was tops when it came to turn based RPGs, even if it wasn’t until FFVII that JRPGs really became mainstream in the US. When I was reading your breakdown of the original NES Final Fantasy in your last post, I got to thinking about Super Mario RPG and despite being a Mario spinoff and not a main platformer, it did do some interesting things as far as the Mario game universe is concerned. It took some daring chances. Too bad it came so late in the SNES’s life to where most had moved on to the PS1 and FFVII, plus I’m sure there were those gamers who were still waiting for a true 2D successor to Super Mario World who would have to wait years to see that. Still Super Mario RPG is worth a look for many reasons.PrologueThe game begins with an opening of Peach sitting in a field, Bowser shows up, kidnaps her and Mario gives chase. Despite riding around in his clown car from SMW, Bowser’s castle looks like a foreboding fortress resting atop a rocky island in his image. You fight some koopas that are now wearing armored helmets and gloves, then you reach Bowser and battle him on the chandeliers. What’s really cool is despite this being a turn based RPG, you can defeat Bowser one of two ways. You can pound on Bowser until he submits or do what Peach says and attack the chain holding the chandelier. Kind of a shout out to the original SMB or SM3 where you could attack Bowser with fireballs or take out the floor below him. You think you saved the day, only to suddenly have the castle shake and you see this giant sword crash down from the sky followed by the title screen. When you think about it this is A) turning the old Mario trope of saving the Princess on it’s head as well as a shout out to the original FF where your start out saving the Princess only to be the starting point.

Chapter One

Mario gets flung back to his house. Toad learns the Princess is kidnapped again (this is when the series started getting self aware of it’s clichés and ran with this meta humor) and sends Mario back to Bowser’s castle but Mario finds the bridge wiped out and the Giant sword informs him that the “Smithy Gang” has taken over. I will say “Smithy Gang” was a sort of lame name for what were essentially robotic aliens who invaded the Mushroom Kingdom via a giant sword. But still for the first time in the series, we were faced with a villain you weren’t sure if Mario could beat. Sure there was Wart from SMB2 or the often forgotten Tantanga from SML or Wario but for me the Smithy Gang felt really intimidating. As enemies went in this game you had a mix of traditional Mario baddies from previous games but a lot of weird, new creatures often associated with the new enemy that had shown up. In the sewer level I remember these dark, floating guys alongside Cheep Cheeps, but back to the main story. You traverse the first area fighting goombas and paratroopas then battle the Hammer Bros. as the first boss and Mario gets their hammer as a weapon and follows Toad to the Mushroom Kingdom castle town. Mario tells (or rather mimes) the events at Bowser’s keep to the Chancellor and sets out to take the long way to Bowser’s castle. This is where you encounter Mallow, who is the lamest character of this game. His abilities suck and you put up with him only until you can swap him out for someone else but then again, that’s what made SMRPG special for me. Square could’ve easily reskinned an existing Final Fantasy game with Mario and friends, had Bowser be the final boss and made the party consist of Mario, Luigi, Toad and Yoshi saving Peach but this one decided to shake up the Mario tropes a bit. Luigi is MIA this whole game save for the end credits and Yoshi can later be a summon but instead Mario is paired up with partners he hadn’t before. Mario helps Mallow get back his coin from a thief named Croco only to return to the Mushroom Kingdom to have it overrun with Shyguys on pogo sticks lead by a mysterious creature called “Mack the Knife” (get it?). Mack is defeated and Mario gets the first star piece but still has no idea what’s going on. Mallow suggests visiting his grandfather Frogfucsious and ask him for help.

I also like the visual style of the Mushroom Kingdom in this game. It’s what you’d expect from Squaresoft’s interpretation of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s colorful and familiar but not overly cartoony like the series would get later on. Dungeons feel dark and foreboding and you don’t feel like you’re traveling through the standard grass, desert, ice, worlds like so many games do now. I wish Nintendo would look at this game when designing future Mario games but they won’t. They don’t even want to create a coherent world anymore.

Chapter Two

On their way to Tadpole pond, Mallow and Mario see Bowser rallying his troops and talking about taking the keep back. Mallow and Mario arrive at Tadpole pond where the wise old Frogfucious informs them that Peach is no longer at Bowser’s castle but no sure where he ended up. We also learn that Mallow isn’t a frog and he needs to go find his birth parents, so there’s actually a reason for this little puffball to be tagging along as opposed to the later Paper Marios where the sidekicks were just like “I’m teaming up with you Mario because you’re so awesome!” Mario and Mallow make their way to Rose Town where they meet a little boy who has toys of Mario, Peach and Bowser as well as a forth toy named Geno. That night you see a star spirit possess the Geno doll bringing him to life. It’s rather amusing as Geno bumps into a wall as if he’s not used to his new body. Mario and Mallow follow Geno into the mazelike woods and butt heads with Bowyer, a giant bow creature with arrow minions who is one of Smithy’s underlings. Geno is your black mage who has extremely powerful attacks, one of which when timed right can deal 9999hp of damage. Hence why he has a strong following who want him in another game. Mario gains the second star piece and Geno informs them he’s from Star Road (similar to Star World from SMW leaving me to believe this was seen as sort of a sequel to Super Mario World. Hey it’s more of an SMW sequel than Yoshi’s Island was) and needs the collect the star pieces to repair his home. So now we know what the stars are for. They’re our orbs/crystals/plot macguffins.

Chapter Three

Mario and pals come to Moletown, a mining village populated by moles but they can’t enter their mine as a mysterious creature is in there causing explosions. We also see Bowser and a handful of his minions who are still trying to plan a way to retake the castle. Mario learns that two mole kids are trapped in the mine so they set out to rescue them. You encounter Croco again who’s tougher as he’s got a band of thieves with him and halfway through his battle will steal all your items. Hey at least Mallow’s HP Rain move actually makes him useful for a while. Then you finally encounter the next Smithy minion, Punchenello who has an army of Bob Ombs. Beating him gains another Star along with saving the 2 mole kids. But instead of just warping out of the mine, you jump on a mine car and play a mini game to escape.

Chapter Four

Upon leaving Moleville, a trio of Snifits show up chasing a beetle and talk about their master, Booster who is planning a wedding to a Princess that fell from the sky. We now know this is where Peach is being held and head out to Booster’s Tower to save the Princess. This deviates from the “find the stars” story which is nice. Bowser is pouting outside Booster’s place and basically forces his way into your party. This was cool. The first time Bowser fought on your side. I remember being blown away by that. Even better, you don’t need Mallow anymore because Bowser is your tank. You break into Booster’s tower and fight off his minions making your way up to the top where Peach is being held. You reach Booster’s chamber but you can actually hide behind the curtains and avoid fighting him or fight him for XP. Booster will run off with the Princess leaving you to fight his lakies, two creepy clowns named Knife Guy and Grate Guy. You beat them and you play a mini game where you’re chasing Booster up a hill dodging barrels and his Snifits. You end up in the town of Marrymore where Booster has locked himself in the church with Peach. You sneak in through the side door but instead of fighting Booster, you have to fight the wedding cake that has somehow come to life. It is a little weird that after that Booster just gives up marrying the Princess and goes home because he just wanted cake. You’re warped back to the Mushroom Castle where everyone discusses what to do next. Basically they decide that the key to taking out the giant sword in Bowser’s Keep is getting the Star pieces for Geno. Then Peach decides to join the party. Also this was amazing for the time. Sure you could play as her in SMB2 but A) it was all a dream and B) we all know that was Doki Doki panic reskinned with Mario though I still love that game. But here no one can criticize Peach’s playability here. She’s your white mage who can heal and buff your party. So you got a Mario game where Mario fights alongside Peach and Bowser. You can talk to Frogfucsious on where to go next but the map makes it fairly obvious. You go to Star Hill where you just hunt around this weird, out of place blue area where the next Star is just sitting there to collect. No weird monster to fight.

Chapter Five

The next area is a Seaside Town and the Star is hidden in a sunken ship guarded by Johnny Jones, a fierce Shark pirate as well as a killer squid named King Calamari. You leave for shore with the Star piece only to encounter Smithy’s next minion, Yardovitch who was sent by Smithy to get the Star Piece because Smithy learned of their power and wants them for himself. Now our heroes realize time is of the essence and need to get the last Star Piece before Smithy as he already has one in his possession.

Chapter Six

Land’s end is the last area before Bowser’s Keep. Also here is Monstro Town where there’s a great easter egg in the form of a battle with Culex, a purple demon with orange wings ripped straight from FFIV complete with FFIV battle music and FF victory theme. He’s totally optional but good for a challenge. Travel through Monstro Town to the beanstalk to reach Nimbus Land, which could be a take on the sky half of world five from SMB3. The Nimbus kingdom is overrun by evil birds and our heroes have to take our their leader Valentia and Dodo. Mallow learns of his origins as he’s the prince of Nimbus Land and is reunited with his parents. The Star Piece is in a volcano so it’s into the Barrel Volcano to take on Czar Dragon/Zombone who is a bigger, badder version of Blargh from SMW. Beating him gets the final Star Piece save for the end one but just as you reach Bowser’s keep you encounter Smithy’s fighting team the Axem Ranger who were a spoof of the Power Rangers who were popular in the US and Japan at the time showing off the Mario RPG’s sense of humor.

Chapter Seven

Bowser’s keep at last and this was one of the last times when Bowser’s castle felt big and intimidating. You find that Bowser’s minions have joined with Smithy though some, upon seeing Bowser will run off. There is an annoying section of 10 different rooms and you have to complete some of them to advance. Some have puzzles. Some have platforming and some have enemies to fighter. It’s one of the more tedious areas but after that you get to take on Exor, the sword itself. Beating it will open up to the final area, the Factory. It is interesting to see what the inside of this sword was like. It was more than a spaceship, but a sort of floating netherrealm leading to a cold, gray factory area where you could see Smithy was building an army for an all out invasion. Smithy himself is a giant robotic king with the final star attached to his chest. His first form isn’t too bad but he has some nasty attacks. Peach will be healing every turn. You beat him and the floor collapses to the underground cavern below the castle. Smithy in FF fashion reveals his true form with a head that could change form based on what attack. he plans to use. Of course beat him and you get the final star. Geno returns home and everything returns to normal.

There’s a lot I like about this game. As my first JRPG it’s very approachable if you’re not familiar with turn based combat thanks to the timed hit system, but it never felt insulting. I liked the portrayal of the Mushroom Kingdom. It had a nice balance between lighthearted and dark and it’s a nice one for me to revisit.

I bought the game on Virtual Console when it came out on the Wii. The intro has always made me want to play it.

It looks very interesting. The graphics are very appealing. I like the isometric view. I liked old school square games, and I liked Mario. I liked their ‘new areas’ they explored.

But… I just couldn’t get into the game. I don’t think the mechanics have aged that well. I DO like the isometric style. I don’t like 3d Mario, but this was cool. The game reminded me of those old Mario novels they used to have.

Somehow in my search, I found this hilarious image. Here it is:

Video Games Make Surprisingly Beautiful Pulp Novels

This is supposed to be a sci-fi ‘pulp’ version art of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. To me, they look like Mega Man 1 box art. I have to agree with the first image. I think Peach likes being kidnapped. Where else did the Koopa Kids come from?

 

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 13, 2015

Email: What is the use of Apple Watch?

I want to hear what master maelstrom think? Is that going to sell like hot cake?

It will sell. I just don’t see it blowing up. I remember the Apple Watch idea was proposed by two employees in Apple. Steve Jobs rejected the idea. The two started their own company to make the watch, and it flopped. Now there are many reasons why it flopped. It was nowhere as slick as Apple Watch.

Apple is on my bad company list. They have so much money that they are becoming incredibly arrogant. Apple can be blamed for suppressing software costs to nothing because Apple wants the software to be virtually free because it gives value to the hardware (what Apple sells). I don’t remember Microsoft doing something like that.

A very famous memo of Bill Gates to Microsoft was the Internet Tidal Wave memo of 1995. It is definitely worth a read if you haven’t read it yet. In it, Bill Gates realizes that Microsoft must make the Internet its priority or see itself become obsolete.

What amazes me is that Nintendo has not had such a memo. If it did, it certainly wouldn’t be in the case it is today in 2015. Keep in mind that the DS and Wii were thought to have a future because the two consoles embraced the Internet. The DS had wifi in all the systems. Not even the Xbox 360 offered that. The Wii had the 24-Connect which, while wasn’t really used, pointed to a forward thinking. The Virtual Console was a huge embrace of the Internet. The Wii’s weather channel, news channel, and other channels was also embracing of the Internet. Mario Kart DS offered Internet multiplayer which helped make it sell extremely well. Mario Kart Wii embraced the Internet and saw huge, massive sales.

While Nintendo’s relationship with the Internet is seen by hardcore gamers as a joke, this is not the case with the non-hardcore. I liked how Mario Strikers Charged allowed online Internet multiplayer. The demand for Internet is beyond anything Nintendo could offer. What Nintendo did offer was snapped up by the market.

Nintendo’s latest offering of Mii-verse and all points that they don’t understand the Internet or why we want it.

I’m looking at one game company whose entire success can be said due to embracing the Internet: Blizzard. Blizzard is a compentent game maker. Rock and Roll Racing and Lost Vikings are great, but they aren’t better than the SNES classics and can’t really compete with them. Contra 3? Castlevania 4? Super Mario World? Mega Man X? Super Mario Kart? Yeah. Silicon and Synapse was outgunned.

In the world of PC gaming, Blizzard was also outgunned. Warcraft and Warcraft 2 are fun games. But Command and Conquer was also a really fun game. There were many other RTS competitors too that were very fun (many, many, oh so many). But some genius at Blizzard did something that forever altered the company: they placed the starter version of Kali on the Warcraft 2 disc. Kali tricked LAN packets to be sent over the Internet to create online multiplayer beyond typical modem play. Blizzard saw this popularity and put huge investment into Battle.net. Diablo 1 launched with Battle.net. Then Starcraft came. While other games used online services you had to subscribe, Battle.net was free with the game. It helped create the precedent that one shouldn’t subscribe to play games multiplayer over the Internet. Then came Diablo 2 and Warcraft 3. This set the company up well to make a MMORPG. World of Warcraft obviously transformed the company.

Battle.net was overhauled into Battle.net 2.0 which launched with Starcraft 2. Diablo 3 comes out. Blizzard unites all their games to have cross game talk (or, rather, uniting WoW with Bnet 2). Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch will also launch with Bnet 2. Hearthstone uses Bnet 2.

Are these games so successful because Blizzard is so god-like at game design and polish… or is it because Blizzard is leveraging the Internet wave more than most companies? I’d say it is the latter. I keep wondering why Heroes is in alpha or beta for so long. I think Blizzard is realizing that they released Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 too early. They didn’t have time to properly evaluate the endgame. They didn’t realize everyone would get sick of Starcraft 2’s too fast multiplayer. They didn’t realize Diablo 3’s terrible endgame until it was upon them. It might explain why their development hell has increased lately.

Nintendo’s relationship with the Internet is enigmatic, but I believe I have a reason for it. In 1995, while Bill Gates was writing the ‘tidal wave’ Internet memo, Shigeru Miyamoto and other key Nintendo people were pushing 3d. Virtual Boy. N64. Both market failures. The Gamecube was pushed further into the 3d realm, and it failed even more. The Xbox, on the other hand, made moves to align itself with the Internet which helped it gain market penetration (at least in America).

For more evidence, look at the 3DS. Internet seems to be an after-thought on it. The system, even its name, revolves around 3d. Someone at Nintendo thinks 3d is a huge selling point and the future of gaming. Yet, it is the Internet that has revolutionized PCs, revolutionized how we watch TV shows and movies,, revolutionized PC gaming, completely altered every industry on Earth, and yet someone at Nintendo is still pushing 3d.  As forward-thinking as Bill Gates memo was is as backward-thinking whoever at Nintendo keeps saying the future is in 3d, 3d, 3d.

Why is there no real account system? This is saying, in another way, why has Nintendo not accepted the standard of basic Internet use? As Steve Jobs once said, Apple didn’t make the network standard, but they still had to use them because it was standard.

The future of Nintendo will be tied with the Internet. Nintendo may not want to go there, but it does not have a choice. The Internet can bring new life to franchises just as new hardware can. Mario Kart’s value is increased by being able to play over the Internet.

Nintendo gained its market share in consoles due to having ‘the best games’. But what is ‘the best games’? It is the complicated question which defines the game industry itself. As an observer for decades, one of the reasons the ‘best games’ are the best is because they use new technology. Name one classic game that, at its time, wasn’t state-of-the-art. “B-b-b-b-but Tetris!” Tetris was state-of-the-art especially on Gameboy’s primitive hardware. Other games could not compete with Tetris on the Gameboy.

Donkey Kong used graphical art to tell a story sequence. It was state of the art then. Super Mario Brothers had a BLUE SKY as well as background music. The game scrolled too. It was state of the art. Super Mario Brothers 3 did amazing things with technology then. And remember how Super Mario World was marketed?

Mario is not the Mickey Mouse of gaming. He is the technology avatar of gaming. When a new Mario game appears, we expect to see the heralding of new technology. “Now you’re playing with power.” Now you’re playing with technology.

Nintendo knows games need to use new technology. But there were many much hyped games at the time that failed because they used the WRONG TECHNOLOGY. The 32X was wrong. The Virtual Boy was wrong. The Gameboy series of hardware was one right decision after another until the major setback hit by the 3DS (embrace of 3d). The Nintendo 64 also faltered (which also embraced 3d).

Nintendo has lately fashioned themselves alchemists where they mix hardware and software together to make something ‘magical’. What crap.

There are many PC companies that fought against the trend. Bill Gates, in the memo, mentions companies that fought against the IBM Standard because they had reason to fight against it. Today, all those companies are gone. The Internet is a phenomena, and it can be used correctly or incorrectly.

The question of the future is not what Nintendo’s NX console going to be. The question of the future is what is Nintendo’s relationship to the Internet going to be? This question will paint a picture of the Nintendo NX.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 9, 2015

Email: RTS games and MOBAs

Hello, Malstrom,
one subject that I always like to see you talk about is the subject of RTS games. Though I wasn’t quite as die-hard of a fan as you were, I still enjoyed them immensely and I’ve been disappointed with the state of the genre in recent years.
One statement you made in your recent post particularly caught my eye:

“The love of Starcraft was the love of multiplayer battling. Heroes of the Storm is going to gore Starcraft’s multiplayer base. The Starcraft 2 players who hadn’t left for a MOBA already will likely drift to Heroes of the Storm.”

An interesting thought. There’s just one problem, though….why would MOBA games gore StarCraft’s multiplayer base, when the appeal of those two genres is fundamentally different?
Sure, they both have in common the “love of multiplayer battling”, but there are multiple kinds of multiplayer battling. You could say that many FPS games also have a “love of multiplayer battling”, but that doesn’t make their appeal at all comparable to RTS and MOBA games. Likewise, the appeal of RTS games and the appeal of MOBA games is fundamentally different.
How? Well, it’s a matter of roles…specifically, what role does the player fill when they play these games. When playing an RTS game, the player fills the role of a commander. There are many types of RTS games out there, but what they all have in common is the appeal of leading a large amount of troops into battle. After all, you wouldn’t be much of a commander if you weren’t in charge of an army and a base. RTS games essentially entirely revolve around that concept and the player is often directly referred to as the “commander”.
By comparison, you are not a commander in a MOBA game. Sure, there are NPC troops, but you don’t directly control them or direct their movements in any way. Instead, you are a hero or mercenary in a group of heroes/mercenaries who are trying to tip the scales in your sides favour. In truth, even though MOBAs sprang out of a WarCraft III mod, they are more of a competitive form of action RPGs than they are strategy games. After all, you don’t control armies, you just control your one hero who cooperates with other heroes.
People who love StarCraft and other RTS games enjoy these games because they get to be in charge of entire companies or even armies that do battle with one another. MOBA’s simply do not fulfill that particular job. If MOBA games are goring anything, it is the multiplayer bases of action RPGs (such as Diablo III) or at least those parts that seek a more focused competitive experience; as it stands, any competitive situations in regular ARPG’s are more determined by loot than skill.

 

The trend for RTS gamers has always been to go the simplified route over the game’s intended purpose.  In Warcraft II, I wanted to play High Seas Combat on low resources. It was a water map with little land. Everyone hated that map, and only the ‘hardcore’ then played it (I know, I know). Everyone’s favorite map was Garden of War with high resources. Why is this? One, the game became much simplified because of the lack of boats and water tactics. Another reason is that the high resources gave players less things to worry about. Garden of War resulted in faster paced games as well with much more conflict.

In Red Alert, players abandoned the default lame maps by Westwood for the high resource ridge defined maps like hjk. I was there when hjk was made. The guy who made it, Dr. Frank (his username), was a hardcore Red Alert player. We played multiplayer in 8 way games all the time. But on default maps, which there were few for 8 players, there were not enough resources to play with the cool stuff or have gigantic tank battles. Using the map editor, he made a map that suited the way we wanted to play. Keep in mind that high resource doesn’t mean less skilled, it just means more fun. We could play and actively beat anyone on the Red Alert servers on the stupid default Westwood maps, but we were bored of it. Most players were terrible because they kept playing Sim City like in single player or would even try to do a harvestor treaty with me (“lets agree not to shoot each others’ harvestors” Sure! *attacks harvestor* “OMG! YOU FUCKING LOSER #$^%&#$YER^$”).

In Starcraft, what was the most played map? It was Big Game Hunters. What did that map have? It was 8 (or 10?) player map with HIGH RESOURCES. People played on that map all the time because they had the most fun on it. It was just crazy battle after battle.

Already, the trend for RTS games is to prefer their RTS playing with less stress, more players, and more intense battles.

When we go into Warcraft 3, the game was just way too complicated and overshot so many people. The four races were very different, but then you had to manage heroes (up to three per player), shops, and items.

Ever since Warcraft 2, my favorite way to play RTS games is with 4 vs 4 team games. I enjoy massive battles. I enjoy the camaraderie. I enjoy the personalities of the different players. It is the difference between one cat and two. If you own one cat, it is just a cat. But if you own two cats, you now have personalities. One cat is suddenly different than the other. The same is true with players. The more, the better.

Warcraft 3’s 4v4 early game IS the MOBA. What does it consist of? It is four heroes going together, colliding with the other enemy four heroes, and a team battle takes place. These hero battles were intensely fun. Eventually, the bases would be built up enough so units would take the spotlight. What if the game had a different trajectory after that team fight? What if it stuck with the heroes and didn’t deal with the unit building?

The result is the MOBA. The MOBA isn’t a spawn from RTS like Tower Defense or other such things because MOBA borrows too much from Blizzard’s default Warcraft 3 gameplay. Instead of the game revolving around bases, the game revolved around heroes. Heroes, unlike bases, have personality. Also, MOBAs revolve around team versus team.

Who says you aren’t a commander in the MOBA? You are commanding the other players. The other players jerk around and do shit which means they need to be told where to go, what to do, so everyone is coordinated. I don’t think RTSes really revolved around being the commander. RTS had the fun army fighting part, but a huge part of RTSes is about resource gathering and base building. The resource gathering and base building are completely removed. I remember Warcraft 2 started everyone with just one peasant. Everyone had to sit and wait for their townhall to finish completion. Then, we had to make the farm. Then, we had to make a barracks. Then, we could make a unit. Once that unit popped out, we could send it to attack. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz boring. So much time to do nothing! However, this was twenty years ago.

Starcraft 2 did not become the hit in South Korea that Blizzard hoped. Instead, the game of League of Legends became the hit and E-sports wonder. Many ‘pro’ Starcraft 2 players got tired and went to LoL. Many, many LoL players are retired RTS gamers. If games like Warcraft 3 overshot the market, Starcraft 2 overshot the market to the moon.

I think we’re making the mistake of thinking games are about gameplay. Games are really about playing with other people. The gameplay of poker is dull and boring. But it is the company that makes the game interesting. LoL, being free to play, made it very easy for people to distribute among their friends. They go to the Internet Cafe, play with friends, and have fun.

Many people play RTS games with friends and family as well as for team games. The MOBA satisfies these needs so well that the modern RTS cannot stand a chance.

Starcraft 2 will do very well with those who enjoy single player RTS (single player campaigns) and 1 vs 1 ladders. As for the team based RTS fans, MOBAs are going to suck them in. I’m one of those team based RTS fans (though I will be buying Legacy of the Void for the single player campaign). I wasn’t sucked into a MOBA because they are all poorly made. I believe the original DOTA was highly flawed. The ‘flaws’ of DOTA was because of very crappy design. Crappy design largely occurs when the game is designed around limitations of the engine or what can be done with the engine instead of actual fun. The reason why there are items in DOTA is not because they are fun, but because the Warcraft 3 engine allowed it. The reason why items can be combined into other items is because the Warcraft 3 engine allowed it. The reason why the gameplay revolved around one map is because of the nature of the Warcraft 3 editor revolving around a map. The variables and scripts were added to the maps instead of the other way around. If I thought the original DOTA was flawed, you can imagine that someone like me wouldn’t be impressed with the DOTA clones.

MOBAs say “DOTA was good. We will build upon it.” Heroes of the Storm is saying, “DOTA was bad. We are correcting it.” This, to me, is much more exciting and more revolutionary than people think. I like how Heroes is not using DOTA as the measuring stick to define itself. This allows Heroes to forge a new path.

I can tell you there is no way I’ll be playing any Legacy of the Void multiplayer. I do not care for the 1 v 1 E-peen. The team based Starcraft 2 games aren’t very interesting. I’m already addicted to Heroes, have 500 games played there within weeks, and I expect to be playing it much more.

TLDR: There are three different types of RTS players: the single player campaign person, the ladder person, and the play-with-friends or teams person. MOBAs will, and already have, absorbed the play-with-friends or teams person. I predict Legacy of the Void will sell largely for the Ladder fans and those who like the single player campaign.

As Christensen says, the definition of the product is its job. The job for RTS games, for many people, were to play with friends. Due to how complicated the RTS has become, it has overshot the market and MOBAs are doing the job of playing with friends better.

I’ve noticed Grubby took a break from Starcraft 2 to player Heroes. With the Void of the Legacy beta out, he started playing it, got bored, and went back to Heroes. It is a foretelling of the future.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 9, 2015

Bloodborne and Zelda

The latest fuss is over the game called Bloodborne. It is meh to me. However, it is a game of action RPG with intense combat. There is nothing new under the gaming sun. Can you think of an earlier game that was an action RPG with intense combat… say… over twenty years ago?

Early Zelda games were action RPGs with intense combat. No one, and I mean no one, thought of Zelda games as ‘puzzle games’. There were puzzles in the sense of mazes, as to ‘what bush to burn to find the dungeon’. There were things to explore and new items to get. But Link had a sword and knew how to use it. The bosses in the dungeons were actually bosses. They were big and nasty.

For whatever reason, someone high up at Nintendo declared Zelda to be about ‘story’ and ‘puzzles’ leaving out the fun RPG and combat mechanics. This created a vacuum that is being filled by other games such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I think they go to a more extreme example. I prefer more variety in my games. I don’t like games being just dark, with all the monsters being so ugly, and so on. In the same way, I don’t like how modern Nintendo games are always so sugary. Even with Super Mario World, I thought and still think that game is too sugary. Super Mario Brothers 3 was sugary but also had dark moments such as the final world or the airships. The game wasn’t just fluffness and light. The original Super Mario Brothers had the castles which felt really dark and scary. In Zelda, the dungeons always felt dark and scary. The overworld also felt dangerous.

I’m still disappointed in how ridiculously easy Link to the Past is. Then there was no Second Quest! Really now! Despite that, the game was awesome. With Link between Worlds, Nintendo just couldn’t pull it off. They had to make the game so ridiculously easy that even six year olds I’ve heard complain about it.

I do not understand Nintendo’s thinking on Zelda. What I believe they are doing is chasing the glory of Zeldas past. They say, “That earlier Zelda had X so therefore we should have X too.” What they need to say is that ‘Zelda is a marriage between arcade-like combat and RPG-like gameplay” like they did in the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter describing the original Legend of Zelda. The fact that modern Zelda is so lacking in arcade-like combat and RPG-like gameplay really points to how much it has changed.

I am not happy with how Nintendo has made 2d Mario (NSMB games). I’m not happy with how Nintendo did Link Between Worlds.

Nintendo views 2d gameplay purely through the mechanics. Where is the fantasy? I want to play the fantasy. This is hard when the music is so crappy that it is about ‘dah dah dah’. It is hard when the character goes no where new, fights the same old monsters we have seen again and again, and the same exact adventure he had before. Before, Mario went different places. He went to Sub-Con. He went to Dinosaur Land. Where does Mario go now? He just goes through monotonous ‘levels’ with no fantasy or adventure attached to it.

I have no expectations for Zelda U. I know Nintendo will be unable to provide adventure or different places, so they will just throw in anime trash instead.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 8, 2015

Email: The original Final Fantasy

I finally booted up my WiiU and went into the Wii’s Virtual Console to download the original 1990 NES Final Fantasy. You’ve mentioned it on this site several times and honestly I had been wanting to try it for a while. Mostly I was worried it would be too “Nintendo hard” like a lot of old school NES games but I have a love for the more old school turn based JRPGs. I’ve been enjoying the 3DS Square JRPG Bravely Default but it does still fall prey to too many modern issues that have plagued the modern Final Fantasy games namely in it’s too damn wordy. Characters take five minutes to explain something I got in the first minute.
Playing the original FF game, it’s amazing to see how far Square has come from this. I think this goes back to what you said about a game being well programmed. Back when companies had small carts to work with, they had to make it count, this is why I think when FF made the jump to PS1 was also when it started to go downhill. When you start the original Final Fantasy you get a short intro, you set up your party and are thrown into the game world and being told “ok, go save the day.” Also some hardcore gamers say the original is “too hard” or “too vague” in what you’re supposed to do and then defend the updated GBA/IOS port. It’s funny how hardcore gamers get mad when something like the Majora’s Mask 3DS remake “watered down” the game by making saving and time traveling easier but are all about watering down Final Fantasy from it’s NES original form.

Then I saw this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a95IaFbOwk
This guy was able to beat the first boss in under six minutes so it can’t be that hard of a game. What I found is like the often maligned Zelda II which is a tough game that I also loved, is that both aren’t that hard if you’re willing to level grind. It’s also not nearly as cryptic as say the original Zelda where you really just had to wander around until you found a dungeon. All you have to do is go into any town and talk to people and someone will give you an idea of where to go and what to do.

It’s amazing how watered down Final Fantasy has gotten in recent years. Many fans and even reviewers in hindsight look at FFXIII and realize how bad it was removing the fun, open world exploration in favor of walking down halls and watching cut scenes with a battle system that basically plays itself. Though everyone is rallying around XV saying “it’s returning to form! They’re promising a big open world!” Too bad all I’ve seen of the game is the effeminate Japanese boy band driving around in a car. Though what’s interesting about FFXV is that it will be the game that makes or breaks the Japanese console market given how poorly the PS4 has been selling there.

 

The original Final Fantasy is amazing, and I still play the game. I haven’t been able to lately because the battery died on my NES cartridge (oh, the humanity!). Aside from being able to choose different classes and all the usual things you expect me to say, I think the original Final Fantasy had the best story. Other games might have had better characters, but the story didn’t seem as epic. Final Fantasy’s adventure is just insane.

In the original Nintendo Power Final Fantasy Guide, they broke the game down into chapters which is actually helpful for breaking apart the game. Let’s do the same. Just imagine how the game twists the context on you.

-Chapter One-

Four Light Warriors beam out of nowhere with darkened orbs outside Cornelia. The great knight of Cornelia, Garland, has gone mad. He captured Princess Sarah and is holding her at the Chaos Temple. You level up, adventure to the temple, kill Garland, and return the princess back to Cornelia. End of game.

Right?

The game is taunting you in saying, “Yep, that is the end of the game. You won…. LOL. You have just begun the game!!!” It is a middle finger to prior RPG console games. What did you do in Legend of Zelda which was released prior to 1987? You rescued the princess. You did the same in Super Mario Brothers too.

When the original Final Fantasy came out was when other games also began to break the console mold: 1987 winter was when the original Mega Man was released as was Phantasy Star, Castlevania, and Contra.

Here, the game began when you rescued the princess. It did not end. The king of Cornelius builds a bridge with your victory. You cross it and the credits start. Already, this game was blowing apart the paradigm.

-Chapter Two-

The Light Warriors eventually hit Pravoka which is a town conquered by pirates. After defeating the pirates, the NPCs come out, and you get the pirate ship. Now, we are still at the very beginning of the game, and this is another paradigm blown. How often do you come to conquered towns in RPGs? How often do you get a boat THIS EARLY in the game? It has never been done.

Since the game puts you in a giant lake, you can only really go to Elf-Land. In the Elf Castle is the Sleeping Prince (different from the Sleeping Princess trope) who needs an item from Astos, in the Dark Castle, to wake. You talk to Astos in the Dark Castle who says he wants his crown from the Marsh Cave to return the Dark Castle to glory. So off go the Light Warriors to get this item. When Astos is given the crown, he turns into the Dark Elf and savagely attacks the heroes. Once you get the medicine to revive the Sleeping Prince, you get the Mystic Key which unlocks all the secret vaults. One of the items is TNT.

You take the TNT to the dwarves tunneling, and they blow a hole in the land that allows your ship to go out into the ocean.

This chapter itself is a great little adventure. Keep in mind that waking the sleeping princess, Zelda 2, came out the same year Final Fantasy did.

-Chapter Three-

Light Warriors arrive at Melmond which is a dying town because the earth has rot. You travel to the bottom of the Earth Cavern, kill the vampire, and get the Star Ruby which is given to the Sage who gives you the Rod. The Rod will open up the stone plate where the vampire was. Yes, you have to go down the Earth Cavern, back up again, and go back down it again. This chapter is full of undead as well which do not react well to physical attacks.

This chapter majorly sucks. It is the biggest difficulty spike in the game. There is so much stoning and disease, it sucks so much. The story sucks compared to the other chapters. There is nothing new here, and nothing interesting here in this chapter.

After removing the rod, the Light Warriors go deeper and find the Earth Fiend. They kill the Earth Fiend. Upon returning to Melmond, they find one of the four darkened orbs has brightened. The Light Warriors seek the Sages of Crescent Lake to find out what has happened.

-Chapter Four-

At Crescent Lake, the Sages give a canoe so the heroes can go through the rivers of the mountains. The Sages also dump a ton of lore. The four crystals represents an elemental boss. When one is killed, an orb brightens. What happens when all the orbs are lit? Now, the game has a frame in that you slay all the Elemental Bosses. What is interesting is that this is revealed only after you kill the first one (and the journey to kill the Lich really, really, sucks). Games don’t do this especially back then.

The Fiend of Fire is in the volcano. The Light Warriors paddle their canoe there (!), enter the volcano, and kill the Fire Fiend. Now what? Where are the other two fiends?

The Fiend of Water and the Fiend of Air are in the northern continents. But there are no ship ports there so the Light Warriors cannot travel there. They need an alternate way.

After hearing about the Levistone (a stone that causes objects to float), the Light Warriors go to the Ice Cave and find it. Then they go to the desert in the area. Using the Levistone, the Light Warriors summon an airship out from the desert and fly away.

!!!@#!@#!$@%#@ WTF!? This is just too cool. An advanced fallen civilization of the north has one of its vessels hidden in the desert sands. I know flying ships are common in Eastern mythologies especially the Indian epics, but this is the first time I had really encountered them. My mind was blown.

Ultimately, this chapter is rather pedestrian. It gives out the frame of the game. You go kill the other elemental fiends. While the elements is a theme that gets tired, it was still very fresh at this time. It wasn’t mind blowing or anything. No, that would be reserved for the airship. In the strategy guide, they have a picture of the airship coming out of the sands and the ninja character looking shocked. That is how I felt.

-Chapter Five-

This was certainly a context bender.

The Cardia Islands house the Dragons. But you do not fight the dragons. The dragons are people, and even have a king. The king puts a trial for you to retrieve the rat tail. If you do it, it will undergo a class change. Mages will become wizards, fighters will become knights.

This chapter is very interesting because it is a trial to prove yourself. In some ways, it is similar to The Quest of the Avatar (Ultima IV). It is a refreshing break from the ‘kill the elementals’ frame.

-Chapter Six-

There are two towns in Chapter Six. There is Gaia, somewhat hidden, whose fairy-of-the-lake has had its fairy stolen. The other town, Onrac, is the dying ember of a once greater city that was part of a mighty civilization. The sea temple nearby sank a long time ago and took the mermaids (!) with it. A guy in Onrac says he saw a shiny object fall from the sky to the Great Waterfall. So many strange things!

What makes this chapter work so well is that it is showing the REMAINS of the Great Civilization of the North. It doesn’t actually show the civilization, just its ‘mark’ on the world. An archaeologist is studying the ancient writing and thinks the tablet to deciphering it is inside the sunk temple.

A submarine is available to get to the sunken shrine (submarine? Future technology!). However, the Light Warriors must spend a fortune to buy back the fairy from a caravan. The fairy then gives the oxale necessary to survive a submarine trip.

Inside the sunken temple, the Light Warriors talk to the mermaids, find the Rosetta stone to decipher the ancient language, and find the Water Fiend: Kraken. With the Water Fiend killed, three orbs are now lit.

-Chapter Seven-

This chapter is nuts. Instead of spotlighting the graveyards of this fallen High Tech Civilization, we actually get to see it. Robots. Lasers. Warping. It has it all.

The Light Warriors investigate the ‘shiny object’ that fell at the Great Waterfall. Carrying a common video game trope at the time (hello Shadowgate), there is a cave behind the waterfall. But at the end of the cave is not a person but a robot. The robot gives the Light Warriors the Warp Cube which is the key to get into the Flying Castle (!). The robot had fallen from the Flying Castle which is home to the Fiend of the Air. Now the Light Warriors know where to go.

The hidden ancient town of Lufenia is discovered. It is said four hundred years ago the Fiend of Air took over the Flying Castle with its robots. The five Lufenian warriors left with an airship, with the Levistone, and went south. They buried the airship and put the stone into the ice cave. But why did they do this? The five sky warriors’s adventure is the opposite direction of the ones the Light Warriors have been going! Why is this? There are no answers yet.

The Light Warriors go through the Mirage Tower in order to reach the Floating Fortress. Doesn’t this sound like World 5 of Super Mario Brothers 3? (Interestingly, Super Mario Brothers 3 also has airships.)

Thumbnail for version as of 21:33, 19 August 2006

Above is a freaking war mech that attacks you with lasers. There is so much high technology being thrown here. This game transcended its typical fantasy RPG setting after Chapter 4. After that, the game no longer uses traditional fantasy tropes. The more use of high technology makes the game feel more mythic.

With the Fiend of Air slain, all four crystals are now lit.

-Chapter 8-

Evil remains in the world. What to do? The Light Warriors consult the sages at Crescent Lake. The sages explain that the fiends had transformed the Temple of Fiends into a time portal where the evil flowing from it is coming from 2000 years in the past. The Light Warriors must go backward in time.

In the Temple of Chaos though, the five bats are actually the five Sky Warriors transformed. They failed in stopping the evil.

Inside the Temple of Fiends, they find younger versions of the four fiends in their prime. Once they are slain, the Light Warriors face The True Evil.

The True Evil is Garland, the first boss you defeated in Chapter One. Garland summons the fiends in the Future, but the fiends summon Garland in the past creating an Endless Time Loop. From this, Chaos emerges.

Once Chaos is defeated, the Light Warriors return to 2000 years to their present time. All the evils of the world never occurred. The princes and princesses are all on their thrones. Even Garland is there oblivious of what was done. No one knows anything that transpired except the Light Warriors. The Light Warriors tell their tale anyway, and it is only through vocal retelling that their memory survives.

Chapter Eight is the most fantastical and bizarre I have ever seen from a video game. Final Fantasy IV was awesome, but only in a Chapter Seven way. There was nothing as fantastical as an Endless Time Loop. Returning to the original dungeon of the game, and to the first boss, was a stroke of genius.

What makes Chapter 8 so context shaking is that it defies mythology itself. Mythology is about time being disordered by monsters. The heroes slay the monsters to restore time. Time was not seen as a linear line to the ancients. This is why there is no time travel in ancient mythology. Chapter 8 feels distinctly Western by doing this.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 6, 2015

Era of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo is over

The three legs of Blizzard’s stool of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo are coming to an end. They will be replaced with a new three legged stool of Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch.

“But Malstrom, how can you say Overwatch will be good? No one has played it.”

The people I know who are playing it have told me about it. And I do believe it will be popular… as much or even more so than Team Fortress 2.

At first, I wanted to say this is the spin-offs replacing the series. Hearthstone is a chip from Warcraft’s block. Heroes of the Storm is a chip from Starcraft’s block. And Overwatch is a chip from Diablo’s block…. wait… that doesn’t work. Oh well. It was almost a good analogy.

Warcraft is really about riding technology waves. Warcraft 1 rode the LAN wave, Warcraft 2 and 3 rode the modem wave, and World of Warcraft really rode the broadband wave. Hearthstone’s massive popularity (75 million players (!)) is about riding the tablet/smart phone wave. Whatever one may think of Hearthstone (I’m not a fan), it is leaps and bounds better than the usual mobile game.

The love of Starcraft was the love of multiplayer battling. Heroes of the Storm is going to gore Starcraft’s multiplayer base. The Starcraft 2 players who hadn’t left for a MOBA already will likely drift to Heroes of the Storm.

Overwatch is still a question mark. However, I don’t see Diablo 3 remaining popular years after its last expansion. Who knows what the future of Diablo gameplay will be and if anyone wants it in the future. I do not see Diablo 4 anytime soon.

We are in the transition to the Third Era for Blizzard.

First Era:

Rock n' Roll Racing

The Lost Vikings

Boxart for SNES version

Second Era:

The box art of StarCraft: Brood War.

Diablo II Coverart.png

WoW Box Art1.jpg

Third Era:

Hearthstone Logo.png

Heroes of the Storm logo.png

Overwatch logo.jpg

Interesting thing I didn’t realize to notice until I did this is how the ‘boxes’ have changed. The listed games are considered the peak of that franchise more-or-less. So many of the games seem like an evolution to that next peak. Warcraft -> Warcraft 2 -> Starcraft while Warcraft 3 -> World of Warcraft. Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 are good games, but they are definitely not matching the earlier peaks probably because they are transition games. Now, I do not know if Third Era games listed will be the peak, but I do know that a new era is dawning.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 1, 2015

Nintendo is a complicated mess

I just watched the latest Nintendo Direct.

I give up trying to make sense of it all. I give up trying to keep track of all the Amiibos. There are so many. I give up on trying to figure out what they do. They all do different things, but most of them do things I don’t want them to do anyway. I give up with understanding the Virtual Console. Why are the VC games only on a timer and differ with the same Amiibo? Iwata says it is like inserting in a new cartridge. But the only people who have experience with that, with home consoles, are over 30 years old by now and not Nintendo’s main customers.

I came across from the Nintendo Direct with a headache. There is nothing simple to understand from a consumer’s point of view. All I can gather is that Nintendo wants everyone to buy all the Amiibos and DLC. This is all I got.

The footage of Splatoon after the Direct confirms my suspicion the game will bomb. The enemy characters are so terribly bland.

I am liking how Nintendo is allowing you to buy DLC for 3DS or Wii U and have it available for the other system without buying it again.

I wonder if there will be the day when I can buy Super Mario Brothers and not have to buy it again. How many times must I keep buying that game? It’s 30 years old at this point!

Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 1, 2015

April 1 gags are great

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there is something very wrong with people whose reactions to April 1 gags (provided they are actually funny) to go insanely hostile. These are people who are incapable of laughing at themselves.

I also have noticed the same problem with people whose reaction to Thanksgiving is to call it ‘Turkey Day’ and be incapable of calling it Thanksgiving. I’ve noticed they have a big problem in giving thanks.

It is interesting the things you realize as you get older. Reader, you have a choice. When you age, you can either view old age as a comedy or as a tragedy. As we age, our bodies get older, and that is the tragedy of life. But as we age, our souls get younger, and that is the comedy of life. Next time you look into the eyes of a shriveled up old man in his wheel chair, notice the laughter in his eyes.

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