Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 21, 2015

Why video game history matters

As long as I have been here, some might say this site has been about business models of disruption or Blue Ocean, some might say it is about the joy of classic gaming, some may say it is about being non-elitist in a message forum dominated community, but ultimately it is about trying to get the history right.

When I came on the scene, I did not consume Game Industry media. As soon as I did, I was shocked at how far off it all was. It was so bad that all the major analysts kept trying to label Generation Seven as Generation Three. Why? It is because they wanted video games to only really start when the Play Station came out. It was so ridiculous, and young people did not know any better. Anyone who knew the true history of the Atari and NES eras were not surprised in the slightest about the Wii phenomenon. Nintendo even said the Wii was designed by them going back and studying those two consoles. Wii marketing was Atari’s marketing with showing the people and not the games.

Take a read at this article. He nails it when he says the Game Industry keeps writing its own history. Historic games do not matter until only a ‘reboot’ comes along. And with the ‘reboot’, we are supposed to forget about the earlier game.

One thing he touches on is this:

This is how much the industry appreciates the “mother of gaming”, one of the most influential game designers ever and definetly the most important female developer ever. She was forgotten – ironically, at the same time when debates about women in the gaming industry began to increase. (For another example, see how many times you heard about Scorpia in those debates).

Back when this blog started, there was a 1up article written that was called ‘Women in Gaming’. They interviewed mediocrities such as some PR person here or accountant there. My reaction was “WTF!? Why not list the REAL women in gaming?” Women like the designer of King’s Quest. How about the programmer of Archon, EA’s first game, was a woman. Women were very prominent in design roles within the “game industry” back in the 1980s. Why have they been forgotten?

I had comments enabled then. A couple of weeks passed and then feminists kept hitting that blog post with comments. They accused me of being ‘white male’ and all the other stuff. I confronted them. I could not understand why they would be upset. There are many women to acknowledge in gaming especially in the 1980s. Many were programmers and designers. Pointing this out should make one the opposite of the accusations they were flinging. So what were they up to?

It doesn’t fit the narrative. Anita Sarkeesian cannot make half a million dollars (which she grossed last year) unless there is a ‘grievance’. The computer has no prejudice. Anyone can get to a computer and program a game. The computer is not controlled by an entity that denies access. Many women did use the computer back then to create something. Is gaming better off for forgetting them? No.

Follow the money. The reason why female pioneers of gaming must be purged is so talent-less hacks like Sarkeesian can make money. A true account of gaming history would blow out these parasites.

We’re all aware how the big game companies rewrite history. The article at Gamasutra focuses on it well enough. However, I don’t believe anyone pointed out that Nintendo was doing the same. And if Nintendo was intentionally altering their history, then we have a BIG problem.

Examples? Here you go:

Lie: Zelda 2 is the black sheep of the Zelda series.

Truth: Zelda 2 was a runaway hit where people would drive to other states just to get to the game. Zelda 2 gameplay was copied by other companies. Zelda 2 may not have been as popular as Zelda 1, but that is like saying Contra was not as popular as Super Mario Brothers because nothing else was.

Why: Game journalists blindly transcribed Shigeru Miyamoto saying it and so proclaimed it to be ‘fact’. We all know on gaming message forums that the gamer will ‘re-imagine’ games he doesn’t like to be ‘bad’. But Zelda 2’s good sales show that it most certainly wasn’t ‘bad’. The point is that Miyamoto and the rest are just as human as you and I. Their re-imagination should be held up to historical fact instead of just blindly transcribing what they say.

Lie: Ever since the 3d revolution, there is no interest in 2d gaming.

Truth: Console companies wanted software to show off their expensive 3d consoles. Sony actually discouraged 2d games on the Play Station so it is a wonder we got Castlevania: Symphony of Night. Nintendo wanted nothing to do with 2d and would have abandoned 2d in the 8-bit and 16-bit if the technology was there. The truth is that the lack of 2d game sales was due to lack of supply, not lack of demand. NSMB comes out and BOOM! The lie gets put to rest.

Why: Shigeru Miyamoto and others at Nintendo think 3d is the bee’s knees. Even now they sabotage 2d Mario for 3d Mario (pushing out NSMB U to die at launch, putting all the elements of 2d gaming not in the 2d games but in the 3d games such as 4 different characters [also done in Mario 64 DS]. Giant World only goes to 3d Mario, not 2d Mario. ). Super Mario Brothers is the most successful franchise in history and Miyamoto, far from being a good upholder of it, destroyed the value of the series costing Nintendo countless millions with his sick, sick pursuit of 3d ‘at all costs’.

Lie: Super Metroid was about Samus’s ‘maternal instincts’.

Truth: No one cares about Samus’s feelings. I was there. We cared about the game world and exploring it. Samus was not why we played Metroid. We played Metroid for the Metroids. Hence, that is why it is called Metroid and not ‘Samus Aran Adventures’.

Why: Sakamoto got his head in the clouds thinking he could ‘re-invent’ everything by designing a ‘movie’ since he loves watching crappy Italian films. All it takes is one game to destroy a franchise, and Sakamoto achieved it with Metroid: Other M.

My advice to Nintendo and other game companies is to be true to game history and stop telling us shit. We are as knowledgeable or more of the history of gaming and the industry than you are. You’re better off having the marketing say ‘we want to try a new direction’ as opposed to falsifying history.

A good indicator of a game being a piece of turd is if marketing is re-writing game history in order to sell it.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 20, 2015

Email: I just beat Ultima VI

Can you believe this guy? He is beating all the Ultimas! By doing so, he is getting a history of PC gaming from the late 1970s until late 1990s. Talk about patience!

Since we are talking about Ultima VI, some music please…

And let us see the glorious box (and the Ultima game boxes ARE glorious!)

Ultima VI: The False Prophet

Another shot of that map please…

And now the email…

Another Ultima game beaten, so here we go again. Actually I beat it March last year and have already started Ultima VII, but that’s beside the point. This time I completely skipped the DOS version and using fan-made patches; instead I used the modern Nuvie port: http://nuvie.sourceforge.net

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It’s a port similar to Exult for Ultima VII, except it’s for Ultima VI and it enables some *really* useful interface improvements without which I would have gone crazy. Sometimes it’s really the little things that matter, like drag & drop or being able to double-click things. More on that later.
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The differences between Ultima V and VI are striking and perhaps the biggest jump the series has made so far. The world is no longer divided into an overworld and towns, instead it’s one large continuous map. Dungeons are now in top-down perspective as well. Companions are actual people who walk around with you and who you can talk to. But most importantly, the game world is actually interactive now. In Ultima V you were able to search containers and push crates, which was nice, but here if you can see something you can actually use it.
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This creates an interesting scenario: everywhere around you you see all sorts of cool stuff you could use. Maybe it’s a potion, maybe a magic weapon or a key. You can grab that stuff if you want to. You’re not supposed to and the game will punish you, but you still can. Compare this to a game like Baldur’s Gate where you can just go around looting people’s private homes with no consequence; in fact most NPCs won’t even call the guards if you do it right in front of the owner’s nose. Oh yes, I’m totally a lawful-good paladin, but it’s OK to grab everything in sight as long as no one sees me doing it. In Ultima VI even if no one sees it your Karma suffers. I’m not quite sure what exactly the Karma does, but I think you need at least a certain amount in order to beat the game. That makes sense, the one who would end the conflict between humans and gargoyles should be someone pure of heart, not a thieving lying bastard.
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== Story ==
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Let’s start with the story of this game. It starts out as a simple “destroy all the evil monsters” story, but turns into a very interesting role reversal. The gargoyles look like demons to us, so it’s easy to just go ahead and slaughter them for experience points. After all, it was the gargoyles who crept out of the underworld and besieged all the shrines, right? However, from the gargoyles’ point of view it’s the exact opposite, it was the Avatar who crept out of the underworld, slaughtered their people, burst into their most sacred chamber and stole their most sacred artifact and defiled it. It was a human that was prophesied to bring about the end of the world. From the gargoyle perspective humans are the otherworldly evil menace. When you think about it, from the gargoyle perspective it is humans who are the demons of legend!
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With that in mind having the gargoyles go to war without hesitation makes perfect sense, to them humans are the ultimate evil. But at the same time I can’t really say that I feel sympathy for the gargoyle race and culture; they practice slavery, keep the wingless ones intentionally down, they dismiss the physically disabled (Sin Vrael is a winged one but unable to fly, so he was treated like a wingless one) and perform gargoyle sacrifices. Maybe this is coming off like supremacy talk, but I don’t think such a culture is really worth preserving. And yes, I know there were human cultures that were similar, such as the Inka, but I stand by my opinion.
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The virtues are another thing that really bugged me. In Ultima IV and V the virtues were just some philosophical principles that everyone agreed on (well, almost everyone, but those people were banished from the planet). Here however the virtues have god-like status, they were written down in a book from outer space and a great priest pulled it out of the void using magic lenses. Did no one ever wonder who wrote the codex? How come moving the codex causes the entire gargoyle world to disintegrate? Whose voice am I hearing when reading the Codex? In the ending sequence Lord British yells “for Virtues’s sake”, with a capital V. Come on, if you want to make a game with a god or gods, then just do it.
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I think this is one problem that comes from Ultima IV: while the story is really unique and inspiring, the whole Virtue and Avatar thing was just not that well thought out. It was more than enough for one game, especially in those days when games really were not that heavy on story, let alone a deeper meaning. The problems come when you try to build something on such a shaky basis. Once you start asking questions the holes become very apparent. Where did the Virtues come from? Who initiated the Quest of the Avatar? Can there be more than one Avatar once the first Avatar completes his quest? Lord Blackthorn wanted to be and Avatar as well. If so, why are there no other avatars? What exactly does it mean to be an Avatar? What is the voice that speaks to the player at the shrines? Even the virtues have problems: why is Humility the absence of virtues? How do Truth and Courage form Honour? How did being proud attract demons to Magincia?
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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these questions need to be answered, to the contrary, it is good to leave things to the player’s imagination. However, once you try to build on it the questions start piling up. When Richard Garriot came up with Ultima IV a lot of the mythology of the game was based on incomplete or false knowledge. For example, he completely got the concept the the “Avatar” wrong. None of this did really bother me in Ultima IV though, neither in Ultima V, but it seems the more a game progresses in some areas, the more I also expect it to also progress in other areas. Ultima IV and V were disjointed screens (world map, towns, dungeons and combat) that felt like moving pieces in a board game whereas Ultima VI felt like a real seamless world. It’s like how it doesn’t bother me when a 2D RPG uses the same four sprites for NPCs, but in a 3D RPG it’s really uncanny to see clones walking around everywhere.
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Another big problem, and arguably the bigger issue is the nature of story-telling in an interactive medium. The game expects you to do certain things in a more or less fixed order: defeat all the gargoyles to free the shrines, deliver the stone tablet, do the pirate quest, retrieve the missing tablet piece, talk to Sin’Vraal, descend into the dungeon, learn the Gargish language, meet up with Beh Lem and then talk to the Gargoyle king.
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Of course my first instinct was to go straight for the source; I remembered the “deamon” Sin’Vraal from Ultima V, so my fist instinct was to travel to his hut and ask him WTF his people were doing tearing up Britannia. But of course I couldn’t ask him any of that because the game designers didn’t want me to. Instead I had to go on a wild goose chase only for the trail to lead back to him so I could ask him what I had wanted to ask in the first place from the start of the game. Urgh.
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== The gameplay ==
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Now let’s get to the game itself. It’s easily the best Ultima I have played so far. Remember all the problems I with Ultima V? Apparently I’m not the only one who thought so.https://seanmalstrom.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/email-i-just-beat-ultima-v/
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For starters there is much less to keep track of. Your quest is simple enough: kill all the gargoyles and free the shrines. There are no real clues to keep track of, unlike V where every little detail could be important. It made sense form a story standpoint, you were an outlaw after all, and it was pretty cool, but it was still annoying. The only time I kept notes in VI was for the pirate quest and the destinations of the Orb of the Moons.
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Speaking of which, travel was much more simplified, you had the Orb from the start and could travel almost anywhere. You didn’t have to wait for nightfall or wait for the proper moon phase, you just use the Orb and there is an instant moon gate.
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Casting also got an overhaul. In my Ultima V mail I complained that there were just too many steps involved for what should be just an item in a menu. So guess what, now spells are just items in a menu. The magic words are not mandatory anymore and just fluff. You still need reagents, but they are mixed on the spot when you cast the spell. No more need to keep a list of all spells at hand.
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Most of the problems I had with the combat system have been fixed as well now: companions can be set on autopilot if I want to. And for the most part the AI does a good job, it was only during some shrine battles that I took over myself. No more dragging everyone around just to kill a rat. No longer does opening a chest turn into an exercise in patience. It makes combat flow naturally as part of the game’s world, as it was a long time back in I and II.
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Leveling up is much more streamlined as well now. Once you reach enough experience you can meditate at a shrine and depending on the shrine different stats increase. Personally I would prefer to simply push a button and allocate points manually, but this is OK. At least I have some control over the stats and don’t end up leveling Dupre’s INT when he can’t cast any spells.
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The only problem with combat are the generic companion sprites; if two companions look the same it’s impossible to distinguish them and if you are in combat with humans it becomes impossible to distinguish your own people from the enemies. That’s just BS and makes you hurt your friends and heal your enemies. Luckily that problem has been solved in Nuvie: a user has drawn all new custom sprites for everyone. It’s so much better this way, you should check it out.
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== The good: An open continuous experience ==
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All these extra touches are really nice to have and pretty standard today, but they are not what make Ultima VI special. What makes it special is the completely open and seamless world. And when I say open I don’t mean being able to go to any town, I mean open as in you can do whatever you want. If you see it, you can use it. You can move it, open it, blow it up or put it in your backpack.
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Lord British allows you to use anything in the castle, so that’s exactly what I did: I got a bunch or chests, crates and barrels and arranged them in my room to build a sort of base of operations where I would store my treasure, weapons, gold or other things I figured might come in handy later. You know how people will build their houses in Minecraft to be like the Batcave with stuff everywhere? Thats what I did in this game. Here is a screenshot of my Avatar cave:
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I have a chest with quest items and a crate with food open. Another thing I once did was get one of the cannons from Trinsic and carry it all the way to the nearby dungeon and shoot the dragons with it, because I could. And why shouldn’t I, it’s a cannon, it does cannon things. When was the last time you could do that in a game? That said though, dragging around a cannon is too impractical and it’s just a gimmick, but it’s still a nice little touch.
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I also love how connected everything is now. There is a sewer-dungeon beneath Castle British that connects to Buccaneer’s Den. There is even a thief hiding down there. Places like Paw are not just drawn as little towns, they are little towns. You can go around and find rafts on river banks, pick them up and use at other places.
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== The bad: no challenge ==
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All of the above is quite impressive, however, after a while the “wow” effects starts to drop off and you are left with the core game itself. And it really isn’t that good. When the game starts out you are scraping whatever resources you can find and liberating a shrine can be a real challenge. After two or three levels though nothing really poses any threat and you can just set your brain on autopilot for the rest of the game.
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I know that Richard Garriot was trying to emphasise role-playing above stupid hack & slay combat, but there is only so much you can do on a computer. Combat on the other hand works very well on a computer, since computers are machines for numerical simulation.
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Without interesting combat Ultima IV becomes essentially just a fancy point & click adventure with tacked-on RPG mechanics. It’s not bad enough to stop me from enjoying the game, but I am enjoying it despite its lack of challenge, not because of it. There were many times where the game turned into a chore and if it wasn’t for the improvements made by Nuvie I’m not sure I would have even finished it.
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This does present an interesting conflict between role-playing and playing a video game. Let me elaborate: if I were actually in Britannia I would be glad about any way to cut corners and find an easier way around. I would be glad that freeing the shrines is so easy, I would be glad that the dungeons aren’t that hard. On the other hand, when I’m playing a video game I want it to be hard. I want the game to be challenging because otherwise it’s just boring connect-the-dots. Take the last fight at the shrine of Diligence: there is a huge amount of daemons in the room, it’s basically the game’s version of the final boss. Daemons are quite strong, but what makes them dangerous is their magic abilities. So I just put on the storm cloak to prevent anyone from casting spells and proceeded to whack them over the head. It was way too easy and I didn’t even feel particularly clever for figuring this out.
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There are many similar instances where there is usually a simpler shortcut around. For example, instead of going on a long trip through Hythloth you can just teleport to the Gargoyle side and then enter the dungeon through the exit.
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To play devil’s advocate, the original game had quite awful gameplay, so maybe that’s why combat was so watered down. Expecting every single hit point to matter is just not feasible in a game where you run danger of mixing enemies and allies up. Even with the improvements from Nuvie there is still a lot of information hidden from the player or awkward to access. How much damage am I doing? Who is poisoned? How many HP do they have? What spells can they cast? Who attacked whom?
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== The ugly: the interface ==
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I talked about this one only tangentially so far because the issue has mostly been fixed now in Nuvie. The thing with the Ultima VI interface is not so much that it’s bad, for the time it is actually really good. The problem is that you have to use it all the time.
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Take the simple act of opening a chest: in Nuvie a chest panel opens showing the contents of the chest and you just drag&drop the item you want onto the character you want to receive the item. Simple enough. In Ultima VI on the other hand the contents of the chest burst into your face onto a stack and if you want to pick something from the bottom of the stack you have to move everything on top of the stack somewhere else. How do you move items? Press M, aim at stack, aim at another spot. That’s not bad for one or two items, but imagine having to sort through a stack of ten spears to get to the shield at the bottom. It quickly gets infuriating.
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The same applies to inventory management. What should be one action is several steps. Let’s move an item from character A to character B: First click onto A, then press M, click on the item and click on B. But here is the thing: you cannot place the item inside a container, so if you wanted to move some food into someone’s food bag that’s at least three more extra steps. For every single item.
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Moving items only works on adjacent tiles, so if you want to move something over a distance you better hope it fits inside your inventory, otherwise you will be dragging it one tile at a time like an idiot. Nuvie lets you move anything over the entire scree, as long as the path is not blocked and the item can be moved in the first place.
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The limited view area is really annoying, especially combined with the awful dithering for partial darkness. I’m sure it looked better on low-resolution CRT screens, but here it looks just awful. The limited view area was good enough for the earlier games with discrete maps, but it’s way too small for a continuous open-world game. Nuvie lets you see the entire screen and uses Ultima VII-style gumps (basically windows) for containers and character sheets. A really nice touch is that every container has a different gump, so a chest will look different from a barrel. The dithering darkness has been replaced with a nice gradual darkness. It still blocks your vision, but it doesn’t hurt your eyes.
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There is also a ton of other convenience improvements. You don’t have to use keys any longer explicitly, as long as you have the key you can just double-click the door and it will open. Speaking of which, you can do most things now with double- or right clicking, no need for all those hotkeys or the toolbar at the bottom. Moving things is as simple as dragging and dropping. When you ride the ballon you don’t have to use the magic fan anymore, as long as you have it in your inventory you can move the balloon freely. The Orb or the Moons has its own hotkey now.
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Inventory management is so much easier now, aside from the aforementioned Avatar cave I also have designated containers for everything. I have a reagents bag, a key bag, a food bag, several ammo bags for different characters… it’s all so
simple and tidy, moving things around, looking or comparing is so much easier.
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Nuvie also adds roofs to buildings. It may not sound like much, but it really rounds up the presentation. Along with the new interface and custom companion sprites it looks like a whole new game. It’s amazing how much some small tweaks can improve such an old game.
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There is one new thing Ultima VI brought to the table that I liked: highlighted keywords in conversations. Let’s be honest, there is no real challenge in trying out keywords, so they might as well just outright give them to you. Of course Nuvie improves here as well by giving you clickable keywords like in Ultima VII. Just as there is no challenge in trying out words, there is no challenge in typing them either, so we might as well cut down on the wasted time here as well.
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One thing I would like to see addressed in Nuvie is smoothing movement. It’s quite disorienting how the Avatar teleports from tile to tile. A gradual transition would look much better. Exult has it, and it is really nice.
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And just in case you were wondering, I am not one of the Nuvie developers, I just absolutely love what they have done. It is a shame when games age due to their technology and source ports can solve this problem. Sadly most games never have their source released, and even if former Origin employees wanted to release it now they don’t have it anymore. Everyone was looking towards the future, believing that the next game would automatically be better because it has newer technology. Richard Garriot still believes in it (see his interview with Spoony).
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== Miscellaneous ==
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Hmm, what’s left? One thing I noticed was that the tone of the game was more mixed than in the previous two. In IV is was all highty mighty let’s all be virtuous. In V is was very dark and oppressive. VI is more mixed, you have people of all types. You have good people, you have bad people. Some only want to kill gargoyles, others want to communicate and others don’t really care.
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The case of Quentin’s murder for instance has nothing to do with the Gargoyle plot, but it still exists. Not everything has to be because of the Gargoyle war, at best the war provided a cover for the murderer, but it still would have happened regardless. Speaking of which, I really hate that there is no way to resolve it, even if you know who the murderer was.
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The runic script form V is back again, and this time there is no patch to replace it with latin characters. At least there wasn’t much of it, but it’s still annoying.
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I like the many cute and curious details. There are birds, dogs and other critters walking around, bards play the lute and even Iolo plays a song when the party is resting. Some items in the world are hazards, like fumaroles and lava. You can even walk into a circular saw at the carpenter’s workshop, it’s a stupid thing to do, but you can do it. There is a mad wizard living in Blackthorn’s abandoned castle who is creating two-headed animals, WTF is up with that?
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The character portraits for NPCs are a pretty cool feature, but some of the portraits are really weird. Were they drawn by different artists or why do some have such a derpy expression? Especially the main Avatar from the box looks pretty dumb. Most of the companions look how I would have imagined them, except for Jaana, I didn’t imagine her being old. And what’s wrong with Julia’s facial expression?
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This game is also the first instance where the Avatar has a fixed appearance rather than being just you. He is a teenager or young man with blonde hair in the intro. This is a consequence of having graphics good enough to actually depict a person, and the developers could have either made him invisible or choose a design. At least you can choose your ingame Avatar, but in Ultima VII you only get two choices and in VII and VIII no choice at all.
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Speaking of the intro, WTF is that zebra centaur punk thing and why would I have a poster of that in my house!? Having the clock on the record player display the current real time is a pretty neat detail.
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One last thing, it’s really easy to miss something and screw yourself over. Remember the Spoony video of Serpent Isle where he lost the Serpent Ring? I had a similar moment: to beat the game you have to place the moonstones into the vortex cube, but up until then I had no idea I would need those stones, so I had to go around and pick them up. Some of them were in my base, others were still at the shrines. Except one. Britannia was f’d, the gargoyles would sacrifice my ass and all just because of one tiny pebble that could be lying anywhere in the world. The game was unbeatable. Only through sheer luck did I think about turning on the cheat to let me move anything, and guess what: the stone had glitched underneath its shrine.
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Modern games will perma-glue quest items to you, and while it is immersion-breaking I still prefer that over making the game unwinnable because you dropped some little rock somewhere.
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== Conclusion ==
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All in all Ultima VI is a masterpiece marred by two flaws. The interface flaw was purely technical and is now fixed in Nuvie. The other flaw is the lack of challenge, and it is a design decision. Once the initial wow effect wears off and you gain two or three levels it becomes a walk in the park, not an invasion of bloodthirsty otherworldly horrors. If it wasn’t for that Ultima VI would be a timeless masterpiece I would recommend without hesitation. As it stands now, I would still recommend it, but honestly there isn’t much replay value once the open world gimmick has worn off. It’s still worth the one replay though.
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If you have not played it in Nuvie you really should, it’s like a whole new experience in a good way. Give it a try, almost everything works and the team is now working on Martian Dreams.
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And just for reference, here are my previous emails:

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To put Ultima 6 in context, we must realize the game was released in 1990.

What was Video Game Land like in 1990?

These games just came out in 1990:

Bonkadventure.jpg

Super Mario Bros. 3 coverart.png

FF1 USA boxart.jpg

North American cover art

The NES was in its zenith. These are US release dates of course. There was no global economy like it is today.

“But what was coming out on PC, Malstrom?”

Reader, that is the question!

Goodbye Galaxy title screen

Star Control cover.jpg

Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon.jpg

Remember, this is the FIRST Railroad Tycoon.

Ultima 6 was in the 8-bit Generation of game consoles. This massive open world of Ultima 6 was unmatched by anything in gaming and was many, many years ahead of its time.

Only one game really blew everyone’s minds back then. I say this game altered gaming more than anything by turning gaming into production based instead of design based. It is the reason why people who played it then, who are wealthy now, has made it the largest crowd funded product ever.

Wing Commander box

When we play old games, we have to compare them not just to the context of their series (from their predecessors and successors) but to the time itself. Ultima 6 had no competition whatsoever. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, during this time that even came close to it. And just think that within two years we would get the incredible Ultima 7. Within those two years, Origin could make such a game of such magnitude (still unequaled) while creating two additional Ultima games of Savage Empire and Martian Dreams. Let alone the game industry revolution Origin was doing with Wing Commander.

It is difficult to point out to people how fast things were progressing. Young people can only think of the smart phone revolution but that doesn’t even compare to the original PC revolution. Gaming is a good history of the PC revolution. Ultima 6 is frustrating because it is sandwiched in between the UI change between the old keyboard only to mouse only. If you are familiar with the early era, Ultima 6 feels revolutionary as it sheds away the old and begins the open world. But if you are familiar with only the new era, Ultima 6 feels incredibly backward with its keyboard and window roots. (And before Ultima 6 might as well be the Land Before Time.)

What I remember most in Ultima 6 was simply wandering and doing whatever I wanted. I saw a cave and went into it. I didn’t really focus on the ‘story’. I explored a world. Games back then were much more mysterious due to the lack of Internet. Ultima games were also insanely big. You had no idea what was in the dungeon or even in that locked door. Amazing game.

As for the story, I think it is a mistake to look at Ultima 6 as a story contained to itself. This is when Garriot decided to do the Trilogy of Trilogies. Ultima 6 intentionally looks back instead of looking forward and connects to Ultima 4 and 5 and twists them around in ways the player did not expect. To give people not familiar with Ultima where this was going, I think Ultima’s “story” is more fun when looked at through the lens of Trilogy of Trilogies instead of islands per game.

The Age of Darkness

The first trilogy is about a hero summoned to a land taken over by monsters led by a tyrant. You kill the monsters, level up, and then kill the tyrant. Then the game is over. This is what Garriot sees most RPGs still stuck in especially the JRPGs.

Box art from the 1986 DOS edition.

You are the ‘Stranger’. The world is known as Sosaria. Mondain, an evil wizard, has used the Gem of Immortality to make himself literally invincible. Interesting that technology goes backwards in the Ultima series. Sosaria has spaceships, laser guns, and everything else. You cannot beat Mondain. Therefore, you get Doc Brown’s deLorean (sorry, that movie hadn’t come out yet)… a time machine… and go back in time to kill Mondain before he becomes so powerful. You shatter the Gem of Immortality.

Sosaria has four main land masses. Lord British, a young idealistic king, only ruled one of the four. (Shamino’s kingdom was in another continent.) With the Gem of Immortality shattered, Sosaria breaks apart into four pieces. The Lands of Danger and Despair disappear through the Serpent Pillars and won’t reappear until Ultima 7 Part II. The Lands of the Dark Unknown and the Lands of the Feudal Lords vanish entirely (Was Pagan one of these lands?). The Lands of Lord British is all that remains of Sosaria.

Ultima II cover.jpg

Now this game is fucked up. Mondain’s lover, Minax, exacts revenge on the Stranger by attacking Earth. Earth fills up with monsters spilling through the time gates from different time eras and locations. The Stranger returns and can fly in a space ship, has laser guns, and so on. If you guys thought Final Fantasy got crazy with the high technology, you have no idea what was before. Obviously, Minax is killed and, since she becomes dead, the invasion against Earth could never occur in the first place. This game seems more like some pre-historic ancestor to Chrono Trigger in its time jumping craziness.

Ultima III Exodus cover.jpg

Exodus, the machine child of Minax and Mondain, attacks Sosaria. Stranger is again summoned. Exodus is more like a computer where you use punch cards to defeat it (no joke!). This game defines the traditional RPG you see Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy use. It uses a traditional fantasy setting with traditional fantasy characters. With Exodus defeated, Lord British unites Sosaria and the land becomes known as Britannia (named after Lord British of course).

 

The Age of Enlightenment

This trilogy isn’t about defeating a tyrant in a monster filled world. Rather, it is about ‘enlightening’ the world. These are games about spirituality itself.

Ultima IV box.jpg

It is not enough to unite a land. Lord British fears for the spiritual well-being of his people. A system of Virtue is made. The Quest of the Avatar is one who can achieve virtue and then get the Book of Codex (of Ultimate Wisdom) from the bottom of the Abyss. The Stranger is summoned to do the quest. When you get the Codex, you become the Avatar and a type of Jesus-Warrior hybrid character.

Ultima5box.jpg

The Avatar returns to find Lord British lost to the Underworld and Lord Blackthorn ruling in his place. Blackthorn twists the meaning of the Virtues around and creates unjustice through the land. Shadowlords, form the shards of the Gem of Immortality, aid the corruption. There is no true good or evil in this game. Much gray. The Avatar doesn’t kill Blackthorn. He just rescues Lord British. It is Lord British who banishes Blackthorn and restores order. Saving Lord British has a consequence of collapsing the Underworld.

Ultima VI: The False Prophet

The Avatar is not summoned by Lord British but by the gargoyles who try to assassinate him. Gargoyles have invaded Britannia and taken over the shrines. Britannia’s armies are being smashed by the gargoyles. Does the Avatar kill all the gargoyles? No. Gargoyles are realized not to be demons but people who live on the other side of the world (the world is flat, not round, don’t ask). The Abyss to Britannia is the Abyss to Gargoyle Land as well where they placed the Codex of Wisdom for safe keeping only to find it stolen. The ‘Underworld’ being destroyed is rapidly destroying the Gargoyle Land. Desperate, they wage war on Britannia as their world and civilization has been destroyed by The Avatar without him knowing it. The Avatar sets things right by placing the Codex in the Void where neither man nor Gargoyle would have it and makes peace between the two. Gargoyles are given the island of Terfin in Britannia so they do not become extinct.

 

The Age of Armageddon

I cannot think of a game series where the storyline was intended to be told over multiple games. I do not mean episodic games or a Mass Effect type of thing. These are self-contained games and yet they aren’t.

There is no tyrant to slay in this trilogy. There is no enlightenment of the people to be made. More interesting is that there is a Spiritual War going on between the Guardian and the Avatar. The people of the land get caught up in this spiritual war with some falling towards the Guardian.

More interesting, the entire universe of this game series (decades long!) gets intentionally blown up. It’s quite a site to see and shocking when going through it when it was released.

Ultima VII Black Gate box.jpg

The Avatar is not summoned by Lord British but by the Guardian to witness the spiritual depravity being unleashed in Britannia (200 years since Avatar’s last visit). No one worships the Virtues any more. No one goes to the Shrines. The Fellowship, a competing Virtues system, established by the Guardian, is spreading rapidly and led by Batlin. Guardian is using the Fellowship only to create a Black Gate (Moon Gates are blue that have travel throughout the world, Red Moon Gates from Ultima 6 go to other worlds, but Black Gates are for different dimensions). The Avatar disbands the Fellowship and destroys the Black Gate. But in doing so, he destroys all moongates so the Avatar cannot return to Earth ever again.

In Part II, the Avatar and party chase Batlin through the Serpent Gates to find the reject towns who rejected the Virtues after Ultima 3 to flee from ‘the tyranny of Lord British’. Batlin and the remaining Fellowship members are trying to destroy Brittania since the Guardian cannot conquer it. Armageddon is a good word here. A holocaust occurs killing nearly everyone in the world. The Avatar has to enter the Void to stop the destruction of Britannia. By being in the void, the Guardian seizes him.

Ultima 7 set up the gameplay for Ultima Online which would define the MMORPG.

Ultima VIII box cover.jpg

The Guardian throws the Avatar to the world of Pagan which is the Guardian’s world and his people. Everything is evil. The Avatar escapes by creating a Black Gate (while destroying nearly everyone and everything in this world to do so). While Avatar is stuck in Pagan, the Guardian invades Britannia. When Avatar returns to Britannia, he finds it conquered by the Guardian.

Utlima 8 has to be the inspiration behind Diablo. The themes and settings are EXACTLY the same. Ultima 8 gameplay seems like a direct predecessor to Diablo strangely.

Ultima IX - Ascension Coverart.png

Everything is fucked up in this game. Cataclysms have screwed up the land masses messing up the towns and traditional paths. All the shrines have become anti-shrines. Guardian’s nature is revealed. Ultimately, the people don’t feel they need to be heroic because the Avatar keeps saving them. Hence, the final and most strange ending.

 

So considering Ultima 6, I like it because it fits well with its trilogy. Ultima 6 is not an ‘age of darkness’ or armageddon being unleashed. It is a game of enlightenment. RPGs could use more such games.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 20, 2015

Heroes of the Storm is a gigantic mess

Here is the no BS encounter one will have to Heroes of the Storm. I have spent most of my time with the game in dealing with it’s non-optimized buggy mess. Errors everywhere. Bugs everywhere.

It started off with the nvidia bug where the entire game field is black. All I hear is Uther in the void. So that had to be fixed. Then, I was wondering why Warcraft 3 hero movement and fighting seemed so smooth and awesome while this seemed slow, sluggish and crappy. The answer was that even though you might have a 64 bit Windows, Heroes is only truly playable in 32 bit mode. Switch to 32 bit mode (via the Bnet launcher) and wow the game actually moves some. In fact, I guarantee you that most of the noobs and baddies aren’t actually bad, they are probably trying to play Heroes in 64 bit mode and have 15 FPS. The problems didn’t end for me. I had to alter the refresh rate of my monitor and match it to that in the game. I had to turn off that Windows Memory thing because it kept freaking out over a video driver.

The worst of it all is that Heroes is roasting my video card. I was wondering why my computer kept crashing and needed a hard reboot. I checked the temperatures and, geez, it gets hot. I can only currently play after one game because the video card will be at 90 degrees C and will keep climbing. Because of the hardware issues, I haven’t played against humans yet.

One surprising thing about Heroes is that the hero you may like might be the hero you least expect. I’m really digging Sonya even though everyone hates her. Perhaps it helps that I was watching Spartacus before playing her. I did get Lili to level 5 and thought I was going to go insane. The issue isn’t being a heal bot. The issue is being a heal bots to idiots.

Is the game fun? The verdict is out on that. Heroes is like two games. You have what you think it is, then you have the hamster wheel RPG system as another. You do not just level up. Oh, no, that is so 20th century thinking there. Here, in the glorious year of 2015, we have not one experience bar but thirty five of them. Each hero levels. Hero leveling will unlock more talents, give you gold, unlock horses, and ultimately the Master Skin at level 10. Level 5 gives 500 gold which is why everyone stops at 5. They get the gold and move on to another hero.

Question: is the game fun because of the gameplay or because of filling up experience bars? I still don’t know yet. Blizzard has created a system to strongly encourage you, with much free gold at the beginning, to invest yourself into the system by buying a hero or two. Then there will be no more gold.

Gold is very difficult to come by. You get 30 gold for winning games (20 for losing). 50 gold for winning if you team up with someone on your friend’s list. The cheapest hero is 2000 gold. Most are around 7000. You can get gold from leveling up heroes and yourself, but doing daily quests also nets you some gold.

Advice: never buy any hero at first. Instead, get them all to level 5, and you will find any one you desire to still play once the free rotation is passed will be one that you should buy. If I still want to play Sonya after the Free Rotation, maybe I should buy her. You don’t have to buy any heroes since nearly all of them are given free rotation.

Ahh, I see my video card has now cooled down. Time to go at it again. And, btw, I love the Haunted Mines. Players that don’t are just weak sauce nancy boys.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 17, 2015

Rogue Legacy stands equal to the classics

What do you see, reader?

This company doesn’t know how to market its own game. Too much emphasis on the fart jokes, the different diseases the children have, scary looking 2d gameplay that looks very difficult and not fun, and no communication of why the game is not just addictive but The. Metroidvania. Of. This. Generation.

Do you like this game?

Ghouls and Ghosts sales flyer.png

Then you will like Rogue Legacy.

Do you like this game?

Castlevania SOTN PAL.jpg

Then you will like Rogue Legacy.

Do you like this game?

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Then you will like Rogue Legacy.

Do you like this game?

Smetroidbox.jpg

Then you will like Rogue Legacy.

“But Malstrom, I don’t like any of those games.”

Then get off my blog you philistine! You have no taste!

Rogue Legacy is satisfying many an itch of those who like the games above. Instead of doing the same old thing, Rogue Legacy uses modern technology (not doing the NSMB thing) and does its own spin on things. In this case, it is the randomized dungeon.

Rogue Legacy also gets described wrong by everyone. They keep saying it is like a Rogue game such as Binding of Isaac. I can’t stand Binding of Isaac or most rogue games. The reason why is because I hate having no progress. In games like Risk of Rain, your ‘progress’ is that you unlock more ‘stuff’ that makes the next game more interesting. But that is your entire progress is just unlocking more variables (which should have been unlocked to begin with).

Rogue Legacy has created a new form of RPG called the Generational RPG. Instead of upgrading the stats of one individual, you upgrade the stats of your entire genetic line. If you upgrade your health, then the next individual in line will have that boost. Rogue Legacy is easy in the same way all RPGs are easy. You can OUTLEVEL the content if you choose to do so. How hard you want to make the game is up to you. I am old so I prefer to outlevel the content.

And that is all you need to know as description. Rogue Legacy is an RPG where you upgrade your family line. Death is permanent to that individual, but not to the family line. The sheer amount of gameplay in this title is extremely impressive. Aside from the randomly generated castle, you have as variables…

…upgrades from your keep which has the usual suspects (increased armor, attack, crit chance, etc.) as well as more unusual ones (new classes, better gold gain…)

…different classes from mages to knights to miners (who suck but get tons of gold and can see where all the chests are on unexplored map screen) to ninjas to a class that just flies and so on)

…weapon and armor upgrades (not just static upgrades. Some decrease but have vampirism. Some focus more on magic, some more on armor)

…runes (which are like buffs. You can activate five at a time. They range from double jumping to speed to even decreasing or increasing the difficulty of the game. You could have five jump runes so you could jump in the air five times. There is even a rune that acts like Peach’s float from SMB 2 in there)

The only negative of the game is that it can get grindy (like all RPGs). The solution is to change out your runes,and you’ll have a different experience. Also, take a break and come back. Rushing to level yourself up can turn sour.

When you complete the game, you have New Game +. Beat that, and you have New Game ++. Then New Game +++. You get the idea.

The game’s ending is inspired from Super Mario World.

So if you have a controller to your PC and you like the games above, you should get this game. Oh, and one more thing…

If you like this…

Demon's Souls Cover.jpg

…then you should get Rogue Legacy.

Rogue Legacy was named 2d Demon Souls during its development. People say Rogue Legacy is hard, but it is not. You can outlevel the content like in any RPG. Arguably, it is the easiest 2d platformer ever because you cannot outlevel the content in Ghouls and Ghosts, Super Metroid, or other games. However, you will be underleveled in Rogue Legacy. If you go where you shouldn’t, you will feel overwhelmed by the monsters. This is no different than in the Old School RPGs where the stronger monsters forced you back.

Don’t let the cheesy graphics fool you. Rogue Legacy puts a hell of a ton of gameplay in such a package, so much that Kohler thought that publishers should be scared of Rogue Legacy.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 17, 2015

Email: Amiibo as market research

Hello Master,
sorry my english, it’s not my natural language!
What’s your opinion about Amiibo’s use as a market reseach?
for instance, the Link amiibo (not the Toon Link) is the number one amiibo worldwide (Americas, Japan, Europe)!

 

I’m getting several emails about this. I think the Amiibo is an example of Nintendo selling carts but now realizing it needs to sell horses. The Amiibo is the cart. The horse is the game that utilizes the Amiibo. Link is popular Amiibo because many games use that Amiibo such as Hyrule Warriors. All these Amiibos need to do something, but Nintendo doesn’t make enough games. So Nintendo is trying to make these Virtual Console ‘challenges’ for the Amiibos because they have nothing else.

Maybe I should get into the figurine business myself. I thought about selling a Malstrom Figure including a portal. When you visit this page, you would place the Malstrom Figure onto the portal and more words would appear! It would be glorious! Unfortunately, market testing showed that young women would instantly buy all the Malstrom Figures, and they were never placed on the portal (you don’t want to know where they were placed). As a result, I have canceled my ambitious line of Malstrom Amiibo/Figurine Merchandise.

Above: If Malstrom became a figurine, he would prove to be too distracting to a certain demographic of the market.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 17, 2015

Email: Yes crusader kings is that good

Hello master malstrom!

Crusader kings is really, really awesome. I can only describe it by telling you what I have been able to accomplish in my campaigns so far. During my campaign as the vikings of Svitjord, I spent my time raiding europe and kidnapping christian princesses, whom I then used to get heirs which had claims on european titles. Instead of converting to christianity, I reformed the norse pagan religion into an organized religion, and then founded the empire of unified Scandinavia. With my new power, I declared pagan crusades on Britain and Frace which were successful. When raiding rome with my new powerful armies, I ended up capturing the POPE, whom I of course immediately sacrificed in a blòt ceremony to Odin.

In my new campaigns, I play as a zoroastrian lord who is trying to throw out the muslim invaders from Persia, and rebuild the zoroastrian persian empire. I am also playing as a Byzantine emperor with dreams of reunifying the roman empire, wich hasn’t gone too well because a succession crisis fractured my empire into little tiny states, and my time has been spend declaring de-jure wars to unify my empire again.

It’s a time-consuming game, but man is it fun.

Regards

Long time reader

It’s currently 75% off at Steam for $10 (normally $40). Seems to have held its value well for being several years old (not even counting the DLCs and expansions. All together it is $150!!!!

I would get it, but I’m about to disappear into Heroes of the Storm.

 

Oh no! Look at what Aonuma has to say:

When I first showed off the new Zelda game on the Wii U, it seemed everyone was very excited and started proclaiming that a Zelda game had at last become open world! Zelda games have always allowed you to roam and explore a huge world.

Alas, Aonuma agrees with me. Has the entire world gone crazy!? Is Aonuma going to then say that Zelda also has had RPG elements to it (such as getting one sword and getting a better sword)? Is Aonuma going to say that it is NORMAL for Link to have a sword?

I cannot take this craziness. What is next? Is Sakamoto going to say that Metroid is not about Samus’s maternal instincts?

No. I cannot believe it. As a result, I am hereby suspending myself from my website for the next few days. I require this suspension to think over what has occurred and re-examine what I’m doing. Most webmasters would never suspend themselves from their own websites, but Malstrom has standards above and beyond the gaming rabble.

I will punish myself and think long and hard over what has happened here tonight.

There really isn’t much to say about Generation 8 at this point. I don’t see anyone doing ‘well’. Microsoft’s Xbox One is a disaster. Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS are disasters. Sony’s PS4 isn’t a disaster but the Vita is. I don’t hear about any truly amazing games going on (like a Wii Sports or GTA 3). Gaming has been pretty boring despite the second year of Xbox One and PS4.

I know people tune in here to find out where Nintendo is going. I don’t know at this point. Wii U seems to be having nothing more than fan service at this point. What does surprise me is the New 3DS with Nintendo making games that can only be played on that hardware. Why go that step? Unless they think Xenoblade port of the hardlycores will get them to buy such new hardware. Nintendo’s 3DS is done. As is the Wii U.

Splatoon is gonna bomb. The more I find out about the game, the worse it gets.

There’s a huge problem arising on the Nintendo platform that not even Nintendo is aware of at the moment. I was seriously thinking of buying a Wii U. It has a 2d Mario, a 2d Donkey Kong, Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8, and some other interesting games (Hyrule Warriors). What compels me to purchase Nintendo hardware again is that Nintendo stuff can become collectibles. What this means for me is that I would rather buy it full price today instead of full price or more for a used version of that hardware or software.

But I do not think Nintendo software will become collectible anymore. The reason why is due to the digital re-releases. So what if I miss a Wii U game? Nintendo will re-release it one day on a future console. It’s not like any of the software really needs the Gamepad.

I keep getting the sense that Nintendo is in an alternate dimension (which we might as well call Nintendo Land). In Nintendo Land, Nintendo believed NSMB U would hit the impact around that NSMB Wii did. It didn’t. Why? Because fans of the game aren’t retro gamers, they’re futuristic gamers. 2d platforming simply ages better than the alternatives and is better to collect down the road.

It’s a mystery to me why Nintendo never got aggressive and went after Minecraft. I’m sure in Nintendo Land, having Shovel Knight checked off a box somewhere. But that isn’t the game classic gamers wanted. It would have been Rogue Legacy which only Sony approached for. I don’t know what world Nintendo is in, but they are missing games they should have on their system. It’s like they don’t care.

And they may not care. In Nintendo Land, Nintendo may have just thrown in the towel already and think “We need to come out of the gate strong when the console launches”. Wii, after all, came out strong. But if the 3DS and Wii U teaches us anything, it is that Nintendo doesn’t understand why the DS or Wii were successful.

More frightful is that Nintendo DOES understand why they were successful and doesn’t want such success again. “Why would you say that, Malstrom?” It was success away from Nintendo’s vision of Gamecube-esque gaming. 3d Mario and Aonuma Zelda did not become more popular with DS and Wii. They became less popular. To someone like Miyamoto, that may be seen as a step back since the entire idea is to get everyone to like the games Nintendo would prefer to make.

Aonuma says he is retiring soon. I hope that Nintendo is putting the guy out to pasture. He took the Zelda franchise, which was at the height of any game series ever after Ocarina of Time, of cartridges made in gold, and he destroyed the franchise. Zelda is no longer cool. Other fantasy games have become far more popular such as Skyrim. There was no market excitement for Wind Waker, the DS Zeldas, Skyward Sword, and such. The only thing people get excited for in an Aonuma game is that the Zelda game will be like a pre-Aonuma game (original Zelda, Ocarina of Time, Zelda 2, LTTP, or such). If Aonuma got on Nintendo Direct and said, “Oh boy guys! Here comes a bunch of puzzles!” no one would get excited. But open world Zelda? Open world Zelda is Classic Zelda. Zelda was the GTA of video games before GTA came around.

Zelda needs different cooks instead of just Aonuma. I prefer Nintendo retiring Aonuma instead of retiring Zelda.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 16, 2015

Is Crusader Kings that good?

Getting back into gaming. Will be playing Heroes of the Storm soon.

Still loving Rogue Legacy. Anyone who likes games like Super Metroid or Castlevania and does not own Rogue Legacy is someone who is missing out.

This strategy game got by attention. Certainly sounds interesting. It has a TON of DLC. All the expansions and DLC with the base game cost $150!!!!!! From the sound of the video above, sounds like Game of the Forever. Good to see something new in strategy games.

Wing Commander IV - The Price of Freedom Coverart.png

When a new game comes out of a series you have been playing, you want to buy it. However, if you do not have the right computer at the time (and Origin loved putting out games that required you to buy new computers), then you are out of luck. I told myself, “One day, I will play through Wing Commander IV.” I never realized it would be twenty years later.

The original Wing Commander was a watershed moment for gaming in that design began to shift toward production instead of design. Wing Commander came out in 1990. This was before the Super Nintendo and during the NES Era. It simply astounded everyone. We were like that guy in Gladiator who looks up at the Roman coliseum and says, “I had no idea that men could build such things…” Wing Commander pushed for 3d gameplay before 3d but really did a number with the sound. I remember gaming then requiring sound cards after Wing Commander.

Wing Commander 2, my favorite in the series, had the same rich tactical gameplay but with very good storyline mixed in.

Wing Commander 3 got a ton of attention due to the game being true 3d and being an interactive movie with actors like Mark Hamil. I didn’t like the direction Wing Commander was going with this. I preferred the hand drawn storyline of 2 instead of these actors. But who knew that twenty years later, it was the interactive movie that has aged well and not the gameplay. Thus, Wing Commander IV is nothing more than a basic sequel to 3.

As old as I am, I just didn’t feel like messing with the gameplay. Besides, the gameplay doesn’t seem that good in Wing Commander IV. The early missions are harder than the last missions because you fly a piece of shit. The graphics which were so ‘awesome’ back then now look like dogshit. I think Wing Commander 1 and 2’s graphics have aged better than the ‘true 3d’. The good news is that you can cheat in Wing Commander IV. Open up the command prompt and type in the exe to run it but have a space and put -chicken. Whenever you target an enemy, press ALT-W and then the enemy goes kablooey. You’d think you would run through the game in a matter of seconds of just going through it like that. But you would be wrong.

The ‘Interactive Movie’ is very lengthy. I’m actually surprised how much I enjoyed it despite its campiness. The movie starts off pretty cliche and bland at first but gets more interesting. The ‘Interactive Movie’ hits the same pleasure centers as when I read a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book. Most of the choices don’t seem to have any true bearing until during a mission when Vagabond asks which side you are on. I chose both. Even if you choose the wrong side, the game will let you be ‘wrong’ for a few missions and then force you on the rebel side. So lame. I enjoyed hanging out with Seether. Seether is my type of guy!

The plot of Wing Commander IV reminds me more of Star Trek VI than anything. It really isn’t well written. It will forcibly manipulate the audience in order to hate the bad guys. Seether shoots a prisoner. Oh no! What a bad man that Seether is! Oh no! Bio weapons! Oh no! Holocaust! Oh no! Hilter rhetoric! It is so cliche. However, the mass audience wants cliche. I kept trying to side with Seether and rooting for him as much as the game would let me. It is funny to see how far the game will let you go.

The ‘ethics’ the game’s plot shows, which are cliche, is not universal but only after the conclusion of World War II. After World War II, Nazis became ‘bad’, Hitler became ‘bad’, genetic purity became ‘bad’, and so on. Before World War II, none of those things were ‘bad’. After the upcoming World War, the ethical matrix is again going to change. My point is that no author is going to write against WWII ethics. No one. The mass audience wouldn’t be able to absorb it. Imagine if Seether was the hero and Blair the traitor!

The finale of the Wing Commander series (which is this game, not that damned Prophecy) ends not with a spectacular battle but with six Interactive Movie choices where, if you choose the wrong thing, the bad guys win at the end. I kid you not! My first time through the ending, I chose all the correct ones and (damn it!) I got the good ending. It was so cliche. Of course you choose ‘seize the moment’ and talk about ‘bio weapons’.

One thing I have to give Wing Commander IV writers credit on is at least they are halfway educated. The Price of Freedom quote, which is the title, is from Thomas Jefferson. But he may not have been the originator.  Irish orator John Philpot Curran: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”

Another instance came with the quoting of William Butler Yeats poem of ‘The Second Coming’. It is the most quoted poem of the twentieth century.

The most amazing thing did occur to me after completing Wing Commander IV. It did not occur to me until I read a youtube comment (when finding the trailer to benefit the incredible reader). The comment said: “good lord this game makes modern releases look like poop.” While the comment referred to modern game releases (and modern game releases ARE poop compared to the Origin and Old School classics), such a comment also compares to movie releases. When I think of great, fun movies, I think of Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and Terminator. Those were from 1980. But the 1990s also had great films too. Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Titanic (I know, I know), Terminator 2, the Matrix. After the 2000s (not counting the magnificent Gladiator), most of the ‘big’ movies became trilogies from Batman to Lord of the Rings to the too many Harry Potter movies. Many of the films seem just special effects wastelands. Which is… ironically… what Wing Commander IV was condemned as. Yet, Wing Commander IV, as a movie, is more entertaining than most of these new movie releases. Why is that? Perhaps it had to do with the PC gaming audience back in 1995 (which I thought was dumbed down at the time).

Wing Commander IV is probably enjoyable as a game. However, it is more enjoyable as a movie. It is worth the six bucks or whatever from GOG to purchase it. You will get hours of entertainment even if you cheat through it all.

“You want to get interactive?” hahahahahahaha

Seriously, people should stop adding subtitles to that Hitler video and just add subtitles to the German editions of Wing Commander 3 and 4. Much more entertaining!

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