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Brandon Dickerson's blog

5:07 PM on 12.08.2012

2012: Me and Miiverse Down by the Schoolyard

As a 26-year-old gamer, I had the good fortune to grow up during the last few years when school was a viable place to learn valid gaming information. Every once and a while there was that kid who had "an uncle who worked at Nintendo," but no one ever believed them. As far as video game information was concerned, the schoolyard was Thunderdome. No one really knew what was true and what wasn't until they tried it. Even then, it was easy to make a case that maybe they just weren't doing it right. Gaming was a mystery, and while Nintendo Power and other publications gave us the tips and tricks we needed, the most interesting information was always the schoolyard hearsay. I imagine an entire generation of kids who grew up playing Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, stumbling their way through it, trying to make sense of its bizarre design choices and puzzling sense of linearity.

The mass proliferation of the Internet changed all of this. As more people had access, it became a useful source for useless information. Yes, you could look for real information about important things, like medicine or the news of the world, or you could go right to one of many terrible designed Geocities fan websites, and learn all about your favorite games. When the technology improved, it was easy to just go to YouTube and look up a video, showing you exactly what to do. The point is, you had to become disconnected from the game to progress.

Nintendo released the Wii U in North America on November 18 of this year. After a large, Day one patch to flesh out the system's operating system, gamers were properly introduced to the Miiverse: Nintendo's own take on a message board, Twitter-esque social network. Every game has its own board, and users have been populating them with artwork, screenshots, and helpful hints, all without properly dislodging from the games they are playing. If you're having trouble with something, you can make a post on that game's board with a screen shot of where you're at, asking for help or a possible solution. In the case of some of the more popular games, you're likely to get a response in a timely manner.

Miiverse has brought back the schoolyard, with all of its joy, and all of its little tics. I've seen people post, asking where secret exits are in various levels of New Super Mario Bros U, and I've commented on a few myself, helping people through whatever they are struggling with in-game. Maybe it's because a lot of the early adopters are the typical Nintendo crowd, the whole of the Miiverse community seems surprisingly positive. Perhaps it's because the moderation keeps it from becoming a cesspool, making it less conducive to be a total dick to someone. Regardless, it's a feature that feels severely undersold initially, but it is proving to be one of the more popular functions of the console.

It feels a little weird to say that my favorite gaming moment of the year comes from an ancillary function of an operating system instead of an actual game, but I've really found myself spending a lot of time just looking at what people have been doing with it. While it is heavily moderated, it's a brand new frontier. Certain boards for shovelware games have been taken over and turned into twisted fan communities. Destructoid has, for all intents, taken over the Rabbid's Land board, turning it into an impromptu, Willem Dafoe fanclub. Giant Bomb has turned the Funky Barn community into their own playhouse. Popular games will have interesting, informative communities, low budget, shovelware titles will take on lives of their own.

For the first time in years, I got a feeling of true joy from the video game community. Just turning on the console, and watching the lobby fill up with Miis talking about whatever game they've been playing feels far more lively and real than the overall coldness of the Playstation 3's XMB OS, or the ad-infested, dystopian wasteland that the Xbox Live Dashboard has become. It feels personal, something I feel has been missing for a very long time.

Just seeing people show their love of these games and working together, all without disconnecting from the system, feels intensely satisfying. When I turn on my Wii U, I'm overjoyed just to look and see what the denizens of the Miiverse are up to. The fact that this system is going to grow, adding in smartphone and 3DS functionality is even more exciting.

I know that the Miiverse, as with the Wii U itself, is not quite perfect. I don't expect it to be, but it has already had an impact on how I've been playing games on the Wii U. It's the first time I've been back to the schoolyard since I was a child, and that's an experience I've valued far more than any individual game I've played this year.   read

12:23 PM on 12.05.2012

Less Than Love: A Story About Catherine

Robert Wratten from the band Trembling Blue Stars once sang the line "Though there will always be a part of me hoping for a miracle / realistically I know it is over between you and me" in a song called "Less Than Love." The entirety of their debut album, Her Handwriting, is all about the failed relationship Wratten had with former band mate Annemarie Davies. That single line is the all-encompassing mantra of the album, as it illustrates the process of a person completely falling apart. It is heart-wrenching, and most of all, it is something real.

I would qualify myself as a sensitive, overemotional person. It's easy for me to get very wrapped up in the lives of characters, real or otherwise. Because of this, video games have often been a safe haven for me, letting me concentrate my emotional woes into the existence of sprites and polygons to deflect myself from falling into a heavy depression. The way I am keeps me hesitant to really get involved in relationships, romantic or otherwise. I can be very difficult to be around, and over the last few years, I've found myself going through depressive funks that last anywhere from days to months. I seldom blame anyone for not wanting to be around me, as I know it takes a certain amount of dedication and understanding to be my friend, let alone anything else.

Late in 2010, I rekindled a friendship with a girl that I had tangentially known for years. We had lived just a few streets over from one another, and ran in fairly similar circles in high school. We became very close friends in college, but her emotional issues ran a lot deeper than mine. I never really understood what could have happened to make her the way she was, but it was the original reason we had a falling out. I'd go as far as saying she was dangerous for me to be around. When we started hanging out again, she was like a completely different person. Our friendship hit it off again rapidly, and it quickly turned intimate.

I should have seen the signs immediately, but it kept going. The thought of an actual relationship came up a couple times, but the feeling was never mutual. We were constantly on different wavelengths. We'd go out, do something fun, come back to my house, annoy my roommates, wait for them to go to sleep, and then we'd end up having sex. She'd always leave around 4AM, and the process would repeat itself another day. It quickly became a routine. We became co-dependent upon one another for support, as her life started to fall apart again, and as mine started to get worse. It was a period of exploration for both of us, both emotionally and sexually, but it wasn't at all healthy.

I ended up moving back into the basement at my parents' house around March or April. I was trying to put my life back together, and I needed to save more money so I could go back to school and try and figure out what I was doing with myself. The sexy time stopped, and it quickly returned to being a fairly standard friendship. Her issues were getting worse, and mine weren't improving. My emotional state wasn't helped at all by the passing of my Grandmother in early May. We kept hanging out, but there was a tension in the air. I had become a lot more emotionally invested than I had ever intended.

Over the next couple months, I was intimate with this girl one last time. I later professed my want for a relationship with her, but it just wasn't happening. She wanted someone else, and I wasn't happy about it. Without really going into it, it was one of the lowest periods of my life. I never quite fell into living out John Cusack movie tropes, but it was bad all around. She went on a vacation, and when she came back, I was an absolute mess. The night after she came back, I spent the evening with her bawling my eyes out, not being able to understand what was so horrible that made her not want to be in a relationship with me. It wasn't one of my prouder moments. I couldn't comprehend that she just didn't want to be with me.

On July 26, 2011, Atlus finally released their bizarre arcade puzzler / visual novel, Catherine, here in the United States. It was four days before my birthday, and my family had gone out of town. Having the house to myself, I hooked my Xbox 360 up in the kitchen, and I fell into the strange tale it had to tell.

Between the high energy block puzzle segments, the story of Catherine is told through cut scenes and evenings spend in the local bar, the Stray Sheep. The lead character, Vincent is an early thirty-something with a hesitance to fully commit to his longtime girlfriend, Katherine. He falls into an illicit affair with a blonde woman, strangely named Catherine. Over the next several nights, his decisions are determined by player interaction, though Catherine sticks around whether Vincent likes it or not.

While presented and marketed as a very sexy game, Catherine is primarily about human relationships. It's about commitment, and more than anything, it really seems to be about growing up. It's about taking control of your own life, and about finding the confidence to push forward. All of these were things I lacked, and sorely needed. It is focused on adult issues, many of which I still have problems with, but overall it helped me come to terms with some of my own personal demons.

By my birthday on July 30, I had finished Catherine a total of four times. I put all of my free time into it, in hopes of distracting myself from my issues with this girl. I started realizing these issues were more about me than anything else. I don't know why I ever blamed her for any of it. I was starting to understand I had an inability to let things go, and I felt forever trapped in this loop of prolonged emotional adolescence. At the time, Catherine was my way out. I kept playing the game, and started trying to achieve the other endings. I wasn't quite ready to leave just yet.

After completing the game a total of six times, I was finally ready to put it down. I was starting to feel a little better, but those first couple trips through the game broke me down to tears. I was still an emotional wreck. I loved these characters, and I wanted to make everything work out for them. I wanted Vincent to be happy, because I wanted to be happy. Catherine involved a lot of personal reflection, something that made finishing every single level feel like an accomplishment. Catherine became a game about exorcising demons, something I did a lot of over the time I spent with it.

Catherine was my Game of the Year for 2011 because of the experience I had with it. It was also the game that secured my love for Atlus. I finished Persona 3 Portable earlier this year, and am currently trying to push through Persona 4 Golden. Both of which have been very emotional experiences for me, focusing heavily on interactions with other people, and helping me understand who I really am. It's hard to put a lot of these thoughts and emotions into words, something I'm struggling with while writing it all out. Picking up the pieces is a nightmare on its own, explaining to someone else is something else entirely, but this is a story I've wanted to try and tell for a long time.

I'm still nowhere near where I want to be, but I'm far and away better off than I was during my time with Catherine.   read

10:39 AM on 11.24.2012

I Saw the Sun: A Lot of Words About Dark Souls

Death in video games has always signified that we failed at whatever task we were presented with. If you die, you respawn at an earlier point, knowing a little more of what youíve gotten yourself into. With each successive attempt, youíre likely to get a little further, and eventually, youíll conquer whatever stands before you. Over time, death in video games evolved to a point where it had no real consequence. You die, you respawn to the previous respawn point, and continue on your merry way, as if nothing ever happened. Lives donít figure in as much anymore, and whatever was dead the first time around is very likely still dead. Through this, you push through the game and are given that sense of satisfaction that comes with success, even if it was easily earned. This is a common thread with most first person shooters, though other genres are not immune to it. The current generation of gamers are used to this, even expecting it. A game that forces you to actually have consequence for your failure to succeed has become something of a boon in the industry. It all links back into the idea that video games have become this giant Skinner box experiment, but that really is a discussion for another day.

Dark Souls came out in October of 2011. I bought it during the week it released, having just recently bought a PS3, and wanted something truly ďnewĒ to play on it. I had experimented with Demonís Souls, but I had never really given it a proper try. I made it a point to jump into Dark Souls head on. I bought the very useful Future Press hardcover guide for the game, and I was ready to push myself into this world that I quickly learned didnít want me there. It took days to make any sort of headway at all. I made it through the tutorial okay, but making it through the Undead Burg was a great challenge. My goal was to ring the bell in the church. It wasnít even that far ahead of me, but numerous obstacles stood in my way. At the time I really had no idea how I should be building my character, and I wasnít at all patient, something I quickly learned that this sort of game demands. I looked at the game as very challenging, even unfair. After a crushing defeat while trying to open a castle gate, I quickly decided that this game wasnít for me. I shut it off, and put it on my shelf, thinking that maybe someday Iíd return to it.

Many months later, the idea was pushed around for a PC version of the game, and a petition quickly reached 100,000 signatures. A PC port was going to happen, and fans were elated. I kept it in my sights, and I told myself that when I had access to this version, I would give the game another try. When the PC version was finally released, it had a myriad of problems. The resolution and framerate were locked, and graphical options hadnít really been considered. From Software admitted that they really didnít know what they were doing with a PC port, and it showed. Shortly after launch, a NeoGAF forum user named Durante issued a fix for the game that not only unlocked the framerate, but it allowed the game to render at much higher resolutions. With its temporary exclusivity on new content, and the ability to run at a steady 60 frames per second, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition was now the definitive version of this brutally challenging game. I jumped in during an Amazon sale, and now it was time to give this game the time it deserved.

Over the last month or so, I had read up on the game a little more. I wanted to learn how it worked so I could better survive in this horrible world. While still initially frustrated, I came into it with a greater sense of patience. Amazingly enough, that actually made the game a lot easier to digest. I now understood that if I died, it was probably because I wasnít careful. Death in the Souls games come with a high price: the enemies respawn, and you lose the souls you had collected along the way. Of course you can get them back, that is, if you can make it back to your corpse. The problem is that if you die once, youíre going to get impatient, and youíre going to try and rush back to where you died. Itís quite possible, and very likely that youíll die before you make it back, and lose those souls forever. This isnít a game about make erratic decisions ó itís about planning ahead and not being afraid to take it slow. For me, it quickly became the most dedicated relationship I could ever hope for. This game and I were fated to be together, even though both of us made it incredibly difficult.

When I finally made it to the point where I had quit in the PS3 version, I already knew I was having a much better time with the game. Before long, I had opened that horrible gate, allowing me a quicker shortcut to get into the church. I faced off against the bell gargoyles on the roof, and I rang the first bell. The first true obstacle of the game had been achieved. Afterward, I knew where I was supposed to go. Having rang the first bell, I knew the second bell lie in a place called Blighttown. Because of choices I had made while building my character, I could bypass at least a couple hours of gameplay, but I was prepared to push through the way it was intended. The lower section of the Undead Burg lay before me, and beyond that lay the Depths, a nefarious sewer under the rotting town. What stood in my way was my greatest challenge thus far: the Capra Demon.

I already knew that this was a very difficult point in the early hours of the game. This is a boss that truly tests your determination and your patience. It was challenging right out the door. Right when you run into his room, heíll run at you with a very hard hitting attack that can kill you in seconds. To make things worse, not only do you have to deal with the Capra Demon, but you also have to deal with a pair of poisonous attack dogs, which makes avoiding attacks even worse. For a few straight hours, I kept running into the room, only to die, over and over again. I was beyond frustrated. I didnít know what I was doing wrong. I was following the general strategies offered to me from the Internet, but it just wasnít helping. If I got lucky, I could take care of the attack dogs, but more often than not, it was near instant death. Of course I got frustrated. I knew going into it that this was a difficult boss.

Finally, I realized something I hadnít even considered before: removing my armor. I was wearing fairly heavy protective gear, and I hadnít though that it was impairing my movement at all. Sure enough, after a few tries, I managed to get into a decent rotation, and could adequately avoid the attacks. Defeating the attack dogs was easy. Now I was left with the challenge of disarming the Capra Demon. Every major battle in this game is designed to get the heart racing. One false move, and youíre dead. I was already well aware of this, but eventually I finally persevered. By the end of it, I was a mess. I was shaking horribly and I was very on edge. My heart raced as I nervously planned every single move a couple steps in advance. When I won, I felt like I was the king of the world. I was beyond relieved. I had accomplished something. What I learned from this fight was how every meticulous detail of this game is important. I won because removing my heavy armor gave me far greater mobility at my lower level. The increased mobility gave me a few extra frames of invincibility while rolling out of the way of attacks. In reality, if I got hit at all in a boss fight, it was likely I was going to die anyway. Removing the armor was of very little consequence due to the shield I was carrying. I could manage to block the attacks at the cost of my stamina, but my mobility was far more important than any extra defense could offer me at this point. Regardless, I had the key to the Depths, so it was time to move forward.

No more than five minutes after the Capra Demon success story, I was viciously murdered by a butcher in the early areas of the sewers. My pride had gotten the better of me. Thankfully, my early death in the Depths only resulted in a couple minutes worth of setbacks. Death was currently of low consequence, so I could afford to screw up a little bit. Within a few tries, I had pushed further into the Depths, and had found a giant rat standing in my way. While the room where it stood was larger than the room guarded by the Capra Demon, its sheer size made fighting it in the open an absolute hassle, especially as a melee focused character. I took the cowardly way out, continually luring it to the doorway where I could attack it every once and a while. It took a while, but I wore it down and managed to finish it off. It was time to head into the lower areas of the Depths, toward my next great challenge: the Gaping Dragon.

In comparison to my last few battles, the Gaping Dragon was decidedly easy. Its attacks were easily predictable, and after a couple attempts to learn the tells, I vanquished the dragon and claimed the key to Blighttown. I was ready to head further down and push my way to the second bell. Along with the Capra Demon, this area was notorious for being rough, namely because nearly everything down there was poisonous. I prepared for this, and bought a ring to greatly increase my poison resistance. I was ready to take this place by the horns.

The early descent into Blighttown wasnít all that bad. I planned my battles carefully, attacking enemies at range where possible. The area was full of annoyances, like giant mosquitoes and blow dart snipers. Truthfully, by this point I was getting used to it, and I guess it didnít really phase me. I pushed farther down, and made it down into the Blighttown Swamp. I quickly made it to the bonfire, and set out to explore my surroundings a little bit before I headed towards the boss chamber. The swamp itself is dangerous, namely because the murky sludge you have to wade through is very poisonous. Heading away from the bonfire was scary no matter which way I went, but it was necessary. I had come too far to give up now. After spending a few hours down here, learning my surroundings, and dying many times, I started realizing where a lot of my own dread came from: I could no longer see the sun. It was dark down here, yes, but I could barely glimpse the blue sky far above me. It made the whole zone more terrifying.

It took a few attempts, but I finally managed to vanquish the boss: a giant half spider, half sorceress that I had affectionately named ďSpidertits.Ē Her name was Quelaag, but ďSpidertitsĒ felt far more fitting. Thanks to the help of a non player character summon, I conquered yet another challenge that stood before me. I rang the second bell, and opened the gate to my next destination: Senís Fortress. Right now I only had one true desire: I needed to make it back above ground. Being in the dark for so long was starting to drive me mad. I needed the constant element that the sun gave me. A lot of the messages left on the floor by other players have some small bit of information about what lay ahead, but more often than not, I perpetually saw the message ďPraise the sun!Ē I was finally starting to understand what that truly meant.

When the gates for Senís Fortress opened, I realized something: I was now playing the actual game. While the tutorial level with the Asylum Demon taught me the basic mechanics of the game, these first few hours had instilled far more about how the world around me works. Senís Fortress is where the game actually begins, and is where I currently stand. When I finally emerged from the depths of the Blighttown Swamp, more than anything, I was elated to see the sun. I had never been more relieved, even though I knew a far more dangerous world stood ahead of me.

This isnít the last I have to say about it, but I can safely say that I think Iíve fallen in love.   read

2:49 PM on 11.19.2012

The Justice in Murder: A Story About Fallout 3

Games where I am offered moral choices are always difficult for me. Not because of the difficulty of the dilemmas presented, but more for the idea that I donít exactly have a mean streak. I really donít like hurting fairly realistic interpretations of humans unless absolutely necessary. I always to try play the hero, and usually thatís what the game expects of me. Even when Iím playing a chaos driven game like Grand Theft Auto, I donít set out to kill innocent pedestrians, and to an extent, I follow traffic laws. Part of that helps with the immersion of the world, and part of it is because sometimes my emotions get the best of me and I take it a little too serious. Iím not the biggest fan of open world style games for this reason. As I said before, I just donít have the mean streak that a lot of these games expect you to have. Video games are typically designed as a god simulator of some type, where you are the all powerful deity and it is your duty to smite everything in your path for the sake of saving whatever world you are a part of. Games with moral alignment systems seem to have rewards built in depending on what your idea of ďrightĒ is. When something in there goes wrong, it gets complicated. When I played Fallout 3, it got complicated.

I only ever played through Fallout 3 once. I didnít need to experience another ounce of that glitchy, broken world. In the time I spent there, I did nearly everything. I wandered the wasteland, found all the weird vaults and bizarre human settlements. I discovered the Republic of Dave, and I stumbled my way through the psychotropic drug trip that was Vault 106. All along I set out to play the role I was destined to play. I wanted to be the honorable, noble one. I chose not to blow up the town of Megaton, and I built quite a career for myself as a hero. I wanted to give these people something to believe in. Most of all, I just wanted to figure out where my father had gone. His departure left our vault in near anarchy, and it was never the same afterwards. In my quest to be the savior of the wasteland, I wanted to right all these wrongs that were presented in front of me. A major one that stood out though, was the case of Tenpenny Tower.

Tenpenny Tower was a gated haven for the last remnants of societyís elite. It exists as one of the few, mostly undamaged locations in the wasteland. Upon its discovery, Allistair Tenpenny set out to restore it as well as he could to a state it resembled before society died. To keep out the riffraff, a large concrete fence was built around it. In the barren ruins of the capitol wasteland, Tenpenny Tower stood tall as a monument to a world that no longer existed. For the right price, you could get in, and have access to one of the only places in the area with a regular amount of purified water. The people who could not get in, however, were the mutated ghouls of the underworld. Tenpenny had a known prejudice of the ghouls, and wasnít about to let any of those types into his tower.

Being the hero, it was my goal to set things right.

The ghouls wanted access to Tenpenny Tower, and certain members of the rich elite that resided within the tower were perfectly fine with it. Some were even welcoming of the idea of letting new people in. Tenpenny wouldnít have it. I set out to form a contract between the two factions, hoping to come to some sort of agreement. After a lot of work, Iíd finally done it. Iíd managed to convince the right people to let the ghouls move in. I had done the right thing. Another portion of the wasteland had been made slightly better because of my actions, and the game rewarded me with positive karma for doing my duties. With this in mind, I left the area to return to my primary quest at hand.

For some reason later on, I came back to Tenpenny Tower, and immediately noticed that something wasnít right. All of the humans were now missing, and the place was a wreck. Upon asking some of the new inhabitants, I find out that the human tenants had all been killed due to a ďmisunderstanding.Ē I managed to find my way to the basement, and found the corpses of the former residents, stripped of their belongings. Iíd caused this. This was all my fault. Some of them might have been prejudiced assholes, but they didnít deserve to die. Not like this, anyway. It wasnít fair. I did the right thing. This was my reward for being the hero? There was no justice in what had happened here. I had to do something.

Killing people was never my style when it could be avoided. It just wasnít the example that I wanted to set. I always wanted to find the nonviolent solution to as many of my problems as possible, but this was too much. I went back up to where the head of the ghouls resided, and I killed him on the spot. The local ghouls became hostile, but it had to be done. While I didnít believe that there was justice in murder, the head of the ghouls had to die. My character had reached a crucial turning point in my playthrough of the game, and this was his breaking point. Of course, I understood that in the wasteland, rules were subjective. Trusting anyone at all was dangerous, but sometimes you could never know this until it was too late. I played through the rest of the main story, trying as hard as I could to continue being the hero, but I now understood that sometimes that just couldnít happen. My character knew this, and was no longer afraid to take a life if the situation came to it.

Being the hero is usually what is expected of you in most video games. An evil force needs conquering, and itís usually your job to do it. Sometimes thereís a reward, and sometimes you just have to do it because itís the right thing to do. This was a strange feeling for me finding out that my heroic, diplomatic actions had caused the deaths of all these people. Iíd never encountered this in a video game before. I knew the wasteland was a horrible place. I knew this going in, and it made me that much eager to leave. There was only so much I could do to try and fix the problems of this broken world, but of course, warÖ war never changes.   read

11:21 AM on 11.17.2012

So... How is the Wii U Going to Fare?

The Wii U launches in North America tomorrow, and more and more information is starting to trickle out. It was announced that the TVii functionality that enables the intermingling of video streaming services won't be up and running at launch, and will be enabled sometime in December. Other reports are starting to come in that some of the third party games are having graphical and frame rate issues. Mass Effect 3 reportedly runs at a choppy, unstable framerate, and has its fair share of issues. It also happens to be missing DLC, with no immediate plans for the upcoming content, either. The Wii U release of Ninja Gaiden 3 also sounds a little sloppy, at least from the early review from IGN. Just what the heck is going on here?

Last year at E3, Peter Moore stood on stage and talked about a great partnership with Nintendo, but at E3 this year, they really had nothing to show for it. It can be assumed that there was some sort of falling out, but there's nothing concrete to say about it. I still don't understand why they announced a port of Mass Effect 3, instead of waiting and just releasing the Mass Effect Trilogy. It's the first time the Playstation 3 is getting the first game in the series, and Nintendo could have gotten the whole trilogy, giving early adopters who might not have played those games something to dig into around launch. Early reports said that porting Darksiders 2 to the console was mostly an easy task, not taking long at all to get the game running on the gamepad.

I understand that developers, namely Western third parties, are hesitant. This is a new system for a company that has primarily subsisted off of first party console support for the last 16 years. Major third party games haven't always done that well on Nintendo consoles. The Wii made this difficult, due to the large gap in hardware capability, but there's really no reason at all for the current wave of third party games not to come to the Wii U. Game budgets are continuing to increase, so studios are becoming more risk averse. Releasing another version at launch can't be that much of an extra cost, can it?

I've had this theory for a while now about Western third parties. In the 1980s, up through the start of the current generation, the majority of big console games were made in Japan. Western third parties tried to find a market with varying levels of success. Games like Mortal Kombat, along with Electronic Arts' sports games on the Sega Genesis found an audience, but the majority mostly floundered. Western third parties did, however, have the Windows PC market on lockdown. Id Software hit it big with the DOOM and Quake games, and Epic (Mega)Games created the popular Unreal series. Yes, Blizzard Entertainment even made a few console games, but their biggest successes centered around personal computers. Throughout the 1990s, the growing Western third parties never had a real partnership with Nintendo, or Japanese console makers in general.

The Unreal 3 Engine changed everything when Gears of War was released on consoles. It was the first retail console game that ran on it, and all of a sudden, many former PC developers started developing games for consoles. Unreal 3 Engine made it far easier to work with, and the technology became more PC-like. Microsoft had found some success building a market for themselves with the Xbox, but with the release of the Xbox 360, it was in overdrive. Throughout the life of the PS2 and before, a lot of the greatest console games were Japanese developed. Yes, there were great Western games, but a lot of the titles that people really remember were made in the East. Now, it's the exact opposite. Western games dominate the market, and Japanese games struggle to find an audience. Many studios on both sides of the pond have shut down from the increases in budgets. Japan has been hit hard by the increase in budgets.

I know they are trying, but I just don't see Nintendo being able to maintain the attention of Western third parties. I'm fully expecting a lot of them to jump ship when the next Playstation and Xbox are formally unveiled. Many of these companies have never worked with Nintendo, so they just don't have that partnership with them that a lot of the big Japanese studios and publishers have. Nintendo will do fine with Japanese support, but I'm expecting Western support to dry up within the next year.

With the announcement of Bayonetta 2 being an exclusive to Wii U, it put the idea in my brain: If Nintendo can't garner the support of Western third parties, they seem well prepared enough to build their own third party support in Japan. They essentially have Monster Hunter and Dragon Quest by the balls, and if you've got those, you've already won the homeland. I'm wondering if Nintendo isn't preparing to buy up more exclusives from Japanese developers to create their own third party infrastructure. After all, they are still a Japanese company, and they primarily focus on their homeland. I'm really interested to see what kind of ideas a lot of Japanese studios have for the console and the gamepad, along with the next iterations of Nintendo's own properties. I know it likely isn't completely sustainable, but I'd love to see these vastly different third party markets, with a return to more exclusives on different consoles.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. In fact, I'd say the launch lineup for the Wii U actually looks pretty solid for a lot of audiences. It's launching with an HD two dimensional Mario title, a unique, survival horror-esque roguelike in Zombi-U, along with Assassin's Creed 3 only three weeks late, and Black Ops 2 only a few days after launching with the other systems. That's a pretty powerful launch. Will the third party games find an audience on a Nintendo platform? It's hard to tell. Considering the issues that have been brought up about Mass Effect 3 and Ninja Gaiden, it could provide a bit of a catch 22. If the buggy versions sell well, and are left to die without patches to correct problems, it could give third parties an excuse to release shoddy ports of their games. If they do poorly, it'll continue the trend of them pulling out because of a bad experience with a single title.

Will the system itself be a success? Probably. At the worst, I think it'll do Gamecube numbers. I'm not expecting it to be the same breakout success that the Wii was. I don't think anyone is, actually. I think when the TVii functionality is implemented, and more people catch wind of the "No TV needed" feature, it'll find an audience. It seems like a very socially oriented system, and I'm actually really excited about all of it.

If I've learned anything, though, it's to never count Nintendo out.   read

2:10 PM on 11.15.2012

Why I Fell in Love With Super Metroid

When I find a game that I truly love, I will do whatever I can to dig further into it. I have certain titles in my collection that I understand on an academic level. I can tell you all about the people who worked on them, why certain gameplay mechanics are the way they are, and usually, I can tell you how to break them. I donít have very many games that I have this intimate knowledge of, but the ones that I do have, I know way too much. Iím currently working my way towards this sort of understanding with Bayonetta, but the first game that I threw myself this far into was Super Metroid.

Released in 1994 on the SNES, this game is easily one of my top five titles of all time. On certain days, Iíd go as far as saying it is my favorite video game ever. Everything it does, it does well. It doesnít bog you down in story, and unlike the majority of Nintendo titles developed nowadays, it doesnít treat you like youíre stupid. When you start playing, thatís it. Youíre thrown into this world, and itís your job to find you way out of it. The controls are responsive and precise, and the world is designed in such a way that there can be multiple ways to traverse the terrain.

As I said before, this is the first game I learned how to ďbreak.Ē By that, I mean over the years Iíve learned the little tricks that people have discovered to bypass entire sections of the game altogether. Iíve used these maneuvers to get items far earlier than I would previous be able to. Because of this, it makes the game an incredibly great title to speed run through. With various glitches, the game can be completed in less than half an hour. Even with 100% completion, the game can be finished in less than an hour if you know what youíre doing. For a while, a couple friends and I dedicated a lot of free time to knocking seconds off our time in hopes of establishing a respectable speed run. While we never set any records, this sort of gameplay led to us understanding the game in a greater way.

At a certain point, merely playing through the game isnít enough. We started eliminating certain items to raise the challenge level. The obvious candidates at first were the grappling beam and the space jump. It was completely feasible, and I did it. After a while, even this wasnít quite enough. For a laugh, I attempted to beat the game without the varia suit, an armor that reduces damage and provides protection in heat sensitive areas. As it turns out, this is completely possible, and I managed to do it. Between the limited health and the lack of heat protection, I had to be very careful. Not a single second could be wasted in the heated caverns of Norfair. Of course, getting the gravity suit in the wrecked ship negates the need for the varia suit, but up until that point, it helped bring new life to a game I thought I knew everything about.

Fairly early in the game, you fight an enemy referred to as the Spore Spawn. It is this dangling, plant monster that swings around the room while it attempts to kill you with small projectiles. When it opens up, you attack the core and eventually it is defeated. The reward for the fight is the super missile upgrade, and upon receiving it, many new doors are open to you. By using some of the gameplay exploits, this entire sequence can be bypassed. This shaves a good few minutes off of your time, and it changes this early stage of the game quite a bit. Youíre far more powerful than youíre supposed to be, and for a little while, youíre just tearing through everything that comes your way. The same can be said for an early room in the Norfair zone where youíre supposed to have the speed booster to run through a corridor with rapidly closing gates. If you can make it through, you have access to a new beam, and it helps you continue your path through the game in a very linear fashion, reducing the amount of backtracking, and giving you more of an edge for the rooms that will follow.

While you can choose to play the game this way, Super Metroid does a great job in convincing you that maybe you should pick up everything. Thereís even an x-ray scope item you can get that will beam through walls and help show you where hidden treasures lie. After spending so much time bombing every square of every screen on the Legend of Zelda, this comes as an amazing surprise. While many items are hidden in fairly obvious places, some of them in plain sight, a good lot of them are hidden in random ceiling or floor tiles. The x-ray scope makes all of this much more bearable, and gives you incentive to really explore every inch of this lonely world youíve been tossed into.

There is also an attention to detail present that I donít think modern Nintendo games really have. Along with the non-linear ways to approach terrain traversal, one of the bosses has a subtle, hidden way to defeat it. In the water zone of Maridia lies a giant shrimp-esque creature that you must defeat. On the walls of the room, there are a lot of little cannons that you should destroy to help make the battle a little easier. After destroying this, there is still an amount of power surging through them, making them dangerous to run into. If you get grabbed by the boss, it will swim around the room and while in its clutches, you can use the grapple beam to latch onto the electrical field, sending the electricity through you and into the boss, gradually frying it until it finally dies. Of course, you lose health while this is going on too, but thatís to be expected. Nowhere in the game does it tell you you can do this. Itís just something that can happen. I really do miss these sort of ideas, especially in the Metroid series.

Because of all of these things, Super Metroid is a game that can forever remain relevant. Due to its design, it really can be a non-linear experience. This may require some slight bending of the rules, but the reward is always worth it. Iím just barely scratching the surface of why I love this game so much, but really digging into this is going to be a story for another day. I still play through it on a regular basis, due to it being a game that can be finished in about an hour. Or not. Itís up to you. You can take your sweet time and just explore the world of Zebes at your leisure.   read

9:52 PM on 11.12.2012

The Day I Died: A Story about Minecraft

Minecraft has become one of those games that is defined by the experiences of the players itself instead of the experience offered by the game. The last game I played that really gave me that feeling was Grand Theft Auto III, as I remember having conversations with friends about our crazy escapades through the streets of Liberty City as we stole cars, outran the cops and managed to pick up some prostitutes along the way. Sure, the game had a set experience defined by the developers, but the longevity of the gameís popularity really came from its open ended world that let the players essentially create their own narrative. Minecraft is a game entirely built around this idea. Like Grand Theft Auto, Iíve spent many lives roaming around the worlds of Minecraft, forging out my own reality. The one that really hit close to home was the day I died.

Dying in Minecraft isnít a rare or new experience. It happens all the time. Sometimes that first night results in death from an arrow firing skeleton or a zombie. Other times a creeper comes out of nowhere and explodes, ending your life. Itís never a big deal. You lose whatever you were carrying and you respawn at your original spawn point or a bed you slept in. If you go back to where you died, you can pick up all the things you lost and go about your business. Like I said, it isnít a big deal.

One time in particular, I spent a few in-game weeks digging out a mine. I dug down as far as I could, hearing the sounds of nearby dungeons through the mine walls as I went further down. The mine itself became a myriad of passages and paths, all leading to false exits and dead ends. I had built chests in the mine to hold the massive amount of building materials I had acquired, so inventory space was never really an issue. In my journey through the caverns, I discovered a series of caves built around a flowing underground river. I was surprised that the game had been able to generate something like this, given the regular glitchy nature that our world had been prone to. I dug through it and had set up a small base of operations inside, but eventually I had to make my way onward. I needed to mine more minerals! Most of all, I needed to find my way back to the surface.

The problem was that I had dug so far into the mine that I had become lost. I had no idea how to find my own way home. The only thing to do was to keep going. I couldnít stop there. I had to keep digging. Eventually I decided to start digging my way out. Somehow, someway I had to find my way back to civilization. I had to find my way back to where my friends had set up their respective castles and phallic monuments to a blocky god that didnít exist.

I finally reached the surface. When I emerged from the labyrinth of my own making, it was dark. The sun would likely be up soon. I stumbled around, looking for some sign of something that resembled the world from whence I had come. No matter what direction I looked, there was no indication that I was anywhere near where I had started. I was alone. The world had continued to generate as I moved further and further away from civilization. I was in a new world. A new, barren no manís land lay before me.

I didnít know how long it would be until dawn. I examined my surroundings a little more, and set up a few torches at the top of a cliff to light the area. I stood up there and looked out over the horizon, hoping one more time just to see something resembling my home. With nothing in sight, I saw that two choices were laid out before me: I could either build a new home and eventually try and find my way back, or I had to die.

I started building a small house to get me through the night. The plethora of building supplies I had amassed during the last leg of the journey through the mine made it an easy task, and the torches gave just enough light to see what I was doing. I built a small rectangular house out of the wood and stone I happened to be carrying. I had better building supplies that I was carrying, but for a temporary house, I didnít need them. Inside of the house I built a chest to hold all of my valuables. I had acquired a lot of redstone, and I wasnít in any position to lose all of that over a mismanaged encounter with a creeper.

My small stone sanctuary was completed, and the sun started coming up over the horizon. It was going to be another beautiful, blocky day. I watched from the cliff as the pixelated sun came up, and as the soft piano music started playing, I knew what I had to do.

I had to die.

I couldnít make it home. I had no idea what direction I should have been wandering in, and for all I could tell there were fields of glacier and forests between me and my homeland. My thoughts of building a new home were quickly being replaced by the truth. I needed to die so I could get back to my home. I had a house there. I had a lot going there for me. I was in the process of building a floating tower of doom. I wasnít ready to give that up.

I made a sign outside of my small home that said ďBrandon Lived Here.Ē I knew that if anyone else on the server ever made it out there, theyíd see that and theyíd leave my materials alone until I could get back to them. I shut the door and walked to the edge of the cliff. I looked down at the ground below me, and then looked ahead. The sun was high in the sky. I took one last look at it, and I jumped. I fell to the ground, and I died on impact.

I respawned back at the server spawn point, not far from where we had all built our homes. I went back to my small house that I lived in. It was not far from the entrance to the mine, and it was not far from where I had been building my tower fortress. I knew the trip back through the mine would be a pain, so I planned to make that journey on another day. I decided to log out of the server. I wasnít sure what else I could do at that point.

While playing Grand Theft Auto, it was rare for me to ever die by my own choice. It was typical that I would make some stupid mistake during a run and end up getting myself killed. After amassing a five or six star warrant, it wasnít uncommon for me to die once the army started showing up. Beyond Grand Theft Auto, it isnít uncommon to die in video games. Death typically signifies a problem that lay in front of the player. When we reach a challenge that we might not be prepared to face, we die, and the knowledge we take from that encounter helps us on the next attempt. Mega Man 2 taught me this, as did Demonís Souls.

Death in video games teaches us the limits of our surroundings. This has been minimized greatly in newer games, which often relegate death to a minor inconvenience while we wait for the respawn counter to count down. Death is no longer a sign of defeat as much as it is a temporary impedance. Death in Minecraft is just that, a temporary impedance, but this death specifically took on an odd significance. It felt personal. That character lived a life, and ended it on his own terms.

I canít think of many other games that give me that experience.   read

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