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4:14 PM on 08.27.2012

Empty Cannon Fodder

I’m all about suspending reality when I’m gaming. You want me to be a rebellious vampire prince traveling through time with the ultimate goal of turning into a sword so that my estranged vampire daddy can use me to kill aliens? Hell yes, Legacy of Kain! Is it ok that my character can learn a spell that literally allows them to summon a super nova that explodes through the galaxy and strikes my melee range foe with laser like accuracy? Do cats lick their own butts, Final Fantasy? Of course! Can I swallow the fact that hiding in cover allows me to shrug off the wounds of 8,000 bullets? The real question is how can I not, every FPS? But ask me to understand the reasoning behind why there’s always that one enemy who runs at me with a freaking knife in the middle of a firefight, or play the game for me, and I draw the line.

How stupid is Dr. Wily? The man knows that Mega Man is going to kill his robots one by one. You’d think that by now he’d realize that if he had them all stay together in a team that they would treat the blue bomber like a guy whose bar of soap is glued to the floor in a prison. And what the hell is wrong with Bowser? Why spread out your entire army across entire freaking continents instead of focusing them around your castle? You’ve already kidnapped the princess! It’s your game to lose dummy. If these things happened for the first time I suppose it’d be ok, but they literally have gone down dozens of times! If every time you drank a sprite, Bea Arthur’s zombified corpse punched you in the face, I bet you’d start drinking fresca. Unless you were washing down bath salts…
In a way I can see beyond that though, I’m sure it’s difficult to come up with groundbreaking stories for a popular series tenth iteration. I can turn a blind eye to the fact that once again, the same team of plucky mercenaries is fighting a zombie creating pharmaceutical company, as long as the gameplay is cool. But what makes my Yoshi pass a spiky egg through his bottom is lazy enemy design and games that hold my hand all the way through.
You know what I mean. You’ve all played the ninja game where some idiot charges you with his fists while you’re hacking his armed to the teeth buddies into baby food. Or what about that enemy in 2D sidescrollers who exists only to be stepped on? I’m tired of cannon fodder. If that’s the kind of obstacle that you’re putting in my way then you must suspect that I have trouble tying Velcro shoes. I want a baddie with more depth and challenge. In Dark Souls, any regular old enemy can kill you at any time. You’ve always got to stay alert and play with strategy. In Metal Gear, charging into a horde of gun toting soldiers quickly leads to dead Snake. Sure they may be a little dim when it comes to sneaking up on them, but at least they require effort. And, (one more example just to make my point) how about those amazing Half Life games? Few other titles consistently kept me on the edge of my seat while playing, not once did I feel like I had the upper hand (well except for the gravity gun death orgy at the end of part 2 but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to be disarmed any moment).
I’m sure game difficulty is a matter of ability on some levels as well. Pushing up the difficulty level on Skyrim can make even a godlike character take pause before assaulting a dragon, but I think that’s a cheap substitute. Most difficulty meters make enemies hurt more and good guys hurt less. Bad guys don’t get smarter or use devious methods to win, they just require faster reflexes in most cases. Sure designers need to cater to the “casual” crowd in order to make a profitable title, I respect that, but how about putting more effort in and making the hard setting give the goombas some team based tactics Nintendo?
As the gaming landscape is formed more by metacritic scores and cinematic story driven affairs the core mechanics of a game seem to be swept aside. In playing Mass Effect 3 and assaulting a Cerberus base I got my ass shredded by a banshee as I dashed across a suspended cat walk. Upon restarting I was at the top of a ladder staring down the same catwalk I just bought the farm on. No frustration, no difficulty, I calmly dispatched the offending enemy this time and strode across to my half hour cut scene. I literally felt BioWare holding my hand through its game, and let me tell you they have sweaty palms. Did this make me dislike ME3? No. The pants shittingly stupid conclusion did. But it did disappoint me. I wouldn’t mind working through a level for a bit every once in a while, even if my end result is a mouthful of bitterness.

I find myself actually shying away from some games because of this interactive movie approach. I’m a gamer because of the mechanics of a video game. I can find equal admiration for a well made NES title and the latest Unreal Engine multi-million dollar hype spectacle if they both give me a challenge and make me think a bit. In terms of real innovation in a title there’s only been a trickle in recent years. Studios aren’t taking risks. And when something is a success it’s quickly picked clean by yearly releases and an army of clones. I feel that gaming is beginning to become a lot more passive than it’s ever been. Cinematic kills and lengthy narratives are awesome, but they should be the garnish and presentation, not the main dish. Maybe I’m old fashioned and refuse to adapt to the times, but I miss when video games were games. [/size]   read

7:43 PM on 05.30.2012

The Future is a Hadoukenema

Sony’s potential plan to include compulsory advertising in video games can really mean a lot to the future of gaming. In case you’ve missed the story (which is about as likely as the next GTA’s plot centering on Betty White and her dream of becoming a mercenary stripper), allow me to summarize it in a quick and polarizing manner. Sony took out a patent that would allow them to advertise products in video games. The example most often cited in the press is that of a racing game slowing down at different points and the player seeing a close up of a can of soda or something. The theory is that this will allow advertisers to contribute to the cost of making games which will help studios manufacture games for less. This savings can also benefit gamers in the form of cheaper games. There’s speculation that in the future two versions of a game could be released. An expensive one with no advertising and a cheaper one that will occasionally pause gameplay at times and show commercials just like a television show.

Naturally this idea has been met with a lot of criticism from gamers, most of who feel that the inclusion of ads in games is about as good an idea as having a party and feeding a cow chocolate and vodka, and then telling your friends you’ve got some White Russians on tap. Sure the ingredients make sense in a schizophrenic kind of way, but really we all know it’s just plain crazy. But I’m not here to add to the ire or counterpoint the points made. No I’d rather just explore how far we can take this idea. Seriously people let’s think about this for a minute. Just about any company can advertise so what if in the future we got…

Beat you’re blockage by getting Down, Right, Fierce.

Sometimes stealth is preferred.

Would this have saved 38 studios? Does a bear use TP in the woods?

And finally because constipation and Capcom go together.

This is just a small taste of the future. Imagine a mouthful.   read

11:47 AM on 05.28.2012

BB Studios

It’s actually a pretty sad story…

Cracking into Bowser’s army with a new idea is some pretty tough stuff. The ruler of World 8 isn’t a big fan of variety. For example, during the first failed campaign against the Mushroom Kingdom Bowser employed Hammer Brothers. 25 years and multiple failures later the forces of evil decided to mix it up by using Boomerang Brothers. Watch out Mario, there is a curve ball headed your way. So it clearly goes without saying that generating a truly new idea in such a stagnant and play it safe market is about as likely as Bungie’s next title being a Japanese dating sim. So when the fledgling BB Studios attempted to enter the scene and attract the attention of Bowser’s forces, they knew they had to play it safe and find a way to be original at the same time.

BB Studios attempted to accomplish this difficult feat by enlisting the help of some specialized and talented individuals. They decided to build a team of excellence and attack the problem from three distinct angles. In an effort to lend their product credibility and effectiveness they hired the already established Mario foe Waluigi to design its nuts and bolts. Sure, he wasn’t quite the caliber of enemy that had daunted the Mario Brothers in recent memory, but in his day he had given them quite the challenge in tennis. BB wanted their product to stand out from the crowd in looks, so they employed the talents of the recognized and slightly outdated Daisy. Yes, she wasn’t the princess in demand at the moment but she had been worth saving not too long ago. And finally they wanted to give the fruit of their labors a compelling, interesting, and unique edge, to truly set it apart from the other things in Bowser’s army by giving it an amazing back story and lore. And to this most pivotal and important of jobs BB Studios enlisted the assistance of vanilla ice cream. Nothing can be said about this particular choice, except that it was on par with attempting to reach the moon by slamming ones face into the ground as hard as possible, multiple times, and with each painful punishing trying to imagine that the moon was somehow drawing closer.

BB Studios was located in World 7 SMB 3, a maze of pipes and piranha plants with little regard for the fledgling company. World 7 had plenty of dangers and difficulty, they didn’t need to endorse an up and comer enemy. As BB began their work they were contacted by Wart from Dream World SMB2. He wasn’t really on the scene as a place of danger for the Mario’s any longer but he wanted to be. And to that end he decided to offer BB Studios some assistance in the form of some government backed loans. Wart had persuaded the denizens of Dream World to invest their hard earned coins into the lucrative business of designing for Bowser’s arsenal, and he was banking on BB Studios as a safe bet for that trust. BB took him up on that offer and moved on over to dream world.

After months of hype and speculation BB Studios finally launched the product of all their labors onto Bowser’s market. They called it the Bullet William. It was basically a Bullet Bill but with wings and a surprised O face instead of a grimace. It moved exactly like a bullet bill, but in a slightly deviated almost but not quite diagonal route. It boasted hundreds of hours of Mario determent, but accomplished this violence exactly in the same manner as every other Bullet Bill that had come before. Where the Bullet William attempted to truly shine was with its story. It told the tale of a resurrected hunk of metal thrown at the Mario Brothers. To sum it up in a few words it was basically just a recycled Bullet Bill given another chance, and sent out to do the same thing as every other Bullet Bill that came before, but now it was called a Bullet William. The back story proved to be about as interesting as eating stale bread, and had the unfortunate effect of the Bullet William wildly underselling Wart and BB Studios estimates. In approximately zero time BB Studios was as broke as a backwards flying Skyrim dragon.

BB Studio’s couldn’t pay Wart back on time. So instead of paying money they decided to ask for more money. And they hoped to talk Wart into it by selling him a new product called the Bullet Billy. Luckily for Dream World’s coins Wart had been relieved of his duties and replaced by the pragmatic Birdo. She answered BB Studio’s request by shooting them in the face with an egg. BB replied by laying off their entire staff illegally and shutting their doors. Sure it cost a lot of folks their jobs and a lot of people got egg on their face in the end, but seriously did anyone expect a different outcome? BB Studios was a bad idea from the outset, and proved that designing a weapon for Bowser’s arsenal had actually transmogrified from a simple task to a complex one in the span of his first assault to his latest, basically in the span of two decades.

But the fallout remains, how should a new company hope to break into such a volatile field? Do they emulate the success of others and attempt to employ greater numbers of already relevant talent, like say, by stealing people from Infinity Ward? Or should they try to break new ground and try to push out a truly unique product by launching things on a much smaller scale. Like by say attempting a unique enemy that only appears in the handheld version World 5? In a saturated market like Bowser’s Army one failure can mean the end of a company and the loss of innocent coin payer’s money. Has the market itself become a place that isn’t tolerant of originality and is only accepting of slight deviations from the norm? Is the business of creating new IPs for Bowser such a risky business that taxpayer money should be diverted from it at all costs? As Mario combat becomes a viable source of income for companies is it a terrible idea for Worlds to back the production of new products? Clearly the failure of BB Studios leaves a greater impact on the landscape of Bowser’s army than its success ever could, but the question remains, what is the true lesson here?   read

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