Wow, two years no changes to my bio. Anyway, here it goes.
Hi, I'm the HawkeyedOne, been around the internet and gaming since I was a wee lad of fourteen. I'm a connoisseur of fine media; I consume videogames, tv, and music at a level some would deem absurd. At the time of this writing, I'm 19, and have no idea what in hell I'm doing with my life. I am attending a small community college, and will graduate with an associates in computer programming. After that, who knows?
I've been reading Destructoid for three years now, and although I'm not much of a talker, I'm working on that. I'm also working on getting into online multiplayer, so send me a friend request on steam if you feel like it. I'm more into RPGs and platformers than I am into FPSs.
Week 1, February 21st to February 28th
Game Played- Super Mario Bros.
This blog will be an exercise in firsts. This is the first week of my experiment, it's my first foray into reviewing games, and we'll be talking about firsts a lot. I want to start by talking about Super Mario Brothers as a whole, with a focus on the character of Mario. Part of the reason for me doing this blog is to explore gaming culture and it's roots, and Super Mario Bros. definitely falls under the category of “roots”. Super Mario Bros. was the game released with the NES and as such was the first game most people played on the NES. For a lot of gamers, the NES was the first console they owned, and therefore Super Mario Bros. would have been the first game they ever played. I think it's interesting, therefore, to examine this game to see where we came from, and then compare that from where I came from as a gamer.
I would be doing a disservice to Shigeru Miyamoto if I didn't start examining Super Mario Bros. by examining the design of the game, specifically level design. I hear the sentiment a lot that gamers have World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. hardwired into their brains. There are a lot of things we could contribute that to. It's the first level of a game where “Game Over” means “start at level one”, so obviously it will be the most-played level of the game, and thus the most remembered. You could also attribute the phenomena to the place Super Mario Bros., and thus it's first level, has in gaming culture. Super Mario Bros. is an icon of an era, and so most of the aspects of Super Mario Bros. are iconic. I think it has to do with the level design. Every part of World 1-1 is designed to inform the player about the game they're playing. In the first few seconds of the game, World 1-1 demonstrates that Goombas are bad, question blocks are good, eating a mushroom makes you bigger, and you can break bricks when you're big. The rest of the level teaches you other skills you need to know in a relatively risk-free environment. Bottomless bits are a bad thing. Hitting multiple enemies in a combo nets you more points. Koopa Troopas can be used as psuedo-projectiles.
Level design isn't the only thing I need to give credit to Miyamoto for. The mechanic design of Super Mario Bros. is simply elegant. I would say there are three basic mechanics to Super Mario Bros.: Mario can run and jump, Mario gets powers by eating mushrooms/flowers, and Mario dies if he touches an enemy/obstacle or falls into a pit. The sheer amount of content that Miyamoto and his team got out of those mechanics is one of the reasons Super Mario Bros. is so pervasive. The game itself is so simple, yet provides hours of endless gameplay.
Why is all this important to gamer culture? I think it tells us a lot about game design, and how the first generation of game enthusiasts experienced gaming in the beginning. Super Mario Bros. doesn't hold your hand. What it does do very well is explain the rules of the game, and slowly build up they player's skill level. This was a style of design that would prevail almost all the way to the emergence of 3D experience and many-buttoned controllers, and was for the most part how the first generation of gamers got into new games. It tells us how we developed our skills, it tells us where we started as a culture. The current attitude of gamers, which uses phrases like “true nerds” or “hardcore gamer” comes from this position, where in order to play a game you had to learn it. Completing a game meant the honing of multiple skills until you had mastered the mechanics put before you and using those skills to complete a challenge. I think that's what brings a lot of us into the gaming fold: we seek a challenge, and for a lot of us, games are that challenge, and when games don't offer much challenge, it clashes with our ideal of what games should be.
In all of these blogs, I'm going to try to relate the experience of the Nintendo generation to my own experience. I've mentioned it before in other places, but I think I'll bring up here my first experience with console gaming. My very first console was the Sony Playstation. I don't remember when we got it, but my parents bought it for me and my sister for Christmas, and it came with a whole bunch of games, one of which was Spyro the Dragon. Spyro was my “first game”. I love the sense of exploration you get from the collectathon nature of the gems. I love the level design, how much stuff the designers managed to pack into such a small space. Like Super Mario Bros., the mechanics of Spyro are pretty simple. Spyro can jump and glide from place to place, he has a charge, and he can breathe fire. Like Super Mario Bros., each world had a theme, with each level in that world being a variation of that theme. Comparing the two, I would say that Super Mario Bros. is more difficult to complete, but Spyro is much more time consuming to perfect. Sure, you could go through Spyro really quick, not really bothering with any of the treasure and just go from world to world, and you'll be able to complete it, but you won't get the reward for getting 100% of the treasure strewn about the place. It's a kind of self imposed challenge, which I enjoy immensely.
What do I think of Super Mario Bros. as a whole? I think it's a damn good game. Even today, the simple mechanics and charming aesthetic design still hold up. Mastering the mechanics is hard, and Mario sometimes controls very loosely (I've died more than a handful of times trying to stop him from sliding off a giant toadstool) and some of the enemies are hard as balls (I'm looking you at first Hammer Brother of world 5-1), but I wouldn't detract points because of the difficulty. Do I think it's perfect? No, I think that the execution of the mechanics is sloppy in some sections and sometimes the difficulty is just derived from throwing a bunch of shit at you at once. I do think that Super Mario Bros. has earned it's place as a touchstone of gaming culture. A must play for anyone wanting to experience gaming's history.
I have a confession Destructoid. I've never finished a console game developed by Nintendo. I can cite many reasons for this: my first gaming experience was on PC and my first console was a Playstation, I didn't own a Nintendo console until the Gamecube, I just didn't grow up with it like a lot of people did. That being said, I feel obligated to at least make an effort to reach into gaming's past, to explore my “heritage” as it were. So, that's why I'm embarking on a quest of sorts. I call it 'Hawkeye's Year of Nintendo'. Every week for the next year, from this moment until February 20th 2014, I will attempt to play a Nintendo game to completion.
I will start with what will probably be considered a bit cliché: Super Mario Bros. for the NES. After SMB I'm going to do Legend of Zelda, then Metroid, Then Kirby's Dreamland. I'm willing to take suggestions after I finish KDL, but for now the prospective timeline is:
February 20th-February 27th: Super Mario Bros- NES
February 28th – March 7th : The Legend of Zelda- NES
March 8th – March 15th : Metroid- NES
March 16th – March 23rd : Kirby's Dreamland- Game Boy
I will be updating this blog once a week with my progress: how long I played the game, whether or not I beat it, and how long it to me to complete it. I will also be giving short reviews and overviews of my experience. My hope is that a pair of fresh eyes taking on classic gaming icons can give us all a new perspective on the games that shaped our medium and our culture. I'd also like to have fun. Also cocks.
Skyrim is one of those games I will be playing forever. It goes right up there with Tony Hawk's Underground, World of Warcraft, and Sly Cooper for me that offer endless amounts of exploration, not just in a game world, but in gameplay as well. There are also the gorgeous visuals, the rich writing and dialogue, that keep me coming back and again. But, none of that compares to what could possibly be my favorite videogame moment ever.
Skyrim's Aurora Borealis can be quite beautiful at night
It happened in the upper northwest. I was traveling from on foot from one fort to another, when I came across the Aurora Borealis that will occasionally happen at nights in Skyrim. Wanting a better look, I climbed up a hill, my trust companion Lydia with me. We watched the Northern Lights for some time, untill I hear a distinct ROOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR and that epic music that heralds the arrival of a dragon. Having learned from a previous encounter that it is preferable to save when this happens, I did so without first analyzing my opponent. Thus my fight with the Blood Dragon was begun.
A blood dragon about to turn an unwary Nord into swiss cheese
Let me explain at this point that I was level 14, and had put a good deal of my perks into blacksmithing, so in reality I was around level 10. I was specializing in destructive magic, though I hadn't learned anything past spark and flames, as well as one handed. My character's basic strategy was to set her opponent on fire, and then chop his face off with an axe. It was a pretty good strategy for regular mobs, but not so much for this level fifteen Blood Dragon. Furthermore, I was in the middle of NOWHERE, so I was pretty much fucked. In fact, the first time I fought this Blood Dragon, I died. And not the first time, the second, third, fourth and fifth times too.
It speaks highly of a game when I'm able to die more than once or twice, and I take it as a personal challenge rather than a "fuck you" from the designers. To this day, three games hold the honor from me of not having been rage quit after multiple failures at one task: Kingdom Hearts, Sly Cooper, and now Skyrim. Each time, I gave enough of a shit, and was not yet frustrated enough, to quit flat out. For Skyrim, I had found a worth opponent. This Blood Dragon was more naturally skilled than I was, but I had the advantage of tactics on my side. This was a battle I could win, were I skilled enough at the game, so I perservered.
Eventually, I settled down into the following tactic: snipe away at the dragon while it's in the air, use my "become ethereal" shout when it hits me with it's frost attack, and use the remaining time in the air to regenerate my health with the heal spell. The tactic wasn't perfect; there was a pretty big chance I could die half-way through the fight because I messed up somewhere along the line. This indeed happened, and I died a few more times. I was not discouraged; in fact, each death spurred me on even more. It all payed off when I finally killed that GOD DAMNED dragon. I leaped from my chair, gave a shout of FUCK YEAH! and sat back and watched as the dragon burned, and I absorbed it's soul.
This was one of the most satisfying moments of my gaming life. I'd put it up there with the end mission of Half-Life 2 Episode 2 as one of the most explosive release of emotion come successful completion. There was a real feeling that I had done something massive, that I had overcome a challenge that was worth overcoming. Absorbing that dragon's soul, and looting it's body for goodies, and then giving those goodies to Lydia to look after because they're damn heavy, was a truly satisfying victory of a moment, one that I won't forget any time soon.
I've been thinking for the last week of how to write about the Brown vs. EMA decision. It's been my belief and opinion that the California law was not only unconstitutional, but also redundant. In fact, I've found it absurd that anyone would dare claim that the games industry doesn't regulate itself, or that parents can't regulate what their kids play. It occurred to me today that I've actually had discussions with other gamers about the ESRB itself, and we've disagreed whether or not it was effective. I've always thought, of course it's effective! I just haven't realized why it's effective until now.
My mom never let me play M-Rated games. More specifically, my mom hates guns and violence; her reasons are her own and I won't get into that here. Regardless, violent video games were never allowed in my house until I was 17 years old, and the only reason for that is that I could but it myself. I live in Massachusetts, and have never been to a Gamestop, Best Buy, or other game retailer that didn't card me when trying to buy M-Rated games. Likewise, my mom always read the ESRB content label. If there was any semblance of extreme violence I knew better than to even try.
The overall effect of this is two-fold: first, I haven't played a lot of first person shooters. I didn't play Halo, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, etc. until I was 18, and I'm 19 now. I've generated a sporadic interest in FPSs, mostly games like Bioshock and Half-Life. I'm gonna guess this is mostly because I grew up playing games like Spyro the Dragon, Sly Cooper, and Kingdom Hearts, i.e., games with more emphasis on character and exploration. Secondly, I'm much more aware of the ESRB ratings myself. Because my mother always checked the ratings, I'm fully aware they exist, and I normally will idly read the ESRB descriptors on the back of the box. These descriptors have never made me put a game down in disgust, but I have the awareness and knowledge to read them. I'm certain that when I eventually have children, I'll be aware enough of both the ratings, and how my children act and their level of maturity, what games are good for them to be playing.
I will admit that some games should not be given to children. Regardless of the stereotypical 13 year old playing Modern Warfare, games like Hitman, Manhunt, Dead Space, Silent Hill, or Fallout would not be approrpiate. This evaluation comes more from the specific content of the games. Hitman and Manhunt include graphic scenes of death, Dead Space and Silent Hill are both horror games, and the Fallouts encourage a level of cynicism and survival-at-all-costs, which aren't healthy for children at a certain age. Of course, it is up to parents to use their discretion in deciding what games are appropriate for their children. What is appropriate for me at twelve won't be what is appropriate for my 12 year old child, and what is appropriate for him will not be appropriate for your 12 year old child.
All in all, I think I've realized why I always thought this law was useless: I've lived it. I know for a fact that a parent who cares what media their child views will do the research. They'll look at the ESRB warnings, and they'll make an educated decision. I know this because my mother made this discision for me all the time. It doesn't need to be a crime to sell a game to children; it doesn't even need to be regulated in the grand scheme of things. Parents need to take an active roll, end of story.
I define gaming, the pastime, as sitting on a couch, staring wide-eyed at a tv, a controller in your lap. From my humble beginnings on the original Playstation, that's what gaming has been to me. Since I first picked up a controller to play Spyro the Dragon, games have left me wide-eyed. I've always loved games, and I've loved my companions. Up until a few years ago, I had never played a game with a protagonist I didn't personally like. They were all amazing in their own way. But none of them were more amazing than the main character of my favorite game of all time, Kingdom Hearts.
Sora here is by far my favorite voiced protagonist in any video game. I know that, quality wise, he really isn't up there with the ranks of Solid Snake or John Marshton. But he's been my favorite since I was just a little kid. I've always loved the idea of a kid with a giant key, taking out monsters born from the darkness in people's hearts. He can go anywhere, because his weapon can unlock any door. He's always a just person, and he's always pure. If we can say anything about Sora, it's that he's pure and good. Some think that's a negative thing; personally, I think we could do with more positive game characters. But I digress; we're here to talk about a specific moment from Kingdom Hearts.
For those first forty hours of play in the original game, Sora and I had terrific adventures together. We'd scoured a mystical cave with Aladdin, we'd fought off a giant house with the help of a walking skeleton, and we'd fought off a giant parasite in the belly of an even gianter whale. It was towards the end of the game, after all the time that I'd spent with Sora, that one of my favorite moments in video game history happened. When I confronted Hollow Bastion, I had very little idea of what challenges would await me. I was outright appalled when my friends, Donald and Goofy, betrayed me, and Riku stole my Keyblade, my one source of power. I was delighted when my friends came back to my defense, and my friendship conquered Riku's hold over my Keyblade. I was laughing at how easy Maleficent's first form was, and was pumped when I defeated her second form. After Maleficent's death, I confronted Riku, who lead me to the chamber where the Princesses were held. Riku and I fought a fierce battle, and then something happened that left me stunned: he told me that Kairi, the person I had been searching for the entire game, was a princess. What's more, her heart was trapped inside my own. It's then that the greatest scene in game history happened:
I love that scene. It's amazing. It embodies everything I love about games; wide-eyed amazement of what's going on, what's happening on the TV, something that I made happen. I was 12 years old when I first saw this scene. To this day, I've never sat more wide eyed at a scene. That's why it's the best of all time. That's why it's amazing.
[Top tip about that video. A fun drinking game is to watch the end of any Kingdom Hearts game (the end being past the 3/4ths mark) and taking a sip of beer every time the words "heart" "light" "darkness" "friendship" and "keyblade" are mentioned.]
I normally don't express a "radical" or "black and white" opinion when it comes to piracy and other grey-ish topics. I'm usually open to the opinions of others, and normally consider a wide range of explanations and arguments. But, there are some times when have a closed mind is necessary in order to come to a rational opinion on a particular topic. Jim's recent Jimquisition, the impending SHITSTORM, and the news articles that followed and their shitstorms, drove me to write up this post. In this post, I'm going go though the facts and truths, as I understand them, and hopefully come up with an opinion that makes some level of sense.
First, I think it's easiest to talk about a topic that's at least a little black and white: DRM. DRM, or Digital Rights Management, can be defined as any software developers add to their products to prevent piracy. I could joke how there is no such thing as DRM, because none of it actually does a good job of protecting digital rights, but that's not while we're here. Instead, let's talk about how and why DRM came up, and how it affects gaming and the gaming industry in general.
First, DRM has been around for a lot longer than some may think. Information scrambling technology was used on DVDs in the mid to late nineties. The idea was to encrypt the information on the disk, so that only a specific DVD player could read the DVD (this was done to help enforce region locking). As with most DRM, information scrambling was rendered moot about a week after people get their hands on it. And I think therein lies the problem with DRM.
Now, according to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), companies DO have the right to protect their copyright in any way they see fit. However, I think most of us would agree that DRM just doesn't work. Even if you're not for companies protecting their copyright, you would say that companies should try something different. So, what can companies do to protect their copyright, that would actually protect it?
One thing that companies could do instead of using DRM would be to enact some kind of reward for purchasing the game in the first place. A download code for extra content, that those who don't buy the product don't receive? That could work, I guess. With PC games, they could include a level builder with the game itself. I know a lot of games already do this, but it would probably cut back on Crysis 2's piracy rate if you could actually edit levels and make mods if you buy the game.
Well, that part was easy. Now for the hard part: Piracy itself. I've been kinda dancing around this, because I know my analysis of the arguments is gonna earn me some flak, no matter which side I take. That being said, I have to put my lot in with those who criticize pirates. Look, guys, we all know that piracy is illegal. Whether or not it should be isn't even up for to debate. A lot of people bring up the argument "I would steal a car if in the morning the other person still had their car." While, yes, you aren't robbing another person of the product; you're not physically taking the game from someone or deleting it from their harddrive. But you are essentially taking money from the developer and publisher. To be fair, most of you don't give a damn about the publisher, and some might not give a damn about the developer. But think about it. If about a million copies of a game are pirated, the company would see it as a loss of sixty million dollars. Also, the publisher isn't going to care if YOU don't see it as a loss of sixty million dollars- you're the one who pirated it. Of course you're going to dismiss responsibility. They're still gonna react as if they lost $60 million. They're going to fire people. A lot of people. A lot of good talent goes into making just one game. What would happen if a company, or perhaps the industry, lost even a fraction of that talent?
I guess my opinion is this- piracy, regardless of your opinion of its effects, is just wrong. We can kick and scream all we want amongst ourselves whether piracy is right and wrong. But when it comes right down to it, what matters is the publisher's opinion about it. That's what effects the game, and the people who made it, the most. It could make the difference between a game getting a sequel, or not getting one. It could mean the life or death of an entire studio. Here's what I'm saying: we all know it's illegal. We all know that the publisher is going to see piracy as a threat to the business. If we want good games to keep coming, we need to give publishers a bit of room here, to make sure they're protecting their intellectual property, and they don't fire good, honest, talented people. Think of it from the dev's point of view- would you really want thousands of people to say "meh, it isn't worth the sixty bucks", after you've worked on the thing for a good two to three years of your life?