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3:11 PM on 10.28.2014

Best of Nintendo: 20th Century Masters

A while ago, I bought a 20th Century Masters collection of The Guess Who, one of the greatest rock bands in history, and was dissappointed when I found that Baba O'Riley was poignantly absent; it is one of their greatest songs, after all.

So here's the deal: you get to make a 20th Century Masters collection for Nintendo. Like 20th Cent., you only get to put 10 games in your collection. They can be from any console or handheld, but have to be games developed or published by Nintendo, so that means everything from R.C Pro Am to Goldeneye to Bayonetta 2 are open. Tell us why you chose those games. Are they best sellers? Most representative of Nintendo's quality? Do you go for a variety of franchises or pick several from the same series? Does your list lean more heavily on iconic classics or do you feel that some of the modern games are better than their predecessors (Twilight/Ocarina; Mario Kart 8/64; Brawl/ Melee/ Original)? Or do you just pick the games that you played and liked?

There is one more rule. You must poignantly omit one great Nintendo game. Let us know which iconic game is decidedly not allowed on your list and why.

P.S. Assume that the game will be played under ideal circumstances (having the appropriate controller(s) in new condition, having other players for multiplayer games). Also, assume that the person playing it might not have played these games before; greatest hits are often used to get into a new band, assume that someone wants to get into Nintendo games and is looking at your collection.

For an extra challenge, put your list in a particular order, as if one were listening to an album and hearing all the songs in order. Do you order them by age, popularity, or preference? What do you open with? What do you close with?

Here's my list:

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Star Fox 64
3. Super Metroid
4. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out
5. Perfect Dark
6. Kirby Super Star
7. Donkey Kong Country Returns
8. Super Mario Bros
9. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
10.Super Smash Brothers Melee

I am poignantly omitting Pokemon because they were never an important part of my childhood (even though many games on this list weren't either) and I never cared about them. I respect them as a popular game and esport but I can't bring myself to ever want to play them because I generally don't like turn based games of that style.


3:46 PM on 05.01.2014

Dota-Clone Name Suggestion

Forewarning: this article contains some sarcasm and cynicism about a genre that is very popular and that I have enjoyed. It also has opinions which are my own and not necessarily yours. The beauty of it is that we can exchange our opinions in the comments section.

When I wrote about roguelikes, I stated that games shouldn't be denied the opportunity to relate to a certain genre based on specific genre definitions by discussing what the roguelike genre was really about and how 'roguelites' fit the bill. Now I want to discuss the other end of the spectrum with DotA clones and how people will throw any name on them that they can find, leading to frustration and confusion. DotA called itself ARTS. League of Legends called it a MOBA. Transformers Universe is calling theirs a MOTA. People try to call them 'lane-pushers' or 'hero brawlers'. Others try to bring up its vague tower defense elements. It's time for some destructive criticism.

Action-RTS is the most misleading name here. The name is probably derived from the similar naming scheme found in RPG and Action-RPG. RPG stands for Role-Playing Game, where the player of the game literally played a role in the world, creating someone with a personality, problems, goals, and a distinct set of skills. Early computer RPGs tried to keep all of these factors intact through extensive stories, dialogue with party members and other characters in the world, and having multiple solutions to every problem to allow different playstyles to be functional. Action RPGs don't bother with the role-playing aspect and choose to focus on stats, leveling, killing, and looting. All of those things were in a traditional RPG but were not the focus of the game.

This what an Action-RPG looks like. Very similar to DotA and LoL.

On the other hand, RTS stands for Real-Time Strategy, a genre defined by base building, resource management, and commanding armies. Being an Action-RTS implies that the game is a Real Time Strategy game that puts more focus on commanding armies than the other two aspects. Some games, like the classic Age of Empires II, allow the players to set the rules of the game to accomodate more action oriented play, such as fast building and high resources. Others, like World in Conflict and its predecessor Ground Control, eliminate resource gathering and base building entirely to allow the players to focus on micromanaging their armies.

But DotA has no base building, resource management, and no armies to command. There are minions, but you have no control over them. Therefore, it can't be an RTS or even Action-RTS. There are defensive turrets called towers, but you don't place or manage them in any way, so it isn't tower defense. Controlling one hero, earning gold, and buying better gear are things that Action-RPGs do. There are also monsters in the wild that can be hunted and giant boss monsters to be slain, so should DotA be called a Competitive Action-RPG?

If Action-RTS is the most misleading name, then MOBA gets the award for having the most vague name. MOBA is an acronym for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, which describes most video games made in the last 30 years. If your game allows for two or more players, then it is multiplayer. MOBA specifies that that multiplayer must be online, which is the de facto form of multiplayer for every game on the PC, where most MOBAs are released. 'Battle' involves physical or violent conflict, which tends to happen more often than personal or emotional conflict in video games. Even the first video games involved battles of some description, such as the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device shown in 1947, which was "a missile simulator inspired by radar displays from World War II."

Action-RTS is what happens when you remove base building and resource management from traditional RTS.

Finally, the 'Arena' is just the location that the battle takes place in. Since every video game happens in a limited space, every game has an 'arena', especially online multiplayer battle games. These arenas are often called 'maps' and are often sold in packs after the release of the game except, ironically, in MOBAs, where the one map is so 'balanced' and 'pure' that making any changes or additions would be to the detriment of the game.

Having proved that most video games can be considered Mulitplayer Online Battle Arenas, using the term MOBA to describe a game genre as specific, intricate, and demanding as a game like DotA or League of Legends is misleading and ineffective.

Other names have come up over the years that seem to be aware of how inappropiate the most popular names are. 'Lane-Pusher' is a term that only people that play the game will understand, which doesn't help people who are new to the genre understand what the game is about. If you need an experienced player to explain what the genre name means, then you have a problem. Hero Brawler is almost a good name, except that 'Brawler' is already used to describe side-scrolling action games like Double Dragon, TMNT: Turtles in Time, and Streets of Rage, and adding "Hero" to the name does nothing to distinguish the complex, team-based, competitive game with RTS/RPG roots from the simple side-scrolling beat 'em up.

This isn't a hero brawler because there are no heroes here.

Transformers Universe decided it wanted to be a Dota clone rather than an MMORPG, and developer Jagex decided to call it a 'Massively Online Tactical Action' game . MOTA breaks the mold of bad names partly because there is nothing massive about 5v5 games. Having a potentially persistent "global faction war" doesn't compare to having literally thousands of players in the same world at the same time, like actual MMOs do. It also could be a terrible play on words by trying to sound like the word 'motor'. But mostly, MOTA is a bad name mostly because it's a Spanish slang for marijuana.

Where does that leave the name of the Dota genre? Unfortunately, I think MOBA is going to stick as the primary name for the genre due in part to the worldwide popularity of League of Legends. I would like to see the name change to Competitive Action RPG or something that highlights the true competitive nature of the game, but that isn't likely to happen.   read

12:41 PM on 02.28.2014

Genre Talk: Roguelike Naming Scheme

The definition of roguelike as a genre has been a subject of dispute since it became a thing after the original Rogue back in 1980. The Unix game used ASCII graphics to represent its game world, featuring randomly generated environments, permadeath, and tile/turn-based gameplay. The International Roguelike Development Conference 2008 gave a rigid description of what constitutes a roguelike, including "rooms connected by corridors", which was how the dungeons in the original Rogue were laid out. Modern roguelikes are taking a fresh look at what is possible in the roguelike space but are being ostricised because of it. According to hardcore Roguelikers, their games cannot be roguelikes because they do not meet these strict specifications. New roguelikes are being called Roguelike-likes or Roguelites, in order to distinguish themselves from a genre that has been nearly dead for several decades.

So how do we define a roguelike? The most important thing to do is figure out what a roguelike is actually about. The point of the random generation is to provide a new and different experience every time you start the game and the permadeath makes your actions and choices matter, rather than restart to the nearest checkpoint whenever anything goes wrong. You must now take risks and live with the consequences. Because everything isn't perfect, you can generate interesting stories. You aren't just winning or losing, you're somewhere in between. You can be be in peril, in situations where you might die but can still survive if you play smart. This is where the heart of the gameplay is and where emergent stories can happen. That makes roguelikes different and compelling, and really defines the genre.

Let's be realistic; these new roguelikes are here to stay. They are the natural evolution of the genre they were inspired by, and to be rigid about the definition of a genre is to limit what that genre is capable of achieving. Like most words in the English language, the meaning of roguelike has evolved over time. As an example, modern Cappuccinos are massive, foamy affairs, but the Traditional Cappuccino is rather small and is more balanced. I recommend we use a similar naming scheme here: "Roguelike" for the newfangled randomizers and permadeathers like FTL and The Binding of Isaac, and "Traditional Roguelike" for the turn-based RPGs like Dungeons of Dredmor. That way, no one gets excluded from the roguelike table and the genre can continue to evolve without fights over the name.   read

1:20 PM on 01.09.2014

Misconceptions About the Steam Box

Valve just showed many different Steam Boxes at CES and people still don't know what to make of them. I think the problem is people's perception of the Steam Box. We just had two major consoles launched, so people are seeing this new machine as a new console, something to compete with Microsoft and Sony. If we go into the history of interviews with Gabe Newell, we find that this really isn't the case.

We remember Gabe calling Windows 8 a "catastrophe." A lot of people thought he was referring strictly to the store, that an OS having a store built in was inherently evil. Really, what he was referring to was how Windows 8 was the first step to a more closed operating system, where users have less input and companies have more control.

“In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren’t happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. There’s a strong temptation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say ‘That’s really exciting.’”

“We are looking at the platform and saying, ‘We’ve been a free rider, and we’ve been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms.’” -Gabe Newell

Valve wants there to be open platforms for people to create content in freely. They've already done this with Steam by creating a platform that has allowed independent developers to have their games reach the largest possible audience. They continued their philosophy of "[Giving] people the tools to focus on making customers lives better" with Steam Workshop. "...we have people who are using the Steam Workshop who are making $500,000 per year building items for other customers. In other words, there’s this notion that user-generated content has to be an important part of our thinking." "It used to be that you needed a $500-million-a-year company in order to reach a worldwide audience of consumers. Now, all you need is a Steam account." -Gabe Newell

By combining Valve's philosophy with the open-source qualities of Linux, they hope to counter what they perceive to be the real threat, not just to their pocketbooks, but to the nature of computers in the near future. "The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform... I think that there's a scenario where we see sort of a dumbed down living room platform emerging — I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily. The question is can we make enough progress in the PC space to establish ourselves there, and also figure out better ways of addressing mobile before Apple takes over the living room?"

That is where the Steam Box comes in.   read

2:50 PM on 01.03.2014

The Spelunky People Don't Talk About: Deathmatch

I was able to play a free early version of Spelunky and I didn't really care for it then. After a lot of features have been added and the visuals have been overhauled, I picked it up on sale and I still don't really understand what everyone is so enthralled by. Something about the Adventure mode doesn't strike me as enjoyable, though every gaming outlet seems unable to stop talking about it. I have managed put about six hours into Spelunky, though only one or two of those hours has been spent in the main game. The rest have been spent in deathmatch.

[center][i]What does this button do?

I play the PC version of Spelunky and my experience is limited to 1-v-1. I have played with bots and found them cold and unfeeling, sucking all of the joy out the experience. Their A.I. is reasonably competent and can be quite deadly, though one did glitch and perpetually stun-lock me with a camera, forcing me to quit the round. Deathmatch is best experienced with friends.

Here's the facts: deathmatch is not the primary mode for Spelunky and is therefore limited. There are only a few options available to adjust. You can set which items appear in crates,  how many rounds a player has to win to be declared victor, how much life each player has, and how many bombs and ropes players start with. You then choose whether you want bots, if dead players return as ghosts which can interact with the environment in a limited capacity, and if sniper targets appear to kill stationary or cautious players. Making changes to these options has a considerable affect on how people play game. For example, having one life and no bombs or rope forces players to use the environment in clever ways. Twenty life and 2 bombs means it's possible to stun-lock your enemy with bombs and win but you don't have enough bombs to be reckless; they are just as valuable as tools in Deathmatch as they are in Adventure. The number of maps is limited by how far you have progressed in the main game. Only made it to the jungle? Well, you'll only have mine and jungle themed maps. There are eight maps per theme and each map has its own quirks that make them interesting to fight in. You can keep the same map every round, or change maps manually or randomly between fights.

[center][i]Even ropes can be used in combat.

The unique thing about Spelunky's deathmatch is that it requires a good deal of skill but still manages to retain the insanity, randomness, and hilarity that Adventure is known for. I became Captain America by quickly grabbing a shield and deflecting a blast from a ray gun. My opponent chased me across the map whipping at my ankles like a cartoon character. There's a boulder on one map that has never killed my friend but always crushes me, even if I already died from falling in spikes. Spelunky also put me in one of the most intense gunfights I've ever had when both of us had ray guns and were destroying each other's cover. My friend once picked me up and held me against a Tiki Trap while it stabbed me to death. There was one time where I was so confident that I would win because a crate gave me 12 bombs. I hopped up to throw them at a man wearing a turban, which would have been a horribly ironic death, but his crate gave him a ray gun. He shot me before I could release one bomb.

Some frustration arises from being stun-locked and the amount of time stuns last feels inconsistent sometimes. However, stunning is an essential part of the gameplay. You can use it to force your opponent to drop that powerful item and make a mad scramble to pick it up or use it to keep him on the ground while you wait for an item crate to appear.

You just can't reason with a boulder.

Deathmatch is consistently hilarious, immediate, and incredibly entertaining. It may be local-only but the game wouldn't be half as much fun without the company of friends and the joy and laughter that they bring. Online, Spelunky would be frustrating and imbalanced, so be glad that you have a good reason to get your friends together. It really is something special.   read

3:50 PM on 12.09.2013

Was that game really "Good for its Time" or just bad?

Most of us here have gone back to an old game that we used to play. Perhaps you dusted off your old N64 or found a title on GOG that you used to love. What was your experience? Have you tried to explain why a game was great to someone who wasn't there when it was released? It can be hard to make them see through your rose-tinted spectacles. Nostalgia has a strong affect on our opinion of older games but what if that nostalgia wasn't there? Were these games actually good? This blog is going to be a thought experiment; I'm going to make an argument for an idea that I don't exactly believe in but want to raise discussion about: a game was never "good for its time", it was just bad. There are some unfortunate things about nostalgia and bias that come to bite us during this discussion but I don't think that they should be avoided or disregarded. Rather, I think they are an essential part of the idea, so I'm not going to hold back my bias or nostalgia for this blog and neither should you in the comments.

It still plays so well!

Games from the 8 and 16 bit era have the benefit of the modern indie scene to help us with their dated graphics; indie games often use deliberately retro graphics to evoke that bygone time. Even the simple controllers won't hold these games back because modern games like Super Hexagon, Super Meat Boy, and Jamestown use enough buttons to fit on a NES pad. So are the games from that era actually fun? To my mind, yes. I was able to play a NES game I had never played before: Mike Tyson's Punch Out. The game was fast and smooth, with comfortable controls and a sharp visual style. The boxing matches played out like rhythmic puzzles, forcing me to learn when to dodge and when to strike to win. Without personal nostalgia for a game as a factor, I went back to a game from the 80s and genuinely enjoyed it.

Early 3D games have it hardest, being generally ugly by any standard and being the guinea pigs to figure out how to control games in a 3D space.  We can talk about how Final Fantasy VII has ugly 3D models against realistic painted backgrounds or the awkward cameras of every 3D platformer on the market. I was 5 when the N64 came out, so this part is going to be steeped in nostalgia. Two of my favorite games were Star Fox 64 and Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64. Both games are regarded as must-plays for the console but my drive down memory lane was revealing: I don't like Perfect Dark anymore.

Early 3D games had it rough. Point made.

Let's face the facts. Both of these games have a lot of ideas that are amazing by any standard. I love that Star Fox rewards skilled players with secret levels and branching mission paths that reveal more of the story. Nintendo doesn't even condemn less skilled playes to a worse experience. The game still looks really good, mostly because its cast consists of anthropomorphic characters and the gameplay mostly shows spaceships. As a matter of fact, Star Fox 64 is one of my favorite games of all time, one that I still go back to an thoroughly enjoy. I've even learned new things about its story, making the game better than I remember it!

Perfect Dark has the player completing more objectives and exploring more of the environment when playing on higher difficulties, and also offers co-op, counter-op (where the second player takes control of a baddie), a hub level for training, challenge levels, and extensive multiplayer options. It has inventory system with items that actually interact with the environment for things like hacking and surveillance! It's a shooter-lover's dream, and by "modern standards" the amount of content is incredible!

Over a decade ago, this was cutting edge.

So why do I not like Perfect Dark? Most of the games 32 original guns are variations of machine guns, though there are several interesting (and unfair) weapons and secondary firemodes in the game's arsenal. Technically, it is bogged down by framerate issues, laughably bad animations, and terrible controls. I can't stand the auto-aim, which can't keep up with basic movement and has me to waiting to get a good shot when I could have shot him myself long ago. Yes, it is a single-joystick shooter, but is that really an excuse? Toning the shooter experience down a point to make it functional on one joystick took out most of the skill and fun derived from FPS games. Even reviews of the HD version released for the Xbox 360 told people that this game is for fans of the original and that new players might not understand or enjoy it.

Even entering the 6th generation shows a stark difference in what I consider to be good today and what I remember enjoying. I still absolutely love Super Smash Brothers: Melee and Ninja Gaiden. TimeSplitters was one of my favorite games but I find the gameplay of TimeSplitters 2 and Future Perfect to be rather dull and all of the weapons tend to feel the same. Star Wars: Rogue Leader was the first game I bought for the GameCube but I don't remember it being so unbearably slow. This makes me worried for other games I used to enjoy like Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 or the first Forza Motorsport. I have become content to keep these games in the past for fear of them turning out worse than I remember them.

Not even nostalgia can save this design

I found myself measuring whether a game was enjoyable or if it was just nostalgia by being conscious of how I was reacting to the game and how long I elected to stay with it. Starting it up and playing a few levels before moving on and not going back is just nostalgia. If I felt compelled to go back to it the next day, that was a genuinely enjoyable game to me.

Are there any games that you used to love that you just don't anymore? Are there any games that are better than you remember? Are there classics that you have never played before? Give them a shot and let me know what you think of them!   read

12:22 PM on 12.03.2013

John Carmack Leaving Id Could be a Good Thing

The legendary John Carmack recently left Id Software to focus on the upcoming Oculus Rift. Responsible for the likes of Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, and RAGE, Carmack leaving the venerable studio should have a major impact on the direction Id Software takes. While it is sad to see such an iconic figure go, I can see how this move could be a good thing for Id and for gamers.

John Carmack wearing an Oculus Rift

There was a time when Id Software was the biggest name in gaming. Doom and Quake were the kings of shooters in their respective times and effectively created the multiplayer deathmatch. Unfortunately, their last really big hit was Quake III back in 1999.  Doom 3 was received well by critics back in 2004 and was commercially successful, but the combat was repetitive and the direction was confused between atmospheric horror and run-and-gun shooter.

All of Id's other major franchise releases such as Quake IV and Wolfenstein were handled by Raven Software and received generally positive reviews. We didn't see a game made by Id until RAGE in 2011, another title confused about its direction. RAGE was altogether a shooter, racer, and RPG, complete with hub worlds, questing, loot, and crafting, without any aspect of the game being exceptionally good.

The massive gaps in release dates are owed to the amount of time and effort that Carmack puts into his ID Tech game engines. Every version of ID's technology has shattered our concepts of what can be done in games. Quake III was one of the first games to require a GPU. Memorably, the judges of E3 2002 approached Id to verify that the footage of the game was real and playable because Doom3 looked like an Xbox 360 era game at a time when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 was new. If only they verified gameplay demo of Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Doom 3 looked like this before Battlefield 1942 came out.

Regardless of how powerful Id's technology can be, it has fallen in popularity behind the Unreal Engine, CryEngine, Source and Unity, despite ID Tech 4 being fully open source and ID Tech 5 having Megatextures. Carmack leaving Id should allow the company to focus more on creating great games rather than great, albeit underrated tech. I hope that ID continues to make their engines open source. I'm hopeful that Doom 4 will be an amazing game that rivals the likes of Shadow Run, Killing Floor, and Brutal Doom. I would like to see games come out of Id more often than every generation. And I'm happy that Carmack will be able to work in an environment where he can put his focus on new technology that could have a real impact on how we experience games.

[i]Don't believe it really looked like that? Here's gameplay footage from the leaked E3 demo. This is a Mature game, so 18+.

[/i]   read

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