Super Mario 64
Kirby Super Star
Shadow of the Colossus
No More Heroes
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
Super Punch Out!
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Star Fox 64
Final Fantasy VI
Wild Arms: Alter Code F
One night, I had a dream. It was about a brand new Zelda game, one with innovative ideas in both the story and gameplay departments. The thing is, only did I realize in the morning, that it was a Zelda game. I don't know why I had this dream. I hadn't thought about or played a Zelda game anytime recently.
As I was dreaming, I saw the character moving through some woods. Woods that were bright, yet seemed endless and filled with secrets in the shadows. The character moved through the woods, but he did not just run. No, he could dash! Keep in mind, this was before Skyward Sword had been revealed. His dashing was not human though. It seemed almost mechanical, more jet boots than Pegasus Boots. The character jumped, that were obstacles through out the environment that lent themselves to whimsical platforming. Things that shot him into the air, all manner of whirligigs and gizmos that caused spinning and jumping through the air, more in line with a Mario game than anything else. Finally, he arrived at a temple. Outside of the temple he met a strange man that he already knew. Imagine the Happy Mask Salesmen, only instead of masks, his ware was machines. It was clear that this man was the guide in this journey. At the temple, he placed his sword into a pedestal, and things changed much as they do in Ocarina of Time. He was younger, but the temple was not the same. It went from being a one or two room temple, to a full on dungeon, full of monsters. It seemed unreal, not in the sense that it was within a dream, but that even in the dream itself it seemed imaginary.
Of course, as soon as I awoke, I realized that the dream was of a Zelda game. If the other elements hadn't made it obvious, the temple had. Much like minds typically do, mine raced to piece the elements together and create an explanation. I had no control, my brain had to do it. My mind had to understand the truths of this imaginary world. My favorite Zelda game has always been Majora's Mask, with a Link to the Past a close second. This game would combine my favorite elements of those two games with elements of other favorites like Super Mario 64 and Shadow of the Colossus.
The story was obvious. After saving the land of Termina, Link returns to Hyrule. At least, he tries. As we know from Wind Waker, the hero never appears. Now I know why. Link returns to the Lost Woods. Of course, these are the same woods that breed insanity and turn men to monsters. Link, burdened by his experiences in Termina, all of his time travel, the splitting of the time line, and the Woods themselves, cannot make it through to Hyrule. He slowly loses his sanity, but retains his form due to the Triforce of Courage. Years pass. One day the strange man I mentioned earlier, let's call him the Merchant, finds Link sitting at the base of a tree. When he approaches him, Link becomes panicked and violent, but the man's strange presence allows him to calm Link down. The Merchant knows of the affects of the woods, and knows that Link must be special to retain his true form. The man crafts a mechanical mask for Link, and gives it to him. This mask gives Link, at least some, grip on his sanity.
The Merchant sends Link out on a task to find something in the Woods. He tells Link that he will look for something else while Link completes his mission, and that it will be something Link will find useful. When Link returns, the Merchant guides Link to a temple. Once Link enters and places his sword in the pedestal, he finds himself in a dungeon, in the past as his younger self. When he completes the dungeon and awakes, he finds that the Merchant has a mechanical enhancement for him: The boots I mentioned earlier.
The game play of the game went thusly: Link explores the Lost Woods, with a heavier emphasis on platforming and exploration than has ever been in the series. In these woods are all sort of new items, enemies, bosses, and power ups, some optional, some mandatory. After completing certain tasks, Link returns to the temple and the cycle continues.
Over time, Link regains and maintains his sanity. This causes him to be aware of the fact, that nothing about this temple makes sense. It reminds him of the Temple of Time, yet it is in the Lost Woods. Why does he become younger if he is simply going to places he has never seen or heard of before? None of it makes sense. He also has become more aware of the evil growing throughout the woods. Some people have entered into the woods in the hopes of escaping the evil that is gripping the world. But what is this evil? No one knows, and if they did, they no longer do after they are gripped by the insanity the Woods cause. Link grows paranoid of the Merchant. He knows he has his motives for helping Link, but does not know what they are. Link confronts the Merchant. The Merchant, backed into a corner, admits the truth about the Temple. It is a machine that he created to help Link regain his insanity, through the power of perceived time travel and dreams, as well as his mechanical changes he makes to Link while Link is unconscious. Everything is clear to Link now: The Merchant is the evil presence. Link defeats the Merchant, and confident that he has rid Hyrule of evil, sets off in search of a new land.
Alas, as history, would show, Link was wrong. The Merchant was simply trying to prepare Link to defeat the true evil: Ganon.
This blog is going to be about various game design choices, mostly small ones, that make a game better or worse. This may become a recurring thing.
About a month ago, I played and completed BioShock for the first time. So I'm only late with this blog because I was late to play the game. Inexcusable, I know. Let's get started.
Minor Spoilers May Follow:
Toasting Yourself: Everyone knows that if you shock the water enemies are standing in, they will take more damage than usual. If you are also standing in the water, you take damage too. This doesn't really make sense when you think about it. Your body can handle the electricity coursing through it, but as soon as you release it you become vulnerable to it.
Climax to Resolution: This is more of a narrative complaint. Simply put, there is way too much time between the climax and the resolution. None of the story that is between these two points is very important, and could have been included some other way. I'm not saying there shouldn't have been anything in between, but it shouldn't have been somewhat arbitrary errands to make the game longer.
Final Boss Fight: Why are you being swarmed by various enemies during this boss fight? The boss is supposed to be a god-like super human. He shouldn't even feel the need for help. This also distracts you from paying attention to him. It would create more of a feeling of incredible strength and insurmountable odds if it was a one-on-one fight with a stronger opponent.
Security Research: It really just makes no sense that you can't research security after you've hacked it. Ironically enough, it only makes sense as a game design choice, and that's what makes it a bad one.
A Tempting Muse: Sander Cohen. I know I'm not the only one who killed him the first chance you get. The main reason this is a bad design choice is because I only killed him then because of things the game designers did. First, you have no reason to believe he is ever leaving Fort Frolic. Second, he seems to be going back to his room, which will then lock and you will never be able to kill him. Finally, Sander himself says something that makes it seem like maybe you should kill him now. The worst part however, is that what you get from killing him isn't very good, useful, or memorable.
Your First Big Daddy: This is very minor, but in my opinion the first big daddy you fight should have been a Rosie instead of a Bouncer. My only reasoning for this is at that point in the game, you're better equipped for that fight.
Your First Pyro: Also very minor, but it is very easy to not notice the oil around where you first get the Incinerate tonic.
I don't really have any small positive things to point out, mostly because the game does so many big things well and a lot of the small things are too obvious to be worth pointing out. I wish I would have written this sooner, as I would have had more to say. Oh well, this is really just a trial run.
I was thinking recently about how great a game Super Mario RPG is. I love it. The music, the gameplay, everything is great. Another thing that I love about it (A common thing in SNES RPGs in general) is all the little touches and moments that make the game more interesting and fun that you remember for a long time to come (Something I could write a whole post on easily.) I just want to focus on one of those things today: The game's handling of the silent protagonist.
Square had an interesting task with Super Mario RPG. Make an RPG with a main character who historically doesn't talk. Now of course, Square had had plenty of experience with silent protagonists. This was nothing new to them. However, if you just take Mario through the story without ever expressing himself, you've suddenly made a very animated character lifeless. That wouldn't work out too well.
Mario is known for jumping however. By simply making the character jump in certain ways in certain situations, he begins to not only express himself, but to do it in a way that seems natural and easily understandable. Excitement, panic, agreement, all things that Mario expresses throughout the game with simple jumping.
But wait, there's more! Not only does Mario express himself through jumping, he uses charades and mimicry. Mario channels the most archetypal silent character of them all: The mime. By running around, assuming very postures, and seemingly shapeshifting into other characters, Mario manages to communicate to both the player and the characters around him.
Square managed to make the silent protagonist exude incredible personality in a game full of personality.
This brings us to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
Now one of the obvious advantages of the art design of the game was it allowed for a better looking game on a weaker system. The other advantage was it allowed for characters, including Link, to act much more animated.
Nintendo addressed the use of silent protagonist in a world increasingly revolving around voice acting in a similar manner to Super Mario RPG.
Link has always been a silent protagonist, but Wind Waker is where he seems to talk the most.
I remember one scene in particular early in the game. Link is about to fired out of a cannon into the dangers of the enemies' base. As the camera move back and forth between Link and the other characters he expresses a different emotion another time. One time it's fear, one time he's bracing for what's to come. Scenes like this demonstrate the perfect way to use a silent protagonist.
I think games that feature silent protagonists that aren't completely serious could learn a lesson from these two games.
(On another note, does anyone realize how perfect Super Mario RPG would be for the 3DS?)
3D Mario game that is. Let's not talk about Sunshine (It's not bad, just clearly not the best) and focus on 64 and the Galaxies.
Super Mario Galaxy may be the single best reviewed game of this generation, and I completely understand it. It looks beautiful, it sounds beautiful, it plays beautifully, and it's great fun. Great game. It also helped that it was majorly influenced by Super Mario Bros. 3, widely considered to be the best 2D Mario game. A good source of inspiration for sure. While I'll take all the airships I can get, this is where Galaxy's major flaw comes from.
Level design in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy are totally different beasts. In Super Mario Galaxy, you pick a galaxy, pick a star, and are then thrust into a very specific location depending on which star you chose. From then on the courses are very linear. There might be a secret star in addition to the one you chose, but most likely you're just going to run and complete objectives until you eventually get the star.
That is unfortunately very different from a huge part of what made Super Mario 64 so great and innovative. You started off at the castle, already a huge playground, and then made your way into the painting. Sure you would select a star before you went into a level, but it very rarely mattered. You could get pretty much any other star in the level no problem. Levels were huge sandboxes of different places to explore and different things to try. Did anyone run straight to King Bob-Omb their first time? No, they jumped on platforms, rode koopa shells, got shot out of cannons, and just generally did whatever they wanted. I was having sandbox fun long before Grand Theft Auto.
My hopes are low that Galaxy 2 will surpass 64. They've gotten rid of the hub world from Galaxy, because they thought it was boring. If only instead they'd looked back to 64's and realized how just great it could be. It also doesn't appear that there will be any major level design change. I guess I'll have to wait until next generation to get a game that might be better than Super Mario 64.
Let's talk about Roger Ebert for a moment, since that's the hip thing to do. Roger Ebert is wrong, plain and simple. I know what art is, and I mean that in two ways. First: I know video games are art as a medium. I'm not displeased with what he's saying because I'm insecure of that fact, but for reasons I'll mention later. More importantly: I have a pretty good way of telling if something is art.
I think bad movies are art, if they're meant to be. They're just bad art. Same with all mediums, including video games. If the creator is actively creating them as art, they are art. Simple as that. The personal connection between the creation and creator make them art. I think you're being rude Mr. Ebert.
This is why Chess and Mah Jong are not art, they are games, skills, or sports. You will never do anything in any of these games that have not been done before and will not be done again. You're too bound by the rules. This lack of innovation excludes them as art.
By the way, why are we even talking about Chess and Mah Jong, Mr. Ebert? You don't seem to get it. We're talking about creating the game boards and the rules, and you're talking about playing them. Creating Chess was artful, playing it is not. Not that playing games can't be artful, but Chess is just too rigid for it. You're right Mr. Ebert. Playing Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer isn't art (Unless you're somehow innovating, which seems unlikely.) It's a skill. Creating that multiplayer mode? Art.
I acknowledge Hot Tub Time Machine as art and you can't even acknowledge the whole medium? At least give them a chance. You won't even play video games but you think you could know anything about them? That's just arrogant.
Also, how could something that is composed of several acknowledged forms of art, that is intended to be art, and has one major unique element not be art? Video games include:
All of which are art. That one key element that's different? Interactivity. Which is what makes life so unique and emotional by the way. That personal connection we have to it. There's that personal connection again.
It's harmful of Ebert to say video games are not art. It's rude to the creators, who I'm sure consider it art. You downplay the talent of the creators and the merit of the creation. This discourages people from continuing their work and in some cases even beginning it. It's odd how few talents in the movie business even acknowledge the video game industry's existence, and I'm sure negative stigma like this is the part of the issue. Why create a video game when you can create art?
In closing, until Ebert slays a colossus (Shadow of the Colossus), saves the Sandersons (Chibi-Robo), or goes to bed (Terranigma), or has any number of other personal experiences, I wish he would just stay quiet on the subject.