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Mark Smee's blog

6:27 AM on 02.10.2014

Tales of a great big coincidence

Most JRPGs are not shy about rubbing their bollocks in your face. The 'Tales of' series in particular, I have found, has a fondness for made up words and plot devices that are about as easy to swallow as a steel porcupine.

(See Tales of Eterniaís mirror world in the sky or Tales of Symphoniaís parallel dimension mutual vampire worlds.)

Let us use Tales of Xillia as an example. (Spoilers ahead.) In this game everyone in the world has a mana lobe in his or her brain. This lobe enables people to Ďchannel spiritsí thus producing magic. The amount of spirits a person can channel is limited by the size of their mana lobe. However, this limit can be overcome through the use of an object known as a Spyrix. Unfortunately using a Spyrix will cause spirits to die. Are you following this bollocks so far?

Suspension of disbelief. When I am playing a game that means I see the world as a world and the characters as characters. That is as opposed to seeing the world as a series of pre designed environments and the characters as a collection of animations and poorly written dialogue.

Trying to play a game while your suspension of disbelief is broken is like trying to read a book while two people behind you are having a conversation. Itís distracting. Strangely enough, none of the things I have mentioned so far have the power to pull me out of a gameís world. I will tell you what does though.

Back to Tales of Xillia. At a certain point in the game, the character Milla loses the use of her legs. Jude, being the hero I guess, decides to take Milla back to his hometown hoping that his father will be able to fix Millaís legs. (Side note, Judeís father is an arsehole.) So Jude arrives in his hometown. The ship pulls in, Jude and Milla step out onto the dock. IMMEDIATELY a new character called Leia appears. Leia is Judeís childhood friend who just happens to be hanging around at the dock, on the same day, at the same time as Jude arrives home. On the same day, at the same time, messing around with a wheelchair. Thatís handy isnít it? Not only does she have a wheelchair with her but it is a spare wheelchair. Nobody needs it, Leia was just messing about with a couple of kids. Also, strangely enough, at no point on their journey have Jude and Milla managed to acquire a wheelchair for themselves. Even though Jude is supposed to be a medical student and fairly smart.

Do you see what I mean? All that business about Mana Lobes and Spirit Climes, Iíll take that. That is what I am here for. You can fill the story with as many fantastic concessions as you like. All it takes is a little bit of lazy writing and all of sudden Iím no longer in the world. Iím right back on the couch.   read

12:29 PM on 01.21.2014


A few days ago I finished playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link between worlds. I thought to myself. ďNow there is a good game. It is well better than Skyward sword.Ē

First thought. Mark, you are an old man. You say things like, ďisnít the bus expensive these daysĒ and ďI prefer the originalĒ. You just hate 3D Zelda along with any game that isnít stored on a floppy disk or cassette.
Not true, Iím not that old and this isnít about 2D Zelda versus 3D Zelda at all. (Besides which, it seems strange to refer to A Link between worlds as 2D Zelda when it is presented in absolutely stunning 3D.) On the surface it seems that fans of the Zelda series can be split into two groups. Your 2D, Link to the past, pink hair, Iíll figure it out for myself or else read it in Nintendo power group. And your 3D, Ocarina of time, Z targeting, day night cycle, tennis with Gannondorf group. Probably these two groups arenít as distinct as they first appear to be. Iíd venture to say that there exists a vocal minority acting as champions and decriers for either side. While most people (even the ones in the shouty minority) enjoy a bit of Zelda any which way they can get it and I absolutely refuse to go to any effort to find out how true that is.

Second thought. In Skyward sword you had to waggle the nun-chuck to raise your shield. What a pain in the arse that was. You hate motion controls.
We could be on to winner with this one. I donít universally hate motion controls. Some of my best friends have motion controls, like Metroid Prime 3. Skyward sword got on my nerves though and it was specifically having to waggle the nun-chuck to raise the shield that did it. Waving the sword around worked just fine and I always got a kick out of holding the Wii mote bolt upright over my head shouting ďI have the powerĒ before slapping some stupid looking goon. But three out of four times I would cock up the timing on the shield and it was very easy to blame the moronic control scheme over my own ageing reflexes. Still, the ability to press buttons is not what elevates Link between worlds over Skyward sword.

Third thought. What about freedom? Skyward sword leads you by the nose, do this, do that. Link between worlds lets you do whatever you want. You can tackle the dungeons in any order.
To which I would reply, but you have to do all the dungeons eventually in order to finish the game so what does it matter? You still have to do what the game designers intended you to do. Itís just that A link between worlds is a little more subtle about it.
For example, in A link between worlds you walk up to a dungeon and there is a rock with a picture of a bomb on it. You think to yourself, I must need bombs in this dungeon.
In Skyward sword you come to a boulder, a magic spirit with an annoying speech pattern flies out of your sword and says ďLink there is a 99% probability that you will need bombs to smash this boulderĒ. In both cases the game is still telling you what to do. The difference is that A link between worlds lets you feel like you are figuring it out for yourself.

I think in the end it comes down to this. I played A link between worlds, enjoyed it and finished it in a little over 13 hours. Whereas, I have been playing Skyward sword for over 28 hours and there is no end in sight.
So I must hate long games. Well I just started a file on Persona 4 so god help me if that is the case. Itís not the length of Skyward Sword that bugs me. Itís the feeling I get sometimes that the game is wasting my time. (This is coming from a man who has recently discovered cookie clicker.) The lack of a decent fast travel system. The repeated boss fights. The fetch quests. The seemingly endless back and forth, swooping around an empty cloud desert. Itís a real shame because the good parts of Skyward sword are absolutely incredible. I just donít see why I should have to work to get to them. A link between worlds provided a whole bunch of incredibly well designed dungeons with diverse, entertaining boss fights. That is what I wanted, and the game let me get on with it. That is why A link between worlds is better than Skyward sword.

Final thought, I am totally buying Hyrule Warriors or whatever stupid name Koei decides on calling itís ludicrous Dynasty Warriors Zelda game.   read

5:18 PM on 07.11.2013

Animal Crossing

[left]One of the first things I did was design a town flag with the master sword on it. ďThis is cool.Ē I thought. ďCool enough to be a t-shirt.Ē So Iím strutting around Arlia. Thatís what I called my town. Itís named after the starting town in Star Ocean the Second Story. Have you ever asked yourself the question, if I could live inside any video game, which would it be? I wouldnít pick Star Ocean 2 but Arlia is a really nice place.
So Iím strutting around Arlia in my master sword t-shirt. I see Tia, she is an elephant with a head that looks like a tea pot. I see Freya the Wolf, Victoria the Horse. I think. ďMore people should be wearing this t-shirt.Ē So I head over to the Abel sisters and put my master sword t-shirt on display.

That done, I go check out the museum. Blathers is asleep. Of course he is, itís the middle of the day. I donít like taking things to the museum in the day time because I have to sit through Blathers waking up, then apologising, then saying hello. It doesnít take too long but he says exactly the same thing every day. The reason Iím at the museum in the first place is to donate a fossil, which is a three or four step process depending on how many fossils you have. Turns out the fossil I have is the final piece of our Stegosaurus. Blathers is over the moon. He starts telling me some facts about the Stegosaurus but he stops himself when he realises that he is rambling. He does this every time you complete a skeleton and Iíve noticed something. He always stops himself before he gets to saying any actual facts about the dinosaur, all he knows is the name. I think Blathers lied in his interview.

Interviewer: ďYouíll be working in the day time is that a problem for an owl?Ē
Blathers: ďEr thatís a harmful stereotype. Owls are fully awake during the day.Ē
Interviewer: ďFair enough. Do you know anything about Dinosaurs?Ē
Blathers: ďAsk me anything!Ē
Interviewer: ďYou will be required to handle bugs and insects. Some people are put off by the idea.Ē
Blathers: ďNot me! I love Ďem! Flippiní love Ďem!Ē
Interviewer: ďWelcome aboard Mr Bean Bag Smiley Panda PopsĒ
Blathers: ďSorry Iím a compulsive liar. My actual name is Blathers.Ē
Interviewer: ďThatís quite alright. Say! You donít know anything about fax machines do you? Ours has just broken.Ē
Blathers: ďStand aside I practically invented fax machines.Ē

And on it goes. Actually there is one area where Blathers is quite astute. I brought him a painting I wanted to donate but Blathers turned it away because it was a fake. I had no idea of course but Blathers spotted it straight off. ďGet that fake shit out of my face!Ē He said. (Iím paraphrasing.) Last time I buy artworks from a tent. I felt like Fraiser in that episode of Frasier where he buys a fake painting. Except I couldnít even go back and confront the guy who sold it to me because heíd packed up his tent and buggered off.

I felt bad after that for a bit. Until I saw Chadder, the mouse, running around with a watering can and wearing my master sword t-shirt! I wish the game had a high five button. It was amazing!

On my way home I bumped into Moe. He is a cat. Moe invited me over to his house. When I got there I found that Moe liked to collect medical equipment. His house looked like a dentistís waiting room. After a fashion Moe asked me if I would like to buy a piece of his furniture. I took his model skeleton, because I thought it would look good around Halloween, and promptly left. At the time I thought that what had just happened was one of the strangest things Iíd ever seen in a game. Upon further reflection I decided that stranger things happen all the time but I donít usually stop to think about them. (I made a video about that where I used Project cross zone as an example. Iíll link it at the bottom of the blog.)

A few days later Iím heading to the shops to try my luck with another fortune cookie. On my way I run into Victoria and I canít help saying hello. She asks me about her catchphrase, Ďsugar cubeí. She wants to know if I can come up with something better. I recommend Ďsugar pubeí. She repeats Ďsugar pubeí a few times then says she loves it. Of course Iím finding this hilarious. It seems that as soon as Iím given any power to control something, my first instinct is to cause mischief.

I get to the shops and force my way through all the dialogue and prompts required to buy a cookie, eat it and use the ticket to reclaim the prize. Ever since the shop expanded, Iíve been doing this twice a day. It bothers me that little Nook never remembers who I am. Iím in the shop literally every single day. Yet every day he tells me that the shop doesnít offer a points system. I know! You told me yesterday! You told me 30 seconds ago when I bought the first cookie! He reminds me of the senile old shopkeeper from Shenmue. The one who would say ďyou should have been here yesterdayĒ whenever you pulled a loser at the little lottery thing. Guess what lady? I was here yesterday!

I leave the shop feeling like my time has been wasted a little bit. Whatever, I am playing Animal Crossing. Oddly Iím annoyed, not at the game, but at tiny Timmy Nook for being such a block headed little timewaster. I bet itís not his fault. I work in a shop and I get told what to say. I bet Tom Nook drilled it into his little head. No points system! No toilets! New stock every day! Say it again!

That night Iím at the beach doing some fishing. There are some big shadows in the water and Iím having difficulty catching anything. Perhaps Iím preoccupied. I did just see Tia strolling around town on her own, casual as you like, 23:30, carrying a shovel. Itís probably nothing but a day or two earlier I had watched Goodfellas while doing a jigsaw (thatís unrelated) and it put ideas in my head. I finally catch something and, imagine my astonishment, itís a flipping hammerhead shark.

So what do I do? I put it in my pocket. I canít wait to see what old Blathers makes of this! Thisíll wake him up! Of course when I get to the museum Blathers is already awake because it is night time. I pull the live shark out of my pocket and hand it to Blathers, the owl who runs the museum. Thereís a sentence. The result is surprisingly normal. Blathers takes it away then asks if I would like to donate anything else. At this point Iím shouting at the 3DS. ďThat was a shark! You mental! That was a live shark!Ē It wasnít even a normal looking shark, it was a hammerhead. The game does not respond. Now Iím the crazy one. I leave the museum and go to bed.

The point of this story is that when Iím playing Animal Crossing there is a lot more going on than what is actually happening in the game. My personality is part of the equation. The most fun part of Animal Crossing was happening not on the screen but in my head. Have you ever tried to explain the appeal of Animal Crossing to someone who just doesnít get it? Itís hard. I think this might be why.[/left]

I've since replaced my Master Sword town flag with an all new Three Wolf Moon town flag. It is surprisingly unpopular as a t-shirt.

For those who are interested, here is the video I mentioned. In it I play Project Cross Zone and attempt to explain what is happening without showing it to the camera. Iím trying to show that there is a layer of madness about videogames that can often go unnoticed until it is examined.

edit: I've tried my best to get rid of some odd unwanted bits of text appearing in this blog post. I got rid of most of it. Whatever, hopefully it is not too distracting.

3:07 PM on 06.10.2013

Those pesky game designers

The mark of an incredibly well made game? I even love the things I hate about it. Rayman Origins is one of those games.

Being excited for Rayman Legends I recently went back to Rayman Origins with the aim of taking on the final level.

I recorded my efforts in this task counting up the number times I died. The following video contains edited footage of my run through the final level which in actuality took nearly an hour and a half. You'll also hear live commentary as I spout off thoughts about Rayman, Nintendo, Western film themes and those pesky game designers.


10:27 AM on 06.03.2013

Miss Destructoid

Should there be a Miss Destructoid?

I donít know. I was just larking about. I thought it would be cool to draw a Miss Destructoid then post it on the cblogs to see what people thought.

My first idea was Mr Destructoid with a bow on his head. Just like Ms. Pacman. Then I gave her earrings. Then I realised that I was defining Miss Destructoidís identity by the accessories she wore. I didnít want to do that, it seemed pretty lame.

I started over. This time I changed only the arrangement of Mr Destructoidís features. Adding and removing nothing. I ended up with something like Mr Destructoid trying to pass himself off as a member of Daft Punk.

Then I thought this is bad too. It is not an interesting design. Itís just Mr Destructoid with a round head.

Is it better to have Miss Destructoid look like Mr Destructoid? Does that promote equality? It probably only highlights that biggest flaw in a concept like Miss Destructoid. Which is, why create a female character only to be an analogue to an existing male character?

In this case the answer to that question is, just for fun. So I guess it doesnít really matter. Here is my Miss Destructoid.


6:27 PM on 06.02.2013

Stop buying. Start playing.

About six months ago I decided to clear my backlog. To that end I created a rule for myself. I have to play two games that I already own before I can buy a new one.

To give you an idea, I have games going back to the Game Boy Colour that Iíve been telling myself ďIíll get around to somedayĒ. Before the rule, I would buy every single game that I thought I wanted to play. I didnít want to miss out on anything.

This was a ludicrous notion. My backlog only ever got bigger. I was still Ďmissing outí. How did owning the game make things any different?

I suppose in my mind the rationale was something like this. The difference between not buying a game and buying a game but not playing it, is the option to play the game in the future.

But what future? When exactly was I going to play these games? The answer is never. I realised that when I realised the following.

People will always be making new games! Forever!

Hence the rule. So far I have been sticking to it. Eventually I will have played every game that I ever bought. Frankly that should not be some kind of tremendous feat, but for me it is.

The last game I finished was Luigiís Mansion 2. I think that had I been keeping up my old game buying habits, I would have been distracted by two or three other games and not finished any of them.

Now Iím playing games more like I did back when I was a kid. It feels good to be giving each game itís due and itís been surprisingly easy to let go of the compulsion to pick up every major release. The strangest part about the whole thing is, now that I know Iím actually going to play my backlog, Iím looking forward to playing games that I have already owned for years.

Iíd be interested to see if Iím not alone on this. Do you buy more games than you can play? What does your backlog look like? Do you have any games that you keep saying you will get around to someday? Like me, have you stared into the abyss and realised itís time to change your ways?

Iím going to finish this entry by showing you just how bad I let things get. This is my backlog.

Wii U: 3 unfinished games
3DS: 3 unfinished games
PS3: 30 unfinished games
X360: 15 unfinished games
PC: 12 unfinished games
Wii: 10 unfinished games
PSP: 19 unfinished games
DS: 18 unfinished games
Gamecube: 6 unfinished games
PS2: 28 unfinished games
Game Boy Advance: 12 unfinished games
N64: 3 unfinished games
Game Boy Colour: 2 unfinished games
PSX: 7 unfinished games

[font=Times New Roman]Total: 168 unfinished games[/font]   read

12:12 PM on 06.01.2013

Computer games part 2: Deus Ex

It took over a month but †I finally got around to playing Deus Ex. The first level. Whatever, that's worth a half hour video. Probably.


3:39 AM on 04.07.2013

Computer games part 1: Hitman

See if you can put up with my voice for three quarters of an hour.   read

11:13 AM on 03.07.2013

Mass Effect Trilogy (mondo spoilers)

Y'know, because i'm so current.


8:19 AM on 02.28.2013

Emotional Games

Yesterday I finished playing Telltale's Walking Dead. It made me think about what it takes for a game to create an emotional connection with the player. Here is a bit of vague wishy washy talk in that area.


2:40 AM on 02.27.2013

Look at how bad I am at Rayman

We recently were treated to a bunch of new info about the PS4. I don't want to talk about that. I want to play a game from 2011 and talk about a bunch of completely unrelated stuff.


3:59 AM on 02.16.2013


I shouldnít be playing it, but I am.

Montowers is a free to play iPhone game. In Montowers you summon monsters to fight other monsters in towers.

Apparently Iíve been playing it for twelve hours. I know that because of a game centre achievement that popped earlier this morning.

I feel ashamed. Usually the shame of a free to play game is putting money into a vapid experience when you know full well there are more deserving outlets. Montowers never really demands your money. Monsters you fight will sometimes drop Tokens, the gameís premium currency. The Tokens are used primarily to speed things along as opposed to other free to play games that use premium currency to unlock the coolest stuff.

No, the true shame of Montowers comes from matching up how much I enjoy the game with the reality of what the game actually is. I can summarise the entirety of Montowers with the following three bullet points.

- Level up
- Collect
- Sexy cartoons

There are two voices in my head. One says, this is naff. The other says, but you love it. Somehow, in little five minute chunks, I have played this game for twelve hours.

Itís so bad.

There is a character called Tiana. She guides you through the beginning of the game and pops up here there, when you level up or beat a tower. She is very sexy for a drawing. The dialogue that has been written for her is super creepy. She refers to the player as my master. (See how I distanced myself there by saying Ďthe playerí and not Ďmeí.) Also, by beating the first two towers, you unlock new outfits for Tiana. She then says you can Ďorder herí to wear them. That is creepy.

Even the monsters are sexy. Not all of them. Some are goblins and giant mushrooms and skeletons. Others are Angels, Nymphs, Wood elves and Dark elves. Sexy Dark elves whose outfits get skimpier when you upgrade them. You can upgrade each monster twice. They get more hit points, more attack power and if they are a lady, a skimpier outfit.

Iím like an animal being lead by the nose. Montowers has distilled the elements of an RPG that set off the good times lobe in my brain. Levelling up and collecting stuff. Over which it has pasted the tantalising wallpaper of not quite naked cartoon boobies.

I should be twelve hours futher into Ni No Kuni but Iím not. Montowers has held a mirror to my face and said this is who you are, be ashamed.

Also there is literally no gameplay.

:(   read

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