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Prince Wendell's blog

9:24 AM on 08.15.2009

A Possible Key to Gears of War 3

[Minor, minor, not even plot-related maybe-spoilers about Gears 1 and 2. Really, don't worry about it.]

Co-operative campaign modes in games are not a new innovation of this generation. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about their history to precisely pin down when they were first incorporated into games. For me personally, the first memory of their existence traces back to the N64's Perfect Dark (which also had the innovative counter-operative mode as well, so kudos). However, to my eyes the notion of a co-op story based experience has been gradually cultivated through newer generations of consoles, particularly in the first two Halo games, but the first title to really delve deeper into the idea of creating a unique co-op experience was the first Gears of War.

Now, this may be very subjective on my part. For one thing, the first time that I played Gears was in co-op mode with a friend, and we all know how strong first impressions can be. Also, I simply don't have the depth of knowledge to be able to pull out countless other examples of innovation in co-op gaming. But in my experience, Gears of War was the first game that made teamwork more important than simply running and shooting towards aliens together rather than by yourself: you could flank enemy positions, cover your teammate while he or she operated machinery, follow them with a spotlight to keep them from being torn apart by swarms of nighttime monster bird-bats. The second Gears title didn't wildly change the formula, but it did keep the aesthetics of the first game's co-op experience and maintained the same priorities of teamwork and mutual assistance.

So Gears 3 is (obviously) coming out at some point. Thus far, news of the game has come at a relative trickle. Perhaps it will feature RPG elements (which to my mind couldn't hurt if done well -- one of Bioshock's many lessons is that a little customization and character growth can work wonders in a shooter). Or perhaps you might play as a girl (which seems only logical -- if humanity is on its last legs, I don't think they'd be particularly choosy about who gets recruited). If I may, however, I have an idea that I think could set Gears 3 further apart from the pack and make its release even more historic. And it is...

Four-player co-op.

Think about it. A large part of the game is using team-based tactics to lead your ragtag band to survival through countless snarling alien uglies. You are working with a four-person squad for the vast majority of both games. Why then should we be limited to only having a single living, breathing teammate to watch our backs, when a full regiment of intelligent, creatively-thinking humans would be far more effective (and emotionally involving to play with). The different possibilities of means of assault on the enemy would grow exponentially, if you could co-ordinate weapon choice and tactical positions with three other players in real time. Plus, if the campaign mode was designed with this in mind, featuring even larger-scale firefights with a greater number of possibilities for tactical positions and strategies (more courtyards, fewer corridors, perhaps)...well, this game would be awesome, to say the least.

I know it might be hard to have four-way split screen, but let us be the judge of that, Epic. There are TVs big enough out there that could make it work. And if you could do a combination of local and on-line co-op, or even link 2 TVs together in a LAN like people used to do to play 16-person matches in the first Halo...if you give us the options, we will make use of them. And we will love you for it.

I doubt you are, but Cliffy B, I hope you're reading this.   read

9:18 AM on 08.14.2009

Controllers vs. Instinct: From NES to Wii

I was four years old, maybe five, when my family purchased an NES. This was the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt bundle, but of course everyone went straight for the Mushroom Kingdom immediately (did anyone ever play Duck Hunt straight away out of the unboxing?). I'd played the original Super Mario Bros. once or twice at the local arcade, but this was the first time it had ever been in my home, playable at my discretion, without regularly paced demands for quarters. It was also the first hands-on with the NES controller, which is the bulk of what I'd like to talk about. Remember your first time seeing this?

Ah, yes. 1-1. It seems pretty easy to us looking back, particularly in light of the nightmarish challenges that Miyamoto had yet to throw at us in later worlds, but for my first time it was not without perils. The one I remember distinctly was the pit towards the end, at the bottom of the third row of screenshots in that image. I made it to that pit and was terrified of falling in (remember, I was four or five, and small obstacles tend to seem bigger back then). So I handed the controller to my older sister, who seemed a bit more confident, and asked her to jump over it for me. She did, and graciously handed the controller back to let me finish the level.

It was when I watched her jump this pit for me that I noticed an odd little movement she made with the controller. Whenever attempting a jump, she leaned forward, arms stretched out and entire torso torqued to the right, as if attempting to give Mario that extra oomph in his jump by using her own physicality to push him forward. A moment later I realized I'd been doing it too, without even realizing it. I also know that it was not unique to us, because on several occasions I've seen people who have never played a video game before using their entire body in an attempt to influence the characters leaping on screen. Of course, it's a weird habit that goes away quickly, as you get over the controller's disconnect from reality and learn that your thumbs are the only thing that decides the difference between success and failure.

It's a lesson we all quickly learn. Each successive generation of consoles has taught us to suppress our instincts and to focus entirely on the reality of the game, sitting stock-still while our thumbs frantically scrabble around a piece of plastic to defeat marauding alien invaders, or what have you.

Then NIntendo announced the Wii.

Suddenly everything was backwards. Your first time playing Wii Sports, you must relearn all of the weird habits that you quashed in order to mature as a gamer. You can't just sit there and stare at the screen, you have to get up off the couch and put your body into it. Even if you are able to successfully play tennis from a sitting position, you're missing most of the point of the game. It's as if Nintendo is going back and apologizing for quashing our body's natural inclination to move as we play video games. Some people even managed to injure themselves as they got used to the sensation of full-body gaming again - regrettable, but I think it may also a testament to the primal sort of fun that the Wii can tap into, if the games are designed well enough.

Even the new trend of pack-in bonuses (Wii Sports with the Wii, an extra controller with Wii Play, a MotionPlus with Wii Sports Resort) is not a dramatic new idea. Heck, I remember when we got our NES, it came with two controllers, the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge, and a Zapper gun, and this was not unusual. It was to be expected. Back then, it was assumed that if you were buying a console, then by God they would set you up with everything you needed (including multiplayer!). I miss that.

So for everyone who may complain that Nintendo is abandoning the hardcore crowd of gamers, I might argue that they never were trying to be the "hardcore gamer's console." The track record for Nintendo games and systems has trended towards accessible, approachable, and fundamentally fun gaming experiences. Maybe that's not everybody's cup of tea, but there's something to be said for trying to keep the simple joy of video games alive.

Of course, I might be wrong. And I'm not trying to antagonize anyone -- just providing food for thought.

If you've been reading, thanks! This is actually my first post, so I hope it didn't break those cardinal rules of not failing/sucking/etc. Let me know what you think in the comments, and thanks again.   read

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