Upon seeing this topic the all too obvious choice for what to write about was the repetitiveness and saminess that exists in the current generation of console but rather than complain about whatís wrong I want to discuss something more important than hardware specs and software lineups, I am going to discuss the new gaming community that came with this generation, and what we should aim for in the coming generation to keep those new gamers.
I came to this topic because every generation there are games that surprise me and turn out to be absolute masterpieces that are fun to play and/or beautiful to look at so simply pushing games further in that direction with different input devices is not going to be enough; It wont impress casual gamers the way the wii did and it wonít be able to excite the hardcore gamer that is becoming very comfortable sitting on the types of games theyíve become good at. This next generation needs to embrace this new larger gaming community and blur the lines between casual and hardcore gamers if not abolish them completely.
The audience for gaming has grown a lot in the last five years not just in sheer numbers but also in the types of people that play games. I work for a game testing company and have been there on and off for 5 years and each year I have noticed a greater and greater number of minorities and women working there compared to the exceptionally rare minority or woman that were there when I started. This is a big deal and it isnít something we can afford to ignore for another generation. The industry needs to engage these demographics in more than shallow ways we have thus far or we risk losing a large portion of our audience.
Right now women and minorities are portrayed as eye candy, cannon fodder, and/or stereotypes which has not engaged anyone of those groups and led to much greater hostility to anyone openly part of these groups (if you doubt this try playing a game on xbox live with a gamertag that clearly identifies you as something other than a heterosexual white male). So in the coming generation a big change I would like to see is increased diversity in game characters to include realistic portrayals of women and minorities, people being more tolerant to these groups, and a better way of regulating and limiting the harassment that goes on in online gaming. If we can get all of these into the next generation of game consoles we will likely see more diverse and new titles coming out that will cater to those new demographics and in turn give the old hard core of gaming something new and exciting to try out.
It will take more than just relatable characters though to keep these new groups engaged in gaming. We as a community need to embrace these new gamers rather than shun and dismiss them as casuals or noobs. I think a greater emphasis on local multiplayer would do wonders in this regard. Local multiplayer allows people to game while sitting next to the person they are playing with so they can joke around and talk about the game theyíre playing and is a great way to bond with the people you are gaming with. By spending more time with people in the gaming community we will be forced to remember how to behave around other people we are playing with, a skill that has been sorely lacking in this generation. This also goes a long way to eliminating the stereotype of gamers as socially awkward loners which likely has kept some people away from gaming. Overall a bigger emphasis on local multiplayer would be a huge boost to the gaming community as a whole.
The last big thing I would like to see come into being for the next generation of consoles is some sort of official gaming awards ceremony and no the spike tv gaming awards do not qualify as that show is just a list of the biggest selling games and a pile of commercials for their sequels. Having an official award show like the Oscars or Emmys will give developers something to shoot for beyond just great sales. An awards show gives a chance to developers to take a chance on something more experimental and edgy without worrying about losing their jobs if the game isnít a huge financial success, and fosters friendship and camaraderie within the game developing community which would help eliminate fanboyism. An awards show would also get people to try out games they otherwise wouldnít have thought about. The keys are that it canít be a publicity show and it should be done by the games industry for the games industry with the presenters being people involved in the gaming industry (picture Cliffy B presenting a lifetime achievement award to Shigeru Miyamoto).
So all in all I think the next console generation doesnít need to shake things up much from a hardware or software perspective but rather should focus on nurturing and bringing together the gaming community so that we are more welcoming and accepting to future gamers and game developers.
Iíve chosen to do this topic on a relatively obscure game that due to an overemphasis on sexiness in the trailers ended up giving the wrong impression about gameplay and turned off quite a few people from the game out of shame, Record of Agarest War. I do realize that it had a prequel recently and that the prequel was a lot of the same warts and all. The game had some good ideas and mechanics but a few glaring problems marred the experience. I hope to fix these issues with my sequel Record of Agarest War 2.
I believe that the starting point for any sequel should be to look the strengths and weaknesses of the original title and try to improve the weaknesses and build on the strengths while making as few changes as possible so as to not alienate fans of the series thus far. Two sequels that really hit the nail on the head in that regard have been Super Mario Bros. 3 and more recently Mass Effect 2. While I wasnít sitting in on the design meetings for these games if you compare them to their predecessor they both addressed flaws in their previous titles and built on the strengths of the previous game.
First I want to take a look at what made the game good so that I can lay out the skeleton on which everything else must be built. The fundamental premise they have for the game is a very interesting a unique one where the quest spans several generations so in addition to chipping away at the villains in the area the hero also needs to choose a mate so that their offspring can finish the job and the capabilities of the offspring are dependent on the attributes of the parents. The combat system they used is another strong point of the game. Combat takes place on a grid and is turn based depending on the action points of each character but if you arrange your characters in certain patterns then you can link up the attacks of multiple characters moving them all over the battlefield and creating really powerful combo attacks. To compliment this they also added that if you do a combination attack that not only kills the enemy but does enough extra damage to wipe out their entire life bar a second time youíll get a rare item so you are encouraged to focus fire down a specific enemy. There is also a fairly wide array of characters and each one feels unique, especially the heroes from each generation each one reacts to knowing their fate differently and reasonably when one stops to think about it. Overall this game has a good skeleton to build off of.
Next we need to take a look at the weaknesses of the game. The worst flaw, the one that stopped me from finishing the game, is that towards the end of the game you are forced to repeatedly fight this one enemy that is the boss monster for earlier generations but with much more HP, healing and damage output. The only strategy Iíve seen for reliably beating these guys is to have someone absorb a lot of hits from these for several turns, heal through the damage, and save up action points until you are able to unleash a massive attack that kills the enemy in one shot. Waiting around for multiple turns is not fun and really makes the end of the game feel arduous. By comparison the rest of the problems are fairly minor but there are quite a few. The impact your choices would have on how the various women you encounter feel about you never feels obvious and often feels random and arbitrary. Events are somewhat time based so if you grind too much you might miss key events that will help you get the best ending. You have a core group of characters that follow you in every generation so it is in your best interest to always use them and as a result any new members that join your party come in at a lower level which discourages you from using them. The best items are prohibitively expensive or difficult to acquire. You can resurrect heroes from previous generations but the item to do so is acquired fairly late in each generation and the cost to do so is so high that it is never worth it and as a result most players will not want to use characters that they will need to replace in the next generation. There are also very few different environments on which you play out your battles maybe around 10-12ish which gets repetitive very quickly. Finally there is this one type of enemy that does nothing but run away from you solely to lower your rank for completing the fight slower.
There are some problems which are easy to fix and wonít really have any negative backlash by changing so Iíll address those first. Characters should join your party at the same level as the lowest level member of your active party so that you feel like you can sub them in without losing power. Resurrecting characters from previous generations should either be done via an item or money but not both and if it is done with money it should be a reasonable amount of money. The number of time based events needs to be significantly cut down or give the player a much wider time frame in which to get to those events. As for the how your choices affect your standing with women a greater empahsis on their personalities would pay dividends in terms of better characterization and give the player a better idea of how they will react to various choices. They should also add in more varied battle environments and do away with enemies that have no interest in fighting you. A few easy fixes that I do not think anyone would complain about.
Now to the more difficult fixes. The loot distribution can be fixed by using that overkill mechanic to give the player either items that will give them better weapons or skills directly on the materials needed to make those items are skills. It would also help if players did not need to search for books to teach them which materials they need to make certain items or skills and instead just have them unlock as the player acquires the necessary items to make them. The problem with the items is that there are only two ways to get items and both of them are arduous at best and make the player feel like they are so much weaker than they could be so making the best stuff more accessible to the player will give a feeling of empowerment rather than weakness which is something I think anyone can get behind.
The most difficult one to fix without radically altering the battle system is the boss fights. The biggest problem that one can address with them is that they have massive hit points and defense, and can heal themselves. So I think the best thing that can be done with these bosses is to either make them damage sponges that dish out massive damage or make them able to absorb less damage but able to heal themselves. If we go with the former the player can riskily chip away at them in the hopes that they can survive the big attacks that will come from them after a couple of turns of getting wailed on or play defensively and wait until you can take them out with a single gigantic attack. If we go with the later the player can try to put these enemies on the defensive by making them heal often instead of attacking or can take a risk by going more defensive and hoping to take them out in one gigantic attack but risk the boss barely surviving and healing up quickly and countering. A mix of these two would be even better because they already have two variants of these bosses in the game where one is weaker to physical attacks and the other to magical attacks so it wouldnít take much to change the formats of them around and it would make fighting multiples of them more tactical.
I think if all those changes are done then we could have a very fun and deep tactical RPG with a long campaign that does something no other RPG does by spanning multiple generations and remaining fun throughout the experience as opposed to the fatigue that most people would experience by playing the first two games in this series.
This has absolutely nothing to do with the Deus Ex games as Iíve never played them but I do feel that this title kinda fits in with the topic given that it translates to god out of the machine. Yes, I am taking the bait and coming outright and saying that I am very disappointed by the ending of Mass Effect 3. In this blog I will do what the people that like the ending claim has never been done, I will give reasons and explanations on why I donít like the ending and what they should have done differently. So obviously spoilers will be incoming for all the Mass Effect games.
The central problem the game faces as a whole is that it does nothing with the incredible universe that has been built up around this series and instead almost feels like it was built in a vacuum and as a result the ending feels like it belongs to a completely different game.
The first problem starts at the beginning of the game with trying to make this one kid you encounter early in the game mean something to commander Shepard in a series with such well fleshed out and defined characters just does not work. Deciding which teammate to abandon on Virmire in the first game was a gut wrenching decision and it was tough seeing what the collectors did on Horizon. The kid dying in this game was so predictable and the exchange with the kid so meaningless that I wouldíve just assumed he died anyways even if they didnít show it. The game keeps trying to make that kidís death feel important but it just isnít and to tack that onto the ending made me roll my eyes rather than feel anything. Instead having one of my fallen team members there wouldíve been way more impactful and seems much more likely to weigh heavily on Shepard rather than a kid we meet five minutes before he died.
The second major problem is how they present the three endings to the player. The ending happens after quite a bit of dialog where each possible ending is explained in detail to the player then the player is presented with three paths and they pick one from a list endingtron 3000 style. It felt very formulaic and very different from the rest of the series. To avoid this there were two options they could have gone with depending on how much choice they wanted the player to have. To really give a feeling of the playerís actions having consequences they could have had the choice the player makes based on their paragon/renegade score with each of the three options being mostly paragon, mostly renegade, fairly even paragon/renegade and then the success of your choice being affected by your effective military strength. Another option would be to give the player the decision to make but not spell out exactly what the consequences of their choice would be, this is something Mass Effect 2 did exceptionally well, and would make the ending the player gets seem more like an actual choice the player made about the fate of the galaxy as opposed to just picking an ending.
The third problem I have had with the game is that in a series that received so much of its praise as a result of having the choices the player made in game mean something not just within the game itself but in the rest of the games to come to have the conclusion come down almost exclusively to one decision is disappointing. The ending isnít changed as a result of letting the council live or die in the first game or as a result of any of my crew from Mass Effect 2 dying on the suicide mission. I understand you cannot have every combination of choices be impactful but the big ones should have.
Iím going to stop counting these because Iíll probably lose count after a while but another big problem I have is with the explanation of the reapersí origin and this is where the title ties into this blog. According to the game the reapers were created to purge the galaxy of organic life every 50 thousand years so that organics donít create machines that kill all the organic life. This is an absolutely terrible solution to the problem presented. The two glaring problems with this are, what if organics get there before 50 thousand years as indeed the Quarians have and the second is that the Geth disprove the theory by being sentient machines that are ardent pacifists and have flat out said they would be open to peace if the Quarians ever showed any inclination towards peace. This solution also has the problem of who built the reapers originally and while I appreciate the subtle jab at intelligent design theorists this is not the place for it. Instead what they should have done is use what is already established in the series to explain the reapers. They already had the story of how a machine could become sentient in that universe with the Geth, they showed that the reapers harvest organics to produce new reapers so al they really needed to do was stitch that all together and you have a plausible ending: The reapers came about originally in a manner similar to the Geth, harvest organics in order to reproduce and they only appear every 50 thousand years because they need to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of organic life in order to build new reapers. All taken from what we know about the universe based on previous titles.
A couple of other smaller problems I have with the ending are that it is internally inconsistent and that you donít really see the consequences of the ending you do choose. The internally inconsistent issue is that you could have a character die in the final push towards the citadel but still somehow come out of the Normandy after it crash lands completely unscathed which was likely a minor oversight more than something intentional but is still kinda weird. You also never really see the consequences of the choice you make. If you choose to take control of the reapers you donít see Shepard taking control and ordering the reapers to retreat or turn on themselves, if you choose to fuse organics and synthetics you never see those new forms of life. It would have added more weight to the ending seeing what my final choice has wrought.
I think Iíve written enough here to disprove any idea that there are no actual reasons given for disliking the ending and I am of course very willing to discuss with other people about this topic. I feel I should add that other than the banshees and the ending I had an absolute blast playing this game and it had loads of great, impactful moments that Ill never forget I just wish the ending was better.
For this topic I decided to choose a game that will have a sequel coming out for it soon and a game I desperately wanted to like the first version of but couldnít, Darksiders. Iím going to do my best to avoid echoing zero punctuationís review of the game but some similarities are bound to come up.
The core idea at the heart of this game is a great one. When my friend first told me about the game he described it as a hybrid of god of war and legend of Zelda staring one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. How could I not be excited for this? It had the makings of a great game and possible game of the year for me based off the concept alone. The problems this game had though were that the good idea was matched by a poor execution of its core mechanics of fighting, exploring, finding treasures, puzzle solving, and fighting huge bosses.
Iíll start with the fighting because this is ultimately what the success of the game would hinge on. You get a handful of weapons that you can use in the game but it never really means much. You are able to equip two weapons but that system is never utilized in any meaningful way. There are no attack combinations that use both weapons and other than sometimes preferring to engage enemies at range there really arenít any important choices to be made with the weapons as each one seems to function basically the same. Id improve on this by adding in attack combos that vary depending on which weapons you have equipped and I would make some weapons more effective against different types of enemies beyond the ranged/melee choice that already exists. This would give the combat some more variety giving a kinda god of war-ish feel to the game.
The exploring is where I had the most trouble with the game and the area that is most in need of improvement in its sequel. I canít say it any plainer than this, War walks way too slowly for a game world of this scale. You are placed in a big world in this game and war moves at a very noticeably slow pace. The mechanics they put in place to deal with this are either inadequate (the dash move) or are added in way too late in the game (the horse). Having to spam a dash move to traverse the overworld isnít fun and easily gets on peopleís nerves. The horse does alleviate this problem but you only get the horse around the 3rd or 4th dungeon so until then you are stuck moving very slowly. The fix for this is a no brainer, make the character run. Walking is unnecessary for anything other than a platformer or a stealth game where running makes more noise than walking.
The problem I have with the treasure hunting and puzzle solving kinda goes hand in hand so I will address these together. The problem with these is that none of the new items you find in the game are original ideas which leads to the inevitable problem of none of the puzzles those items are meant to solve being original either. The Legend of Zelda games are excellent games often they are game of the year candidates so I can understand wanting to duplicate their success but copying the game is the absolutely wrong way of doing that you are not going to out-Zelda Zelda nor will you out-portal portal. All you will ever do by copying a great game is reminding people that they arenít playing that awesome game and make them wish they were. This is the hardest part for me to suggest an improvement for but I would say to come in with items that we havenít already seen in other games which will lead to puzzles that feel different and give a more rewarding experience for finding them. They donít all have to be new and different but most should be
Finally comes the bosses and this is where I am going to sound somewhat like Yahtzee but the hardest boss in the game by a wide margin is one of the first ones you fight. That bat boss you fight in the first dungeon is the most frustrating experience in the entire game. That boss has at least two stages with no mid boss checkpoints and you have little more than the starting amount of health with which to fight this boss. This boss also requires some good timing and does a substantial amount of damage upon hitting you. I died more at this boss than I did at the rest of the game combined and therein lays the problem. I donít mind a difficult game but this game is not difficult, the rest of the game is pretty easy by comparison as the game is pretty generous with upgrades which leads to a really poorly laid out difficulty curve and a letdown after beating that first boss because the rest of them keel over pretty easily. The key to fixing this is to have the first boss be easy even for beginners and gradually increase the complexity of bosses as the game goes on.
Thankfully this is a game that actually is getting a sequel of its own on which to improve on its core mechanics and strong central ideas. I doubt we see everything I suggested but I would be shocked if they havenít already fixed some of those problems for Darksiders 2. This is a series that has a lot of potential to be a top seller but to realize that potential they just need to give the first game a bit of polishing up to make the minute to minute gameplay more exciting and fun.
I know choosing to call this game work as opposed to play will likely turn me into a pariah on this site but I canít help but for me the one game that felt more like work than like play is Uncharted: Drakeís Fortune. I likely could have discussed the sequel and using the psychic powers the third one and the one coming out for the vita but the requirement for this topic is that I persevered which I can only say about the first one.
I went into Uncharted expecting a great game. The opinions I heard about the game were overwhelmingly positive with the exception of one friend that I know is a 360 fanboy and zero punctuation. I was expecting a lot from this game but it was described as a must own for the PS3 so I donít feel like my expectations were unreasonable. What ensued when I played the game was a long arduous grind.
I am not intending this to be a review of the game in any way but I would like to touch on a few of the more aggravating points in the game and how those devolved the game into a chore as opposed to a fun exciting game. I will be focusing on the things I didnít like but the game does do some things well which you can find out about in any of the reviews about the game.
The biggest problem I had with the game was figuring out where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do most of the time. This was a result of two separate problems the first being that the game chose a setting that looks very open and is pretty enough to make that openness look real, and the second is the way the game addressed jumping. The game takes place primarily in a jungle, an environment with a lot of trees, vines and narrow paths. The game did a beautiful job at recreating that jungle environment but very often I found myself rubbing up against every inch of wall until I either found the way to go or the game pointed me in the right direction. The fact that that happened in several rooms in succession in this game really caused the game to drag because there wasnít any challenge doing on and the game was just testing my patience.
The jumping mechanics in this game caused similar issues as the jungle environment. The fundamental problem I have with the jumping is this game is that when, where, and how far you can jump is so scripted that it is confusing and turns any jumping puzzle into a guessing game. When you arenít supposed to be able to make a particular jump you do this little skip and grunt thing but when you are supposed to be able to make the jump you can jump extraordinary heights and lengths. My first encounter with the jumping was at the beginning of the game and Nathan Drake did the skip and grunt thing but it gave me an idea of what his jumping capabilities were. Later in the game I ended up in a dungeon of some sort and the way to go required me standing on a tiny platform and jumping up to a platform that looked completely out of reach based on what Iíve seen of Nathanís jumping(I got a screenshot of that room coming up). The end result of this is that whenever I saw a platforming area I had to convince myself that I could jump that distance if that is what the game wants me to do which devolved the game into guess work that forced me to restart an area each time I guessed wrong.
Zombies?!? Why does every game I play now have to have zombies in it in some capacity or another? I know that when the game was released we didnít have that many games with zombies in them for it to be a clichť but I only played the game recently so seeing zombies in the game just made me groan because up until that point the game seemed to be fairly grounded in realism with only human enemies to fight. Adding zombies to a game really detracts from the fun of a game for me but I decided to keep going because at that point I must be close to the end of the game.
I know this was covered in Zero Punctuationís review of the game but it bears repeating that the way the game handles quick time events is incredibly frustrating. I went into this having seen the Zero Punctuation review and knowing that there were a handful of quick time events scattered throughout the game so early on I was on my guard for them but the first one is introduced in the game so late that I forgot about them. This is the worst possible handling of a QTE possible. There are very few and theyíre introduced mid way through the game a way that is sure to cause deaths forcing the player to slog through the area from the last checkpoint to the event a second time.
After all that complaining I suppose the natural question to ask is why I kept playing the game all the way to the end if I couldnít stand it so much and the whole process felt like work rather than play and the reason has nothing to do with the game itself. I played a copy of the game I borrowed from my cousin and when I asked to borrow it he said he may as well lend me both Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2 so I wanted to play through the first one to know what was going on in the second which I figured has got to be better as it was even more well received than the first. When I ended up playing the second one it turned out to be the exact same game as the first and I stopped once I saw I was running through a jungle again shooting at mercenaries.
When discussing eastern vs. western game development it is easy to get into an argument about whether JRPGs are on the decline and if so why or why we see so many generic FPS games coming from the west and comparing quality titles but what stands out to me and in that regard Japan has us westerners beat hands down.
I would like to discuss in this the risks the Japanese take in terms of the art style they use, the topics they choose to cover in their games, and the difficulty they set their games in and a few different games that illustrate one or more of these.
I would like to start with the most recent game that inspired all of this, Catherine. Because it is still a very new title I will do my best to avoid plot spoilers but you have been duly warned. The topic this game covers is what sets it apart and the way it covers it is unlike anything seen in video games thus far and it risked becoming a lightning rod public outcry when the sexual aspects of it got thrust into the marketing spotlight. This is a game that discusses relationships and what it means to become a responsible adult. This is a game that has more in common with a chick flick than an action movie s far as its story goes which I have yet to see a western developer attempt. It shows us a strong relationship, breaks it apart then leaves it up to the player to mend it in whatever way they feel is best whereas in western games the relationship is often something tacked on.
Another game that I feel that takes a risky topic is Valkyria Chronicles. This is a bit more subtle than Catherine in terms of the topic but it is the closest gaming has come to discussing the holocaust and concentration camps. The game sets up very early a strong prejudice against all the people with dark hair (known in game as Darcsens). The game creates a prejudice that is very similar to the anti-Semitic attitudes of 1930s and 1940s Europe (accusations of deicide, that they are untrustworthy, and that they are dangerous). They also show work camps that were not unlike the concentration camps and very nationalistic enemy generals. Western games have had many opportunities to discuss this in the many WW2 games that were produced in the years before Modern Warfare but focused exclusively on the war.
Mega Man 9 is a game I want to discuss for both the choice of art style and for the difficulty of the game as both were risks in their own right. The risk that was taken in the art style is a return to the NES style graphics that the first six games were made in. This was a risk because the game was made by Capcom as opposed to an indie developer that used that style out of necessity. Iíve seen excellent games made recently with NES style graphics but never from a company as large as Capcom. If that game was not as good as it was then the graphics would remind people of the older better games and make the art feel like a cash-in as opposed to a brilliant idea. Up to this point no North American developer has taken that risk.
The difficulty of Mega Man 9 is another risk as it was a return to the difficulty of the original games. I know there are people here that can cruise through all the Mega Man games but most people I know would say the NES ones are very difficult particularly in the final stages. This couldíve made the game feel frustrating and inaccessible but because the controls were done well and the power ups balanced any deaths are the responsibility of the player as opposed to the game which makes the game difficult and fun at the same time.
A game I feel takes just as much of a risk with difficulty but in the completely opposite way is Kirbyís Epic Yarn. This is a game that is as hard as you want it to be. This game could be maddeningly hard or a walk through the park depending on how you want to play the game. The risk with such a difficulty is that it was very possible that many gamers would take the quick and easy path and die and get hit however many times it takes for them to get to the end with any number of beads and secrets found. The challenge came from trying to get the best score and all the hidden items in each level but the player is in no way penalized for not doing that. Iím not sure why this has not been done by any western developers other than a need to appeal more directly to core gamers by not appearing to be too easy on the surface.
To end this I would like to preemptively discuss probably the biggest counter argument to this whole post, Bioware. They do push the envelope with what they discuss in games and the hidden meaning they put into many of the decisions and the questions they ask the player and take risks in that regard but there arenít enough developers like them in the west so thatís why I say Japan has this risk thing down better than western developers