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nilcam's blog

E3 2013 thoughts
10:41 AM on 06.14.2013
Why I'm just saying no to Xbone
8:43 AM on 06.07.2013
Revisiting GameCube: Four Swords Adventures
4:10 PM on 05.10.2013
Final Skyward Sword thoughts
8:46 AM on 04.09.2013
Skyward Sword and the complex feelings it evokes
3:41 PM on 03.25.2013
The PS4 announcement: One week later
2:23 PM on 02.21.2013

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Old-school gamer. I started gaming with the Atari 2600. I became an addict with the arcade release of Street Fighter II at my college. The SNES release pushed me into buying that system and a lame arcade stick. I haven't looked back since then. I still consider the 16-bit to be the Golden Age of gaming. The current generation is keeping me pretty happy, especially with the fighting game renaissance that's happening lately. And, yes, I'm old.

Proud owner of: Kiwi Gameboy Color, Purple GBA, GBA SP, GBA Micro, PSP 3000, Clear NeoGeo Pocket, purple SwanCrystal, SNES, Genesis, N64, purple Gamecube, slim PS2, Dreamcast, Wii, PS3, Red 3DS LL,Blue 3DS XL and Wii U.

Favorite Games: Last Blade, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Mark of the Wolves, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Zelda: Minish Cap, King of Fighters Ikaruga, Macross: Do You Remember Love, Raiden Trad, Valkyria Chronicles, Professor Layton, Killer7

Games on my mind:
Ridge Racer 7
Dark Souls
Animal Crossing New Leaf
Shining Force II: Sword of Hajya
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10:41 AM on 06.14.2013

In a word: disappointed.

I went into this E3 rather interested. Please notice that I specifically did not say excited. I watched the conferences by Microsoft, Ubisoft and Sony as well as Nintendo's Direct and Destructoid's videos and read tons of coverage. As each day progressed, I grew less and less interested. To be fair, a large part of my feelings come from the fact that I don't play first-person shooters or MMOs. The biggest source of disappointment was the lack of new titles that interested me. Let's get into my breakdown.

In trying to bone their customers, MS screwed themselves. I watched this conference out of shadenfreude but it was even too brutal for that. 

After MS totally screwed the pooch, Sony did a brilliant job... of nothing. Sure, the system is powerful but none of the games they covered interested me. I am glad that I won't have to spend a large chunk of cash to get a new console. Driveclub looks cool but I'll get GT6 and be happy. The most interesting thing that came out of the Sony press conference is the gamer reaction. They've won the love of the entire gaming community by touting that they're doing what consoles have always done; what the Wii U is currently doing. I feel that this is the ultimate example of praising mediocrity.

I like their new approach to E3. I only care about the games and they showcased that nicely. The problem Nintendo has at the moment is the Wii U gamepad. When I heard about the new Mario Kart, I pictured an update to Double Dash with one player using the Gamepad to target other racers. Nope. When I heard about the Wind Waker remake, I thought the Gamepad would be the Tingle Tuner. Nope, they removed the Tingle Tuner. Nintendo is producing a lot of games I'm excited about in the next 6-12 months but none of them are showcasing the Gamepad in the way they need to.

Here's the part that was most disappointing. There are tons of games coming out in 2013 that I'm extremely excited about. None of them were announced at E3. For reference, here's the list:

Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
The Wonderful 101
Pikmin 3
Dragon's Crown
Killer is Dead
Tales of Xillia
Gran Turismo 6
Super Mario 3D World
LoZ: Wind Waker
Project X Zone
Rune Factory 4
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
LoZ: A Link Between Worlds
Pokemon X/Y
Sonic: Lost Worlds (Wii U)

That is a serious line up for the next 6 months and that doesn't even take into consideration Virtual Console or digital releases, other than D&D.

I do wonder if E3 is even relevant anymore. For Nintendo fans, it isn't. The Directs are more exciting that any E3 in memory. Likewise, Atlus and XSEED do very good jobs of keeping their fans informed and engaged. Maybe it's time for the industry to move on.

Short and sweet: 
Microsoft clarified the details regarding the Xbox One's policies regarding used games, DRM, etc. I have to say, it's even worse than I expected. I admit that I'm not a MS fan but I was still interested in this as they are a major player in the video game industry. After thinking about this clarification, I cannot understand why anyone would want this technology in their home.

I am a serious user of technology and believe that there are both benefits and responsibilities as such. I am also a big fan of Orwell's 1984 and it seems these worlds are colliding. With Verizon admitting that they're working with the government to collect information on their customers, I cannot understand wanting an always-on camera and microphone in my home. Worse, that camera/mic combo is connected to a box that will connect to a Microsoft surver once ever 24 hours to verify information. This is even more alarming when one considers that Microsoft built a surveillance system for NYPD (http://mashable.com/2012/08/09/microsoft-police-privacy/).

Beyond this privacy concern, there's the practical side of things. The Xbox One removes your ownership of what you buy. If you cannot connect to the internet to check in every 24 hours, you cannot play your games. I still play many of my old games, going back to the SNES/Genesis era. That will be impossible with the Xbox One as, eventually, the servers will be unplugged and the system becomes as useful as a box.

To be fair, Sony has been quiet on most of this and that is just as disconcerting. I can see them launching without any of this stuff, but watching Microsoft and, if it's working, adding it in. As much as I love my PS3, it's lost a lot of the functionality it had when I bought it.

The stars aligned last week! I had a house full of friends, a GameCube, 4 GBA SPs, 4 gamelink cables and a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.

I bought this game when it originally released but never really had the chance to play it with three other players. I eventually sold it and, upon meeting some new people a few months back and starting to plan this evening, I repurchased the title. Sure, the hardware overhead is pretty insane, but damned if this isn't the most fun I've had with a multiplayer game since Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons series was in arcades.

The sprites in Four Swords Adventures look a lot like those in Minish Cap. They do look a bit blocky on an HD screen but are overall quite pleasing. The lighting and special effects applied to the sprites are nothing short of amazing. I absolutely loved the effect of transporting to the Dark World; it has a very flat, Paper Mario sort of feel but is quite whimsical and charming.

As much as I love The Legend of Zelda series, sometimes the combat is a bit slow. Fighting a few enemies at a time is cool but sometimes I want more. For reference, I loved fighting the horde in SKyward Sword. This game mostly follows tradition but the group is sometimes tasked with fighting tons of enemies at once and that sort of chaos is nothing short of amazing. Honestly, arrows are flying, swords are swinging and bombs are exploding; it's a visual orchestra of violence that has to be seen to be believed. Nintendo wisely limited the amount of gear Link can carry; each Link has a sword and one item. This streamlines the game in such a way that no menus are needed. Such a change would have gone a long way in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Staying true to the series, this game isn't all combat. In fact, the group spends more time solving puzzles and trying to figure out where to go next. While that is very "Zelda," having a group to help out really makes this game feel unique. I've often thought using GBAs as controllers was overkill but I've definitely changed my mind after playing with the group. I loved having the ability to explore different regions than the other players while trying to figure stuff out. It also added a new level of depth to the game. 

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure is the best multiplayer game I've ever played. The designers of the game made some very controversial decisions but they all pay off in multiplayer. There's nothing else quite like this game. All of that praise aside, the single player is pretty awful.

With the Wii U gamepad and Nintendo Network voice chat, Nintendo needs to release a new version with higher definitions sprites and online play. That would be the game of forever.

So, I finally finished Skyward Sword. To be honest, I cannot recall any other game leading me to such disparate feelings. In fact, Skyward Sword is both the best and worst game in The Legend of Zelda series.

At the beginning of the game, the 1:1 combat seems slow and tedious. Once the player masters the controls, combat becomes amazing, especially the last few battles in the game. There's nothing in the series quite on the level of these fights and that speaks volumes about the design and effort put into the combat engine.

On the other hand, the motion controls outside of combat suck, specifically the skydiving parts. The first time Link skydives, I had to stand to get the Wii to register my movements. When I had to use the mechanic later in the game, I had to sit and, still, the mechanic didn't quite work. It was also annoying that Link's items like the Beetle needed to be recalibrated constantly. Far too often, Link would start to move in the opposite direction of the Wiimote movement. I found myself frequently wondering why the analog stick was so heavily ignored. The skydiving would have worked so much better if the analog controlled the direction and the tilt of the Wiimote controlled his speed.

Level and puzzle design
The levels in Skyward Sword are amazing. There's not much else to say about that. But there is a lot to say about the structure. I've joked several times to my wife that SS should be named "The Legend of Zelda: Everything Link Needs to do is Fucking Difficult" because that's the truth. In order to reach a dungeon, Link has to navigate tricky landscapes which are littered with brain-straining puzzles. His reward for successfully reaching the dungeon? A short dungeon made up of rooms filled with mind-meltingly difficult puzzles. And I couldn't love it more. There's such a sense of accomplishment at solving each puzzle thrown at you and then moving to the next. This challenge is softened a bit by the inclusion of generous save points. It's quite a brilliant decision and an approach to the series that I hope to see in future games in the series.

The cast
The Zelda series is defined by character like no other series in gaming. Thanks to Ocarina of Time, "Hey! Listen!" is essentially part of the cultural lexicon. SS is no slouch in this department and, in fact, it ups the ante over previous games.

Some of the characters seen in SS are so unique to the series that I cannot help but love them. The Old Lady in the Sealed Temple has the same presence as the monk in those old Kung Fu films. She speaks in riddles and pushes Link to spiritual growth. Fi is my second favorite companion character; Midna still holds that title. I really enjoyed Fi's character arc and her interpretive dance was always fun to watch. By the end of the game, Groose had evolved from a complete douchebag to a likeable character. I love the scene in which he realizes that he's not capable of being the hero like Link is. He seems a bit bummed, but moves beyond it and becomes a better person.

That brings us to the most fabulous villain ever, Girahim. Link has never had such an interesting and fun villain to interact with. Ganon/Ganondorf is plain evil and, honestly, not that interesting. Girahim, on the other hand, is a Bond-styled villain. He oozes confidence and menace. There's nothing quite like him in the series; thus, he's quite refreshing and I enjoyed seeing him whenever he appeared.

If I had to name one major disappointment with the Zelda series of late, it would be the difficulty level. Rather, it would be the lack of difficulty. As much as I love Twilight Princess, those boss battles were fun but in no way challenging. Skyward Sword returns the series to its previous level of difficulty and then intensifies that with much more challenging puzzles. I really hope that Nintendo keeps this level of challenge in future titles. I really enjoy games that challenge players to improve and then reward that growth. I thrive on it.

In conclusion
Eiji Aonuma's team has done a superb job on Skyward Sword. It has some of the best design and creativity the Zelda series has ever produced. They've created an amazing groundwork for future titles in the Zelda series. I cannot wait to see what they create next, free of the constraints of the Wii hardware.
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So, I'm late to the party on Skyward Sword. I traded my Wii in shortly after the release of Warioland: Shake it! due to the lack of interest I had in any upcoming games. I recently purchased a Wii U for a nice price and wanted to go back and check out Skyward Sword.

I believe that Nintendo has a series for everyone. For my wife, it's Fire Emblem. For me, it's The Legend of Zelda. With every new Nintendo system I buy, I'm thinking about the next iteration. The most recent title I've played in the series is Twilight Princess and it's tied with A Link to the Past for my favorite game in the series. As stated in my blog about it, I quit the Wii version of the game out of frustration; I loved the GameCube version.

So, how do I feel about the first purely motion controlled Zelda game? It's a harder question to answer than you'd think.

On the one hand, I find the level design, at least in the first dungeon, to be exquisite (Note: I just finished it). Solutions to the puzzles are not that obvious and are sometimes perplexing until the player stumbles across a hint or the actual solution. I love that about this game; it just feels like an authentic exploration scenario. And, honestly, this is the second-best looking Zelda ever. It doesn't quite beat Wind Waker but it has its own beauty and really proves that art design can overcome the hyper-detailed approach of HD graphics. I really respect that.

With all of that said, this game's controls infuriate me to no end. I'm about 5 hours in and the combat is starting to feel better. That's a serious problem. In Twilight Princess, combat felt amazing right away and, in a game with as much combat as Zelda, it should fell great right away. The other constant source of frustration is using the Wiimote to control flight of the Loftwing and the Beetle. It feels a bit more natural to control the Loftwing via Wiimote as it is a large animal, but the Beetle really shows off the lack of accuracy of this control scheme. The Beetle is a small item and should not corner like a school bus and, when that happens, I cannot help but wonder why I'm not using the analog stick on the nunchuk. My thumb is resting on the stick and ready to go.

What does this mean for motion controls
Does combat feel more realistic? It does but it's also more meticulous and less enjoyable. This control scheme also drives home the point that motion controls are less precise than traditional controls and come with their own set of problems for the player to overcome. They're not better; just different.

The way I see it, Skyward Sword is both the best and worst argument for motion control that Nintendo's ever made.

That said, I'm interested enough in the game that I'll continue the adventure. Maybe, at some point, something will click and I'll love this game as much as I love the other games in the series. Here's hoping that happens sooner than later.

One week ago Sony announced the PS4. I've given myself a week to digest and contemplate all of the information. Here are my thoughts broken down by topics.

First off, RIP XMB. I really love the PS3/PSP UI. It was nice that both systems worked in a similar fashion and that really drove home the identity of the systems. What's really scary is that the PS4 interface looks a lot like the new PSN Store. And that's a bad thing.

Gaikai and streaming
Sony made a big deal about their online services via Gaikai. All of this sounds very cool but also begs the question of cost. Sony recently acquired Gaikai for $380 million last July. Thinking logically about Sony as a whole, I would guess this purchase price will be passed on to consumers. After all, Microsoft has taught the industry that you can charge for online play and, despite PS+ being so popular, Sony is really good at making awful choices. I will never pay for online play for one simple reason - performance. The United States is a large country and has lots of subpar internet and not all connections are equal. No matter how good the online service is, the experience is limited by the worst connection. I have little patience for laggy online play when it's free; I'd get high blood pressure from paying for it.

Games and graphics
I will miss backwards compatibility. I know it's a controversial topic but that's the reality. There are a lot of great PS3 games out now that I want access to and there will be more coming. One credit Sony deserves is that their systems usually get a decent amount of support after a new console is launched. BC to older games is less important to me since they look pretty bad on HDTVs but PS3 games were built for that environment.

The biggest issue I had regarding the conference were the games. Honestly, none of them looked that good to me. And not a single one looked as good as this:

Actual gameplay

At lunch on Feb. 20, I played the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 demo and it was nothing short of amazing. It's fast-paced, looks amazingly beautiful and really makes me question why we even need a new generation at this point. Neither the PS3 or Xbox have hit any sort of limit on the hardware unlike the NES to SNES transition. It seems a shame to abandon a generation before that point. Maybe I'm drunk on the Naruto demo, but the PS4 presentation did not impress me in that regard.

Final thoughts
Going into the PS4 presentation, I was skeptical. There were a lot of rumors that put me off of this next generation. Fortunately, the biggest issue - games being locked to a single console - was debunked. But that begs the question: for how long? Remember when the PS3 could install Linux? Remember when PS3s were backwards compatible with PS2? Sony has a short but disturbing history of removing features. That makes me nervous.

How do I feel about the PS4 after the announcement? Meh sums it up nicely. There's nothing about it that excites me. The games didn't seem very fresh or exciting and several of them will also be available on PS3. The integration of Move is cringe-worthy and I just find myself uninterested. So much so that I looked again at the Wii U and I find it a far more enticing system.

The Wii U is a real step up from the Wii, both graphically and in terms of power and interface. The promise of new Zelda, Mario and Mario Kart games is pretty exciting and The Wonderful 101 has me drooling. Oh, yeah, the Wii U will play my old Wii games as well. Sure, the Wii U is less powerful but, as a designer, I feel some of the best creations happen when you have to work within constraints.
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