Hello there everyone. First off, I would like to wish everyone a “Happy New Year” again. Here’s to looking forward to recovering from the last one. And since it is a new year with new beginnings I’ve decided to start trying out some new things this year. Seeing as how this blog has only been around for about two months I know I still have a lot to work on, but I will continue to do my best. That being said, I feel as though while I had a lot of fun writing previous blog posts, I felt that they could have been a bit more organized so I’ll try to work on that this year. As a way to start this off, what I am going to do for the next couple of months is add a theme to the posts for each month so that you have an idea of what I will be talking about in advance. I think it will be a fun little challenge for me so I’m looking forward to it. And as for the week left out of what I call “The Big Three”, I will most likely make a post that is in keeping with the monthly theme and talk about something that I want to address that may or may not relate to “The Big Three”. That’s all from me for now. The monthly theme will be for this week’s post. I understand the month already started but I already had that post planned for New Year’s and I just thought of this idea so… bye!
Moral Choice Cliché
This week I will be taking a look at yet another gaming cliché. This week instead of a story cliché I thought that I would branch out a bit. So instead we will be talking about a cliché that affects the story and the gameplay. I know it’s quite ambitious, but I like to think I try to challenge myself every now and then. Now, this cliché is not usually as vital to the story as you might think. I would consider this cliché to exist in different levels when it comes to incorporation into the story and gameplay. There is the first level and what I find to be the laziest type in which you get different perks based on what moral affiliation you have. Then there is the second level where it does have an effect on how you choose to play, but the outcome and the world overall does not react much, if at all, to the choices you make. The third level is the rarest and the most satisfying where your choices have a sizable impact on the characters around you and influences the world itself. Now I am going to take some time to go through each level step by step to show the effects each one can have on the games we play. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for freedom of choice, but one should always ask if a feature is there to enhance the game or to pad the runtime.
Now let’s start with the first level and work our way up. The first level is the one that has the least affect on story and gameplay. In this level moral choice is relegated to a system of sorts where gaining new abilities is related to the choices that you make throughout the game and your current alignment. You also usually get a choice between a couple of endings based on your alignment. As an example, let’s look at a game people might have heard of before, Bioshock. Now I will say that Bioshock has one of the most fantastic video game stories to come about within the last 20 years. That being said, the choice to save the little sisters does not do much in the way of the story aside from what ending you get at the end. The gameplay difference is negligible as well as long as you are consistent in your choices. So why give a moral dilemma that doesn’t mean much except that you will have to play the game again for a different ending? I will grant that at least Bioshock is making an effort here by having the choices matter in the early stages rather than just choosing from two different types of the same skills. However, that doesn’t change the fact that while the story and gameplay are both good, the moral choice aspect does not significantly impact either of them.
Moving on to the second level, this level has the moral choice serving more of a role in story and gameplay, but is missing an important aspect to have the cliché be used to its fullest potential. To illustrate the example this time, we will talk about a more recent game called Ghost of Tsushima. If I’m being honest I find the idea of this game quite interesting for this type of dilemma since the moral code the main character is at odds with is not as simple as good and evil. What is at odds is whether to fight honorably or fight dirty. One ensures his pride as a warrior while the other ensures his ability to live longer. Now as opposed to Bioshock, this dilemma feels as though it is the center of both the story and the gameplay. The story highlights the struggle the main character goes through to become “the Ghost” and the gameplay allows the different approaches of one-on-one combat or stealthy infiltration. So, at least the moral choice aspect doesn’t feel tacked on like it did to an extent in Bioshock. However, Ghost of Tsushima stumbles in the same way as Bioshock when it comes to the moral choice aspect. Where they both fall short is the fact that none of the choices you made matter in the end. However, it doesn’t matter as much in Bioshock because the game’s main focus is not about your morality, but rather freedom of choice. In a way, having moral choices not really matter in Bioshock is somewhat in line with the game’s central themes. Ghost of Tsushima on the other hand, centered an entire game around this aspect and yet does nothing to change the story or encounters with characters. Your actions don’t really matter that much, but yet they really feel like they should since that is the premise the game is built upon in the first place. You are never given a path to choose, but rather the game gives you the illusion that you had the freedom to decide your own moral dilemma. I’m not saying that Ghost of Tsushima is a bad game, what I am saying is that they could have done more. At least, maybe it so you have the option to die as a warrior rather than be forced to live on as a “ghost”. It was nice the game allowed you to branch out in terms of gameplay, but it should have had allowed the story to branch out more as well.
Now I think it’s time to take the next step and move to the third level where we can see the true worth of having a moral choice system in a videogame. Quite honestly, in recent memory no game has done this as well as this one, so for the final game of focus we will talk about Undertale. Now the key thing Undertale has that many other games do not is not only do your choices matter, but they affect every single interaction along the way from the start to the end of your journey. The game even keeps track for subsequent playthroughs. Not only that, but your actions on your journey are reflected in how you play the game. It is hard to find a game that can achieve such an interesting dynamic between gameplay and story. To further elaborate on this, I should establish that the moral dilemma is the same as in Bioshock. You can choose to be good or bad and choosing good make things more difficult but leads to the best outcome. The crucial difference between them is that since in Undertale gameplay and story are two sides to a single coin, it means that the story encounters are vastly different and much more challenging. In Bioshock you will always get something no matter which option you pick, but in Undertale everything is either all or nothing. The key difference is that Undertale does everything in its power to raise the stakes, make you tempted to give up, waver your determination and it does all that so that you care about the results. That’s how it is supposed to be! Why bother introducing a dilemma if it can just be bypassed later? What would be the point?
Now you might be wondering why I am talking about this cliché. The reason is simply because I don’t think that it needs to be a cliché. I just want to address the fact that this is used in so many different games and yet most of the time there are no stakes or any real consequences involved with the decisions made. Which is a real shame considering the interesting discussions that can be had with this kind of topic. I know there are plenty of games that do give players an investment in making these choices. However, there are plenty of games that only treat them as a way to give players a different ending. It’s not like that is a bad thing, but it just feels like it’s a waste of potential. Giving the ability to choose the kind of player you want to be should mean more than just choosing between one or two different endings. In my personal opinion, if you create a world for people to interact and want to involve us in something as significant as a moral dilemma, then you should go all the way. Clichés are not bad to include in games. The reason they show up so often is that they still work. That is why if you are going to use something as complex as moral decisions, don’t just tack something like that on as a lazy excuse to add replay value since it won’t work if the choices don’t matter. Sure all of the games I have mentioned have replay value, but Bioshock and Ghost of Tsushima are not being replayed because they want to see the different endings. Undertale does have replay value for the different endings and if you do see both endings then you are a monster and the game will never let you forget it. Now that is a choice that matters.
Now Hear Me Out: Paper Mario
You know what time it is? That’s right. It’s time to talk about a game series that I want to talk about because I feel like it deserves some attention. This week we will talk about the Paper Mario series because despite my love for some of the things Nintendo has brought out over the years, this particular series has been through quite a lot. So I thought I might as well talk about it. Now I won’t really go too far in depth as usual just for the sake of brevity and in case you want to experience this series for yourself. Now, what makes this series interesting is it is one of the few series of games with Mario and co. in an RPG setting. Mario has to go through a bunch of interesting lands to stop whatever nefarious plot involves Princess Peach and potentially the fate of the world. However, in recent years they have hit a bit of a stumbling block when it comes to this series and I would like to take a moment to make some suggestions on how the series can build itself back up again.
Now, before I delve too deeply into that I want to make a distinction between the games in the series. Now the first three games were very good with the second, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, being hailed as the best to this day and thoroughly cementing this franchise as one that would be around to stay. The first, just called Paper Mario, was a classic that paved the way for these games coming to fruition and the third, Super Paper Mario, was still a pretty good game in its own right despite not being quite as good as the second. Now, the problems started after the third game when the fourth game came out. After Super Paper Mario came out Nintendo decided to double down on the paper idea and decided to go for a simpler approach back in the Mushroom Kingdom. I’m think it had something to do with sales not being what they expected so they thought to just start from scratch. The new game Paper Mario: Sticker Star received less than enthusiastic responses to put it mildly. So much for boosting sales for the franchise. The next game in the series Paper Mario: Color Splash didn’t do much better in that regard. Being totally honest, I didn’t even know that the game came out until months later. They really didn’t know how to market things with the Wii U did they? Recently, the latest installment, Paper Mario: The Origami King came out pretty much out of nowhere and while not being a bad game, it was not really at the same level as the original trilogy. So what happened? I’m so glad you asked.
The main problem with the series of games since Paper Mario: Sticker Star is that the games have become a lot more simplified. To be fair, some of these trends did start taking place in Super Paper Mario, but the game still managed to be good because it still had the necessary imagination of an RPG. One of the reasons the Paper Mario series was so good was because it was a fun RPG to explore with Mario characters with an good story, a fun battle system, a fun world to explore, and a lot of personality from the characters you met on the journey other than Mario. Now the first two games were pretty strong in these aspects, but the third installment started to falter because while the story was still good and the characters still had a fair of personality, the problem lied in the changing of the battle system and world exploration. The battle system was completely scrapped in favor of a more traditional platforming approach which some nuance between the four playable characters. The worlds to explore were contained in storybook chapters that you entered through a central hub which made the game feel a little less open than before since each section takes place in a different dimension where backtracking is essentially nonexistent. That is not to say that it was that bad, but the thing is that the changes didn’t add a lot to the game. The main problem is that it started to feel more like a standard Super Mario game instead of a Paper Mario game. Unfortunately, they continued this trend in the following games by experiment with the combat system while simplifying the story, character interactions, and world exploration. If that wasn’t bad enough the combat was grossly imbalanced in Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash. Now thankfully, there has been some recovery in the aspects of characterization and world exploration with the newest title Paper Mario: The Origami King. The story and gameplay could still use a bit more work, but the series feels like it could potentially be able to make a comeback. Now what I want to do is talk about how we can further speed up this series’ recovery.
The first thing that should be addressed should be the gameplay, specifically the experience of leveling up. I addressed in one of my first posts that experience can feel out of place and unnecessary in certain settings. However, I have yet to see a time where it wasn’t beneficial to an RPG. So why not include it? You can experiment with the combat system as much as you want, but if fighting battles doesn’t really benefit you then even if the combat system works just fine you are still not going to get into that many battles because that just eats up time. The second thing that should be addressed is characterization. The reason having party members worked so well in the first two games is they not only enhanced the gameplay, but they also were interesting characters that made the world feel a little more real, so if you can’t get them to be a part of gameplay then you should at the very least make sure they are fun to interact with from both a story and gameplay perspective. In other words, have the character interesting enough to bring along while also being useful in taking with you to explore the world. There is one last thing that I want to say. Recently the Paper Mario series has been fairly insistent on paper gimmicks for each installment. I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing to incorporate these ideas into the series, but I feel the series would benefit more from instead of having just one paper theme per game, they should instead have different paper themes in each area of the game so that they don’t feel stale after a while. Or maybe incorporate more paper elements into the gameplay itself. As an example, bring stickers back as a temporary/permanent powerup in battles you can equip in order to give you different effects with your attacks. That’s just an example, but all I want to say is that if you are going to force yourself to go heavy on the paper aspect of the series just make sure each installment doesn’t feel like a one trick pony. The appeal of the Paper Mario series was never in the fact that the characters were paper, but that the characters never felt paper thin. If you create a good RPG with an engaging story and world to discover with a fun gameplay experience, that is all I need. If you are having trouble with ideas though, I have a way to buy you some time Nintendo. Next year, just re-release the first three Paper Mario games as an all-stars collection like you did for Mario’s 35th birthday this year. Just a thought, but trust me when I say you wouldn’t be able to keep it on the shelves. Thanks for hearing me out everyone. Oh, and have a Happy Holidays! I figured I’d just slide that in at the end.
Thoughts on Roguelikes
I have played videogames for a good portion of my life, but I never really got into roguelikes until the last five years or so. So I am relatively new to the genre but I thought since the “final” DLC for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth will be coming out at the end of this month, I figured I would take some time to share my thoughts on the genre as a whole. Now the most common features of roguelikes, especially in dungeon crawlers, are permadeath and procedurally generated levels for those of you who are not in the know. That means that when you die, note that I said when and not if, you lose all your progress and head back to the start of the run. Now, I am going to take a look at a few of these games as a way to analyze the benefits and detriments of this type of structure on the game’s experience. So, let’s first start with the game that I mentioned earlier, as it is considered one of the most famous examples of this genre in recent years. Let’s talk about The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.
Now, I have actually played both versions of The Binding of Isaac and gotten all of the achievements for both on Steam. That also means that once the new DLC releases then I will have a sharp spike in my hours on that game. That’s not what important though. What I should mention is the game itself, and on that note this game is really weird. It very loosely is inspired by the story from the Bible where Abraham’s son Isaac is nearly used as a sacrifice. I didn’t think that story could get darker but it seems that I was wrong. In the game Isaac’s mother is told by “God” that Isaac is impure and the only way to purify him is to get rid of him so Isaac escapes into the basement so he won’t die. There he meets many nightmarish creatures that want him dead, a lot of which seem to be a reflection of Isaac’s worst fears. I am not even going to try to unpack the story so I will just focus on the gameplay. The game is pretty simple since all you can do is move and fire tears at enemies and with no reload times attached. There are game stats that influence your overall abilities but those are mostly influenced by the items that you pick up throughout your run. The thing is, some of the items in this game are much better than others so your run can largely be left up to luck. You can get better items as long as you make a certain amount of progress in the game since certain things are unlocked even if your attempts end in failure. That is also how you unlock the other characters to play as well, all of which have their own unique items to unlock. The game has so many items and because of this the game’s balance is incredibly easy to break with the right items. While I do enjoy the game there is a certain point where unless the items you get are decent, you will not progress very far. Truth be told there are a lot more garbage items than good items so I would recommend picking a character you like and sticking with it for decent runs. If not, you better have a wiki ready because no person alive can memorize all the effects on each item. Well, no person alive that I know.
Now, let’s move on to a game with a story that is a little more understandable. Instead of shooting tears as projectiles we have good old fashioned bullets this time. Although, this game takes more than a few liberties on what counts as a gun and what counts as a bullet. Yes, I’m talking about Enter the Gungeon. This game’s backstory is a lot simpler. A bullet fell from the sky one day and created a dungeon filled with enemies armed with ammunition. Legend tells of a bullet that has the ability to kill the past so you pick a character to fight through the gungeon to correct their past regrets. This game has two types of things to collect: items and guns. In the same vain as The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, you unlock things as you play to have a chance for better runs, but you always start out with the same stats and guns when starting a run. The main difference is that you have at least some idea of what you will get based on the design of the chests on each floor. Not like that means a lot since there are a lot of items in this game too. Although, it is a lot more manageable in this game since the majority of the items do not drastically alter the run, whereas it seems like The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth the game is trying to break itself, usually in the most amusing way possible. Enter the Gungeon benefits from having a tighter focus with its gameplay, but it still leads to times when you have to rely on decent weapons to make meaningful products. After all, combat is more complicated than in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth since different guns have different ways of attacking and you can switch between them freely, allowing for different ways to approach the same run. Overall, Enter the Gungeon has more skill required of the player, but I find The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has more replay value due to the absurd amount of content. Unfortunately, due to the coding of the original game there won’t be any DLC for Enter the Gungeon, however there is a sequel if you wan t more content for it. I haven’t played it though.
Now, the previous two games I mentioned were pretty recent games when considering the scope of the roguelike genre. So naturally, one would expect me to talk about an older title to show off my well rounded knowledge. You would think that, but if you were paying attention to what I said earlier you would know not to rely on me for games that were released prior to about five years ago. So if you didn’t realize this, shame on you for not paying attention. Also, I’ll be talking about Hades. I know this is as recent as it gets, but I feel that it is an interesting take on the formula that has been prevalent in games such as the previous two. For one, the permadeath and random dungeons has a clear underlying reason in the story since the main character Zagreus is a god trying to escape the underworld so he can stick it to his dear old dad. Since he is a god, he can never really die and the procedural generation of each attempt is mentioned as being a way to make sure Zagreus can’t map out an efficient way to the surface. Another interesting thing aside from the story focus is that you improve your stats by dying and going back to the hub world. The more progress you make in a run, the more you can power yourself up to have a chance to win later. Also, the game is difficult no matter which gameplay style/weapon you go with while still feeling pretty balanced overall. That being said, I haven’t played through the game enough yet to determine what weapon works best for me. However, the weapons, as far as I know do not seem to influence which boons you receive during your run so the powerups seem to be entirely random. Not that I expected different in a roguelike. However, this level of randomness doesn’t have a huge effect on what you can do with your own skills. In fact, this game is definitely,, the most skill heavy of the three. Overall, I think the game has more of a need for skill, so I consider it a nice change of pace.
Now, what I am trying to get at by talking about these is that roguelikes put you in an endless loop of trying to get a good run to try and reach the end. The problem lies in why else would you want to keep replaying it, especially after you have gotten a good run. That is where there either bombard you with added content like with The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth or keep you invested in the actual gameplay with more tactical precision such as in Enter the Gungeon and in Hades. The thing is while adding content to your game is all well and good, once the content runs out then people might lose interest right after. As much as I enjoyed playing The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, I haven’t touched it in a long time since the game can be a bit too unbalanced with its surplus of items and there is never a concrete goal to aim for since the paths split so much. At least in the other two games, no matter how much you go off the beaten path, you still end up heading to the same goal. There may just be a few distractions along the way. Now I am not saying adding content is bad nor am I saying that The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and its subsequent DLCs aren’t fun. What I am saying is that I will mainly be playing again to check out the new stuff that’s be added, not because I find much about the game itself to be very engaging story wise or gameplay wise. I find games like the other two to be more interesting to come back to because they actually have some interesting characters to interact with and the gameplay continues to offer a consistent challenge no matter how much previous progress you have made. Of course I could always change my mind about Hades if I ever end up finishing it. We’ll see down the line if maybe more roguelikes like Hades continue to pop up in the future since this could be a turning point in the genre. Okay, maybe I thinking too much.
The Romance Cliché
Hello, it’s me again. It’s time to talk about another famous cliché that exists within gaming that I want to talk about today for my own self-satisfaction. I can’t assume that anything I write will actually make a difference in the games industry, because like it or not I am but one voice in a sea of many and my words come across like someone who is talking excitedly with my mouth full. So, rather than wait for the day that people actually care about what I have to say, I would much rather just write these posts for fun. And that’s totally okay with me. I am not trying to force something or pretend I know exactly what I am doing. I feel like that should be normal, but yet the games industry has this idea that they have perfected the formula for games and that they can just place in these storylines into any game they choose. I at least try to sound like I care about what I am writing. The result is debatable but at least I try. Nowadays it doesn’t even feel like they really care and just try to force in things that they saw worked well before. One of the most egregious examples of this is when they add in a romantic element to games that really shouldn’t have any romantic element attached and make it feel as though it was just kind of tacked on to it. So I want to take some time to attack this cliché with everything I have. Admittedly all I have is a small blog and about two decades worth of gaming experience, but it’s something at least.
Now, some of you who actually read my blog regularly (if you actually do I really appreciate it) may think that I just want to talk about the princess cliché for another post. I won’t deny some inspiration was taken from that post, but I didn’t want to spend another post really talking about it. The reason is that the games I mentioned previously either don’t try to force a romantic element or are using established characters so that the romantic element comes across more naturally. Of course, there is one exception. Now this would be the first time I bring up a previous game I have already mentioned in a blog post. However, I feel that this something that needs mentioning just due to how awful its inclusion was in the game. With that in mind let’s once again talk about Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
Now I already talked about how awful getting repeatedly getting kidnapped is as a plot device and my gripes on it from a gaming perspective. You may have noticed that I tried not to delve too deeply into the plot as I talked about the game. It wasn’t because I was worried about spoiling the game for you. As if anyone would be worried about spoilers from this game. In all honesty the main reason was simply that I find the plot to be so bad that I just wanted to bring it up for as little as possible. However, since we have come to this point I will give you a taste on how terrible the plot actually is. Elise, the game’s princess for those who have forgotten, has this evil power sleeping inside of her that will awaken anytime she cries. Sounds dumb right? It gets worse as by the end of the game Sonic dies, briefly, and Elise cries for the first time in her life and unleashes the evil power that is soon to destroy the world. She managed to hold the waterworks when her dad died as a child, but when the main character dies then all bets are off apparently. But now the final boss is here so they need to bring Sonic back with the power of the Chaos Emeralds and… Elise’s kiss? Again, it’s really weird. Aside from this being a dumb story, it was also unnecessary. Honestly speaking, Elise never really seemed to be very strong-willed in the game so destroying the town or something similar could have achieved the same effect. It never mattered what happened to the people since by the end of the game the entire continuity gets erased. Or maybe they could have had it so that instead of having her cry being the trigger for the final boss,have it be in a pendant or something that she gives up to save Sonic. It makes more sense than the main villain, who has had no interaction with Sonic the whole game, knowing to kill him to get Elise to release his other half and become the final boss. At the end of the day, the romance feels tacked on as a plot device and a poorly executed one at that. Maybe if the game’s tone and plot weren’t so all over the place, then I might not feel like the ending is just bad Sonic fanfiction.
Now Hear Me Out: Console Wars
This week, I thought that I would take a break from talking about games that I am not qualified enough to be talking about and decided to go for the big picture. Now we all know that the holiday season is coming up and what gift could be better than a shiny new console for the kids to play with? Probably new underwear if I’m honest. That’s not as much fun to talk about though so we will be ignoring the notion of practical gift-giving for this post. Now, going back to the above question, we will say for argument’s sake that the answer is nothing. So then, we must raise the question of which one would be the best one to get. This is not the first time people have had this discussion and it will most certainly not be the last. Part of me wants to just say to get a PC and be done with this debate, but I like to tell myself in the mirror that I am better than that. So, let’s take a look at who should be first pick for being wrapped up for the holiday season.
Now right off the bat, it should be worth noting that there are three consoles currently in the running for being purchased for the kids this year. They are the Nintendo Switch, the Playstation 5, and the Xbox Series X/S. However, I am going to exclude Nintendo from the lineup this time due to it having the advantage of having been around much longer than the other two. There is a much better selection of exclusives on it since it has been around since 2017 so it wouldn’t be fair to compare the two. Besides, Nintendo has always been doing its own thing since as long as it can make a decent game or two for their system they can experiment however they want. They just want to be left alone to have fun by themselves and I will exercise my full willpower and respect that and not bring them into this messy power struggle. Of course the only reason they can get away with this is their properties have been well established for a long time now and have kept their characters under lock and key (for the most part). Instead let’s look at the two who are trying to compete with each other for no real reason, but to draw in new consumers. Although I feel like a lot of people were already taken in by the new Animal Crossing game so hopefully people were willing to hold out for these new consoles.
Now before we begin, I would like to ask an important question. What is the most important thing to consider when buying a new console? Now some people might say specs and they would be wrong because if they really cared that much about specs then they would be getting a PC. Obviously, good PCs are more expensive though and don’t fit as well underneath a tree. Besides consoles are meant to be more of a laid back affair anyway so the best way to measure the worth of a console is the enjoyment one gets out of it. That should be a given, so let’s look at what makes or breaks a console. Let’s look at the games. Now, there aren’t a lot of games out for the systems at this time to be honest. But, there is backwards compatibility with the previous generation consoles so you can play some old favorites on the newer models. So if you already own an older version of one of these consoles then the answer should speak for itself. There is no real reason to switch to a new console at this point in time, so just stick with what you know and keep giving your money to Sony/Microsoft. However, for those of you who are just getting consoles for the first time, let’s look even deeper as we delve into the exclusives.
Exclusives are what makes a console marketable to the masses. After all, why would you play a game on one console as opposed to another if they have the same lineup of games. Then the console wars would be even more of a joke then they already are. So naturally, having certain properties under your belt would give you the edge against consumers. I mean, do you really think Nintendo could get away with all of the experimentation they have been doing with their consoles if they didn’t have some of the most iconic gaming franchises of all time? Absolutely not. A console is only as good as the games it produces and the benefit of having exclusives is to show off the hardware and what the game is capable of accomplishing. Now, right now there are a few games for each console as a bit of a way to taste what is possible in terms of gameplay on the new consoles. The big contenders that I can see is that Sony has more Spider-Man and Dark Souls for everyone, and Microsoft is giving another entry to the Halo series of games. Now I know I am oversimplifying this, but that is to make this as easy as possible to understand. You should probably pick the games that will reward the most amount of playtime and for that you should probably go with the games that require more than just an itchy trigger finger and actually care about having a decent single-player campaign. I know I am biased here, but in my experience a focus on single-player will always beat a focus on multi-player because the enjoyment of multi-player games is dependent not just on your own skill level, but also the skill levels of those you are playing with. So honestly, if you are really torn between the two, go with the PlayStation 5. That is, if you can find one at market price and not being sold for three times as much on eBay.
Now before I close off, I do want to say that my experience with these two systems are minimal. If it wasn’t obvious already I mainly play games in PC nowadays, but I grew up with Nintendo. Truth be told, my first console was actually a PlayStation but I never really used it at the time. I know it doesn’t sound like I am going anywhere with this, but just hear me out for a bit. Okay? Okay. Now, having had chances in more recent years to play both consoles from previous generations I can say that they are both fine. The reason why I lean towards the PlayStation as the better option is because while not every one of their exclusives is amazing, I get the feeling that they were actually putting some effort into a single-player campaign and they just have a better history with those types of games. Xbox feels like its exclusives have more of a multi-player focus since it has so many shooters in its history. That isn’t a bad thing, but in my semi-humble opinion, a good focus on single-player with some good gameplay is more satisfying to me than quick bursts of adrenaline in a multi-player gameplay loop. I like to have fun at my own pace and not let others dictate how I enjoy myself. If you feel the same and can find a new-generation console without selling your kidneys, then I recommend the new PlayStation. If you prefer to have a console that is more centered around gathering your mates for some multi-player action, then go ahead and get a new Xbox. Good luck getting any decent games for it right now though. You can also choose not to take part in the console wars at all and realize that the only reason we have this happen every few years is so that the companies can better promote their consoles and make money despite barely having any games out for them. Just a thought, but thanks for hearing me out and Happy Holidays.
Thoughts on Motion Controls
Now you might be wondering why I call myself a casual gamer. If you weren’t, well I’m going to talk about it anyway. Now I was pretty off and on with videogames when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was twelve that I got a console that I used consistently. That console was the Nintendo Wii. If I’m being honest, I don’t remember why I wanted one. All I know is that twelve years have gone by since then and they have transformed me into the casual gamer I am today. Due to having used it for a long time it is no longer with me. However, I will remember the time we spent together fondly. Well, most of it at least. Actually, let me take this opportunity to reflect on motion controls in general. Let’s start off with a personal favorite.
Now the interesting thing about my exposure to the Super Mario Galaxy series was that I ended up starting with the second installment first. I was in Video Game club in high school, yes that was an actual club, and for one of our first games we played the first few levels of the game. I immediately went to get it a few days later because I wanted to finish what I started. Now, if I being honest, I remember certain areas of the game to be such a hassle when I first played the game. Why? Well, it should be obvious since it is given away in the title. I mean, no one is ever good at motion controls when they start off even if the controls manage to read your movements properly. However, the motion controls in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and its predecessor are pretty straightforward for the most part as you can make it through most of the game without precise motion controls. The only motion control that is essential for game advancement is waving the remote which works really well due to its simplicity. The only parts of the game that were annoying were when the controls required more precision. ESPECIALLY, when they added an arbitrary time limit. In case it wasn’t clear there, having to use precise controls was not a point in the Wii’s favor. But surely they wouldn’t try to make a game using precise controls as a mechanic right? RIGHT?
Okay, so this is the part where I say before I go into a little mini rant that I have not finished this game at time of writing. There may come a day where I eventually beat it, but that will be for another time. Right now, we are going to have a nice long discussion about The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword. Now, in theory being able to swing your remote as a sword sounds really cool. At first, I was totally on board. Then I got to the first dungeon. I didn’t realize how much I could hate fighting enemies until I started fighting those spider enemies. Even worse was how precise movement needed to be to even finish off certain enemies. That would have been bad enough, if it wasn’t for the fact that the remote constantly kept going out of sync. Now the game has other things that bug me which I won’t get into here. I am trying to keep the amount of random tangents to a minimum this time. The point is that motion controls are more of a detriment to the experience than an enhancement. Having precision control be a puzzle element is something that I will never for the life of me understand. Now, before I go and say motion controls are completely useless I do want to talk about one more game briefly.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was the third installment of the wonderful Metroid Prime series of games. It would later be bundled in the collection called the Metroid Prime Trilogy where you could play all three game from the series. The previous two games having been on the GameCube were refitted to work with the same motion control setup as the third installment. Now, I never had the chance to play the first two on the GameCube so I don’t have any idea what the difference in control was between the two versions. Since it used the famous GameCube controller then it was probably fine but just know I will not be comparing the two styles. What I will say is that the motion controls work pretty well in all three games in the collection and never do I feel as though it is in the way of gameplay. Not only that, but I feel like being able to aim using the remote is very engaging and feels as though it is actually contributing to gameplay and making the most of the motion controls the system has to offer. Granted there were a couple of times I had some trouble, but that was mainly due to my terrible reflexes.
Now you are probably wondering why I decided to talk about this. Well the main reason is virtual reality, or VR for short. Now, I have used VR a couple of times in a couple of different settings and I feel that it is pretty cool technology. I want to ask this question though: Is motion controls the way forward for VR? Sure it is cool to walk up to a virtual object and pick it up, but will motion controls ever really be able to accurately read our movements? Not to mention that we all have had that moment where we were so immersed until we accidentally walked into a wall. I really feel that motion controls are a lot better for certain types of games, but it is not universally applicable to each genre. If we’re being honest we have all seen that in most adaptations of similar technology to media, we see these people in pods or machines not moving around. Instead the technology is usually synced up to their brains for real-time movement. Whether or not you think that is a good idea, I just want to make it clear that virtual reality is only immersive for as long as we can fool ourselves. Motion controls may help as a gimmick for now, but it should only really be seen as a stopgap measure. I don’t know how VR will end, but I do know as we all do that this is not its final form. I also believe that motion controls will probably not stick with VR until the end. I don’t really have any proof for this. Well, except for the Kinect. Now THAT was a choice.
The Princess Cliché
As I mentioned in my previous post, my first exposure to gaming was Nintendo’s Pokémon Silver. Thanks to that, most of my gaming experience was with Nintendo. Now, I will admit that most of their games were fun to play. However, there are a couple of things about their games that I feel need to be addressed. I will try not to be too harsh with what I say, but no promises. And for the record, I am not singling out Nintendo when I write this. They just happen to be the ones to use this cliché the most. With all that in mind, let’s talk about princesses.
Let’s first talk about the Zelda franchise. The Legend of Zelda series has spawned a good amount of titles throughout the years. I’ll be honest when I say I have not played very single one of them, nor do I have a desire to play every single Zelda game. However, I have played a pretty good portion of them and that is enough for me to understand the basic formula. Evil comes to the land of Hyrule and then the predestined hero Link has to go stop it and save the princess Zelda from the clutches of said evil. Pretty standard stuff and definitely a full on cliché. However, I am willing to give this franchise the benefit of the doubt because it at least has some bearing on the story. You see, while I haven’t played through every game in the franchise, I have beaten Ocarina of Time. This game alone shows why the princess cliché is at least tolerable despite being woefully predictable.
Now I will be honest, and say that Ocarina of Time is not my favorite entry in the franchise. Part of the reason is due to having no nostalgia with the title since I never really felt compelled to beat it until the 3Ds version came out in 2011. Part of it is also because with the exception of a couple of enemies, it never really had anything interesting to fight. As lastly, due to it being the first title in 3D, I found a good portion of the puzzles to be fairly simple. It’s not like I don’t think it is good, but I also don’t feel that it is great. All that being said, the one aspect of the game that I feel deserves a lot of praise is the story since it firmly establishes Zelda as the center of the world. You see, if it weren’t for Zelda naively believing that she would be able to overwrite destiny as a young child, the subsequent timelines would never come to be. She, albeit indirectly, is responsible for the splitting of the Triforce by sending you on that quest and entrusting you with the Ocarina of Time. However, learning from her failures and growing from them gave her the Triforce of Wisdom which made her an important piece in later games. There are other games I could mention to highlight Zelda’s importance, but I don’t want to get too far off topic. What I want you to take out of this is that the princess cliché is there not entirely out of laziness, but rather there is also the argument that the world itself considers her to be important to keeping things in balance. This is further elaborated on in Skyward Sword due to her being the one chosen by the goddess and all that, but I will talk about this game more in a later post. Just realize that her being kidnapped directly effects the fate of the world itself, unlike another popular franchise.
However, before we get into that franchise that we all know I will end up bringing up by the end of this post, I will be bluing your berries for a moment to talk about another game with this cliché that I have not played but would like to bring up. Now this game has been ported to who knows how many consoles at this point so I know I don’t have an excuse, but let’s not focus too much on that and talk about Resident Evil 4. Now since I haven’t played it I cannot praise the way it influenced the way we think about third person shooters to this day or whatever. Feel free to have your own separate discussion about that in the comments if you like. What I am going to talk about is the story since that is something I have experienced with the lovely help of plot synopses and YouTube. Now to sum it all up in a few sentences seeing as how you are all probably familiar with this game to at least some degree, the basic plot is about saying the president’s daughter who was kidnapped and having to fight some zombies along the way. I know, Ashley isn’t technically a princess, but it is such a thinly disguised princess cliché that I don’t believe it’s worth mentioning. The only reason I mention it is so that you are aware that I do have a basic idea of what I am talking about. Now, this game’s is incredibly simple with around half of it being an escort mission. The thing is that it fortunately is designed so that escorting Ashley around is not much of an issue during gameplay as she has the ability to hide herself from enemies when prompted to do so. Now the main reason why I bring this up is because again, while she is there solely for the sake of the plot, it is understandable why she is there. Whether you find escorting her troublesome or not, you understand that she is your main mission and that if anything happens to her there will be dire consequences. You see, if you are going to play it safe and base your story around this cliché, give an idea of the stakes while keeping things both simple and in accordance with common sense. Note that when I say common sense, I mean according to how the world around the game is based. It makes sense to kidnap Zelda because she is a key part of Hyrule, and it makes sense to kidnap Ashley as a means to get to the president. Easy right? Now before we move on the the final stretch, let’s go on one last detour.
Now, for those of you who are feeling like I am stringing you along for nothing, well there is a game that perfectly encapsulates how you are feeling right now. This game is part of a franchise that is older than me and can give me a run for my money in terrible ideas and atrocious dialogue. Look no further than the entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise that nearly killed it off for good. I refer to none other than Sonic the Hedgehog, more famously known as Sonic ’06. Now I have been fortunate to not have the displeasure of actually playing this game, but in my youth I naively decided to watch a full walkthrough of the game and witnessed one of the most atrocious plots for a game that I had ever seen. And that was before I actually had any background on the characters in the game. The princess Elise is the focus of the princess cliché this time, and she is a prime example of why you cannot introduce this idea into any game you like. The biggest reason is obviously that no matter what the plot is, the game has to be playable and enjoyable, since the main focus of a game should always be gameplay. Unfortunately, the gameplay is atrocious from what I’ve seen so the game shot itself in the foot right out of the gate. However, even without the terrible gameplay the plot is still terribly executed because they reuse the same cliché too many times within the same game. If that weren’t bad enough, the townsfolk do not ever seem to be concerned with the number of kidnappings. There is absolutely no sense of the stakes. In Hyrule, when evil is lurking the atmosphere changes. In Resident Evil 4, when Ashley is taken away, you get a game over. Not only do you not interact with Elise in anything other than in cutscenes, the atmosphere feels the same no matter how many times this girl is kidnapped. So that means the game itself undermines your efforts to save her by having her getting kidnapped immediately after and the game shows no reason to be concerned with her kidnapping. So why would you bother saving her? Normally the answer would be so that you could play more of the game but I think I made it clear that’s a non-starter unless you sport masochistic tendencies. At the end of the day, the game needs to keep you invested and it can’t do that with idiotic plots or terrible gameplay.
Now, I realize I have been putting off talking about the big one for a while now. The reason being, there isn’t that much to say about it. You all know which games I’m talking about here. It’s the Mario series. It is the most famous example I can think of in which a cliché has managed to turn into an expectation. And it is not as though the kidnapping means anything. Peach’s kidnappings have become such a formality at this point that there is no way the place can’t run without her and it isn’t like she is a valuable political asset. That is just what happens. Sure you can explain it as Bowser’s crush or as a challenge to Mario, but that is just a thinly disguised way of saying she is kidnapped so that the game can happen. I guess that’s fine. You don’t need to have more than just a simple plot. It’s not like it matters that Bowser can go kidnapping her one day and then go out go-karting with everyone the week after. At the end of the day, what matters is that the gameplay is fun. However, what has happened is that the series can’t really branch out from that anymore. Even in the spin-off games Princess Peach still ends up getting kidnapped even if it is not by Bowser. And whenever it isn’t her being kidnapped, someone else usually does in her place. I won’t say it is always unreasonable, but surely there has to be another way to start off a game right? It would be one thing if she were important for an evil scheme, but most of the time there is no indication of that being the case. So why rely on this cliché for so many games in the franchise? It doesn’t add anything to the story, it’s just kind of there. Now I am not saying that the gameplay is lacking in any recent Mario games. But, is there any harm in experimenting with the story as well? It’s fine to play things safe, but I feel like if I am going to go through eight different worlds for this lady, I should get something more than just some cake.
Pokémon Open World
One of the first videogames I played was Pokémon Silver when I was six years old. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a very smart six-year-old and so I wasn’t able to get very far in it at the time. Fast forward a few years and I was finally able to beat it, or at least the first half of the game. Red wasn’t until much later. Of course during that time I played a fair number of the other installments in the series. More so than any other Nintendo property I might add. I didn’t even know that Italian plumber duo existed until my age hit double digits. And even then it still took me another year to figure out the name of the green one. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that back in the day, I was a Pokémon aficionado. However, in recent years, I have been more
tepig tepid when playing the latest installments. It’s not like they are bad games. However, I feel as though the formula has run a bit stale and I would like to make a few suggestions on how to improve the formula. Of course, there is no reason to listen to a random guy on the internet right now, but hear me out. I think that what is really needed to shake up the formula, is to open up the world of Pokémon.
Now I do want to make it clear that having an open world is not necessarily what I am referring to with my previous statement. Sure, it would be pretty cool to see Pokémon roaming about like they do in the wild area in the most recent installment of the series. I do not believe this is a new idea to anyone who has played these games over the years. However, that would probably take a lot of work to establish and would probably have to be done in installments. Especially considering we have around 900 Pokémon without counting the different forms some of them have now. I am not saying that this should not become a reality, but I figure it probably will not happen until they run out of ideas for new Pokémon. Considering some of the newest ones though, it is clear that they are pretty much fine with anything. So, let us shelve this idea for now and talk about other ways to open things up. Let’s start with the most important aspect to address: battling.
Battling is probably the most important part of the Pokémon series with the sole contender being looting around in NPC trash bins for potions. I kid of course. That is just what I like to do when barging into their homes uninvited. Besides, you have to really be trying to run out of money to the point when you desperately have to search trash bins for items. But anyway, back to battling. Now without battling, there is obviously no game as you cannot proceed without higher level Pokémon and the only way to do that is by battling. Battling has evolved a lot since the first game with implementations such as an experience bar, double battles, and even different types. However, in the past few games there has always been a new battle technique that is immediately thrown out in the next game for something new. These one-off techniques are presumably resting at the bottom of an NPC trash bin. That’s right! I am making that joke relevant to the topic so I can keep it in. If you don’t like it, fair enough. But it stays in, because I am stubborn like that. Now leaving aside where these new battle ideas go after they are abandoned, it should be clear to anyone who has been playing previous games in the series that they have been following this formula as of late. There is a new technique that boosts the power of a Pokémon in battle, but it never seen in subsequent games. It doesn’t really add to the battle system, but is more of an extra trump card for you to use. It does make the battle system interesting enough, but I feel it only delays the main problem of the need to redesign the battle system.
Now you are probably thinking that this task is just as difficult as doing an open world game, but I don’t think that is true. Otherwise I wouldn’t have brought this up in the first place. For more on what I mean, let’s look at some of the spinoff games for a moment. One series I definitely have to bring up is the Poképark spin-offs. These games while not perfect showed a much more interesting, if not simplified way of interacting with different Pokémon. The most interesting part about the game is that you don’t have to battle in order to befriend certain Pokémon. You can play tag with them, hide and seek, or even do platforming challenges. Now I am not saying that all of these things should be incorporated into the main Pokémon games. However, I feel like having challenges like racing against other Pokémon could be pretty interesting to see in one of the main games. Even the battling was more interesting due to the fact that it was dynamic and I felt in control. Sure the things I could in battle were pretty limited, but at least when if I had a disadvantage in strength my chances were not zero. However, this would only really work best in a spin-off setting. The point is that there are a lot of ideas in the spin-off games that I think could enhance the main entries.
Another spin-off series I would like to draw people’s attention to is the Pokémon Ranger series. I’ll be perfectly honest when I say that I have no idea how you could incorporate the battle system into the main series, but there has got to be more we can do with this idea. For instance, I think it would be interesting to have a game where you try to be the best ranger that ever was. Instead of fighting gyms, you need to resolve different conflicts in the region. If we can’t have that, maybe we could partner with them for a mission in the game. They could be so much more than a trainer to fight. Going back to the Poképark games, if we are against having those ways of capturing Pokémon work for a trainer, then we could have that be the way Pokémon rangers can bond with Pokémon. Can you tell I want another Pokémon Ranger game? No? Well let me make it clear. I WANT ANOTHER ONE! Look I get that it is not the same as the mainstream games, but being a Pokémon ranger could give use to ability to just summon and befriend Pokémon to solve environmental problems without having to force the Pokémon your raising to learn a move that you will never use in an actual battle (except maybe surf). Just saying. I feel like that would be a great team up.
Even though I say all of this, I recognize the fact that the battle system is the core of the Pokémon universe. I also understand that it would be quite difficult to shake up the battle system to such a degree. However, changing the mechanics isn’t the only way to change how battling works. You see, the additions of the new battle mechanics in recent games have served as a way to make battles more challenging. After all, the only things you need to be aware of in battle are types advantages and level differences. These one-off gimmicks just take the battle system a step further. However, the strategy still remains pretty basic. So, wouldn’t it be good to look at what we can do to make battles require more thought. I get that this series has a younger audience, but I feel as though there are ways to make things more interesting. for example, imagine if the gyms you would face did not focus on one specific type of Pokémon. What if the gyms had something like a variety of Pokémon taken from the area that they are in and show to have the best chance at fighting them you would need to know about all the Pokémon in the area and not just one type. Or what if instead of having a broader focus at gyms, we could instead shift their focus so that the gym’s Pokémon were well trained in a particular area. So one gym could have a bunch of Pokémon that focused on attacking quickly as so you might want to bring Pokémon with good defensive capabilities. Another could be a gym that has Pokémon who are tanky and store up power as the battle goes on, so you decide to bring Pokémon who have high attack power. Also, it always felt weird that the elite four had specific type focuses as well, so maybe in this case they could be all-rounders who lean in a certain direction, and the champion would have a good grasp on everything. Again, not sure how this could work, but it would be pretty cool don’t you think?
Now, battling is not the only way to make things more open. It just happens to be the most direct way. However, there all other ways to interact with the world other than just battling that are already implemented into the game. The thing is that while some of them are at least useful for getting rare items or Pokémon, some of them are just there to use if you feel like it. For instance, remember contests? They were an interesting little distraction, but they served almost no purpose in any of the games they were in. You did get a rival at least when they fleshed things out in Pokémon Omega Ruby/ Alpha Sapphire, but it was never in any way required. Now I think that not having required activities is fine, but they would help contribute to world-building if done properly. Like what if you had to go undercover at a contest to stop [insert bad group here] from making away with the winner of the contest. Or maybe you had to find where your Pokémon have disappeared to after leaving them with the breeder. Or maybe they could have it where you needed to take part in competitions for catching Pokémon in order to drive the plot forward. I think we can all agree that the plot is pretty weak in the main games. I’ll be honest when I say I have not played a lot of the more recent title, but I doubt anything has changed. So why not try to flesh out the world with a more interesting story. If I remember correctly, I can’t think of a story in a main series game, with maybe the exception of Pokémon Black/White, that was in anyway fleshed out. At this point, is it too much to ask for a story that is more than just go to gym, get badge and somehow destroy criminal organization as a sideshow during our travels. Even when world ending events transpire, at soon as we take care of it, everything goes back to normal and most NPCs don’t even seem to care.
Look, I am not saying that the games are not fun as is. I just want to address the fact that eventually there may come a time where this series will stretch itself too thin, if it hasn’t already. Competitive battling has become increasingly easier as the years have gone on. First there was EV training, then there was IV training and the huge buff to the experience share, and now you can even change a Pokémon’s inherent nature. The thing is, there will come a point where you cannot add on anything else to refine a turn-based combat system any further. So at that point, maybe when we have 2,000 Pokémon, we can at least try to see if we can make the regions we have explored feel like more than just a slog of one battle after another. Let’s face it, battling is really only interesting competitively. The main games are way easier than they used to be ten years ago, but yet it feels like nothing was done to compensate for it. Now that just feels like a bit of a waste. I threw out these ideas because I wanted to raise this question. Is it a good idea for the Pokémon series to keep developing this way? Or will we eventually lose the sense of accomplishment that comes with being a Pokémon Master? The way I see it, sooner or later, this series will need to evolve. Alright, I’m done. Thanks for hearing me out.
Thoughts on Game Experience
I have played many videogames over the years and while I do not consider myself to be an expert in any of them, I think I am at least knowledgeable enough to form an opinion on them. You can feel free to disagree with me, but since it’s my blog, then I’ll still write whatever I want. Now of all the types of games I have played, I have the most experience with platformers and puzzle games. So naturally, I will be talking mainly about RPGs. What? Did you think I would actually talk about a genre that doesn’t have an experience bar? That would defeat the whole purpose of the title! Besides, I do have a fair amount of experience with RPGs as well. Honestly though, it is hard not to these days since so many games of different genres have added RPG elements at some point. The most consistent addition when incorporate elements from this genre is leveling up by gaining experience. But what experiences do you gain when you are gaining experience? How is a level system used differently when not used in an RPG setting? It might seem like a weird topic, but here are my thoughts on it anyway.Continue reading “Thoughts on Game Experience”