Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Administrative Note

Blogging takes a lot of time. I enjoy it, but I need that time for other things. Gamer's Bread will continue, but instead of updating three times a week (which is a lot), I am reducing to one post a week. I'll still be providing commentary on the gaming industry at large, but only once a week now. I thank you, the readers, for your support, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading my blog.

If you're looking for today's post, here it is.

The Sonic Improvement Strategy

Sonic the Hedgehog is a gaming icon. Sega knows this, so over the past decade or so, multiple Sonic games have been released, usually to a very poor critical reception. Sega could just never quite get things right, but the games still sold well. Sega's recent statements suggest that they intend to reduce their production of those games in order to keep the focus on their newer, hopefully better, Sonic games.

There are two parts to this plan, and the first is to reduce older, and poorly reviewed Sonic games. The interesting thing is that Sega is using the review aggregation site Metacritic as a guide instead of sales. This means that even if a game has sold well, it could still be pulled because of a low Metacritic score. Sega seems to have very noble intentions, they are potentially reducing their profits in order to focus on bringing better Sonic games to the market. This will cut down on the shovelware Sonic games, allowing better Sonic games to receive more attention.

The second part of the plan is increasing the quality of newer Sonic games. This seems to be going well already with Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 being released last week to great reviews, and the highly-anticipated Sonic Colors coming soon. Sega seems to finally have a handle on what to do with the blue hedgehog. Whenever a low quality Sonic game was released, a part of the fandom gave up on the series, I know I did. Such mediocre titles as Sonic Heroes, and Sonic the Hedgehog (the next-gen one for the Xbox 360 and PS3) only took attention away from the series. These games were far from fun, and often suffered from numerous glitches and bugs.

The games themselves seem to reflect this shift in focus. Instead of including multiple, and often annoying, side characters, Sonic himself has returned to the spotlight. Also, the games are trying to return to their roots, for instance Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is a 2D side-scrolling platformer, like the original games. In Sonic Colors you can only play as Sonic, and it too has a focus on speed.

I hope Sega's strategy works for their once beloved mascot. This shift in focus from selling games to making good games could return Sonic to his star status.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Dangers of Hype

As a gamer, I try to keep up with news in the gaming industry. So whenever a new game is announced, sometimes I'll watch the trailer and get excited. Only when the game is released I end up being disappointed. What happened between announcement and release that led to my disappointment? The answer, in short, is hype.

Hype usually starts with a few trailers or gameplay videos. Game companies regularly develop trailers for their games for the same reason film studios do, to get people excited. Why would a company show something in a trailer that may not be perfect? For that reason trailers, more often than not, do not show any gameplay. Maybe the game is not at a stage where that is appropriate, or maybe the developer knows that showing what the game is actually like may take away from the hype. Gameplay videos on the other hand almost never show what the player is doing. Some newer gameplay videos demonstrating motion controls do show the player but only because you may be watching the video only to know how the motion controls work. If a gamer would have trouble doing something, then chances are that will not be shown in a gameplay video, either purposely or accidentally.

As a new game's release date gets closer and closer, generally the gaming media will get a few chances to play it, maybe at a convention, or maybe with a pre-release edition. Their impressions are then generally posted on their respective websites. The fact is that with previews, unlike reviews, the previewer tries not to focus on the game's faults. This is usually because the game might not be done. However, sometimes the previewer just wants the game to be good. Sonic Colors, for example, looks like a good game, and every preview I've read has nothing bad to say about it, but gamers want another good Sonic game and may overlook faults without realizing it.

The misinformation commonly known as hype only serves the purpose of getting people excited for a game. There is nothing wrong with it, but you'll never know what a game is like until you play it for yourself. However, the differences between the hype and the actual game may lead to disappointment.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On Minigame Implementation

Minigames are essentially small games within games. Some consist of semi-normal gameplay to accomplish some non-normal task, others involve changing the gameplay entirely. Sometimes they are optional, sometimes they are not as optional. Minigames, when exectuted well, can be fun, but are sometimes just annoying.

The key to keeping a minigame from being annoying is to really give the player a choice in the matter and to have a reward in the end. I've played many an annoying minigame, but they were optional. For instance, there were several minigames in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, one such minigame had the player tilting the Wii Remote to carefully guide a marble into a hole. Not a complicated minigame, but slightly annoying, and still I spent a good amount of time getting past every level. Why would I play an optional minigame when I could be playing Twilight Princess proper? Because there was a reward, and it didn't seem like I had to. Same thing goes for some more mandatory minigames, but the reward is usually advancing the plot or enhancing a character's stats. The reward gives players a reason to spend hours mastering the minigame's mechanics.

Bad minigame implementation however can lead to frustration. Mandatory minigames can be a problem because they may be poorly designed, but the minigame must be completed to advance the game, thus forcing the player to reach a standstill in the game. At this point, the frustration is exacerbated, maddening the player. Usually though, developers are smart enough that only the first few levels of a multi-level mingame must be completed, with additional levels becoming available later in the game. Also, games that use minigames to improve a characters stats, like Final Fantasy XII's license board system, can be frustrating just because you have to use it. The license board required License Points, or LP, to use, a small amount of which could be gained by defeating monsters. This causes many people to spend hours slowly gaining LP, which can be very boring. A gamer does not want to be bored playing a game.

Minigames can be incredibly frustrating, but, if implemented well, can be less of a nusence, and more of a fun diversion.

Friday, October 1, 2010

3DS Games I'm Looking Forward To

Nintendo recently announced the 3DS's release date: February 26 in Japan, and March 2011 in the US. Along with this Nintendo revealed a lot of new games and information. Here are a few of the 3DS games I'm excited about:

Paper Mario 3DS is the next game in the Paper Mario series that started with Paper Mario on the N64. These RPGs re-imagine Mario and many other characters as being made of paper. The first game was amazing and overflowed with charm and wit. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the GameCube was a solid sequel that introduced a lot of improvments to the game. Super Paper Mario for Wii switched to an RPG/platforming hybrid, and was only mildly effective. The game became very repetitious and tedious after the fifth level or so (of eight). Paper Mario 3DS returns to the series to pure RPG, reintroducing turn based battles and partner characters. Not much is known of course, but in a brief battle scene, Mario was shown with something resembling the Frog Suit form Super Mario Bros. 3 on, and something happening on the touch screen.

Mega Man Legends 3 is the long-awaited sequel to the Mega Man Legends series for the PS1. Mega Man Legends was Mega Man's first foray into 3D, and it was great. Mega Man and Roll are Diggers, people who dig underground searching for artifacts and energy crystals of sorts, all while fighting pirates. Since the games, the Legends characters have made few appearances, most notably, Tron Bonne, a pirate, is a playable character in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and 3. Since the game was very recently announced, and without any gameplay videos or screenshots to go on, not much can be said except that I'm excited.

The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a 3D remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the N64. Ocarina is often lauded as one of the best Zelda games, and rightly so. Ocarina made the jump to 3D with impeccable style, and featured an expanded storyline and time travel. The remake will receive a bump in graphics and of course stereoscopic 3D. Just looking at some of the early screenshots, it is easy to see the upgraded graphics. One screenshot also show that the touch screen will be used for inventory, the map, and even the heads up display. Not much else is known about this game at this time, but unless something goes horribly wrong, this game should be just as much fun as the original. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why a Legend of Zelda Movie Would be a Bad Idea

Despite some impressive April Fools efforts by IGN, there is no Legend Of Zelda movie. I think that there never should be for three reasons: the gameplay, the characters, and the story.

The gameplay of the Zelda series is timeless. The problem with a movie is that there is no audience interaction. In almost every Zelda game, Link travels around to several dungeons, gets an item from that dungeon, then beats up the dungeon's boss. I personally think this would be boring as a movie. Link travels to dungeon after dungeon defeating various and sundry monsters for vaguely defined reasons. I think it would be more akin to watching someone play a Zelda game rather than just playing it yourself, and that is a boring thing to do.

As far as characters go, let's start with Zelda herself. Princess Zelda is almost always kidnapped/ put in harm's way in some fashion that forces Link to save her. This makes Zelda seem like a very weak character at times, and may cause the audience to find her annoying in a movie. Also, Link setting out to save her after only just meeting, or sometimes not at all, seems like a very transparent motivation. It works in the games because they don't really rely on the story as much as a movie would.

The biggest character problem is Link. Besides a few grunts here and there, Link doesn't speak, and based on some of the negative reactions to Samus Aran having a more fleshed out character in Metroid: Other M, it may be a good thing that Link never talks. For the actor playing him, this would be utterly confusing. How do you play someone with literally no character information to go on? Is Link wise, confused, sarcastic, heroic, cowardly, scared, or oblivious? Some information can be gleaned from simply playing the games, but not enough to give a convincing performance. Although, a silent movie may be kind of cool, but it would create more problems rather than fix a few.

The story in Zelda games is obviously just an excuse to travel around and beat up monsters. Gamers know this. In a movie however, characters need reasons to do things. The most reasoning ever given in the games is that Zelda was kidnapped, or Hyrule is on the brink of destruction, and usually Link is the “chosen one” that can save everyone by collecting some magical items. That one sentence can not be expanded to make a full two hour movie without some liberties being taken. Also, the seven or so dungeons would just be boring, there's no getting around it. The movie would either feel rushed to fit seven dungeons into two hours (like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with the seven evil exes), or the movie would trim things down, eliminating key components of the games. Plus, giant monster fights are only so interesting for so long (like 2010's Clash of the Titans).

A Legend of Zelda movie would be interesting, but at the same time I feel it would be a disappointment because it just can't translate well to the big screen. Yes, I'd still watch it, but I probably wouldn't be happy with it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Multiplayer is Always Fun

I remember one time I visited my cousins and we played the multiplayer vs portions of Teen Titans for the GameCube. Invariably, it came down to who could get to a certain character first, and then during the fight, just mash down the ranged attack button. However, the game was still fun, despite this obvious flaw.

When you play a multiplayer game, it really is not about the game at all, it's about the people you're playing with. It was fun just to hang out with those cousins, who I hardly ever see. Multiplayer has a way of bringing people together. If you can get so many people in the same room all there to play a game, then there is obviously a deeper connection than the game. I didn't visit them just to play Teen Titans, I didn't even know they had the game, I visited to see my cousins. Also, using multiplayer to facilitate a gathering can lead to a distraction from the awkward parts. Multiplayer is also about forming bonds with people. People set up events just to get people in the same room, playing the same game because of their common interests and, most likely, friendship. By demonstrating your similar interests, you can become closer to other people and players. 

This is one of the reasons I've always been wary of online multiplayer. You never really meet the other players or get to know them, so any real bonding is out of the question. It can be fun, but you never know someone till you have meet them face to face. Yes you may add someone to your friends list and you may see them again in the game, but you don't really know them. You're playing the game for the game, not to be around other people. Do people play MMOs to meet people, or to kill dragons? Do people play online shooters because they want a connection, or because they want to show their supremacy in the game?

Multiplayer is fun not just because of the game, but because of the people you are playing with. Online multiplayer games can't replicate being in the same room as someone playing a game.