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A rare find, perhaps?

So, yes. I’m a horrible person, so on and so forth. I haven’t been updating, even though I came and said I would. The main reason for this is because I am woefully without internet at my current place of residence! Unfortunate, to be sure. But that’s okay. I’m sitting here in the music university, surrounded by one love, writing about another. Who could ask for more?

Except, of course, internet in my house. That’d be good.

One of my professors (a Texan who speaks flawless Italian. They exist??) mentioned offhand that German internet sucks. Since he probably has more experience with it than I do, that doesn’t bode well for me! Hopefully I’m the exception to the rule… or else, how will I surf Facebook and make meaningful blog posts about the nature of video games??

Anyhow.  If I had previously turned you on to the idea of the Humble Bundle, you hopefully bought the most recent one that came out. It was a little bit geared towards mobile-gaming again, but it still had a couple gems in it that I’m playing, have played, or am looking forward to playing. But I won’t talk about that now, for the reason that it’s irrelevant (as you can no longer buy it). Sorry! I hope that you made your purchase in good time, and I’ll be sure to make another post when the next one comes out. Naturally, I want you, dear reader(s?), to take advantage of the artful awesomeness that is indie gaming.

But for now, today’s blog post is about a gem that I found recently. This game is certainly not NEW, by any sense of the word (except the astronomical sense. Everything created by man is extremely new in the grand scheme of time), but it is both extremely interesting and a little bit fun, too. The game I am speaking of, of course, is Zelda 2.

What… what is going on?

It’s… side-scrolling. It’s a side-scrolling Zelda game! WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? Well, 1987, to be exact. A couple years before I was born, but then again, I am so saturated with old games that one would have thought I’d have played this to death. But, (obviously, due to the surprised tone of my earlier sentences) I hadn’t discovered it until only a couple weeks ago. Sure, it’s an old game, but in the grand scheme of the Zelda franchise (and video games in general), it illustrates a very important concept.

What concept, you inquire? Well… the concept of a franchise! The concept of putting a number 2 next to the title of that game you released a while back, and hoping people will buy it and enjoy it just like they did the first one. There is a reason the Zelda franchise was so successful! And… well, it wasn’t this game. Just from looking at one screencap, you can immediately tell that this game is entirely different from every single other Zelda game in existence (with the slight exception of one part of the first dungeon in Link’s Awakening, where you get knocked off by the boss into a pit-type thing that is in fact side-scroll-y). It’s got experience bars, it’s platforming, it’s a very great deal more action-y and less puzzle-y than most Zelda games we’re aware of.

So, why does it exist? Knowing what we know now about the Zelda franchise, why didn’t they make a game that improved upon the concepts of the first game, offered a different storyline, and more cool features for the player to take advantage of? That’s what EVERY SINGLE OTHER Zelda game is! Why make this one such an anomaly? (Okay, that’s one too many rhetorical questions.) The answer is, naturally, because there were no rules and strategies to this sort of “franchise” thing. The world of console gaming was just starting to come into being, and the idea of putting out multiple games and relying on the brand of a fictional character was somewhat… foreign! It’s not just the matter of sticking your quarters in a machine anymore; it’s the idea of playing a whole other game, from start to finish, just because you liked the first one.

Now, if that were your goal… how would you go about it? Would you, say, make a game that is in most respects quite similar to the first game, but fluffed up a little bit, with more bells and whistles? Of course not! In the eye of the game developer, it would be foolish to put out such a similar product, and kind of seems like selling out, too. That mindset is all well and good, (and this game we’re talking about is produced FROM that mindset,) but as we now know, that’s not what video gamers desire! I know that when I play a Zelda game, I know what I want, and I know that I’ll find it within. There’s going to be a gradually increasing level of difficulty, lots of puzzles, tons of special items, princesses, Gorons and Zoras, something about the Triforce and the Master Sword… and it’s all going to be in top-down goodness. That’s a Zelda game. That’s the Zelda franchise.

And so, we have this game, different in style, and certainly less famous and less successful, all because it wanted to offer a totally different experience with the characters you know and love. Everyone knows, however, that characters don’t make a game franchise, because we’ve all played Super Mario Bros. 2. Turnips? Magic potions? Hearts???  (By the way, in case you didn’t know, Super Mario Bros. 2 was not originally Mario at all. Check it out here.) It’s a good game, but it’s an anomaly.

So, finally, what I’m getting at with this whole thing. The idea of a video game franchise is more than simple characters and worlds. It’s also gameplay! We have these great worlds that are developed, with cool characters, and interesting plotlines. However, when we play these franchise games, we expect them to behave a certain way! Metroids are ALWAYS frozen with ice missiles! Latikus ALWAYS drop spike balls. You ALWAYS get the Master Sword somehow. It’s the way the game works. You can’t just go fooling around with them willy-nilly. (By the way, willy-nilly is a totally awesome word. Use it in conversation sometime. But not willy-nilly!)

Having said all that, aren’t there good examples of games that HAVE been changed drastically within franchises that have also been successful?

Absolutely. Games and their franchises change with the capabilities of their systems. The ones that are successful, however, move the concept of their games to a new system, utilizing the capabilities of said system fully while preserving the idea behind the older games. Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the best games Nintendo has ever released. Super Mario 64 is another. Argue with me if you like, but… maybe you should just trust me on this one.  These games are both in 3D, which is an entirely different feeling for both franchises: Zelda’s top-down was equally as iconic by this time as Mario’s side-scrolling excitement. And, certainly, the idea of playing a musical instrument (actually controlling it with your controller, I mean… not Oracle of Seasons/Ages style)… was a game-changer (pun absolutely intended). Same deal with Mario: you now had health, and the world was way more free-form, even quest-oriented. There were little races and challenges and strange things that none of the other games before 64 ever had. And yet… Ocarina of Time? It’s a flippin’ PUZZLE game. You spent hours in the Water Temple not FIGHTING crap (except for those Tekteks. Screw those guys), but solving puzzles! You pushed blocks, shot fire-arrows, used small keys, hookshotted the hell out of targets and vines alike, and made your way through dungeons not by brawn, but by brains. It was a Zelda game, through and through. That idea was preserved. And NO ONE can dare to say that Super Mario 64 is not a platformer. Perhaps it was a little more forgiving with lives than the earlier Mario games, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t spend hours timing jumps right and trying to run without falling off one edge or another. The feeling of Mario was there, even if it looked a little bit different. Super Mario Galaxy and Skyward Sword (or Twilight Princess, too), took the games in a different direction. But c’mon. They’re still Mario and Zelda. You’ll always know a little bit what to expect.

So we see these games, how they change, how they stay the same, and we ask ourselves: SHOULD it be that way? What if every Zelda game had a different gameplay style, a different goal, a different set of mechanics governing your experience? Would those games still be good? The answer is unequivocally yes. The only thing is, instead of making these games “Zelda” or “Mario,” why not call them by another name? That way, we don’t have the problems of brand name expectations, and we can work within a much freer framework for what we can do and what we want to do as game developers! Let’s have a look at the result: Chibi Knight!

 

Click to play CHIBI KNIGHT, The Zelda 2 Knockoff.

 

If you decide to play it (and you really should), you’ll find that it’s fun, cool, addictive, engaging, and altogether very well-made! It’s also exactly the same style of gameplay as Zelda 2. So, after all this, I’ve come to this conclusion: the failure (not really FAILURE, by the way. It was successful in its original run, but it failed to stand the test of time like some other Zelda games we know) of Zelda 2 wasn’t because of its actual gameplay… it’s no longer a popular Zelda game because it was just too different. I guess the moral of the story here is “Be careful what you call Zelda.”

Also, in case you were wondering HOW MUCH Chibi Knight is like Zelda 2 (and how obvious the relation is)… Here’s the opening screen from Zelda 2:

Hm. I don’t see the resemblance at all.

Happy gaming, see you next time!

 

~Another Gamer

 

The end of Zynga?

Perhaps I should have titled this post “A gamedev you’ll loathe,” because of the simple fact that Zynga is as close to the spawn of Satan I have seen in this world (besides whoever thought up “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” of course. What a bastard). Zynga, if you don’t know them (and you should), is the company that makes all of the “ville” game, most notably Farmville. They also are in charge of Words with Friends, Zynga Poker (duh), and more recently, Draw Something. They pretty much have a corner on the Facebook game market, and they certainly use their powers for evil. Listen to this quote by Farmville creator Marc Pincus:

“I knew that I wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right, fucking, now. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this Zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it.”

Wow, what a jerkwad. Not only are you the maker of some pretty dubiously legitimate games, but you also encourage your users to download, I dunno, MALWARE? Jeez. Sauron looks at you and just says, “Dang, dude.”

But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who loathe Zynga with a flaming, fiery passion: they’re dying.

Yessiree! There has been news of Zynga’s stock tanking after the 2nd quarter profit reports came in. Not enough people are playing the existing games that Zynga made, and I guess they’re just not putting out enough new ones. What, Farmville, Cityville, Frontierville, Castleville, Yoville, Fishville, and Petville have saturated your market? AW, SHUCKS! That’s just too bad. Now, as for the 3 or 4 of you who are wondering if Zynga’s (hopefully) inevitable downfall is a good thing, let me explain some things to you about the company.

 

First of all, I think it’s clear from the above quote that they’re money-grubbing bastards. But there’s more to it than prompting you to install malware. The games themselves are all designed with a system in mind: you have a certain amount of “energy,” which you accumulate over time, that allows you to complete tasks. For instance, in Farmville, you plow fields, plant crops, harvest crops, and build structures (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong), with energy. As you expand your farm, energy becomes increasingly scarce, and you must either shorten the length of time between your play sessions (to get the maximum benefit from energy regeneration), or, in a more appealing route, you can pay REAL MONEY to buy energy. Yep. Paying real money for nothing. There are also tasks you must complete by getting an obscene number of friends to help you out on FB OR by paying real money. There are premium items that you can collect your coins and cash and pinch pennies over months to buy… or pay real money for them. Lots of these “pay to play” aspects have worked their way into all of Zynga’s games.

Now, I know that there is a fundamental disagreement about “pay to play” games. Many people say that they’re just fine, because you don’t HAVE to pay to play, and if one chooses to pay, they’re not paying for “NOTHING,” they’re paying for ENTERTAINMENT. While this is true, the amount of money you have to shell out to continue playing these games increases as you get through them. They are repetitive, and if we factor in how much work it took the developers to make said premium items versus how much you’re paying to unlock them, we get an hourly salary that even makes Blizzard employees drool. I believe strongly that if one is going to pay extra money to play something free, the additional gameplay and experiences you get to enjoy should be directly related to how much you pay for it. Consider the following:

Unlocking tomatoes, eggplant, and peas in Farmville is roughly equivalent to a month’s worth of World of Warcraft? Or perhaps it’s equivalent to an extremely kickass DLC for your favorite Xbox game?

Nope. Not a chance. These games are designed to suck you in (and your friends, through the incessant mass-delivered requests), and then, once you play often, you start running into everyday predicaments that are most conveniently solved by paying for the game. They don’t stop once you start paying, either. Eventually you run out of FarmCash (or whatever), and you must pay more to continue your lavish agrarian lifestyle. Utter balderdash, I say. If a game is free then make it free. If a game is worth paying for, ask people to pay for it. None of this “free to play, pay to win” nonsense.

So their business model isn’t working out anymore. Facebook is worried about it because they get 12 percent of their revenue from Zynga. Zynga is worried about it because they’re greedy sons-of-you-know-whats. But if their entire company goes up in flames? If I never see another Farmville (or any other ville) request in my entire life? If I download a mobile game I can play with my friends and I DON’T have to be bombarded with messages demanding my money? Well… there’s at least one person who WON’T be worried about the end of Zynga.

Me.

~Another Gamer

P.S. I’m sorry that I’m not as funny when I’m pissed off, but I’ve hated Zynga for a long time and vengeance is sweet.

 

Gamedev’s Delight!

Hey, folks! You’ll notice that I didn’t make a post on Monday! (Why’s that, Mr. Another Gamer sir?) Well, it’s because I’m no longer going to be posting on Mondays! And, if by some off chance you ask “Why’s that” again, then I would tell you it’s because I’m going to be in Germany for the next year. That’s right, ladies and gents (as if there were any chicks who read my blog), I’m studying Music Design abroad at a school in Trossingen, Germany.

Thar she blows!

Which, of course, means I’ll have plenty of stuff to blog about that doesn’t involve me sitting in my room, staring at a screen all day! And that’s what I’ll be writing about on Mondays. Now, since that’s totally irrelevant to ANYTHING video game-y, let’s move on!

Calling all gamedevs, 3D Modelers, artists, programmers, sound designers, and other members of video-game-related professions (and their wannabes)! Read the rest of this entry

Miss me yet?

Well, I’m back from vacation. I missed Monday! I’m sure you’re all quietly boo-hooing into the plate of processed food you usually ingest while reading this blog. It was awfully quiet out in rural Florida, and I had a lot of time to think about video games.

It really is too bad, however, that I didn’t spend that time thinking about video games. All is not lost, though! I have some divinely-inspired ruminations about the nature of video games, and life in general, to bestow upon you. I know. I’m grand.

Moving on! Glad to have that one off my chest. Next: I have discovered that the world of MineCraft is a lot nerdier than meets the eye. I was turned on to some pretty hefty mods by a commenter on one of my other posts, and I realized quickly that I was in over my head. Had I not retraced my steps, I would have needed a member of the Geek Squad with a PhD in computer science to come untangle the mess I made. That might be a slight overstatement, but to someone who mainly PLAYS games without really delving into how they work, it was a catastrophe of magnificent proportions. Good god.

On a different subject: Poke’mon is good. I love games that keep getting better with each new release. Generally I pirate them anyway, but I actually shelled out the money for Poke’mon White. It’s really turning into an RPG. It’s less about “you must defeat your Professor’s annoying grandson and become the Champion,” and much more in-depth. With greater data storage and computing abilities (occasionally) comes greater games! It’s not just flashier, it’s more difficult, more deep, more personalized. Trainers you fight against have their own playing styles, versus the old-fashioned, “Hey, pick a random move, go!” that made the early games so easy. The world seems bigger, more diverse, and more interesting. There’s more dialogue, more puzzles, more challenges, more things to do. Red and Blue will always have a special place in my heart, but I think it’s time we step off our soapbox and accept the fact that there are, in fact, more than 151 Poke’mon.

You racists.

And, last but not least in my series of unconnected thought: “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” is a thoroughly horrifying game. I don’t even want to play it anymore. It mentions at the beginning that the game is best experienced “in a dark room while wearing headphones.”  Coincidentally, I hear that BEING KILLED VIOLENTLY by zombies and other terrifying creatures is also best experienced in a dark room with headphones on. Way to go.

Other than that, I have a game for ya’ll to try: Glean. It’s a relatively new mineral-mining-and-stuff game, based loosely on the original gem, “Motherload,” from XgenStudios. This one has more variety, more pretty graphics, more challenges, and more plot. I like it! I know you will too.

Alrighty! See you next time. It’s good to be back.
~Another Gamer

And on the 7th Day…

…God was bored so he created video games. For those of us that love them, we know there is something of the divine in video games. Only a religiously inspired programmer could have created the genius that is Mario. (MARIO’s not exactly a genius, but the games are).

Look at the dark intelligence behind those eyes. He knows this is the 19th time he's rescued the Princess.

Read the rest of this entry

What’s in a Game?

Haha, get the Shakespeare reference?

When I think about a game and how awesome it is, for its intense ride, its cool gameplay, its addictive replayability (it’s a word, look it up)… I sort of wonder WHY these games are as good as they are. It’s not the gratuitous killing of innocent zombies (okay, maybe partially), or some cheesy cutscene in which your main character FINALLY gets a kiss from the main character girl/princess/person-you-are-trying-repeatedly-to-save. It’s a cocktail of aspects that give a game, no matter what it’s about, the ability to draw you in and keep you there. Read the rest of this entry