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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

 

I’m baaaaack!

Hello, ladies and germs! Actually, I should say “guten Tag!” because I’m in GERMANY.

Whoa. Guys, I’m in Germany.

For the new folks here at the blogoblag, let me fill you in: I’m studying electronic music at the Hochschule Trossingen. Unbelievably rad! My studies begin in about 4 weeks, but right now I’m taking a 6-week long INTENSE German language learning course. Every day, 6 hours a day, just German. I haven’t been speaking a lot of English lately, so forgive me if I occasionally use a German word now and then. Actually, that won’t happen, as these blogs are rigorously edited for spelling and grammatical errors.

Not.

So, the transition from American culture to German culture has been a little bit difficult. I had my trusty DS with me, and I’ve been playing a lot of Poke’mon: White to pass the time. I’m staying with a host family that didn’t have internet (UNTIL TODAY thank Jobs), and so I was woefully without games that require the internet to play (like Diablo and Starcraft and often Minecraft and a lot of Steam games) and games that require the internet to DOWNLOAD (like the new Android Humble Bundle 3. I hope you bought it!). But now, German DSL is screaming along, giving me access to you, my dear readers, and to a wonderful cornucopia of other things like Facebook and Reddit. Actually, those things aren’t wonderful. They’re just excuses not to go outside and see this totally different, beautiful country that I’m in. So, perhaps I’ll slack off on keeping up with my American friends or the newest cat pictures.

But this blog! It must not be forgotten.

This particular post isn’t actually going to have anything of real substance (deep, well thought-out opinions about the true nature of video games will come later. Pinky swear). However, it’s going to let you know that all is not lost! There might be a brief hiccup when I move from my current location to Trossingen, because, well… new living location, lots of stuff to do, no internet, yadda yadda. Everyone who’s ever moved out of their parents’ basement knows what I’m talking about: that brief couple of days (or weeks) that you realize there is NO WAY for you to know what anyone else on the planet is doing. Interesting feeling.

So! The rest is bookkeeping. It is rather late here, and I almost said “the rest is beekeeping.” Perhaps a more interesting hobby, but I don’t think the analogy works here.

I’ve been nominated for the “One Lovely Blog” award by two separate people: cary, a longtime follower (really, one of the first) and a damn good game blogger in her own right, and Brendan, a blogger I wasn’t familiar with until, well, he sent me his nomination. Mea culpa.

As I tend to Google things, I have discovered that a ton of people have been “nominated,” and that there’s actually no one who really AWARDS these things. However, it’s totally nice and cool and it was the impetus for me to get my butt onto the computer and do some serious writing about video games! So, thank you both for the nominations… I found it very sweet.

About my day job (you know, this whole “music” thing I’ve flown halfway across the world and abandoned my family and friends to pursue). Before I left I spoke with a friend who has been in the film and video game industry for a long time, often as a certain type of artist, but as of late more as a representative for other creative types. I won’t be too specific, but she’s pretty awesome and knows EVERYONE. Anyway, we got to talking about how I would absolutely love more than anything to write music for games. It’s been a pipe dream that I’ve never considered to be a real possibility, but she was very supportive (which is a big thing, considering she KNOWS the industry and how difficult it is to enter). She mentioned something about lending her support in a more tangible way (which I also won’t mention here), but would perhaps be my “foot in the door,” so to speak. It’s not a free ride. I’d have to work hard. I’d have to start at the bottom, getting coffee for people like Hans Zimmer or Nobuo Uematsu (truthfully, getting coffee for the people who GET COFFEE for these composers). I jest, a little bit, but the important thing is, that I’d be working in that industry. Here’s the caveat: if I did take her up, I’d probably be working for a LARGER game company (think EA or Blizzard or Bethesda or something). They employ a lot of people, and as you may have read, I’m not always on their side. I think my goals and my ideals align more with an indie game group, but alas, it’s pretty much impossible to “apply” for a job in that world. It’s a great deal more about knowing the lead programmer (for example).

So what do you think? It’s a complicated decision, to be sure. Fortunately, I don’t have to make it for a year yet, and by then, everything could change. But I’m interested to know what everyone thinks.

That’s all for today! Sorry about not having any unrelated analogies or funny pictures. More will come. I just wanted everyone to know that I haven’t died or fallen off the face of the earth. I’m just on the OPPOSITE face of the earth. Completely different thing.

~Another Gamer

P.S. Here are some games. I think they’re awesome, but a couple of them will be relevant to my next post. SO PLAY THEM! Don’t slack off, you have gaming to do.

Dibbles: A puzzle game with a rather morbid (and awesome) twist.

Zombotron… 2! (even more fun than the original.)

Glean: I love these types of games. Perhaps not a “blatant” ripoff of MotherLode, but similar. This one, however, is complex, rather beautiful, and extraordinarily well-written. As far as flash games go, I recommend it very highly. Play it, be completely engrossed, leave a comment when you remember that there exists an internet outside of finding the next treasure chest.

P.P.S. I’m glad to be back. I don’t know if you could tell. I’ve missed writing about video games so much. I haven’t stopped being passionate about them, so not being able to write is a rough business. I’m glad to be back.

Stuck in LIMBO.

No, I’m not talking about the popular dancing game. (Is it still popular? Is it really dancing? Does anyone besides Hermes Conrad do it anymore?) One sentence in and I’m off topic. That’s a new record. But, oh my god, LIMBO. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an indie platformer game by the Danish production studio Playdead. It’s been out for a couple of years now, but it was recently released again in the Humble Bundle V, which I plugged mercilessly a week or so ago. If you didn’t buy it, shame on you. So, since I’m doing playthroughs of all these games, I figure I might as well keep with the trend.

First thing’s first: in LIMBO, there exists a near-perfect example of what people mean when they say “video games are art.” It’s black-and-white, wordless, in a very “film noir” kind of style. It’s a conscious break from realism, and it works amazingly! The game is gritty, g rainy, and it envelops you totally in its environment. Speaking of the environment: it’s awesome too. It’s very post-apocalyptic, with baddies and destroyed buildings, abandoned factories and run-down hotels. It gives the game an almost survival-horror feel, or, in all honesty, maybe just a “horror” feel. Because surviving really isn’t the number 1 thing on your to-do list in this game. Or, if it is, you’re generally not going to be doing it very well. (Interesting tidbit: the game’s environment tends to go from more natural to more man-made as you progress. It’s so seamless that when you abruptly transition back to a natural setting at the end, it seems very jarring and surreal. Nifty.)

So this whole “surviving” thing. Overrated, right? LIMBO is, well, really hard. I will readily admit that I’m a whiny gamer who doesn’t like super-hard games, and the consequences of death in LIMBO are not as severe as they are in, say, Megaman. Thank heavens. Because you die a lot. And I don’t mean just falling into a bottomless pit. I have been killed in a rather stupendous number of ways. Impaled on spikes, impaled on giant spider-legs, shot by arrows, shot by machine guns, having your guts sucked out, decapitated by beartraps, smushed by falling objects and by pistons, cut into tiny little pieces by sawblades, electrocution, drowning, drowning, and more drowning. Kid doesn’t like water, I guess. When I looked on the Wikipedia article, they quote the studio as calling this playstyle “trial and death,” and they say they use “gruesome imagery for the boy’s deaths to steer the player from unworkable solutions.” Understatement of the year, folks. No, Mario falling into a pit and saying “Mamma mia!!” is steering me from an unworkable solution. Seeing your protagonist die (without any humor at all) in a large number of disturbing ways falls less under the “deterrent” category, and more under the “DO YOU ENJOY KILLING CHILDREN?? WELL, DO YOU?!?” category. Watch the delightful death montage here:

The game is a little bit tough. There are some moments where you die simply because you couldn’t have known how to survive. You didn’t see the giant boulder coming, or know that the gear you were standing on would eventually grind you to bits. Hence the name, “trial and death.” Has a nice ring to it. In all honesty, however, the game itself, on an intellectual, puzzle-solving level, wasn’t too hard, but was WAY more interesting than most puzzle platformers. I gotta say, there were more creative, elegant puzzles in this game, even using mechanics first introduced a long time ago, than in any platforming game I’ve ever seen. Thank heavens for that.

The last thing I’ll mention is that I beat the game in one day. This implies two things: the game is freakishly addictive! (That’s a good thing). And, that the game is a little short. (That’s not such a good thing).  So, looking at it both in its specifics and its overall impressions, I think it’s not a hard conclusion to come to that this video game really is artful: it LOOKS artistic, it was made with artistic intent, and the intellectual stimulation you get from it really provokes thought (as art often does). Hooray for video games!

 

~Another Gamer

P.S. Maybe I should just rename the blog “Hooray for Video Games.” Thoughts?

Great Games Come in Pairs!

You know, if you read my blog from the beginning, that I am an avid flash gamer. If there is a hot new flash game, I pick it up and play it till it’s dead. I’m like those real game reviewers (like TheEscapist or EgoRaptor) only I get to do it for free! Hooray, online games! Also, I spend waaaay less time doing it, as a flash game takes a couple of hours MAX to beat, while even the most awful Xbox360 games (cough cough, Mirror’s Edge) take quite some time. Recently, however, there’s been a lull in the number of REALLY good flash games that come out. Sure, there have been some shiny shoot-em-ups and some quaint puzzle games, but nothing that really blew my mind with its awesomeness.

Cue the epic fanfare: 2DArray recently released a game called “Fixation,” a prequel to its smash hit, “The Company of Myself.” Generally speaking, flash games don’t delve much into the realm of psychology, seriousness and deep emotional meaning. I mean, dude, they’re just hanging out on your computer screen, soaking up time while you put off doing your research paper. (By the way, I’m putting off doing my research paper right now. Go procrastination!) But the thing is, “Fixation” is as serious as it gets. It’s a little strange – Actually it’s a LOT strange, but it is incredibly well-written, well-put-together, interesting and engaging, and is overall just a brilliant game. Play it here (I’m serious, play this darn thing).

Don't worry, there's a meaning behind the logo. Just play this game.

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