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On Loving Nintendo

October 26, 2011

I was browsing Reddit, when I came across a post in /r/nintendo asking if other members of the community if they ‘find being a Nintendo fan depressing‘ and then made the point of how he had to defend his decision to own a Wii over a 360 or a PS3 and how he caught flack from fans from those camps.

The following, was my response to his question:

———-

Never have I been ashamed or depressed in my Nintendo ownership. Nor do I intend too. Nintendo has its ups and downs in hardware, but it still reigns in the world of software.

As long as Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox and others continue to be made solely for a Nintendo hardware platform I will follow. It’s the same reason people get attached to specific authors, musicians and film directors. You as me who makes the best hardware, and that’s its own debate. You ask me who makes the best games, and I will tell you Nintendo every time.

Few companies have the track record of consistent hits and well-beloved franchises that Nintendo does. Sony and Microsoft can have their silly little guns and military machismo. Give me a sword, a horse and green tunic and floppy hat and I’m a happy man with a grin stretching from ear-to-ear. I play games for escape and fun and the vast majority of games on PS3 and Xbox aren’t really my cup of tea.

For what it is worth. My 360 and Wii are gathering dust at the moment (waiting for Skyward Sword to come out). But my 3DS sees nearly daily usage, though a lot of that stems from the Ambassador programs and reliving my childhood (again).

Nintendo has its faults and its issues. They always have. But as long as they churn out top-notch first party games, I will wear “Nintendo Fanboy” as a badge of honor because Modern Call of Honor: Halo Gears of Warfare Duty does not appeal to me in the slightest. Though Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect have recently scuttled into my list of franchises I like, but that’s why I have a PC.

I go where the games I like are. Nintendo has those games.

No internet? No game for you!

August 1, 2011

So, earlier today I read that Diablo III will require an always-on internet connection for the game to operate, even for single player mode. This saddens me. Diablo III is easily on my “really want it” list of upcoming games, and the “always on” connection issue won’t bother me too much I think, but it’s a problem I feel the need to address.

When Assassins Creed II came out for PC, the game had a horribly draconian DRM method that required you to be constantly connected to the internet. That’s enough to decry in its own right. What Blizzard has going on though seems to be a need to be constantly connected in order to access content. Since the content appears to be so integrated with the single-player mode, you need to be always on for it to work. If you lose a connection, then you’re booted out. Whether or not the always-on connection contains DRM or not is irrelevant. This issue is they are selling a game that comes with a hefty single-player mode that cannot be played offline. This is not smart.

Internet, for as widespread as it is, is not always available or stable enough to warrant a need of an “always-on” connection. There are games where this is okay. An always-on connection for an MMORPG makes sense because that’s what it needs to be played. If you’re buying a game you can’t play because it requires internet to be played and you don’t have the internet you’re certainly lacking in common sense. But the issue is Diablo III and Assassins Creed II have single-player that should be accessible regardless of your connection. They are making an assumption that is preventing them from reaching potential customers. In the article, executive vice president of game design Rob Pardo says ”I want to play Diablo 3 on my laptop in a plane, but, well, there are other games to play for times like that.” Sure, you likely shouldn’t be playing Diablo on a plane, but what about in my home? Rural areas of the USA may only have dial-up such as where my mother lives.

They are forgetting the fact that not everyone who wants to play these games has internet. When you have a game that requires an online component such as a multi-player mode, fine. But I should be able to play single-player whenever I damn well choose. I don’t need to communicate with other players. I don’t need to have constant access to cool online features. I do need to be able to play my game. It is folly of the worst kind to produce a product that requires a service you may or not have, when that product shouldn’t need that service in order to operate. Just because you can assume everyone has access to that service, doesn’t mean that you should.

Having lived in a place that an “always-on” internet connection was impossible no less than 2 years ago, this fills me with a certain amount of distaste. Is this an issue for me currently? No. But it is issue I understand and speak out against on behalf of those with whom I once shared the plight of crappy internet.

Review: Back to the Future: The Game

July 16, 2011
Back to the Future: The Game

Back to the Future: The Game

For all my new found admiration for The Doctor, I will always stand by what I consider to be the greatest time travel franchise in history: Back to the Future. The original trilogy films are among some of my favorites and are always fun to watch. So, imagine my delight when I learned that TellTale Games would be making an official game with a new story. I love graphic adventures, I’ve been pleased with TellTale’s work and I love BttF. So, was the five episode adventure with Marty and Doc as good as the films? Let’s give it look, shall we?

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My History with Gaming: Tetris and Dr. Mario

June 19, 2011
Tetris

Tetris

Imagine being a single-digit aged child between 5-7 years old in the late 1980’s. You have an NES. Other kids your age also have game systems and the only people you knew who really played video games were other kids. Its pretty easy to imagine, isn’t it?

Then one day, I rented a game call Tetris. I don’t think Tetris needs any introduction because it is so ubiquitous to gamers and non-gamers alike. Blocks fall down, complete a line and clear the screen. Simple, elegant and addictive. Being a young person, while the puzzle game was fun and interesting it wasn’t as much so when compared to the other games like Mario and Zelda that I loved. However, rental soon turned to ownership not because I liked the game but because Mum liked the game. Before I knew it, my NES had been invaded not by my peers but a parent.

This concept was so strange at first. Mum played some of my other games, sure, but not like this. There were times where I couldn’t play Mario because Mum wanted to play Tetris. She was addicted to it. While it was fun to hang out with her while she played, I couldn’t help but feel she was taking away part of my fun time. Eventually, it waned and Tetris stop being played as much. But then came the doctor.

Dr. Mario

Dr. Mario

We got a copy of Dr. Mario which I liked and Mum liked. However, now I really needed to fight Mum off with a stick in order to get my NES fix. Hell, Mum’s Dr. Mario playing would occasionally make her late for work as she tried to get “one more game” in. We all know how that goes.

In the end, I came to the realization that perhaps games weren’t just for other kids. That adults could really enjoy them too. As a now adult gamer myself, it makes me ponder how my own game playing habits will be one day viewed by my own potential offspring. Especially my love for the supposedly “kiddie” franchises like Mario and Kirby. I certainly hope that it makes me a cool dad, though I fear that my kids won’t get to play games because daddy is too busy hogging whatever the current generation Nintendo console is (hopefully a Wii U).

 

The Short and Sweet of It

The Games: Tetris and Dr. Mario
Platform: NES
Why it is important: My understanding of gaming was shattered when I learned that games weren’t simply for the young.

 

Friday Five: E3 2011

June 17, 2011

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or “E3″ as it more commonly known, occurred last week. It’s one of the, if not the, biggest trade show for the video game industry. Gamers the world over turn their eyes to Los Angeles to see whats new and upcoming. I’m tickled excited with upcoming titles and hardware to be sure. I’m going to offer this fair warning though: my Nintendo Fanboy is going to shine through like the sun on a cloudless day. I’ve been playing on a Nintendo since the NES. I’ve owned every home console and an iteration of every generation of hand-held. I routinely return to the Big N because while some people enjoy shooting each other, I like jumping on blocks, fighting evil warlocks and inhaling 100 times my weight in food. That being said, let’s get rolling talking about what got me excited from E3.

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The Space In-between: Morality in Video Games

May 17, 2011

[This is an editorial piece written by murf for GeekLore. If you enjoyed this article, and want to see more geeky goodness from murf and others, please check out www.geeklore.net.]

Fable 2

The Fable series places strong emphasis on morality.

Recently, I’ve been playing Mass Effect after nabbing it on sale in Steam for $5. Having never played Mass Effect and having heard good things about the series, I felt it was worth a shot. So far I’m enjoying it. One of the aspects Mass Effect is the increasingly common “morality” system where a player’s actions are judged as “good” or “evil” and often have consequences along side them. While this is an interesting mechanic that makes for some interesting game play decisions, I feel that for the most part no one game (that I’ve played) has done morality correctly or even exceedingly well. I’d like to take a moment and discuss my feelings on the matter and what I feel the industry can do improve on this idea.

For the most part, I’ve noticed the path is often three-fold you can be good, evil, or neutral. Typically I play these games with a good/neutral approach. Depending on the game though, I may opt for evil. While playing Knights of the Old Republic I started out by being a cold-hearted jack-ass because, let’s face it, Dark Side powers are cooler. I managed to maintain this until I got to Kashyyyk and had to deal with the Wookiee slave problem. I had no trouble being evil anywhere else, but I’ve got a soft spot for Wookiees. After this though, I started back towards the light and its crappy power set simply because making “evil” decisions, even virtually, didn’t really appeal to me. Maybe this is why I also don’t enjoy games like Grand Theft Auto where you are forced to make immoral decisions. This does not mean I don’t enjoy evil characters. In fact, for the remainder of KotOR, my party was always Jolee Bindo (who was neutral) and the always-awesome HK-47 (who was totally evil) because I enjoyed the multi-toned morality they brought the stage. I just don’t personally enjoy being evil.

BioShock

BioShock features absolute moral choices in the form of saving or harvesting Little Sisters.

Despite having three paths to take, I find the system flawed in general. TakeFallout 3 for example. The town of Megaton has an atomic bomb in its center. You’re given the option to disarm it and save the town, blow it up and destroy the town or simply do nothing. All-in-all its interesting quest, but it highlights the issue. You are typically doing tremendous good or tremendous evil, and the middle ground isn’t even worth mentioning. This is also the inherent issue with morality in BioShock. In games, morality is often black and white. The issue of course being that morality tends to came in shades of grey and isn’t always about being a savior or a harbinger of doom. Given the option of pure good or pure evil is not interesting. In fact it is rather boring because it so cut-and-dry and doesn’t explore deeper concepts of morality.

Moral issues where the answer isn’t clear-cut is much more interesting. Is “eye-for-eye” punishment such as the death penalty morally justifiable? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? If you go back in time and meet Adolf Hitler as a child, do you kill an innocent child knowing what he will become? Decisions like that are far more interesting because there is no clear answer, and both sides can be deemed morally “good.” A personal favorite example comes from Doctor Who. The fourth incarnation of the Doctor is given the option to kill the Daleks, a race of genocidal aliens comparable to Nazis, before they even have a chance to get started. Despite the Daleks being a race that prides itself on its hatred and genocide of others, the Doctor halts to ponder this decision due to the idea that if he commits genocide of the Daleks, is he truly any better than them? THAT makes for interesting moral decisions with no truly clear answer that is “good” or “evil,” except for what you set as moral by your own standards.

I will note that the one thing I’ve seen pulled in a variety of games with morality systems that I truly despise is what I call the “focal decision point.” You can play the entire game being an evil jackass. You’ve slaughtered whole towns, sold out your best friend to the villain but eventually you’ll come to event to make a single choice that will determine your status. Just to spite the villain since you yourself are evil, you decide to take the “good” option. It doesn’t matter how you’ve played the game until then, or how you’ll continue to play it. This one decision alone will drive the story’s conclusion. You are a hero to the people and you’ve saved the day, despite the fact you’ve been a malicious jerk-face the entire time. That is a prime example of not doing “morality” correctly. In the end, your decisions didn’t matter except for that one. That isn’t right. If you want to make an emphasis on moral decisions for your game, the player’s decisions need to drive the story and effect its outcome otherwise the decisions they make carry no weight at all and thus have no relevance or impact.

Fallout 3

Do you save Megaton, or destroy it?

Why are moral systems so hard to implement? The answer falls down to one simple word: Money. Video games are still a business where publishers and investors must make decisions around budgets and costs vs. gains. So why does this matter? Games with any form of dynamic decisions are by necessity going to be huge and expansive games already. Money becomes an issue because each in-game decision will require diverging paths and if the decisions are to carry any major weight, that requires even more additional paths to accommodate different outcomes. Each major path will require its own unique content if it is to have lasting effect. This means you need to build the resources for each path. That could include character models, dungeons, dialog, voice acting and other resources that need to be built for those cases. Each additional case means more dollars for the production cost and higher production cost means more risk for investors. This is where the issue comes into full view. In order to create a game with complex decisions, let alone moral decisions, it costs a lot of money that investors may not be willing to risk losing if the game flops. Ergo, simplistic decisions with minimal effects tend to be the easiest to implement without driving costs too high. Using the Megaton example from Fallout 3, this is where you can see how the problem can arise. If you blow up the town, the town becomes a smoldering crater and leaves most (but not all) citizens dead and that area is now inaccessible due to radiation. If you save the town, the town remains standing and goes about its peaceful ways. Two completely different sets of resources are required to make the decision last and have an meaningful effect for the game in the long run. If the whole game were made of decisions like this, it would be awesome and chock full of replay value to see the different scenarios, but it would very costly to make.

So, how do we make better moral conflict work in a game? First off, I’d say we need to remove the “single-axis” morality bar where you’re good, evil or somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t allow for much diversity and leads to the absolute issues (save the orphans, or slaughter them all) that drive the system. A grid may be more appropriate where you’re judged along varying axises based on other aspects of morality. For example, take the Dungeons & Dragons morality system (from 3.0) where you not only set whether you are good or evil, but also ‘lawful’ or ‘chaotic.’ If you’re chaotic good, you’ll always do the right thing but you’ll say “to Hell with the rules” if they get in the way. That’s much more interesting and way more accurate to how people would actually operate. Do something good, but break the rules doing so. Do something evil, but within the confines of the law. Having that level of flexibility in the metric that gauges “morality” automatically makes for more interesting situations and allows players increased flexibility in making their decisions. The axises don’t even need to be good/evil and lawful/chaotic. There’s a whole world of aspects you can align to a system of that design while still holding to the fundamental aspect of making players have decisions of what is “right” vs “wrong” along with what is “lawful” or “unlawful.”

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks

The Doctor struggles with the decision to wipe out the Daleks.

Next, is to prioritize the effects of complex vs. simple decisions. For a complex decision, let’s go back to the Doctor. If he lets the Daleks live, he lets the most evil force ever have their run over the galaxy, but other races would unite in the face a greater evil. If he kills the Daleks, the universe is a safer place without fear of the Daleks, but the peoples of the universe remain divided and uncaring of the greater universe around them leading to societal stagnation. We have two different paths stemming from one decision that has long lasting implications and both have positive and negative effects. That would make for a more interesting story and make making the decision all the more critical to the experience. A more simple decision can have a lesser impact (such as people fearing or admiring you ala Fable), but be made more complex by adjusting the reward scheme where an “evil” decision nets you greater rewards in game (gold and items), but a “good” decision sets you back comparably in your own materials and the only reward you get overall is external to the game, in that you feel justified that you’ve done the right thing. Or perhaps the “evil” decision nets a large immediate reward, but the “good” option is detrimental at first but over time reaps a more substantial reward. By using a multi-axis meter and adjusting reward output based on decisions, you can cater to many areas of play where a character’s decisions may be derived from desire to do good, a desire to gain more wealth, a desire to see his community prosper, a desire to be asshole or anything in the middle. You create more realistic situations, more interesting scenarios and thus increase the range of “morality” in the decision making for a more dynamic and more enjoyable experience.

Using morality in games is an interesting prospect with a lot of potential. We’ve seen games approach this concept from number of angles and have been met with varied success. However, there is a lot of room for improvement in my eyes. I’m sure as time goes on, we’ll see games that use morality decisions to drive compelling stories with true consequences. If we fail to move beyond decisions between absolute good and evil, then the concept will stagnate and never reach its full potential. Sometimes, deciding to be the good guy or the bad guy is a lot of fun, but having more variance and ambiguity in the decisions leads to a much richer and fulfilling experience when exploring the world of morality. When games can make us reach deep down and make us think about ourselves on a more personal level, that’s when you elevate from being entertainment to being art.

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