WiiWare: Quietly Disappointing

WiiWare launched to to resounding cries of...ehh...on Tuesday of this week in Japan. I haven't downloaded or played any of the titles yet, but several people have been posting online about the mediocrity of the offerings so far. These same posters have also been bemoaning the prices of these games, which also happened with the launch of the Virtual Console.

Over at the Wired.com Game Life blog, Chris Kohler has written quite a bit about testing the current WiiWare crop. Here's what he has to say of the pricing structure: "When you buy a WiiWare game, you can't try it first, and if you don't like it, you're totally boned because you can't sell it to someone else or trade it in. WiiWare needs demos."

From the preview coverage I've seen, none of the current Japanese titles seem worth their cost to me. But I couldn't agree more that WiiWare needs demos. I would even like to extend that to seeing the availability of demos of full Wii Games. But my desire for demos is counter balanced by the fact that the memory in the Wii is depressingly small. I hope Nintendo eventually expands this, but who knows what they'll do.

Microtransactions are also starting to show up, even with the WiiWare Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game, for which this feature had never even been announced. I've never been that comfortable with extra costs for games, thinking that everything I need and want from the game should be included in it from the beginning. But it seems like microtransactions are one direction the industry's headed in. Hopefully, some better games will be released for WiiWare in the near future.

In other matters, I'm leaving for a trip to Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima tomorrow, and I won't be back until April 6. I may or may not be able to upload a quick post while I'm gone, because who knows what kind of Internet access I'll have. So, I'll leave you with this:
If challenge had a taste, you'd be quite delicious.


Nintendo's DS Download Service - Where Are All the Games

Over on ThatVideoGameBlog, for which I write occasional news stories and editorials, I recently posted my impressions of both a demo of Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and the DS Download Service on the Wii's Everybody's Nintendo Channel. The DS downloads are finally coming to fruition in Japan, after more than 3 months of stagnation. There haven't been any good downloads until Ninja Gaiden and Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2. Unfortunately, they were both offered for download for a limited time, and I believe they were supposed to be taken off the service yesterday. I'm not sure though, so I'll have to check.

The DS demos are a great opportunity for Nintendo to show off some games, especially less-publicized titles. Unfortunately, they've barely put this function to good use so far. The Ninja Gaiden demo really sold me in the game. I had literally no interest in it before I tried it, and would probably consider buying it now. In fact, I probably only downloaded it in the first place because it was the first actually game I'd seen available on the service.

Nintendo should definitely expand the selection of demos on offer. While this channel has been available for Japanese Wii owners since last November, I'm surprised a release date hasn't even been announced for North America yet. Maybe they'll release it closer to Mario Kart or Wii Fit. I know that creating a demo takes developers off the task of creating the whole game, but this is a great service that only benefit Nintendo. They should especially try to release demos of lesser known games. Nobody really needs a demo of a Mario game, or probably even Ninja Gaiden, because those games will most likely sell well regardless.

Next, I'd love to see some Wii demos, although I don't have hopes for this happening at all, partly due to memory limitations of the Wii itself.

Tomorrow I'll post probably my last post before I go on a short vacation. The topic: the just-released-in-Japan-yesterday WiiWare.


I Can't Resist Purchasing Good Games

When it rains, it pours. I regularly tell myself to not buy a certain game, or any games, for a while. But my will inevitably breaks. I bought 2 more games over the weekend, one of which was planned. As promised, I finally bought No More Heroes. I'm not really going to talk about it much here. I've moved up to assassin rank #8, so I still have 7 more assassins to take down. I really enjoy it so far, but I'll post some of my thoughts on it in a couple weeks after I've had time to play it some more.

The other game I bought, which I always kept an eye out for but didn't intend to buy yet, was Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 for the DS. I wish the title was a little longer, but I'll call it Ouendan 2 for the sake of simplicity. Wikipedia translates the title as "Burn! Hot-Blooded Rhythm Spirit: Hey! Fight! Cheer Squad 2." As you should be able to tell from the title, Ouendan 2 is a rhythm game, and was developed bu iNiS. iNiS is primarily a rhythm game maker, having made Ouendan 1, Elite Beat Agents, and also Gitaroo Man, which Michael at the Brainy Gamer heaped praise upon a few months ago.

The gameplay in Ouendan 2 is simple at heart, but so far incredibly difficult. There are three types of mechanics you use to tap out the rhythm of the J-Pop song. The primary one is the Hit Markers, which you just tap in time to the beat. Next is a Slider, where you follow a ball and slide the stylus along a track. Last are Spinners, which are discs you must spin in a circle really quickly to earn bonus points.

I'll talk more about my impressions of Ouendan 2 later, but I did want to touch on why I bought it. Part of the reason is that this is a fairly popular Japan-exclusive DS game. Seeing as I'm in Japan for a little while, I try to buy some games that are harder to get in the U.S. I'll also probably purchase Ouendan 1, although I rarely see it in stores. A second reason for buying Ouendan 2 was that I'm trying to extend my gaming interests a little bit, or at the very least I want to try games in genres that I rarely explore. I don't think I've ever played a rhythm game, so this should (hopefully) provide a good first experience for me. In fact, part of the reason I find the game so difficult may be because I've never played this type of game before. Of course, it's also supposed to be relatively difficult on its own.

So I'm glad I found the game, and that it was 50% cheaper than I had ever seen it. It looks to be a refreshing experience and a nice change of pace from the RPGs and strategy games I lose myself to.


Late to the Party - No More Heroes

It often feels like I'm playing catch-up with video games, because I so rarely buy games, even high profile releases, as soon as they're released. With a few exceptions, I often wait to buy games when I have time to play them or when a blind passion consumes me and won't allow me to not buy the game. This is now happening with No More Heroes.

Although I had been in interested in No More Heroes for many months, I haven't had much inclination to buy it until recently. The primary reason was that living in Japan, with my terrible Japanese language ability, I wanted to wait until I could play it in English. I also reasoned that this is a game I would ultimately want to own forever, so I might as well wait until I return to the U.S. this summer to purchase it.

But then, I saw some Japanese TV commercials and game play footage, and realized that the Japanese release of No More Heroes has a surprising amount of English. All of the cutscenes are voiced in English with Japanese subtitles, and it looks like even the menus in Travis' apartment are in English. So it looks like I won't miss out on much by playing through the Japanese version. I also just see people talking about this game quite often, and there's not too much I can add to that conversation since I haven't played it yet.

But all that will change soon. I plan on buying No More Heroes within the next couple of days. Although I'm not expecting it, I also have a faint hope that the game might be discounted by this point, what with the abysmal Japanese sales figures.

This probably happens about once a month. I start seeing a game more and more on the Internet, even older games. I then start finding as much information as I can about it, and my every waking though becomes consumed with acquiring and playing this game. Most recently, this happened with Brawl, which I didn't intend to purchase at all. But I succumbed to fate, I suppose. If I purchase it soon, I'll report in next week on the adventures of Travis Touchdown, which most of you are already very familiar with.


It's Nice to Know Someone is Reading This

Blogging and writing about video games is still fairly new to me. Not only am I trying to figure out more concretely my thoughts and opinions on the state of gaming, but I'm also trying to work through the technicalities of blogging efficiently and in a semi-professional manner. So when I get the occasional comment or email that someone has enjoyed something I've written, I'm always quite surprised and taken aback.

Having said that, I would like to particularly thank Daniel Primed over at his DP's Gamer Blog for thinking my meager blog was worth linking to and mentioning. Daniel, thank you. I really appreciate your recognition of this blog the other day. And thanks for pointing out some characteristics of You Are Lose! that I had previously not considered. I've never considered myself a gaming 'enthusiast,' and I'm trying to see how that word feels wrapped around me. Although I suppose it's appropriate and accurate, given that I have no professional or developmental ties to the game industry, and instead I just play games a lot and want to write about them in a (hopefully) intelligent manner.

I also hadn't noticed, although it's fairly obvious, that I primarily write about specific software. Looking back, I'm mostly interested in how certain games are played, what I feel while playing them, and more recently, how games try to successfully tie together narrative and game play. I'd like to thank Daniel for pointing these things out to me, and making me a little more self-aware of what kind of blog I'm working on here.

I also highly recommend Daniel's Gamer Blog. He consistently has a slew of posts about gaming, and writes in a very accessible and thought-provoking way. His topics range widely from software to hardware, Nintendo to Sony, and everything in between. It's one of the blogs in my Google Reader that I always look forward to.


Riviera: The Promised Land - Play This Game Now

After completing Hotel Dusk last week, I had a decision to make: what game should I play next? Although I'm usually playing more than one game at the same time, I tend to focus on just one for completion's sake. Ultimately I decide to delve back into Riviera: The Promised Land, a largely overlooked Atlus RPG for the GameBoy Advance.

Riviera is completely unlike any game you've ever played, and I mean that as a compliment. I would describe it as a combination of an RPG, a dating simulation, and a modified point-and-click adventure. You improve your stats and gain more powerful items, can choose which of your female party members to compliment and impress, and explore the environment through menu-based choices rather than direct movement.

The game is comprised of about 7 large chapters, which are further subdivided. Each sub-chapter has anywhere from 3-10 screens, which you move between, battling demons and spending accumulated Trigger Points (TP) to explore the environment. You can take only 3 characters and 4 items into battles, and regular minigames pop-up where you must input a button combination or time a button press to avoid a trap. For example, in Chapter 1 there's a tribute to Indiana Jones where you must input a short button combination in order to avoid a large, rolling boulder.

There are no random battles, at least in the Dragon Quest sense, only in the sense that you don't know which screen has an enemy encounter. There's also no true movement. Each screen has a Move and Look mode, where you press a direction of the control pad to change screens or search an object, respectively. Every single battle takes careful planning of characters and items. You must exploit enemy weaknesses, and you don't fight the same enemies repeatedly, as in games like Final Fantasy. Each battle is almost a set piece, like a challenge you must overcome to be worthy of advancing.

The main reason I love this game is the choices you are constantly presented with, which I briefly touched on in a previous post. I find myself agonizing over a decision on nearly every screen. For example:
  • Which direction should I move in?
  • Your party is only allowed to carry 16 items, so if I find a powerful new item, what do I throw away?
  • What 4 items should I bring into battle? Is it more important to have a Thunder Sword or a Healing Rod?
  • If I'm running low on TP, should I search a chest or doorway, even though it could be detrimental?

Sometimes it's best to ignore environmental objects. A bad decision can: 1.) harm your relationship with one of the ladies; 2.) prevent you from acquiring useful items; 3.) waste valuable TP; or 4.) even reduce a character's HP by 5-15%. This last one I haven't quite figured out, because it seems as if you get the HP back either after a certain period of time, or after you clear the section. There are so many decisions that it's very easy to miss things. In fact, you pretty much have to miss out on sections of the environment of important items your first time unless you're using a walkthrough.

As much as I love the prominence of decisions, Riviera does have a few lackluster elements. Items have a limited number of uses, but in order to level up, a character needs to use an item a certain number of times. The best way to do this is in practice mode, which exists sort of 'outside' the game world. Although practice mode is necessary, the weaker enemies make it a little boring and it draws me out of the game narrative. Also, I found the story very confusing, largely due to a plethora of proper names that I can't quite wrap my head around. Finally, although I'm halfway finished, I just now feel like I have a good grasp on most of the mechanics. This is partly because there were a lot of new concepts I wasn't familiar with, and partly because I bought a used copy and had no manual to explain some of the finer points.

Other than the Practice mode, I really like how connected the game play is to your ability to find out about the environment and narrative. Essentially, doing well in battle earns you more TP, thereby allowing you to search more areas, get better items, and learn about the game world and characters. This, in turn, makes your characters stronger, thereby earning more TP in battle and so on. The mechanics are a big circle which feed into each other, and doing well in one area allows you to succeed in others. Although the combat system and item limitations seem very stifling and limiting at first, Riviera ultimately gives you a lot of freedom to experiment and try different things. Plus, with a different ending depending on which girl likes you the most, as well as numerous overlooked and ignored areas, there's compelling reason to play through the game again.

On a side note, in between chapters, you return to a home base of sorts. Twice, so far, your female companions have decided to take a bath during this break, and your character is able to go and spy on them. It's nothing too exciting, no nudity, just a static image with dialogue boxes over it. I would imagine that some people would be offended by this, but the game didn't sell well enough to attract any kind of attention. Plus, these scenes are completely tame, gratuitous, and well off the beaten path.

Whew. As you can see, I really have a lot to say about this great, overlooked game. I simply love Riviera. It's a lot of fun, and also quite charming and involving. The whole package is tied together really well, it's both simple and complex, and it's very addicting to just want to advance one more screen and see what happens. I highly recommend it, if you can find a copy somewhere. It's well worth the search.


Do You Prefer to Play Games By Yourself or with Others?

Congratulations to...me! Yesterday's post was my 100th. I consider that a small, signifcant milestone. I've really been enjoying trying to contribute to this blog everyday, and am still ever so slowly trying to increase my minimal amount of site traffic.

Today's post takes it's inspiration from an article by Stephen Totilo at the MTV Multiplayer blog. Having recently delved in Smash Bros. Brawl, Totilo describes how he primarily plays it alone, largely ignoring the multiplayer components. He behaves similarly with many other games. As he acknowledges, this is quite ironic in that he edits a blog with the word "multiplayer" in the title. I can completely relate to playing games primarily by yourself, even multiplayer ones.

The only two games I played extensively with at least one other person were the original Super Mario Kart and Super Mario Kart: Double Dash on the GameCube. My friend and I played the original to death not just because it was great fun, but because neither of us were capable of acing the Special Cup through our own, individual efforts. We needed a little teamwork. Double Dash entered the scene during college, and my roommates and I would play and fight about it for hours.

Other than these two games, I've been primarily a solo gamer. I didn't have a N64 when Goldeneye was popular, and I rarely play shooters now. Even games whose sole purpose as a game is multiplayer, such as both Melee and Brawl, I play them by myself. That may be why I don't enjoy those types of games quite as much.

Why do I do this? I think the primary reason for me is that I much prefer to play games for their narrative, to unwind a compelling, interesting story. These types of games are often necessarily solitary affairs. This is the same reason I regularly read novels and watch films; to go along with the story and see what happens. A second reason is that when it comes to games, I'm just not that competitive. I'm more interested in finishing a game and moving on to something new than in trying to dominate my friends or master the controls. A final reason for me may be that of current consoles, I only own the Wii. Since most of my friends aren't into games as much as I am, I often play by myself, which is fine. And the Wii's online multiplayer is just now starting to develop, although I'm only moderately interested in it.

I'm even starting to lose my interest in Brawl, which will hopefully prove to be an excellent online experience. Maybe part of this is that multiplayer, competitive games are rarely complete, at least until you just grow tired of playing them. In Brawl, I'm focused on getting 100% on the SubSpace Emissary, and beating all the modes with every character. For me, that will feel like I've, in a sense, completed the game.

So what kind of gamer are you? Do you primarily play multiplayer games? Single player experiences? A little of both? Much like Stephen Totilo, I usually play by myself.


Wind Waker and the Emotive Power of Graphic Design

The other day, Corvus at Man Bytes Blog posted an in-depth character design analysis of the Moblins from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Essentially, he tried to point out how exceptionally well such a relatively unimportant character was designed. The Moblins, and the various other members of the Moblin family, are essentially the grunts of the Zelda games. They are the enemies that you, as Link, repeatedly beat up on from the beginning of the game.
The Moblin's single-minded nature makes them easy to defeat, but they are an essential part of the Zelda mythos. As Corvus shows, despite their blunt stupidity, their character design in Wind Waker shows a painstaking attention to detail. Both their simplistic intelligence and attack animations are perfectly married with their lumbering, cartoon-y visual style. This consistency of design further applies to their facial expressions and limited emotional range, most often of confusion.

Corvus' description of the Moblins reminds me of games like Mass Effect and movies like The Polar Express. One recurring criticism of Mass Effect is that while it does have many cinematic qualities, the dialogue sequences are relatively sparse, with boring framing and a pinch of creepiness. While the game has a great story and dialogue, the emotive power of the characters is handicapped by the limits of the graphics engine. Bioware's attempt at realistic graphics is admirable, especially in their focus on realistic wrinkles. Unfortunately, realistic realism is incredibly difficult to pull off, and is likely beyond the power of current computing technology. Imperfect realism often creates a disturbing sense of creepiness.

For a really good example of this, watch the CGI film The Polar Express. I admit the graphics are breathtaking, and the story is sickeningly charming. But something about the hyper-real characters leaves a bad, bitter taste in my mouth. I concluded that it ultimately has something to do with the eyes of the characters. Looking into their glistening eyes reveals no hint of life or feeling, just emptiness, a void.

Games like Wind Waker, with their decidedly fantastic and unreal style, usually don't have this problem. Thanks to the cel-shaded graphics, the visual artists are allowed to explore a broader range of possible feelings, instead of trying to replicate a single realistic look. If you look in Wind Waker Link's eyes, it's natural to instantly recognize his sadness, confusion, or sense of wonder, often because that is exactly what you are feeling. Part of the reason Wind Waker's graphics work so well is that they allow me to closely empathize with Link because his expressiveness is often a mirror image of my own. Realistic graphics are currently unable to replicate true human emotion, partly because the vision of the artists must be focused on a single kind of representation of reality. They are unable to explore and experiment with different ways for characters to express the same thing.

As you can tell, I think stylized, unique graphics are vastly superior to attempts at photo-realism. Similarly, I think Wind Waker is one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, despite the sometimes too lengthy sailing expeditions. Lastly, make sure to check out Corvus' thoughts on narrative and game design at Man Bytes Blog. He has a lot of brilliant ideas, and I really enjoy reading his posts. Plus, he's dedicated enough to post pretty much every Monday - Friday, which is a rare treat.

Limitations in Writing About Games

Recently, after commenting on other gaming sites, I've realized that my perspective on video games is quite limited. But I don't think this limitation is unique to me among those who are interested in writing about games as a medium. Specifically, the number of games I've personally played is crushed under the weight of the thousands of games I've never touched. Not only do I feel the relics of gaming history taunting me to play them, but I'm also able to play only a very limited number of current or recently released games. Historically, I missed everything prior to the NES, and was dependent on the occasional birthday or Christmas present to add to my game collection. Nowadays, I limit what games I buy due to the Japanese language barrier, and I have no experience with the 360, PS3, or PSP.

I also have limitations of both time and money, but primarily time. There's no way I'd be able to acquire every worthwhile modern purchase for every system, let alone for systems that have been long dead. Traditionally, I've rarely bought new games as soon as they were released, instead opting to wait for price cuts and pick up several cheap games at once. The new games I do adopt immediately tend to be first party Nintendo titles (Mario, Zelda, and Mario Kart come to mind). Even if I owned every major system, I wouldn't be able to stay up to date, although I might be closer than I am now.

This leads to an interesting situation: How much can I write about games I've never played? Is it acceptable to write about plots, themes, and mechanics of games I've just read about and seen footage of online? I would be limiting myself too much if I only referenced games I've played. But at the same time, I must be very careful when talking about other games to not over-step my second-hand knowledge. One final problem is that I, like most gamers, favor some genres over others, so I'm even less inclined to play examples of genres I don't particularly like. In my case, I find myself drawn to RPGs, action games, platformers, and a few strategy titles. I strongly dislike most sports games, and am terrible at shooters, so I tend to stay away from them. There are many exciting, thrilling, unique game experiences waiting for me. I just need to somehow figure out a way to manufacture a greater amount of time...


The Lighter Side of Things: Puzzle Quest

It's often the case when I finish a game that involves a significant time commitment per gaming session (such as most RPGs or Twilight Princess) that I need to take a break. More specifically, I need to play a game that's a little lighter and fluffier for a few days. So, upon my completion of Hotel Dusk, I found myself re-embracing Puzzle Quest on the DS, which had been gathering dust on my shelf for many months. Actually, I just beat it as a druid for the first time yesterday too. I hadn't realized I was so close to the end. But I'm still interested in playing it, so I started up a new game as a Wizard. After just the first few quests, I can already tell a huge difference in the play styles of these two characters. But that's not the purpose of this post.

My reacquaintance with Puzzle Quest coincided with a blog post by Corvus on Man Bytes Blog, where he addresses some reader responses to narrative consistency. One reader wrote about the distractions he found with the integration of Assassin's Creed's user interface into its game world, which is a rare treat. I haven't played it, but I think it makes a lot of sense to try to integrate as many game elements as possibly into the environment and logic of the game world itself.

That being said, how is Puzzle Quest similar to Assassin's Creed in this regard? Some things are more abstract, such as your health and mana bars. But many of the game play elements take place within the game world. For example, if you want to level up a creature, you first have to buy a stable at your headquarters and then defeat your creature in puzzle combat. Similarly, many of the upgrading sidequests are maintained at your headquarters after you have purchased the requisite building. These missions, such as learning new spells or forging new weapons, are given a logical place within this world. The one aspect of Puzzle Quest, which is in fact essential to its very being, is the puzzeling mechanic itself. Is this an abstract representation of a fight to the death? Or are your character and an enemy monster literally sitting on either side of a puzzle, moving gems around and casting spells?

My initial opinion is that this is very much an abstract battle system. Your matching of three skulls is a signifier of swinging your sword and lightly scratching your enemy. I don't think they're literally playing a puzzle game against each other. But as a gamer, this doesn't bother me because I'm accustomed to using such abstract systems in games. Bejeweld-style puzzles are part of this world, and are literally integrated into it everywhere. To defeat a giant rat: puzzle combat. To forge an item: puzzle combat. To defeat the God of Death himself: puzzle combat. The very nature of the people and places within the Puzzle Quest universe is fighting through puzzles.

Later in his post, Corvus says, "It isn't the standard grammar of videogame design that's holding us back, it's the type of stories we're trying to tell. It's our juvenile focus on violence and hyper-sexualized characters that's the problem." And in that regard, Puzzle Quest seems antiquated. The plot that ties these puzzles together, while devoid of sexuality, is the most stereotypical fantasy story you can imagine. The characters have no personality, and are purely fantasy cliches.

But in this world, the puzzle game play is what keeps you coming back for more. It's very addicting. I plan on raising my wizard a few more levels before delving into a more time-intensive game. Sometimes it's nice to revisit a simpler world, where warriors and monsters solve their differences through Bejeweled, like gentlemen.


Hotel Dusk: All Adventures Must Come to an End

In a previous post, I gave my thoughts on Hotel Dusk: Room 215, so I've already discussed the creative art style of the characters and what looked like the beginning of a great story. Now that I've finished it, after about 16 hours, I can say that the story only gets better as the mysteries begin to unravel. Based on the story alone I would recommend this game, although there are several serious problems with it.

While the dialogue and plot are top-notch, the game play itself is very slow and somewhat boring. Neither your character nor the scrolling text is capable of moving very quickly. Luckily, this is somewhat balanced by the structure of the game, which is broken up into 10 chapters. (The chapter formula contributes to Hotel Dusk's graphic novel-feel, as well as holding the DS sideways like a book.) I found myself trying to play a whole chapter in one sitting in order to remain aware of relevant information. This was a good pace for the narrative as each chapter took a little over an hour to complete, and the slow pace of the game kept me from playing for longer stretches of time.

The DS functionally is used moderately well, but it seems like there was a lot of untapped potential. By interacting with the screen you pick up and move around objects, open doors (a lot), solve jigsaw puzzles, draw pictures, and even decorate a Christmas tree. There are also a couple instances of closing and opening the DS itself to accomplish a task.

A topic central to both The Brainy Gamer and Man Bytes Blog is how game play and narrative intersect. In Hotel Dusk, I would argue that there is very little game play. The dialogue to game play ratio is about 4:1. The little game play that's available is closely integrated with your perspective as Kyle Hyde, but most of the time you just walk from room to room, repeatedly questioning people for information. When you can find people, that is. If you see a person standing somewhere, they're relevant to that chapter. If you can't find someone, you don't need to talk to them. This game is extremely linear.

The story is quite good, but the dialogue "choices" are flimsy and shallow at best. The correct choice is usually either blatantly obvious or of no consequence. Your brain will rarely get stressed. This is a game where you as the player are mainly along for the ride. There's little to do on the way, but the journey is thought-provoking and entertaining.

Despite its flaws and general lack of interaction, I found myself very involved in the story. I really wanted to help Hyde solve the mystery behind his missing partner. I think Hotel Dusk proves that adventure games aren't dead yet, but perhaps just in a light coma. If you like adventure games, give this one a shot. The story is simple but intriguing, and went in some unexpected directions. All your wishes just may come true, if you stay in room 215.

(Spoiler that's not a spoiler: Although the presentation in Hotel Dusk is somewhat ephemeral, this is not a ghost story of any kind.)


Why Are Video Games So Hard to Complete?

Leigh Alexander in her Aberrant Gamer column has posted an article about "Completion Anxiety Disorder." Mainly she's explaining how she has a significant number of games that she hasn't completed, and possibly never will, and tries to explore why these games remain incomplete months or years later. She questions if it's because games are bigger and more complex now, we don't have time for long games, our attention spans have gotten shorter, or maybe that some games just aren't good enough to be worth the time investment.

I can certainly relate to this article. I would guess that a large percentage of my games, possibly more than half, have yet to be completed. Most of my games are ones I'm proud to own, and think of as quality titles. I think the most common reason I put games aside is because something newer and shinier comes along. Or maybe it's not that a game isn't good, but after a week or two of playing the same thing every day, I just want to play something different. And then it takes a long time to get back to that original game. I feel like this completion syndrome is somewhat unique to games. As Leigh points out, how often do you watch only part of a movie? Or listen to part of a CD? Books are probably more likely to be left unfinished, but I still think games are worse than books in this regard. After all, games often take a dozen or more hours to complete. It's easy to get distracted.

Do you, the readers, have much of an unfinished game collection? If so, why have you not completed these games? I'd be very interested to hear some other opinions.


Impressions of Hotel Dusk: Room 215

Playing Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is sort of like taking an old, beat-up car on spring break. She's not much to look at, but she'll get the job done. The environmental graphics in Hotel Dusk are ugly as sin, but the story instantly grabs you by the throat and forces you to press onward. Hotel Dusk is an adventure game where you play as Kyle Hyde, a former cop looking for his backstabbing partner. From the moment you set foot in the hotel, and as every character begins to have some connection to your past, you can't help but want to unravel the mystery.

While the environments are visually insulting, the character art is rather inspiring and unique among games. Many writers have aptly compared it to the 1985 A-Ha music video, "Take On Me." The characters are black and white pencil drawings, but the shading is constantly in flux, making the characters seem a little more dynamic than the flatness found in games like Phoenix Wright. Talking to characters is a real treat, just to be able to see the attractive artwork and read the mostly believable dialogue. I can't even imagine the headache I'd get if the character graphics were as ugly as the backgrounds. I'll take stylistic graphics over realism any day of the week.

I'm roughly halfway through the game, and would so far wholeheartedly recommend it. However, I did have trouble adjusting to this game from Phoenix Wright. I kept wanting to present evidence and press for more information to advance the story, but usually all you need to do is find all the items and speak to the characters that are available. I also consider myself a speedy reader, and was disappointed that I couldn't tap the screen to speed up the dialogue. This game is very slow, so be prepared. Despite these small gripes, there's a lot to like, especially in the story department. The characters are all unique and have a good measure of personality, and the game's challenging without being too difficult. I've only been temporarily stuck twice in 8 hours of game play.

I've still got a number of mysteries to solve, and I'll write another post when I finish the game. Who says adventure games are dead? As long as the story has a good hook, I'll gladly welcome more games like Hotel Dusk: Room 215.


That VideoGame Blog

Starting today, I will be contributing some writing to That VideoGame Blog. They had a link on their site advertising they were looking for some writers to volunteer to write for the site. This includes writing up news reports, more in-depth articles, or whatever. I'm pretty excited about it, and it should be fun. The only thing I'm worried about, which shouldn't be too hard, is eventually trying to keep my posts over there and here on my own blog separate. At any rate, check out the site. It's very clean and well made, and I look forward to contributing there.


Providing Meaningful Choices in Games

There's a lot of talk in the gaming industry and gaming press about providing meaningful choices to players that drastically affect their gameplay experience. But despite that, I can think of very few examples where this has been implemented. Most choices in games are superficial, and you follow the same path no matter what you choose. While choosing to save or harvest the Little Sisters in Bioshock was a moral challenge for many people, it ultimately was not a game-changing decision. Assassin's Creed provides several methods of getting information about your next target, but you repeat these same few scenarios over and over. Designers let players choose different characters, items, weapons, and lines of dialogue, not to mention countless visual options for your character's appearance. Many choices presented in games today are merely illusory.

The best example of a game I've played with meaningful choices is Planescape: Torment. It requires a lot of reading, possibly having the most dialogue of any game I've ever played. Most of your choices involve your character having a high enough intelligence to be able to choose a dialogue option that elicits information from an NPC. Surprisingly, this even applied to the final boss battle, where it was possible to talk your way past him. Should choices block off elements of the plot or gameplay so you can't experience everything in one playthrough? It seems like it. Otherwise, what's the point of making a difficult decision if you can see both outcomes regardless? I suppose these sorts of complications are why so few games provide the player with legitimate choices.

Another game with a different kind of choice is Riviera: The Promised Land, a little gem I picked up not too long ago for the GBA. While your decisions don't affect the plot greatly, they are directly tied to your ability to succeed in battle. They also affect which of your female companions is most affectionate towards you at the end of the game. Quickly and pwerfully winning a battle earns you Trigger Points, which can be spent to explore the environment. If you don't do well in battles, you won't earn enough Trigger Points to be able to examine everything, and you'll miss out on valuable items and experience. At the same time, your female companions also give you advice and warnings, and you can choose whether or not to listen to them. As an example, I once searched a bush, and received an item. On the next screen, I tried to examine an identical-looking bush, but another character warned that it looked thorny and dangerous. I chose to follow her advice, and don't know what would have happened if I had ignored her. Although you must use your Trigger Points wisely, they ultimately only provide you with better items and weapons.

Are game-changing choices really needed? They would make for a more dynamic, personal experience. But I also love following a gripping game story through to a logical conclusion. If the gameplay is flawless, I don't even think about a lack of true choices. It's very difficult to make the player feel as if they are impacting the game world. But it looks like an increasing number of developers are going to try.

"Shut-up Already - I Know You Want a New Computer!"

I always know I'm excited about something because my girlfriend gets annoyed at me for telling her the same thing over and over again. Right now, I've been repeatedly telling her the following: I want to get a new gaming-capable computer as a compromise for not having a 360 or a PS3. My desire for a graphically-advanced gaming machine has stemmed largely from my renewed interest in maintaining this gaming blog. It made me realize the vast number of games I'm missing out on by only owning a Wii. I do like the idea of limiting myself to only one console because I just don't have the time to play every worthwhile game that's out there. That being said, I'm starting to get the itch to play games I've so far missed out on.

As companies, I have a distrust and dislike of both Sony and Microsoft. The extremely high cost of a PS3 turns me off, and I'm wary of the 360's unknown but seemingly high failure rate. Although the recent announcement of a Metal Gear Solid 4 PS3 bundle sent a shiver of excitement down my spine. As a compromise, I'm going to get a decent gaming PC. I also need a new PC in itself, because my nearly 6 year old laptop is ready to fall apart. So when computer shopping, I'm going to make sure to include a good graphics card, processor, and plenty of RAM.

I think a PC will be a good compromise because many of the console games I want to play also appear on PC, especially 360 games. Right now my list of games includes Bioshock, Half-Life and The Orange Box, the soon-to-be-released Mass Effect, and both Knights of the Old Republic games. I've done a little research online and am very excited at the prospect of a new computer. But I need to calm down because I won't be buying it until I leave Japan in about 5 months. So what game systems do you have, and how did you justify your decisions?


Difficulty in Games: Too Hard, Too Easy, or Just Right?

Whether or not adventure games are dead, they can sometimes be about as challenging as driving with your eyes closed. After just a couple of hours of Grim Fandango, I found myself stuck and bewildered. Early in the game, Manny finds himself in the Petrified Forest. I knew exactly what to do to get out, but I had no idea how to advance. I needed to figure out a maze, unbalance a pumping station to get hydraulics for my car, and eliminate some demon beavers near the exit. I'm not going to lie, I resorted to searching for hints online to help solve two of the three puzzles. And the last one was solved by my girlfriend. Petrified Forest - 3, Me - 0. I've since moved on, and am having greater success in the second section.

The larger issue here is that of game difficulty and time commitments. Have games become easier over time? I'm not sure if I know. Game design has changed drastically since the arcade or NES days, where you were expected to not only die, but die repeatedly. One of the biggest changes recently has been increasing the frequency of save points, and/or allowing you to restart shortly before your character died rather than at the beginning of a level. We see fewer and fewer games that increase difficulty by limiting where you can save. Will we ever see another game like Final Fantasy III for the DS, where you can never save in dungeons or buy revival items? Probably not. Even Fire Emblem, that bastion of permanent character death and denier of mid-mission saving, allowed players to save mid-battle in the newest release, thereby somewhat changing your strategy.

Is a decrease in difficulty in games in general partly responsible for the decline of adventure games? I remember being confounded by Myst for weeks on end. I got stuck on Grim Fandango after about 2 hours, and it's supposed to be comparatively easier. Granted, adventure games may just require a different state of mind than what I'm used to. Nonetheless, I still love playing adventure games and thinking about their mysteries. I especially love that I can get stuck in an adventure game, and then think about it constantly, trying to think of possible solutions until I begin playing again.

The reason I sneaked a peek online for Grim Fandango tips is that I felt I was wasting my time. My gaming time has decreased greatly over the years. Repeatedly trying to solve a puzzle and making no headway is too frustrating, when I could be making progress in other games. So I got a little nudge in the right direction, and am grateful for it. Similarly, if I find myself restarting a Fire Emblem mission several times, I give up and switch to another game temporarily because it feels like lost time.

I wonder if as other gamers of my generation grow older and have more responsibilities, their game time becomes more valuable to them. Personally, I don't want to play too many really difficult games because the time investment it takes to become proficient is too high for me. Of course, I don't want a cakewalk either, but I'd like to be able to make steady progress. I know that there's a place for challenging games like Devil May Cry 3 and Ninja Gaiden, and I'd like to see even more of a resurgence of adventure games. But I don't want to have to attempt the same scenario a dozen times with no results. I just don't have the time anymore.