Bankable Nostalgia (Short Blog)

With the recent release of Puzzle and Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition, I’ve come to a few realizations; Nintendo really isn’t afraid to take risks and nostalgia seems to be their entire M.O. As a matter of fact, the media world, in general, seems obsessed with nostalgia.

Mad Max: Fury Road recently came out. While the film is quite good, I can’t help but feel that releasing 25 years later was the plan all along. I know that can’t be 100% true, but it just seems way too convenient for this film to just now get made, especially after being in development hell for a decent chunk of time.

It seems that we’ve come into an era of “bankable nostalgia”:. Hollywood action films are milking our comic heritage for everything its worth; musicians that should have retired 20 years ago are bringing out new material; game developers (be it indie or triple A) are focusing their talents on re-creating the past.

I’m not sure how long this type of cycle can sustain itself. This clearly isn’t a new idea, but will nostalgia ever run out? For people in my age bracket (21-34), nostalgia is basically what keeps us ticking with tired ideas. Aren’t we a bit young to be feeling such longing for our wonder years?

When does that well run dry? Will we get to a point where a brand new, totally original Mario game will garner a collective shrug because Mario is old hat? How about when Captain America 4 comes out and we’ve just given up on the whole idea?

I guess everything is fine if the creations are all quality. It can never hurt to have an abundance of things you enjoy. I just worry that our favorite hobbies will become insufferable after a litany of similar releases come out.

Mario can only put up with Bowser’s nonsense so many times before calling it quits. This is similar to how all the Resident Evil protagonists can be frightened of zombies for a few games before going guns-blazing at everyone.

Eventually, you need to grow as a character. To mirror humanity, stagnation breeds complacency and complacency breeds contempt. Without creative flair, we may be doomed to walking away from this medium and never looking back.

Then again, I know a few people who have never played a video game or watched a film and still manage to find joy in life. To them, there are other avenues of passion that capture their imaginations. There is even a man in Japan whose sole purpose in life is to make sushi.

I may just be noticing this due to the recent surge of past ideas resurfacing, but I just don’t want to see this wonderful medium turn to dust. I’d also really hate for music to become completely absent from my world. I want new things to happen and original voices to be heard.

Hopefully this “bankable nostalgia” is simply a craze that will fade away. 3D Gaming seemed to die down, so I guess we just need to be patient.

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Splash Damage – Splatoon Demo Impressions

As a self proclaimed Nintendo fanboy, I was optimistic about Splatoon. I saw people playing it at PAX East, but didn’t get a chance to wait in line. While everyone looked elated, I wasn’t sold on the idea quite yet.

When I heard about a demo coming to the eShop, I figured that it would be a great way to experience the game in my own home. Why settle for a calculated and specified demo when I can just have at the game myself?

Nintendo, in their own esoteric way, decided to make the demo active for a few short hours. Instead of a typical weeks long “beta” that would give people a taste of the final build, Nintendo went ahead and included a server stress test in their demo.

Other than that being a clever idea, the limited window of opportunity made me excited beyond reason. Not only did I want to play this, I felt as if I needed to. I was itching all morning to give it a shot (had I realized there was a 7 am time, I would have tried it sooner!).

So I went about my usual Saturday routine of cleaning and volunteering; when I came home, I patiently waited downstairs fiddling around on my 3DS. The 10 minutes before the servers launched were an excruciating wait.

It’s amazing how I’ve written so much without even talking about the game. Nintendo somehow made the prospect of a demo special. I remember a time when having a sample of a game meant you either had to subscribe to a magazine or keep the preview disc that came with your console.

Ah the good ol’ days…

With the advent of the internet becoming integrated into a console, those special times were over. Microsoft allowed you to try out practically every game on the Xbox Live Marketplace via a demo. Sometimes the demos ended up being far better than the final product.

Splatoon‘s Global Testfire made me feel that way. I wasn’t going out and picking up a magazine, but I had to discover the existence of the demo and do some research into the timeframes the servers would be active.

Maybe this is just how Nintendo rolls, but I feel this was a great way to build even more hype over this brand new IP. Nintendo hasn’t really created an original idea in a long time (excluding Codename STEAM), so many people were playing the waiting game.

Without any kind of hands-on, I probably would have dismissed Splatoon entirely. It looked neat, but I’ve fallen out of online shooters as I’ve grown older. I occasionally play Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2, but I don’t frequent them.

Nintendo’s approach to an online shooter is pretty novel. It may not be exactly original, but by removing the emphasis on fragging opponents and giving players a concrete goal in each map, Splatoon feels far more engaging than the usual shooter fare.

Color? IN A SHOOTER?!

The demo (which only ran for an hour) included two levels. They were a bit small, possibly to compensate for the 4 on 4 action, but they felt dense. I haven’t really taken the time to analyze the details of a game’s level design in quite some time, but Splatoon makes it almost essential to success.

With the objective being to cover the whole map in paint, you suddenly become obsessed with figuring out which areas can be covered and how fast you can get to the next point. The best way for success is not only cooperating with your team mates, but in finding areas that are less traveled.

You also can stake out vantage points and camp away. Thankfully spawn camping isn’t a possibility, but players are encouraged to discover safe spots and stick to them. With the central mechanic being squid mode and swimming through paint, even a relatively safe area isn’t 100% guaranteed.

The short time limit on each match made every second count. It was a chaotic scramble to cover your half of the map before the opposing team could even react. It made for exhilarating openers to each battle, even if I played the same map 4 times in a row.

There is also a mini-game during the load screens. While you’re waiting for players to join and the game to cache every file, you get treated to a retro style, Ice Climber-esque game about jumping to the top of a map. It may not be very deep, but it certainly beats staring at a blank screen and wishing for death.

Feels like 1983.

That small little change kept me actively engaged during the downtime between matches. I never had to worry about whether the game would continue or not. I was constantly trying to break a high-score that no one would ever see.

Really, I think Nintendo are on to something with Splatoon. The recent announcement that a lot of the upcoming DLC will be free is just icing on the cake. I may end up picking this game up on day one, a practice I haven’t done in some time.

This demo played out well for Nintendo, in my eyes. It’s also quite unique in it’s execution; a style so decidedly Nintendo that I wouldn’t want it any other way. Hopefully others got a chance to play, but know that Splatoon is shaping up to be quite the game changer.

Forsaken Age

I don’t know quite how to feel about Broken Age. I want to scream and yell and claim it is a terrible experience, but I don’t overtly hate the game. I had a partial bit of responsibility for bringing it to life (funding it way back when on Kickstater). As much as I want to say that I helped make this, I’m mostly ashamed that I got sucked into the marketing that Double Fine did.

When Tim Schafer had claimed he was going to make an adventure game in the vein of his classic titles, I didn’t quite expect him to literally do that. I figured we would have years of advancement in technology and storytelling play a bigger role with the finished product. I expected this new adventure title to do away with some of the more frustrating aspects of the genre’s origins.

Instead, Broken Age is a mess of a second half that fails to capitalize on the potential set forth in it’s first act. The setup to this game is brilliant; two teenagers coming to terms with the way their lives are playing out. You have Shay, a boy who has only ever lived on a spaceship, breaking free and looking for adventure. You also have Vella, a young girl in a town that believes sacrificing “maidens” to some monster is the only way to protect their village. Vella is obviously a maiden and has to deal with the fact that she will die.

This plays a lot like most people’s adolescent years; the game deals with how one can make their stake in the world. Instead of accepting that nothing will get better and the world is all gloom and doom, these characters venture beyond their comfort zones and explore the world outside.

The puzzles may not have been the most mind-bending things around, but that was excusable for the beginning of a game. You never want to throw the hardest thing at a player right off the bat; using a gradual curve to teach the player how the game works and makes their mind adapt to your particular puzzle schemes is a great way to ensure the gamer is left satisfied.

Instead, Act 2 brings about some creatively bankrupt scenarios. The game essentially goes on auto-pilot and solutions take no longer than 5 minutes to pop in your mind. Maybe this has more to do with me being a veteran of the genre, but Broken Age does away with a lot of needless items that used to plague the inventory of it’s predecessors.

In doing that, though, the game’s puzzles focus purely on logic. With logic at your side, you simply need to look at the problem, check your limited supply and have at it. Eventually you get to the solution and your brain doesn’t feel any smarter. At worse, you feel cheated out of a quality experience.

This also happens to the story. Each character, before some insanely convoluted twist, felt like a person with no understanding of their situation. They knew they wanted change, but they weren’t sure from what. Come Act 2, we’re now supposed to accept that these characters know each other and have some emotional tie (thankfully not romantic).

Couple that with some other revelations about Shay’s life and you’re left with a portrait of a boy who looks selfish. That feeling of complacency he wanted to break from feels more like it was self-imposed instead of happening out of bad luck. Vella’s family also deals exceptionally well with the knowledge of their old tradition being a farce.

The final puzzles of the game are also some of the worst I’ve ever had to play. You better like wiring robots and depending on omnipresent knowledge to get through; Broken Age features that in spades. Just quite how Shay should know a pattern that Vella is only able to see is beyond me.

My personal favorite shot of the game. You decide if this is an error or not.

I get that the idea was to have players make the characters interact with each other in an asymmetrical fashion, but the execution feels haphazard. A better approach would be if Vella touched something on the ship and then Shay’s world changed a bit. Other games have done this and it works great in making the player feel like their actions matter.

For that matter, why do we only get a few limited areas? Vella goes through the area Shay explored in Act 1 and vice versa. I know this is supposed to make players get acquainted with their environment, but it feels exceptionally cheap. It harkens back to the classic days of adventure gaming where memory was limited and hardware limitations needed to be worked around.

I can only think of Monkey Island and how that game had 4 Acts that all took place in wholly unique environments. The sequels managed to make their worlds bigger, too. Broken Age just feels like the developers started off with ambition and rushed to make their promises half-true. There is no limitation, so why not go crazy?

How about the voice acting? While the cast is assembled of some great actors and their performance in the first act is quite good, the revelations we get in Act 2 should elicit more of an emotional response. Instead, basically everyone reads their lines in a deadpan manner. I think I’d be screaming bloody murder if I got locked in a ship I previously thought was a monster.

You can tell most of the budget was spent on the visual style, because the graphics are beautiful. Everything animates smoothly and transitions feel natural. I’m a bit torn on the slow camera, but it does give you a great look into the detail of each scene. It’s like looking at a living water color book; it’s whimsical and jovial.

Even right up to the bitter end…which just happens.

But for as much charm the visuals have, the rest of the game just cannot hold up. I may be taking this especially hard as I have wanted this game for nearly 3 years, but I just get the feeling that Tim Schafer and Double Fine got in way over their heads. Their initial budget was a mere $400k dollars. For them to gross around $3 million before the game even came out is obscene.

Then again, I guess we gamers are partially to blame for the lack of quality. We all funded this with nostalgia on our brains. We loved Schafer’s previous work and just wanted him to return to a genre he had long left behind. Broken Age doesn’t make me believe that adventure games are dead, just that Tim Schafer should probably turn his prospects on to something else.

We can never get back the past; this is a harsh truth we all learn in life. Broken Age could have been about just that. The premise starts off with a similar idea and then abandons it for familiar territory. If only Double Fine had listened to their own preaching and learned to grow over the course of this games development.