Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday afternoon tidbits

I'm looking forward to playing the new Left 4 Dead campaign tonight. I also intend to play more Dead Space: Extraction this weekend, after being pleasantly surprised by the first two chapters. Will report back!

-A while back, I posted a list of songs I'd like to see in Rock Band. In that post, I predicted a zero-percent chance of one of those songs ever being released. Shows what I know: "Gay Bar" by Electric Six will be released as DLC next Tuesday. This is very exciting. And it's also another reason why I'll take the open Rock Band platform over the more hermetic Beatles installment. You're just not gonna get surprises like this from the Beatles game.

-In this week's Experience Points podcast, Jorge and Scott talk about downer endings in games, or, more specifically, a lack of them (inspired by Manveer's post on the subject). I think the issue really isn't one of "happy" or "sad" endings, it's one of thoughtful, mature endings that carry a character's arc through to a conclusion, or that contain elements of both happiness and sadness. I mentioned The Darkness in comments as a game that gets it right. The final sequence is viewable on YouTube, although I'm not sure it would make much sense if you hadn't played the rest of the game. The point is that it provokes conflicting emotions, while completing the protagonist's fall. It's brilliant.

-At Press Pause to Reflect, C.T. Hutt weighs in on something that's one of my pet peeves: overly helpful helper characters. Navi is the worst, and Issun clearly wasn't much better. Having an NPC partner isn't inherently a bad idea -- it's been done well in Half-Life 2, for example. It's when the partner is overbearing and impossible to ignore that you get into trouble. How hard would it have been to have to ask Navi for hints when you wanted them? Or better still, design the game in such a way that her particular brand of help isn't needed? Just more reasons why Ocarina is the Most Overrated Game of All Time.

-This one's a little older, but I didn't do a links post last week so I'll write it now. Michael Abbott wondered whether we praise innovation at the expense of execution, specifically talking about the difference in critical buzz between Scribblenauts and Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. I recall that last year Leigh Alexander observed an opposite problem -- that we condemn innovation when the execution isn't quite there. They can't both be right, and I'd venture to say that it's not so simple as either of those formulations makes it seem.

Innovation is useful for a great many things, but it is not the endpoint. It's the beginning. Gaming history is littered with examples of games that innovated and failed, but whose ideas were subsequently improved upon. In his next post, Michael praised the value of iteration, which is a point I fully agree with. But if you trace these refinements back far enough, you'll eventually get to something that was brand-new, and which didn't work as well. You can't really separate innovation and execution.

As for why so many writers in the brainysphere are talking about Scribblenauts, it might be as simple as this: it's a game about words. We're the target audience!


Garrett Martin said...

After that Big Dipper track pack there are almost no songs that would surprise me in Rock Band or Guitar Hero, even without the Rock Band Network.

Julian said...

I'm stoked about the Electric Six pack. I'm tired of playing PDA, so it'll be nice to have a different song everybody will want to spam three times a night.

About the sad/conflicted endings, I remember Kane and Lynch's ending getting panned, but I liked it for that very reason. It's not happy, you have choices but no matter what you do everything is kinda fucked. Not as poignant as The Darkness, granted, but it does the trick.

Darius Kazemi said...

You know, I went back and re-read your RB song wishlist and shouted an amen at SDRE. I was listening to them in the car yesterday thinking they'd be great for Rock Band. (And they'd be a daunting challenge for any vocalist.)

Garrett Martin said...

SDRE's "Seven" is in Guitar Hero 5.

Mr Durand Pierre said...

Issun was in another league entirely form Navi. It's been awhile since I've played Ocarina, but I recall her being more of a hint system than a fully fledged character, and really annoying as a result.

Issun, however, is very well realized by the end of the game. It does take awhile, though. I initially found him annoying as well, but later on his backstory presents itself and he's a surprisingly tragic, mature character. Though I can agree insofar as the way he's used to present mandatory hints is rather obtrusive at times.

Unknown said...

There is certainly a hierarchy of annoying side characters. I did not mean to imply that all the little helpy helpertons I mentioned in my article were created equal. Perhaps the worst aspect of characters like Navi is how we learn to ignore them. While our conscious minds may be adept at blocking out distractions our subconscious has no defense. All those little “Hey Listen”s float around in our brains like dust in a grain silo until one day, BLAM your head just blows up.

Tim Mackie said...

-I feel that Rush's The Spirit of Radio would simultaneously make the best and worst Rock Band song ever -- best in that it would be very difficult to play and very rewarding if executed well, and worst in that the mere fact that the song is in Rock Band just completely drives the meaning of the lyrics straight through the floor.

-Ocarina of Time is a highly overrated game, but I think Final Fantasy VII is right up there with it. I think if those two games had a cage match to the death to determine which was more overrated, it would be close. And I wouldn't really miss whichever one lost.

-I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much every sentiment on innovation. Scribblenauts may not be as "good" of a game as the new Mario & Luigi, but as new games in that style come and as these developers grow, I think we may see some truly great and remarkable things from them, much more so than the mere concept of Scribblenauts (I'm in no position to comment on its execution, as I am poor and my DS doesn't work as well as I might hope; I'm going to need to get another one soon so that I can play Scribblenauts and Mario & Luigi). Scribblenauts looks to me like a good starting point for utter greatness in the future.

Ben Abraham said...

You have good thoughts Mr. Krpata. Keep thinking them.

dw said...

I played through Ocarina of Time 12 years late with a broken N64 controller and it was still an impressive game. Insult Swordfighting: frequently makes the Most Overstated Assertions Of All Time.