There is no Wrong Audience

April 18, 2009

The NPD-numbers of March 2009 have been released and there were quite some surprises, mostly negative ones. One of them was Mad World´s sales numbers, which only did about 66.000 units. The reason for that “flop”? Many accuse the target audience to be the wrong one.

This is wrong. There are many possible reasons for Mad World´s relatively low numbers. Bad marketing, new, unknown IP, unique black and white-style, cel-shading, overly violent presentation, etc.. The audience is not at fault, though.

The Wii has sold over 50 million systems so far. The Wii is the leading current gen-system, with quite a gap to its competitors. It won´t be argued with the fact that the Wii-userbase consists of many new gamers, people that are new to gaming and prefer short-fun party-games. BUT: With 50 million sold systems, there IS NO special audience anymore. This audience is of all kind of gamers that exist. Just like the Playstation 2 also had mostly casual gamers and far less dedicated gamers. Maybe more than the Wii, though that´s not the point here. Also, add in the Nintendo-fanbase, a fanbase that only exists for Nintendo-systems in this way. If you want to say the of these 50 million gamers there are only 66.000 people that are interested in “games like Mad World”, but then go on saying that it would have sold better on, for example, Xbox 360, you´re simply wrong or biased.

A game that sells only 66.000 on the leading system had its own faults, not something like a wrong audience. And ironically, there is just the perfect example, coming from the same developer. Platinum Games, who consist of former Studio Clover-members, is known for the grand adventure-game Okami. Released on Playstation 2. Long story short, it bombed hard. What were the excuses of PS2-fans back then? There were none. It was said how sad it was that a great game like Okami bombed, but then the topic was put aside. An adventure-game flopping on PS2, at an even greater installed hardware-base…wrong audience? Definitely not. Some games just fail at broad reception of the mass market, and Okami, and now Mad World, are such games.

Taking such game´s misery into an argument about a system´s right or wrong audience is trolling at its best and, in the end, only hurts yourself. If you think Mad World deserves more, go out and tell people about it. But don´t say “bringt it to Xbox 360, Sega”. That will not happen, and if it happens and flops again, you´ll never see such games again.

Movie-games – A different take

April 17, 2009

This is not about games that come hand in hand with a hollywood-movie or overly cinematic games. I want to talk about a different take on games, basically cutting them in lenght…on purpose.

Most games are finished once and then put away. A handful of games manage to save some replay-value, but most of this kind only succeed in doing so because the individual gamer wants to play it again. Now imagine a game that has an insane amount of replay-value, and not only for those who fell in love with the game, but everyone. The 2-hour-game.

At the start of the game you know that it will all be over after two hours. No matter what you do, two hours is the limit. What´s special is that within these two hours you can do like anything you want. And after finishing the game once, you can start it again and to something completely different. Normally, this would be impossible in terms of development costs, but that´s why the game time is limited to two hours, so that developers can concentrate on tight content rather than creating a ten hour-storyline.

I always imagine a game where you´re a soldier, lying behind some barricade with your team mates. 20 meters in front of you is an enemy soldier unit. You and them, both factions are in a stall, nobody is sure what to do. That is where the game starts, putting the gamer into the role of one of the soldiers. From there on you have many options. Try attacking the enemy. Try doing it stealthy and secretly approach the enemy from behind. Raise a flag and initiate a conversation with the enemy to discuss a peaceful retreat of both sides. Or kill your team mates and try to befriend the enemy. Or simply hide in some hideout and wait two hours for reinforcements to arrive. And, of course, in all that time you can die, as well.

Simply put, these would be games that put the gamer into very distinctive situations that can develop in every imaginable way, depending on the player´s actions. Thanks to the narrowed down time frame, these would be extremely high detailed games, featuring elements of many genres, again depending on what you want to do.

I´m not saying that all games should become like that, all i want to say that it´d be neat if some developers gave something like that a try, delivering a movie-like experience while staying true to the video game-media all the time.

About Procedural Story-Telling

April 16, 2009

First of all, this topic ultimately ties into my blog entry about new concepts for video game systems, but unlike the concept mentioned in the other article, this here actually would be achievable, if someone did put the necessary effort into development. This is about procedural story-telling.

Unlike (unfortunately) a lot of gamers, i don´t like the emphasis on story that many nowadays games follow. Some more, some less, but when i read how gamers list story as an equal category to something like gameplay, i feel a little sad inside. BUT: It´s not really game stories that i dislike, it´s the way how they´re handled. You know, always following a tight script, basically playing a movie. Games that i like are no exception, even if you take a low-story game like Zelda, in the end you run from cutscene to cutscene. Shigeru Miyamoto once said in an interview that he doesn´t want to make games where cutscenes are used as a prize for getting so far, but that the active gaming experience itself is the prize. His games certainly feature that philosophy, just look at Mario64 or Mario Galaxy, playing was what brought fun, not reaching some cutscenes. In my opinion, it´s these premade cutscenes that ruin an active gaming experience. That is why i want to talk about something i made up myself, at least i never heard that term before:

Procedural Story-Telling

So what is that acutally? For me, i first heard the term “procedural” in context with Spore. Will Wright talked about how every creature that the player creates will adapt a natural, realistic kind of physical movement. He called the “Procedural Physics” or “Procedural Animations”. Procedural simply meant that whatever the player does, the game reacts accordingly. In Spore that was limited to the creature editor.

Now simply replace physics/animations with story, and most of you will already have got what i´m talking about. Simpley put, procedural story-telling is an organic story, a story that is not set in stone. Depending on what i do, the future story will change, reacting accordingly to my ingame-actions.

There already are games that do a little of that, for example Mass Effect. Though here, the pool of options is very limited. It´s still a preset story, just branched off into multiple alternatives. What i´d like to have is that those branches try to go towards infinity. Just whatever i do will have a smaller or bigger effect to the overall story. I know that this would be very ambitious and i´ll say it here that i would be content with at least more games trying to create multiple branches. For example, make the next Zelda so that you can do any dungeon in whatever order you like, but depending on the chosen order, the story will differ.

Procedural Story-Telling is the story-telling of the world of games. It takes the story-element and puts interactivity into it. That´s why i love the pure thought of it so much. People often say how games are just a combination of older entertainment media, but reality is that we simply haven´t done everything we can to put the one single most important part of games, interaction, into every part of a game. We have interactive gameplay, interactive visuals and interactive music. Now we´re ready for interactive stories. Well…i am.

Name of the Wii´s successor: I bet!

April 14, 2009

Hey there,

not much to say here, just wanted to let you know that i´m like 100% sure about what the name of Nintendo´s next home console system is gonna be:

Wii Too

Not Wii 2 or Wii HD, that´d be boring, maybe even bad, names that Microsoft or Sony would use. Just try to remember that quirky video that revealed the name “Wii” to us back then. With the i-letters playing ball and all that. This stylish quirkyness simply seems to be a perfect match for the usage of “Too”, having the same double-meaning as “Wii”. Wii = We, Too = Two/too. Well, i like it and it seems to fit Nintendo´s marketing style. Wether you like that name or not, i wrote it here so i can say “I SAID IT!” when/if it happens. e-penis and such, you know.

HD-system’s myth #1: Physics

April 13, 2009

When it comes to comparing what the HD-consoles can do that the Wii cannot, “physics” is one of the always used buzz words. But it is exactly that: A mere buzz word.

It´s got better AI, physics and more enemies on screen” is your daily standard-reply you get from those oh so brave HD-warriors. You know, to defend against the evil that is called “Wii“. Let´s keep the rest for a later article and focus on one word for now: Physics. What does that even mean when people use it? What is the important context that makes me, the gamer, care about it so much?

To me, when talk is about physics, i think of how it improves gameplay. Because that´s what´s important to me whenever i think of a new generation of video game systems: WHAT can be done NOW to improve the gameplay, that couldn´t be done before?

Now, to be honest, there are two, in numbers 2, games i remember for their physics-based gameplay. And one of them isn´t even a from-the-ground Wii-game. First is Halflife 2. Where you had to put stones on one side of a balance board so that the other side goes up and you can reach higher ground. Another scene was, where you had to put air-filled barrels below a ramp, to be able to jump over fence with your hovercraft. There´s at least one more such scenes. The second game is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, yes, a, basically, Game Cube-game. In the temple of time you had to put some of these small statues on one side of a balance-construction, so that the other side goes up and can hold Link´s weight, too. All so that you could further proceed within the dungeon.

That makes it two games. I´m sure there are more games that copied these style of puzzles, but at least the big, popular games didn´t use it at all. So just WHAT is it that makes so many HD-system owners go mad, turning them into anti-Wii trolls oh so often?

Of course, i know what “they” mean when they´re talking about physics. And to be honest, it makes me sick. What they mean isn´t any different from the wish for better visuals. Because it´s part of the visuals. “They” mean objects flying through the air. Dead enemies falling to the ground. Or in other words: “Their” physics are nothing more than eye candy. Mere eye candy that doesn´t sport any kind of advantage for the game´s gameplay.

Now, that is okay. It is ok to want that. What is not ok, though, is using the term “physics” as a seperate feature of the HD-systems, when you´re not even meaning the real thing, but just a small part of an already established department of the HD-system´s features: Superior visuals. That´s as if i´d say “The Wii has Nintendo-games. And it has Zelda.” No sh*t, Sherlock! One is already part of the other one. Just like eye candy-physics are already part of the visual-department.

But i guess that´s part of that thing called “console war“, eh? Let me tell you: Mentioning “physics” as part of the HD-system´s superiority makes your e-penis shrink. Now that´s a good argument against that term´s usage, isn´t it!

Why gaming sucks these days – kind of obvious

April 11, 2009

Of course they don´t suck, at least not all of them.But…i can´t help but say that the “spirit” behind most of today´s games suck. And why? Because they are neglecting the obvious.

This “obivious” being settings or gameplay ideas that every gamer would love, but somehow no developer gets it done, because it´s easier and cheaper to make another first person shooter or generic jrpg. Right now, “Alien vs. Predator” is running on TV. Don´t have to remind me of how shitty that movie is, but fact is: A modern Alien vs. Predator-game would pwn, and i am using inet-slang intentionally here, every other game so far released in all of gaming´s history. I mean, AvP2 for PC was already great. Now give me a fleshed out version that is on par with nowaday´s standards.

Or, for another example, WHY did it take that long for a Ghostbusters game? Unfortunately, the game isn´t based on the great cartoon series, but the movies. That´s good enough, though. But why now? Ghostbusters was popular ten years ago, now it isn´t (not that i get why it isn´t popular anymore and why animation and hollywood studios stopped producing the cartoon and movies). Whatever, this was a long overdue, OBVIOUS game idea.

As for other obvious game ideas, where´s my flying game that makes me feel the wind while flying like Superman? Where´s my GTA4-style Batman-game? A Ducktales-RPG? A fleshed out Jurassic Park-game, replacing crappy movie-sequels? Obvious, obvious, obvious!

Instead of these, our current gaming industry revolves around single, unique games being released, then followed by tons of lame copy cats. Don´t give gamers what they want today – they don´t know that. Give them what they wanted ten years in the past. More Ghostbusters.