Flying Link – Finally?

November 28, 2009

The following can hardly be called news, but it is something I personally wished for the Zelda-series to feature since forever. That is, a Link that can fly in the sky. Now, we´re far from being able to confirm anything, and as I said, it´s much more speculation than factual news, but it is a glimmer of hope. Here is what Eiji Aonuma, producer at Nintendo of Japan, told the British magazine The Guardian:

I have an eight-year-old son myself at home, and quite recently he started playing The Phantom Hourglass for DS, because when the software first hit the market he was too young. When he started playing with the boat, I told him: ‘In the next Zelda, you are going to be able to ride on the train.’ He answered: ‘OK, Dad, first boat, and then train? Surely next time, Link is going to fly in the sky … ‘”Aonuma pauses, grinning. “I just don’t know. If many people make many speculations … some of them might be correct. Right now, I have to refrain from commenting on anything.”

There we have it, Aonuma mentioning a flying Link and making all of it even more mystic by adding a pause, followed by a grin. How likely is it, though, to have a flying Link in Legend of Zelda Wii? Something supporting that is the fact that Zelda Wii seems to take a serious look at WiiSports Resort. Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma both talked about how gamers should think of WiiSports Resort if they´d like to get an impression of how sword fighting and bow-shooting is going to be like. There´s one discipline in said title that has you flying. Coincidence? Most likely, but it is not as if Nintendo doesn´t have any experience with air-gameplay. And to be more specific, WiiSports Resort is the game that made flying through the air to feel the most believable of all games I´ve ever played.

Aonuma also confirms that there´d be sword fighting in the next Zelda-games, which wasn´t that clear after the artwork was released, showing Link without a sword. There have been people thinking that there´d be a problem due to MotionPlus, which needs to be recalibrated all the time, which is why Link would only have s word at certain times. With Aonuma´s words backing up sword fighting, it´s likely that Link can use the sword at all times the player wants to. Giving it some more thought, the “Point at screen and press the A-button” that has to be done in WiiSports Resort, could be solved by the “master sword girl“, the girl on the artwork that looks like a humanized master sword. Instead of having your sword instantly ready in all past Zelda-games, in this new Wii-Zelda you´d simply have to point to the girl, which then transforms into the sword. It´s basically a form of unsheathing the sword manually, instead of it being done automatically. That way you´d have your sword all the time, but the possible problems due to MotionPlus would be solved.

What question remains is: How would Link fly?

There are many different approaches, but one can try to evaluate each´s probability. There´s the most direct option, a Link that can fly by himself. Maybe growing angel-like wings by using an item. I find this to be less likely, as that would be a very powerful ability and as much as I´d like it, it doesn´t fit past Zelda-games. Link was never “cool”, so giving him shiny angel-wings…rather not. Then there´s the possibility of him having some kind of mechanical device. A glider would fit into the medieval theme of the Zelda-series. A balloon could also work, but doesn´t sound like fun. Again, on the “cool” side of ideas he could have some kind of rocket boots that are run by steam. If anything, a glider sounds most likely. What is most likely at all, though, is some kind of animal that lets Link ride on itself. First thing that comes to mind is Epona, with wings. Basically, Epona turns into a Pegasus. What makes me doubt that option are the controls of Epona in former Zelda-titles. Nintendo wants to give the player as much control as possible, which in return made some people complain about Epona being to stiff, to unnatural. On ground that is no problem. But now try to imagine flying around at the sky with Epona, and then landing on the ground. In my mind, once you touch the ground there will be clipping errors, a framerate hickup and what not else, due to the horse controls being to stiff. And I wouldn´t want to have an automatic landing sequence, either. Which brings us to another animal that many Zelda-fans wouldn´t hate to see: A dragon. Ever since I read the Ocarina of Time-manga I long for Link to have a cute dragon by his side that, once grown up, lets him ride on itself. Imagine a smaller version of Volvagia. In terms of gameplay that could be perfect. The way Volvagia moves with its snake-like body negates all possible stiff movements, and thanks to the fact that Volvagia doesn´t have such an emphasis on its legs, once you approach the ground in order to land, it would simply slow down until your deep enough to get off its back. What I´m trying to say: Yeah, a dragon, please, Nintendo!

After all is said, there is no guarantee for anything of the above to happen. Some fans might remember an old interview Aonuma had with German GamePro prior to Twilight Princess´ release. The way he talked about the character´s options of movement made it seem as if he´d get to fly in that game. We all know that didn´t turn out to be exactly that way, except you consider being shot around by cannons “flying“. Nonetheless, with so few information and so much demand of discussion, a little speculation about a flying Link can´t be wrong. I´d like to see that happen. What about you?

Unexplored emotions: Friendship in video games

November 28, 2009

Video games always try to tackle certain feelings, certain themes. There are well-explored themes like fear, fun or team-play. But there´s an array of totally untouched themes. One would be love. We´re seeing a rise of sex within popular games right now, but that´s only partly related to “love”. Games that actually attempted to show that feeling´s full scale are rare, one strong example being Final Fantasy 8 or, maybe even moreso, Final Fantasy 10. Unlike love, another big theme is even less explored. That is: Friendship.

Surely, video games are “just” games, but there can be no doubt that messing around with the player´s emotions is big part of modern gaming. And while love can, at least on the surface, be displayed by making use of sex, friendship doesn´t have such obvious features. You cannot have a NPC say “I´m your friend” and the player´s going to think “wow, what a great friend he is.” It´s not going to work. That is why I think that friendship is something that should be explored more in-depth in video games.

First of all, a definition of what friendship actually is should be worked out. To keep it simple, let´s just say: Friendship is something between people that like and honestly care about each other. There are definitely better definitions, but that one´ll work just fine.

It has to be made clear that this concept of friendship has to relate both to ingame-characters as well as to the player himself. There are many games that feature a duo that goes on an adventure together and gives funny comments all the time, but that´s hardly “exploring the theme of friendship”. It´s simple saturday-morning cartoon level of entertainment. To become friend with virtual characters, situations have to occur that make you feel for them. Going through hardships strengthens the bond between friends, so that´s a way. That´s not enough, though, when it comes to video games. Remember Starfox Adventures, a GameCube-action adventure that tried to mimic the Legend of Zelda-games and didn´t really succeed at that. What it did uniquly was the permanent second character, prince Tricky, the little Triceratops that followed you around. While attempting something like friendship, the chosen style of gameplay forbid to make players care for the two of them, Fox McCloud and Tricky. That was because Tricky was nothing but a mere tool to solve puzzles. He had no free will, he didn´t act like an independent character…because he wasn´t. He was there so that the player could proceed through the game. A friend may be many things, but not a tool.

A game did exceptionally well in creating feelings for another characters was ICO for Playstation 2. From the very beginning, you as a player wanted to help weak Yorda on their way out of the castle. It can be criticized, though, that Yorda wasn´t really a friend-character in the game, but rather someone you just had to rescue. So while the game made you care for the characters, it wasn´t the friendship between to equal characters, but rather the compassion for a very weak looking character.

The next example only works for parts, as the actual friendship isn´t really a focus of the game. I´m talking about Half Life 2 and its episodes. And no, I´m not going to talk about Gordon Freeman and Alyx, but rather, Freeman and Dog, the robot. Unlike Yorda in ICO, Dog wasn´t weak by any means. Throughout the game, Dog kept helping you in tough scenes. Not only did he help you, you/Alyx told him to stay back when things got to dangerous. His loyalty sometimes brought me to tears while playing, and even though he doesn´t have that many appearances throughout the game, Dog might be the best developed “friend” in any video games. He cares about you, you start caring about him. And that´s really what friendship should be about.

Friendship is such a strong emotion if done right. It often even surpasses love, which might be diluted by an unfitting sex drive. To give you the feeling of being able to depend on someone, to care about him and break loose should ever something happen to him…that is the potential of friendship in games. While tv-shows and movies have an easy time to portray such feelings, video games are far from that ability. Too often, so-called friends turn into tools or are only to be seen in cutscenes between gameplay-parts. To put a NPC into the game in way that makes him feel like he´s got his own mind, does things his way and doesn´t go the way of the tool, that is the challenge to video game developers. The few shining examples of games that show a glimpse of that are proof of the powerful impression a well-worked out friendship can leave to the player. But that´s also up to gamers themselves, if they want games like that. Or are you content with cinematic games on the one, and multiplayer-focused games on the other hand? I am not, and I could still cry whenever I think about Horror Kid´s story from Legend of Zelda: Majora´s Mask. It´s these emotions that decide between temporary blockbuster game, and timeless masterpiece.

Imagination – A lost feature

November 22, 2009

It is hard to start writing about this topic; that is because of several reasons, though one dominates the others: The current video game industry has faded away from imaginative games that much that it is hard no to lose any direction about how to go on. So let me start by simply introducing what said imagination is.

To me, 3D is where everyone´s imagination ran wild. Be it developers, that created these games, or consumers, that gladly bought them. Imagination in terms of video games is not about using a lot of colors or quirky gameplay-features. It is true that my biggest complain about modern, popular video games is that they´re all dark, “cool” shooters or otherwise violent games, with a lot of nice-to-watch cutscenes. These games are missing any kind of imagination, but adding colors isn´t a solution.

Imaginative game design is about creating games that succeed to feature gameplay, level-design, characters and stories that can hold up by themselves. Games that don´t need, or rather, don´t care about popular existing concepts. Other media, like movies or anime, are much better at being imaginative. I´d recommend for you to look into Dennou Coil, Haibane Renmei or Fantastic Children. These anime-shows are that rich of unique, fresh imagination that it´s painful once it´s over. One really great example of such a game was and is the Pokemon-series. Surely, it´s become beyond popular, but when it was released in 1998 (European release), it didn´t care about any other media. There were no movies, books, or games that featured the same spirit as the Pokemon-games. Catch uniquely designed monsters that you have to train to become the best trainer in that peaceful world. Another example would be ICO, that didn´t give a damn about popular design choices. Explore a forsaken castle, help a mysterious girl and fight creepy shadow-monsters. Without a HUD or inventory or mission goals. And then we have my personal pinnacle of imagination that is the Zelda-series. No other popular series continues to shrug off popular design choices like the Zelda-games. These games don´t try to be cool or angsty, they´re not about hardcore-challenge and they´re featuring the weirdest atmosphere in any video games. Exception is Twilight Princess, which unfortunately took design choices of the Lord of the Rings, which may be one reason for why many felt that entry lacked…something.

There are many, many other imaginative games, be it Spyro, Gex: Enter the Gecko or Banjo-Kazooie, but the bottom line is: There was a time in gaming when games dared to be imaginative. Be different. Be themselves. Now, you can hardly find such games, and most of them are smallish download-games that don´t feature the high quality of a big budget game. There are a lot of reasons about why the gaming industry is the way it is today, but at the end it is us, the gamers, that lost something precious. And I have a hard time thinking of something games-related that´s more important than imagination. This industry is headed towards a Hollywood 2.0, and it is both the fault of developers that want to be directors, and gamers that only buy into these huge, massively hyped cinematic games, that things are the way they are. When this years Game of the Year-awards are over, you´ll see them filled with Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2 and other titles along these lines. It is the masses that want such a world, but I can but shed an invisible tear about what has become of the world of video games.

Forgotten masterpiece – WiiSports Resort

November 21, 2009

Forgotten by whom, to clarify. Obviously, the mainstream didn´t forget about this gem as it´s still high in all sales charts across the world. It is, however, the self-proclaimed hardcore-crowd that seems to have forgotten about this outstanding, so far unique masterpiece.

Just to make this clear: WiiSports Resort is the ONLY video game AT ALL to feature 1:1-motion controls in a variety of games.

Gamers on all boards still talk about how they want to swing a sword, how the wiimote is but waggle, how the Wii has no games. Yet, noone appears to have played WiiSports Resort. It isn´t mentioned in Game of the Year-topics, it isn´t mentioned whenever someone talks about oh-so-superior upcoming motion controls by another manufacturer. And yet it is what everyone always wanted. The controls are great and fell natural. There´s several great games, and in multiplayer this game could last forever. Visuals are crisp and are tripping from lovely details. It´s a shame that the gamer-crowd dismissed this fantastic game and isn´t talking about it anymore. In a world where all hype goes to games where you shoot people, WiiSports Resort offers a fresh, high quality fun-experience that gives cool hints at future MotionPlus-using games. It´s almost as if Mario 64 was ignored at its release. What a strange video game world we´re living in today…

What´s going on, Nintendo – About MotionPlus

November 20, 2009

Unlike most of enthusiast Wii-gamers I only got WiiSports Resorts a week ago. I´ve got to admit that I have no idea why I waited for so long. The game is great and might become my Game of the Year. Personal favorites are the sword fighting, the bow shooting and the peaceful flying in a plane. Other than definitely demanding those gameplay mechanics in the next Zelda-game, I really wonder: Where are other MotionPlus-games?

One popular MotionPlus-title got delayed, that is Red Steel 2. I´m not excited for that game, though, as from all the E³-demo walkthroughs it is clear that Ubisoft didn´t take into account that special controls like those using MotionPlus need to have level design that fits the new input mechanics. They didn´t look into that, unfortunately, which is why you have to fight several enemies in every new area of the game. Having to make rather big movements that´s bound to get tiring soon. And personally, I cannot see the fun in slashing the same enemies over and over again. And they even have you use special attacks that break away from the direct battle whenever you face a stronger, boss-like enemy. One enemy every now and then, that is really skillful and puts up a good fight instead of a bunch of cannon fodder would be what´s needed for a MotionPlus-game.

Then there´s Zangeki no Reginleiv, a slasher in the vein of Earth Defense Force by developer Sandlot. Besides not caring about hack’ n slays, the fact that this game also supports the classic controller doesn´t sound promising in terms of their MotionPlus-support.

And then there´s the MotionPlus-launch games, two tennis games and a golf-game. Well, let´s just say that I´m not so keen to spend my time on games that focus on a single sports. In other words: Boring.

Did i miss any announcements? I don´t think so, and even if so, it´s nothing great. That leaves us with Zelda Wii. Which is confirmed to make use of MotionPlus. Even if that stays true until we see the game at E³ 2010, that´s…no a whole lot of titles to show off the great tech that is MotionPlus. I REALLY think every gamer should go out and buy/play WiiSports Resorts. Often, when I´m reading on some boards, I see people writing as if they´ve never played WiiSports Resort, because then they´d understand how great Nintendo´s new hardware actually is. 1:1-controls are there, you just have to go out there and buy the game. And after playing the game a lot for a week, I never had to re-calibrate the controller, never got the controls messed up. What´s extra weird in terms of lack of announcements is that there´s already a big base of MotionPlus-attachements out there. Enough for any developer to make use of it. But it seems we´ll have to wait yet again for Nintendo to actually do something. And while we wait for Nintendo, third-parties will continue to put out mini-game collection one after another. Or send games to die by releasing them two days after christmas day…

Eiji Anouma about The Legend of Zelda Wii

November 18, 2009

And the next Zelda-related news already, though this one´s a bit more interesting. Producer Eiji Aonuma told the Official Nintendo Magazine a little bit about the upcoming Zelda-game for Nintendo´s Wii-system. Some excerpts from the interview:

When asked how different the new Zelda title will be when it arrives on Wii next year, Aonuma replied: “It is something we used to talk about with Mr Miyamoto, and he and I agree that if we are following the same structure again and again, we might not be able to give long time Zelda fans a fresh surprise.”

“So we have been trying something new in terms of the structure of the Wii version of the new Zelda game this time. I am really hopeful that people will be surprised with the changes we have implemented for this Wii version.”

“I hope that we can show you something at the E3 show next year and it is something we are hopeful will be surprising,” he added.

A Halleluja for Nintendo finally getting that the old Zelda-formula has gotten stale. Well, it remains to be seen what the means for Aonuma and Miyamoto. Aonuma´s sentence about “surprised with the changes” could maybe make the fans worry (let´s face it, we all fear about something like WiiZelda), but then I remembered Miyamoto saying (in another interview) that there wouldn´t be any drastic changes. So, i guess we´ll get surprises, but the Zelda-series will stay a 3D-adventure. What´s disappointing is that we´ll get to know more only at E³ 2010, which is away more than half a year. Without Nintendo´s Media Summit in October, that´s an awfully long wait.

Which brings to something else that´s related to Zelda Wii: The well-known artwork that Miyamoto revealed at this year´s E³…turned into cel-shading. Oh well, I´m really bad with Gimp, so I hope it gets the point across, anyway. Please make Zelda Wii a cel-shading game, Nintendo! It never was cel-shading that fans complained about anyway, it was The Wind Waker´s horrible style. So use the current home console-Zelda art and cel-shade-ize it. You can do it!

Perfect Zelda-game right there (Oh, Spirit Tracks, you tease!)

November 18, 2009

Let´s hurry a bit: At this point in Zelda-history, most fans want the series to go back to the concept of Legend of Zelda NES. Throw the player into the game, without knowing anything, just one giant, organic, breathing world to explore.

Well, someone at Nintendo of America´s PR-team got it right:

That´s a screen cap from the new commercial for Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. So, while said Nintendo DS-game is the complete opposite of exploration, freedom and vast overworld, they tease the fans by making such a great trailer. And personally I´d LOVE the idea of a Zelda-game that really makes the connection between the real-player and the game. Just make up some short introduction like “Omg, where am I?” – “You are in the kingdom of Hyrule.“, an unimportant Hylian farmer tells you. You, who just landed on his field out of nowhere. It´d would take the “You are Link“-concept a big step further and I can imagine some great “breaking the 4th wall”-comments. Anyway, hopefully Nintendo realizes that it´s a Hyrule like the one on the picture above that the fans want. A vast, living world, open without load zones, not stuffed with random enemies but actual nice things to explore and find. Maybe…one day…