Earth Seeker – The next big adventure?

July 30, 2010

Earth Seeker was first announced several weeks ago. It´s supposed to be some kind of Wii-exclusive action-adventure game, though even that might be too much speculation. Little is known about the overall structure of the game. However, thanks to the latest issue of Famitsu, we got some more details about Earth Seeker – as well as a really nice looking scan, showing many ingame-screenshots.

The game is developed by Crafts & Meisters, a studio founded by former Capcom-talents, including Noritaka Funamizu, who worked on the original Monster Hunter-game for PlayStation 2. And indeed, the game seems to share a bit of the monster-hunting franchise. The player takes control over a so-called Earthnoid, who looks like a human being, but seemingly isn´t one. The exact differences are yet unknown. If the scan is any indication, the main character will also be a girl. The story goes as follows: A thousand years ago, a space ship crashed onto that planet. This ship´s mission was to save information and artifacts of earth´s culture, implying that planet earth was somehow in danger. The ship crashed, however, and initiated production of its programmed information. The result are strange mixtures of animals and dead objects. One of the shown enemies, the Protopros, looks like a combination of a grasshopper and a rail-gun. Another monster, the Mamuma, is a mixture of a dragon and a light bulb. Not only enemies were produced by the ship´s computer, though, the player´s character was, too.

The exact structure of the game is not yet known, however, early information implies that some sort of open-ish world awaits us. Enemies are supposed to live in distinctive areas, and there´s also poison-filled air that causes damage when it is touched. The combat-system sounds rather special, too: Your character is accompanied by natives of the planet, so-called guardians. The guys are fighting for you, while you´re giving commands. That´s the “Time Stop Battle”-system. You can run around in real-time, lock-on the camera to the enemy, but when you press the A-button, the game freezes and you can choose from various commands, such as “Blade Rush” or “Air Strike”, but also more elemental stuff like “Thunder” or “Ice”. To add to the combat´s specialty, there´s a cartridge-meter at the bottom of the screen. The cartridges limit the number of your actions. From what is known, these cartridges either re-appear automatically after a certain amount of time, or by using items to replenish them. Maybe it works similar to Skies of Arcadia´s combat? Who knows. You can also choose attacks from different power levels, but the higher the level, the more cartridges it´ll consume. Said guardians seem to use energy balls to attack enemies. I guess I´m not the only one that remembers Opoona when hearing about that. But this is a pseudo-Capcom-title and not a Konami-game, so there shouldn´t be any real connections here.

The official website of Earth Seeker is available now, too, though not much can be seen there. For now, it´s just a bunch of silhouettes, probably some of the guardians you´ll meet in the game. With how little is known about the game´s basic concept, it´s hard to comment on Earth Seeker´s potential as a great game, but when you see the scan, the environments and, most importantly, the gorgeous art, you can´t help but hope that this turns out to be a charming, interesting adventure.

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Nintendo 3DS-launch date, price and shippings announced soon

July 29, 2010

September 29th, that´s all you need to know. Well, that´s all we have for the time being, and we likely won´t get any news before that date, which Bloomberg announced as Nintendo´s big info-blowout regarding the 3DS-handheld. We´ll get to know the system´s launch date, its price, and how many units Nintendo plans to ship for launch. So for now, have a short wait!


A Nintendo 3DS-wishlist (as if success wasn´t granted already…)

July 26, 2010

It´s not news-worthy when I tell you how obsessed I am by the mere thought of the Nintendo 3DS these days. I literally can´t wait, which is why I´m writing this little article. We know that the 3DS will feature GameCube/Wii-like visuals, have analog-stick-like controls and, of course, a 3D-screen. There´s also some kind of tag-mode-thingy, though I´m not quite sure, yet, what exactly that´s going to be useful for. Anyway, with just the above, Nintendo has got a super-selling product lined up for whenever it is brought to the market, that´s guaranteed, is what I´d like to say – I´ve never seen that much universal hype for a single gaming-system before. But even with all its strong selling-points it already has, why not … make it the perfect entertainment device of the forever?

One feature that would really make a big impact would be a TV-out feature. I don´t know if that´s still a possibility, as people have seen what kind of  attachment outlets the 3DS has, but if there is, oh well. If you´ve been reading this blog for a while, you know about my wish for a hybrid console/handheld, and, well, that´d be it. Hook up the 3DS to a TV and play games on the big screen. Considering that this would mean no 3D, the extra power could maybe even be enough for HD-gaming, couldn´t it. For a perfect hybrid-device, controller-support would be the last piece in the puzzle. Maybe that´s something for the next generation after 3DS – wirelessly connect a Wiimote to the 3DS and really, it´d be like a full home console, just usable on-the-go as well. No limitations as to where you play and how you play games.

Another neat feature which I hope for even more than the above one is proper video- and music-playback. Not only do even really old mobile phones feature that, Nintendo themselves already started it with the Nintendo DSi´s music-playback feature. Not to mention that even the GameBoy Advance was capable of playing videos under certain circumstances. I don´t expect Nintendo to give us all the codecs; just .mp3 for music and one of the popular video-formats would be enough. Of course, ideally they´d simply let us buy new codecs by ourselves. That way, it wouldn´t make the device more expensive for Nintendo, but consumers still would get the chance to use their 3DS to its fullest. Just have there be an appstore-like environment that I can enter. One category will be “codecs” where I can buy divx, xvid, avi, mkv, flac, aac and whatever else. As for music, some playlist-features would be great. For videos, simply letting me play them from SD-card would be good enough. With Nintendo themselves having shown 3D-movies being played on the 3DS, like “How to train a Dragon”, video-playback really seems like a no-brainer. But you never can be sure with Nintendo, can you.

Which leads us to the next big feature: An appstore for 3DS. Both Wii and DSi kinda have something like that already, remember how you could get the Opera-browser; but, of course, I´m imagining something a lot more elaborate here. Sure, Nintendo is all about the games, but why not let the consumer decide what his handheld should be capable of? That´s why such an online-shop for expanded functionality would be great. Simple stuff like a calculator, a calendar or a memo-function could be offered there, but also more complex stuff like an IRC-(internet relay chat)-application, or Skype or ICQ. Also, simple text-programs would be nice. After all, there´s already a software for Nintendo DS that teaches you how to paint, so why not a text-program, too? All of these are the more obvious idea, but there really would be no limit as to what kind of applications could be offered.

Something that´s probably the most unlikely feature to happen, but still would do wonders for some of the previous mentioned ideas, would be the inclusion of 3G – internet without the need of being close to a hotspot. Actually, I never got how these hotspots worked, anyway, as you still need a user name and password to use hotspots, and that´s hardly the case when not at home. 3G really would free the 3DS from all remaining boundaries.  There are a lot of ways to have Nintendo get the money back for this feature´s costs – like offering different SKUs or include the 3G-costs into downloads, just to name two possibilities. There are so many ideas that could be done with 3G, so many that I´m not going to name them. Let´s just say: 3G in the 3DS would be really, really, neat. It probably won´t happen, but it´d be … neat.

On that note, something a friend of mine is wishing for is GPS. Personally, I don´t need it, but if it´s there, I wouldn´t complain about it. And to be honest, it´d allow for some interesting real life-virtual life-games in the vein of geo caching.

3G yes or no, improved online-features are a must. And by improved, I mean: Improved a lot. Basically, give me something on par with Xbox Live for the 3DS. A single friends list for all games. Demo-download without being in need of a Wii-system. Some social features like easy-accessable text-messaging and getting information about your friends, like what games they played, if they´re online right now, stuff like that. And make online-gaming be fast and easy. Make it easy to join friends´ games. Oh, and don´t separate game from system-menu. Give me something like the Xbox-button that keeps the game running in the background, but grants me control over all the system´s feature. Don´t make me quit a game, before I can send a friend a text-message, that´s what I mean. And that´s that.

Finally, I´d like to mention some games I´d love to see on the 3DS. Seemingly, it´s already announce, but we haven´t seen anything yet, so I´ll mention it anyway: Naruto Shippuuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen! from Tomy/8ing. No matter if you like the Naruto-series or not, the GameCube-fighters were great fun and I was really addicted to them. 8ing´s last Wii-title sucked, though, but if they could return to their old fighting-strength, that´d beat any Dead or Alive or Streetfighter for me. Another game is Skies of Arcadia. And I don´t care if it´s a sequel or a port/remake. I want Skies of Arcadia on a handheld, and 3D alone would work wonders for flying ships and flying whales. As for a game that many gamers probably wouldn´t expect on a handheld, give me Metroid Prime 4 3DS. When I first thought about it I was like “uh, but how will it control?”, but then I remembered how Metroid Prime for GameCube controlled … you don´t need a second analog-stick at all for the Prime-series. Two other games that I´d like to see sequels for on the 3DS are Lugi´s Mansion and Endless Ocean. Both ghosts and fish are such obvious choices for making great use of a 3D-effect. Other than these games, it´s really hard to come up with something else – I mean, we already get a freakin´ Ocarina of Time-remake!

Again, never before have I been this hyped for a gaming-system, and never before have I seen such universal praise for one. Where people thought the Nintendo DS reached the mainstream, the 3DS will re-define what “mainstream” really is. First-party-support, third-party-support, and the first mainstream-device that features 3D – not only will this be every entertainment-lover´s device, it´ll also surpass anyone´s sales predictions. Now all there is to ask, is: Will the 3DS be fun, or will it be too much fun? Because these are really the only two remaining possibilities.


Growing like a plant – HDD-games

July 24, 2010

Today, Capcom and Bandai Namco Games announced a Tekken-Streetfighter crossover game for both HD-video game consoles. That reminded me of how silly I find these games that pick something exclusively, when they could feature a much, much broader variety of content. Why Tekken and Streetfighter? Why Marvel and Capcom? Why certain Nintendo-characters in Smash Bros. and not others? Why not – put everything together?

The above mentioned titles all are multiplayer-focused experiences, but it´d work just as well with singleplayer-games. Why are we still depending on whatever content is burnt onto a disc? With the exception of the Wii, current gen systems feature big HDDs, up to 250 GB if I remember correctly. Meanwhile, even the latest HD-games fit on 9 GB-DVDs. So why not use the enormous space of HDDs for gameplay purposes?

I´m talking about an ever-growing game that keeps getting expanded by newly added content. At the beginning of such a game would be a base-game. That game would work like the center of a spider´s web, and with every new content, it keeps getting larger. One game where I actually thought it would do precisely that was GTA4. I didn´t buy the exclusice DLC, but later I heard that this DLC wasn´t actually integrated into the main game, but was completely its own world, even though sharing the same world-design. I though you could start up GTA4 with Nico Bellic and enjoy all the new content, but no, that was all part of the DLC only. So, that´s what I imagine these HDD-games like: Introduce a game-world, then later sell new games that share the same mythology and let players combine both games into one by putting it onto the HDD. ‘Then keep doing so. If we stay with the GTA-series, imagine GTA4, GTA5 and GTA6 being released, all separately. And if a player has all three titles, he can put them onto the system´s HDD and the game world will be correctly combined into one giant place. As for fighter-games, just think of an ever-growing roaster of playable characters. Instead of the already existing games, it´d be more like Marvel vs. Capcom vs. Tekken vs. Streetfigter vs. Nintendo vs. Tatsunoko vs. whomever else. No limits.

My personal favorite HDD-concept would be a Mass Effect-game. If Bioware released DLC for ME2 more frequently, you could actually call them HDD-games. Instead of having a ME3, just keep fleshing out the universe by adding new content to the base-game. There´s really nothing keeping the developer from adding planets, missions, alien races and gameplay-styles to the existing game. What is now a 30 hour-game would be a 1000 hour-game over the course of the next five years. It´d be like an MMORPG…just offline and for your own, personal enjoyment.

You see, I always questioned the existence of big HDDs in gaming systems. My own 360 has that small about 10GB-HDD, which is well enough for demos. But as for actual gaming-purposes, I never saw a reason for them. With the increasing importance of digitally distributed full games, that´s probably one reason. But HDDs could do more than just be a storage for your typical content. These big HDDs could work as the basics of a whole new style of games, of a new generation of virtual worlds. And it´s not like there´s any new, unproven technology involved. It just has to be done.


Why 3DS gets gaming back on track

July 17, 2010

Just last week, a colleague of mine got the chance to play with Nintendo´s upcoming 3DS-handheld himself. As if I couldn´t get hyped up anymore, he reported back how awesome the 3D-effect actually is. Which, to be frank, surprised me quite a bit, as I had thought the 3DS´s effect would be rather gimmicky and tacked on, not comparible with the 3D we all know from the movie theater. Well, turns out that was wrong. But I´m gladly wrong here. Anyway, I thought about that 3D-effect and it made me realize something.

What put games one step ahead of movies was their interactivity. You can read about that in detail here, but the order of evolution in entertainment-terms goes as follows: picture -> movie -> video game.  Games are interactive movies, well, not literally, at least most of them are not. But where a movie is a passive, moving picture, a video game is an active, moving picture. And then there´s 3D-movies. And that´s where video games have to play catch up: There are no real 3D-games, not in the sense of actively controlling what makes 3D 3D. That´s where the 3DS comes into play.

Imagine a game with fixed camera view. Now imagine some character being displayed on-screen, let´s say, Mario. And now imagine controlling said Mario … out of and into the screen´s depth effect. There really isn´t that much more to describe, that´s it. And it´d be awesome beyond anything else. I once dreamed about the idea of having holograms some time in the future where you could basically control Mario jumping around in your own room and such. Well, 3D won´t be able to let you do that, but it certainly could bring Mario and whoever out of the screen, making it look as if he was jumping around in front of your eyes instead of inside a small screen. What makes this that gorgeous is the fact that the player himself would be able to control the depth of the 3D-effect, and not by using the 3D-slider of the handheld but by moving a virtual character. Just imagine yourself holding the analog-pad downwards and pressing the A-button, making Mario jump in your face. It´d then look as if he was running in front of your nose, and once you decide to push the analog-pad upwards, he´d be running back inside the depth of his world.

Obviously, most 3DS-games will probably feature a fixed character-position, but even then, a certain amount of controlling the 3D itself is possible. Imagine some objects flying around your characters, like those holy seeds in the movie “Avatar”. By walking further, these objects would move closer to the player´s face. So, even within the context of a typical video game-setup, 3D would be controllable by the player.

I think that this is important to note, because it really is something completely new. Until now, 3D was a neat effect in movies, but it is the 3DS that will turn it into something much, much more powerful. I realize, by the way, that 3D is already possible with a few games, but it´ll be the 3DS that´s going to bring out 3D´s potential for gaming and get it to the masses. That´s a given, if the already existing popularity for Nintendo´s new little machine is any indication.


The future most important element of gaming

July 10, 2010

There´s an obvious trend visible in current JRPGs, or Japanese adventure-games in general. That trend is something that´s been part of western gaming-design for probably all of its existence´s time. It is the option of letting the player customize his in-game characters – creating true avatars.

Where it´s at - Customization at its current best

All the typical, big Japanese adventure-games, most of them RPGs, used to feature a preset cast of characters, each of them with his or her set-in-stone background story and individual behavior. Just think of games like Final Fantasy 7, Skies of Arcadia or Dragon Quest 8, to name some of the most popular ones. Each of these games puts you in the shoes of an already-developed character. You simply navigate that character through the course of his adventure, his story. As fun as many of these RPGs were, in terms of immersion, they all more or less failed. Immersion being the part where you, the player, are accounted for as a vital part of the game´s progression. If truly mean-minded, you could say, this kind of games is hardly better than watching a movie – only shaken up by filler-ish combat-systems.

That is where some Japan-developed games grew to stray away from. One of these games would be Monster Hunter. Of course, Monster Hunter has been around for many years now, but that just makes it a pioneer of what I´m writing about. In MH, you don´t navigate some preset character through a given story. Instead, you create your characters appearance, you choose your weapon, each of which heavily changes the gameplay, and finally, you choose what to do next. And how you do this “next“. MH brings truly individual adventures to the player by giving so many options that are up to the player to decide. Of course, MH is, at least in its best form, a multiplayer-focused experience. It dismisses any story and has you fighting monsters. That is all. While it is fun for hundreds of hours, it is kind of an easy-route to go. The hard-route would be to implement this kind of customization into singleplayer-games.

Japan catching up

The game that made me write this article was Dragon Quest 9 for Nintendo DS, which has been released in the US just now and will be out in Europe by July 23rd. What´s so special about this ninth entry of the most popular, traditional RPG-series in Japan is its cast. Unlike its predecessor, Dragon Quest 8, every member of your party, including the “hero”, is created from scratch by the player. Gender, appearance, everything. Eye shape, eye color, hair style and color, and so on. Later on, you can put on clothes part by part, being separated into various categories, to give each and every character a truly unique look. Of course, I haven´t played the game yet, but from what I heard, the way you obtain new items is very similar to typical loot-games like Diablo 2 for PC. So that´s definitely a big step for such a traditional series, from Japan nonetheless.  And here is where I´d like to take customization one step further.

Customizing every part of your character - if only he´d be involved in the story now

The biggest flaw of Dragon Quest 9 is, at least that is what appears to be, the lack of personality within your customized party. None of these self-created characters will have a dramatic, heart-wrenching story. They won´t talk with each other, each one showing a different attitude. None of that. Your party is faceless. They´re a tool for combat, giving you what it takes to beat all the enemies to get through the game, but that´s it. And this is where I wondered: Why not put that up for customization, too? “That” being: Character traits and story-bits (the Jurassic Park-theme is playing as I write this, you should do so, too). Of course, I realize that this would take a lot more effort to put into reality, but it´d be worth it. And it could be as basic or complex as the respective developer wanted it to be. Varying attitudes shouldn´t be much of a problem. If you look at one of the most popular western RPGs of the year, Mass Effect 2, you´ll find out that depending on which character you have in your party, you´ll be able to listen to different conversations. Character A tells Character B something different than he would tell Character C. That is nothing to costly, it´s doable right now. And ME2 features expensive HD-3D-visuals and voice acting. A game like Dragon Quest 9 would be a lot cheaper to create in that way. That´s that for character traits. Simply let me choose from traits such as “innocent”, “loud mouth”, “secretive” or “nice guy” and we´re set. If you have four party-members and, say, ten different traits, you can calculate how many different combinations that would make. But it´s doable. As for customizing parts of the story, that´d be more complicated. Surely, the more elaborate a developer wanted his game´s story-telling to be, the more complicated, the more of an issue that would become. But again, it´s something that could be as basic or complex as the respective developer wanted it to be. For a minimum, there could be four stories to choose from, making it, if we stay with a four member-party, one story for each of your party-members. So none of these fours stories would go to waste. The only thing that´d have to be watched out for is that the attitude of a character, choosen by the player, is presented in a fitting way. But depending on the scenario, that´d be minor changes. That´s the minimum. Yet, it´d be already really awesome. Now make it five, six or more stories to choose from, or even different pieces of story that you could freely combine to create a truly unique background story for each of your party members, and it´d be even more fun. And a truly customized adventure.

In the end, this would be the next step of customization in video games, and the next step towards the hypothetical procedural story-telling – automatically individually generated stories that don´t suck. However, it´s a long, long way until something like that is technically possible. Until then we have to take the costly, time-consuming path and create all possible choices beforehand. But even so, it´s effort and work that´d be an enormous plus for the world of video games. Gamers want to experience individual adventures, they want to immerse themselves within believable worlds. And that´s why this is so important: Customization brings individual adventures to life.


First Trailer of The Last Story

July 8, 2010

And it looks gorgeous. Easily the best-looking game for the Wii. Great way to start a day, wake up, walk over to the PC, sit down, and find out that there´s finally a video of The Last Story.

The Last Story – Trailer

Besides the awesome visuals, what´s most intriguing is the combat-system. I actually thought it was going to be some turn-based system, but this is so much better. Looks more like Zelda meets Final Fantasy meets Gears of War. Combat looks very direct, very active. No passive command-choosing, but active fighting. Take cover behind objects, aim and shoot at an enemy, jump over objects and so on. And then there´s the town, that really looks nice. Maybe it´ll succeed my favorite video game-town, Windfall Island from The Wind Waker, who knows. The thing that I definitely know, however, is that at this moment, I´m more excited about The Last Story than Zelda: Skyward Sword. Now just announce this game for Europe and the USA, Nintendo!