Give the Hero of Time an epic end

October 27, 2010

Just yesterday, some videos from Nintendo´s fall conference in Japan were released on Youtube. Besides Resident Evil: Revelations, which looks absolutely stunning, there´s also a video showing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, the Nintendo 3DS-remake of the famous N64-title and, according to general perception, best video game of all times. For what is worth, I´m of that opinion, too.

It is simply awesome to see this grand adventure running on a handheld, featuring vastly improved visuals and super-smooth animations. The environment´s objects are still N64-level, but that´s definitely due to Nintendo having chosen to leave it at that, not a shortcoming of the 3DS´ power. If you forget about the simple structured buildings for a moment, it looks really close to Twilight Princess and makes one wonder, if we´ll actually see a ground-up for 3DS-Zelda game. I sure hope so.

There´s even a possibility that Nintendo had more reason to do this remake rather than simply rushing out a big 3DS-game. Said possibility is that Nintendo plans to do another Zelda-game starring the Hero of Time. It´d certainly have less impact on new Zelda-fans if they didn´t even know who that Hero of Time was and why he´s so famous and important. What better way to introduce new fans to this part of the legend than by having them play the hero´s game itself?

On top of hoping that Majora´s Mask will see the same treatment, I really hope that Nintendo considers a third Hero of Time-game. For what we know, that Link simply vanished after saving Termina. But did he really vanish or did Nintendo just leave him be and proceeded to create The Wind Waker? As a matter of fact, the Hero of Time IS the center core of all 3D-Zelda games. Starring in two games, having a statue in Hyrule Castle in TWW, and being referenced in Twilight Princess, where we see what happened to Ganondorf after young Link went back in time and warned princess Zelda. The only 3D-Zelda game that might not be related to that one hero could be the upcoming Skyward Sword, but even then, weird, crazy stuff could happen. All I know is that I´d love to play one final game as the Hero of Time and see how he ends up. Besides the needed conclusion to his person, it could end up revealing further connections to other Zelda-games. I don´t want to start writing about fan-theories in this blog-entry, but …

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Are you sexist? Probably.

October 2, 2010

So for several days now a discussion about sexism in video gaming has been going on. Specifically talking, people accuse Fumito Ueda, creator of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, of being sexist. For all that´s worth, the discussion is beyond being absurd and I´ll totally defend that game designer. And god knows, I am no fan of Ueda, I really dislike Shadow of the Colossus, and I´m not that hyped about the upcoming The Last Guardian, either. But there´s a limit to how stupidly accusing people can be, and that limit was reached.

Evil mastermind: Fumito Ueda

The quote that ignited the “controversy” stems from two interviews. One is new and about The Last Guardian, the other one is from 2004 where Ueda talks about SotC. This is what 1up published on their website: “Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn’t have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt.” And some years ago, Ueda told this to Gamasutra: “ICO’s composer was (female composer) Michiru Ohshima, and I didn’t want to create the same image for this game. Aside from that, ICO was a game that both male and female players could enjoy equally. But I think this is a game that male players will enjoy more. So I chose a male composer.

Going by the first quote, the first part of it shouldn´t be offending at all. Boys are stronger than girls. It´s absurd to call that sexist, since it´s a generally accepted view within society. And simply going by my personal past, it is true. It´s possible that the differences in strength at the age of 10 and around that are less pronounced than at an adult age, but differences exist nonetheless. Of course, maybe those people that get worked up over that part only knew big, ugly bully-girls. That´s hardly more than anecdotal evidence, though. Then there´s the second part of that quote, the one about skirts. It implies that in Fumito Ueda´s opinion, girls and skirts are inevitably connected with each other. Now, there are several points that could be made, but one simple one would be that if you make your ingame-character a girl, you have to show that in some way. If you don´t show off the gender in any way it is redundant for one, and sexist, too, for assuming that the appearance of a little boy is the “neutral image” of a person. With a kid of age 10 the options for making clear that it is a girl a limited. I doubt the people already complaining would go totally nuts if Ueda gave visually pronounced tits to a 10-year old girl. Such young girls also wouldn´t wear make-up or feature long eye slashes. Long hair also wouldn´t cut it. So the easiest way to show that your character was a girl would be to give her a skirt, a piece of clothing that is generally taken as female-exclusive clothing. And that´s a no-go according to Ueda. However, what´s also a reason against a female kid is that it would absolutely point some focus towards that single fact. Like it or not, but for video games that have no intention to involve some kind of gender importance, having a boy being the main character is more neutral than having girl. If it was a girl in The Last Guardian, people´s feeling would be all like “oh, that´s so sweet” and “come on, big bird rat, protect that cute little girl“. The way it is, however, people couldn´t care less about the character´s gender and instead simply care about the adventure in front of them. Full stop.

The second quote from 2004 actually is not sexist at all, and I´m having a hard time trying to imagine how one could be offended by that sentence. Actually, it just shows how much Ueda takes into consideration various things when creating a game. Some people might argue that there´s no difference between male and female artists, but it´s just as legit to argue the opposite. And if Ueda thinks that a game is more likely to be enjoyed by boys and he needs are more masculine soundtrack for that purpose, it´s his and only his right to choose a male composer for the job. You can disagree, sure, but calling it sexist only makes you look very stupid.

In the end, being sexist doesn´t necessarily make you a bad person, since there exist, at least, two different kinds of sexism. One would be the misogynistic kind, the kind men that dislike or hate women for one reason or another. They believe they´re better persons simply due to their “superior” gender. But then there´s the other kind of sexism, which is: romantic people. You know, the kind of men that open doors for girls, tell them “ladies first” or do silly, dangerous stuff because they like a girl. These men are kind of conservative in their world view, but they don´t harm women with that perspective. For what is worth, I think Ueda falls into that second group of sexists. To be honest, I´m like that myself. I prefer being romantic, not neutralizing all aspects of life. I´m also one of those guys that put the girl they like on a pedestal, which many “smart” guys believe is the wrong way to get a girl friend. But calling someone a bad person because he connects girls and skirts is silly. Just as silly as calling Metroid: Other M a sexist game. It´s funny how artificially outraged people become about sexism in video games at the moment.  Other M portrayed Samus Aran not as a woman, but a human being. It never connoted any weaknesses with her gender. The one moment where Samus Aran shows fear should be clear for any knowledgeable Metroid-fan. But I mean…I even read some people calling The Legend of Zelda-series sexist, so maybe we should just stop talking about it, because apparently everything is sexist today. Fumito Ueda, Metroid, Zelda, me, and most likely you, too.


Top 3 Most Wanted-Spin Offs

September 20, 2010

Some days ago I talked to a friend on IRC and he started talking about cool ideas for spin offs. He later even started a whole topic on a popular gaming-board about it, which got lots of replies from people with more or less great ideas. Of course, you cannot start such a theme without getting my left side of the brain running wild, so here are the Flying Fisch´ Top 3 Most Wanted-Spin Offs.

3.) Mass Effect: Quarian Mission

The Quarians, an alien race in the world of Mass Effect, are the most interesting inhabitants of that universe to me. Wearing neat-looking suits, never showing their face, and being masterful technicians as well as capable tacticians in battle. What I´d imagine for this spin off would be a game that focuses on action-missions, leaving out all the non-linear exploration of the main series, but still keeping several crucial decisions that result in different following missions and different game endings. Even though the game-controls wouldn´t be too different from what we know, there´d be more focus on stealth and long-range combat, since typical Quarians aren´t strong close combat fighters. A sniper rifle would be your main weapon. Missions would vary from big groups, to smaller groups, to missions that you´d have to do all on your own. The story for this spin off could be anything from dealing a blow to enemy Geths to even doing a stealth-attack against Cerberus and finding out what they´re doing with the acquired human reaper (assuming that´s the canon ending of ME2). The game would give a lot of insight into Quarian behavior and be more straight forward, while still keeping an element of choice that is integral to the Mass Effect-franchise.

2.) Metroid: Galactic Federation vs Space Pirates

This is a dream of mine ever since that cutscene in the beginning of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The game would let you play as either a Federation Trooper or Space Pirate, meaning the game would feature two campaigns. On the Federation-side, you´d experience a more typical shooter-experience than when playing as Samus Aran. Your armor would be weaker, no charge beam shot and no space boots. But you´d have machine rifles shooting rapid energy blasts and be fighting alongside comrades. You could give commands to your team members, which could consist of different kinds of troopers, such as PED troopers or demolition troopers. You yourself would be carrying a PED, a Phazon Enhancement Device that would grant more power for a limited amount of time. Without all of Samus´ super powers, it´d be a much more down-to-earth experience, featuring more of the horror that are the space pirates and unknown planets. Missions would vary from exploration, to rescuing someone to blow up pirate bases, or defend a colony against a pirate attack. All that while environmental dangers would pose a threat, too. And then there´d be the Space Pirate-campaign that´d be completely different. Here, you´d be controlling a single Space Pirate, equipped with some energy blaster, missiles and, most importantly, a jet pak and invisibility device. Gameplay would be totally different in that you could now reach whole new places and do missions stealthy or not so stealthy. Mission goals could range from stealing important items/information to killing higher up persons and readying the approach of a larger pirate-attack. To make this a really fun, long-lasting game, there´d be coop- and multiplayer-modes, off- and online. I can´t imagine a more fun multiplayer-shooter than Federation troopers against Space pirates, each with their own tactics and combat options. And meanwhile, you´d learn more about the world of Metroid without everything relating to Samus Aran.

1.) The Legend of Zelda: Shad´s Journey

My favorite NPC in Twilight Princess by far. Shad is one of the guys of the resistance group that you meet in Telma´s pub. He´s that guy that later helps Link to get to the sky temple by deciphering ancient texts and even using a spell to active Link´s Dominion Rod. When playing Twilight Princess, I always felt that the resistance group could have been given more show time, better fleshing out – especially Shad. His design is too awesome for such a hardly seen side-character. When I wish for a spin off featuring him, I imagine an action-adventure that is less about killing enemies and more about exploration. That´s not to say that Shad shouldn´t be able to fight monsters when needed, but the game should never force the player to go into battle without other options. After all, Shad is more of a bookworm than a heroic fighter. Controlling Shad would feature in-depth climbing options, necessary for the emphasis on exploring environments, be it steep stone walls to get to an ancient temple or the inner walls of a temple itself. Or just a high bookshelf. The story would be about Shad trying to find a way to reach the Ooccas´ sky temple himself, since he couldn´t follow Link at the time of Twilight Princess. Afterall, he continued his deceased father´s studies and still has to fulfill them, at any costs. It´s what he dedicated his life to. Shad´s adventure would give more insight into the world of The Legend of Zelda and offer a different gameplay experience that is based more on exploration and magic than combat and saving the world. And maybe Shad could become a more fleshed-out character himself – his great design cannot go to waste, after all.


Zelda: Skyward Sword – A discerning look at what we saw

September 11, 2010

It´s been some time since E3, and cologne´s gamescom also took place already. At both of these events, Nintendo showcased the same first playable demo of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the new Zelda-game for Wii that is supposedly released some time next year. My first impression of this whole new series entry was rather a negative one, but not long after stating that I warmed up on the overall presentation. However, some of the parts of the E3-demo cannot remain the way they are – at least not if Nintendo wants me to fall in love with this game. Thus, I will now point out just these elements that I hope are occurrences of early development. I am not naming stuff that I wish for on a non-rational base – I did that at other occasions. This is stuff that should and can be changed.

1.) The visuals

Neither do I dislike the chosen art style nor the decision to go for a painting-like look. Actually, I really like that as it makes the game feel more unique, gives it its very own nature, as opposed to re-using either the realistic style of Twilight Princess or the toon-shading style of The Wind Waker. In one video, Bill Trinen himself shows off the game and explains how Skyward Sword has this completely new look. However, what I´m actually shown are low-resolution textures and low-polygon objects that show lots of unattractive, sharp edges. Just take a look at that overview-picture that shows the demo-forest from above. What is supposed to look like a painting just looks like a technical mess. The same goes for the trees while standing in front of them.  They consist of a featureless log with, again, boring low-resolution textures. And then these so-called flowers on the ground that look as if they´re from a Mario-game. The only part of the demo that actually looks good is Link´s model. You can see the painting-like effect especially good on his green hat. But other than that the game lacks technical perfection, or, not to use such overblown phrases, doesn´t look round, yet.

Beautiful? Take a closer look and you´ll see ugly edges and textures all over the place

2.) Blocky environments

This could be complained about as part of the visuals, too, but it is more crucial to the gameplay, so I´d like to point it out like that.  The whole forest-area of the demo of Skyward Sword is surrounded by these terrible even walls. And not only is it this area-limiter, it´s also what natural hills look like. And then you have these typical lianas that Link uses to climb these even walls. It just destroys any sense of nature when you see these completely artificially looking parts of the landscape. In my perfect vision, all these walls would feature options to climb them just like that, but that´s not even necessary. What is necessary, though, is that the environment at least looks believable, even if not interactive. As is, Skyward Sword looks more like a puzzle-collection with themes instead of a plausible fantasy world.

3.) Clunky animations

Probably my most urgent complaint about what we´ve seen so far: Link´s animations. Of course, there´s MotionPlus, which means the player controls Link´s right arm while having unsheathed the sword, but that doesn´t mean that you can dismiss the rest of his animations. The way he normally runs looks so…stupid and goofy. He looks like a model-runner, with perfect stepping. All that while his upper body hardly moves at all. It´s even worse when he jumps, which seems to be the exact same animation from Twilight Princess. You know, that jump-“animation” where he´s uprightly falling down, no bowing forward, no ducking, and no movement while falling at all. Someone would expect Link to wave his hands and feet, but nothing. The animation for fast running is fine, though. But that´s but one part of all the different animations needed. Link has to react more naturally to what he´s doing. And just one other animation that simply sucked: The rope´s animation when Link uses it to swing to another platform. It doesn´t look like a rope but a stiff, long stick.

4.) Fighting enemies

Just let me say that I like the increased difficulty due to enemies blocking your attacks from varying directions. However, when watching that Stalfos-boss encounter I can´t help but feel that fighting this guy felt way too much like solving a puzzle than actually fighting a dangerous monster. You know, watching in what way he´s holding his two swords, then attacking the open side, rinse and repeat. One of my favorite fights was against a couple of Stalfos knights in Ocarina of Time´s forest temple. These guys were a real threat and attacking them was a challenge, as they would  leave themselves open to attack for only a very short time. So instead of this explicit directional guarding, have enemies move their swords naturally and have the player time his attack on-the-fly. That´s what´d make fights feel like fights.

Enemy or puzzle? Ideally both, but not that obvious please.

And that´s it. There´s other stuff that I´m not too fond of, like most of the shown enemy-design, but I don´t have much hope that this kind of stuff is going to change in the final game. However, the four topics I elaborated above have a realistic chance to change and I whole-heartedly hope they will. Of course, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword does a lot of things right, too. But that shouldn´t be necessary to be mentioned, it is a Zelda-game after all. So let me finish this text by saying that I love the fast running and the flying beetle, and that I´m pretty confident that a gorgeous game is awaiting us.


Splitting the Zelda-series in two

August 25, 2010

Now that sounds crazy, but after watching a slideshow featuring the first screenshots of Ocarina of Time 3DS again, I thought about how special Ocarina of Time still is. Both to us, the gamers, and to Nintendo, who obviously acknowledge the importance of this one Zelda-game. And to be honest, OoT will never cease to amaze gamers. It´s that once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that no other game will ever beat per se. So no matter what Nintendo does, gamers will remember OoT. At the same time, there´s a growing group of Zelda-fans that are growing tired of the traditional formula, which even Skyward Sword, the upcoming Wii-entry, doesn´t seem to shake up that much. So why not simply split the Zelda-series in two?

By splitting in two, I imagine two Zelda-series that are developed at the same time, as in, not consuming each other´s development resources, but two completely separate installments. One of these Zelda-series would be “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. Yes, read that right, OoT would be its own “series”. There appear to be quite a lot people that criticize the Zelda-games for being too similar to each other. While I´m personally not in that camp, it still exists. So instead of doing “similar” Zeldas one after another, time after time again, let´s take OoT and turn it into the “classic Zelda”-series. Each entry of this branch of the Zelda-franchise would intentionally be similar to the previous one – with appropriate differences, of course, such as new dungeons, new story, a few new items and so on, you get it. It´d be the Zelda for all those fans that still like and love each and every newly released Zelda-game.

And then there´d be the other Zelda-series, we could call it “The Legend of Zelda: Beyond Time”. This would be the branch of the Zelda-franchise for all those fans that love the Zelda-series, but want it to do more fresh, creative, different stuff. Think of all the stuff your heard someone say and thought “eww, then it wouldn´t be a Zelda-game anymore”. Perfect, that´s what this series would be for! Some examples of what kind of features this branch could have: Direct jumping control, no gamey puzzles, more/less linearity, selectable difficulty, multiplayer-modes, and so on. It´d be the playground for Nintendo´s creative minds, and it´d be the fresh adventure many of us want to have, set within the Zelda-universe.

And, I mean, this would give us a second big action-adventure franchise, so to speak. Will probably never happen, but I´d really like it to. After all, even though I want BIG changes to the Zelda-series, I also still like the traditional formula, and experiments could go wrong, too. However, maybe this will kind of happen with the split between home console and handheld Zelda-titles. If we take a look at the two Nintendo DS-entries, they surely are very different from Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. With the added power of the 3DS-hardware and Nintendo showing that they´re going for a real 3D-Zelda on a handheld this time, we really could get more of this great action-adventure franchise in a shorter time frame. Of course, that still doesn´t mean that on of the two systems´ Zelda-titles will be more creative than the other one.


Warming up on Skyward Sword

June 17, 2010

I sounded pretty disappointed when I talked about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword in my E3-article. Well, I´m still not entirely sold on the whole thing, but the following gameplay-video that really gives you a nice overview of the whole E3-demo showed that the level-structure is quite open. It remains to be seen just how open the game really is, but I´m now a little bit happier about the new Zelda for Wii.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Gameplay Trailer E3 2010

Stuff that I´m still very skeptic about is the enemy-design, that sometimes is great (see scorpion) and at other times is horrible (see Moblins). Also, the blocky level-design, just from a pure visual point of view. I simply hate those walls that are nothing but non-interactive borders. I really hope that the final game won´t have any load times like The Wind Waker, and maybe even allows the player to climb those walls. After all, if Link really gains the ability to fly, and a lot of evidence points into that direction, then freedom seems to play a bigger part in this game. Which brings us to my last piece of skepticism: If a flying Link becomes reality, then for god´s sake, have it be 100% free-flight, and not some kind of mini-game, like “each time you travel between Skyloft and the land on the ground, you fly on a set path and have to shoot enemies”. That´d be super horrible. Either let me fly by will, by my own decision, or don´t make such a game. At least the new flying-beetle item gives hope that free-flight might be considered.


Zelda Wii – E³ 2010

April 24, 2010

Here is a little present to all Zelda- and video game-fans out there. Thanks to my own obsession regarding the Zelda-series, I can hereby show you a video, made for the purpose of getting into the mood for the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010, that´s going to take place from June 15th to 17th. Without any further explanations, here´s the link. Have fun!

Zelda Wii E³ 2010 – Video