Zelda E3

I’m not sure what to take from Nintendo’s E3. It was basically Pokémon and The Legend of  Zelda, and that’s about it. Everything else was useless filler with no worth to them. At least they stood away from bullshit gender politics. The more the Big Three remove themselves from politics in their products, the better.

I’ve talked Zelda a lot in the past. Not as much as about Mega Man, but still considerably. Much like previous Zelda E3 events, we had been teased with an awesome trailer, then few years of pause, and then something completely new. Remember this one?

Remember this one too?

From that Spaceworld demo, we got Wind Waker.

Twilight Princess‘ trailer stand apart from the lot in a way that it had an initial trailer that lot more oppressive, darker tone than what the game ended up being.

Funny thing is that Skyward Sword‘s teaser trailer was mediocre even at its finest, just like the game itself.

What Skyward Sword and Wind Waker lacked is the same thing this The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild lacks; fantasy.

While Twilight Princess‘ trailer showed relatively impressive take on Zelda’s fantasy world, all these other titles seem to lack all of it. Breath of the Wild the most. We aren’t seeing what makes a fantasy game tick here, we’re seeing a goddamn nature preserve. Nature, if you’ve traversed in it, is incredible and beats anything seen in BotW. But hardcore gamers don’t go outside, right? They’ll enjoy these vast landscapes and distances from their home with Link.

The original teaser from 2014 for BoTW looks incredible. The game looks like it had an attitude, that it had an edge to it. It looked like it would return to the Action RPG mould rather than puzzle adventure Aonuma made Zelda into. But now, it seems Zelda’s becoming a nature trek simulator. Breath of the Wild may sound impressive in Japanese, but it’s a terrible title in English. It reminds of a Mentos or mouthwash commercial.

I watched most of Nintendo’s stream last night when they were playing the game. The first thing I noticed how much it reminded me of David Attenborough’s nature shows, and realised it was because they had British accented voice actress. Voice acting can be done with fantasy, but then the game needs to be done right. Adventure games are good examples of this. For Zelda, it breaks the fantasy and reminds you that these people are speaking in English, not the fantastical language of Hylians. Subtitles used to be about fantasy in their own way.

But the thing Breath of the Wild does worst is that it looks boring. It tries to bolt on concepts from other games like Minecraft and Skyrim to do its own thing, but forgets its roots. At a first glance, it might look like the original The Legend of Zelda, but looks are deceiving. In original LoZ, you had to do something in every screen of the game, be it fight an enemy or avoid it. You had to risk and search, you had to battle your way through. You had the exact same kind of adventure you had as a kid in the forest. No kid dreams of just walking in the nature and chopping trees and grass. Children and those who are into fantasy dream of walking in a forest with a sword and shield in their hands, fighting hordes of enemies. After all, the more orcs you kill, the more loot you can find from their bodies.

The boredom of BotW comes from the fact that it lacks imagination, and imagination is what makes fantasy work. The large overworld is the exact right step they needed to take after Skyward Sword, but they also need to fill that world with imagination. Everything we saw from Nintendo during their stream screamed the lack of it. Add something to the this world, make use that magicpunk technology to fill it in, create vast ruins rather than one bit of sanctuary in the middle of fucking nowhere. Don’t drop the player into an empty world with scripted event here and there with the occasional fight. Create large cities with tunnels or buildings, take us to the Moon, give vast caverns to and deadly forests as part of the overworld we can explore and venture through.

Give us anything but a dull world filled with nothing, like in Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time.

It doesn’t help that the fighting in BotW has not evolved since OoT. It’s as basic as ever. It has no bells or whistles to it, it’s completely by the numbers, uninteresting piece. They should’ve asked Platinum Games to give them a hint or two, at least. In LoZ, each enemy felt like a threat and you got damaged accordingly. The Moblins were bulky looking, but now they’re just lanky clowns. Nintendo and Aonuma needs to look back at Katsuya Terada’s illustrations.

terada Zelda_art07 zelda2_art02 zelda2_art03zelda2_art05

All these images here depict what Zelda is not currently; battles, mysteries, grand exploration, confrontations and NPCs in help. These do no depict scripted video sequences and puzzles. They are, with one word, badass. They depict everything Aonuma’s puzzle adventure Zelda games are not. The original teaser for BotW from 2014 more in the lines with these pictures, but I guess that’s something they’re not interested to make. Funny thing, the more closer to western fantasy Zelda is, the better it usually gets.

How the game will ultimately form up is an open question at this point, but they have an open world. That is a start, but only a start. Now that world needs to be filled and the player needs to be allowed to have his own adventure, not the one Aonuma scripted for him.

It looks promising, but potential is nothing to be proud about. Only time will tell if they manage to make good use of what they have made, or if it will fall into the Aonuma mould again.

Cinematic PlayStation E3

SONY as a games company has always succeeded when Nintendo has failed. PlayStation was a success when Nintendo 64 pushed 3D and less games, PlayStation 2 did more things right when GameCube’s games were lacklustre and we got Wind Waker instead of badass Zelda we saw at Spaceworld 2000. Then Nintendo did DS and the Wii, and they were massive hits while PlayStation3 took the back seat. SONY has always failed with the handheld consoles, and just like with every competitor with Nintendo’s, the Vita is essentially dead in the water, abandoned by Sony without anything to push it forwards. Pretty much like the Wii during its latter half of the life.

There’s nothing much to take from SONY’s E3 this year. Bad acting from a hipster guy and black top girl made things cringy didn’t make watching the Press conference any easier. Every single thing was so by the numbers that nothing stood out. It doesn’t help that they had repetition from UbiSoft’s presentation with Watch Dogs 2. Hell, let’s talk about that for a bit.

UbiSoft’s presentation was generic game showcase that didn’t show anything, but it showed that we are going to go into an era of video game movies similar to what comic book movies have been going on. Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs movies are indicative that companies want to start making these cinematic takes on games, and while America may give cold shoulder to WarCraft, the Chinese loved it and that’s a market that’s taking over as the money-making machine. Hollywood has been progressively been moving towards the Chinese market and have included content that panders straight up to them, with varying success.  Iron Man 3 had an extra scene where a Chinese doctor did the surgery for Stark and the reason Pacific Rim had Chinese triplets was to pander to them. Pacific Rim 2 seems to be development solely because of its success in China, and to the fact that Legendary is now owned by a Chinese millionaire makes thing easier.

The trouble with game movies is that they’re very much the same as comic book movies, and those have burnt out the audience pretty well already. The fatigue is setting in and it doesn’t help all these super hero movies are melding together to one very similar bits. Their formulaic approach has tired the audience out, just like the Westerns did.

Anyway, a new God of War got flack for having father-son bonding through hunting. These people need to get a better job or hobbies if they get insulted by games like this. Grow a pair of balls or something.

SONY has always managed to make their E3 rather cinematic to the point of being jarring. Nothing has changed this year, with SONY showing The Last Guardian loads of other concept trailers alongside with number of faux gameplay. At least SONY allows these to play without much interruption. Credit where credit is due, on-stage presence was superior to those they had outside. Unlike how Nintendo usually tends to have a Japanese person speaking in broken English, SONY had PR people speaking in clear, easy to understand English. Well, outside sucking up to Kojima. He has stupidly rabid and large cult worshipping him.

This cinematic presence thou extends to the games as well, with most of the shown titles, including Horizon: Zero Dawn showing cinematics takes on the gameplay elements over pure, undiluted gameplay. It’s an interesting dichotomy, where game developers claim they can’t do anything due to the lack of power in the machines, but still sticking with cinematics instead of games’ own forte to push these titles onwards as games. By that I mean they’re essentially still doing glorified FMV sequences and throwing movie effects into games rather than refining gameplay elements for the sake of play.

Of course, E3 has been progressively less about the games themselves and more about hyping.

The thing we’ve seen this year is push for VR titles, and none of them were impressive. Almost all of them have the same gameplay problems from movement to essentially being the same game in a different setting. VR in itself won’t make games any better or innovative, it only showcases another challenge to the developers. SONY sure has put a lot of money and faith into VR, as evident on the number of developers choosing to develop games for it. Then again, maybe it’s easier to just tie camera movements to the VR headset’s accelerators instead of trying to code one yourself. This is of course limits the game to first person only, and that’s something not everyone enjoys.

And the Vita is dead, no games or anything for it. Long live the Vita.

But y’know, I must admit that the Spider-Man design they used in the PS4 game trailer looked pretty spiffy with its silver spider back and forth. It’s an interesting combination of the black symbiote suit and the classic red and blue.

Microsoft Live E3

Xbox E3 presentation was less about the Xbox and more about how Microsoft has made a clear motion to push multiplatform support through their Live account system, something that the recent purchase of Linkedln will without a doubt tie into. Minecraft is an example how they are pushing this cross-platform play, signifying that they intend to be everywhere they can push their Live on.

Most importantly for Windows 10.

The current Windows 10 userbase is smaller than Microsoft has wanted it to be, about half the intended size. Not many people want to install it due to various reasons, ranging from its awkward UI design to the included spyware that takes screenshots and sends it to Microsoft. Use GWX to prevent all related updates. Combined with Xbox One’s lacklustre success, it’s understandable for Microsoft to want push multiple approaches.

Steam’s nigh monopoly position on PC went completely unchecked and as Microsoft essentially left their main platform for the wolves, Windows 10 and DirectX 12 will have a hard time to regain some ground back. Whether or not they can is a whole other issue, especially seeing how reports on the usability of Win10’s game store are far for admirable.

Maybe Microsoft is extending itself too thin. They tried taking over the console market and failed, then bought Nokia (which fucked us up) and failed miserably there too. I would argue that their experience with Nokia was the step towards what we’re seeing how, with further emphasize on Windows’ software compatibility across platforms. Gaming in Windows was strong after Microsoft began larger support for it, but we have a point in time where they essentially just left it be.

Indeed, Xbox has always been about dumbed down PC gaming, and now it seems Microsoft is intending to bring that dumbed down PC gaming to Windows at full force. PC used to be a platform of total freedom, that was its main pull, but now we’ve lost that and have become complacent in exchange for comfort. Windows’ modern design is also indicative of this, where users are not required to learn anything about computers any more and all systems are made so closed that the end-users have almost no real control options over their own systems.

With the Project Scorpio, Microsoft further shows that they don’t really give a damn about the console market. The promotional video Microsoft showcased for it spells their mindset; hardware power. To quote, This was the console the developers asked us to build. A console is a box to play games. It doesn’t matter how powerful the box is if it doesn’t have games that are fun and entertaining to play. Historically, the least powerful console has won each generation, as they’ve generally gained the sheer overpowering numbers in games. Do remember that the MegaDrive got push with Mega CD and 32X over SNES in terms of power, so that generation is not an exception.

While releasing an updated console has not been anything new, this sort of fetish to keep consoles at the high-end of technology has all to do with the PC mindset. The PC market was about the high-end hardware, the cutting edge tech, whereas console market used to be about the matured technology that had become cheap to use and produce. The game industry fellates and masturbates over 4K image, but the general audience barely knows such thing exists. With 4K, game development just got a notch up expensive. Much like with films, the Triple A game industry has gone completely insane with the million dollar budgets and barely produce any mid-range budget games.

If they indeed try to go generationless with Xbox, they’ll surely fail as any hardware ages and needs to be replaced at some point. Wear and tear are a reality, but much like how Nintendo generally replaces their consoles with cheaper, more efficient alternatives, a console can survive for long damn time as long as it has support.

But releasing a more powerful console per generation in the same “family” is nothing new. Atari did that too, but nobody really liked the 5200.  These high-end models don’t have a successful history with consoles or games and I don’t have much faith that they’ll do anything new or special now either.

All in all, the Xbox E3 presentation was, at its core, a showcase of Microsoft simply pushing the Xbox brand unto Windows 10. Their console has been failing, as indicated by their use over seven million Killer Instinct matches played instead of citing the number of players. That tells you a damn lot.

An Australian friend also noted that the places and scenery in Forza are fucked and don’t represent the real places at all. What’s the point of using real world locations if you’re not even going to try to be accurate with them?

EA’s ballin’ FIFA story

EA’s E3 presentation was nothing short of lacklustre. The reason I’m even typing this little entry about it is not because they lacked almost any kind of gameplay, resorting to trailers and concept videos only, but because FIFA is going to have a story mode. The question is why would they want that?

There is logic behind it, but the logic should be questioned. FIFA has sold decently alongside other sports titles, but sports titles are automatically not for the hardcore. They don’t offer grand campaigns or anything like that, but FIFA with a story mode does. There’s not much you can do with football games once you reach certain peak, and EA has not been willing to revise the system drastically since… I don’t know, 1996? EA was caught in 2012 for selling the preceding year’s title again in a new package, just with an updated roster. While most other titles are not in the same vain in the series, this is nearly pandemic in their sports like, where we’ve a point where there is very little reason to purchase the new FIFA entry, outside updated roster.

This is partly because they’ve been doing sports games so long and have been aiming to simulate the sport rather than go for more arcade-y controls, and partly because video game development costs shitloads of money, especially when you have a license game in your hands that needs to look sleek. When you have pressure to develop a game that would sell at least as well as the last year’s title despite the nearly same gameplay and everything that pressure brings with it, it’s no wonder the developers may want to seek new ways to expand the existing consumer base.

Those who buy and play sports games are in majority within the general public. While some hardcore gamers do play them, the division is almost cut with a knife, where the split is like night and day. However, people who would rather enjoy a session of Final Fantasy than FIFA are now targeted with this story driven entry.

Hiroshi Yamauchi once said that people who play RPGs are, essentially speaking, basement dwellers. While Yamauchi was rather strong with his words, he is not exactly wrong either. RPGs take considerably amount of time and effort to beat through, and one can’t just sit down and play a game or two. Most people don’t have the time to invest in such a scale, and thus sports games that rely on arcade roots still flourished. You can play a ball game or two, then quit and be on your merry way. No reason to search for a save point or the like.

Even when you have FIFA fans who play the games through and through get bad rap from their peers, as one of my friends got asked Now think if you had spent your time on something worthwhile other than in FIFA? You could’ve learned how to play the guitar. As said, Yamauchi’s statement that people who have only time in their hands play RPGs, everyone else plays games for a moment’s distraction because they have better things to do.

After all, games are products of entertainment, not a form of high-end art or the like. Both have on thing in common with each other; most people spend only few minutes with them.

This story driven FIFA reminds a little bit how Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater took a similar turn with Tony Hawk’s Underground, a game that splits opinions. While some fans loved it, especially the hardcore gamers, some dismissed it for not keeping things simple an deviating the form. But THPS experienced the same thing, consuming the same formula to the end and in the end needing a drastic revision to stay relevant. Well, THPS as a series died soon after that, and THPS5 was a disaster.

I’m interested to see how a story driven FIFA will be received by the general audience. Those who think games should be all about the narrative and storytelling will surely love this, but those who want just play games will see it in a different light. How it’ll go and be received, we’ll have to see. I hope EA won’t let the same happen to FIFA that happened to other sports games that decided to emphasize story campaign over design in gameplay.