Making the difference… or not

There’s a tendency in videogames, but also in pretty much everything, to copy whatever is successful at the moment. Makes sense, of course. Someone might shout at plagiarism or at least lack of innovation, but there’s a feeling of safety in treading a proven path. At times, however, developers will copy a formula while also trying to shake it up a bit. The problem with this approach is that it might be actually more risky than attempting to build something from scratch, as you might take apart something that was the knot to keep all the elements together.

Taking a red Elite head-on with a battle rifle? I hope he's playing on Normal difficulty.
Almost every shooter nowadays – and many other genres as well – owes to Halo’s regenerating shields system, but they forget one thing: enemies had regenerating shields as well, so you had to take a few more risks than in today’s shooters.

In the end, there’s usually a reason if something works so well. Changing stuff around might make things even worse. Of course, that’s not saying you shouldn’t try and shuffle something, since nobody wants to play the same game over and over. But it can be a little hard to discern what should be changed and what shouldn’t.

The importance of Ocarina of Time can't be overstated, especially the introduction of Z-targeting to the world. But it's being used less and less lately.
The importance of Ocarina of Time cannot be overstated, especially the introduction of Z-targeting to the world. It would be the standard in third-person games for many years… but not forever.

Sometimes, changes will happen naturally as technology gets different, more specifically the controls. The Z-targeting system introduced in OoT was a real game-changer, but nowadays, it’s fallen somewhat in disuse. The reason for this can probably be found in the common acceptance of dual stick controls as the default, which gives players more freedom than even the Z system. But perhaps even more so, the success of Batman Arkham Asylum has effectively changed combat in third person games, shifting the combat focus from a single enemy to the player’s entire area.

The combat system in Arkham is the result of, apparently, a very carefully balanced approach. When other games copy it, but change it around, they almost always end up worse. Which brings me to the reason why I’m writing this post at all: the combat in Assassin’s Creed 4 is pretty bad. You can see they tried to copy Arkham, but the lack of smoothness ruins everything and makes it a chore. See, changing just one element – the speed of the combat – has taken all the fun out of the entire combat system.

So, change is a good thing. Imagine if Rocksteady used the Z-targeting in Arkham Asylum. But if you only change a few things, it’s probably better to test it thoroughly, because chances are it won’t work as well as the original.

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Zork and its Nemesis

As a fan, I have read quite a bit about the Zork lore. There’s some seriously interesting ideas there. But in particular, I have a soft spot for Zork Nemesis. It’s the one game that really doesn’t have much (if anything) to do with the rest of the series, you can see it was rebranded at the last moment, but it still managed to be a pretty good adventure.

The most reviled Zork title, seen through the eyes of the least pertinent Zork title.
The most reviled Zork title, seen through the eyes of the least pertinent Zork title.

Normally, these name changes tend to bring with them their own kind of trouble. DMC2 is one easy example. Blood Omen 2 was also not in line with the rest of the saga. But with Zork Nemesis, they at least managed to put out such a good game that it didn’t really matter. Especially considering the previous entry. You could make a case for Grand Inquisitor, but to be fair, I felt that game was excessively comical by Zork standards.

A most sought-after edition for sure.
A most sought-after edition for sure.

Nemesis looks positively ancient by today’s standards. But then, I think it was one of the first adventure games to actually allow you to rotate the camera (I might be wrong there, but I really can’t think of any examples before it). So it also has some historical value. And let’s be honest, would you really rather play Return to Zork just because it’s more Zork-like?

In search of lost coherency

I’ve started reading Proust’s masterpiece of biblical proportions in March. 10 months later, I’m still reading. Almost at the end of the fifth book. Now I’ll day that it’s the one with the most mistakes so far. Here is what happens at the big party:

– the doctor is said to have died a few days before the party
– the butt-monkey is at the party, gets kicked out by the host, suffers some kind of heart attack in the garden, and dies a few weeks later
– the doctor is said to be at the party with everyone else
– the doctor couldn’t come to the party because he was at the butt-monkey’s house, since the butt-monkey was bedridden due to the shock after a failed speculation
– the butt-monkey is said to die only a few years later, and the doctor is at his funeral

You can see the book wasn’t quite finished. All these mistakes are somewhat interesting, though, because they mean you can choose what you want to be true by yourself.

Ideally, the outcome is usually the one that is worst for the butt-monkey.

Perspective woes

The age-old question: how do you make 3D when you can’t make 3D? Often it’s a matter of just making a side-scroller, which negates the problem entirely. Some other games were a bit more eager to try, and used an isometric view a la Syndicate. A Link to the Past, on the other hand, had a weird top-down perspective which has become accepted as normal over time, but it doesn’t mean it makes sense.

Some other games took the last formula and brought it to its extreme. Blood Omen takes a little while to get used to.

Much like Zelda, but the houses and trees are leaning even more. If they lean any more than this, they'll crumble.
Much like Zelda, but the houses and trees are leaning even more. If they lean any more than this, they’ll crumble.

And even that is nothing compared to Swagman, a semi-obscure Saturn/PS1 game by Core Design which will make your eyes bleed with its arcane representation of 3D space.

It almost looks normal from here (almost). Then you try moving, and...
It almost looks normal from here (almost – take a glance at that wardrobe on the right). Then you try moving, and…

To its credit, Swagman was pretty good, if brutally hard. But the really weird perspective has screwed me up more than once. It was, however, one of those nifty 32-bit 2D games that still attempted to put polygons to use for extra amazement.

The billiard sticks are actual polygons. This scene could be impressive in 3D. Not that anyone will ever port this game to the 3DS.
The billiard sticks that try to take you down are actual polygons. This scene could be impressive in 3D. Not that anyone will ever port this game to the 3DS.

Well, at least the music and character design was really good. Did I say character design? I meant in-game character design. Because I can’t get out of my head just how the kids look in cutscenes compared to the in-game sprites.

These are grade school kids, right? Right?
These are grade school kids, right? Right?

One day someone will rediscover this hidden gem. I can’t live in a world where Nintendo re-releases Urban Champion and games like this get ignored forever.

Clichè Thief

I can see why Rhythm Thief went somewhat unnoticed back when it launched, years ago. For starters, it has that sort of Layton-style appeal to a market that the 3DS could never quite capture. The story and characters is really nothing to write home about either.

Cute, but forgettable design.
Cute, but forgettable design.

It has literally all of the tropes of the thief genre: the lovable rogue, the private detective, the workaholic inspector, etc. And unfortunately it takes the worst part of the Layton franchise as well, which is the “touch everywhere” syndrome.

Where the game scores a victory is in the minigames, which present quite a challenge and are worth playing through again and again to get a better score. However, the exploration parts are weak, so as a whole the game might not be enough to recommend. But it should be easier to find cheap today, which would make it a much easier purchase.

On the bright side, it received a port on iOS some time ago, so it still got more attention than Doctor Lautrec ever did.

Hunting monsters for the fourth time

Finished the MH4U demo just now. A decent way of tasting the full game. You start with a bunch of potions and megapotions, so it’s not overly difficult, even on Experienced. The Gore gave me some trouble the first time because you only get 25 minutes (also he’s seriously dangerous when angered), but once I knew his pattern, I made it the second time around with a good 5 minutes to spare.

The game is not exactly a looker. The textures are quite bad, the palette choice is poor, and in 3D mode there’s texture crawling everywhere. That said, the framerate is good enough, and in 2D mode you even get some antialiasing for your trouble.

The new gameplay additions are… troubling, in part. The big maps are nice, and of course the controls are familiar as always. The extra verticality would add more depth to the combat, if the grabbing weren’t simply a button mashing minigame. Its usefulness also seems somewhat questionable, at least in this demo. Maps are a lot more confusing, now that there’s something to climb everywhere. On the plus side, stamina depletion seems slower, and recovery times from jumps are a lot faster. But again on the bad side, with each map having so many small hills and other differences in terrain height, the lock-on camera doesn’t work nearly as well as in MH3U.

So yeah… it’s still Monster Hunter. Even if the new additions try to shake things up, I don’t think they wanted to change a lot of stuff.

Just like Smash, there’s no Miiverse or Browser support during the game. Also, it seems to be a battery hog: starting with a 3 out of 4 bars battery, after playing for about 60 minutes the red light had gone into blinking status. Doesn’t surprise me, seeing as it squeezes every ounce of processing power out of the console. It’s just too bad that it doesn’t quite translate into tangible graphical improvements (I fear the bigger maps are to blame).

Metroid Contrast

I’ve had my 3DS for a very long time now, enough to receive the 20 ambassador games from Nintendo (I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, really). I didn’t notice until now though, that there’s quite some difference in how the GBA games are rendered, compared to their original counterparts. I can only try on a Gameboy Micro, which might not look quite the same as something like a GBA SP, which was obviously far more popular. But it should do.

Metroid Fusion running on the original 3DS. The contrast seems excessively garish.
Metroid Fusion running on the original 3DS. The contrast seems too garish. Who knew space was purple?
Metroid Fusion, on the GBA Micro. Looks a bit washed out, but not quite as bad as the 3DS.
Metroid Fusion on the Micro. Looks slightly washed out, but not as bad as the 3DS. Gray blue > purple.

I don’t think too many people had a Gameboy Micro anyway. The 3DS seems to render colors almost in the same way as the DS Lite, which means it might actually be the correct way! Considering the known issues with the original GBA and its lack of backlight, it’s possible that Nintendo made the game (which came out before the SP was launched) look more high-contrast than usual, to make it more visible in low-light conditions.

I prefer how it looks on the Micro, so it’s good to have that one extra option around. Considering how long it’s taking for GBA games to become available on the 3DS (will they ever?), most people probably won’t notice either way.

Writing about whatever comes to mind