What I'm working on:

Various write-ups.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My Favorite Gaming Moments Vol #2

This is a series of posts that present my favorite gaming experiences throughout the years. All of the following content is personal opinion and reflects no statement of general quality or value with regards to what others may enjoy.


Tracking Mila in The Wind Waker


The events that led up to this sidequest were also pretty interesting.


I loved this moment.

The first time I discovered this short sidequest in The Wind Waker, it single-handedly made the game's world feel so much more alive, and that's leaving aside the really interesting dynamic that come with Mila, Maggie, and their fathers.

It's not that this moment is exceptionally notable in general terms, and it's also fairly insignificant relative to the overall game, but I think engaging with something like it actually elevated an experience that had, up until that point, already established itself as incredibly endearing and memorable to me.


Megaman Battle Network 6


I always thought that this was the perfect series for an MMO


This is an odd one.

Because I loved my time with this franchise so much, I got to the climactic point of the last game in the Battle Network series, turned it off, and permanently put it away. I deliberately never finished it because I didn't want that world to be gone. Back then, I decided that as long as I never experienced the resolution, that it'd never really be over.

It sounds strange, and I did eventually vaguely learn how things were wrapped up, but it was important to me at the time to just leave things open so I wouldn't have to move on from the series. I may eventually go back to it one day, but I'm happy to have kept my love of those adventures alive for as long as I did.


Getting Trackmaster Medals in TrackMania Turbo


This game's a really exhilarating experience all around. Like Hot Wheels on crack.


Trackmania awards medals to players based on lap times. You've got your standard Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals, but right above all of those is a Green one. To get it, you need to surpass an unlisted time with no ghost or indication of progress, only just the knowledge that you need to do far better than would otherwise be required for a Gold medal.

That is a Trackmaster medal.

I can't point to a specific medal I got in Trackmania Turbo that stands out above the others, but I definitely look back at my experience with the game as a whole and appreciate the immense satisfaction that came from getting each one. In a way, slowly but surely working my way up to meeting seemingly insurmountable expectations helped reinforce a few life lesson: take things one step at a time, appreciate how every little improvement counts, and that not much really stands in the way of success when drive, patience, and perseverance are in your tool belt.

Also, the Dutchman is the best racer.

Friday, April 7, 2017

On Becoming

Strange post title, I know.

Today, I wanted to share a personal philosophy that I believe is valuable to anyone that wants to 'become' something in the future.

I think that the best way to be successfully become something isn't working towards it, but instead making it the means to a functional end.

Becoming a doctor, artist, or engineer is a long upward climb. In order to manage something of that sort most effectively, you'll want to go beyond the title and look for a practical goal to achieve ahead of it: If you aim to visually convey particular ideas or create landscapes that you have in mind as an end, you'll become an artist along the way.

Doing things this way is smart for many reasons, one being that you won't see the lessons and effort required to attain the title you want to be as major of a hurdle as you might have otherwise. There's also the advantage of truly knowing what that title entails by acting upon its practicalities. This inherently ensures that you understand where you'll be when pursuing that role and aren't left lost on how to proceed when you achieve it.

Make what you want to become a means to ends that you can clearly define, be driven by, and appreciate.

That's the basic premise of my perspective, but if you'd like to see more detailed elaboration on this idea as well as a visual breakdown, then continue onward.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

My Impressions of Breath of the Wild

The following write-up represents my personal perspective on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There are no story spoilers and only minor references to principle mechanics. 


141 hours, 125 Korok seeds, 59 shrines, 15 hearts, a little over 2 stamina bars, and 1 Master Sword later, I've defeated Ganon and completed Breath of the Wild. Of course, reading that, you probably know that there's actually a whole lot more in the game for me to do and see. Regardless, I've decided to share a few thought and impressions of my experience so far, as I feel like I've finally put enough time in to have a solid, well-rounded perspective.


Gameplay


Breath of the Wild presents the most varied toolset ever seen in a Zelda title. Through the massive selection of weapons and a few extremely versatile runes, the efficient, multifaceted design of the game encourages and rewards players for unconventional ideas and experimentation, making for problem solving and combat that have never felt so satisfying or open ended. 

Taking advantage of this are shrines, small puzzles and challenges that litter the land to test the player’s wit and understanding of the tools they’ve been provided. There are also the hidden Koroks, your standard sidequests, and riddles. These things are all optional, diverse, unafraid of providing a challenge, solvable at your own pace, and, in most cases, completely respect your intelligence.

The introduction of free-form climbing and paragliding are the game’s not-so-secret weapons with regards to really driving home the amount of freedom available to the player, allowing you to scale almost any surface and make your way to anything you can see in the distance. The added sense of verticality isn’t superficial either, as the tools lend themselves to varied play-styles and the discovery of content in unusual places.

Breath of the Wild also embraces weapon degradation in a much more all-encompassing, intelligently implemented way. Link himself doesn’t grow latently more powerful outside of stamina and heart upgrades, meaning that, in the typical Zelda context, there are no functional means to adjusting difficulty that wouldn’t undermine a sense of progression or result in a permanent imbalance later down the line when facing old foes in familiar locations. The application of weapon degradation works to make Breath of the Wild's open world successful by ensuring that players can, through a few successful engagements, match the enemies in a given location, but won’t stay that capable for long when returning to less taxing areas.

When starting the game, the initial selection of weapons is deliberately fragile, functioning as a passive tutorial that ensures players understand and apply the core aspects of the combat-loop in a low-risk environment and a condensed context. This is done while coaxing them to engage with a variety of weapon types and appreciate their advantages and disadvantages. Players learn to adapt, experiment, and strategize early, which gets them ready for the world and possibilities that’ll be experienced later, even when the weapons become more varied and less feeble.

Overall, the gameplay in Breath of the Wild is extremely well thought out and diverse. Almost all of the systems in the game are integrated with each other in a way that means it’s unlikely any one player will have the same experience as another and that most folks will feel intelligent when they come up with their own unique solutions and strategies. 

Story


This is a part of the experience that I have a lot of thoughts about, but -to avoid spoilers- I’ll leave those aside and speak in more general terms instead.

The short of the long of it is that the primary narrative in Breath of the Wild is fairly barebones. It’s minimalist, exacting only the details necessary to make it sensible and justify the journey the player embarks on. It trades its heartier origins for subtlety, and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it feels less fulfilling as a result when considered individually.

The fact of the matter is that the story was built to best compliment the type of gameplay experience Breath of the Wild is meant to provide without compromise. On that front, the developers were successful, presenting the narrative through a combination of an interesting mechanic and a less typical plot-structure, allowing it to sit well with the open nature of the game.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that this is the first mainline title in the Zelda series to implement Voice Acting in a prominent way. Though I don’t think anyone is miscast, I do have to say that I’m not entirely a fan of a lot of the deliveries. I think that there are a few possible reasons for some of these issues, but I’ll get into that another day. 


World


In Breath of the Wild, the world is the real star of the show. More accurately, your journey through Hyrule is at the heart of the experience.

It’s true.

Every facet of the world is configured to encourage exploration. There are towers in each region that give you the opportunity to get a lay of the land from above and provide you with relevant segments of the map. These segments don't, at any point, contain direction or overt indicators of where to go. Instead, you're allowed up to 100 markers and 5 waypoints to place as you see fit. This alone is a pivotal design decision that encourages players to forge their own path, but the developers don't just stop there. 

From these towers, interesting landmarks and key shrines are visible. The shrines are deliberately placed in areas that are typically dense with things to do, at the ends of paths with points of potential interest along the way, or close to the border of neighboring regions to pique your curiosity. 

Though these things are true and the world is built to entice you, it’s also built to be believable. As such, it doesn't have everything just checker-boarded conveniently and evenly for you to find. A fair number of the more interesting things are spread out and require a trek to get to even if you know where they you're going. With this daunting spacing in mind, Koroks are hidden in large amounts across the land. This ensures that the plausibility of the world isn't sacrificed to satiate impatient players and that the attentive are always being rewarded for keeping an eye out for oddities.

Pulling back a bit and looking at the big picture, the geography in this game is incredibly interesting. For a fan of the franchise and its world, seeing such a detailed and cohesive map of Hyrule is an amazing thing. Not only is finding familiar places exciting, but seeing how they exist in this post-apocalyptic era is especially engrossing. The names of areas, landmarks, and lakes are all painstakingly detailed and many offer appreciable references to the history of the series, which I think will have some players grinning ear to ear. It really is a love letter to and a culmination of everything that makes up the Zelda universe.

If you end up playing Breath of the Wild, old fan or not, be sure to take the time to explore and enjoy the well-constructed world, as having your own personal adventure in it truly is a special experience.


Where Does it Stand?


Coming right down to it is a question that I think a lot of people have: Is this the best Zelda game ever made?

The cop-out answer is maybe.

It really does depend on what you want out of a Zelda game. For better or worse, Breath of the Wild really pursues the core of the original Zelda on the NES and pushes it farther, perhaps a lot more than some folks realize. It doesn’t hold your hand in an excessive manner, it’s built with the intent to allow players to discover at their own pace, and even lets you miss wonderful things unabashedly. 

Breath of the Wild honestly seems to have been developed in a similar way to Super Mario 3D World: by looking back at the early days of its franchise and considering what made it special to begin with. However, while the Mario franchise had its whole 2D legacy to observe, things were different for the Zelda franchise, which experimented heavily from its inception.

The earliest Zelda game is unique in that it’s the only title that truly embraces exploration without any reservations. Zelda 2 was mostly a side-scroller, and while A Link to the Past returned to its roots in principle gameplay, it was designed to guide players and give them a relatively more pleasant, specific, and mostly defined experience as opposed to asking them to discover things on their own and make the adventure a personal one. A Link to the Past is the game that became the core of the franchise moving forward, and, though A Link Between Worlds rethought those conventions before it, Breath of the Wild is the first game in the series that puts those conventions and the ones built on top of them aside entirely to ask an important question:

What really makes a Zelda game a Zelda game? 

The answer, fortunately, has resulted in a title that is unrestricted, enormous in scope, generous in content, respectful of player intelligence, welcoming of unique solutions, and that gives you the space to have an adventure on your own terms, all while staying true the spirit of the franchise. 

With that in mind, I’d say that anyone who wants to go on an adventure, explore, get lost, or be challenged will very likely enjoy Breath of the Wild. Zelda fans that are looking for the return of those things after all these years might be pleasantly surprised and find that this does so in a big way and that it IS their favorite game in the Zelda series. However, fans who are looking for the next big tale in this universe might find themselves dissatisfied with what’s been put on their plate. 

The standard, linear story that’s been seen in most Zelda games is gone, and what is there with regards to the overall narrative really takes a back seat. To be fair, the world is filled with smaller stories to be made and had through sidequests and general NPC interaction that may ease the worries of escapists wanting to experience life in Hyrule. Unfortunately, that likely won't leave those who are mostly interested in a meatier, more typical narrative from this world feeling like Breath of the Wild is near the top of their lists. 

At the end of the day, most people lie somewhere in the middle with regards to what they’re looking for in a Zelda experience. There are those who will consider this their favorite Zelda game and, I’m sure, a fair number of folks who won’t. With such a well realized world, incredible gameplay, and design that succeeds on all intended fronts, I think that most fans who play Breath of the Wild will hold it in exceptionally high regard, even if it isn’t their number one. 

Every title brings something special to the franchise or has its own spin on beloved characters and conventions, so no matter where Breath of the Wild ends up ranking with Zelda fans, I’m sure that they’ll look back fondly on it in much the same way as they did its predecessors.

Tips for playing


When playing the game, I noticed that there were a few things that really contributed to my enjoyment of the game or would have made things better. These are my recommendations for an ideal Breath of the Wild experience. I'm fairly confident in their importance, so please keep them in mind.


Go in as blind as you can

This is a game of exploration and discovery. If you want to get the full experience, find things out about the game yourself when playing and not from friends, articles, or videos before hand.

Fight Ganon only when you feel like you're done

Consider fighting Ganon a means of closure. He's there for you when you've decided that you've done everything you want to in the game and that you're ready to move on. I think that it's extremely important to keep that in mind and that playing with this mentality will, more likely than not, leave you more satisfied with your overall experience after completing this major, overarching goal. 

Experiment constantly

This is a game bursting with possibilities. The deeply integrated systems mean that the potential methods of engagement in combat and puzzle solving are hard to count. Don't be afraid to do strange or even reasonable things you'd like to see work. The game might end up surprising you.

Don't rush

Do. Not. Rush. I put in about 130 hours before deciding that I'd rush to the end and be a hero. I don't think that there is any case in which this was smart, and if I could do it again, I'd do play the way I was before those last 10 or so hours and really enjoy the experience.

There's a whole world out there waiting for you. It's not going anywhere, so don't feel compelled to end things abruptly or before you've really taken in everything you want to.

No guides

No guides. No tutorials. No walkthroughs. 


As I've said earlier, this is a game of discovery. So Discover.

Every puzzle you can't solve or thing you can't find is so much more rewarding when you finally succeed, so give yourself the pleasure of experiencing that personal satisfaction instead of sacrificing it for convenience or ease. Believe in yourself. It's worth it.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Way I See It: Splatoon's Voice Communication & Motion Controls

The Way I See It is a category of pieces that represent my personal opinions or reasoning on subjects I enjoy or have a lot to say about. Though at times the write-ups may be built on well-researched and verified information, as a general statement, I do not speak with absolute authority on any given matter covered. Thank you for your time.

With the relatively recent announcement of Splatoon 2, I've seen a fair bit of discussion on whether Nintendo will go back on their decision to leave out Voice chat from their online shooter.

Upon its release, the original Splatoon faced its fair share of controversy due to the decision to create a competitive Third-Person Shooter of this sort and take away what could be considered a staple of the genre, not to mention the focus on a gyroscopic control scheme that many had seen as an unnecessary gimmick. After purchasing the game and putting hours and hours of time into the single and multiplayer, I've come to the conclusion that things aren't as simple as they've been made out to be by some detractors.

These are my thoughts.


Voice Chat


Voice chat has been a well loved tool in the era of modern games. Whether to guide, goad, gloat, or greet, voice communication has been considered so valuable to general play experience that it's become an industry standard for any games with online functionality and even externally fostered by dedicated gaming hardware through party chat.

Knowing this, it's no surprise that folks weren't too happy about the idea of an online game -a shooter at that- not including chat as a feature.

For context, Nintendo had particular goals with the development of Splatoon, going through a selection process of features that they wanted to incorporate into a title in this genre. Voice chat didn't make the cut. One reason for this included the negativity that sometimes accompanied an open communication system between more capable and less capable players, leading to potential experiences that Nintendo avoids fostering with their products. Another was the imbalance that could come into play by including the feature.

Designing a game that rewards coordination in a way that can be bolstered through external communication may allow some players to enjoy greater awareness of their situation, but it also opens the door to an inequilibrium when their opponents don't take advantage of it. As a result, the game was intended to ensure that the only advantages one player may have over another are matters of skill: that all players operate with the same inputs and outputs, enjoying the game in the same way without any potential advantage or disadvantage from one another.

With these things in mind, Nintendo developed Splatoon to not only communicate its terms of engagement and functions without necessitating external means of communication, but to the ends of actually subverting the value of VC outright.

This ends up meaning that VC actually doesn't pose a great advantage to players even if they do communicate through external software. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Matches are only 3-5 minutes long barring overtime, making communication that isn't concise more detrimental to active play than helpful.
  • Matches are 4 vs 4 affairs, so complex strategies from either side aren't very likely, especially considering the breadth of corridors and traversal options.
  • Map design is deliberately considerate of VC not being available. They're built with cues to ensure all necessary info for decision making is available.
  • The start of every match shows off enemy and team weapons, allowing players to consider the most effective play-style with which to proceed.
  • The map shows off teammate positions and the ink coverage of both sides.
  • Sound design indicates the distance and weapon type of enemies and friendlies.

As you can see, the ingredients are there for any team of well-seasoned players to not only perform well under typical circumstances, but actually operate on the same level as those who might try and coordinate through direct communication. In fact, if put up against a team who relies explicitly on voice communication to coordinate, those who pay attention to the indicators the game provides will usually be at a distinct advantage.

Gyroscopic Aim


A lot of the time, when people think Nintendo they think motion controls. The age of the Wii was very profitable, but also opened the door to half-hearted implementations of motion controls derogatorily referred to as 'waggle'. There's still a stigma around these controls today among the more traditional core gaming market.

Unfortunately, the idea of motion being an inferior input method for games hasn't been good for the perception of Splatoon's focus on gyroscopic rotation to aim. Though this has been true throughout general conversation from those who haven't tried it, I think that there are some more than reasonable arguments for how Nintendo's execution of the motion controls in Splatoon is a great success.

For one, the use of gyroscopic aim is actually optional. If your preference is a typical analog stick configuration, you're free to turn off motion controls and enjoy a more traditional console experience. Some would argue that the regular aim doesn't feel all that good, and I wouldn't disagree with them. The reason for this is a lack of aim-assist, which is fairly standard in most shooters on console. This may seem annoying on the surface, but it means that, on a fundamental level, Splatoon is one of the few titles in the genre on console that can functionally be played on a serious competitive level in any configuration.

Gyro controls allow for small corrections in a way that brings it far closer to a mouse and keyboard level of accuracy without the need for a handicap to ensure that the aim experience isn't frustrating. It also contextualizes shooting in a novel new way that can be enjoyed by those who would otherwise be daunted by the complexity and stigma of quickly managing aim through conventional means. The appeal of this can be seen directly in the immense size and sustained engagement of the competitive and casual community of the game, which launched almost two years ago on a console with an extremely small install-base. This leaving aside the already staggeringly impressive 1/4th attach rate.

I can only hope that this was deliberate, as seeing this sort of implementation compromised in the sequel would undermine the more recent message from the Switch reveal trailer that the game is being pushed with a competitive experience in mind.

Conclusion


Complaints about Nintendo's decisions with regards to the aiming and communication are, on the surface, very appreciable ones for a traditional shooter experience. However, Splatoon is not a traditional shooter and is designed with the differences that make that true at its core. This not only helps ensure that such exclusions and changes aren't detrimental to the game, but actually bolster the overall play experience, contributing to the novel and well loved title we know today.

I can see where people come from when wanting their standard controls and features, but when said concerns are put towards Splatoon in general terms, I think that does a disservice to the careful and unconventional design that is the basis for the game in the first place. Take some time with Splatoon and drop your preconceptions of what needs to be in a shooter or how a shooter plays. Take in the depth of the game and really give those motion controls a chance.

Who knows? You might find that you enjoy it much more than you expected to.