new challenger

I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Two Things I Liked from E3

Hopefully this is my last movie link post for a while, but I wanted to share my two favorite trailers from E3. Note that these are not necessarily my favorite games from E3; simply, these are the trailers that make me wish they were trailers for a game I was making. Ready? Let's go!

I am convinced that the next game that makes me doubt my qualifications as a designer will come from Ubisoft (for those keeping score, the last game to do this was ICO). This is not to say that I've been brought low by any particular Ubisoft game until this point, although I am a fairly large Prince of Persia fan. I just get the sense that Ubi is allowing their studios to earnestly experiment with the established conventions of videogames. Their new trailer does not disappoint:



(it's the song that gets me most). Viewers will note that the PoP team is probably just as enamored by ICO as I am; they certainly seem to be continually inspired by it.

This second E3 trailer has convinced me that Microsoft has the best PR/marketing division on the planet. I did not particularly care for Gears of War. I knew I wouldn't care for Gears of War pretty much the first time I saw it. I play shooters - all of them, really, as part of the designer tax - but they're not really one of my preferred genres. Nevertheless, two trailers last year convinced me that I would somehow enjoy shooters more than I ever had before: the Halo 3 Starry Night trailer, and of course, the Gears of War Mad World trailer, probably the best video game trailer ever made.

Neither of these games set my world on fire. It's also safe to say that I would have purchased these games without either trailer existing. But I have to assume that there is more than one person, who like me, doesn't particularly care for shooters, but unlike me, doesn't feel compelled to buy every game that comes out, who probably did buy one or both of these games simply because they were seduced by excellent marketing.

The E3 trailer for Gears of War 2 has seduced me again:



An Alan Seeger poem?!? I'm still trying to get my head around this one. Maybe it started with a conversation somewhere about war poets; I can only speculate. But this trailer does exactly what the Mad World trailer did: imply that there is emotional depth and nuance where there is none. And damnit, that's exactly what a shooter trailer should do. Well done.

My next post is guaranteed not to be a, "stuff I like" post.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Japanimation lawls

I was on NeoGaf the other day - which is kind of like admitting you do drugs, now that I think about it - and I stumbled upon this thread about fixing fighting games. The thread itself is mostly useless, filled with approximately 3 different answers: there's nothing wrong with fighting games (wrong), make them like "real life" (wrong), make Tobal 3/Power Stone 3 (despite my deep yearning for both of these games, also wrong).

The thread got me thinking though, about what it would take to "fix" fighting games - and by fix I mean to return them to the glory days they used to enjoy, when fighting games were just as vibrant a genre as racing games or shooters. I broached the subject with Derek, and he had some insightful thoughts on the subject that I may compile and share at some point. But one of the most difficult challenges fighting games face in my estimation is that of relatability. Relatability, in short, is the ability for a player (or, more accurately, a potential buyer), to make an easy association between something with which he is familiar (and hopefully finds appealing), and this game (or, more accurately, this product) you're making (selling).

Most of the very successful genres in videogaming capitalize on being relatable. One of the more legendary game pitches is that of Gran Turismo, which is supposed to have begun with the simple desire to allow game players to drive a video game version of their own car. Most publishers are quite familiar with relatability; it's why in this post-GTA world of ours (70 million copies sold and counting), every videogame studio on earth has been tasked with working on some variant of the "open world" formula.

For a time, fighting games were also fairly relatable. I had not seen Master of the Flying Guillotine before playing Street Fighter, but I'm sure everyone my age has seen Enter the Dragon, and the concept of the martial arts tournament is a fairly ubiquitous one with people my age. It's hard to remember conversations I had regarding Mortal Kombat when it was new that didn't include at least one Big Trouble in Little China reference. But what about kids today? Do those same relatable elements retain their intensity for someone playing Soul Calibur 4?

I doubt it; at this point, most modern fighting games are parasitically sold on the strength of their own lineage. Street Fighter 4 is being sold on the nostalgia of Street Fighter 2, and every subsequent iteration of Soul Calibur has been sold on the residual memories of the console port of the original game (In the arcades, Soul Calibur, and its true predecessor Soul Edge/Blade, were two games that exactly no one cared about).

Note that I said most fighting game franchises do this. There are, as far as I can tell, two exceptions. The first exception is reality-based fighting games. Games like Fight Night and the upcoming UFC 2009: Undisputed (man that game looks interesting, we should all check it out) both capitalize on their sport counterparts to boost their relatability, the former grabbing a far larger share of the gaming marketplace than the popularity of boxing would suggest, mostly because it's a downright awesome game in its own right. The other exception is the anime-based fighting game. These games, like the astronomically successful Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series, sell almost exclusively because of their relatability; despite their encyclopedic cataloging of the source material, actually playing most of these games is kind of like (I'm sorry) slow torture.

I was mulling over all of this in my head when I saw this:



I have to be careful about this game. It looks absolutely stunning, for one, and beauty's always a seductive thing. I barely know what Naruto is, other than some cartoon about ninjas who fight each other, and I'm excited! This is not good for me, but it's great for a game maker. The trailer indicates that this game has elements that I've never seen before in a fighting game. But I'm not really sure which parts of the trailer show moments where someone would actually have to press a button to make things happen - my guess is that most of the stuff that I'm really excited about in this trailer is non-interactive. I honestly don't know if that's a good thing or not; fighting games have gone down a weird road from a gameplay standpoint, and I really don't know how to reverse that trend just yet. Also, I own the current game in the series, and I do not like it very much at all; it's likely that the philosophy of game making has not changed drastically between iterations, and I'm in for more of the same, just prettier. But I can dream, right? It's so pretty!

Here's Hitoshi Matsuyama, from the very well-respected studio, CyberConnect2, talking about the philosophy behind this newest Naruto game:



What interests me most about this interview is how flippantly Matsuyama regards the actual genre of the game, even downplaying the nature of it being a fighting game at all. I think this is effective because it doesn't rely on a potential buying audience that is already predisposed to liking a particular genre. What's obviously important to him is communicating how thorough CyberConnect2 is being to make this the most authentic Naruto game ever. It is the dedication to the relatable elements that is stressed the most - I think this is a pretty smart strategy for a game like this, and an important element to any game, fighting or otherwise, that's looking to assert relevancy in today's market. Personally, I'd love to stumble upon some non-licensed subject matter that was equally appropriate for a fighting game; Call of Duty gets away completely license-free while maintaining an amazing level of relatability, even when skipping their series decades into the future. Any suggestions? If they have anything to do with tournaments held by megalomaniacal/evil/mysterious corporations, please hold off on them for now.

Thanks for reading.