Myth! Myth! Yeth?

When I read the first couple of paragraphs of the “Mythical 40-hour gamer” article, my initial response was “LOLZ GO PLAY BEJEWELED, N00B!!!11!!”. Then I read the rest of the article, and mulled over it more, and realized that, while I’ve really enjoyed spending an entire year playing Disgaea off and on, I can understand not quite wanting to spend that long on a single game. I also realized that even I currently have numerous games that I haven’t finished, something that would’ve been unthinkable 10 years ago when I was a college student with tons of free time that I was supposed to be spending studying.

I think one of the best solutions, as he mentions in the article, is episodic gameplay. That way people with a time crunch can spend 10 hours playing an episode and have a feeling of accomplishment, while others can spend 80 hours churning through the entire series for a greater sense of accomplishment. Now that I’ve whipped through HL2:Ep1 I’m a lot more interesting in buying and playing HL2:Ep2 than I am in going back and slogging through any of the other games I already own but have lost interest in.

Another good solution would be for companies to switch from putting all of their eggs into one 80-hour basket, to making several 20-hour games instead. This would have the added benefit of encouraging experimentation and innovation; if you’re throwing all of your money into one giant game, then it better have androgynous guys with swords killing monsters, because that’s what sells. But if you’re splitting that money up into a bunch of smaller games, then you can afford for one of them to be about rolling a giant ball around picking up people and cars and buildings, as long as all the rest of the smaller games are about androgynous guys with swords killing monsters. This is already the modus operandi of many indie game companies, and hopefully it will spread upward to the big companies as well.

Either that, or there should be people who are paid to play videogames all the way through, and then interpret them for the people who don’t have the time to play them. Maybe they could give prepared speeches based on the game to large audiences every Sunday morning, or something.

“And lo, on the fourth day, Cloud did dress as a woman so as to infiltrate the brothel, and was cast down into the sewer for his trespasses.”

Then there would be huge battles between the people who listened to the guys who played Final Fantasy, and the people who listened to the guys who played Dragon Quest, and the few people who shouted “But both series are made by Square Enix!” would get drowned out, and the streets would flow with the blood of the unbelievers.

Whoa, sorry, I kind of wandered off topic at the end there…

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GWiinius

As you probably already know, yesterday morning Nintendo held a press conference where they revealed the price and release date of the Wii ($250 and November 19th). The price and release date were the big news, but a few news outlets also mentioned something called “channels” that would let users do things like browse the web. Looking for more information about the channels, I found the a video of the press conference, and subsequently discovered that the price point and the release date paled in comparison to the rest of the conference.

From the outset of the Wii, Nintendo has been saying over and over again that it’s about escaping the console wars into “bluer waters”, and finding new customers in people who have never even considered playing video games before. Up until this press conference, however, they’ve been presenting the Wii to “hardcore gamers” (at events like E3 and the Tokyo Game Show), so the focus has been on what sorts of awesome new gameplay innovations the controller presents, and what well-loved franchises will look like on the system. Yesterday, however, was a “mainstream press” event, so while Nintendo did present a montage of their launch titles, they spent most of the time focussing on their fiendish plan for converting “non-gamers”, and I have to say that it’s even smarter than I imagined it would be.

To the hardcore gamer, the Wii is another console, albeit one with a very unusual controller. To the hardcore gamer’s grandmother, however, the Wii is a simple little $250 device that plugs into the TV and instantaneously delivers news and weather reports without commercials. And it can also be used to easily view the photos she took that afternoon at the rose garden on the TV screen. And since her grandson swung by and downloaded that web browser for it, she can finally check out that “internet” thing that all the girls in the sewing circle have been talking about, without having to futz with a keyboard or a mouse, or sit at a desk and feel like she’s working. And since it came with that free sports thing, she might as well get her daily exercise from playing some low-impact virtual golf or tennis. The appeal is designed to start out very small and very simple, presenting options with zero interactivity (weather and news reports) and slowly snowballing through more and more activity (photo viewing, web browsing, and creating “Mii”s), into full-blown videogames (Wii Sports). Maybe she’ll stop at Wii Sports, and decide that that’s just enough “game” for her, or maybe she’ll continue to snowball, gaining more and more confidence in videogaming as her Wii activities become more and more interactive, and go on to collect every single star in Mario Galaxy. Probably somewhere in between.

Of course, other consoles have included non-game features like CD and DVD playback for years, but those have been afterthoughts — nobody bought an XBox 360 just to play DVDs — whereas it’s a perfectly reasonable presumption that some people will buy the Wii primarily as a way to browse the web on their TV and slowly adapt to playing games on it as well.

More than the controller, more than the fact that the system’s online features will be free, and hundreds of NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, and TG-16 games will be available to download cheaply, more than the super-low $250 price tag (especially compared to the XBox 360 and the PS3), the thing that impresses me the most about the Wii is the brilliant methodology of seducing non-gamers with increasing levels of interactivity.

Now I know what to get my mom for Christmas.

And speaking of Derek Yu…

…I have to say that I’m fiendishly pleased that he’s decided to make his new game, Aquaria, shareware rather than freeware. As someone who hopes to one day make a living off of my own independently developed games, there is no greater bane to my unholy existence than really good, completely free games like Within a Deep Forest, Cave Story, and Yu’s Eternal Daughter.

Yes, I know that it makes me some sort of horrible capitalo-fascist for wanting to someday support my family by making videogames rather than living in poverty while I benevolently donate years of work to the good of society, wanting nothing in return, but that’s just the way it is.

Make up your own damned IP!

madame_pastramiThere’s something that’s been bugging me for a long time, but it wasn’t until Derek Yu posted about a shining example on TIGSource that my thoughts on the matter really coalesced. The article talks about a group who spent 3 years making a Halo mod for Command and Conquer, and had to recently stop working on it because Microsoft sent them a cease and desist letter. Contrary to all the bleeding-heart compassion for “the poor mod team, crushed under Microsoft’s tyranical corporate bootheel” that I’m seeing on most other video game blogs, Yu says:

I’ll never understand why people try to make mods like this. Three years spent working on a game (for free, no less!), only to have the project canned with a single email. It’s like taking your neighbors’ kid and then raising it as your own for three years, only to have them be like, “WTF, that’s MY kid!” and then take them back. And there’s nothing you can do because it really isn’t your kid, even though you invested three years’ of time into it.

You should have had your own kid! Or “licensed” one legally through an adoption center. You know what I mean?

…which I agree with absolutely. Why have so many people spent so many hours, days, YEARS on projects based on someone else’s IP, especially when it would take them a whole 30 seconds to come up with their own damned IPs? Seriously, people, it’s not that hard! Look at the concepts behind some of the most famous video game IPs: “plumber”, “hedgehog”, “space marine”, “kid in a pointy green hat”. Surely you can also pull one random concept out of your ass and create an entirely new IP in less time than it takes to read this sentence. If you wanna have a REALLY catchy IP, you can combine TWO random words! “Gypsy” + “Sandwich”! There, I’ve just invented the IP “Madame Pastrami: The Gypsy Sandwich”, who I can now proceed to put in whatever kind of game I want to make. How hard was that??

Obviously, the answer to my question is going to be “fanboyism”; people ♥ Halo so much that they want to put Master Chief in an RTS, or ♥ Link so much that they want to put him in original adventures on their old graphing calculator. Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery, but there’s a fine line between “imitation” and “trademark infringement”. It’s obvious to anyone who’s played it that Cave Story was heavily influenced by Metroid, and Guardian of Paradise was heavily influenced by Zelda, but the fact that they used their own damned IPs means that:

#1: They won’t get sued.
#2: They get additional praise for creativity.
but
#3: Their “roots” are still obvious, so they have the benefit of attracting Metroid/Zelda fans without any of the drawbacks of infringement.

If you’re considering working on a fangame, please spend the 30 seconds coming up with your own IP. Everyone will still be able to see where you’re coming from, but you won’t have the “C&D Letter of Damacles” hovering overhead to swoop down and end your project at some nebulous point. (Actually the point isn’t that nebulous; the C&D letter will come once your game becomes complete and popular enough to attract the attention of the IP holder. You know, right when it’s finally nearing the end of beta. So if you delight in watching your babies get hit by trucks the moment they learn to walk, then by all means, invite that wrath.)

If you’re already elbow-deep in a fangame, then please consider switching out the IP now before someone takes notice and makes an example of you. Yes, that means making your own art to replace all those sprite rips, but down the road when your game is receiving accolades for being “an awesome original platformer in the spirit of Super Mario World” rather than a stern letter from Nintendo’s lawyers, you’ll be glad you made the effort.