Tuesday, March 18

Crisis Core and Portability

Earlier today I was reading the review of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII in the newest issue of Game Informer (April). The first thing I noticed, of course, was the review scores of 7.25 and 7.0. I voiced this to my friend, Kay, sitting next to me. He was also surprised by the scores. His response was something like, "What the F***! These guys are idiots!" Kay is the biggest Final Fantasy fan I know. He owns the limited edition of every Final Fantasy game ever made, not to mention every Squaresoft and Square Enix game ever made. For the record, he has never played Crisis Core (though he owns it); Kay is a South Korean transfer student at my college; his copy of Crisis Core is across the ocean. I'm a big fan of Game Informer; so I convinced him to hear out their review, you know, the actual words. He conceded.

In the review, Joe states:
Crisis Core is intriguing from a story perspective, but the mechanics of playing the game are far less engaging. You tromp through various maps, encounter enemies at every node, and slash through them using one-button combos. Magic and other special attacks are accessed by cycling through materia, but you'll usually do just fine with only your sword. There are dozens of side-missions to undertake, but they're all essentially the same task - wander a map, kill a specific monster - over and over. You don't even get experience from this grinding; all of the game's progression, from character level to materia strength, is done through random slot wheels. This arbitrary system also governs when you execute a limit break or a summon, though the specific move you perform is also random. This essentially robs the combat of any strategy, but it keeps you barreling headfirst through the action. The sooner you cut down the bad guys, the sooner you get to the next cool plot point.

Kay remained unimpressed. I began to explain to him the reviewer's point, from a western perspective. Joe thought very highly of the story in Crisis Core, but lamented the combat system and actual gameplay in general. I explained to Kay that, perhaps, the eastern opinion places priority of story in games. This was after Kay had stated that Famitsu had given Crisis Core a 10. The western perspective, however, prioritizes gameplay over story; if the gameplay, combat, controls, camera, you name it, is poor, then the story can only do so much to compensate. Kay patiently waited for me to finish before asking me a very simple question, "Where did these guys play Crisis Core? (meaning the reviewers)" I answered that they probably played in a comfortable chair in their offices.He continued, "You see? Thats the point! They don't know what they're talking about. The console is P.S.P. PlayStation Portable. It is meant to be played on the bus or the train. The combat is simple; it's perfect. You don't want combat that takes too much focus; you won't be able to play on a bus that is shaking and their are people everywhere and you need to get off on the right stop. For complex buttons and analog sticks there is PS3, which I can play on my TV at home and can focus. These guys are idiots."

I agree with Kay. While the possibility remains that eastern and western gaming cultures place different priorities on the quality of a game, this does not negate the fact that portable consoles are designed to be played portably, away from home, and that well-designed portable games are also designed for this purpose. At one point during his speech, Kay said, "I can be out in real life and still be in the world of Final Fantasy." I asked him why, instead of a game, Square didn't just make a movie of Crisis Core instead of a game, by just combining all of the cut-scenes and cutting out all of the gameply. "Oh that," Kay replied, "Japanese just like to move things. They want to move stuff around [meaning the character]. I agree with you there."

For a completely opposite opinion of Crisis Core, read Ryan Clements's review at IGN.

Sunday, March 9

National Super Smash Bros. Brawl Launch Day

YAY! Brawl is finally here! It has been a long three years. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was officially announced at E3 2005, before it had even started development. The first trailer came a year later at E3. But most of the time has been spent with character speculation, dojo updates, and pre-release research (youtube videos). My friends and I got the game last night at midnight and played until four, taking a six hour break to sleep before starting up again. The game is insane. Its chaotic, can be confusing, and anything but melee. Right now, we're just experimenting with all of the characters and seeing who we like and who we don't. You really can't say until you've played them a couple of times each. Today is a monumentous occasion. This day, March 9, each year, will be devoted to Brawl and Brawl only. Forever and ever, knee.

Friday, March 7

Better is this Way

Jon Blow, creator of Braid, gave a lecture in January at the Game Focus Germany conference. The lecture is titled Programming is Easy; Production is Harder; Design is Hardest.
Download the lecture. I highly recommend you listen to the whole thing along with the slides.

Jon Blow, From around 40:00 mark:
I need to justify this huge time expense, that I'm spending on games in terms of my life. Is this really what I want to be doing? What makes it worth making games? As I've gotten older I've gotten much pickier about whats a good game, and what's a game worth me doing. And so I start asking myself certain questions. And these questions are the basis of design. Design is about, you know, from nothing, you have all the possibility in the world. And, you ask yourself, what game should I make? From nothing. And its like well, it could be anything. So you have to narrow it down somehow. For me, those questions are like how is this design going to effect the world versus other things that I could do. Whats it for? Right? A game does something. A design does something, right? Of these things that can do things, what is worth creating and spending all this time on and what is not? Right? What is dark energy pumping out into the world versus something valuable for people and putting it out in the world. Whats the best use of my players' time? How am I improving my players' quality of life through this game, or am I improving their quality of life? Am I doing anything? What am I doing in the first place? [. . .] When your viewing game development, especially independent development, from a purpose mindset, what is my purpose for being an independent developer? Design becomes very hard, it becomes the hardest thing. Because its the foundation now. Its the entire reason for slogging through that bug list.

Saturday, March 1

Mirror's Edge Galore

I previewed DICE's Mirror's Edge a while back. Since then, a deluge of previews and interviews have surfaced for the game. All of them originating from this year's GDC. There was actually little new information to be had. However, because the game is so amazing, here is a list of all the previews and interviews I've found on Mirror's Edge so far. Each site offers a variation on the information. 1up's intervie is by far the best source for information. While IGN likely has the best straight-up preview (surprisingly).

To sum up, the game looks as amazing as ever. Character control is achieved primarily through two buttons: an up button, and a down button. The up button jumps, climbs ladders, etc. The down button slides, to dodge bullets or slide under bars. The controls, like the rest of the game, are clearly being designed for streamlined play. Faith, the player character, can carry guns by swipiong them from enemy forces. Included guns are pistols, shotguns, and automatic rifles. While obviously increasing Faith's fighting capabilities, weapons will weigh her down, and some weapons, like two-handed rifles, will limit Faith's parkour abilities. Weapons cannot be reloaded; When the ammo's gun, toss the gun. Fortunately, Faith is fairly melee-capable. She can trip enemies, drop-kick them, disarm them, and all at high speed. Faith is constantly being pursued by bullets, but good for us, the entire game is being designed around momentum. In an open-world environment, or at the least, expansive, players need to know where to travel, and quickly. To support this play system, environmental objects will be highlighted red to guide players across the city. So a ladder or a pipe may have a red glow to let players know the best way to travel.

See the list below for a series of more expansive information.

On-Mirrors-Edge Interview
-to be posted soon.