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A Few Parting Shots

by David Trammell - March 23, 2009, 12:30 pm PDT
Total comments: 26

I was going to use this blog as a last chance to reminisce, but the 10 Year Anniversary special already gave me a chance to do that. Instead, I'll take this opportunity to get a few things off my chest before I go. I mostly just want to say what I think about the current state of gaming. I'm not passing judgment on any console manufacturer; they each have a business to run and must do what they think is best for their bottom line. Good luck to them all. As far as I'm concerned, the more games being made, the greater chance I'll find something that I can enjoy. With that said, let's get started.

Wii Don't Play

I barely play the Wii lately. I'm not bitter (not too bitter anyway), but I'm just not that interested in the games that have been coming out. Predictably, my Wii favorites are Zelda, Metroid, and Mario Galaxy. Even though I prefer standard controls, these games were undeniably great and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Unfortunately, it seems like there are no other games on the Wii with their kind of scope and quality, and nothing on the way either.

Interestingly, a look at the GameCube library shows that we're really not much worse off now than we were then. The main shortcomings are due to the lack of quality second and third-party contributions (there are a few ports of great games such as Resident Evil 4 and Okami, but really nothing new aside from Sega’s offerings). You would think that Capcom, Konami, Ubisoft and others would be dying to cash in on the Wii market by making exceptional games that stand above the riff-raff. Who knows, maybe they're working on some now and we'll see them at E3 later this year. If not, then I think we need to be really careful what kind of games we buy. We don't want to encourage mediocrity just because there's nothing better available.

Nintendo, at least, will remain right on track as long as we assume they have a few secrets up their sleeve in addition to Sin and Punishment 2 and whatever Retro is working on. Punch Out!! could be great as well, but I must admit I'm worried that it's going to end up playing more like "My First Punch Out!!" (i.e. due to the motion controls being less tight than buttons, and the target audience perceived as being less skilled, the difficulty may be cut drastically). Let's hope I'm wrong about Punch Out!!, because that's one franchise that has been dying for a good sequel.

Don't Touch My DS!

I think I have even less interest in stylus control than motion control. It's alright when the stylus is on the screen where the action isn't (Metroid Prime Hunters), but I really don't like drawing paths for Link to follow or tapping on enemies to kill them (Ninja Gaiden). Thankfully developers haven't shied from making games that have little or no touch control in them, and I love having the second screen around despite what it was primarily designed for.

What I really like about the DS is that it continues to foster the development of great 2D games in the classic mold. However, I fear for the future. As the years go by and hardware can accomplish 3D more easily, people who enjoy 2D games could become increasingly marginalized as their numbers dwindle. Eventually the audience for 2D games may not be big enough. We'll have to continually introduce new gamers to classic 2D games if they're going to stick around. If I could freeze the portable market in its current state I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Downloadable Content

On the other hand, as downloadable games become more prevalent, maybe tiny niches can be effectively targeted after all. Mega Man 9 is a fantastic example. World of Goo is another. Then there are games like Portal and Braid on other platforms. Experts are predicting that all games will be downloadable eventually. I'm sure they're right, although I'm not happy about it. A twenty dollar game is one thing, but something seems wrong about paying sixty dollars and not having your game accessible via a relatively permanent and portable medium that you control (i.e. a cartridge or disk with no DRM).

The Competition

I own a lot of 360 and PS3 games. I buy them, bring them home, open them, play them for a few minutes, and then forget about them. I want HD graphics, epic stories, and deep gameplay, but the truth is that most developers just can't do it like Nintendo does (excluding the HD part, for the moment). I'm exaggerating a little, a little, of course; I probably do play half of the 360 and PS3 games I buy, but usually it seems like something isn't right. Nintendo's failure to get on board the HD train has left a big void in my gaming world.

Now What?

I assume Nintendo will go HD with the Wii 2, but there is still the problem of ever-increasing development costs to consider. There are a lot of ways to cut development costs. One of the best ways is to share technology. The Unreal Engine is a great example of this; now if only developers would hire artists that can think in terms other than excessive bump-mapping. Staying a generation behind the tech-curve is also a great way to control costs. All the tools you need will have already been developed for and by the other guys five years earlier, and will be available at a discount. If the next Wii is a step behind the tech curve again, then third parties will continue to line Nintendo's pockets if only because it is the least expensive platform to develop for (excepting handhelds, but Nintendo’s pockets will continue to be lined by that segment as well). Another great way to keep costs down is to make games shorter. I can't speak for everyone, but my time has become increasingly valuable to me as I've grown older, so I really don't mind when a game ends in a timely manner.

Speaking of ending in a timely manner, I’d better not overstay my welcome. It's been a swell seven years. Perhaps someday I'll come back again as others have, but I have my doubts. Of course, this isn't a complete good-bye. I'm sure I'll continue haunting Talkback threads here and there, starting with the one for this very blog. See you in the forums!

Talkback

KDR_11kMarch 23, 2009

Quote:

but something seems wrong about paying sixty dollars and not having your game accessible via a relatively permanent and portable medium that you control (i.e. a cartridge or disk with no DRM).

Sorry but DRM-free games are pretty much a thing of the past. Consoles are effectively DRM too.

Quote:

I own a lot of 360 and PS3 games.  I buy them, bring them home, open them, play them for a few minutes, and then forget about them.  I want HD graphics, epic stories, and deep gameplay, but the truth is that most developers just can't do it like Nintendo does (excluding the HD part, for the moment).  I'm exaggerating a little, a little, of course;  I probably do play half of the 360 and PS3 games I buy, but usually it seems like something isn't right.  Nintendo's failure to get on board the HD train has left a big void in my gaming world.

Dunno, as this generation goes on I've been noticing my patience for storylines and other filler like that dropping steadily. The stories you find in games would feel inadequate even in a B-movie and it seems they're taking more and more time for cutscenes and stuff like that. I guess the devs felt like they've neglected the player with all their cutscenery and thus invented the QTE...

Doesn't help that most HD games have almost no color and look very unfriendly.

Quote:

I assume Nintendo will go HD with the Wii 2, but there is still the problem of ever-increasing development costs to consider.

Well, HD by itself doesn't mean increased costs, the PC ports of N64 games usually support any resolution you throw at them and I doubt that cost extra...

Quote:

Another great way to keep costs down is to make games shorter.  I can't speak for everyone, but my time has become increasingly valuable to me as I've grown older, so I really don't mind when a game ends in a timely manner.

I think min/maxing works better. What I mean with that is minimizing the absolute content while maximizing the effective content, i.e. producing as many different experiences for the customer as you can while keeping the actual data low. Earth Defense Force 2 has something like 70 missions, 200 weapons, etc but it does all that with only a handful of maps (I think 10 or so) and weapon models with the gameplay-relevant data altered (different enemy spawns and weapon stats) to create effective variety with little effort. The game sold at 2000 JPY. The 360 sequel had similar shortcutting. They had ONE set of voice samples for ALL the redshirts but the game pitch shifted them so each soldier still had a slightly different voice. The EDF games have a staggering amount of effective content with only a very small amount of actual content. Now I don't expect every game to get such a massive ratio done but there's a lot of optimization potential. Also IMO games don't have to end fast to be useful to someone with little time, they just have to be meaningfully playable in small increments.

MorariMarch 23, 2009

Quote from: KDR_11k

Quote:

but something seems wrong about paying sixty dollars and not having your game accessible via a relatively permanent and portable medium that you control (i.e. a cartridge or disk with no DRM).

Sorry but DRM-free games are pretty much a thing of the past. Consoles are effectively DRM too.

Consoles are DRM, true. And I do sadly feel as if everything will probably move toward digital distribution. DRM-free games still have a chance however, as the PC port of Prince of Persia proved. Publishers, producers, and developers simply need to let go of their greed and realize that they are in fact the ones driving people toward piracy. Restrictive usage and inflated prices are not appealing features when looking at a simple piece of entertainment. I still play games like Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament 2004, and Diablo II. All of these had simple CD key checks which were later removed through an official update. This ensures that I can continue to play my games even longer, and even do so with my family across my home network without purchasing three more copies. That garners my respect and repeated business.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 23, 2009

How are consoles effectively DRM?  That makes no sense.  A console is a fixed hardware platform (unlike the PC), but that isn't not an onerous restriction.  If my original NES breaks today, I can buy a new one, or even a third party knock-off that does a decent job of imitating an NES.  That is nothing Half-Life 2 (on the PC) in which the install files are encrypted and unplayable until Valve's server unlocks them.

Quote:

Dunno, as this generation goes on I've been noticing my patience for storylines and other filler like that dropping steadily. The stories you find in games would feel inadequate even in a B-movie and it seems they're taking more and more time for cutscenes and stuff like that.

There are a few worthwhile story lines and story presentations in games.  The ones that are brief, the ones that use few words and the few that are well scripted and acted.  Eternal Darkness was pretty good for example, while scenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 excessively long and can't hold a candle to the real movies they're trying so hard to live up to.

Quote:

Well, HD by itself doesn't mean increased costs, the PC ports of N64 games usually support any resolution you throw at them and I doubt that cost ext.

This is true, and I would appreciate it if even the Wii were presented in HD without any other bump in the graphics.  I'll go on record saying that the next Wii better have a massively upgraded controller if the graphics aren't going to be bumped to at least 360/PS3 quality.

Consoles are big DRM boxes.  Their software is locked to that hardware, how is that not DRM?

ShyGuyMarch 23, 2009

This is semantics really. The fact that is hardware and not software makes it Analog Rights Managment.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterMarch 23, 2009

Sooooo...Are we happy or sad that Rize is parting?

StratosMarch 23, 2009

A pity that you have to move on. Good luck and Godspeed to your real life endeavors.

As to your parting thoughts, I'm sorry that you are not too keen on Wii fare outside of the Nintendo 'Big Three'. I am a bit surprised that between the 'February Three + Madworld' none are interesting to you. I guess that much of the selection isn't catering to your tastes.

I agree that there is less time when you are older in life to finish long games. I prefer long games but I like it when they are broken up into manageable chunks. Metroid games take a bit for me to really get into them, I'll play them for a few days to a week in short bursts not really getting very far, but then something clicks and I tear through most the game in a day or two. A friend of mine said it well when he stated that Metroid games require a minimum play time of 30-minutes per 'gaming session'. When you are cramped for time you lose your ability to have those multi-hour/day gaming sessions and I think you begin to desire more succinct and satisfying content for your gaming dollar.

I also like where DS is right now as well and like you hope that great 2D games are able to remain viable projects long into the future. Games like Muramasa, Black Sigil, Warioland and a number of others are signs that the style can carry on.

I think that in some cases we will see games with a 2D gameplay using 3D models  similar to New Super Mario Brothers. This then begs the question; which matters more, 2D graphics or 2D gameplay?

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 23, 2009

Quote from: Lindy

Consoles are big DRM boxes.  Their software is locked to that hardware, how is that not DRM?

The *really* bad DRM is the one where you have to go online to the companies server to validate your game which doesn't even have an online component (Half-Life 2 single player being the oldest notable example).  That sucks.  That's what I had in mind when I wrote that part of the blog.  If the company bites the dust, your game is now worthless.  You don't own it at all.  You own the right to play it as long as the company exists.

With an old nes game, you own the right to play it as long as you can find working hardware that is compatible.  That's a huge difference.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 24, 2009

Thanks for the well wishes, you to pap... ;)

Quote from: Stratos

As to your parting thoughts, I'm sorry that you are not too keen on Wii fare outside of the Nintendo 'Big Three'. I am a bit surprised that between the 'February Three + Madworld' none are interesting to you. I guess that much of the selection isn't catering to your tastes.

To be fair, I own Madworld but haven't tried it yet.  Naturally more and more acceptable games are going to come as time goes on.

Quote from: Stratos

I agree that there is less time when you are older in life to finish long games. I prefer long games but I like it when they are broken up into manageable chunks. Metroid games take a bit for me to really get into them, I'll play them for a few days to a week in short bursts not really getting very far, but then something clicks and I tear through most the game in a day or two. A friend of mine said it well when he stated that Metroid games require a minimum play time of 30-minutes per 'gaming session'. When you are cramped for time you lose your ability to have those multi-hour/day gaming sessions and I think you begin to desire more succinct and satisfying content for your gaming dollar.

For a game as awesome as Metroid Prime, I make the time.  Basically, I just forget about my social obligations and geek out for a few days.  But I'm not going to do that for mediocre games, or even "great" games that I don't personally find compelling (GTAIV).  The last two games I forced myself to play through where MGS4 and Dead Space.  I enjoyed Dead Space far more of the two (and far more than RE5 incidentally; the game doesn't hold a candle to 4 and I'm sick to death of third-world war-torn country settings since playing MGS4).

Quote from: Stratos

I think that in some cases we will see games with a 2D gameplay using 3D models  similar to New Super Mario Brothers. This then begs the question; which matters more, 2D graphics or 2D gameplay?

2D gameplay generally is what's really important, however there is always something a little floaty about 2D games with 3D graphics.  The increased detail of the animation forces the designers to add these realistic start-up phases to the animation.  Also, the 3D graphics make it harder to spot little details.  A great compromise is cell shaded 2D/3D as in Viewtiful Joe.  I'd like to see more like that.  What I'd really like to keep seeing is honest 2D artwork.  We will for now.

ShyGuyMarch 24, 2009

Rize is disgruntled. Lindy, make sure security escorts him out of the building.

ThePermMarch 24, 2009

i know how you feel rize!

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorMarch 25, 2009

I have to agree with Lindy - Consoles are, for the most part, a type of DRM.

If I buy a CD that prevents me from copying the CD and playing it on any music device of my choice, then we'd all agree that's DRM - So why is it we're okay with the idea of not being able to copy a Wii game over to our 360s to play?

Something that, realistically, prevents you from using your purchased media on any compatible devices made by any other
unapproved manufacturer is, effectively, what rights management is about.  "You can buy our stuff, but we get to determine how you use it."

Quote from: Rize

With an old nes game, you own the right to play it as long as you can find working hardware that is compatible.  That's a huge difference.

The Wii is compatible with NES software (and SNES, N64, Genesis, etc...)  Yet, I can't play my NES games on the system.  Now, of course, I could hack the system and do this, but (aside from the legalities regarding this), isn't that true with pretty much any method of DRM - you can hack your way around it?

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 25, 2009

Consoles have been the same since they were invented in terms of "DRM" and the word and concept didn't even exist in the 70's.  I'm just not willing to consider a game that only works on a single console and can't be (easily) copied a form of DRM.  If that's DRM, then it's acceptable DRM.  In any case, let's not argue semantics.

The thing, which I'm calling DRM is any kind of system whereby you need the permission of an external server to play the game.  That is the DRM that I do not want to see.  But of course, it will eventually be pervasive.

I don't care what it's called honestly, I just care about the functionality.

StratosMarch 25, 2009

I'm gonna agree with Rize on this one. Consoles are not any form of DRM. I can take my Wii games and play them on a friends system whenever I want. You can't do that with DRM games without some workaround. A game being console specific isn't some out of the way trick companies use to restrict use and restrict piracy (they wish). DRM is an extra step they take to limit product usage and abuse.

UncleBob, you can't compare Wii and 360 game copying in the same light as mp3s on your music player. They are programmed differently for different system architectures. That is why developers have to port their games to other systems.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 25, 2009

I can't play NES games on my microwave?  WTF

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorMarch 25, 2009

Isn't "Rights Management" all about managing what rights the end user has with his/her media?

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 25, 2009

The thing is, there's no active management going on with the consoles (except the downloadable stuff).  I think of DRM as an "active" process.  The term came into existence to describe such processes, not to describe how you can't copy a GameCube or Wii disk.

ShyGuyMarch 25, 2009

Is MOPAR a form of DRM? discuss.

UltimatePartyBearMarch 27, 2009

Quote from: Rize

The thing, which I'm calling DRM is any kind of system whereby you need the permission of an external server to play the game.  That is the DRM that I do not want to see.  But of course, it will eventually be pervasive.

Considering that the alternative seems to be hidden drivers and back doors being installed without your knowledge or consent, I'll take online activation, thank you.  At least it's completely voluntary.

KDR_11kMarch 28, 2009

Voluntary in the sense "you can choose not to do it and instead sit there with a 50$ game you can't play or return".

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 29, 2009

Or not by the game.  That's not exactly my idea of voluntary either.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorMarch 30, 2009

Quote from: Rize

Or not by the game.  That's not exactly my idea of voluntary either.

If companies are allowed to make people buy games, then they need to get on making people buy PTrace Memory and Hotel Dusk so we can get more of 'em.

UltimatePartyBearMarch 30, 2009

Quote from: KDR_11k

Voluntary in the sense "you can choose not to do it and instead sit there with a 50$ game you can't play or return".

Quote from: Rize

Or not by the game.  That's not exactly my idea of voluntary either.

Both of those would apply in any case.  I meant voluntary as in the opposite of involuntarily having a rootkit installed on your system with no option to remove it, even if you uninstall the game.  If the game merely phones home, you can opt out at any point with no lasting harm.  Of course, if it does both, you should go back to not buying the game.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusMarch 31, 2009

It's all symptoms of the same problem however.  We're used to buying software that functions independently of a network, but eventually that will all change.  Eventually, everything will be networked.

DeguelloJeff Shirley, Staff AlumnusMarch 31, 2009

Rize was always a good buddy of mine at the many E3s we attended.  I remember him looking at a brick wall and making comments about impossible it would be to actually make graphics that detailed.  We had a lot of fun laughing about the LithTech engine, which I only remember to be funny because I may have forgotten all about what exactly was humorous about it.

I totally agree with his misgivings about online activation and DLC stuff.  It's a pain in the ass to have to keep doing that, especially if you live in an area with only marginal broadband access like I do (just for the record, satellite internet sucks.  Go over their meager limit and BAMF, back to dialup, which makes working for a site such as this almost impossible.)  And worse yet is the odious practice of selling "DLC" that merely gives access to things already on the disk.  We need GameSharks just to access the material we've already purchased.  It's ridiculous.

Anyway, keep the faith, Rize.  Hope you come back soon.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusApril 11, 2009

haha, yeah.  Lithtech was like the gizmondo of game engines

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