Monday, June 28, 2010

An Addendum

After the previous post I had a discussion with a friend and felt the need to clarify certain issues. In regards to Nintendo's "casual" gaming versus the "hardcore" FPS scene: GrandPa doesn't get Kirby. GrandPa does get sighting down a barrel and shooting bad guys in the head.

I think that we, as gamers, should consider things from a more detached viewpoint whenever we talk about whether a game is intuitive. A non-gamer can quickly grasp the concept of "pick up gun, shoot target" without having to experiment too much or refer to a manual. The moment you say that experimentation is part of the experience, you have ceased to be either a casual or non-gamer. In all seriousness, go find the old manual for the NES version of Super Mario Bros. That whole thing reads like a drug fueled fever dream, doesn't it. Grab the mushroom to grow large, grab the flower to shoot fire. And you lose them if a turtle catches you. You can talk about imagination and creativity, but we were supposed to be talking about casual gamers. Does the casual gamer have the interest in gaming necessary to embrace the elaborate fantasy logic at work here?

Back in high school we used to joke that Mario games were full of hidden drug references. I still like that fan film that depicted Mario as a 'shroom addict living with his abused girlfriend, Peach. Meanwhile, Luigi had quit the 'shrooms, married Daisy, and gotten a job. But yeah, we gamers are used to game logic. For us, it's not a huge intuitive leap to accept that crashing your airplane into a giant, floating "P" will somehow make your guns bigger. We're not terribly weirded out by the idea of gaining a cape by grabbing a feather, then riding a dinosaur that eats mushrooms, fish, and turtles. And the cape lets you fly. We're cool with that, but then again we're gamers. This is the kind of weirdness that scares off the normals. This is why games like Kid Icarus are, in truth, hardcore games. This is the kind of game that tries to keep gaming an exclusive club. This doesn't bring in the non-gamer, it confuses them. Some of us, GameOverthinker I'm looking at you, have been playing games for over 20 years now. We get this stuff. But GrandPa only started playing games when we got him that Wii. And GrandPa doesn't understand why his magic sword shoots lasers while his health is full. So for his sake we're switching out the magic sword for a rifle. GrandPa gets that. Because GrandPa isn't a gamer.

Explaining My Hostility

First things first, maybe it's purely anecdotal personal experience but it feels like the defenders of casual gaming are a lot more hardcore about their gaming than I am. And, in theory, I'm one of those hardcore-Halo-playing-gunjocks (side note: fucking hate Halo). I honestly don't get in the requisite time to finish a Mario game these days. Maybe that's why I never got into Super Mario World; if I wanted a platformer, I could beat MegaMan X in about an hour. Super Mario World was a backtracking project. I had RPGs to soak up hours, I didn't need a platformer to do it. I think this issue somehow goes back to my argument that it's not casual versus hardcore, it's accessible versus impenetrable. Grandpa will never play Zelda. Ever. Chad from the basketball team will play Call of Duty. And probably stuff you in your locker, but that's besides the point. Somehow the game that the traditional non-gamer is playing is hardcore, while the game that the non-gamer will never play is casual. Go figure.

Meanwhile, I'm almost sorta nerd raging over the 2.5-D thing. Which is weird considering my undying love for Street Fighter. I continue to blame nostalgia. It's like those guys who look back at high school as the best years of their lives. Yeah, I was an unemployed virgin without a car. Good times. Everyone always likes to think about how things were better back when we were younger. My problem was that I had an unhealthy interest in the gaming industry when I was younger. Not just the gaming, but the actual industry. So back then I had some pretty good ideas of what I wanted to see in games to come, and looking back I have a clear vision of how we got here. Remember when we loved 3-D? Technology is always advancing, and back then the limitations of gaming were limitations of technology. Of course our games were 2-D, we didn't have the tech for 3-D. But someday, someday we would. And then that day finally came, and an army of nerds simultaneously creamed their pants when we saw Super Mario 64. It was Mario, in 3-D! At the time this was a clear and unambiguous step forward. To my mind, it still is. But for some reason we're retreating to the 2-D again. We're fleeing from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

It's all the difference between looking back and looking forward. I've explained my evolution before: Contra to Metal Slug to DOOM to Gears of War (and, as a Mac user, a few years experimenting with Marathon). I remember sitting at home playing Contra 4 on my SNES and thinking "Gee, wouldn't it be awesome if this was in 3-D." And then Gears of War came out. And then about half my generation decided the 2-D was better. If this was purely emotional, I could get it. If all the involved parties just said "Yeah, it's nostalgia because you think everything was better in 1988" I'd call you an idiot, but at least you'd be an honest idiot. But this is argued as the intrinsically superior game design and I don't get why. What were we waiting for all those years? Were the rest of you sitting at your gaming consoles thinking "I hope nothing ever changes for 25 years"? From my standpoint it looks like Gradius->Colony Wars->Ace Combat 6->Oh-Jesus-it's-scary-I-want-Gradius-back! Someone explain!

If I seem hostile it's because I'm opposed to nostalgia on most levels. It's like how everything was better in the 1950's. We were young and happy and there was never any crime in our neighborhoods. And black people knew their place. And you don't have to give gay people rights if you pretend they don't exist. Weren't the 1950's great? Here's an idea for a retro game, Star Fox. Yeah, it's great because it was on the Super Nintendo, then it was on the Nintendo 64. And it's great for retro-gaming because it's big selling point when it first came out was that it's in fucking 3-D! We are now what gaming back then was striving to be. Don't let a generation worth of effort go to waste.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blast Off To Adventure!

To continue my tradition of non sequitor first paragraphs, I discovered I have a copy of Garou: Mark of the Wolves. It's not a bad game, but I have no idea how I got it, where it came from, or why I have it. I never cared about the Fatal Fury/King of Fighters franchise before, so I don't know what happened. Anyway, I should get to the point that made me sit here in the first place.

I started playing the Orange Box edition of Half-Life 2 again, a game which has a sort of odd place in my collection. Half-Life 2 is an excellent game, but while games like Gears of War or Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 are in constant rotation, I haven't touched Half-Life 2 or it's episodes in about a year and half. I think I've figured out why. I think.

Like many in my generation, there was a time when the First Person Shooter was called the Corridor Shooter. Mostly because the first game we had played in the genre was Wolfenstein 3D. I had Wolfenstein 3D on my Mac (LC II, oldschool) and I had the special edition of DOOM on PSX. FPS's in general, though, were more of a PC genre and I was a console guy. So I generally had to wait for an FPS to come out on a console before I could play it. Enter GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. These two games shaped what I looked for in a good FPS, and I think it still colors my preferences. PC shooters had technological advantages over consoles, and the design philosophy tended towards big, expansive worlds to explore. Without the hardware for big, expansive worlds, many console shooters tended to be smaller. GoldenEye and Perfect Dark were effectively fully interactive 3D shooting galleries where the targets could shoot back. The levels were small and had a habit of being fairly linear. This is the shooter I grew up with. Today my favorite shooters are Gears of War and Modern Warfare. If you've played those last two then I think you can see the connection.

Meanwhile, the PC FPS had big open worlds filled with enemies, secrets, and places to explore. The console FPS only had enough room for the enemies. This was a major difference in design philosophy. It is this difference in design philosophy that makes me objectively acknowledge the quality of Half-Life 2 while still rarely playing it because each new level makes me think "oh Christ, this level...". One design philosophy isn't better than the other, it's just a matter of preference. I grew up playing Double Dragon and listening to The Doors, so I'm not as big a Mario fan as someone who played Super Mario Bros. and listened to whatever the Hell 8 year olds listened to back then. We all have different tastes.

In private I've thrown around the term "First Person Adventure with Shooting Elements" to describe games that lean more to the PC FPS philosophy. It's how I've described BioShock, and part of the reason Fallout 3 was so refreshing is that it was a straight up RPG which could only be confused for an FPS if you've never played it or seen it played. Half-Life 2 falls into this category. A lot of the problems we sometimes have with something are the preconceptions we go into it with. Cloverfield wasn't a monster movie, but a disaster movie in which the disaster was a giant monster. I can understand how that can kinda piss people off when they went to see a monster movie. It's this same problem that made me not appreciate Half-Life 2 as much as I should have. To me, Half-Life 2 isn't a First Person Shooter, it's a First Person Adventure. If I go into it with the same mindset I go into Gears of War or Modern Warfare, I'm going to find a noticeable lack of ammo and a crippling lack of monsters to use it on. But if I approach it less as a shooter and more as an adventure game, suddenly I'm not seeing a lack of enemies but instead a wide world where the enemies that do show up are a tangible and exciting danger.

I have different tastes in First Person Shooters. My favorites are the linear shooting gallery style games. Half-Life 2 is still an utterly fantastic game. I just have to think about it not as a shooter, but as an adventure game (that, and ignore that escort quest near the end of episode one). If I start to think of Half-Life 2 as a shooter, I might as well start complaining that Dragon Age had horrible flight mechanics and dog fighting. It's a personal issue, but by addressing it I can better appreciate the game for what it is rather than what I expected from it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I Secretly Hate All Of You