Official Elder Scrolls Books Coming March 2015

Official Bethesda Blog:

Not since Encyclopedia Britannica’s heyday have volumes of books looked this cool and demanded to be on your bookshelf. With The Elder Scrolls Online, two volumes covering “The Land” and “The Lore” feature never-before-seen art and extensive lore surrounding the game. Meanwhile, by popular demand, the Skyrim series offers the first opportunity to get all of the game’s in-game text across three volumes.

I always thought it would be great to read written versions of heavy-narrative games. Even with multiple “choose-your-own-adventure” storylines, the writers could choose a plot line to get the point across.

There are plenty of game universes I want to explore (Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, and World of Warcraft to name a few), but don’t have 60+ hours to spare on side-quests, menu navigation, and controller mechanics. Don’t even get me started on the time dolled out to obsessive character creation.

While these Elder Scrolls “lore” books may not be my ideal solution, they are certainly a better intro to the universes than spin-off, expanded, and/or non-canon storylines.

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The Verge Reviews the New Nintendo 3DS

Sam Byford, The Verge:

The 3DS is worth owning for the same reason the Wii U is: its software library is spearheaded by Nintendo, one of the most consistent and talented developers in the world. There’s no doubt that smartphones have taken a big chunk out of the DS’ user base, but all that proves is that a whole lot of people bought a DS because it was first to what we would now call smartphone-style games. In 2014, many smartphone games are fantastic; very few of the fantastic ones are traditional video games. And if you like traditional video games, you should absolutely own a 3DS.

I love my Wii U. Really looking forward to owning a New Nintendo 3DS.

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‘My opinion is I hate it.’

Dialog between Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Midnight in Paris:

GP: Would you read it?

EH: Your novel?

GP: Yeah, it’s about 400 pages long, and I’m just looking for an opinion.

EH: My opinion is I hate it.

GP: Well you haven’t even read it yet.

EH: If it’s bad, I’ll hate it because I hate bad writing, and if it’s good, I’ll be envious and hate all the more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.

If you’re not sold on this exchange, I’ll do you one better. A beautiful film. Made for nostalgists like myself.

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‘An irredeemably dark version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’

T.C. Sottek writing for The Verge:

Still, it’s important for reasonable people to speak up, if only to set the terms of reality — something Gamergate’s most hardcore supporters don’t even seem to grasp. Gamergate’s echo chamber is an endless rabbit hole of paranoia, like an irredeemably dark version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The entire affair is built on trolling, counter-trolling, anger, and ignorance; Gamergate’s forums exhibit deranged skepticism in almost everything, including vicious doubts about every woman who speaks up against harassment and threats. Entire threads have been devoted to accusing Sarkeesian and other recipients of hatred and violence of running false-flag campaigns to elevate their own status. In their world, everyone who’s not on their side is a “shill” who’s lying for attention.

Not long ago, I was celebrating the social brilliance of Twitch Plays Pokémon; a weeks-long, virtual slog with an estimated 658,000 participants that, looking back, actually had tremendous potential for mass frustration, intimidation, and organized harassment. Instead, the community-at-large generated spontaneous and fascinating politics, factions, deities, usurpers, and home-brewed mythology that eventually panned in favor of progress and the completion of the game.

Needless to say, I am completely floored by the idiocy and insanity of Gamergate.

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‘How Reviews Impact Those Who Create’

Speaking of reviews, here’s a interesting follow-up from the side of developers.

Brian P. Shea, IGN:

Ultimately, reviews should never be viewed as the final word on a game. Instead, they’re guidelines for readers to apply to their own personal taste. If a review gives a game a 7.0 and cites poor multiplayer a one of the game’s issues, but you don’t intend on playing the multiplayer, you can synthesize that review and conclude that you might be very likely to enjoy the game more than the critic – and that’s OK.

A worthwhile read but I maintain that a 7.0 persists as a flag. It is likely going to deter consumers from a $60 gamble “to apply their own personal taste.”

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A $60 Gamble

Host of the DLC podcast Jeff Cannata to co-host Christian Spicer regarding the Driveclub launch:

I think you brought up a really interesting point in saying, “we should be able to return these games.” The idea that this industry as a whole has figured out a way to convince the public that they can’t return broken products, that you buy it and you’re screwed, that there’s no lemon law for software, is a little bit ridiculous.

After hearing this, I was immediately reminded of why I continue to base my video game purchases on reviews. If a return policy and/or less expensive price-tag was put in place, would I be willing to take more chances? I’m not entirely sure. But as it stands, I am not willing to take, as DLC guest Brian Brushwood put it, “a $60 gamble.”

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‘Why the Two-Hour Game is the Future’

A great article by Colin Campbell at IGN exploring the gaming community’s need and desire for shorter yet emotionally fulfilling games such as Journey, Limbo, and Dear Esther:

[...] the two-hour narrative game has arrived as something with a definite beginning, middle, and end. It’s a story that is designed to be played through entirely in one sitting. It does not demand the kind of time-investment of a game like Mass Effect 3, nor does it attempt to persuade you to join a sub-culture of online enthusiasts like Call of Duty. Nor is it crafted to ensnare you with addictive tricks, like Angry Birds. It is downloadable and priced at the cost of a movie ticket and a bag of popcorn.

The article includes interviews with game developers Jenova Chen (Journey), Dan Pinchbeck (Dear Esther), Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy), and Dino Patti (Limbo).

Dan Pinchbeck:

[...] we’ve got this slightly weird situation where it’s all or nothing, right? It either has to be something that basically takes you the amount of time it takes you to have a bowel movement or it’s got to last you for six months. There’s nothing in the middle and that just seems weird and crazy.

The article also explores developer’s desires to work on smaller games due to the developer’s ability to experience creativity more freely rather than be pressured by massive, corporate controlled budgets and large, separated development teams.

Jenova Chen:

If you make something artistic you need to reach a very strong coherence in the development team so the game has a singular voice. A very clear vision, so that the audience who experience the game can clearly get that voice or get the vision. If you have hundreds of people working on something there’s no way of working on the game towards the same direction. When you have three hundred people working on something the game just felt like a huge crowd of people singing but they’re not well orchestrated. It sounds loud, it sounds impressive, but you don’t know what they are singing. You don’t know what the game is about.

A worthwhile read that I can get behind!

Recently, I have found that I have very little time to invest in gaming. When I do find that time, I do not want to attempt jumping into a massive story, knowing I’ll likely forget what was going on, forget how the mechanics work the next time I play it, or never finish the game, nor do I want waste my time on grinding in an MMO or flinging birds into bricks.

—–

[This was originally posted on 4/18/12 on my previous thestarrlist.tumblr.com blog; reblogged in regard to Ben Kuchera's piece To hell with longer games, tell me how SHORT your game is.]

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‘Exercising With Nothing But An Xbox’

Stephie Grob Plante, writing for xoJane:

The free songs — including “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic and “#thatPower” by will.i.am ft. Justin Bieber — are not necessarily my jam(s), but it’s hard to complain about free. As I scroll through the song purchase options, I grumble at the glut of current(ish) tracks and dearth of classics. Swipe, swipe, swipe — WAIT: “Creep” by TLC for $1.99?! I hadn’t planned on buying anything, but…sold.

With one solid tune and a wealth of moves like “Niece,” “Rejectin,” and “Pros and Cons,” my childhood aspiration of becoming an In Living Color Fly Girl — a very real, very unattainable dream — feels within reach, at least from the confines of my 12×16 living room.

Hilarious read, surprising results.

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Three Monkeys

Jordan Erica Webber, The Guardian:

In that demo, a sprite called Yoska teaches the player how to use their hearing to hunt a bird and shoot it down with a bow and arrow and fight bandits and goblins with a sword. It sounds like something you’d expect to do in a modern big-budget RPG, which Willey says is intentional: “What we’re really aiming for is an audio game that has a kind of AAA [those with the highest development budgets and levels of promotion] feel about it.”

That should appeal to vision-impaired players such as Harlow, whose experience of “real video games” before he lost his sight has led him to consider many audio games “kind of bad, and just not entertaining”. But Willey and Satizabal both hope sighted players will enjoy the game too, so that they can have a shared experience with those who are vision-impaired.

Sounds extremely interesting and like a great focus for game development. Start any piece with the words Super Mario 64 and you’ll have my attention.

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Captain Toad is Genius

In June 2014, during Nintendo’s E3 Digital Event, a short, minute long trailer for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was tucked between two larger developer interviews for Yoshi’s Woolly World and the much talked about Legend of Zelda for Wii U. Not only was the trailer a bit hidden, it was never verbally acknowledged throughout the course of the 45-minute event. It was a curious trailer, but was the one that stuck with me long after E3. A splinter in my mind.

For those unfamiliar, the origin of Captain Toad is rooted in bonus stages strewn throughout the Super Mario 3D World world map. As players collect stars and progress through the game, Captain Toad stages are unlocked. More from the Super Mario 3D World Wikipedia entry:

Additional Green Stars can be earned in Captain Toad levels, where players control the slow Captain Toad as he navigates puzzle-like stages using the GamePad’s functionality, and Mystery Houses, where players must clear a series of challenges with short time limits.

Not only is Captain Toad slow, he does not have the ability to jump; a staple in the Mushroom Kingdom. The player is forced to keep their wits about them, outsmarting the level design by means of the camera, shifting their perspective over the tiny cube-shaped levels. This imposition of limits is integral to great game design. It makes for gameplay that almost feels foreign amongst the landscape of current shooters and platformers. Strategy becomes the emphasis.

In late August, in an interview with EDGE Magazine, Shigeru Miyamoto made comments about the state of “core” vs. “casual”. The interpretation from Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry.biz hit the nail on the head:

At the same time, though, Nintendo itself has a conception of “casual” and “core” that probably isn’t shared by the majority of sites reporting Miyamoto’s comments. Miyamoto talks not about themes but about enjoyment of challenge as the distinction between the two groups. To him, a supposedly “adult” game full of blood and ripe language could be utterly casual if it spoon-feeds players with dull, linear gameplay. Meanwhile, a brightly coloured Mushroom Kingdom epic could qualify as “core” if it challenges players in the right way. Consequently, Nintendo’s family-friendly IP and the broad appeal of its themes is entirely compatible with a focus on “core games”, to Miyamoto’s mind. What he’s talking about changing is something at the root of design, not the thematic wallpaper of the company’s games; he wants to challenge people, not to force Nintendo’s artists to remove all the primary colours from their Photoshop palettes.

I think this is exactly what we can expect from Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

On top of great level design, the aesthetic design preserves the same gorgeous caliber we’ve seen in Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World. The levels are lush and appear to be brimming with tiny details, animations, humor, and secrets. I will echo my Hail Mario piece and say that “Nintendo is unabashedly gunning for Disney-level aesthetics; a tactic to win over most demographics.”

To add, filling out a Toad with unique characteristics rather than the ambiguous, multi-colored placeholders they have traditionally been known as (see New Super Mario Bros. Wii) brings more definition to the Mushroom Kingdom. And with this new, unique character comes new, unique gameplay. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker shows that Nintendo is looking to explore the depths of the Mushroom Kingdom, and proves that there is more there than just simple platformers. We haven’t seen much of dynamic since the Luigi’s Mansion series; a stand-alone IP centered on a familiar character with unique gameplay and design.

When playing Super Mario 3D World, I race for every  Captain Toad level the instant they are unlocked. They are clever, challenging departures from the platforming world Mario inhabits. Something tells me I am not the only one of the few million Super Mario 3D World players to do so. For those unfamiliar with Captain Toad, they will be pleasantly surprised with the over 70 gorgeous, challenging, classic Nintendo designed levels to explore. For those few million that have already had a taste of Captain Toad, you can bet they are itching for more of the playful puzzle mini-game. And assuredly, with Nintendo’s move to DLC (Mario Kart 8) , there will be plenty more to come.

 

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