Pretentious, opinionated language

Games, technology, music, silliness. Oh and ninjas. Lots of ninjas.

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Location: Oslo, Norway

I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Monday, December 25, 2006

INEXCUSABLE #2: Things i hate about Metal Gear Solid

I 10x hate the controls Kojima and the boys concocted for the MGS games. That's hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate them.

I've played through the Metal Gears on the NES, the MSX, the Playstation, even the Metal Gear Acid ones on the PSP, and as i'm going through MGS3 now there are just some choices that i have no idea why they haven't backed out on. I know they released MGS3 Subsistence now to mend certain things like the draconian camera, but as far as i know the control setup is, was, will always be the wildest bout of controller masturbation any developer ever put a joypad through. Kojima's credo it seems is If It's There Make A Jonesey Of It (i just made that expression up. It means to use it a lot).

The PS2 dual shock joypad has the following buttons:
2 Left buttons
2 Right buttons
8 directional joypad
4 analog face buttons
two analog sticks that depress for another 2 buttons
a select button
a start button

That gives the joypad 20 buttons (TWENTY) which may be utilized by developers.

In every single gameplay mode of MGS, every single button is being put to use. Sometimes the uses differ depending on the situation you're in, how long they're held down, how HARD they're pressed, how they're pressed in combination with others.

With all this in mind, recall that Solid Snake or any other snake progeny moves like a broken matchbox car compared to the more recent Sam Fisher of the Splinter Cell games. Splinter cell has context sensitive buttons. Metal Gear has a button for every context. It's been a while since i played Falcon 4, but if i'm not completely mistaken, it took less than 20 buttons to fly an F-16 fighter/bomber, and that's in real life.

What the fuck is up with a world where a game i've played for almost a decade still baffles me with its technicalities? This is a game where moving towards an enemy slowly and moving towards an enemy stealthily are two separate actions, and as such is mapped to two entirely separate input methods. It was confusing enough in MGS2, but at least that planted you in a somewhat rigid environment. MGS3 places you in an open, "free" area with myriads of tactical possibilities, and as awesome as that is, the moments where the game just flat out stumbles over its torturous button layout are so plentiful it makes me seriously question mr Kojima's prowess as a game designer. As a storyteller and systems engineer i have no doubt in my mind he's a class act through and through, but what makes Miyamoto such a god damn champ is that he can convey this level of perceived complexity through an action that flows through your fingers like a word off your tongue.

Some games revel in complexity. System Shock 2 had an interface that almost felt designed as a moodpiece rather than an actual interface (when else would you want details on what exactly a cup was). Deus Ex thrived on its same level of perceived complexity, where a point and click inventory system would allow users to handle multiple kinds of ammo and other categories of objects. Deus Ex 2 took more flak from die hard players than any other fora, and one of the major reason was a "dumbing down".

Making Solid Snake control like a game character and not some arcane device uncovered in an alien mineshaft wouldn't, in this gamer's eye, be dumbing the game down. If MGS4 controls anything like MGS3, salty tears will fall, because this idiocy is messing up a perfectly good game of storydriven stealth action.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Wii Zelda opinions

So i managed to get a copy of Zelda Twilight Princess before christmas, which is frankly a bit insane. Out goes Wii Sports, cue lots of sleep deprivation and heated debates over controls.

I'll TRY to keep it short. There are enough reviews out there to give you the nitty on everything else you might be interested in.
  • It's far, far better than Wind Waker
  • I thought Wind Waker was a thermonuclear warhead of joy
  • It is an incredibly attractive GameCube game, though not as timeless as Wind Waker; I still prefer the cel shaded art style to this.
  • It feels like a real sequel to Ocarina of time.
  • It is much, much better than Ocarina of time.
  • The controls start out feeling stupid, but become rather pleasurable after a while
  • The Wii remote for aiming is amazing
  • The Wii remote for fishing kind of sucks
  • The fishing kind of sucks overall actually
  • Probably the darkest Zelda to date. There are horrible things going on here.
  • Probably the most violent one as well.
  • There are boobies.
  • Epona is a very unwieldy horse compared to the horsie you got in Shadow of the colossus.
  • I thought of Shadow of the colossus quite often actually, which is probably a good thing
  • I've played the game for stretches of at least 3 hours at a time. I have not felt tired or fatigued.
  • My wrists did hurt somewhat at the very beginning as i was getting to grips with things.
  • The music is fantastic, MIDI and all.
  • There are MOMENTS to be found here. So many in fact i wish there was some kind of MGS-ish demo-theatre so you could easily rewatch cutscenes. There are some scenes that are j-horror creepy.
All in all, pure pleasure, as Zelda should be. To me Zelda was never about any challenge, it is about going on an adventure and seeing the end of an epic turn of events, and thoroughly enjoying yourself along the line. TP embodies this fully.

I want to discuss the controls a bit. In between Veronica Mars episodes (damn you Alice) i've been debating with myself wether i enjoy them or they feel tacked on. All that debate ended with the shield bash attack. To elaborate, up until you acquire the shield bash, remote shaking for regular attacks and nunhuck shaking for spin attack is a weak proxy of button presses. It gets tiresome, and really puts you in a position where you'd rather just run past enemies than fight them. The shield attack adds some more for you to do, with a forward push of the nunchuck pushing your enemy off balance. Suddenly, for me at least, something just clicked into place, and playing became my new objective.

I'll just put it this way; up until this point i had been half-assedly shaking the remote and nunchuck around, occationally cursing the nunchuck for not picking up my shaking when i needed the spin attack the most. AFTER this point, i do little "slashes" with the remote. Instead of shaking the nunchuck i do a quick circle in the air with it, a "spin". When i do the shield bash i do a firm forward push. After i started doing the motions as though i was pretending to be doing approximations of their gameplay representations, i never once had a problem with unresponsive controls. I started being able to much more precise fighting, and getting into a fight with something that can block and counter you became something i wanted to do.

When you take the controls "seriously" there is an implied consequence to your actions. What used to be a jab at a button just to hack at something and watch some fireworks becomes a conscious action.

I realize most won't want to do this. "Play". But in the end isn't video games an approximation of play? Childish exess? Let's just say i have a total blast pretending to be sword fighting moblins, and if my neighbors look through their window and catch the 6'4 skinhead next door waving his arms around like a retard, so be it. I'm having more fun with this than i've had with anything for ages.

Zelda, 13 hours clocked in and i don't feel like i've even started yet. It's like christmas every time i boot it up.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wii in da house

So i picked up my Wii this friday. It was pretty easy since i preordered; went down to EB during lunch hours, got a Wii and an extra remote+nunchuck. I'm super happy i got the extra controllers because Wii Sports is *worthless* without it, but more on that later. Turns out it was actually harder to get the games than it was to get the console. Most people were able to walk out with a console, but very few got the games they wanted. In my case i couldn't get Zelda. I'll go searching for it next week, maybe i'll dig up a copy somewhere.

I brought my bag of Wii-related junk back to the office, and it was almost impossible to NOT start opening boxes. Prior to this, my only look at it was through pictures and a good few brief looks at E3. Being able to unwrap one and touch it was too crazy a prospect not to jump right at it.

The response around the office was pretty much immediate. People gushing over the controllers, the console itself, even the box art, talking about the potential, how many things you could do with it. Hard not to feel a bit like the king of the castle when everyone at the office wants what you own ;)

Anders giving his approval

We set it up at my friend Richard's house later that night, as he has more room than me. The process of setting it up was, basically, Nintendo easy. I had a total blast setting up my 360, but the Wii was very, very simple to get up fast. He has a somewhat unorthodox tv tuner based setup much like my own, but we had no problem whatsoever getting the thing on, synching up the extra controller, and getting busy getting it online.

Richard's wireless network has a *64 letter WPA key with upper and lower case letters*, so it was a total chore to get his wireless key in there, giving me quite a crash course in using the remote to input text and numbers. Let me tell you, nothing else out there short of hooking up a keyboard comes remotely close. In fact, throughout the Wii interface, Nintendo have done an exceedingly good job of making it easy to write things. You even have an SMS-like interface in addition to the onscreen qwerty keyboard, complete with an SMS-like dictionary. The dictionary even had the name Anders in there, which surprised me somewhat.

The online update popped up pretty fast compared to the craziness Gamespot's launch feature demonstrated, and we were on the main menu, 2 controller "hands" on screen. Naturally, the first thing we did was create Miis. I've made quite a few since then; here's me and my girlfriend:

I'm on the left by the way ;P

The Mii thing, for the record, is mindblowingly entertaining. It's impossibly simple to get caricatures of you and your friends up there, and sometimes the accuracy is startling. My friend Billy sent me a few he and his friend Jesse made of them and their girlfriends, and the likeness is pretty intense. Being able to beat the shit out of them in Wii Boxing is another awesome pleasure.

After the first while with the remote and the interface, i found some running themes that i really enjoyed, both as a user and as a developer: The buttons on the controller relevant to general interaction is the dpad, the remote itself, the A (top) button and the B (trigger) button. B is "back". A is "confirm". B+A is "grab". After a while this feels very natural, closing your hand around objects to pick them up. This runs through the Messaging interface, the Channel browser and the Mii channel. I assume it will ring true for forthcoming channels as well.
The Channel metaphor is brilliant. There's nothing better than being able to go to the Bomberman channel.


We decided to go through Wii Play first. I'll write a review for this later, but i'll just say it's pretty obvious why the game is a freebie with the extra remote. It's pretty bad stuff. Some of it was rather fun, but it actually seems to complicate the controller more than it diffuses any mystique there may be. For instance the air hockey game controls by pointing where you want your paddle to be at, and the pointer functionality at the current stage has too much latency for that kind of fast reponsive behavior. It works for aiming something at a point: not so much split second accurate response. The motion sensing works far better than the positioning, with fast responsive gestures, much more so than i'd expected.

After Wii play it was on to Wii sports. We started at midnight, and i came home around 5am. Today my arms are sore at the elbows and shoulders. It's a good sore; the one i'd usually get from Wing chun training. It feels like you did something worthwhile.

We had the most fun with Bowling and Golf. Golf has somewhat of an inherent appeal as we're both, frankly, prep nerds, but it is actually a very good game of golf lite. Hardened souls will probably recognize that the motion required to hit the ball isn't necessarily realistic. We played some "overhand" golf for a while for instance, but the fun you can have by going through the full range of motion and *playing some make-believe golf* is pretty damn intense, and anyone too jaded to get into it; i pity the fool.

So far, i'm deeply happy with my purchase. The thing is fun, responsive, intuitive and incredibly sexy. I have barely touched my other consoles for 2 days. Here's hoping i can pick up Zelda sometime soon.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

No VGA for Wii

So there's no official VGA output for the Wii, as i previously thought. While this is no big deal to people who actually own a TV, i run all my video through an LCD monitor. When the 360 dropped with a proper VGA solution and i no longer had to run my visuals through my XGA box, i feared i had died and gone to heaven. No such luck with the Wii.

In terms of convenience, this is a major bummer.

So what options do i have? It's pretty limited, but it might work out just the same.
I wasn't aware of this, but apparently converting to VGA from component output isn't anywhere near as big a deal as it has been with composite or s-video. In fact there's a ready supply of component->VGA transcoders out there, some of which are rather cheap. I've been looking at this one and it looks like it'll fit my bill exquisitely. As for the component cable, now that MadCatz have released their third party Wii component cable, it would appear supply will be in ready demand.

On a tangent, i find Nintendo's apparent newfound love for third party hardware strangely appealing. It'll be interesting to see if that pans out to some actual third party hardware support

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Project complete

After that depressive list of games i own, i've come to the realization that i've completed an incredibly puny number of them. Not because they're all that hard (because games today aren't all that hard in general), but because i've constantly been moving on.

Taking it from the top, first game out is Mario & Luigi - Partners in time.
This is a tough one, i left it bored out of my skull.
I'll be putting reviews on my review blog as i go.

God this is going to be hard. Some of these games just really, really bore me, and some of them terrify me to the point where it's physically hard to go on. Lord give me strength.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Halo 3 screens do not impress

Not saying Bungie won't come through in motion, but compared to Gears of war or even other "lesser" contemporary next generation titles; what the fuck is this?

I'm not saying graphics are all, and these are probably early screens, but seriously, this smells of laziness. Textures repeat fast and early, there seems to be basically no shadowing beyond the soft shadows they've run with since Halo 1, gunfire and explosions looks absolutely pathetic (smoke erupting *at the same time* as the explosion?), and those trees.. What the hell? Haven't Bungie heard of speedtree before?

Are we supposed to be blown away by what looks like HD Halo 1? There's little or nothing here that's remotely impressive compared to the rather attractive announcement trailer (which i will otherwise continue to abhorr forever due to my pet peeve with Marty O'Donnell's soundtrack - i can't stand five seconds of it, much less a trailer full of it).

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