Console Anxiety: Mending my relationship with Nintendo

Nintendo

A couple weeks ago, the hard drive on my gaming laptop (also my work and school laptop) went bully-up.

Last week, my Xbox 360 began to randomly freeze after an hour or two of play. It’s still running fine, and certain game seem to do worse than others, but it’s made me apprehensive about even turning it on for fear that it, too, my be wearing out. Luckily, I’m home for the winter break so I can use the ol’ family PC to write and get in a little Street Fighter x Mega Man here and there. But it’s not a long-term solution. I still have a few weeks before I’ll be able to nab a new hard drive, and even if my Xbox wasn’t acting up, beating Dark Souls *again* or wandering ’round Skyrim a bit more isn’t really doing it for me. So instead, I turned to the tiny white rectangle inconspicuously plugged into the TV here at my family’s home.

I’ve been going back to the classics to bide my time when I need my gaming fix — Super Metroid, and Metroid Prime specifically. I’ve also popped in a Zelda game here and there when I have time. As much as it’s strange to say this, I’m reminded the Wii had some pretty cool games, some of which I’ve completely missed out on (Xenoblade: Chronicles, Monster Hunter Tri, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Skyward Sword) as I haven’t personally owned a Nintendo console since the GameCube/GBA.

Anyway, this got me thinking a lot about what I wanted from my games. I’ve said it time and time again on this blog, but I’m a fan of the kinds of experiences that are fun, imaginative, and gameplay driven; games that favor immersion and design over cinematic story; and games that allow me to explore, be it the the world or levels, or the very game mechanics themselves. Nintendo does that pretty damn well.

Similarly, I’ve been putting together my Best of 2012 list, and realizing my pickst are probably going to be a bit different than what other people will be picking. I like new and different; I like creativity; I like it when a game feel like a game, and not a movie, but not just a “toy” either. I feel like we’re finally at a place where there’s a split in the industry between these sorts of feelings and ideas, and the now-common tropes of AAA development, with it’s frankly insulting pandering to the lowest common denominator. I don’t dig that shit, yo. That’s become rather glaring in the types of game I gravitate towards.

But I digress. I had a much longer, much more in-depth post planned. One where I would plumb the depths of my own interests and passions, my own personal reasons for enjoying games. I was going to explore my feelings about Nintendo; my strange, almost apathy towards the deterioration of my current console. I was going to question this strange, nagging feeling in my stomach that the Wii U and 3DS might just be exactly what I want out of a console. That maybe, just maybe, despite all the waggling and partying, Nintendo may still yet be the very reason I play games at all — PC or console, indie or retail. But most importantly, I wanted to talk about how games are changing and I’m not really sure where they’re going, and why that’s okay — except someone beat me to it and did a far better job of it than I ever could. Instead, I’ll leave you with this excellent comic by Zac Gorman, perfectly capturing my own thoughts:

tumblr_m57uyroxVp1qizbpto1_1280

I’m ready to bet on Nintendo again.

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The Dark Spire versus Etrian Odyssey II: Hardcore RPG face-off

Blah blah blah Skyrim. Blah blah blah Dark SoulsBlah blah blah Diablo. Blah blah blah Mass Effect.

We’ve probably beaten  it into your heads by now, but here at Power Cords, we like RPGs. Personally speaking I love RPGs; but unlike many gamers (and even some of the writers here at Power Cords), I prefer a specific type of experience from my RPGs. While some pine for loot and others eat up story lines and dialogue, I prefer immersion and exploration.

There are different definitions of exploration. For example, the fantasy setting of The Elder Scrolls series offer massive lands to traverse and are the perfect settings for exploration; while games like Dark Souls, Legend of Grimrock, and Dungeons of Dredmor allow players to explore and experiment with the game mechanics through trial and error (and a fair bit of luck). I love that sort of hands-off design that encourages the player to try new things — even if the ultimately end in failure. as I mentioned earlier this week, I’m still playing Dark Souls for that very reason. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself away from my Xbox — and therefore Dark Souls — this weekend. Not to be melodramatic, but in an effort to stave off the bumming, I took a look at two relatively unknown RPGs for the Nintendo DS with similar design concepts and old-school sensibilities: The Dark Spire and Etrian Odyssey II. 

The Dark Spire

Developed by Success and published by Atlus, The Dark Spire is a dark, dreadfully difficult hardcore dungeon crawler that is essentially a throwback to the CRPGs of yore like Wizardry and A Bard’s Tale. The basic scenario for The Dark Spire revolves around a single, massive tower with several floors to explore. Hidden atop the tower is a sorcerer who has stolen a necklace from the royal family. You create a party of adventurers to scale the tower, defeat the sorcerer, and return the necklace. That’s it.  Some quests and dialogue flesh out the background and setting a bit more, but that’s about it. The story doesn’t get any deeper than that; climbing the tower and scouring each of its floors is a story in itself, and is far more compelling than any hackneyed fantasy tale would be.

I haven’t had too much time with the game yet, but so far I like what I’ve seen. The art is wonderful — it has a dark, comic-book-ish feel (large hand drawn “BOOM’s” will flash across the screen when a character scores a critical hit). Despite having essentially zero animation, the art still manages to draw you in and create a strong sense of place. The music is also great, often times sounding like Castlevania crossed with the early Elder Scrolls games. But the art is just the surface of the extremely deep game.

In The Dark Spire, you control a 4-man party, exploring grid-based dungeons in first person, a la Legends of Grimrock. Character stats are rolled randomly in the creation process, making each one you create unique from the rest. In terms of gameplay, very little is explained to the player. New items do little to explain how they will affect your characters’ stats, instead requiring trial and error to find out what work best. Certain game mechanics, such as character alignment, praying, quests, or learning new spells, exist without tutorial or explanation. There seems to be quite a bit here that could easily be overlooked if you jump in impatiently; try to mash the A button to get through the random battles, and you’ll quickly find yourself at the game over screen. I’ve even read there are hidden classes that can be unlocked through a class combination system and unlockable races. How do I go about discovering this stuff? No clue, but I look forward to delving into this game to find just how deep these mechanics go.

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

Etrian Odyssey is another Atlus joint, this time being both developed and published by the Japanese company (it’s worth noting that Atlus also published Demon’s Souls, of which Dark Souls is the spiritual sequel). EO II is very similar to The Dark Spire: first person dungeon crawling, random monster encounters, minimal story, and interfacing with towns mainly through menu navigation. However, EO II features a few gameplay hooks that set it apart. First is the map system. Instead of slowly uncovering a map as you explore, your tasked with drawing and completing your own via the stylus screen on the DS. This adds another layer of depth to exploration, but also another way for you to completely screw yourself over; draw an incorrect map, and you may jeopardize the success of your quest.

The second change is the class/guild system. In Etrian Odyssey II, the world of Lagaard is filled with guilds of adventurers attempting to uncover ancient secrets about their world. At the outset of your adventure, you create your own guild. You can then fill out your ranks with up to 30 characters. While the stat rolling isn’t random like in The Dark Spire, the number of classes available to you is far greater, each one filling slightly different rolls than the others. You may then select up to 5 of your guild members to join your party and enter the labyrinthine forests of the Yggdrasil tree.

Equipment and stats are more transparent in EO II than The Dark Spire, but the added depth of the class system means you must experiment with class synergy to find effective formations, provide both deeply challenging yet highly rewarding gameplay.

I also really like the art design of the Etrian Odyssey games. It’s almost like an lighter, anime-inspired Dark Souls, and very reminiscent of the Disgaea series. The character portraits and art design makes EO II a very pretty game, despite the majority of the game being handled through static 2D sprites and menus.

Closing thoughts

Both games are excellent examples of hardcore dungeon crawling. Their depth and difficulty scratch the Dark Souls itch — well, as closely they can, at least. I enjoy and appreciate their design philosophies, choosing to let the player explore the game mechanics and dungeons to find their own paths and strategies instead of hand-holding or restricting experimentation. While that can lead to failure and frustration, it also leads to high levels of reward and progression. I haven’t had enough time with the games to say which I prefer over the other but at this point, despite having seemingly more aspects of the gameplay unexplained and hidden initially, I’ve found The Dark Spire more conducive to pick up and play, simply due to the meticulous map drawing of Etrian Odyssey II being a hassle at times (it doesn’t help I’m not playing the games on their original platform *ehem*). That being said, I do find Etrian Odyssey’s class mechanics and presentations slightly more appealing.

The Dark Spire

Despite being very similar in gameplay and design, Etrian Odyseey II and The Dark Spire offer different dungeon crawling experiences: one is a mythical adventure inspired by manga and anime; the other is a dark medieval quest. They’re hard games that require patience, planning, and dedication, but the payoff is immense. If you’re in the market for a heavy duty RPG experience, then both of these games are perfect for you. Personally, I’d recommend both equally; picking one or the other essentially just comes down to aesthetic taste. But hey, why not pick up both? It’s always good to have options. And kudos for Atlus for bringing these and many more excellent RPGs to the states.

Scores

The Dark Spire: 4/5

Etrian Odyssey: Heroes of Lagaard: 4/5

Guest Blog: The evolution of Video Games: Part 1

You may have noticed, but here at Power Cords we’re big fans of gaming. To offer some perspective on the history of our favorite medium, fellow blogger and gaming enthusiast Michael takes us through part one of gaming’s history.

Video games as an art form have not been around for long, but the impact they’ve had on humanity is staggering. Last year in 2011, the video game industry outstripped movies in terms of profit made, and this year looks to be no different. From the relative obscurity of the 80’s, to the 21st century, It has become a multi-million industry covering every genre and style through different platforms. Just how did this immense growth happen? Let’s investigate.

 

1960 – 1980: In the beginning.

Spacewar!

While video games can be traced back as far as 1947 with the cathode ray tube amusement device, it wasn’t until the sixties that gaming became known to the public. The first widespread gaem was the highly influential Spacewar! created by a group of students at MIT for the PDP-1.

In this game, two players faced of against each other in space combat, while attempting to avoid a black hole in the middle of the screen. Taking 200 hours to create, Spacewar! was extremely popular and was ported onto many other systems.

The Arcade era.

Building on the success of Spacewar!, the first coin operated video game was introduced in 1971. This game was Galaxy Game. Installed in Stanford University and programmed by Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck, it was a version of the existing Spacewar!

Costing ten cents a go, the game was a big success on campus, used for eight years until it broke down from overuse. Yet despite however successful it was in the university, it took another remake to begin selling the game widepsread. It’s name? Computer Space.

Nutting Associates bought the rights to the game and made 1,500 machines that were released in November 1971. Due to it’s high difficulty and steep learning curve, the game was a financial failure, but nonetheless a milestone in the widespread selling of a video game. This kicked off the whole arcade industry, something which the following game helped spearhead.

Grossing over 2 Billion dollars in quarters, and selling 360,000 cabinets worldwide, Space Invaders helped drive the arcade industry forward. Taking inspiration from War of the Worlds and Star Wars, this shooter game was immensly successful. Inspired by it’s success, many developers began creating their own arcade games, and the machines quickly became available in shopping centers and restaurants. The game also became the subject of numerous articles and stories on television and in newspapers and magazines, establishing video gaming as a rapidly growing mainstream hobby.

Games such as Asteroids and Pacman were to follow, both selling tens of thousands of cabinets. During it’s peak year in 1982, the arcade industry was making 8 Billion dollars in North America, more than double the annual Hollywood revenue at the time. Video games were a strong and prosperous industry at this time, and the obvious advancement was to bring gaming into the home. Cue Ralph Baer, the grandfather of modern day video gaming.

Home Consoles

The Magnavox Odyssey came along and sold 100,000 systems, thanks to advertising and a guest appearence from Frank Sinatra. Being able to play such games as Pong and Basketball at home proved to be a winning formula, and other home consoles followed. The Atari 2600, Intellivision and Colecovision all made names for themselves, with the Atari dominating the scene. Then the great video game crash of ’83 hit, and the video game indusrty collapsed on itself.

The cause of the crash? There were many contributing factors, but the main one was crappy games like Atari Pacman and E.T: Extra Terrestrial as well as a general over-saturation of the market. People worried that it was the end of the road for video games. Then Nintendo arrived on the scene and jumpstarted the 8-bit era. Video games would never be the same again.

Nintendo Entertainment System

 

In 1985, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment system along with the very first Super Mario Bros. The Legend of Zelda followed one year later, and the N.E.S took over the home console scene right into the nineties. Bringing other legendary franchises into exsistence such as Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy, the N.E.S truly was the pinnacle of gaming in the 80’s.

Coming up in part 2: The Nineties, and the introduction of 3D gaming!

Be sure to check out Michael’s blog for more awesome gaming articles at http://ninetyninepercentgaming.wordpress.com/

Next-Gen? No Thanks.

“Next gen,” two little words that make me tense up and feel overwhelmed. Why? Simply put, I’m not ready for it, nor am I remotely excited by the prospect of a new set of consoles.

Some of you may feel exactly the opposite, and I can see why: new leaps in graphical abilities; better AI; sleeker hardware, UI, and control schemes. But I don’t really want any of that. What I want is new experiences, new ideas — even new genres or takes on existing ones — from the games themselves, not the hardware. But the big gaming publishers don’t seems to see it that way.

More Graphics

It seems like the biggest driving force behind the next-gen push (and really any console iteration leap) is graphics. Recently, 2K games president Cristoph Hartman said that the industry can’t hope to evoke any sort of real, honest emotion until games achieve “photo realism.” He cites Brokeback Mountain as his example of the type of emotions games could create, but haven’t yet. To make matters worse, Crytek, developers of the graphically-powerful Crysis series, made a statement claiming that the current generation’s graphical capabilities have been tapped, which somehow means we need to move on to the next set of hardware…

Bullshit, I say. Not to the graphical capabilities being maxed, I’m pretty sure that’s true. But the part that makes me roll my eyes is this notion that graphics are immediately tied to the level of emotion response and entertainment value we get out of games. This is absolutely and unequivocally false. Let’s look at this past generation — one where graphics have been venerated above all else as the major draw to gaming. Off the top of my head, the one genre that has succeed this generation is the military FPS — the “bro-shooter”. These games had mountains of cash pumped into their graphics engines to create as “realistic” an experience as possible. The result? Stagnate, same-y shooters caked in a veneer of brown textures and lens flares. I’m not knocking these games, I’m sure there have been some great titles, but I never touched them because they never looked appealing. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Spec Ops, Killzone, Resistance… even games like Gears of War  could be thrown into the mix. Show me a screenshot from one of these “realistic” looking games, and I probably couldn’t tell you which was which. Then again, I could easily point out games like Enslaved, Borderlands, Tribes: Ascend — even Uncharted and Halo, due to their own unique looks and art styles. 

Wait, wait. Don’t tell me…

The problem is, the people saying graphics sell games have a point: when it comes to the (rather large) percentage of gamers who only buy 2-3 games a year, and usually only from the same franchises (Madden, Call of Duty, etc.), graphics matter big time. Being the first thing they see is a screenshot or trailer, this crowd needs to see marked improvements from one year to the next in order to be sold. I don’t mean to generalize, but just take a look at the comment section on Youtube or gaming blogs. You’ll find fanboys and shooter-bros writing off games entirely just because another titles graphics are “better.” So, to a point, 2k games and Crytek are correct: in order to continue pandering to this section of the market, we need to hurry up and jump on board with the next consoles. But not really because that’d be silly.

Development Costs

I’m gonna take a quick tangent to touch on development costs before I return to Hartmans’s rivitingly asinine remarks about photo-realism and emotion.

Games cost a lot; AAA games cost even more. Those graphics engines I talked about earlier require millions of dollars. In an effort to keep up with the likes of EA and Activision’s massive budgets for their annualized franchises, smaller companies are forced to pony up stacks of cash to even hope to compete. We witnessed this with 38 Studio’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckonning. Curt Schilling borrowed money from Rhode Island in order to complete the game. The game sold very well, over 410 thousand copies in the U.S., but the Governor of Rhode Island felt that wasn’t enough, calling the game a “failure” for not selling a projected 3 million copies (a rather unrealistic number for a small, niche title). Due to this and number of other internal scandals, 38 dissolved. Now, THQ faces a similar fate, their fate in the hands of gamers who buy games like Darksiders 2. EA hopes to see Dead Space 3 sell over 5 million copies, despite the past games not selling anything near those numbers. Now imagine a game with wildly experimental gameplay and presentation, but whose developers need to sell 5 million copies to see a profit. As Minecraft creator Notch said in response to Hartman’s statement, “you limit the number of new genres if you focus on photorealism.” Experimentation and creativity are always diminished in favor of sure-things.

Leaked picture of Xbox “Durango” dev kit

For instance, at E3 we saw Dead Space 3 paraded about as a bro-shooter. For fans of the series, this was infuriating. We saw the same happen with Mass Effect 3. It turned out that both of these first impressions were false, but it underscores a major problem in the industry. Companies want to compete; they want to have the flashy high-fidelity graphics, fast-paced action gameplay, and huge set pieces to draw in the CoD crowd. But in doing so, they alienate the core audiences. Spending too much money on graphics and homogenizing your gameplay is a dumb thing to do. And what’s more, it’s entirely unnecessary.

Emotional Depth

Okay sure, I’ll admit, I am enamored with beautiful graphics as much as the next guy At E3, I was awed by the Crysis 3 demo; Watch Dog‘s animations made me giddy, and the things Unreal Engine 4 can do are mind blowing. But when I think back to the games that really made an imprint on me, it wasn’t because the looks “real,” it was because they looked unique.

I have several games in my library I hold up as having impeccable art direction. And with most of those games, my emotional connection to the experiences and stories within are stronger because they captured my imagination and creativity. I don’t need to say it for the dozenth time, but Dead Space, Rayman: Origins, Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda, and Shadow of the Colossus enraptured me with their beauty and atmosphere.

Much like a Pixar movie, videogames that feature highly stilized visuals have been the ones I not only remember best, but have the strongest connection with. Super Metroid’s archaic sprite-based graphics still instill the feelings of exploration and isolation I had the first time I played it. And even though they looks like ass today, games like  Medieval, and th N64 Zelda games have a charm that few games of this generation ever achieved.

As ominous as ever.

But it would be false to say that every emotional experience I’ve ever had with a game was due to creative or memorable art design. No, the single most memorable and impactful part of any and every game is its gameplay.

For me, videogames are game design first, and stories/visuals/music/etc. second (if not further down the list). They’re not movies, not comics. They are unique in the way they allow for entirely different types of stories and interactions to occur. I’ve harped on it before, but games need to chill the fuck out with this whole “imitating cinema” thing. There have been some truly moving stories told in videogames, but if you can’t present them in  way that allows me to PLAY THE GAME, then your game has failed. Heavy Rain is a perfect example of a game that, truly, would be better suited as a movie. I’m a big proponent of the silent protagonist as it allows for the player to connect directly to the world and story, rather than act as puppeteer or pilot guiding a pre-made character down a pre-determined path. But for every Gordon Freeman, there’s a Jon Marston. On the flipside, for every Samus Aran there’s a…. Samus Aran. My point is, games should not be about narrative archs or photo realistic visuals — that’s cinema’s game. No, games are about gameplay and interactivity. We need to remember that.

Silver Lining

Hawken: powerful, yet stylized graphics.

I don’t need a new generation of consoles. I’m perfectly content with what my Xbox 360 and PC can do. I still feel there is life in this generation, if for no other reason than indie/retro development. I don’t care how flashy the next big shooters look. Hell, despite my excitement for Darksiders 2 and Halo 4 (games with stylized visuals that put emphasis on gameplay, mind you) it’s titles like Hawken, Ultima Forever, and the Baldur’s Gate re-release that have me really excited. I’m even excited at the fact that games are still coming out for the Dreamcast.

And like I said, there are plenty of great games still to come on the Xbox 360 for the next year or so, if not longer. And despite my aversion to talk of new consoles, the OUYA has me very, very excited about the future of game development, Free 2 Play games, and indie games. So perhaps there is one new console I’m excited for.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I love F2P, indie, and retro gaming, and love the types of games still coming out for these “dated” systems, not because of their graphics, but because of their gameplay. I still love AAA console games, but based on the recent climate of that development scene, I worry about the future of companies like THQ, Square-Enix, Sega, and Even Nintendo and Sony. And while I will always have a place in my heart and on my shelf for the next big Bethesda and Bungie games, they’ve become secondary to the far cheaper, and far more engrossing titles from companies like Mojang, Double Fine, Supergiant, The Behemoth, Frictional Games, and dozens more. My only hope is that I’m not alone in thinking that.

E3 2012: the Bad, and the Ugly

So, now we’ve got the good things from E3 2012 out of the way, it’s time to talk about those moments that were bad, and just downright ugly.

And there were certainly a few worth talking about. First off,

The Bad

Sony’s press conference had a conspicuous lack of Vita chat, even with the announcemnet of an Assassin’s Creed 3 spin off and new Black Ops title coming to the system. In fact, besides a few games shown on the floor — mostly by other publishers — it almost came off as a silent acceptance of the Vita’s poor performance in worldwide sales, even a quiet confirmation the company will support the handheld, but only as far as its current legs can carry itself. It was disappointing, but in some respects not very surprising and certainly not something you can blame Sony for all that much at this point (besides the high price, lack of support, strange marketing decisions, etc.)

Then there was Nintendo. Oh Nintendo… it was their E3 to lose — with high expectations for a new console, Nintendo bungled their conference with an underwhelming and flaccid display, devoid of any surprising and absolutely no guarantees on what to expect post-launch window. Hell, no guarantees on when to expect the console launch itself, nor any price. Sure, it was confirmed there would be no price or release date, but I thought for sure we’d get an idea, maybe even a general time of when to expect the announcement of the release date even… But no, nothing.

On top of that, the games shown during the press conference were either unsurprising (Pikmin 3, Super Mario Bros U) or just down right boring (Nintendoland). Thankfully, Ubisoft was there the provide a glimmer of hope with their new ZombiU franchise. But instead of showing off the game and the cool features it is implementing, Nintendo instead opted to spend 10 minutes showing off Batman: Arkham City — a game that will be over a year old by the time the Wii U Launches. Coupled with Darksiders 2, Mass Effect 3, and confirmation that Alien: Colonial Marines will ship on the Wii U after the PC, 360 and PS3 versions, you had a rather sad and sorry display for third party Wii U support. The show closed with fireworks, and no big announcements. The future of the system was left entirely untouched: what’s Retro bringing? What kind of third party support can we expect? What studios are working on future software for the system we can expect months or years after the Wii U launches? These questions remain unanswered.

Wii U’s biggest hope.

Even worse, the separate 3DS press conference they held the day after showed off essentially the exact same products teased at the Wii U conference the day before, and the more impressive Wii U and 3DS announcements weren’t even made until AFTER the press conferences. It was a mes, and an altogether disappointing E3 for Nintendo.

The Ugly

This year was hard for me. Even though I can point to at least a dozen games I was impressed by and am excited to see in the next near (or more), it seemed like every game was toting a “3” suffix — Assassin’s Creed 3, Dead Space 3, Far Cry 3, Crysis 3, Pikmin 3 (all of which ended up impressing me this year). We also saw the fourth entry in the Gears of War franchise, Halo 4 (technically a “reboot” of sorts, but still the sixth entry in  the series), ANOTHER Assassin’s Creed (the eighth or ninth in the series), and a new God of War (the fourth home console title, and sixth overall game in the franchise). Plus the next Call of Duty and Medal of Honor games as well.

It was fatiguing. And, to be honest, in a lot of ways I almost felt ashamed for getting excited about some of these games. Do we really need another God of War, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty? I know these look great, and will be highly successful, but ever since this generation sparked the trend of yearly franchises, I find myself getting more and more cynical and worn out on these characters and scenarios. They’ll be great games, absolutely. But I would really like to see this generation wind down and make way for new ideas.

And it’s not just because I’d like to see new IP.

These yearly franchises have brought in a new type of gamer. Something like the “hardcore casual gamer”, aka, bro-shooter fans. They usually just buy 1-2 games a year (almost undoubtedly Call of Duty and Madden) and not much else. There’s millions of these guys — chances are you know one. By no means are they bad for games sales, but marketers and PR departments seem to think they’re the audience they need to be selling their games to, and E3 was proof of that. The biggest example is Dead Space 3. Behind closed doors, convention-goers were shown tense, suspenseful moments, broken up by tussles with gore-hungry necromorphs. It looked and played like Dead Space, albeit with some changes, and a few steps further down the path of action sequences started by Dead Space 2.

But by no means was it it a third person shooter.

But if all you had seen or heard on the new game was the 30 second trailer at EA’s press conference. you’d probably have thought they were showing off Gears of War, complete with duck-and-cover shooting, meat-headed co-op partners spouting off testosterone fuled “Shits” and “Fuck Yeah’s” and balsting gun-toting space marines — the opposite of why people play Dead Space. Thankfully, we were assured the single player is devoid of AI companions (for the large majority at least), the cover stuff is not the main focus, and the humans actually mutate and morph in The Thing-like fashion once you’ve damaged them.

Blaahhhh.

I could go on and on, the point it, games seem to be marketed towards a certain type of gamer these days, and that bad for two reasons. 1) when those bro-shooter fan pick up the game and realize it’s not Gears of War or Call of Duty, they’ll be frustrated, confused and disappointed. And 2) when core-fans of series like Dead Space and Mass Effect see their games marketed as CoD or GoW, they become frustrated, confused and disappointed. No one wins.

It’s part of a larger problem with the videogame industry as a whole, and highlights the issue of how to market games to the right people. Games (and the gamers who play them) are becoming just as diverse as movies, television, and music. Not every movie-goer sees all the big movies, and no core-gamer plays all the big games. I think it’s probably a time for more niche marketing and press in the industry itself.

But like I’ve said, I could go on and on. The the industry is changing, and despite how great the majority of games were, this year’s E3 is proof of that. If nothing else, the biggest thing I came away with from E3 2012 was my excitement for E3 2013, and its potential to bring us new experiences and innovations.

E3: The Good

E3’s now a week behind us, and big reveals and press conferences even further back than that. E3 2012 was a strange year — a year of transitions and wheel spinning, and estrangement. That’s not to say it was a bad show this year, or that there were no great games. On the contrary, there were some great presences from several titles, and numerous developers and publishers wowing us enthusiast crowds with some damn good looking games.

There were certainly missteps, I won’t shy away from that fact. But overall I was satisfied with what I saw. So let’s get into some of the things that grabbed my attention from this year’s E3. Continue reading “E3: The Good”

Powercast Episode 8: Prom-e3-us

We’re back, once again, with a new episode of Powercast!

In this episode Marshal joins Nick and I(Brendan) in the studio for an in-depth discussion on Prometheus, upcoming movies, and all the big news and games from E3 — including Micosoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo’s press conferences, as well as Halo 4, The Last of Us, Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed 3, Wii U — and more!

Download below, and be sure to send any questions or comments to askpowercords@gmail.com, or comment below.

We’ll be back soon with some cool new stuff, stay tuned!

Powercast Episode 008: Prom-E3-us

With: Brendan, Marshal, Nick

Length: 2:04:10

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E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences

It’s heeere! The most exciting week in gaming, where some of the biggest announcement are made and the newest games shown off. Kick starting the week were 4 pressers from Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony. Here’s our thoughts on the big moments (and upsets) of E3 2012: Continue reading “E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences”

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past — Retro Review

Welcome to Power Cord’s Retro Reviews! Today, we look at the classic SNES adventure, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Over the past few years, Nintendo’s classic, A Link to the Past, has served as one of my few go-to distraction games — the sort of game that you put in 20-30 minutes here and there when there’s nothing else to do. Playing the GBA version, it was always a fun little game for me to flip on and play alongside other titles like Metroid Zero Mission and the old Pokemon games for bit of nostalgia and entertainment. But it was only recently I realized I had never actually beaten the game. So, determined to see the quest through, I set off to save the land of Hyrule once and for all. Once I had finally felled Gannon, I felt compelled to review the game I had finally beaten after all those years.

On the surface, A Link to the Past is just like any other Zelda game: an evil antagonist has either doomed the world, stolen the princess Zelda, or both, and you as the player take control of Link to explore dungeons, find magical items, and ultimately save the kingdom and the princess.

The game opens with that exact scenario having taken place — an evil sorcerer has stolen the princess and taken over the kingdom —  resulting in the apparent death of Link’s uncle. Link takes up his uncle’s sword and shield and sets off to stop the evil sorcerer who has been kidnapping maidens all over the land to open a portal to the dark world.

The game is set in a massive world, filled with caves, dungeons, and hidden secrets to explore. There is a sense of open-ended exploration in A Link to the Past. There’s a certain order in which to do things, but much of it is up to you and how you decided to tackle each objective. Or, more likely, when and where you finally figure out what you’re doing.

A Link to the Past does very little in terms of handholding. Other than small markers on your map screen, it’s often difficult to remember where you needed to go or who you needed to talk to. This sort of thing is fine in some aspects of the game, such as the numerous hidden treasures around the world that can only be unlocked after you’ve completed a dungeon and found a new item, but when you can’t reach a place clearly marked as your next objective because you forget to talk to an old lady in town, the game becomes frustrating. This is of course a sign of how games were back in the day, but no matter how good you are at exploring an open world, obesseively checking every nook and cranny doesn’t feel as fun when the game is tight lipped on what you’re doing wrong. There are games of this generation that did exploration far better than A Link to the Past (say for instance, Super Metroid).

But for the most part, the exploration was fun enough that figuring out where to go or what to do was easy, or at least not much of a chore. The sprite graphics are bright and the world well designed, but the animations aren’t very good and the setting felt rather bland, with the exception of some spots in the dark world. Still, traipsing around the countryside to the soundtrack of classic Zelda tunes is a fun distraction.

It probably goes without saying, but the formula is bland, and the story utterly cliche. Of course he’s Gannon. Of course it’s hidden in a dungeon. For many, A Link to the Past is the zenith of the Zelda franchise’s 2D experience, much like Ocarina of Time is series best 3D game. But for me, when it comes to both titles, the best Zelda experience lie in other games; one’s that change up the story and formula in much bigger and bolder ways. It’s a fun nostalgic title, but isn’t much more than that.

Pros: 2 big worlds to explore with plenty to do and see; adventuring to classic zelda tunes is fun; good, simple gameplay.

Cons: Graphics are lackluster; some parts are infuriatingly confusing; uninspired story; if you’ve played a Zelda game before, the formula feel boring.

Brendan’s E3 Predictions

Here we are yet again; just under a month away from the gaming worlds biggest trade show, E3, where the biggest announcements from the biggest companies are made each year. Plenty of fellow fans, bloggers, and press have begun weighing in on what their predictions are for the three big companies — Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo — and what we might be seeing at this year’s show. So, I thought it’d be worth it to talk about what others are predicting, as well as my own thoughts on what to expect at E3.

Sony

Starting with Sony, there’s been quite a lot in the news lately. First off, Sony has confirmed there will be no talk of their next home console this year. There were, however, two huge Ps3 titles recently unveiled — God of War Ascencion and Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (long name..). As these are both big announcements for the company, it surprising to see them shown off close to E3.  IGN writers Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty are both convinced this could mean we’ll see a much stronger emphasis on Sony’s new handheld system, the Playstation Vita. I’m inclined to agree. While it’s not uncommon for many of the company’s announcements to surface prior to their press conference at the show, the Vita has been lagging in sales compared to Nintendo’s 3DS handheld — their biggest competition. With total sales for the 3DS over 17.13 million, the Vita’s 1.8 million — by no means a failure — seems lackluster.

This is largely due to a lack of titles post-launch. Despite the system having one of the strongest software lineups of any console launch, it’s failed to supplement that initial batch of games with quality games. The Vita is not an iPhone; it can’t sell itself on its (high impressive) hardware alone. It’s a gaming platform and needs more games.

That’s why I believe Sony’s E3 conference will focus heavily on the Vita, specifically new titles to persuade new buys, and reassure early adopters — such as the recently revealed Soul Sacrifice. On top of that, I have a feeling Sony may announce either a bundle or price drop for the system. Starting at $249 for the system ($299 for 3g internet model) and another $20-$100 for a memory card, and $30-$40 per software title, the Vita has a steep point of entry (for comparison, a 16gb Playstation 3 now runs at about $299 MSRP, and $50-$60 for software; the 3DS sells at $160 per system, and $30-$40 per game). In order to drive up sales numbers, Sony needs to either drop the price of the system and/or memory cards to a more reasonable level, or offer bundles that include a decent sized memory card and retail games.

In a recent earnings call, Sony optimistically projected an anticipated 10-16 million more Vitas sold this year. If that’s really going to happen, we need a price drop, and at the very least, more games.

Microsoft

Ironically enough, the one system I own is from the company who is rumored to have the least to show this year. Microsoft have been sitting easy these past couple years, remaining on top as both the entertainment and gaming hub of this console generation. Microsoft will probably do what they can to maintain that image, says industry analyst Michael Pachter, opting to focus less on core gaming, and more on their successful Kinect device and their growing presence as an entertainment hub.

Microsoft also have stated they have no plans to show off any new hardware, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise; they’re currently on top in the North American market because their system appeals to a wide audience. The Xbox 360 currently boasts a large number of apps from companies and services like Netflix, ESPN, Hulu, UFC, HBO GO, Bing, and even beginning to work with cable providers to bring content directly to Xbox 360 users. Microsoft have found widespread mainstream success — much like Nintendo with the Wii. While Nintendo’s success was driven by the Wii’s user-friendly interface, Microsoft have evolved that functionality with the Kinect, and applied it to media beyond just videogames.

At this point, the Xbox 360 is becoming almost like an Apple device; it hold many uses and applications, not just one. While Microsoft’s bread and butter is still their gamer audience, they also have the benefit of mainstream appeal. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past couple years, that often means the core gamers get overlooked in favor of furthering their mainstream success.

I doubt we’ll see much in terms of new or exclusive software titles from Microsoft. We’ll probably get a look at a new dashboard update for the 360, and more details on their new $99 plus subscription model for Xbox. Other than that, in terms of videogames, I don’t think we’ll see much besides Halo 4.

Nintendo

Probably the most talked about of the three, the gaming industry has their eyes on Nintendo for one reason: the Wii U.

The only one of the three hardware developers to actually show off their next console iteration, Nintendo have a lot to prove. Launching a year or more before the competition, the Wii U has been under scrutiny by the games press. IGN’s Rich George, along with numerous others in the press, are both excited and apprehensive about the new console. George laid out a list of points Nintendo needs to hit in order for the Wii U to be a success, mainly first third party support, and a reasonable price point. Nintendo’s other recent hardware launch, the 3DS, despite an overall highly successful turnout, began its life cycle with an uncertain future. A high price point and lack of first party games stalled the system’s sales, until a price drop and second batch of games gave it a much needed boost.

The Wii U cannot repeat this, and Nintendo is well aware. But while E3 will be where we undoubtedly see the true power of the new console, and see some much needed new titles, we won’t know the release date or starting price for the Wii U until closer to the system’s Fall 2012 launch window.

I’ve already said I’m looking forward to Nintendo’s press conference, and have hopes we’ll see some good games, I also feel they have the most to lose an are taking the biggest risk launching their system so early. And being heavily marketed at core gamers, I doubt they’ll see the same success with the Wii U that they did with the original Wii. If I were to make one suggestion for the company, it would be to create a new IP that shows off the strengths of the system and validates the need for a tablet controller, but also shows Nintendo is serious about getting back the core gamer audience. We’ll see if they can pull it off.

Closing thoughts

Overall, this year has potential. The full unveiling of a new console from Nintendo, the possibility of tons of new software from Sony, and new media and entertainment announcements from Microsoft will make E3 2012 an interesting one for sure. I’m sure we’ll come away impressed, but at this point I doubt we’ll see anything unexpected.