Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Vacation in Hyrule

After being disgusted with the nature of Virtua Fighter 4 – or more importantly, disgusted with my inability to do the moves, I decided that it was time to get back on the Zelda wagon. I had finished Twilight Princess some time ago, but #1 son had made it about as far as the Gerudo Desert only to find that the disc stopped loading that area, and that we had a short circular scratch on the disk. Since Twilight Princess became one of the Nintendo Select titles, it was a little less painful to get another copy of the game. We both decided to start new games. Thanks to a mad rush to get through the game before school started a week ago, he is all the way to the last area – but I think that there are several battles at the end that have no intermediate save point, so I'm not 100% sure how close to the actual end of the game he is. He got frustrated with the last battles, and I encouraged him to go back and get the rest of the golden bugs, and to do the clawshot minigame. I am not nearly as far along, both because he has been playing a lot, but also because my younger son has started playing it.

There are some things that #2 son can't do that well, but they don't bother him much. #1 son did most of the boss battles for him, and some parts of the dungeons, but #2 son just wants to run around in the towns. He's not quite reading yet, so he doesn't really interact with the information on the screen that much. He's still excited about being able to chop a wooden sign in pieces with his sword. He discovered on his own that you can pet the goats at the ranch. Even more surprising, he discovered that if you attack a chicken enough times, you can control it for a few seconds. I know that he discovered it by himself, because if #1 had read it on the internet and told him, he would have thought that you had to attack the chicken with your sword (which is much harder than it sounds). #2 son figured out a much easier way - Z-target the chicken and attack it with the Clawshot. I was unaware of the glitch myself – and when a 4-and-a-half-year old says "Dad if you shoot the chicken with the clawshot enough times you can control him" it's typically going to be met with skepticism the first time.

So, it got me thinking. As a gamer, trained by previous Zelda games, or Doom, or Quake, or Metroid, we're conditioned to 1) figure out where we need to go next, 2) go as far as we can until we reach some obstacle, 3) get the thing that allows us to overcome the next obstacle – be it a key, or a weapon, or some device that shows us a passageway that we couldn't detect otherwise, 4) surmount obstacle, and 5) repeat. This series of steps creates very linear gameplay, and it also creates a system where designers shoehorn a bunch of things into areas of the game to make sure you have all the weapons or items you're already supposed to have before you proceed. It doesn't always work – there are lots of fans of certain games that delight in finding and exploiting 'sequence breaks' – but it works most of the time if the person playing the game is trying to play within the perceived 'rules'. Sometimes it would be more fun to just be able to play around, but often we're so conditioned to doing things a certain way that you can't (the designer is too conditioned) or don't (the player is too conditioned) really do that.

I really enjoy playing golf games, but only the 'cutesy' ones. (Does Outlaw Golf count as cutesy?) I don't want to have to mimic a perfect golf swing, I just want to strategize how to get through a fairway and on to the green without hitting poor little animated squirrels in the head. My current game is Capcom's "We Love Golf" for the Wii, and I have to say that it was totally because Chun-Li and Morrigan are unlockable characters (and it was on sale). Often times, I have played these games wondering why they won't just let me wander around the course. You could switch between a walk-around mode and standard golf mode, leave collectible items around the course for you to find, post a sign somewhere on a shed about game techniques, or even put a little bit of extra fan service in terms of locations. You could get to play on the Racoon City Country Club course, or perhaps a series of locations from Street Fighter or Zack and Wiki. I suppose the reviewers would complain that "The only way to get all the extra bonus items is to wander around aimlessly in first-person mode, which is a complete distraction from the actual golfing." I don't like that Gran Turismo can't just figure out what cars that you have are eligible for the race that you just tried to pick and let you select one of them instead of the car that you just switched to three screens ago in the "Garage" because you thought that it was eligible for the race you just picked, but hey – that's just me. One guy's fun new mode is another guy's ridiculous distraction. (Did you know that there are people that have Smash Bros. Brawl and have never played the Subspace Emissary mode?)

I guess what I'm getting at is that it would be fun if we could just get back to the play aspect of playing games. I get annoyed when developers seem to forget that part, and sometimes I am envious of my younger son for being able to do that, even in the most linear of games.

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