Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Importance of X, Part 3: Ueda Edition

It is a bit nostalgic to play ICO and Shadow of the Colossus again. Both of these games were designed by Fumito Ueda and characterized by a sparse visual style, overexposed lighting, and a minimal amount of dialogue. These two games are often among the first titles two be mentioned when the topic of videogames as art comes up. While the original releases of the games looked nice enough compared to other Playstation 2 games of the time, it is even better to see the remastered PS3 versions, which are both available on the same disc.

I originally played the two games farther apart than the actual game releases. I played ICO several months after it came out because a friend of ours got the game and suggested we (the wife and I) play it just as soon as he was done with it, and Shadow of the Colossus had been a Greatest Hits title for over a year or more before I played it.  ICO especially is dear to me because it was one of the few modern games that both my wife and I had finished independently, and it really resonated with us as long-time gamers in terms of it design and story. Shadow of the Colossus was beautiful and haunting in some of the same ways as ICO was, partly due to the sparse environments and the lack of dialogue. 

The last few times that we had gone to the game store as a group, my older son kept asking about the PS3 remake. I found it strange at first that my older son got so fixated on the idea of playing these games. But, I had talked about them a lot, and he had never seen the first game at all so perhaps the mystery of it was enticing him somehow. So, eventually I picked up a copy. The first night that the game got played, I had suggested to my older son that he play ICO, so that our younger son would watch him play, and relax and hopefully get some sleep. However, my older son opted for Shadow of the Colossus only to discover that it was much more intense than ICO. It took him quite a few tries to get the hang of what he was doing on the first Colossus, and I had noticed that he spent a lot of time calling his horse while he was trying to run away. As it turns out, the reason for that is that the jump button for that game (and ICO as well) is mapped to triangle instead of X, so he was trying to jump while running to go faster and ended up calling his horse instead. In the slower pace of ICO, the abnormal mapping of the jump button is less of a hindrance, and once having completed ICO, it's a little more natural to use the triangle button for jump when you get to Shadow of the Colossus.

I was thinking for a moment that perhaps this was some cultural difference, and the Japanese preferred the triangle button to the X button since the first Devil May Cry game also used triangle for jump, but I was just reading that the Japanese version of DMC uses X for jump (which, luckily they did for later US titles).

Team ICO still has one more game to do, no telling what the control scheme will be, but I am looking forward to the release of The Last Guardian (but with my luck they're going to delay it until the release of the PS4).

Addendum: Those of you who weren't sure what I was getting at about a non-standard mapping of the jump button should see the previous posts - Part One and Part Two.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Unbearable Intrusiveness of Marketing (with apologies to Milan Kundera)

I finally managed to make my way to real hi-def TV the other day, after having my 16x9 480p tube TV conk out on me after several years. I found a TV in a brand that I was happy with that was the same size as the tube TV that I had before. I had convinced myself that I would be perfectly fine with a 720p60Hz television, only to find that the TV I was going to get was no longer available and I had to get the 1080p60Hz model that replaced it for $11 more. My previous attempts at figuring out if I could get a 1080p television had convinced me that the difference was going to be somewhere around $130, but I apparently lucked out.  I have not put the old TV out by the road yet as it had been raining a lot and I have not found a silver Sharpie or a good Spanish translation of the phrase "Damaged Power Supply".

I was glad to be able to separate my Wii from my PS3 again, so that they weren't both tying up the same screen. Once I had it hooked up, I was excited to see the PS3 reissue of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, and the Blu-Ray of Wreck-It Ralph. It was also nice that my younger son could go play Wii again if he didn't like what was on the PS3. With the TV conflict sorted out, gaming around the house mostly went back to normal and I would now be telling you about how much I liked ICO and Shadow of the Colossus and how much they mean to gaming and how I'm going to really enjoy playing them again and my older son will get to take a crack at ICO for the first time.

Except that I'm not. (At least not today.)

The thing that's really gnawing at my brain at the moment happened a night or two after the TV debacle got straightened out. We were trying to round up the SuperMonkeyChildren at bedtime when we got distracted by something. The Wii, which I was sure was off, was flashing its blue LEDs from the drive tray in all sorts of strange patterns in an attempt to get my attention. (Yay, it worked.) I checked to make sure that nobody had left a disk in the drive, and then I turned the TV it was attached to on to see what the heck was going on.
It wasn't already on, and I turned it on only to see that there was a message. I figured it was going to be a system message like "You played Super Smash Bros. for 1:27 and Sengoku Basara:Samurai Heroes for 4:15 - what happened to Wii Fit, you lazy slug" but it turned out to be a message from outside. Since it's nearly impossible for anyone to send a message like this on purpose thanks to Nintendo's overly protective online strategy for the Wii, I should have figured out even before I opened the message that it could only have come from Nintendo itself.

The message was Nintendo telling me that I should buy a Wii U since I already had a Wii and could use all my existing controllers on it already. My first offhand thought was sending a response that said "Well, if I hadn't just replaced my TV...", while SuperMonkeyWife just suggested I send a response along the lines of "Well, if you're buying...". What I realized was two things. One, this was the first time that I had been marketed to this way, and two, if Nintendo had been paying attention like the way it's able to pay attention now it would know that I have eventually bought almost*every console they've ever put out, just not always right away. The Wii is the first Nintendo console that had any substantial online capability, and so it's their first console that seems to be tracking aggregate gameplay data to find out what people are playing. I presume that Microsoft and Sony were already doing some amount of this for XBox users and PS2 users that played online in the previous generation - the GameCube didn't really do much in the way of online other than a handful of titles so I imagine there was hardly any reason to track usage stats.

I know that my PS3 figures out which titles to suggest to me based on what games I have save files for, so I guess it's not long before I see the same message from Sony about buying the new PS4 this holiday season. I don't think it's going to tell me that I can use my PS3 controllers, though. I'm in no rush to get a PS4 anyway. I could be a little more excited about the WiiU once Pikmin 3 is out, but ultimately if there are still games to play on the Wii and PS3 that still seems like a good thing. If I'm always looking for the next console instead of the most satisfying game, you end up with something like this:

"A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person." -Milan Kundera

*While I expect to eventually get a 3DS and a WiiU, there's little chance I'm going to go back and get a Virtual Boy.