The nature of control


With the Wii U revealed at E3 earlier this month, one of the major talking points was of course its new controller. Many were expecting Nintendo to proceed with the same formula that earned the Wii its new audience and build upon its success by improving the Wii’s capabilities in terms of hardware. But Nintendo, maintaining the spark of innovation that the Wii what it is, surprised many by showcasing a touchscreen interface and controller alongside the usual features for its new console, the Wii U.

Coming across as a mesh between an iPad and an etch-a-sketch, the new controller will act similar to the DS duel screen as a way for more in game information to be presented to the player without taking up space on the main screen. Its second function is to act as an alternative main screen so that if someone switches channel or turns off the tv, whatever is happening on the main screen transfers to the touch screen allowing you to continue play.

It’s an interesting move from Nintendo and testament to the company’s forward thinking and creativity. While its rivals Sony and Microsoft have been plugging the Playstation Move and Kinect respectively, Nintendo put a fresh spin on motion control interface while maintaining the traditional elements of gamer interaction. Yet despite this, some questions arise with regards to Nintendo’s new feature.

The first question is will this tablet controller be integral to whatever games are released for the Wii U? The fact that the original Wii controllers, the Wiimote, featured in their trailer suggests that it won’t contrary to what is implied. If the answer is yes, the question that will immediately follow is how much will a controller cost? The cost of producing one may fall by the time the console is released but the touchscreen feature could potentially mean consumers would have to pay a significant price for the luxury of a second player participating simultaneously, not to mention the extra cost if you wanted to play a four player game.

[EDIT: Its seems that there will be only one tablet controller per Wii U instead of it being a traditional controller. The Wiimotes will still be used as the main controller. Cost may be the deciding factor behind that but it’s feels like a somewhat odd decision as there could be a lot of potential for using them for multiplayer.]

However, the introduction of this alongside other motion control interfaces and features alongside the success of the Wii had created a much clearer divide between the traditional and casual elements of games. The Wii, having a universal controller to cater to both spectrums, ended up seeing most of its potential unfulfilled through second and third party developers squandering its capabilities.

While Nintendo obviously utilised its motion sensor through its flagship titles as it needed to showcase what the console could do, most developers treated them as an afterthought, either clumsily tossing it into an existing IP without much thought or incorporating it into casual and forgettable mini-games, either in-game or featuring alongside other mini-games as a standalone product (a significant proportion of commercially successful Wii games followed the latter formula).

Mini games as standalone title

Wii Play was one of many examples of simplistic minigames being made into full standalone titles.

Ultimately it meant that a more casual audience was better catered for than those who would be views as more prominent gamers. Those who grew up with the Legend of Zelda, Goldeneye, and the Mario series were left looking to Sony and Microsoft for a more comprehensive interface and games that catered to their needs only to be greeted with Move and Kinect. Neither integral to either console but marketed to entice some of the audience that Nintendo acquired over to their side.

This year’s E3 has shown that, for better or worse, motion sensory technology has become the major focus for these companies, incorporating them into their core titles alongside the more traditional controls methods. While it’s exciting to see how this technology develops and what ideas developers congers up, adding more interaction and input to games while maintaining a smooth interface that doesn’t bog the player down will be a challenge for developers but not a new one, such a ordeal goes back to when games were very much in its infancy.

A controller has a simple purpose, to allow the player the maximum amount of control and influence on specific or broad elements in a game with minimum thought or effort. Roughly 20 years ago, when the Atari ST and Amiga were seen as both a major console and doubled up as home computers, their basic joystick had only two buttons, both fulfilling the same function.

Presumably this was to cater for both left and right handed people to use their preferred hand to control and their less dominant hand to press fire but it meant that the games in question were relatively simple affairs. The time it took to accustom yourself to whatever game you happened to play was at a minimum allowing you to focus on the more pressing task of obtaining a high score or defeating the end of level boss.

Back in the days when gaming was a simple affair

Back in the days when gaming was a simple affair.

When the technology improved, the complexity of gaming increased in conjunction and a greater degree of control was needed to keep up. More buttons, triggers and analogue sticks accompanied each successive leap technology made. Before long, the majority of games came included with tutorials or training segments to accustom you with each intricacy the game featured. Developers were faced with the challenge of making a game complex enough to engage in yet make the control system fluid enough for gamers to act with some degree of dexterity. Then the Wii came along and everyone went back to the drawing board.

But with the advent of the Wii and it unearthing of the riches brought by the casual market, the major players rethought their strategy and acted accordingly with Move and Kinect. Yet while Nintendo had the Wiimote to act as a traditional controller, Move and Kinect are severely limited as to what games they can host, it being unlikely that traditional elements of games requiring quick reactions or spatial movement or actions in game would transfer well alone.

Motion sensor controls hasn’t transformed the playing field but rather widened it. The reason for this change in audience isn’t down to accessibility, if this was the reason than the traditional gaming audience during the 80s and 90s would have been more than just teenagers and kids. Instead, it the shift in culture that brought this, one that’s has the online world embedded in its day to day business through computers, smart phones, MP3s and digital TV.

On a somewhat related note, you can get a stick-on joystick for your iphone to make touchscreen games much easier to play.

It’s hard to say whether this audience would have gotten into games had it stuck to the traditional boundaries but Nintendo recognised this market and adjusted its interface accordingly to cater for them. Now it has done the same to bridge the gap between casual and traditional markets, quite possibly creating a more comprehensive console for both ends and redefining how interactive our entertainment becomes.

You couldn’t remake it up

Despite not being as powerful as the PS3 or Xbox 360 or the fact that half its games are celebrity/show/product endorsed party mini-games, I still like the Wii. For the many people complaining about how Nintendo have negleted the core audience with casual games and cynical releases that capatilize upon this (Wii Fit and especially Wii Play), I would normally point to titles such as Resident Evil 4, the Metroid Prime series and No More Heroes as my defense.

Admittedly, it’s not a brilliant defence but I at least feel that dispite the cynical releases and lazy titles on the Wii, there are still quality games for it and that Nintendo hasn’t completely sold out and forgotten about the gamers who bought the SNES, N64 or Gamecube. But even my goodwill has a limit if pushed far enough so step forward Super Mario All-Stars (which for purposes of laziness I’ll abbreviate as SMAS).

Before we go into what’s wrong with this release, allow me to provide some background info. SMAS was released on the SNES back in 1993, presumably because the SNES wasn’t backwards compatable with NES games and Nintendo wanted to give games who missed the NES generation a second chance to expecience the classic Mario Bros series.

While fundamentally the same games, (Mario Bros 1, 2, 3 and the lost levels which was the real Super Mario Bros 2 but wasn’t released in America or Europe due to its high difficulty), the graphics were updated and minor tweaks were introduced making it a better and more complete experience.

Since Mario reached that 25 year mark, someone at Nintendo thought it’d be a good idea to commemorate this. You think fair enough, why wouldn’t they! From a business point of view, it wouldn’t hurt the balance sheet and gamers who missed playing these games could do so again. Yet you think with working on SMAS all those years ago and seeing the success that came with it, they would do the same with this, add small improvements to existing games and make it a must have collection. Unfortunately things didn’t work that way.

The part that bothers me greatly about this release, it’s the sheer laziness behind it. Nintendo had this fantastic opportunity to add in games like SM World, Yoshi’s Island, SM 64, Mario RPG, SM Sunshine to this and yet squandered the chance. It’s not like they had the excuse of too little space as they could have easily fit it onto the CD if they bothered to do so. When you compare it to other companies like Sega who have released far superiour compilation games on Xbox and PS3 this gripe is only highlighted further.

SMAS Wii is effectively the same game, only difference is that its on a CD and not a cartridge. So in case you haven’t gotten your head around that this is a 1993 remake of games released back in 1985,1988 and 1991 that’s been rereleased in 2010. That’s a 17 year gap since SMAS original release and the opportunity for innovation and improving the product was clearly there even if the idea was thought up of only a few months before release. Yet as well as not updating the collection, the best selling point they could come up with was “Play with just the Wii remote” (refer to picture above if you don’t believe me).

The worst part about this is that you can get each of these games without getting off your couch through Virtual Console. Roughly all NES games (and that what they are!) are 500 points which comes to €5. At the time of writing, Super Mario All-Stars  costs €30. So for a downgrade in graphics you can play the exact same game for €10 cheaper and €15 if you omit the lost levels which doesn’t do anything majorly different from the first game.

Nintendo had a brilliant chance to remind gamers how they got to the place they are now. Instead they’ve just reminded us what they’ve become.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (PC, PS2, Gamecube & Xbox – 2002)

Hitman 2 is by definition a puzzler disguised as a stealth action game. Sounds odd but not when you think about it for a moment. Each mission is practically a brainteaser as to how you complete a mission without raising suspicion. It’s like a really brutal rubik’s cube puzzle. There’s normally three or four ways to compete the mission, the proper stealthy way by not being noticed by anyone (solving it by yourself) picking off the numerous guards that get in your way one by one without anyone noticing (solving just one side and neglecting the rest) or resorting to pure wanton violence (slamming the rubik’s cube to the ground and telling it to go to hell).

All good stealth games require planning of some sort. Before each mission, you’re briefed as to what you need to do, being supplied with the appropriate documents and images needed to carry out the kill as well as a satellite map to work out guard routines and civilian placements as most missions take place in public areas.

In theory you could just get a machine gun and wade in taking out all who oppose you yet chances are you’ll be overwhelmed by guards in a few seconds. You could get a sniper rifle, climb to the top of a really high building and pick off your target from afar. But chances are the building will be surrounded and swarming with guards (getting the picture yet?) within moments making escape almost impossible. In these instances, a different approach comes into play, mainly concealment and disguise.

Sneaking up behind someone with the fiber wire is one way of silencing guards or potential witnesses

Sneaking up behind someone with the fiber wire is one way of silencing guards or potential witnesses

People will be suspicious of the shady bald man in a black suit if they were standing 20 feet away from them but won’t if he’s dressed up in guards or civilian clothing. Therefore when killing or knocking out a guard or civilian, taking their clothes is sometimes the only way to get into areas you couldn’t access by yourself.

The first level is a perfect example of this: there’s a mansion that you need to enter to kill a mafia leader and free a hostage. The main gates are being patrolled by guards, the first side entrance has a guard normally coming through to ‘relieve’ himself every now and again, there’s a postman nearby having a cigarette and there’s a courier delivering food to the kitchen.  One of the possibilities is hiding your weapons in the food and stealing either the postman or courier’s uniform and walk straight into the premises after being searched, collecting your weapons in the kitchen and wrecking havoc from the inside. There are many others options and methods but it all depends on how you approach the situation and what happens when you do.

Common sense comes into play as well when you obtain these disguises, you can’t be close to certain personnel otherwise they’ll discover you and wearing guard uniform is a no no if your face is visible. If you’re out of place, they’ll suspect you but only if you stay within their field of range. Pressing forward normally allows you to bypass  this unless you go into an area that’s out of bounds in which case you’ll be greeted with machine gun fire.

Obtaining disguises are normally a good way of getting through security. Just be sure to actually hide the bodies.

Also guards don’t suffer from Solid Snake syndrome (everyone suffering from collective amnesia when you’re out of sight for ten seconds), when you’re spotted, you’ll need some powerful weapons and a good vantage point to get out alive. They won’t forget you or your disguise and will search every nook and cranny until they find you which normally leads to some of Hitman 2 most thrilling moments.

But the greatest thrill is simply going in unnoticed disguised or otherwise, getting past security, performing your kill and getting out unnoticed. Trying to achieve the perfect kill is a mixture of tension and exhilaration as you carefully make your way through each situation without blowing your cover.

But the real joy is approaching each mission the way you want to, the game doesn’t penalize you so long as you complete each task, directly or indirectly . To be honest, there’s something liberating about breaking the rules and massacring an entire army because you didn’t want to hide in the shadows for half an hour but that’s missing the point. For those who want to break away from the norm and the Metal Gear solid definition of stealth, they’ll find themselves playing a thoughtful and clever action puzzler.

Why are these ‘ancient’ devices so futuristic?

Graham Linehan posted this up on his twitter account a few days ago and I thought it was worth posting up again. A flowchart of every Japanese RPG plot.

Sadly I find it funny and quite accurate as I can think of at least a dozen JRPGs that I’ve played that follow these story-line formulas. Don’t know what that says about me.

If clicking on the picture doesn’t work, the he full size chart can be found here.

A step too far…

Tabloid newspapers aren’t famed for being factual and reliable news sources, normally relying on sensationalism and exaggeration to shift copies but it’s stories like this that expose them for what they are. Earlier on Twitter, I noticed that Charlie Brooker tweeted a message saying “I hope Rockstar sue the shit out of the Daily Star [UK] for this” with a link to the gaming website Computer and Video Games (CVG). Intrigued, I clicked on it and when I saw the title appear:

Raoul Moat GTA story makes Daily Star look like idiots

my immediate thought was that this was yet another article that says games are evil and turn normal people into psychopathic killers and that they are “sick” and so on and so forth. Amazingly I was wrong.

When CVG’s article loaded up, I quickly discovered what the outrage was about. Instead of going for the tried and trusted template mentioned above, the Daily Star went with the heading “Raoul Moat Video Game, Film and Books cause fury.” I soon realized that this wasn’t just any lazy article I was reading.

The story in question

Provided you took a second or two to look through the article above, let’s get what could be potentially true out of the way first. The book could be the only truth to this story but judging by the quote from the author, it seems that it’s questioning why some people painted Moat as a type of tragic hero. Now lets say that the book is real, what are the chances the people responsible for this story thought “hmm we have something but we need something more for it to jump out and demand your attention.” My guess would be pretty damn high and besides, there’s space to fill in the paper so four or five lines won’t cut it as a story.

Their answer to these problems was stumbling upon a doctored image of Grand Theft Auto that featured Moat and images of the scene. Obviously whoever made the image did it as a joke but whether the Daily Star realised that or not is irrelevant.  They must have thought, “Bingo! Here’s our angle” and it fits perfectly with the whole killer theme since in their world, GTA is all about having sex with prostitutes before brutally killing them with a baseball bat.

That image and one paragraph – that claimed that gaming websites were showing the cover of Grand Theft Auto Rothbury – was the only proof they had to back this claim, both of which were unbelievably weak. Clearly they were aiming for the older audience who don’t come into contact with games and believe the “games are pure evil” mantra the tabloids throw out on a routine basis and consume this without questioning it. Yet they would be the people who would buy the paper on a regular basis so the article would, in theory, be only seen by its target audience. However, when you put an article up online, it’s exposed to everyone which is how gamers caught wind of it and why the Daily Star are (or at least should be) into trouble.

The article on CVG already covers the main complaints that I have with their article but to be honest, if this game actually existed, you can pretty much guarantee that the article would have featured a list of the horrible and “sick” things you could get up to. If I wanted to be pedantic, I would point out that games normally take quite a while to develop – at least a good few months if you’re working on an expansion game and years on a new IP – and the first pictures developers will ever show is either a title or a picture of its trailer or current in-game footage. The box art is always one of the last things to be done in a games production schedule since obviously aspects like concepts or art design can very easily change before a game is finished.

Would you believe that this is a real game?

While this isn’t the first time a tabloid has printed a completely fictional story (and certainly won’t be the last), all it shows is a surprising lack of awareness and stupidity by some journalists when it comes to publishing stories and filling up copy. While I hate that my hobby is treated like this (and kudos for those who spoke out against the Daily Star and condemned them for it) I feel sorry for the relative that was quoted, Moat ex-girlfriend’s grandmother who, quite naturally, was horrified about a game, book and film based on Moat last few days was being made.

The situation was terrible for those involved and suffered subsequently and I can only be sympathetic towards her reaction, I know I’d react the same if I was in the same position. However, when you make something like this up and present it as fact to somebody who has experienced something as emotionally draining as the Moat situation, it’s at that point it stops being harmless lies and becomes cruel and exploit those who are emotionally vulnerable.

The only credit I can give the Daily Star is that they weren’t sloppy enough to include the developer’s name Rockstar in the article. Again if it was true, they would have went to town on them and condemn them for it but the fact that they didn’t mention them not only proves that the game doesn’t exist but it means at they avoid any major libel.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Daily Star have taken down the story (despite the link to the article still featuring on its home page as the most read article of the day) and instead you’re greeted with a error page accompanied with an image of a semi naked model with the caption “Why not check out the babes section?”* Perhaps that screen alone is an apt summary of the Daily Star and of tabloids in general.

*Needless to say, I didn’t!

A stopgap of sorts!

Another article that I wrote for geeks.co.uk a few weeks ago. Finding the time to properly update the blog is becoming harder and harder since I’m currently in crunch time regarding college as a treasure trove of essays, assignments, exams and a thesis awaits me over the next few weeks. So as far as an update goes this’ll plug the gap until I get enough free time to properly write something. Anywho, I know I already wrote a blog on voiceovers but since this was for a website, I approached it differently. My personal favorites are Mortal Kombat 4 and Animal Sorld Soccer just for sheer awfulness.  Apologizes to anyone who actually checks this blog regularly but you’ll have to wait a tad longer before I can write something original.

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The Worst Videogames Voiceovers

Must try harder

Inspired by a feature on storylines in games a few weeks ago, we touched upon some of the worst voice acting to feature in videogaming. Looking back on that piece, we feel that we didn’t go far enough in demonstrating how horribly wrong these scenes can go. So for educational purposes and a cheap laugh or two, we give to you just a few examples of the worst voice acting you can get in videogames.

Deus Ex (PC)

In its defense, Deus Ex is a fantastic game and at the time, one of the most immersive FPS on offer. However, when you reach the Hong Kong district, the quality of acting takes a sharp decline either through odd dialogue or hammy accents. I get why the Hong Kong natives speak so poorly since you can make the case that English isn’t their main accent but a number of questions arise. For example, why does the bartender have an Australian accent? How does a man with a dodgy Irish accent know he was a mule in Northern Thailand? Why didn’t they go one step further and get the scientist to say E=mc2 since they were kind enough to give him a stereotypical German accent?

Deep Fear (Sega Saturn)

There’s something about the guard that reminds me of Cleveland from Family Guy but the feelings evoked from both characters packs quite an emotional punch. The guard’s heartfelt plea at the end of this clip is perhaps good advice for everyone and really brings it to a climatic close.

House of the Dead 2 (PC, Dreamcast)

Where do we start? The main character’s obvious amusement at entering a building, his ‘don’t move!’ reaction when confronting Goldman and speaking of Goldman, while it’s kind of him to point out that it’s the last battle, he delivers his lines with the energy of a eight year old with an alcohol problem reading aloud in class. Oh, did I mention his pronunciation of ‘life cycle?’

Chaos Wars (PS2)

To summarise, Uru speaks as though he’s in a parody movie you’d find at Newgrounds.com and is incredibly camp, which when you think about his interactions with Nicole becomes quite disturbing. Karen sounds braindead, Shizuku slurs her words and Hyoma and Hayatemaru appear to have inherited the worst inner city American lingo from the 80s.

Mortal Kombat 4 (PSX)

Breathtaking for all the wrong reasons, while there’s the obvious problem of the character models looking and moving quite rigidly, some thoughts spring to mind: (1) While Jarek clearly jumps off the cliff (with some deft movement by Sonia, it must be said) how did he manage to hang off the ledge two seconds later? (2) After crushing that walkie talkie, couldn’t he have laughed.. well, better? (3) Why did Jax ask what happened when (again two seconds later) he knows about Sonia’s death and (4) “This is not a brutality, this is a fatality!” perfectly describes the quality of this cutscene.

Belief and Betrayal (PC)

It’s really the latter part of this cutscene that’s annoying. The main character is a smug twat, apparently a ladies man and speaks so fast that he responds to conversation topics before the words have even been spoken. He’s also a journalist who, judging him by this scene alone, probably gets all the articles that nobody else wants or worse, writes weekly articles on flash games.

Animal Soccer World (PS2)

Saving the best till last, if you thought the above was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet! All I can say is that this really does need to be seen to be believed and you’ll need to be an emotionless dunce not to feel some embarrassment towards the quality of acting and the background music that only heightens the suspense.  To this day, I still have no idea if this game has any actual gameplay and to be honest, I don’t think I want to find out!

The greatest story ever told…

Final Fantasy VII epic plot was let down by lazy and poorly translated dialogue.

When compared to other mediums, there’s an obvious distinction between games and other forms of media. Games are interactive whereas books and film aren’t, or at least in theory that’s how it should be.As games have become more sophisticated with each passing generation, the demand for a more complex storyline seems to have accompanied this. But for every Monkey IslandSam & Max and Heavy Rain, there are a hundred or so identikit games with plots so hackneyed and clichéd, it would make the literary world burst into tears.

Yet it wasn’t always like this. Games used to stem from a simple idea which was then developed over a period of months and years before release. Thinking back to any popular game from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, it’s difficult to find a plot that couldn’t be summed up with one line. Many developers tacked a storyline onto the game as an afterthought and an excuse for some of the games’ events and even then, it contributed very little to the experience of playing it. If there was a plot, it was only there for anyone nerdish enough to read the manual, but then something changed. Before we knew it games were boasting  reams of dialogue and complex plots, each supposedly greater and richer than the last.

Even now, there are some games that can work perfectly well without any plot to justify their content. You certainly don’t play Street Fighter IV for its plot-line but then again, it’s perhaps more engaging for the player if there’s purpose for your actions. Being told to ‘prevent the launch of a nuclear missile before the countdown finishes’ is more involving than being told to ‘complete the level before the time runs out.’

Perhaps the one medium where story was king was the text adventure which told multiple stories across formats such as the BBC and Commodore 64, using only text and perhaps a static image to move things along. As close to an interactive novel as you could get, your choices were as complex as your imagination and often required a non-linear approach. However, their complete lack of graphics meant that they became nothing more than a historic relic.

One game genre currently experiencing a revival is the point and click adventure which championed plot and dialogue. The release of Tales of Monkey Island episodes and the Sam and Max series shows that the genre is very much alive and kicking with its enjoyable humor and puzzles in tow.

Yet these are a small fragment of the vast gaming catalogue and it’s perhaps tragic that most developers haven’t learned from these games. Some don’t understand basic storytelling principals or how to write proper believable dialogue; the art of writing is thrown to the wayside. Its only purpose is tying the game’s set pieces together and nothing more. Normally this leads to dialogue and stories so dull that progression becomes a slog unless you can actually skip the cut-scenes.

The other problem is that most games tend to come from foreign areas like Japan and must undergo translation; the first part is the actual translation from Japanese to English, followed by further localisation so that the dialogue actually makes sense.

When it originally came out Final Fantasy’s VII was seen as a landmark of in-game storytelling. Play through it again, however, and you’ll notice several examples of poorly translated dialogue.   Still, it pales in comparison to the worst case scenario, the infamous Zero Wingintroduction where the breathtaking lack of effort in translating a few lines has led it to become an cult internet hit.

That’s not to say that all games have poor plot-lines or don’t know how to tell a story, it’s just that most haven’t found the best way to get a message across. The Metal Gear Solid series, championing its complex story, was punctuated with long overblown cut-scenes that earned the ire and scorn of many a gamer as it turned them from players into watchers – not a good thing for a medium that champions interactivity and control.

Yet one of the more successful stories in games comes from a genre that wasn’t typically associated with them.Half-Life, when it was released back in 1998, had a wafer thin plot and lacked any form of characterisation but possessed one of the best narratives known to games. By placing numerous set-pieces in the game world, they pushed the player along and made them feel as though the world progressed with or without their interaction, rather than being composed of scripted events that just happened when the player finally arrived.

The Legend of Zelda is another good example. Its use of cut-scenes tended to have a gameplay purpose, either to direct you towards another goal, reveal something new or drop hints about possible rewards. While they’re short and frequent, they do work as they motivate the player to explore and complete the game.

These examples may not have the most epic plot lines but they do demonstrate how much a story can enrich a game if used properly. Maybe the current generation is signalling a change. Titles like Heavy Rain and Bioshock are incorporating stories as a major part of the gaming experience rather than including them merely for the sake of it.

Maybe in the next few years we’ll begin to see games that will up the ante, offering plots and dialogue that will grab the attention and rival anything the literature and film industries have to offer. Perhaps developers will begin to realise that a plot or story is more than a necessity, and see it as something that will create a richer experience. Poor dialogue and lazy plots, you have no chance to survive!

This article was originally written for geeks.co.uk. The original article can be found on http://www.geeks.co.uk/19239-the-greatest-story-ever-told…