Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Perfect Start

For the near future, until we know more about Zelda on the 3DS and Wii U, this blog will focus on what's wrong with modern Zelda and how to improve it. Nintendo's goal is to make Zelda more popular again and they can't do that with the current Aonuma Zelda formula, because it's this formula, which is the problem. A lot has to change.

Check out this Kotaku article. It deals with a very important point: in the classic Nintendo games you jump right into the fun. There are no tutorial phases in Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. You get the sword right away and you start exploring. The essence of the game is there from minute one.

Modern Zelda completely lost track of this. There are lenghty tutorials for all the newly introduced gimmicks and there are many cut scenes you have to endure, before the real funs starts. Skyward Sword is a perfect example for this. They don't just let you go explore the world below, first you have to find your bird, learn how to fly in some ceremony, watch many cutscenes and so on.

When I observe my gaming behavior I usually prefer games, where I can jump right into the action. For example on the PC I like playing Unreal Tournament or Minecraft. The latter is a nice example, because its Survival Mode shares some similarities with the traditional Zelda gameplay. You get dropped right into the world, you start collecting stuff (to built better items) and you can go, whereever you want. You are free to explore the world like in the first Zelda game. The only restrictions are your own powers. As you become stronger, you can go explore the dark undergrounds. Zelda used to be like that, but it turned more and more into a guided and linear experience. And by now it takes you an hour to get into the real action.

It is very good that Nintendo is looking into this phenomenom. However, Miyamoto sees two major problems with this: one is the game elements that require teaching and the other one is story telling. I think the real problem are actually the teaching and the story telling. Both have to go.

Learning by doing. Actually Skyward Sword's controls were so natural and intuitive that they didn't require any tutorials, you just could learn them on the fly. And in fact there weren't many tutorials, for example you could skip the sword tutorial entirely. Which is the right way. Let the people learn the new stuff by theirselves and only include some optional help for those who really need it. For example Ocarina of Time introduced the 3D targeting controls, but they didn't force any tutorials on you. Beginners would talk to the Kokiki or read the signs at the training center. Experienced players just skip right to the Deku Tree. And that's the way how it should be. It also adds to the replay value. If you already played the game, you certainly don't want to endure any tutorials. Tutorials always should be optional.

Only the flying got its own forced tutorial sequence in Skyward Sword, because this was the new gimmick. But do we really need flying in a Zelda game? Or trains? Or becoming a wolf? Modern Zelda revolves around gimmicks, each new Zelda game gets its own share of new gimmicks. And usually those gimmicks don't have anything to do with traditional Zelda, which is why they get tutorials. For the next Zelda game Nintendo should not think about what amazing and creative new ideas they could stuff into Zelda, but they should focus on the core elements. Exploring, fighting, discovering secrets, collecting items.

And story telling shouldn't be in the way of the gaming experience. Never. I entirely dislike any movie-like games. If I want to watch a movie, I watch a movie. Games are about interaction. Games are about choices. Cutscenes are crap, because they don't offer any interaction or choices (at least not in Zelda, cut those silly multiple choice options with no effects). A video game has many more interesting possiblities of HOW to tell a story. Video games are the only media that allow non-linear story telling. You should explore the story by yourself while exploring Hyrule. By talking to people, reading old books or writings on a wall. Zelda offers many interesting ways to explore a story instead of just showing you cutscenes.

Majora's Mask does it right. You get dropped in Clocktown, where you EXPLORE the story all by yourself. You talk to people and you learn more about the town, the carnival and the Skull Kid. You listen to granny's old stories and get to know more about the backgrounds. It's an amazingly satisfying experience. Zelda doesn't need any lenghty cutscenes. Zelda doesn't need linear story telling. Zelda doesn't need an intro phase filled with cutscenes.

The goal for the next Zelda game should be the following: give you a sword as soon as possible and drop you into the open world as soon as possible. Don't force anything, let the player explore the magic of Hyrule all by himself. For a perfect start into a good game.

No Retro Zelda For You

So, when Miyamoto talked with Wired about how smooth the collaboration with Retro Studios went while making Mario Kart 7, he hinted that Zelda might be next.

Of course this caused massive hype among Zelda fans including myself. Retro understood perfectly what made the classic games great and they knew how to infuse this into a modern game. The Metroid Prime Trilogy is simply one of the finest Nintendo products of the last ten years and Donkey Kong Country Returns was a fun platformer. Zelda fans want Retro to work on Zelda, because those guys could bring Zelda back to glory.

But now Miyamoto denies in an interview with IGN that Retro is working together with Nintendo on the next Zelda, because the collaboration suddenly would be too difficult. Seriously...?

Okay, I understand that in Mario Kart 7 the labor division was probably a lot easier, since Retro was working on their own tracks. But you could still split the work of a Zelda game. Retro could make the dungeons for example. I trust in (old) Retro that they would return to the non-linear, maze-like dungeon design of the classics. So, at least the dungeons would be awesome.

But the problem seems to be a lot deeper than just issues in collaborating. According to these reports (as seen on ZI) Retro Studios is falling apart, most of the core employees have left the company over the past few years. Retro is not the same company anymore, who made the Prime Trilogy. So, Retro has to prove yet again that they're the right guys to work on projects like Zelda. Let them revive another classic franchise, let's say Starfox or F-Zero, so they can show what the new Retro can do.

I'm sad about what's happening at Retro, because I saw a chance for Zelda in this studio. But now this chance seems to be gone.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Zelda Wii U still in Experimental Stage

Miyamoto in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:

What we continue to ask ourselves as we have over the years is, “What is the most important element of Zelda if we were to try to make a Zelda game that a lot of people can play?” So we have a number of different experiments going on, and [when] we decide that we’ve found the right one of those to really help bring Zelda to a very big audience, then we’ll be happy to announce it.

With the last game, Skyward Sword, that was a game where you had motion control to use your weapons and a lot of different items, and I thought that was a lot of fun, but there were some people who weren’t able to do that or didn’t like it as much and stopped playing partway through it. So we’re in the phase where we’re looking back at what’s worked very well and what has been missing and how can we evolve it further.

With Skyward Sword we had a long experimental stage. It took five years to make the game, mostly because they experimented for a long time. There was even a phase, where they experimented with a first person perspective, which spawned Link's Crossbow Training. It took them five years to make a streamlined Zelda game with spot on intuitive controls. When the game was released half a year ago, Nintendo acted like the controls were the perfect way of playing Zelda. Aonuma even told the ONM, that they can't go back to button controls. But now it seems like anything is possible. The Wii U is a game system with multiple control layouts. You can use the Wiimote and Nunchuk, the new pad or a typical dual analog gamepad. But in case of Zelda I'd say stay with the Wiimote controls.

The problem with Skyward Sword were not the controls. But how the fighting felt unnatural. Suddenly all fights revolved around "swing in the right angle" puzzles, which wasn't much fun. Stalfos were holding their swords in weird ways just to offer an obvious week point. I think the controls were great, but the fighting and all the motion control puzzles sucked ballz. It would have been much more fun and satisfying to use the new controls in more natural fights. However, I fear that Nintendo doesn't see the flaws in the ways how modern Zelda games tend to work and just keeps throwing new input methods at us, which won't change anything.

Nintendo shouldn't focus on the controls for once, but on the game. They lost track of what a good Zelda game has to look like. Their experiments hopefully will focus on what made the classic Zelda games great. The ones on the NES, A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. One might blame me for being blinded by nostalgia, but there are reasons why many people favor the classic Zelda games over games like Skyward Sword or Spirit Tricks. Those games were about exploring and discovering secrets. The fights were tougher, the worlds were more open and dungeons used to be more non-linear and maze-like. Discovering hidden stuff and getting better items felt more satisfying. Modern Zelda games got very linear, too easy and too focused on gimmicky puzzles. Modern Zelda games are bloated with stuff like cut scenes, long tutorial phases, annoying sidekicks and are full of gimmicky gameplay elements like Silent Realms, which shouldn't be part of a Zelda game to begin with.

If they want Zelda to be successful again, they have to strip it down. Down to the very NES basics. Down to the core of what Zelda was supposed to be. And this is were they should start.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest Announced

If you read the post's title alone, you might be pissing your pants for excitement. "The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest? That sounds awesome!" Too bad it's just some stupid minigame in Nintendo's next minigame collection for the Wii U: NintendoLand.

The game will feature Miis dressed as Link in an on rail shooter experience in fabric visuals. Two of them can swing the sword similar to Skyward Sword, while the first player uses the Wii U Gamepad to fire arrows with a bow. That's pretty much it... nothing exciting here, much like the rest of the Nintendo E3 2012 press conference.

And I'm pissed that a cool name like "The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest" gets wasted on a minigame.

Source: Kotaku, NintendoEverything

Brace Yourselves, the E3 2012 Nintendo Press Conference is Coming

Two in fact, there will be a seperate Nintendo 3DS event later on Thursday at 3AM.

Well, the Nintendo Direct event yesterday was rather disappointing. I didn't like the bad Big Bang Theory imitation, it wasn't really funny, it distracted from the product and it didn't feel like something, where you would identify yourself with, whether you're a gamer or someone who is interested in the Wii for other reasons like family or WiiFit. The new controller feels forced, Iwata acted like it's the must have solution to many problems. I don't see it. Not to mention that they shouldn't even consider pop psychology crap like "Alone Together", which probably aims against all technology as something bad, I don't see how a new separate screen in your household would help with the "together alone" problem. It rather amplifies it, now your wife can watch Grey's Anatomy, while you play Super Mario on the pad. I actually thought that Microsoft's SmartGlass was a much nicer approach. It didn't feel forced and some ideas like having a map of Westeros while watching Game of Thrones were quite cool (that would in fact be quite helpful, since the show jumps around so often). I'm not a fan of the new controller, I can't see myself playing Zelda with this thing, and I don't like the Miiverse idea that much. My Wii is now turning into Facebook? That's the last thing I wanted, it's a fad that won't add anything to the games in ten years. Most Nintendo games have something in common: they are timeless. You can play A Link to the Past in 20 years and it's still a great game. They shouldn't add any ephemeral features like social networking to their games.

But all hope now lies in the games. The ship Nintendo rise and sinks with its games, the stupid Wii U is just a box I have to buy to play Zelda. We'll definitely learn more about New Super Mario Bros. Mii and 2. As well as Luigi's Mansion 2 and maybe Super Smash Bros Universe (have you seen the Playstation Allstar copycat? trolololol). I don't expect Metroid and I'm not sure about Zelda. It only has been half a year since the last release and they shouldn't have come far. But a simple teaser (trailer) is still a possibility, at least for the 3DS Zelda, just to get people excited and maybe to show the direction of the new games. Maybe a confirmation that Retro is working on Zelda Wii U (that alone would get me hyped). Maybe another Zelda Wii U tech demo that shows more of the Wii U's power. We'll see in a few hours.

Enjoy the show, everybody!