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Nintendo: From RPGs to mini-games
Posted on Thursday, March 4 2010 @ 04:49:35 Eastern

Every so often you'll hear someone remark, in typically condescending fashion, about how the Nintendo Wii is for casual gamers, or is filled with mini-games, or is the "Home of Shovelware". Usually I ignore such remarks. I own a Wii, and I've greatly enjoyed it. Even if the remarks are true, I think, "So what? Consumer preferences are consumer preferences," and try to only concern myself with what I buy.

But this morning, in an IGN article about how bright the Wii's first-half lineup is, I read the following:

"Nintendo has, with the launch of Wii, found a brand new audience and it's potentially bigger and more lucrative than the old one. It is precisely why many new Wii games are so casual-friendly, from winners like Wii Fit Plus to losers like Wii Music. Seeing Nintendo's success, third-parties followed suit. As a result, many traditional players have felt dissatisfied by the first and third-party lineup if not altogether abandoned by Nintendo and its partners. I don't think I'm exaggerating the situation, either."

(Side note: Really, look at those games coming out. The Wii should have a pretty good year.)

And after reading that I wondered just how casual-friendly the Wii is compared to, say, a more-hardcore Nintendo console like the Super Nintendo. You always hear such remarks but you never see any data to back them up. Wikipedia is here to help with a list of all the games that sold 1 million copies for the Super Nintendo and the Wii. The results aren't surprising and back up the derogatory remarks, but it's interesting to look at the actual data.

Here's a rough breakdown:

Top-selling genres

For the SNES, three genres accounted for approximately 82% of the 43 games that sold 1-million copies—RPGs: 33%; Platformers: 26%; Fighters: 23%

For the Wii, one genre, loosely termed "mini-game games," accounted for a whopping 47% of the 40 games that have so far sold 1 million copies. The other half? A loose hodgepodge of fitness and rhythm games and others.

What's notable: In less than 20 years Nintendo's console has gone from a plurality of RPGs to mini-games.


Top developers

For the SNES, three developers held the market on the number of 1-million-copy-selling games—Nintendo: 23%; Square: 19%; Capcom: 16%

For the Wii, one developer held the market, and that's Nintendo, having 22 out of the 40 (55%) "top-selling" games.

What's notable: (1) Square is nowhere to be found; (2) Capcom dropped from 19% to 3%, with no fighting games for the Wii, a genre that dominated the SNES; and (3) Midway had about as many mini-game games topping the Wii's topsellers as they had fighting games topping the list for the SNES.


Top 17
One of the most striking parts of the 1-million club is the difference between the Top 17 on each.

For the SNES, again, Nintendo, Square, and Capcom populated the Top 17. Nintendo had 7 out of the top 10, and only the top 3 before Capcom came in at #4. Out of the top 17, Nintendo had 9 out of 17.

For the Wii, Nintendo holds the first 12 spots and 16 out of the top 17. Really, we could say they hold every spot because of Mario & Sonic at the Olympics, but Sega did produce that game.

What's notable: Um, Nintendo, where have your friends gone?


Closing comments

Again, the breakdown is .. interesting. Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm not a Nintendo hater. Nintendo makes a lot of great games, as evident by their stranglehold on the Wii's Top 17. From this breakdown, and overall sales of the Wii, it's apparent a larger, broader audience is now gaming, and that's good, even if a lot of the Wii's games don't fit what a so-called hardcore gamer claims is a "good game".

But seriously, Nintendo, what has happened to your friends? Also, the SNES as more 1 million sellers than the Wii. Kind of interesting, when Wii Play has sold more than Super Mario World. (Obviously the Wii has plenty of time left to get more big sellers, which will probably happen this year with all of the great games on the way.)

And to quickly defend the Wii as a "home of shovelware": Did all of the RPGs, platformers, and fighters on the SNES, really differ much from each other and new, video-game-redefining features so much that we can easily denigrate all of the "shovelware" on the Wii for being filler? This isn't an argument I'd seriously defend, but, along with the rest of the data, it's just something to think about. Make of it what you will.



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Games can tell stories as no other medium can
Posted on Saturday, February 20 2010 @ 18:56:37 Eastern

I previously defended Heavy Rain for being labeled an "interactive movie." But when it comes to video games in general, I prefer the metaphor of games as interactive books because users of both (players or readers) are microauthors.

Now what is a microauthor? Think of what you do when you read a book. As readers we create the little details (the micro story) of a book's overall (the macro) story. If a character runs, we imagine his stride. If he talks, we imagine how he sounds. We realize this process when a book becomes a movie and we think, "I did not picture Harry Potter looking like Daniel Radcliffe!"

We do the same microauthoring as gamers. Based on the game design we not only imagine but also control how to interact with a level, how our character treats others, or what actions to take when fighting. If when reading a book we imagine how a character runs, when playing a game we control how he runs. When we control these little details in a game, the combined story, the micro and macro, becomes more important to us. We care more about the game because we've helped create it.

But the metaphor of games as interactive books does not fully describe games as a medium. Games are not simply storytellers. They are story changers. They allow gamers to take a story they play, change it, and tell a new story. So in a book you might imagine how Character X talks to Character Y. But you can't do anything to change the dialogue. That story is set. Whereas in a game, in addition to choosing what Character X says to Character Y, and creating different outcomes, you have the choice of whether to even talk to Character Y. Character X's story is up to you to act out.

This type of little-details authoring is one reason why other media can't capture the spirit of games. When I first saw Silent Hill the movie, and the main actress stopped after running around, lost in the fog, I grinned when she breathed heavily, just as my character did in the game. It was a nice tribute, but my connection to the movie character was more "Yep. She's lost; been there," whereas my connection in the game was more "Where'n'theheck am I!? I've been running, can't find my way, out of breath, and I hope there isn't anything lurking in that fog!"

Sure, games still largely follow the same story model of beginning and end that books observe. But beginning to end in today's games (think Mass Effect) is a lot different than what it was in yesterday's games (think Pitfall). Today, gamers do not only control how the little details in a game's story occur, but they also affect the overarching story because of dynamic story branching. Heavy Rain is only the latest game to feature this dynamism. Its design is so microauthor friendly that no matter the choice a player makes in the game the game will continue on, so the player constantly changes the story.

Imagine revisting an old game presented with today's more developed ability to tell a story. Over a decade later, players of Final Fantasy VII still go on about the death of one of the game's beloved characters. How much more poignant would that character's story be if the game used the storytelling from Heavy Rain? As some reviewers of the new PS3 game have said, they would cringe when deciding what to do in the game because their actions had a direct effect on what happened to other characters they cared about in the game. Would you still let that beloved character die, and how much more would it emotionally impact you?

Some will say this change to FFVII would ruin that story. Perhaps. Not all stories need to be dynamic. Static stories do have their place and can still be as enjoyable as a dynamic story. But we have to ask, "What if?" To see this idea differently, imagine Heavy Rain as a movie and seeing decisions you made, decisions personal to you, stripped from the story in favor of a linear story to appeal to everyone. I imagine the response would be the same as when people criticize book-to-movie adaptations, but more critical.

No entertainment medium has really allowed its audience to answer, let alone ask, "What if?" But that is changing. In a recent interview IGN conducted with industry professionals about the next 10 years of games, associate producer of Bizarre Creations, Chris Pickford, expressed as much: "Many character based games are starting to allow the player to perform actions with multiple consequences, rather than the old style of heavily scripted events which need to be done in a specific order…. [Players] feel that they are really shaping the story, and it makes a much more emergent game – we've only scratched the surface of this technology in our current generation."

In the same interview, Jamie Jackson, creative director for FreeStyleGames, commented similarly: "For the hardcore, I see exceptional graphics, improved storylines and choice. By "choice" I mean your actions will define the way the game unfolds. Yes we have this in some games already, but we're just starting to scratch the surface. I think advancements in AI will allow developers to really push games and allow the user to really make their own choices."

Games are on the verge of incredible storytelling experiences as developers realize how to use dynamic storytelling to, rather than tell stories to players, let them change stories to tell their own. This is no guarantee that the stories will be any good. If a story is bad, simply changing the way in which the story is told will not change it to good. But just as games have changed in what players can do from Pitfall to Mass Effect, they've also changed in story quality from those two games. In the next 10 years of games, we will see games tell stories no other medium can, undoubtedly for the better.

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The brilliance of Heavy Rain's marketing
Posted on Friday, February 12 2010 @ 20:46:23 Eastern

The description of Heavy Rain as an "interactive movie/drama/story" has upset some gamers. But it is ingenious for two reasons:

It appeals to a wide audience. Newsflash: Unless you're someone who games, and games often, you don't really think of games as having a movie quality or a story, or even a dramatic story. Many people still think gaming is pressing buttons to do stuff on a screen. They don't necessarily think of gaming as an activity that involves a story of significant caliber.
It describes what is unique about video games as a medium.
First, let's get one thing straight: Games can tell wonderful, enjoyable stories. So what.

Now, let's focus on reason two.

Games shouldn't be relegated to simply telling stories. Much more, they allow players to change stories. Players do this through the one thing that sets games apart from other entertainment media—interactivity.

Imagine sitting in a movie theater and watching Avatar. Instead of simply watching and being wowed or sick behind your 3D glasses, at various points throughout the movie, you can perform an action—maybe a dance; a toss of popcorn at someone; a screech—to change the sequence of events in the movie. Based on whatever action you perform, the movie changes. It's as if you have the script, wearing a director's hat, and can make any change you want. That's what a game is.*

As gamers, we know this is why games are unique. Many others don't, so perhaps a game such as Heavy Rain, and its description as an "interactive movie" will help more people see that games can offer not only engaging stories but also the ability to change stories.

(* End note: Of course, many games don't permit widescale story changes. You can perform many different actions using a game's gameplay, but relatively few of those actions make a difference in changing a game's overall story. Perhaps Heavy Rain will show whether gamers want the ability to branch a game's story, and spur developers to create more varied stories than the model of Beginning, Stuff Happens, Ending that allow players to interact and change stories.)


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Party Hearty: In defense of party shovelware
Posted on Tuesday, January 12 2010 @ 08:42:49 Eastern

(Editor's note: This blog entry is a revision of the previous entry, "Making games more accessible," that is also a reformulation to defend party game shovelware, at least some of it.)

Every console generation has its nitpic...   read more...

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Making games more accessible
Posted on Saturday, January 9 2010 @ 10:00:42 Eastern

You just got Metal Gear Solid 4. After hurrying home, you open the game and put it in the Playstation 3. At the start menu you select 'Chapter Selection' as if the game were a DVD movie (as if it didn't already act like one in other respects). From t...   read more...

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Additional Bang for Your Gaming
Posted on Wednesday, January 6 2010 @ 14:50:24 Eastern

A return to Bartertown

Like a trip through a big city or replaying a new game, a second look often reveals more than first meets the eye. So it is with Blake Morse's "The Great Trade-In". It's a good start, but for the keen eye...   read more...

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Working Designs working defunct
Posted on Tuesday, December 13 2005 @ 16:18:35 Eastern

It's an unfortunate day for RPG and niche gamers. The company long known for delays over niche Japanese games for localization has closed its doors. Working Designs is no more.

"Delays are temporary, medicority is forever." Such words wer...   read more...

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Ratchet review
Posted on Friday, November 11 2005 @ 16:24:49 Eastern

Just finished submitting my review for the Ratchet: Deadlocked reader review competition. Click to read.

This is my first time writing a review for a game and right now I'm satisfied, but that may just be because I'm putting it out of mi...   read more...

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Guitar Hero: Second Impressions
Posted on Wednesday, November 9 2005 @ 18:48:55 Eastern

Second impressions on Guitar Hero:

The game is a blast to pick up and wail on, even though I've not progressed far. I find the layout more accomodating than the importer's counterpart Guitar Freaks.

What I'm displeased with...   read more...

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Guitar Hero: First Impressions
Posted on Wednesday, November 9 2005 @ 12:27:13 Eastern

Initial impressions on Guitar Hero, a recently released rhythm game for the PlayStation 2:

It ROCKS, simply. I'm excited that such a music game has finally been developed for the shores outside of Japan. I remember my brief time playin...   read more...

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