Sunday, 29 September 2013

Next Contestant

  Yesterday I announced more victory screens to be incoming.  Today:


  Ha, ha, ha, troll!  Yes, I used the warp zones.  I did say I was interested in something a bit easier.  Fear not, though, as I have been keeping up: 

  For reference, Zoda’s Revenge: Star Tropics II fulfills all of the criteria, as a first party Nintendo game and an 8-bit classic.  I’ll check back in as progress continues, but as a spoiler, I never made it much of anywhere in Star Tropics.  Sad :(

  Also, yes, my screen photography makes me more sad.

  I’ve turned my mind back to a work of fiction that I’ve been itching to write.  Trouble is, the work is too close to being ugly truth to be considered loving parody.  Also, I set the narrative in a fiction version of Japan, all inspired by the Ukiyo-e drawings that I’ve seen circulating the ‘net.  I might not know enough, nor what sources to read to quickly assemble this setting.

  But most of the parodies could easily be transferred to other settings, for instance, consider the Celtic Invasion Age.

  It would be a strange narrative, but I know quite a bit more of this region, and I know where I would go for more research.  Zelda matches this landscape perfectly, being as it is a Celtic renewal tale from top to bottom (triple gods, Epona, magic sword like Excalibur, the list goes on).  While this project is nowhere near ready to roll out in detail, I rather like the idea of rebuilding it in this setting, not least of which because it could double as an adventuring setting very easily.

  That’s all from me today.  TTFN gamers!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Triumph and Defeat


  I know, I know; the picture is pretty commando, or simply bad.  I worked pretty hard to get it, so I wasn’t going to turn the game off until I had it.  Unfortunately, all that I had was my iPod, which did serviceably well here; it was supposed to get proof of achievement, and here it is. 
No forgery, no googling, honest.

   Life feels awkward afterwards; I mean, I won!  And Zelda II did not make it easy for me, throwing eleventh hour traps and dangers at me like pits that look like normal floors, and so many Fokka Knights.  This game pulls no punches, and victory is taken from its teeth!  Painfully!
  And then you win, and then the clouds are clearing.  Victory!  It demanded that I pull every twitch reflex and game skill in the book to accomplish.  I started doubting my ability to do this without resorting to Game Cheats or Save States.  And in one moment of unabashedly cowering in a corner and stabbing Dark Link’s feet, I won!

  It should be the highlight of my day.  But before posting this, I absent mindedly checked out GoNintendo, and found the low point.
3 things. 3DS firmware is no longer coming October. Wii U firmware update is sooner than you think. Wii U owners need to buy Ubisofts games
I'm dead serious about the third thing too. Based on what I'm hearing, if you want Ubisoft to support Wii U, you better support their stuff.
Splinter Cell Wii U is a sales disaster both retail and digital. NPD's report about Blacklist selling less than 5,000 in retail is spot on.

  Emily Rogers is a known video games journalist who’ve I’ve followed over on NotEnoughShaders.  Her work looks thoroughly researched, though there is reason why she’s keeping low key, mainly on twitter, and not putting it front and center in a full blog.  Most likely she has access that she can’t share, but it might just be rumors, and we should leave her that claim as a possible way out.

  Blacklist’s anticipated failure is a sore spot for me, as this is Ubisoft Toronto’s inaugural game.  I wanted it to succeed, doubly so on the WiiU, but lack both then and now resources to support the game myself.  I’ve checked Ubisoft’s website looking for ways I might help out, but the website job panels focus quite a lot on “skilled” people.  Alas, all I can do is write on paper silly game designs and muck about in Petit Computer.  I’ve been hesitating strongly, attending the National Job Fair at the Convention Center, planning to go to others this coming week, and working hard on my tax prep course.  Sorry, that’s just personal stuff; why was the failure anticipated?

  Because Ubisoft is huge, the industry is contracting, and the Wii U represents a soft underbelly right now.  If true, it bodes no better for Vita, or other currently low profit centers for Ubisoft.  Certainly the company cannot help but hedge its bets, keeping its content on the PS3 and X360 for long after the PS4/X1 have launched, and possibly creating drag on the new consoles replacements.  Most of Ubisoft would survive though, especially as this industry has largely continued to grow during the last downturn.  But the industry can continue to grow without the new Ubisoft Toronto team…


  I can’t help right now.  I…I gotta keep going.  I got things to do tonight and tomorrow, all in preparation for my next class.  With the odd moment to myself, I can keep looking for a game to play here and there, but then the oath chimes back in.

  Hey, Yamauchi!  Do you see that Victory Screen?  I took that victory from a game you made.  I worked hard for it; I demonstrated the odd lessons you taught us about hard work, dedication, and never giving up, lessons straight out of the Japanese anime culture.  And it won’t be the last screen that I take either!  Maybe I can aim for one slightly less painful thought…

Friday, 27 September 2013

Progress hits a wall of knives

  Remember when I said that I’d already spoiled the secrets waiting for me in the last dungeon of Zelda II?  Surprise!  Even before coming upon the final enemies, this game busts loose a whole new set of chump enemies for whom the name chump is inappropriate.  Bastard is more like it.  Or “Fokka.”  Perceive it how you will.

  Final victory is postponed, while I re-learn a few tricks.  For the record, I am well beyond all of my experience with this old game, having never before found the skill to even reach this far.  I have no idea how it is that I have the skill today, and I may have simply gotten very lucky.  If so, I would say I’ve had a phenomenal run of good luck, followed by a typical run of the bad.  Party is over folks, I’m getting down to work now.

  There isn’t much else to report on Zelda II, and I’m keeping myself to 8-bit games (almost, as I broke down for Animal Crossing) for the month.  So I’ll leave that off for now.

Thursday, 26 September 2013


  Somewhere, in between many other projects, I have found just a little time for Zelda II.  It has never been so easy to play this game.

  When last I blogged, I was somewhere around the 2nd dungeon.  Today, I am in the 2nd last dungeon, with the cross in hand.  Breezing through, I am struck as to how and why I found the game so difficult for so long… this is in fact the only Zelda game (outside of Minish Cap, which I missed when it was new) that I have never beaten.  Often dismissed as the series’ black sheep cousin, that description rang true for me for years, despite being the first Zelda that I ever owned.  It may soon change!

  The game design is brutal, and I confess happily to reading ahead on the Internet spoilers.  Lizard guys hiding behind a fence throwing rocks, monsters immune to all but the Fire Magic, invisible stalkers stealing experience points, I probably would have found this game very disheartening before the Internet, and I pity any “casual” gamer stumbling into the game without the advance warning to cheat often and liberally.  I still wish that I had Game Genie!

  But consider this condition.  Formerly I had fierce battles with each and every Armored Knight in every dungeon.  Now I kill all but the hated Blue Knights in a lucky hit.  No longer is this a prolonged contest of equals; my dedication and care has reduced their fighting style to panicked defensive cowering.  I frequently kill them before they can even take their first strike, trivializing them totally.  While the game was always savagely difficult, it now feels like I’m tossing the pitiful Knights aside; this is a beautiful emotional pay out, just as I remember it from the back in the day.

  Similarly, I’ve now maxed out the stats, all of them.  There is a 9th level to each, but fulfilling it only refills the player’s choice of magic or life (and if they choose attack, then they get nothing).  There is no level beyond 8th, at least playing by the rules.  I used to contort myself eagerly into dangerous stunts, trying to get every last bit of experience, including dangerous enemies beyond my ken.  Today, I ignore them, and their silly EXP bags.  I still wander around looking for the way to go, as there is no map and dungeons have no directions, but once I have the treasure, I beeline for the enemy boss, sometimes even fall afoul of lock doors.  Good thing I know about the “fairy” key…

  All of this tends to change the feel of the game profoundly.  Zelda II demands two achievements to advance; XP, which is obtained from killing enemies mainly, and skill, which is earned through practice, trial and error.  One can help the other, but a player cannot advance with no skill, and likewise a skilled player will only get so far before needing more XP.  There are additional magic jars and heart containers to find, and the game arbitrarily locks out progress until they are found, but those containers do not have the same implications:

  Playing Zelda II with all stats maxed and lots of skill feels entirely different from approaching Zelda II fresh and ignorant.  Mastery, both in arcade reflexive terms and in RPG stat-dependent terms, creates a sense of power unparalleled in most games today, even in successive Zeldas.  It has some similarities to older Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest RPGs, but I believe that the influence of reflexive skill changes their dynamics quite a bit.  The player never feels safe, but he (she?) can feel in control.

  Let me ask a dumb, if belated question.  Is this a good feeling?  My Link is adventuring through a terrifying fantasy horror version of Hyrule, and giving better than he takes.  The monsters are brutal, but Link is meaner!  Does that make Link, and by extension, his puppet master, as bad as the monsters.  I’ve waved off such speculation before; should I again?

  Certainly the game is phenomenal at inculcating the feeling of almost supreme power, but in this game supreme power can only be used for good.  Heck, hammering the forests outside New Kasuto looking for the town not only exposes it, it inexplicably regrows the forest, and rehides the town, just by entering and leaving again.  Wielding this kind of power in the real world always comes with consequences.  Is anyone ever really in control?

  Whatever the answer be, I am now closer to obtaining the third Triforce than I have ever been before.  The resolution is coming soon…

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Of Links and Pitfalls

  I hadn’t prepared myself for this game; I think by and large no gamer was.  I had no subscription to Nintendo Power until I had learned about it from others, some time hence.  Zelda II would be a hard lesson in how far from source a game can go.  At the time, I had traded something like a month’s worth of game rentals to purchase it, so I resolved to make myself like it.  Tricky, these Nintendo games; once they are in your house, sitting around unplayed, they are guaranteed to be loved.

  Before I go on, let’s get some authorial details up front.  I never made it to the credits scene to this day, so I have no idea who is credited with being the designers.  Wikipedia lists Sigeru Miyamoto, which makes sense, being his creation, together with veteran Takashi Tezuka as writer, and Tadashi Sugiyama which was his first time in the director’s chair, but he would go on to prominent roles in many more of my favorite games.  Akito Nakatsuka was composer of those fairly haunting melodies.  Thanks for indulging me in the aside; I’ve caught myself too often venerating “the designers” when I should be humanizing them, if you take my meaning.  Apologies to the rest of the team; I will reach your credits yet (and YouTube is cheating)!

  So I pushed myself back into the game, and found a core of gameplay largely similar to then favorites like Super Mario Bros, SMB2, Megaman 2 and others.  I remember Contra, vaguely.  And that awful Terminator 2 game – ew!   At the time, “side scrolling” was the latest and greatest game design.  Most other designs, including Zelda 1, had forms before Nintendo polished them to perfection, but Super Mario Bros changed everything about the process of running, jumping, and scrolling the screen to the right.  And at the time, it seemed a lot of the earlier game designs may be abandoned in favor of side scrolling, and Zelda II sure supported that belief.

  There are parts of the game that I always felt were super cheap: the life and continue system for instance.  Link has a growing life bar, which is extended by finding heart containers, and a heart stat, which drops the amount of damage he takes per hit.  When the life bar is gone, he loses a life.  This would be fine, except the game no longer uses a top down viewpoint.  Pits represent a much larger hazard to Link than just about any attacks, while perfectly timed attacks are as effective in knocking Link into a pit now as it was Megaman back then, or any Smash Bros character today.

  Nowadays, games are common with infinite lives, and Nintendo happily designs games around classic characters with no way to die, such as Kirby’s Epic Yarn.  I’m still looking forward to the return of Yoshi’s Island on 3DS; even if Yoshi can’t die, he can sure lose Baby Mario in Yoshi’s Island, and with him, the game.  Other parts, like the Axe wielding Lizard (Lizalfos?) in Death Mountain, complete with throwing version, proves frustrating to no end, but oh-so-satisfying when you finally have the upper hand.  But I don’t think I need a game that’s easier, just one that’s more tolerant of mistakes.  Super Mario Bros. had this just about right, and I think the difference is coins.  There are no collectibles in Zelda II at all, only powers that slowly open the world up, or in plain functional terms, keys.  Mario never used his coins for anything but getting an extra life when he had 100 of them, and they start to get quite rare and obviously trapped in the later worlds of the game.  Zelda II might have stood something similar.

  Even so I still like the game a lot.  Jumping is liquid smooth, the controls are just about perfectly responsive, combat (against near equal opponents) is fierce and breath-taking, and the size of scope of Hyrule is huge.  There’s something to be said for the arena combat engine: it is much faster, and I think more fair than slowly lining up to kill a monster in overhead view.  Battles with the Knights (Darknuts?) scale up from Zelda I, and I think that may have been overkill.