Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blog: Favourite YouTube Videos (Volume 92)

In this volume of my favourite YouTube videos, we defeat Gannon through the power of "HEY LISTEN", learn how much it costs to know what the weather in San Fransisco and make cool ideas real.

  • First, AttackingTucans and Josh Jepson, together as Versus, present the (Abridged) story of The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time. It's a little ... rude, but it's entertaining. Also, beware spoilers for Ocarina of Time, but on the plus side I don't need to replay OoT now.
  • Next, on Computerphile, Professor Brailsford takes time to explain how much you can compress information when you absolutely positively need to know what the weather in San Fransisco is, but it's terribly expensive to send each bit.
  • Finally, Hank Green talks about four real-world advancements made based on works of science fiction on SciShow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Blog: Thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

I had so much fun playing The Wind Waker, that I started playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess right afterwards. Unfortunately  I didn't find it to have quite the fun and the charm of it's predecessor. It's a good game, but I think it's a bit of a reactionary swing to try to make a game that was darker and "more like Ocarina".

From GameFAQs user Tropicon

As always with my thoughts on video games, there will be spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess below. Also note that I played the Wii version, so I will be grumbling about motion controls.

Things I Liked

Sadly, while the game was fun, there were not a lot of things I really liked while playing Twilight Princess. I'm not sure how much of that is that I feel like it's a low point between Wind Waker and Skyward Sword (maybe it needed an alliterative title...).

Though it's a little silly, one of my favourite parts of the game was canoeing. It's not a mechanic that's used very much, once in the main story and after that only in a side quest, but it feels surprising intuitive and fun. I think I also like the idea of Link having to take more and different modes of transportation as he travels around the world.

The game was effective at conveying a sense of being lost in the Lost Woods. Simply taking away the map you've been relying on for the majority of the game and then connecting the areas in the woods using paths at different altitudes (you always have to go up or down) makes it much harder to track where you are. You're also kept distracted by a constant enemy that follows you rather than is tied to the rooms of the dungeon. I thought it was effective and a good idea.

The final boss fight of the game was good and was probably the strongest fight in the game. The phase where you fight Puppet!Zelda is a little cumbersome, but generally feels like you're being given a fair chance (although it's a lot slower than other Zelda games because of the motion controls).

The fight against Boar!Gannon is pretty good. I like using the bow to stun him, but I found that there were a couple of problems with the camera during this part of the fight. I also found that they might have changed up the fight mechanics a little too quickly since I usually figured out what was going on just as they changed to the next things.

The horseback fight was epic but was frustrating to play.  The one-on-one sword fight against Gannondorf was very good and felt like the best fight in the game. I felt like I was matched against an opponent as strong as I was and I felt like there was a genuine, uncheated challenge.

This Link, is ready for business - From GameFAQs user Sitchey

Things I Didn't Like

The motion controls were the thing I most consistently didn't like in Twilight Princess. Everything feels wrong and feels like it's the motion controls were bolted on (which they were, since this was supposed to be a Game Cube game). The "swing as button press" problem was prevalent throughout the early Wii era and generally makes the game feel like you might or might not have made the right motion at the right time.

Even the pointing controls are not that good. I found a lot of the time it was very difficult to actually point at the thing I wanted to point at. Sometimes it felt awesome and I was able to hit an enemy with the bow and arrow from a great distance, but often enough I just tried to aim while my reticule bounced around the screen. I may also have gotten used to being able to move and shoot while playing the HD remake of Wind Waker, so having to stop and aim also annoyed me.

I also found that the Z-targeting still doesn't work that well. The game and I seem to disagree on what was the most threatening things were and which one I should fight first. I think the game's reliance on swarms of enemies also caused this since you'd have to Z-target through a lot of little things to get to the one big one that you might want to fight.

I think the "special attacks" were also not as well implemented as they were in Wind Waker (or at least as they were in the HD remake). In the attack where you roll behind the enemy in Wind Waker you automatically stopped right behind the enemy, in Twilight Princess you often end up rolling most of the way around the side and out of the range where you can attack the enemy from behind. I think this was an effort to give the player more control, but it ends up making it harder to play the game.

Of course the smartest creature in the Zelda universe is part chicken. - From GameFAQs user BlueGunstarHero

The other place where a little assist from the game would have been nice is in jumping off edges. There were several times where I was trying to jump from one platform to another or to step out onto a rope and I was angled wrong and fell to my death. A little assist from the game would have been nice, even if the Wii (or I guess the GameCube) wasn't powerful enough to animate the little steps I loved in Ni No Kuni.

Aside from the control problems, Twilight Princess is really really padded out. The game took me around 50 hours to complete and I don't think that the game has enough real content to justify that time. Fighting is slow, especially when you're a wolf. They send in swarms of enemies. There are enemies that have to be killed using two different weapons. They put big chest full of tiny amounts of Rupies at the end of long dead ends in dungeons. Set pieces respawn when you leave and return to an area. They insist on tell you every time you start the game how much the different colours of Rupies are worth (bug or feature, you be the judge). Even the most basic part of a Zelda game is stretched out: you find five pieces of heart instead of four.

The padding got so bad during the Sky Temple that I just about quit playing the game. It took me three evenings to get through because the design required so much switching between items and so much mindless busy work going from one area to another. I also ended up going back though the temple to make sure that I didn't leave any pieces of heart behind only to discover that the hard to reach chests held Rupies that I couldn't use.

Zelda games, in general, have a problem with knowing when and how to end. You can usually defeat the last boss 15 hearts and 3/4s of the bottles. Is it worth it to get 100%? Sometimes that can be the fun, but I found especially with Twilight Princess it just never felt rewarding to try. Do I need 120 bombs? Probably not.

Things I Noticed

The biggest thing I noticed about Twilight Princess is that it really needs an HD remake. There are some places in the game where you're shown the beautiful vistas (especially in the desert and the mountains) but then everything else looks blurry and aliased. Similarly I think switching to full dual-stick control, like in Wind Waker, would make a lot of the play more pleasant. The palette of the game is also quite dull ("Call of Duty: Hyrule" brown) in a lot of places, and a little more vibrancy to the world would also improve the game.

It's just a little muddy, it's still good! - From GameFAQs user Casoonie

Another thing that an HD remake might help with is the animation. Link and Gannondorf are really well animated in the game play and the cutscenes at the end of the game, but Zelda isn't. Link and Gannondorf will have an interesting interaction and then Zelda will get a gasp of dull surprise. Simillarly in other parts of the game, Link looks great and moves fairly smoothly through the environment, but the NPCs look blocky and uncoordinated. If there ever is an HD remake I hope they brighten everyone up.

The game also has a problem with how power strong Link is. Basically Link is too strong for most of the enemies in the game. To compensate for this they add more enemies to the fights, which is either not challenging, or becomes unfairly challenging since one enemy's unbreakable block animation will protect another and there's nothing Link can do to fight back. This shows up particularly with the Darknuts where fighting two or three or five of them gets unfairly difficult. It also shows up in the horse combat sections, where the challenge comes from dealing with so many attackers that you can't see hot to defend yourself.  They were much better at handling combat difficulty in Skyward Sword.

I think it's interesting that this is the "darkest" Zelda. There's a lot more explicit death than in most of the other games (The Zora Queen actually tells you "I was executed"). I think a lot of this was to combat the feeling some people had to Wind Waker being too "kiddy". On the one hand I think it's interesting to see slightly more adult themes taken on in a Zelda game, but honestly I think it's the kind of things where you could split into two IPs, retaining lightness in Zelda and handling more complex or adult themes in a new IP. That being said, I don't think Nintendo is actually that interested in making games for grown-ups.

One part of the game that doesn't feel either for kids or for grown-ups, is the way gender and sexuality are handled in the game. I was particularly bothered by one scene in the game where Renaldo confides in Link that he's terrified of Temla because she flirts with him. If there were any other references to flirting or sexuality in the game, this could just a reaction by a religious man to a flirtatious woman, but it is pretty much the game's only reference to sexuality.

Beyond this, a lot of the female character's designs seem to be more for the sake of teenaged male interested than driven by character. The two instances that particularly bother me were the Great Fairy and Adult Midna. In the case of the Great Fairy, we're usually (in other games) expected to understand that her power and her magic and her strength of personality are so strong that Link is simply in awe of her. Here, the way she's portrayed feels significantly less powerful and I was left feeling that the whole depiction of her was very juvenile. In the same was Adult Midna is revealed with a pan up her body, which again feels juvenile when compared to her story and why she's able to transform from her imp form back into her "true" self. (Also interesting that no other Twili seem to have breasts, or any other distinctive body parts, for that mater).

I did think that the character of Zelda was handled very well here. Generally Nintendo is pretty good about having Zelda be at least a somewhat active participant in the world (since Ocarina of Time), but often at some point in the game she gets captured through some moment of weakness. Here, that still happens, but it's part of an active choice on her part. She gives up her powers to restore Midna's. That being said, Zelda could still be a much more active protagonist of the game, but at least her absence isn't strictly due to the need to find a maiden to rescue.

While we're looking for protagonists of the game, I'm left with a question: Why isn't Midna the protagonist of the game? You can probably actually categorize her as the protagonist since she's the one who drives the plot and makes all the important decisions. Link is just along for the ride.

Our Hero. - From GameFAQs user Tropicon

Consider the same game as presented, but shown from Midna's point of view. The Queen, cast out of her kingdom, struggling to save another kingdom, while gaining the power she needs to fight off the evil invaders. That just sounds like a more interesting game to me. I think that couples with the feeling that you could split this and have a new, more grown up IP.

Finally I've decided that Link needs a pet cat. This came to me while I was standing in Link's house early in the game (and I think for the last time). Link tends to be an outsider in the Zelda games and while I understand the appeal of the orphan on the hero's journey, I think the games could all be improved by giving him a reason to care about the world. 

Things I'd Include in a Game

The biggest thing I'd take from Twilight Princess in canoeing, or at least I'd like to take different modes of transportation that break up the game in interesting ways. Still I think the most fun I had playing Twilight Princess was falling down that river. Maybe I need to get out more.

Beyond that I like the amount of space you get in Twilight Princess. I like that going from one place to another is a significant journey. I'm not sure you need to implement it in quite the way they have. I occasionally felt frustrated when I was sent back and fourth across country and I think a lot of that had to do with the little fights they put in to "keep it interesting". I think you don't need quite as much physical space as they used nor as much "interest", but I do like having significant journeys in a game.

Final Thoughts

Twilight Princess is fun.  I think compared to some of the other Zelda games, it makes you work too hard to get at that fun. I also think it's a game where they tried to make something more mature and ended up splitting the direction of the game. For now, at least, it's the Zelda game I'd least like to go back and replay.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Blog: Favourite YouTube Videos (Volume 91)

In this volume of my favourite YouTube videos, we can have a dream, a laugh and a journey!

  • First, Brentalfloss shares an original composition with us. 
  • Next, Wil Wheaton's son Ryan Wheaton was on an episode of Table Top. His interview is good and it's nice to see such a great family dynamic, but mostly ... well you really should just watch it.
  • Finally, if you need music to walk over green hills to, CalebElijah covers Colour of the Summer Sky from Secret of Mana. Now if you'll excuse me it's time to go get too hot working in the garden, then go hide in the basement and play Secret of Mana.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Blog: Favourite YouTube Videos (Volume 90)

In this volume of my favourite YouTube videos, now that we're started, maybe it's time to start.

  • First, take a second to relax, and take dip in the ocean with Mr. Smooth McGroove, covering Aquatic Ambiance from Donkey Kong Country.
  • Next, let your drive build, with CalebElijah covering Powel from Seiken Densetsu 3.
  • Now, it's time to begin with Ze Frank's Invocation for Beginnings. As I mentioned before, I'm not sure how I didn't start here, but here we are now. Are you all seated comfortably? Then, let's begin. Your pencils are sharp enough.