Thursday, October 25, 2012

SPC Soapbox - 10/25/12 Wii U Demo Impressions, Change, and Graphics Over Gameplay!?

The last time I stood on the SPC Soapbox was back in August. It was also the first time as well. If you recall, the long-running SPC Mailbag turned into the SPC Soapbox. Regardless, today I have three more topics I'd like to briefly discuss that ordinarily would not be long enough to make for an appealing article by their lonesome. Today's topics include my first play session with the Wii U, why gamers need to make up their minds about change, and a disturbing debate I heard in my game theory class.

Wii U demo impressions

After an appointment this past Tuesday I drove home a different way just so I could stop by my local Best Buy. I was interested to see if Style Savvy: Trendsetters was in stock, but I had an ulterior motive in my trip. I wanted to see if the Wii U demo station at the store was up. Although it was facing the back of the gaming department, an employee there told me that the station was a popular attraction. Note that Nintendo hasn't really advertised their new console to the general public as of yet. Thankfully, because I was there on an afternoon on a school day, the demo station was wide open for me to try out the system without any sort of wait.

I grabbed the Wii U GamePad and immediately I was surprised at what I held. The GamePad was incredibly lightweight. I had read impressions that the controller was such, but I did not think it would have such little heft to it. The controller fit my hands perfectly, and it was comfortable to use for the duration I spent with the unit. I slid my finger across the various game boxes on the screen and came across Rayman Legends. Conveniently enough the game was the only one with a demo on the Wii U demo station. Odd as the game does not come out until next year, but I wasn't complaining.

I entered the timed demo and selected a castle stage, one that was shown on the E3 2012 stage. I started off as the new character Barbara, and if you have played Rayman Origins, you will feel right at home with the controls. Everything is as tight and as smooth control-wise as that game. However, Legends is all the more gorgeous, much more so than its predecessor. It was just awe-inspiring and something I had to sit back and marvel at for a few moments. No hyperbole here, folks. It's just a darned beautiful game.

I eventually reached an area where Rayman was, and I was forced to switch to Murphy, a character controlled with the Wii U GamePad. While the CPU controlled Rayman, I helped out by slicing ropes with my finger, rubbing enemies to make them ticklish and vulnerable to Rayman's attacks, sliding platforms around, and spinning objects with the GamePad.

Speaking of spinning objects, there was only one problem spot I had and that regarded a bonus area. You have to tilt the GamePad to spin a circular maze around while your AI-controlled Rayman has to get through it. I kept reaching the middle of the maze, but Rayman would just dangle from the chain, not really going anywhere. He kept falling off the chain, leading to his demise, before I could situate the maze correctly. That could have been an error on my part, not knowing what to do, but it was frustrating enough that I just said "forget it" and moved on with the demo.

I finished the first level of the demo, but I did not have the time to try out the second level. It was the running level set to heavy metal music shown in this E3 2012 presentation. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Wii U and Rayman Legends, and I think the game sold me on the system. I'm sort of glad that the game was delayed, solely for the reason that it doesn't have to compete directly with New Super Mario Bros. U this holiday season. I just hope Ubisoft gives the game the same amount of love around release as it is giving the game now.

The hypocrisy of change

Gamers are creatures that just confuse me on a daily basis. I've made fun of them enough and gave my piece on how they can really disgust me (Bayonetta 2, "I'm not a gamer" ads, message board communities like NeoGAF, entitlement issues, etc.), so there's no use going into that.

However, there is this concept of change and innovation that some gamers get hypocritical about. Some gamers say they want change in franchises so they don't get stagnant. Nintendo fans are notorious for this. Don't change much and it's a rehash; change a lot and it sucks now. So it seems like gamers want change, but at the same time they want to play the same games they grew up enjoying. How does a developer satisfy such an insatiable group? Perhaps I'm building strawmen here, so if I seem like I'm blatantly doing so, I apologize. It's just... freaking gamers, man.

The baffling mindset of some Western gamers and studios

If you haven't been a frequenter of SuperPhillip Central, then you don't realize that my site only gets half of my time. The other is devoted to college as I am a university student. One of my classes this semester involves game theory and design. One evening our class had a debate on something DmC Devil May Cry director Hideaki Itsuno said in an interview about how Western developers focus on visuals first and then gameplay. Somehow it got turned into a debate on whether or not graphics are more important than gameplay.

Something inside me was enraged after hearing some of the opinions, and not just opinions -- popular opinions within the class. It had little to do with people agreeing with the opinion that graphics should be the most important part to a game.

Which is a reason why I found someone bringing up Battlefield 3 to be so funny. This is besides the ignorance that is popular with a certain group of gamer that somehow Nintendo is the one that makes the same games over and over again yet many carbon copy FPS games are given a free pass for being basically the same games with a new coat of paint and IP attached to it. (Just how Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Super Mario 3D Land are the same is beyond me when one deals with gravity-based platforming, one is 2D, and the other is a mix of 3D and 2D gameplay. Perhaps we're thinking too shallow and only talking about story?) Regardless, when it concerns Battlefield 3, the argument made was that graphics were more important because all of the aircraft and tanks resemble what they look like in real life, and thank goodness for that! Thank goodness each airplane and aircraft is 100% faithful to the real things, and thank goodness each marine moves just like real-life marines do. Who cares if the gameplay feels to me like the same old derivative first-person shooter stuff we've seen hundreds of times already? Just as long as the visuals create an experience, the gameplay can be an afterthought! That is what I took from the debate. I don't know if this person really believed what he was saying (i.e. graphics are more important than gameplay, mechanics, a game concept. etc.) because he was forced to argue a particular viewpoint, or if that is what he truly believes.

But that wasn't what even angered me. I couldn't care less what some random person has to say. What angered me was the realization that this type of thinking that graphics should be front and center and everything else should come after is shared not only by many Western gamers (and wrongly so), but it is the mindset of so many Western developers. No wonder some of the West's games generally bore me because they are more enthused with creating a pretty package that runs in 1080p and 60 FPS instead of making something fun. How I yawned playing Killzone, Halo, Gears of Bros -- I mean Gears of War -- and other Western games. Don't get me wrong -- the West also does awesome stuff like Batman: Arkham City, LittleBigPlanet, Rayman Origins, Uncharted, and Mirror's Edge, for starters, but sometimes it can be perceived as too few and far in between.

Furthermore, when did some "gamers" make it that having an experience in a game is exclusive to being immersed in it by visuals? Am I messed up because I get immersed in a game by compelling gameplay? That was a rhetorical question if you're playing at home. That isn't to say that only gameplay or graphics can immerse a player or give them an experience. No, both do whether a person realizes it or not.

It's this increasing mindset by the West that video games should be built to be visual powerhouses or artistic delights first and vessels to show off compelling gameplay and design AFTER is what is so maddening to me.

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