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Dagda

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« on: April 18, 2010, 11:27:27 PM »

It was Quinn's compelling defense of Tim Rogers that first led me to really start reading the pieces on this site.
Quote from: Quinns
Tim doesn’t just say what’s wrong, what he doesn’t like, what’s clever. Tim points out fixes, outlines whole alternate-universe design documents, and playfully brings the development team’s staff to life through his uniquely intimate relationship with the industry and remembered interviews.

At one end of the spectrum you have Tim pointing out in his Bioshock review that the first things your avatar does in the game (without anybody batting an eye) is beat a man to death and then immediately eat a cream cake out of a trash can. At the other end, you have slower burning work like this piece painstakingly explaining why Another World is the greatest game of all time.
And now that I've really given the site a chance: Damn, these people can write. It's a different agenda than the one held by this community (and by 'this community' I guess I mean Michael Samyn), but there's a Venn-Diagram overlap between them- a tendency to stare intensely at "videogames" so as to get a better grasp on what they could be. Personally, I'm hooked.

Really, I'm making this thread because I keep coming across all these nuggets of insight and have to collect them to share with others somewhere. Some are relevant to the central goals of the Notgames initiative, others are more indirectly useful as food for thought. These people have strong opinions and tastes that can sometimes clash with ones commonly found among people on this site (myself included), but they've been thought out/refined to the point where they can inspire some fascinating discussion.
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Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
Dagda

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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2010, 11:55:41 PM »

Ario Barzan on Metroid Prime:
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What about Ocarina of Time? Back in 1998, it made our eyes melt from their sockets when we got to Hyrule field and saw that the sun set, the moon rose, and skeletons burst from the ground at dark. Digested now, the field is more nakedly exposed than ever as dead space, miniaturized by the format’s expanding scale, though still big for no good reason, and still suffering from the aftermath of an atomic bomb – a stomach-growling, Kingdom Hearts-esque notion that exists through much of the game’s world. . .What I am saying is that Ocarina doesn’t have that element of endurance to call me back today.
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Above all else, Metroid Prime is about atmosphere – and that’s kind of been the point from the start, with the first game’s creepy-crawly caverns and hidden rooms. On a larger scale, and more often than any other medium, video games are about atmosphere, how it feels to exist in their universes, a characteristic strengthened by putting you in those places and letting you feel the friction of Avatar against World. How do we dwell on games? It’s usually not going to be the way we remember a movie or novel, which often relates to characters, their relations, the overall narrative. Instead, it’s more like conjuring up spots we’ve existed in. The memory of walking above mounds of crimson woodchips in Maine on a steaming summer day is not too dissimilar from a memory of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or even Super Mario Bros..
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On paper, the locales are the stuff of basic elemental listings. A green overworld, the underground caves of lava, blank snowscapes, the dust-covered ruins, techno-industrial bases. Thank god the game isn’t by-the-paper, though. Introducing itself as a raining, ever-storming lushness, the overworld is flanked by fresh waterfalls and grounded with moist ferns, mossy boulders, and ponds holding fish. There’s an afternoon glow on the ruins’ architecture, flora burst from cracks in the brickwork, and golden points of dust float in retro-futuristic corridors. The wintry drifts have temples sitting on top of blank hills, capped by constant snow. The game has a hell of a talent for visual language and giving itself a face. When you discover each zone, they’re so curiously and deliciously layered that you could almost eat or drink them, act as a sponge and soak up their ambiance.
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The whole planet of Tallon IV isn’t “waiting” for Samus; it breathes and functions without her. There are animals that live here, and you’re intruding on their habitat. Large arthropods erupt out of sand, fire-breathing worms rear their heads from bodies of lava, pods of fungi shiver and expel gas near water, and shelled critters dink around on rocks, sporting spikes if you’re too near. The fauna take on the role of threats and atmospheric set pieces.
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Each record acquaints you with a historical fact or technical detail. When you read one, it’s a blip of context to add to your surroundings and, in return, your efforts and place in the world. . .These levels were not designed by accountants; they were built by people who might have loved climbing on rocks as kids.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2010, 12:23:46 AM by Dagda » Logged

Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
Dagda

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« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2010, 12:02:59 AM »

Tim Rogers on Canabalt:
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We’ve said before that if some element of your game design isn’t interesting enough to work flying-colorfully in the context of an endless mode, then you’re obviously doing something wrong. Gears of War 2 proves it is up to snuff with its Horde mode, and Halo 3 ODST proves the same with its Firefight mode.
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Canabalt was the first thing we actually paid money for from the iPhone / iPod Touch App Store. . .With Canabalt, we got people staring at the game, eyes glowing. Weirdly, actual human beings spoke actual words to us: “What is that?” We plopped the iPhone into stranger after stranger’s hands: “Give it a shot”. Every player knew that the iPhone only has one “action button” — touch the screen — so they figured out within microseconds how the game was played. They soon figured out how to survive, how to die, and how to attempt the escape again.

“That’s pretty cool.”

Only two people — both of them games industry professionals — asked “How does the game end?”

It doesn’t.

Or: it ends every time you die.

The game is a story about a guy dying.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2010, 12:23:35 AM by Dagda » Logged

Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
Dagda

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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2010, 12:12:48 AM »

Tim Rogers on Super Mario Galaxy:
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In other words, I find it vaguely unsettling that one of Nintendo’s ideas for making the game “simple” enough for the “wider audience” to “understand” involved gutting the hands-on “exploration” element out of the hub world; instead of a living, breathing (yet empty — for a reason) castle, we’ve got a floating fortress / spaceship thing with loud creatures buzzing all around and these ugly rooms with fixed camera angles, where all of the levels are contained. Clear a mission, and you’ll see a load-masking cut-scene of Mario flying back to the hub; he’ll land, and the Burnoutitis will commence: a big menu pops up, telling you “NEW HIGH SCORE”; it counts down how many coins you earned, then it switches to another menu, and tells you how many star bits you picked up, then it switches to another menu to tell you you’ve opened a new stage, then a map pops up, and a star logo in one of the various rooms of the ship blinks loudly. Go inside a room — say, the kitchen — and arbitrarily point the remote at a blue star and press the A button, which will pull Mario toward it; the screen switches to a planetarium view; select the galaxy you want to fly to — galaxies you can’t enter are marked by a star icon and a numeral (the number of stars needed to unlock it) — click on it, and you’ll see a little cut-scene of Mario flying out in space. Now a screen pops up with a list of star goals for the selected galaxy. Choose the one you want, and there’s another triumphant “WAHOO”. With a “YES!”, Mario lands in the galaxy, and there you have it: you’re finally playing a videogame.
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Super Mario Galaxy is a game that, as far as halfway into its duration, continually rewards the player with something the game has contrived the player to need after the player remembers a thing that he can do, and then does it.
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Why, then, must Princess Rosalina tell us, “The Grand Star has powered up the core, restoring energy to The Kitchen!” Why tell us that the room we’re about to go check out is a kitchen? For god’s sake, let us figure it out for ourselves; Grandpa’s Pacemaker isn’t going to explode because “Holy shit no one told me it was gonna be a kitchen!!”
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There’d be no way to win; like in Tetris, the only way to “win” is to be still playing the game. . .The game would, ultimately, be a celebration of Mario Physics: the only true goal would be to enjoy existing in the world.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2010, 12:23:26 AM by Dagda » Logged

Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
Dagda

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« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2010, 12:23:01 AM »

Tim Rogers on Fable 2:
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The fantasy setting in Fable 2 is low-key and sublime; it is not just “vanilla” — it is French vanilla. We appreciate the look, the touch, the feel of it. It has obviously been crafted with great confidence. Good on you, art guys.
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There’s no simpler way to explain what exactly we’re driving at than to be blunt about the way “personal relationships” are presented in this game. Here’s the back-of-box quote for you:

In Fable 2, it is literally possible to show a girl a thumbs-up so many times that she is forced to marry you.
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We here at Action Button Dot Net will make no bones about it: one of the first things we try to do in every game we play is make it look jaw-droppingly ridiculous. In Fable 2, this took about thirty minutes, which is pretty admirable. Most games take about five.
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We get back to that One Great Corollary of Virtual Reality: One Sense Is Never Enough. Don’t try to make something look perfectly real if it doesn’t sound perfectly real, and don’t try to make something sound perfectly real unless we are able to smell and taste it.
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Until a video game can carry out that level of gripping realism, we’d really rather not experience simulations of life’s Social Payoffs without any of the Social Logistics. Gears of War, for example, is a game about reaching out and touching someone with your gun, and it’s convincing because that’s all you ever do.
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Part of the real-life joy of owning a real-life dog is turning to your towheaded little brother, grinning, and exclaiming, “I think he’s trying to tell us something!” We wouldn’t call dogs “man’s best friend” if they weren’t a little bit annoying, or at least mysterious. When your dog wakes you up in the middle of the night, it could be because

1. he is happy to have the company of the shadow of a moth
2. he has just succeeded in biting his own tail
3. he senses cat burglars
4. he has just dug up a gold bar in your tomato garden, and is going to put it back if you don’t come pay attention to him right now

As the owner of a dog, it’s your choice: do you wake up, and say “What is it, boy?” Or do you roll over, wrapping your head in a pillow and shouting “Put a sock in it, you stupid mutt!”
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Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
Dagda

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« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2010, 12:39:43 AM »

Theodore Troops on Half Life 2:
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Half-Life 2 is a game that is immediately gratifying and respectful of the player’s intelligence. In a world where it takes months of driving school and tests to finally strap yourself into a car with airbags, OnStar, AAA, and an emergency brake on the passenger side for the instructor to use, Half-Life 2 is the dad who just takes you to the mall parking lot at 1am. After a minute-long awakening from psychedelic stasis, you are given control, and it is never taken away for the rest of the game.
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In the train station, civilians in the same blue prison outfits as those on the train wait on benches, as nervous and wary of their unfamiliar surroundings as you are. If you approach them, they’ll share with you the empathy they’ve rationed amongst themselves. One man tells you not to drink the water. A woman whose fingers are desperately woven into a chainlink fence waits for her husband who was taken away, and who, you conclude, is probably dead. They are the first people you meet in a dangerous world. They are the best characters in the game.
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The first time the player is forced to kill another human being, he does it in defense of a woman. The crowbar pecks away at his gas mask, and he falls to the floor. A death tone sounds, and a British woman on dispatch who was been ripped from the film adaptation of 1984 stoically cackles the location of the crime through radio fuzz. Beside the downed soldier is the woman’s male friend, a victim of police brutality. He is dead. She is upset. “They’ll be looking for you now,” she says. “You better get going.” She has the same voice and face as the woman who was waiting for her husband at the train station. The player takes the officer’s gun and runs.
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Half-Life 2 defines, for me, the extremely weird videogame relationship between design and technology. Most design choices in videogames are born of their limitations. Mario, for example, looks the way he does because a mustache gave contrast to his face and a hat made his head more visible, back when you could only throw a few samey-colored pixels on the screen and call it a person.
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You can still play Super Mario Bros. without cringing, though. It is foremost a videogame, and the technology followed what it wanted to be.
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Half-Life 2 is a game about one thing. If Denis Dyack was its director, he probably would come right out and say the theme is REBELLION. The player was dropped into that train in the beginning of the game with a single objective, one that becomes clear within minutes. The very second that objective is achieved, that’s it.
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Dagda

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« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2010, 12:46:59 AM »

Tim Rogers on Lost Vikings:
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Years later, games are still struggling with how to present a tutorial. “Reminding the player of what he can do, whenever he can do it, with a disembodied text message” seems to be the answer game developers always fall on. Lost Vikings forces us to merely watch, for one minute, as the characters do everything they will ever be able to do in the game.
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Then it’s back to their houses, where Erik concludes this prologue by telling us that he enjoys his life. Night falls, the alien spaceship abducts the vikings, they awake to find themselves alive, and under our control, and they immediately decide, through snappy word balloons, that they must escape this ship. That’s all the plot we need. We don’t ask why they want to escape the spaceship, because we’ve seen that they have wives. Imagine that — a game about three lost guys trying to get back to their wives and kids.
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Giving me a choice of two ways to score a one-hit kill (one of them with a gun, the other making use of an “environmental gimmick”) on a plain-sight sitting duck isn’t “game design”. Make me think about that one hit, the way Lost Vikings does, so, so many times over, and effortlessly.
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Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
Dagda

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« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2010, 12:51:28 AM »

Tim Rogers on Final Fantasy XIII:
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Numbers were, in the early days of the role-playing game, a placeholder for some more-effective future means of communicating the awesomeness of an attack. In Final Fantasy XIII, you will never see an enemy’s total hit points: you will, however, see the shit out of the amount of HP being subtracted with each attack.
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Final Fantasy XIII is most likely a game made entirely by artists. They drew characters and monsters and everyone on the team was pre-programmed to believe that these games are mostly popular because of their graphical presentations, and that if these artists made it through the hiring process, they must be geniuses. A producer admitted that “there is enough discarded Final Fantasy XIII to make an entire other game”. This is a bad thing to admit in an interview, because it indicates that the development team just didn’t know, from the very beginning, what the game was going to be about.
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The story elects to talk over the audience’s head most of the time in hopes of being mistaken for art. We won’t make this mistake.
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Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
Dagda

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« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2010, 01:19:35 AM »

Tim Rogers on Bioshock:
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To explain it simply, without re-referencing the game’s core wallpaper themettes of Ayn Rand, Art Deco, and beautiful triumphant jazz music, here is a description of BioShock’s story: a man is flying over the ocean in a plane. The plane crashes. He survives. He swims toward a monolithic structure. He goes inside. Without questioning why, he boards a deep-sea-diving vessel, and finds himself in an underwater “utopia” built years before by scholars, artists, and philosophers who found the then-modern society not suited to their ideals. Upon entering the city, he discovers it has been destroyed, and is currently teeming with drugged-out brain-thirsty genetic psycho-freaks. A man contacts the hero via short-wave radio, and offers guidance. He wants the hero to save his family, and himself, and help the last few sane survivors of this nightmare get to the surface and go back to the society that they had once seen fit to leave.

Of course, between point A and point B, there’s going to be a whole lot of psycho-freak smashing. “That sounds good”, says the entertainment connoisseur. “That sounds plausible”, says the literati. “That sounds fucking bad-ass“, says the gamer.
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BioShock fails, and quite embarrassingly hard, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes time to tie all of its genuinely enthralling atmospheric concepts (underwater city, inspired art design, excellent music, political message, overt genetic enhancement as common and convenient as multivitamins) into an actual knife of entertainment.
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Now, 95% of Bioshock’s appeal for me, personally, is the mystery of this destroyed undersea utopia, and the pleasure of wondering what exactly went wrong. Early on, I felt like Sherlock Holmes as I pieced together the smaller clues: I saw the signboards discarded at the dock, displaying messages such as “WE DON’T BELONG TO YOU, RYAN”, and thought, “Aha! These people wanted to leave! Something was going wrong here — and someone named ‘Ryan’ was to blame!” It would have been really nice if these sort of hints had built gradually in momentum.
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The first one you find is sitting on a table in a bar, overlooking a frankly spectacular view of the ocean. The voice of a woman echoes out of the tape, with microphone clarity, over the din of people enjoying themselves in a quietly lively place. She says she’s getting drunk, and alone, on New Year’s Eve. She laments what a “fool” she is, for “falling in love with Andrew Ryan!” It’s not impossible to believe that this woman would be drunk enough to tape-blog about her Deepest Personal Secrets in such a public place on New Years Eve; the very candor in her voice indicates immediately that she’s That Type of Woman. Her tape diary ends abruptly with an explosion sound and an “Oh my god!” So the story creeps up and seeps into our brains: something happened on New Year’s Eve, and this woman’s tape diary was forgotten here on the table.
Random thought: Bioshock's audio diaries might have made alot more sense if they'd been done as the recordings of hidden audio surveillance.
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And though I do believe I originally said that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was not a perfect game, I believe it demonstrates a much “more perfect” way to appropriately use an epic amount of human resources: basically, you write down what the player can do in your game, then you figure out what’s going to happen in your game, then you build a story around that, then you tell everyone, “This is the plan, and we’re sticking to it”.
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My idea is that there should have only ever been one Big Daddy, and one Little Sister. The story of the game would branch depending on whether you kill the Little Sister, and at which opportunity you kill her. Maybe the Big Daddy has some kind of card-key and can open doors that your character can’t, so it’s to your advantage to slink around behind them. Every time your path converges with theirs, there’d be some kind of big cathartic showdown. Maybe enemies would attack the Big Daddy, and he would destroy them, and you’d have to avoid getting caught in the fray, or else join the fight to take the Big Daddy down. Maybe the Big Daddy, ultimately, would perish at the end of the game if you let him live long enough, forcing you to make a decision about what to do with the girl.
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It used to be that characters would do stuff like fall asleep and dream about ravioli if you didn’t touch the controller. In BioShock, if you don’t press any buttons for a few moments, the words “Hold the right directional button to get a hint if you are stuck” appear on the screen.
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What we have here, with BioShock, is a well-meaning game with some excellent concepts and an iron grip on its execution. It’s just a shame that “its execution” equals “execution of absolutely fucking everything written in every draft of the design document.”
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axcho

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« Reply #9 on: April 28, 2010, 06:41:50 AM »

Yep. I first found the site through its Canabalt review. Good stuff. Smiley
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JordanMagnuson

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« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2010, 06:55:46 AM »

Thanks for sharing Dagda. I've read through most of actionbutton.net's manifesto reviews, and have been a Tim Rogers fan for a while.
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Dagda

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« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2010, 09:59:36 PM »

Tim Rogers on Ninja Gaiden II. I'll readily admit to including the first quote just for the enternainment value.
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At this point, Itagaki did not own a single leather jacket. His hair perched atop his head in a greasy clump like a Scottish terrier that had fallen out of a window. He licked his lips, shaking with fear: “You know,” he said, standing up, “uhm, sirs: video games aren’t . . . they aren’t fucking cup noodles you know?”

“WHAT SAY YE?” screamed the CEO.

The fear of that moment transformed Itagaki; his muscles appeared out of the aether, exploding his buttoned-up shirt from his scrawny frame; his epidermis mutated into an exquisite snake-skin jacket.

“You geezers don’t get it. Companies don’t make games — hard dudes make games.”

After a fierce, hours-long staredown, the old men were swayed. Itagaki had arrived.
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All at once, Itagaki’s yawning dismissal of any game design that plops a button icon in the middle of the screen and calls it “interaction” makes perfect sense: in Ninja Gaiden, everything your player character does is so perfectly cinematic, and the enemies are so fierce and unrelenting that no amount of running up walls will ever look illogical or superfluous. Every little spat with a patch of grunts is a desperate struggle, a matter of matte-black life of blood-gushing death.
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The experience is not a “throwback” to the “old-school” Ninja Gaiden so much as it is quite obviously crafted with that whole sketchy era of innocuous character design, just-hip-enough visuals, and rapidly ramping difficulty in mind.
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Dagda

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« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2010, 01:19:00 AM »

Tim Rogers on Four Warriors of Light:
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It wasn’t just a grind — no, a “grind” is when you level up your guys and buy better stuff outside the context of the actual in-game missions. Seventh Dragon was a slog — where you have to grind inside the context of the missions. Huge difference.
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Our definition of “crunch” in a videogame is “you feel like you’re doing something“. We believe games seldom contain greater entertainment than that which comes from feeling like you are making a contribution of some type (even violent) in the world of the game.
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In Light Warriors, even when you’re not dying, you can feel symptoms of a struggle. You nearly die, and it feels like it was (nearly) your fault. You triumph, and you feel like it was your doing.
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Your daily does of devil's advocacy: "We're largely past the idea that games are solely for children, but many people are consciously trying to give their games more intellectual depth. Works of true brilliance are rarely motivated by insecurity."
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