My Favourite Game of 2017 ~ The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This game is incredible. As far as I’m concerned, it deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten. It was risky to uphaul the Zelda formula and translate it to an open-world setting, but Eiji Aonuma, Hidemaro Fujibayashi and their team managed not only that, but they also ‘fixed’ some of the problems with open-world games in general.

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BotW impressed me just as much as Link tried to impress Prince Sidon here.

You know that open-world game where you climb a big tower to unlock a section of the map flooded with quest markers, then a million icons show up on the UI? Yes, that one! Well, BotW takes a slightly different approach – you only have 1-4 quest markers on your map at any one time, all pertaining to the same active quest, and you don’t get inundated with extra markers telling you where to initiate side quests, nor do you get told where any shrine is in the game by activating some magic “gimme all the locations” button, as if climbing a Shiekah Tower would give Link magical knowledge of which characters in the vicinity require assistance.

Instead, you garner information in a natural way – Link whips out his binoculars and searches for shrines and other points of interest by eye, which is best done from the top of the tower. Each and every Shiekah Tower is positioned such that it’s visible from another tower, and there’s never any imposing notification on-screen broadcasting the position of the next one – you go to whichever one you want, or to none at all. It’s seamlessly organic. The visual diarrhoea that clutters other games is wiped away here and it’s so refreshing. The most prominent markers on your map will be the ones you place yourself, and they’re only visible in the real world when looking through the scope.

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Twink Link riding a bear.

The soundtrack also contrasts itself with other Zelda soundtracks by forgoing the bombastic Hyrule Field themes found in earlier titles and replacing them with relative silence. Standing in the middle of Hyrule Field in the world of Breath of the Wild, your ears fill with the sound of wind rustling through the grass with the occasional soft piano. That or an aggressive piano riff coupled with angry Guardian laser beams, anyway. Games have historically conditioned us to expect music to play at all times, but the audio design of BotW rejects that idea and the relative lack of music reinforces the vastness of the world far better than any of Manaka Kataoka’s fantastically quiet tunes ever could. I want to state it outright: Breath of the Wild has the best audio design of any Zelda game, maybe any game I’ve ever played. From this point on, I want games to embrace silence where appropriate. This isn’t to say the game is completely silent – there’s still combat music, there are still joyful tunes coming out of towns and there are nods everywhere to Zelda’s unmatched musical legacy when you ride a horse, when you approach a stable or even in Hyrule Castle itself.

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A completely innocent transaction.

The weapon system is controversial, to say the least. I see the merits of both sides of the argument, but ultimately I think I like it more than I see flaws in it. While I think durabilities of weapons could be just a little bit longer, and there ought to be a more granular way of seeing how long your weapon has left besides “it is brand new” and “it is about to vapourise in your hands”, I also commend it for encouraging you to try out new things. It’s still odd that a game that spends all its time saying “yes” to the player’s every idea then takes weapons away from you so quickly, but I feel like you’d be playing this game wrong somehow if you didn’t explore the unparalleled depth of the combat mechanics. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of ways you can take down an enemy:

  • Hit them at close range with with a sword, spear or club;
  • Shoot them from afar with a bow;
  • Flurry Rush;
  • Critical hit on their weak point;
  • Airborne attack with a bomb, or bullet time with your bow;
  • Percussive force delivered by horse;
  • A motorcycle to the face;
  • Picking up a Stal-enemy’s head and kicking it into water like a football;
  • Using Stasis on a boulder and flinging it at them;
  • Freezing them with Ice Arrows, Ice Chu Jelly or a Frost weapon and then using a Korok Leaf to blow them off a cliff;
  • Using Magnesis to slam a 10ft metal door in their face;
  • Using a humble pot lid to reflect a beam of pure angry laser energy back at them;
  • Throwing a Cuckoo near them while they are taking a swing so they invoke the wrath of the feathered beasts;
  • Tying Octo Balloons to a raft, then using a Korok Leaf to blow it over an enemy camp, leaping off it and slamming your weapon into the ground to make a deadly shockwave that was so badass, it also killed you;
  • Taking them by surprise with a boomerang backswing;
  • Even better than just a boomerang – catching one in midair and using it to cut up enemies like a supercharged blender;
  • Slapstick comedy, courtesy of the Spring-Loaded Hammer;
  • Waiting for the correct moment in a thunderstorm and throwing anything made of metal at them – guaranteed to shock;
  • Literally tearing their skeletal arm off and playing the old lighthearted playground game, “Stop Hitting Yourself”;
  • Pinpoint deforestation;
  • BEES!
  • Cliché videogame explosive barrels;
  • Turf war

The point here is that Breath of the Wild‘s combat system requires creativity and invention to get the most out of what it offers. And boy does it offer a lot. I’ve heard that, at points during development, the entire dev team put down their tools and just played the game, and I’m willing to wager this is where the emergent behaviour of the combat system stems from.

I might also have added some kind of forging mechanic, in the same vein as the cooking system. I loved cooking and I feel like forging your weapons using the gemstones you find throughout the game for repair purposes, or even to decorate your favourite weapon, could have worked.

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I can hear the cooking jingle in my head right now.

On the subject of cooking, it’s one of the most novel crafting systems I’ve seen. You just throw a bunch of things in a pot and hope it pans out. I often tested new combinations to see what stuck and worked everything out for myself – better grades of meat give you more health back, adding honey makes lots of meals better and sticking a bunch of ingredients with the same buff strengthens that buff. Adding two different types of buff cancels them both out, so you need to carefully consider each addition to the recipe. You’re punished with Dubious Food if your ingredients make no sense. The system gives the player a lot of freedom in trying out new combinations, which fits with the game’s theme of saying “yes” to the player as much as possible.

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You’ll be a big fan of the anxiety-inducing piano riff by the end. I call it Hyrule Syndrome.

If you’ve not played this game yet, discard the idea that the game has dungeons all together. Well, almost. It’s far better if you assume it has none and treat the four Divine Beasts as intricate, oversized Shrines as opposed to small dungeons. That way, you’ll be less disappointed. Not that I think the Divine Beasts are bad at all! Their approach to dungeon puzzle design hinges on a different core mechanic based on the movement of the Beast, a concept I really hope gets spun out, expanded and refined in the next Zelda game. On top of this, the shrines make fantastic use of Link’s Shiekah Slate runes, the replacement of key items. From the time you leave the Plateau, Link has every key ability he needs to do every single Divine Beast and every shrine.

My favourite Shrine, or rather, my favourite Shrine Quest, is Eventide Island, as many veterans of the game will proclaim. This quest strips Link, quite literally, of all his hard-earned gear and tasks him with collecting three orbs hidden around a remote island, which acts as a vertical slice of the whole game. Presuming that you’ve made quite a bit of progress in the game to get here, as you’ll need a lot of stamina to fly all the way, it’s refreshing to return to basics and experience everything you felt in the first couple hours of the game on the Great Plateau. You’ll scavenge weapons and dodge enemy attacks out of necessity, as your defence is near-zero, and you’ll have to find a way to distract a dumbfounded Hinox long enough to sneak away the orb it’s guarding. It’s a welcome breather that reinforces all that you learned at the very beginning.

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Twink Link tries his best to sway an unsuspecting young man, and fails.

Now allow me to make a complete 180 on what I just said: Hyrule Castle. Oh my god. So many entrances, so many paths, so many secrets and so much of it is optional, but the whole thing is a treat. It was my favourite area of the entire damn game! The imposing music track blends together Ganondorf’s leitmotif with Zelda’s Lullaby and a healthy dose of the Zelda Overworld Theme, but with a marching beat and a strange 5/4 time signature that dips into 6/4 for some parts. Rarely does a theme set the mood so brilliantly as this one does. There are a couple terrifying moments where you get trapped in a room with a Lynel and your only escape is beating it to death; I used a lot of arrows in these sections. When you do finally reach the top, you’re met with this dude:

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I love Calamity Ganon’s spidery, scorpion-y design.

On top of the base game, there’s the Expansion Pass DLC pack. There’s a few goodies in here – a bunch of nostalgic gear, a real neat map extension that tracks your ENTIRE journey and an extra difficulty – but the main two things are the Master Trials and the bonus Divine Beast. I’m too bad at the game so I’ve not got round to actually finishing the Master Trials, but your reward is changing the Master Sword from foam to actual metal. However, the DLC Divine Beast and the amazing boss fight that follows was great fun; I think it’s best played through when you’ve already finished the game and put it down for a couple months, as the second DLC content feels like a victory lap around some of the game’s best aspects.

This is a game where you can ignore the four Divine Beasts and 116 of the shrines and just go and punch Ganon in the face, if you’re not catapulted out of Hyrule Castle by a volley of Guardian lasers in the process. You can glide off the Great Plateau and start the bulk of your adventure in any direction. Moblins will pick up their fellow Bokoblins and throw them at you in the absence of other weaponry and a lightning bolt will down the toughest foe, so launching your weapon into an enemy camp just before a thunder strike is a viable tactic. These are all things that surprised me when I first saw them in game. Rarely has a Nintendo game handed so much freedom to the player; it trusts that you’ll be able to navigate the treacherous path ahead, even if you’ll see the game over screen several times. After all, the narrative of the game is about Link overcoming challenges and preparing for the final fight against Ganon.

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A friend who is supportive of Twink Link’s choices.

One of the criticisms levelled at the game is that “it’s empty”. I fully disagree. What Nintendo didn’t do here was whip out the terrain-making software, add a few hills and crevices and them throw down Videogame House Model #2, Videogame NPC #17 etc. They made a world. Look deeply into the game’s locales and get lost in the forests, the lakes, the mountains, the volcano, the wilderness. There’s a section that’s permanently subject to thunderstorms. Did there need to be? Does it serve a purpose? Are there any NPCs there? No. But it’s there! And it’s there because it’s interesting that it’s there – areas like that add flavour and make this world feel like a real, varied landscape. Knowing that no two hills in the game look exactly alike, coupled with the sheer size of the overworld, just blows me away. Finishing all of the game’s main and side quests ensure that you get a look at a decent chunk of the world. And getting all 900 Korok seeds makes you touch every pixel of the Hyrulean landmass.

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Twink Link bringing some spice to an ailing honeymoon.

I didn’t intend to write overtwo thousand words about Zelda, but as I thought about how to sum up this game in a paragraph, I realised I couldn’t. A game this vast needs space to breathe and I couldn’t possibly capture my thoughts in such a small space. The first week I played this game filled me with a child-like glee that no game has done in years, and if anything, it’s filled me with hope for gaming’s future. We need more games like this, where the designers throw out the established playbook and go back to basics. THIS is how you reinvent a franchise.

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This game is almost as majectic as THIS beast.

Most importantly, as you might have guessed by now, I’m a big fan of the wardrobe they gave Link. Also, Link can fight Ganon in his boxers, so it’s automatic game of the decade.

Verdict: Fuck me, it might be my favourite game ever.

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Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

It’s tradition for blogs to look back at the achievements and notable events of the past year. It’s been a particularly turbulent one wherever you are in the world and is sure to be remembered for years to come. I keep joking that we’re currently living in the introduction paragraph of some future textbook on historical events; from all the establishment-smashing stuff that’s happened such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, to massive achievements in space exploration thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft, SpaceX landing a spacecraft successfully and the discovery of gravitational waves, to several horrifying terrorist attacks on multiple countries and countless celebrity deaths throughout the year, it’s easy to see why 2016 will be remembered as a turbulent year. But you can read about all these events pretty much anywhere else on the Internet and I want this post to focus on stuff surrounding game development, as that’s what my blog is for. It’s probably going to be my longest post ever, so hold onto your hats.

Although if you’ll allow me to get political for just a second, I’m pretty pissed that the happiest person this year is Nigel Fucking Farage, the hypocritical, toxic, lying wart. Man of the people my arse.

A review of my 2016

With that out of the way, it’s time to reminisce over the past year of this blog and then look to the future. First off, some boring stats: I posted 21 things this year, including this post. That’s less than once a fortnight, which makes me a liar since last year I vowed to try to post about once a week. Here’s this gem from my “Happy 2016 Everyone” post:

With that in mind, this year I’m going to try to get out one post per week – if not more – so I don’t fall behind and post nothing in a whole month (for example, December was completely dry this year).

This year will hopefully different. I should have enough to speak about, since I try to make a game for every WGD event I can, plus there’s 48 hour game jams such as Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare to give me an excuse to make games. On top of that, I’ll be putting out more posts about Honeycomb Engine which I hope are interesting for you to read. My posts about games should be more analytical and about reflection, while posts about Honeycomb will, for the time being, be technical explanations of the different aspects of a game engine.

Games I’ve made this year

I made or wrote about 6 games this year, which isn’t really that much compared to other years. That’s partially due to the fact I didn’t take part in August’s Ludum Dare this year and I also didn’t make anything for the whole of summer. On the bright side, I’ve had something to show at most WGD events since then, and I also entered Ludum Dare in December. I may as well list them all off here:

Slower Than Sound, for Ludum Dare 34, ‘Two-Button Control / Growing’ (which was actually in December 2015, but I only posted about it in January 2016)

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My aim with this one was a simple game in which you fight spaceships one-by-one in a turn-based manner, but thanks to a couple of bugs and confusing turn indicators, the idea didn’t really work. It was difficult to know what you were supposed to do as I had no real tutorial, and the gameplay itself didn’t really make much sense. I think the art was nice, but that’s what took up a lot of the time from developing the mechanics.

Ritual Quest, for Global Game Jam 2016, ‘Ritual’

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The premise of this game was simple: craft elements until you craft a ritual, at which point you’ve won. It takes heavy inspiration from games like Doodle God, with the exception that you can move around the world in this one, once you’ve crafted life. Then you can find new crafting elements in the overworld. Some of the recipes were very contrived, so if I were to revisit this game, I’d add more elements and refine some of the existing recipes with the new additions so they make a bit more sense. I’d also work on the UI a bit, although it was perfectly fine for a Global Game Jam entry.

Tappy Dev, for WGD’s ‘Fuck This’ 48-hour jam

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Because I’m a satirical bastard sometimes, I made a terrible clicker game about making games. I think it’s supposed to mock the repetitive nature of working in the games industry? Or I guess the game names and descriptions are meant to ridicule the games made by some developers. Either way, it’s a game where you mash your screen with as many fingers as possible as fast as possible, watch numbers go up and then every 1000 clicks you’ve “made a game”. Just your average mobile game, then. I made it as an experiment to see how different it is to make a mobile game than a desktop one, as the point of the ‘Fuck This’ jam is to use a tool, language, art style or platform you’ve never touched before. Using Unity was a bit of a cop-out, but at least I tried out mobile game development.

Shifting Dungeons, for Ludum Dare 35, ‘Shapeshift’ (which I also posted an update for)

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The idea behind this was that the dungeons would be randomly generated, and the game would describe them as ‘shapeshifting’. Then I went one further and added powerups that morphed the player into different shapes to give them new abilities, but a couple of them were bugged out slightly so unfortunately it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. I did manage to get a few different dungeon varieties into the game, and if I were to continue it further, I’d probably try to nail down the fun factor and make the enemies a bit less bullet-spongey.

Ghost Party, for WGD’s ‘Spooky’ 3-week jam

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This one was fun to make, as I made it in just a few hours preceding the presentation for WGD games that week. I also seem to remember not having had much sleep the night before, so it really was a test of endurance to keep going and get it done. The basic premise is that ghosts flood in from either end of the screen and you have to click them, which makes them fall down. But each ghost had a randomised pattern – all followed a sine wave, but some were faster than others and occasionally a ghost would have an erratic and tall movement pattern that took them off the screen. They also had a z-position, so the ones closer to the screen were easier to hit but spent less time on screen.

If I were to revisit it, I’d probably give each type of ghost a unique movement pattern – some would have a sine wave, some would move linearly, while others might zig-zag and some might fade in and out of visibility while moving.

And finally, Chemical Chaos for Ludum Dare 37, ‘One Room’

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With this one, I tried to channel my love of chemistry, although I realise that’s a tall order given how much some people loathe the subject. You’re given a series of simple chemistry tests – a distillation, a sodium + water experiment and a flame test – and it’s your job to keep them all going simultaneously. I wanted it to feel hectic and have lots going on at the same time, so I would have ideally added more minigames to the collection. I liked the idea behind it and think it could be a very fun experience if I polished it up a bit.

Honeycomb Game Engine

2016 is also the year I started on my game engine, Honeycomb, as my third-year project for my Computer Science degree. So far, it’s lacking in a lot of features, but it’s definitely on track for completion by the end of text term (and by ‘completion’, I mean of the features I’ve already planned. There’s no such thing as a ‘complete’ game engine I don’t think). As part of my plans for the engine, I want to make an example game with it once it’s feature-complete, so look out for that! I’m buzzing to see what it’ll turn out like.

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Games I played this year

I’ve really neglected actually playing games this year. I was discussing it with a friend the other day and discovered I could almost count the number of games I’ve played this year on one hand. And that’s not even just games from 2016, that’s all games I’ve not played before regardless of release date, excluding game jam games. Worse, the vast majority of them are on Nintendo platforms or are first-party Nintendo properties. I really need to diversify my game collection and maybe dig into my Steam collection in 2017! I’ll give a mini-review of the games I played here.

Pokken Tournament, Wii U

Image from http://www.pokkentournament.com/

I don’t play many traditional fighting games. But when Bandai Namco and The Pokémon Company teamed up to make a Tekken game with Pokémon in it, my interest was definitely piqued. It’s a fun game, even if I’m no good at it. I think its main strength is that it’s accessible to people who don’t usually play fighting games, and that’s definitely one of the reasons I like it so much. It’s also refreshing to see a Pokémon game in which the Pokémon make a bit more contact with each other, and with graphics like the ones on display here I’m excited to see what the future of Pokémon on the whole will bring, especially with the Nintendo Switch on the way. I’d love to see a Pokken Tournament 2, hopefully with a more in-depth storyline.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, Wii U

Image from nintendo.co.uk

I’ve never played the original Twilight Princess on Gamecube or Wii, but I’d heard it was one of the best in the series. The first Zelda game I played was Ocarina of Time 3D, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since, so this purchase was a no-brainer. And how right everyone is, this game is one of the best games ever made! The dungeons are exquisitely designed and it feels as if every corner of the world had heart and soul pumped into it. The Wolf Link amiibo that came with the special edition is also the finest-looking amiibo to date. If anything, it’s just made me more excited for Breath of the Wild next year.

Star Fox Zero, Wii U

Image from nintendo.co.uk

The Wii U’s last moments could’ve done without a dumpster fire like this. It had some promise, but it let me down on almost every count. It’s boring, hard to control and I honestly couldn’t make it past the first few levels. I was lead to believe in reviews that the two-player mode was pretty fun and made it somewhat worth buying, but that’s a damn lie, it’s still hard to control and it made my boyfriend sad. Don’t buy it, for the love of all that is holy don’t buy it. I don’t care that reviews say it’s fine once you get used to the controls. In 2016, I shouldn’t have to get used to the controls! I would’ve loved a game that used the Wii U GamePad in an inventive, fun and refreshing way, but this game wasn’t it unfortunately.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Wii U

Image from amazon.co.uk

This wasn’t from 2016, but I only got it a few months ago. It’s one of the three games I played this year not from 2016! I also haven’t finished it yet, but so far I’ve been having lots of fun with it. The graphical style is unique and, while the Wii U hardware isn’t the most powerful in the world, no-one can argue that this game looks beautiful. I can’t say much else since I’ve not finished it, but the game and dungeon design is so far on par with other Zelda games. And the sailing sections help to break up the action with something a little different to what you’re used to seeing in a Zelda game.

Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise, Wii

Image from youtube.com

It turns out this is a great game to take to a university society dedicated to playing Nintendo games. It’s another one not from 2016, but boy am I glad I played this one! I’ve had the soundtrack stuck in my head for weeks and I’m still concerned for the mental well-being of the dev team. Seriously, can someone tell me what the heck is going on in some of these rhythm games? If you can explain what is happening in Donk Donk, I’ll give you a fiver. My personal favourites include Flock Step, Double Date (pictured above) and Flipper Flop.

Miitomo, Android

Image from nintendolife.co.uk

Miitomo is one of those strange little experimental games, or at least that’s what it feels like to me. It’s similar to Nintendo’s own Tomodachi Life in some respects, but lacking in many aspects. It’s a communication app at its heart and integrates well with My Nintendo with daily and weekly challenges, but it sorta got old very quick. Regardless, I had a lot of fun with it when it first launched, answering very strange questions and hearing my friends’ quirky answers. And if any word describes Nintendo’s very first mobile experience, it’s just that: quirky. I was a fan of the costume crossovers with other Nintendo properties – seeing my Mii in a Link outfit or wearing an Inkling hat was pretty cute. I’d love if they brought out a massive update to make this more enticing and bring players back, but I don’t think that’s on the cards unfortunately.

Rayman Legends, Wii U

Image from ubisoft.com

Another game that’s not from 2016 and also great to play with friends. It’s one of the best couch co-op platform games I’ve played in a while, and it lets you ‘accidentally’ punch your friends into a bottomless pit of death, which is always a great selling point. The music levels are especially amazing, with some of the best level design I’ve seen in a recent game. Somehow, a game this creative came out of the maw of Ubisoft! It can be found for dead cheap and it’s been ported to most systems since launch, so I’d recommend picking it up if you can.

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, 3DS

Image from youtube.com

I loved Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness back on the DS. In the midst of the billions of other Pokémon games I had, it offered something different, as I hadn’t played Blue/Red Rescue Team prior. However, Gates to Infinity, the first PMD game on 3DS, left me a bit disappointed, a popular opinion amongst players. It wasn’t bad by any means, and the concept of building a Pokémon Paradise was a fun one, but it just lacked the depth of previous entries for me. Super Mystery Dungeon was different – it has so much content, I don’t think I’ll ever finish it. The combat is as basic as it’s ever been, although some small additions such as emeras and alliances keep things fresh, and I felt the plot was a lot more refined than that of Gates to Infinity. So far, it’s the definitive Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game for me.

Pokémon Go

Image from gameranx.com

You might have heard of this game once or twice. Yes, Pokémon Go is the one game this year that you couldn’t avoid mention of if you tried, and like every other human being on Earth, I gave it a go. While it was fun for the first few days, for me, walking around and catching Pokémon started to get dull. I did have fun while it lasted and it’s wonderful that it got me walking around a bit more in summer than I usually would have. I also took over a couple of gyms for a while despite having few powerful Pokémon (it’s part and parcel of living in a rural town, I guess).

What I like most about Pokémon Go is that it’s made it a lot easier for people to go outside, make new friends and enjoy themselves. And to the countless articles decrying people as pathetic for needing an excuse to go outside, I say sod that; many people find it difficult to work up the courage to go outside because of anxiety problems, or they simply find it boring to go for a walk, and this app has provided what a lot of those people needed – an excuse to open the door. It can only possibly be a good thing that more people are getting active thanks to Pokémon Go and I hope developers jump on the bandwagon of geo-location apps and continue to do good for people’s health in a similar way.

Pokémon Sun, 3DS

Image from ign.com

There’s a lot of Pokemon on this list, and for good reason: it’s Pokémon! When you buy a Pokémon game, you’re almost certainly guaranteed quality, and this year gave us a pair of blockbuster main series entries in Pokémon Sun and Moon. It’s another game I’ve not quite finished yet, but already it feels a lot better than X and Y in terms of story. For one, your friends aren’t made of cardboard and actually have interesting personas, and the story is so far very focused on the island challenge. That’s another plus point for me: the 8-gym system has desperately needed a shake-up for a while, and the island trials do it very well, with the Totem Pokémon being a welcome change from gym leaders.

One thing I’m not a huge fan on is the fact that wild Pokémon occasionally call for help, which is usually not a problem unless I’m trying to catch a Pokémon and it successfully calls for help about 15 times in a row. It took me 20 minutes the other day to catch a damn Caterpie. A Caterpie! And they can do it completely for free, it doesn’t even waste their turn. It’s sometimes good for grinding EXP, so there’s that I guess.

No Man’s Sky, PC

Image from pcgamer.com

Ooooohhh boy. This game sure was controversial, wasn’t it? Well, right off the bat I’m gonna go and make enemies with half of the Internet and say I actually quite liked it. If we’re objectively looking at the game and not the situation surrounding it, I can totally appreciate why the game is not for everyone. It does get boring and there really isn’t much to do, but that’s what I liked about it, crazy as it seems. In a world where every game is vying for your attention by throwing tons of flashy effects and fast-paced gameplay in your face, No Man’s Sky is instead happy to let you sit back and walk around a planet at your own place, appreciating the beautiful pastel-coloured scenery before flying into space seamlessly and visiting another planet to find huge bulks of resources, just so you can do the same thing again.

While the ending was a complete and utter disappointment, I can’t help but feel that this is a game that shouldn’t have had an ending at all. Why would that have ever been a good idea? It’s a game that, at its core, works best when there are no immediate goals or aims, because that’s what made it feel so relaxing for me. I didn’t feel pressured to get to some location in a time limit and was having the most fun when I was idly watching weird creatures run around or just taking screenshots of the breathtaking procedurally generated surroundings. This game really is a testament to the power of letting maths make your game for you.

I’ve not played the Foundation Update yet, but I hear it’s a step in the right direction and I really, really, really hope that Hello Games continue listening to fans and making an effort to communicate, because that’s part of the reason so many people felt so burned in the first place. Oh, and the soundtrack by 65daysofstatic, Music For an Infinite Universe, is amazing and you should go buy it now.

Rhythm Paradise Megamix, 3DS

Image from nintendo.co.uk

If you own a 3DS and like rhythm games, you absolutely owe it to yourself to get a copy of this game. If I were to pick my favourite game this year, I think this would be it. The minigames are so ridiculous, so Nintendo, that you can’t help but love the boundless charm of this game. Each and every game is simple at its core but some are very challenging despite the simple controls and rules. The soundtrack is excellent and it’s stuck in my head worse than Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise‘s was. That’s helped by the fact that Megamix is a blend of other games in the series with some original games, so every game in Beat the Beat’s library bar 5 made it into Megamix. If that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.

I’ve got almost every perfect on this game, the hardest of which so far have to have been the Left- and Right-Hand Remixes and Lockstep, and I’ve got real close a couple of times with Final Remix, but I don’t think I’ll ever get a perfect on Machine Remix. Fuck the part near the end with the onions.

It’s not just games

Not everything I do is to do with games. Okay, most of it is, since most of my life is playing games, computer science, or the illegitimate child of the two – game development. But more importantly, there are some achievements I made this year that I may as well stick here, since I’ve talked about basically everything else I’ve done this year. First off, I got a boyfriend! He’s called James and he’s absolutely adorable, which I keep telling him just to get a relatively blank face in return. I would put a picture of us up, but he might kill me, so no. I’m also not sure if such a picture exists, we’re both rather shy. Second of all, I’ve continued my successful academic record at uni so far and achieved a first in my second year – a slightly higher first too, up from 71% to about 74%. Since second year is weighted twice as much as first year and both those numbers were rounded, that leaves me at about 73% overall, which is fairly comfortable into a first, although I hope to do even better this year if I can.

We also finally got Nintendo Society recognised as an official Warwick SU society (or, we will be next term). For those that aren’t aware, societies are like after-school clubs basically, and there’s a lot of variety in the types of societies found at Warwick, but one that didn’t exist when I joined was one purely for Nintendo fans. So for about two years now, a few friends and I have been working hard to set the society up, and we’ve been running unofficially for about that length of time anyway, which I think may have swung the SU’s vote. We mainly play Smash 4, but there’s also a lot of Pokemon and other Nintendo games at some of our events. I’ve also unleashed Rhythm Paradise on the society and watched them crumble, although we eventually beat Remix 10 on Beat the Beat. And lately, we’ve diversified our events to include other Smash games, which I’m terrible at. I think I’ll stick to Smash 4 and just Link everyone into oblivion with my dash attacks in 8-player smash instead.

Looking to the future, 2017

Ah yes, the future. I’m not psychic, but I can at least make educated guesses at what 2017 might hold for me. Firstly, I’ll get a version of Honeycomb done. It excites me to no end thinking about how far I might get with Honeycomb, and what sort of games it might be capable of making. It’s running using the Vulkan API, which is basically OpenGL’s baby. Vulkan gives more power to the programmer, which means I’m responsible for setting almost everything up where OpenGL would’ve done stuff for me, but the end result is that games don’t need to rely on bulky graphics drivers quite as much, removing driver overhead and resulting in increased performance. Hopefully it means games developed with Honeycomb end up being fast.

Also in 2017, I hope to make more games than in 2016, since 6 isn’t very many. I’ll aim to enter as many game jams as I can and try to make something really cool over summer this year. Above all else, I hope 2017 can be a happy and successful year for you all, even if 2016 maybe wasn’t the best year for everyone.

Nintendo Logic #2: Amiibos

The first part of my Nintendo Logic series discussed Nintendo’s ‘Nindie’ program. This time, I’m going to write about Nintendo’s highly collectible NFC figurines, Amiibos.

Amiibos

Nintendo’s range of Amiibo figurines. Only one of each probably exist worldwide.

Firstly, a bit of context. Since the rise of NFC figurine-based games such as Skylanders have become such massive hits, it is only natural for Nintendo to make a foray into the increasingly popular ‘Toys to Life’ concept. Skylanders proved popular enough to absorb what was left of the Spyro franchise and swiftly became critically acclaimed on almost every platform it released on, and Disney Infinity, which relies on a similar concept, also received generally favourable reviews. The Wii U GamePad features an NFC reader in the bottom-left corner and the New 3DS has the same technology integrated into the bottom screen, a move that can only foreshadow Nintendo’s wish to move into the NFC figure space. And with the announcement of Amiibos, it did just that – a wave of twelve figures hit the market back in November.

Nintendo’s range of Amiibos can store a small amount of data for one game (usually), which is backed up on the Wii U or New 3DS itself. For example, the Smash Bros range can be used to store ‘Figure Players’, which are super-tough AI characters that can be named, trained up and fed equipment. There are some Amiibo-only tournaments where people enter their best-trained Amiibo to do battle with other FPs. In some cases, Amiibos just need to be scanned in to unlock content, such as Mii racer suits in Mario Kart 8. But there have been glaringly obvious problems – some of them are bloody sold out everywhere.

Nintendo seem to have focused more on exclusivity deals than keeping up with demand. Given their extreme collectibility and the huge marketing campaign launched by Nintendo, you’d have thought the company would have predicted the demand. So why are they in such short supply? By offering some Amiibos as timed exclusives in some locations, particularly a problem in America, Nintendo have shot themselves in the foot by disappointing their most loyal fans who, predictably, want to own them all. But problems have persisted since the first wave, and despite the problem being flagged in numerous articles and tweets from angry customers, the shortages continue.

In fact, take the numbers in the image above – 5.7 million Amiibos shipped worldwide. Granted, the image is from February and the number is for shipments, not necessarily sales – but if we divide this by 44, the number of Amiibos in the Super Smash Bros range, we get about 130,000 each. This seems so much shorter than I’d expect, given the Skylanders series has sold over 240 million figures to date, and is an indication of the degree to which Nintendo is creating an Amiibo bottleneck.

Shulk_AmiiboYou want a Shulk Amiibo? Yours for only £50.

This was made far worse when Nintendo of America then shot themselves in the foot with a tweet that read:

Uh oh. It looks like Yoshi got caught hiding eggs before Easter. Which #amiibo do you want in your Easter basket?

This highlights an apparent disconnection between the company and its fans, who took the tweet as a middle finger to everyone who had failed to secure a preorder for their favourite character’s Amiibo. Of course this was met by countless angry tweets by users, the first of which simply read “NESS YOU MONSTERS“, but no apology for the insensitive attitude towards disappointed users has been made.

Nintendo had a huge opportunity to satisfy the casual Skylanders-type audience by offering a huge range of characters, and their most loyal (and incredibly rich) fans who would actively seek out the whole collection. But they’ve strangled supply for some bizzare reason. It’s understandable that the demand may have been overwhelming during Wave 1, but those problems should have been fixed by Wave 2, and the pre-orders and exclusives do nothing but disappoint large swathes of fans who weren’t quick enough.

NFC_Reader

Are you one of those dirty infidels with an old 3DS? You’ll have to wait.

All the while, regular 3DS owners will have to wait until Summer to get their hands on an NFC reader – such a move can only be Nintendo trying to push people to buy a New 3DS instead, which already has the technology. To put that into perspective, even my door carries this incredibly cheap technology – it shouldn’t take the company half a year to push out a 3DS NFC reader. A great opportunity to grab a large chunk of the NFC figure market, ruined by Nintendo logic.

Nintendo Logic #1: “Nindies”

I’m a huge Nintendo fan. As someone who grew up with Nintendo throughout my life, particularly their handhelds, I’ve become attached to the sublime perfection of the Mario series, catching ’em all in Pokemon and the musical legacy of The Legend of Zelda. But once in a while, the Japanese juggernaut will make a move so bewilderingly odd, so utterly stupid, that I want to tear my hair out, buy a plane ticket straight to Kyoto, storm up to Nintendo HQ and scream directly in Satoru Iwata’s face: “WHYYYYY!”. All because Nintendo seems to be struggling with a phenomenon I can only describe as “Nintendo Logic”, a crippling syndrome that makes even the smartest guys in the industry make the dumbest mistakes. It makes it much worse when some of the attempts to fix these mistakes ends up pissing off half their user base. So I’m starting a new series on these daft choices, starting with indie Nintendo developers. Nintendo_Logo

The Big N, the behemoth of gaming that is Nintendo.

With the rise of indie development, everyone’s hopping on the indie bandwagon left, right and centre. And of course it makes sense for such an influential pillar of gaming to take a similar stance on indie games – by lending support to indies, Nintendo ensures a stream of 3rd party support, something it has lacked in recent times, all while helping the ‘little guy’ and thus further helping its friendly image. Hence ‘Nindies’ were born; Nintendo offers Wii U developer kits to budding indies of any team size and any level of experience, and they’ll hold the hands of developers to make sure the use of Wii U and 3DS features is the best it can be for each project. Games such as Guacamelee!, Might Switch Force and SteamWorld Dig are right now available on the Humble Nindie Bundle, for example (and don’t worry, I’ll get onto that shortly). However, there are problems with the Nindie program.

As the majority of consumers of Nintendo products aren’t indie developers, they’re gleefully unaware of the cost of a Nintendo development kit. An Xbox One development kit is, well, the Xbox One itself, so around £300-400-ish. Some reports suggest that Sony is ‘lending’ people PS4 development kits, although they may cost in the low thousands instead. Then how much is a Wii U development kit? Every source I’ve found says “anywhere between $2500 and $10000”, but most cite $2500 as being the absolute bottom dollar – the price of the absolute bare-bones development kit. This means a kit with full debugging tools and 24-hour support is probably orders of magnitude more expensive, all for a copy of Unity tailored to the Wii U hardware. I’ll have to remind you that Unity 5 Personal Edition is completely free.

What does this mean for indie developers with no money, like myself? Well, tough luck. There is no known program out there that helps people like me, the little guy. As the Wii U is such a unique piece of kit with unbounded potential – I have so many ideas for that GamePad – I’ve applied (twice) through Nintendo’s own Wii U developer application form with the hope of some support from Nintendo on the cost and to weigh up my options, but I’ve heard nothing back apart from the complimentary “yeah we got your application” email. No call, no other emails, nothing. So, Nintendo are helping indies… how? The sheer lack of communication here is not only frustrating, but confusing – for me, I have so many ideas I want to try out, so many ideas that might catch Nintendo’s attention, but I’ve so far I’ve yet to hear back from them.

Wii_UThe Wii U, a console impossible to develop for.

In the Nindie push, the Japanese developer has very recently decided to make the unprecedented move of introducing the Humble Nindie Bundle, which will run until the 9th of June. For those of you unaware of the Humble model, it comprises of a bundle of games, usually under some theme such as ‘indie bundles’ or a particular publisher, that can be purchased by the user for any amount they wish. Usually, some games in each bundle have a minimum spend. This bundle is the first bundle to feature both handheld and console games, and is the first by the major three console makers, marking a brave step forward for both Nintendo of America and Humble Bundle themselves. However, the bundle is region-locked. Yep, only American gamers – those from North, Central and South America (except Brazil, Martinique and Guadeloupe for some reason, and you need an Ambassador eShop everywhere except the USA, Canada and Mexico) are able to redeem codes from the bundle.

This is just plain wrong. The problem arises from the fact that Nintendo consoles are region-locked (which is a huge problem in its own right). This bundle also represents the first such offering by Humble Bundle that is region-locked. It wouldn’t cost Nintendo or the individual games’ developers any more to distribute European/Australian keys in addition to American keys. In fact, it would probably gain sales in addition to helping charity; the causes helped by the bundle are losing out due to lost European sales. This wouldn’t be quite so bad it it weren’t for two gaffes on Humble Bundle’s part: they sent an email to everyone on their mailing list proudly announcing the bundle, but failed to mention it was region-locked. Even worse, the website had no indication it was region-locked at first, so some non-eligible people bought the bundle, only to be disappointed when they couldn’t redeem the codes. Then, Humble quickly wrote up a blog post ‘explaining’ why the bundle is region-locked, which upon closer inspection, explains exactly nothing and leaves us Europeans and Australians pissed off with two companies we want so much to think only good thoughts about. Even worse, it’s completely contradictory.

Guacamelee

Guacamelee, which I *almost* got to play.

The Nindie program has so much potential. For starters, if I were in charge of the program, I’d give a lot more power to developers. I understand Nintendo want to protect their hardware and their reputation from shoddy, half-baked games – spend 5 minutes in the ‘Indie Game Developers‘ Facebook group and you’ll see the kind of spam Nintendo are afraid of amongst genuine talent – but this shouldn’t stifle genuine creativity. They’re losing ground to their competitors, while the Wii U and GamePad combination is one of the most indie-friendly pieces of hardware I’ve seen. There’s so much potential for the types of high-risk ventures exclusive to this hardware that AAA developers, including Nintendo themselves at times, are afraid of trying out. Exactly the same is true of the Nintendo 3DS. I really want Nintendo to get their shit together with this one, because I so want to make games with their hardware.

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: What I Want to See

You’ve probably heard by now that a new pair of Pokémon games are headed for the Nintendo 3DS family of systems. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are the long-desired Ruby and Sapphire remakes, and if you missed the announcement, here it is.

What do we know so far?

Currently, we know that it’s a ‘full remake’ of Ruby and Sapphire, as stated by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Plus, as the trailer states, we’ll get to see a “dramatic new world”, which implies there will be new content. And from the box art, the games can feature what I can only assume are new forms of Groudon and Kyogre. Plus, we know the games will launch worldwide in November this year, which is only 6 months away.

pokemon-oras-box

Speculation Time!

Firstly, since it’s been stated these are definitely remakes, these games will take place in Hoenn. However, the “dramatic new world” mentioned suggests otherwise. Most likely, there will be a new area to explore in addition to Hoenn as we know it, which may or may not be post-game content. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that this happened, as LeafGreen and FireRed included the Sevii Islands as part of the storyline. The two legendaries on the box art look stunning, and appear to be new forms of the respective Pokémon. These may be Mega Evolutions, or perhaps a different form – I wouldn’t put it past Game Freak to introduce Alpha Pokémon or something ridiculous like that.

What I want to see

Full 3D battle scenes and polygonal Pokémon models, first introduced in Pokémon X and Y, are probably going to be in these new games, which I’d much prefer to sprite-based combat, which was the standard back in the originals. Also, the Battle Frontier from Pokémon Emerald was much better than Ruby and Sapphire’s Battle Tower, so it’ be fantastic if it were included in the remakes. The new games will almost certainly have similar online capabilities as X and Y, but it’d be cool for some other features introduced in Ruby and Sapphire, such as Pokémon contests, berry blending, secret bases and the Battle Tower (or Frontier), benefit from these increased connectivity features. I’d like to see a lot of post-game content in these games, as some Pokémon games lack in this department. With E3 approaching soon, it’s inevitable that we’ll find out more concrete info regarding the new games, but for now it’s fun to play the guessing game. If you have any ideas for what you’d like to see in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, leave a comment below.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Four-and-a-half-th Week

I know I said I’d be doing a weekly update on my animal crossing journey, but recently I did a little rejig of my A-level choices and swapped out Geography for Further Maths, an option that will be more useful for a Computer Science degree I hope to do at Cambridge, if I get accepted (fingers crossed on that one). As a result, I’ve had a ton of further maths piled on top of my workload (well, the whole AS, nothing too strenuous .-. ), and I’ve only found time to work on my blog now. So enough of my life, let’s see how my virtual life is going!

HNI_0090

 

This is Club LOL, which I mentioned in my last post. K.K. Slider, a returning character, is the DJ you see in the background and each night after 8 pm, he puts on a DJ set. In the afternoons before K.K. starts performing, you can bring any piece of fruit to Dr. Shrunk, who will proceed to hop on stage and tell one of his world-class ‘jokes’. This will allow you to use a new facial expression using the touch screen menu. On Saturday nights, K.K. Slider will play an acoustic set of one of his songs, and will give you a physical copy for you to either hang on your wall or play on your stereo at home. You can also request any song you want, although you can only get one record to play each week.

HNI_0091

 

This is the Dream Suite, a public works project that becomes available seven days after you become mayor. It allows you to upload your town to the Internet once a day for other players to play around in without actually messing up your town; they ruin a copy, so don’t worry. In turn, you can visit other player’s towns if you have their Dream Town Code. I have not yet used this feature, but it looks to be a great feature.

HNI_0089

Two other noticeable changes have happened in Main Street: firstly, the shop has been upgraded to Super T&T, which stocks wall-mountable items as well as more wallpaper, flooring and tools, and secondly the hair salon, Shampoodle, has opened above the Able Sister’s shop. The former is unlocked when you’ve spent at least 25,000 bells in the shop, but also it’s been 10 days since T&T Mart opened and also 10 days since the garden center opened, and the latter when Kicks has been open for at least 10 days and you’ve spent 10,000 bells in both Able Sister’s and Kicks combined. I like my hair how it is (even though my Hero’s Cap covers it completely) so I’m not going in there any time soon.

HNI_0088

 

Another public works project I’ve completed is the second story of the museum, which will become available after you’ve donated 20 items to the museum with at least one donation in each category of items then talked to Blathers. The second floor allows you to purchase exhibition rooms from Celeste, the owl you see here, for a fee of 10,000 bells; this allows you to display whatever items you want in an 8×8 space. You can also purchase items from the small shop you see here, including some of the silver tools.

I will continue to build public works projects, and hopefully next week I will have progressed more and will have more to show, but I hope you enjoyed reading.

-Daniel

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Second Week

This week I have continued my Animal Crossing adventure, and have progressed quite a bit. Firstly I’ve unlocked a couple new shops: a shoe shop, and an upgrade to Nookling Junction.

animal_crossing_14The shoe shop, called Kicks, opens up after you spend 8000 bells in the Able Sisters’ shop and if it’s at least 10 days after the town was created. It’s run by a skunk called Kicks (surprisingly) and there’s shoes and socks for sale. On the other side of Main Street, an upgrade to Nookling Junction has appeared, after they were closed for a day on Wednesday; it is called T&T Mart, and it sells much more than the smaller shop. One notable thing is that this shop actually sells slingshots, which is helpful after playing the game for two weeks without and watching dozens of balloons fly past my town. Apparently you can hit balloons with your net as they pass the edge of the cliffside near the beach, but I never found an opportunity to do that. Ah well. The store also has wallpaper and carpet, one more set of furniture for sale, three tools per day rather than two and two fortune cookies, as well as medicine and the all-important catalog, accessed through a machine in the corner.

animal_crossing_15Somewhere in the English translation the sun got lost it seems, as it always seems to rain in Dan Town, at the end of June. But that’s what umbrellas are for, I guess. I’ve been customising my house a little too, and I’ve not really decided a theme, but I’ve changed my roof, fence, door and exterior to look a bit better (or maybe worse, depends on your opinion).

animal_crossing_16I’ve also met Dr. Shrunk, who will appear outside your house and ask you for the signatures of six of you neighbours to build a new facility called Club LOL. He’ll appear when you’ve upgraded your shop to T&T Mart and if you have a 100% satisfaction rating. If you’re able to build public works projects, you’ve done this already. Now that I’ve got the signatures I just have to wait until it’s built. K.K. Slider plays here on random days, and Dr. Shrunk can teach you new facial expressions with his “comedy”, so I look forward to seeing this built. I’ve also paid off enough home loans from Nook to be able to build a second story for my house, so I’ll be able to properly theme my house now.

animal_crossing_18I’m starting to concentrate on my town’s appearance more too, as I want to improve citizen satisfaction (apparently everyone hates my town, according to Isabelle). In this game, it also seems that flowers grow super quick, which in a way is good, but now parts of my town are overflowered. If that’s a word.

animal_crossing_17Like this. Flowers are good but this looks ugly, so I think I should move some of them into bare areas. I’ve started a new public works project to build the Dream Suite, which is pretty near to completion. This allows players to travel to another player’s town and play around without repercussions, and you can upload your own town to the Internet so others can visit it. This allows the trading of custom designs, but one odd feature is that you can’t take any items back with you. I suppose this is to prevent cheating.

One thing I forgot about last post was the Happy Home Academy, which replaces the Happy Room Academy from Wild World. When you StreetPass someone, a model of their home appears in the Happy Home Showcase north of Main Street, which you can enter and even order furniture from via the catalog. It’s great for finding that last chair or table you needed to complete a set. I hope to do an update on my AC journey every week if possible, so stay around!

-Daniel