Saturday, July 4, 2015

4 Critical Gaming Thoughts

With the month of July starting and gaming conventions starting to come and go for the year, (and not surprisingly, I can't find a way to attend one), I believe I should take the time to blitz through some topics that have developed over the course of the early Summer season. There were a few things that caught my eye for better or  for worse, and I think that these topics are juicy enough to mention. I'm pretty sure that the average gamer can pick out more than 4 gaming topics to critically think about, but these topics will be the ones that I will discuss for now.

For once, some sort of platforming imagination...
1) Production of Yooka-Laylee

Gamers who were fans of the gameplay style of Banjo-Kazooie back in the days of the Nintendo 64 will be pleasantly surprised to realize that a gaming company is more than willing to bring that platforming style of play back to the consoles. In fact, it isn't just any gaming company. The game developer that is bringing back this style of play happens to involve most of the people who worked on the original Banjo-Kazooie games.

Playtonic Games put up a Kickstarter campaign to see if they could generate interest from the gaming masses. Yooka-Laylee was presented and the gaming masses ate the presentation all up, and so much so that Playtonic has more than enough money raised in funds to start developing a game. When you look at the presentation of Yooka-Laylee, you will quickly notice how much of it feels like platforming games of the past, which is something that has been missing in this current day console market.

The concept of Yooka-Laylee is rather simple. A male chameleon named Yooka and a female bat named Laylee (obviously a pun on the musical instrument ukulele) explore various worlds to collect tokens and fight off bad guys. The full story on this game hasn't been released yet, but Playtonic obviously knows the whole scoop on that. Demo gameplay has featured some moves that the dynamic duo can pull off, such as Laylee carrying Yooka while flying, Laylee using Yooka like a barrel, dangerous jumps made by Yooka, etc.

I am intrigued by what I see at the moment. I am interested in seeing what the finished product will be like when Yooka-Laylee is released. This just goes to show that the opinions of gamers still matter in certain situations.

Gaming Competitions Spark Interest
2) Nintendo World Championships 2015

Something interesting occurred during the course of the 2015 E3 event which was held in Los Angeles. The Nintendo World Championships were officially reinstated, brought back due to Nintendo's attempt to regain some interest from gamers who initially loved Nintendo products, but eventually distanced themselves. As I have mentioned before in previous blog posts, I am an advocate for gaming competitions. I support the idea of holding gaming tournaments to crown a champion of some sort. Gaming competitions motivate gamers to be on their A Game while also having fun doing something they love to do.

Unfortunately, it appears that so many things have changed since the last time the Nintendo World Championships were held (1990) that Nintendo themselves have forgotten just what made this kind of event special to begin with. Many complaints have come rolling in stating that Nintendo just flat out dropped the ball with their reintroduction of the Nintendo World Championships. What did they mess up exactly? Well, it's a couple things.

First of all, when you call this the Nintendo World Championships, one would expect that you reach out to gamers all over the world to determine just who is worthy of being called the Nintendo World Champion. Nintendo of course didn't do this. They restricted this competition to just the United States, and to make matters worse, only 8 cities in the United States were chosen to host qualifying events inside Best Buy stores.

Wow. That's all I need to say about this fact.

Secondly, the tournament's execution, as seen on YouTube, was pretty sloppy to say the least. The only bright spot of this event was the actual tournament structure. I did actually like the format they used, which was 16 gamers started the tournament and they would have a series of games to determine who was safe and which few would be sent to the Underground Stages. These gamers would have to play again and survive in order to avoid being eliminated. I did like this concept.

The execution of this, though, was off and I think many people, including the people who were watching this from the on hand crowd, could notice this. For the record, the commentary sucked big time. As if we need any more potential G4 TV references, Kevin Pereira was chosen to host. You may remember him from a few of the better G4 TV shows. Plus, a few other guys who were probably not qualified to commentate along with Kevin joined in, and they added nothing to the commentary quality. I could have done without them, to be honest.

The attached video above speaks more about what I just wrote, and then some other things. In closing of this, I think that if the Nintendo World Championships are here to stay again, Nintendo MUST do a better job of promoting this event. Instead of just limiting qualifying rounds in 8 random Best Buy locations in America, how about you actually make this an international/global competition? Gotta stay consistent with your message, right?

In a way, this symbolizes Sega right now
3) Sega's Continuous Blunders

I will be honest. As a Tails fan, one of my most favorite pictures of Sonic artwork is seeing Tails punching Sonic square in the face. You can get technical about "Oh, that shouldn't have happened!" and talk about Sonic comic canon which I don't care about, but when I look at this picture, this says a lot. I believe this picture, in one way, symbolizes the state of Sega as a whole right now.

So much of Sega's focus has been on Sonic, the character and the franchise, and many of us should know by now that putting all your eggs in one basket can only lead to bad things if you have a poor track record of keeping things in order. Sega's priorities as an organization are so screwed up right now it's pretty much impossible to find the appropriate starting point to discuss their continuous blunders.

Sonic Boom came and went, and the majority of people, gamers and critics alike, absolutely hated the game. This was always a possibility, and the stories that came from the aftermath of Boom's failure shouldn't only be fascinating, but telling. One part of Boom's failure was Sega's excessive micromanaging of the game's development. We can blame Big Red Button all we want, but they are not the only guilty party here. Sega deserves one slice of the Blame Pie as to why Sonic Boom failed in the eyes of many people.

So what has Sega done afterwards? Not much. They just released information on an upcoming game that nobody (and I mean nobody) asked for. They revealed that they are working on Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, and when it comes to fan discussions about this game you can hear a pin drop. Rumors have been zooming by like Sonic himself that the Sonic Boom franchise will replace the main Sonic franchise as the main focus of Sega, and that the main Sonic franchise which most gamers know will be regulated to just mobile app games and the like. Not to mention the excessive micromanaging of other Sonic media, like the comics, the Boom TV show, and possibly the upcoming live action Sonic movie, and what exactly are you left with in this franchise?

A very reassuring future Sonic has, right? Note the sarcasm.

This isn't all about Sonic, though. Yu Suzuki, the man who many believe to be a game development genius, appeared at E3 to make an announcement. Yes, he made that announcement. He announced a Kickstarter campaign for the long awaited Shenmue III, and as you can expect, Kickstarter basically blew up like Twitter. Many gamers went to Kickstarter and donated boatloads of cash to support this campaign. You would think that this would have a happy ending, right?

Well... I believe one has to consider not only how these Kickstarter funds will be used, but also how Sega will manage the marketing around this game. Sega won't have any direct ties to the development of Shenmue III, but if the past is any indication, you can bet that Sega will weasel its way in somehow and provide input that isn't all that helpful. Almost $4 Million has been donated by people to fund this campaign already, and we are talking about a video game here. What if expectations aren't met? What if this game isn't what the masses were anticipating to be?

Whenever I think of anything related to Sega right now, I only get negative vibes, as if Sega is holding something back from gamers and they won't admit it.

As the years pass by, I become more and more convinced that Sega is nothing more than a corporate dictatorship bent on satisfying only their own needs as an organization and ignoring anything and everything gamers will say. If Sega of Japan in particular will disrespect gamers who aren't based in Japan, then why should respect be given back to them? Why put your trust in an organization that has proven to fumble the ball in the most critical moments?

A new installment of a classic series
4) Star Fox Zero

One game that was officially announced during E3 2015 was the long awaited next installment of the once popular Nintendo franchise Star Fox. I say once popular because it has been around a decade since we last saw something significant come out of this franchise. For years, gamers have been calling for Fox McCloud and his Star Fox crew to return, and for a while there was no trace of them. That changed this year when Star Fox Zero was put on display in the form of a demo. Star Fox is back with an installment that puts emphasis on Nintendo Wii U controls while giving gamers the familiar feeling of what past Star Fox games were like.

I can report from sources that I have looked up (YouTube...) that early impressions of Star Fox Zero are mixed. You will get the feeling that you are playing a Star Fox game, and you will be reminded of games like Star Fox 64 and even the original Star Fox on the SNES, but the controls leave something to be desired.

There are certain parts of the demo where gamers had to navigate through tough spots, and it was mandatory for them to use the Wii U gamepad in order to get through the imposing obstacles. They had to switch back and forth between what was occurring on the big screen and then on the screen of the gamepad. This sounds somewhat disorienting, in all honesty.

Only time will tell what changes Nintendo will make to Star Fox Zero's gameplay formula, but having said this, there are a few things that are very interesting, such as being able to transform aircrafts into walking robot-like contraptions or transforming desert tanks into flying ships. I do like this added element. As far as the storyline goes for this game, it remains to be seen what will be featured. It's hard to tell what roles certain characters will play aside from the Star Fox team themselves. 

This is just a roundup of some thoughts that I have been collecting lately. I honestly have more to talk about than what you read in this post, but I only have so much stuff to fit in. July is looking like a very interesting month in the Video Game Industry to say the least, no matter what the reasoning is.

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