Wii-actions and Wii-views3
Matt posted in Games, The Industry, Wii, Xbox 360 on November 21st, 2006
I have had about an hour of time to play with my brand new Wii. In the limited time that I’ve played Wii Sports (about an hour), I’m not very impressed with that game. My overall impression is that the motion control doesn’t work as well as I would like, there’s a lot of randomness, and there’s no way to get feedback on how to improve your technique. I’ll break it down by sport.
Baseball – Baseball could have been cooler, but I think they dumbed it down to the point that it’s not very interesting to play. All the players do is pitch and bat. Pitching could have been more interesting if they tried to interpret your motion as an actual pitch, but instead if yo u want to throw a curve ball, you hold down a button combo. Batting just requires swinging. I think that it’s all about timing and how fast you swing (but again, I’m not sure because they don’t give you any feedback). Up and down motion doesn’t matter. The outfielders’ behavior seems random. Will they catch your pop fly? Not if you are lucky.
Bowling – I found this frustrating. I’m not exactly sure how it determines the direction the ball will curve from your motion. Your throws don’t always go straight and I’m not sure what I need to do physically to curve the ball. Also, in this game, the Mii’s gestures don’t match yours. Rather, to bowl properly, you have to match the on screen character’s motion. I found this frustrating also. I thought the whole point of the motion control was so that the in game avatar could match your motions, not the other way around. Rather than informing you that you have to match the character, it gives messages informing you that your timing is off, but doesn’t really explain you should look at the position of the Mii’s arm for an indication of the proper timing. Maybe I’m just slow to pick up these things, but if I, a video gamer for life, have trouble getting it right, won’t non-gamers? Maybe not. Maybe it’s naturally intuitive for non-gamers, and I am inhibited from approaching it in the same way because I’ve used traditional gaming interfaces, but I doubt it.
Boxing – I didn’t play this for very long, so maybe I’m a bad judge, but I had trouble getting the different moves working, so I decided to resort to my Mocap Boxing technique of flailing wildly, and I managed to best my friend who was trying to play for real.
Golf – This is probably the best of the bunch. I’m not huge into golf games, but I can see how actually swinging the club is more fun than stopping a moving bar at the right location. I still ran into a bit of frustration when trying to swing softly. I would swing slowly, and it wouldn’t pick up the motion. Then when I finished my swing, the character was holding the club in the wrong position relative to mine. Again, there isn’t much to this game as far as user control and all that. You can’t hook the ball. You just control the speed at which the ball is hit. The nice part about this game is that it seems clear that swing speed is all that matters.
Tennis – This suffered from similar problems as baseball in terms of what motions are taken into account. You don’t have to move your characters. They move automatically, which isn’t as annoying as outfielders that can cost you the game, but it seems like it always play doubles, and you can’t control which character swings if you are playing for both of them. Several times, I wanted the front character to dive for it, but instead the rear player swung, and there wasn’t time for the rear player to swing again when the ball was close to him. I suppose I could get used to the timing, but it was still a bit frustrating. The game seems like pong with gestures. Although pong was a great game for the time, if I have a sophisticated input device, I’d like to have more control of the game than when the character hits the ball (and maybe how hard).
So, all in all, I’m a bit disappointed with Wii Sports. The motion controls usually work more like gestures than actually having control of the object. Moving the Wii-mote is more fun than pressing a button, but these games don’t seem all that good regardless of input mechanism. Hopefully, more interesting titles will come out that use the wii-mote better. I’m interested in Trauma Center. I haven’t gotten a chance to play it, but I might enjoy that better.
I also got a chance to play Zelda for about an hour, and I’m surprised it’s getting such good reviews. It would have been good two years ago, but now it seems dated both graphically and gameplay-wise. The graphics don’t even seem that great for a GameCube game when compared to something like Resident Evil 4. That’s certainly excusable though. Graphics don’t make a game fun, but they do help create an immersive experience. The gameplay seems dated for many reasons. Firstly, there are no voice overs. I don’t think this is excusable. In order to have good graphics, it’s hard work because developers have to squeeze the maximum performance out of the system. Playing voice overs is not very difficult at all from a technical standpoint. Sure you have to get voice actors to record them, but it adds a lot to the game in my opinion.
Another main reason the gameplay feels dated is because there is only one solution to every problem. Hopefully, you won’t mind the small spoilers, but this example is hardly a plot point. When you go into the first city, there are two people with problems that obviously need fixing. One problem is the shop owner is missing her cat. The other problem is a woman is missing her baby cradle. I figured I’d try and get the shop owner her cat first because I wanted to actually get a weapon. (The store sells a slingshot) So, the cat ran away from me when I walked over, so I tried to herd it over to the shop. I did this for a while and almost got the cat where I wanted it to go, but it eventually got stuck under the bridge, so I figured that wasn’t the best way to go about it. I tried talking to the shop owner, but I had no choice to try and tell her where the cat is. I talked to her husband, and he didn’t mention the cat. Of course there is no dialog tree at all since Link is apparently mute. Okay fine. I figured I’d do the baby cradle thing. That got me the fishing pole. I caught a fish, and the cat followed me. I tried to walk into the store with the cat following me, but when I entered the store, Link was unable to communicate to the melancholy shopkeep that the cat was just outside. Her husband was outside, but he apparently isn’t interested in recovering his wife’s cat. He just said the same thing he said to me 5 minutes ago when I wanted to talk to him.
There’s no camera control, and the camera has a lot of collision problems. I can understand that implementing a camera with proper collision can be difficult on something with limited CPU time like the Nintendo 64, but the Wii has a lot more horsepower. A good camera can be done without taking too much of the CPU on the GameCube, so it definitely should be feasible on the Wii. Although The Incredibles, which I worked on, may not be the most enjoyable game, it had a darn good camera on all three previous gen SKUs (including GameCube). Not having camera control is really frustrating. It was always nice to line up the camera behind your character before attempting a jump to ensure that the character will make the jump distance. Unfortunately, this is not possible. In the limited time I’ve played the game, I’ve already missed a jump because I couldn’t line the camera up with the gap.
On top of all this, the game starts off slllllllllloooooooooooooooowwwwww. I’m not saying it won’t get better, its just that usually you want to grab the audience with some exciting stuff, so that they’ll want to play more. There was an interesting article in Game Developer Magazine about this (The Power of Pacing in the August 06 issue), although I disagree with some of the examples the author gives. (I loved the beginning of Psychonauts, which he criticizes) Upon watching me try to lure a cat to the shopkeep, one of my friends said that he was no longer interested in the game anymore. I’m going to bear the boring beginning in the hopes that it picks up soon, but I don’t know how many menial tasks I can stand.
Another flaw is that it’s Zelda. Although that may not seem like a flaw, I’m trying to say that it’s the same Zelda that you’ve been playing every iteration barring Zelda 2 and Majora’s Mask. Interestingly, the two titles where they changed the formula are the most hated of all the Zelda games (besides the CD-i atrocities). The Zelda formula never changes, and frankly, I’m getting sick of it. The Wii-mote is just an input mechanism to control exactly the same things that all the Zeldas have. I want innovation! I want gameplay advancements. Besides changing the way you do the actions in Zelda, it’s the same game as Ocarina of Time with an added wolf mode, and although I haven’t gotten the opportunity to play as the wolf, I’ve read that it’s nothing all that special. If I wanted to play as a wolf, a friend has mentioned that Okami has better lupine combat. Is Zelda a bad game? I haven’t played enough to judge. I doubt that it’s bad. But I can say that it is not worthy of the the A+ reviews it’s getting because many of the problems I have will persist throughout the game (especially the camera problems). Why is it getting such good reviews? Because it’s Zelda. Gamespot posted a review giving it an 8.8 and fans freaked out so much that one editor wrote the following:
“It’s the same damn game we’ve all been playing for the last 15-odd years. Hey, guess what? You get to go into dungeons…and find items…and put together pieces of heart to make new heart containers. I haven’t gotten very far into it, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Triforce is in the mix at some point. There’s a difference between tradition and ossification, and Nintendo’s been content to let this series stay the same for too damn long. What’s more, in a lot of ways it’s actually getting to be pretty annoying.”
Gamasutra’s column Blogged Out, referenced a blog post by Stuart Roch from Treyarch that suggests that Gears of War’s 95% percent was undeserving. Now, I absolutely love Gears of War, but I have only played the first half an hour, so it’s quite possible I haven’t played enough for the issues he mentions to get on my nerves. (However, I managed to have some issues with Zelda that got on my nerves during that same duration). Now, assuming Gears of War was not deserving of its 95% review scores (which Stuart admitted he hadn’t played enough of the game to rule that), and I feel pretty safe in saying that Zelda doesn’t deserve a 96.5% on gamerankings.com, which it currently has. Why would it be that reviewers would rate them so highly?
Part of it is that the scale seems very skewed. A 70% is considered bad. If I don’t know anything else about the game other than the review, I don’t want to play a game that receives a 70%. If the scale ranges from 0-100%, you’d think that 50% would be average. I suppose the way it works is like the way we are graded (at least in the US), but with 50% being the norm, there would be more room for reviewers to point out inadequacies with an otherwise great game. Also, I think reviewers want to give ratings that the fans will agree with. Although this may go against journalistic integrity, fans don’t like reading reviews that they don’t agree with. 1up.com had some backlash with its review of Neverwinter Nights 2, and of course, as Stuart mentions, Eurogamer had backlash about its review of Gears of War, and Gamespot about its 8.8 favorable review of Zelda. I imagine some fans might want to turn to other news sources to find one more in line with their own preferences in gaming, so it may not be in site’s best interests to alienate the readers. 1up although they took down their review of Neverwinter Nights 2, they still gave it a relatively bad score in its re-review. So, what can we do? Who can we trust on reviews? I think all too often people forget that there is no way to objectively review a game, since whether a game is good or not is a matter of opinion. I really enjoyed Sudeki, but it only has a 73% on gamerankings.com. Does that mean it’s a bad game? Does that mean it’s an only okay game? Well, no. That just means reviewers didn’t like it as much as I did. Sudeki certainly didn’t have a lot of hype or fans following it, but it was similar to Zelda. Had Sudeki been released as a Zelda game, would it have gotten higher reviews? I’d say so because people would want it to live up to their expectations. Sure, Sudeki may have changed too much of the Zelda formula, (which I think is a good thing) so Zelda fans might have complained (like they did about Majora’s Mask and Zelda 2), but I guess Zelda fans don’t mind playing the same thing over and over again.
So, Sudeki would have gotten higher reviews if it were a Zelda game because of all the Zelda fans that would want it to be good. I know I wanted Sonic Heroes to be good since I really love Sonic, so I thought it was a pretty good game while playing it, but in hindsight, it wasn’t very good at all. What about Gears of War? It is a new IP. That’s very true, but it had a lot of expectations before it came out. Everyone I work with can tell you that I have been raving about Gears of War since I saw CliffyB’s demo at E3. Certainly there were a lot of expectations because of all the hype, and I’m sure people who were excited about it wanted it to be good. Now, I’m not trying to say that Gears of War wasn’t deserving of its high marks. When I play more, I can be a better judge of that. But, I think people who are excited about any title want it to turn out good and that includes the reviewers. It can skew the results. If you listen to the 1up yours podcast for 11/17, one journalist goes on at great length about how Twilight Princess is the best game ever, but another seems to have the same viewpoint as I. Could it be that the huge Zelda fan had a lot of expectations, and he wanted the game to live up to it? It’s hard to say, but I would say yes. I may be guilty of the same thing for Gears of War.