IGC on Gaming: April 19, 2017

Clarification on Back When it was Gooditus

The NES Classic, Virtual Console, Mario All-Stars, Modern Warfare Remastered, etc. are not examples of Back When it was Gooditus. While there are no doubt nostalgia-loving types who will swear that those represent “when games were good”, there’s no public perception that those franchises are on the decline. They’re quick cash-ins, not apologies for waning quality or whimpering reminders of a time where they were relevant.

A re-release of a game like Resident Evil 4, so soon after #5 or #6 hit, serves as sobering reminder that the series was once good and isn’t anymore, reinforcing the perception that the best days are behind them and thus future installments are likely to be mediocre as well. When that is the case, that’s Back When it was Gooditus.

Hell, you can’t even call this a cash-in since Nintendo pulled the plug long before they stopped making money on it. It should have been shaped like a penis because it was a dick move.

Despite the fact that such a perception benefits nobody, some games actually market based around the concept of “gaming was better way back when.” Take Yooka-Laylee, a game that raised funds on Kickstarter and was marketed under the guise that gamers would believe that 3D platformers were better during the N64 era. And it worked! It set crowd-funding records and had the type of buzz most games could only dream of. Then it released and, while almost nobody is calling it a bad game, it seems to have underwhelmed most people. Of course it did. It’s based on recreating the feel of games from twenty-years-ago. Twenty! It’s okay to reminisce about the good ‘ole days, but actually going back to them almost always disappoints. Gaming has come a long ways.

Why do your Shovel Knights or your Steamworlds, games that try to invoke that bygone era, rise above that? Because it’s more about using nostalgia as a framework for something newer and fresher. Shovel Knight has no lives system, a darker tone, and works as an emotional narrative, something 2D platform games of the 80s or early 90s simply didn’t aim for. Yooka-Laylee seems to make the same mistake so many modern attempts at stoking that nostalgic fire do: copy the gameplay instead of paying tribute to the essence.

I Don’t Get Nostalgic

A few years ago, I got Shadow of the Colossus HD on PS3 for Christmas. Oh, and Ico was included. I never liked Ico to begin with. Baffling to me that gamers all agree that escort missions suck and NPCs with bad AI suck, but a game based around escorting an NPC with bad AI through a series of overly long and complex puzzles while fighting the spongiest busy-work enemies ever is somehow considered a masterpiece.

Ico is the Japanese word for “boredom.”

But hey, Shadow of the Colossus! One of my all-time favorites!

And then I played it.

“Christ, I remember being frustrated with the horse. I don’t remember wanting to kill and eat it.”

“Christ, did the bosses always shake this much when you were holding onto them?”

“What the fuck was the point of making the world so big when there’s almost nothing to do besides shoot lizards?”

I didn’t really enjoy any aspect of that play-through. Yet it was the exact same game I played six years earlier. Did it change? No. Had I? Not really. So what was the problem? The simple fact that I had already gotten everything I could out of it. The sense of wonder and discovery that drove me forward in 2005 could never hope to be re-created. I already knew what came next. There was nothing left to see. There was nothing new to explore. In 2005, upon entering the lair of every Colossus, I would be downright awestruck as the giants started to move, wondering how on Earth I would be expected to slay them. The second time around? I knew what they looked like, I knew how they moved, I knew what their weaknesses were.

Everything I hated about my 2011 play-through of Shadow of the Colossus was there in 2005. But, those faults were drowned out by the scope and scale and the sense of discovery. Without that freshness, the flaws stood out that much more and nothing could distract from them. I wish I had never replayed Shadow of the Colossus. It could never have hoped to be for me what it had been in 2005. Maybe it was unfair to expect it to be.

“You know that game we cancelled? Let’s just uncancel it and fix nothing about it that got it cancelled in the first place. What could go wrong?” My worst game of 2016 winner, The Last Guardian.

That was pretty much my last experience trying to recreate the magic with a game I had previously loved. I had done it in 2008 with Banjo-Kazooie’s Xbox 360 re-release, and then again in 2010 with Perfect Dark on XBLA. Even with HD upgrades and online play for Perfect Dark, the thrill was gone. Memories are a bitch to compete against. Memories of games are always a little brighter, always a little more happy, always a lot more refined and sharper, than reality is. I got Banjo-Kazooie on my 9th birthday, before experiencing work or relationships or anguish or pressure of any kind. Of course my memory of it is going to be as rosy as an alcoholic’s nose. My life was easier back then. I didn’t have other things on my mind. More important things. If you’re an adult playing games today with bills and drama hanging over you, of course you’ll be thinking “didn’t games used to make me happier?”

Actually, they didn’t. You were happier before you had to worry about stuff. It’s not the games that got bad. It’s you that got older. Games are better than ever. If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re completely stress-free, sit down with a quality game that you’ve never played before. I bet you anything it grabs a little of that old-timey game-induced happiness you used to feel and don’t anymore. It’s not the games. It’s you.

Mailbag

@mocliamtoh wants to know “Are there any genres you would describe as distinctly or inherently indie?

Inherently? No. Distinctly? No. Crafting games are generally associated with indies, but I’m not so sure they define the community. If any genre does, I would say it’s the 2D platformer. It makes sense when you think about it. Most indie developers grew up in the NES/SNES/Genesis era, when platformers ruled the day. They probably began to dream of making their own game around that time, and logically that game would be based on what was the meal-ticket of that era. Indie 2D platformer might be over-saturated, but people need to realize that they’re not just games. They’re dreams being realized. That’s why they’re the surest bet for quality on the scene.

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IGC on Gaming: April 17, 2017

So I haven’t been updating a ton lately. That’s mostly due to health issues. I do have a lot of games in my queue to review, including sequels to high-ranking IGC Leaderboard titles such as Bleed 2 and Gunmetal Arcadia. Look for reviews of them soon. By soon I mean 2017. Keeping my window for it wide.

Indie Gamer Chick has primarily been a review site since its launch in July of 2011, but being unable to write as many reviews as I wish I could has left me in a predicament. Thankfully, I’ve built up a decent following in the last five years and those people, for whatever reason, care about my thoughts on other gaming related news. So, why not turn it into a regular column? Let’s hit it.

Is 2017 going to be the best year in gaming?

Resident Evil 7.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Nier: Automata.

Persona 5.

In a weaker year (think 2014, where the pretty good but unspectacular Shadow of Mordor ran away with nearly every Game of the Year award), any of these four games would have swept the competition and walked away with game of the year. It’s April. We’re not even a third of the way through the year and there are four games that are in the hunt. After playing Breath of the Wild, I would have bet it would cruise to a sweep next January. But, within weeks, Persona 5 and Automata hit, both of which I liked more.

It got me thinking: it’s April and we’re already debating among multiple titles for the year’s best, not to mention one wildly disappointing would-be contender (Mass Effect: Andromeda). These discussions are usually reserved for the Christmas season, yet children aren’t even on summer vacation yet.

Is 2017 set to be the greatest in gaming history?

Honest question: if this had been called anything BUT Resident Evil 7, would people have reacted differently to it? It’s really good, yet a lot of people I talk to need a lot of convincing to even try it on the basis of “meh, another Resident Evil.” They could have called it Spooky Creepy Scary Horror House 2017 and lured in more people.

Maybe I’m overrating Resident Evil 7 (to my credit, I’m not even a real fan of the series and liked #4 only), and maybe Pesrona 5 doesn’t have the type of wide appeal that Zelda does. But it’s already a debate. When was the last time we could even talk about a year in gaming at this time of the year? Before we’ve had this year’s E3, before many of the big holiday tent-pole games even have release dates, if nothing else came out at all in 2017. Wow. By any standard, this would have to be considered an amazing year from an artistic standpoint.

Still to come in 2017 is the sequel to what I consider the best game ever made (not my favorite game, just the best game), Red Dead Redemption. The first Mario game that has stoked my imagination since Mario Galaxy hits the Switch this year. Sony is giving one of my favorite unsung gems, LocoRoco, another kick at the can in 2017. It’s almost hard to believe that at least one more spectacular game could hit this year, let alone many. I think 2017 will be a year gamers will talk about for years to come.

Switch Thoughts

It’s alright.

NES Classic

Nintendo finally released hardware that became the most in-demand retail item they’ve had in generations. No, not the Switch. Everyone knows that I’m “anti-nostalgia”, which isn’t remotely correct. If you’re going to do nostalgia, something like the NES Classic is fine with me. And Nintendo seemingly struck gold with the Classic. Stores couldn’t keep it in stock, or the extra-controllers for it. After failing to capture any mainstream love with the Wii U, or outright being antagonistic towards their own fanbase with their anti-YouTube attitude, Nintendo finally came out with a product that serviced their fanbase and became desirable to casual gamers.

Naturally, they cancelled it after only five months of production.

A friend of a friend is a regional inventory manager for a top big-box chain. He informed me that department managers got more inquiries about NES Classic availability than any other product in the consumer-electronics department, starting months before the release and continuing well after the Switch. Consumers wanted this product. They wanted it badly, if prices on Ebay are used as a barometer. Discontinuing the unit when so little demand for it was met is the latest in a long series of middle fingers Nintendo has given to fans and non-fans alike. And, it would seem, Nintendo has finally gone too far. This is one “fuck off and die” that even the most rabid fanboys are feeling the sting of.

Mind you, I’ve met people who got copyright-striked on YouTube by Nintendo for videos that were gushing love letters to the company. Some of who tearfully apologized for overstepping their fandom and having the fucking gall to show footage of their beloved Nintendo franchises. Nintendo stomped them for being fans, and they thanked Nintendo for setting them straight. They accepted that. At that point, I would think nothing short of Nintendo sending people to burn their house down would make them realize how much contempt they are held in, and how ungrateful Nintendo is for their patronage.

Nintendo didn’t allow their sales force to accept pre-orders for the Classic, leaving them to base their inventory order on how similar platforms like the Atari Flashback were received. So, here’s a picture of Black Widow on Atari Vault, mostly because I don’t want to post a picture of a Nintendo character and get sued.

Those fans, the ones who were unable to get their hands on an NES Classic, are not happy campers today.

Sure, it’s kind of amusing that the thing that made them realize Nintendo isn’t their bestie isn’t having them say “the money your videos earn really belongs to us because you showed a clip of our product”, but rather Nintendo saying “yea, we don’t care if you wanted to give us money, we don’t want your money for this product anymore.” But, the cancellation of the NES Classic is indicative of a greater problem: Nintendo doesn’t do fan service anymore. Oh sure, they’ll bring out franchise titles Mario Kart or Zelda. I’m sure a new Smash Bros is in the works that will license a couple of third-party mascots and get the diehards lining up. But that’s not performing a service for their fans. That’s just products.

As recent as a decade ago, Nintendo bent over backwards for their fans. They put out relatively high-risk franchise revivals like Kid Icarus or Punch-Out!! They had their wonderful Nintendo reward system that let people register their games for free Nintendo swag or sometimes even games. It would be hard to believe Nintendo would release a product like the NES Classic and then pull the plug after meeting less than 10% of the demand for it. And it has nothing to do with them not wanting to compete with their own Switch console. The two products were not in competition with each-other. Non-gamers who grew up in the 80s were chomping at the bit to snag the Classic as much as the slobbering fanboys. It was simply a matter of stores couldn’t keep it in stock. With Father’s Day fast approaching and a product tailor-made for such a holiday, Nintendo simply saying “no” to more inventory is kind of shocking. I was never a fan of Iwata’s business sense, but even I can’t believe he would say no to mountains of cash with relatively little overhead that the Classic presented. A feel-good product that stood to introduce a new generation of gamers to the titles that made them synonymous with gaming. Nintendo took that, and managed to turn it into the latest in a long series of dick moves. Unreal.

Q&A with my Readers

We’ll close this experiment with some Q&A from Twitter.

@religiousgames asks: “How do you know if a game is indie?

After five years, I still don’t really have a clear definition for what makes a game indie or not. Self-funded? That would exclude games that used Kickstarter or Sony’s Pub Fund, so that can’t be it. Self-published? That would exclude games by small studios who were found by houses like Adult Swim Games, so that can’t be it. In general, I use the definition “games made by small studios without creative interference by AAA publishers.” But even that won’t be universally true. Hell, I still get people to this day questioning whether I should count 2012’s Journey as an indie or not. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to decide what you consider to be “independent.”

@iamtenith asks “What is the most common mistake you see in many indie games?

Proper difficulty curve, easily. Most indie developers forget that they, themselves, are the best player at their own game. They struggle to get proper testers, or they handle their testers incorrectly, and ramp up their game’s difficulty to challenge themselves and not everyone else. In some cases, they’ll get good testers but then hover over them and explain to them how to finish parts of their games. Sometimes I’ll announce I’m reviewing a game and the developer will tweet or email me to offer help to make sure I don’t get stuck. Unless they plan to include a clone of themselves with every copy of their game, they really shouldn’t offer help to reviewers. If you feel the need to talk someone through parts of your game, you really need to go back and fix it, because it’s broken.

@riobux asks “What singular thing in a game trailer can deflate your enthusiasm and interest in a title like a needle through a blown-up condom?

I actually don’t base my purchasing decisions on trailers, so I wouldn’t be a good person to ask. Everyone will mention showing cut-scenes without gameplay footage. I was going to, but then I remember that Grand Theft Auto III’s ads when I was a kid were among the most effective commercials in gaming history and they had nearly zero gameplay footage.

For indies, an over-inflated sense of importance is always annoying. If you’re a no-name developer on their first game, you seriously do not need to release multiple teaser-trailers, then primary trailers, then final trailer, then DLC trailers. No, seriously, do not. You need one trailer a minute-or-less in length that addresses what genre the game is and what the game’s audience is. If you present your trailer properly, games sell themselves. The worst thing you can do is leave it too ambiguous when nobody knows who you are or what you’re working on. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

From the Team

William reviewed Bleed 2 and Butcher

Marc explained how a company can own the video game rights to the word “Super”.

For more features, be sure to check out IndieGamerTeam.com, a place where my friends post reviews and editorials. They’re already better at this shit than me.

We’re currently preparing for the follow-up to #IndieXmas on social media, tentatively titled #IGCParty. It will take place July 10 – 14, with ten featured games and thousands of free games being handed out on Twitter. Stay tuned.

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