Friday, 29 August 2014

Miyamoto on Nintendo's Creative Future, Winning Back Core Gamers

The internet is buzzing right now about Nintendo veteran Shigeru Miyamoto's interview in October 2014's edition of Edge magazine in which the iconic game designer and producer states that he is about making games for gamers, rather than cave into investor pressure to court to casual gamers and create free-to-play versions of Nintendo's storied franchises for smartphones. In response to Edge's comment that Miyamoto's upcoming games for Wii U that make extensive use of the Wii U gamepad: Star Fox, Project Guard, and Project Giant Robot, are difficult to play, Miyamoto emphasizes that while using the Wii U gamepad alongside your main view on the television screen does take some getting used to, it represents a new challenge that hardcore gamers will find satisfying once mastered. This is a complete paradigm shift from Nintendo's previous attempt to snag non-gamers with easy to play games like Wii Sports, and Miyamoto's controversial statement regarding the attitude of casual gamers is particularly striking in suggesting that they are completely unengaged with the games they play: "Their attitude is 'OK, I am the customer. You are supposed to entertain me.' It's a kind of passive attitude they're taking, and to me it's kind of a pathetic thing. They do not know how interesting it is if you move one step further and try to challenge yourself." Bold words, but ones that suggest that Nintendo is taking a renewed interest in attending to the hardcore gaming community that many feel have been alienated since the inception of Nintendo Wii.

Which is not to say that Nintendo will be making proprietary Call Of Duty-like games to win back the hardcore gamer element. Miyamoto was unimpressed with the general showing at E3 2014, commenting that there was far too much "bloody shooter software" that demonstrated that the industry is trapped in a state of "creative immaturity" as developers continue to build upon previous successes rather than attempt something brand new. He states in the Edge interview that he hopes "Nintendo will always be a company that aggressively invests in something new - something born from each creator's individual characteristics." His solution to this desire for expression is Nintendo's Garage program, in which Nintendo developers break off into small teams to work on ideas, the most successful of which are then taken on as full-fledged projects. The three aforementioned Wii U projects, along with E3 2014's heavily featured Splatoon, the company's non-violent take on the competitive shooter, are the first games to be realized through this initiative. Miyamoto suggests it's all about staying true to Nintendo's roots: "With the increasing number of developers involved in one project, we need to spend longer simply communicating, so we can feel the same pleasure [as the old days]."

Concepts like Splatoon, a game reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine in which the object is not to kill your opponents but use paint guns to coat more territory on the map than the other team, represent this revitalized spirit of ingenuity over at Nintendo. In taking the tried and tested FPS genre and turning it on its head, Nintendo is demonstrating that they recognize this important corner of gamer society, while being able to add their own unique spin on it. Splatoon was almost made as a Mario game, but Miyamoto states that "If it were Mario, we wouldn't be able to create any new [Intellectual Property]," which is refreshing to hear from a company that has played it particularly safe in its proprietary software decisions in the past decade. It's no secret that Nintendo has not been doing very well financially, but gambles such as this, along with tried and tested upcoming games like Super Smash Bros. and the as-yet unnamed open-world Zelda title for Wii U, might just help Nintendo reengage with its estranged core gamer audience and regain lost ground as a popular innovator in the games market.

You can read the full interview with Shigeru Miyamoto in Edge Magazine.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

No Objection to Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Arriving Stateside

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Cover

Fans of both the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright franchises have been waiting a long time to see Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney hit the North American Market, and tomorrow their long wait is over. Combining the point-and-click adventure and puzzle solving of Professor Layton with the visual novel storytelling and courtroom drama of Phoenix Wright, this collaboration between Capcom and Level-5 marks the first time these two studios have ever worked together. The game's original story is written by Phoenix Wright series designer Shu Takumi, and makes use of the beautiful hand-drawn backdrops of the Professor Layton series, as well as the 3D graphics that were present in Phoenix Wright's latest 3DS outing, Dual Destinies. The game also includes anime cutscenes from the Bones animation studio.

The story begins in London, where Professor Layton and his assistant Luke are assisting Espella, a young woman being assaulted by mysterious forces, and encounter a magical book that transports them to a strange medieval city named Labyrinthia. Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey, in London on business, find the same book and are similarly transported. The four heroes have to combine their talents to solve the mysteries surrounding Labyrinthia, while also defending Espella in court as she is accused of witchcraft.

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright screen
It is a real treat to see Wright and Layton encroaching upon each other's territories, both being very intelligent (and somewhat arrogant) heroes in their own right. Players unfamiliar with the one or both of the franchises will get a crash course in lateral thinking as they are required to use their stylus to engage with townsfolk, find clues and solve all manner of puzzles (Professor Layton's forte), while also being tasked with rooting out contradictions in courtroom testimony, and presenting evidence at the right time to catch your witnesses off guard and expose their lies (the dominion of Phoenix Wright). Fans of one franchise or the other should find the gameplay stimulating, and those who are fans of both already are in for a real treat as we see Layton and Wright go tête-à-tête, and use their unique abilities to work out the nuances of Labyrinthia's mystery together.

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has been out in Europe since March 28, 2014, and has garnered a healthy Metascore of 79 on Metacritic.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Second Chances in Bryan Lee O'Malley's 'Seconds'

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Cover

A Second Chance Awaits.

1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew


This is the tantalizing offer presented to the main character of Bryan Lee O'Malley's latest graphic novel Seconds. There are times when we all wish we could go back in time and get a do-over, tackle the affairs in our life with the wisdom that hindsight brings. Yet however wise these decisions to alter bits of our past might seem, Seconds reminds us that changing the past in what seems like wise ways will always have unforeseen consequences in the present. Seconds is about second chances, and is O'Malley's second published graphic novel after his New York Times Best Selling Scott Pilgrim series. It's a fun stand-alone story that has as much to say about taking responsibility for your actions as it does about the challenges related to maintaing a relationship and building your dreams, that life is hard but rewarding. It's a solid story that merits a second reading, and beyond.

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Lis
The protagonist of this story is Katie, a 29-going-on-30 year old chef who previously created a very successful restaurant called Seconds and resents that she doesn't own it, even as she lives in an apartment above it. However, after having scrimped and saved for years has finally saved up enough to co-finance her own restaurant which is being constructed in an old building she's always admired. Yet while all of this is happening, she realizes she has few friends, is resented by the staff at Seconds with whom she's always hanging about, is in an unfortunate affair with the new head chef she trained to take over the kitchen at Seconds while still pining over her old flame Max, and the construction on her new restaurant's costs keep mounting. However, she's been having strange dreams about a wispy girl on her dresser who tells her to look there if things go wrong, and when one of Seconds' waiters burns herself with hot oil, Katie searches and finds a mushroom along with instructions to write down her mistake, eat the mushroom, and fall asleep. When it works and Katie uses these mushrooms to reenact many regrets, her world becomes more and more unrecognizable and begins to slip into the unreal.

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Katie
It's been five years since O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series ended, and Seconds showcases narrative and art that have matured well along with its creator. Those college students who related to Scott Pilgrim when it initially ran will definitely find the 29-going-on-30 angst of Seconds recognizable as well. Gone are the cherished video game references, though O'Malley's story and art in his latest project still have the same sense of fun and fantasy combined with well-written characters that made the Scott Pilgrim franchise so popular. Katie is a well-realized character filled with comic expression who carries the burden of expectation coupled with impatience. She puts on a brave face, but having worked so hard to get where she is, she can't stand the setbacks preventing her dream from becoming a reality, and deeply regrets having to have made many of the sacrifices necessary to get where she is today. This comes across in the various moments when she rocks back and forth between obstinate confidence and utter depression over her decisions, made tangible through O'Malley's beautiful manga-style drawings complete with over the top expressions and literal starry-eyed awe and enthusiasm. Her mania causes her to consume more and more mushrooms, and as each change she makes comes with its own set of problems, the graphic novels builds up to a fever pitch in which she loses control of the changes altogether.

The supernatural side of the story is drawn straight out of folklore through the character Lis, the wispy girl on Katie's dresser, who also happens to be a house spirit that protects Seconds. She is suitably impish, always crouching, wearing an odd assortment of clothing left out for her by Katie's employee Hazel, and speaking in broken English. Lis warns Katie repeatedly that she is only meant to have used the mushroom once, and her rising anger is chilling; she lashes out in one of the only ways she can, by aggressively rearranging Katie's furniture. Hazel, a waitress in Seconds, acts as a foil to story by giving exposition on the nature of house spirits and giving Katie someone to speak with regarding all the changes that she's made by using the mushrooms. She's the dreamer to Katie's realist, saying of house spirits, "we make things good for them... they make things good for us." Only Katie can see Lis, and perhaps meant as an interesting commentary on the power of illustration, it's Hazel's drawings of Lis that influence the house spirit's appearance.

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Cast
The art direction is completely on point. Seconds lacks the frenetic energy of Scott Pilgrim in that there's no zany combat, but as the theme of Seconds is a bit quieter, so too is O'Malley's artwork in which so much of the visual storytelling is achieved through the characters' expressions and body language. His settings are well designed and feel like authentic spaces, and when magical things begin to infuse Katie's world, the overall shape of the world becomes suitably warped and surreal. The colourist Nathan Fairbairn's subdued palette fits the project particularly well, giving the work something of an autumn hue that works well in conjunction of the colour of Katie's hair, emphasizing her close ties to the events taking place and the imminent fall that is gradually progressing as she eats more and more mushrooms.

If Scott Pilgrim was O'Malley's love letter to Japanese action manga and video game culture, Seconds is his successful attempt at creating an atmospheric tale grounded in reality but with elements of a fairy story; he even provides a narrator who Katie can hear and often breaks the fourth wall to engage with. The art is beautiful and on point, the characters are well developed, and no movement of the story is wasted in establishing its message. It's a story about the danger of dwelling in the past, and learning to accept the things you can not change. Katie reminds us that in this hectic world in which we live, the best thing you can do is stay firmly grounded in the present. An excellent read!

You can follow Bryan Lee O'Malley on Tumblr and Twitter.