Surfing the game wave

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (839 Words)

So, enough work-related posts lately, let’s talk about games. I’m being seriously fickle with my gaming love these days. The Wii came out, I got Yoshi’s Island DS for Xmas, and I still had NWN2 and KOTOR unfinished from 2006, and now I’ve been foolish enough to pick up Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on import on a whim, since a couple of our local shops imports US games now and then. That means I now have far too many games on the go, and I just can’t give them each enough personal attention, leaping in and out with no warning or long-term commitments. I’m such a cad.

I thought I’d post a few thoughts about the most recent of the crop, so here we go.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Love quota: about 10 hours so far

I’m really enjoying this one. At the risk of offending some Zelda worshippers, whilst I’ve really enjoyed the Zelda games I’ve played in the past, IMO they’re not as perfect as they’re sometimes made out to be. Past crimes include forcing you to make long boring treks repeat-fighting random monsters (Wind Waker), occasional obscure puzzle spikes with rubbish hints (Ocarina), being so twee at times that you have trouble keeping your lunch down (many), memory test puzzles which are totally intolerant of you having put the game down for an extended period (Wind Waker in particular for me). They do tend to be exceptionally enjoyable games despite the occasional frustrations, but as an eternal critic I can’t help shaking my fist at the screen sometimes shouting ‘Ok, you may be game design geniuses, but how the hell didn’t you realise this bit was so damn annoying?’. I then proceed to bore my wife with deconstructions of why this or that element was a bad idea.

Given that my latest experience was with Wind Waker, which had quite a lot of those little problems and drove me nuts on occasion, Twilight Princess has been a joy. The start was rustic and twee as usual, although less so than both Wind Waker and Ocarina which was very welcome - my back teeth didn’t try to grind themselves to powder at least. It didn’t take long in fact before things turned rather dark and interesting, and whilst the typical get-green-suit-find-boomerang-find-boots deja-vu treadmill is still there, the concept of the transitions between the normal world and the twilight world, each with it’s own visual and aural style, the shape-shifting into a wolf adding a little bit of control-system variety, and the undercurrents of a darker world with twisted personalities in it are very welcome. So far it’s been a lot of fun, the control system with the remote and nunchuck feels very natural and belie the fact that this was designed for Gamecube originally.

The graphics are very nice too - they’re not going to blow you away technically in 2007, but they show that if you’re smart about art direction, you don’t need brute force grunt to create a compelling suspension of disbelief - it’s all about consistency, using stylistic themes that resonate with the atmosphere you’re trying to create for a given set, a little imagination to know when non-realistic is better than realistic, and paying attention to the little details. Evoking emotional connection is really not about the number of polys or pixels you can throw around. As a related aside, on the recommendation of a reader I bought Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics recently, and I think he covers the subject of realism versus non-realism in imagery really well. For example how it relates to an emotional connection with the perceiver - non-realistic images tend to be ‘internalised’ more because the reader has to invest in forming a connection, often imposing an element of themselves in the subject to fill in the fine details which are deliberately omitted, whilst a realistic image tends to be more external, something to be observed from outside as an already complete element with less investment from the perceiver. Interesting stuff.

The only annoying parts for me so far in TP were when you’re dumped in a new situation with no tips as to the control scheme - like when you’re first a wolf, and in the jousting-on-a-bridge part - getting bounced off there a good few times before figuring out the particular combination required for that one-off set-piece wasn’t what I would call enjoyment. Whilst Zelda does tend to do a good job of ‘hinting’ most of the time, when the hints miss the mark it can be annoying since figuring out what is being hinted at is one of the core game mechanics. I guess even Miyamoto can’t get it right every time with every player. Still, clearly Zelda is still going very strong and this is a very worthy game to be wasting spending my time on.

I was going to talk about CastleVania:Portrait of Ruin a bit here but I seem to have waffled far too much already. Maybe I’ll talk about it another time.