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The Universal Reset
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
The Sims 3 for Wii: Official review post

Yes, yes, The Sims 3 has been available for DS, 3DS, Wii, et. al. for the better part of a year at this point, but I just played the Wii version today. Gamespot this ain't, but whilst the other more expensively-produced gaming websites can easily throw you off track by describing the reviewers' own gameplay experiences, I won't. Not much, anyway.

So, The Sims 3 for Wii. I'm sure it's available on the other two consoles, as well, but Wii is the only one I've played (quelle surprise, n'est-ce pas?). First, a generalisation to answer the question you are no doubt asking yourself if considering obtaining it for your very own: "Is The Sims 3 for Wii worth the $40 I'm going to pay for it?"
The answer... if you've never played the PC version, Yes, It Is. If you have played the PC version, No, It Isn't.

A split, eh? Yes, and here's why.
If you've been following The Sims since at least 2006, you've been introduced to Sims gameplay at its finest. Relatively simple user-customisation of objects and Sims, user interfaces that are models of efficiency, and -- most importantly -- building houses and businesses from the ground up. Here is where The Sims 3 Wii is likely to disappoint.
First, the main tenet of Sims play, "build everything", has been violated. When you move a Sim onto the only empty lot in town, the very first thing you must do is to buy a pre-fabricated house "shell", as it were, and build only the individual rooms therein. However, once you have selected a shell, the interior of the house is otherwise totally customisable -- you will be able to build straight and diagonal walls, doors (but not windows), wall-coverings, floor tiles, and furnishing objects (sans a smoke detector, burglar alarm, telephone, rubbish bin, and a few other things from The Sims 3 for PC). You shan't be placing any doors, lights, or paintings on diagonal walls, however, which is something of a drag. Though, this is very reminiscent of The Sims Classic, where you could build diagonal walls, but they served only decorative purposes.

Also, if you are a long-time PC Sims player, the next place where you are likely to be disappointed is in Create-A-Sim Mode. Whilst it has a bit more customising functionality than The Sims Classic, it falls woefully short of the standard of face-morphing set by The Sims 2. You create your Sim's face by selecting presets for each section -- eyes, nose, mouth, and jaw. If you set out to make an exact replica of yourself or someone you know, as is the trend in The Sims, you will find it to be quite impossible (not that you can do that on any of the PC games, either, but virtual replication of people is curtailed even further in this game).

Here is something else that requires a mention. If your Sims experience began with The Sims 3 PC, you will be severely disappointed by The Sims 3 Wii's noticeable lack of Create-A-Style Mode. This game takes after The Sims 2 for PC in that your customisation options are limited to preset styles provided for most objects, which makes itself apparent after you select something in the catalogue. This applies to clothing as well as furnishings.
Keep in mind, however, that this is a port of a 2009 PC game to a console with 2005 microprocessor technology -- it would be illogical to expect it to do everything its PC counterpart can.

Also, the user interface (the onscreen buttons you click to do stuff) is where the learning-curve gets rather tight -- it'll take you a couple of goes to get the controls down. If it were me, I'd have adapted the controls and interfaces from the console Sims 2 (which itself was based on the controls from the console Sims Classic). I would also have seen to it that there was some kind of walls-cutaway control (which there isn't... you rather have to guess where you put stuff in this game sometimes).

Also, there is a time-limit of 50 game days which someone at EA thought would be a good idea to put in, because obviously The Sims isn't fun without a mandatory challenge. Now, I personally have not gotten to 50 days at this point, nor am I likely to, so I really don't know what happens once that comes to pass. In fact, most traditional Sims players haven't played a single Sim or family for that distant span of time. Me, I tend to bore of a Sim after five or six days. Of course, there are a few, shall we say, cultists who play generations of the same Sim family indefinitely, thanks to the so-called "Dynasty Challenge" or whatever the bloke called it back in 2004.
Anyway, your challenge, should you choose to play that long, is to gain lifetime happiness in that 50-day span of time. If you do, you win! If not, game over, I guess. Whatever. Rather irrelevant to most players.

Now, if you happen to be a Sims player, you're doubtlessly saying to yourself, "Wowser, talk about a waste of money!" And, you're probably right. If you're a long-time Sims player, it is very likely that you won't like this game. Of course, I'm a long-time Sims player and I rather like the game, now that I've had a second go at the controls and have learnt to sacrifice building for speed of entering Live Mode and beginning the gameplay proper. But, then, I'm also the editor of a gaming blog. Though, if I weren't, I probably would have stormed back into Gamestop and demanded a refund.
But, if you've either A) never played The Sims before or B) have only played The Sims on the game consoles, you may want to spend the forty quid on The Sims 3 Wii. You may also like this game if you're a Sims player and an RPG player, because this game is very much an RPG than a life-simulator. The Sims label is actually a misnomer -- if you think of it as that, it won't work out for you and it'll sit gathering dust on a shelf someplace. However, the role-playing qualities of the game are undeniable.

For instance, the contiguous neighbourhood in the PC version has translated into a totally explorable town on Wii. Like the console Sims 2, The Sims 3 Wii is direct-control -- that is, you control your Sim's actions directly, as you would with any typical videogame character, such as Mario or Link. The technical term for the game's camera perspective is "adjustable over-the-shoulder 3rd-person viewpoint" -- adjustable insofar as you can push the camera in very tight to look at the sky or pull it out very wide to see the area several metres around your Sim. The nearest precedent I can come up with is 007 Quantum of Solace for Windows, though you couldn't pull the camera out as far as you can in this game.

Another interesting thing is your ability to change your Sim's outfit from anywhere in the neighbourhood. Say, for instance, you go to the beach wearing your everyday clothes. With a click of your Sim's face at the bottom-left of the screen, you can direct him to change into swimwear. Furthermore, to swim at the beach, all you must do is walk your Sim into the water to swim automatically.

So, as a long-time Sims player, I rate The Sims 3 Wii a 2/5. Like its PC counterpart, any resemblance between this game and The Sims is purely coincidental. You can build stuff and control a Sim's life, but that's all that's good about it.

However, as an RPG player, I rate The Sims 3 Wii a 4/5. It's not anime-based and it's a bit more micromanage-y than your typical RPG, but exploring the town and socialising with its residents is quite entertaining.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:42 AM CDT
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Exploration Games: There aren't enough of them

You know what there isn't enough of? Exploring games. Not just games where you can move your character about, wherever you want him or her to go, within the 3D environment (á la Super Mario 64), but a game that is actually based upon exploring. We're in the Eighth Generation now -- microcomputer technology has advanced to the point where developers can create 3D environments that are exponentially larger than their Mode 7 progenitors.
A good example of exploring for its own sake can be found in the Harry Potter series. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the PS2, you could explore nearly the entire Hogwarts grounds. In Philosopher's Stone for GCN, you could land your broomstick anywhere there was a flat surface and explore the surroundings there. Oftentimes, there would be rewards for exploring: Bertie Bott's Beans (the game's currency), collectible Wizard Cards, Healing Potion cauldrons, and all sorts of nifty stuff like that. Of course, exploration could take place indoors as well as out. In Chamber of Secrets, you could enter any classroom and search the desks for Bertie Bott's Beans, Luminous Balloons, and Stink Pellets -- plus, as you learnt new spells, you would be able to unlock certain heretofore unopenable treasure chests to obtain Wizard Cards.

Now, perhaps I'm just playing the wrong games, but the only other game that has even come close to that level of exploration was The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Even though every island on the Great Sea served a purpose in the long run, you could get to them before you needed to. The island with the Private Cabana, for instance -- you could go there en route to Greatfish Island or the Triangle Islands, long before you could give Mrs. Marie enough Joy Pendants to secure the Cabana Deed (and, by extension, the Triforce Chart hidden in the catacombs beneath the fireplace) for your own.

Super Mario 64 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that players like to explore their surroundings. GoldenEye 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time only supported that conclusion. But, why is it that Nintendo is the only company that gets it? Quite honestly, exploration took a step backward when the Bond rights were transferred to EA and a further step backward when Activision got them. Even though I talk about the Bond games a lot, and even though I play them about as much, the level of exploring you could do in The World is not Enough versus GoldenEye 64 was reduced drastically. The levels became more linear, the objectives required less running about, the exploration aspect was gone.

What we need in videogaming today is a revolution in exploration games. We've gotten first-person and third-person shooters to about as realistic as society will allow, we've got life-simulators that let you customise everything in sight, we've even got cooking games! Now that we are in the Eighth Generation (thank Nintendo for that, by the way), developers have the ability to create more expansive 3D worlds than anyone ever thought possible without needing to push processor limits. Most people don't realise this, but the Xbox 360 can display the equivalent of a ten-mile view, complete with 3D objects and first-person camera programming with very little frame-rate lag. The PS3 can do the same thing, but at a limit of eight miles. Wii's limit is about five to seven miles, depending on texture quality.
The point is that you have a 20-square-mile radius for an exploration game on the best graphics processor the Seventh Generation has to offer (a 10- or 14-square-mile radius on the lowest end -- if that sounds bad in comparison, have you ever walked 14 miles? Most people barely walk three miles in a year).

"Okay, so we can walk about a huge 3D playing-field. What do we do with it?"
Anything you want -- anything at all. Perhaps an espionage game, which requires you to travel around a city and go into buildings to find clues. Perhaps a treasure-hunting game where you find maps and clues that lead to a treasure of some great value. Perhaps even a space-travel game. I mentioned Star Trek some time ago and how the next successful Trek game could incorporate parts of The Wind Waker into some plot involving the Cardassians or the Borg or the Dominion or someone. Perhaps even another nautical exploration game, similar to The Wind Waker, but not as part of the Zelda series.

The point is, shooters, simulators, action games, and sport games are fine in their own right, but don't forget what made 3D great: exploration.

There. Tune in next time for, probably, something about Nintendo or The Sims or James Bond.

Posted by theniftyperson at 10:53 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, 30 July 2011 10:52 AM CDT
Wednesday, 29 June 2011

This is the one and only reference I will ever make to the Columbine Incident on The Universal Reset.

You remember your English classes, right? Literature, book reports, MLA handbook, that kind of thing. Well, in college English, you stop reading and start writing. Especially in a course called, "Writing & Research". Well, it so happens that I'm taking that particular class at the moment over the Internet and the one thing that occupies the entire ten weeks of class is the researching and composition of a research paper of our choice. My choice: the FPS controversy. Do violent videogames cause violent behaviour?
Now, I'm sure you probably have some rather strong opinions about that question -- since you're here, you're probably one who would say "no" and list all the reasons you can think of or make up to support your position. I know I would. And, that's the stance I'm taking in my paper.
However, there really isn't a debate about this subject anymore. All people do (regardless of viewpoint) is to cite the results of clinical studies from the 1990s and the turn of the 21st century or claim their respective positions by deferring to empirical data based on observations and experience. The US Supreme Court, itself, has ruled that for the government to regulate the sale of games stymies the freedom of choice: the choice to risk it and let your 7-year-old play Grand Theft Auto or the choice to keep him safely sheltered from that sort of behaviour and only let him play Clapping Party.
In order to make an argument one way or the other, all you do is change the order in which you present the facts. If you talk about the risks first and the benefits second, you'll appear to take a stance for violent games. If you flip it around, you'll take the stance against. This works because readers will remember most of what they get from your work in descending chronological order -- they'll remember what's on page 5 longer than what's on page 4 because the stuff on page 5 will, essentially, overwrite the memory of page 4. So, I'm presenting my argument in the risks-then-benefits format. I won't be able to present any new ideas because (A) it's a research paper which requires verifiable facts and (B) there's not a single new thing that can be said about it.

So, that said -- as I've been researching things for my paper, I've come across more than one reference to a possible causal interaction between the FPS, Doom, and the shooting event at Columbine High School. In the way that I research things, I mine Wikipedia for sources and then paraphrase the article's sourced text that is relevant to my research. I came across two wikis with articles on the Columbine Incident: the Doom Wiki and Wikipedia. The Doom Wiki, being Doom-centric, of course focusses more on the references to the game made by the two perpetrators and the fact that one of them was a prolific WAD creator (that is, a user-defined modification to Doom), rather than the actual incident. The Wikipedia article is a direct reversal: Doom and the shooters' penchant for it was mentioned, but largely left alone.
What I went to Wikipedia for was some sort of sourced acknowledgement that the Columbine Incident was the catalyst for the debate about videogames in general to shift focus almost solely onto the violent ones... y'know, something that said, "This incident prompted psychologists to study the effects of violent games more in-depth," or something like that. What I came away with was all the details that were lost on my then-11-year-old mind.

Let's face it -- the Columbine Incident happened in 1999. That's 12 years ago! A 14-year-old freshman at the school in 1999 would be 26 years old in 2011. But, even though it dominated national news reports at the time, I was only in fifth grade and certainly not caring about the news. The only thing I had heard was that the people who shot the school up had used a videogame as practise, and since I was way into GoldenEye 64 at the time, that's all any adult ever told me -- "Don't play that. You'll go mad and start shooting people." I found it incredibly annoying that people kept generalising me as a potential risk, by dint of my love for GoldenEye.
However, in retrospect, it's entirely possible that the details were carefully hidden from me. The incident was not simply a troubled pair of students who happened to mistake real life for a videogame and shoot a few people. From what I read of it, they planned this for months. The warning signs were all there, from the death threats to their web-published instructions on how to make bombs. They managed to acquire firearms through a couple of other students and used them to commit other crimes prior to the shooting. Then, they take those guns to school and actually kill people with them. At the final gunshot, they had killed thirteen people without any valid excuse to redeem them. So, as there was no worldly escape for them, they swiftly killed themselves with their own weapons.
To me, anyway, it logically follows that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were pure evil. 100 per cent, unrestrained, inconceivable, unfeeling, unthinking evil. There is no word yet known to the English language which can describe the hatred and revulsion I have toward them and what can only be described as their purposeless massacring of their fellow Man.
At least Seung-Hui Cho thought he was making a political statement when he shot up Virginia Tech -- not that I sympathise with him, either, but at least he had a purpose, which he made clear in no uncertain terms. It may have only made sense to him, but it was there.

Did Doom cause their violent tendencies? I don't know. No one knows. Regardless, when I finally lifted the veil that was hiding the Columbine Incident from me, my opinion of all first- and third-person shooter games soured somewhat, GoldenEye included. If there is even the slightest possibility that all young people who play shooter games will experience some kind of psychological effect, no matter how small and otherwise undetectable to modern science, game developers need to exercise a modicum of self-censorship. Damn the freedom of speech! It's called good judgement and foresight. If you make an expansion pack for or a sequel to a violent game that makes it even more violent, are you doing it because you can? Talk about unbalanced commercialism.
Of course, the parents of the children who are playing these games are not devoid of fault, either. It logically follows that if you are the parent to a child, it is your responsibility to regulate what your child does and does not play on the PS3, the 360, the Wii, or whatever-the-hell else you have. Haven't you ever seen the great black letter "M" on the front of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? That was put there by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board to mean not intended for children. Want to know why? Flip the case over and look at the description, not only for the rating, but for the game itself. But then, forgive my Anglo-Saxon, there are some parents who just don't give a flying shit. The only reason their children exist is because they've never heard of "contraceptives". So, since they don't really care in the first place, of course they'll let their kids play whatever game they want.

The unfortunate part is, the Columbine Incident is only going to get a paragraph in a seven-page research paper. One which is prefaced by a flippant quotation from Shigeru Miyamoto ("Videogames are bad for you? That's what they said about rock 'n' roll!"). I'm going to finish this paper eloquently, from the standpoint that violent games have no measurable effects on the human mind. I'm going to turn this paper in and I'm going to get a very high mark for it. However, the next time I write about FPS games here or in any other context, I'll always think about the Columbine Incident before, during, and after.

Posted by theniftyperson at 11:39 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 3 July 2011 1:53 AM CDT
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Star Trek -- a great television programme, not a great game series

Star Trek is ostensibly the most influential piece of work in science-fiction, if not television, history. Everyone knows the phrase, "Live long and prosper," and the Vulcan salute. Everyone knows that Scotty keeps the Enterprise together with the 22nd-century equivalents of baling-wire and duct tape. Everyone knows that the Pontiac logo is a vertical inversion of the Starfleet insignia. Everyone knows Alexander Courage's Star Trek theme enough to whistle the first ten notes. Star Trek has inspired philosophers, physicists, computer developers, linguists, and composers. Suffice it to say, there's nary a part of modern society that hasn't been positively affected by Star Trek in some way... except one...

For reasons unknown, the videogame industry doesn't seem to know what to do with Star Trek. Certainly, there were games for arcade and home computer that were based on Trek films and episodes, Super NES versions of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and even an MMOG based in the 24th century. However, in relation to Mario, Zelda, and Halo, Trek is as unknown as the areas which the Enterprise has set out to explore. Only a very small group of Trekker/gamers seem to take any notice of Trek games at all. Your stereotype gamernerd won't pay much if any attention, being too busy with World of Warcraft, Halo: Origins, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Why do you suppose this is? How can it be that the most influential piece of work in the history of modern society epically fails when it comes to videogaming?

The first possibility is in the name. People who are not "fans" in the strictest sense will often stigmatise the name, "Star Trek", by associating it with the most nerdly of nerds. These people have visions of nerds with pocket-protectors and TNG combadges having a philosophical discussion in Klingon. Oftentimes, these nerds are also overweight, wearing Original Series-type uniforms, and living in their parents' basement, surrounded by Star Trek paraphernalia. Aren't they? Eh? Did I not just describe your thoughts when you hear "Star Trek"? If not, then good on you for not propagating a cliché. However, the fact of the matter is, when it comes right down to it, there are two factions of nerds (heavily generalised in this case, of course): the fanboys and the gamers. The fanboys are the comic book and sci-fi convention attendees, the gamers are the MMOG players who wear out their chairs and their controllers playing World of Warcraft and Halo. Whilst there is frequently some degree of overlap, for the most part these two factions don't care about the pursuits of the other. A fanboy will dress in a Starfleet uniform to attend a Trek film premiere, a gamer will play until they crash. That's one problem with Trek games -- with malice aforethought, it purposely attempts to unite the factions. Star Trek Online seems to be doing rather well in this area, fortunately, but it doesn't come even nearly as close in total playership to other similar MMOGs. A World of Warcraft sequel would be advertised at E3, but a Trek game probably wouldn't.

The second possibility is that something has been lost in translation. Trek episodes and films are usually open-ended -- though the action of the plotline concludes at the end, the adventure does not. At the end of nearly every Next Generation episode, Picard sits in his chair on the bridge and orders a course to be set, then the Enterprise jumps to warp and the show is over, allowing the viewer to think about what could possibly happen during the interval between episodes. A videogame is very cut-and-dry, however. Here's the action, here's what you do, keep doing stuff until you can't advance any further, the end. Unlike television, they can't release a new Trek game every week -- you may have to wait months or even years before the next installment.

The third possibility is in guilt by association. There have been some really bad Trek games. Not "bad" like "bad", but "bad" like "real bad". These were the types of things that really demonstrated the limitations of computers and consoles, or had mercifully-released final drafts of the plotline, or had bad graphics, or what-have-you. For one of these reasons, most Trek games at this point have failed more epically than auxiliary power to the shields during a Borg attack. From experience with other bad games, not related to Trek, I've noticed that one or more of four things causes them to be bad: bad voice-acting, bad plotline, bad graphics, and bad music. Somehow, Trek on television and in film managed to amass some really good screenwriters: Samuel A. Peeples, Harve Bennett, Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and Mike Sussman, for example. It has also managed to get some of the best composers in the industry, such as Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, James Horner, and Jay Chattaway. No one can dispute the polished acting skills of Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Rene Auberjonois, Kate Mulgrew, or Scott Bakula, either. Add to that the best visual-effects and CGI effects teams in the world, such as Industrial Light & Magic, and you've got a solid piece of work. Trek games, on the other hand, often have very low budgets for voice-acting, music, or complex animation. Plus, the hardware, itself, becomes an obstacle when dealing with draw-distance, particle effects, and shading. Whilst all of these elements came together on a million-dollar budget to create unforgettable viewing experiences, they all appear to clash on a thousand-dollar budget to make for a terrible gaming encounter.

Perhaps it could be something else or a combination of one or more factors, but for some reason, Trek games just don't work. You'd think they would, but they don't. I'm not sure if this is something that can be overcome or not, mostly because of the first possibility. Calling something "Star Trek" brings to mind a lot of clichés about Trek nerds.

If it were up to me, the next Trek game would be a composite of Star Trek, SimCity, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. A game based within the Star Trek universe, which allows for customisation in the ship and its crew, and is based around a central plotline but also allows for exploration. Since Star Trek is primarily about exploration in the first place, it logically follows that a successful Trek game would incorporate exploration as well.

But, I'm just a guy with a blog.

Posted by theniftyperson at 1:54 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2011 3:50 AM CDT
Friday, 10 June 2011
Wii U 4 us

So, the Nintendo 512 has a name, then: Wii U. Of course, you know this... you probably watched the live-stream from Nintendo's E3 site. If not, however, here's the fact of the matter.

Nintendo spearheaded the foray into the Eighth Generation with the release of 3DS in March. They plan to follow suit with the home console in Q2 2012 with Wii U. Appearance-wise, the console's primary controller unit is very similar to the current Wii accessory, uDraw. Michael Okuda of Star Trek: The Next Generation graphic design fame is probably wondering why so many developers nowadays are stealing his ideas... his most valuable contribution to 21st-century electronics being the PADD. First introduced on The Next Generation in 1987, the personal access display device has been made real by all kinds of different people now: Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Microsoft (computer-wise), and now Nintendo! Of course, the less copyright infringe-y name for the PADD clone is "tablet".

Now, you think "tablet", you think iPad -- a mobile device. Wii U is not that. You can't load up a Wii game and take it with you. Wii U will be primarily advertised as a tablet, but that part of it is just the controller. The Eighth-Generation Wii Remote, if you like. The console, itself, is similar in appearance to the current Wii console and is compatible with existing Wii games. Of course, to simply make a Wii clone with a tablet controller would be foolhardy. Wii U's other major selling-points are high-definition display capability and, vis-a-vis the tablet controller, the player's ability to continue playing their game on the tablet when someone else demands usage of the television set for their own ends. So, if you've got Bowser on the ropes, but your annoying family insist on switching to the Blu-Ray player for "family movie time", you can switch over to the tablet controller and pretend as though they don't exist for the next X0 minutes.

I suppose there were people who may have been disappointed at this revelation, that the new Nintendo was another Wii. Certainly, I thought they were going to make something completely different... something reminiscent of the uber-geekly Nintendo 64. A better first-person shooter console, I dare you to show me. Even three generations obsolete, the N64 is still more of an FPS and platformer console than PlayStation and Xbox will ever be. Especially now that Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, have sacked the majority of the original Rare staff and relegated it to making campy stuff for the prancey Kinect. How the mighty have fallen, eh? But, I digress.

Needless to say, u83r633k2 know that Nintendo, in any form, is bound to exceed everyone's expectations.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:56 AM CDT
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Wii's days ARE numbered!

Last year's E3 was a particularly revealing one. Apart from the reveal of the Nintendo 3DS, numerous fan-favourites were making comebacks on Wii, including Samus, James Bond, Kirby, and Link. I speak, of course, of Metroid: Other M, GoldenEye 007, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. At this point, all of the above have been released... except one. Aside from a brief mention by Satoru Iwata at the Game Developers' Conference, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword may as well be invisible. No one's talking about it -- well, no one official, anyway. There are as many blogs as there are people in the world, with each having a different take on Skyward Sword. Is it too early for a new Zelda game? Is it too late? What can Link do that he hasn't done already? How is the Wii MotionPlus-exclusive controller thing going to work out? Who's Link's voice in this one? What'll the music be like? Name it, it's been discussed into the ground. However, Nintendo have said nothing on the matter.
...Which is not entirely surprising. When Activision's take on GoldenEye was announced, there were only, perhaps, six people in the entire world (apart from the development team) who knew about it.
Let's go back in time a bit further -- when the GameCube was released, everyone thought Nintendo were hard at work on an insanely realistic new Zelda game (the one that was supposedly featured in the video demonstrating GCN's graphics capabilities). No one knew what the next Zelda game would actually look like until it was revealed at the E3 right before the game's release. It was, of course, the cel-shaded Wind Waker (or, Wind Takuto, as it was initially called).
No one knew about Super Mario 64 until it was announced, either. And that was at Nintendo's Space World trade show in November of 1995 -- a mere seven months before the game's Japanese release. Sure, information about it leaked into the public before then, but it was only in advance of the show by about three days... certainly not enough time for information to proliferate in pre-Internet society.

Anyway, in spite of Nintendo's predictable silence on the matter of Wii's second Zelda game, the prediction I made in an Of Carbon and Silicon entry shortly thereafter appears to be coming true.
Without re-writing that entry, in a typical generation, only two Zelda games are ever released for the TV-based gaming console. This has been true of the Third, Fifth, and Sixth Generations (that's 3 of Nintendo's last 5 consoles), and will prove true of the Seventh Generation as well.

Alongside a recent earnings report, Nintendo stated that they would reveal a successor to the Wii console at this year's E3, anticipating a release date of 2012. This would mean that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will release sometime after E3, but before the "Nintendo 512", the most logical time, at this stage, appearing to be Q4 2011 (known to Joe Schmo as "the holiday season").

Obviously, "Nintendo 512" is not an official codename. But, since I don't know what they'll actually call the thing -- if game system performance was still measured in bits, the Eighth Generation would be equatable to the 512-bit era. Nintendo 6 might be a good name, too. Short, easy to remember.

With any luck at all, microprocessor technology has improved to the point where "Nintendo 512" would be able to play both GCN and Wii games, along with its own. Obviously, motion-activated control will make another re-appearance... perhaps with influence from Microsoft's controllerless Kinect. Perhaps not.

So, now we know. Wii is on its way out and will leave the building by at least Q4 2012.

Posted by theniftyperson at 2:13 PM CDT
Sunday, 10 April 2011
3DS Demos: Location, Location, Location

Hey, would you look at that? The Nintendo 3DS is out all over the world now! History's first 3D gaming system, available for approximately 250 quid.

Now, you may recall my earlier entry, regarding 3DS's online capabilities, or lack thereof. Those of you who either took my advice or have been thinking the same thing I have are waiting until Nintendo announces the 3DS firmware update in May which will allow the console to connect to the Internet proper, rather than simply Nintendo's proprietary SpotPass mode. Until then, it's rather, how you say, disconnected. Isolated. Incommunicado.

I'm sure you've seen 3DS demo kiosks. Go into a Gamestop, or a Target, or someplace, and you're likely to find an Aqua Blue 3DS console mounted to a shelf-display in the electronics section. This console is likely to be running a demo version of Pilotwings Resort. Also, it's likely to be preset to full 3D display, allowing passersby a double-image or a 3D image, depending on where they happen to be standing at the time.
Well, as I've recently discovered, location is everything when trying out a 3DS. It's not how you stand so much as where you are.

I was at Walmart the other day and chanced to enter the electronics department. As I was perusing the stock of Wii games, I happened across a demonstration 3DS console. My beloved Nintendo's newest invention which is capable of displaying GameCube-quality graphics on a handheld screen in stereoscopic 3D. I looked at it and thought it to be the most common thing ever -- no different from anything in the discount DVDs bin across the aisle. In short, I was underwhelmed.

Yes, now, before you send me viruses that make my speech synth scream, "Get 3DS, idiot!", at me all day, allow me to explain myself.

It's not that I think 3DS is a lower-class console or that I consider it to be in any way inferior to its predecessors, it's that I wasn't keen at the time. I was rather self-concious, actually... Imagine, if you please, a rather large 23-year-old man with a beard and a sweat-stained hat fawning over a videogame device in a section of the store otherwise totally occupied by children and teenagers. Add to that, I had just come in from the 80-degree heat and my deodorant had given up the ghost. Then, there was the daunting prospect of continuing my mission at this oversized monolith to Westernisation and capitalism by darting about from one end to the other, in order to gather all of the things on my list. Trying out a 3DS was not foremost in my mind, so I took one brief look at it, thought, "That's interesting, now move along," and left after five seconds.
Now, if I had gone to the shop with the objective of using the demonstration model, I would have enjoyed it immensely! I may even have forsaken all my other purchases and bought one on the spot. However, that was not the case, so... I was underwhelmed.

Another potential excu... er, reason for this goes as follows. Many mental health professionals say that a negative attitude is projected onto objects of importance. If you're in a bad mood and you handle, examine, or otherwise make use of an object that you would otherwise care about, you may begin to associate that object with your bad feeling. As I realised that's what was going to happen if I messed with the 3DS any further, I decided to end my interaction with it before I started to dislike it. As every self-help book about employment ever printed has said in the first paragraph of the first chapter, "the first impression is everything". Not wanting my first impression of the future of videogaming to be negative, I left quickly.

Whichever, please to learn from my error, comrade. If you're as rushed as I was and you come across a 3DS for the first time ever, go back some other time. It'll still be there.

Posted by theniftyperson at 11:58 PM CDT
Monday, 21 March 2011
10 Reasons Why Luigi is Better Than Mario

10. Two words: "thunder adept".
9. Three words: "also fire adept".
8. He's totally green.
7. He has better taste in princesses. Trust Mario to fall for a tease like Peach.
6. Who else do you know who can spin-jump down a mountain and not get dizzy?
5. Second-fiddles have more talent than the concertmaster.
4. There's no better Yoshi trainer from here to Dinosaur Land.
3. He is the better jumper, after all.
2. Did I say "thunder and fire adept?"
1. No one else can make hoovering look cool.

Posted by theniftyperson at 1:44 AM CDT
Friday, 18 March 2011
Sims Catalogue Descriptions II

Stavitoff 123 Holochess Set
After several false starts, including the critically-panned Super Question Machine, Stavitoff Interactoff finally found their niche in advanced holography. This chess set's holographic pieces have been meticulously crafted by 47 overworked computer programmers in their cubicles and were based on the work of the great chesscrafter, Kaspar Garynov. The 123's proprietary "auto-opponent" feature is built using framework similar to BIM's famous DeepThought42 chess computer, only crammed into much less real estate. Don't stave it off... buy Stavitoff today!

Image made in Google SketchUp. Actual object nonexistent.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:21 AM CDT
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Nintendo 3DS: Before you spend the money...

As you may or may not know, Nintendo's newest gadget, the Nintendo 3DS, will be released in, oh, about 14 days. This new portable console boasts GameCube-level graphics, a pack-in SD card, augmented reality games, and of course, a stereoscopic 3D display. Every tech blog ever has something to say about Nintendo's next foray into the world of 3D, graphics-that-jump-out-at-you display technology. Mostly because their first attempt at same was a disastrous failure... perhaps you remember the Virtual Boy?

Anyway, this tech blog isn't going to compare the 3DS to Nintendo's family outcast. No -- I have a different reason for wasting your time today.

At the Game Developers' Conference recently, Nintendo of America's COO, Reggie Fils-Aime, stated that Nintendo 3DS would launch somewhat more lightly than anyone out here may have expected. According to his own account, as well as corroborative material available on the 3DS website, the console will launch on the 27th with some built-in games (Face Raiders and AR Games), an MP3/AAC player, Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, and Activity Log.
That's it.

Now, before you angrily work over your monitor with a box of diskettes, he also said that there would be a major 3DS software update in May. This update will fully enable the 3DS's mobile functionality. It will add an internet browser, Nintendo eShop, system transfers, and (perhaps) 3D video-capture.

Obviously, as the 3DS's three cameras are just right there on the console, they will be usable for the taking of 3D photographs immediately. Also, as the microphone and SD card slot are just right there, too, they will be immediately usable in the 3DS Sound app, too.

However, the point is, beyond StreetPass and SpotPass modes, the 3DS will be totally disconnected from the outside world on the release date. Whilst the Nintendo DSi came out of the box with the ability to connect to the DSi Shop, 3DS won't even have that. At least, not for a couple of months.

So, before you spend the money to either pre-order today or buy it on the release date, I'd advise you to wait for a bit. If it's mobility you want, 3DS won't be able to do WiFi stuff until May. I'd wait until then. Plus, the first edition of any new gadget is always dubious. You'll never know if it'll work flawlessly on the first go or brick because of an unforeseen glitch in the power system or something.

Still... if waiting in a queue outside a game store for twenty hours is your idea of a good thyme, proceed. If you can look past its wireless shortcomings for sixty days, 3DS will be a sight to behold.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:01 AM CST
Friday, 11 March 2011
The Sims catalogue descriptions

Remember the good old days of The Sims Classic, where you could hover the cursor over an object or building material and get a short, often completely ridiculous description of the selected item?
Well, sure, you still kind of get that... I mean, in The Sims 3, you can hover over the furnishing objects and get a similar thing, but they're so badly written! I mean, they had to release three or four patches just to correct all the bad grammar and typography errors. There are no descriptions at all for the walls and floors beyond the overly-descriptive names given to everything.
The Sims Classic's descriptions were really high-quality in terms of grammar and spelling. Plus, there were more of them -- walls, wall coverings, floor coverings, plants, columns, staircases, pools, everything! Sometimes, there'd be an entire story (a short one, of course) in a catalogue description.

Some people have tried to get their own back by writing new catalogue descriptions. Of course, user-made ones were, more often than not, extraordinarily unprofessional. I'm sure you've all seen at least one description for a custom object...

...such as, The Resume...
SimSavvy Executive Set - Chair: The Boss's chair. Made by CrazyGoNuts32,"

...then, there's The Illiterate...
"Monoply board: lookin for som oldfasion fun??! heres a monoply bord for ur simss"

...for those who couldn't be bothered with descriptions, The Repeater...
"Man Chair: Man Chair."

...for those in foreign lands, The BabelFish...
"Compute R: This is computer has that with great of chips sound and chips video. For the next time, choose also too Compute R."

...and, of course, who could forget The Paranoid Copyright?
"Baby Blue Endtable: The Baby Blue Endtable, made by Chestibor Wingate. Copyright (c) 2002 Chestibor Wingate Inc. All rights reserved."

I always found it interesting that someone with enough knowledge to make a custom object with custom animations and custom sounds couldn't spell worth crap. For example...
"Violin: This is a violing for ur sims 2 use.. with daly prctise ucan sond as good or more better then the virtosus!!!!!!! Form Sacha's Sim Shop."

Of course, these are all terrible examples. Now, even though, when I started making stuff (I was, like, 12 at the time), I was guilty of The Paranoid Copyright on more than one occasion, I pride myself on professionalism. Call it good taste, call it snobbery, whichever. I thought that, as I haven't written anything here in more than a month, I would regale you with a few of my own Sims Classic catalogue descriptions...

"Econosoft Brand Name Computer: Not everyone who wants a computer can have one. Why? Because the bigger companies insist on the formalities - nonsense such as credit score, proof of checking account, and valid proof of life. We at Econosoft say 'feh' to all the red tape! Our Brand Name brand-name computers are 100% functional as gaming machines, word processors, MP3 players, and web browsers. Plus, every machine comes with the Econosoft Seal of Approval from Q.A. Inspector #3. Guaranteed to serve you well for at least the next couple of days. Occasional breakage is expected and encouraged."

"Werkbunnst Commonality Chair: Eons ago, ancient Sims were forced to squat around the campfire for lack of a better arrangement. Then, an industrious proto-Simian found he could string several sticks together and sit on it more comfortably than simply crouching. Thus, the chair was invented. Modern Sims take their seats for granted, making them lavishly plush and plushishly lavish, then selling them for hundreds, if not thousands of simoleons! Return to the primaeval days of functionality over comfort with the Werkbunnst Commonality Chair."

"'Der Rockenhaus' Guitar from Umlaut, Ltd.: The gift of death metal does not smile upon the good-looking, the un-Scandinavian, or the otherwise talented. Are you ugly enough, Scandinavian enough, and untalented enough to break into death metal? Or are you going to use this guitar for the putrid strains of skater rock? There's nothing 'skater' about this heavy-duty industrial-strength guitar. Of course, if you do decide to under-utilise this monolith to grunge by using it to scream out hair metal, go ahead. It's not like we care."

"MAD 1337 Evil Genius Computer Station: Behold... the Multiple Adjunctive Dataport 1337: the ultimate computer terminal for only the backhackingest hackers in the entire world! 3.26 exabytes of memory on 4 hard disks, native 6G wireless broadband connection, and five screens to see everything with! A secret connection to the security cameras around the neighbourhood that no one's supposed to know about provide the user with unprecedented spying ability. Plus, its hulking frame and dark grey colour can be used to scare away those pesky n00bs! With the MAD 1337, you'll be asking yourself, 'Am I the evil genius? Or is the computer?'"

"The Pensive Robot: At first glance, a beautiful young Sim sitting on a bench, thinking about life. However, according to the artist, postmodernist Duncan E. Valley, the Sim is actually an inactive robot. 'Taking such a pleasing form as this,' Valley said, 'robots become the most repulsive things ever when their true natures are revealed.' For whatever reason, 'The Pensive Robot' is the most frequently-visited painting in the entire SimCity Museum of Modern Art. Uncanny."

That should do for now.
Oh, and Happy Luigi Day!

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:07 AM CST
Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Who says you don't learn anything from games?

First, I'll say that I'll be mentioning GoldenEye Wii, but without talking about it in-depth again.

Right. We've all heard the standard complaint: "What are you doing wasting your mind playing videogames?" Typically, followed by, "Back in my day, we didn't have videogames."

Really, grandpa? You didn't have interactive game software run on microcomputers back in 1935? Who'd have thought of it?

Anyway, apart from the claim by Ronald Reagan back in the '80s that the kids who were playing games were going to grow up to be aircraft pilots and control complex defence systems, a new kind of thing entered the field of view back in the Sixth Generation...
...Motion-capture animation.

Motion-capture, for those who are unaware, is the process of electronically recording a person's movements and using the ensuing data to animate a 3D character in the computer.
This means that, virtually any motion you see made on the screen can be reverse-engineered, if you like, and used in the real world. I shall provide now an example...

Today, I went for a stroll in the park. It may have been 16 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind-chill of -3, but I went anyway. Now, we've had several snowstorms where I live, one right after the other with enough of an interval between them to allow the first lot to start melting. So, when the next lot falls, the snow from the previous storm becomes ice, insulated from any heat and sunlight underneath the current snow. But, the primary issue around here is the top layer of snow hardening so much that it becomes like a sheet of ice.
I shan't give you a science lesson, but suffice it to say, I did encounter several such sheets at the park.
Anyway, I decided on a whim that, as it's too cold for spiders, biting or stinging insects, and poison sumac, that I would cut through a tree-line and take the lower path. Why? Why not?
When I got to the edge of the hill, though, I saw that the snow there had not been walked upon since it fell and was now (hey, guess what?) a sheet of ice. How was I going to get down to that nifty path down there? Isn't the suspence almost too much to take?
I thought back to the opening cutscene of GoldenEye Wii's Dam -- Bond and Trevelyan gain access to the road by sliding down a hill. I figured that a guy in a motion-capture suit was behind the stunt and, if he could do it, why couldn't I?
Famous last words, right? "He did it! Why can't I do it?"
Well, in this case, it worked... I slid down the hill and landed on my feet, just as Bond had done in the game. I stood up easily and continued about my business.

Now, it's not just shooter games that use motion-capture. In fact, EA Sports has the most hours of captured animation than any other company. American football, golf, skateboarding, and such. In many cases, you can learn proper technique by watching the game character.
Of course, your dad, who's reading over your shoulder, grew up in the Third Generation, where everything in games was total fantasy -- he's probably saying, "pfft... games aren't real."
No, the game world is, philosophically speaking, not real. However, the people who made the game are real, including the guy who had to wear the unflattering Lycra/Spandex motion-capture suit whose physical motions were translated into character animations.

Just ask Nobuyuki Hiyama, the bloke whose swordplay motions were captured and applied to Link in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. Or Duncan Botwood, the GoldenEye 64 production designer who also performed that iconic knees-to-chest death fall.
Or even Ben Cooke, Daniel Craig's stunt double who wore the suit for GoldenEye Wii.
Tony Hawk did all of his own stunts for his games.
In EA's Tiger Woods series, guess who does the golf swings? Tiger Woods.

The point is, if you watch carefully enough, you can learn how game characters do the stunts that they do. Of course, some are completely contrived, like Mario's three-tiered jump or Link's spin attack. There are some that can't be done in real life.
But, if you still don't believe me, find a snowy hill without a lot of sticks, rocks, or generally spiky stuff that could hurt you, sit down, push off, and sort of turn so your non-dominant side does all the sliding. This will help you control your slide and make it easier to stand up when you get to the bottom. When you do get there, you can say, "I learnt that from the new James Bond game!"
Just remember, before you go, wear Levi's, don't use your good shoes, and The Universal Reset waives all responsibility for accidents.

Posted by theniftyperson at 4:27 PM CST
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
And now, number three, the Larch... The Larch... The... Larch...

Yes, yes, it seems as though GoldenEye Wii is all I talk about lately. I'm sure that such will not be the case forever... just for as long I can think of new stuff to say.

So, I guess that somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have realised this, and I'm sure that you've probably known this for a while. But, I thought I'd mention it anyway.

See, I thought, when the game's website with all the character profiles on it went up, that since the game is based on a re-tooled version of the original GoldenEye plot, the likenesses on all the characters would be totally contrived. After all, that's what they did with Agent Under Fire and NightFire -- make the main character likenesses entirely within a 3D modelling programme with no use for cyberscanning (that is, creating a 3D model of a person's head).
With Everything or Nothing, it was highly publicised that Mya, Shannon Elizabeth, and Heidi Klum would be in the game as virtual Bond girls, and that Pierce Brosnan (whose head had been cyberscanned for the previous game) would be the game's James Bond. Like, really highly publicised -- every entertainment gossip show everywhere was talking about it, Nintendo Power talked about it for months, there were videos put onto demo-discs for stores' game kiosks, and of course EA took all of these opportunities to include the EoN website's URL (it was, which, replaced the NightFire site and was, itself, replaced by the From Russia with Love site... I think it's defunct now).
There was no similar publicity for GoldenEye Wii. In fact, I don't think anyone even knew that it existed until E3. Where Electronic Arts would have hyped a new GoldenEye for months, if not a year in advance of the release date, Activision and Eurocom kept it a secret for a couple of years... all anyone knew was that a new Bond game would be released in Q3 or Q4 of 2010.

The point is, when I saw the new character likenesses on, I assumed that they were completely original. That some concept artist someplace in Europe had drawn some faces which the 3D modellers at Eurocom turned into game characters.

Wrong, of course. As it turns out, all of the primary characters in GoldenEye Wii are cyberscans of real actors. I found this out whilst I was watching Agatha Christie's Poirot on television the other day. I thought the bad guy looked a bit familiar, so, as I continued watching, I used my Nintendo DSi to look up the episode on Wikipedia (only because the IMDb won't load on the DSi Browser). According to the article, the character was played by one Elliot Cowan. Looking into his filmography, I found that he was also the likeness and voice of Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye Wii.
When I was able to get back to my computer, I looked the game up on the IMDb (huh? Oh, "Internet Movie Database" -- It turns out that every one of the available headshots of the voice-actors were the spitting image of their 3D models... well, most of them, anyway.

Obviously, Daniel Craig is Bond, Rory Kinnear is Tanner, and Judi Dench is M. But, perhaps you may also know...

Elliot Cowan (Alec Trevelyan), from The Golden Compass, and Foyle's War: A Lesson in Murder (the latter, incidentally, starred Michael Kitchen, who played the role of Tanner during the Pierce Brosnan era)...

Kirsty Mitchell (Natalya Simonova), from Lake Placid 3...

Kate Magowan (Xenia Onatopp), from Stardust...

Laurentiu Possa (Arkady Ourumov), from MI-5...

Ed Stoppard (Dmitri Mishkin), from Upstairs Downstairs...

Alec Newman (Valentin Zukovsky), from Star Trek: Enterprise...

and Nathan Osgood (Sky Briggs), from Sahara.

Of course, that isn't a complete listing of their entire respective filmographies. There's even some overlap between titles, which leads one to suspect that the casting director may spend a bit too much time in front of the television.
Also, some of the names to whom the credit of "(voice)" is given may be familiar to you. One that leapt off the page as I scrolled down was Jonathan Aris (whom I suspect played the voice of one of the Severnaya guards). I recognised him as Wilhelm, the costumier, from my favourite film of all time, Topsy-Turvy (which stars Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, and Timothy Spall).

I suppose, in retrospect, it seems illogical to think that they paid someone or a group of people to design completely original likenesses, then pay another group of people to provide voices for those likenesses. It's more logical to use the likenesses of your voice-actors... well, nowadays, that is. That wasn't always the case -- take GoldenEye 64 for example. If you had different voice actors for each character, you'd run out of memory real fast.

Perhaps next time, it'll be about not GoldenEye.

Posted by theniftyperson at 2:17 PM CST
Monday, 31 January 2011
Super Mario Sunshine 3D?

Now that the Nintendo 3DS has a solid release date, the aspiring game designer in all of us is beginning to come up with ideas for stuff that would look nifty in 3D. For those of us whose imaginations only work occasionally, our thoughts have gone back in time to the other game consoles -- games we've played in the past that we really liked and would enjoy playing anew in stereoscopic 3D.
Now, although I had a great deal of games which I could call my "favourites" on the N64 and GameCube, the one which stands out as something that would really work in 3D without much retooling would definitely be Super Mario Sunshine for GameCube.

I recently decided to haul out my old collection of GCN games and play a few of them on Wii. Mario Sunshine was the first one I even considered. The tropical resort of Isle Delfino, where Mario was mistaken for a vandal, remains appealing nine years on. Even a kid who is too young to remember the Sixth Generation would be able to pick up the GameCube controller, start up the game and be captivated for hours, maybe even days or weeks (not all in one sitting, of course) by this game which is almost as old as he is.

This kind of perpetual appeal is really what Nintendo and others look for when they want to re-make a game for a newer platform. A re-made Super Mario 64 for Nintendo's Tenth-Generation console would be an instant hit. Whereas, a Nintendo DS port of Princess Tomato and the Salad Kingdom set to release tomorrow would probably be so inconspicuous, no one would know it existed until they saw the entire shipment on sale in the 90%-off bin.
Obviously, Nintendo have a decent understanding of this idea, as they are extraordinarily picky about what games they re-make... not that they do that very often. Just because a game has Mario or Link in it does not automatically make it a classic. Even these two formidable characters have their good and bad days.
To take a recent development as an example, Nintendo will be releasing a re-make of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for 3DS. Why Ocarina of Time? Why not Majora's Mask? Because Ocarina of Time was better-received by players, some critics even called it the best Zelda game in the series. Whereas, Majora's Mask, whilst fairly popular in its day, only has a marginal cult-following now. No one really raved about it when it was new, either. It was just sort of accepted into the Zelda series without any fanfare or million-selling.
Likewise, they re-made Super Mario 64 for the original Nintendo DS. Why Mario 64? Why not something else? Well, apart from the fact that it was the only 3D Mario platformer that could possibly run on the system; it was the most popular Mario game since the original Super Mario Bros. But, they didn't just update the graphics and call it finished like some people would (cough-cough-Xbox Live Arcade-cough) -- no, indeed! They added 30 more Power Stars, three other playable characters to find them, and extra bonus levels to find them in! In effect, they built on the original. No doubt something similar has happened in the case of Ocarina of Time DS.

So, that brings us back to this entry's title. Super Mario Sunshine was the most popular Mario game for the GCN, it has eternal replay value, and it has a lot of nifty stuff in it that would look even niftier in 3D. Not to mention the fact that the 3DS is capable of GCN-level graphics processing. The only drawback is that the original Mario Sunshine was sort of reliant on buttons. The GCN controller had a lot of buttons on it and every one performed a different function (some games have functional overlap between controller buttons). Specifically, it had eight buttons (A, B, X, Y, Z, L, R, and START/PAUSE) and two control sticks. The 3DS has only the one stick and it's right above the directional pad. What I do in Mario Sunshine, and verily, in all 3rd-person games I play, is to move Mario forward and backward with the Control Stick and "steer" him with the C Stick. That wouldn't be possible on the 3DS. The camera would need to be relegated to the d-pad, which can't really be used at the same time as the stick (you would be in your own way). Perhaps you don't use the camera to steer Mario. You would still need to be able to see what you're using FLUDD on.
A possible solution to the camera issue could be that it centres behind Mario when a shoulder button is pressed. After all, that's what it did on the GCN.

But, really, they pay people to come up with solutions to logistical problems like that. I'm just a guy with a blog.

I think it would be uber-nifty to see just how far Ricco Harbour is from Delfino Plaza. 3D Super Mario Sunshine... nifty stuff.

Posted by theniftyperson at 9:03 PM CST
Sunday, 30 January 2011
How to make a designer house in The Sims 2

You've seen all of those really nifty-looking mansions on The Sims 2 lot exchange, right? Of course you have! Though they look extraordinarily complex to build... they probably are. But, you don't need to hack your game in order to build a really nifty house of your own in The Sims 2.
Of course, the principles behind building stuff in The Sims 2 and The Sims 3 are fundamentally the same -- so, if you'd prefer to use The Sims 3, that's fine, too. I prefer Sims 2, though, mostly because my computer can actually run it with a certain degree of reliability. That and I think Sims 2 had niftier stuff than its successor has.

Right. On with the point.

Most Sims players just improvise when they build houses (I certainly do) under the intention of populating it with a multi-generational family as quickly as possible. However, players who play specifically to build have a different mindset -- they prefer to fill their neighbourhoods with houses... perhaps to leave them standing empty, never to be used. These are the houses that get uploaded to the exchange, get a hundred thousand downloads, and possibly get used by Sims Division in the next game.

Just like in real life, showcase houses get an intense amount of planning. How large is our lot? How much space do we want for landscaping? How high up are we willing to go? Would this room be more efficient if it were one tile wider? These are all questions that a showcase builder needs to ask, even before startup!
In cases such as this, I find graphing paper to be indispensable. You can go to your local office-supply store and find notebooks or individual reams of graphing paper of varying sizes and grid densities -- for large lots (the >5x4 kind), you'll no doubt need the highest grid density in the store.

Next, you'll need inspiration. My advice is to simply drive about in the wealthier areas of your town. Whilst there, take note of the sorts of building materials you see (bricks, stucco, siding) and how much space there is between the pedestrian sidewalk and the house. Don't look at construction so much yet... most of the newer high-end houses are built with things that The Sims series does not have, like walkout basements and skylights.
Now, drive about in the somewhat lower-class areas of town. Not like the ghetto or the projects, but something more working-class... something in between SUV-land and paved paradise. Why this area? Because you're more likely to find houses that you can copy. Take pictures of houses that you think you'll be able to build, then later, using existing game objects as a point of reference, put an approximation of what you think the house might look like onto your graphing paper. You don't need to know the structure's exact dimensions... just guess. Fill in the floorplans to suit your own taste. Whatever you end up with will be fine.
If you're more into James Bond-style photo reconnaissance, you can go to open houses or make appointments with realtors to see the inside of houses for sale. You'll waste their time, but it will be well-worth your time (I'm not actually encouraging you to do this... it's just something to think about).

Rather than copy these floorplans directly onto Build Mode grid-tiles, find some that are similar to each other (maybe two or three) and combine them! Maybe wrap a hacienda around a tudor and add an outbuilding of three stacked ranch-houses.
Of course, sometimes, you'll come across a structure which needs no alteration at all. It's just so nifty that you can't improve upon it. In that case, just copy it down there!

Another thing you can do is to combine pre-existing game floorplans. If you take that narky spanner-like roof off the Modern Masterpiece, you may be able to wedge the lot of it into the Monty Family's house.

But then, these suggestions have been largely about copying. Once you have a promising design, adapt it! There's no boxy thing that can't become new-age with a few well-placed diagonal walls. 
Improvise on it! Move some of the rooms about, maybe. Perhaps you like the kitchen from one house and the sitting-room from another. Really, it's amazing just how much like LEGOs Sim-houses actually are.

But, with all of this combining and copying and improvisation, keep in mind one very important thing. One which all sensible buyers look for in a house: curb-appeal. How nifty the structure looks from the street. Curb-appeal will make or break your house's popularity. It could be all high ceilings and rooms fit for kings on the inside, but if it's just a box on the outside...
Fortunately, curb-appeal is a bit more forgiving in The Sims 2 than it is in real life, mainly because of the angle from which the house's picture is taken: high up, pointing down. If your building has a great deal more in the back than it does up front, that can be partially seen. For instance: you built a box in the front, but you added onto the back. It may look boring from street-level, but a bird's-eye view shows your structure for what it really is.
Landscaping will also help curb-appeal. Terraced flower-beds look great, particularly when paired with stair-stringers. If your house is at the top of a hill, use the stair-stringers to automatically create terraces, which you can then extend with the terrain-levelling tool. Also, depending on which side of the lot you built your house on, symmetry can be a very good thing or a very bad thing. If the house is almost exactly in the centre of the lot, you'll want to put serious consideration in to landscaping symmetrically (that is, the same on both sides). However, if the building ended up mostly on the side of the lot, you don't want a lot of symmetry. A water feature on the empty part of the lot would make an excellent counterpoint to the house, to which you could point using flower-beds or shrubs.
Trees, though, are sort of the black-sheep, the white elephant, the pink hippopotamus of the landscaping set. No matter how centred or how far aschew your house may be, no one likes symmetrically-planted trees. Try to resist placing trees in the same place on either side unless absolutely necessary (for example -- a front garden arboretum would require symmetry).
On the subject of landscaping, you can make your house look hacked without actually using any hacks. This is done through creative usage of the "moveObjects" code. Place a palm tree in the middle of a fountain or a rubber-tree plant inside a shrub. Put a gnome on a flower bed (though this may make the flowers unusuable).
The landscape isn't the only part of the lot that can benefit from codes like this. In FreeTime onwards (not that there's much after that), you can use the "moveObjects" code and the bracket keys ([ and ]) to place wall-hanging objects over each other. Also, it's sort of a long and clunky code, but "boolProp allow45degreeangleofrotation true" will permit you to rotate all objects in 45-degree increments, putting things on the diagonal. However, whilst it may look good, Sims won't be able to interact with certain diagonal objects.

Finally, if you do decide to upload your creation to the Exchange or to make it available on your website -- just as a courtesy, you should furnish the kitchen and any bathrooms in the house. If you're the type with control issues, you may want to consider putting a few function-suggestive objects in rooms that you're dead-set on serving a particular purpose (put a bed and an armoire in the bedroom, or a desk and some bookshelves in the study, et cetera). However, you'll find that most people prefer to furnish their downloaded houses per their own tastes. You may think that this should be the dining-room... well, someone else may think that it would be better-served as a home-office.
Also, people may prefer that you not include Sims with your house. Unless you're doing a story, only share empty houses. If you upload a pre-populated house, any furnishing that you may have done will be lost when the next guy moves your Sim out.

Off the subject of houses for a moment...
Showcase lots apply to community buildings as well (but only in The Sims 2). So you don't want to make another clothing shop or restaurant. That's fine -- you may be surprised at the demand for lots which serve no practical purpose! These "filler" lots consist of office buildings, warehouses, construction sites, schools, or any other structure that would lend an air of realism to a city. Obviously, these buildings can't ever be used for their intended purposes, but people will download them, nonetheless. Maybe they're like me and wish that SimCity and The Sims would merge one of these days -- filler lots do create a very impressive illusion.

Anyway, give those ideas a try! You might end up being the next Frank Lloyd Wright! Or, at least, Will Wright...

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, 3 February 2011 10:42 PM CST
Saturday, 29 January 2011
And now, for something completely the same...

Originally posted on Of Carbon and Silicon, 24 January 2011 

Yes, it's GoldenEye Wii again. Though, perhaps not exclusively... I may end up on a completely different subject by the end of this entry.

So, I'm putting the finishing touches on my updated GoldenEye 64 page. In order to make the proper impression, I've decided to put in a few GameShark codes for those who still have one, or who use software emulation. I was rather surprised to find that there are so few GameShark sites left! Really, you only have maybe two reputable websites featuring GameShark codes anymore: GameFAQs and some bloke's Angelfire GoldenEye fansite. All the rest of them went down with the good ship, H.M.S. Fifth Generation.
Then, when you get right down to it, the very same codes can be found on both websites -- some idiot's list of a thousand glitch-codes with duplication, indecipherable descriptions ("Even worse What-The-Hell-Is-Going-On? Mode") and 3rd-grade spelling mistakes ("Sacurity camras ca'nt see you"), which was written hastily in 1998. I tested a random selection of five of these codes on my emulator ('cos you can't brick software) -- one did what it advertised ("Metal hands"), two did nothing at all, one was clearly mislabelled ("Use N64 controler as a weopon" [sic] performed the function of "OneHit Kill" [sic]), and the other crashed the ROM. I pity the poor 10-year-old souls who bricked their N64s with those codes back in the '90s.
The thing is, there are demonstrations on YouTube of GoldenEye codes that change Bond's outfit (something I've been trying to do since '97), make all weapons gold or silver, let the user combine weapon functions to make an RCP90 fire knives or a DD44 shoot lasers, and make bullet impact-flashes red. I've seen codes in use that arm Scientists with Golden Guns, Facility guards with AR33s, and Ourumov with a grenade launcher. And, guess what? You can't find these codes anywhere on the Internet! And why? Because their creators are too snobbish and miserly to provide them! The worst of the worst of the GoldenEye hacking set is a person known as "SubDrag". Typically, this person manages to get GoldenEye to do something really nifty, but doesn't bother telling the non-hackers how to do it.

That's the second thing (and the first mention of GoldenEye Wii since the first sentence)...
After I gave up my futile quest to find worthwhile GoldenEye 64 GameShark codes, I decided to look up cheat passwords for GoldenEye Wii. Evidently, there are only three in the entire game and all of them have to do with multiplayer mode. Otherwise, there's loads of them and they're being closely guarded by a programmer at Eurocom, who, in all likelihood, will take them to the grave.
I know that Eurocom didn't want to stand in Rareware's 14-year-old shadow when they "re-envisioned" GoldenEye, but... why is it that GoldenEye 64 is the only game in the entire Bond series to have a cheat-options menu? Paintball Mode would have been a blast in Everything or Nothing! NightFire really could have used DK Mode! And, why wouldn't anyone want every guard everywhere in The World is not Enough to have a rocket launcher?
Sure it's reasonably entertaining to turn Oddjob into a karate-chopping homunculus by combining the giant-handed Melee Only mode with the Big-Heads password, but that's only nifty if you happen to have several other players about. I tend to play games alone. I had rather hoped that those two traits would be combined into a sort of re-envisioned DK Mode... sure, there would be graphical oddities as deformed characters interact with the environment, but that kind of uncanny-valley stuff is what made GE64's DK Mode so appealing! Here, in the middle of a James Bond game -- a save-the-world scenario with a serious tone -- is a bunker full of blokes with huge heads. Monty Python would be hard-pressed to come up with something more random than that!
But, I guess the world will never know if it's possible or not, since Ebenezer Scrooge over at Eurocom refuses to let anyone know the secrets of GoldenEye Wii.

Also, I noticed a rather disturbing trend with the cheat-code sites. One into which I never thought to look. About 90% of the sites I found, according to McAfee's SiteAdvisor, contained adware, spyware, malware, spamware, hereware, thereware, elseware, killware, tortureware, talibanware, and just about any other kind of nasty 21st-century leeches you can think of.
For example: Excessive popups, adware, and a potential browser exploit.
Next, Excessive popups, phishing, and a potential browser exploit.
Then, Adware, phishing, spam, and a potential browser exploit.
Noticing a theme here? According to the SiteAdvisor reviewers, many of the cheat-code sites I checked will attempt to gain control of your computer or make it otherwise unusable.
Now, as I understand it, the ultimate goal of any sensible spammer or malware writer is to gain access to a random computer in the hopes of finding some identifying information which can then be used in the process of identity theft. Sure, there may be one or two stupid people left in the US who keeps that kind of thing stored on their computers, but society in general has become so wary of identity thieves that they guard their personal information with more care. Stupid people don't go to gaming sites -- people who need the services of a game or cheat site know enough about computers than to keep identifying material (knowingly or unknowingly) stored on their hard-drives. So... why spike a gaming website? If you really want to buy 32,640 dollars'-worth of electronics under someone else's name, go for a small business's accounts computer! Home computers aren't the things to hack anymore!
Mostly, just keep away from sites where I might happen to go.

Well, look at that... three different topics and only one of them was about GoldenEye Wii.

Posted by theniftyperson at 1:50 PM CST
Benefits of going Nintendo

Originally posted on Of Carbon and Silicon, 21 January 2011 

Last time, I mentioned that, although GoldenEye Wii is not, on its own, worth buying a Wii console for, that there are definite compensations in owning one. Perhaps I should clarify this point, yes? Just what are the benefits of going Nintendo?

"Wait. Why do you always talk about Nintendo, Spiny? 360's the way to go!"

It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. I started gaming in 1994, playing the Super NES... specifically, Super Mario World (though, it could have been Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World, I can't recall exactly). The character animations, the colours, the backgrounds, the music, all of this led me to realise that Nintendo is a company that is devoted to making not only games, not only really good games, but really good games with an almost OCD-like attention to detail. If this pixel's colour doesn't go with the background in this level, Miyamoto shouts "No way, man! Do this instead." Which leads us to...

Benefit #1: Quality. If Nintendo makes a game in-house, you'll be hard-pressed to find any glitching. Even in such an old game as Super Mario Bros., when it was only Miyamoto-san, Tezuka-san, and maybe 15 other people on the entire staff, there weren't blatantly glitchy things like floors that don't clip right, frozen animations leading to "skating" characters, stuff like that. Of course, there is "Minus World" to consider (World "space, hyphen, one")... I can't explain that. Easter Egg? Programming glitch? Hidden beta test level? No one really knows.

Benefit #2: Mario. Who doesn't love Mario? You want to know who doesn't love Mario? Al-Qaida.
Mario games are the quintessential videogame stereotype. In fact, the only videogame stereotype that existed before Mario was that games had little stick-figures with, like, a sword or something and if you got past the last level, your Amiga's sound-chip would shout "Congraturation!" at you before the game crashed. Which leads us to...

Benefit #3: The Saviour of Videogames. Before the NES was released, the game market was saturated with mercifully-released abberations. Half the games had insurmountable obstacles that the level programmers forgot to take out and you could only pass by hacking your way to the next level -- the other half were so poorly made (by a staff of three blokes in one of their parents' basement) that, if you made a bad keystroke, you risked bricking the computer. Only a small fraction of a percentage of a decimal to the hundredth power of games actually did what they were meant to do: provide entertainment and actually work in the process. Because of this, the game market crashed into more pieces than an Atari 2600 dropped from the roof of a 16-story building. Everyone assumed that games were just a passing fad that had its day.
Then, along comes the NES, which had to convince people of its legitimacy by first introducing itself as an accessory required to use a toy called the Robotic Operating Buddy (or "ROB" for short). It was only after people bought ROB, they discovered that the NES vastly undersold itself. From Japan came wave after wave of the best games since Table Tennis for Two -- Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Balloon Fight, Kid Icarus, Castlevania. No home computer or dedicated game console up to this point had such an excellent reception as the NES.

Benefit #4: Wii Virtual Console. Now, I don't live in a cave, surrounded by brainwashing Nintendo stuff. I know about Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store (though I know more about the former than the latter, mostly from researching GoldenEye 007 for TMRB). Of course, Wii Virtual Console is a collection of classic games from a host of classic consoles. On XBLA, at least, Microsoft have a nasty habit of meddling with classic games -- updating them to bring them more in line with the Seventh Generation. Nintendo have issued an outright refusal to follow them in this way. For that reason, everything you see on Wii Virtual Console is largely unchanged from their original releases. Whilst Microsoft insists on "hot-rodding" their XBLA releases, Nintendo prefers to leave the games intact, as they were in the '80s and '90s. This way, if you were unfortunate enough to have been born during the Fourth or Fifth Generation (SNES or N64), you can go back to the Third Generation (NES) and see precisely what you missed, then rectifying the situation by downloading (for a small fee, usually 5 quid) and playing what you missed, being born in 1999 and all.

Benefit #5: Be an U83R64M3X0R! Huh? "Ubergamexor?" Yes. Be one. Nintendo has the highest quantity of L337633K 64M3RN3RD (leetgeek gamernerd) series than any other console on the market today. The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Super Smash Bros., Fire Emblem, and, occasionally, Final Fantasy (though SquareEnix seems to prefer these be released on PlayStation, God knows why).
I'm sure you know at least two people who talk ad nauseam about Zelda or Pokemon... haven't you ever had even the slightest desire to interject with something? Maybe to contradict something they say about Zelda canon, then prove that you're right and they're wrong? There's no better joy in life than to pwn a 64M3RN3RD! And I am one!

Benefit #6: WiiWare and DSiWare. These are games which are made exclusively for Wii and Nintendo DSi (and soon-to-be Nintendo 3DS, too). Don't bother looking for these games anywhere else, 'cos they're only available for Wii or DSi... or both. Nothing else. Certainly XBLA and PSN have exclusive games, too... but, you haven't lived until you've built a sandcastle with a Wii Remote (and not as a spade, either).

Benefit #7: GoldenEye 007. Both of them: N64 and Wii. 'Cos, let's face it, people, XBLA ain't getting it and VC ain't getting it. The only way you can play classic GoldenEye (within the bounds of the law, that is) is to play it on N64.
"Can I still find an N64 in playable condition?" Yes. I speak from experience. I've had my N64 since early 1997 and I played GoldenEye on it yesterday. It's a durable piece of equipment, the N64. The Super NES was sort of sketchy, but during and after the Fifth Generation, Nintendo set higher quality standards for all their products.

Benefit #8: GameShark. I know, hacking is sort of outside the law, but hackers have managed to do some really zany stuff with Nintendo games, particularly on the N64 (many hackers use N64 games as practise ground for greater hacks or even an eventual career in the game industry). There are millions of lines of code that people have come up with to alter their Nintendo gaming experience in some way (like you can improve on perfection), and, granted, most of them are crap. But, occasionally, you stumble upon a code which surpasses your expectations. For example, plug this one into Super Mario 64 and see what you get:
8107EC40 0099
8107EC42 0000
8107EC38 0033
8107EC3A 0000
8107EC20 0000
8107EC22 3300
8107EC28 0000
8107EC2A 9900

Benefit #9: Glasses-free 3D gaming. The Nintendo 3DS is releasing to the world in late March. If you blew your entire paycheque going to Avatar for the 3D effects, you'll love the 3DS. Of course, if artificial 3D gives you a headache, just turn the depth-slider all the way down to completely disable 3D and play like it's a normal game. Does PSP give you that freedom? Pfft... no. PSP doesn't even have 3D (though it probably will by Q4... and guess who they'll have stolen it from).

Benefit #10: Perpetual reliability. I guess this sort of goes along with Benefit #1, in that it concerns the quality of Nintendo's console hardware. But, I think it needs to be said that Nintendo consoles have the highest degree of reliability of any other console on the market since the Fourth Generation. You can rest assured that, when you turn a Nintendo console on, it will turn on. None of this "Red Ring of Death" crap. However, on the offhand chance that something doesn't work, chances are, you can send it off to Nintendo for repair or replacement free of charge. But, hardware failures on Nintendo consoles are uber infrequent, like less than half of one per cent (that's like one console out of 400 billion). In fact, I don't think anyone's ever actually seen a Wii console's "Blinking Red Light of Death". Nintendo claims that this is how the console tells you that it's bricked, but, thus far, it's only a myth.

There. Ten benefits of going Nintendo. Now, am I going to have to come to your house and spell it out for you? Nintendo is the videogame industry!

Buy a 3DS,

Spiny McSpleen.

Posted by theniftyperson at 1:43 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, 29 January 2011 1:45 PM CST
It's about GoldenEye again...

Originally posted on Of Carbon and Silicon, 17 January 2011 

...So, if you're tired of me rabbiting on about GoldenEye, turn back now.

Well, I've gotten a bit further through GoldenEye Wii at this point. As I said before, it is a decent game -- after all, Wii doesn't get very many really good FPS games like N64 and GameCube did. The problem, I guess, is that Microsoft has stolen away the FPS market with the Halo series (of which I don't really see the appeal -- futuristic alien games are stupid cliches).
Anyway, action-wise, it lacks for nothing. You've got running and gunning in all the right places, plus, guards can't hear gunfights between Checkpoints (most of the time), so you can blow stuff up in one room, then sneak up behind a guy and snap his neck in the next. There's a wide array of weapons to choose from -- silenced pistols to full-auto shotguns and grenade launchers. Like I said before: blow up your enemies in one room, snipe them with a silenced pistol in the next.

However, there are a few things that have been brought to my attention which I didn't know about before. For example, a rather strange glitch.
Every so often, particularly whilst crouching, the floor will disappear and Bond will fall to his death, causing the level to restart from the last Checkpoint. Now, in a small area, such as the Facility's server room, this isn't such a great problem because, well, it's short -- maybe three minutes to get back to where you were. But, in a longer area or an area with a lot of heavily armed enemies all vying for your head, such as the Nightclub's kitchen, it takes a bit longer to get through (maybe ten or twelve minutes). Falling through the floor here will definitely be a "what the crap just happened?" moment where you may end up throwing your controller to the floor and shouting, "I quit!".  Now, I've got to say -- in my 17 years of gaming experience, I have never played a game where the floor just disappears. I've found glitches where walls aren't clipped right and you fall through them, but I've never had the floor yanked out from under me before. It's quite distressing, going into a freefall for no particular reason. Plus, there's no way to avoid it, because somehow, the circumstances always change, so you can't intentionally cause the glitch ("testing the water", if you like)... it just happens, literally, at random.

Non-glitch-wise, there's the Tank. To leave the St. Petersburg Archive, Bond must take control of a tank, then use that vehicle to chase down Ourumov and Natalya. Remember the tank from GoldenEye 64? Well, this is not as easy to control. Someone at Eurocom decided it would be nifty if the tank's directional controls (forward, backward, and turning) were done using different control sticks! Rather than doing all the steering with the left control stick on the Classic Controller (like you would think would be logical), you only go front and back with it. Pushing the stick even in the slightest right/left direction and you end up swirling the gun around. You can only turn the camera left and right with the right stick! Now, what the hell kind of sense does that make? Though I am loath to compare GE64 with GE Wii, GE64's tank was much, much more user-friendly. Get in and go kick some ass. With GE Wii's tank: get in, read the instructions, press the wrong button, get turned around, crash into buildings, go nowhere, and don't kick any ass at all.

Next, the music. Written mostly by David Arnold, the composer for all but one of the Pierce Brosnan-era Bond films and both in the Daniel Craig era, his score is somewhat reminiscent of The World is not Enough... what can you do? That's his composing style -- his signature, if you like. However, though I have nothing bad to say about the music, itself, I do take issue with how little there is of it.
Again, comparing GoldenEyes: GE64 had at least a two-minute loop of distinct original music for each level (granted, the pause-screen and mission select themes were shorter than that), plus nearly the same amount of action music for several levels.  GE Wii doesn't have that. It has, maybe 30 minutes of source music for the entire game. There's a bit of overlap between levels. There's pretty much only one action theme which plays when you've been spotted and the heavily armed special forces with annoyingly-accurate guns are after you.
Then, on the subject of music, there's the Nightclub level. This level takes place in Valentin Zukovsky's Barcelona nightclub. The musical score for this level is basically overpowered by two separate 30-45 second vocal loops: one trance, one sort of new age hip-hop (both apparently originated in DJ Hero). If you haven't played this level yet, take heed:
Once you hear these loop twenty times, you can't forget them!
As the level takes (me, anyway) about 25-30 minutes to complete, and about 12-15 minutes of that is spent listening to a 30-second pop riff, you'll be present for at least twenty loops of both.

Anyway, that's all I've found that really stands out as being unfortunate about Activision's new GoldenEye. Considering there are more pros than cons in this case, I recommend it for any Wii owners who pine for the bygone days when Nintendo was FPS heaven. I also recommend it for all PS3 and 360 owners who went over to the Dark Side after the fall of Rareware in 2002. On its own, it's not worth getting a Wii for, but there are definite compensations for owning a Wii console that you just can't get with the other two.

Posted by theniftyperson at 1:37 PM CST
And now, as promised, Activision's GoldenEye...

Originally posted on Of Carbon and Silicon, 27 December 2010 

As you are no doubt aware, Activision has recently released an adaptation of the seventeenth James Bond film, GoldenEye, for Wii. Not for the other Seventh Generation consoles, but for Wii and DS only (for the moment, anyway). Right now, Nintendo DS has the market's advantage as it has two Bond games: the Nintendo-exclusive GoldenEye 007 and the competing Blood Stone. But, that's a different story.

Of course, GoldenEye Wii (as it will be known, hereinafter) has been out since mid-November, but I got it for Christmas. I haven't played it all the way through as yet, but I've played enough to know what's good and bad about it (well, as good as).

The first thing that becomes glaringly obvious is the title. GoldenEye. Gamers associate that word with Rareware's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 (or, as it will be known hereinafter, GoldenEye 64) -- arguably the best FPS of the entire Fifth Generation. What most players familiar with GoldenEye 64 are likely to do is to compare it against GoldenEye Wii. This would be an error in judgement. It's rather like comparing apples to oranges -- both are types of fruit, but one has pectin where the other has citric acid. GE64 and GE Wii are both first-person shooters, both are based on the same plotline, but -- let's face it -- one is dreadfully old and the other is shiny and new.

Another major thing that one notices right off is the tone of gameplay. The adaptation (written by Bruce Feirstein -- author of the original GoldenEye film's screenplay) calls for it to be set in the modern day and for it to support the drastically revised James Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig. All of this creates for a very dark undertone, compared to other Bond games.
007 NightFire, for example. NightFire, whilst enjoyable and with high replay-value, is somewhat out of place in the Bond universe. Its predecessor, the critically-panned Agent Under Fire, played out similarly to a Connery-era Bond film -- sneaking about on oil-rigs, infiltrating foreign embassies at night, speeding through subterranean railway tunnels. NightFire wasn't like that -- even though Pierce Brosnan's likeness was featured, it really didn't pan out like a Bond film. It borrowed elements from Moonraker and You Only Live Twice, but it just lacked the proper James Bond "essence".  Even 007 Everything or Nothing, featuring not only the likeness and voice of Pierce Brosnan, but also the likenesses and voices of Judi Dench, John Cleese, Heidi Klum, and others, didn't manage to capture it.
There was recently a discussion between Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, and Mario creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, on the Wii website about the "essence " of Mario. Even though each game in the series is worked on by different people, they all manage to maintain a certain Mario-ness.  The same can be said of the James Bond games. Using the film series as a benchmark, developers should create Bond games that mesh with the films as much as possible. In effect, the player needs to believe that they are playing a Bond film, which is something that GoldenEye Wii has managed to achieve.
Perhaps because it was worked on by two Bond veterans; writer, Bruce Feirstein, and composer, David Arnold... perhaps because of the game designers' decision to incorporate the Classic Controller into the control scheme for more traditional gameplay... perhaps a combination of all of these... perhaps something completely different. It's difficult to tell precisely why, but the game seems to belong in the Bond series.
Referring back to Everything or Nothing, in contrast, it does not seem to fit in the series. Perhaps because the perspective was third-person, like a Mario or Zelda game, rather than first-person, like GoldenEye 64. Perhaps the problem was that the A-list cast sounded like they'd never done voice-acting before. I think, though, the problem with EoN was in the screenplay. What I like to do when I play a game of any kind (except, perhaps, SimCity) is to imagine how it would fare as a movie. With EoN's plotline (which seemed to be pieced together from various sources, including GoldenEye and You Only Live Twice, with a tenuous reference to Max Zorin from A View to a Kill -- which, itself, was a box-office failure), Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin, and the late Gene Shalit would all have agreed that it was a waste of time.
Fortunately, as I've mentioned, GoldenEye Wii was written by the same bloke who wrote the GoldenEye film: a professional screenwriter. As a film, GoldenEye Wii (at least the bits of it I've played) has potential.

The next significant thing is the gameplay, itself. Without comparing it to GoldenEye 64 too much, the controls aren't as user-friendly. Of course, GE64 had just the one control stick and four "C" buttons. GE Wii has two control sticks, with one taking the place of the four "C" buttons.
Of all of the criticism I have heaped upon Electronic Arts (yes, them again) on Of Carbon and Silicon over the years, one beneficial thing could be said of them: their games were and continue to be easy to control. The Bond games under EA's supervision were no exception. Agent Under Fire introduced the control scheme where (using GameCube as an example) the left control stick always controlled Bond's body (forward, backward, turning) and the "C" stick always controlled Bond's head and feet (looking up and down and strafing). Furthermore, if Bond were in possession of a sniper rifle, the "C" stick always controlled the scope. Bond could strafe in sniper mode with the left stick, but the "C" stick would always move the gun.
GoldenEye Wii has not done this. On the Normal Pro setting (default for the Classic Controller Pro), aiming mode is a direct reversal of normal movement controls. Outside the sights, Bond moves with the L Stick and strafes with the R Stick. Whilst aiming, Bond looks left and right with the L Stick and looks up and down and strafes with the R Stick. This causes the learning curve to be a bit high when it comes to actually controlling Bond. A NightFire-like aiming system wouldn't go amiss (no pun intended).

In Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Bond is seen performing difficult tasks which would require intense concentration and manages to do them whilst injured or poisoned. This made it into gameplay of 007 Quantum of Solace as a regenerating health metre. Unlike other games where Bond must collect body armour and only has a set amount of health which means death when totally depleted, Quantum allowed Bond to be shot many times, even to the brink of death -- but, if he managed to not take damage for a while, his health would regenerate. This seems to be a permanent character trait for Daniel Craig's Bond in the games, as it makes a re-appearance in GoldenEye Wii. The only downside, relative to Quantum, is that there is not a visible stamina metre onscreen. Players are forced to guess when Bond requires a break. Of course, if his health drops below half, a red blur begins to enter the field of view from the sides of the screen. If his health drops below 25%, little lines akin to those in bloodshot eyes appear also.

If you're the type who likes to shoot everything in sight, the next significant thing is that this is the first Bond game with a semi-destructible environment. Shoot that barricade enough times and it breaks apart. Sure, there have always been things in Bond games that you can shoot and they blow up in sodding great balls of fire, but it was always unusual to me that, if you shot that wall with a rocket-propelled grenade, it didn't show any damage... as though I hadn't just wasted a perfectly good bomb on a stupid wall. As a general reference, GoldenEye 64 had a great many objects that could be destroyed by shooting them or blowing them up. Of course, fully destructible environments were unheard-of back in '97 -- too processor intensive. In terms of lousy environment destruction, that award goes to Everything or Nothing. That game's third-person viewpoint meant that you couldn't even target things that weren't objective-related unless you had the bloody loud sniper rifle.

Talking of weapons, here's the other important thing. Like Quantum before it, GoldenEye Wii does not allow you to pick up more than three weapons at a time. In Bond games of yore, you could carry as many weapons as you could find. Some would contend that this "Professional Mode", as it was called in NightFire multiplayer, presents a more realistic challenge -- I contend that it's bloody inconvenient when you're pinned down by guards with huge machine guns and you've only got a couple of pistols and an empty AK47.

And finally, GoldenEye Wii does contain a few tongue-in-cheek references to its progenitor, GoldenEye 64. I remember that people took issue with the truck in GE64's Dam and the totally nonfunctional missile battery in the Runway. In GE Wii, Trevelyan and Bond hijack the truck in the Dam and use it to blast their way through most of the territory before epically crashing it just before the dam, itself. Then, in GE Wii's Runway (called the Airfield), an attack helicopter strafes Bond with guns and explosives. The missile battery in this game works just fine, as Bond can use it to destroy the offending vehicle.
Then, I seem to recall something about a hacker finding a motorcycle in GE64's code and a great deal of speculation about what purpose it may have served at the beta stage. In GE Wii, Bond has a few opportunities to drive a motorcycle, though the player only aims the gun, rather than piloting the cycle, itself.
Also in GE Wii's Dam, there is a destructible boat docked on the pier, but looking through a sniper-scope at the river beyond won't yield sight of an unreachable island.

Suffice it to say, as I continue to play the game, more things will make themselves evident, which may cause me to make additional entries on this topic.  However, at this point, I give Activision's GoldenEye 007 a 4.5/5.

Posted by theniftyperson at 1:02 PM CST
Welcome to The Universal Reset

As it turns out, looking through Of Carbon and Silicon, I talk about videogames a lot. For this reason, I decided it might be good to have a separate area for the subject of games.

Enter The Universal Reset -- named for the gamepad recalibration technique on all controllers since the NES, here is my addition to the already overflowing reservoir of gaming blogs. As per the trend in this field, I shall provide my own personal viewpoint on games in general, gaming consoles, specific titles, specific genres, and other things that have to do with the 21st century's greatest pastime.

You may notice some overlap between Universal Reset and Of Carbon and Silicon for the first couple of weeks. That's because I'm taking all of my game posts from the latter and putting them here. I'll start posting new stuff very soon, however.

Right -- that's that, then. On to greater and lesser things! Wait... Ah, never mind.

Posted by theniftyperson at 12:32 PM CST

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