June 19, 2008

Decisions, decisions

I'm very interested in the upcoming/just released Space Invaders Extreme. It's fast, has incredible music and seems to be the perfect game for playing in quick bursts when I'm taking a break from MGS4 (or anytime). Also its only USD 20 (+shipping).

Now here's the question: Which version do I pick?

The DS version, with the pros being slightly catchier music and the chance on diverting online and offline multiplayer - although with not much substance or longevity to it as I've heard. The cons would be the smaller screens, simpler graphics and the cramp inducing DS Lite design.

Watch it here:

The other option is the PSP version, with flashier graphics, a nice big crisp screen and the pleasure of a much nicer to hold PSP, with the downsides being a little less interesting (but still very awesome) music and no multiplayer for me.

Watch it there:

Decisions, decisions.

Hideo Kojima Interview Nr. 2: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (Welt Online)

Originally published in German on www.welt.de, June 12th '08
by Thomas Lindemann


Welt Online: Your games are always quite progressive and guide through a complex storyline that often surprises the player. But what are video games at all? Are you telling stories like novels or movies?

Hideo Kojima: If I was sad as a child, naturally, I talked with friends. However, what shaped my experience even more, were movies and novels. Their characters gave me courage. So I always intended to give the user of my games something consistent as well. The telling and the creation of the world and the characters is most important for me.

Welt Online: Are video games art at all?

Hideo Kojima: Not really. Video games are something completely different from movies and novels because everything depends on the player as well. Novels reflect the ideas of the author, a
game adds the freedom of the player. An artist can paint something and then say: this is no pipe. In a game however, a flower always has to be a flower to make the game world usable. A game developer has to comply with this.

Welt Online: This sounds a little too modest. Your games are considered outstanding and have many fans. There has to be something you are doing very well.

Hideo Kojima: A good game developer is similar to a good cook or sommelier. He surprises the users, offers them things they can be happy about. He toys with their tastes. Only in this sense can a video game be art.

Welt Online: In one part of your "Metal Gear Solid" series, a friendly character is suddenly possessed and controlled by evil, at one point. Violence does not help there, the player has to think of something else. How did you know that the allegedly dull game fans would accept that?

Hideo Kojima: At that time, it was 1998, the principle of games always was: There is only you and the hostile outside world. You could shoot at everything that moves. I disliked this style. I wanted that the players have to to think even in an action game, for instance, if the enemy is really an enemy.

Welt Online: Did one really have to think at that moment?

Hideo Kojima: In this scene you are referring to, Meryl, the hero's loyal companion, is suddenly used by the evil Psycho Mantis. Shortly before, she has said to the character controlled by the player, Snake: Shoot me, if I'll ever stand in your way. I wanted to ask the players: What are you going to do, if it really happens? I wanted them to think about their ethics.

Welt Online: The year 2008 is extremely successful for games, yours should once again be a millon seller. Why is there a breakthrough just now?

Hideo Kojima: The new consoles Xbox 360 and PS3 were released, it just took a while for the game developers to adapt to these new technologies. Now is the time. We are influenced by the technology. But we are also ready now, to instill it with our ideas. The gaming industry just made a leap, this is the year of its bloom.

Welt Online: The other big successes this year all came from North America. What is the specifically Japanese aspect in your games?

Hideo Kojima: When I turned on the TV as a child, there were drama-series, quiz-shows and movies from the USA, Europe or other parts of Asia. The same applied to novels. I grew up in a mixed culture. In my games, there are no Japanese characters. Neither are there in the novels I write for myself since my childhood. On the other hand, I am Japanese, never lived anywhere else and have been brought up typically Japanese. The Japanese essence in my work is this weird sense for an intercultural mixture.

Welt Online: Snake, the main character of your game, has committed acts of violence and now has to pay for it. Were you tired of the common insensitive gunslinger?

Hideo Kojima: Old Snake, who I created for this new game, also resembles myself. I am getting older as well. In my games, there is always a theme. The essential question of the saga is: What can we pass on to the next generation? The first part, for example, is about genes. This time it is about things one can not precisely label but has to pass on. For example, values of education. Whoever plays Snake only sees his back. He is supposed to think about what is behind Snake. He only has one year left to live, has to go on a mission, has to save the world, yet what it all means, the player has to guess for him.

Welt Online: This is the last part of your "Metal Gear Solid" series. Would you make a game completely without violence once, too?

Hideo Kojima: For me, the games I make are no violent games, even though many are likely to consider it a shooter. I only wanted to transfer the player into another world and generate a strong tension with it. That is why Snake has to be in war. But in actuality my game is supposed to be a hide and seek. If you are discovered you could be killed. I included it because hiding is boring otherwise. I will continue to look for ways to generate tension in the future. Not necessarily with violence. But it works well. Therefore it is so popular in video games.

Source: Welt Online - "Ein Spiele-Designer ist wie ein guter Koch"

If you liked the interview, please digg it, share it or leave a comment. Much appreciated.

June 18, 2008

What? Metal Gear?!? A frequently updated log of a first playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 4

UPDATE (June 19th 8:56 PM):

I finished Act 3 and a part of Act 4, so there will be my opinion on that here soon. Germany is currently playing against Portugal in the quarterfinals, so there's little time.

My mind was blown throughout the whole end of Act 3 and the beginning of Act 4, more on it later.

UPDATE (June 18th 1:19 PM):

*Act 2 spoilers*

Another 1 1/2 hours later the previous mentioned flaws are all but forgotten. The area I started in, right after the boss, was an open area sneaking extravaganza á la MGS3 par excellence. I was able to use the NV, radar and the OctoCamo how I wanted to and it worked. I even fooled the FROGS for the first time in the game, even though they could hear the sound my NV made. I was able to take my time, explore, toy with the guards, sneak up on people and completely replenish my stock of rations, instant noodles and Regain, which were lost in the two hours before, without being spotted once.

I had a blast.

The next area, the driving mission, was a lot of fun, except for the "zombies", which kept annoying and distracting me. A lot of the atmosphere was thanks to Drebin's awesome voice work and his superb driving skills. A lot of Gekkos were hurt in the process.

It just kept on getting better. The following cutscenes and the marketplace area, although too small, were fucking incredible.

MGS4, you've completely won me back.

Also this:

UPDATE (June 18th ~7:50 AM):

Firstly, be amazed by the OctoCamo. Yes, there's more than grass in this picture.

*Act 2 spoilers*

I only played for about 2 hours yesterday and those weren't the most fun I had with the game up to now. That may partly be because I either suck or am playing the game wrong, but the intrusion into the mansion was way too hectic and unforgiving to me. My strategy so far was to eliminate/narcotize every PMC on the map and then run around and find all the hidden weapons/items/music. Not such a good idea with infinitely respawning (a concept that I HATE) enemies. I especially don't want to miss any music pieces, so I always feel like the game makes it way too hard to look for them in these situations. It also didn't seem rewarding to try the sneaking approach at that moment in the game, which felt weird. I think I should be utilizing the OctoCamo more but somehow it still doesn't feel natural to me.

The other part that that felt wrong was the fight against Laughing Octopus. I pretty much always go for stamina kills because the game rewards you for it, and it took a loooong time to accomplish that. Maybe I used the wrong weapons (stun grenades, tranquilizer gun) or the wrong strategy, (grenades while she is following me, headshots while she is hiding/mimicking) but I couldn't think of many other options and, sadly, CQC didn't work at all, which I found out in a very fatal way.

I ultimately did beat her though, and facecamo was definitely worth the hassle. The little doll seems useless but is a nice thing to have as well.

All these things were a slight impediment to my enjoyment of the game but I don't think they will detract from my final opinion too much. The game is still very, very awesome.

Also, the scene in which Snake's aging body is shown made a big impression for me for some reason. He seemed very sad and weak. The whole scene helped a lot to make me empathize with Old Snake. More of that, please.

UPDATE (June 16th ~11:30 PM):

Oh my god. It is fucking gorgeous. So far, after an 8-hour marathon with a very interested and welcome audience, it is everything I expected and more. The game is so incredibly cinematic, so magnificently fluid, so beautifully beautiful, so georgeously playable, and so much more. Yes, I am an extreme Metal Gear fan. But even disregarding that, this is the first real "Next-Gen" experience I ever had, and probably the most "compelling" experience I ever had with a videogame, period.

*slight spoiler/theory territory from here*

My theory right now, which my brother largely came up with, is that the game will re-use scenarios from the previous Metal Gears in reverse order. Act 1 was MGS4, every trailer we saw before the game was exactly this setting, so this represents MGS4 . Act 2 is a setting with a rich flora and fauna, a day/night cycle, just like MGS3. So we suppose Act 3 will be a Tanker/Big Shell (Mei Ling's reported ship?) scenario, Act 4 a Shadow Moses/snowy/military base scenario and possibly Act 5 an Outer Haven scenario? It would be very awesome.

I love how everything from the past Metal Gears is recycled, or rather paid homage to. The names of the Bosses (Laughing Octopus = The Joy + Decoy Octopus, Crying Wolf = The Sorrow + Sniper Wolf and so on) the aforementioned areas, the characters - I did NOT expect to see Rosemary again and even less in this very awkward relationship - the fantastic level of detail and the little things that are there to find, including the user-triggered flashback sequences. On a sidenote, I can't quite understand why ANYONE would trust Colonel Campbell ever again, but maybe I will find out over the course of the game. Right now it seems highly unreasonable.

I will not comment on the story or the themes and topics used, promoted and criticized until I finished it. There is too much room for a complete turnaround in a game like this.

This is the game I bought my PS3 for, GTA IV was a impulse buy triggered by the immense hype and ultimately, I was quite a bit disappointed with it. Metal Gear Solid 4 alone though, is worth every cent I paid for the console.

I can't wait to play more of it.

(Original Post: June 16th ~11:00 AM)

Better late than never. Please excuse me for the next few days.

June 17, 2008

You suck, Nintendo

Apparently, as NeoGAF and Kotaku commenters report, the new Wii Update version 3.3 does not only kill the Twilight Princess Hack and thus the homebrew channel, no, it also disables the use of the Freeloader. There is no report about the contrary at this moment, so I'll believe it for now without any hard proof.

My opinion on this matter:

I wanted to rant on Nintendo's current philosophy for a long time and never found the right words, but this is just unfair to PAL gamers, if not offending.

Not only do they release one of their biggest titles with a 5 month delay, in a time where the industry is obviously moving more and more towards simultaneous worldwide releases (GTA IV, MGS 4), now they also bar anyone who actually cares from easily importing them. Why? I can't see in which way this policy could benefit Nintendo at all. Sony realized it and made the PS3 completely region-free for games. Microsoft lets the publishers choose and most of them make their games playable on PAL consoles. Even Nintendo's own DS has no region lock and it does not seem to hinder its success even remotely.

Let's just hope Datel will have a new Freeloader available soon or the situation gets resolved in another way. Otherwise, the only option would be to import a genuine US Wii and not everybody is mode out of money. Also there is the possibility of installing a modchip, but there seem to be a lot of issues with this as well.

For now, though:

Feel the need to vent your anger? Do so in the comments.

June 15, 2008

LTTP: Kingdom Hearts Revisited

I am not really Late To The Party at all with Kingdom Hearts, I played the game when it first came out. It is just, at that time, I still played RPGs in a very peculiar way. Leveling up (powering up, as I called it) 1 or 2 levels after each world/boss/dungeon/town was kind of an OCD-ish necessity that I had to fulfill. Of course, that way I actively destroyed any challange (which there is not much of to begin with in KH) and consecutively any enjoyment that comes from following the game's intended pace. I also had a simlary OCD-ish nature of having to collect every. single. item. that was there to be found. Which took hours away of what could have been actual fun.

So I decided to revisit Kingdom Hearts now, hopefully with a different mindset on how to play and enjoy games.

And I was hooked. The game is outstanding. So great in fact, that I had way more fun with it than I ever had playing GTA IV. So, if GTA IV deserves its 9.7 rating - which it certainly does not - Kingdom Hearts is an 11.

Let us get some of the negative points out of the way first. Kingdom Hearts is not perfect by any means. In some parts it is even ridiculously bad. The story is ridiculous, so much in fact that I am only going say this much about it: I was emberrassed by the cutscenes when there was someone in the room with me, and it was the most embarrassing experience I had in a long time, when I tried to explain the world and concept of the game to someone who had never heard of it. ("Are you fucking kidding me?" is an accurate representation of what he said.) The inclusion of Disney gives the game a certain merit but when combined with Final Fantasy and original characters with HUGE feet and lots of belts and zippers, it accumulates into a big mess. The game should have focused on one of the three groups and thus avoided lots of awkward moments for me.

Ridiculously bad in some parts is also the level design. It does not help that the first two levels are basically the worst part of the entire game. In the first world, Wonderland, you're presented with a fetch quest in a world which is neither structured logically in itself nor is it fun to explore. Great choice. Not.
The second level presents you with a similar objective, only does nobody tell you what exactly you have to find or where to look for it. This makes for some great running in circles and me feeling utterly demotivated to continue. Fun! Again, not. After you struggled through both of these, it definitely gets better, but the level design never reaches a point where it is enjoyable to simply explore the worlds. Most of them are designed true to the reference material of Disney movies though and will generate a welcome sense of nostalgia.

Normally, if you eat a sandwich and the first two bites taste a little bit moldy, you should stop. In the case of Kingdom Hearts you should keep eating because there are lots of tasty surprises hidden between the slightly green slices of bread.

To be continued...

June 14, 2008

What’cha been playin’?

I'm planning on making this a regular feature, giving quick impressions on stuff I played during the course of the week.

Nothing I've been actually playing, but still awesome enough to tell about. This was signed at the MGS 4 pre-release event in Hamburg. I was expecting the event to be held like at the HMV in London, where only special paper sleeves could be signed, so I only brought the game with me for the small chance that another item could be signed. Little did I know, you could get ANY one item signed by Kojima and so I missed out on the chance to get my PS3 decorated, as some other fortunate attendees have. Oh well. At least this autograph is a bit of a compensation for the fact that it is the 14th, and I still haven't received my copy of MGS 4. Fuck importing. But I knew what I was getting into when I ordered in the UK so I only have myself to blame. The risk of having only German subtitles and menus was just too big, in my opinion.

Brave Story - New Traveler (PSP)

I'm 15 hours in and, what can I say, it's a JRPG and as generic as they get. Before I whine about that for too long, one thing though: It has the most impressive graphics of any PSP game I have played, on par or even better than Crisis Core. I may be misguided by the bloom, but damn, it has some nice bloom.

There isn't a lot more I can or want to say about it. There is no complicated system to learn like FF VIII's junctioning, you have five equipment slots for which you buy new stuff in every new city, find some in dungeons or craft your own accessoires from enemy loot. Everybody learns skills which range from healing over offensive magic to physical attacks as they level up, and combination skills as they fight together. There is a bird-catching mini-game which I got tired of after a few tries. You can exchange special breeds for advanced equipment though, so there is some benefit for you if you decide to spend some time with it.

If you want a easy, standard JRPG turn-based battle system with O.K. characters and a simple story (which I won't talk about because it won't surprise anyone who ever played a few JRPGS, and that's saying enough), it's perfect for you. For anyone who expects a bit more of a RPG nowadays, skip.

I play it while I do other things like listening to podcasts and for that, it's perfect.

Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops (PSP)

It's not Metal Gear Solid, and because I expected Metal Gear Solid, I am quite a bit disappointed.

The good:
- The graphics, it looks like MGS3, only with an engine scaled down for the PSP
- It fleshes out the story of Big Boss and as you can see from the top of this post I'm a huge fan of MGS3
- The squad system is unique and the missions are very pick-up-and-play friendly because they are short and the areas aren't too big or convoluted

The bad:
- The story. I expect a nice conclusion in the end, but at the part where I am now (after the first boss) it hasn't picked up any momentum at all and definitely didn't make me want to come back to the game for it
- The recruiting, which is a key part of the gameplay, is cumbersome and rarely rewarding enough. Every soldier is pretty much alike stats-wise, except for maybe one or two more or less useless skills, like not being attracted by dirty magazines. I've never seen one lying around, so it is probably for the online, which I'm not really interested in.
- The "disguises" don't work well or logical. If I am playing as a high ranking officer, the enemy low-rank soldiers shouldn't get suspicious when they spot me. As it is in the game, only other officers can't see I'm an enemy, which makes no sense.

The ugly:
- The camera. Ugh. It makes no attempts to show you a good overview of the area you're in, so you constantly have to babysit it with the L-button (center behind the character) or the D-Pad, which is impossible. Sony, if you're reading this, get a second analogue stick for your PSP2. Also, don't call it PSP2.

For now I've put the game on halt. Maybe I will pick it up again, maybe I won't.

Ys - The Oath in Felghana PC

More on it later. Just one sentence:
It reminds me of Mega Man X, if it was an action RPG, and that's good!

I've also played the online demos of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars PS3 and Battlefield: Bad Company PS3.

The first has a terrible name, terrible lag and was no fun at all, except for when I spammed the chat with pre-made voice samples and went on a team-killing spree, which is fun in any game.

The second had a promising introduction to the single-player campaign and a fun yet unbalanced multiplayer mode. It was way too easy for me as a defender to sneak into the enemy base, steal a tank and wreak havoc, thus accumulating five times as many points as anybody else in the match and winning the round for my team. One well aimed shot from a tank will take out any enemy player on foot, while they need around 3 shots from a tank or a rocket launcher to harm me. When my tank was close to destruction, I just hopped into the next one of the three which were conveniently lined up at the back of the base and constantly respawning. While I took care of the enemy base my team had enough time to follow me into it and support my cause. Fun was had by all.
From my observations it may be too vehicle centric (no shit). Because of that, the only class that had any use was the one with the rocket launcher. The recon can't do much with a sniper rifle if he's matched up against an attack chopper and the medic has no time to heal if everything dies in one hit. I'll keep an eye on the game as I definitely want to know if the single-player is as good as I think and if the multiplayer becomes more varied and balanced.

Are you jealous of my signed copy of MGS3? Got anything to say about the games I played? Leave your opinions on anything in the comments!

Spiegel Online Interview: Hideo Kojima talks about pacifism, movies and GTA

UPDATE: I've translated another interview of the same quality and will post it soon. Kojima talks about art in his games and why a game developer is like a good cook, among other things. Visit again this week and don't miss it!

Originally published in German on www.spiegel.de, June 13th '08.
Questions by Christian Stöcker.


Spiegel Online: Are you a pacifist, Mr. Kojima?

Hideo Kojima: That is a difficult question. I think, I'm neither one nor the other. I do think that war solved a few problems but when I look at history, I also think that it completely failed to solve others. My personal opinion is that war should not be used as a method to solve problems. Therefore I always have anti-war messages in my games. The scary thing with war is: You start one to achieve a certain goal, but then the war develops a life of its own.

Spiegel Online: In the last "Metal Gear Solid" game "Snake Eater" there is a scene in which you as the player character have to walk past all the people you have killed in the game up to that point, they groan and cry. Is this an attempt to educate your audience?

Hideo Kojima: I wouldn't call it education. I wanted it so that the users have to face what they did in the game. What the player character did to survive. It's not so much about war as it is about violence in general. The decisions you made, the casualties you accepted. All the humans in that scene have exactly the wounds the player inflicted upon them, gunshot or stabbing wounds. It is supposed to make the players think. If you want to call it educational - maybe it is, but it wasn't the original intention.

Spiegel Online: The "Metal Gear" games, including the new Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4), are in so far unique as they deal with war and violence, yet it is possible to get to the end without killing anyone. However, this is exceedingly difficult - why?

Hideo Kojima: I always include it to bring to mind the avoidance of war and violence. The harder it is, the bigger is the satisfaction if you make it: playing without killing. The hurdle is very high, yet if you jump over it, it is an experience that the player may remember for a long time. That it was a huge accomplishment to avoid violence. This is the message I want to communicate. However, you also get better equipment, bigger rewards, a better rating in the game itself, if you make it without killing.

Spiegel Online: The "Metal Gear" series is now running on various console generations for 21 years. The story is long and very complex - can you manage to summarize it in five sentences?

Hideo Kojima: (laughs, long pause) Things you consider as impossible - around the world and in the game itself - are still possible. In regards to the game's creator as much as to the player. If a player completes a "Metal Gear", he is supposed to question his ideas of what is impossible. The joy, the smiling faces of people who accomplished the impossible - that is what "Metal Gear" is about.

Spiegel Online: So the core idea is on the meta-level? The complex, somewhat convoluted plots, the many characters like Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake and all the others, how they are related and who is whose clone - it is not all that pivotal?

Hideo Kojima: Below this core idea, to make the impossible possible, there are still other concepts. To surpass one's parents, for example. A central topic is what you hand on to the following generation, to pass on the stick. Life and death and how death creates new life is another topic... but that's not the core of the "Metal Gear" world. (laughs) Sorry, by now I needed 50 sentences.

Spiegel Online: Suppose, you had to explain to someone, who is not interested in video games at all, what you do in a "Metal Gear" game, what actually happens on the screen - what would you say?

Hideo Kojima: It's a game of hide-and-seek.

Spiegel Online: 2008 is an important year for the games industry - not least because of the extreme success of "Grand Theft Auto IV" (GTA IV) by Rockstar Games and the already famous 500 million dollar that were made in sales in its first week. What does this mean for the rest of the industry? Do you surpass the movies now?

Hideo Kojima: In the past, individual games already did yield more than movies. However, GTA of course as a key role this year. Rockstar achieved something big, they gained a lot of feedback from outside the industry as well. There will be other titles that are designed for a similar impact, as a blockbuster.

Spiegel Online: So this is primarily about a commercial effect?

Hideo Kojima: Digital entertainment will grow. Today, there are far more users for it than the "gamers" of the past. Video games use the most current technology, they need technology to grow further. However, if a title like GTA IV unfolds such an economical effect, there will be a second wave in which the people rather pay attention to the contents themselves, not to how often the title was sold. Games are now respected economically, but I would wish for them to be respected culturally - at least as a subculture.

Spiegel Online: "Metal Gear" games are barely subcultural - they resemble manga comics or Japanese anime movies with their highly dramatic plots, that always lead to something huge, to gigantic robots, super weapons, epic battles and so on. Do you think one can also use the medium of the video game for smaller, more private, more personal stories without the megalomania?

Hideo Kojima: The reason why MGS games became so big, as you say, is that they are designed for a global audience. Like Hollywood movies, blockbusters. Always universal in a genre is only action, gambling or sex. Those are immediately understood all over the world. We use action and that is why our games become bigger and bigger - Hollywood big. It is however possible to make smaller, more personal games if you, for example, limit the target region, the gender or the age of the audience. MGS is a Hollywood blockbuster, like GTA. But maybe it is time for something like independent movies, with a smaller target audience, like movies for an arthouse movie theater.

Spiegel Online: Is this your future as well? You already emphasized that it is really your last "Metal Gear" game this time...

Hideo Kojima: It definitely intrigues me. A game, for example, that is based on the life of a small Japanese employee, who works hard in the company and afterwards is oppressed by his wife at home. However, this would probably only work for a Japanese audience. The critics in the USA and Europe would probably say: "This is a great game, very Japanese, very touching" - but it wouldn't become a super-blockbuster. Both kind of games should exist, to enrich the industry.

End of the interview

Source: Spiegel Online - "Action, Glücksspiel und Sex werden überall verstanden"

Having read something about his wife, on which Rose and Raiden's conversations in MGS2 are based on, the game about the Japanese employee could very well be autobiographic. I was especially surprised by his summary of MGS' story, I believed that the core idea was something different. But who am I to argue with him.

What do you think about the interview? If you liked it please leave a comment or digg it! Much appreciated.