Remember: Technology Empowers Game Design


When Nintendo first revealed the Wii to the world back in 2006, the gaming world was shocked. Not only because of the strange name the company had given to their new console, but also due to the fact that the system was seriously more underpowered than Nintendo’s two main competitors Sony and Microsofts offerings.  Nintendo’s philosophy was to create an affordable console with an emphasis on how you play, rather than what you play.  Fast forward six years later and its clear that they had a winning strategy. For now….

The turning tides of the Motion Ocean.

Recently, Sony and Microsoft have both jumped on the motion bandwagon, introducing their own take on motion controlled gaming – with Move and Kinect.  The latter which has sold in excess of 10 million units in the space of only a few months on the market.  These new shiny toys hope to keep gamers happy with their XBOX 360s and Playstation 3’s for at least a  few more years still.  But where does that leave Nintendo?  After all, they were the ones that kick started off the ‘revolution’ in the first place. Hopefully the rumours of a Wii 2 at E3 hold some weight. With Sony and Microsoft both being pre-occupied with their current systems,  I feel that it is the perfect time for  Nintendo to launch a new console, one that I hope will put the power back into the hands of Nintendo gamers.

I’m not saying that Nintendo needs to ‘1up’ the competition. Let’s face it developing a system as powerful and expensive as the Gamecube did them no favours when it came to being highly profitable.  Sure we got amazing titles in the form of Super Mario Sunshine,  The Wind Waker and the Metroid Prime series, but it was Pokemon and the tremendous popularity of the Game Boy Advance which kept them afloat.  A revenue stream which may not be as lucrative as it was, thanks to the very real threat of Apple’s iOS devices and the selective viewing experiences of  Nintendo’s own newly sprung 3DS.  No, I merely ask of a system at the very least as powerful as the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 won’t cut it.

I can hear you all shouting now – ‘But graphics don’t matter!’.  That may be the case, but power does!  The problem for Nintendo is the way they design games revolves around technology.  There is a reason why we traditionally only get one Mario and one Zelda per Nintendo System. No matter how much they tell you it doesn’t – power matters and here’s a couple of examples why.

Super Mario 64(1996 – Nintendo 64)

For the first time ever Mario was able to run around in 360 degrees of motion!  He crawled, back flipped, wall jumped and  somersaulted his way into gamers hearts.  The world he did this in was both vast, varied and was on a scale no Mario game had ever had before. The hidden depths of Jolly Roger Bay inspired exploration for the first time in a Mario title and from then on the game consistently drew the player into bigger and more detailed worlds – some of which astounded – (The first time I realised I was able to enter that giant pyramid and ride that dinosaur I was stunned!)  The linearity of the past was replaced by objective based goals which rewarded the played with a Star.  The thoughtful way Mario had been applied to a 3D polygonal existence laid the foundation for all 3D Mario games that proceeded it and Shigeuru Miyamoto’s ideas arguably inspired and infiltrated every polygonal 3D action game that followed. Everything that made that game great was all thanks to the power that Nintendo put under that hood.  Concepts that were unimaginable before were brought to life in supreme fashion in Super Mario 64. (I could easily write an entire feature on the importance of this game.)

Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 ( 2008/2010 – Nintendo Wii)

Nintendo really stuck their neck out with Super Mario Galaxy.  Mario had never seen so much change in its core design since 64. Physics played a vital role in Mario’s exploration of the worlds, with the shifts in gravity being the most obvious.  However in a smart move Nintendo made sure not to implement object based physics puzzles – which usually ends up in messy and imprecise gameplay. Which is something Nintendo just don’t do. Quality is paramount and Galaxy hit all the high notes. So much so that it is my favourite game ever! Sorry Ocarina of Time – but the power that  Nintendo leveraged with this game made me giggle with delight, constant smile on my face from start to finish and the orchestral soundtrack was just out of this world!

Super Mario Galaxy 2 however – did not make me feel like that at all.  Sure the game still had a heap of interesting and innovative ideas – but the game seemed forced and uninspired.  Had this title came out before the original Super Mario Galaxy my feelings may have been different. Here in lies the problem and my worry for The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (TBC – Nintendo Wii)

We were promised change with this game. And when it came to its unveiling a lot of us were left wondering where that change was.  At first glance it seemed the only difference from Twilight Princess was the new impressionist art style. Then we started to see how the motion plus would be put to good use in the second trailer – allowing Link to defeat enemies like they were combat puzzles, asking the player to swing their Wii remote in certain, deliberate directions. Ok we get it Nintendo – Motion plus is going be the big change in this Zelda….But I can’t help but think this is a missed opportunity.

Comparing Skyward Sword side by side to its predecessor reveals just how little has changed.  Nintendo maxed out the power of the Gamecube with Twilight Princess and its doesn’t seem that a little boost in power is going to be enough to keep Zelda at the prestigious place that it sits in amongst many a Nintendo fans heart.  The minimal contrast between the two may be damaging to the franchise as a whole.  Lets not forget that Majoras mask was met with a lot of groans before it became the nostalgic elitist Zelda fans favourite. (A game with a tone so different – it rarely feels like a Zelda title.) But everything that was possible in that game was easily achievable in Ocarina of Time.  Therefore the same could be said for Twilight Princess and Skyward sword.

N-Powered

Admittedly this all may be a bit premature and Skyward Sword might house astounding wonders that Nintendo has somehow been able to architect using the extra power of the little white box, but this is my first time posting an article on Nintendo Scene and it was something that was on my mind, so I thought I would get it out there.  Owning the two HD systems really opens ones eyes to the potential of Nintendo franchises returning to powerful hardware again.  Imagine an Assassins creed style world for Zelda in which the whole land of Hyrule (Or even a new land) felt inter connected once more as the overworld  did in Link to the Past.  Being able to see towns, forests, lakes and mountains as far as the eye can see with epic scale. Even a bustling world of fable like characters and NPC’s populating the dense city areas and peppering the rural. All of this would go some ways to providing a substantial level of immersion and sense of wonder to Links next adventure.  The mind truly boggles at what great things Nintendo are going to achieve when they finally stick the power back in. I really don’t like being in the dark.

Comments
11 Responses to “Remember: Technology Empowers Game Design”
  1. nintymadden says:

    Welcome to the team Mani, and great article!! 🙂

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  2. Paul says:

    It could well be Guat. Nintendo’s next home console will be a formidable console in terms of power. It really comes down to which market they are going after. With the SNES, Nintendo pulled out all stop and released a graphical beast. I’m sure they can do it again. Question is do they see it as their Market??????

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    • ManiLink says:

      They decided to make games development a cheaper process for the Wii – which unfortunately meant them getting a lot of smaller development houses and teams making software for the system. They tried the DS trick on the Wii in other words. But the landscape of a home console is different to that of a hand held. People will make minor concessions on a portable device when it comes to quality of experience. Over time the Wiis audience grew – but only the Nintendo Software made big sales. Highly due to the fact Nintendo has a lot more money to throw around in terms of R & D. On the Wii they are a big fish in a ocean of smaller fish. It suits them and their end of year fiscal results – but it is starting to hurt their image in the eyes of developers and as extension gamers alike. That is definitely Nintendo’s market, it was their market. If Microsoft, Sony and Apple continue to eat into Nintendo’s new found slice of the action – then they will need to appeal to the market those competitors are slowly drifting away from – before it is too late. Competition for Nintendo is bigger than ever. They can not stand still.

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      • Too right, nor can they become complacent. They won the last console war in turms of sales by innovating. What is the next sales ticket?… Innovation again? Or do they turn the game back on Sony and Microsoft by producing a console with uncompromising power to outperform the competition like our old SNES and MegaDrive days? Nintendo saved a lot of face with the Wii’s launch after the downward trend in the N64 and GameCube days. Are they big and strong enough to fight Sony and Microsoft at their own game? Hmm..

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  3. Toby says:

    Nice article Mani. I do like that you started off with the assumption that better graphics DOES NOT equal a better game – true Nintendo spirit!

    Your point about Nintendo needing more power for innovation is definitely worthy of attention. I do wonder if the magic ingredient for an ever-successful Zelda game is novelty. The best ones have always brought something new to the table. In my eyes, the less-great ones have not. And usually the updated graphics haven’t made that much difference.

    Hopefully the motion plus is put to creative and addictive use in Skyward Sword to make it the next smash hit!

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    • ManiLink says:

      Yeh – I guess the motion plus will make for interesting scenarios – and the combat alone looks more fun than any other zelda prior – harking back to the strategic combat of Adventure of Link. I hope there is some kind of flight based vehicle…perhaps a dragon? A familiar looking, talking – red one perhaps? 😛

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      • Toby says:

        Haha you read my mind! Come back Adventure of Link! You are my drug addiction!

        I like the evolution/revolution lens through which to view the series.

        My favourite games were Z2, Z3 and Z64. I can see why Z2 was less popular so let’s leave that. Z3 was as if the full power of the Zelda formula had been harnessed for the first time. Z1 had set out the basic idea, but not capitalised on possibilities of gameplay ideas, and Z2 was a different style altogether so ignore that… Then there was Z64, which, as you pointed out, was a revolution built atop the Zelda formula, but with the new 3D perspective. This took the experience to a new level. I feel the wii hasn’t quite done as big a step. Sure, the remote makes projectiles more fun to aim, Time Crisis-style, but that was a minor upgrade. It’s as if Z1 offered you the basic sword, then Z3 upgraded to master sword, and then Z64 was the strengthened master sword. Wii Zelda was like polishing the blade or something.

        So for the next evolution, here’s my idea:

        Combine ALL perspectives PLUS wii remote stuff.

        If you took New Super Mario gameplay (which was super addictive and awesome), combine it with Z64 gameplay (as the standard), and add, say, a land where everything is birds eye, Z3 style, that would vary the game enough to shake up what is becoming a routine experience. And it would never hurt to throw in some colossal bosses, like God of War or Shadow of the Colossus! Or just have an AMAZING story+music. Either way. Come on Nintendo! Up your game!

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