Tag Archives: Gaming

A Breath of Fresh Air

Nerissa here.

Since I started working with Wyvern, I have had the chance to write about everything from games with Open-Interpretation storylines, major franchises, reboots, the gaming community, what happens when your choices completely change a game, and storytelling in general. However, I have been avoiding talking about the series that brings me the most joy since I started writing blog posts for Wyvern. All of the posts I write are to make a point, whether it be about the beauty of games or the direction they’re heading in for the future. I didn’t want to diverge just for the sake of fangirling. But today is the day: the day I can address it. So, here is the truth.

Ever since I was 8 years old, The Legend of Zelda series has meant more to me than any other gaming franchise in the world. It is, hands down, my favorite series of all time.

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I know, I know – Legend of Zelda? Really? To some people, this seems like an obvious choice, and to others this comment is kind of questionable. Why LoZ? There are several other series out there that I absolutely love and have a soft spot for. There are some games that are overall better than some Zelda titles. Even so, the LoZ series will ALWAYS be at the top of my list. Just to give you some context, the first game I ever beat was The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons for the Gameboy Color (back when they were still called gameboys. Wow, I feel old). Growing up, there were several games I was not allowed to play, but my parents always gave the LoZ series a thumbs up because they were all rated E for Everyone and by the time Twilight Princess (Rated T for Teen) came out, I was a teenager. I was obsessed with fantasy and loved rich worlds, so learning about each game’s new world rules and seeing characters carry over made the series my favorite companion on a long trip and my best comfort when I needed something familiar to go back to.

Granted, the series has its faults, as any other does: First off, as far as originality, this is one franchise where you can call the designers out for cutting and pasting puzzles and characters, because Nintendo does that literally ALL THE TIME. If you’ve played a few LoZ games before, you can start to recognize the patterns, especially where many dungeon-specific items repeatedly show up in almost every game in the series (Looking at you, grappling hook). The grunts and shouts from Link are incredibly mockable and some of the games in the series flat-out stink.

And don’t even get me started on the TV show.

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“Well excuuuuuuse me, Princess.”

But then, look at the flip-side. The first game in the Legend of Zelda series, aptly titled The Legend of Zelda, was released on February 21, 1986. In the 31 years since its initial debut, the series has been bringing non-stop innovations to the way that video games function. Many tropes that carry through to other games are taken directly from the Legend of Zelda. For example…

Z-Targeting – The gameplay mechanic used in games like Kingdom Hearts, Psychonauts, and Metroid: Prime was originally introduced with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo’s developers were trying to not only create an expansive (by that time’s standards, anyway) 3D world, but one that players could easily move throughout. This was invented as a result of trying to figure out how to more easily fight and locate enemies within these 3D spaces.

Camera Control – While camera control in 3D games was introduced with Mario 64, it still had quite a ways to go when it comes to seamless control. And then, once again, everything changed when Ocarina of Time attacked – I mean, eh, was released. OoT brought in a much easier camera system to pick up on and 3D games have been adopting the camera control system using analog sticks ever since.

Context Controls – Press A to speak, B to use equipped weapon, Start for Menu, Select to Save/Quit, R to jump right, L to jump left. Analog stick/control pad to move. By now, these seem to be a given when it comes to designing a game, but this innovation didn’t exist in a way that allowed you to interact with specific world objects and characters in a more detailed way until, you guessed it, Ocarina of Time. Ever since appearing in there, it has taken over RPGs and platformers.

Save Points – With the release of the original Legend of Zelda games, players were shifted from a world of stagnant levels to replay over and over from the start to being allowed to play in sprawling worlds with multiple levels and checkpoints throughout.

The list goes on. The Legend of Zelda series made headway and, because of its expansive world-building, now classic story, and large maps full of ways to explore its corners, it has become one of the most notorious game series of all time.

Now, at a certain point, even when you choose to innovate, eventually new ideas become classics, then tropes, then annoyingly unoriginal ideas and last, if they get REALLY unlucky, memes.

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So, needless to say, after a while, the fairy companion, dungeon items, Master Sword, and the fights deflecting orbs of light weren’t going to cut it anymore. The series needed a revamp. And for a while, as Nintendo tried to figure out what direction to go in, they had a few stumbles. As much as some of their classic titles are legendary, a few of the new releases, especially for the handheld systems have been…well…

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Spirit Tracks: Where Fashion Rules all of the Drablands.

…Bizarre, to say the least. Games like Spirit Tracks and Triforce Heroes, while relatively interesting gameplay wise, had MAJOR flaws, especially with the overwhelmingly ridiculous writing. In other LoZ games, most insane moments were left to a character or two to take charge of, such as Tingle. However, these games just took the Tingle recipe and drenched every single corner of the map with it, which made them hard to stomach.

And then, the incredible happened – the latest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, was released.

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It’s…so…beautiful. Cannot…contain…

For the first time in years, the Legend of Zelda formula had been altered, and not in a minor way. This game completely changed the way that the story was told, the ability to explore, the way you live, AND the way you fight. Some people are even calling it one of the greatest games of all time. (I have one minor complaint about BoTW, but aside for that one I wholeheartedly agree). So, what made this game so incredible, for loyal fans and new gaming thrill-seekers alike?

  1. Open-World Exploration

Not only did Breath of the Wild allow for freedom of choice in the exploration by setting it in an open world, but it encouraged its players to play the game and explore the map in any way they wanted. The dungeons had no specific order and, in fact, if you don’t want to go through any of the main story, from the very beginning of the game, the entrance to Calamity Ganon’s chambers are unlocked. Granted, they are heavily guarded by Guardians and other obstacles, but if you wanted to, it would be possible to boost your health and items by completing shrines and exploring the lands, then take out Calamity Ganon without completing ANY of the main story. This sort of freedom of decision-making when it comes to the order of events and play-style is unprecedented with any of its predecessors. Also, the map?

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6 times the size of Skyrim’s, just to put it into perspective.

  1. Weapons don’t last forever

Breath of the Wild refuses to hold the players hand throughout the process. From the start, you will realize that weapons, depending on their size, shape, age, and materials, have different strength levels and can be easy or difficult to wield. Then, after fighting your first few Bokoblins with a wooden spear, another thing becomes painfully evident as the weapon disappears into the air in a flurry of glowing shards: Weapons in this world break. So don’t get attached to the Giant Boomerang if you get it because you will have it for twenty minutes and then your pretty little heart will sink.

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This thing was incredible, you guys.

Each weapon is assigned a strength and durability level, forcing the player to constantly adapt to new fighting strategies based on the weapons currently at your disposal. Some give you use of ranged attacks, while others require getting into very close-quarters in order to even land a hit. This made every single encounter a challenge, as you not only had to assess how many enemies you were dealing with each time, but how to use the environment and weapons you had to your advantage.

  1. The Master Sword WASN’T easily earned.

In almost all prior Legend of Zelda games, obtaining the Master Sword (or Picori Blade/Four Sword) is integrated into the main quest. As long as you’re continuing the main story, you will eventually gain access to this legendary weapon. However, in BoTW, the Master Sword is NOT easily earned – In fact, if you don’t know where it is or don’t work for it, you may not get it at all.

WARNING: FROM HERE ON IN, MAJOR GAMEPLAY/CONTENT SPOILERS AHEAD.

In this chapter of Hyrule’s history, the Master Sword is hidden. If you are a fan of the series, true to form, it IS actually somewhere relatively familiar.

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Like its predecessor, A Link to the Past, the Master Sword is being guarded in the Lost Woods. However, even after you explore enough of the map to actually find Faron Woods, then you have to get through the initial “navigate the Lost Woods” puzzle so you don’t wander into the fog by mistake.

And that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is that in this game, in order to wield the sword of legend, you ACTUALLY have to prove that you are strong enough to handle it or the sword will sap your strength until you die. That’s right, ladies and gents. In order to pull the master sword from the ground where it lies, you have to have a total of 13 Heart Containers. But the sword yielded major benefits once gained. The Master Sword is the ONLY weapon in the game that will never break – with continual use, it will “lose charge”, but then you just have to use other weapons for about 10 minutes. Just enough time for it to recharge and then to switch back. Not only that, but the sword also deals extra damage to the Guardians – for those of you who haven’t played the game yet, these enemies basically made traversing the landscape’s more difficult areas impossible in the beginning of the game.

  1. What you wear and what you eat matters.

Aside from drinking potions and Lon-Lon Milk, most other LoZ titles don’t include consumables. However, these have become rather commonplace in games like Bioshock, Dark Cloud, and Fallout: New Vegas, where alcohol could give you the pick-me-up that was needed while also blurring the screen for a few seconds. So Legend of Zelda followed suit, and then some: Not only did food give you health and stamina, but you had to cook all the foods yourself in order to get the real boosts you need and, on top of that, certain ingredients and recipes give you boosts to your speed, climbing ability, cold/heat resistance, and more.

You don’t have to eat your weight in game to get boosts, though. If you’re in an area that is consistently cold that you will need to be in for a while, there are different pieces of clothing that can be found, earned, or purchased that give you resistance to these weather factors. So if you don’t have peppers for cold resistance, no problem – just put on the Snowquill Tunic and you’re good to go!

  1. The story is presented out of Chronological order

As mentioned previously, BoTW allows players to explore the world in their own way, at their own speed. This mechanic carried over to the story, where, by gathering memories and awakening the Divine Beasts (which, in this game, serve as the “dungeons”), you begin to understand what happened with Link, Zelda, the Champions piloting the Divine Beasts, and why they failed against Calamity Ganon during their original quarrel. I remember that the first memory I ever found was one of Zelda trying to get into a Shrine, realizing she was unable to do so, and when she saw me, brushed me off and shouted at me to stop following her.

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But…Whuddidido?

Oh. Okay. THAT’S an introduction.

While you have no choice in what you say or in the direction of the plot, like the choice-directed stories in the Dragon Age, Fable, and Mass Effect games, the presentation of these memories in different orders for every player makes each experience and how the pieces come together unique. Once you gather all the memories, you CAN go through them in the actual order that they happened, but during the actual events of the game, I found it fascinating to see how the picture came together for me personally. It left me wondering how other people felt during their playthroughs. It may not be the choice-based story that I personally would love to see in the future, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

  1. For the first time in a LoZ title, actual Voice Acting

You know how I said I had one problem with the latest Legend of Zelda title? Yeah…This would be it.

In keeping up with the times, Nintendo decided that the logical next step for the Legendary saga of Link was to add voice acting; mind you, Link is still the silent protagonist (with mild grunting interspersed) that we have come to know and love, but all the other main characters are voice acted during cut-scenes. This doesn’t happen during every scene, mind you, but often enough that it is a large element contributing to how the game is experienced.

As an actor myself, I found the voice acting in the game to be…well, pretty underwhelming. On one hand, some characters were handled rather tactfully, such as the Champions Daruk and Urbosa who get extra stamps of approval in my book. However, most of the other performances are just average and Zelda’s is probably the worst in the game. And considering this is the first game where the story is really hers, not Link’s, you’d think that would be the voice they put the most thought and work into. Yet sure enough, as you play, she perpetually sounds like she will burst into tears at any moment. Even when she is happy. Or angry. Or joking. ALWAYS sounds like she is whining. Nintendo, you are a company worth millions, yet you couldn’t put a little more effort into the casting process?

Now, this isn’t to say that the CHARACTER Zelda is whiny, because she is most certainly not. In fact, the past few titles have made more of an effort to give Zelda depth, starting with Windwaker, moving forward with  Skyward Sword, and now leading into this. By the time we hit Breath of the Wild, Zelda has become a legitimately strong character. In this installment in particular, she is fascinated by the sciences, the technology of their ancestors, and works relentlessly to unlock the powers she is supposed to have due to her bloodline. It shows how jealous she is of Link for his talents and the fact that she hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations of her kingdom. And in the midst of war, even when she hasn’t unlocked her powers, SHE STILL CHARGES HEADLONG INTO BATTLE LIKE THE TRUE CHAMPION SHE IS. This bit got me going, guys. Out of all the archs we’ve seen in these games, for Zelda, this one takes the cake. The story was so great that the voice acting was something I was able to overlook if, for no other reason, to see that plotline through to the end.

The Legend of Zelda series has been seeking a new path to push forward in for years, and since its inception, has been at the forefront of the gaming industry. With this new release, both the saga itself and other fantasy games like it have a new standard to try to live up to. Exploring the world of Breath of the Wild was exciting, beautiful, and with its originality all-around, served as a breath of fresh air.

 

–Nerissa Hart, Director of Marketing and Writer at Wyvern Interactive

 

The contained images are not property of or created in association with Wyvern Interactive, LLC.

Half Life 2: for Adults Only

Though compared to most it’s a relatively new medium, video games already have quite a few titles in their ranks that are deemed masterpieces or classics. Some of the newer ones are the Last of Us, Breath of the Wild, and Overwatch. If we go back in recent decades, we can include titles in that list like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Super Mario 64, Halo, and the list goes on and on. These are titles that, when you call yourself a gamer, you’re expected to have played, or at least have a decent knowledge of.

Valve’s Orange Box collection has been burning a hole in my backlog for a few years now. A close friend of mine sold me a bunch of old games he had played and didn’t want anymore, and among them was that. For those that don’t know, the Orange Box includes Half Life 2, it’s two expansion packs, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. I played Portal a few years ago, and TF2 is a multiplayer so that I don’t really consider to be part of my “backlog”. Half Life 2 however, got lost amidst a lot of other titles I was trying to add to my portfolio… until I recently popped the game into my console.

 

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I started the game and immediately took a few things in. Even for an old game, the sound and art design both felt surprisingly… clean. Yes, I could certainly tell that some voice actors had been double booked, and a few textures looked a little muddier than they would nowadays, but even my wife was surprised that HL2 had been released almost 15 years ago. From a technical standpoint, the game holds up.

I walked into HL2 having never played the first, but the plotline wasn’t hard to get a handle on. My silent protagonist, Gordon Freeman, helped open a wormhole that let some bad aliens through. They tried to take over earth. They succeeded. Now there’s only a small group of freedom fighters that are willing to stand up to the oppressive “Combine”, and they’re very outmatched. Gordon, however, is something of a legend because of the one-man warfare he waged in the first Half Life, and every time you walk into a room you’re met with phrases like “Are you him? Are you really Gordon Freeman?” If nothing else, I could tell my ego was going to enjoy this game.

The gameplay itself, however, felt like a solid, yet pretty generic first-person shooter. Yes its crisp, yes the enemy AI is great, but the game didn’t offer me anything new… at first. I think I went into HL2 with such rose-tinted glasses, in no small part thanks to hearing about how legendary this game was from everyone and their mom over the years, that I expected to be absolutely blown away by something new and life changing.

Needless to say, I didn’t get that. But with that being said, as I played through the main title and its two expansions immediately after, I very quickly realized this game had earned its praise. And to accurately explain that, I need explain the title of this article in a bit more detail.

The phrase “Adults Only” in video games can often be found amidst gasps and scandalous glances. For those that don’t know, an “A-O” game rating is the equivalent of an NC-17 film. It’s a very rare occurrence, and is reserved only for the games that have the most extreme amounts of violence and sexual content. Half Life 2 is only rated “M”, so what did I discover to make such an accusation? Is it the steamy, over-the-top full nude scene between Gordon and and the lovely Alyx? Or perhaps using the gravity gun to tear the entrails out of an enemy and throw it back at them?

 

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Oh Gordon, talk dir- oh wait, you don’t talk. Uhhh, sign dirty to me? Hum dirty to me? Blink three times for dirty?

 

… of course not, because those things don’t happen. Honestly I’m surprised Half Life 2 isn’t rated “T”, it’s a pretty mild game content-wise. No when I say it’s for “Adults Only” I’m not talking about an ESRB rating… I’m talking about the gameplay itself. And in order to convey what I mean by that, I’m going to reference the two games that bookended my HL2 playthrough: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and Tomb Raider: Underworld.

Despite the hate the series has received in recent years (mostly thanks to beautiful catastrophe that was Unity), I am a huge fan of the AC series. It’s one of those guilty pleasure games I play when I don’t want to be challenged and I want my hand held. Playing AC is like going through a historic power trip. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and after getting a few titles in the franchise under your belt, it’s familiar. Though the series has definitely evolved over the years, the core gameplay is undeniably the same. Because of this, I not only was able to breeze through Black Flag’s campaign, but I had completed almost half the side missions before barely clearing a story mission. I am at the point in that series where I don’t even have to think or strategize. I can look at the building layout, see who my target is, and they’ll barely be able to blink before I’m having that infamous “AC Death” conversation with them.

 

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Bob! How are you man! Wife and kids doing good? The weather is gorgeous today. It’s so convenient how your guards are letting us just chat like this.

 

Half Life 2 never, ever made me feel comfortable. And I don’t mean that in the sense that I was jumpy the whole time (although don’t get me started on those freaking head crabs), but I never knew what was coming next. There was never a point in that game where I felt like I could predict exactly what was ahead. I turned every corner cautiously, my shotgun ready for anything. Every upcoming area was heavily scrutinized before walking into it, trying to ensure I didn’t dive headlong into an ambush. Even still, HL2 surprised me on numerous occasions, even after I’d clocked over 10 hours into the main campaign and was well into the expansions. I never felt safe, every checkpoint was met with a huge sigh of relief, and it always felt like an accomplishment when I realized I was going in the right direction. Actually, that’s the other thing the game did a great job of in terms of feeling “fresh”: even though it’s a linear game, Valve designed the areas and maps so well that you never are exactly sure if you’re going the right way. Whereas modern games practically have a gigantic neon sign and and NPCs screaming “I AM PRETTY SURE IF YOU WANT TO FIND THE NEXT AREA, YOU SHOULD GO THROUGH HERE”, HL2, always let you stumble onto the correct path yourself. It wanted you to figure out where to go, not tell you. Realizing you were on the right path came with a huge amount of satisfaction.

The game I played after HL2 was Tomb Raider: Underworld. Underworld is the final game in the “Legends Trilogy”, the second iteration of Lara Croft. Though it can’t hold a candle to the newer Tomb Raider series, or something like the Uncharted games, as someone who grew up with Lara’s brash, confident, double-desert-eagle-wielding era, these older iterations of her hold a special place in my heart. I’d completed both TR: Legends and TR: Anniversary (the first two titles of the trilogy) awhile ago, so I figured it was time to round out the series. Like the first two, the game is comprised of some decent to great puzzles, fun platforming, and less-than-impressive combat. Yet again, like AC but in a different way, the gameplay felt safe. It felt predictable. The world didn’t seem to run in a way that made sense for the real world, but it felt 100% like a game. Ledges are not only conveniently crumbled exactly how I need them to be, but they’re even aged to all be the exact same color so that I can clearly see where I need to jump. Puzzles, though by no means boring, never made me feel like I had to think about them. “I’m missing four gears for this machine. There are four towers. I bet I know where those gears are.”

 

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Take note architects.

 

It felt set up, it felt like Jigsaw from the Saw movies had built every level and was watching me run through the motions the whole time. It wasn’t organic, it all felt very false. The puzzles in Half Life 2, however, never felt that way. In fact, it almost feels insulting to call them “puzzles”. The game is designed so seamlessly that each obstacle feels just like that: an obstacle. A very real problem with a very real world solution.

The best example of this in my opinion was a point where I had to power a machine to operate a mechanical door. I knew I had to open the door to progress, but it was very obvious the thing wasn’t getting the juice it needed. So I let gamer Jonathan take over. Was there a way to jump over the door/gate and just move forward? No, no there wasn’t. Was there some magic switch to power everything? No, not that either. I went through all my usual tricks, and nothing worked. Then I had a thought. What if I didn’t think like a gamer? What if I just thought like, me?

I went back to square one, and analyzed the door. The control panel had a wire connected to it. I slowly looked up, and realized that unlike EVERY GAME EVER MADE EVER, the wire actually climbed up, went across a pole, and led to a specific little building a bit away. I figured why not, may as well check it out. Every game previously has taught me that if I was supposed to follow that wire, it would be bright pink and my companion character would have gotten her degree in Advanced Wire Studies. But, maybe the little building would have some extra ammo. So, I followed the wire, walked in, and found a health pack. Then I looked left.

No way.

What looked like a complicated breaker system was staring back at me, and it’s hard to describe the excitement I felt. HL didn’t want me to think like a gamer, it wanted me to think like me. Valve put so much work into this world that they wanted you to play this game like a human being, not a human being that has played 100 video games before. I immediately studied the breaker system. Three outlets, each clearly meant to house a battery. The wire I had followed attached to the outlet on the far right. There was one battery already in the far left outlet.

“What a fun puzzle this was” I thought to myself. I removed the battery from its original outlet, and put it in the one attached to the wire. I confidently walked back to what I expected to be a fully open door. The door was still down. A little surprised, I went back to the breaker system. This time I noticed that the outlets were all connected, and thought maybe I had to find two more batteries to fill the two remaining outlets. Sure enough, after searching through the building, I found a second battery under some debris. Feeling confident, I realized that I just had to find one more battery and I could power the door. I searched the building. Nothing. I searched around the perimeter of the building. Still nothing. I looked in other buildings. I looked near the door itself. No dice.

 

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I will say though, non-gamer Jonathan was very hesitant about the decorator’s tastes.

 

I went back to the breaker system one more time and really analyzed it. Then I (manually, believe me, manually), tried switching off the gamer in me and looked at it as just Jonathan. I looked at the design of the batteries. These definitely weren’t the type you could buy at CVS. They were bigger, square ones, like the kind you would find in a…

A lightbulb kicked on. I ran outside the building and looked around. Sure enough, I saw a pair of headlights sticking out from under some debris a bit away. I ran over, thinking to myself there was no way this was going to work, tore off the debris, and ripped the hood of the car off the body. What awaited me underneath, still attached to the engine, was a car battery. A removeable car battery. I grabbed it, ran back to the breaker, and sure enough. The lights came on, I heard an engine whirring, and I ran outside to be greeted by the mechanics of the door opening, allowing me to move forward.

This, to me, is why HL2 is for adults, because it wants you to think like an adult. It wants you to look at a situation and analyze what you would do, and try it. It doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t depend on your previous knowledge of other games to get you through. It doesn’t have massive signs or fireworks going off in the direction you’re supposed to go. Half Life 2 wants you to, like real life, be faced with a problem and not know immediately how to solve it. It wants you to use critical thinking, to fail and try again, and to feel a deep sense of satisfaction when you finally do overcome it. It doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t baby you.

Though it came out in the early 2000’s, Half Life 2 left an impression on me most modern games haven’t even come close to. It’s designed to feel like it isn’t designed. And whereas games like Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider give you satisfaction when you beat a level, or when you accomplish some great task, HL just made me feel pleased with myself for opening a door. And let me tell you, when you get to be an adult… you’re thankful for every open door you come across.

-Jonathan Wine, Creative Director of Wyvern Interactive

 

The images in this post are not the property of or made in association with Wyvern. We do not claim ownership over any of these characters or photographs. 

The Dollar Taketh Away

I have a confession to make. Some of you may already know this about me, others are probably going to be shocked beyond all reason. It’s something I don’t like to bring out about myself unless I’m in my closest circles, and even then it’s shameful and I have no real excuse for it. However, for you today, internet, I bare my darkest secret.

I am… a Sonic the Hedgehog fan.

… did you hear that? That’s the sound of hundreds of Facebook and Twitter followers unfollowing the Wyvern social media pages simultaneously. It’s the sound of Nerissa and the rest of the team refusing to work with me anymore, of my friends cancelling all the plans we’ve made for next weekend, my parents saying I’m dead to them, my wife leaving me, and if we had kids it’s the sound of them being taken away… all at the same time.

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Why Daddy… WHY?!

Alright, so I’m obviously exaggerating a little bit, but honestly sometimes that’s how it feels being a fan of the Blue Blur in this day and age. And not without reason. He hasn’t exactly had a… stellar catalogue the past decade or so. In fact, some of his ventures have been flat out embarrassing. At this point, saying that Sonic is your favorite game character is like saying you want Nickelback played at your funeral, or that 2016 was by-far the best year ever. It’s almost a joke in-and-of itself because of how laughably awful most of SEGA and Sonic Team’s decisions have been.

But my relationship with Sonic is much deeper than games, and because of that, more recently than most Sonic fans I had my heart broken… hard. This isn’t going to be one of our “educational” or “opinion” blog posts. This is going to be more of a story, with a very not-so-happy ending.  So basically it’s one of the original stories Disney bases their movies on. It’s the Little Mermaid without the happily ever after, or the singing, or the… joy. This is the true version, where Ariel turns into seafoam (oh yeah, look it up).

The very first video game I ever played was Sonic the Hedgehog for SEGA Genesis. To this day, the ringtone on my Mom’s phone for when I call her is the Green Hill Zone theme. I did not know the story, I couldn’t get past the third level without help, but I LOVED that game. Soon after, my parents got me my very first video game system: the SEGA Game Gear.

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It’s like a DS, kids, only you need overalls to fit it in your pocket.

Before long, I had a BILLION Sonic games for this sucker. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Spinball, Tails Adventure, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Blast, on and on and on. I ate the little guy up everywhere I could. When my Mom’s work got a computer I could hang out on after school, you best believe it had everything from Sonic R to Sonic and Knuckles on it. Same when I snagged a Gamecube. I was hooked. And then I discovered something so beautiful and so wonderful, that it truly changed my life forever.

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*wipes away nostalgic tear*

It’s February, 2000. I just had my 9th birthday, spent almost all my money from relatives on… who knows what, and had a few dollars left. So I go into Books-A-Million with my Mom, and my eye is eventually drawn to a shelf by a familiar sight. A very, very familiar sight. A blue hedgehog, wearing red shoes. With the probably $3 of birthday money I had left, I bought my first copy of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic series by Archie. I got home, started reading… and had absolutely NO clue what was going on. Who are all these new characters? Why are there no rings and loops? WHY IS KNUCKLES GREEN?!?!

And yet… I was mesmerized. Because suddenly the characters that I had known as merely pixels on a screen had voices, personalities… purpose. For the next few years I bought all the back-issues I could, and to this day I’m only missing MAYBE a handful of issues here and there. Before long I owned well over 300+ issues/specials/mini-series, all of Knuckles short-lived but fantastic solo series, and I was of course still buying the new issues that came out once a month.

Let me give you a quick synopsis for the Sonic comics. First and foremost, they’re the longest running comic series of all time based on a video game character. The first one came out in 1992. They haven’t missed an issue. That in and of itself is impressive.

But the story, oh the story. The comics themselves never really followed the games, at least not directly. Their main inspiration was actually the Saturday Morning cartoon show. In a nutshell, it starts with a mad scientist (whose name is ROBOTNIK, not EGGMAN *shudders*) who creates a device that can replace lost limbs for soldiers with completely new biomechanical prosthetics. See, the humans have been at war with the other dominant species on this planet, what are called the Mobians, the hyper evolved versions of earth’s animals. They’re the cute little fuzzballs like Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, etc., or more accurately, their parents/grandparents. Now eventually,  humans and Mobians did learn to coexist, but the story starts with the humans trying to eradicate the Mobians so they alone can be the dominant species on the planet. Oh yeah, they start this “kid’s” story out with attempted genocide.

Anyway, Robotnik realizes that his device can actually “roboticize” people who HAVEN’T lost limbs, turning in-tact blood and bone into pure circuitry and metal. So he starts committing the war crime of enslaving and experimenting on his own people in secret, to the point where he’s eventually banished from human society. Well, who should pick him up but the Mobians, who in the games have all but a few been turned into robots… you see where this is going.

Long story short, the Mobians win the war, but Robotnik betrays them and enslaves the Mobian race completely, leaving only a handful of young kids all under the age of ten completely parentless. This handful swears to free their people, donning the title “the Freedom Fighters”, and one of them, a lightning fast hedgehog, begins to lead the charge.

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Our protagonist’s mother, being forcibly assaulted, bodily harmed, and brain-washed. Rated E for Everyone.

Seem a little dark? That’s because it is. The comic world, though yes, ridiculous and extremely “comic-bookey” held so much more meat and narrative complexity than the games. Characters died, parents had to sacrifice their lives for their children. Whole story arcs dealt with racism and classism, or challenging established traditions for the sake of progress. There were twenty year relationships between characters that went from flirting, to dating, to engaged, to married, to talking about kids of their own. Many characters suffered PTSD from years of fighting. The Sonic comics were the most well-written, enjoyable fictional stories I have ever had the pleasure of losing myself in.

Yes, I said “were.” I’ll get to that soon.

But see, this is why I never understood the Sonic hatred. Over the years as I threw myself into the comic world, I lost interest in the games. They weren’t even the same universe, there was no continuity between them, and as I got older I just realized there were some things that weren’t ever going to happen. Among them was a Zoids revival, the fact that Hermione wasn’t going to end up with Harry, and the Sonic games regaining their pride.

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Never happened. NEVER. HAPPENED.

I lived in a bubble. I lived in a bubble where Sonic wasn’t a joke of how something cool went down such a dark road. In my world, Sonic was a warrior, who was engaged to the girl (WHO IS NOT A HUMAN) he had been with for almost two decades, who had watched his family and friends fight for survival since he was a child. My Sonic was mature, and had never even heard the word “were-hog” before.

But everything changed September 2013.

In the comics, something called the “Genesis Wave” (look at those puns, good job Archie) occurred. Sonic and friends went through some sort of time-space event, and they ended up in a totally new world. New characters, new memories, a lot of “Guys what happened?!” moments. You know, typical, comic book fare.

I was in my Junior year of undergrad at the time, so I didn’t pick up the issues at monthly intervals, but more in chunks. So when I got to this point my first thought was “Oh sweet! I can’t wait to see how they resolve this.” And then I went on with my Junior and most of Senior year.

A few months later, I picked up a HUGE chunk of issues, getting myself caught up, and expecting for everything to fix itself, at least to a point, as it always had the past two decades. Sure some characters would die, maybe parts of this reality would bleed into the actual one but, whatever. The Sonic comics are known to shake things up now and again, surely this was no different.

But oh, dear readers. I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. Because that new reality was the ONLY reality they seemed to know. Characters who had been engaged now were “just friends”. Some character’s parents were completely different, even having different names. Other characters, dozens of them, were completely missing. Whole races and cultures had totally vanished. And as opposed to fighting oppression or dealing with domestic terrorism or all these huge, socially relevant issues I’d been used to… they were collecting rings.

RINGS, PEOPLE. RINGS.

I went to the only thing that everyone knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, is the most reliable and unyieldingly truthful source of information: the internet. And what I found, I can safely say caused the most pain I have ever felt from a piece of fiction.

The Sonic the Hedgehog comics had been a part of a lawsuit. And Sonic, and thus the fans, had lost.

In a nutshell, one of the writers who had been with the comic in the first 15 years or so had left awhile back. Though details are fuzzy, supposedly he had recently come back onto the scene to lay claim to a lot of the original characters he created, who at this point were not only comic mainstays but absolutely INTEGRAL to the ongoing narrative. If any character he helped write appeared, he wanted a royalty. He also wanted total control over the fate/narrative of all characters he was originally involved with. Other sources say Archie and SEGA had a tantrum and just all of a sudden didn’t want to use any of his stuff. Whatever the case, a huge court battle ensued. And the results, I found, were not good. At all.

Every character he had created was no longer allowed to be used. In fact, it was decided it would be best if they were just flat out wiped from existence. SEGA also got involved with the ruling, and decided the comics that had for so long DOMINATED them in terms of quality needed to be taken down a peg. Well, a lot of pegs. Because part of the new “ruling” was also that the comics would focus on the storylines of the games. Oh and also main characters could never have romantic relationships anymore, Sonic himself could never show extreme emotion, and my personal favorite, “Sonic can’t lose.” He can face hardship, or go through tough times… but he can’t lose.

Saying I was upset by finding all this out is like saying having a passenger jet land on you might create a “boo-boo”. I was devastated. The “Genesis Wave” wasn’t a story arc. It was a reset button. It was a total erasure of 20 years of story. Two decades of characters, of triumphs, of hardships… gone. Evaporated. It was 15 years of my life as a die-hard fan taken away from me.

The comics are still going on, but not for me. I can’t even look at them, it’s actually too painful. Because those comics weren’t just my favorite series, they weren’t just what saved a character that was otherwise almost hopelessly lost for me. They’re what inspired me to start writing. If people ask me why I wanted to tell stories, what REALLY got me into the idea of creating worlds and characters, I need only to point toward the Freedom Fighters, on the planet Mobius, and their 20+ year struggle to hell and back to reclaim their home and families back from a mad scientist. Their journeys, the love they had for each other, what made them… well, them.

But because of money and greed, that’s all gone. It’s wiped away. It’s not something I’ll be able to share with my kids like I always wanted to. It’s not something I can get people into by telling them to go to the store and pick up the current issue. It’s gone. Yes, some of the characters still exist, but even they aren’t the same. They don’t even remember all the adventures they had. Everything is different. Everything is… lesser, now. And it’s not coming back.

So why did I share all this with you? Why did I use one of our Wyvern Wednesday’s to talk about a fictional world’s fate, when we as a company have no real connection to it? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s because I just wanted to vent. Maybe it’s because now that I’m writing more for Wyvern, this has been fresh on my mind recently. Or, maybe it’s because, in the end, I realize that the lesson is it’s out of my control. I realized the day my stories were gone they were never mine to begin with. They were a copyright, they were a property. It didn’t matter how loyal I was, how much that world inspired me. It was never mine. It was Archie’s, and SEGA’s, and a disgruntled former employee’s.

But you know what? I refuse to believe that. That world is mine. Those characters I’ve grown up with have always been mine. Properties of that world and universe may have a trademark on them, but the joy, the adventure, and the emotions those two decades of stories brought me… those will always be with me. And I think that’s the true lesson. The dollar gives, and the dollar takes… but stories themselves, are timeless. So I may not have the concrete, official ending to that world that I wanted, but you can bet your life I know how it ended in my head. I know who ended up with who. I know families were reunited… I know the Freedom Fighters won.

Why? Because Sonic made a writer out of me. And no court is taking that away.

Last Minute Plot Twist/Epilogue:

I’m so happy I get to write this part, guys.

In the post-blog writing depression that came after I finished this piece, I was perusing the internet to see if ANYTHING had been done to give fans of the old timeline closure. A Reddit forum put me onto the blog of the current Sonic writer, Ian Flynn, who has an ongoing (slow-moving, but ongoing) mission to chronicle for fans how he was going to end the run before Archie made him reset the timeline. There won’t be pictures, there probably won’t even be dialogue, but this guy in his free time is laying out the stories fans will never get to see officially. One day, I will get my closure.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to write the Vatican to see about making this man a saint.

Jonathan Wine, Creative Director of Wyvern Interactive.

 

The images in this post are not the property of or made in association with Wyvern. We do not claim ownership over any of these characters or photographs. 

Reboot, Rinse, Repeat

Once upon a time, an italian plumber lived in a faraway land known as the Mushroom Kingdom with his beloved fiancee, the Princess. Everything was at peace in the Kingdom, until…One grim day, the villainous King Koopa invaded and abducted the Princess, leaving our heroic plumber to save her, no matter how many castles he had to storm.

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Italian Plumber…Princess…King Koopa…and a very distinctive mustache? Seems familiar…

Of course it sounds familiar. Pretty much everyone in the world knows the face of the Mario video game franchise. If you ask any gamer who Mario is, they’ll be able to tell you in no time that he is a plumber in love with Princess Peach with either an overrated or underappreciated (depends on your view) brother, Luigi, whose favorite lady keeps getting abducted by Bowser. Right when he always thinks he’s found her, Toad saunters in, tells Mario that his Princess is in another castle, and you have to start back at square one. For those of us born in the 80’s or 90’s, the early Super Mario main franchise games were a huge part of our childhood. They set the bar when it came to side-scrolling platformers.

Now let me ask you a question: Based on the summary above, what game was I talking about? I only said I was talking about Mario. But which SPECIFIC game did I mean?

Well, if we’re just talking Super Mario games involving Mario, Peach, and Bowser or the Bowser clan, then that synopsis applies to…

  • Super Mario Bros
  • Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
  • Super Mario Bros 2
  • Super Mario Bros 3
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario 64
  • Super Mario Sunshine
  • New Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Galaxy
  • New Super Mario Bros Wii.
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2
  • Super Mario 3D Land
  • New Super Mario Bros 2
  • New Super Mario Bros. U
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • (And coming out in 2017) Super Mario Odyssey

All of these titles involve Mario and a cast of other characters saving a Princess from a member of the Bowser family. All, whether 2D or 3D, play out in the style of a platformer. All of the titles include the words “Super” and “Mario”, “Bros” is used in eight of the titles, “New” is used in four, two are set in space, and three, rather than having separate titles, are named after the consoles they were created for (N64/Wii/WiiU). Most have 8-10 levels/worlds to explore, although some give or take from this number for the sake of gameplay time extensions. And this isn’t even including the offshoot games including these characters such as Mario Kart, Super Mario Strikers, Super Mario Baseball, Smash Brothers, Mario Tennis, Paper Mario, Mario Party, Super Mario Maker…I could go on.

Nintendo has been doing this for decades, not just with their beloved red-capped handyman, but in series such as Animal Crossing, Kirby, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Pokemon, Star Fox, Pikmin, and more. People have been throwing their money at Nintendo for years to get their hands on these titles. The big-name companies have made hundreds of millions from the demand of their merch, tattoos, clothes, accessories, and more, all showcasing the characters and symbols from these games. And Nintendo isn’t even the only big-name company doing this. Think about Call of Duty, Kingdom Hearts, Little Big Planet, Tekken, Assassin’s Creed, Mortal Kombat, and Halo – all huge franchises in no way associated with Nintendo that are also guilty of this. I’m sure most of you have heard these titles before. So show of hands from the class, who can tell me one thing that all of these franchises have in common? Anyone? Aaaaaaanyone?

Answer: Within each series, their titles are all basically the same game.

I may have just enraged the entire gaming community, but it’s true. In all of these series, most, if not all the elements from their franchises are copied and pasted to recreate extremely similar games (sometimes even the same game) over…and over…and over again. In reality, it’s not like you’re getting anything all that new from the experience…right? Take the Super Mario Series. With the exception of a few slight plot changes, additions of some new characters, monsters, and abilities, the villain occasionally switching to Wario or Donkey Kong in some of the offshoot Mario titles, and maybe the use of Luigi alongside Mario, the base story always stays the same: Bowser/Bowser Jr. abducts Princess. Mario storms levels. Mario saves princess. And usually, cake is somehow involved. The end.  

Don’t believe me? Let me prove my point.

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What about Pokemon? What is EVERY SINGLE GAME in that series about?

You capture pokemon, try to catch ‘em all, earn gym badges, use your street smarts at age 10 to take down an entire gang (Team Rocket/Aqua/Magma/Galactic/Plasma/Flare/Skull), defeat the elite four, and become the best (like no one ever was).

Tekken?

You beat the crap out of your opponents. (A few tried incorporating story modes, but let’s be honest – no one plays Tekken for the story mode.)

Call of Duty?

You shoot things during wars. Sometimes zombies are involved.

Note that in each of these questions I’m posing, the question was never about a specific game. I didn’t ask about the plot of Pokemon Sun or campaign mode in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I asked about the name of the series and I’ll bet that, with every one of those titles I mentioned, you immediately pictured the main traits of each series. Sure, each game in these franchises have their own variations – the look of Link’s Awakening vs Breath of the Wild or classic Metroid vs Metroid Prime is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Still, there are so many similarities, character wise and plot wise, that most of the game feel like a complete copy and paste of another one that has already been made. Games like this are KILLING creativity and throwing it to the wayside, instead preferring to give Sackboy a new fabric and calling it a day.

With so little original work being sent down the pipeline, the general public often finds itself screaming for new ideas, but instead, we are more often than not given remakes, reboots, and crappy sequels to movies and games that we once loved. Yet for the sake of sticking to the old and reliable, it is so much harder for original work to be produced – why is that?

Well, experiencing a new game takes extra effort both on the part of the audience and the development team. For the audience, playing new games requires extra effort because they’re NOT characters you know, nor is it a story you are familiar with. New experiences have to present something engaging enough to actually capture the audience’s attention long enough for them to keep playing. Otherwise, they may as well go play the classic Kirby games again. For the developers, creating new games can be especially challenging because if any of the story elements or gameplay mechanics match one of these bigger titles, they’ll constantly be compared to what the general public considers “the original”. This forces indie developers into steering away from the classical styles in fear of being swallowed and overshadowed by the big guys. Games that truly give something new to the world are absolutely beautiful, but in the end, there’s only so much time we have with these stories before their companies have to move on to something else. Not every series can get away with rehashing the same plot like Super Mario can, because the players EXPECT and, in fact, DEMAND a different experience every time from everywhere else.

On top of that, when it comes to making original games, there is a lot of competition that already exists out there. Games like Limbo, Superhot, Catherine, Journey, Beyond Good and Evil, Okami, No More Heroes, and Alan Wake have earned gaming “cult classic” status because in our world, NOTHING else exists quite like them, making them truly spectacular experiences to play and watch. These games encompass originality, but if you were ever to try to reproduce them aside from maybe adding one or two sequels, you would just diminish the wonderful experience the original gave you. With more and more games like these being created, the pool of entirely original ideas is slowly running dry, making it much harder to produce another truly individual story. Hence, more often than not, the big guys win the day.

So here’s my follow-up, and I am going to pull at the heartstrings a bit with my example. If you joke about this game’s eventual realization, you hold the power to make a room of adult gamers weep. Let’s say that one of the most highly anticipated games of all time was finally set for release. In this hypothetical, Valve has announced the official release date of Half-Life 3.

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The world goes insane. Gamers pull out their Black Mesa backpacks and Gordon Freeman jackets. Men and women pull out their cosplay and crossplay to wear to conventions as marks of pride. Friends gather in packs to replay the first and second games in the series, mentally and spiritually preparing themselves for the journey they have been waiting for Valve to take them on all of these years.

The game finally comes out…

The graphics are beautiful. The game boots up and you can’t help but marvel at the new soundtrack and look of the world. When the plot kicks in, you see Gordon Freeman going to work at a research center. As he walks inside, he finds that the entire facility has been taken over by horrible, other-worldly creatures, and it is up to you to…

Wait a second…

As you play further and further into the game, you realize that the dialogue is slightly different, but you fight alongside the same companions and the game essentially has the same plot. There are a few new weapons to toy with, like a marshmallow launcher, dubstep gun, and a large potted plant that shoots air in different directions, but other than that, it’s all identical. With the release of the new Half-Life game, Valve also announces a full PC release title called “Aperture Corporate League Lacrosse”, set to sell for 50 bucks on steam.

Imagine the outrage that would spread like wildfire. After waiting all that time, what would happen if the new Half-Life was exactly like the original, save a few changes, and if they tried releasing a knock-off sports game for the same retail price as the new game? The Half-Life series could NEVER get away with trying to pull something like that! The doors of Valve would be rammed down faster than you could promise them that if they cooperate, there will be cake.

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All they’d have to do is assume the party escort submission position.

So if Half-Life, one of the most infamous series’ of all time, created by one of the top notch studios in the industry, can’t get away with the plot and character copy/paste, then WHY can Kingdom Hearts create a million games where you go to Olympus Colosseum over and over again? For people begging for something new, we can be pretty hypocritical when it comes to this. So for us who long for originality, why do we still pay for the same thing we’ve seen before?

Because we need something familiar to latch onto. Half-Life was made with the intent of telling a truly original story, so if they suddenly took away the sense of fear and wonder, what would the audience be left with? Nothing that resembles the feeling you get when you first play it, so the replay value of the same mechanics and story falls short. The success of the Half-Life series lies in its singularity by nature. It’s about the story. It’s about the experience. That’s why we love them, and that’s why adding a marshmallow gun would do the series no justice.

With series like The Legend of Zelda, Little Big Planet, Pokemon, and friends, on the other hand, the reason people go back to these games is so that they can revisit the characters they came to know and love all those years ago. It’s not about getting a brand new experience out of it. It’s just about enjoying the experience you have had before. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. It’s pure, digitized nostalgia. When you’ve had a bad day or when things in your life aren’t going your way, everyone needs a home that they can land in to take solace with a character they can see as an ally or a friend. For some, that comfort comes from catching their favorite pokemon across the game generations and finally evolving them to their final forms. For others, getting to play as another assassin that happens to be inserted into different time periods makes their hearts soar. I always know that I can go back to the land of Hyrule and feel accomplished as the bearer of the triforce of courage, and that, in the world of gaming, is my home.

Think of it this way: Everyone has that one favorite movie they always go back to. Sure, there are other movies in theatres they could go see, but if they aren’t feeling as adventurous, they could still rely on their old and faithful flicks. For me, that movie is Moulin Rouge. If I can’t decide what I want to watch, if life is getting me down, or if I need to watch a movie to belt out my lungs to with friends, Moulin Rouge is a movie I can always depend on. I know every bit of the plot, songs, the innuendos and the mistakes in the film like the back of my hand. Even though I’m not getting something out of watching Moulin Rouge that I haven’t gotten before, it still makes me feel comforted in some way every time I watch it, simply because I love it.

The same goes for franchise games like these. Walking into any new Mario Bros. game, I know that Bowser is going to abduct Princess Peach (or some other important tiara-clad political figure). I know that Mario will have to stomp over a million goombas in order to get to her, and I know that there will be 8-10 levels to play before I finally reach King Koopa himself. Still, all that searching and all that repetition doesn’t make it any less satisfying to finally find Princess Peach in another castle.

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Yet, as much as I will always love my Legend of Zelda games, there is no feeling more satisfying than browsing games on Steam, finding a high meta-score rated game that I’ve never heard of, playing it, and letting the dive into something entirely new overtake me. We as designers are constantly striving to create and mold altogether singular experiences. The thought of someone finding one of our games blind and letting it transport them away from anything they’d expect excites me beyond belief. Nothing makes me happier than experiencing that feeling of playing a brand new game and taking the dive into somewhere entirely new, and I only hope that’s something I can give back to the rest of the world like those games have done for me. I cannot wait for the day when our stories – Wyvern’s and my own – can reach out, put the power in the player’s hands, and take them onto their next big adventure. I can’t wait to say, “Let me show you something new.”

-Nerissa Hart, Writer and Marketing Admin Assistant for Wyvern Interactive

 

NOTE: The images used in this blog post are not the property or creations of Wyvern Interactive, LLC. These depict characters from other games and companies who own them in their own right. We do not claim any rights over these characters, companies, or their affiliates.

Of Flowers and Flamethrowers

Headshot. Killing spree. Execution. If you were to hear these words on the local news, it would make your stomach turn at how awful and disgusting of a place the world can be. But throw those same three words into the context of a video game, and the tone changes entirely. Now you hear epic music, your guys and gals are cheering you on, and there’s a lot of holding down the Right Trigger button or pressing X to get that last glorious decapitation that will end a boss fight. If the video game police were a thing, let’s be real, we’d all be in jail for life, because the body count we’ve wracked up over the years would be enough to populate whole planets.

To say that video games aren’t inherently violent is a lie. There’s no getting around it, it’s a bald-faced, one hundred percent, Pinocchio-nose-growing lie. It’s a fantasy that 10 and under kids tell their mom so they can get that one game their older sibling plays. It’s as untrue as when Christopher Lambert told people in the old Mortal Kombat movie that “Mortal Kombat is not about death, it’s about life.”

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LOL, okay Raiden.

Now, contrary to how I’m starting this post, I’m not turning this into a “Video Games Cause Violence!” tirade. That statement has been proven wrong time and time again, and only has ANY credence to it when someone already has mental issues and needs serious help. I have shot, slashed, poisoned, crushed, and fatality-ed with the best of them, and I am a perfectly civil, well-balanced human being (in proofreading this for me, my wife got to this part and muttered “sometimes”. Thanks babe).

That statement, however, leads into the topic of my post. Over the years I have played, and still play, SO many violent games. I have killed SO many more bad guys than I could ever hope to count. I, like most gamers, am so desensitized to combat in games that my years of playing have conditioned me to the fact that if I am in a virtual world, and someone/something is moving toward me, I automatically assume it is my solemn duty to go total Rambo on it.

In the past year however, I discovered something about games that I had long, long forgotten. I had just finished Ninja Gaiden 3 (Razor’s Edge, not the terrible vanilla release fans don’t speak of), and was looking through my “to-do list library” for my next game. In case you don’t know the Ninja Gaiden series, let me sum it up for you: you’re a ninja, and you kill stuff a lot.

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The only game I’ve ever played where you can still finish someone off after you decapitate them.

It’s a superb, adrenaline-fueled, controller-smashing carnage fest that never let’s up until the credits roll. The bonkers ultraviolence is so in your face that even by the time I, a seasoned gaming grim reaper, was done… even I knew I needed a break.

As I was looking for something to get the sound of sword clashes and recently dismembered ninjas screaming for vengeance out of my head (oh yes, they come after you Monty Python’s Black Knight style), my eyes landed on something I had bought as a present for my wife: Super Mario Galaxy. Now, to give you some context, I played a lot of Nintendo as a kid and young teen. My parents were understandably leery of violence in games when I was young because the art and its ramifications were still fairly new, so I got used to playing games for a long time that were more “kid-friendly”. Sonic, Mario, Link, Samus, etc., are all old buddies of mine, but as I got older and was allowed to play more, they slowly got pushed further and further back, because now I could try all those shiny M rated titles that I’d heard legends of over the years. Fast-forward a bit and my Nintendo console is collecting dust except when me and my best friends need to settle an argument.

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And we all know there’s only one true way to settle an argument.

But some ancient, little voice of childhood nostalgia won me over that day. I found some new AA batteries to put in my Wii Mote, booted up the console, went through all the expected software updates, and started playing Galaxy.

You guys, it was so much fun.

It was SO much fun. And not just because Galaxy is a fantastic game (it is), or because it was the polar opposite of Ninja Gaiden (it really is), but because it reminded me of something that I had not felt in a video game in a long… long time: pure, unfiltered, unending wonder.

You remember that first time you crested the hill and saw Rapture in Bioshock? Or the very first time you synchronized a viewpoint then performed a Leap of Faith in Assassin’s Creed? Your first parkour run in Mirror’s Edge? That feeling of absolute innocence with the giraffes in the Last of Us? That’s what I was feeling playing Mario, only the whole time. Pure wonder and excitement. What would the next level entail? Would I be soaring through the stars, or swimming through the oceans, or riding an oversized toy train? Here I was, playing a game designed for kids, and physically smiling more than any other game has made me for a long, long time.

Now, this might seem like the end of this blog post, but it’s not. Because what I really want to talk about is a double-edged sword. We just got done with edge one: no matter how much you love being a badass and mowing down swarms of enemies, that does not mean you should forego the games that you used to play as a kid. To be honest, they are probably better designed, and more fun, than 90% of the stuff in your current play log.

The other edge, however, is a message to myself, as a designer, and to all the other game designers who read this: as tempting as it is, combat and violence do not have to be factors in all the games we make. In fact… it can make a game so much more meaningful when they’re excluded entirely. And if there is one glowing example of that statement, it’s this:
Flower

Within the past decade, I have beaten over 100 games. That’s not including mobile, multiplayer, or web-based games. Some of those games have individually taken over 75 hours to beat, and many have included multi-hour-long DLC that expands upon the story and game experience further. And yet the game pictured above, Flower, by Thatgamecompany, has touched me more than any of those 100+ could ever hope to. If Super Mario Galaxy rekindled that spark of wonder in me… Flower did the equivalent of lighting a bonfire for it.

The game takes, MAYBE, 2+ hours to complete. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Well, this is Jonathan, so the story must be incredible.” Here’s the story summary: there really isn’t one.

I know. I KNOW. If you’ve read any of my previous stuff you’re probably worried I’ve been kidnapped and am writing that last statement as a call for help. But I’m completely serious: the most memorable game I’ve played… pretty much ever, didn’t have a single drop of actual narrative to it. And yet, the lessons you’re supposed to take from the game are so crystal clear it’s unbelievable: nature is beautiful, and wonder doesn’t need context.

Okay Jonathan, you’re saying, maybe there’s no concrete narrative, but maybe there’s an implied narrative like what Nerissa so eloquently discussed in our last post? Perhaps the character you play as is rife with symbolism and a sense of humanism that we can all relate to at an emotional level.

Nope, you play as the wind. Not the Spirit of the Wind, not the mystical demi-god of wind AuGUSTus (see what I did there?). You play, as the plain old, go-outside-and-your-hat-gets-blown-off wind.

What’s the point of the game? You go through various natural settings, picking up flower petals in your breeze. Each flower petal enhances the music a little bit, and by the end of the level a soothing orchestral score is accompanying you as hundreds of tiny little flower petals trail behind you, twisting and turning over fields and forests.

There’s no fighting, there’s no bosses. There’s you, nature, and an orchestra. It’s so intimate, and so peaceful, that you’ll all but forget you’re playing a video game… because you just shouldn’t get this much tranquility from a video game… should you?

And that is the beauty of Flower. Because it goes against every video game normative out there. It replaces high definition buildings with grass blowing in a field. It replaces the demon-slaying awesomeness of the heavy metal guitars in Doom with a piano and some subtle instruments. And it doesn’t need a rich narrative to convey its lesson that no matter how complex your combo system is, sometimes the greatest amounts of joy can be given by the simplest things.

Flower is only available on the PS3 or PS4. If you haven’t played it, I can’t suggest enough that you do. If you don’t have those consoles, one of your friends will. Spot them $10 and ask them to download it for you. You will not regret it.

As designers, and as players, it’s easy to fall into the trap of repetition. That’s actually the topic that Nerissa will be covering in her next post. It’s so easy for us to get used to that familiar sense of: play tutorial, go forth, shoot everything. We do it without thinking. And you know what, those kind of games are totally fine. I’m just as excited for the next Shadow of Mordor or Far Cry game as you are. I’m a gamer, bullets and mayhem are my bread-and-butter.

But… don’t let yourself believe that is the only thing that games have to offer. It’s not. You’ve heard me say before that games can put you into a world, and I almost always mean that in the context of a story, but if a game like Flower can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes… just the world is enough. We say that games let us experience things we could never experience in real life, like slaying a dragon or saving the world. But they can also let you see wonders. They can let you explore new places. They can let you fly.

… and I don’t care who you are. You could be a seasoned Call of Duty pro or a League champion, we’ve all wanted to fly. And games can give us that. Whether we’re in a fighter jet… or simply a flower petal, caught in a gust of wind.

Jonathan Wine, Founder and Creative Director of Wyvern Interactive, LLC.

NOTE: The images used in this blog post are not the property or creations of Wyvern Interactive, LLC. These depict characters from other games and companies who own them in their own right. We do not claim any rights over these characters, companies, or their affiliates.