Let’s get reflective

At this time of year it’s impossible to avoid the media offering recaps of the past 12 months. Radio stations will be playing their top 100s of 2005, stores will be selling the obligatory cash-in CDs.

So, before all this is forgotten in a wave of new year Slim Fast adverts and those ‘free binder with part one’ magazines, allow me to point you to two of my own finds.

First up, we have the Top 50 Inventions of the last 50 years. Far be it from me to shun another site on the grounds of it being ‘geeky’ I have to confess to never reading or visiting Popular Mechanics. I suspect this won’t change in the future either.

Coming in second we have TV Cream’s Top 100 Toys. This is a wonderfully humourous, nostalgic and distinctly British listing of toys and games from an era when Rupert the Bear, Captain Pugwash and Bagpuss were all part of every child’s TV viewing. I imagine the over 20’s will get the most from this listing and from the wonderful TV Cream site itself.

If, like my 5 and 8 year old nephew and niece, you got a PSP or other expensive gizmo for Christmas then that second list will, I hope, allow you to sympathise with the older generation when they scold you with that timeless classic “You young ‘uns – you don’t know how lucky you are!!”

Happy New Year!

Moving on up

Well, it appears that WordPress (the software that drives koffdrop.com) has made a pretty large upgrade from version 1.5 to 2.0.

What does this mean to you? Very little! 😀

I believe that you won’t see any changes when you read this site and sincerely hope that nothing is broken. I’ve just performed the upgrade and everything appears to be working as it should.. ..but I’d made some tweaks and updates to the site and I suspect they may cause some interference. My biggest concern is that anyone who reads these posts via the R|Mail service may now get truncated emails showing only the first portion of each post rather the the entire post. If that’s the case then I’m pretty certain I know how and where to fix it.

One delightful feature to this upgrade is a WYSIWIG composition screen. I’m a bit rubbish at writing posts in pure HTML and the formating and layout of picture elements was a major pain.

test This is a sample image and should allow me to play around with a few settings to my liking. Ignore this bit of the post as I’m only wittering on in some effort to create enough text to f-l-o-w around the image and play with formatting controls. You might even wonder just where the image comes from. Well, it shouldn’t take you long to clue yourselves up on it’s origin. I use caution though. Consider yourself warned!

Right. That should be enough simple playing. Time to publish this post and bore you all to tears!

EDIT: Looks like I still need to use my own CLASS declarations in HTML to format my picture alignments how I like them. Oh well. 🙁

EDIT2: From what I can gather, the generation of the RSS2 feed that the R|Mail emails are based on had reverted back to using the truncated posts. This has now been addressed and future R|Mails (and RSS2 feeds) will show the full post.

Are Nintendo playing the arcade game?

My last post recieved a fair bit of internet interest. Unfortunately, it was mostly as predicted and I’ve not read too much substance by way of replies here or at any of the forums that my article found itself linked on. Many of the comments I got back reeked of desperation and, for want of a better phrase, lacked logic. It’s quite a shame as there are two clear instances where I specifically asked folk with such mentalities to steer clear of reading further or making poorly considered comments. Some people have even tried to argue with me that I don’t get the point being made in the article. As you can imagine, I disagree quite strongly with this and find little credibility in the argument that follows such an assumption. I am happy to say that, in some quarters, there has been reasoned and considered responses – these are the exceptions rather than the rule though.

If there’s one thing your typical Nintendo fan loves to quote, it’s history. Hear them wax lyrical about how Halflife 2 owes everything to Goldeneye on the N64. Listen to them talk in wonder about how Nintendo consistently innovate and never copy (Nintendo don’t copy, they re-invent). History is important – it shows us what we might expect from the future, it can highlight trends and serve as both a promise and an omen.

How many of you reading this regularly visit a videogame arcade? If you do visit do you go as frequently as you used to? I suspect the answer is ‘no’ in most cases to both those questions. Arcade games in the 80s and 90s were quite a different scene to what you see today. Most games were standup cabinets and featured games where a skilled player could last over 15 minutes on a single credit. Or course, there were games at home too. During this period monochrome graphics and low resolutions were wowing us in our homes whilst the hi-res, sprite scaling antics of the arcades made it seem worth paying £1 a go for a 3 minute experience.

As the years ticked by consoles like the SNES and Megadrive gave us what felt like ‘arcade perfect’ conversions of titles like Final Fight and Golden Axe. Of course, looking back we can see some quite large differences between home and arcade – but in the day, we felt we were really playing with power.

3D hit the arcades with titles like Virtua Racing and amazed everyone. Then Ridge Racer appeared and just floored people like never before. A year later we were playing it in our home – arcade perfect or thereabouts.

This trend continues but the technology leader has become blurred. Arcade hardware and console hardware have become almost one and the same. The home consoles can easily provide arcade perfect versions of Tekken 5 and such games are designed for arcade and home in tandem.

Whilst videogames in the home have gone from strength to strength arcade games have paid the price. They don’t have the edge that placed them so far above home gaming. Visually they find it an increasingly difficult challenge to compete. Virtua Fighter 5 on Sega’s new Lindbergh hardware looks astounding – but if Xbox 360 images and PlayStation 3 images are to be believed then gamers at home won’t be left behind.

Arcade games have suffered enormously because of this. To compete they model the most succesful games on short-term gameplay. The most succesful arcade games of the last few generations are racing, sports and fighting games. If you’re bad at these games you’ll probably be beaten in under a minute. If you’re good at these games you’ll possibly win them in under 5 minutes. The entire game model is designed to get the punter to pump in more credits – regardless of their skill. No more long games like R-Type style shooters or Wonderboy style platformers.

Additionally, and most tellingly, arcade games have become dependent on novel experiences to differentiate them from the home gamer. You can play Outrun 2 on your Xbox – but the arcade offers a nice car to sit in, pedals and steering wheel. How about 18 Wheeler? You could play it on your PS2 but the arcade difference is the huge, juggernaut sized steering wheel, novelty CB radio and roof-chain to sound your horn. There are but two examples of how arcades compete with the home using novelty and gimmicks.

Arcades compensate for their lack of graphical superiority with home machines by creating novelty experiences with gimmicky controls.

A major exception to this is the fighting game scene. Community and tournaments have kept this scene alive irrespective of any technological advances in graphics or control. However, even this area of arcade gaming has felt the presence of Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. It’s easy to find another human challenger to play Streetfighter 3 with if you have an Xbox. Online play truly enhances the sense of community (although nothing can beat true, in-person, tournament play) and this is one area where home gaming looks set to expand and where arcades don’t really have anywhere to go.

So what’s the point of all this rambling?

It’s a history lesson. Have a look at the arcade industry to see what happens when you stop competingly graphically and start compensating by using novelty controls.

As much as one company will tell us how unimportant technology and graphics are, I look at what’s happened to the arcade industry and feel that someone’s trying to lie to me. Especially when, two generations ago, that same someone released hardware named after the technology it was based on – the Nintendo 64. When you’ve got it, you flaunt it. When you haven’t got it you attempt to discredit it.

This is marketing. Marketing isn’t truth.

I don’t agree that graphics are everything. But I don’t agree that graphics aren’t important. If history tells us one thing it’s that, like it or not, graphics and visual technology are very very important indeed. They are far more significant than any reliance on novel controls. This has brought a thriving arcade industry to it’s knees. An industry that asks you to pay £1 for a game. What will it do to a company asking you for thirty times that much for a game?

Zelda – too little, too late?

So, Zelda. Often accompanied with “ZOMFG!” style comments up and down gaming forums over the internet. As many people appreciate – I’m very critical of Nintendo. In fact, my level of critque towards nearly any of their actions can be scientifically measured. That is to say that my level of criticism of Nintendo matches the same level of unthinking adulation they receive in by other parties. I am the yin to the fanboy yang.

So, leaving the latest Revolution gossip (ok, vacuous hyperbole) to one side for the moment, let us focus on Nintendo’s Gamecube swansong: another Zelda game. I’m not going to criticise the game on what I’ve played of it because that’d be dumb. I’ve not played any of it. Oh sure, I’ve played the other Zeldas and am confident that Nintendo won’t change too much in terms of gameplay mechanics (check those videos – I’ve already spotted good ‘ol block-pushing puzzles – meh).

Instead, allow me to tackle the most notable feature that everyone first went on about when the game was announced: the graphics. Or, to put it in gamer terms “ZOMFG! Hav U seen teh gfx on teh new Zleda game???”.

For the moment, we’ll forget about how Nintendo are going to juxtapose the Revolution stance of ‘fixing a lacklustre industry’ by tackling new directions in gameplay whilst simultaneously making another Zelda game with familiar gameplay but with a graphical upgrade. As we know, it’s never about the graphics when it comes to Nintendo, right? Right.

So perhaps that’s why I say “Yes, those graphics in The Twilight Princess are great – for a Zelda game

I can hear Retroid having spasms as he reads that. But before you go wild and get ready to hit that ADD COMMENT button why not stop and think about what I’m saying? Firstly, there’s no denying that this next Zelda game looks heaps better than the previous installments. But let’s not add a +10 to our mental scoring just because it’s Nintendo and let’s not add another +10 because it’s Zelda. Let’s keep our feet on the ground and remain objective.

A shiny game is a shiny game – just because it’s Nintendo or Zelda doesn’t make it any shinier.

Now, do me a favour, re-read that last sentence and if you find yourself having difficulty coming to terms with that then kindly fuck off. You’re not the sort of person I’m interested in talking to.

Back to Zelda then. Let’s take this title on it’s superficial merits – how pretty it looks. Does it look prettier than all those other games that came before it? Hmmm.. I bet many are inclined to say that it is. I, of course, approached that question from the opposite point of view, did ten minutes worth of savvy Googling and found some game comparisons. The only modifications made to each picture was to resize each image to 400 pixels wide. The rest speaks for itself:


Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)

ABOVE: Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) BELOW: Zelda TTP (GC)

Zelda TTP (GC)


Final Fantasy X (PS2)

ABOVE: Final Fantasy X (PS2) BELOW: Zelda TTP (GC)

Zelda TTP (GC)


Ico (PS2)

ABOVE: Ico (PS2) BELOW: Zelda TTP (GC)

Zelda TTP (GC)


Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)

ABOVE: Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) BELOW: Zelda TTP (GC)

Zelda TTP (GC)

And there you have it. The most telling thing here is that, these comparisons to Zelda are being made on hardware that is universally regarded as inferior to Gamecube and, of the three different alternative games shown, two of them are over three years old. Note also that the alternative games feature gameplay elements very likely to be featured in *any* new Zelda game – dungeon crawling, third person combat, horse riding, interior and exterior environments.

In all cases, Zelda included, the people behind the games are regarded to be the leaders in their field – visionaries. These alternative games are already with us and running on weaker hardware and have been around for a ages. So, rather than holding out for Nintendo to show everyone the way it appears, to me, that we expected to wait until Nintendo can catch up with older games on inferior hardware.

I question Nintendo’s hype and actions a great deal – but I do so from a position where I want to see FACTUAL responses or refer to HISTORICAL events. Increasingly, I find myself remaining unconvinced by the answers the facts present to me. I am not interested in hearing promises made by Nintendo’s VP of Marketing. I am not interested in hearing from some kid who’ll gleefully quote “A rushed game is bad, a delayed game will eventually become good” because Miyamoto said it. Miyamoto may have said it but I bet he wasn’t thinking about Starfox Adventures when he did so.

If you feel like responding to this post please do so. But please ensure that you remove the romance, ignore the hype, forget the speculation and just look objectively at the known facts of the situation.