A writer, or maybe a videogame producer, or a PR guy -- I'm not going to look it up at this point, after I've already thought to mention his (or her?) point without once reflecting on his name, meaning that I guess he had a pretty good point if he wasn't arrogant enough to make me remember his name -- said in 2006 that what the videogame industry lacks is the equivalent of a Merchant Ivory.
Merchant Ivory, for those of you whose pop-culture awareness seldom pokes its head out, is (um, according to Wikipedia, a film production company started by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, in 1961, to make English-language films in India, aimed at an international market. To borrow some phraseology from videogame journos, let me say -- whether you're into India or not, their films have plenty of replay value for the casual viewer. It's always possible to jump in on the ground floor, et cetera.
Basically, the assertion was that the videogame industry needs to, internally and externally, encourage small productions on left-of-the-middle subjects. There's a black-and-white game about the Holocaust (I think; roll with it), for example, for Nintendo Wii, which is probably the best videogame system to have a game based on the Holocaust. I mean, "Holocaust" and "videogame" already look so ridiculous in the same sentence -- why not throw in the words "Nintendo" and "Wii", as well? Either way, I'm not sure that Sadness is the game that this Merchant Ivory of videogames would produce. See, Merchant Ivory make difficult films, though they're also watchable. You can let them flow through you. You watch them, and think, "Ahh."
Are ICO and Shadow of the Colossus (insertcredit.com GAME OF THE YEAR, 2005) Merchant Ivory games? Well, yes, and no. They're small subjects; there's a great emphasis placed on presentation; the dialogue is quite spare; even the sky seems depressed.
I don't really want to talk about the Merchant Ivory of games. The truth is we already have a Hideo Kojima of games and a Tomonobu Itagaki of games. We already have freak-out "postmodern" experiences about US Special Forces, written by a Japanese man, tailor-made to do things that only videogames can do; and on the other end, we have Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball, a game about plastic-looking girls who haven't aged a day (re: technology) since 1999, playing volleyball and giggling and jiggling unnaturally. Metal Gear sells millions because, more often than it is precisely intelligent, it is so extemely well constructed to the point where you'll want to play it while wearing a hat, so that you may tip that hat whenever the situation arises. DOAX, as its maker has lovingly decided to refer to it from now on, is a terrible piece of neuron shit that Japanese businessmen whose hair is too long (ie, not bald) sneer about and presume will sell because it features hot characters from a hot game. Fuck you! Professional industry analysts blamed Dead or Alive 4's pithy three-week delay for the Xbox 360's failure to launch in Japan in December of 2005; get your heads out of your asses and stare at the sun a bit, I say. Dead or Alive didn't stand a chance; in Japan, it's a game for the most unwashed of the unwashed, for people who spend so much time and money on pornography that they couldn't even lift an Xbox 360 for to carry it home. Yes: it's a leisure activity for a professional pornography enthusiast. It's giggle fodder. Microsoft's balls-out promotion of DOAX 2 as 2006 drew to a close had me groaning every time I stepped into a convenient store. There was that huge poster with giant-breasted anime girls on it. What neckbearded pasty white marketing man was telling them that a huge blitz featuring fake girls with fake fake breasts on waterskis gliding over water that looked like molten glass would be the best way to reach their system out to the casual gamer? Sure, there's such a thing as expanding within sectors -- if you want to expand in the "I like plastic girls on my television" sector of fans, advertise in the comic shops, if they'll have you. Not in the bloody convenient stores while an old lady with Coke bottle glasses and a fisherman's hat is buying a corn dog. Man; you'd hear young ladies talking about the Xbox 360: "It's for those otaku people, isn't it? Not like the PlayStation 3. Or the Wii."
Either way, Metal Gear Solid and Shadow of the Colossus and Mother 3 and Killer 7, all over there on the left side on the great bookshelf of Japanese Videogames Worth Talking about, with Kingdom Hearts II and Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball 2 on the other side. (Yes, meaning they're still worth talking about, just for different reasons.)
What we're lacking, now, is something to put in the middle.
What I mean is that before we can have the Quentin Tarantino of videogames, we need a Merchant Ivory, perhaps; though before we can have the Merchant Ivory, we need the Orson Welles, the Cecil B. Demille. We don't have any of these people on the shelf yet.
Hell, we don't even have a "Casablanca" of videogames. We need a "Casablanca" before we can have a "Citizen Kane", even if the movie "Casablanca" was released before the movie "Citizen Kane". (Videogames are a much more technical medium in some regards (scripting of events, motion-capture, hand-animation of characters), and much less technical in other regards (character development usually occurs by way of hitting things).)
I don't really want to talk about the Orson Welles of videogames. Here's a good one, though -- what about "Ben-Hur"? Could there be a "Ben-Hur" of videogames? "Ben-Hur" was originally released in 1959, eighteen years after "Citizen Kane". Sounds about right; in videogames' "maturation" as a "medium", we're oddly encountering the wide-angle lenses (16:9 aspect ratio) and special effects (1080p HD) phase before the artistic expression phase. Oh, whatever, anyway; people with make art with whatever you give them, as long as you're also sure to give them some time.
Anyway, "Ben-Hur" was a big film; it was monumental. It was a story with action and adventure, set in a historical period; it had giant thrilling action sequences involving slave-rowed battle boats and a chariot race scene that will probably never look dated. It's the story of a man who seeks revenge, who finds inner peace, who experiences a miracle. It approaches nearly four hours in length and whips viewers from peace the chaos to action to unrest -- from location to location, situation to situation. It carries a strong religious theme that resonated with viewers of the time, and it doesn't pull any punches. In the end, after all the grisly action and high drama, it is essentially a story of a man who comes to believe in something greater than himself.
Most important is the virtuosic style -- the filmmakers pulled no punches, either. It was a monolithic production involving only the most talented individuals -- cinematographers, actors -- hand-picked by confident, risk-taking producers. It cost $15 million to make, and grossed $75 million in the end. At close to four hours long, it had been a risk; its producers kept their confidence and released a film that my father, at age nine, sat in a theater with his sister and watched three times on Christmas Day, 1959.
Nearly forty years would pass, and "Titanic" would pop up, seen as a huge risk, obvious jokes being made on late-night talk shows about how it would "sink" (like a boat, get it, like the Titanic, get it, get it). It was three hours long and had cost over a hundred million dollars. Who the hell would want to see a movie that's three hours long? people were asking. It ended up making a billion damn dollars. Holy shit. Who would have thought? At age eighteen, I went to a movie theater with three film geek friends to see "Titanic" on its opening day in December, 1997. Dear lord, what a magnificent movie that was. I'm not even kidding. We happened to see it just three days before all the girls in the world were talking about going to see it again, and we were too young to know that there were probably Japanese girls in Tokyo going to see the film with three different guys three different times, saying it was her first time each time. This was three days before it became cool for every guy in the world to hate Leonardo DiCaprio because every girl in the world wanted him. For a long time, men of manly stature such as myself had to hide in the shadows and never approach the subject of just how fucking fantastic "Titanic" is as a movie. Entire weird little sub-cultures have been built around avoiding the subject. Like "Ben-Hur", "Titanic" is an unavoidably, undeniably awesome entertainment experience. You can show either one to a person who has no opinion on movies, and they won't hate them unless they're posing. Both films -- "Titanic" even more so -- contain everything anyone could ever reasonably want from a movie (action, romance, suspense, thrills, tragedy, mystery), and more than this, they are constructed so that everything is in the right place.
Videogames, though? The people who post on videogame forums on the internet are still, for the most part, people who hold that little scoffing grudge against movies like "Titanic". When David Jaffe, the producer of God of War, said that he wanted to make a videogame that made people cry, the internet scoffed. Many people made pseudo-lewd comments about how a guy who made videogames about mental patients murdering one another with vehicles (Twisted Metal) and then went on to make a gory hackfest about a soldier getting revenge in ancient Greece, complete with topless girls and sex could never make a videogame that made people cry. He could never make something "artistic". It's amusing, first of all, that people immediately equate something that would make someone cry with "art", and secondly that people would consider Twisted Metal and God of War to be the carbon copies of their creators' ambitions, when clearly they were made from the ground up to poke'em with the right hokum at the right time. They were made for business purposes; if you deny David Jaffe the ambition to make a game that would make a man cry, you are denying, say, the man running the cash register at the gas station the joy of going home, putting on headphones, and playing his guitar until sunrise. What a cold culture you are, all of you.
Whatever David Jaffe was planning, he apparently put it on hiatus to focus, instead, on short videogames. If God of War was an "opera", he wants to make "pop songs", he says. That's a good enough sentiment -- as we've already laid out, videogames, as a maturing medium, are kind of backwards. Might as well have pop music before opera, then. Go to it, then, David Jaffe.
I tell you, the first game studio to start making ten-hour, online-distributed console Japanese-style RPGs that cost $10 each will be huge if they can pick the right character designers, musicians, and writers to collaborate with.
There was a would-be "Ben-Hur" of videogames, say, about eight years ago. There was a man named Tetsuya Takahashi, and he was making a game called Xenogears. It was to be a Japanese RPG with a story that would span centuries -- milennia -- and star a myriad of characters and lavish locations. The game seemed like a good idea to Squaresoft, whose producers were thick in the middle of Final Fantasy VII, a hell of a bold (and costly, at $35 million) production, and hungry to set up more franchises to ride the imminent spike in popularity. Unfortunately, in the end, the most a critic can praise about Xenogears is its masterful handling of setting (with ingenious, well-thought-out locations presented in a striking 3D isometric style) and its rich musical score. Why was the game not a "Ben-Hur"? Well, for the first of many reasons, its story -- a world-spanning, space-headed religious epic starring giant robots -- needed a hell of a lot of editing. Also, the presentation was spotty. Sometimes there were voices, and sometimes there weren't. Even the text scroll speed was too slow. The straw that breaks the giant robot's back, however, is that the battle system -- the action that keeps the player pressing buttons -- just isn't memorable. At all. It's cheap and dirty looking. What did Xenogears need, to be the "Ben-Hur" of videogames? Well, for starters, better graphics, full voice-acting, creative freedom, an actually interesting battle system . . . the list goes on and on. When Xenogears didn't become the next big thing, Squaresoft decided to axe the creator for not being a genius; as other schemes (the "Final Fantasy" movie, for example) fell flat, it began to become obvious that Squaresoft was not to be the 20th Century Fox of videogames. So it was they began to wallow in their fanbase; they became parasites on the backs of their parasites, and thus zippers and pleather were free to roam.
Now that I mention "parasites", I realize, Squaresoft had failed a "Ben-Hur" just prior to Xenogears -- with Parasite Eve, a game about a psychic woman who commands the mitochondria of the people of New York City to rise up and rebel against their hosts. The main character is a breasty American female police officer who gets to the bottom of the situation (without taking off her top). Parasite Eve had had big aspirations; why, Newsweek and TIME were even running stories about it. Squaresoft had been growing risky, back then, and Parasite Eve was this proudest piece of pride because it featured computer-animated cinematic sequences set in modern-day New York City. The fact that a console videogame could (attempt to) realistically portray a real-life modern city with its fictional setting was unheard of. Yet, in the end, it was a tired RPG with a slightly original battle system. That's not enough! Sure, one of the locations you could visit in the game was the Chrysler Building, which is named after a car company, for god's sake! What was such a real-life location used for? A dungeon, of course. What the hell good did a dungeon set in a building named after a real-life car company do in this videogame about a woman with breasts and a gun blamming away at sewer dogs possessed by their own mitochondria? Pretty little. The aspirations were there. The baby called videogames extended his slobber-coated hand toward the sun, and nothing happened, except he went blind for a little bit. If you ask me, it was too much too early. Squaresoft fell away. They're small potatoes.
In 2006, a man who goes by the name "Cliffy B" because his last name is currently not registered as default-correct in Microsoft Word released a game called Gears of War for the Xbox 360. In so doing, he proved his competence; to put it simply, if the entire videogame industry were Danjaq, Cliffy B's name would be at the top of the secret list of potential choices for the next actor to fill the role of James Bond. We at insertcredit.com, in addition to calling his game the 16-bit GAME OF THE YEAR, 2006, had a chance to interview him at Tokyo Game Show 2005, for a publication that later claimed they wanted to interview him themselves because that would mean they'd get to spend a weekend in Amsterdam. Cliffy B was in top form; he started off acting like an MTV VJ, though once the ice was broken, we found out he was a fantastic guy who had actually played a hell of a lot of videogames that are actually good. Here we could pretend that we have an insertcredit.com VGAT (videogame aptitude test) and that Cliffy B scored a 1550. He admitted to crying at the end of Lunar the first time he played it; he said Resident Evil 4 was the best game of 2004; he proved his name was in the first issue of Nintendo Power for scoring 9,999,999 points in Super Mario Bros (scored 1ups on the koopa at the end of 3-1 and then died, over and over again). Prior to our meeting with Mr. B, we'd attended the Microsoft press conference, during which Microsoft tried and maybe failed to woo Japanese favor (they would have been better off trying to curry favor instead of wooing it, I think -- everyone loves curry). At the end of the press conference, quite cleverly, Microsoft representatives handed attendees a hardcover art book with text that was completely in English. It was called "Destroyed Beauty". That was apparently the theme of the Gears of War: beautiful things that had been destroyed. The beautiful thing in question was the planet. There was a beautiful society, and then these aliens who had been sleeping beneath the earth's core rose up and started blowing things apart. The art book showed the society as it was before the "Emergence Day", and then showed it after it had been destroyed: beautiful, and then destroyed: beauty, and then destroyed beauty.
A lot of members of the videogame magazine press (it's hard to name names and point fingers in this age of the internet forum) thought this pairing of words was hilarious. Some said such themes had no place in a game where your main character's rifle has a chainsaw bayonet and you can "curb stomp" opponents. (The "curb stomp" is overrated; you're not even stomping them on a curb, I mean, for god's sake.) Somebody might have mentioned that the name of the planet in the game sounded like a new artificial sweetener.
The name of the planet was not mentioned in the final game; yet it's still somewhat obvious that the destroyed world detailed within is not earth. Cliffy B has, for better of for worse, created his own Japanese RPG. Only rather than span a globe and see supernovas colliding as warriors duel with laser swords atop a ghost train in its forty-hours-overdue conclusion, Gears of War is one small story, of one small mission in a large war against a seemingly omnipresent enemy. The game's presentation is breathless: it doesn't stop once to explain the events of its world -- it just keeps going. It throws you down in the middle of it and expects you to play your role. It gives you a little time to get the hang of the controls. It introduces you to the small handful of techniques you'll need to play the full game, and then leaves the rest to the ingenuity of the level designers. As Cliffy B hinted in interviews, the back story of the game is alluded to only in the setting -- posters on ruined walls, et cetera. The game is not exactly teeming with life; however, its atmosphere is nearly impeccable. There's a stage where you ascend stairs up a hill in an attempt to enter a ruined mansion, strategically shooting enemies, followed by a sequence where you defend the mansion from a squad of enemies storming up the stairs. It's pretty breathless and dynamic. There's subtext floating in the air -- the mansion is a place with quite a special meaning for one of the characters -- though the game never indulges or scrutinizes or expands on that subtext. It's telling a story, it's a videogame, it's got its heart in the right place, and it plays amazingly well. I tell you, every time your guys shout to run for cover, and enemies pop up, I could just barely make out where a black title card -- "STAGE 2-3" -- might have been in a late Super Nintendo game, back when developers had exhausted all the pre-3D gimmicks and were backed into a corner, forced to actual design great and rewarding challenges. This is to say that, for a game early in this "next generation", Cliffy B and his crew have fucking nailed it. They've maturely pointed a fat, chunky finger straight into a brick wall and shouted "THAT WAY!" And when the privates of the world question their sergeant, and say, "Sir, that's a brick wall, sir!" they will get a cigar stump spat in their face, be told that they're going to run right the fuck through that brick wall and then keep running, and if they live, they're going to be doing a hundred push-ups before sundown.
All games should be more like Gears of War from now on. That is an order. There was not a game released in 2006 that couldn't have benefitted from being a little more like Gears of War. The game seriously has it all. It's tight, it's well-written enough. It has great action sequences. It's precisely as long as it needs to be. In structure and flow, it's something that should be studied by anyone who makes action games. Japanese RPGs could even learn a thing or two from Gears -- you kill a lot of enemies in this game, just as you kill a lot of enemies in RPGs, though never once does the fighting feel tedious. Never once does a battle feel exactly like a battle that came before it. It's all about setting, and placement -- and, most importantly, weight. When the enemies appear and take their positions, immediately you begin making calculations in your brain: I should go over here, and take cover, and wait for that guy to do this. How about a Japanese RPG of a modest length with a battle system that keeps you playing without rewarding you by letting you watch numbers go up? Yuji Horii said, of Dragon Quest VIII, that he made the forests three-dimensional because the two-dimensional forests were only ever a placeholder, anyway. Now that Dragon Quest IX has been announced as a god damned action game (and we here at insertcredit.com personally find it bloody brilliant), who knows if Dragon Quest X might not be a third-person home console 3D action romp with gorgeous 1080p visuals, epic, weighted battles, and two-player online co-op? If forest tiles were a placeholder for 3D forests of cathartic depth, and if, as Dragon Quest IX suggests, the menu-based battle system of previous Dragon Quests was just a placeholder for something more dynamic, might the increasing numbers and level-ups and hit points of the past just have been a placeholder for, well, more fulfilling visual representations of progress?
As great as Gears of War is, it is not the "Ben-Hur" of videogames. At best, it's only an optimystical indication that some people might be on the right track. At its root, Gears of War cannot be "Ben-Hur" because it's about guns and violence, and there's no romance, or love, or compassion. The emotions come off a little cheesy. When Microsoft distributed a trailer for the game on Xbox Live, and that trailer featured slow, emotionally charged music (it was actually the cover of "Mad World" used at the end of the film "Donnie Darko"), Slurpee-chugging T-shirt-wearers the internet over simultaneously chuckled. They talked about what fuckin' nerve Cliffy B had, to think he could insinuate that a man holding a gun might have some kind of sensitive side.
Later, after the game had sold 3 million copies, Cliffy B would say in an interview that videogames have a great potential because they allow the player to touch the fictional world being presented, and that the quickest way to express reaching out and touching things in a videogame is to use a gun. There may or may not have been pain in this statement; he might, say, want to make a fantasy story about elves and dragons. However, as the man behind Unreal Tournament, he has been typecast: he's the dude who makes games about dudes with skin the texture of oatmeal, shooting other dudes with skin the texture of oatmeal. Also, his Gears of War has sold over three million copies worldwide, and Microsoft now considers it a Halo-level property. This means sequels. This means that whatever imagination Cliffy B might have yearned to wield will be put into a cage of sorts.
Well, I'm being a little dramatic.
Now, though, following a recent announcement that Square-Enix will be using the Unreal Engine in future games, things are starting to look up. The Unreal Engine is by no means a nuclear fusion device -- you still need talented designers -- though I reckon, if you're dumb about this stuff like I am, you can kind of think of it as a movie camera. Up until now, developers were making their own cameras. Now that lots of them are using the same camera, we might be able to expect everyone's films to have the same overall technical quality. Square-Enix's decision comes over a year after Final Fantasy creator and Square refugee Hironobu Sakaguchi announced he would be making a traditional, turn-based Japanese RPG, called Lost Odyssey, with the Unreal Engine, and just two months after Sakaguchi's first post-Square effort, Blue Dragon, sold 100,000 copies in Japan, a country that had previously shunned the console.
100,000 copies is kind of a lot, and kind of not. It took a lot of money to make the game, and I reckon it didn't make it all back selling only 100,000 copies. I'm sure it'll sell some more in America, and I'm sure when -- and if -- the Xbox 360 truly takes off in Japan, people will go back and buy Blue Dragon. It's a swell game. There are people -- like me, for example -- who can play Dragon Quest V even today. When a game looks as confidently gorgeous as Blue Dragon (like super-bright claymation you control), people may not mind playing it a year after it was released as opposed to right away. Furthermore, one of the advantages to a tried-and-true template (numbers and turn-based battles) is that it lets the creators focus on the scenario and the level design, theoretically. And above even that, with the new Dragon Quest game announced to the public's shock as an action game for the Nintendo DS, and the Dragon Quest console game being a sword-swinging, first-person-walking action adventure, Blue Dragon is the closest anyone can get to a 3D, "next-gen" Dragon Quest game at the moment.
Previous game producers had historically acted like Stimpy's description of a movie producer on "Ren and Stimpy" (let other people do the work, and then take all the credit); what Sakaguchi is doing right now, boldly, is acting like an actual talented movie producer. He's funding projects by unproven people whose talents he has personally judged as promising. He's commissioning big-name artists -- Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest's Akira Toriyama for Blue Dragon, demigodly comic artist Takehiko Inoue (of Vagabond) for Lost Odyssey -- to design characters, and even somehow managed to score bona-fide rising literary genius Kiyoshi Shigematsu to write the story for Lost Odyssey.
Lost Odyssey looks to be an amazing game with a beautiful story and compelling settings. It has a wonderful concept -- the hero is immortal and cannot die, though the other party members can, and if they die, they die forever, and may or may not alter the story depending on when and where and by whom they die -- and yet it might not set the world's soul on fire because it is, at heart, a turn-based fantasy RPG.
Recent interviews have indicated that Sakaguchi has no interest at the present time in developing any game that's not a by-the-numbers (literally) traditional RPG, and his stance should be seen as a blessing, not a curse: he's being humble, and sticking to what he knows best. Amid accusations that Blue Dragon is too easy, it's clear that Sakaguchi's aim is to entertain people, by letting them control the hero in a story. Entertainment -- it's the one thing, more that anything else, that videogames and movies should have in common. And let's hope that Sakaguchi's not the only one with such a goal. Why, if Lost Odyssey manages to outsell Final Fantasy XIII (this is depressingly unlikely -- then again, if you're looking for someone to declare a videogame as shit (Final Fantasy XIII) because it's made by unknowns, you're asking the wrong guy; no track record is a good track record, as far as I'm concerned), there's a chance he could be setting a hell of an example: employing actual talent in your videogame really helps. This would, hopefully, make the theme of the next-generation "artistic conscience" -- as in, let's make games that are made by people, not by calculators. Nintendo's Brain Training games continue to top charts a year after they're released . . . because they're "evergreen" products, designed to be just as useful / enjoyable ten years from now as today, like a "Monopoly" board? Well, yes. That's inside-the-box thinking, though. On a more basic level, we can say the Brain Training games are selling because they're good products. There's a real curve ball for you: in December of 2006, I rented and watched "To Kill a Mockingbird", and despite its being severeal decades old, I was still able to enjoy it. Were the producers of "To Kill a Mockingbird" aiming at making a movie a guy in Tokyo could rent more than half a century later and still enjoy the same way as he had when he first saw it, twenty years earlier? Not particularly; it just turned out that way. This is why videogames, as a medium, are progressing in reverse, because we live in this era of analysis. What I'm saying is, sure, let's try to make games someone might want to (or be able to) play forty years from now. Let's try to make a "Ben-Hur". After playing Gears of War, with its simple flow and amazing graphics and confident gameplay, after witnessing a year in which Hironobu Sakaguchi topped headlines in videogame magazines -- most famous in the Western world for having the first screenshots and the first review scores -- by stating his intentions to make new games, new stories, with new collaborations, using individuals of actual documented talent, and even after downloading free demos of the bullshit they're putting on Xbox Live Arcade (Time Pilot? Scramble? Frogger? Fuck you.), I am certain that the resources exist at this point to make a game of sturdy build and unwavering artistic conscience, one that could be looked up upon in . . . well, let's not say a century. Let's say thirty years.
And in the most loving way possible, I would like to say that there's no way in fucking hell The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is that game.
Could it be? Hmm, that's an excellent question. Could The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess be the "Ben-Hur" of videogames? Most certainly: Zelda is a big story, with a noble enough hero, a world in turmoil, and big action set pieces. The story begins with the hero at his little ranch hamlet and later sees him riding a horse on a field of battle, penetrating dungeons, being transformed into a wolf and running along the rooftops of a city plunged into darkness. The hero encounters a princess, suffers spiritual hardships (being turned into a wolf, for all the cool abilities and snappy gameplay the sequences afford the player, still manages to masterfully come across as an experience that must really kind of suck for the hero), uses his brain to overcome great obstacles, and eventually saves the entire world. As far as Zelda games go -- and I know this because I happen to have liked a great deal of them a great deal -- Twilight Princess is probably the best when it comes to pacing and flow. It used to be that popsicle-sucking kids would post on internet forums (here I lament how sentences starting with "it used to be" might also contain the word "internet", these days) about how the latest Zelda game was "About 70% dungeon, 30% questing"; I remember the bumpy uproar that happened when someone dropped the news that Majora's Mask was "about 25% dungeon, 75% sidequesting". With Twilight Princess, the percentages don't matter; the game starts with an idiotic and kind of insulting segment involving a fishing rod and a cat to whom you need to feed a fish, though he won't take the first fish you fish because of some arbitrary reason; though if you stick with the game, you'll find that things like the idiotic segment involving the fishing rod are actually, sincerely, extremely clever. Zelda is not a graphical adventure game, where you need to click on the masking tape before the guy comes up the stairs and then click on the piano and then click on the doorway, from whence you'll watch the man's fingers get stuck to the piano keys -- for all it's worth, the bumbly beginning of Twlight Princess is an excellent example of flow. As in, the game is in 3D, and everything makes more sense when it's rendered consistently. You enter a dungeon, and it feels spookily like home. Wherever the action is taking place, it is absolutely stone-cold for sure that something is happening. You dink around in town, you ride your horse into the woods, you round up sheep, you get turned into a wolf, you see epic visions -- whatever happens, you're always playing, and things are always moving.
Take, for instance, the boomerang. Previous Zelda games would give you an item -- say, the Hookshot -- and force you to remember to use it at the most arbitrary moments. "Oh, right. I have to hookshot across this gap." You'd know you have to hookshot across a gap because bam, there was a hookshot block. So you equip the item and shoot yourself over, and then continue playing as normally. Very early on in Twilight Princess, you get a boomerang. You have to aim the boomerang with the Wiimote, while tapping the Z button on the nunchuk to lock on to points in space. In that dungeon there's a bomb plant that you need to target, and then you need to lock on to a breakable wall. It takes reflexes and patience to do this -- and it feels daring, and adventurous, because enemies might be attacking you while you're doing it. It's entertaining. Very much of the game, in fact, is entertaining in such a way, and this is marvelous because it's all seamless. Sequences flow into sequences, dungeons into traveling scenes into mini dungeons into towns into traveling into mountain-climbing into dungeons again.
It occurs to me that Zelda games are great because they can't not be great, because Nintendo wouldn't release them if they weren't positively great. It's a simple concept to grasp, and no one seems to be reaching for it aside from Nintendo: notice how Sonic the Hedgehog has rotted away, while devoted gamers still wait on the edge of their seats for new Super Mario games. Back in the 1990s, we stood divided -- the Sonic camps and the Super Mario camps -- though now that the smoke has cleared, I think there's not a multiple-joypad-owning man alive who wouldn't say that Mario and Nintendo won. And it all comes down to standards of quality.
Zelda games are great because they are their own genre. The first Zelda was pushing an idea out the door; the second one toyed around with action and staging -- it had big ideas. And though the first Zelda is probably my favorite in the series (for the same kind of reason that compels me to have worn this same Dead Kennedys shirt since I was like fourteen), I'm man enough to admit that the third one, A Link to the Past, is where it all came together. Zelda is creator Shigeru Miyamoto's attempt to tell a story through whatever videogamey means necessary, blending elements of action games, graphical adventures, puzzle games, and RPGs into one unified experience. There was talk early in the PlayStation 2 era about "multi-genre" titles being some kind of wave of the future; forget that, jack -- Zelda has been the only wave on the horizon of the future for a decade and a half, now. Look at Grand Theft Auto, and how it tries to tell a story; look at Jak 2, and how it apes Grand Theft Auto in all the good ways and some of the bad ways, by letting you steal cars from innocent civilians despite your being a freedom fighter; then look at Twilight Princess, where your hero never steps out of line, where he never deviates from his path, where he rides a single vehicle (a horse) that the player is forced to behold with pride: and then think back to Ocarina of Time, in which the horse was equally as important. Way back in 1998, they had something figured out that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas -- well, I'm pretty sure they have the secret figured out and just don't want to tell anybody, though let's say that they don't have it figured out. Zelda games hard-wire the player with respect for the world and pride for his possessions. And since Ocarina of Time brought the series into 3D and topped "best games ever" lists in many parents' basements around the world, it's also somehow damned all other videogames in ways they shouldn't be damned.
In particular, the question I raise to you is why aren't more games like Zelda? A game called Okami was released in 2006, and it had some design similarities to Zelda, though in the end, it just didn't make the complete push. It was still trying to be a videogame, whereas ever Zelda since Ocarina has been striving toward entertainment. People aren't getting the complete picture: Zelda is great because it strives to be entertaining entertainment. The stories are pretty much the same thing every time (guy dressed in green wields a sword and traverses between worlds / dimensions to save a princess he hardly knows yet might love) every time because, like "Ben-Hur", Zelda is an idea; it is a legend, not a newspaper article about earthquake statistics. "Ben-Hur", for example, had existed as a novel, radio drama, and theatrical productions prior to be being made as a film, and then another film, and then another film, before the definitive 1959 film was conceived and produced: and then, after there was "Ben-Hur" starring Charlton Heston, there was no "Ben-Hur". "Ben-Hur" was finished.
And then there are characters like Wong Fei Hong, first filmed as he performed kung fu forms in the early 20th century, while he was still alive, later acted by dozens upon dozens of actors as different as Jackie Chan and Jet Li in over a hundred films in less than a hundred years. Why do films about Wong Fei Hong continue to inspire film producers looking to make enough money to support their gambling habits? Well, perhaps the easiest way to put it is that no Wong Fei Hong film has ever -- ever -- been "definitive". There have been attempts; they always fall flat. Wong was a great man with a dynamic life, growing up in a dynamic age -- he lived to experience China as it was, and Hong Kong as a British colony; his martial arts prowess has been recorded using prehistoric movie cameras: the things he did, and the things he was able to do, will continue to inspire for a long time, and as long as there exists footage of what the man really looked like, no interpretation of his life can be "perfect" by Chinese filmmakers' standards.
Yet there will most likely never be another "Ben-Hur". Along with "Casablanca", it's just one of those films that no one would dare remake. This is what I'm saying when I say that there is no "Ben-Hur" of videogames -- I'm saying that there is no audience-loving, all-entertaining videogame out there that could not be improved by its own standards. Zelda aspires to many things, and witnessing how each new installment succeeds where the previous installment had failed is one of the greater joys of watching videogames grow up. (Twilight Princess, for the record, bests Wind Waker with regard to flow. It just moves perfectly, I'm not even kidding.) Yet, is Twilight Princess the definitive Zelda game? Not by a god damn longshot. Why not? Why, because it's not satisfied with the world it lives in. It's uneasy, and fearful of the future. Also, because, technically, it would be impossible to pull off.
Before I get to the reasons why I'm making all these damning statements, let's get back to the previous nagging question: "Why aren't there more games like Zelda?" We've established that Zelda games are a genre in and of themselves; they're a little action, a little adventure, a little RPG. Yet they're fused in such a distinctive way that there is to be no denying that they're their own genre. We see a lot of traditional RPGs; we see a hell of a lot of first-person shooter games. Why don't we see more Zelda games?
There's the issue of quality over quantity, Nintendo's old mantra. Say, what if only one FPS was released every decade? Would the people go nuts? Of course they would. Still, though, that wouldn't happen: FPSes are easy. Make a main character with an oatmeal muscle texture and give him a big fucking gun; hire an artist who got fired from TSR drawing Dungeons and Dragons rulebook covers and tell him to draw fifty different angles of the Exact Same Monster-faced humanoid alien. Make it a face no oatmeal-sinewed cigar-chomper with a big fucking gun would need a Shakespearian reason to blast in half. Zelda, though, man? Forget it. You need a character with actual charisma; you need iconic fashion and fashionable icons; you need a head-turning heads-up display, you need rock-tight gameplay. More than this, you need a scenario that pushes players forward and genuinely inspires the designers to put ingenuity behind events and set pieces. Zelda games, once the player has penetrated to their cores, are in-the-zone, recklessly involving, time-vampiring videogames that feel better than any other videogames. Yet the player would not possess the will to penetrate such a game if it had put him off at the start. On the other hand, you show me a snot-nosed kid who says he doesn't feel like shooting aliens in such and such FPS anymore because he finds the hero's devotion to the future of the human race hammy and cloying, and I'll tear the little bastard's "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" shirt clean off his torso and reveal he's got a Lacoste alligator embroidered over his right nipple.
The thing is that an FPS can be made by a bunch of snickering dudes who approach girls in bars with the same mentality they would have used years ago to pillage n00bs in Ultima Online, and still be a pretty sharp experience. Guys with tattoos of realistic scorpions on their actual biceps can code an FPS while pumping iron and grooming their lamb chops and snorting about how their girlfriend dared to try to rent a "chick flick".
Meanwhile, a Zelda game has to be made with actual love, or it doesn't get made at all. There are no two ways about it. With Gears of War, the FPS (yes, ignoring that Gears is actually a third-person shooter) genre showed that it can provide sharp, mainstream thrills of a kind of movie blockbuster proportion. With Twilight Princess, the Zelda Genre shows that those who devote their lives to working within it are making great strides toward perfect flow. What we're looking at, here, is a race for the prize, the prize being the "Ben-Hur" Videogame. If the FPS gets there first, lord help us all because we're never going to stop playing games about worlds ravaged (carefully enough so that debris provides ample cover and interesting situations) by aliens shaped enough like humans to be bitchingly headshottable. People laughed when Cliffy B and The Epic Boys put a "girly" song into the trailer, just like they giggled when David Jaffe said he wanted to make someone cry with a videogame; lord help us, I tell you. Lord help us if an oatmeal-sinewed cigar-chomper ends up the first game protagonist to make a hardcore gamer's disinterested girlfriend cry. I'd have to take a shower, bringing my cellular phone with me, and call every girl I ever dated, and break up with them all over again. I'm fearing, here, because I know it could happen. Thanks to Gears, I know the tools of coherent, dramatic storytelling exist for FPS developers, and I swear to you, the Zelda Genre is just as good a tool -- hell, it's a better tool -- for producing an epic, world-spanning, heart-wrenching, goosebumping, blockbusting, thrill-dumping adventure. It would take one man -- say, the ever-clever Cliffy B -- with a notion to turn an FPS into "Steel Magnolias"; his team could be hammering out code with fifty-pound lead wrist weights on, teeth gritted, in love with the pain, and they couldn't care less what the story is; they're making a game with fuckin' curb stomps in it, dawg. And here is the rub: in order to make a Zelda Genre game that is any good at all you need a team absolutely focused, full of duty, pride, and love. DPAL, dude.
Other games made with love and love alone include Kingdom Hearts II and Xenosaga Episode III. The former is made by a man who keeps a cupboard full of J-rock CDs to blend and pour milk over and eat for breakfast, who drools whenever he smells pleather. The latter game is made by a staff of lobotomites -- figuratively, that is, I mean, I'm sure they're nice people who eat unsweetened yogurt with bran flakes for breakfast every morning or what have you. Someone probably gives them cookies before they go to bed or whatever; what happened to them at their initial wiring stages to make them think that making giant robot schlock games with Jesus cameos is a profession worth falling in love with, I don't know, and I for one am not going to deny them the pleasure of a hot bath. Xeno- is a series that got started with one man -- Tetsuya Takahashi -- receiving the compliment of his life: the chance to make his game about biblical robots. It unfolded like something Shakespeare would chuckle about if we'd get around to cloning dead people and it were a Salon.com article: Takahashi didn't get enough money, he didn't get enough time, he had trouble communicating his ideas, he lost his car keys on the wrong day, I don't know. Eventually he got forced into retirement because his game didn't make the front page of the fucking New York Times. Squaresoft were overestimating everything back then; Namco offered to publish the continuation of Takahashi's aborted opus -- then Squaresoft got all ex-girlfriendly and told him he could have the car if he'd let her keep the tires. The result was Xenosaga, one man with a real budget, playing fiddle before the king in a country that wanted two big RPG franchises (the whimsical one, Tales of..., and the broody one, Xeno-) so they could finally be provably better than a company whose only attempt ever at a driving game (Emotion Type-S) sucked violently. Eventually, when Xenosaga failed to make the front page of the fucking Washington Post, Takahashi was on the street and one or two members of the team were blogging about considering suicide. Really, though, robots and the Bible? Evangelion, hello? I fucking hate anime and I know what Evangelion is. I guess Evangelion didn't have space, and/or robotic little girls' panties. Suffice it to say, Xeno- was doomed from the concept stages, noble and bold and daring as its first installment might have been: In 2006, I had the extreme displeasure to play Xenosaga Episode III (), the angry Namco's banging gavel declaring the death sentence on the series two episodes too early (or three too late). I hadn't a clue what in the flaming fuck was going on, and the battle system was like playing War! with the bad half of a deck of cards and a brick wall. The main character, originally a bespectacled scientist in a labcoat and everything, was now wearing a fur-collared monsterpiece with segmented aluminum black tights that revealed inguinal foldage. The characters talk about fucking nonsense and the whole thing feels vaguely like terrorism plotted by a supercomputer. There's not a speck of life; the game is that shopping mall by the highway in Kentucky where every store is that seasonal store that sometimes sells Halloween costumes, and it's the middle of August and there's a single senior citizen power-walking laps; you can't tell if it's an old man or an old woman, though you follow him or her around for a while, kind of wondering if he or she is about to keel over. Playing the game is like being sixteen, having a birthday in July, and receiving a gift-wrapped fat stack of spiral notebooks and other assorted school supplies as a present from a grandma who was supposed to have died ten years ago.
And then there's Kingdom Hearts II. Oh man. Don't start me on that. Like I said about overestimation: Kingdom Hearts is the "So insane it might work" idea to combine Final Fantasy and Disney, two things with fanbases who might be likened to slaves. (Disclaimer: much as I admire Disney's prior willingness to adhere to only making animated films out of time-honored (focus-tested by the centuries) fairy tales, I will forever stand by my belief that at least 85% of the infants whose manic-depressive mothers will scream "YOU GUYS WANNA WATCH BEAUTY AND THE BEEEEEEEEAST!!??" would rather be staring at a wall; I mean, come on, young tender minds are the only things in the world capable of truly getting it; let's not trivialize potential cosmic understanding with "Be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test".) The experiment succeeded because there are people-looking creatures in Japan who will pay 9,000 yen (about $80) for a single 22-minute episode of an animated series they have already watched on television and downloaded because they like the DVD package design. Meanwhile, fans of Final Fantasy sit in beanbag chairs in apartments around the world waiting for a nod from mainstream culture. Kingdom Hearts, even to those who hated Disney, was a miracle. And man, you see the way Japan reacts to that shit -- girls in my office paid money for Kingdom Hearts II because they heard it was "cute" because it "has Disney in it" and "It looks just like a movie"! Yeah, a movie set in fucking painted shoe boxes, maybe. In terms of artistic integrity and consistency, Kingdom Hearts II looks like shit, and I don't mean that as an insult. I don't even mean this as an insult: the first Kingdom Hearts, in addition to being a very bad videogame, also teetered curiously on an edge for its entire duration: the edge tempted players to wonder, "Is this game for serious?" The whole thing could have been a joke and we wouldn't have known. It could have been like the Mets playing the Yankees, or Batman meeting Superman -- just a playful, sportsmanlike little one-off. Kingdom Hearts II, though (1/2), is a fucking mortal sin. From the very beginning, with black-robed characters intoning about how "He will awaken soon", with Mickey Mouse playing the role of a black-robed mass-murderer (emphasis added), it's clear from the start that Kingdom Hearts, far from being just a game with Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters, is serious fucking business. With the way Japanese companies work, I imagine that Tetsuya Nomura, producer of a hit in Kingdom Hearts, was simultaneously forced by the higher-ups to make a sequel and forced by his "heart" to make something moody, like a J-rock album cover. Welcome to the gene pool; where we work, it's heated to the temperature of a cesspool.
Tetsuya Nomura slurred in interviews that he had to hire a mostly new staff to produce Kingdom Hearts II, probably because all of the talented employees at his company left to work with Hironobu Sakaguchi on actual videogames. He said in one particular interview that not a single person he hired hadn't humbly said, in the job interview, "I love the original Kingdom Hearts and it would be a great spiritual honor to work on Kingdom Hearts II." Said Nomura, of this devotion: "This is the kind of love we were working with." Yes -- love. Kingdom Hearts II is a game made by men and women who, were they film geeks, would find their lives fulfilled if they were allowed to serve Quentin Tarantino a cup of coffee, even if it had too much sugar in it and he spit it back in their face.
And for god's sake, people, learn to stage a fucking cut scene. Stop having the camera wobble back and forth and/or rotate while characters are talking. We know that the backgrounds are 3D; you don't have to keep reminding us, nor do the people in my office need to keep using encrypted Microsoft Excel files to write their fucking emails. Why don't you try filling your backgrounds with character or purpose if you want them to impress us? The real world is three-dimensional as well, and the technology to have cameras constantly spiraling around actors in films has existed since the dawn of the steadycam. As much as I'd like to say "And you don't see film directors doing that", I can't, because Japanese movies in particular are in an atrocious rut these days. Play the Six Degrees of Separation game with any one of the offending directors on one side and Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy on the other, and you're certain to win in maybe three steps.
And then there's Zelda; as the sole inhabitant of its genre, it's a game that the creators can't love as much as the players, because they've never played such games as a "hobby". The games are mostly free of filler (aside from the dinky forced fishing part at the beginning, which you just have to roll with), and Twilight Princess is the smoothest one yet. The dungeons feel big and epic. It feels like accomplishing something when you solve a puzzle. The story hits all the right notes.
So why am I giving it a score of 1/2? Simple: because it looks like shit on my HDTV.
Oh, oh, oh! If you're going to send me a hate mail about this, first of all prepare a 320x240 jpg of yourself giving a thumbs up for me to stare at while my Macbook Pro reads your mail aloud in a robot voice, and second of all let me send a hate mail to myself first! I didn't want it to be this way, okay? I can't help it that Gears of War looks so fucking good in 720p on my 40-inch Sony Bravia X 1080p LCD. When Nintendo revealed the cartoony Wind Waker and the braindead morons of the world filled the internet with venom because Link's eyes were too big. (For god's sake it looked perfect -- Nintendo was making their own Disney! The game was simultaneously videogame and original Japanese animation! You could get a wall scroll of it and then you wouldn't need all those other wall scrolls anymore!) And then Nintendo dropped the Megaton (am currently in negotiations with Japanese police to make it so Japanese businesses can never use this word again) with the then-unnamed Twilight Princess: it's got a realistic looking Link! It's Lord of the Links! Return of the Link! Fellowship of the Link! The repressed homosexual urges of every game journalist in attendance, mine included, leapt up and threatened to cause collateral damage on zippers, in the name of an elf. Or, not really. In making the game look realistic, though, they were shooting themselves in the foot with a nail gun, in the long run, because it was released several weeks after I had already played through Gears of War, pumping my fist and shouting Woo-hoo! or Whoayeah! and passing the controller and snorting popcorn.
Did or did not Nintendo drop the ball with Twilight Princess? Yes, they did. Did they drop the ball with the Wii? Let's go ahead and say that, from the perspective of a man who owns a television that gets girls to propose and then faint and then suffer cardiac arrest, that yes, they did. Even through component Twilight Princess looks like shit. Even with the sharpness turned all the way up, even with the sharpness turned all the way down. It looks like trying to play A Link to the Past as reflected off the surface of a mud puddle. (Oh, wait, I live in Japan, right: It looks like trying to play A Link to the Past as reflected off the surface of a bowl of miso soup.) It's fucking tear-jerking, heartbreaking.
And this machine -- which isn't compatible to HD in more than the honorable mention category -- isn't even compatible to wired internet! No HD, and wireless internet only! Selling a million units in Japan! Commercials on TV saying "Check the news on your Wii"! Girls on the train the next day saying "You can check the news on the Wii"! Girls in the office a week later saying "I got a Wii and I have no idea how to hook it up to the internet." Before you ask, no, I'm not saying that girls are dumb and don't understand technology; I'm saying that these particular girls (hotshots in the videogame industry, they are) are too smart to bother with technology.
And you know what, not a single non-gamer who's come over to my house and seen the Wii controller and picked it up has had a fucking clue how to "Press A+B" to start the game. I'm not going to be some jackass and say that the Wii is a bad idea, that it's the Nintendo 64-3 ("64-2" being the Gamecube) and that it'll never have a good game ever, because I reckon some resourceful people have made some amazing stuff for the DS. I'm just going to say that it feels like kind of a sham; that Nintendo forces publishers to show a photo of a person playing the game on the back of the box is dubiously clever, and also a potential harbinger of the apocalypse. Let me tell you, man, you don't need to jump up and swing the controller like a jackoff to make Link use the sword. You only need to flick your wrist. Though if you sit there flicking your wrist long enough, you start to think, why aren't I just pressing a button or some shit? Meanwhile, in an office building in Tokyo, one executive secretary tells another over lunch just after the New Year holiday has ended, "I played that Wii Sports with my family over the holiday." The other says, "Oh? Don't you have to jump around like a jackass to play that?" "Not really. You can just flick your wrist." "Oh." "Kind of makes you realize: you know, I'm not really playing tennis here." In other words, I'm sure that games can and will use the point and click of the Wiimote eventually; I'm sure there will be games with nuance and precision, which are also great fun. For the meantime, though, if I want to play a floaty truck-driving game where I never quite feel like I'm in control, I'll take the 1080p Motorstorm on PS3 over Excitetruck (mainly because Motorstorm has 1080p, a track called "MASSIVE DAMAGE", a much easier-to-pronounce title, and the option to turn off the tilt controls via the pause menu if I want).
And then there's the heads-up display, which takes up 33% of my widescreen TV; I shudder to think of how much real-estate it takes up on televisions in third-world countries. We've seriously got the entire controller layout on the right side of the screen. I mean, I know that the Wiimote is iconic and all and that Nintendo is shooting for it to be the next iPod in terms of recognizability, though come on. I don't need one on my TV. We have these 1 and 2 buttons for bringing up the item screen and assigning items to different directions on the pad, right? Why can't we only have the HUD on the screen when that button is pressed, and once we return to the game, it disappears? If, in the thick of the battle, we forget which button re-equips our boomerang, we can open the screen with the touch of a button (the function of which cannot change) and check, and after that, we'll eventually learn to be more careful and not forget stuff like that. Hey, that sounds like the goal of Nintendo's Brain Training games, right there. To keep people from forgetting things like what they had for dinner last night or two nights ago.
Oh wait, maybe screen real-estate isn't so important because the graphics suck? And then I see these people in Youtube videos or posting on Kotaku saying "Nintendo forever! LOL!" and lining up outside the Best Buy where a dude would get shot for a PS3, with this big signs saying "Burn, Sony, burn!" Grow the fuck up! And while we're at it, that brow-ridged Neanderthal Reggie -- what's up with him? He's bringing down Nintendo's "not competing" stance when he says shit like "I'm about kicking ass and making games" because fuck, the most challenging game that man could make would probably be about trying to hold chopsticks correctly, or learning to tie a necktie using two Wiimotes, each of which represents a different end of the necktie.
I'm being mean; I know I'm being mean. I'm being mean because this is a fucking great videogame made by probably the most talented game makers in the world, and it looks like shit. And it sounds like shit. Seriously -- anyone who would listen to, say, the overworld theme from this game while sitting in their car on a highway during a blizzard probably knows little more about, say, David Bowie than that his last name sounds kind of gay. And we have blips and bloops and bleeps and all this stuff that makes gamers feel "nostalgic" or whatever; the same recycled sound effects Zelda games have been using since Link to the Past. I will admit that I am the man who called Dragon Quest VIII the GAME OF THE YEAR, 2004, and I forgave that game for having blips and bleeps despite its lush visual presentation because, well, first of all because it has a lush visual presentation, and second of all because it also has a turn-based battle system. That Yuji Horii would make Dragon Quest IX an action game is evidence of a silent, invisible nod to Zelda: that action is correct for games like this. Twilight Princess has sharpened up the flow and the shape of the "Zelda Genre" to a point now, in the midst of a swirling era, where it's pretty much almost unforgivable not to look and sound great. I know it's a ported Gamecube game; still, that's no excuse. They could have delayed it another year, or something. They've got a talented team, you know.
There's a chance that the developers are able to craft perfect games with regards to design because the name of the series is a treasure; the corporation is willing to treat it like a prince. Though there's an even greater chance that their ability comes from actual talent and hard work. What I'm saying is that the people who make Zelda are being chained down, like the rowers in that "Ramming speed!" scene in "Ben-Hur". They could make a hell of a game, in all 1080p, with an orchestral music score composed by, I don't know, Ryuichi Sakamoto (then again, he did contribute a track to the money-wet Seiken Densetsu IV), voice acting performed by talented individuals (maybe "put their names on the box" caliber people), and maybe art drawn by a guy who's actually talented (I'm sorry, sir, whoever you are -- excepting Link, your characters look like a pop-up book about child molesters; I'm sure your dad is a nice guy, or else he wouldn't have been friends with successful businessmen). Would Nintendo do this, Nintendo, the company who put Mayor Mushroom and Goomba into Mario Baseball in blatant ignorance of the fact that Goombas have no fucking hands and can't very well hold a baseball bat, because they own those characters? Nintendo, who used to face crucial real-estate decisions like "What do we do with this abandoned building we acquired?" by asking the question "Is it in a love hotel district or a pachinko parlor district?" "A pachinko parlor district, sir." ". . . Let us make it a pachinko parlor, then." Nintendo talks about the "Blue Ocean", about how they're not "fighting" their rivals, and shit, man, I can totally buy that. They're not fighting. Any two bickering nerds on the internet who say the DS is kicking the PSP's ass or that the Wii is kicking the PS3 in the nads or whatever are completely missing the point. Nintendo knows what they're doing, and I wish them luck. I'm just a little sad that they essentially have the most talented team of programmers in the world locked up and making games that just don't look as good as games on the other systems. It's like they've got the best script and directors in the world, yet are still filming silent movies when the rest of the world has moved on to Jerry Bruckheimer. There's a huge opportunity here to jump up and seize the title of the Ben-Hur of videogames. They're just not doing it.
It would be naive to assume that Nintendo's next home console wouldn't be HD. That's a ways off; Zelda games don't come all that often, and it's possible that we won't see another one on the Wii. All I'm saying I want here is for someone, somewhere, to try and make a game like Zelda. Put millions of dollars into it; have many meetings that extend into your lunchbreak if necessary and discuss very carefully how to make a narrative game amazingly entertaining, action packed, and absolutely devoid of killable hookers / bitches / pimps / hos / gangbangers. I want something like the recent Prince of Persia games with a little sense, snappier gameplay; I want something that refines Zelda the way Gears of War refines Resident Evil 4. A Lord of the Rings game would have been perfect, if money-eating bastards hadn't gotten the license. Oh, hell, let's not think about that. Be original! Be bold! Tell some historical tale! Don't put the name of a dead author ("Shakespeare" for example) anywhere near it! Study Zelda's flow! Study Gears of War's tightness! My lord, people, next time a hundred games journalists call Zelda a "zeitgeist" (probably without looking up the word and realizing it means "spirit of the times" instead of "totally awesome graffix d00d") -- please, for a second, at least, imagine they know what they're talking about! Because, accidentally, they do! Zelda should be the spirit of the times! For god's sake!
At the rate we're going, the absolute closest we're getting to a blockbuster fantasy epic these days is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (), a game with fucking disgusting looking characters and the same god damned guy doing half of the hateful robotic dialogue ("You look fleet of foot. Fast feet are nothing however, without shoes. Come in, to my leather shop, warrior."). I can't get behind a game that features a dynamic, beautiful, high-resolution overworld and then populates said overworld with about three wolves who chase your horse and gives you the option to jump ahead to a town you've never been to before by opening the map on your status screen and clicking on it. In short: if you, game design geniuses, think that fast travel is a feature worth putting in your game, then your slow travel must suck ass and your game world is too fucking large. And then there's the combat -- like pushing mushrooms around in gravy. Swinging a sword and blocking while numbers dance invisbly. It feels cheap; in a way, I kind of liked it better in Morrowind when I could smack a 3D-rendered goblin with my sword and have the game tell me with a straight face that I'd missed. That -- that, my friends, was hilarious. This -- this, my friends, just makes me want to play some Halo. (The game scores two stars for nice graphics and a particularly arousing evening during which my purple-crew-cutted digi-lesbian character Pen'juugo (juugo is Japanese for "fifteen") ran around the world bare-headed and punk as fuck on a horse as Akira Yamaoka's track "Injection of Love" played on neighbor-scaring volume through my television speakers and three wolves chases my horse to no avail. The song repeated, the sun rose, the sun set, and I felt drunk even though such a thing was clearly impossible.)
In other words: Oblivion guys, play Zelda. Zelda guys -- uhhh, look at some screenshots of Oblivion, preferably ones that don't show any people.
Everyone else, I'm "cviii" on Xbox Live, and I play Gears of War whenever I'm not playing the guitar or having real-time sex. And sometimes I do all three at the same time.
And that, my friends, is how I came down with a wheeler of a chlamydia.
[now: go check out wikipedia -- you can learn something, there.]