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The Long and Short of Growing Up as a Gamer

(Picture credit from Penny-Arcade.com: http://art.penny-arc...098_C3d43-L.jpg)   I recently became an "adult" to the extent that it's a detriment. Let me clarify that before my wife kills me - my son and wife are the best things that have ever happened to me as a person. But as a gamer, they've been pretty tough. The baby may only sleep for an hour or so you had better hope that your mission is more of a sortie.   But that's not something I can blame the industry for. But I can say that some games don't understand the idea of instant gratification, the idea that every time you're playing a game you're enjoying your time. If you're a game developer, ask yourself this: If the time between savepoints wasn't fun, why was it there? If you were watching the events unfold for the first time would they be interesting? If you had to describe what you did in an hour's span to someone else, could you make that sound interesting?   The game that I've been referencing here, to be honest, is Zelda: Skyward Sword. I don't mean to rant against it, and I certainly don't hate it - it's just in dire need of an editor. Seriously, no game should follow a style guide, but this game garner some massive improvements by following those rules I put forth above. Let me tell you (with some spoilers) what I've done in the last five hours or so: * Fought the reincarnation of an evil god for the second time (Awesome! Well, not as awesome as the first time, but still...) * Finally got to hear some storyline information after hours of doing random quests for the sword... * Learned a new skill that did exactly what a previous skill did... * Fought a flying whale with eyes growing out of it (Alright, yeah!)... * ...that required precise controls and wasn't any fun... * Fought, uh, the reincarnation of an evil god again (it's only been an hour or so since the last time...) * Fought the swimming controls to talk to a dragon... * ...that turned an entire area into an underwater dungeon with annoying swimming controls... * ...that required precise controls and wasn't any fun... * ...to catch... musical notes...   And so on, and so on. The game is split into three parts with three sections in each - three initial visits to the surface, three visits to those areas to get musical flames, and three more visits to get parts of a song... and the second and third acts feel entirely useless to the plot and to the structure. Every mission feels like it's tacked on after the first section, every bit of storyline effectiveness reduced by adding long pauses before you hear a peep from Zelda or any of the Skyloft denziens.   The big problem here is not player agency - the player is always involved, and there are barely any cutscenes. The problem is not the inanity of the quests (like tadpole hunting), since those can certainly be done well (like in Mass Effect 2). The problem is that the game is structured like a game that doesn't care that someone has to play it. It wants to get its message across in its own particular way and thinks that games these days need to be long to be worth buying. But that isn't why people buy Zelda - they buy Zelda for dungeon designs (such as the first Dark World dungeon in LttP), the quirky sense of humor (the hookshot goes BOOO-OOOO-OOOOING), and its characters (Malon and Midna have so many fans you'd think that they were the titular characters in their respective games). Skyward Sword focuses on all of the wrong things.   But its combat is nice!   (And, no - a game that can be "chunked" out like this isn't going to lose its sense of immersion. Just look at Skyrim for a game that did it right - the universe is all there, and you can play as little or as much as you'd like.)   Here's some more exampls of games that could've been better with an editor: - Metal Gear Solid 4 (intentionally?) favored quantity over quality with 1.5-hour-long cutscenes, a very literal example of Telling instead of Showing. When previous games in the series put the most interesting content behind codec calls this isn't super surprising but the final game in the Snake series didn't take any of the criticisms on previous games into consideration. I theorize that this game is really the End of Evangelion of the Metal Gear Solid series. - Tales of Vesperia, that lost sight of its message thanks to its reliance on the Spirits (summons) plot. Yuri was a "renegade" with a heart, but a total departure from this plot by the game's second half made it feel like a dangling thread.   And, just to be positive, games that did length well: - Portal 2 had three "acts," but none could really be cut. Trimmed a bit, maybe, but almost every puzzle was interesting enough to be kept in - Skyrim and Saints Row are both "long" games, but with simple components for the most part. Walk around, find a thing, kill the thing, find a treasure. Every day can feel like an accomplishment.     Zelda is the worst offender I can think of recently. But it's not a terrible game. It doesn't tarnish the Zelda legacy. But, hopefully, it's a game which signals the end of an era instead of a proving point. Because this isn't how games can go on, with gamers getting older. If the industry only focuses on the 12-to-20-year-old crowd then it's going to lose out on a share of the market that actually has money to spend, a market share willing to pay for quality. Arkham Asylum, Skyrim, Portal - they knew how to do it. Let's hope that other games try to copy their success.   (Oh boy, I just realized that all of my positive examples are American and all of the negative ones are Japanese. That wasn't intentional. There are great Japanese games out there! Bayonetta for one. And, uh...)

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Want to play the best games ever? Get your DS out.

With the recent news of the The World Ends with You going to iOS (http://www.gamepodun...-a-sequel-r1213) I got to thinking. That game was incredible. It's the best use of the DS so far. It really might lose a lot going to the iOS. In fact, the DS...   Then I realized that the DS may be the best system... ever. Not since the days of SNES vs Genesis has this position been coveted, but still - the DS has it all.   So here's a guide. If you want to play a great game from pretty much any genre, the DS has you covered. And they're mostly dirt-cheap now, so you can hit up Amazon anytime you'd like something amazing for under $20.   The DS has... the Best RPGs Chrono Trigger DS - the definitive edition of the best RPG of all time. Sure, some (including myself) prefer the old translation, and the added DS features aren't great, but they can't subtract from the core game which is, still, nearly perfect. The World Ends With You - an amazing action RPG that can't be done (correctly) anywhere else. A plot remniscient of the most mind-being anime, fashion, and all the anime that you can handle, with the most-fun battle system of the last ten years. Honestly, it's nearly perfect... especially if you play the omake chapter. Buy this game. Final Fantasy VI (GBA) - it's a GBA game, but it's the best Final Fantasy. If you want to play the best RPG traditional RPG ever, here's your chance.   The DS has... the Best Rhythm Games Elite Beat Agents - even Nintendo Power gave this the rating of best DS game ever, and for a good reason. It's probably the best pure rhythm game ever - not the best party game, no, but the best game against doing things to a beat. You'll laugh, you'll dance, you'll cry. Bonus points for its prequel and sequel which didn't make it to the States.   The DS has... the best adventure games. Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney (1-3) - the best adventure games released in the last ten years bring back what was fun about the genre - using tools to your advantage against a wacky cast of characters. The Phoenix Wright Trauma Center (1 and 2) - is this an adventure game? I don't know what to call it, really, but it's a blast to play. Sharp reflexes and an interesting-enough storyline amount to a great weekend of playtime. There's a Wii version, too, but it's not as fun.   The DS has... the best action games. Mega Man Zero Collection - it's the best shape you've seen Megaman in ages, and Megaman isn't even playable. It's four games for the price of one, and each of them represent the peak of 2D platforming.     Alright, fine, there was some hyperbole there. It doesn't have the best racing game (that's Mario Kart Double Dash on the Gamecube), the best party game (Rock Band), or the best hummingbird-based shooter (that's the 32X). Still, it's a mighty fine system... if nothing else, I hope I've showed you some games you've missed.     Can you think of any system better deserving of best platform than the DS?

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Top Five List: The best time travel works

Sure, this isn't specifically a video game article, but given the amount of choices below that ARE game-related I thought I could post it here.   The top five list isn't really sorted, as they're wont to be - it's hard to say, objectively, how awesome one thing is in comparison to another, especially with the breadth of works on this list. All five choices are amazing, and you'd do well in reading any of them.     5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Is this time-travel based? I say so. I think it is because of one particular time travel theme - that characters learn something in the span of their "travel" that applies to them in the future, even if the act of time traveling erased the act of having traveled at all. That's a pretentious way of saying "stuff happens because someone saw the past," and since this movie is great that's good enough for me.   4. Chrono Trigger - It's almost a given that it's here, but that doesn't make it any less valid. Chrono Trigger is the de-facto time-travling video game, hitting every beat that you'd want to hit - magic, technology, dinosaurs, meeting your ancestors and descendants, swords, guns, and the end of time itself. It's still my favorite overall video game experience, thanks to the gameplay and music, but the time-travel based storyline is a real delight, putting in just the right amount of "openness" in a traditionally linear experience.   3. End of Eternity, by Asimov - Did you know Asimov's an amazing writer? I just found this out, after all this time. This novel, published in 1955, doesn't feel like it's old.   2. Back to the Future Trilogy - The first work that overlaid multiple versions of the same person into popular fiction, and a great example of it. It's a fantastic trilogy that misses out on first place just because it gets a bit worse the longer it goes on - Back to the Future 2 isn't as good as Back to the Future 1 just because it ties directly in to BttF3, which wasn't great - but that shouldn't be a black eye on the series. Back to the Future 1 and 2 are really quintessential sci-fi films that are extremely accessible to the everyman, and paved the way for other light sci-fi films in a way that few things have.   1. Ghost Trick - I'd imagine this could be controversial, but this game really has everything a good story should have. Time travel really is the emotional and gameplay-based hook behind the game - change the fate of the present by doing everything you can four minutes before a given character dies. The game is constantly engaging and entertaining, with puzzle solutions that're more Monkey Island than Space Quest - that is, you can screw up, but those moments may be the best in the game instead of moments that make you wish you were playing something else. With the game available for $10 on iOS it's a must-play for anyone with the opportunity.   HONORABLE MENTIONS   Memento - It's not a time travel movie persay, since the illusion and shifting of time is (mostly) in the eyes of the viewer instead of the characters. But it's a bit of meta commentary on the idea of time travel, too, in that the perception of events changes the reality of the events. It's on Netflix, Hulu, and probably everywhere else. Definitely worth a view.   Die Hard - Have you seen Die Hard? You should see Die Hard.

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