On March 12, 2007, eric-jon wrote up a talk at the Game Developers Confernence, in which Nintendo designer Eiji Aonuma discussed at length his work on the Zelda series. The write up was quite fine, but everyone moved on shortly thereafter.
It was one year later (March 8, 2008 to be precise) that a fellow named Craig George found the article. He decided that, finally, he had discovered the perfect venue for his master work – a continuation of The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess. His game would be called “Zelda Master of Legend,” and would be the greatest Zelda game of all time.
For five months, from March 8 through August 2, Craig George went on to post some 190+ comments, amounting to nearly 40,000 words (give or take, there are a few anonymous posts that may not be him), unleashing his opus upon the unsuspecting populace – especially unsuspecting, since this was embedded in a year-old gamasutra news article that very few persons would come across. And few persons did. Aside from the aformention possible anonymous posts not by Craig, he made this journey alone.
Craig, or Craigie (or Mindy, or Link, or Zelda, or Joshua, and so on), is not your average fanfic author. Whereas at the beginning, on March 8 2008, he seems a delusional but harmless fanatic, over the course of the five months chronicled here, he descends rapidly into what appears a type of madness, which waxes and wanes as each day progresses.
"another chocolate milk, please. why, hello there. i'm in town on business."
We were hungry for pizza — terrible pizza. And we weren’t willing to pay any less than fourteen dollars a slice. So we rented a 2011 Nissan Altima and drove six hours to the Los Angeles Convention Center. They just happened to be holding E3 that week. We decided to check it out. Here’s what we saw.
Greetings, true believers!
Glamorous as it may seem, the life of a game journalist is not always pleasurable. Among the many tradeshows and events we grudgingly attend, there are few more distasteful than the human catastrophe descending upon Southern California this July 21-24: the San Diego Comic Con. As my colleagues and contemporaries will testify safely under their breath, SDCC is the most unfortunate of all industry gatherings. This is because it combines two wholly countervailing elements: the industry and the masses. Unlike the fortified sanctum of E3 with its lavishly erected accoutrements and ample supply of complimentary alcohol, SDCC is a veritable feedlot for the most rabid breed of consumer livestock. How videogames became assimilated into this corporate merchandising unicomplex, one dare not consider. Indeed, resistance is futile: receiving the assignment to cover SDCC is akin to plummeting into the tarry abyss of journalism’s Rankor pit. Sampling the event’s many festivities – standing in various sorts of lines, mostly – is enough to break even the most hardened tradeshow survivor. This is precisely why the corporate afterparty, with its sub-Lunchables-quality hors d’oeuvres upon which we games journalists subsist, was created. But such oases of sanity are absent here, lest they be overrun by our arch nemesis: John Q. Public and his insatiable appetite for all manner of consumption. He is not alone. Jane Q. Public will make her presence known just as loudly, usually by way of a spandex superheroine costume displaying equal parts cleavage and emotional problems. What is there for a serious professional to do here? If all else fails, he can purchase myriad limited edition action figures with which to clutter his office cubicle in some quaint attempt at self-expression. But never before has an actual games journalist been immortalized in hardened petroleum byproduct. Until now. Not to toot my own horn, but beep-beep.
Fable fumbles toward excellence. There has rarely been such an obvious and concrete example of a genre’s awkward adolescence. It takes concepts other games have explored, serves them up in a new light, and hopes to be noticed and loved despite its spots and cracking voice. Fable is not a bold evolution of the genre so much as a necessary growth spurt.
I was the first person in the world who was permitted to review Fable. This is the final paragraph of the Fable review I wrote in 2004.
Some things never change: Fable is still very, very awkward.
In fact, right now, we’re in the most awkward part of the the Fable cycle — where the prior entry in the series has left us with disappointing memories (“The real dream… The feeling that you’re going through the game at your own pace, but having to make these tough choices, was never actually realized”) and the newest entry is represented only by fulsome promises (“[The addition of a horse to Fable 4] is going to have so much feeling for you. Just taking care of him, grooming him, and healing him, he’s going to be like nothing you’ve seen in games before.”)
With that in mind, it’s easy to forget that at one point, Fable seemed like it quite possibly might be the future of RPGs. This is something I believed in 2004.
Fasten the headgear, tighten the handwraps, bite the mouthpiece, check and double-check and triple-check the gloves, step in the ring, exhale, look at the ref, nod your head, and…go.
The guy standing across the ring from me is a stocky Asian guy fromFresno. Shaved head, probably in his early 20s, coached by what looks like an older Thai guy who was sizing me up after the weigh-ins. Didn’t hear what his coach was telling him before the round started. Didn’t really need to–I had a good ten-inch height advantage on him. He was going to kick my legs. They always kick my legs.
No time to think about that. No time to ask myself why I’m getting punched in the face in front of a few dozen badder dudes than I. Besides, I already knew why–it was because I played too much Street Fighter.
Myself and a number of the other IC regulars have just returned from California Extreme 2011 – the pre-eminent West Coast ‘gather hundreds of rare arcade and pinball machines in a room and put ‘em on free play’ gathering. (Incidentally, it’s still taking place tomorrow, Sunday, in Santa Clara, CA, if any Bay Area folks feel like making an appearance!)
Although a lot of similar titles turn up year on year, CA Extreme is a gold mine in particular for early American arcade cabinets of the Atari and Midway ilk, from vector-based titles to limited-distribution prototypes. (The game list is semi-accurate, although there’s about 20% slosh in there of titles that didn’t make it, etc – since it’s all volunteer based.)
Some of the rarer titles on play have really got me thinking about the interesting experiments of the early arcade period — and what we can learn from them from a design perspective. So, here are the less obvious titles I played today that really spoke to me, and just why:
- Space Dungeon (Taito, 1981 – YouTube video)
Apparently created before Eugene Jarvis’ seminal Robotron 2084, this is a frantic, Rex Battenberg-designed dual-stick shooter. And it’s a blast, once you work out which are the enemies and which are the pickups in the game (seriously, not that obvious!) There’s an interesting game design counterplay in going out of the way to grab pickups versus heading straight for the exit. Frenetic and unexpected.
- Major Havoc (Atari, 1983 – YouTube video)
One of a pair of absolutely mindblowing – and somewhat lesser-known – Atari titles from the prodigously talented Owen Rubin. Major Havoc is consecutively an interesting-angled Galaga style title, a swift Lunar Lander-style mini-game and a physics-heavy platformer, all using super-attractive vector graphics. Design lessons? Multiple genres in one game can really work, spinner-controlled physics is fun _and_ frustrating. And the main character has an idle animation!
If you are not yet aware of it, a couple of months ago I released a little puzzle platformer called Builder. I had a couple of goals with this game. The first is that I had been researching RSD Game-Maker, a 20-year-old DOS-based development environment (see my earlier post about cly5m), and I wondered if the old tools would support a relevant, contemporary game. As it turns out — maybe!
My other goal ties into the weirdness of the old engine. I have long been fascinated with glitches, and the odd mechanical and expressive qualities that they bring to a game. I figured this was a chance for me to explore the deliberate aspects of both of those qualities. You can play the surface game, and it’s fine — but until you start to pick away at the scenery, you’re only getting a part of the picture.
I won’t say that Builder is the most profound or involving game on the planet, but I’m pleased with it. You can download it for PC or Mac (which I have not tested; I have been told is a little slow), and you can make it work in Linux. There are more screenshots here.
Also, here‘s a play-through by Ken Taylor of the webcomic (tsuduku…). I suggest, if you plan on finishing the game, that you not watch past the first video.
Can you ever truly go home?
I aimed to answer this question as I set out from the fortified comfort of my mixed use urban dwelling and took to the wide open interstate tarmac like an eagle to the wind. Just as the Freedom Riders who came fifty years before me, my journey is one of great peril and even greater faith. I’m headed straight for the Bay Area’s deep south, the true heartland of Olde Silicon Valley. This is not the friendly faced home of Apple, Google, or other such enlightened tech companies that sit on civilized soil mere miles to the north. Rather, this is the rough and ready turf of San Jose, CA, the Bay Area’s final frontier. What could possibly bring me to this desolate and hostile outpost of an economy languishing in obsolescence? The former offices of SNK Corporation of America.