Stu vs The World, part 2
(Part 1 here.)
Obviously, a large percentage of what people ask me on Formspring is about videogames. So here's a collection of thoughts on the subject.
An awful lot of modern "gamers" don't even mention game-play when talking about the games they like, preferring to talk about "plot" or "set-pieces" or "atmosphere". Is it time to distinguish between "games" and "interactive movies"?
Well, we already do distinguish between them – for example, by calling one of them "games" and the other one "interactive movies". The problem is that people too often use the wrong term because they're lazy and stupid, which is also why you can never be absolutely 100% sure what someone means when they say "billion".
I think the confusion happens because "interactive movies" is (a) a pretty clunky name, and (b) forever tainted by the first steps in the genre, ie all those godawful FMV games that appeared when CDs became the dominant gaming media. If we can come up with a snappy new word to describe "games" that are in fact basically just stories where you have to perform monkey tasks to keep the pages turning, we might get somewhere.
Unfortunately I haven't thought of one yet.
Super Nintendo or Sega Mega Drive?
SNES by a thousand miles. The Mega Drive all-time Top 100 I wrote (but didn't compile, other than insisting on the top-three inclusion of Aero Blasters) for Mega must surely be the least attractive such list of games for any moderately successful console in history. Super Mario World by itself is better than that entire MD top 100 put together. (Which, to be fair, predated Gunstar Heroes and a lot of other good stuff.)
Not that I can think of. It's not that I've gone off football games, it's that there aren't any that appeal to me any more. I'm too old to learn another 27 different button combos for an overhead kick.
Which gaming era was the greatest for games?
The current one. Big-budget games are astonishingly accomplished, there's an enormous market and choice in cheap, accessible, inventive, brilliant download games, and you can play almost every game from previous eras under emulation in ways that make them far better than the original – you can speed them up if they were slow, use savegames and avoid irritating things like level passwords and multiloads.
There has never been a better time to be a videogamer than now.
What's your favourite scary game? And what game has scared you the most (International Rugby Challenge, ho ho, no, but really?)
I don't really recognise the concept of a "scary game". Almost any well-executed action-based game should have the ability to be scary – the most scared I've ever felt while playing a game was probably during level 64 of Tempest 2000, or the first time I managed to win the Advanced course in Ridge Racer against the devil car.
It's easy to scare someone by making the screen all dark and then having a horrible-looking monster jump out and scream at you. It doesn't impress me. If you're wandering around a Resident Evil game or whatever and you're NOT expecting zombies to burst through walls at you most of the time, you're a bit of an idiot.
If you had to play only one of two games all day every dayfor the rest of your life, and you weren't allowed to kill yourself, would you pick Rise of the Robots or Kick Off 2?
I definitely can't kill myself?
In that case, almost certainly Kick Off 2. The reason being that, while it's a completely random pachinko game, when you occasionally DO score a goal by pure chance you can convince yourself that it was skill, and enjoy the replay over and over again. I'm pretty sure this is why it got good reviews in the first place.
Rise Of The Robots, on the other hand, doesn't even offer any illusory moments of joy. Plus it involves a LOT more disc-swapping.
Does Jet Set Willy deserve its classic status as much as Manic Miner?
Yes it does – or at least, if we're talking about the bugfixed version. It was one of the very first "sandbox" games, in that it just gave you a world to explore and mess around in, with no attempt to dictate what you did or in what order.
The problem with the original Manic Miner was that it got less fun the further in you got, because you were bound to lose a couple of lives every time you reached a new level, and that meant going all the way back to the start and trudging through loads of screens you'd already mastered before you got to tackle the new one again. (That problem is of course fixed in the age of savegames and level codes and whatnot, and was also sort of addressed by the level-skip cheat, but that could ruin the game by letting you practice levels you hadn't reached legitimately.)
With JSW, you could reach almost any part of the mansion inside a minute or two – plus you had a lot more lives – so you could practice any areas you wanted until you felt able to have a proper attempt at completing the whole game. The infinite deaths issue was a bit harsh, but once you'd been exploring a bit you knew where it was a danger.
What in your opinion is the most unfairly maligned and under-rated game in videogames history?
3D Lemmings on the PC (controlling the console versions is a bit of a chore). It's almost like a puzzle version of Super Mario Galaxy, with brilliant new ideas in practically every level, yet it gets uniformly panned for reasons which completely escape my understanding.
Offhand I can't think of another game where I've ever woken up in the middle of the night with the solution to a level, and had to go and play it there and then. It's an obvious labour of love, an absolute joy all the way through, yet nobody loves it but me. I would pay AT LEAST eleven pounds fifty to anyone who could deliver me a copy of it that worked properly in Windows XP.
What should there be more of in games?
Plot recaps. If you're going to have a narrative-heavy game that takes tens of hours to play through, it's the height of arrogance to expect players to do it all at once. Yet if you stop playing a game and come back to it a month later, you can't remember what the hell's going on. Mainstream games would be a lot more appealing if you could get a brief summary of everything that had happened up to your save point. It really shouldn't be a difficult thing to do.
Should silent protagonists in games remain silent?
Yes. Every word a character speaks just reminds the player that they're someone else. Voice acting in videogames is still, so far as I've seen, uniformly awful – probably because even when they get Morgan Freeman or someone to do it, they're generally reading dialogue written by an idiot nerd. So avatars should never speak – the only exception being if they do so in Banjo-Kazooie-style gibberish, which is tremendously entertaining.
What's so great about the iPlatform – iPhone, iTouch etc – as a gaming device? (from a non-iPlatform owner who likes games).
It's taken over from the DS as the primary platform for people who like instant-access games. Millions of people like the thought of videogaming, but are put off by the idea of having to devote hours and hours to it at a time, wading through instructions and tutorials and stories, all of which you forget if you don't play the game for a month and then come back to it.
The iPod has plenty of deeper games in addition to the huge rafts of quick arcade stuff and excellent puzzlers, but the nature of its controls (as well as the demands and expectations of its audience) mean that developers have to design things much more tightly and keep their games accessible and immediate.
If I buy a typical new PS3 game, the amount of time it's going to take before I'm playing the "real" game – ie not the tutorial – probably averages something over an hour and a half, given the crushing inevitability of having to perform a fucking firmware upgrade every single time I switch the bastard thing on. That's an awful lot of work to have to put in before you're allowed to actually play. With the iPod it's likely to be about 30 seconds including downloading time.
And price is a huge factor too. With a large percentage (probably the majority) of games costing just 59p – and scores available for free every day – you can afford to take a punt on stuff you wouldn't normally try, which obviously frees developers to let their imagination and creativity loose in a way that they couldn't afford to before, because few people will risk even £25 on a DS title that they're not certain they're going to like. 59p is less than a packet of cheese'n'onion McCoys in the average newsagent – if you spend that much on a game that turns out to not be your cup of tea, big deal.
I've said it before, but while there are lots of top-division titles you should definitely buy, you could get by very happily as an iPod gamer on free stuff alone (and I'm talking about full games here, not demos and Lite versions), without resorting to anything illegal. Despite the high-ish initial outlay, it's unquestionably the best value-for-money gaming platform in history.
What do you think SEGA should do with their Super Monkey Ball games next?
Leave them alone. SMB was a fantastically refreshing one-off, that got more and more tiresome the more they milked it. There's no fundamental depth in the gameplay, which isn't in itself a bad thing but it makes it horribly unsuited to being sequelled to death.
I sometimes come across people who tell me the Donkey Kong Country games were overrated. What is up with THAT?!
Poor-quality friend selection is what is up with that.
Why are people so annoyed that Nintendo consoles are the most popular again?
There are two main reasons. One is that some of the people who are annoyed are self-styled "hardcore" fanboy idiots who are angry that the "kiddy" image of the Wii and DS makes them as videogamers seem less cool and streetwise, and that their simple motion interfaces make gaming more accessible and therefore negate all the years they've spent learning needlessly complex control systems.
The other main reason – and there isn't much crossover between the two – is that Nintendo make some amazing games but are such unutterably horrible, cynical, money-grasping wankers. They always have been, but when their consoles were less successful it wasn't as noticeable. But now they've hit on a couple of cash cows they're milking them raw with nakedly greedy ferocity – sometimes resorting to plain and simple theft – and nobody likes to have to watch that.
Sky TV provides a really good service, but people who use it often resent the fact that it's Rupert Murdoch they have to give their money to if they want to enjoy it. With Nintendo it's like that times about a thousand, and without the value for money.
Which are the 'good' Mario Kart games in your opinion?
I realise that it makes me a heretic, but MK64 is the only one I've ever really enjoyed. The SNES game is dull except for the balloon battle mode, the GBA and DS releases make my eyes freak out, and Double Dash is fine but a bit tired. I haven't played the Wii game, and I doubt I will.
And while it's not part of the series in most people's eyes, the arcade game's naked cash-whoring is absolutely shameful. Having to pay to play the next race even if you win? Someone should be publicly eviscerated for that.
You wrote your top 100 Speccy games list back in the early 90's. Would you make any amendments to it now? Are there any games that didn't feature that you would now include, or any games that you've changed your mind about?
I was wrong about Chaos. My justification to myself at the time was that including Rebelstar sort of covered it, but that doesn't really stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny.
The only things I might be tempted to lose if I was remaking the list now are Robocop, Avalon and a handful of games I put in more because they were notable achievements rather than fun games – Gyron, Codename MAT, Carrier Command.
What I'd replace them with is a tougher one. Somebody ask me that separately later when I've had a good think.
[some days later]
Right! You've had ages to think now. What would you replace the handful of games you've retroactively taken out of the YS top 100 with?
There's a whole bunch of contenders. I think Dustman got ruled out in the end for being too like Robotron, but that might have been harsh – it's got a feel of its own. Goodness knows how Amaurote got left out of both my chart and the readers' one, that seems like madness. Jet Set Willy 2 should definitely have replaced Jet Set Willy. I played Dan Dare far too much for that one not to have made the 100. Freez' Bees, Orion, Terminus and Bosconian 87 are obscure personal favourites of mine. Voidrunner and West Bank are both excellent, unique and colourful. So, so many.
Despite not playing an Amiga game since I was little I can still remember the music from Rodland and Locomotion. Is there any odd game music (good or bad) that stays with you for some reason?
I think the longest-lived game music in my head is that of New Rally-X, which I remembered note-perfect from the arcade for about 15 years without ever playing the game, until it became available through emulation.
What games would you like to see Treasure make next?
A new Bangai-O for XBLA.
Was Bandai's Wonderswan much cop?
It's a really nice little machine with some very good games, including some that make great use of the unique controls. Unfortunately the lack of a backlight is a real pain – it's incredible that we ever put up with handhelds with unlit screens. It's well worth investigating WonderSwan stuff via emulation, particularly on the PSP if you've got custom firmware installed.
Would the creation of a single videogames format be a laudable goal for the industry?
Absolutely. The amount of time wasted on developing competing formats and porting games between platforms is stupid. Far more games could also be successful if consumers didn't have to spend hundreds of pounds on hardware in order to access each system's exclusive titles.
Is there an Amiga emulator that an idiot like me could operate?
No. You're much too stupid.
What do you think of game collectors?
It depends what kind of collectors they are. If they're people who want to have all the games so they can play them, that's cool. If they're "investment" collectors, I hope they die.
Which games hardware format from the last thirty years do you feel was/is the most unfairly overlooked and under estimated?
It kinda depends on who you're talking about doing the overlooking. The Dreamcast is the obvious answer, which was a brilliant arcade-gaming console disastrously mispromoted as some sort of internet browser and multiplayer gaming hub, despite being region-locked and having a dial-up modem.
On the other hand, it's probably going to be the biggest-selling games machine of all time, but the DS was abominably overlooked by the entire media. There wasn't a single dedicated print mag for it, and almost nothing in the way of websites. Apart from its sales figures, it was never accorded the credit and respect it was due.
How many games do you have? And have you played them all?
Over 40,000. And no. See here, for example.
What's your favourite Zelda game and what do you think they should do to improve the series?
The only one I've played for a really significant period of time was Phantom Hourglass, which I enjoyed greatly until being made to replay the same dungeon for about the seventh time finally made me give up. So to improve the series, they should make more games like Phantom Hourglass, except without bits you have to repeat over and over and over again.
Do you think Amazing Penguin and Bill and Ted's Excellent GB Adventure for the Gameboy are amazing and excellent?
I absolutely do. Amazing Penguin is a game I only discovered a few weeks ago (I read about it on a website which was all about "hidden gems" on various formats). It's a brilliant little Amidar derivative that's typical of the excellent, simple arcadey releases that typified the Game Boy's early days.
And of course, alert viewers will already know that Bill And Ted's is simply one of my favourite games of all time. So I fully approve of the titles in both cases.
What is a hardcore gamer really?
Anyone who loves videogames that are videogames, not wannabe movies.