Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Wii-volution

I don't know if you know this, but I'm an avid video game player. Less avid now than I used to be, much to my great shame and regret. That being said, I have played the Wii. The Wii is fun. It is simple. And in a party environment, it leads to some pretty good entertainment. Do I own one? Nope. Do I intend to buy one? Nope (sorry Danielle). If its so fun, why won't I buy it? Well, to be honest, it doesn't appeal to me. Earlier today, Chris directed me to a blog posting over at Newsweek.

Go ahead and take a few minutes to read it. I'll wait. Dum de dum de dum... hmm, what the hell is that under my nails? Ewww. How long has that been there? I wonder how it tast- oh you're back. Find that to be an interesting read? I did too. Perhaps because I disagree with almost every bit of reasoning the man had.

His central claim is that as games have evolved, they have gotten more complex because companies discovered that they could make more money with complex games in the arcades than they could with simple games. This falls in line with his idea that more complex = more satisfying. His other central idea appears to be that because anybody can play the Wii everyone should play. There also appears to be the test of "can a 6 year old play it?"

As to his first claim, he states that Street Fighter 2 was doomed to failure because it was so complex. This is a completely implausible statement evidenced by his own anecdote of the machine being used nonstop for years at a time. Video game companies didn't discover that complexity made for more money. They discovered that more complex and precise controls allowed players to have more control over what happened in the game. This level of control made games more fun because gamers could play the way they wanted to. Shocking concept, I know.

Most developers do not make games complex for the sake of being complex. There is always a reason for that complexity. When looking at a modern video game controller, it is important to consider that modern video game controllers grew more complex because they had to compete with the other console that has been a constant throughout all of videogames: the personal computer. Video game consoles have never been able to provide the same level of control as a simple keyboard and mouse. Instead, they've tried to put all the functions you would need into a small, increasingly ergonomic pad that you can use. You can look, you can move, and you can interact with objects. A more complex controller is just a way of giving someone more control over the game.

Later on, the author makes the claim that small children sometimes can't play children's games because the controls are too difficult. I find that hard to believe. Children are actually really good at picking up a 360 or Playstation 3 controller and learning how to play it. In fact, Chris has informed me of the fact that he got his ass kicked by an 11-year old in Halo. Thats pretty embarrassing but it does happen. The little bastards also generally like to tell you that you're getting your ass kicked by a little punk. The controllers are intuitive. You look, you move, you hit the green or blue button. And it usually is the green or the blue button. In fact, the only people I've ever met who have trouble with a video game controller are old people or people who are too lazy to experiment with the controller for 20 minutes. I've taught sororiety girls how to play Soul Caliber and Halo 3 in less than half an hour. Sororiety girls. Also, I've played a Wii with quite a few people who fit more into the "everybody" bracket than the "gamer" bracket, and the same people who typically have trouble with a regular controller have the same trouble with a Wii-mote. Especially in any department that requires precision.

Now, the author mentions that there are people who are outraged at the success of the Wii. And there are. People like me who are more interested in having fun and killing something and less interested in the console wars refer to these people as 'fan boys.' They are people who trumpet the successes of their system while deriding all others and can't believe that people would actually disagree. Whatever, they're idiots with too much time on their hands. Ignore them.

Moving on though, the author mentions that developers have tried to make their existing games fit on the Wii and thus far they are failed for the most part. I have heard from friends who own a Wii that this is true. The controls don't work, the graphics are ugly, and the game itself just doesn't feel right. If its not made specifically for the Wii, then it generally is going to be a poor import. Sometimes this is baffling. I have a co-worker who owns a Wii fishing game. Fishing could work on the Wii but for some reason the developer made the weird choice that instead of using the Wii-mote like a fishing rod, you would press complex sequence of buttons. Weird and stupid. The author says "good" to this. I'm sorry, I'm confused. Good? We should be pleased that games designed for gamers don't work on the Wii? I would like this explained to me. You're telling me that if I have an X Box 360, I can get all the mini-games and arcade games I want for like $5 a pop off of X Box Live Arcade and play some of the best games to come out this year but if I only have a Wii I need to pay $50 for a set of mini games, and I can't play Call of Duty 4? What the fuck is that? When the author says that the Wii's market is "everybody" I must respectfully disagree. The Wii's market is Nintendo apologists and everybody who doesn't know how to play video games already. Thats a big market, I'll admit. But its disingenous to say that the market is "everybody." This is going to be a question to all the Wii owners out there (and there are a lot of you): How many games are there for the Wii that are both good and made with mature gamers in mind. I can think of four off the top of my head; Zelda, Metroid, and two Mario games. Pretty much the same three games that Nintendo has been making for almost 30 years. Is Super Smash Brothers out? I'll count that as five if it is.

Next, the author derides game reviewers who give poor reviews to Wii games that are just "pure play." IE. the mini-game collections. He notes that one reviewer states that the game was more fun than he expected but still gave it a low score. He then wonders why it got such a low score if it was "more fun than expected" and what the hell did the guy expect anyways? You know what he expected? Value. The cost of video games continues to go up. Gamers are consistently being asked to pony up more and more cash to be able to indulge in their chosen hobby. And for the most part, we're fine with that. Will I spend $60 on Halo 3? You bet your Spartan ass I will. Why am I willing to spend that much money? Because it has a strong singleplayer experiance and then gives me loads of options in multiplayer. The game is worth that $60. The game is also innovative. Value! The problem with a lot of Wii games, at least to my mind, is that the game experiance is shallow and unless you're playing with a bunch of people who it may be new to, the luster of the game wears off pretty quickly. How many times can you play the same mini-game before you get a little tired of it?

The author claims that these games score poorly because they are outside the norm and thus, they are hard to rate. That may be true. But video game reviewers all look for the same things. Is the game easy to handle? Can I play it how I want to or am I railroaded by the developers? Does the game experiance scale to my play ability? Does the game make sense? And most importantly, is it worth my money? One of the specific games singled out is Mario Party 8 which scored poorly. Why did it score poorly? Because the game was a rehash of the previous 7 Mario Parties and random crap would happen that didn't make any sense. Its not that reviewers felt that the game couldn't be "completed" it was that reviewers felt that their actions had little impact on the game.

For a lot of people Wii games meet those criteria. And thats fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But for the people who already know how to play video games, the Wii just lacks value. The Wii isn't the best system, but it also isn't the worst system. It just took a different business model than Sony or Microsoft. If it appeals to that author because he can play it with his 6 year old son, great. People should get the system that they feel they are most compatible with, not the system that people say is the "best." But don't try and make the argument to me that because you can play it with your son its the next revolution in gaming. Because, I have news for you. Your son will eventually get bored with it. That first time he gets to play Halo 5 with his friends in a few years is going to show him what modern games are capable of acheiving in terms of story-telling and control.

Plus he's going to realize that guns and violence (which are in short supply on the Wii) are awesome.

Cheers and happy gaming.

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