Multiplayer Archive: Week Nine

Multiplayer: A Nintendo Wii Plot Twist
Electronic Arts’ titles for Wii are far more impressive than expected.

01.19.07

When Nintendo released the DS in late 2004, Electronic Arts was among the game publishers that pledged support. But the company struggled to produce quality games and released some of the worst-reviewed titles on the system. How could EA do any better with the Wii’s wild motion controls?

On Thursday night I went to a loft in midtown-Manhattan, New York, to play some near-final versions of upcoming Electronic Arts games that are scheduled for release by the end of March. What I played on Thursday didn’t explain how EA got better when it came to the Wii — it just proved that they did.

I ran out of time and didn’t play “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07” on the Wii, but I tried two others. Say what you will about the nearly year-old open-world “The Godfather: The Game” for PS2 and its subsequent touch-ups for Xbox 360 and PSP, but the Wii version delivers some very clever touches.

To grab someone by the lapels, I had to take the Wii’s nunchuck and remote, grab the controllers’ triggers, and lunge my hands toward the screen. To slap an opposing mobster (or some poor pork-store owner) I just swatted my hand through the air. To head-butt him, I jerked my hands toward my face. To shove him, I thrust my hands away, releasing the triggers to let him fly. To open a door, I had to twist the remote, like twisting a doorknob. This might all win the Wii an award for Console Next Likely to Be Critiqued for Teaching Violence, but it also proves that Wii controls can be intuitive in a “Godfather” — or a “Grand Theft Auto” — type of setting.

SSX Blur” for the Wii was even more impressive. The game’s designer told me that 2003′s “SSX 3” was his favorite game in the snowboarding series, which is fortunate, since it’s mine as well. Stripped from “Blur” is the thrash-metal edge of 2005′s “SSX on Tour.” In its place is a return of the older SSX’s techno, blue-and-white-snow, pink-sky vibe. In “Blur,” the over-the-top Monster tricks of “On Tour” have been dubbed with their old moniker, Uber. The Wii game’s characters are shorter, more cartoonish. They wear headphones that steam musical notes into the sky as the riders rush down the slopes, the soundtrack incorporating more of the score’s five layers the better the run gets.

Back to the ideals of “SSX 3,” the game lays its 12 courses on one big mountain, offers races, half-pipes, trick challenges, some new snowball-throwing techniques and also maps almost all of its boarders’ moves to motion control. My left hand, holding the nunchuck, controlled body movement. Rolling my hand left and right turned the rider in those directions, a lean of the nunchuk’s thumbstick adding extra degrees to a turn. To jump the character I flicked the nunchuck, then shot the remote sideways for mid-air spins, and nodded it to do flips. Had I been a quick enough study to max out the Uber meter, I would have been able to pull off the top tricks with zigzags of the remote or even a two-handed move in the shape of a heart.

I hadn’t expected EA Wii games to play this well. Curious to hear about even more progress, I asked “SSX” producer Eric Chartrand if his ambitious Wii game might even include support for the Wii system’s Mii avatars. If EA is going to go all out with Nintendo’s system, then why not? He said Nintendo hasn’t even released the tools for third-party developers to put Miis into their games (readers of Tuesday’s Multiplayer learned how Nintendo used the technique themselves in “Wario War“). We talked about how the Miis might not fit the graphical style of some games. I suggested that a realistic-looking “Need for Speed” could get around that by fashioning a player’s Mii as an ornament hanging from a rearview mirror. He smiled a smile I inferred meant I should retain my day job.

Who am I to push for more? EA has done a lot more than I expected for Nintendo’s off-the-wall system. Let’s leave it at that for now.

— Stephen Totilo

Once a week (except when we skip one, like last week — sorry!), Multiplayer provides a Stock Report that should give you a sense of what actually is streaming into the office and how companies are trying to grab our attention:

The Stock Report:
» Number of games at MTV HQ: 229
» Last three games to arrive: “Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Justice for All” (Nintendo DS), “World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade” (PC, collector’s edition), “Hotel Dusk: Room 215″ (Nintendo DS)
» Last system to arrive: PS3
» Last swag to arrive: First page of “script” for “Hotel Dusk”

Multiplayer: You Get What You Don’t Ask For
Gamers might not have been clamoring for game inspired by A-Ha video, but here it is.

01.18.07

As a child, I watched many countdown shows featuring the greatest music videos of all time.

You got your “Thriller.” You got that Dire Straits one with the crudely computer-animated repairman. And you had a video for the song “Take on Me” in which members of the Norwegian band A-Ha help woo a woman from our flesh-and-blood world to a land where everyone looks like they were sketched with a pen on white placemats. (You can check out that ’80s classic right here.)

I don’t remember ever hoping the art style of that video would be used in a video game, and about 20 years have passed without it happening. But next week, Nintendo and developer Cing will finally do it. They’ve come up with “Hotel Dusk: Room 215,” a mystery game for the DS that is billed as an “interactive novel” with lead characters sketched in black-and-white with what appear to be heavy scratchings of a pen. It ships to game stores next week.

I’ve only given the game a couple of subway rides worth of play time. I’m in the game’s first chapter, at a point where I’m still waiting to see who does what rather than solving whodunit. I was interested in “Hotel Dusk” for a while. I’d played developer Cing’s previous DS game, “Trace Memory,” which was a pleasant enough mystery game that kept me talking to characters and solving little touch-screen-based puzzles for a few hours but failed to unfold a story worth remembering. I heard this new game would sport more of a crime noir approach. Given that January is often a slow month for games, that was enough to get it on my radar. I had mild expectations.

So far, “Hotel Dusk” has been a welcome surprise. It didn’t just satisfy an unknown desire for an A-Ha-inspired game, it presents a few other things I didn’t realize I wanted. To the best of my knowledge, it becomes just the second game — following Nintendo’s successful “Brain Age” — to require the player to hold their clamshell DS sideways. With stylus in hand, you hold this “interactive novel” like you’re holding a book. During dialogue scenes, the speakers appear on separate scenes. But when you’re just walking around, the touch screen shows a map and the other screen shows a first-person view. You move around by dragging the stylus across the map. This effect allows “Hotel Dusk” another odd classification: sideways first-person-shooter-without-the-shooting.

More interesting things I didn’t ask for: When cut-scenes play in “Hotel Dusk,” they play out across two screens. Remember that the DS is being held sideways. So the scenes play in widescreen — also known as the aspect ratio of every PSP game. So here’s a chance to sort of see what Nintendo might do on a PSP, given the screen space.

“Hotel Dusk” is the first DS game I’m aware of that enables the player to hand-write notes about what they’re doing directly into the game. When you see something weird, you tap a notebook icon, the DS becomes a virtual spiral-bound, and you can jot stuff down.

The game’s characters are in black-and-white. How many gamers ever asked for that? In one midgame area of “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” everything and everyone but Link is stripped of color. And a level of “Kingdom Hearts 2” based on the earliest of Mickey Mouse cartoons, “Steamboat Willy,” is played in black-and-white. But otherwise, few games have experimented with dropping color. So far, Cing’s game is using that technique to graphically compelling effect.

The game is set in the late ’70s but seems designed to evoke the kind of film noir, then-she-walked-in drunk detective fiction usually set in the 1950s. I’m not sure why they went with the ’70s. In my limited play time, I’ve already seen one reference to a “dame” and attempts at snappy male-female dialogue like the following:

Attractive dame: “You’re not much of a conversationalist, are you?”

Weary ex-cop hero: “No, but I can carry a tune.”

Is this what gamers needed? I’m not sure. But we just got the “Zelda” game most “Zelda” fans seemed to want. We just got a faithful expansion to “World of Warcraft.” We just got what everyone was asking for. Next week, something less expected gets its shot.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Watching Mii Arm-Wrestle ‘Joey Ramone,’ ‘Condoleezza Rice’
Mario hasn’t been star of Nintendo Wii at MTV News offices.

01.17.07

There was a time when Super Mario was Nintendo’s biggest star, a time when you could hardly play a game on a GameCube or Game Boy without controlling Mario driving a go-kart, playing tennis, throwing a party or rescuing Princess Peach yet again. But Mario hasn’t been the star of the Nintendo Wii at the MTV News offices. No, that star has been me.

On the first day we got a Wii, I created a virtual version of myself, a Mii, and saved it to the system. Since then, co-workers and gaming industry folks alike have added Miis to the system, creating them in the newsroom or sending them over Nintendo’s Internet service. I’ve written about some of the surprise appearances, like the once-mysterious Big Poppa Mii whose creator has since explained how he sent it to me (see “Multiplayer: We Found Big Poppa, And Other Updates” ).

The Miis have also taken center stage in some games. The launch game “Wii Sports” allows players to use their own Miis as their playable athletes. It’s my Mii that has bowled a 66-pin strike, struck several aces in tennis and won a championship boxing belt. Before the Wii was released, Nintendo had already shown off another game full of short games, “Wii Play.” It will be released next month, and it also lets players import their Miis into the game. In November, when I asked Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime if some non-Nintendo games would also start using the characters, he said he hadn’t seen any examples of it yet (see “Nintendo Exec Predicts Wii Future, Chances Of ‘GoldenEye’ On Console” ). Nevertheless, Nintendo has promised more starring opportunities for Mii are en route.

None of this prepared me for what happened when I started playing the new Wii game “WarioWare: Smooth Moves” last weekend. The game asked me to type in my name and identify my Mii character. I assumed that meant my Mii would show up in some of the games. I did. In one short “Wario” game, I zoomed the Wii remote toward the screen to focus a picture, and the blurry image onscreen came to focus as my Mii face. In another short game, my Mii head appeared on the end of a spring. I had to rock the remote to the side to avoid stuff that was being thrown at Mii. Then came the genuine surprise: As a typical barrage of “Wario Ware” games streamed across the screen, each lasting five seconds at a time, an arm-wrestling competition popped up. One of the arm-wrestlers had his back mostly to the screen. I recognized him. It was me. My opponent looked familiar as well. It was my co-worker Michelle. I stumbled across the game again, and this time I was arm-wrestling Joey Ramone. Both my opponents had been created as Miis on my system: Michelle by Michelle, the punk pioneer by my friend Jason. Later I’d arm-wrestle a slew of other celebrities and pseudo-celebrities.

(Watch Stephen Totilo arm-wrestle Condoleezza Rice, U2′s the Edge and others right here .)

I thought when I got this new Nintendo system that I was ready for another round of Mario, Kirby and Samus adventures. Now I’m not so sure. Nintendo, you can keep your stars. I’m enjoying games that star me — and a few of my famous “friends.” We can be the game heroes ourselves, thank you.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Digesting The Game Intestine
Online guide details moment-by-moment reactions to games.

01.16.07

Every so often, one’s own private world orbits into real life. You say aloud a word you’ve read hundreds of times to yourself, but the word sounds strange because you’ve never spoken it before. Or you may have been thinking things about someone but never quite had those thoughts settle with the proper gravity until you spoke them aloud. Or you spend 20 years sinking into video game worlds, caring about obtaining magic swords, tracking rare artifacts, overcoming giant beasts — and not until a moment like I had last weekend do you realize how quietly private those experiences really are.

I was playing “Okami” on the PS2. The Capcom game was made well enough to near the top of 2006 best-of charts but sold poorly enough that shortly after the game was released, word came out that its development team was dissolved. There are lots of things to like about an adventure that pits you as a wolf in a game world animated like an ancient Japanese painting and empowers you with special moves triggered by brushstrokes you wipe across your TV screen. But a point of debatable appeal is that the game lasts more than 40 hours. I’ve got other games to play, and so I would have been happy for the game to end in half that time, by which point I’d already rescued canine warriors, used magic vines to catch a runaway log, defeated a many-headed monster, helped a potter plant lots of flowers, fed many roosters and tigers, literally drawn the sun into the sky, painted the leaves on dozens of trees and helped a witless swordsman think he’s great — among other things.

I knew I had about 20 hours left thanks to a Web site called Game Intestine (GameIntestine.com). I didn’t realize I owed them my thanks at first. I’d gone to GameFAQs, as I often do, to see how far I was in the game. There were a few “Okami” guides. The one I picked was authored by the Game Intestine people and claimed the game would take me 44 hours. It didn’t just mark off the names of each of the game’s chapters — it also indicated how many hours it should take me to finish each one. And there was more: The person writing the guide created a graph indicating, on a scale of one to 10 stars, how fun each of the game’s 44 hours is.

I started reading some of the guide. I discovered it was provided by people at Game Intestine. And it was funny, pointed and even thought-provoking regarding details that would otherwise be easy to forget. A monster I would otherwise have forgotten amid the menagerie of beasts I encountered in the “Okami” epic was called out in the guide for its bizarre combination of Christmas and Hannukah-theme designs. An area the game described as a sea garden was critiqued as being more like an undersea garage. The Game Intestine picked on one impressive part that I enjoyed, remarking that it should have been shown to the players as a noninteractive cut scene. I thought the part was good as a playable section.

I’ve kept up with the guide since then, even backtracking to read descriptions of things I already did in “Okami.” The experience is refreshing. I’m able to read the moment-by-moment reactions someone else had to the game. The site’s homepage explains the author’s intent: “Rather than giving you the basic steps to reach the end of the game, a Game Intestine guide describes what is happening in the plot, who the characters are and what the game looks like. In the same way that the small intestine uses its micro-cilia to extract nuggets of nutrition from that piece of steak you ate, our guides pull out the interesting tidbits you may have missed.”

That’s one way of putting it. There’s more detail in the guide than any one or five-page review could encompass. There’s better recall for specifics than any days-later phone conversation with other “Okami” players could drum up. What had been a private virtual world for me is now something I feel like I’m sharing — with a Web site called “Game Intestine,” of all things. It makes me wonder how much all of us gamers experience that we never talk about to anyone. What would gaming look like if we all discussed the details, instead of keeping so much in our own private world?

— Stephen Totilo

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About this column: The average gamer doesn’t have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we’re playing and what’s worth caring about it, and we’ll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.