Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Jonathan Low Blow

Recently on the 1up FM podcast in the 9/1/08 episode, guest Jonathan Blow, co-creator of Braid, had this to say about Wii Sports/Nintendo. (skip to approx. 1hour 20min)

"Nintendo proved it if the Sims didn't. Right? They certainly didn't work very hard on their games. And yet they've got the biggest audience as everybody. I'm going to get assassinated for saying that, but it's true. From a craftsman's standpoint Wii Sports is very poorly created. Everything about is like lackluster and clumsy and weird. But it's good enough for the people who wanted to play that kind of game and nobody else was making that kind of game for them. You know and so it sold tons and tons and tons of copies. "


Though I'm currently working on my Braid review as well as responses to several emails, I'll say this...

Dear Mr. Blow,

You're claims about Wii Sports are completely false. I'm not sure what comprises the craftsman's point of view, but I do understand Wii Sports from a game design point of view. If you think the mechanics in Wii Sports are sub par, let me assure you they're of the highest rank. The graphical style and presentation are straight forward and accessible. Surely clicking on an icon in a menu isn't clumsy or weird. If you think the different sports are shallow, then you should know that the core design of each game is very next-gen especially Sports Boxing. The people who want to play "that kind of game" are made up in part of gamers who are tired of the RPG grind, static space, clumsy controls, clutter games, and the pathetic story telling that have saturated the market. Wii Sports is focused, clean, assessible, and next-gen which is more than the vast majority of games can claim. If you wish to debate Wii Sports or Braid feel free to contact me via email.

Good day,

Richard Terrell (KirbyKid)

14 comments:

Daniel Purvis said...

I'm interested to see what becomes of your email, dude.

If you do find yourself in a debate, please ensure that you publish the commentary.

KirbyKid said...

Will do.

Blow sounds like a well grounded, intelligent individual from his comments on the podcast.

If this challenge doesn't attract his attention, then my review might.

uberlis said...

if he's a geek like most of us, he won't leave it like that. I'm sure he'll reply, and I want to know what and when..

by the way, I won't make any constructive comments now, just want to say I love what you write.

Justin Keverne said...

I can see the point we was making even if I don't entirely agree. Wii Sports is not devoid of craftsmanship, simply getting it to work is a praiseworthy achievement, but at the same time it is maybe one step removed from a technology demo or prototype; they got the motion control to work, put a very simply interface over the top and shipped it.

It's good enough, and is certainly fun, but can anybody actually say it is the best implementation possible? It is the very definition of a bare bones game, and if anybody else had released it they would have been justifiably berated for it. But Nintendo, being who they are, seem to get a free pass.

I enjoyed Wii Sports, particularly with friends, but that doesn't diminish the fact that it feels and looks like a proof of concept. Of course the fact you don’t actually have to pay for it means berating it is a little petty.

KirbyKid said...

@ uberlis

Thanks for the kind words.

@ Justin Keverne

The problem with your argument is that it's not based on design but on arbitrarily chosen and privileged conventions. For example...

You said that Wii Sports is one step away from being a tech demo. Why do you say that? Geometry Wars is a game that has a few modes. You could say... "they got the shooting and moving to work, put colorful, simple vector graphics on top and shipped it." Still, all these positions are beside the point. If a "tech demo" has more design, innovation, and gameplay than whatever you would consider a full-fledged-fleshed-out game to have, then what's the problem?

When you say that Wii Sports is "good enough" it sounds like you don't see everything it is/has to offer because you never gave it a fair chance.

Not best implementation possible, but Wii Sport's mechanics are in the highest category. On a side note, few gave have even come close to matching the quality design of Wii Sports motion controls. So far, it's one of the most next-gen, clean, and accessible games I've ever played.

You say it's "bare bones" and I have to refute that statement. 5 Sports with multiplayer options. Custom characters that can each be leveled up beyond pro (which is difficult because of how points are subtracted when you lose [that's hardcore right?]). 3 training modes for each sport that hone, isolate, and focus on a particular aspect of each sport (15 total) . That's not bare bones. That's pretty feature filled.

I don't care that the game is free for us. A game's price shouldn't affect a critique of its content. Maybe if you were writing a review/buyers guide. And I certainly don't accept that Nintendo got a free pass. Too many people try to diminish the hard, cutting edge work Nintendo does as a "free pass" and "getting lucky." The reception speaks for itself in this case.

Even if the game feels like a proof of concept, if you don't have any points against its design, then what does that feeling really matter.

This is simply the point I'm making. When trying to criticize Wii Sports, most people don't really have any real criticisms... at least so far.

Believe me, I'm Nintendo's harshest critic.

I didn't mean to jump on your post. But I felt I had to make these things clear.

Thanks for the comment.

Justin Keverne said...

I didn't mean my statement of "good enough" to be derogatory so much as a highlight of the fact that Wii Sports doesn’t need a lot of the user interface tweaks and customisation options other games tend to provide. It does everything it needs to be good entertainment; good fun, and contains no filler. I appreciate that kind of purity but I can also see how it could be considered a little crude and simplistic. Simple interface, simple graphics, simple sound effects, superficially it looks crude and unfinished.

My point about it being a tech demo is that it is exactly what is needed to represent the games themselves and very little more. Talking about the characters that can be levelled up is a bit of a reach isn’t it? You are basically given a score based on your performance, either positive or negative and a little trophy upon reaching Pro. I think when you play Wii Sports it can be easy to look at each game in isolation and think “Well is this it?” the amount of effort that has gone into each individual game can be very hard to appreciate precisely because it is so well, so transparently, implemented.

Look at some of the recently released prototypes for Spore, a lot of them are entertaining, but compared to Spore itself they feel crude and unfinished. That’s the feeling I can get from Wii Sports, mechanically solid but the experiential elements are lacking. Geometry Wars doesn’t have that feelings as the graphics and sound effects work in a holistic way to enhance the experience of playing the game.

When it comes to Nintendo consider what would happen if any other developer released a title as superficially crude as Wii Sports is (In terms of appearance and interface functionality), they’d be derided for not putting any effort in. I mean look at the sheer number of mini-game collections for the Wii, some of them are mechanically very good, but the immediate reaction is that they are crude simplistic and dull, yet Wii Sports or Wii Play which are often on par with some of those other titles are accepted as being “good” simply by virtue of being Nintendo titles.

Sorry for the length of my post. I think the best way to explain what I mean in a brief way is Wii Sports is mechanically superb but superficially crude.

KirbyKid said...

@ Justin Keverne

When you say Wii Sports looks "crude" and "unfinished" you're making these statements based on an arbitrary criteria. GTA4's graphics are crude because it has tons of slow down and popup. MSG4 has frame rate issues as well. Mass Effect not only has frame rate issues, but pop in, texture loading issues, and a deadly elevator save problem. Wii Sports runs at 60 fps with absolutely no pop up and no hick ups. If anything, those other games seem "unfinished."

My character leveling up comment isn't a reach. You get a score based on how well you play against the opponent. The higher your overall score, the more difficult the opponents and the more points the player stands to lose if they lose. If you get past 1000 points you earn pro status and the opponents get significantly harder. If you get past 1600 points (or up there in the numbers), things becomes incredibly difficult. So instead of shallow RPG leveling systems, Wii Sports' System is part of a dynamically adjusting difficulty system.

When playing GTA4 I thought "this is it? You just drive around and complete poorly designed missions?" When playing an RPG (most RPGs) that quickly boils down to simple strategies of attack-attack-heal I think "really? This is what I've been doing for years with RPGs." Sure, it's easy to miss all the clever/hard work that went into Wii Sports. I don't know if how well/transparently implemented the Wii Sports games are affects anyone's appreciation significantly, but there is something about the title that throws people off.

About your feelings regarding Wii Sports compared to Geometry Wars, I can't really debate feelings. I can only debate arguments. You said the graphics and the sound were implemented into GeoWars which is the reason why you don't get that feeling from what is a comparatively feature-shallow game. But to me, Graphical style and sound almost mean nothing. I'm all about gameplay and design and these are the things I seek in my games because they're at the heart of the video game medium. If you have an issue how Wii Sports mechanics are lacking, then I'll need some specifics.

If you're going to talk about the number of decent/quality mini game collections on the Wii, I'll need a list. I've only played Wario Ware: Smooth Moves and Rayman Raving Rabbits. You said that Wii Sports is on par with other mini game collections? But, again, Wii Sports is far better than most titles on the Wii, and definitely out classes the mini game collections I assume you're thinking of. Wii play is good because it comes with a Wiimote. Conversely, Wii Sports is good because it's a next-gen game that's very well designed.

The only way I can respond to your comments is by pointing out that your criteria for making judgments and the language that you use to describe games are subjective/contain holes. At this point, unless you get down to specifics, this conversation will be stunted in generalities.

Thanks for responding though. Don't let me get you down. Fight back with everything you've got.

Justin Keverne said...

I agree that my arguments are subjective, as indeed are the statements of Mr Blow. So to tell him that he is "completely false" is foolhardy. He is as right in his opinion as you are in yours.

I’ll accept that on re-examination I was inaccurate in my assessment that other mini-game collections are on par with Wii Sports on a mechanical level.

I think that focusing solely on mechanics is an inherently dangerous and limiting way to critically analyse games. The graphics, sound, and interface make a significant difference to the experiential nature of the game and to the ability of players to understand the game play mechanics themselves.

I appreciate the work you have done in drilling down to the core mechanics in an attempt to understand games but I think that taking a purely mechanical approach to analysing games is a limiting as taking a purely grammatical approach to analysing literature.

The graphics and sound of Geometry Wars are of fundamental import to the gameplay itself, they are not just a meaningless additional layer. There is a degree of synaesthesia at work in that title that greatly aids the core gameplay. Information about the status of the game world is communicated through the visual and audio effects forming a feedback system between player and game.

To ignore the significant impact of the presentation and interface of a game is a mistake. Would you consider the graphics and sound of Rez to be meaningless?

When it comes to Wii Sports, I will state again that the mechanics are not the aspect that I think Jonathon Blow is taking issue with, and it is not the area I am taking issue with. It is instead the presentation. Each Sport is a representation of the actual sport but the most basic version of that sport possible. Golf in particular is a very abstract representation of that game. That is what I mean by it feels like a technology demo, it is the core mechanics required to represent the game and nothing else.

I recommend you read\listen to Jonathon Blow’s talk on “Push and Convey” to understand his perspective on Wii Sports. In the language of that lecture the Conveyance of Wii Sports is outstanding, but it fails to Push that idea beyond the core functionality.

Anyway I find myself defending Jonathon Blow when I disagree with him most of the time. I also find myself arguing with you when I think what you're doing is of vital importance to the understanding and appreciate of games. I might think you're focus is a little myopic but I can't fault your ambition or critical skill.

KirbyKid said...

@ Justin Keverne

I really don't think Blow's statements are subjective. He took a stance and I took the counter stance. Nothing foolhardy about my challenge. Foolhardy would be trying to convince someone else of what they like and how they like it.

Trust me, if you comb through my blog you'll see that I cover all of a video game's elements including graphics and sound. I don't know how many times I've written "form fits function" but it must be up there. This statement alone acknowledges the important relationship between a game's visuals to the gameplay. Also, I've written articles are sound design and how it can be used as a "third eye" giving players insight to off screen happenings.

Beyond how these elements affect gameplay, I acknowledge that they also affect the players in other ways. After all, I am an artist/musician myself. Of course these elements have meaning.

But don't get me wrong. In a debate where points are being argued, sometimes focusing on a particular is necessary. I wouldn't attempt to extrapolate too much from a concise rebuttal.

We'll both have to wait and (hopefully) see what Johnathan Blow really meant by his statement.

I wouldn't say that the Wii Sports games are the most basic representation. Remember when we played games back on the NES or the Atari? Those are the most basic representations. Pong = tennis?

"Golf in particular is a very abstract representation of that game. That is what I mean by it feels like a technology demo, it is the core mechanics required to represent the game and nothing else."

Wii Sports Golf is probably the least abstract video game version of golf. Golf games with power meters and leveling up are the abstract versions. What's more direct/concrete than doing a swinging motion to do a swing in the game? Wii Sports is closer to a simulation than the abstraction that you speak of. "nothing else"? What else do you need in a Golf game besides the drive, short game, and the putt?

I will listen to Blow's talk. I just finished downloading it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

In all seriousness, thanks for your support. I'm always trying to find the balance between communicating and upsetting people.

PS:
A purely mechanical look at games is not analogous to analyzing literature only through grammar.

Since interactivity is at the heart of the medium, analyzing a game solely on mechanic and how those relate to the game world/experience is analogous to analyzing literate by the meaning of words and how the words relate to each other.

And as for your synesthesia comment... what you referenced in GeoWars is something that all (good) games have. And it's not quite synesthesia... more like quality design.

Justin Keverne said...

I will retract my comment about you only focusing on gameplay, I was a little caught up in trying to make a point. Sorry. I enjoy and appreciate such discussions I just need to learn to focus my arguments better.

I see what you mean about Wii Sports Golf, it is mechanically almost a 1:1 representation of the physical act of swinging a club. But there is more to the game of Golf than simply swinging the club. There are more than 3 clubs, and a choice of 3 or 9 holes.

Maybe I'm approaching it from a more experiential direction than you but Golf in particular is more than the mechanical act of swinging the club. Tennis is about more than swinging the racket. Wii Boxing however is probably the most accurate Boxing simulation I’ve ever seen, though it can be slow to respond to very rapid movements.

Saying that the implementations of Tennis, Golf and Baseball, are not abstractions is akin to saying a Soccer game where all you have to do is kick a ball is a non abstract representation of the game of Soccer. Movement, both on and off the ball are vital aspects of the game of Soccer, as movement is vital in Tennis and Baseball. These aspects are not represented in Wii Sports therefore it is a approximation of the games, a representation.

Wii Sports is granted not the most basic representation but it is still a limited representation and I don't see any compelling reasons why they should have left it as basic as they did.

KirbyKid said...

"But there is more to the game of Golf than simply swinging the club. There are more than 3 clubs, and a choice of 3 or 9 holes. Maybe I'm approaching it from a more experiential direction than you but Golf in particular is more than the mechanical act of swinging the club. Tennis is about more than swinging the racket."

Now it's an issue of semantics. By one definition, golf, a game played by people, is more than the mechanics of swinging a club and the like.

On the other hand, if you go with the rules of the game/ the definition in the dictionary....

"a game in which clubs with wooden or metal heads are used to hit a small, white ball into a number of holes, usually 9 or 18, in succession, situated at various distances over a course having natural or artificial obstacles, the object being to get the ball into each hole in as few strokes as possible."

... it would seem that Wii Sports Golf fits the definition exactly.

I can see where you're coming from on this issue. In the future, it'll probably be best to side with the dictionary or state your definition of something before continuing using the word.

True, the Wii Sports games are abstractions to an extent (and some more so than others). On a side note, it seems like you still take issue with some combination of Wii Sports' features/presentation.

"Wii Sports is granted not the most basic representation but it is still a limited representation and I don't see any compelling reasons why they should have left it as basic as they did."

1) Compared to real life, the simulation style Wii Sports games are extremely limited. However, they still represent next-gen design that's beyond the competition.

2)The game has the features that are pertinent to it's scope, aim, and vision. I challenge you to try and get a platinum medal on one of the Wii Sports training modes. The difference between getting a bronze, silver, gold, and then platinum should demonstrate how tight the core mechanics of the games are even when in an isolated exercise.

3) They had to get the game out by launch, which means they had to draw the line somewhere, this happens to nearly all launch titles. Judging by the amount of effort going into the sequel Wii Sports Resort, they're upping the ante in features, games, and options. We'll see when it comes how how Nintendo does when they have plenty of time, confidence, experience, and money.

4) They didn't have the experience. It's hard doing something new, cutting edge, or innovative and have that work/product be the best, shining example of all time.

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