Is Noby Noby Boy a game?

Noby Noby Boy is a piece of interactive software that, at it’s best, forces you to question the very definition of what a game is and can be.  At it’s worst, it is software that you immediately regret having spent $5 on and, somewhere in between, makes you wonder if something went terribly wrong during the translation from Japanese to English.


Noby Noby Boy is a game — I think.  You control a stretchy four-legged creature named Noby Boy who can elongate his body and eat anything.  Sometimes people will ride atop you, and sometimes they will run from you.  Sometimes a squirrel with antenna will appear in the corner of the screen to tell you your game has been saved.  There is also a parrot that will fly across the screen, which is very important according to the in-game manual, because if the parrot doesn’t fly, then you can’t play online.  There is also a Noby Girl who is trying to traverse the universe to bring people together.  Her progress is based on how far you can stretch yourself.  If this all sounds very confusing, don’t worry, you are not alone.  I may speak with conviction, but I have no idea what is going on in the world of Noby Noby Boy.

Noby Noby Boy comes to us from the mind of Keita Takahashi, creator of the equally strange game Katamari Damacy.  In Katamari you play as a small space creature who rolls a sticky ball around Earth’s cities and playgrounds collecting items to replace stars which your drunken space-giant father has accidentally destroyed.  Your sticky rolling ball swells and grows as it collects more and more items, which serves as an interesting visual reward for progression through the levels.  Noby Noby Boy does not have any kind of progression reward, or even a true goal.  In defense of the game though, it makes no attempt to hide this.  After learning how to control Noby Boy, the game informs you that there is no end goal or true motivation.  You are only there to experiment.

This is where the problem lies in the “game.”  With no motivation or reward, what is the point of playing?  Takahashi has supplied Sony with something akin to Microsoft Paint for the PlayStation 3: a piece of colorful creative software that you can do interesting things with, but not something you can play.

Takahashi strives to question modern gaming’s cliches, openly dismissing current popular gaming genres.  He is essentially a game designer who does not like games.  Noby Noby Boy is his brave experiment.  It can certainly serve as creative expression for both the player and the designer, but can it be defined as a game?  There is no high score to beat, no narrative to unravel, nor is there any real tangible reward for playing.  It’s just a weird stretchy thing that you can manipulate.  Is it worth $5 to take part in Takahashi’s gaming experiment?  Along with my perception of what exactly Noby Noby Boy is, I must admit that I have no idea.

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In Defense of Dante

 

The new Dante

 

I want the developers over at Ninja Theory to know, that I love the new Dante. I could not be more excited to see such a dramatic change for such an iconic video game character. We don’t know yet if it’s a young Dante, or even a child of Dante, but fans are already beginning to furiously type that, “Dante should only have blond hair!” It’s not even necessarily the physical aesthetics of the new Dante that I love. It’s just the idea of a different Dante that I love.

 

Didn't Dante have white hair?

 

People will scream, people will shout, online petitions will be started and every message board on he web will be rife with angry comments, but please Ninja Theory — do not give into the pressure.

In the world of film, beloved franchises undergo reasonably dramatic changes and reboots every few decades. A new Bond is cast, Sherlock Holmes is played by an American and Batman’s bat-mobile has a different designer every third film. These things happen because the people who control these franchises, are willing to let passionate directors put their own spin on their properties. When you let a new set of creative eyes look over a known fiction, we end up with things like The Dark Knight. If you are reading this blog, it’s pretty safe to assume that we all consider this to be a good thing.

Video games, for the most part, have not enjoyed this trend. With a few rare exceptions here and there, the creators of successful franchises own and protect their own products. A Company will hold onto and develop its characters and games to a breaking point, and it is only when their worth has disintegrated, that it will let them go.

 

Sony was done with Crash, so it got rid of him

 

Take for example Crash Bandicoot. Sony dipped its metaphorical mop into Naughty Dog’s orange bucket, and cleaned every single corner of there expansive new kitchen with Bandicoot scented soap. Sony cleaned, rang the mop out, cleaned some more, rang the mop out again, and then when the water was finally filthy, and no longer usable, it abandoned its distribution rights to Konami.

It has only been in the last few years that game developers and publishers have started to let other developers take on their beloved franchises. Nintendo, as usual, is the pioneer in this regard. Nintendo let Capcom take the reins on three hand-held Zelda titles, it let Sega take the reins for F-Zero and it let a little unproven developer named Retro Studios create the Metroid Prime series. It’s not all good news of course. The less said about Namco’s Starfox Assault the better. The important thing though, is that Nintendo let new people take on its cash cows, and the home-runs outnumbered the fly balls.

Capcom, perhaps after seeing the success of its Game Boy Zelda titles, have decided to try the process out on its own. Capcom approached a proven development studio team and offered them the  opportunity to work on a highly respected franchise. Devil May Cry is a franchise made out of stylized action, set upon a foundation of passable storytelling. The narrative holds up the house of action, and even though it was built by an ambitious construction worker, he was ultimately inexperienced. He wanted the story and characters to be good, and it is holding the house up admirably, but the whole thing could collapse at any minute.

The house was built in 2001, and back then it was new and pretty, and people loved it and wanted to live there. In 2003, the house got hit by a powerful storm, and it teetered back and forth violently until 2005, when the original builder came back to fix it up. People liked the house, but many were frustrated by its difficulty. I know — that part of the metaphor doesn’t make any sense.  In 2008, they overhauled the whole house, and it looked new, but it still felt exactly the same as it did in 2001. It was nice, but we had already been there. Now the house is teetering again. It didn’t sustain the same amount of damage as it did in 2003, but the house is ready to collapse.

Just to clarify, the referenced  years correspond with the release years of the first four Devil May Cry games. I just blew your mind.

 

Conceptual art for Devil May Cry 5

 

Capcom has nervously watched Dante’s house sway slightly in the breeze, and decided that it needed to work on the foundation. Capcom went to a new company, one that works extremely well with story foundations (remember the first part of the increasingly ridiculous metaphor?) and said, “This house used to be awesome. We don’t know if you can make it awesome again or not, but we want you to try.” Ninja Theory decided to accept the challenge.

Capcom is taking a huge risk, and whether it actually works out or not won’t be apparent until after the release of this new Devil May Cry. To automatically devil-may-cry foul at the new style direction is a mistake. Immediately jumping to complaints like, “His hair has to be blond!” — an actual paraphrased comment I have read — or “That game doesn’t look enough like the exact same game I already played” — a complaint I made up for the purpose of this editorial — could scare other developers away from making bold decisions.

I want something new, but I welcome the elements of the great action game I am familiar with. I know, deep down in your jaded gamer heart, that has petrified into a spike covered rock over time, that you want the same thing. Don’t listen to what anybody says Ninja Theory. Keep heading in the direction your heading and we will withhold judgment until playtime.

What do you think of Dante’s new direction? Love it? Hate it? Didn’t even think Devil May Cry was still relevant? Let me know.

Gabe Newell’s facebook account got hacked

It looks like the relationship between Apple and Steam is much different than we all assumed. If Gabe Newell’s clearly protected, and well secured facebook account is any indication of what is going on in the secret Apple/Valve meetings, it looks like Steve Jobs is letting Newell in on some very cool and totally legitimate opportunities to test out new Apple technology.

This is a deal that clearly should not be passed up.

My assumption, which is about as believable as free iPads on the internet, is that Newell agreed to develop Valve’s library of games for the Macintosh platform in one of these secret Apple/Valve meetings. Newell agreed to the development commitment only if he could get a good deal on Apple hardware. Jobs, who makes these sorts of deals in person, carefully whispered to his most trusted advisor, Justin Long, contemplating the precarious decision.  Newell sat across from him, arms crossed with his most trusted advisor, an android version of Gordon Freeman equipped with advance artificial intelligence. As Jobs whispered to Long, Newell whispered to A.I. Freeman, who of course, gave no response. Just a look of confident purpose.

Artist's rendering of a real secret meeting that actually happened.

When Jobs finally came to a decision, he said, “I agree to your terms, but only under the condition that you will tell me what you think of that iPad, and that you do it quickly.” Newell contemplated Jobs’ suggestion, and was about to agree, until he looked over at Freeman’s sullen face. Newell remembered that Valve was about community, and cool stuff for free (unless you’re on Xbox), and Newell said, “Okay Jobs, but I have one condition for you!” Jobs retreated slightly, scared, as Long stepped forward, making eye contact with Freeman. Newell said, “I will make my games play on your computer, and I will review your merchandise in exchange for free hardware, but if you want me to shake that mythical hand of yours and seal this deal, then you must let me offer free iPads in exchange for reviews, to all of my facebook fans!”

Freeman threw his fist into the air, and in all the excitement, accidentally fired his gun right into Justin Long’s chest. Luckily for Long, his commercial contract was quadruple folded in his breast pocket and the bullet was stopped. Unfortunately, the contract was destroyed, and that is why the, “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC,” ads are no longer on TV.

And that is how it all happened. Check out Gabe Newell’s facebook page for a free iPads. Trust him it works.

Just in case you missed The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

I wrote the following as practice back in February when The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom released. I like the way Kotaku.com presents reviews, and when I noticed at the time that they had not posted a Winterbottom review, I decided to take a crack at writing something for them. It was completely unsolicited and they understandably never got back to me. Randomly e-mailing fully written unsolicited reviews to gaming sites isn’t the way to get published I have since learned. Thought I should present it here though so that it doesn’t just disappear into the void of my Google Docs account. If you haven’t played the game already, you should, it’s a sweet game. And yes, those last four words are intended as a pun.

The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom tells the tale of P.B. Winterbottom and his insatiable desire for pie.  The man will literally stop at nothing to consume pie, even if it means venturing into the fourth dimension, starving small children or burning down an entire city.  The man really has an addiction problem.

Winterbottom borrows many elements from Braid, and smartly leaves behind the pretentious storytelling.  You are a man searching for pie, specifically a magical floating pie with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Loved
The pie filling – It may really just be a story about collecting pie, but there is some interesting narrative here, presented as a few lines of rhyming prose between levels.  The writing is funny, and plays with your expectations of the kind of character you assume Winterbottom is to become.  There are also some neat visual storytelling cues related to the time travel aspect of the game.

The pie crust – The game has a great art style.  Perhaps best described as Jack Skellington fighting Professor Layton in downtown London during the industrial era.  There is very little color in the game, which is used to great effect in highlighting puzzle elements.

The pie taste – As mentioned earlier, Winterbottom borrows from Braid.  Even the level selection screen reminds you of the 2008 Xbox Live Arcade classic.  You won’t be rewinding time like you do in Braid, but you will be cloning yourself heavily to solve puzzles with a recording mechanic.  There aren’t any enemies, or at least not the kind you can attack.  This is strictly puzzle solving, the kind where you may find yourself intently staring at the screen with the game unpaused planning your every move.

The sound of the pie – The music is great, especially the track of the opening levels of the game.  I was ready to spend my 800 points based purely on it’s musical merit while playing through the demo.  It starts out very upbeat and jazzy, but as you progress into the game the musical notes get drawn out, and the upbeat drums and piano eventually disappear.  The change is gradual and you may not notice it immediately, but it is effective and appropriate.  The music in the beginning of the game is drastically different emotionally than the music in the end, and it works.

Hated
Only a few pieces of pie – The story line portion of Winterbottom only took me about 4 hours to complete.  The fat on this game has been trimmed to the point where you very rarely find yourself repeating puzzle techniques.  They could have easily made multiple levels using the same techniques, and I would have been happy with that.  No harm in reassuring me that I know what I am doing by repeating certain techniques, right?  Makes me feel smart.

Where’s the extra pie? – There aren’t any hidden elements to any of the levels.  I would have loved to have an excuse to go back to the story levels to find a hidden piece of pie in that difficult nook in the corner of the screen, but Winterbottom’s pie addiction prevents him from leaving a level without first eating all the pie.  It could have added some replay value, and some length to the game overall if there was pie hidden throughout the levels that you did not necessarily need to progress to the next level

Winterbottom is a great, albeit short little puzzle game with an attractive art style, sweet jams and just enough challenge to make you feel like a genius without having to buy new a controller to replace the shattered one you just threw against the wall.  There is a time trial mode which plays a little bit differently that the story level.  I’m glad it’s there, but I did not find it nearly as compelling as the time limit free puzzle levels.  The length probably could have allowed for a slightly smaller price tag, but at the same time, there are a lot worse games that can be had for the same price on Xbox Live Arcade, so there isn’t much to complain about.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom was developed by The Odd Gentlemen and published by 2k Play.  Released on February 17th for $10 for Xbox Live Arcade.  Completed all story line levels and the first five time trial levels.  Unlocked 7 out of 12 achievements.  Was left humming the opening music theme and craving more pie.

The Record of Purchasing The Record of Agarest War

My wife and I went game shopping today, which had been a completely foreign concept to me until recently. The idea of entering a game store with the intention of looking around and buying a game based on something other than hardcore internet research, was a strange idea. While working at Gamestop, I never shopped for a game in the traditional sense. I always knew exactly what I wanted, and knew exactly how much I needed to pay for it. If I had not been paid to spend seven to eight hours standing around in the store, I’m sure I never would have spent more time in there than what it took me to wait in line and ask for the game I wanted.

My wife though, she enjoys the shopping process, and it’s the easiest way to visualize all the new releases. She was the one who initiated the trip to Gamestop, as she was finally beginning to treat Final Fantasy XIII as job and not a game. I was hoping she would buy Red Dead Redemption, but purely for selfish reasons. I am currently wrapped up in a Super Mario Galaxy 2 love affair, but I have a strange desire to always have the next game in my queue within my possession. She does not like action games, nor has she ever been interested in open world games. She has never played any of the Grand Theft Autos, but did take a passing interest in the story and character elements of GTA IV. She likes RPG’s almost exclusively, but I thought that if she played Red Dead Redemption, however brief, I could at least see what it looked like while I was traipsing the universe with Mario.

Our current setup, which would allow me to literally see Red Dead while Mario and I explore the cosmos.

So, we were in line, ready to grab a Red Dead, when Ashley saw Record of Agarest War on the back counter. It was an Xbox RPG, and that was all she needed to know. She couldn’t even see the price tag from our vantage point and she said, “I’ll get that.” The clerk snickered. The only thing I knew about this game was all the sexual innuendo associated with it. I told Ashley, “this game comes with a boob mousepad.” Ashley didn’t even make eye contact when she said, “I don’t care, it’s an Xbox RPG. I need something to play.”

The really embarassing to buy with onlookers edition would have been more appropriate.

The clerk went to the back to retrieve the game and a small line appeared behind us. When the clerk reappeared with, The Really Naughty Limited Edition of Ashley’s requested game, she felt it was vitally important to repeatedly point out the suggestive images that adorned the spine of the box. We admitted complete ignorance to the content and plot of the game, but the clerk insisted on pointing out the images to us, and subsequently the folks waiting patiently behind us. The clerk also kept saying that the game had a lot of, “fan service,” something that is apparently crucial for a player who knows nothing about the game. Fan service must have been her code word for pornography. For me, fan service implies that the game has something that would appeal to fans of the series, something Ashley and I clearly were not.

We rang up the game, and I passed on Red Dead, partly becasue $60 is a lot for a game that won’t even get played until Mario had risked life, limb and mustache to retrieve every single last star, but also because the customers behind us could see that we had bought a game with pictures like this adorning the side.

I can't imagine there is any way to explain that top image without at least some awkward stuttering.

And that pretty much explains Ashley’s frothing demand (to quote one of the greatest box quotes ever) for Xbox RPG’s. She will play anything that can be described with the word Xbox and the acronym RPG, no matter how much clothing the female protagonists may or may not be wearing, or as we have learned today, what they have in their mouths. I have also found that perceived quality of these games plays a very small role in the purchase decision as well. Do you know anyone else who has very nearly finished Divinity II?

UPDATE

According to Wikipedia, it turns out the clerk was right. Fan service does sort of mean pornography. I was totally oblivious. Ashley has been playing the game and has not seen any sort of special attention payed towards any of the female characters assets. The game is (as of about five hours in) completely unsexual. The casing was designed purely to embarrass the consumer. Way to go Aksys Games!

Bit.Trip Runner is the Greatest Concept for a Game Ever

Click here for my Bit.Trip Runner review for Gamesradar.com

Bit.Trip Runner, the rhythm-action-platformer releases today, and it looks awesome. I am going to buy it and I am going to play it, and I am going to say, “man, this is a cool idea for a game!”  You know why I am going to think it is such a cool idea for a game?  Because it is my idea!  I even entered it into a contest last year and lost!

I may sound bitter, and maybe I am a little bit, but I am still excited to play this game. Clearly it is something I have wanted to play for some time as I have been contemplating such a game in my head.  Unfortunately, my complete lack of game design knowledge and additional lack (are you allowed to have an additional lack of something?) of artistic capabilities prevented me from building such a product.

So, congratulations developer Gaijin Games, you have unintentionally stolen my awesome idea. All I can hope now is that you make some serious bank on it so when I interview for jobs I can say, “I had a concept for a game that I never made, but someone else made, that went on to make millions!”

I will have proof of my original concept later today.  That is, if I don’t start playing Bit.Trip Runner and get distracted first.

Update

Here’s the short animation I put together to conceptualize my game in September of 2009. I created this animation as a submission for the Dorito’s Unlock Xbox contest.  I did not win.

Update

I have been playing games consistently since the third grade. That clocks me in at about 15 years of solid gaming.  Never once in that time-frame have I experienced the eye fatigue that I am experiencing while playing Bit.Trip Runner.  I am enjoying the experience despite the brutal difficulty, but I am going to need a new glasses prescription by the time I am done with this game.

Update

I have officially beaten the game. It was one of the most grueling game experiences I have subjected myself to in quite some time.

Psychonauts; A Love Story

The summer of 2005 was a great gaming summer for me.  I was home from my first year of college with very few responsibilities, and I was working at Gamestop which afforded me the opportunity to take games home as often as I wanted.  It was also the summer that my band reached the height of its popularity and, yes, we were awesome and, no, that does not have anything to do with the rest of this article.

It was also the summer that Majesco bet the farm and lost.  Psychonauts and Advent Rising both released that year.  Both were big budget titles that just couldn’t quite keep the farm for Majesco.  I still admire Advent Rising for what it was trying to do.  I am convinced that more development time would have made it a great game as most of its glaring flaws were technical.  Also, looking at the company that the Advent Rising team has become today (Chair, developers of Shadow Complex) you can tell that they are talented folks who just needed more time.

But this article isn’t about them.  I would not have bet the farm on Advent Rising. Some livestock perhaps, but certainly not the whole farm.  On Psychonauts, though, I would have bet two farms and all of my government subsidies.

My autographed copy of Psychonauts, my third most prized possession after my wife* and my cat Agro, who clearly loves to be held and photographed.

I was not deeply familiar with Tim Shafer before playing Psychonauts, but I knew of him and I knew he was loved dearly.  It didn’t take me long to figure out why.  The game started out deceptively cliche in almost all areas with things like collect-a-thon platforming and characters that, upon initial meeting, seemed one-dimensional.  There was a stupid weird kid, an overambitious smart girl, a militiary guy that yelled a lot and a bully with his lackey.  All archetypes from popular Nickelodeon cartoon shows like Doug and Hey Arnold.

The first thing that impressed me was how absurdly clever everything became.  Levels based around character psyches?  Collecting emotional baggage and figments of imagination? Why hadn’t these ideas already been explored!  This, of course, is why Schafer is so respected within the gaming industry.  It is his ability to create bizarre fantastical worlds that make immediate sense with little to no explanation.

The tone of the game quickly changes from a Doug rerun, to a dark ticking time bomb of irreparable psychological damage, all while staying legitimately funny.  And it’s not that the game is funny throughout, but rather funny when it doesn’t need to be serious.  It switches tones very easily and often quickly.

You make your way through child-hood traumas, father issues, terrifying phobias and culminate in full-on insanity.  It’s a literal exploration of the range of human emotions and psyches all in an environment of fun and humor.  All this greatness and I have yet to touch on why the game is good from a gameplay standpoint.

There is really one word that can describe why technically Psychonauts is a great game: diversity.  The core of the game is collection, but just about every other element of the game is up for grabs.  Every level is completely different and completely engrossing.  You will find yourself wrestling, bullfighting, directing a play, stomping cities like godzilla, even doing some light racing by the time you are finished.

Psychonauts is fun wrapped in a brilliant concept sprinkled with hilarious dialogue and served on a bed of cleverness.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll even ride around in the mouth of a terrifying fish named Linda.  By the time it is all over, you will be emotionally drained and if you are anything like me, you will be devastated that there isn’t more to explore.

*This of course is not to imply that my wife is a possession, she just demanded that she be held to the same level of regard as a cat and a videogame with some unreadable scribble on it.