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DDoP18: The Gamer’s Guide to Writing – Super Mario Bros.

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Hello and welcome to part one of The Gamer’s Guide to Writing, in which I look at some of my favorite video games and talk about how they impacted my life and what storytelling lessons I learned from them. We’re starting with Super Mario Bros! In addition to being the platonic idea of the classic platformer, this game taught me the importance of a beginning that hooks your audience and teaches them about what is to come without overwhelming them.

Click HERE to listen!

For more on the design of World 1-1, watch This Design Club Video!

Music in today’s episode is Dance Hall Raga by remixer MKVaff, presented under a Creative Commons license from OCRemix.org!

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Hugh Likes Video Game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: I don’t know what to tell you. if you haven’t heard of it by now. It’s really good.

So, yeah, Zelda Breath of the Wild has been out for a year, and praise has been heaped upon it. And it is well deserved. Like most of the core Nintendo franchises, Zelda games tend to iterate on a formula. Installments have stayed closer or farther from this formula, but in general, the pattern of travel around a persistent map and complete X number of elemental dungeons before fighting Gannon persists. Breath of the Wild reduces the dungeon count and instead focuses a bit more on the sprawling map, that is none-the-less filled with things to do.
Zelda BotW takes several design cues from Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls in that there is always something interesting around the next corner. It also follows the design choices of A Link Between Worlds in that it gives the player his tools up front, and lets them tackle the game’s challenges as they wish, although there does feel like an ideal path.
While the game doesn’t offer the robust character development you typically see in Western RPGs, it does have a huge map full of things to do. Breath of the Wild replaces the hidden heart containers from previous games with Shrines, little formalized puzzle rooms scattered throughout the map, which also function as fast-travel points after you activate them. There are lots of mountains to climb, stuff to collect, and monsters to fight, and it rarely feels like a chore.
The four main quests do feel somewhat repetitive, as they each have the same basic structure, although the design for the dungeon-sized Divine Beasts are quite cool. The game has a very aggressive weapon and shield durability system, which will mean you will be spending a lot of time collecting replacement swords rather than relying on the familiar Master Sword. Fortunately, there is a huge variety of new ones to collect, so it does add some variety to the experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a huge, beautiful adventure with a new surprise over every ridge. It brings back a refreshing sense of freedom to the series, and is a must-play, in my opinion. You can find it for the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Wii-U.

Hugh Likes Video Games – Fire Emblem Heroes

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Fire Emblem Heroes
Published by Nintendo
Played on AndroidSQ_SmartDevice_FireEmblemHeroes

The Skinny – Fire Emblem Heroes is a slimmed down but still surprisingly deep mobile version of Nintendo’s long-running tactical RPG.

Strategy RPG’s have a tendency towards being overwrought. With huge casts, complicated game systems, and drawn-out battles, they are considered investments in time and attention, and, indeed, their most ardent fans wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why I was slightly dubious when I heard Nintendo was bringing their Fire Emblem series to IOS and Android phones. But Nintendo has done an excellent job of threading the needle between shallow nostalgia bomb and dense war simulator with aplomb.

The story is pretty paper-thin, mostly just an excuse to bring the different games in the franchise together, but it does well enough. The game takes place in the kingdom of Askr, a land blessed with portals to other worlds. The player is the latest such recruit in Askr’s somewhat endless war against their neighbors, the evil empire of Embla. The royals of Askr wear white and value friendship, the Emblians all wear black and have emotional problems, etc. etc. Both sides have put heroes from these other worlds, which align with the various games in the Fire Emblem series, under contract to fight on their side, and the only way for them to be set free is to be defeated on the battlefield. The story is a bit slight, but I personally find the idea that all these characters are appearing because its in their contract a fantastic, if probably unintentional, meta-joke at the heart of the game.
The combat itself is fast-paced and shrinks down elegantly. The vast swaths of movement the regular series is known for are shrunk down to just a few spaces, and your army is reduced to teams of four, although you can fairly easily swap out teams or team members from your roster. The roster itself is a typical sort of random card pack selecting you see in many free-to-play mobile games, but ‘Heroes’ gives you plenty of currency to fill out your army without resorting to converting your real-life cash to orbs. Combat relies on the traditional Fire Emblem sword-axe-spear battle system, but new players shouldn’t have any trouble picking it up. It strips the system down to manageability, but still provides enough expanded difficulty modes, asynchronous multiplayer, and challenge modes for veteran players.
Although the story mode is paper-thin and incredibly anime, the art assets look great, and scale well. Fire Emblem Heroes might not be the next revolution in game design, but its a great way to pass the time if you’re looking for something a bit different than the run-of-the-mill puzzle game. You can find it for free in the IOS or Google Play app stores.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Super NES Classic

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The Skinny-While you may already have many of these games, this collection of 16-bit classics feels absolutely perfect.

Last year, Nintendo released the SNES Classic Edition, the follow up to 2016’s sealed reproduction NES console. While it isn’t quite as rare as the original, it is still hard to come by for fans that didn’t preorder. But last week I finally got my mitts on one, and it is a lovely little nostalgia box.
The sealed box contains twenty-one games for the Super Nintendo, including the never-released “Star Fox 2.” While this is lower than the NES Classic, the lineup is all fantastic games, with little fat to speak of. Of course, there are plenty of games that feel missing. “Chrono Trigger” would be a personal inclusion. Other games such as “Pilotwings,” “Actraiser” or the original SNES port of “Sim City” would have been welcome as well. But the console does capture the era, from the opening level of Super Mario World to the last boss in Final Fantasy III.
The console looks great, which is to say like a scaled down version of the original, and it feels spot-on, even if the controller cords are still a bit too short for comfort. There are some nifty new options as well, including a choice of background images and the ability to rewind a few seconds for when the old-school difficulty gets to be a bit much.
While most of these games are widely averrable through various Nintendo eshops, rerelease collections, and remakes, There’s just something about playing them with an original controller that feels right. They look great, as well.
While these $80 bundles may still be a bit on the rare side, if you come across a SNES Classic, pick it up, and breathe in that nostalgia buzz.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Metroid: Samus Returns

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Metroid: Samus Returns
Developed by MercurySteam and Nintendo EPD
Published by Nintendo
Played on New 3DS

The Skinny: Nintendo resurrects another classic with a gorgeous coat of 3D paint, tricky new puzzles, and intuitive new abilities.

Metroid: Samus Returns is the gold standard of remaking a classic video game. A retelling of the original game boy adventure Metroid II, it follows bounty hunter Samus Aran through the underground passages of planet SR388 as she attempts to eradicate the metroids, living bioweapons designed by a nearly lost alien civilization.
While the original game pushed the monochrome game boy to its technological limits, Metroid II doesn’t hold up well when separated from the gauzy veneer of nostalgia. The resolution brings the camera in very close, making the caves of SR388 claustrophobic and difficult to navigate, and the designs have an almost-cute goggle-eyed quality to them. This remake uses the advantages of the 3DS hardware to deliver huge chambers in high resolution polygons. The action is fast and responsive, and everything looks and sounds amazing. 2D Metroid fans have had to wait over 13 years since Zero Mission for another entry in the series, but Samus Returns certainly delivers.
Developed by MercurySteam, whose previous credits include the 3DS Castlevania entry Mirror of Fate, the game pays tribute to the original and updates it in fun and innovative ways. The most notable is the addition of a melee attack, which can usually only be used as a counter to charging enemies. The move stuns enemies and allows Samus to lock on for a quick kill. It’s a nice ability early in the game, when Samus’s arm cannon isn’t quite up to full power yet. She also picks up extra Aeon abilities over the course of the game, which are fun to use but require extra power. A scanning abilities takes the place of Super Metroid’s map room, and the ability to slow time replaces dash boots. Expanded Chozo technology like Warp points and Statues that control the level of the ‘radioactive acid’ from the original are welcome updates as well.
More so than any other Nintendo property, Metroid is a series that uses the design and atmosphere of the environment to tell a story, and MercurySteam does a great job continuing that tradition. Their version of SR388 is huge, and their ruins all feel unique and purposeful. The player gets a better feel for the abandoned ruins and machinery as they are slowly reclaimed by the wild. Daisuke Matsuoka’s music does an excellent job of updating and calling back to Metroid II’s 8-bit soundtrack as well.
Metroid Return of Samus takes the starting point of the original and blows it up to a huge modern adventure while still recalling the feel for the of the original. You can find it for the 3DS as a cartridge or digital download, and I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Metroid II

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Hugh Likes Video Games-Metroid II
Metroid II: Return of Samus
Nintendo Game Boy
Published 1991
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The Nintendo Game Boy was a little system that could.  Propelled to success by its classic version of Tetris, the monochrome game system boasted a wide variety of games despite its low resolution and hunger for batteries.  Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s with a limited budget, most of my gaming nostalgia goes back to the original, which still holds a place of pride on my display of gaming systems that have since gone to pasture.
One of my favorite games of the era was Metroid II: Return of Samus.  This handheld sequel to the original NES game follows space bounty hunter Samus Aran as she traverses the caverns of an alien world to destroy weaponized aliens called Metroids.
While not narratively complex, the Metroid series offers plenty of exploration, tricky platforming, and the most badass woman in all of gaming as a protagonist.  II is a bit shrunk down and more linear than its 8-bit predecessor, but the thrill of actively hunting rather than simply exploring is an improvement on the original.
The maze-like interior of planet SR388 is divided into sections, each with a number of metroids.  Each section is cut off by ‘boiling acid’ which conveniently recedes when the required number of metroids have been killed.  This replaces the standard Metroid mechanic of requiring upgrades to proceed, although the game is still littered with toys for Samus to collect.  But the metroids Samus encounters aren’t simply the jellyfish-like floating aliens encountered in Metroid.  On their home planet they havea multi-stage life cycle, and become larger and more difficult as the game progresses.
While the game is a bit linear, and, if you collect everything, easier than other Metroid games, it is still a standout of the original Game Boy library.  You can find it fairly easily in used game stores, or digitally in the 3DS eshop.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Pokemon Red

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Pokemon Red Version
Nintendo
Nintendo 3DS/Game Boy
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2016 is Pokemon’s 20th anniversary.  As such, Nintendo is pulling out all the stops for a year full of new games, giveaways, and other special events.  One of the first is a rerelease of the original gameboy Pokemon titles as downloads for the 3DS.
I played the original Pokemon Yellow as a teenager when it was originally released, admiring the rather deep strategic RPG gameplay beneath the cartoonish aesthetic.  This new version retains the style and the feel of the original on 3DS.  Like other Virtual Console releases, this is a pixel-perfect rendition, and the game looks great on the New 3DS XL screen.  Unlike other game boy rereleases, Pokemon retains its multiplayer capabilities.  Players can trade monsters and fight with their friends using local wireless in place of the Game Boy link cable.  This system is limited to players in the same room, and is functionally identical to its 90’s link-cable counterpart.
Pokemon is an early and easily the most popular entry in the ‘collectable monster’ sub-genre of RPGs.  Players take the role of a boy traveling across a large island to collect and raise Pokemon, monstrous animals that can be trained to fight.  Along the way, they assist a scientist working to classify the creatures, constantly foil a criminal organization, and battle all comers in hopes of being the best there ever was.
The strategic aspect of the game is basically a more complicated version of rock papers scissors.  Each monster has an elemental type, and its attacks are weaker or stronger against other types.  Fire is strong against Grass and weak against Water, for example.  Player raise their monsters with a fairly simple leveling system, but can teach certain moves to their team members to give them an advantage.  The game strikes a nice balance of being simple enough for a child to learn with deeper enough strategy for more experienced players.
Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow are currently available for 3DS from the Nintendo eshop.  While they don’t boast the dazzling 3D graphics of more recent entries, they are sure to delight nostalgic fans.

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