My name is Richard Duck. I actually am 33 years old now. I just turned 33. I live in Seattle, Washington, and I currently work for Nintendo. I actually have been in the games industry, working for Nintendo for about five years. Before that I was working at a couple small start-ups and actually Starbucks, so, I've been here a while and working in Seattle.
What do you do at Nintendo?
I currently have two roles right now. I am indie-developer support for the Wii U. We help indies get onto the Wii U platform and make the games using Unity or Nintendo Web Framework. And the other thing I work on is consumer service part-time, so I still help out over there when they need help.
Is this going to cause any trouble for you at work, having a conversation about people losing interest in games, acknowledging this is a thing that happens, or acknowledging this is a thing that has happened to you?
No, I mean, I'm not talking about the industry as a whole. I'm talking about myself more than anything else, and again, my opinions are my own and do not represent Nintendo's. They're all completely mine.
As it pertains to you, what changed about games that made you decide to cut back?
One thing that I actually noticed what changed, and this sounds -- when I thought about it today, it sounds kind of silly, but when games went on massive discounts and bundles, people were able to pick them up so quickly and for so cheaply, that one thing is if you have less time to play games but end up getting more of them, it can be a weird balance because you're like, "Well, I want to play these 17 games I just picked up, but I only have four hours in the entire week to play." That's one thing that's changed, because I'm still buying games. I'm not necessarily playing them as much.
Another thing about games for me that's changed is that they've serialized games in a way where I'm not necessarily sure whether I want to play the next Assassin's Creed game -- I'm just using that as an example -- within a year after the other one. I may actually want to take a break or I haven't picked up the new Call of Duty, for example. I hear it's fantastic, but I wanted to play Wolfenstein first and so sometimes, I think, the over-serialization of games has made me cut back a little bit just because I know these experiences aren't going to be super-long but I think I can probably hold off and wait to give me some cooldown time on them before I move forward on the next one.
You work at Nintendo, so I'm guessing you may have these numbers more readily available or in mind and I don't feel like going to Wikipedia while we're talking because I just want to listen. But how many years were there between Mario 1 and Mario 2 and Mario 3?
Oh, I actually don't know those numbers to be honest.
I didn't expect you to have it memorized. I may check.
It wasn't like it was super-long between them. It felt like two or three years per game.
Okay, let's see. According to Wikipedia, Mario 2 came out in 1987 and I'm gonna guess Mario 3 came out in 1991, I think.
That's when The Wizard came out. No. It was 1990 according to Wikipedia. So, I'm just trying to compare. Obviously, that's many decades before, and budgets were much, much smaller, and we're not just picking on Assassin's Creed, but that's a series where I think they made a great effort to have those come out every year. Or at least that's my perception of it.
Certainly with that series there has been a demonstrable case of something suffering as a byproduct of -- I'm not sure if the thing that suffered most from Unity is just developing for so many platforms and also a lot of new platforms or what. What is the way that any series suffers when it's being kept on that kind of annual turnaround? If you could answer that as a consumer and also as someone who knows a bit about how the sausage is made?
Basically, as somebody who buys games, it's almost like The Fast and the Furious series. You kinda expect another one, and when it happens you're like, "Oh, it's Fast and Furious 7 now. I'm probably still gonna enjoy it, but I've already watched six movies, so I may actually wait a little bit until it comes out on streaming or Blu-Ray or some other way to watch it. I still may see it in theaters. I don't really know exactly, but I expected it and I'm still pleasantly surprised, but I'm also like, 'Oh, how did they make a movie without Paul Walker now?'" So it's almost like they're pushing the series forward despite -- I'm using The Fast and the Furious as a good example -- without one of the main characters anymore. Or somehow they're making it happen.
But when it comes around to making games, or at least in the industry, it seems like we have a lot of things changing. We have different platforms. You have x86 being a standard for some of the new consoles, but some of them are still using PowerPC. Then you've got the Cell Processor, that gets really hard to develop for. I don't know. I've never programmed for it. So, yeah, I think multiple platforms could be the biggest issue as well, because if you are making games so quickly every single year, how do you have time to test for five, six, seven different platforms properly? If you find one bug, is one bug going to be persistent throughout the entire game, game series on every platform, or is it going to be just one thing you find?
I can just tell you from what I know of testing, just from my various jobs in the past, that you may find something like the missing faces in Assassin's Creed Unity, but it might've only happened in one case. So, it seems that it could've been just a matter of more time, it could've been a matter of development. It's really hard to say. I'm not there at Ubisoft. Serialization of games could either mean that if they're gonna shoot for that, aim lower, or make it a year and a half cycle. I think a year and a half isn't bad. Maybe an extra six months might've been the difference between what we saw in the game. Really any game for that matter.
You could even take Battlefield as a good example. When it launched, it had a lot of issues. Yeah, it just had the problem of new generation, needed more time, and it's just hard to make games. It's hard to make games. [Laughs.] That's all it comes down to sometimes.
Yeah, but even before Unity, and I don't want to just pick on Assassin's Creed, there was a feeling of it losing its specialness. Because I think there was a bigger gap between 1 and 2, but then it was like... [Laughs.] It's like I turned around and was able to make the joke a few years ago, "Oh good! Another Assassin's Creed game. It's been so long since the last one!"
Yeah. That's unfortunate. How do I put it? I understand wanting to grab success and cash in on a -- especially while the platform and the games are still hot, wanting to make the next game and that does happen. I mean, it makes sense. You have people who want the next Assassin's Creed, and I'm sure you have fans who are like, "I love it! I love it!" Same for Call of Duty. Same for Madden. I have lots of friends who take days off for Madden so they can go just play for several days with all their friends. Pokémon. That happens when you get a new Pokémon game every single year, right? We see annual updates for things but Madden gets criticized because it actually uses -- it seems like when people talk about it, it's like, "Oh, did they not change the AI from this old game to this new game?" Things like that, so I actually wonder if a series like Madden remains successful because it doesn't change as much every single time. They don't have to change the location, they don't have to change the characters, they don't have to make it work on -- they have to make it work on lots of different platforms, but --
But it's supposed to more or less be the same game.
Exactly. You're supposed to get the same experience every single time. But with Assassin's Creed you might not actually want -- any modern game. Call of Duty. Anything. Would I necessarily want to pick up the PS3 or 360 port if I have a PS4 and Xbox One? Probably not. They still have to test for it, though. So. Yeah. It's definitely tough.
What types of games did you play when you were most active playing games?
I played a lot of fighting games because one thing about fighting games -- they're fun first and foremost. They challenge you because you hit a brick wall with a combo, you have to practice it 100 times. You have to go play against other people. There's so many different things you have to do to get good at fighting games, and to really compete you have to play against people. That's one thing I enjoyed about playing fighting games mostly, was that Seattle's a pretty tough city to meet people in. Overall. Anybody. So going to play fighting games with people was also a great social outlet as well. You make more acquaintances while getting better at the games.
That's what I played a lot. Even then, I didn't necessarily play all just fighting games. I played a lot of RPGs, which I don't really play that much anymore. I play a lot of action games. Driving games. I played a lot of stuff. I remember really digging Devil May Cry 1 through 4, being like, "Oh, these are some of the best games ever." And I don't even care about the new DmC because it's like, "Ehh, it's a new game. I don't have time for this anymore." So. [Laughs.] I wanna get good at Guilty Gear Xrd, but I am just not sure if I have the time for it.
So what changed in your life that made games less important?
It kinda goes back to the social aspect of gaming. Like, I have friends who have game nights and we'll go have game night and have people come over and drink and have fun playing games like Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Nintendoland, really any game -- Samurai Gunn, that's actually one of my favorite multiplayer games. And it's cool but it also feels like as I've gotten older or wanted to spend more time socializing -- honestly during the fighting-game era of my life I was mostly single, or if I was with a girlfriend I was playing a lot of time playing games and they were not happy with how much time I was spending with it. I'd be like, "Hey, do you wanna come to this tournament and just hold my arcade stick while I play? Or do you mind running a bracket?" And they're like, "Nah, I don't wanna do that."
So part of it just came down to what I really wanted to do to life and sometimes combining gaming made it difficult because it's a hard sell sometimes to say, "Hey, let's play games instead of watch a movie." Even with just friends. It doesn't have to be with anybody I'm gaming. It can be friends. Or, "Hey, let's go to a concert rather than go to the local barcade." Even though barcades are getting more popular, which I'm really thankful for. There are a lot of social opportunities that came up that games don't necessarily fit in, and the more I socialize, the harder it was to fit games in there without losing more sleep.
It's tempting to have conversations like these and say, "Well, is this a thing we can expect games of any scale to do? To fit into more social situations?" I don't know that I have an answer for that.
I think they can. At IndieCade two years ago. I forget what the game was called. I believe it was made by the same guy who made Johann Sebastian Joust, but it was a bunch of Move controllers. A four-by-four grid of Move controllers hanging and you have to go from one controller to the other. Like, that's a cool social game that I could never set up in my own house. Even Johann Sebastian Joust is a good game that could be social, but I just don't know if I can convince people that don't play games to play them a lot. I could convince people to play Monopoly or Settlers of Catan or certain board games, or even things like watching TV. But to play a game, there's just that extra step for some people where it's like, "Oh, you want to play a videogame?" It's like, "Yeah, we could play a boardgame. It'll take us four hours to beat this game." But they'll be like, "Oh, I don't know. That means we gotta get the controllers out and do this, this, and this." And I'm like, "You have to get the dice out and all the pieces. Come on. It's not that much difference." And for people who don't play games I think it is a big hurdle. So.
A lot of this talks about the image of people who play games and the preconceived notion even of what a game is or can be or should be. You had an unexpected suggestion of how this could be fixed and addressed, which was Jimmy Fallon.
Yes. Yeah. He's not my favorite person. He's actually very funny, don't get me wrong.
And to be clear, I'm not putting words in your mouth that he's your hero or anything like that.
No, no, no, but he does make games -- he brings fun games that have. How about this: They look fun with very little exposure. He doesn't have an hour to just sit there and play games. He has to give three minutes to somebody to play a game so it looks interesting. So he can make some games look super-fun because you're already there watching him. He's already fun. So it's just one more extra thing to do. A lot of adults watch Jimmy Fallon so maybe, like, "Oh, well! If Jimmy likes it, and he has The Roots, and The Roots are a kinda cool band. He has all these celebrities on. It can't be that bad to play games anymore, can it?" So he does make games seem like they can be part of the regular, I'm-an-adult pastime. It doesn't have to be everything else, but videogames could be part of it. He does help with that.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Conan O'Brien's "Clueless Gamer." I'm a fan of it, and I feel like as a longtime games critic, a lot of the insights on and comments he makes about games are profoundly simple and so amazingly correct and yet I feel like I would never read anything he says in any game review or publication.
Definitely. Yeah, you're right. He has a good way of explaining -- he's exposing his thoughts on games, and they're all very insightful, which I actually appreciate about him. The only thing about Conan O'Brien is he kind of proclaimed himself as King of the Nerd, what was his title? I believe he did something like that.
It's kinda like Jimmy Fallon didn't, so he never had that title -- I'm not saying his title is bad. People like Conan O'Brien. I like Conan O'Brien. But like, Jimmy Fallon came from a more "cool" route and keeps that going rather than -- so to the people who don't play games, it works really well. And it still works. It's okay for us, where we're like, "Oh, we've seen that game at E3 already. What're you talking about?" But I think Conan O'Brien goes more in-depth, even though for it's a short amount of time, he still does it really well. People who watch late-night TV, they may get both, hopefully, but if they only get one, Jimmy Fallon might be more effective than Conan.
What more beyond late-night TV could be done to massage and assuage the image of gamers?
I think it has to be once people realize that games are -- how do I put it. The tools themselves have become so easy where if you said, "Hey, kid, tell me a story about your favorite cat," they could make it into a game somehow rather than actually writing it. I think when the tools get so easy where people can say -- writing's very complicated, so is painting. Really anything. Drawing. Making music. But those have been around for a lot longer and sometimes the entry point for things like writing and even art, depending on what your medium is, can be so low where when you see a great work from somebody, no matter who it is, it's like, "How'd you do this?" "Oh, I started off by blah blah blah and being inspired by it."
I think games still have that "I'm a hacker sitting at a basement with the glow of the CRT as I'm typing furiously, making a game." You know? I think it still has that. I think a lot of people still don't know how computers work, so trying to convince them to make a game can be equally as daunting. It's getting there. It's getting easier. I think once it gets to that level, then people will start taking it more seriously because their kid's gonna come back from school and say, "Hey mom, I made a game about our cat!" And they'll be like, "Oh, let's go play it!" On whatever future device it is. And then they'll be be like, "Oh, that's really sweet." Rather than just a picture, you know? I think it has to be that connection that's so easy that your kid can make something.
Do you think that's something plausibly the industry could play a role in exacting change in?
I think Microsoft's Project Spark is doing a pretty good job with. It's pretty complicated, but it's still a great direction. It's kind of like their LittleBigPlanet, which is a world and game creation tool in a way. I'm more familiar with *LittleBigPlanet *because I played that a lot back in the day, and *LittleBigPlanet *was pretty good as well because you had the game mechanics that a lot of people could figure out, which was jumping and running and pressing an action button to do something. And so when -- if you wanted to give the controller to a kid and said, "Hey, let's make a level together," you probably could. I haven't tried it, but you probably could make something. That's one thing that's really great.
And Minecraft *-- you're building things in *Minecraft, and I think Minecraft's probably the first step in game development for kids than a lot of other games. With Minecraft at least you're building something in a digital world and a digital space, and you probably feel proud about it as a kid. "Hey mom, I just built my first house." Or, "Hey I built a pool or a moat." When they're called creepers, I think, attack you? [Laughs.]
And the woman I'm dating, she has a seven-year-old, and she will watch Minecraft videos and be amazed at how they're making things. I think that's probably getting her closer to making games than any of those other tools. And so that's what I'm saying. Making worlds or making games easy to make things. It's happening. We have tools that are there. It's a little more complicated than I'd like, but we're getting pretty close to where we can actually say, "Hey, you can grab this PS3 controller and make LittleBigPlanet." "Hey, you can grab your Xbox controller and make something for Spark." "Take the keyboard, make something in Minecraft." So, we're getting there. But there's still tools that are limited to those platforms, and part of it is a console is still a step for people. It might have to be something that's a little bit more open. I'm not sure what that'd be exactly. Because paper's pretty open, right? You can just go to the store and grab paper. It's not like if you grab the wrong paper, your pen won't work. So it has to be pretty open. I think it has to be an open platform that's widely accepted as well.
You mentioned a seven-year-old who really loves games. A girl. By no means is this one girl representative of all young girls. I don't even know if this is a topic either of us are qualified to even speak on, but you had mentioned in your emails that relationships are a big reason you fell off with games.
You said you typically don't even mention you play games until the third or fourth date. There's a lot of things I want to ask here, but why the third or fourth date? Why is that the perfect time to tell someone you're dating that you're a man who plays videogames?
If they're still willing to see you after three or four dates, things are probably going in a pretty great direction. My personal opinion is you can probably start admitting a few faults at that particular point.
It's not like it's a fault, playing games, per se. But sometimes I feel like if I wait a little bit. Like, saying I work at Nintendo is like saying I work at Disneyland. It's like, "Oh my gosh! It must be like magic there." But when it comes down to also you play games, a lot of them are like, "Oh. Well, how many hours do you play games?" I'm like, "I'm pretty sure you play more Farmville or Mafia Wars, more of those games on Facebook than I do playing games." They're like, "Oh. I play 20 hours of Mafia Wars." I'm like, "Yeah, I probably play, like, four hours a week on games." They're like, "Oh, okay. You're okay then." [Laughs.] So. I had to mention it later because there's still a big stigma around gamers.
I'm pretty sure they think that gamer dudes are all gross and unfortunately we had some gross behavior over the summer because of some other major issues that happened. But I think everybody knows that one person who kind of is a stereotypical gamer, and unfortunately that impacts all gamers in a way. So not mentioning it later is probably a better option than it was earlier.
Does it feel like videogames in general are more -- it sounds weird to even say, but do you think videogames are becoming more child-friendly or girl-friendly? If you're saying here's someone you're dating and she has that concerned reaction, as opposed to her seven-year-old girl who's really into Minecraft. Does that indicate or telegraph that some sort of change is going on here?
Yeah, I think there's a change. I think there's a change for adults as well. Kids of course, they're growing up in games. It's everywhere. It's a medium that's gonna be just as important to them as books and TV shows. But for adults it's changing slowly. I think just one thing -- it's hard to tell people, sometimes. I use Candy Crush Saga *as a good example. "Hey, I notice that all the time you're on your phone playing _Candy Crush Saga. You're more of a gamer than I am." "I'm not a gamer."* It's like, "Yes you are. You play games more than me." "But I'm not a gamer, though." "Okay. Well you like videogames." "Well, Candy Crush isn't a videogame." "Well what do you call it then?"
It's getting better, because at least people are engaging in the medium. But there's still the constructs of being a gamer that still surround it. So, like. I think, just me personally, kind of making the leap from, "Hey, my girlfriend likes Candy Crush Saga, she might actually wanna play Puzzle Fighter with me. Let's try that out." There are games that are being more focused on women. They're not necessarily focused on guys at the same time. There's not very many, like, obviously gender-neutral games in a way --
I was just gonna say. Are we saying that only games with female protagonists can speak to females? Is that the implied assumption we're having?
Oh gosh. I don't even want to say that.
Is that what we're not saying by saying a lot of these types of things?
I actually wonder if that's the case. I was trying to get my girlfriend to play Five Nights at Freddy's. She said she would, because I showed her a little bit about it. But the protagonist could be anybody, right? It's a security guard that's a sitting bear trying not to get killed. Yeah. That's a very good question. I don't know the answer to that one.
We're two dudes, so.
Yeah, that's the hard part. I'm pretty sure asking a girl, they would give a much better answer. But I'm trying to think. Even when I play Super Mario 3D World, Toad and Princess Peach get picked mostly. I don't want to say that's always the character they use. I'm usually stuck with Luigi or Mario. That's okay. [Laughs.]
You've got to toe the company line there.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's fine. I don't mind playing it. It's very interesting actually because I don't know the answer to that question because the games that are close enough to being gender neutral sometimes don't even seem like they would still do well with some of the women I know in my life. I'm not saying for all women.
It's almost as if you could do some sort of scientific study on Mario 2 of just which character gets picked most by which types of people and why? So -- do you want to go for a government grant and we could do that?
Could you help me do that through Nintendo?
[Laughs.] Exactly. Yes, let's just do some studies really fast. But that's actually a good question. I'm gonna think about that a little more, but I just don't know. I mean. I don't feel like I look at characters and -- like in Wolfenstein, I don't look anything like B.J. Blazkowicz but I still had a great time saving the world, right? Or Gears of War, I'm nothing like Marcus Fenix, but I'm just used to it. I understand the vocabulary of gaming and what's gonna happen when you have a game like Gears of War or a game like Halo. You're just whoever you are. You're gonna save the world. It's fine.
You mentioned you were playing four hours a week. But when you were at your prime, playing the most, how often do you think you were playing?
Like 20 to 30 hours a week. Only because I was going to the gym a lot and a bunch of other things. That's still five hours a day, if I'm not including the weekends. But it's probably close to 20 to 30 weeks, that's probably on the lower end. So I would go play games for hours with my buddies, and when I was playing fighting games, I'd play that all the time. I'd go after work, after 7 basically, 'til 11 or so, and then come home and sleep, and then go to a tournament. A tournament, you're not spending a lot of time playing. You're kind of standing around waiting for the match. I wouldn't consider that mostly playing time because you're getting half an hour of play time in there?
I would say it was like 20 to 30 years and for me that was enough. That's when I was actively beating games, because I could beat an RPG in two weeks. A 40-hour RPG. I could beat two games a week, like Devil May Cry 3 and some other PlayStation game at the same time. It's definitely different now, because with four hours, it actually kind of ruined my experience with The Last of Us because I was playing in such staccato pieces that I didn't have that emotional impact of that game, actually, was lessened greatly because I would take breaks for so long between that I'd be like, "What happened again? Oh yeah, yeah. We're trying to go over here to get blah blah blah." It's affected even the quality of games, to be honest, with less time.
I had a conversation over the weekend with the guy who's actually helping me build the site. We were talking about this notion that a lot of bigger games act as if they are the only game you are playing.
As if there are no other games that exist in the world that are available to you. And so there are no concessions to the thing you're talking about, where it's been awhile since you've played and you have to pick back up again.
Or if you play like once only every couple of days, it may not necessarily be -- and if you get a chance to play for an hour, maybe, it's like, "Oh, this is cool. But if I go a little bit further, I don't have time. I can continue playing games and miss other opportunities I get where I have to take care of other chores." Yeah, it's tough. It took me a while to beat The Last of Us, and it did negatively affect it, and you're right, it does feel like that game was like, "Hey, this is the only experience you're gonna have right now."
But I think that would make sense with this hyper-serialization of games we're talking about. I don't want to pick on Assassin's Creed, but it's refreshing to pick on that instead of Call of Duty.
"Hey, you're only gonna be playing Assassin's Creed this year, and when you're done with it? Next year we'll have another one for you."
I wonder if that really is the thinking that's going into it, but I feel like even exploring the notion and acknowledgment that players are playing more than one game at any time -- there's more they could be doing to design games around that or explore that. I think certainly Amiibos are an example of that, but I think there's even more that could be done.
Well one game that did it really well, actually, which I think to its detriment, was Titanfall, where the game was fun to pick up if you only had a half an hour. You could play the game for half an hour and have a really good time. But the danger with that is it also required you to play the game frequently enough to keep the inertia going. It was a very good in and out game. But if you stop playing for a week it's like, "Should I re -- do I wanna play -- ehh, I dunno if I wanna play that game right now." I think Titanfall was one of the best examples of a game that did that this past year. But it actually lost itself because of that, also.
When I started picking games writing back up again, I did a thing on Titanfall and how it's too fun.
Oh, hey. That's a good way to put it. It's actually one of my games of the year. I know for a lot of people it isn't, but it was one of the most fun times I've had playing a game for a long time. "Wow, this game knows exactly what I want in a first-person shooter."
Do you think, then, is there anything to this theory or notion when people say, "Games are not as good as they used to be?" Or is that just sheer nostalgia clouding their vision?
Nostalgia all the way. People want the same thing but they want different but they really don't at the same time. It's like with a lot of series. We can use Call of Duty. When people say, "Oh, Advanced Warfare is the best game since Modern Warfare 1," I'm like, "None of the Call of Duty *games are really all that bad." They're all actually very good games. But the nostalgia of *Modern Warfare 1 -- and I actually went back and played it fairly recently because I had a copy and I was like, "What was this game even like?" It's still a good game, but it's missing mechanics that newer games have that make them more fun as well.
Like, going Wolfenstein 3D versus Wolfenstein, I will gladly play the new Wolfenstein over Wolfenstein 3D *because, yeah, I had a great time experiencing 3D worlds the first time, but there's no way that I'm gonna take that nostalgia over a brand new game sometimes. Some series do suffer from nostalgia, like *Sonic. I think Sonic is having a really hard time with that.
Yeah, but you're supposed to say that.
[Laughs.] Exactly. No, Sonic's actually one of my favorite characters. I actually get made fun of because I have so many Sonic things.
Oh, you know what? I forgot. That's right. I'm stuck in the past. That's not the case anymore. You guys made up.
We're all good now. We're all friends. Everyone's happy. But it's funny because I still loved the Sonic games and even the character. It's still a fun character I enjoy out of the 16-bit, almost 32-bit era, but it's --
If it is nostalgia that is clouding people's minds and making them think older games are better, forget about 8-bit graphics and retro aesthetics. What do you think we're not seeing as much of anymore as what we saw in those -- I'm about the same age as you. I'm 32. What do you think we're not seeing as much of today as we saw in those halcyon early days of Nintendo in the '90s?
I think it's mostly that we aren't seeing brutally honest games. Like Dark Souls is an honest game. It's like, "Why did you try to go over there and fight those monsters you couldn't yet handle? You're dead." It does that very well. Save states, of course, make it easier, but I think games being brutally honest about how good you are at games is something that's missing. I'm not saying it's something that has to come back, but that one thing that's missing for sure. And people like Dark Souls, and they think it's one of the best games because it has a level of difficulty that punishes you, almost, in a way. Same thing with Armored Core, like, From Software is very good at this, I think -- the Armored Core series for me is very difficult because I loved Virtual On. Actually, Virtual On is my favorite game. Going from Virtual On to Armored Core was a huge adjustment. I was like, "Man. This game's gonna make me work really hard to make a mech to kill this one particular other one. This is horrible. Can't I just get right in from the game and be done with it?"
But the game's honest. It's like, 'Hey, spend time working on your mech before doing anything and then you'll do better." It's like, "Okay. I do need to put time into this." So I think that's one thing that's kind of missing, and old games have that. Which is like, "Hey, take your time. Get better at this."
I kinda just want to give you a big hug because I feel like that's the most profound thing I've heard in a while.
[Laughs.] Thank you.
I think that's so completely true. Yeah. That's a very, very good way of putting it. There's less honesty.
But you want people to play it, right? Like, I can't have a kid play Mega Man. I mean, I could, but they gotta understand why the game is so difficult.
I think that's why Shovel Knight was so interesting. I thought it was a really good trip back to that well, and it did a good job of finding new ways of introducing wrinkles in that aesthetic. Similarly, my complaint, which I guess is a bit of a humblebrag: I just didn't think it was hard enough. And I played on hard.
I'm playing through it right now, and I think it actually does a good job -- if it were an 8-bit game, it'd be one of the easier 8-bit games. But it's still a fun game. You remember that -- you can pick it up and play it, especially if you've grown up playing Nintendo games. But, yeah, it's actually not that hard. I still use the checkpoints because, I actually hate saying this, but I don't want to waste time having to go through the entire level again.
Ninja Gaiden's way worse and I spend tons of time on that one. But, yeah, you're right. Shovel Knight's a really good example of that. It's not necessarily the best game in the world. But it still actually does a good job -- I would say it's right on the line of modern and old in retro.
Yeah, I had fun. And yeah, I beat it. But I felt like it got so close that it could have done more. I told you I'm a critic, right?
[Laughs.] Exactly. But we all got opinions on it. I still think it's a fun game and I've only beaten three of the knights. I don't remember how many there are. But, yeah, it's interesting because I think of games as Crawl -- that one actually reminds me more of NBA Jam in a way with the way it plays. Like a less cooperative NBA Jam, because especially with multiple people it gives me the feeling like, "Oh, we're all kinda on a team but not really." And that one -- I don't know how to describe it, but I feel like it captures a more retro arcade feel than some of the other games out there. Even though it is very 8-bit, pixelated. But to me that one has more of an arcadey feel that I've missed for a long time.
More people need to play Crawl.
It's a fantastic game. One of the best. And that game would actually be perfectly suited for quarters as well. It'd work fantastic at an arcade.
I want to talk a little bit about games media. Over the course of your consuming of games, how has the games media impacted what you're interested in?
Oh, it's still very impactful, but it's more -- I think with everything we've experienced this personalization thanks to Facebook and Twitter and even news sites that we discover because of social media, the personalization of what's important. So I guess our confirmation bias has gone straight through the roof. Because back in the day it felt like with EGM and GamePro and even PC Gamer and Computers and Videogames, I think it was called, like, it felt like they needed to cover a lot more just because the industry didn't exist so they had to, like, fill it with the brim of as much video game information that they could. Per month. And it was great, so when you got it, you were just like, "Oh my gosh, I just saw a really blurry screenshot of this one game, and this is gonna be great. I can tell by the screenshot."
Now, if a company were to do that, "Go look at this screenshot of a game!" It wouldn't be very popular. It wouldn't do very well. Right? I could say, "Here's Richard Duck's game and here's a blurry screenshot from the arcade version!" They'll be like, "What? Who are you?"
It's changed because -- the Internet has made the information so readily available that it's not as hyped up because, like I said, a screenshot would've gotten you hyped up for a game. Now we need video. We need a review. We need an interview with the creator. We need to have his or her Twitter account. We need to have so much more to get the same effect. It's almost like we're -- it's like we're addicts to the media. We're getting used to it. We need more and more to get the same effect as when we were kids reading games media.
For me personally, I consume a lot more of it now than I used to. But I also spend a lot more time reading things like The Arcade Review, or Unwinnable Weekly. Just because I wouldn't say I don't need the hype anymore, but I still need the media to keep me grounded and make me understand what people are thinking about games and how they make them.
What trends do you notice in the things games media covers or does not cover?
Lot of drama seems to be the current trend. It's almost like we are due to get our own People or US Weekly of games. We're almost there. Like I could see there being the TMZ of videogames at some point. Seems like drama seems to be the big thing right now. There's a lot of issues in games that need to be resolved, but there's previews and stuff -- you'll sometimes read an article depending on the site and also depending on what site it comes from, but somebody being mad because it isn't coming to this platform at the same time. There's just this outrage over it. Or with the new Tomb Raider game, people are mad about it being Xbox One exclusive for a little bit. It's like, "You can still play the game. Don't worry about it. You're gonna be okay!" But there had to be drama over that issue.
It seems like we're getting closer to the TMZ-ifying, I don't know if that's a word, of games. That's the trend. For people who want to keep it academic, we have that. But if you just want to know what's the what, what's going on, we're gonna hit that point. I think that's kind of the trend, so.
The TMZ or People of games doesn't feel that far away, does it?
No, it really doesn't. We just need a few rockstars in a way where -- like Shigeru Miyamoto is probably the closest to it, but he's not a rockstar, per se. He's not doing stuff where you're like, "Oh, he just made this game and he's at the club in Miami having fun." Or Notch, actually, when he celebrated his party, we saw pictures of his party.
We see pictures of peoples at parties at, like, Oscar events or some celebrities having their birthday at the club or something. We don't see that very often for games. That, for me, was a bit of a change. It's like, "Oh, we're actually celebrating this guy's success now." We're actually interested in watching his life as much as he made one of the biggest games in the world. We're getting there. We're super-close.
Do you mean that as a positive thing? I wouldn't think a TMZ of games sounds like a good thing.
I don't think TMZ's that bad. I think TMZ has a lot of junk on there, but TMZ does report -- they're really fast about the news. When Michael Jackson died, TMZ was the first place I knew about it from. They do a good job of legitimate news when they feel like being legitimate. And again, I don't think anything bad about TMZ. I actually do like their site, and Harvey Levin's a genius. So, but, yeah. It's not necessarily bad, but I think it'll have a bad period for a little bit because TMZ didn't feel like it was really respected for a little bit. But, yeah, we're -- I don't know. It's kinda neutral, actually, because you're gonna get good and bad news on both sides. But you're probably gonna get a lot more bad because people on the Internet rage out about everything. So probably a lot of bad stuff. [Laughs.]
What does any of this matter if bigger games are typically less creative and there's a discoverability issue for smaller, creative things. Who does that really hurt, if anyone?
It hurts the industry first and foremost because -- I mean, even just retro computing, playing some of the clones of games that I saw on the Atari, you can see that -- I'm not saying it wasn't easy to make those games or it wasn't hard, I don't' know. I've never made an Atari game. But you can see in the past there was a time where you could've knocked out games left and right. Fairly quickly it seems like.
Have you read Masters of Doom about id Software? They talk about how quickly they knocked out some software in a couple months and made some games. It's a weird precedent now because we're getting back to that where games are being made so quickly that I wonder if they are -- I don't want to say missing the point, but if they are understanding that their impact lessens with every quickfire release.
I think you said it before. There's just less honesty.
I don't want to talk about any particular -- because all these games that are coming out, like Assassin's Creed. Let's use that as an example. That's a game that took a lot of work and a lot of time and the game looks fantastic. I see what they've done with it and it's amazing. Call of Duty. The same thing as well. They created a new world that I would've -- Advanced Warfare, I was like, "Wow, that's a lot of creativity for what it is." But, yeah, it is the question of honesty in games.
What do we all need in games? Each individual person. Whether they need to feel -- at the end of the day do they need to feel that the game challenged them, did it push them in a different direction? I was actually talking about this recently with somebody about how a lot of people who are nerds or geeks -- there are only so many movies that are sci-fi films that are so fantastic but never get Oscar nominations. [Laughs.] I was like, "What'd you think about The Matrix?" "Oh, it was one of the best movies of all time." "Did it win an Oscar for Best Movie?" "No." "Why didn't it win an Oscar?" "I don't know. Because they didn't get it." "Well, do you feel the same things happen in games as well Are people not getting it?"
That's part of the honesty. I don't know about a movie that got nominated this year, to be honest. I did not pay attention to it, but Argo, I think that got Best Picture, right? That was an honest story about the Iranian hostage crisis. And that's something that games will have to do, and the problem is with serializing them is you're making Fast and Furious 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and people aren't going to take you as seriously when you serialize it. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing. They're still fantastic works of art. They're gonna take -- so I'm rambling a little bit, but they're gonna take the entire body of work rather than the one experience. You know what I'm saying?
Like, The Last of Us was a good experience for what it was, but if they made The Last of Us 4, 5, and 6, it might be kind of like, "Okay, guys. Please stop." Obviously, you're right. Games need to be honest. They need to be honest about who we are as people, and honest about what's effective. The Last of Us was really effective. It was like, "Wow. You did a really good job, guys."
And Call of Duty, I'm like, "It's war. People are gonna die. Which character am I gonna play as? Is this character I'm playing as gonna die? Because I notice I just switched characters. Well, we'll find out." Even the actual act of war has been commodified to the point where -- it's like, "Oh, whatever, I'll just respawn. It's not a problem."
I think you're right with honesty. Again, with what I said earlier, it's honesty. It's about who we are as people. We need more from games, and that includes taking time to make games that push emotional boundaries just like Last of Us did. That's one of the things we need to do as an industry overall is get to that next. That's the next frontier, and a lot of games -- it's not something that I think they're going after with the stories, at least. That might not even help, either, but who knows. That's what I feel like.
I mean, this is a problem that goes all the way back to Final Fantasy II.
Yes. Yes. It does. It really does.
It's just like, "Okay, what's going on here." You're lying to us.
Yeah, exactly. Because wasn't that supposed to be their last, make-or-break game that happened to do really well? Isn't that why it was called Final Fantasy?
That's the legend.
For me, personally, the first game that was honest about who I was as a gamer and respected the fact that I was growing up with games was Metal Gear Solid, I think. Because that one wasn't overly emotional, but it knew that when I was buying the game, I was clearly a teenager, and I liked action movies. A lot of things that it knew that I liked. It talked about things that even as a teenager I could pick out. "Oh, nuclear war? I know about that. DNA? I know about that. I learned about that at school." It respected the fact that, "Hey. You're growing up. Have some fun."
Same thing now. "Hey, you've grown up quite a bit since you played Metal Gear Solid, here, have a game about the zombie apocalypse, and also, it might make you cry." Who knows.
I think one thing games have to do is acknowledge that we still want fun, but also sometimes need that experience that isn't going to -- like we go see sad films knowing they're going to be sad, but we still enjoy them for some reason. So, yes, we need to have those experiences where it's not necessarily -- Gone Home. Gone Home wasn't a fun game by any means, but it was like, "Oh, that's a cool way to tell a story. Thanks for doing that, guys." More indie games are more honest because they have to be. They don't have budgets, they have honesty.
And we're getting to the point where you can't throw money at a game to make it better. Although that's such a subjective thing. We've already hit the uncanny valley. We can't make games look much better than they do now. Funnily enough we've created this boomerang that's coming back where, in a way, the playing field is level. Everyone has trouble getting their games discovered and heard about. Really, in a way, it boils down to the idea. So who has the best ability to execute on an idea and tinker around with it? Smaller teams.
Exactly. Exactly. It might be smaller, but it might be more potent in a way. It's gonna hit you harder because that's their goal is to get that point. Everything has a point, right? No matter what medium we consume, everything has a point. Metal Gear Solid has a point. It shoves it in your face at some point, but it usually tells you what the point is. Gone Home has a point, but that also shoves it in your face as well. But it does it differently, though. It's like, "Here's the point of Gone Home. *I don't know if you get it by now, but here it is!" It can do that. *Shovel Knight has a point. I guess the point of it is, "Do you remember those retro games? Here ya go!"
Bigger games, their points are all different. I think Gears of War 2 was probably one of my favorite games of all time because it was one of the most fun games I've ever played in my life. I think the point of it was to take you to a rollercoaster of, "Hey. Remember when you enjoyed that one action movie where everything crazy happened but the hero never dies? Here you go. Have a great time."
But think of the jump from Gears of War 2 *compared to its predecessor, versus, say, the jumps from *Mario 1 to 2 or Zelda 1 to Zelda 2. That spirit of, "Cool, we established the series. What else could we do with it?" as opposed to, "Cool, we established the series. What's the next higher number?"
[Laughs.] Part of that might as well be because of the hardware. One thing, it doesn't happen very often over here, but I guess it still happens. You get a series. Like, let's use Aladdin. That's a good one. The SNES version versus the Genesis version, they're different games. They're both very fun, but they're both very different. It's still the same series, but different takes on it. You don't see that anymore, where it's like, "Hey, you want to make a nice Mass Effect game? Mass Effect 4 is gonna be on this system and that system, but two different teams make it. Have at it. Here's your basic story." That would never happen now. It could. It'd be kind of interesting. But the hardware made it so that games had to be different, and that's not the case anymore, where everything has to be cross-platform and as close to the best version possible of every hardware you're on.