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Iwata Isn't Nintendo's Problem. It's Miyamoto

Eurogamer's Oli Welsh argues a lack of new game ideas is what's holding Nintendo back.

Article by Pete Davison, . Based on an original article by Oli Welsh, Eurogamer.

Satoru Iwata's job is on the line. You can tell that it is, because he's been forced to say that he's hanging on to it.

Not long ago, this situation would have been inconceivable. Nintendo's president and CEO since 2002, Iwata turned the drifting company around with the explosive success of the DS and Wii consoles, innovating in touch and motion control, exploring new markets, and outstripping the sales of his megacorp rivals at Microsoft and Sony.

But now Nintendo is facing a situation even worse than it did in the early 2000s. 3DS is underperforming, Wii U is a flop, the company is predicting its third annual loss in a row and its stock has slumped. Commentators are calling for Iwata's head, pointing to Nintendo's quixotic strategies, tattered third-party relationships and ineffective marketing.

But perhaps -- to think the unthinkable -- there is another famous figurehead at Nintendo who is holding the company back; a man regarded for decades as its most valuable asset. I'm talking about the legendary game designer, the creator of Mario, and general manager of the famed EAD development teams: Shigeru Miyamoto. Lately, he hasn't been doing his job so well.

Forget smartphones -- what Nintendo needs now is something like this.

Much of the rhetoric surrounding Nintendo makes the mistake of treating the Kyoto outfit as a platform company, like Sony and Microsoft. It is, of course, but that's only a by-product of Nintendo's true calling. Nintendo is a games company. It has absolutely no vested interest in the console business beyond selling video games -- primarily its own video games. It is, really, a developer-publisher, an autonomous premium games label, like Blizzard or Rockstar. It happens to make its own consoles as part of its development process -- because, on both a business and a philosophical level, I don't think Nintendo believes you can separate hardware and software. (Which is why it dismisses out of hand the argument that it should develop for other platforms, however compelling.)

So it's helpful to look at Nintendo's situation not from the perspective of a technology company, but as a maker and publisher of video games. And Shigeru Miyamoto is its game-maker in chief. Nintendo's internal workings are opaque at best, but we know that Miyamoto consults across a very wide range of projects, occasionally gets hands-on as a designer and producer, and alongside his longtime collaborator Takashi Tezuka, holds managerial responsibility for all games development. Anecdotally, the impish, youthful-seeming 61-year-old is an exacting boss with a sharp, analytical mind, firmly held opinions and a quick temper. And he is Nintendo's chief PR asset -- the most widely recognized and adored game creator ever, an icon who embodies the company's values and its peerless record as the maker of the best-loved, best-selling video games on the planet.

Yet right now, creatively, Nintendo the game developer is in a rut.

This is nuts, you might be thinking. Didn't Eurogamer just give Super Mario 3D World 10/10 and anoint it their game of 2013? What about the incredible run of quality titles on 3DS over the last 12 months? Nintendo still makes great games!

Or this.

Of course it does. In fact, Nintendo's commitment to quality in its games is so impressive, across so prolific an output, that it all but obscures its creative malaise. Artwork is never less than polished and charming. Design is refined and inventive. Engineering is excellent, too -- something the company doesn't often get credit for, since its priorities are different from those at the bleeding edge of games technology, but over on Digital Foundry's YouTube there's an unwavering green line next to the number 60 which argues that 3D World was one of the best-engineered games of last year. Review scores are buoyant (and I freely admit that we critics, trained so effectively to love Nintendo and judge it by its own high standards -- many of us since childhood -- are part of this problem).

But consider this: every one of the brilliant games Nintendo released in 2013, it had made before in some form. 3D World might be a dazzling procession of little gameplay ideas, but big ideas have been noticeably absent from the company's output for years now -- completely so on both 3DS and Wii U. Its slate is a catalog of sequels and rehashes. Nintendo's last major new IP launch was Wii Sports, back in 2006.

Or this.

Wii Sports could not be a more instructive example. Though not the most sophisticated game in the company's history, it was one of those -- Nintendo has at least half a dozen like it to its name, as both developer and publisher, including Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Pokémon and Brain Training -- that made sense of its host console and sold it by the tens of millions. It wasn't just a killer app for Wii -- it was Wii. Subsequent megahits like Mario Kart Wii owed all their success to it. Going right back to 1981 and the Donkey Kong arcade machine, Nintendo has repeatedly blown its way out of trouble, even created new markets for itself, with games like this. Not with acquisitions, not with marketing, not with clever business strategy or new technology -- with killer games.

So this is how we end up at Miyamoto's door. As the leading light of Nintendo's games development, it is his responsibility to find games like this for 3DS and -- more pressingly -- Wii U. New games. If he can't make them himself -- and at 61, having personally crafted several of these era-defining classics, from Donkey Kong all the way to Wii Sports, he's allowed to be spent -- then he needs to incubate younger talent that can, and encourage them to work on the bold new ideas that Nintendo, for all its traditionalism, has always embraced.

Miyamoto has said in interviews that the latter is his primary focus these days. He has had one major success in this area -- the establishment of EAD's Tokyo offshoot, a younger team of almost obscene talent. And what have they been doing? Making Super Mario games. Elaborating the master's own legacy.

Or this.

Aware that the casual audience it attracted with Wii and DS might not stick around, and of a need to shore up its traditional fanbase, especially in Japan, Nintendo has leaned harder and harder on its famous franchises and storied history in recent years. Now the developer's output has become so self-referential it's almost post-modern. Nintendo Land, the game that should have been the Wii U's Wii Sports, was a virtual theme park of past glories, a nostalgic merry-go-round. A Link Between Worlds, the most structurally inventive Zelda game in years, might also have been the freshest if it wasn't framed as a sequel to a 22-year-old classic. The last Nintendo Direct of 2013 was a bewildering parade of callbacks, mash-ups and crossovers: Nintendo characters, some of them quite obscure, invading each others' games or crossbreeding with Dynasty Warriors and Sonic the Hedgehog; Luigi's face pasted over Mario's in a remake of a venerable puzzler; a new game, NES Remix, made out of bits of very old ones. Nintendo's not looking forward, it's looking in the mirror, and seeing only the image of its younger self.

Nintendo's own history proves that it needs new ideas to keep turning out the eight-figure hit games that power its whole enterprise. Last year, I asked Eiji Aonuma, producer of the Legend of Zelda series and one of Miyamoto's most trusted lieutenants, if he thought the company needed new game series. He replied that it was difficult to balance incubating new IP and young talent with the need to maintain the many Nintendo series fans love. I'm sympathetic, but I think it's reached a point where the first task is more urgent than the second.

It seems unlikely that Miyamoto himself isn't aware of this situation. His own record as an innovator suggests otherwise. Perhaps, in greenlighting so many sequels, offshoots and retrospective curios, he is just trying to keep fans tickled and sales ticking over until Nintendo's next magic bullet is in the chamber. It's said that he is working on a new franchise for Wii U, as is the Tokyo A-team -- perhaps one and the same project. News of what they are up to cannot come soon enough, and I hope it proves me wrong.

But even if it does -- even if, within Nintendo's walls, Miyamoto is fighting the company's more conservative instincts rather than preserving them -- perhaps it is time to consider whether his richly deserved legend hasn't become a gilded millstone for the game creators working under him. He's a star that cannot be outshone, and his original creations have become needs to be serviced by those who follow him, rather than inspirations for them to find their own voices. I wouldn't be all that surprised if the great man agreed with me, but it never seemed to him to be the right moment; his successors never seemed to be ready. Perhaps they won't be until he steps aside. Perhaps he, and they, and we, just need to let go.

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Comments 35

  • Avatar for alexb #1 alexb 2 years ago
    "Nintendo is a games company. It has absolutely no vested interest in the console business beyond selling video games -- primarily its own video games. It is, really, a developer-publisher, an autonomous premium games label, like Blizzard or Rockstar. It happens to make its own consoles as part of its development process -- because, on both a business and a philosophical level, I don't think Nintendo believes you can separate hardware and software. (Which is why it dismisses out of hand the argument that it should develop for other platforms, however compelling."

    This isn't entirely true. One of the reasons they have their own platform is because collecting the fees for licensing and manufacture of third party games is, or at least was, incredibly lucrative. A desire to extend this control is behind their major downfalls with the cartridge format on N64 and the GC Disc format on GameCube.

    As for Mr. Miyamoto, perhaps making him a board member was part of the problem. He has very definite views on what a game should and shouldn't be. Views that might be considered archaic and limiting today. He was great as a game designer and such a strong vision of what a game is probably explains his greatness, but as a corporate overlord, this same certitude seems to make him a stifling figure, as this article argues.

    And let's not lay aside the fact that he's 61 like it's no big thing. Artists generally have a peak and it's usually well before they reach old age. The greatest work often comes in the 30s or 40s. This certainly seems to hold true for Mr. Miyamoto, as nearly all of his genre defining work happened between the ages of 29 and 46.

    Young George Lucas gave us American Graffiti, A New Hope, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Old Lucas gave us The Phantom Menace and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Young Miyamoto gave us Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda, Star Fox, Mario 64, and Ocarina, among many others. Old Miyamoto gave us Wii Fit and Wii Music. You get old, you get brittle, you get out of touch. I mean no slight to Mr. Miyamoto. This happens to all of us. But be sure, it happens.
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  • Avatar for Sturat #2 Sturat 2 years ago
    These comments about over-relying on established franchises could have been written in 1992. I agree that a new crossover hit like Wii Sports, Brain Age, and Super Mario Kart is what Nintendo would need to bolster business, but I don't enjoy playing any of those games. Hopefully they'll also see the need to make new franchises that appeal to more traditional gamers, like Pikmin and Mole Mania.Edited January 2014 by Sturat
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #3 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    It is best to start off this comment with a bold statement: Miyamoto is the greatest game designer that our industry has known. I would even say he is one of the few individuals who "understands" video games; their strengths and weakness; their freedoms and limitations. He has a very strong design philosophy that, while not the only philosophy to creating excellent games, seeks to understand the player and how people engage with video games.
    Any game in the Super Mario series says far more about the history and nature of video games than a million BioShocks and Spec Ops: The Lines ever could. Illusion of choice? What kind of teenage postmodern crap is that?

    I think to say that he is off his rocker and is holding Nintendo back makes two mistakes:

    1) That Nintendo is only a mere shadow of their former selfs. Miyamoto's (and by extension, Nintendo's) ideas are more playful, subversive, and well-executed than ever. Their business's issues entirely stem from poor marketing and a communication. Super Mario 3D World and A Link Between Worlds are testament to that.

    2) That Miyamoto was never eccentric to begin with. He has always been thinking of radical ideas, and they seem to have been useful for the company most of the time.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #4 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @lonecow

    "But one thing I will say about Miyamoto, is that he intentionally holds back story in games."

    I think this comment shows a very problematic view of thinking about Nintendo (and video games entirely). Video games, gameplay, and game design are not about story. That is, the function of story and the function of games serve two, occasionally overlapping, but distinct purposes in the lives of humans. The way people cognitively process storytelling and the way people understand gameplay and gameplay challenges is very different. It is clear Miyamoto understands this. Look at Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2. Everything in those games is designed for the player in mind. Every action has a function(s). Every level element develops those actions. It is beautiful in a way that storytelling is not.Edited January 2014 by sam-stephens
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  • Avatar for alexb #5 alexb 2 years ago
    @sam stephens Games are a medium. Saying games shouldn't have story is as stifling as saying story or social commentary is "real purpose" of games. Games with story gave us The Last of Us, Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy VI, Halo, Metal Gear Solid, and hundreds of others. Some of the most memorable moments in games are a result of their stories. Just because some games handle story badly is no reason to say stories should not be told in games.

    Miyamoto comes out of a very specific, very toy-centric conception of video games. His is one way, but it is not the only way.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #6 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    I really dislike this article.

    It seems to be making the classic mistake of conflating new gameplay ideas with new IP. You can have new ideas using existing IP, and in fact that's what Miyamoto likes to do.

    The person who wrote this article seems like the kind of person who'd be fooled into saying a game has new ideas if it's really just the same game with a new coat of paint. That's just too shallow a point of view, and it's one of a few things that is wrong with game journalism today.

    Miyamoto is *definitely* not Nintendo's problem. In my view Nintendo doesn't really have a problem other than marketing right now.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #7 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    I really dislike this article.

    It seems to be making the classic mistake of conflating new gameplay ideas with new IP. You can have new ideas using existing IP, and in fact that's what Miyamoto likes to do.

    The person who wrote this article seems like the kind of person who'd be fooled into saying a game has new ideas if it's really just the same game with a new coat of paint. That's just too shallow a point of view, and it's one of a few things that is wrong with game journalism today.

    Miyamoto is *definitely* not Nintendo's problem. In my view Nintendo doesn't really have a problem other than marketing right now.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #8 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @alexb

    Gameplay is not story. This distinction is psychologically clear. Some games have good stories. Some games have bad stories. Regardless, the enjoyment of storytelling is not the enjoyment of gameplay (the core of video games). You may like the story of The Last of Us, but would you like it if it had a mediocre story? Do you like the gameplay? I am not saying the Last of Us is a good or bad game, but it's value (as a game, not as art), comes from the gameplay. It's okay to appreciate story, but to enjoy the game solely for it's story (like so many do) shows a lack of understanding, nay, a complete ignorance of game design.Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2014 by sam-stephens
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  • Avatar for docexe #9 docexe 2 years ago
    Well, first thing first: Nintendo’s problems are multifaceted in nature, there isn’t a single specific thing in the company that could be changed and automatically solve all their issues. On the contrary, there are many problems that need to be addressed, but carefully and in a deliberate and planned manner, not the ridiculous short term solutions (firing Iwata, going third party, etc.) born out of panic that some investors, analysts and commenters are proposing. And yeah, their management being so old (which includes Miyamoto and Iwata) is one of the problems. They are part of what makes the company so damn conservative, stubborn and myopic in areas that have damaged it in the long term.

    However, injecting new blood at the top of the company or allowing Miyamoto’s successors more creative freedom won’t automatically solve the issues. It’s only one of the many steps that have to be taken before the company returns to prominence, and like many of those steps, it has to be taken with care. History has shown (repeatedly) that putting a young but unprepared successor in the throne can sink a dynasty just as badly (and sometimes faster) than keeping a ruler that is old and senile.

    Second: It’s said often by many commentators that Nintendo lacks new ideas and keeps rehashing the same things over and over and over. There is some truth to this, as they indeed have become increasingly reliant on the same franchises (Mario, Zelda, Pokémon and Kirby), and their overall output is not as innovative as it was in the NES, SNES and N64 eras.

    But is nevertheless wrong to say that they are completely dry creatively, the thing is that, since 2005 at least, most of their more experimental ideas as well as most of their new IP’s have been relegated to small games in the digital and handheld spaces (Pushmo, Sakura Samurai, You, me and the cubes, Dillon Rolling Western, etc.) or are part of the so called “non-games” (Endless Ocean, Tomodachi Collection, the Street Pass Games, etc.). As the so called “hardcore gamer” audience in home consoles has become so obsessed in recent times with “advanced graphics”, “realism” and “cinematic storytelling” to the point of decrying any game that doesn’t bring all those elements to the table, said games have been ignored in the past.

    It should be pointed out though that, when it comes to new IP’s with bigger budgets, Nintendo has taken on commissioning and publishing works of outside studios, either first party (like Monolith Soft with Xenoblade) or third party (like Platinum with the Wonderful 101), and the results are often incredibly charming and creative. And of course, there is the current rise of the indie movement and the increasing niche of gamers who have embraced small digital games, tired of the increasing stagnation that plagues big budget games, but Nintendo has been very slow on capitalizing on these trends given the state of their online platforms.

    That brings me to the third point: The apparent creative malaise that plagues Nintendo is not an exclusive problem of them, but of the console industry at large, especially in the big budget AAA sector, that is full to the brim with sequels of the same old and tired franchises. The audience has increased, but also the production costs, to the point that very few new IP manage to survive on the market these days, regardless of the actual quality of the games. Not to mention that many of those successful new IP tend to rehash the same kind of gameplay and design that many other games in the same genre, while games that dare to go in more experimental territories tend to fail in the market.Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2014 by docexe
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  • Avatar for Thusian #10 Thusian 2 years ago
    I just want to ask two questions.

    When was the last time a new Nintendo IP was greeted with financial success besides Wii Sports? Chibi Robo a big mainstream hit? How about Battalion Wars? Pikmin is niche and it took Animal Crossing until this 3DS iteration to become anything in the public consciousness. Xenoblade a cult hit that had to be begged for US Release, but X is being made. Sin and Punishment 2 became bargain bin fodder faster than you could blink. Maybe the finger should be pointed at those playing games turning their nose up to those new IP. Then maybe those new IP weren't worth it.

    Fact is if Nintendo holds a presser and one of the big eight or nine franchises aren't there people ask about them.

    2. Why aren't you discussing the new IP in the eShop? There are new IP being released on the eShop as a way of working out the game ideas. Dillon's Rolling Western, Sacura Samurai, and Pushmo have all arrived on the eShop.

    Just as a counter point.Edited January 2014 by Thusian
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #11 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @lonecow

    "I even said I don't necessarily want a huge story in a Mario game, but the team was trying to inject some new lifeblood into the franchise and Miyamoto decided to sterilize that aspect."

    I understand, but even here you equate "lifeblood" with narrative and not new gameplay elements. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may have a more understated story when compared to the first game, but when one looks at the gameplay closely, they can find the "lifeblood" to satisfy many games. My point is, if you are looking for a game's "lifeblood" in the storytelling, then perhaps you are not looking closely enough at the design.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #12 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @lonecow

    I'm not sure how I am "reading things into [your] comments that [you are] not saying." I quoted you directly and in an appropriate manner. You said that removing the story was a bad idea, and I said that such thinking is why video game discussions are so confused. People care about elements in video games that are trivial (to the design of the game). I can understand why this upsets people, but saying that removing the story is a "bad idea" and that Miyamoto is at fault for sticking to his own ideals and not yours is problematic.
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  • Avatar for Darkarm66 #13 Darkarm66 2 years ago
    @alexb I don't buy the age thing at all because Springsteen, Scorcese, and Miyazaki are 'old' and they still churn out great works.

    If anything, too much credit is attributed to Miyamoto. He didn't create those titles in a vacuum.
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  • Avatar for docexe #14 docexe 2 years ago
    @Darkarm66 Well, neither did Springsteen, Scorcese, and Miyazaki.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #15 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @Darkarm66

    "If anything, too much credit is attributed to Miyamoto. He didn't create those titles in a vacuum."

    True, Tezuka, Koizumi, Aonuma are all just as important. I think when a lot of people mention Miyamoto, they mean the broader philosophy of Nintendo games that Miyamoto has defined. But these other figures have all added their own quirks and ideas to the series.
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  • Avatar for Darkarm66 #16 Darkarm66 2 years ago
    @docexe Uhhh...Wolf on Wall Street, the Wind Rises, High Hopes-all awesome.
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  • Avatar for docexe #17 docexe 2 years ago
    @Darkarm66 Err... What I meant is that they also didn’t create their works on a vacuum. Everything is a grand collaborative effort, but they tend to get the spotlight because their vision is the lead creative one.

    Sorry if that wasn't clear.
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  • Avatar for Darkarm66 #18 Darkarm66 2 years ago
    @docexe That's a very fair point. Any kind of commercial creative work will a good chunk of collaboration and inspiration.

    I think it's easier for people to 'blame' something for not succeeding than to just say 'it didn't work' and move on.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #19 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 years ago
    On the subject of story going throughout here: I think part of the problem isn't that Miyamoto is against story, it's that it winds up in the wrong places or in the wrong proportions, and there's no sense of balance there.

    Super Mario Galaxy didn't have much greater narrative that SMG2, but that bit with Rosalina added some background. What's more, it was completely out of the way and optional-- it was there for the player to actively discover, and if they wished, to pursue. Unfortunately, that was too much for even Miyamoto.

    Meanwhile, Zelda has been choked by story to such a point that gameplay followed in service of the story, rather than the other way around. It was bad enough that when they actually gave the player some agency to make their own decision how to proceed in Skyward Sword, you could break the game.

    For me, that's why A Link Between Worlds was such a breath of fresh air. After all these years, it was mainly gameplay first, with story servicing it, rather than the other way around. And I liked the story in ALBW, too! It felt solid, but it wasn't choking everyone into having the exact same experience.

    And while it's not one of Miyamoto's, the less said about Other M, the better. Or maybe not, since ignoring it doesn't help anything. Suffice to say, we got to witness the other extreme there.

    Super Mario Galaxy and A Link Between Worlds showed gameplay and story balanced well, where neither got in the way of each other, or at the very least, to a relative minimum. Personally, I think that's the balance Nintendo needs to strike, but they tend to be really hit and miss about it.
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #20 Critical_Hit 2 years ago
    I'm not here to blindly defend the Big N, as I surely think they would be 1000x more interesting and in a much better position if they had bothered to poke their head out from their little bubble world over the past decade and take note of new technology. I firmly believe that if they paid attention to the tech, middleware, infrastructure & features other developers around the world have been utilizing for the past decade, it would ignite THOUSANDS of imaginative ideas for brand new IP. And I wish we lived in a world where a Super Mario game's feature set and ambition could seriously compete with the likes of Littlebigplanet or Disney Infinity. Man - could you imagine a Mario with level creation & sharing? I can't anymore, because Nintendo disappoints me so bad :(

    That being said, their last new IP was no way Wii Sports. Xenoblade/Last Story come to mind immediately. A "Major" IP launch though? I guess I see that - let's face it, after debuting Xenoblade as "Monado: Dawn of the New World" at an E3 here in North America, NOA could not distance itself from that title fast enough, annoyingly >:(

    As well as all their eShop titles, like Pushmo and what-have-you. These too are anything but "major IP launches". I get that.

    But they seriously haven't done anything? NintendoLand doesn't count, I suppose. Man, that's depressing.

    Fascinating article though. Especially the part where you admit, "We critics, trained so effectively to love Nintendo -- many of us since childhood -- are part of this problem". People really do tend to cast a blind eye towards them, give them a free pass all the time, and give their fanboys fake ammunition to justify being ignorant. You don't hear that enough from journalists; you just hear conflicting cries of "Super Mario 3D World is BRILLIANT" followed by "I haven't touched my Wii U in months", lol. It's refreshing to hear such things, especially from a Eurogamer guy after they gave it "Game of 2013" honors.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #21 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn

    I think you are right in some respects. These elements have the tendency to get in the way of each other, but proportionality is not the issue. Their are great games that have a lot of story, and their are great games with no story. It is only when one compromises the other that an issue arises. Metroid Other M has a very prominent (and shlocky) story, but it does not hinder the gameplay (in fact it is quite functional). The same for Skyward Sword (side note: Skyward Sword has just as much "agency" as any other title in the series if you focus on the core design).
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  • Avatar for docexe #22 docexe 2 years ago
    @Critical_Hit “Especially the part where you admit, "We critics, trained so effectively to love Nintendo -- many of us since childhood -- are part of this problem". People really do tend to cast a blind eye towards them, give them a free pass all the time, and give their fanboys fake ammunition to justify being ignorant. You don't hear that enough from journalists; you just hear conflicting cries of "Super Mario 3D World is BRILLIANT" followed by "I haven't touched my Wii U in months", lol. It's refreshing to hear such things, especially from a Eurogamer guy after they gave it "Game of 2013" honors.”

    Is that so? Critics certainly gush over Nintendo games because their gameplay and game design has never stopped being strong, but I don’t really think they really receive a free pass. At least, not more than any other developer who releases a highly acclaimed game. I mean, games like Bioshock Infinite and GTAV aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, yet the general consensus among critics is that what they do well exceeds what they do wrong.

    And honestly, just because some critics and journalists love Nintendo doesn’t mean they are blind to their failings (at least, not all of them), just like not every Nintendo fan is blind to the problems of the company. I remember a rather large amount of articles in the past few years in sites like IGN, 1UP, the PA Report, Wired and Eurogamer itself where they clearly criticize the many areas where the company is failing or has failed, many of them coming from people who like Nintendo. And the topics have gone from the lack of online modes in their games, the way they handle their digital accounts and the virtual console, to the apparent stagnation of some of their franchises like Zelda. So, I don’t really think people cast a blind eye to them as much as you think.
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  • Avatar for TernBird #23 TernBird 2 years ago
    @docexe

    Second. Nobody was afraid to call Paper Mario: Sticker Star Story the dull imitation of what the PM series that it is. Star Fox: Assault was carried to terms the same way.
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  • Avatar for secularsage #24 secularsage 2 years ago
    I found this article really interesting, though I'd suggest the problem lies more in Nintendo's management culture than any single individual. Nintendo is not that different from many Japanese companies when it comes to sticking to the top-down management approach, and I've never had the sense that Nintendo has a desire to become a more global, diverse organization.

    I'd also argue that what Nintendo has done is turned its niche into a rut. Super Mario 3D World may have been one of the best games of 2013, but that's no good if no one but the hardcore Nintendo fans played it. Zelda: A Link Between Worlds might have been a great Zelda game, but the critics who reviewed this installment are coming from a perspective of loving the games that came before it. The new Fire Emblem game is one of the best on the 3DS and Pikmin 3 is as good as ever on the Wii U, but both are also games that are unlikely to appeal to more than a niche audience. Pokemon X/Y is incredible for longtime fans of Pokemon, but they're rather stale in comparison to the experience enjoyed by today's Skylanders fans. It's nice that these games were well-received, but the reality is that only those who know and love Nintendo will experience them. Many gamers have moved on, and casual gamers aren't starting out with Nintendo any more; they're spending their formative years playing Angry Birds, Temple Run and Candy Crush Saga.

    Likewise, Nintendo is ill-positioned for the future. The new Mario Kart sounds exciting and interesting, but so much of the appeal of Mario Kart has been multiplayer gaming, and today's gamers increasingly want that experience to involve solid online play rather than split-screen action. The new Smash Bros. sounds fun, but it's not cross-platform with the 3DS and will likewise be hampered by Nintendo's obtuse online system. Many of the other spin-offs and line extensions just sound tired (particularly Hyrule Warriors). Nintendo really is in the days of hanging on to its past glories.

    This is bigger than software, hardware, Iwata or even Miyamoto; it's a story of a company that believes its own hype because of its past glories and which has insulated itself from its customers and from its competitors. Nintendo will only change if there's a massive shake-up in management and new, more modern and global-thinking management is brought in. Otherwise, it's likely that whatever Nintendo does next will be as irrelevant as the Wii U has been.Edited January 2014 by secularsage
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #25 SargeSmash 2 years ago
    @TernBird : I enjoyed Sticker Star a lot. More than I did Dream Team. And its metascore of 75 seems to indicate that opinions were rather mixed, which is indeed the case. Some folks loved it, others not so much.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #26 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 years ago
    @sam stephens I disagree; the difference in SS and ALBW is like night and day, with the former being largely linear and the latter considerably less so, almost inversely.

    And you may be right on proportionality not being the sole matter between gameplay and story, but I still think it's an issue and that Nintendo isn't good at recognizing what could use more and what could use less.

    As for Metroid: Other M? I guess it's not necessarily the story's fault, but I've heard it's pretty restrictive, and getting the Varia Suit is rather infamous. Maybe that's not directly related to story, but they still managed to muddy the waters with it quite a bit.

    Usually, the chattier a Metroid game (perhaps among others) is, the more restrictive it winds up being-- a bit of a problem for series that are known for their go-anywhere playability. Granted, it doesn't HAVE to be that way, but that seems to be how it often winds up. If that's how it is, then I think it better to err on the side of caution.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #27 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn

    Thanks for the response

    " I disagree; the difference in SS and ALBW is like night and day, with the former being largely linear and the latter considerably less so, almost inversely."

    I just don't see how how Skyward Sword is more linear than any other game in the series (excluding the first two). Sure, A Link Between Worlds lets the player do some dungeons in the order they choose, but all of the mandatory challenges are still linear. Everyone is going to be solving the same puzzles and fighting the same enemies.

    Skyward Sword's enviroments are not as seamless as previous entries, but there is still plenty of room for exploration and self discovery. Those who claim that the game "holds their hand at every moment" are being very hyperbolic. I think it is also important to understand that Skyward Sword is set in a more complex 3D space which are harder to design an more difficult for players to understand. A Link Between Worlds is primarily 2D and only teases some spacial 3D thinking with its wall merging mechanic.

    But I guess the biggest issue I have with people who dislike Skyward Sword for its linearity and restriction is that they tend to conflate "agency" with "freedom" I have noticed a strong bias recently against games that are linear. People like the openness of Elder Scrolls where they can be the master of their experience. But agency is not the same as freedom. Agency means that the player's interaction has some meaning in effecting the outcome. Skyward Sword has plenty of agency in the way skills are required to solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and find your way in the world. In fact, games like Elder Scrolls have the least agency because they have few interesting choice. It is linearity, restriction, that makes the player conform to the challenges in a way that the designers feel is important. There is a standard set. In this way, it is clear that Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds are pretty equal when it comes to agency and linearity.

    I think this leads us to the issue people have with Other M (besides the portrayal of Samus). Many players did not like how the story explicitly designated new abilities only at specific points. Though Other M is certainly more transparent about its progression, this is pretty much how all Metroid games, most games really, allow the player to progress (unless you sequence-break). So I don't find the Varia Suit example offensive. It's a little nonsensical in terms of the story, but the way it pans out in terms of gameplay is fine. Traversing the volcanic environments of the Bottle Ship without the suit adds some tension in the form of a kind of timer. So it's more of an issue with the fiction than the actual design of the game.Edited 3 times. Last edited January 2014 by sam-stephens
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  • Avatar for docexe #28 docexe 2 years ago
    @sam stephens You know, I didn’t found the level of hand holding and linearity of Skyward Sword particularly worse than in any other 3D Zelda game. I think the primary problem with the game is that the world is overall more compact and relatively less varied in terms of environments than previous 3D Zelda games, with said environments being separated in a more conspicuous manner than previous games that actually tried to present a seamless world.

    I understand why they did this: To address the complaints about vast but empty spaces in Twilight Princess, and to emphasize the fact that the over-world areas were pretty much turned into dungeons themselves. But I believe a side effect was that the smaller scale exacerbated the linearity and hand holding that were already present since Ocarina of Time.

    And well, people also complaint about Fi repeating to you things that were just said by other characters, but in terms of “helper annoyance”, she isn’t really worse than Navi and the Owl in Ocarina of Time. In terms of the fiction of the game, I actually think this quirk fits with her character as a “magical robot girl” of sorts. But like with the linearity and hand holding, I think this issue just gets exacerbated because of another design decision they took: Removing the capability to fast track the dialogue. Unlike the scale of the world though, this one doesn’t really have any justification or excuse except “blatant ill-conceived idiocy”.
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #29 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @docexe

    "You know, I didn’t found the level of hand holding and linearity of Skyward Sword particularly worse than in any other 3D Zelda game. I think the primary problem with the game is that the world is overall more compact and relatively less varied in terms of environments than previous 3D Zelda games"

    I'm not sure what you mean by "less varied." Could you provide some examples? Perhaps the visual themes are repeated (forest, volcano, desert), but the ideas presented within them vary quite a bit. The Lanayru Desert features sinking sand, time-shift puzzles, mine cart rides, exploring an ocean, a very clever mini-dungeon involving the time-shift orb, and other things. The return trips to the Eldin Volcano reuse the same environments, but places them within entirely different contexts such as an escort mission and a stealth scramble (economic design).

    "But I believe a side effect was that the smaller scale exacerbated the linearity and hand holding that were already present since Ocarina of Time."

    1) Why is linearity a bad thing?

    2) How do Zelda games "hold the player's hand?" There is directed learning, but this is how most video games function. 3D zelda games are just fairly complex and are intended for a broader player base. Text and tutorials are both design tools that are useful in explaining the game.

    "But like with the linearity and hand holding, I think this issue just gets exacerbated because of another design decision they took: Removing the capability to fast track the dialogue. Unlike the scale of the world though, this one doesn’t really have any justification or excuse except “blatant ill-conceived idiocy”.

    Is it "idiocy" to try and explain things to new players? Why is dialog not an effective way of doing so? I don't think it is very difficult to read some dialog. Much of the hints are optional. I find this complaint to be pretty subjective and not representational of all, or even most players.Edited January 2014 by sam-stephens
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  • Avatar for docexe #30 docexe 2 years ago
    @sam stephens “I'm not sure what you mean by "less varied." Could you provide some examples? Perhaps the visual themes are repeated (forest, volcano, desert), but the ideas presented within them are vary quite a bit. The Lanayru Desert features sinking sand, time-shift puzzles, mine cart rides, exploring an ocean, a very clever mini-dungeon involving the time-shift orb, and other things. The return trips to the Eldin Volcano reuse the same environments, but places them within entirely different contexts such as an escort mission and a stealth scramble (economic design).”

    I’m mostly talking about the environment (the visual theme that you mentioned) here, rather than the gameplay and the mechanics. I have to admit this is subjective in nature, and maybe for someone like you who is more centered on the gameplay this is only window dressing, but I think other Zelda games have more variety in terms of environments and places to visit, and that creates the illusion of a bigger world and a more “epic sense of adventure”, so to speak. Even in A Link to the Past (and also in A Link Between Worlds), a game that reuses the same map for two different “parallel dimensions”, the environmental themes change quite a lot even if you are revisiting the same space.

    In Skyward Sword, while I actually liked the fact that the mechanics changed when you revisited the Eldin Volcano and Faron Forest, I think the fact that the environmental theme changed very little (outside of the part where the forest is flooded) and that the new areas you could explore in those regions in your second and third visits were very small, acted against the “sense of adventure” of the game.

    By contrast, the Lanayru Desert was actually my favorite of three regions of the game, not only because it was the most varied area in terms of gameplay challenges but also in terms of environments, with its deserts, plains, oceans and mine areas being cleverly mixed through the timestones mechanic. The size of the new areas you could explore in each visit was also bigger compared to other regions of the game.

    “1) Why is linearity a bad thing?”

    It’s not a bad thing per se in some genres, I just think that for a game like Zelda that emphasizes exploration and that tries to provide the illusion of being “an epic adventure”, less linearity and more freedom to traverse the world of the game is better.

    “2) How do Zelda games "hold the player's hand?" There is directed learning, but this is how most video games function. 3D zelda games are just fairly complex and are intended for a broader player base. Text and tutorials are both design tools that are useful in explaining the game.”

    I actually understand why the hand holding is needed because, truth of the matter, these games have become so complex that otherwise new players would be bored or frustrated in many areas if they didn’t receive some direct help from the game. The problem is that, if you are already an experienced player with the series, this hand holding can feel annoying and patronizing, given that you already know how to proceed through this kind of game. This is a problem that doesn’t exist in the 2D Zelda games because they are simpler to learn and play.

    I think Nintendo still has to make a 3D Zelda game that properly teaches new players without feeling patronizing to returning players. And being fair, this is not an issue exclusive of the Zelda series but of many other 3D game franchises as well.

    "Is it "idiocy" to try and explain things to new players? Why is dialog not an effective way of doing so? I don't think it is very difficult to read some dialog. Much of the hints are optional. I find this complaint to be pretty subjective and not representational of all, or even most players.

    I think you misunderstood my point there, or I didn’t explain myself very well. I’m not against explaining things through text per se. I actually prefer it in some cases to voice, mostly because I’m not a native English speaker, so it’s easier and faster for me to read through a piece of text, rather than hear a conversation and only catch half of what the characters are saying because they spoke with a strange or unfamiliar accent. The thing is that, like with the handholding, while repeating text is optimal for new players, it can be a chore for an experienced player, but in other games of the series you had the ability to diminish that feeling by fast tracking through the dialogue just with the press of a button.

    For some reason that I don’t really understand, Nintendo removed the ability to fast track the text in Skyward Sword, it always appears at the same fixed speed no matter what you press. And given that I can read the text quickly, the fixed speed becomes an inconvenience. That’s the specific “idiocy” I’m calling out, because I just don’t see any logical design reason (even taking new players into account) why they removed that option.


    Anyway, don’t misunderstand me, unlike other Zelda fans, I actually liked the game a lot. It’s not my favorite one in the series, but I loved many elements of it. I’m just pointing the things that I found as flaws in the game.Edited 3 times. Last edited January 2014 by docexe
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #31 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @docexe

    -"I have to admit this is subjective in nature, and maybe for someone like you who is more centered on the gameplay this is only window dressing, but I think other Zelda games have more variety in terms of environments and places to visit, and that creates the illusion of a bigger world and a more “epic sense of adventure”, so to speak. Even in A Link to the Past (and also in A Link Between Worlds), a game that reuses the same map for two different “parallel dimensions”, the environmental themes change quite a lot even if you are revisiting the same space."

    I can understand what your saying. Sometimes these things just don't click with people. An “epic sense of adventure” can be a very rewarding and engaging experience in its own way, but some gamers don't understand how this can work against the design. In this way, I see little difference between "casual" and many "hardcore" gamers. They want an "experience" that has more to do with immersion and storytelling or more passive elements than dealing with the stress inherent in gameplay challenges. Again, not a bad thing in its own right, but a lot of game types are getting choked out in the west because more people prefer non-game elements to gameplay. It can also pose a problem to critical discussion. Many discussions about games on this site and other tend to divulge into what the authors wanted or expected and not about the quality of the end result in and of itself.

    -"I think Nintendo still has to make a 3D Zelda game that properly teaches new players without feeling patronizing to returning players."

    I don't think players should feel like they are above the tutorials and learning the game provides. I have played, every Zelda game in the series. I am very familiar with their structure, visual and audio cues, style of puzzles, and how the overall experience will play out. Yet, I find the slow begins just as useful for myself as it is for beginners. This is especially true for Skyward Sword where the motion controls require perfect performance in order to defeat the stricter/quicker enemies in the game. The game does a masterful job of building this up in terms of the forgiveness of enemies and variation (Keese-> Boko Baba->Bokoblin->Stalfos). So those who complain about the learning probably do not see how it benefits them, or maybe need it the most. It's not a matter of "respect" or "patronizing," just players not considering the function of the design.

    -"For some reason that I don’t really understand, Nintendo removed the ability to fast track the text in Skyward Sword, it always appears at the same fixed speed no matter what you press."

    I can see this being annoying for some, but it's nitpicking and really not an objective flaw.

    -"Anyway, don’t misunderstand me, unlike other Zelda fans, I actually liked the game a lot. It’s not my favorite one in the series, but I loved many elements of it. I’m just pointing the things that I found as flaws in the game."

    Of course, everyone has their own favorite Zelda game (Phantom Hourglass for me) and there are others we like less (Zelda 1 & 2). It's perfectly okay to pick favorites. Some bring their own ideas about what Zelda is when discussing as I mentioned above. But without a clear understanding of the design, many (not saying you do) make statements about the series that are just not true and only point to some superficial elements from other entries to make their point. That is the problem with the "A Link Between Worlds is a breath of fresh air because it's not linear like Skyward Swords" type of comments. They are not grounded in any design knowledge, but in subjective opinion, a bias for their favorite game(s) in the series, and are ultimately not as helpful and constructive as they could be.Edited January 2014 by sam-stephens
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  • Avatar for docexe #32 docexe 2 years ago
    @sam stephens I don’t agree with all of your points but I understand some of what you are saying.

    It’s true that in the generation that just ended, a lot of attention was paid to things like storytelling and presentation, while very little was paid to the actual gameplay mechanics. Most of the innovation in gameplay was pretty much in bringing mechanics that previously existed only in certain genres (RPG, Sandbox, Roguelike, etc.) to genres that previously didn’t have them. Few games actually tried to experiment with completely new mechanics, and many of those who did ended up failing in the market. This is part of the reason why the console gaming sector has become so stagnant.

    The particular thing I don’t agree with is when it comes to the lack of objectivity in criticism. I’m not a professional critic of course, but from what I understand after reading different articles on the subject, when it comes to art and entertainment products there is always going to be some level of bias and subjectivity applied because this kind of things invariably resonate in different ways for different people. Even in academic circles for books, movies, etc., there is always a level of subjectivity in the criticism given the baggage that every person brings to the table. Not to mention that many of these products (books, movies, animation, comics, games, etc.) tend to be multifaceted in nature and consists of many different elements. For some people a particularly troubling element can bring down an entire work even if it is well crafted in other areas.

    Overall though, I think I agree with what you mention in that, when it comes to the gaming space, we need more criticism that is also aimed at elements of the design, and we also need to educate ourselves in this regard as gamers. That way our enjoyment and appreciation of games will grow and become richer and deeper, rather than your typical complaints of the type “X game sucks because *tiny superficial detail*”. I have read essays, articles and other critic pieces that examine with detail the elements of the craftsmanship behind different works (be that movies, books, comics, games, etc.) and in some cases that made me reevaluate pieces that I previously dismissed, or appreciate works that I already liked even more.

    And finally, when it comes to Skyward Sword and the fast tracking of the text ... Well, maybe I’m nitpicking but what can I say? That, combined with the description of the upgrade and potion materials reappearing on screen every time you turned off the console, were seriously the most frustrating parts of the game for me. Maybe unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but still annoying.Edited January 2014 by docexe
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  • Avatar for sam-stephens #33 sam-stephens 2 years ago
    @docexe

    - "when it comes to art and entertainment products there is always going to be some level of bias and subjectivity applied because this kind of things invariably resonate in different ways for different people. Even in academic circles for books, movies, etc., there is always a level of subjectivity in the criticism given the baggage that every person brings to the table."

    Definitely. It is impossible to look at games in a purely objective way (though I don't think it hurts to try). What I think separates the quality of game critics and movie/book critics right now is not so much objectivity/subjectivity issue, but one of separating the role of the critic and the gamer. I think it is interesting that the people who are considered to be the most "serious" gaming critics (Brendan Keogh, Leigh Alexander, Tom Bissell) all write in the "New Games Journalist" player response style.

    Overall I agree with the rest of what you say, especially the games "tend to be multifaceted in nature and consists of many different elements" comment. There are many different elements in these things we call games. Some of them are very interesting. I just wish there was more design focus discussion or if design was even mentioned at all. It was very telling when after all the insightful things that has been written about the The Last of Us, its themes characters, story, and violence, in countless blogs, journals and discussion boards, I could not find a single sentence written about the multiplayer. It is when no one is talking that we should be worried.
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  • I think Nintendo needs to look back to the past. I feel that some of the greatest adventures were in the era spanning the SNES, and the N64. Mario RPG had great gameplay from what I can remember, and I know that the subsequent tittles such as Paper Mario, and the Superstar Saga series followed in it's path, but I think Nintendo should invest more in in house RPGs. More first person shooters like Metroid or Star Fox. Maybe they can hook back up with HAL and kick out some great Kirby Games. They could possibly expand on the Great Cave Offensive, or one of the demi games from Kirby's Superstar. I think the most annoying thing is how limited the 3D Pokemon games have been. We really need a fully 3D Pokemon game on a non-handheld console. One that allows the player to explore as far and wide as the handheld games, but with great, innovative gameplay and graphics that could rival Kingdom Hearts, or FF. I used to hate having to "unlock" the hearts of shadow Pokemon. I felt so restricted in what I could do. They could go the route of Digimon World, and perhaps make the gameplay isometric. There are so many killer things that Nintendo could do... they just aren't.
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  • Avatar for abuele #35 abuele 2 years ago
    This sounds something like; "Pissing the hands that once hold you".
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