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ASK SEAN
Column 39: Flawless Victories
November 19th, 2007

Sean - 5:00pm EDT

Unproductive weekends seem to be in my blood. I handed in everything for one project, studied for an exam and did some work for a second project. That amounted to a third of what I actually wanted to do. I was just too tired to work yesterday. So I played a couple of hours of Guild Wars instead. Thirteen flawless victories in a row. That is a lot of trash-talkers dead.

I'll cut this short at this point. So, what is in the letter bag today?




LETTERS
Who is a Fawfully funny henchman?


Hey Sean,

Well, I should thank the people that wrote in about Harvest Moon, I actually own one of the games and couldn't really get into it. So now I'm debating whether to give it another try or to give it away as a Xmas present.

Sean

Give it away.

Favorite crony? That would be Fawful by a landslide. If I must fight a crony several times then he better be able crack me up with a ridiculous monologue first.

Sean

Hehe, I forgot about that guy. He is an amazing henchman! That was one thing I liked from that series--the humor. Fawful was amazing.

It seems Fawful has acquire a bit of a fanclub among the other croniesas well, because other cronies are starting to copy him. I was playing Magical Starsign earlier today and a crony named Master Chard gave this Fawful inspired speech, "Your flimsy little plan is as transparent as soggy rice paper and I am the crazed sumo wrestler crashing through the wet paper bag that is your pathetic scheme!" and he just went on and on.

Sean

I never played that game. Is it any good? I am glad that not all henchmen do that, as it would eventually get boring.

I would also like to know what people think of DQM: Joker, I haven't gotten my copy yet but hopefully if it does well enough then we'll get an announcement for those DQ Remakes soon.

-Whitney

Sean

I never had a chance to play it either. No one has told me anything so far. Sorry about that, Whitney. Thanks for writing in though!



Where did the Fayth go?


Hi Sean,

First I want to apologize for not reading the column lately. As you know, this time of year can be busy at college. Anyway, I did have time to read the intro to your November 12th column. I have a suggestion, ask for games for any gift giving occasion (Christmas and other such holidays). It won't get you much, but you could get some games without having to pay for them that way. On the plus side, your back log will probably go down considerably if you stick to your plan.

Sean

That is a little bit of the plan too. I don't expect to get any games as gifts, as the majority of people will be picking up "apartment" stuff. I can only wish at this point.

Okay, and now for a random question. NOTE: Final Fantasy X and X-2 SPOILERS! (if you haven't played it yet, then feel free to not answer the question)

Why does is seem like in FFX-2 Yuna aged backwards? I can see that she might be more relaxed without Sin, but it seems like her whole personality changed. Why do you suppose the developers decided to do that? Also, how could the Fayth bring Tidus back at the end if the Fayth disappeared/died at the end of FFX? Also, something random: I was watching the Japanese ending on Youtube and Yuna says "Thank you" (Japanese version) not "I love you" (English version) I wonder why that is. The people on Youtube seem to think it had to do with making the syllables fit the image. (a-ri-ga-tou, four syllables; thank you, two syllables; I love you, three syllables) I wonder if any of the other scenes are different? Someday when I am fluent in Japanese (which will probably be a long time from now...) I want to play through FFX in Japanese.

END of SPOILERS!

Sean

Ugh. My memory is not that good, you know. I don't think she negatively aged, but rather has a happier perspective on life. I don't recall the Fayth disapearing, but that is my memory playing havoc again. As for the Thank you\I love you question, I liked hearing the "I love you", but I am not sure why they would make the change.

By the way, if you haven't played FFX, I would reccomend it. Of course, my opinion is biased because FFX was my first mainstream (non-Paper Mario or Pokemon) RPG so it holds a special place in my heart.

I've probably rambled on long enough now. Good luck with your projects and exam!

Bye for now,

Annalou

Sean

Of course, I have played FFX. I couldn't beat all that the arena had to offer, but I tried for a while. I think I might be in the minority, but I really liked FFX-2. I don't need luck at this point, but rather ten more hours per day to use to work on stuff. Of course, they would need to be fully wakeful hours. Thanks for the letter, Annalou!



Harvest Moon.... Ugh.


Dear Sean, Well, I have been a silent lurker for quite some time, in fact, since the time Andrew was the Q&A host... but one topic has brought me out of the shadows: Harvest Moon.

During my days as a collector of SNES games I was obsessed with getting a complete RPG list for that system. Harvest Moon always plagued me because, back then, eBay was sort of just starting out and did not have everything available like today. The need to one day play that game or at least a sequel was extremely strong.

Sean

I was also a collector of SNES RPGs, but I never once wanted to purchase a Harvest Moon game.

Fast forward many years to the release of Mineral Town for GBA. I had read so many positive reviews about it. I got it and was eager to get started. Unfortunately, I could not get past the first year. I met the townsfolk, bought seeds, hung out with my dog, bought a chicken, mined some ore, and took care of my planted seeds. It seemed like I spent hours getting enough ore to sell just to buy seeds, and then hours of watering, toiling and feeding to get a meager harvest with which I was barely able to "upgrade" seeds for the next year. Way too much work to be enjoyable in my opinion.

Sean

I don't like games that are like work. I like to "play" games, not "work". That is my basic problem with grinding for cash in MMOs--I just can't do it, as it is like work.

Iíll just stop here... I guess it is in no way an RPG in my mind. It was definitively a simulator with, really, not RPG elements other than the fact that you took the role of someone you are not in real life. I read the earlier letters concerning this topic using the fact that you have to go socialize with people in the town in order to move through. I mean, if we are to call those games RPGs then what about "The Sims"? That game is all about acquiring items, talking to people and whatnot (reason why I never played that).

Sean

Plus, it is boring. Boredom incarnate. Ugh.

I think that the term RPG is the problem why all these hybrid games are getting classified as such because anything can be considered an RPG. Letís look at Super Mario Brothers for example. Since you are going through a story (saving a kidnapped princess) by taking the role of a made up character, and progressing through the game by making decisions and executing a certain action then SMB could very well be an RPG.

So I guess we would have to come up with some rules to clearly define our favorite type of game. I would generically define an RPG as a game in which you:

1) Take the role of a character that grows in equipment and experience throughout the game.
2) Progress through the story described by the game by making decisions based on what you learn from the narration, NPCs or your party (as opposed to decisions made based on platform-like events).
3) Take part in battle type events in order to obtain the progression described in point 1
4) Follow the game in a continuous fashion with no clear definition between chapters as well as levels. (ie: resetting equipment, levels, etc...)

What do you think?

Jeremy

Sean

It makes sense, but some games are excluded. What happens to Timestalkers and Dawn of Mana? Man, I should play Dawn of Mana. Well, it will eventually happen. Thanks for the letter, Jeremy!



I wish GTA IV would just be canceled...


Hey Sean -

So with a reader like me lurking out here, you had to know I would respond as soon as I saw Eggman mention GTA in his letter on what makes an RPG an RPG. And no, I'm not quite ready to call it an RPG yet myself, I just feel that he sold the game a little short, especially as compared to the Zelda franchise. In comparing his lists of RPG elements in each game, the only differences I saw were that Zelda had a large amount of charcter customization, and GTA had little, and the abscence of character stats/upgrades in the GTA series. I think I can acurrately dispute both of those.

Sean

I knew this would happen. I really don't have any love for the GTA series. I just don't see what could be fun about it. The idea of running people over for fun, killing cops and causing open gang warfare in the streets just doesn't do it for me. I usually draw the line here: if the violence is too realistic, people shouldn't be playing it. It just isn't right.

Now, I'm assuming (I like to make asses out of both myself and others, what can I say it's the Hyphy Movement, we goes stupid doo doo dumb) that by character customization he's talking about appearance, and weaponry/armor which can change said appearance, and then stats/upgrades he's referring to all the inner beauty (skills,and strength, intelligence, etc.) of a character. If that's the case then I have to say that first off, GTA, especially in it's most recent incarnation of San Andreas, has way more character customization than Zelda. You can change pretty much everything about your players appearance in GTA except the skin color and height. You can be fat, or skinny, or incredibly muscular. You can wear anything from shorts and a wifebeater to a three-piece suit. You can adjust hair styles and even tatoos. Even some of your higher end mounts (lowriders and sportscars) could get custom paintjobs and parts (you can even put more bass in your stereo system, and when playing on my surround sound system it made a big difference in the sound). Zelda comes nowhere close to this.

Sean

I don't think customization of a character's looks are what constitutes the point that he was trying to make. That is just tailoring the character to your likes. It is more of how the character's stats come in to play that will do it. RPGs tend to do a lot of number crunching to remove the need for quick reflexes on the part of the player. Do I hit the opponent? Some dice are rolled! The customization of looks or rides has nothing to do with it.

I also have to disagree with character stats/upgrades being left completely off the list of elements present in GTA. This is another thing like character customization which started in Vice City and really took off in San Andreas. Now I'll admit that your health and body armor are very limited in how much they can be upgraded when compared to Zelda, however it can be done on a limited basis. But it's GTA's skill system which blows Zelda's out the water. In Zelda when you get a new weapon you can for the most part use it to full effect immediately (there are some sword moves you can pick up) but in GTA you're just getting started. The more you use each weapon the better you get with it which gives noticeable benefits beyond increased acurracy. Smaller weapons start becoming double-wieldable, while the heavy-weaponry that you often had to stand still to fire you can actually walk around with while using. Also upgradeable with use are your skills driving cars/motorcycles/bicycles, and piloting boats/airplanes/helicopters. Even running more often increases your endurance allowing you to sprint for longer distances. And you can track your skill-level with all these in the menu as numerical values.

Sean

Meh, it just looks like an RPG element that is thrown in. Developers do this all the time in hopes of drawing in a bigger audience or to show that their games have evolved...

Now I'm not a big fan of the term action-RPG, I consider most of them to be adventure games, turn-based combat is pretty important for something to be considered an RPG in my book, which makes Super Paper Mario a platformer with a really long story to me as opposed to Thousand Year Door which actually had turn-based combat and was thus an RPG. However as it seems that action-RPG does seem to be an accepted categorization by the videogame community, it seems to me like it won't take too much more to make GTA fit that definition. And at the rate they are adding in all these RPG elements, we may just hit that point by GTA IV.

Sean

I can't see it. How many people are into GTA because they want to experience a masterful story, and not just to run over people just because they are there or sleep with hookers. An action RPG on the other hand, tend to be really numbers-based, and have a story. An RPG focuses on the story, remember? Not on mechanics that let you kill anyone in a thousand different ways, or photorealistic ways to dismember people. Even if a non-RPG has a good story, I would only compare it to the likes of a movie, whereas an RPG would be easily compared to a novel.

Looking back on this, it may have been more suitable as an editorial, but it's already addressed to you, so you're stuck with it. Oh, and an update on your pimp name. I'm still having trouble coming up with a good one for you, so I'm thinking I'll just toss you in my stable as a man-ho. We'll call you Chardonnay, or Sinammon, or something like that.

Time to walk that strip till your heels rip, no bactalk just backhand slaps, bring me my money,

Kezzy

Sean

Ugh, I am tired of everyone talking so much about Halo and GTA. I just don't understand it. Why do people enjoy games that involve so much senseless violence? Ok, not Halo so much, but GTA for sure. And how the hell do kids get their hands on it? Answer that Kezzy.



Ugh seems to be the word of the day!


Hey-o Sean,

So I have yet to weigh in on the topic of what makes and rpg an rpg. I'm not honestly sure I want to get into that bag of worms, but here goes some simple definitions.

First, there needs to be stat advancement. In some way over the course of the game your characters need to become more powerful. Examples generally in the areas of health increases, attack power and defense. Getting new equipment does not apply to this rule. The actually character must get better, not their gear.

Sean

That is a clear sign of an RPG. A hero can get stronger by continuously beating on opponents. Player skill usually doesn't come in to the equation.

Second, there is usually some sort of overarching story. The goals usually justify the need for stat increases as saving the world/galaxy/universe or just your hometown can be a big job. Sometimes this story is as simple as, "You must save the princess."

Other times it's doled out in bits and you piece it together over the course of the game. But usually there's a story in the game that justifies where you're going and what you're doing.

I think with those two points in place you've defined an rpg. Expanding past that you get into the arguments of how some games then get removed that are considered rpgs. With qualifications this loose however people will argue that games that are not rpgs are making it into group.

Sean

Well, a lot of games have RPG elements, but having elements is not enough for them to be RPGs. I would say that another way to look at RPGs is that they need to require thinking power over reflexes.

I'll give the first example I thought of when I tried to find a way to break these rules. Metroid games. Technically they qualify as you increase your Health over the course of the game. I don't include the armor or weapon upgrades since they are items. But still there's an overarching story. Though I could make a good argument for Metroid being an rpg, I think that most people would agree that it's an action/adventure with a dose of platforming.

Sean

There is nothing in Metroid that lends itself to being an RPG. I don't see it.

So, while my two rules aren't perfect, trying to define the genre further I fear for cutting games out that should not be. I think I'm happier expanding the possibilities then limiting them.

Ken

Sean

True that. RPG elements are a great thing to pass around, but they really need to make sense. If they don't, well they should just not have added them in the first place! But like you, I welcome all good games with open arms, even if I don't see any personal value to them. *glances at GTA3* Ugh.



Silly, lazy developers--you should be ashamed of yourselves!


Hey Sean,

Flamethrower asked why PS3 (and previously PS2) is hard to develop for. I thought I would give some quick assistance with that topic.

* Microsoft provides a great tool called Visual Studio for developing apps. This is a widely used app in software development that Sony Dev Kits do not support it well.
* The API (Application Programmer Interface) for Sony Systems tend to be harder to work with than other platforms.
* Other platforms tend to be more forgiving with mistakes. They may spit out an error but continue to work. Sony systems tend to just explode.
* Sony Dev Kits typically cost 10-20 times as much to purchase as other platforms. This makes it that much harder to work with. One kit may be shared among multiple programmers rather than each programmer having their own kit. This is a huge deal in terms of development time and cost. Incidentally, Sony kits also tend to be about 3 times as big as any other platform which reduces desk space.

Sean

Ugh. I had to say it again. While those are all nice arguments, I think the bigger issue is developer laziness. I mean, programming is already a difficult enough task to undertake, so what is a little more challenge added to it? Why don't they embrace the chance to actually use their brain? I just see a bunch of whiners.

On another note, a few people were asking about region codes etc. in software.

One thing to consider with region specific software is it provides additional disc space to work with. If I know that version A of a game is only being shipped to Japan, then I don't need to include German audio, text etc. This means that I have that much extra space to put game content in. And considering Audio can frequently be one of the largest parts of a game, that can be a big deal. For the moment that is not a big deal with Blue Ray and HD DVD discs because they have a massive capacity. But in a few years, who knows.

Eggman

Sean

I understand the point about region locking. It does make sense that they would like to use the extra room on the disks for content, instead of other languages. But then again, why not just release it as a region-free disk and allow for easy import? Who cares, if there is no English track? I wouldn't buy it, if that was important for me, as I would know before hand since I need to get it from an import shop. All it is doing is giving people the choice. Thanks for the letter, Eggman!



QUICKIES

"Pro" players who trashtalk others deserve to be dead. They're the reason I quit GunBound. (Fire even one shot off-target and you get jeered at by the "pros", who're probably using bots anyway.) Major kudos for ridding the world of such scum in Guild Wars.
-Virtuoso

Sean
It is a lot of fun. It is even worse when the trash-talker is on your team and you *have* to keep them healed. Man, I should have just let them all die.



IN CLOSING

In the interest of actually completing my coursework and still remaining sane after the fact, I will be taking off the next two weeks from Q&A. Yes, I know it is sudden, but I really feel that I need the time to do all the work that is on my plate. I will, however, try to find some staffers to fill in for me while I am gone. As of this moment, Lusipurr will be with you all for the next three columns, J-Sensei will be covering next Wednesday (November 28th) and Lusipurr will be back next Friday (November 30th). Feel free to send them a ton of mail! Actually, send them a LOT of mail.



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