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The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword - A Critique

If it’s not clear from my writing I’m a HUGE Zelda fan. I also consider it the best series of games hands down. As such I was hugely looking forward to Skyward Sword. From that alone you can probably already guess where this is headed.

Before you read this, while there are no spoilers, if you haven’t played Skyward Sword and you plan to do so I suggest you play it first before letting the critique influence your experience. With that out of the way…

Revisiting some other Zeldas if I had to rank all console Zeldas I’d put Skyward Sword absolute last. My ranking

  1. Ocarina of Time (N64)
  2. Link to the Past (SNES)
  3. The Legend of Zelda (NES)
  4. Wind Waker (Gamecube)
  5. Majora’s Mask (N64)
  6. Twilight Princess (Gamecube)
  7. Skyward Sword (Wii)

Why does it rank so low for me? Well, various reasons.
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The Zelda Test (or Why no Zelda Clones?)

It’s no secret, especially among my friends, that the Zelda series of console games is my favorite series of games period. They are beloved by a great many people and are some of the top ranked games of all time on all time top 100 lists and on places like Game Ranking and MetaCritic.

The thing that strikes me as most interesting though is that there are almost ZERO clones of Zelda. I’m probably missing a whole bunch but I’m going to try to point out what I see as unique to Zelda that is missing from every other game that claims to be close.
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Why is Windows so slow?

I’m a fan of Windows, specifically Windows 7. For the most part I like it better than OSX. I have 4 Macs, 3 Windows machines and 3 Linux machines that I access regularly.

But…I work on a relatively large project. Windows is literally an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE slower to checkout, to update and to compile and build than Linux. What gives? I don’t know this is the fault of Windows. As far as I know some of it is the fault of the software I’m using not using Windows in the correct way to get the maximum speed.
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WebGL Security and Microsoft Bullshit

Disclaimer:

1) I work at Google on Chrome
2) Nothing I say here represents my employer in anyway. This my own opinion.

It’s frustrating to see how bad Microsoft can really be. I’m one of Microsoft’s biggest fans. I still think Windows7 is better than OSX or Linux(*). I play more XBox 360 games than any other console. I was hopeful for Win7 Phone and am hopeful for Windows 8. I was on Microsoft’s side in the Java lawsuit, the Internet Explorer lawsuit and several others. I think Visual Studio’s debugger is way better than anything I’ve used on OSX or Linux. I think C# is way more awesome than Java. I was really happy when they started IE9 development and started actually competing.

So imagine my disappointment when I start seeing the FUD from Microsoft about IE9 vs other browsers. Cherry picking benchmarks, cherry picking conformance tests and generally basically lying.
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WebGL Techniques and Performance

I gave a talk at Google I/O 2011 on WebGL Techniques and Performance. If that sounds interesting to you then check it out. Answers to some of the questions from the Moderator below.
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Should Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony open their platforms?

Apple has clearly shown that an effectively open market (*) can be hugely successful. Games on iOS are reaching more people than they did on any other platform. On top of that they make lots of money for both Apple and game developers. You might be thinking that RockStar gets $60 for every copy of GTA4 but more likely they get 10-15% of wholesale. For a $60 game wholesale is around $28. So they make at best $2.80 to $4.20 a unit. If they sold GTA4 on iPhone for $5 Apple would take 30% leaving them $3.50 right in the middle of that range. EA has been successful with the Sims 3 on iOS priced at $10 showing that games will sell at $10 on iOS.
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GDC 2011 Report

Here are some notes from attending GDC 2011.
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The Problem with RAGE

Yea, yea, I know I’ll be inviting ridicule about this post because who am I to say this. Fan boys will come and leave nasty posts because they feel I’m attacking their idol. That can’t be helped.

RAGE came out for iPhone and iPad recently which shows off the latest tech from Id Software. Id has done a great job of hyping it up and it looks great. Unfortunately it seems to me like the tech is a dead end.
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The WebGL Aquarium running on the Google Liquid Galaxy

Microtransactions: Good or Evil?

This is just a random brain fart but I was thinking this morning, aren’t micro-transactions in games kind of scammy?

You could argue if people are willing to pay it’s not scammy since no one is forcing them to pay. It’s more the issue of value for money. If I buy GTAIV for $60 I’m getting the results of 200 people who worked 2-3 years to make that game. When I pay $1 for some seeds in a game I’m paying effectively for some designer to spend no more than a few minutes. Sure, every thing costs money but feels like charging someone $6 for a burger at McDonalds and then charging them $1 for each napkin, $1 for a straw and 50¢ for a toothpick. Those things cost money too but their costs are so small that no one would go to a restaurant that charged for them.

So why then do people buy micro-transaction virtual items? I guess to some degree it just feels like selling snake oil to me. I suppose that’s unfair as there is no deception involved. At the same time if some kid at school managed to sell single sheets of plain white school paper to an 8yr boy for a $1 a piece I’d expect his mom or dad would give him a strict talking to that sheets of a paper are not worth a dollar each. The kid selling the paper for a $1 a sheet would looked at as scamming the other kids. So how is it different with in game micro-transaction items? How are the designers of those games not being scammy?

I can already see the counter argument to the paper example. People ready buy pieces of paper for $$$. Greeting cards, Baseball Cards, Pokemon Cards, Wrapping Paper. I guess my counter argument would be what I’m getting in each transaction. A Greeting Card, I’m paying for the convenience. It’s much easier to buy some card for $3-$4 than make my own and trying to think of something witty or funny to write on it. Wrapping Paper? I’m paying to make something pretty for a friend and again for convenience. I’ve made my own wrapping paper for special occasions but it’s a lot of work. Baseball cards and Pokemon cards are generally pretty cheap. Average 10¢ or less per card? It’s only the rare ones where the market goes up. I personally find it silly but still, that’s different than the types of virtual items sold with micro-transactions. A few bytes enabled in an app that appears as some seeds to plant flowers in a game seems on the surface to be about worth as much as the pencil lead it takes to draw a simple flower. Not the sketch itself, just the lead. Ie, not much.

Note, I’m not talking about DLC. Paying $5-$10 for a new Left 4 Dead campaign seems worth it because I’m getting several hundred man hours of work for my $5-$10. Paying $1 for a virtual sofa to decorate my virtual house though seems like a rip off, especially when I get say 5000 items in the main game I paid $50 for. That’s 1¢ an item. Less if you put a value on the game itself and everything that’s not items.

It’s as if the music industry started charging $10 per single music track after CDs had already set the price at about a $1 a track in bulk.

I’ve heard some people claim that the whole microtransaction market is about to collapse. That the novelty is wearing off. We’ll see I guess.

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