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How many other devs make "Nintendo-style" games? [roundtable]
 
It reoccurred to me recently that Nintendo really doesn't make games in the same way as most other current developers. I mean, if you look at it historically, we started with arcade games, which usually made the most of a single mechanic. A limited amount of content, but high replay value. Then the shift to home consoles sort of broadened the scope of a video game. Now we could have adventures (even on the 2600!). Which first meant bigger worlds in which to ply that limited set of mechanics. But soon that definition evolved to include games in which the mechanics expanded and changed over time, resulting in a more varied (but perhaps less pure) experience. In it's early history, Nintendo was a key component of this evolution from arcade games (Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight) to expanded arcade-styled games (Super Mario Bros.) to more realized worlds with more varied mechanics (The Legend of Zelda, Metroid). Over time, Nintendo has further refined its ideal of video game design. Basically, a gameplay-driven experience, in which creative level design and/or new abilities keep the experience fresh over the course of the game. We love that shit, right?

But most established developers don't make that type of game anymore. The current vogue seems to favor one set of gameplay mechanics throughout an entire game (or even series), modulated largely by change in setting or narrative. Rather than bring new actors on the stage, they change the set design. I think this explains why Nintendo fans' tastes are often so different than those of the mainstream. Why some of us feel alienated in gaming discussions. To an extent, we're playing apples, and they're playing oranges.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Independent devs mostly prioritize gameplay, albeit with a more limited scope. So, two questions:

1) Do you agree or disagree with the analysis above?
2) If you agree, which other developers still make "Nintendo-style" games?

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Posted: 06/29/15, 23:12:34  - Edited by 
 on: 06/29/15, 23:35:34
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I was going to say "I'm trying" but I see you added a caveat for indie devs.

Yeah I dunno. You get some occasional Nintendo style games from the bigger devs here and there but the focuses seem to be on other things now. To be honest I'm not sure what exactly. The whole "make a playable movie" trend is still going strong but it doesn't seem to be the main focus of most AAA devs anymore. I can't put into words what is. I guess "set piece" type design? Is that still huge?
Posted: 06/29/15, 23:22:06  - Edited by 
 on: 06/29/15, 23:23:15
I think this is a complicated issue, there are so many games being made right with so many different motivations and goals, it's hard to just lump them into two categories. Games are also really complicated now, more often than not they're trying to be several things at once, and then more often than not some of things are more successful than others. Take Shadow of Mordor for example, with it's crappy characters and boring setting it fails pretty miserably at telling a compelling story and nothing about the gameplay is terribly innovative or interesting, except for the "Nemesis System", and that one addition turns the whole game on it's head and makes it super fun!
Posted: 06/29/15, 23:51:09
I wonder if that is the word I'm looking for... "system". A lot of games nowadays seem to live or die on one or two big, complicated systems. Nintendo style design, on the other hand, is basically throwing as many small systems into a game as possible and then see how many fresh things you can do by combining them in a variety of ways. If a few of them don't work, you end up with a couple mediocre areas but the overall game can still be pretty brilliant.

I'm thinking mostly of the Mario platformers but this applies to a lot of their other games too.
Posted: 06/29/15, 23:56:54  - Edited by 
 on: 06/29/15, 23:57:30
@Zero
I don't really know what the exact definition of "system" is, it's kind of like "mechanic", it's a game design term that seems like it can be applied to lots of things. Like in Dark Souls, is the combat a system, or is it a mechanic? Or both? I dunno.

But back to Nintendo, yeah they certainly have specific way they design Mario, constantly introducing all these different obstacles and then re-configuring them in different ways to always keep you guessing and also doing something new, I feel like other devs obviously try to rip that off but none are as successful. Something like Rayman comes to mind, it has many of the same elements but it always feels at bit more sloppy and random, and the difficulty spikes in some the early levels to the point where it feels unfair, but then later levels are easier. Mario always has a nearly perfect difficulty slope because of the way they systematically keep upping the complexity of the challenges.

EDIT: Back to the OP, the more I think about the more I think the answer is none. No one else makes games like Nintendo. Nintendo makes Nintendo-style games, just like Bethesda makes Bethesda-style games, and EA makes... shit.

(jk, I'm sure some EA games are good, I just mostly avoid them)
Posted: 06/30/15, 00:28:07  - Edited by 
 on: 06/30/15, 00:36:59
There probably is no real clear definition but I think of a "system" as maybe being made up of various "mechanics". Like taking a bunch of local economies and making them into a global economy or something? I dunno.

For instance Batman I'd say has a combat system, a stealth system, a detective system, etc. maybe a few others I'm forgetting right now and I guess in the new game an annoying driving system? But it is tough for me to think of a Mario game in those terms. It just has a BUNCH of different stuff, some of it which you only see once or twice then never again.

Zelda, however, probably could be thought of with more clearly defined systems I suppose. It still tries to cram in all kinds of other stuff though, albeit a lot of that ends up in mini-games and such.
Posted: 06/30/15, 00:42:01
Valve?
Posted: 06/30/15, 00:42:43
@Jargon
The interesting thing about Valve is that they're now delving into the hardware market by making something that is not same-old, same-old. Their Steam controller is definitely something new and exciting. Reminds me of Nintendo in that regard.

As for games, I feel like they haven't released much of anything lately, but they certainly have a sort of "Nintendo" magic to them. Yes, even Team Fortress 2.
Posted: 06/30/15, 05:11:02
I can think of some stray examples of Nintendo-esque games, but I can't think of anyone who does it consistently, to be honest.
Posted: 06/30/15, 05:33:38
There aren't many, really, especially from the major publishers. @Zero brought up Batman, and I thought the first Batman: Arkham Asylum had a very Nintendo-esque design ethos, but they've really strayed from that quite a bit over the past few games. Some of that has gotten lost in translation with the move to an open-world.

Anything open-world, really, loses a lot of that special feeling of a hand-crafted world. So many games now are moving in that direction and using "open world" as a selling point, but I find it to be a negative in some respects. It's one of the things that has actually worried me about Zelda U, in spite of how awesome it looks. A tighter, more focused package usually wins out for me. Bloodborne is a good example of a recent adventure game that had a really well-designed world, full of secret inter-connecting paths and exploration that felt rewarding and worthwhile.

With more and more games going open-world, everything has become more mission-based (handling both story and experience progression) and a more gameplay-driven experience is put on the backburner for something that tries to be more immersive. But video games will never become 100% real-world replications, and whenever games try to do this, they just feel shallow -- there's more places to see and go to, but I never feel like there are more compelling things to actually do. I prefer things to be more "game-y", if that makes sense.
Posted: 06/30/15, 06:04:30
I've seen some games on the iOS store that are Nintendo-style!

Posted: 06/30/15, 06:15:24
@nate38 Good thing they removed all of those games with Confederate flags but left this garbage.
Posted: 06/30/15, 06:34:59
@kriswright

This is where I land on this discussion too.
Posted: 06/30/15, 16:11:33
@TheBigG753
I understand the concerns about Zelda U going "open-world", but I don't think they'll lose focus of how to craft the experience, they're too good at Zelda to mess up the basics. Either way I can't wait for that freaking game. I've been pining for an HD Zelda for a decade and the anticipation is killing me!

Speaking of Bloodborne, that's not Nintendo-style game, but damn if it doesn't remind me of playing NES games as a kid. Miyazaki is a genius game designer IMO.
Posted: 06/30/15, 18:55:57
@deathly_hallows Can't speak for Bloodborne specifically since I haven't played that, but I got that same modernized-retro feeling from Dark Souls. I think the game nails the claustrophobia of classic action-platformers like Castlevania or Mega Man in a way very few post-SNES action games ever have. Most 3D action games put you in a big open arena for combat, where you can just focus on the enemy, after which you might have do some rote platforming to get to the next arena. Dark Souls doesn't have "platforming" in the strictest sense, but even in combat you have to be equally cognizant of the lay of the land as you do the enemy attacks, using choke points to thin overwhelming and aggressive hordes, or treading carefully on a narrow bridge while attacked from all sides. And I think that's maybe the best way to translate that type of challenge from 2D to 3D.
Posted: 06/30/15, 19:22:57
Where do character action games like Bayonetta fall into this? I'd say the enemy encounters getting progressively more challenging count as "level design" keeping the game fresh.

So I guess I'd say Platinum makes "Nintendo-style" games.

So does Ninja Theory, maybe?
Posted: 06/30/15, 19:25:59
@nate38
Bloodborne is very similar to Dark Souls just with more of an emphasis on speed and being aggressive, and some of the RPG elements are more streamlined.

But I think the thing about those games that sets them apart from most games being made today and makes it feel like an "old-school" experience is the level of engagement. The game demands your attention, even the weakest enemy can pose a threat and you have to employ both strategy and skill in every encounter, the world is vast and complex and full of secrets that you will miss if you're not constantly looking and thinking, there's no NPC speaking in your ear to guide you, no map, no markers or icons floating in the sky, no hand-holding whatsoever. It's a lot like playing Mega Man, Castlevania, Metroid or Ninja Gaiden of old, those games also require skill and precision to play, you simply have to be engaged, you have to be really paying attention to what the hell your doing or you will die, you can't button mash your way to a Win screen while barely paying attention like most modern games.
Posted: 06/30/15, 19:55:52
@deathly_hallows

I feel that Bloodborne plays like a successful 3D reincarnation of 2D Metroid and Castlevania games. I'm probably not going to explain this comparison very well, but the environments in Bloodborne challenge the player relentlessly with various enemy types and hazards like a side-scrolling Castlevania game. A few poorly timed actions gets you killed and sends you back to the "beginning" of the level where you try again with your sharpened insight and skills. There's also a aesthetic divide between certain areas that feels reminiscent of traveling through different parts of Dracula's Castle or the bowels of Zebes.

@Guillaume

PlatinumGames is a good example. Their games often include some kind of strong game mechanic that evolves with newly acquired skills and, as you said, enemies change at a steady pace to mix things up.
Posted: 06/30/15, 20:57:49  - Edited by 
 on: 06/30/15, 21:34:22
@Octorockin
Yes! Totally agree, Bloodborne felt very much like a 3-D version of SotN to me (lacking the whimsy and humor though, which is one of my favorite ingredients in the Castlevania formula).
Posted: 06/30/15, 21:10:36
Lots of companies used to make these types of games, so I don't know if it's fair to refer to it as "Nintendo-style," even if presently they make the majority of them. I can't really think of a better term, except stupid stuff like "game-y games." Aside from that, I think I agree, since I can't think of enough examples of other companies making "game-y games" to dispute it. In fact, I may even say the decline of that style could be traced back as far as the original PlayStation, which may not be the very start of it, but it was certainly when story-driven games became popular and only increased from there.
Posted: 07/01/15, 01:41:30
@Mop it up

Yeah that's my take on it as well. A lot Nintendo's games follow an old standard that other companies don't really use any more. I think you are right about the PlayStation as well as that was the first time Nintendo didn't lead the console race.
Posted: 07/01/15, 12:14:53
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