“We need to get out of the mindset that bigger open worlds equate to better gameplay.”
My dear NPCs. It hath been longer than a fortnight since last we interviewed a blogger. This shall be formally and officially our eighth blogger interview, after what happened with our last eighth blogger. Long story.
Anyhowdy, we’re still doing this series so long as interest remains. We’ve still got several more amazing people to wade through, but if you are up for an interview yourself, please check out the instructions in our post “Introducing Blogger Interviews”. I get a little more traffic, you get to talk about your blog/hobbies/gaming, and our readers get a chance to know you a little better. Works out for everyone.
I had an exquisite time chatting with a true gentleman, in the classic sense of the word, meaning he owns land and belongs to aristocracy. Nick the Gent of Deconstructing Video Games is an interviewee-machine and all around stand up guy! He responded with some really lengthy answers, true to his blog’s deconstructing moniker, and I got the gist that he had fun and loved talking about his work. Who wouldn’t? It was an inspiring experience and I hope you find some enjoyment in the conversation of two gentlemen.
“So let’s dig into the past, how long have you been a gamer?”
“I’ve been a gamer since I was a wee lad. One of my earliest memories is my dad setting up a new Atari 800XL with an F1 racing game. Growing up we then had an Atari ST (favorite games include The Chaos Engine, Gods, and Sensible Soccer), and a Game Boy. Gaming’s been something I’ve never grown out of!”
“Since you’ve already touched on favorites with the Atari ST,
how about favorites for the Game Boy?”
“The original Game Boy was my introduction to the world of Nintendo. I loved the old Mario/Wario Land games, and Donkey Kong – the remake of the original arcade that expanded into a really clever puzzle/platform hybrid. My favorite of all time on GB is Zelda: Link’s Awakening. This was the first Zelda I played, so it’s a bit special in that respect. But more than that I was just blown away by the size and scope of the world, the lost woods, deserts, and mountain ranges – and also how “real” Koholint Island felt, with its quirky inhabitants, and a story that pulled you in. It was dark and haunting in a way that Majora’s Mask later was.”
[Check out Nick’s retrospective on The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening!]
“That is my favorite GB game as well and my favorite Zelda out of the whole series! Air five! Very haunting game. Taking a step back to the Atari, what are some of your memories with it? I’ve got a broken 2600. What’s the different between that and an ST? All I know about the Atari is its contribution to the legendary video game crash.”
“On the Atari 800 I remember playing the original Ghostbusters (which seems ahead of its time now), Star Raiders 2, and Mercenary – a first-person adventure on an 8-bit machine! We were too young to understand how to get around, find keys, take items from one place to another, but my dad drew a massive map with all the locations and keys you needed.
“I’m only just now reading up on Atari’s history, though I recently watched Atari: Game Over – a documentary about the video games crash of 1983, and how Atari had to bury some of its unsold cartridges in a New Mexico landfill. Fact stranger than fiction! After Atari imploded, Warner sold the company off – so after the original 2600 console, and the 8-bit home computers that evolved out of it, there came the Atari ST in the mid-80’s, a cheap 16-bit alternative to buying an Apple Mac (or building your own personal computer!).
“Great memories from that era – the Bitmap Brothers’ games like Gods, Speedball 2, The Chaos Engine, and also Sensible Soccer, Wizkid, and Prince of Persia. We played Mario and Sonic at our friends’ houses, but the ST was the gaming machine I really grew up with.”
“Thanks for the info. I feel educated!
I watched a documentary by the Gaming Historian on YouTube about the whole Atari vs. Nintendo fiasco that’s interesting. I’d recommend it for history buffs. You make me want to get my 2600 working. Let’s switch over to talking about your writing. How long have you been writing? Did it start with blogging?”
“Thanks, I’ll check it out! I started writing online over ten years ago (!) for a Nintendo fansite, but drifted away from it. Between work and family I didn’t prioritize writing, until 2013 when I set-up Deconstructing Video Games. It’s been great to get back into blogging, and being part of the WordPress community. More than the writing, I’ve enjoyed reading other video games bloggers, and how much they obviously care about games – whether it’s a love for retro games, old systems, Nintendo classics, or modern game reviews, or thoughts on what’s happening in gaming right now. There’s real care and attention paid to games by bloggers – it’s something I don’t think you always get with professional websites.”
“Professional websites seem sterile by comparison to the colorful bloggers,
don’t they? Is writing something you want to pursue professionally or is it just a hobby? Why not vlog instead of blog, for example?”
“I think that’s a great word! Yes, the big websites feel emotionless to me. One of the reasons I started blogging was to write the kinds of articles I wanted to read. Asides from Retro Gamer, and the occasional retrospective or opinion piece on other sites, games journalism is in a rut of: news, previews, reviews. I like articles that dig into the guts of a game. For example, Vahrkalla’s Video Games is a great blog, and Vahrkalla wrote recently about Dear Esther and how the theme that ties everything together is the nature of memory. I didn’t really “get” the game, so this article was helpful for me. Being part of the WordPress community has been so great in this way. And while I use my writing skills in the workplace as well, games writing is just a hobby.
“As for vlogging – if I could figure out how to record game footage, and then put a commentary over the top of it, then maybe! But – and this is just my opinion, as I know there’s good vloggers out there – I’ll rarely watch someone on YouTube talking about games because I find it dull. It’s like watching soccer commentators sit around a table and talk, when you could be watching the action itself!”
“That’s super kind of you and I’m sure that Vahrkalla would be very appreciative!
So Deconstructing Video Games, I think what you’ve said describes what your blog is about, what its specialty is among the sea of blogs?”
“With Deconstructing Video Games, I wanted to write the kinds of in-depth articles I thought were missing from other games sites. For me, the hook is in the “Deconstructing” part – I try to break down the technical and artistic elements of games, and try to figure out why great games “work”. Going back to Zelda: Link’s Awakening as an example – I didn’t want to write a feature that was: “This is a great retro game, a really well-designed Zelda.” I wanted to go further into how the theme – of dreams and nightmares, and the nature of reality – drives the game in terms of its design. So I went deeper into how the game’s story, and its motif of awakening, pulls it all together.”
[If you haven’t yet, see Nick’s retrospective on The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, already!]
“I think its a very accurate title. That’s a great game to deconstruct, as well.
It really put the Zelda franchise on the map as one that could be both fun and profound. What is one deconstruction you are most proud of on your blog?”
“One article I’m proud of is a retrospective – on grabbing ledges! I started looking back to the original Prince of Persia, and how it was the first time (I think!) that you could latch onto a platform’s edge if you just missed the jump. This changed the way platform games worked – it let you master the environment. And the ability to grab ledges evolved through everything from Super Mario 64 to Thief to Zelda – then ultimately back to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in 2003, and its spiritual successor Assassin’s Creed. This simple move is something we expect from games now. But back in the day this new ability to halt a frustrating fall into a pit was really special!”
“It takes quite an attention to detail to even take note of that! Bravo!
I’ll need to check out that post myself. So back to the topic of favorites. What would you say is your favorite video game of all time? If you can’t pin it down to one, what’s your top 3?”
“The hardest question a gamer will ever face! My top three would be (in no order!): Zelda: Ocarina of Time – I could also pay tribute to Majora’s Mask and Link’s Awakening here, but for me Ocarina is level design perfection. Super Mario 64 – the controls remain sublime, and the game is a masterpiece. Sensible Soccer – an arcade game at heart, infused with soccer elements and a superb control system where you can swerve the ball in a way that feels completely natural. Can I also combine Half-Life 1 and 2? These games are basically like being in a 1980’s action movie, like a science fiction Die Hard with added adrenaline.”
“Hard question but you answered it adeptly. Great choices, of course!
What’s a hidden gem on your favorite-radar that the world of gamers should be more aware of?”
“Thank you! A hidden gem? One series that doesn’t get enough praise is Mario Tennis. When we talk about favorite local multiplayer games from Nintendo, we know Mario Kart and Mario Party, Smash Bros. and Wii Sports. But Mario Tennis‘ gameplay is finely balanced, it’s simple to pick-up and play, utterly addictive, and a complete joy in doubles where you have to work together with your teammate. Avoid the version on the Wii where they did a poor job in grafting motion controls onto the game, and try the N64 version, or Mario Power Tennis on GameCube.”
“And now to the future.
What are some of the upcoming games and hardware you may be looking forward to this year? Anything an instabuy for you?”
“I’m excited to try VR in one form or another – but I can get motion sickness with certain games, and have heard varying things about how much nausea you can expect with the new headsets. So we’ll see!”
“How about Nintendo’s new hardware release, the Switch?
“I’m equal parts intrigued and frustrated by Nintendo Switch. Everyone’s waded into the console, the price point, the accessories, and the games by this point. I know you had a more positive take recently! And I’m tired of the “last roll of the dice” thing, I’ve been hearing this about Nintendo for going on 20 years now. But I am concerned that at $300 they’re going to price themselves out of the market when, for me, the only compelling reason to buy Switch at launch is Zelda – which is also launching on the Wii U. Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey are pretty close to instabuys for me – but my prediction is that Nintendo slashes the Switch to $200 by September, so I’m going to wait until then!”
“That would be ideal. Without a bundled game,
$299 is steep but I still had enough for a pre-order. Those accessories, though! While we’re on the subject of Nintendo, what would you do if you were suddenly their CEO to get them back on top of the industry?”
“Where to start? I know Nintendo’s business model is different from Sony and Microsoft. They focus on crafting their own games, and unique ways to play them. But that shouldn’t be at the expense of everything else. If I was their CEO, I’d boost Nintendo’s online services to bring them more in line with the options that PS4/Xbox players have; I make sure that streaming services like Netflix were available at launch for Switch; and I’d build better relationships with third party companies. I don’t think Nintendo fans expect the same range of third-party titles that PS4/Xbox have, but getting other publishers to commit to one or two big name games on Nintendo would help plug the gaps between Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the next Mario and then whatever’s next (a new Metroid please).”
“You’re hired! This was actually a job interview. Haha! If only, right?
What would you say was your best gaming experience of 2016 and the worst or most disappointing, most controversial of 2016?”
“Haha, thanks!! I have a PS3 and am working my way through classic games from last gen – so my best experience of 2016 was actually Red Dead Redemption. I’m a big fan of Sergio Leone movies, especially Morricone’s music, and Red Dead is basically like being in one of those pictures. Most controversial is a game I didn’t even buy – No Man’s Sky. I thought the controversy over this not being as advertised was overblown. I tackled the backlash in a post a few months ago. For me, what did we expect from this game? That every one of *18 quintillion* worlds would be truly unique? We need to get out of the mindset that bigger open worlds equate to better gameplay.”
“Okay so I like what you’ve touched on here.
I haven’t played No Man’s Sky and I know some who’ve enjoyed it and several who denounced it like it killed their parents, they were so enraged. I’ve played the Arkham games and my favorite is still Asylum because as the world’s got bigger, there was just something that was lost. Narrative focus, drive, something. Same seems to be true for FFXV which I’m currently playing. So many minigames and hunts and fetches and quests that I completely forgot about the storyline. Are you playing FFXV, or have you, or are you playing an open world game currently?”
“I totally hear you about Arkham Asylum – it felt a bit Metroidvania, but with Batman in there. The later games turned into Grand Theft Batman, and so lost the focus, as you say. In recent months I’ve tackled Arkham City, Fallout 3, Assassin’s Creed IV, and finishing up Red Dead Redemption. I think Fallout 3 was the biggest disappointment – I had played about 40 hours and there were entire areas of the Capital Wasteland I hadn’t even visited yet! So I decided to focus only on finishing the story, and you know what? It was much more enjoyable than wandering around and doing the same fetch quests, side missions, and item hunts. All of these games have the same basic mission structure, and it’s the same thing over and over again, just with different settings.”
“Grand Theft Batman! Haha!
Well I’m glad we understand each other on these terms. I think open world games can be fun but they have their vices. Well, sir, in closing, I think we could also agree that our world could use a little more positivity and encouragement right now with all of the toxic conversations going on, so this is your chance: What would you say to all the bloggers out there, the people responsible for shaping the mood with their words, to inspire and encourage? Perhaps something you learned through your own blogging experience?”
“Agreed! I think exactly what you said – we should use our words to inspire and encourage. Another reason I love the video games blogging community here at WordPress is that folks are positive, respectful, even when there are disagreements. This is a huge difference from other comments sections on the web, news sites, Twitter, and so on. And we need to stay positive and respectful.”
“Shyeah stay away from Youtube…
It has certainly been a pleasure having this amiable chat with you. You are a gentleman indeed! Thanks for participating!”
“Likewise, and thank you for hosting me on your blog, Well-Red Mage!”
“Oh, the pleasure was all mine.”