Experience and Intent

Purposefully bad?
Purposefully bad?

So recently I've been digging back into a bit of No More Heroes for the Wii, the "Wii's best game" according to community pariah MattBodega (LOL Galaxy nub). But I'm not here to debate over it's subjective quality- I think it's a great game, and we can leave it at that- but I'm here to discuss the design philosiphy behind it. More specifically, the "Open World" aspect, which, put bluntly, is terrible.

People don't ever argue this, except perhaps crazed Wii fanboys over on Gamespot's System Wars board. No More Heroes could quite easily be delivered by a traditional, menu-based experience, and the game would probably be much better for it. However, some people are of the opinion that this aspect of the game is purposefully terrible. Their argument, as it goes, is that the open world is designed in such a way as to make the statement that open world games in general are pointless.

Check out this crazy in-progress UI
Check out this crazy in-progress UI
In my opinion, the game isn't a critique of gameplay in open world games, is simply poorly designed. The key here is deciphering the creator's intent. Some of you perhaps are the questioning type, and when you were forced to do literary analysis and such in school, perhaps you thought the same thing I did, that you're reading too much into these pieces and seeing things that are not actually there. The instructor's answer to this is that you must assume intent- that the creator surely meant for you to draw something greater out of it.  Now with literature, it is much easier to assume intent because auhors are generally provided the luxury of ambiguity. Game developers on the other hand, usually are not- forced to follow a publisher's press schedule, provide interviews, and keep the "hype" level on the game high- they are allowed little slack for artistic license (Unless, of course, you're Jonathan Blow).

We can conclude that No More Heroes is poorly designed in the same way we can conclud that Bayonetta is just straight up creepy, and not in an intellectual way (Which, ironically, Bodega wrote a blog on recently). If one looks at the statements made by Hideka Kamiya to 1UP about Bayonetta, you can see that he doesn't aim to make a statement about sexuality in games. He just likes seeing a lot of skin on his women. Take a look at his quote:

1UP: I can't imagine why people would have a hard time imagining a female as an awesome main character. I mean, women are beautiful. Would you really look at woman or would you rather look at a guy? And if you're playing one for however many hours...that was pretty much the inspiration for Tomb Raider when they were designing Lara Croft. The director of the game, Toby Gard, said, "If I'm gonna have to stare at the back of a character for nine or ten hours playing this game, I'd rather it be a girl." Just saying, this is not a new concept. You are, however, the first guy to create a character who's hair uncovers her body everytime she uses an attack, so you still have an edge.

I strongly feel that women outside should dress like her. Like, when she does a hair attack, you'd see the skin. I want women to wear fashion like that.
1UP: Does that mean that we'll be able to see what you like in a girl by playing this game?

Hardly the statements of an intellectual. In the same manner, one can look back at statements made by No More Heores creator Suda51 prior to the launch of his game, and see how he spoke of standardizing the gameplay in order to reach Western audiences and people who were put off by the bizarre Killer7. In an interview with GamesRadar, Suda specifically points out open-world gaming as something he wants to see more of, specifically the GTA style of open-world, which some claim his game is critiquing.

GR: What games would be a good example of the ones you'd like to see, or your favorite games?

S5: The Warriors from Rockstar. I'm not really sure if that level of violence is okay for Japanese but, well, I still want them to play it. I think that kind of free sandbox style of GTA is [also] something I want more Japanese creators to get influenced by.
While I do love No More Heroes, certain aspects of it's design are simply lacking. Such poor design points out the flaws inherent in the open world structure, but not because it was intended, simply because novices to the open-world type of design are going to make the novice mistakes. A team like Rockstar can take on the genre masterfully in GTA4, but a team that has never taken on an open-world project cannot realistically expect to do it perfectly- even competently- their first time. No More Heroes has no grand critique of sandbox games, it simply suffers from the poor design that is to be expected from a small, novice team new to the genre.

The message here isn't that games never make statements through gameplay, but not to extrapolate them when they aren't intended. I'm a big believer in games being able to promote a message through gameplay (In fact, I think it's where the future of storytelling in the medium lies), but I'm also a big believer in remaining firmly grounded in intent, and not extrapolating bullshit that doesn't exist from anything, be it a literary work, a movie, or even a game. Some things are open to interpretation, this I agree on, but when the creator clearly expresses an intent, it makes it much harder to argue a case opposite that stated intent.