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Tom Kim from GDC Radio guest reviews today. With his wife Victoria, he talks about their recent discovery of Endless Ocean on Wii.
Just about everything in Endless Ocean on the Wii is a relaxing experience, from the stunning scenery to the leisurely pacing, and even the music. The Enya-like title is a fine example of how the Wii can be used to good effect to break out of traditional game play. My wife likens its sense of discovery to, "the joys of revealing an unexpected gift, or walking down the street and finding a hundred-dollar bill."
Perhaps Endless Ocean can best be described as a free-form scuba diving experience. At the start, one can select a character's gender and basic attributes such as their skin tone, hair color and style. From there, the player is placed on a boat--the Gabbiano, meaning "seagull" in Italian--and greeted by Catherine, an in-game character who is there to provide gentle direction as to what the player should do next to progress through the game.
At the start, these includes instructions on how to use the Wii-mote to move around, dive and interact with the aquatic life one encounters. While on board, the player can walk about the ship, sit in a chair to enjoy the scenery, change the music selection to an .mp3 stored on an SD card, or check the deck for sea life such as seals, sea lions, otters, seabirds, penguins, and other creatures. There is a sea chest where one can view their collection of undersea artifacts. The player can also read basic instructions on a bulletin board, or enter the boat's cabin which serves as an interface for the rest of the game's options. Here, one can check e-mails on a PDA, navigate the boat to new locations, or peruse a journal containing a record of the sea life one has found. Undiscovered creatures are indicated in silhouette which gives the player a sense of how many new species are left with which to interact. Finally, one can develop photos and place undersea snapshots in an album, or save the game.
The Enya-like title is a fine example of how the Wii can be used to good effect to break out of traditional game play.
Most of the game is spent in Dive Mode. Near the beginning, the character is introduced to a diving mate--a bottlenosed dolphin who joins the player as a companion. One can name their mate, and in order to collect more of them, one has to "charm" other creatures--all small whales and dolphins--into joining the character on a dive. While on the deck of the boat, the player can use the Wii-mote to entice their assortment of tamed creatures into doing tricks.
When diving, a minimal display allows the character to check their remaining air supply, depth, location on a mini-map, and compass heading. A quick press of the control pad brings up a menu of basic tools and interactions which can be expanded as one makes their way through the game. The Wii-mote allows the player to control an on-screen cursor. The cursor can be used to steer their character, swim forward, and interact with the various species one encounters. By moving the cursor over a creature, one can click the A button and the character will focus on it.
The first time a player encounters a truly awe-inspiring creature such as a whale, the experience is breathtaking.
By holding down the button and shaking the Wii-mote, the player can 'pet' an animal. By tapping the button, one can 'poke' it. The interactions menu lets the player use fish food, and eventually allows the player to take photos, blow on an undersea whistle, or to draw objects in the environment with a special pen. The trick is to learn how to interact with the various animals in the game because each responds positively or negatively to different kinds of stimulus.
And here is where the discovery part comes into play. Sea life can be found everywhere. Most of these are fish, but there are also crustaceans, slugs, squid and octopi, and just about every other kind of creature one can imagine; even a few that seem to defy imagination. All of these are quite accurately modeled and animated; they move and behave like their real-life counterparts. One can interact with all of these, and successive interactions--up to three encounters--reveal more information that can be saved in the player's journal.
My wife is still feeling the sting of finding a particularly prized idol, only to lose it when making a mistake while pausing the game to answer a phone call.
The information gleaned from these interactions is quite accurate, and reveals facts such as habitat, seasonal preference, appearance, behavior, and other interesting trivia. The distribution of species is somewhat variable. Everything from the time of day to the depth of the water can affect whether one is likely to encounter sea life; certain species are seasonal, rare, or random. The environments are quite varied, ranging from deep trenches, caves, ruins, and even an undersea "graveyard"--a final resting place for shipwrecks. The various gear and swimsuits one can unlock do not affect the player's performance in any significant way. Though it is still fun to mix and match their appearance.
Occasionally, when the character is swimming underwater, they encounter 'glows', which are indicated by colorful swirls and a slight vibration and pinging sound coming from the speaker on the Wii-mote. On focusing on a glow, more creatures or treasures are revealed. The player's dive partners are helpful in locating these hot spots, and each one holds a fascinating surprise. One never really knows what they'll encounter when they spot a glow. Sometimes, they reveal small pieces of treasure. The completion of a whole artifact unlocks new map locations, creatures, or undersea environments to explore. Some of the objects are very rare, and only appear occasionally or at random. My wife is still feeling the sting of finding a particularly prized idol, only to lose it when making a mistake while pausing the game to answer a phone call. She hasn't relocated the object since.
Every time my wife and I run into a huge creature, we still feel a sense of awe even after playing the game for many, many hours.
The player can also interact with some rather frightening looking creatures such as sharks and very large fish. Though it should be noted that nothing in the game is harmful to the player, and the overall effect is one of continuous wonder and discovery. The first time a player encounters a truly awe-inspiring creature such as a whale, the experience is breathtaking. And it should be noted, continues to be so. Every time my wife and I run into a huge creature, we still feel a sense of awe even after playing the game for many, many hours. Our three-year-old has even learned to recognize the names of many species of fish simply from watching us play the game. If one happens to be a real-life scuba diver, we daresay that the game could enhance the experience. And at very least, could make a trip to the local aquarium more fun.
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