Between Rayman and Silent Hill – Interview with Nitro Rad

NitroRad - wywiad
Computer games have come a long way since their beginnings. From vertical lines battling for a ball in the shape of a single pixel, all the way to the multi-million productions such as Grand Theft Auto. It would be a valid question to ask if computer entertainment has become something more than just a brainless activity. On his Youtube Channel NitroRad, James Lewell proves that games can serve the purpose of both a fun time-killer as well as of an interactive medium which may outmatch books and movies in a near future thanks to its possibilities in creating narratives.

Polish version is available here.

GC: Some time has passed since the premiere of Nintendo Switch, so we can start formulating some constructive thoughts. As the owner of the console from the day zero, what is your opinion on the newest device from Nintendo? Is it going to be the next big thing or is there little chance of expanding the company’s fanbase?

JL: I think Nintendo Switch is super cool, pretty much everything I wanted it to be. It’s definitely something new that is convenient in a way that I have never experienced before. While I don’t necessarily take it out of the house, a lot of times I’ll be watching some stuff on the monitor and it’s so convenient to have a portable thing on my desk with a stand and a controller. I do that all the time, when I go to toilet I don’t have to stop playing, but just bring it with me. I think if they really wanted it to be a full-on portable console, it would need a better battery life. It lasts only between 2-3 hours, so I can’t imagine taking it somewhere and getting much use out of it. I’ve had long road trips before, and they can last up to 7 hours. But as a home console, it does a lot more; as a portable one… maybe not.

And how can you comment on the games, does Switch have a solid start for a new console?

I haven’t played 1-2-Switch. It looks like fun, but as if it could be fun for just one playthrough, and after that you know where they were going with in this title. I didn’t bother getting that, especially at the price they were asking for. However, I played Zelda, and it’s fantastic. The previous one that came out, Skyward Sword, for all the expectations, it was just alright. In this case I kind of avoided the hype, but it turned out amazing. It’s a perfect launch title, all you really need. Zelda games are fairly long, you will get a lot out of any Zelda game. I’ve also played the new Bomberman game – Super Bomberman R, and it’s alright. It’s solid, definitely not as ambitious as previous titles, but still worth it. But again, not for a full price, 40 bucks would be much better. But yeah, the new Bomberman is a great multiplayer experience, looks nice. But what makes it, at least for me, worth it, is the personality. The different colored Bombermen, they all have different personalities, idle animations, walking animations. My favourite one is Blue Bomberman, cause he is the sleepy one, he can hardly stand up, yawning and falling asleep when walking around.

Apart from the battery life and the lack of launch titles, the recurring issue in many reviews I watched is that Switch does not include the counterpart of Wii Sports or Nintendo Land. Or there is one, 1-2-Switch, yet it’s a full price “tech demo”, not included with the console.

Yes, as you mentioned, Nintendo Land, while not being something you could get a lot from, was a perfect way to show what a new gamepad could do, similarly how Wii Sports demonstrated Wiimote. But I don’t feel that it’s as necessary for the Nintendo Switch, because Nintendo Switch’s gimmick is something that can work with any game – you can take any game out of the console, and it can just become portable. I can do that with Zelda, I can do that with Bomberman. I feel like those games demonstrate it perfectly well… Now onto other things, like 1-2-Switch demonstrating this HD Rumble feature, I don’t find much value in that because I feel they were demonstrating the console. It would make people feel that it’s a more gimmicky thing rather than what matters. And that’s the portability of it. Similarly with the Wii and WiiU. I think giving that pack-in title to show off what it can do created this stigma that “ooh, it’s not a game console, but a toy”. And including 1-2-Switch would make people think that it’s the party machine. I feel Zelda demonstrates what you really want the thing to do rather than “oh this is what gimmick can do”.

Good point, cause if we look at the sales of Wii, it was over 100 million copies sold, yet there were little sales of games because people, mostly casual gamers, bought the console just for Wii Sports, and sporadically for other party games.

Exactly. Wii sold really well. But those numbers don’t mean a lot, when some of those people just bought the console and nothing else, because it’s like a toy that does sports games and that’s it. Whereas the Switch gives an impression of a fully-fledged console, not a party machine, and its gimmick is that you can play Zelda on the TV and on the go. And that means a lot more for sales. I feel like Switch has more potential than Wii, which ended up, as you said, a toy which plays sports or carnival games.

Speaking of game sales, another major criticism is the number of launch titles. If we look at the list of the games Nintendo promised to release in 2017, Playstation 4 had more titles to offer on its launch day.

That’s a thing, no console ever had a solid launch. Yes, PS4 had more launch titles, but I dare you to name three of them. I can think of Killzone, and I don’t know anybody who cares about this game. And there is Knack. Who cares about Knack? It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of launch titles, no one is going to remember the launch. While Switch doesn’t have a lot of launch titles, it has Zelda – that’s what really matters for the first month. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is coming out really soon, and many people didn’t get to play it earlier, because it was WiiU only; Splatoon 2 comes out this summer; Xenoblade is supposedly coming out this year, and Mario Odyssey too if everything goes well. Within 6 months, that’s a pretty dang good lineup. So whether it has poor launch or not, they’ve got enough fantastic titles down the road. Because if you look at PS4, within first 2 years of that, there is nothing I would want from it, from the games that aren’t available on PC. It took them a while before they released Ratchet and Clank or Uncharted. Eventually there was also Infamous, and God of War finally releasing this year. But you got Zelda, Mario, Xenoblade, all in the first year, and that means a lot more than a strong launch in my opinion.

Any other titles you’re expecting in the upcoming months which haven’t been announced yet?

I want to see the new Metroid. It has been so long. Yet I think Metroid is more of a hardcore gamer franchise. I feel that if we got that title on the Switch, it would make a lot of people buy the console, cause it’s a such a loved franchise. Game Cube didn’t sell that well, however without the aid of Metroid Prime that could’ve been even bigger disaster. But if they had a new one on Switch, that would get a lot of people that are still iffy about the purchase. Mostly because it has been so long since we’ve got a real one. The last one – Other M – was released in 2010 and many people were dissatisfied. Personally, I thought it was just alright, but the last real one was Metroid Prime 3, and that was in 2007. Yet my favorite one was part 2 – Echoes. But all in all, we need a new 3D Metroid game. And I don’t know what were they doing with the Federation Force. I think if they’re going to release another handheld Metroid game, it should have been 2D, because in the past they had a good balance between both iterations, releasing 3D versions on home consoles and 2d on portable ones. They’ve done it with New Super Mario Bros or Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. They did that with Metroid Zero Mission and Fusion, and them not continuing it baffled me a little.

Is there any hope that handhelds will sustain with the premiere of Switch, or are they basically doomed?

I’m not too sure. I definitely feel 3DS has some things over Switch. It has 2 screens, much longer battery life. I think they said they’ll continue supporting 3DS, so I feel they could still be in the game with 2 consoles.

And Sony, are they ever going to come back to handheld business?

Every time Sony tries, they don’t do a good job, at least in North America. I think PSP sold really well in Japan, because of Monster Hunter series. But Sony has been really reluctant to support their handheld consoles. But again, I feel that’s why they have such a strong console line-up, because they focus more on that. When Nintendo focuses both on home and portable consoles, they do ok, but when Sony focuses on consoles only, they have really great line-up. It makes you realize you do a lot better if you concentrate on one. But Nintendo is a lot bigger company, they’ve got divisions, they own more game studios, so they can probably afford to focus on more than Sony can. Nintendo always dominated the market and they’ve been for on the market for much longer than Sony.

As a person living in Europe, I can’t see a strong Nintendo fanbase in here, and when I look at  North America, there is a huge group of people, from NES to SNES, N64 and Game Cube. There are thousands and thousands of dedicated fans. What makes Nintendo go round in America?

You just see it a lot. It might have to do a lot with merchandise, which is interesting, because when I was a kid there was never any Nintendo merchandise. I was super lucky to find a Mario plush or a Zelda figure, and now I see them everywhere. I think that’s what helps kids nowadays to get into it. When I grew up, I already had the NES, because my dad had had one when I was born, that’s just what I played. And I feel a lot of kids get it from their parents. If they had a console, especially in this generation, a lot of parents who grew up with SNES share their games and love for the company with their children.

I wanted to raise that questions, since you were born in 1994, so a more logical choice for a console at your age would be PlayStation or PS2, not NES or SNES, but I guess the answer comes from the fact that your dad was the fan of Nintendo.

Yes, maybe because I felt Nintendo was more kid-friendly, it had more children franchises. I grew up with Nintendo 64, it was my first real console that was mine, unlike NES, which was my dad’s. And N64 had Mario, Rayman, Banjo Kazooie. I looked at PlayStation and I thought of it as a console for teenagers – again, it has to do with marketing. I would see games like Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal or Resident Evil and said to myself “No, that’s adult stuff, I want to play Mario”.

You didn’t want to be one of these edgy kids, huh?

Yeah. I was never that way. I knew so many kids in my class in grade 6 who played Grand Theft Auto, and I really condemned them for that, saying “It’s rated M, you can’t play that”. And now, when you see a kid in grade 6 playing GTA you call him an edgy kid, it’s like I was right all along (laugh).

Coming back to the topic of Nintendo, despite the lack of any official Nintendo division in Poland, we’ve still became exposed to NES thanks to the Pegasus, a Vietnamese rip-off of NES, and probably thanks to it, Mario is now more iconic in Poland than Nintendo itself.

That’s interesting, it reminds me of one thing. I work with so many people from high school who never grew up with NES. And it’s interesting when you’re experiencing it through less than legal means, like with your unofficial Pegasus console. A lot of people play games on emulators because it’s super accessible. I know a guy from work, he is from grade 10, and he tells me how he played all Megaman games because he could get them on emulator and that made him want to get the Megaman X games on 3DS virtual console. Companies really like to condemn emulators, cause they allow people to play for free. But that’s how people are exposed to it, because it’s readily available. It helps to build interest. That’s what got me to playing older games again. Because when I got older, I had this mindset that when the new console comes out, the old one becomes obsolete and I don’t want to play old games, because new games are better, etc. Somewhere in high school or middle school I learned about emulation and I was playing these N64 games I never knew existed, and that  got me into wanting to play older games again. Nintendo dominated that market with a Virtual Console.

Continuing our topic of Polish gaming, you’ve reviewed Kao the Kangaroo, which might not be the greatest game. However it’s important to know that until 1990s, we were basically stuck with home computers, and later we got introduced to consoles, starting with the Atari 2600 clones, Pegasus, Power Pegasus, which was actually repurposed Sega Mega Drive, and finally PlayStation, although this one was way more expensive for an Average Joe, while Pegasus was a more affordable option. Still, there were 4 generations of consoles coexisting on the market. And that rapid change in technology pushed developers to create something that was innovative at the time – a 3d platformer, Kao the Kangaroo.

I actually got a lot of YouTube comments from people living in Poland, explaining to me that down there Playstation was really expensive, but most people would have a computer already, so they would be able to play Kao on the computer. They couldn’t play Crash the Bandicoot, but they could play the next best thing, which would be Kao. And that explains how they sold a lot in Poland, even though it didn’t sell that well outside Poland, because everywhere else they just played Crash. The third one didn’t even come out in North America. Although I saw the studio is still functional, there were some games released on Steam. I’d love to ask them what was the deal with the neck thing in Kao. Probably that’s the same case like with Lara’s breasts or Rayman’s hands, a result of glitch that was later implemented as a part of the finished products. Nonetheless, that was one of my favorite elements of Kao.

Last question about Nintendo. What’s your favorite game and favorite console from the Big N?

Let’s start with the console. Probably GameCube, mostly because of the childhood. That’s the one I spent most time with, all through elementary school. I played Ocarina of Time on it and, unlike N64, GameCube had four player games which I actually wanted to play. We used to play 007 Nightfire all the time. Also, visually it’s my favorite Nintendo console. It’s so iconic with all the colors, as it’s one of the few consoles that is not black or white in their default version. I also find the controller really iconic, and that menu screen, where Famicom Disk System Medley plays, but slowed down 32 times, creating this amazing, but creepy ambient music. I used to just leave it on all the time, just to listen to it. Definitely, Game Cube all the way is my favorite. And speaking of the game – Pikmin 2. It’s been Pikmin 2 for a long time. I 100% every year. If I would pick one game that is perfect, it’s Pikmin 2.

That’s an unusual choice for someone who reviews Silent Hill and other horror games.

Definitely, but I also review platformers because I feel that’s such an underrated genre I love, but I don’t even know what genre Pikmin is. Probably something like action-strategy. Still, Pikmin 2 – best game ever, at least in my opinion.

That really shows, because your channel is a mixed bag of genres. You focus on colorful, fun to play games like Rayman, Kao the Kangaroo, then more ambitious gaming project such as Silent Hill and Siren series, and finally those obscure, almost art-like creations like Yume Nikki, Lisa or Suits RPG, which often lack any conventional gameplay, but provide a unique experience to the players. What are video games for you? Are they still mindless time killers or legit forms of art?

I think that games can be anything, just like a YouTube video can be anything. You can make a short video that is completely serious, you can upload it to YouTube, and people sit down to really take it in. You can upload a film of your friend falling off the skateboard, and it can be like a 10-second joke. A video game can be exactly that – anything you want it to be. Because, while it’s called “video game”, it’s really “an interactive medium”. It could be something you play for fun, or it could be a method of delivering a story, or it can be that experimental experience. I think Yume Nikki is definitely a kind of experimental video game. It doesn’t have any real gameplay, you just walk, and that’s it. But it’s really enjoyable.

Maybe not literally “enjoyable”.

Yeah (laugh) I don’t think there is one answer. Obviously, when we live in such a marketable world where you try to sell something, it has to be something fun. You watch something for a story, or for pure enjoyment, just like playing Mario. You don’t play it for story, but because it has a good gameplay. And that’s why I really like the turn of the century, mid 2000s, when PCs got to the point where everyone can make a game. You can get a Game Maker or RPG Maker, and it’s a lot more accessible than it was before, so people can keep making those experimental games. They’re almost inventing their own genres. I think that’s super cool. For example Cave Story, which is one of earliest indie games I can think of: it came out in 2004 and it was made by one person. That really demonstrated how one person can make something you interact with – a video game. All in all, games can be anything. Personally I’m balanced between playing it for fun and playing it for a story. For example, Metal Gear Solid is something I definitely play for the story. It’s the same with the Silent Hill. I definitely play these games for how I feel. I feel scared, I feel spooked and the story is really interesting, but then again I play something like Pikmin 2 because I have so much fun playing it. Yeah, either or.

It’s really good when a single person is able to make a game, although it’s both a blessing and a curse. If you look at what’s happening on Steam Greenlight, it’s a mess. I bought a set of 30 games for a single euro. I did that only for the sake of Steam cards, but still wanted to give every game a chance. However, each of them were total garbage.

Is it like Action 52 all over again? (laugh)

Yes. Mostly mediocre space shooters or poor clones of better games. So in that situation, how can we find those hidden gems among the thousands of half-baked indie games?

I feel it’s just word of mouth. In fact, social media really help. If you make videos, YouTube comments help a lot. In almost all the games I review, it’s literally me reading YouTube comments and I’m like “what’s that”, I look it up “oh, that’s something cool, how much is it on EBay, oh it’s 7 bucks, OK, I’m buying it”. You’ve got to be following people that can tell you what’s up. That’s how I find about everything, cause I’m a big Twitter guy, and I follow a lot of sources I trust, for example game developers, people I trust and their opinions, like the guys from the Giant Bomb or Mega64. Definitely word of mouth helps a lot.

It’s great, since those people have next to no money for the advertising.

Sure, and that’s partly why I also make YouTube videos. In a way. These are also considered a word of mouth. Cause I find a lot of games and that’s what I feel about many games like Lisa or Hylics, and Suits. These are amazing, really cool games that don’t really have marketing, they’re just independently made, so hey, maybe I can make a video, so people can watch it, so I can direct some people that way.

Apart from indie games, a major theme in your videos is horror. We’ve witnessed the evolution of the genre from Alone in the Dark all the way to Resident Evil 7. What are the factors of a good horror game?

This is something where I don’t feel like I know everything, cause I get a lot of comments criticizing the things I say, like “Horror is subjective”. But I do think there is a good way of making horror and a bad way of making horror. Personally, I think a lot of horror comes from the environment, not just modeling a spooky place. You need sound design, you need proper music, everything around you needs to make you feel uncomfortable. The second thing that gets me the most is the limited light or visibility. I find the Silent Hill games excel at that not just with darkness, but fog too. The Siren games do that fairly well. But the biggest thing I feel is the anticipation. Silent Hill mastered that with a radio. You hear something, you know it’s going to be there, and you start to panic. Even P.T. did that too. There are a lot of subtle cues in P.T. that make you know something is about to happen, and that’s when I feel really scared when I play. It’s all anticipation. Also, what’s  important is to invade your safe zones. Silent Hill 4 did that really well, Banned Memories too. In Silent Hill 4 you constantly go back to the room and that’s your safe heaven, you can rearrange your weapons, restock your ammo, recharge your health, nothing bad can happen there. But halfway through the game that changes, you can no longer do that. They take that away from you and they suddenly start changing those things in environment you’ve become so familiar with – they might change the face on the painting, the clock might be freaking out, the TV might turn on. Suddenly you don’t feel safe anymore, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s another thing that contributes into anticipation. Banned Memories, an indie game inspired by Silent Hill and Resident Evil, did a similar thing. In Every RE or SH game, you leave the room, you’re safe from the monsters. But in Banned Memories, they come through the door after you, I wasn’t expecting that: invading your familiarity, creating rules that make player feel safe, and then breaking those rules, so the player no longer feels safe.

Have you got any experience with Resident Evil? Do these stand a chance with SH?

I have played a solid amount of the first game, the original and the remake. I never finished them though. I played maybe the first 20 minutes of Resident Evil 2, and that’s a game I really want to play through, but I haven’t had time. I’ve never played 3, I’ve never played Code: Veronica. I’ve beat 4 many times when I was young, I beat 5 last year, and also played Leon campaign in 6 with a friend, and thought it was pretty good. Finally, I played 7 the month it came out and I thought it was amazing. I wasn’t that spooked by that game. I was creeped out, sure, a good sound design goes a long way. Play Resident Evil 7 with headphones. Every door creak, wood squeak, gory sounds, the grunts, the growls – the game has a fantastic design that makes you feel on edge the whole time. Again, I didn’t feel that scared, but it just takes a lot to scare me, after hours spent with Silent Hill series. It was a fantastic survival horror game, making me check my inventory every once in a while, forcing me to rearrange my items, or save ammo and healing items for worst case scenario. The story was simple, but with some twist that made following the plot engaging. And coming back to the second part of the question. The thing is that I played the first Silent Hill before completing the first Resident Evil, and it was really hard to go back to RE later on, because SH was better than RE. Nowadays, that’s different, cause Resident Evil still has been trucking along, while SH has been chugging along. I don’t know if we will ever get a new SH game ever again. But suddenly a new RE comes out and it headed back to such a great direction, I think RE got SH topped out. I still like SH more, but RE’s got a great future ahead of it.

In your videos you’ve also mentioned the unsettling aspect of game glitching. That is something that personally resonates with me, as I had recurring nightmares of me accidentally running some computer viruses on computer, knowing that they might delete important files off my dad’s hard drive. And many years later, when I was playing Undertale, I was genuinely freaked out when game restarted on its own and presented some disturbing visuals made out of corrupted data.

Actually, the same thing happened to me. I had this dream where I would be playing the DS version of Animal Crossing. I would be catching a fish that was so big it filled the screen, and then the game would freeze. Or I would get a bug flying by that was pixelated, or the game wouldn’t respond when I was pressing D-pad. It’s almost like a creepypasta. Yes, I’ve got recurring dreams of games not listening to me and I don’t know why. I think a part of that stems from the fact that one time in grade 4 I used Action Replay on the Game Cube and it messed up all my save files, maybe that was a part of it. But yeah, it’s just a personal thing, not something everyone finds scary.

And now the bad stuff, what do you find cheap or flat-out stupid in recent “horror” games?

Jumpscares, definitely, jumpscares all the way. Because they’re easy to do and it’s such a cheap way to spook. Although people argue that you’re not afraid of jumpscare, you’re afraid of anticipating the jumpscare. Regardless, you’re still anticipating something that happens once and it’s gone, I feel that building a really good environment with an excellent sound design is just more effective. I think there are many people that think of themselves as devoted horror fans, cause they play Five Nights at Freddy’s, but I’m sure those people would never get through P.T. or the original Silent Hill.

Is it because of the gameplay or the aforementioned anticipation?

It’s just not as effective as horror, I find. It’s easy to think that is effective if you haven’t played any other horror games that do it really well, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t want to say  that it’s definitive, but I don’t think of it as an persuasive method of horror. I think it might feel like it when giving these short bursts of fear, but when you play something similar to Silent Hill, it really lasts longer.

Well, it’s about time to wrap it up, so let me ask you about your background. You’ve attended film school, so has it helped in any way in creating your videos on YouTube? Are there small elements in your craft we might not notice, but nonetheless are important for your artistic ambitions?

Absolutely, film school has helped me to know what I’m doing. It’s not much knowing how to do it. It’s about knowing editing, the theory, the way you put audio together. You really got to learn how to make it super presentable. I see a lot of people throw up gameplay, where you can still see the black border, and then the other black behind it. But I crop it out, scale it perfectly, then I put my own background to brand it. Same with after effects. I sometimes do a little gag, and I learned how to do that in college. In the Kao Advance video there is this joke with light speed and the background is all messed up. I did that with greenscreen and After Effects, and that was super easy, and I wouldn’t  have known what I was doing if I hadn’t taken film school. There are lots of basic things, like lighting, and it doesn’t seem like there is much lighting, but I actually have two lights, in the newer ones I have LED panels, usually facing ceiling or my face, depending on how much light can get through the window, and then I have big light off the camera lighting the background. If you watch my earlier videos, you’re definitely not going to see that, cause I only used sunlight and backgrounds were dark and all.

Any future plans you can share? Maybe Metal Gear Solid, since it’s one of your favorite games?

I don’t know if I will ever do Metal Gear Solid because everybody knows it. I feel I really want to stick to two things I do, which is RPG Maker horror games and then platformer games. A lot of people were requesting this, I might be leading up to Super Mario Oddyssey, even though Mario series is a popular one and people have a lot of videos on it. I feel I’m at the point where enough people value my opinion over the others, so I’m considering doing a Mario 3D platformer marathon up to Mario Odyssey, and review Mario 64, Mario Sunshine, Galaxy, and 3D World. That would be pretty cool. Other than that, there are many PS 2 platformer games I’ve got on mind, a handful of RPG Maker games I’ve got to check. So much fodder, so I’m definitely not going to run out of the material for review any time soon.

And finally, is there any person that inspired you to do videos in the first place?

Definitely, there are a lot of them. A lot of people say Angry Video Game Nerd, but I don’t know. I still watch a lot of AVGN, since he was the first video game guy I watched on YouTube. I related to him a lot, because I watched his personal videos, where he showed how he edited using VCR, I did that too when I was a kid. My first camera was a cassette tape camera. And I edited audio the same way he did until I got a computer and an additional camera. So I can relate to him a lot and I love his videos, but he never really made me want to do this. The first person I watched that inspired me to start this was actually PeanutButterGamer. He was more casual about the idea of reviewing games. He wasn’t in the character, it wasn’t about jokes, it was just a guy talking about these things no one cares about, but which are really interesting: for example Wii Ski, that game for the Wii here’s this weird easter egg I’ve found, that was really cool. No one but him would be able to show that. That was the first time I felt I want to do it. But the biggest inspiration personally is SomeCallMeJohnny. Cause he’s taking it to a very casual level when it’s just a guy really passionate about something and giving his honest opinions about the games and that’s it. He’s my favorite, I love him so much. The first video of him I watched was probably Sonic 06 – an hour-long video, and I thought, I wasn’t going to watch the whole thing, I’ll watch the first 5 minutes, and not long after that, I watched the full thing, his videos are just engaging. And I think I base a little bit of how I write videos off him, I might not do it consciously, but that’s because I’ve watched a lot of him. In general I’m veering away from people that focus on comedy, and more o those that just do interesting stuff, like SomeCallMeJohnny. Also, SuperBunnyHop is another really good for that – he doesn’t try to make jokes, just really intelligent commentary on something he really likes and he’s interested in, and I’m right into that.

Sounds really familiar.

Thank you, I appreciate that. I might put a joke in a video if one happens to get made up or if it fits, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen, and if there is no joker, there is no joke. Not every video has a joke, because if one doesn’t find its way through the video, I’m not going to force one in there.