Friday Fireside Chat

Why fireside? Because it’s raining quite heavily outside and that seems like a cozy way to start off this Friday post. I also hope it helps distract from the fact that I might have missed last Friday… a little bit, or completely.

Sorry about that.

So what’s been happening? A little, a lot, really depends on where you sit.

I’m going to start with something I saw yesterday from one of my favorite YouTubers, Skillup. He started as a hardcore Division streamer and while he has since moved on to a much broader range of topics he has been covering Division 2. Since Ubisoft can’t stop stepping in it even when they’re doing well he released a video yesterday talking about their decision to sell stash space. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of versions of the game they have up for sale and at what prices.

Pretty sure you can all guess where I stand on this just based on my previous posts but I do want to reiterate: developers do not need to blackmail us to get our money. The reason that the subject of stash space and charging for it is so egregious is because of what a huge issue, among other things, it was in their first game. Massive and Ubisoft have been fairly adamant about avoiding the mistakes they made the first time around which layers this entire subject in sour irony. As Skillup points out in the video at this stage of development they don’t even know how much the space the base stash is going to have nor how many extra slots the Ultimate Edition will actually offer. They’re selling a product whose parameters aren’t even set in stone which in and of itself is insulting enough.

Ubisoft and Massive know definitively from their first release that they have a game people want, a game where people want to pay for cosmetic extras, a game that they can reasonably monetize. I have been and will always be vehemently against monetizing basic game mechanics and QoL (Quality of Life) improvements for players except in a Free-To-Play environment. There you can purchase what you want as you want or need it without any upfront cost to also consider, in effect you don’t need to purchase the game and it’s mechanics twice. Since this revelation my enthusiasm for this game release has been dwindling fast which is a shame as I fell in love the aesthetic and gameplay immediately and have been itching to play more. I want the story, I want the outfits, I want the guns and I want to continue exploring the world of The Division. I really do.

I just wish game companies like Ubisoft and Massive didn’t seem so dead set on making me weigh my morals as a consumer against my desires as a gamer. Being pro-consumer doesn’t mean you can’t make money, it never has, it’s just a way to make money while not making your customers simultaneously regret their purchase. I want to feel good about buying a product, feel good about the people whose jobs I’m supporting and about the type of business practices I’m encouraging. Eventually that grimace I make when pulling out my wallet is going to turn into disgust which is then going to turn into me looking elsewhere for my entertainment.

If you won’t take my word for it then listen to someone whose opinion you should at the very least respect: Shigeru Miyamoto.

Now that’s done with lets move on to some more fun things.

On a musical note the Moonbeam Rider EP by Slugabed has made frequent appearances lately in my writing playlists. I don’t know why honestly, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the genre but its funky, awesome and just kinda puts me in a trance while I write.

It’s nice, you should give it a listen.

On the YouTube front I re-stumbled upon the joy that is Loading Ready Run and the series they make in co-operation with Wizards of the Coast called Friday Nights. If you like MTG and sketch comedy I recommend you give it a look, it’s worth your time. They have quite a few other shows they produce on a regular basis including their long, but well worth, Pre Pre-Release streams they do for new Magic: The Gathering sets. One of the things I like about it is that they have a judge on hand while they play their games so you can see how rules enforcement works. They also do a rules and mechanics review at the start with the judge to help familiarize you with new effects from the set. Even for the casual fan I think it can have some pretty helpful information and their streaming setup is great with a card reader to display cards as they are played.

I ran across this amusing thing in the smartphone world from Nokia: The 8110-4G. I understand the push for minimalism and people who want their basic necessities met without going overboard. Unfortunately I think we all know exactly who is going to end up buying and using these and spoiler; they’re not those people.

To the folks who want this kind of tech I wish you well and hopefully this thing fulfills all your needs. To the people who are going to buy this simply as an affectation, just do us all a favor and stick with your Android or iPhone, it’s fine.

Also, apparently it comes pre-loaded with Snake. Nothing but value.

On the extreme other end of that you can take a peek at the upcoming Hydrogen One phone from RED, the camera company. Looking it over with special emphasis on the price tag might have me understanding the minimalists a bit more.

Alright, now it’s time to discuss what is apparently on everyone’s mind: Nipples. No, seriously. I have to say that I am honestly impressed you can get so much out of a subject like this. I understand that everyone feels differently about things but, really? This can’t be that big of a deal. Although we also had to apparently deal with the whole fiasco of Luigi dying in a trailer for the new Smash game so maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

I can’t tell if folks are having too much fun or too little fun that these things need to be reported on as news but either way, let’s all take take a moment and reflect on where we are as a planet.

While you’re contemplating that you should also check this out. I’m not the biggest fan of racing games but I am a huge fan of, the old, Top Gear and the new Grand Tour on Amazon so I’m tentatively interested in this. Especially if it has Jeremy, Richard and James doing voiceover for it. So far it seems like a novel idea where the tracks you’ll get to play through in the game are taken directly from things they do on the show with new cars and locations being added as episodes release. Hopefully it will add up to being more than just a gimmick and instead a fun way to interact with a show you love. Unfortunately it seems that the game will only be available for PS4 and XBONE which seems like a peculiar choice to me given the company that is making it but hopefully we’ll see a PC release in the future if it’s successful enough to warrant one.

There is always more but that is where I’ll leave it this week so this doesn’t risk becoming a truly uninteresting novella. Thanks for sticking around and I hope you have had a good week!

Was there anything I missed that you think I should have included? What interesting things did you stumble across recently? Let me know!

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back soon!

  • Non-Washable

Nintendo: Why Switch Now?

Watch this. You don’t even really have to watch the entire video but at least the first minute or so. Besides, “Cool!” what is the other first thought you had? I know what mine was, “Ugh, more gimmicks.”

Along with revolutionary and innovative a lot of Nintendo’s attempts to expand how we play games have also been called, in some cases rightly, gimmicky. I think it’s short-sighted to automatically view them as failures though, they may not be commercially successful but I don’t think we can argue against the validity of the attempt. Thinking back the only true innovation flop I could pin to Nintendo was the Virtua Boy. The whole turning your vision red after playing it for extended periods aside the only true problem with the system was that it arrived too early when the industry and its technology weren’t quite ready for it. As lame as you may have felt the motion controls were on the Wii they’re clearly not going away and in fact the current generation VR systems use more advanced versions of them as their main control scheme. Nintendo are also the undisputed rulers of portable gaming in spite of Sony’s best attempts to horn in on the market with the Vita. More impressively they’ve maintained a solid market presence in the face of the ever growing popularity of mobile and tablet gaming.  

Over the years Nintendo has certainly not made things easy on themselves as they have often made business and design decisions that were unpopular with their competition, distributors and game makers worldwide. Their pride in their own history of success has seen them eschew industry standards in order to follow their own path. They don’t release consoles alongside their major competitors or adhere to a similar cycle. They hold conferences and announce their game lineups at their own pace and on their own time. Moves that many have derided as arrogant and indicative of a Nintendo who still thinks that the game industry still operates in its shadow. To even casual observers this has clearly not been the case since even the Wii which most people recall as one of the greatest successes ever for the gaming giant.

Was it though?   

Like most things in life the answer is complicated. It certainly topped sales charts for much of it’s life and reportedly reached a far wider audience than their competition. Fueled by a price that instantly undercut the Xbox 360 by $50-100 and the Playstation 3 by a painful $250-350 at launch. To me the statistic that is most indicative of the complication surrounding the Wii’s supposed dominance is the fact that Wii Sports is considered one of the best selling games of all time. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Wii Sports was fine, it was fun and something you could play with the whole family but among the best selling games of all time? This record is because the game itself was bundled with every Wii system that was sold. A similar tactic that was once used against them when Sonic the Hedgehog was bundled with the American Sega Genesis consoles. Not only was the Wii cheaper than the other consoles, carried the Nintendo branding but it also came included with a game so you could play the system right out of the box. This was especially potent around the holiday season when the whole family could open presents and then spend hours playing around with this weird new device. Wii Sports stands now with around 83 million copies sold worldwide which is an utterly staggering figure. For the Wii system itself unfortunately Nintendo doesn’t disclose its production costs or profit margins but I feel confident in saying that while I’m sure they made a profit they also cut into it in order to make the impact they did with its release. Their unique control scheme for the system, inviting message of making gaming for everyone and extremely affordable price tag with the added value of a bundled game meant they were instantly part of the conversation again. Let us also not forget Nintendo affection for manually limiting availability to drive up hype and demand by making them seem hard to find as a result of popularity. These combined factors to me mean that an argument could be made for how its success, in part, was in a sense artificially manufactured. I’m sure that statement will be seen as controversial or flagrantly wrong and even I will admit you could call it hyperbolic without being off-base. The reality is that Nintendo made every concession they conceivably could in order to make their system the easiest purchase while not necessarily being the best. The one thing we can all agree on is what a masterclass in business savvy the Wii was, it may not have had the same quippy mic-drop quality as this did all those years ago but all the same, it worked.

Prior to this current console cycle let’s have a quick look at where everyone stood:

Playstation 2 – >155 Million units sold

Xbox – 24.1 Million units sold.

Gamecube – 21.74 Million units sold.

Fast forward to the next cycle and here is what the landscape looked like:

Wii – 101.63 Million units sold.

Playstation 3 – 83.8 Million units sold.

Xbox 360 – 84 Million units sold.

Not a bad turn around for Nintendo, wouldn’t you say? In spite of the system not outdoing it’s competition on any technical aspect Nintendo managed to utterly dominate the conversation which forced Microsoft and Sony to scramble to put out their own motion control systems out with games that supported it. Nintendo proved that the game industry had room for more than platforms bloated with application integration like social media and graphics that edged ever closer to photorealism. It makes sense that there would be but for a company that was on the verge of struggling to be relevant it was a bit of a leap of faith to take and seeing where they are today I am more grateful than ever that Nintendo didn’t abandon their identity to follow along with the market.

I’m not going to delve into the Wii-U as there are numerous post-mortems on the system itself and it’s a well known misstep for Nintendo as a whole after the successes of the Wii. Ultimately based on their aspirations for the Switch I think Nintendo viewed it as a middle ground to carry them until it was ready. With the result we see today from that gamble I think we can safely say it panned out but it also meant that possibly everything was riding on the success of the Switch and that is a risky position for even Nintendo. The other aspect I’m not going to touch on further is Nintendo’s well known affection for artificial scarcity as a way of building media buzz for it’s products. Annoying as it may be it’s an effective sales tactic and one they’ll probably not stop employing for the foreseeable future. Perhaps a topic for another post.
Throughout all of this Nintendo has had incredible success outside of it’s home console ventures with their line of portable systems DS/3DS to the tune of combined worldwide sales in the ~235 million range. Part of the reason I see for that level of success is that Nintendo is uniquely placed among all game and hardware publishers to leverage all of their best first party content on literally any system format they choose to. While Microsoft, Sony and PC game makers have continued to push towards mind-bogglingly realistic graphics Nintendo has staunchly kept to their timeless stylized aesthetic. That isn’t to say that the style itself hasn’t evolved over the years, it definitely has, but the strain that it places on a given system is only a fraction of what it takes to run something like Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassins Creed: Origins and at one point, Crysis. The stigma that this would eventually spell disaster for companies who didn’t keep up is something Nintendo has valiantly fought against for years.

I think the Switch is the perfect expression of what Nintendo has been evolving into since it first introduced the Game Boy alongside its home consoles.

nintendo-switch-banner-790x399-1

When I watched the announcement video for Switch I was instantly filled with a childlike wonder at the possibilities and a very adult sense of dread at what looked like a collection of maybe poorly executed gimmicks. You know the expression, “Throw things at a wall until something sticks.”? That’s what this looked like to me. It was doing too much and as a result would do nothing well. The game quality in portable mode would never look as good as it did in that trailer. If it did then the battery life would be worse than the notoriously bad Game Gear or Sega Nomad. Even if all that could be worked out it wouldn’t be powerful enough to make those games look good on your living room TV and god only knows what kind of performance issues you’d see with games that were even remotely recent. Tiny detachable controllers that look awkward to use, motion controls (again), cheesy party games and yet again promises of third party support that Nintendo had been repeating for years. Almost every pitfall they’d been trying to stay out of for at least two console cycles if not more all wrapped into one single platform.

Could it really be anything other than a disaster?

I am proud to say that through my dread I was actually hopeful about it’s chances and I argued fervently with naysayers who couldn’t see the potential. I’ll fully admit that my excitement came in no small part because after not owning a Nintendo system since a Gamecube, that was purchased late in its life, I was so amped up to see even a small spark of life from Nintendo. After some thought about the reveal video and the company itself I settled on feeling optimistic because it seemed to me that the Switch was Nintendo finally embracing its place in the gaming industry. It had relinquished the battle on cutting edge visuals and withdrawn from the rest of the console industries attempts to claw closer to rivaling PC hardware. They had already cornered the market on portable gaming and had a first party lineup that no other company in the industry could possibly compete with combined with the mission statement they announced with the Wii.

Introducing … Wii. As in “we.” While the code-name “Revolution” expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer. Wii will break down that wall that separates video game players from everybody else. Wii will put people more in touch with their games …”

Accessibility, portability, timeless aesthetics and some of the most legendary IPs in video game history meant that their real challenge was figuring out a platform that could truly speak to their strengths. Like their previous offerings the Switch won’t put your 4k TV to the test or run Crysis but true to their tradition that has not stopped Nintendo from delivering some absolutely stunning visuals any video game fan can appreciate.

 

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

BoTWSShot More gifs here courtesy of @mangosango on imgur.

Super Mario Odyssey

smo_07

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Xenoblade

This isn’t even scratching the surface of the total games on offer including a very impressive set of indie titles. This also doesn’t include The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, DOOM 2016, Bayonetta 1&2 which have also released on the Switch. The software support for the Switch has been more than adequate and the future is also looking bright with a new Metroid title, Super Smash Bros, Dark Souls Remastered, Kirby Star Allies, Lost Sphear, Mario Tennis (Don’t laugh, it looks awesome.),Mega Man 11 and one of my personal most anticipated, Octopath Traveler.

The software support is real so what about the hardware gimmicks? Of all the things that excited me about the Switch I do have to confess that the ability to use it as a portable was not at the top of my list realistically. If I’m going places then chances are I’m going to be doing things that require my full attention so playing a game outside of something quick on my phone isn’t in the cards. The first few weeks of playing Breath of the Wild the system never left its dock as I was perfectly content to sit on my couch to enjoy it. One night I wasn’t quite to a point where I was ready to quit but my girlfriend had gotten up to go read in bed before falling asleep because she had to be up in the morning. Cheesy as it sounds we’re both busy adults and there are some weeks where we really don’t spend much time together and sometimes it’s nice to just be near one another even if you aren’t really interacting. I didn’t really want to sit and play alone so I saved my game and was about to turn off the system when I thought, “Just a sec, I can just take this thing with me!”. I had yet to see what BoTW looked like with the system in portable mode so now seemed like the perfect time to find out the truth. I undid the JoyCons from the controller frame and slid them onto the tablet, somewhere deep down expecting to be disappointed in what happened next. However like I was standing in for one of the people from the announcement video I slid the screen out of the dock and snappy as could be my TV went black and my game appeared immediately on the handheld. So far so good. I walked to the bedroom and settled in next to my girlfriend who was reading her book, she stopped for a moment when she saw I had the Switch and checked to see what it looked like. We were both pretty blown away by what we saw, it was the exact same game. It didn’t look squished or blurry, in fact it was perfectly crisp and played as smooth as you could want. I spent the next hour finishing a couple of shrines and two Korok puzzles we had stumbled across and could have easily played until the battery died on me. I turned the system off, reluctantly put it on my nightstand and went to sleep still buzzing a little from the excitement that it had worked exactly as advertised.

Since then I’ve had to actively remind myself that I can play it wherever, someone wants to watch something on the TV? Cool, let me just undock my game quick and we’ll chill on the couch together doing our separate activities, together. It’s gotten to the point where I find excuses to use it portably whether I need to or not. It’s just such a pleasure to use that you want to take advantage of the systems features. It’s like when I realized many years ago now that I could stop watching Netflix on my TV, get up and resume where I left off on my phone app while I worked on chores around the house. Every extra “gimmick” on the Switch is just… useful, it feels and operates in a way that is fun and unobtrusive, you just want to see what it can do. Even the motion controls I think have been handled perfectly as they are largely optional for any game they are included in. I was initially worried when I learned that Super Mario Odyssey included some motion controls but after playing it they were just a fun addition that I think enhanced the experience instead of detracted from it.

I want to take a moment here and mention that not everything with the Switch is perfect, there was a controversy at release over the very limited system memory which could clash rather significantly with the size of modern titles and the prevalence of non-physical releases. It was basically recommended from the get-go that you purchase extra SD memory to fix the problem regardless of if you thought it would be a problem for you. There were also some quality issues with the screen and build of the systems at launch but Nintendo did an incredible job with warranty replacements and making sure customers were taken care of. Since the initial problems it seems Nintendo got them ironed out and I’ve heard little or nothing since. Overall though besides some supply shortages those were the worst problems the system has faced thus far.

I think for me this is where Nintendo is destined to exist but not because of any failure on their part or because they just can’t hack it against Sony or Microsoft. From the dock to it’s JoyCons the Switch is the distilled vision of everything that has made Nintendo a household name in the video game industry for the past forty years. The Switch reminds us that framerate, pixel count or 4k capability is not the ultimate endpoint of game design. Time and again we are shown that all the money, resources and, hype won’t make a bad game good or a good game great. Eventually the truth of it will be known even if its slightly obscured at the start. There are still a lot of unknowns about the Switch and its future given that even now its barely more than a year old as a fully released console. In that time though the impact it has had is undeniable and its place in the conversation is not up for debate.  

To date the Switch is selling exactly as fast as the runaway success that is the Playstation 4.

Welcome back, Nintendo.

  • Non-Washable