After The Flood

So:  what usually happens when I decide to start writing here is that I’ll have a few free minutes, I’ll start gathering my thoughts and start typing, and then BLAM – huge project arrives in my inbox.  (Or, as another example:  as I typed this last sentence, my boss showed up.)  Last week, I got sidetracked by something else entirely:  a huge storm, a power outage, a flooded basement.

The good news is that we only had about an inch and a half of water, which means that all my instruments and all my gaming stuff avoided getting damaged.  But we lost 3 carpets, a lot of my son’s toys, a whole bunch of luggage that was stored in a utility closet, our Christmas tree, a fair amount of my wife’s tools from her reiki practice, and some other stuff – honestly, the last few days have been something of a blur.

And so now we are going to be several thousand dollars in the hole in terms of renovation and repair.  We were able to find a floor repair service (thanks to our amazing neighbors) and so we’ve had a gigantic dehumidifier and several industrial-grade fans going non-stop since Friday; we have a contractor coming this evening to survey the basement and see about getting the walls/insulation replaced.

My wife and I are exhausted and stressed out, but I gotta say:  the kid is handling it like a champ.

You know what’s been nice, though?  It’s been nice to be away from the internet, and the news cycle, and all that shit.  I desperately needed to unplug, and if it takes an act of God to get me unplugged, then so be it.

Anyway, as you might imagine, leisure time has been non-existent of late.  The basement is off limits, so my wife and I are back to sharing the living room TV.  I’ve been too frazzled to enjoy what I’m reading, and I’ve not had any opportunity to listen to music.  During the power outage, I was actually using my Switch as a shitty flashlight because my iPhone was running out of juice.

That said, I’ve been using the Switch more and more, and I’m suddenly wanting it to get all the indie ports that used to show up on the Vita.  Indeed, I’ve been starting to compile a list of stuff I’d like to see:

  • XCOM / XCOM 2 / Invisible Inc.
  • Mark of the Ninja
  • Fez
  • Something – anything – from Rockstar.  (And yes, I know about L.A. Noire, but that doesn’t quite count.)  Ideally, and I know this is never happening, I’d love to see a port of GTA 4, but with the control scheme of GTA 5
  • The 2.5D Assassin’s Creed games
  • the Oddworld New & Tasty remake
  • Sid Meier’s Pirates, or a port of the console-based Civ Rev game (not the iPhone version)

I also heard about the original Crackdown getting enhanced for Xbox One X; unfortunately my 4K TV is in the basement – and while it was well above the water line I haven’t had a chance to plug it in, so I’m just hoping it still works – but in any event, I can’t really see it in all its 4K HDR glory, but I did find my disc and gave it a quick spin, and yeah – that game is still kinda awesome.

It is awesome in the same way that Burnout Paradise HD is awesome – and yes, of course I bought the remake, and because (for some reason that I’ve since forgotten) I’m a member of EA Access, I was able to play it last night.  Those games are both awesome because you can totally forget about the main path and just tool around looking for hidden stuff, and whether you’re picking up ability orbs or crashing through barriers, there’s a visceral rush that few other games have ever managed to achieve.

(Certain other elements of Burnout Paradise have not aged well, of course:  DJ Atomica can fuck right off.  But they have added some new songs to the soundtrack, including LCD Soundsystem’s “Us v Them” which is one of my favorite songs of all time.)

And in the meantime, I’m still finding myself tooling around in Assassin’s Creed Origins, because that game continues to feel right in my hands in a way that other, better games don’t – not even The Witcher 3.  It doesn’t hurt that even after finishing the main campaign and sinking more than 60 hours into it, there’s still a ton of stuff to do, and a ton of question marks to uncover, and etc.  That game continues to surprise and impress.

the necessity of distraction

You ever take an allergy pill and then drink too much caffeine?  It’s all the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack but you’re also very zoned out and breathing very deeply.

Hi, welcome to my Wednesday afternoon.  My job is slow at the moment, and I have all this nervous energy that I need to expel.  So I’m gonna talk about all the crap I’ve bought of late that I haven’t had the time or inclination to enjoy.

Before I get started with some aimless rambling and babbling, I just want to thank everyone for their support this past week.  We did end up putting Lily to sleep on Saturday, and it was awful and gut-wrenching and sad, but hearing from everyone really did make a difference.  I am in the midst of another one of my love-hate spats with the internet and social media, but in this particular instance it was really nice to feel like all our friends around the world were giving us a much-needed hug.

I suppose I should also say that I’m fine, as far as the horrific event that took place in lower Manhattan yesterday afternoon.  Indeed, my office is so close to it that I could see the men in white hazmat suits milling around as I ran a quick errand this morning.  I was never in any danger (though I had been walking right there only a few hours prior), and I never had a chance to get anxious because by the time that the actual, real news was starting to come in, it was already over.  I suppose it might seem weird that I’m not really all that messed up about it, but, I mean, what am I gonna do?  I’m already a nervous wreck about the world in general.  I’m just glad it wasn’t worse.

I’ve been in a non-stop escapist fiction mood of late, reading lots of horror and thriller and mystery stuff, and I needed to switch things up just a bit.  So I’m now three chapters into The Crimson Petal and the White, and it is gorgeous in ways I haven’t yet even begun to parse.  I enjoyed Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, and everyone on Goodreads who saw that I’d enjoyed it told me to immediately drop everything I was doing and start reading Crimson Petal; it’s been a few years, but here I am.

I am desperate to talk about Stranger Things 2, except that I haven’t finished it yet.  Assuming that the wife is amenable, we will watch the final 2 episodes tonight.  Yes, I am aware that a lot of people have very intense problems with Episode 7; I also just read a thing that the Duffer Brothers are aware of this but felt it necessary to fully tell the story they wanted to tell.  Given that I am fully on board with this season – even more than the first one, and I adored the first one – I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will say this, in the meantime – one of the things that I love about ST is how people actually cooperate with each other and believe each other and don’t act stupid for the purpose of plot contrivance.  It worked remarkably well in the first season and it’s working even better here.  Also – genius casting of Sean Astin and Paul Reiser.  (I noted on Twitter the other day that people who recognize Sean Astin from LotR and not The Goonies make me feel incredibly old, and then a friend reminded me that 16 years passed between the Goonies and LotR 1, and that 16 years have also passed since LotR1 and ST2, and holy shit I am old.)

In my dog-related grief, I accidentally did a thing and bought a Nintendo Switch, plus Zelda and Mario (and then Golf Story and also Stardew Valley).  So that’s happening.  I’ve been able to play maybe 15 minutes of Zelda, Mario and Golf, and they are all things I want to continue playing, so that’s nice.

I also have Assassin’s Creed Origins and Wolfenstein II burning a hole on my Xbox One’s external hard drive, and I’ve played just enough of both of them to know that I’d rather play them on my Xbox One X, which is supposedly arriving next week although I haven’t yet received any shipping information, which is unnerving.


On The Ethics of Game Criticism

[This is an IM conversation between me and my buddy Greg, regarding Arthur Gies’ non-review of Star Fox Zero over at Polygon.]

G:  in other news, arthur gies continues to be
a bit of a pretentious tool (by refusing to review star fox

J:is that good/bad, re star fox?
from everything else i’ve read, it’s a bit of a shitshow

G:  it’s essentially a bad review that has no score
and claims not to be a review.
i.e. it’s such a mess i can’t even be bothered to
finish it to review it (even though that’s
my job and the game is maybe 5 hours long)

“It is, to be blunt, a miserable experience, and
the idea of playing more fills me with the kind of
deep, existential dread I can’t really justify.”
i mean, jesus howard christ, that is quite a thing
to write about playing a janky video game
to complete a work assignment.
J:  at least he’s not mincing words

we’ve all played games that shitty
G: sure
J: for it to be a big-name exclusive for an ailing system,
and for it to be a terrible game – well, one can make
the argument that keeping the piece as is
is a good way to get page views and get nerds all angry

G: but i think he needs to suck up
his existential dread, push through the
last two hours of the game and put a number on it.
J: what difference would that make, though?
G: i see it as more of a way to feed gies’s ego.

well for one thing, it would pull down
the metacritic average of a game that advertises on their site.
like, ok, his piece is essentially a scathing review.
but then why go through this whole charade about
refusing to review it on some kind of purportedly
principled basis of how it is offensive to his immortal soul
that nintendo might have expected him to finish the game?
the game has a 71 on metacritic. gies could have
sucked it up instead of making an arbitrary stand here.
i should mention that i have often liked gies’s writing
and podcast musings in the past, but he occasionally
lets his brash egotism show too much, and i think
this may be the flagship instance of that.
J: i don’t know, though. for one thing, fuck metacritic.
for another, if a flagship title is going to suck that badly,
why not stick to your guns? there is nothing that will be gained
by his finishing a piece of shit. the idea that
his opinion can only be “complete”
once he puts a number next to it bothers me.
G: i hear you, but i also think polygon has put in place
certain standards and procedures – including putting
numbers on games which, while admittedly sometimes
arbitrary and always reductive – as part of
the core content they provide to their readers.
J: i agree that not finishing a thing for an assignment is dicey.
you don’t often hear movie reviewers walk out of a film,
a food critic walk out of a meal,
a music critic walk out of a concert / turn off an album.
G: while i think he should have finished the game
and written a review, i’d also have preferred if he
put a number on it without having finished it,
which i think in instances like this is totally fair.
the score would reflect that the game is so bad that
the first couple of hours extinguish any desire to
finish the rest, i.e. even if the last two hours
was ingenious the game would be a 2.
I don’t think reviews have to have numbers, but
where you’re the reviews editor at a site that does it,
then it seems very prima donna to be all
“ugh, finishing this 4 hour game that
has an invincibility mode is beneath me”
J: that being said, there is no other popular medium
i can think of where *not* finishing a thing is par for the course.
G: well, this is also one of the only mediums where
most of the actual consumers also don’t finish.
J: right, exactly.
i guess i’m less inclined to be bent out of shape over it
because i simply don’t give a shit about Nintendo right now.
i can’t even update my 3DS system software, which is
the only Nintendo product I still own –
i’d been thinking about getting Bravely Second,
but I’m not sure I can even buy it if I can’t update the firmware.
G: right, i don’t care about nintendo or star fox,
so am not really bent out of shape about it…
but the story has pushed me over into
the “arthur gies is a douchebag” camp.
was it FF12 or 13 that had like 15 hours of
corridor battles and then opened up?
games like that illustrate the insufficiency of a single number score.
see also gies’s review of bayonetta 2 which dinged it
for its over sexualized character design.
in those cases i don’t really care what the number score is
as long as the objections to the game are spelled out in the text.
J: I think FF13 is the one that you’re thinking of.
but of course, FF13 also had a part 2 and a part 3 as separate releases

so if Gies’ objections to Starfox are spelled out
in his non-review, why are you giving him
a hard time this time? because he didn’t finish it?
(i’ve not yet read his piece.)
G:  because i think it was very ego-driven.
poor me, i’m not going to follow our site’s standard policy
because i have existential dread about… playing this video game.

it’s obviously a very small deal in the scheme of things…
but polygon is a video game website, at which
he is the reviews editor. their readers have
certain reasonable expectations, and i see
very little reason other than self-indulgence
that he needed to write it up this way.
J:  if he forbids anyone else on staff to play it to completion,
that’s one thing. if he (and the rest of the staff) feels
that his statement speaks well enough to not
need a rebuttal, that’s another thing.

i used to get bent out of shape at Pitchfork all the time;
their numbers were so completely arbitrary, and
reviewers would purposefully be hyperbolic
if only because that’s what the readers expected.
they ruined more than a few careers with some “0.0” scores, frankly.
and lots of really positive-sounding reviews only got stuck in the upper 6s, low 7s
and in the early days, their writing was far more
obtuse and pretentious – reviews written as one-act plays,
dialogues between people, etc.
i can’t necessarily get bent out of shape at Gies
for taking a stand here. maybe he has a
particular fondness for Star Fox from his childhood
and this game was making him so miserable
and unhappy that he decided it wasn’t worth it to continue.
i guarantee that in a month, nobody will even remember this happened.
G: sure, this will come and go quickly and again is not at all a big deal.
but i’m not so forgiving of gies refusing to do his job.
or, doing his job (posting what is basically a negative review)
under the guise of some grand offense to his integrity
as a gamer having been committed by this game.
[At this point, I finally read the piece in question, and skimmed through the comments, and saw that this same exact conversation was more or less taking place over there already.  Also I had some day-job work to attend to, and at this point I decided I wanted to post this conversation here.]
J:  Ultimately, yes, in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big a deal.
but i guess I’m finding myself surprisingly OK with him
leaving it as-is. I have little-to-no time these days,
and if I’m playing a game that sucks, I feel little-to-no
obligation to finish it. Granted, if I write about it,
I’m writing for an audience of maybe 20 people
and I’m not getting paid, nor are my opinions affecting
people’s salaries and bonuses because I affected a Metacritic average.
but as it is, i barely have time to finish the games that i actually DO enjoy, too.
G:  but i think the fact that you are not
a professional game reviewer – much less the head
game reviewer at a leading gaming site –
makes that much, much more excusable.

it’s a little silly to speak of the “rights” of polygon readers
to a full, scored review, but NO one could suggest any of
your readers has a right to expect certain specific content from you.
it just seems to me that instead of doing what
polygon does, gies decided, OKAY, I’M GOING TO MAKE A “STATEMENT”!
J: yeah, but i think that’s his right as a critic to say “fuck this.”
G: i wish he had either (a) just shut up, or
(b) recognized that his non-review was as much
a review as any numbered piece on their site.
instead, i saw this as him preening.
J: i remember flipping through (I think) an issue of Rolling Stone
back in high school, and they were reviewing
Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All”, and the entirety of
the one-star review was “Some don’t give a shit.”

this sounds more like you v. Gies.
if it was anybody else, do you think you’d be this aggravated?
or, rather, what if this was Gerstmann?
[Editor’s Note:  Greg does not care for Jeff Gerstmann.]
G:  i would generally agree that it’s his right
as a critic to say “fuck this”… if he weren’t
the reviews editor at a major site that has
certain requirements about reviews.
what do you think gies would have said to
a freelancer who came back to him and said
“sorry dude, i can’t finish this cuz existential dread.”

see, that’s the thing. giant bomb is irreverent
and that’s part of their schtick.
polygon tends to take itself more seriously,
which is fine and even generally laudable.
i just don’t see how this was necessary or fits into their content model.
i’m not reflexively anti-gies. i often find him
interesting and, e.g., appreciated the issues he raised
about the design of the bayonetta character in his B2 review.
but if you’re going to have standards,
however arbitrary they may be, then be
consistent enough to stick with them.
it just doesn’t add up for me.
he says their general review policy is that
a reviewer must have finished a game or
made a good faith effort to do so in order to review it.
it’s one thing if the game was so awful or had
such impenetrable difficulty spikes that this
represented a real “good faith effort” to finish it.
but in that case, they should have published his piece as a “review”.
otherwise it’s just him excepting himself
from the standards he helped create and oversees.
i’m coming off as caring about this much more than i actually do.
J:  yeah, but it makes for an interesting perspective.
i.e., what is it that we, as gamers and readers
of critical opinions, expect out of the reviews we read?
most reviewers i’ve talked to HATE the fact that
they have to put a number next to what they write at all.
G:  it seems to me the options available to him
based on polygon’s policies were (a) acknowledge
that you made a good faith effort but found the game
so offensive that you couldn’t finish it, and
review it on that basis, (b) push through the
additional TWO HOURS and then review it,
(c) if there was some personal issue that made you
decide you couldn’t finish/review the game,
assign it to someone else, or
(d) shut up about journalistic standards in general.

i agree [about putting numbers next to a review],
it’s not about whether numbered reviews are a good thing.
i expect different things from different outlets.
from SFTC, i expect to get whatever it is you feel
compelled to write, in whatever form, on whatever topic, etc.
for polygon, a site that links to its ethics policy
on every review and has a fair amount to say
on the topic of gaming journalism as a profession,
i expect them not to toss their policies and standards
over their shoulders to indulge their reviews editor’s
egotistical need to whine about the existential dread
a short, bad game caused him to feel.
J: I agree with you in principle, and yet I still feel
like it’s OK for him to have abandoned those principles
in this specific case. I might be chalking that up to
my own feelings about Nintendo, of course;
if he wrote this about something that I
actually cared about, I might feel differently.

it is odd, in any event, to feel any particular way
at all when you see a specific name attached to an article.
i didn’t used to feel this way.
If this is the beginning of a larger trend of
“fuck it, i’m out” at Polygon, that might be something
to consider. but then i’d expect them to
address it a bit more formally.
G:  it’s not that i can’t imagine a circumstance
where he could have taken this approach.
it would have made far more sense for FF13,
e.g. but this is a 4-5 hour game with an invincibility mode.

i think it would be totally fair to write of FF13:
“however wonderful this game may get after 15 hours,
it is unreasonable to expect gamers to slog through
that much mediocre content to get to
the rewarding stuff. i gave up before i got there. 6/10”
J: yes, BUT: when you review games professionally,
you do it in a vacuum; you wouldn’t necessarily know
about the game opening up after 15 hours if you gave up at 14:59.
G: ok… but he gave up after a couple of hours.
if one of his employees had done that, i would expect him/her to be fired.
J: well, but we’ve all given up after a couple of hours.
i’ve given up after 5 minutes.
G: totally different context tho from a professional reviewer.
it’s not like this game has a 22 on metacritic.
however much the control scheme may have
been a failed experiment, it’s not “broken”.
I don’t see how a few hours in he gets to
throw his hands up on a game he’s been assigned
to review for work and instead write a piece about existential dread.
i get how work can fill one with dread and anxiety,
as i know you do. i don’t see how that comes from
a couple of hours of playing a bad game.
and if i went to my boss and said “i’m sorry,
i couldn’t draft this contract any more because
it was filling me with existential dread”, i would
expect either to be fired or sent on
short term disability leave on the spot.
J: I think it’s slightly different here, though.
because in the piece he is very specific about
what he hates, and what makes him miserable, and
why he refuses to finish it, and why his refusal
to finish it constitutes his personal opinion about it.
writing up a legal contract is not a matter of
expressing one’s personal opinion. the inability to
finish a shitty game because the game is so shitty…
that kinda speaks for itself.
G: but then why isn’t that a “good faith effort”
to finish the game and why isn’t the piece a review?
J: i agree with you in that it is not becoming of
a professional writer to give up on an assignment,
and then hand that assignment in anyway.
G: it’s weird that he let himself off the hook
for writing a review, then wrote a review anyway.
J: and i would agree that i’ve never really seen
this kind of thing from a major games site before.
even Alex Navarro’s infamous “Big Rigs” review – he did try.

[Gies] is careful to say that it’s a non-review.
he might’ve filed it in the “reviews” section for it
to be properly located, but he says it’s not a review,
and acknowledges that he can’t give it an actual score.
it’s more of an opinion piece than a review.
which i fully acknowledge is a sentence that doesn’t make any sense.
G:  exactly. especially because at polygon,
the review-writer does not choose the number score.

they write the text, then their review editor panel
agrees on a number.
and it would seem he’s written enough
for them to have done that in this case.
and it would seem he’s written enough for them
to have done that in this case.
(for context, i care not a whit about star fox games,
having no wii u and having never played a single
minute of any star fox game that preceded this one.)
J: i’m right with you on that last statement;
i’ve never played Star Fox, never owned a WiiU,
have no Nintendo feelings whatsoever.
G:  i have nintendo feelings, even if
they’re currently in hibernation.

i never played too much wii, but goddamn
if their mario games weren’t fucking stellar.
i am hoping the NX delivers because when
nintendo is on their game no one can touch them.
J:  it should also be noted that i’m not sure
anybody had any strong feelings about this
particular title leading up to its release.
i don’t recall reading any super-exciting preview coverage of it.
which is to say: he’s not shitting on Uncharted 4.
not saying that Uncharted 4 might not deserve it! who knows?
G: well, it’s a pretty venerable franchise.
i’m not sure how big its following is, but
i’d bet that there’s a very passionate core of star foxers.
J: but rather that this isn’t necessarily AS big
a deal as it might seem, even if he’s shitting
on a first-party Nintendo game.
G:  no i agree, it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all.

to me.
just made me roll my eyes pretty damn hard.

A New Tune, and The Same Old Story

MUSIC:  Not other people’s, but my own!  Yes, I’ve finally gotten my recording studio set up again – I disassembled everything when my kid was born in order to make extra room (and also to make sure he couldn’t knock anything over), but that’s just a convenient excuse for me saying “I’m too exhausted to be creative right now.”  I’ve been wanting to get back to work for a long time, and the other day I decided that I’d procrastinated for too long.

Now, I’m not necessarily going to be posting everything that I end up making – I gotta save some stuff for the album I want to make, after all – but I am going to post bits and bobs every once in a while.

This particular loop is basically the first thing I’ve recorded in… almost 2 years, I think.  This is mostly a proof-of-concept, that I could successfully loop something in a 5/4 time signature, while also serving as proof that I still know how all my software works.  I guess I’m mostly just pleased that it’s not terrible.  It’s obviously going to need some further development, but in any event there’s something about this in its current state that’s pleasing to me.

Pity, though – while I’m relieved that my MacBook still works and that I remember how to use Logic, it seems that my external hard drive is dead, and so all the rough drafts I’d recorded since 2011 (some of which are pretty good, actually) are going to remain in the rough draft form I left them in unless I re-record them all from scratch.  Perhaps I’ll upload those to Soundcloud as well, just so that they can exist in some form beyond my iTunes library.

GAMES:  When I’m in need of a recording break, I’m continuing on with Far Cry 4.  I’ll find a tower I need to unlock, or a base to liberate, and then once those are over, I’ll save/quit.  The individual arcs to each of these events are enjoyable enough, but the game is rapidly becoming overstuffed with random side-stuff, and at this point I have absolutely no idea where I’m supposed to go in order to continue the story.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing, given that what I’ve seen of the story so far is kinda dumb, and in any case the game is so tonally all over the place that I’d much rather make my own way than try to engage with the game in any serious way.  I’m mostly focusing on trying to finish crafting all the stuff I need to craft, which requires liberating towers in order to open up the map to see where the various necessary materials are, and then I just hope I don’t die along the way.

Also:  I’m always a sucker for a match-3 RPG, and to that end I must recommend Hero Emblems on iOS ($2.99), which is surprisingly deep for one of these sorts of things – there’s an element of strategy involved where you must think offensively and defensively, all the while setting up combos and match-4s and the like.  Plus, the writing is pretty charming thus far, and I almost always skip past the writing in these sorts of things.  (Also, the King’s name is Henry, so.  GOTY, is all I’m saying.)

I have no opinion on today’s Nintendo news.  A new 3DS?  Of course.  Would I be able to play the new Majora’s Mask on my old 3DS XL?  Have I even turned my 3DS on in the last year, ever since I was so thoroughly disappointed by the new Mario Golf?  Meh, I say.  The impending re-release of Grim Fandango is way more important to me than anything Nintendo’s got to offer.

Weekend Recap: Nintendo, Broken Age, a lack of fantastic newness

1.  The big news story on Friday was Nintendo’s horrible, no-good, very bad earnings report, and the subsequent discussion, hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth on the big sites and Twitter was more or less focused on how Nintendo can turn things around.  I sometimes feel like I’m the wrong person to comment about anything Nintendo related, being that I never had a Nintendo system as a kid and so I don’t feel any particular pull towards the company; and yet, now that I think about it, I think I might very well be the perfect person to comment about what Nintendo needs to do.

*  This sounds insane, I know, but the first Nintendo-built hardware I ever owned was not an NES, SNES, Gameboy, Super Gameboy, N64 or Gamecube – it was, in fact, a DS.  And I mainly bought it for Nintendogs, thinking that my wife might get a kick out of it – we were dog-less at the time, and I thought it might help scratch that itch.  The DS was a great system by the time I got my hands on it – it had a really diverse lineup of games, and those games seemed to take full advantage of the DS’s strange setup (which, ironically, made the system feel less strange the more you played with it; in fact, the DS probably helped pave the way for the acceptance of the “second screen”).

I bought (and then regretted buying) a Wii; I bought (and enjoy, sorta) a 3DS; I have absolutely no desire to buy a WiiU.  I have no desire to buy a WiiU because: (1) there hasn’t been any significant new first-party IP in years, which means that if you buy a new Nintendo console you know exactly what you’re going to get, which is a bunch of Mario-themed games, a Zelda, maybe a Metroid, a Super Smash Brothers, and that’s more or less it, and so if you don’t really care about those franchises, there’s nothing to look forward to; and (2) there is no third-party support at all, which makes the prospect of owning just a Nintendo console incredibly limiting.

New IP is a risky business, of course, and considering that there are still rabid fans for their existing franchises, it seems like the best thing for Nintendo to do is stay the course, continue iterating and reiterating on what the fans already know and love, and hope that one of them does really well.

The lack of third-party support, though… that’s the killer.  (That’s what ultimately led to the death of the Dreamcast – once EA stopped putting out Madden and the rest of its sports titles, that pretty much ended other third-party prospects.)  Because if you (like me) don’t particularly care about Mario or Zelda, there’s literally no reason to own a Nintendo console – nobody’s porting their games over, and the ones that do don’t really know how to take advantage of the WiiU’s peculiar hardware.  (With the notable exception of ZombiiU, of course, which is a game I haven’t played.)

I won’t pretend to know anything about game development, but even I can see that Nintendo seems to be operating in some sort of tech bubble, wholly unaware of the innovations made by its competitors.  One only needs to look at Nintendo’s online services to figure out just how behind the times they are.  This Eurogamer feature written by an anonymous third-party developer goes into some pretty jaw-dropping detail about how difficult it is to develop a WiiU title, from a wide variety of angles – there’s one quote in particular, though, that’s been attracting a great deal of attention:

The discussion started off well enough and covered off our experiences with the hardware and (slow) toolchain and then we steered them towards discussing when the online features might be available. We were told that the features, and the OS updates to support them, would be available before the hardware launch, but only just. There were apparently issues with setting up a large networking infrastructure to rival Sony and Microsoft that they hadn’t envisaged.

This was surprising to hear, as we would have thought that they had plenty of time to work on these features as it had been announced months before, so we probed a little deeper and asked how certain scenarios might work with the Mii friends and networking, all the time referencing how Xbox Live and PSN achieve the same thing. At some point in this conversation we were informed that it was no good referencing Live and PSN as nobody in their development teams used those systems (!) so could we provide more detailed explanations for them?

That’s bad enough.  The developer’s conclusions about the WiiU’s failure, though, seem to mirror my own:

[…]I’d like to highlight some interesting points that have been on my mind recently. Firstly, third-party support. Do you remember all the hype surrounding the Wii U launch? All those third parties showing videos of existing games that they were going to bring to the Wii U? Whatever happened to a lot of those games?

After the initial flurry of game titles a lot of the studios quietly backed away from their initial statements and announced, with minimal press, that they were in fact not going to make a Wii U version. The reasons behind a particular title not appearing on the Wii U are all pure speculation, but I personally think that a combination of:

  • Previous development experience using the toolchain and hardware put off development teams from making another title on Wii U.
  • The technical and feature support from Nintendo were lacking for third-party studios. There was a feeling internally that if you weren’t a first-party development studio, you were largely ignored by Nintendo, as we were superficial to their profits. Internally developed titles would save Nintendo and we were just there to add depth to the games catalogue.
  • The sales figures for the Wii U console were not looking that good soon after launch. There was a lot of confusion in the general population around the launch as most people thought that the Wii U was some kind of add-on to the Wii, they didn’t know that it was a new console. This lack of awareness probably contributed to the console not getting off to the start that Nintendo would have hoped and put off studio from developing on the hardware.
  • Nintendo also fell victim to bad timing. A few months after the console launched the next-gen hype train stepped up a gear as Sony announced the PlayStation 4, with Microsoft joining the fray a few months later. Don’t forget that many of the larger studios would have known about the hardware months before it was announced, well before the Wii U hardware actually launched.

So, these larger studios had a choice. Would they develop a port of an existing game to a console with limited capabilities and limited market penetration? Or put their teams to work on developing new features and concepts for the “real” next-gen consoles that were going to be launched that year? When you look at it this way, the choice isn’t that hard.


Doubtless, the first-party developers at Nintendo will make the hardware sing – they always do – but the situation looks grim for those of us in third-party development, with the opportunity to progress on the hardware held back by both the quality of the tools and the lack of financial reward for tailoring our code to the strengths of the hardware. So where does that leave the Wii U?

I didn’t mean to quote so much!  The whole article is worth a good read and does a great job of articulating the myriad of problems the WiiU faces, if reading about such things is something you’re interested in.

2.  As for me:  not a lot of gaming for a 3-day weekend.  I basically inched along in Broken Age and sped through a bunch more AC4 on the PS4.

I am… having trouble staying engaged in Broken Age, sorry to say.  It’s beautiful and charming and witty and very sweet, of course, and so that’s all wonderful, but… I don’t know if it’s the game, or if it’s me, or what, but I’m just not feeling all that inclined towards staying with it.  I’ve reached a point in both stories where the path for each story has become somewhat non-linear, and I suppose not knowing what to do next is a little intimidating.  (I felt the same way at various points in Grim Fandango, for what it’s worth, and I love the hell out of that game.)

I’ve only supported 3 things on Kickstarter; a friend’s film project, a second sequel to one of my favorite films of all time (Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool), and Broken Age.  There’s been lots written about Kickstarter and the psychology of donations and the service’s various up- and down-sides (this Kotaku feature is but the latest), and that’s all well and good; I supported the things I supported because I’m fans of the creators and wanted to see their work succeed.  I don’t necessarily feel “ownership” over these projects; in the specific case of Broken Age, I didn’t want to watch the making-of stuff, or see anything about the game’s development, because I wanted the experience to be unspoiled.  All I did was to give them the money I’d have given them anyway, except that in this case I was helping the game actually get made.

So I don’t necessarily come to the game with unusual expectations, is what I’m trying to say.  That being said, I have high expectations for anything that has Tim Schafer’s name on it, because I’m a huge fan of his and most of everything he’s ever made has been something I’ve enjoyed greatly; funding the game on Kickstarter wouldn’t have changed that.  Getting a chance to play a new game in Tim’s old creative wheelhouse should be something special and celebrated.

Perhaps it’s simply that I don’t enjoy old school point-and-click adventure games the way I used to, no matter how lovingly crafted they appear to be.  Even with Telltale’s recent resurgence in games like The Walking Dead and the Fables game, I’m not drawn to them the way I might’ve been a few years ago; I can’t explain why, other than that I start to get fidgety and anxious after a while.  I suppose I should explore this in depth at some point.

In any event, yeah – I’m a little over an hour into Broken Age.  The girl is in the cloud town; the boy has escaped his room and is making further plans with the wolf guy.  Normally I’d feel OK in writing a “First Few Hours” post at this point in a game, but where Broken Age is concerned I feel like I should play through this first half before making any formal declarations.  And like I said above, right now I’m having trouble staying involved in the game, and I don’t know if that’s my fault or the game’s.

As for AC4… well, I’m playing it primarily because I want to feel like I didn’t waste my money buying a PS4.  I kept almost downloading Battlefield 4 and Need For Speed Rivals and then chickening out at the last minute, mostly because I don’t want to spend $120 on games that I’m playing simply to have something to play.  Fortunately, AC4 looks and feels so much better on the PS4 than it did on my PC that the experience is largely positive; and if it feels repetitive, well, I am finding that I’m going through it a lot faster (because I know what I’m doing).

My rental copy of Battlefield 4 shipped today; that should arrive by Thursday, and so I’ve saved $60.  I’m not sure if I’m going to wait for Need for Speed, or keep my rental queue clear for Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.  I’m maybe inclined towards waiting for Tomb Raider, because (as with AC4), it’s a game I like a lot, but more prettier.

E3 2013: Nintendo and the morning after

As per usual, I missed most of the Nintendo briefing due to the day job.  The little I saw, though, didn’t interest me all that much – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I am not, nor have I ever been, a Nintendo fanboy.  I suppose I was hoping to see some new, exciting stuff for the 3DS, but from my vantage point Nintendo isn’t all that worried about the 3DS – it’s the WiiU that needs all the TLC it can get, and that’s what was mostly talked about this morning.  But, again, since I don’t particularly care about first-party Nintendo titles, and since I can realistically only afford one of the new consoles, I would’ve needed something tremendous and undeniably exciting in order to turn my head away from Sony.

Speaking of which.

The question for every E3, for the last however many years, has always ultimately boiled down to this:  “Who won?”  And for the most part, every console’s fans could make reasonable sounding arguments that their console won that particular year, and flame wars and impolite discourse would ensue, as per usual.  So it strikes me as highly unusual to see a clear, unambiguous, unanimously decided winner crowned even before E3 officially starts.  

What Sony managed to pull off last night was unprecedented.  They fired their shots with grace, tact and humility – and they did not miss.  And as much as I get confused by cheering audiences during what are supposed to be press-only events, the excitement in the room seemed genuine and sincere.  It’s not just that Sony delivered good news; it’s that they delivered the right news, at the right time, and completely owned the moment.  Twitter was exploding once those announcements started rolling out.   We all gasped as the former champion-turned-underdog delivered one knock-out punch after another.  And then, when they announced the $399 price, pretty much everybody wrote “Game Over” in their notebooks.

I did, in fact, go to sleep last night without pre-ordering a PS4, though I must admit I was dangerously close to doing so.  (I  even got as far as putting it in my Amazon cart and trying to figure out where I wanted it shipped.)   There’s still a lot (well, all) of E3 left, and I’d like to think there are some surprises left as far as console-exclusives are concerned.  So even if Sony has “won”, I’ve still not seen any games that I need to put on my must-play list.

And, again – even if Sony has won, I still can’t see myself committing to a purchase until I see how the multi-console development shakes out for third-party developers.   The biggest reason why Microsoft won this last generation, in my opinion, is because, by and large, 360 versions of multi-platform games looked and played better than their PS3 counterparts.  This is why Sony’s announcement of their new partnership with Bethesda took me utterly by surprise – PS3 owners got shafted with a piss-poor port of Skyrim, and I seem to recall Fallout 3 being somewhat inferior as well, and wasn’t there a lengthy delay between the 360 version of Oblivion and the PS3?  I probably spent over 250 hours in those 3 games alone on the 360.  So for the PS4 to be getting a console version of the Elder Scrolls MMO – as well as a console exclusive beta – well, that’s huge.  That’s Sony saying to Bethesda that they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that PS4 owners get the experience they’re pay for and expect to receive.

Now, on the other hand, it will be very interesting indeed to see how Microsoft answers, if at all.  Their messaging ever since the console reveal has been inconsistent, wishy-washy, and wildly tone-deaf to the consumer; the only thing that has been clear is that they are aiming to please publishers.  Nobody wants Kinect; even people who have Kinect (like me) don’t want it or use it.  The Xbox One will continue to be the primary home for multiplayer FPS games, and, so, good for those people.  They are a large audience, they will eat that shit up.  But there’s so much more that games are capable of, and Sony seemed hell-bent on letting us know that they are intent on courting developers of all sizes in an effort to make their library as diverse as possible.

Very much looking forward to the rest of the show – my RSS feed is exploding and I must get caught up!

random ramblings

1.  As mentioned a few posts back, I’m in something of a spending freeze for the foreseeable future.  That being said, I must admit that I’ve started to notice a subtle but stubborn itch in my brain that’s making me want to maybe get a Nintendo 3DS.  There are a couple reasons for this.  For one thing, the software library isn’t totally terrible anymore, and there are a few games coming up that I really want to play (Paper Mario, Professor Layton, etc.).  For another, I’m finding that I’m having a hard time staying engrossed in my iOS games.  I’ve bought a few RPGs for my iPhone but I almost never play them, and I find that if a game doesn’t let me listen to my own music (or podcasts or Spotify or whatever), I tend to ignore them, too.  Whereas back when my DS was in regular rotation, I’d absolutely plug in my headphones and allow myself to be fully engaged in the whole experience.  (Obviously, puzzle games like Picross don’t really need sound, but you get my point.)  Of course, yesterday’s announcement of the iPhone 5, coupled with my eligibility for a free upgrade in December, means that given my budgetary restraints, I can only choose one, and I am MOST DEFINITELY getting that new iPhone.  (And I’m still not ever getting a Vita.)

1a.  As I was writing the paragraph you just read, Lifehacker came out with a relevant article titled “How To Get Off The Upgrade Treadmill.”  So, there’s that.  (Still getting an iPhone 5, though, so there.)

2.  Speaking of Nintendo (and upgrading technology), I do not give a FUCK about the WiiU.

3.  My wife goes out of town next weekend, and I think I’m going to take that opportunity to move my PC tower into the living room, hook it up to my 40″ HDTV, and give Steam’s Big Picture Mode a workout.  I’m kind of afraid that I’m going to love the shit out of it, because there’s no way I can keep my PC in the living room without making my wife and my dogs very unhappy.

4.  Mark of the Ninja continues to impress.  Last night I figured out whatever the hell it was I was doing wrong and got past the figurative wall I’d run up against, getting a new ability in the process that will MOST DEFINITELY come in handy when I go back and try to ace the previous levels.  Goddamn, that game is great.

5.  Speaking of stealth games, I have a question:  do people actually enjoy the cutscenes in Metal Gear games, or do they enjoy them ironically, like they would with, say, The Room?  I bring this up because the Giant Bomb crew talked about the upcoming Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes on last week’s Bombcast and they all seemed to acknowledge that the franchise as a whole is fucking insane, but enjoyably so, but the key phrase is still:  “fucking insane.”  Which it is.  (Feel free to read my posts about MGS4 which break down that game’s specific insanity in much greater detail.)   And yet I’ve come across plenty of people – fans, journalists, etc. – who take that franchise very seriously, and who get very, very defensive when people point out how ridiculous it is.   Ultimately, I found myself enjoying the gameplay of MGS 4 quite a lot, and was genuinely awed at the graphics and presentation, but I was also in utter disbelief that anybody could take that game’s narrative even remotely seriously.  Kojima is an enigma to me – I have no idea if he has any self-awareness, which is why I don’t know if I’m supposed to enjoy his stories as the camp that they clearly are, or if he’s actually sincere about this craziness.

A quick word or two about the 3DS

I don’t have a lot of friends at my day job.  I’m not complaining, that’s just the way it is.  And it’s partly by design, I suppose, because the job was never meant to be something I actually took seriously, and so I never bothered to socialize.

In any event, I’ve become friendly with one of the mail guys; he’d noticed I was a gamer from all the Gamefly envelopes in my outbox, and recognized me as a kindred spirit, and so whenever there’s a dull moment, we talk games.

Tonight, he asked me what I thought about the 3DS.

I haven’t really given the 3DS all that much thought, to be honest.  Or, rather, I have, and it’s just that I already know that there’s no reason at all for me to get it any time soon.  If at all.  I have not bought into the 3D hype, to be honest – “Avatar” was the only movie that’s ever really gotten the 3D right, but I kept having to move my head around in order for the glasses to work properly, and let’s face it – it was a crap movie.  I’m a self-professed graphics whore, but even I know that it takes a lot more than just snazzy graphics to make a game (or movie) actually good.  (Exhibit A:  Crysis 2.)

But it’s more than just the 3D, is the thing.  For one thing, there’s nothing I want to play on it.  The e-shop doesn’t launch until May, but even then, Nintendo doesn’t really have the greatest track record when it comes to downloadable games.  (Exhibit B:  Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann has a long-running feature devoted to just how terrible Nintendo’s downloadable content is.)

Furthermore, if the original DS is any indication, Nintendo’s probably going to release a newer, smaller, better 3DS in a year anyway, and maybe by that point there might even be something worth playing on it.

There’s a larger issue, though, and that’s simply that Nintendo apparently doesn’t care about me.  I don’t fit into their target demographic.  I bought a Wii simply to experience Super Mario Galaxy, and while it was an amazing experience, it was also the only experience that wasn’t a complete waste of time.  I ended up giving my Wii to my mother-in-law, and I haven’t thought about it ever since – indeed, I hadn’t thought about it for months except that it was taking up space on my table.

Likewise, I own a DS, but there hasn’t been anything released in at least 6 months that looked even remotely interesting to me.  And it’s not that I’m some sort of snob or something – I mean, I am a snob, sure – but I just can’t get excited about Pokemon or any of the My Little Pony crap that keeps getting shoveled out every other week.  To be honest, there aren’t really any decent puzzle games getting released for it anymore, and those are the kinds of games that I end up spending most of my DS time with in the first place.

Right now, my handheld of choice is my iPod Touch.  It’s got a huge library of quality titles, most of which are under $5, PLUS I can listen to my own music and email and Twitter and Facebook and RSS feeds and all the rest of it.  It’s a much more complete and robust experience, and it clearly has the capability for better graphics, if stuff like Rage HD and Infinity Blade are any indication.

In any event, I told my friend to relax and wait a bit.  The new iPhones will be out in June; the new PSP will be detailed at E3, one would assume; and then it’s just a hop, skip and jump away from next spring, when the inevitable 3DS redesign will be announced, and we can go through this whole sordid business again.

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