Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wii U's 2nd screen, It's not too much

I have grown tired of reading people complain that the Wii U will fail because they think looking at a 2nd screen will be too much for them.

This is by far the stupidest argument against the Wii U for any adult.  We are constantly engaged in more than a single screen at once, so why is this too much?

To drive a car safely, you must constantly monitor as many as 6 "screens" at once which are offering you a variety of data that needs to be considered.  Rearview mirror, side-view mirrors, dashboard, GPS, and the main windshield.  That's not to mention the side windows we use to check blindspots.  Oh, and for those of us who choose to, texting while driving adds yet another screen, even if it's illegal in my state as well as many others.

Perhaps some people can't handle all that safely, and they choose not to drive.  However, to handle just one more screen, I think most of us can handle it without breaking any undo sweat.

In all fairness, perhaps I see this as not that big of a deal due to my constant multitasking that I currently undertake, watching TV or movies while posting on my blog for one.  My computer screen is often cramped with too many windows open at once as I juggle multiple tasks.  I once had my parents basement set up in what was lovingly deemed ADD central, 3-4 TVs running at once, usually with at least 2 constantly playing Simpsons or Adult Swim as I played video games on a 3rd, while offering advice to a friend playing something else on the 4th.  It really is just nostalgia at this point as we only have 1 TV in our apartment now.  And as much as things change,  they stay the same.  We may only have 1 TV, but my wife and I each have our own laptops we use, and the iPad, and her old laptop that occasionally comes out, then our smartphones.  When I count those up, I may have surpassed ADD central with the various new devices powering our living room.

Needless to say, the Wii U will fit right in.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wii U, I'm salivating already.

Just call me a Pavlonian Dog, cause I'm super stoked for the Wii U launch next week!

While I have only gotten my hands on the in-store demo of Rayman so far, but the potential of multi-screen gaming has been enticing to me since before the Wii U was announced at E3 2011.

My favorite example of multi-screen gaming to this point is PacMan Vs. for the GC.  It utilized the GBA as a second screen for one player to play as PacMan, and the other three played on the TV as the ghosts with a limited view directly around their character.  It was one of the best games for the GC and I hope to see a port on the Wii U sometime soon.

Now as I've pre-ordered the Deluxe edition of the Wii U, I'm going to try to make the most of the Deluxe Digital Promotion.  That said, I'm most likely going to try to download everything for my Wii U, at least till it ends in December of 2014, unless I can get a really awesome deal on physical games.

I thought I would breakdown which games I'm looking most forward to and why.  That doesn't mean I won't get other games before some of these, but as there are no reviews out yet, this is all I have to go on.

Let's jump on in then!

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate:  I've logged over 800 hours on Tri since my original Wii became corrupt and had to be sent away.  That doesn't even include the hours spent before!  This is roughly twice the content of Tri, including a bunch of new monsters and sub-species, new weapons (ok old to the series, but missing from Tri), new areas, new armor, new weapons, new quests, and a whole difficulty (called G rank).  To put it lightly, I will get well over 1000 hours of gameplay out of this one game alone.  A worth while gaming investment, but as my brother is getting his Wii U purely to play this game, it will be one of the most enjoyable as well.  The joy of hunting monsters together really is quite rewarding.  This is the only game that I can confidently say "I WILL BE BUYING" regardless if it's only available in physical form.  I'm looking for it March of 2013.

Little Inferno: Made by an indie development team which contains members of 2DBoy, this just looks like it's going to be lots of fun.  Do I know the purpose of this?  Nope.  Do I know what you will do?  NO CLUE!  Will it be awesome?  You can bet your hat!  Just watch that teaser and tell me you don't want to know more!  Plus, I'm all about encouraging indie developers.

Game and Wario:  I have loved the WarioWare series since the GC days!  There has only been one bad game in the series.  They are always silly but super fun games of the most frantic sort.  The potential of the Wii U gamepad with such an eclectic collection is sure to be amazing!

Trine 2: Director's Cut:  Another indie game, this one is a remake of the critically acclaimed puzzle platformer with some extra levels and powers to use when switching between your knight, wizard, and thief.

Cloudberry Kingdom:  Yet another indie game, this one is a multiplatform release which should launch soon.  Only Betas are out right now.  The game is a product of an AI they built to randomly generate 2D platforming levels in the same vein as Mario.  It goes the gambit from easy to the masochistic.  Despite what initial shock comes from looking at those levels, each and every level can be done.

Rayman Legends:  Yet another Rayman game, but this one is designed to make use of the Wii U gamepad.  The musical levels sold me on this one!  I'm looking forward to the great multiplay action this game is bound to be addictive!

Zombie U:  Touted as the Hardcore game for the Wii U.  Sure there will be other hardcore games to play as well, but this is the only one at launch that is an exclusive to the Wii U.  Permanent deaths make the experience you gained extra painful as you have to go back out to slay your zombified former avatar who is still holding your items.  Designed from the ground up to make use of the Wii U gamepad, this one I'm keeping my eyes close on.

New Super Mario Bros. U:  It is a new 2D Super Mario game, so you know it's going to be good.  No question about that, and most likely to be available in Digital form on day 1.

Aliens Colonial Marines:  While there are lots of games that will be released on the PS3, 360, and Wii U, this one is potentially going to be one of the best!  Just the way they plan to make use of the gamepad is going to make the Wii U version superior to any other.  Plus, it's Aliens!  Not just any alien, but Aliens Aliens!

Mighty Switch Force! HD:  Another remake, this one from the 3DS, with redrawn animations, new content, and the like.  Track down the bad guys and make it to the end of the stage before time runs out or you take 3 hits.  You can jump, shoot, and push blocks in or out of the background to further your progress.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2:  Yet another port, but with enhanced features.  The Tekken series has been one of the best fighters around and my 2nd favorite 3D figheter.  Sure I prefer the Soul Calibur series, but Namco isn't offering me that.

Scribblenauts Unlimited:  The original game in this series was amazing!  You had to solve puzzles with your imagination and whatever you could think of.  Super Scribblenauts moved away from the puzzles a bit, and I'm afraid that this one may stray too far from those puzzles as well.  The ability to make anything you want really is a fun concept though.  Going to have to try this one myself before I make the commitment of buying it though.

While I would love to get more games, these are probably going to be more than I can afford both in money as well as in time to spend on them.  At least for the time being.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The end of Video Games as we know them

Perhaps it's due to the recent rumors putting the next consoles from Sony and Microsoft into 2014, and the fact that the Wii U has such a huge head start.  Perhaps it has to do with the ever changing dynamic of how we play games on other devices besides just our traditional consoles.  Or it could be in the not so silent death throughs that the traditional controller are going through as touch, motion, and voice controls become more and more saturated in the market.

The moral of the story is that videogames are changing, and perhaps it's for the best.  The traditional controller has held back the evolution of the video game for too long now and by supplementing in touch, motion, and voice commands it can finally be phased out.  In no version of virtual reality are you holding a controller, so why are we clinging to them like mice on a piece of drift wood out at sea?  Overzealous use of new technology which doesn't have the proven speed and accuracy of the traditional controller.  But when these new means of control are implemented in ways that take into account their limitations, they are truly inspiring.

How we interact is only part of this shift though.  Gaming has moved from dedicated consoles to our phones and other devices.  Can these really provide the same types of deep engrossing experiences that a console or even handheld console can provide?  The power is there.  The 3rd party support is there.  But it never quite reaches the level of play seen on a dedicated system.  The reason is all in planning, gaming on those devices is an after thought, like brick breaker on an old-cell phone.  Sure it works, you can spend time with it, and with a few select examples it works as well if not better than a console (PvZ).  But they never provide the deep experiences that can draw us into a whole new world, where you forget for a little while that you arn't in some magical far away land.

The same way a great book can transport you to far distant worlds you have never been, a great game can do the same.  Simply touching a screen is not enough to do this.  You don't feel like you have the kind of direct control that is offered in so many console games.  Anything where you play god (PvZ, Field Runners, etc) isn't going to be as affected by this disconnect because you expect your actions to be carried out on your behalf.  But when you are directly taking control of the character, these types of experiences feel off.  Additional control options are required to do so, and must be implemented from the start for that purpose.  This is why the new Sony Xperia should be one to watch.

Finally, we may be seeing the end of traditionally defined console generations.  Nintendo claimed that the direction of the Wii was not to compete with the 360 and PS3, "too many powerful dinosaurs" yadda yadda yadda.  When a system launches, early adaptors move first.  The games offered won't push too many boundaries of what the system can do, but will be markedly better ports than the other systems out.  As systems hit their stride with large libraries of quality games and developers grow more accustomed to the hardware and start producing real master-pieces, this is the time when the majority of consoles owners buy.  Finally in the autumn of a systems years, the hardware is pushed to the max and the system slowly disappears as it is overshadowed by the next generation.  What if system launches were staggered by a few years?  At every point I listed above, what if another system where at each of the other points?  Every system would retain dominance for a time, then full of proven games, and finally slowly overshadowed.  Perhaps this is a crazy idea.  Perhaps this idea could support two companies vying for our money, but three?

Certainly not when systems are abandoned before the launch of their successors.  For shame Nintendo.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Post-Wedding Rant

The wedding is finally done!  Now all we have to do is send off all these "Thank You's" to those who gave us stuff.

So it was a wonderful ceremony and the reception was fine.  My wife looked beautiful, and we are now acting just like we did before all these silly wedding planning things got in the way except now we have fancy rings!

There were a few issues which arose though.  Nothing major, but issues I would like to rant about.

First my contacts.  I don't wear contacts very often, but in planning for my wedding I wanted to wear contacts.  I started planning early on that, over 3 months in advance!  After ordering about 7 different contacts, we came to the set I got married in.  Most of the lenses took over a week to come in, and then I wore for only a few minutes before the next set was ordered.  This was my first time wearing RGP contacts or Hard contacts, so I had to build myself up to wearing them.  Only a few hours a day and they needed to come out.  Since I'm not in the habit of wearing them, and many days at work were too chaotic to have the time to put them in or take them out part way into my shift,  this process took even longer than it should have.  I thought I finally had the set good to go and was wearing them for about 10 hours a day when they started fogging over.  After trying different cleaners and cleaning them multiple times a day, we switched again to yet another brand.  This happened two weeks before the wedding, meaning the last week before the wedding I had to start all over building up my tolerance for wearing these things.  Haven't worn them since my wedding night.

Next the caterer.  Because they were up there getting food ready the day before, and we were up there getting the dinning hall ready to be a reception hall there may have been some toe stepping.  What took the cake though was when my mother (who showed up later then the rest of us) came, the caterer turned her away and told her she was at the wrong wedding!  Camp is not the place for good or even decent cell-phone coverage, so my mother then was frantically calling me driving around in the middle of no-where trying to find where she was supposed to go.  When I finally did see her, she was literally in tears over the ordeal.  Fast forward to the reception the next day.  The bridal party snuck out of the reception to go take more pictures down at the beach since we didn't get all our pictures done before the reception.  My mother-in-law comes down and tells us that the caterer is claiming that she feed 135 people, 45 more than we agreed upon.  Now I may not have personally known every person there, but since we only had 90 chairs, and there were open seats and I knew at least 3 of my friends bailed on us at the last minute, there was no way there was even 90 people there, let alone 135.  Apparently my mother-in-law tried to explain that to her, but she stuck to her guns and said they ran out of plates and served an additional 45 people on paper plates.  The first argument was "what about those people who came back up for seconds?" cause let's be honest, most of my family can eat more than your average army.  Oh no, no one came back up for seconds, they knew everyone who came through.  Finally one of my wife's uncles who works in a restaurant suggested they count the dirty plates.  Turns out there were only 45 dirty plates, they never opened the second package of plates!  I swear it's a good thing that someone else dealt with those ladies, cause I would have been screaming at them.

The ceremony did not start on time either.  Knowing my wife, I should have expected as such and just known to not worry about it.  But me being me, I am always about prompt time management and started having a mild freak out when 10 minutes after the ceremony was due to start, I heard my mother was still in her street clothes and was still playing with the hair of the bridal party!  She even went so far as to have tackled the photographer and did her hair too all while she was no where near ready herself! Meh, apparently everyone else just expected the wedding to start half an hour after we claimed it would.  I would have dealt better if every time I tried to sneak off to the dinning hall with my groomsmen to grab a prewedding beer, some one dragged me back to the chapel, reminding me yet again of how we weren't starting yet.

The music was the next less than perfect.  First for the music in the church during the ceremony.  I asked the fiancee of the Maid-of-Honor to work the stereo for me.  Just hit play, hit pause after the procession, then play one last time when the ceremony ended.  Well, the other bride's maid started to walk before he actually hit play.  Then when Graphene Girl started walking down the isle, he hit pause.  She and her father walked down the isle to silence!  My well laid plan of Ocarina of Time credit music was thwarted.  Finally after the ceremony ended, we had gotten nearly to the back of the church before the music started again!  Small little thing, I know, and whatever.  From the still photos, you would have no idea that there was an issue.

The second musical issue came during the reception.  My uncles used to be DJ's and had offered to bring up their speakers.  I had my grand plan of just hooking up my i-Pod, hitting play, and walking away.  I had spent weeks crafting playlists for dinner and then dancing after.  Well, my Uncle took it upon himself to skip those songs he had never heard of.  Sure there was plenty of music to skip a few things, but I had to specially request songs from my playlist actually be played!  Why did I bother crafting this list of music if it was going to be ignored?

The tent and chair guys were late setting up, lucky for us we had them setting up a day early.  They were also late coming to pick their stuff up too.

Since I let slip there would be no Bud Light or other crap beer served at my wedding, my family took it upon themselves to provide their own beer.  This lead to me returning a nearly full keg of beer to the brewery.  Sure everyone who drank it commented "Wow, this is really good beer."  But words don't float the keg.  At least we floated the keg I was drinking.  Alright and by floated I mean that when we got home the next day we filled two growlers and dumped out a gallon jug of ice tea to hold what was left.  On the plus side, for what I paid for the kegs after I got my deposite back, we easily drank more than it would have cost had we been at the brewery drinking it.

OK, it's off my chest and onto the internet.  Time to do the dishes.  Married life sure seems a lot like unmarried life did.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weddings should be easier than this...right?

Sorry for the lack of updates.
This wedding coming up in just over two months is apparently more work than I originally intended.  Invitations, officiants, food, decorations, guests, rings, lodging, juggling the family against our own desires.  And we still don't even have rings yet!

Graphene Girl and I really wanted our wedding to be small and low key (I was reminded by GG on review that she has been suggesting we elope), yet every time I talk to one of my parents, they keep trying to get me to invite more people.  It's not like my family isn't already huge to begin with, then they want family-friends, second-cousins, and every other distant relation who I may have had contact with in the past 30 years!

We just got our invitations and our priest in order, but we have now lost touch with our caterer.  I'm not sure what the moms may have in mind, but I'm not sure what we are going to do to make camp look less like camp.  We also have to worry about chairs, which I'm not sure where they will be coming from.  We may be able to borrow some from my grandparents, but I'm not sure how many nor how we will get them to camp.

GG has idea's for wine, but my beer selection has been partially ruined by the brewery being unable to make enough of one of their more popular beers.  Guess it's my own fault for going with a micro-brewery, but I wanted quality beers.  NO PILSNERS!  At least I get my favorite IPA, but I need a more laid back option for those who arn't accustomed to real beers.

At least I have some ideas for wedding music, particularly for the procession.  The credit music from the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time.  How much of a nerd does that make me?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I suppose it only comes naturally from watching cartoons.  You see someone do something, and then you too want to do it as well.  Why else would parents and politicians cry out for their banning or restrictions.

I speak today of the Simpsons episode "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish" where Homer eats fugu.  This has spawned a maddening search on my part to find where I can be served fugu, preferably here in the United States.  I have found a list of establishments who have licensed fugu chefs on staff, from almost 10 years ago!

For almost my whole class tonight, I have searched in vain for a more recent list of fugu sellers.  It seems that no one has bothered to make a list like this since.  Perhaps no new establishments are offering fugu, and perhaps none of these places have discontinued serving fugu either.  I doubt it, but perhaps.

What I have found is promising though.  Fugu in the U.S. must go through New York City to be inspected before it can go anywhere else.  This fugu is already cut and flash frozen in Japan, limiting risk of death to those unscrupulous enough to serve black market fugu.  Since all fugu has to go through NYC, and my fiance has an aunt in NYC, perhaps next time we go out that way, I can attempt to eat fugu.  There is also at least one restaurant in Chicago, where my fiance has yet another aunt.  So that covers the vaguest tenets of my plan.

Of the possible problems with this plan, first off the fugu season is not particularly long.  By most indicators it runs from December to early February, limiting ordering during most of the year.  Well that cuts out my next tentative trip to Chicago for the Reggie Music festival as a possible fugu trip.  Perhaps I can scout out the restaurant option in Chicago on that trip.

Well, as I have had this thought more than a few times over the course of the last decade or more, and each time it has fizzled out to no more than me going out for local non-fugu sushi, there is every chance in the world that years from now I will come back to the same plan.  Perhaps by then the toxin-free fugu which is becoming more prevalent in Japan will have made it's way over to this side of the pond.  And then I will no longer have to make special trips to far off distant cities to obtain fugu.  Perhaps by then they will no longer have to be cut in Japan first before coming into NYC for inspection and then their destined restaurant.  I may be able to eat fresh fugu which was alive no less than an hour ago with the same confidence that I could eat it today.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wii U: 8th or 7.5th generation?

Finally I reach the the third and final major upcoming console:  The Wii U.

This is the one that has the most information about it.  Of course even with a suspected release date in about 7 months, there is only a small amount of information about it actually confirmed.  Let's jump right into the rumors.

What's in a name?  Brand recognition, associated loyalty, confusion over products, a describer of the product.  All of these things and more, so it does not surprise me that Wii U may not actually be the name it is released as.  The N64 before the release was called the Ultra 64, the Wii was called Revolution till April of the year it was released.  There is still time to change the name.  Changing the name could prevent dumb people from becoming confused over which is the new console and which is the old.  Of course the same people who would make such mistakes, are just as likely to mistake the PS3 for a 360.  There is brand recognition there, but that recognition is not all positive.  The only thing that tells me that Wii U is the final name is the fact that we already have a code name for the system, "Project CafĂ©."  Well, I never much liked the name Wii, so I'm not too attached to it.  For the most part, the games would look no different if it were named "the Nintendo Pink Frilly Daisy System."  It's all about the games.  "A rose by any other name..."

Power of the Wii U is one of the most popular speculations going on currently.  Twice as powerful as the 360, less powerful than the PS3 or 360, slightly better than the PS3 and 360.  Who really knows?  Well I'm sure there are people today who know, but due to contractual mumbo jumbo they are tight lipped on the subject.  All these anonymous developers who keep ragging on a console don't even have final development kits for it!  It sure sounds like a lot of anti-Nintendo sentiment.  I find it funny how fast those rumors exploded up my internet searches, pushing sites I generally searched out onto the 2nd and even 3rd page of my searches.  Conspiracy theorists can take that how they choose.

Years ago, system generations were expected to last only for 5 years.  Each generation up till the 7th generation has followed this model.  Sure some systems would overlap, but successor consols generally were released in this fashion for the past 20 years.  I grew up thinking that technology was constantly changing, faster and faster, compounding on itself.  From that point of view almost 30 years ago now, we expected our games to evolve into totally immersive experiences where we were the controller.  Sadly, somewhere along the way, we got caught up with making the screen look as amazing as possible, but neglecting any further immersion.  Fast forward to 2006, finally someone bothered to get us back on the right track towards totally immersive gaming.  Despite what some "hardcore" gamers qualms with the method, it proved to be the success of it's generation, against conventional "wisdom" that graphical processing defined gaming.

The Wii U controller is the next step towards full immersion in gaming.  It is going to require an immense amount of processing to produce quality images on both screens at once.  Preferably it should boast enough power to utilize more than one screen.  That is a sacrifice overall, and a gamble on Nintendo's part.  However that processing power is going to exist, and developers could choose to utilize it primarily for the TV, producing better images on the main screen, sacrificing some for the controller.  Conversely, if the developer has too lofty goals of what they want to do with the controls, then of course the processor is going to seem to pale in comparison.  Your asking the system to simultaneously do twice the work either the 360 or PS3 is potentially able to display.  I expect that spec wise, the Wii U will be amazing in comparison.  When developers choose to use the controller for more immersive gaming, it will have to be made up somewhere else.  Now, excluding all that, Nintendo has only been releasing under-clocked development kits.  But when comparing an apples to apples scenario, I expect the Wii U to be amazing compared to the PS3 and 360.  Once the PS4 and 720 are released, some people are going to look at it's graphical muscle with disdain, but these same people are those who can't appreciate a game for it's gameplay.

One or more tablet controllers is the next rumor on my mind when I think about the Wii U.  I really want to see games that use up to four of those bad boys, but two is most likely the going to be the limit. Any games using more than one tablet controller is likely to have much more simplified uses for it as well.  I expect football games to display play options, basic health/positions of sports games, moves list for fighting games, and other simple HUD type material to be moved over to the tablet freeing up the main screen from the clutter.  I was going to say something about health/ammo displays for 1st person shooters, but as there are fewer and fewer shooters which even give the option of two player without online, so I'm not going to hold my breath on that note.  The less complicated the data, the more tablets the Wii U should be able to handle.  Just don't expect to see anything where the tablet is doing much more than that when using two or more.

This leads me to my next thought, which is the death of physical social gaming.  I grew up playing games NEXT to people.  You went to the arcade, your opponent was right next to you; you were at home, they were on the same couch.  This aspect of face to face gaming has been on the decline for years now.  At first it was simply a means of playing with others, even if they weren't in the same room as you.  But now a growing number of games don't even give the option of same screen multi-player!  Have we really become so greedy about how much of the screen we get?  I miss that aspect of gaming.  The Wii had some really great games to play with others, but even it had more than a few games that lacked competition with a player right next to you.  Sure somethings like bowling and golf, where alternating play is part of the game, but in any kind of a racing, fighting, or sports game it's nice to directly compete with your opponent.  I really would love to see more than one Wii Fit Board able to be used on the Wii U simultaneously.  I would have two already if they had done anything using two on the Wii.  I am hoping with this shift in gaming styles that the demos showed, that we can hope to see more people playing games together.

On the other side of the coin, Nintendo is expected to make some changes to their online structure.  Lets hope that translates to easier gaming with friends.  There are so many codes affiliated with a Wii:  from friend codes, to Mario Kart, Smash Bros., Dr. Mario, Monster Hunter, Conduit, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, it's an insane task to keep track of them all.  Then I have to register this number, and that number just to play with friends?  Just implement a single ID, to keep track of all this junk for me.  In that same respect though, I hope in part of their planning for that, it can still work around the current model.  I want to keep playing Monster Hunter, Smash Bros, Mario Kart, etc when I get my Wii U with my friends online.  At least till they release new versions.

One other thing we can expect this time around, Nintendo is working to ensure 3rd party developers make great games for the Wii U.  They are paying to give developers the tools to make really great games.  This is yet another huge step for Nintendo in it's effort to undo the damage of years of neglecting 3rd party developers.  It was at it's worst during the days of the N64, and has been slowly getting better over time.  Despite rumors of power over anonymous developers and unconnected investors speaking on behalf of developers who have never officially stated anything, there sure are a lot of 3rd party developers who not only are on board with the Wii U, but excited!

In spite of this, everyone is also looking forward to the next round of 1st party games from Nintendo.  If 3rd party support is great enough, these will only make up about 1/3 of the best games on the Wii U.  New Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros., Pikman, and Mario are all givens at this point (or actually announced.)  What other franchises can we expect?  Another new Kid Icarus, Punch Out, and Wario Ware would all be welcome additions.  But let's not forget the 2nd party games either!  Rumors of a sequel to Eternal Darkness are starting to pop up too!  What moves gaming consoles is software, and the Wii U is going to have more than it's share.

Which brings me to addressing another qualm people have with Nintendo.  Some people complain about how their consoles are being carried by 1st party sequels.  Now rarely does Nintendo take one of their big franchises and release more than one game per system cycle.  Perhaps this lack of over-saturation (which other people also complain about) is why Nintendo 1st party games always rock.  How many Twisted Metal games did they release for the PS1? 5.  Only 2 each on the PS2 and PSP.  We are actually still waiting on our first one for the PS3.  Sony is finally getting the hint, that you can't keep milking your big franchises till they are a husk of a series that no one bothers buying.  Otherwise you ram them down people's throats till they get sick of them and stop buying (Guitar Hero anyone?)  One is a good number of games per franchises per system cycle.  Two if you have some really awesome idea's that didn't get implemented into the first game.  This helps keep the series from going stagnant.  Oh sure, there are those people who claim that the umteenth COD or Madden is totally worth it.  But if you can't do more than provide me with some new maps and an extra weapon or two, it doesn't deserve to be a new game.  Sounds like a good case for Downloadable content.

Releasing Downloadable content for any game over the lifetime of a system should be the norm.  Why can't sports games just have DLC updates to include the new players/teams/stats?  Heck, you can even incentivise such updates even further by then allowing players to take previous years teams through the new season against all the new teams (I keep telling people the 2010 Pistons could beat the tar out of the 2012 team.)  They already include a lot of these classic teams in games, this is at least a worth while use of DLC.  On the flip-side, DLC has however become something of a crutch to developers recently, it feels like it's becoming just another way to milk a few more bucks out of us gamers.  In most cases, DLC should NOT be available day one.  In fact, unless there is a horrible bug in the game (which itself shouldn't happen, but let's say it does,) I feel there should be little to no DLC for at least two months following the release of a game.  OK, I can be talked down to a month, just cause some players have so little of a life outside of games that they are done with everything in a month no matter how much content is in the game.  Despite my own concerns of the over use of DLC, we can expect to see ever increasing amounts of DLC.  Why?  Because publishers see it as a great way to make an extra buck.  Welcome to capitalism comrade.  With the NFC capabilities of the Wii U, there is even greater potential for us to be nickel and dimed to death.  I question how useful NFC really could be.

Does it sound like I'm contradicting myself by asking for more DLC, yet criticizing how much we are currently getting?  Here's my point:  DLC should be used to increase the life of a game rather than release rehashed sequels with little to no changes in gameplay.  DLC should not be simply a manner of sucking more cash from us.  If that game disc still has room on it, and the content is ready by day one, put it on the disc!  If you already put the content on the disc, don't charge for it!  If it's not done yet, or it's too large to put on the disc, AND it's absence does not negatively impact how that game should be viewed, then release it later as DLC.  Perhaps if Activision followed this mentality, there would still be updates on Guitar Hero World Tour.

At least we have not heard any talk on Nintendo trying to stifle our used games.  Then again, just cause they haven't mentioned it yet, doesn't mean that it's not on the table.  I doubt Nintendo will jump on that band wagon, but till the Wii U is out we have to consider it's potential.  Nintendo loses just as much money on used games as anyone else.  The only thing they gain by not installing stricter controls over used games is the good will from the consumer.  I never really thought that had a dollar value to it, but apparently it must, or no one would be talking about this.

One other thing that we can expect the Wii U not to do:  Blu-Ray.  "Why not?" you may ask.  Nintendo fancies itself a gaming company.  Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo are focused purely on videogames and nothing else.  If it's not a game, don't expect it to be related to the Wii U.  If they can implement non-gaming aspects without adding cost or taking away from the primary gaming experience, then it may happen (Hulu, Netflix, Books on your Controller).  That Blu-Ray drive on the other hand, would be an additional cost which is not in line with ensuring a quality gaming console.  In essence it's the same in Nintendo's mind as asking them to attach a blender to the system so you can use it in your kitchen.  Yes, I know some people want to have an all in one media device for gaming, movies, social networking, news, daily planner, music player, alarm clock, DVR, back scratcher, that can do your taxes.  They unfortunately will have to look elsewhere for their swiss army knife of entertainment.  Nintendo is going to release a gaming console, PERIOD.

Finally to answer the question posed as the title of this post, "8th generation or 7.5th generation?"  For something to be considered .5 of a generation, it really has to be an add on to the current generation of that is ment to prevent an aging system from becoming obsolete so quickly or making up for some deficiency.  The Sega CD, 32X, Wii Motion Plus, Kinect, and Move are all .5 of their respective generations.  The Wii U will be backward compatible with the 7th generation, but is a stand alone console which does not require the previous console to function, thereby making it part of the 8th generation of consoles.  Once the rest of the generation is released, we will see how it stacks up performance wise.  However, that is not the measure of a generation of consoles.  At no point has there ever been a void of new console releases for as long as we see today.  The unless Microsoft and Sony are going to really surprise us at E3 this year, the Wii U will be the first console of the 8th generation.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Part 2 of the Speculation Trilogy

Today's post will outline what rumors abound around the next Microsoft console which is heir to the the X-box moniker.

Names floating around the web include 720, Durango, and Loop.  While Loop actually sounds like a realistic name, I'm going to continue to use 720 since it's shorter until such a time that Microsoft officially releases a name.  Now all these extra names does beg the question of why, and some rumors point to more than one system.  A splitting of the X-box line into a higher end beefed out gaming console on one side and a cheaper low end casual system with Kinect integration.  I doubt this because it would put Microsoft fighting against itself in the gaming arena.  A house divided can not stand.  I can see that there is much pull to implement Kinect into a greater variety of forms, and there are a great deal of cave-men left who won't give motion based technology a fair shake.

This strategy would in theory service both audiences, except it splits your base into two camps and therefor causes over specialization of each respective console.  Look at the lousy shovel-ware pushed onto the Wii since it was branded a more casual gaming system.  (In all fairness shovel-ware just follows successful consols because publishers figure that with a greater instal base looking at the games on a given system there is a greater chance someone would inadvertently waste their money on these games.  Moral of the story, the more successful a system is, the more shovel ware is published for it.)  The low end console will never get anything but shallow casual games that small children and the elderly can play for five minutes before they forget about it.  The high end console would be a magnet for rehashing of the same games we have seen prevalent over the past few generations, with few changes besides improved graphics.

This leads into my next point, controller inovation.  The X-box 360 controller is a rearranged X-box controller, which itself offered nothing that could not be found in the previous generations controllers.  Until the Kinect came out, Microsoft had not bothered to change their controller from a design which was birthed the generation before their first console.  Love 'em or hate 'em, motion controls have been the biggest innovation in controls since the Analog stick.  If Microsoft doesn't continue to implement motion controls into all their consols, they risk becoming stagnant in a constantly evolving industry.  So we can all expect Kinect based controls in the next console, and the capabilities of such will not be split between two systems.

Despite such amazing sales of the Kinect, the software library of titles fully utilizing it, or even giving optional utilization of it have been abismal.  The reason is because when developers make a game for the 360 right now, they have a choice.  Make a game which can be played on 100% of the 360's sold or 10% of those 360's which also have the Kinect.  From a business stand point, it just doesn't make sense.  Now people can argue about it not being accurate enough to replace traditional controllers, but where does that leave room for change?  Not just looking at video games in the next 5-10 years, but 50 years down the road, where do we expect to see video games go?  In no science fiction/fantasy do we hear about people playing games with controllers.  It is done in augmented virtual reality, and motion controls are how we are going to move towards that.

I have seen a few rumors of a small screen in the controller, something akin to the a DS screen in the middle of a standard 360 controller.  If the Wii U takes off like a rocket, it might come to reality.  I doubt it though, just due to it's inability to be implemented with the Kinect.  I would guess you would be more likely to see a possible push for some other form of immersion more inline with the Kinect instead.  Perhaps some means of projection, or primitive holograms.  The only problem with that is in limitations based on current technology.  Start with a projection overlay on your floor to recreate the environment of the game.  Perhaps some type of scaffold or skeleton to be used with it to give the appearance of holding an object which the projection could then create a skin based on the game being played.

With the push towards digital media growing ever faster, some rumors point to the 720 not having physical games any longer.  This would fall in line with a plan to prevent players from buy/selling used software.  Microsoft has been pushing harder and harder for stricter controls on their software since long before they joined into the video game console market.  Their are only two real down sides to this, which I can see being easily circumvented.  First, storage is going to become an issue.  If the power of the 720 really is far and above the current market, the games are going to be far larger than the few GB that they currently represent.  The work arounds are going to include more portable storage devices and a push towards cloud storage.  While I by no means think that either of these will stand on their own, used in conjunction they should offer support to anyone who buys enough games to fill the base line hard drive .  That initial hard-drive is the extent to which a higher and lower end system could exist together.

The next problem that digital only is going to cause is for those who do not have consistant internet access.  As much as many who potentially could read this, not everyone has access to high-speed broad-band internet.  These people also play video games, and as such they should not be omitted.  Of course I said I had the answer, and I do (actually Nintendo did.)  Kiosks in businesses from which games can be paid for and then downloaded onto an approved portable storage device.  These can be in any business (Wal-Mart, Gamestop, 7-11, etc) take up no more than 2x4 foot area near the exits, and be a means that stores could still offer games.  Of course the storage devices are going to be synced to your system, and be unable to trade games, but that is the point of all this.

The only other problem with going all digital is that it really does put the player in an awkward position should they want to share their games with their friends/family etc.  Not much I can think of is going to solve that problem, since part of this digital push it to keep us from doing exactly that.

The power of the 720 is going to most likely in the same realm as the PS4.  This battle for power puts them directly against the PC gaming market (as I discussed in my last post on the PS4.)  As such, I won't go into any further detail.

The final rumors around the 720 include it's inclusion or exclusion of Blu-Ray DVDs.  I'm going to go out on not much of a limb and speculate a big "NO" on that one.  Microsoft are not part of the Blu-Ray Disc Association, and any implementation of Blu-Ray technology is going to be exceptionally costly for them to try to implement.  Now we can also look at the failed HD-DVD and say that Microsoft will not support Blu-Ray due to that, but why would they have supported HD-DVD in the first place?  Microsoft had courted the HD-DVD association to use Microsoft's HDi implementation of advanced context interactivity layer.  Why try to convince them to use it which happened to be one of the stalling points that started the format war?  Because Apple (Microsoft's archenemy) had joined the Blu-Ray Disc Association as a member of their Board of Directors.  It has nothing to do with gaming.  It's just another example of how Apple and Microsoft are perpetually locked into a fight to destroy the other.  And just because if it used Blu-Ray, it wouldn't be digital only.

So far we have 1 system with no physical media devices and Kinect based controls.  So when will it come out?  Before the PS4, after the Wii U.  Probably going to be fall of 2013.  If there is any truth to there being more than one system being developed over at Microsoft, there are two options I give you.  One of those two systems will never see the light of day, and it most likely will be the weaker of the two.  The other option is that Microsoft has seen the state of portable gaming and feels that they too want to enter the fray.  Perhaps a Kinect based portable system?  That would end up being a lower end system which could connect some of those pieces together.  They just better do it right, as the portable gaming industry has had a poor record of supporting two systems, let alone a third (Lynx anyone?)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

N.A.L.O.S.: Nerds Argue Lots Over Speculation

So the buzz around the internet is increasing over the 8th generation of videogame consoles.  While everyone has their opinions, little to nothing is actually confirmed.

I feel it is my duty to contain my thoughts here, hopefully to prevent them from spilling over into too many other places.

This is the one I have heard the least about, so I'll start here.  Rumors include a change in name to the Orbis (still going to type PS4 for now,) which is apparently (or so say nerds on the internet) Latin for Circle thus creating a little pun when paired with the Vita (Latin for Life) of the Circle of Life.  Is it just me, or is this insulting to us gamers to imply that our lives begin and end with video games?  Don't get me wrong, I play way more video games than your average person, but even I admit that video games are only a small part of my life.

Next rumor is around the elimination of used/rental/borrowed games by locking a disc to a console.  These include an ID for each game that is only valid once for a game, any other system would have to pay Sony for the right to play the full game on their system.  Depending on price, both of games and this renewal, this could break Sony, and officially kill off the Playstation line.  If it's not too much (between $1 and $4), it may actually fly, especially if they drop the cost of new games back to $50 or less for new games.  This $60 garbage for new games is one of the reasons I didn't personally shell out the money for a PS3 or 360.  Personally, it is offensive to actually pay for a game and know I don't have full access until I pay again!  Sounds to me like paying for a demo.  Call me crazy but demo's should be free since it's really just an interactive advertisement for the full product.

Controls better change significantly.  The Dual-Shock 3, the primary controller of the PS3 is simply an upgraded Dual-Shock from the PS1.  So after over 15 years, we get wireless and some tilting hardly anone uses?  I want to see some changes in the controls.  That design has been done to death!  This would be the equivalent of the NES, SNES, and N64 all being released with the same 8 directions, 2 action buttons, with a start and select button controller.  Controllers need to grow, and Sony has been stagnent for too long.  I would bet on more Move like controls, but I just hope they get rid of the stupid colored orb on the end.  Then again with the name Orbis, perhaps they plan to keep as many orbs as they can.

The connectivity of the PS3 and Vita is only a mear foreshadowing of what we should be expecting from the PS4.  This actually ties back to my last point about controllers.  If they don't go for the Move style controls, Vita may be the new controller.  Based on the potential of the Wii U, this may actually be an option as well.  Perhaps a stripped down Vita could be the controller.  The Vita's could be used in place of the controllers.  The "normal" controllers could have the same functionality, but wouldn't be stand alone handheld systems like the Vita.  Especially if Sony plans to go in the same direction as Nintendo is, this may be an option.

One of Sony's big advantages of the previous 2 generations of consoles was in the accessibility of programing for their systems.  This current generation, more than a few times, developers have lamented over the difficulty of programing for.  I would argue that may have cost the PS3 some things.  They still seem to have a better 3rd party relationship than Nintendo, but it has started souring.  If Sony wants to contend in the next generation, they better work harder to keep their 3rd party support.  That sense of entitlement is what slowly but surly brought down the monolith that was Nintendo to where they are today.  In all fairness, the low point for Nintendo 3rd party wise was during the N64 days.  But it's along hard climb back once you lose that 3rd party support, as Nintendo has been learning for the past decade.

3D 1080p is one of the buzz words around Sony right now.  I'm not going to dispute the option, I am going to argue that it won't be accepted by the majority of consumers right now.  With a huge influx of LOUSY 3D movies assaulting both our eyes and our wallets, I am beginning to think that 3D entertainment may have to wait another 5+ years.  Hopefully by then we can all wash the awfulness of Avatar and the like off and give 3D another shot.  The poor release of the 3DS is a good indicator that 3D just isn't ready for prime time gaming yet either.  It sounds cool and all, it just doesn't seem to be good enough to warent the extra cost yet.

One of the rumors that may also give Sony a harder time launching the PS4 with success is the lack of backward compatibility.  While I agree that the cost and size restrictions placed on a new system to ensure backward compatibility does exist, there are an overwhelming number of benefits.  First, when a system launches, it's gaming library is quite pitiful.  While sweet launch titles can help with that, and systems are launching with more and more games each generation (remember when 3 games for a launch was amazing,) it still is nice to be able to extend the games you can play right away.

Particularly if the owner hadn't owned the prior console, this can give them an option to play a lot of really great games.  If they offered downloadable versions of previous generations games, it can be a great option for those who never owned them, but for those who still do own them, it's offensive to have to pay again for a game you already have!  I even read recently someone arguing that backward compatibility doesn't work well when it is implemented.  While I agree the examples he used (PS3 and 360) have some issues with backward compatibility to a point that it's not worth using or mentioning, there are plenty of great examples of it working and well!  The PS2 was actually the best at this since it actually made load times of PS1 games go faster.  The DS line launched with compatibility for the GBA line, which itself had compatibility with GB and GBC.  The Wii has backward compatibility with the GC, and having that compatibility actually opened the door to some games using the GC controls as an additional option for Wii games.

Now it would be nice to be able to keep every system, but who has the room to do that?  Especially with a fatty like the PS3, that thing takes up more room than my Wii, PS2, and DVD player combined!  Also TVs limit how many inputs they can have, forcing us to make choices of what we plug in.  And of course, you can't forget the fact that systems do break down eventually.  If a system breaks, you have to replace it, repair it, or just chuck it.  But if the next system has backward compatibility, then you can finish any of those games you were playing before the system broke down.  And while I would never do sell my system, some people trade in their old systems to be able to afford the new systems.  Without backward compatibility, it's harder to justify that.  Personally, I like to leave my old systems to friends and loved ones who don't have a system of their own.  There are always those less fortunate than yourself.  Unless you are a dirt farmer in some third world country, then it doesn't get much worse from there.

While nerds are going to argue how much better processing that Sony and Microsoft are going to cram into these beastly machines, the only way wer are going to see significant changes is if they go Solid State for the components.  It's going to be expensive, but that is the angle Sony took with the last generation, and I don't see them focusing on anything else.  I just hope they don't Neo-Geo themselves out of the market.  Granted since Sony has huge penetration of the market already, it's not likely that it will be as hard to find a PS4 as a Neo-Geo was, but that price tag sure kept my teenage-self from picking one up.

The other problem with going for so much power, is that by the time you have released it, the technology is already outdated.  PC's will always be better than any console, and since you can change various components of your PC, truly hardcore gamers who are looking for that edge will always gravitate towards the PC.  Now there are those who claim that the controls are what set consoles apart from the PC, but with the ability to use how many different types of joysticks now, I don't think that argument really has any weight left to it.  PC's are just expensive to keep up to date, and what may be good enough one year to play a game, may be too outdated to run the sequel next year.  Consols just keep a standard for a period of time.  Previous generations have run in cycles of around 5 years each.  This has been an exceptionally long system cycle, and Sony may try to make the next one last even longer.

This leads into my next thought, which is release.  I doubt we are going to hear too much about a solid release date till after the Wii U actually launches, and Sony can really see what they are going to be competing with.  Nintendo is in the weakest position due to the aging Wii, Sony and Microsoft just need to keep enough rumors going about their next consols to keep the Wii U from getting too much of a head start in sales.  Depending on how powerful the Wii U really is, within about a year, we will see the PS4 and next X-Box released.  Support for the PS3 is going to fade inversely as fast as PS4's are sold.  If the PS4 takes off, then PS3 will be lucky to get another year of support.  If it has the same assimilation problems the PS3 had, expect the PS3 to have more than a 10 year life span.

Since nothing is set in stone till Sony releases it, the PS4 has tons of opportunity to change to fit the market, but if they continue down the path that some rumors point to, it may be a system that only Music/Movie Stars, CEO's, and Wall Street Bankers can afford to buy.  If that be the case, I'm sure it will look pretty, but it won't be hooked to my T.V.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm here, where are you?

Ok, so I started my own blog to take my own comments out of the craziness of random articles and webpages.

This may also limit me telling my fiance to post on her own blog  http://www.graphenegirl.blogspot.com/

Did you follow the link?  It's empty still isn't it?

OK, so rather than make these a new post for the same day... here are my ramblings for the day.

Ramble #1:
Some guy on blogspot (how did I end up there again?) went on his own rant about how Nintendo sucks.  While people are entitled to their own opinions on the matter, I felt the need to rebuke his assertion that the Gamecube didn't have any great game and that it's controller was awkward.

First the games, Smash Bros Melee, Eternal Darkness, Twilight Princess, Ikaruga, Pac-Man Vs, Pikmin, Rouge Squad 2 & 3, Wario-Ware, Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime 1 & 2, and Super Monkey Ball just to name some of my own personal favorites. All of these and many more were Excellant games, most of which were exclusive to the Gamecube.

The controller was exceptionally well designed. Try to play Soulcalibur II with the Gamecube controller and then either the PS2 or X-Box controller. With a single thumb, you can press 5 combinations of the 4 face buttons (A+B, A+X, A+Y, B+Y, and X+Y).

Due to the configuration of the PS2 controller you can only hit the two buttons directly adjacent to each other (Triangle+Circle, Circle+X, X+Square, and Square+Triangle) limiting useful combinations to 4. Yes you can take your fingers and "Crab hand" to get around that, but that is uncomfortable and leave the 2 shoulder buttons unavailable.

The X-Box controller shares this problem, (X + Y, Y+B, B+A, and A+X). It even has an extra two buttons on the face (black and white) which are recessed, making it exceptionally difficult to press either of them with another button.

In a game as fast paced as Soulcalibur II, the split second lost between hitting each of those two buttons can mean the wrong attack is used leaving you vulnerable to your opponent.

Rant #2:

While walking to class today, I came to the realization that Blaster Master was due for a proper sequel (I think I can blame listening to video game music on that one).

Inspired, I sent a letter to Sunsoft's Webmaster... since I had no idea who else to send the message to.  My email is as follows:
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Who do I contact to request a new Blaster Master game for the current generation of consoles and make a few ideas available to them.  I feel it is about time that Blaster Master had a true sequel, and with some of the changes in hardware on the horizon, I think this is a great time to do so.

The real key to making the game give the same feeling as the original is giving the player this feeling of near invincibility when in SOPHIA, and a feeling of being naked and helpless when outside of SOPHIA.  An easy mode could even make SOPHIA invincible, but the pilot still would be vulnerable, enhancing that feeling further.

If a Wii U version was made, keeping the TV as the view for SOPHIA, but have the controller screen be the pilot's view inside.  Holding the controller normally should put that view right on a HUD like display for SOPHIA, but by looking around the player can see other things inside of SOPHIA.  Perhaps even having an occasional smaller monster try to break in and have to turn around and fend it off, or a mini-game involving installing new components to SOPHIA.

When you leave SOPHIA, the view from the TV could even give an option of the perspective of a 2-D platformer when controlling the pilot.  Of course, the player could switch the two screens on the fly as well.

As far as upgrades, SOPHIA should be upgradable with the usual increases in firepower, jumping and later hover abilities, and other movement based upgrades (driving on the wall/ceiling).  The pilot should be upgradable as well, with better weapons, armor, etc.  These upgrades should be located within the over-world in a manner that the player can choose which upgrade to obtain first, as well as possibly ignoring some of them (speed runs), with various short-ctus and secondary paths.

As with the original, the environment should be in a gigantic, branching cave system encompassing a variety of environments.  Some of the paths could even be made of destructible materials that can be shot to block it off, perhaps to protect you from hoards of monsters, or accidently preventing access to secret areas.  Perhaps even having an occasional exit to the surface which the player must block off to prevent monsters from escaping.

While I have other smaller ideas which would deal more with the specifics of areas and the creatures within, I don't want to drone on about such generic design ideas.

Please use these ideas freely, as I only want to see a new game for a beloved series.
(My real name actually followed here, which I choose not to share with the internet as of this time.)