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?)