For whom is the Switch Lite for?

While the Switch is a mobile device just fine, it is rather bulky in certain aspects. It has to be. After all, it must serve as both home console and as a takeaway handheld console. Some play it solely in handheld mode, some just keep it attached to a screen for larger resolution play. Both are valid options. The preference just seems to change according depending on the nation. With some little digging, it would seem that the West likes to have the Switch docked most of the time and then just separate it whenever someone’s on the go. This seems to be a bit different from Japan, where handheld consoles have always been the top dogs. Be it space or because its just so much easier to nab a small console out for a quick play, there’s something in the nation’s cultural schema that supports small portable devices like this. Flip phones are still a culturally iconic devices, despite them being completely overshadowed by iPhones in the current day. Its one of the many reasons Monster Hunter found its breakthrough on the PSP was because people could just whip it out, check if there were other players in the area and a have quick hunt or two. This does not really work most of Western world nations. You’ll most likely get ridiculed if you are seen playing a handheld in public if you’re over fifteen. It took long time for Monster Hunter to become popular in the West, and despite the success on the 3DS (Nintendo really, really wanted that PSP Monster Hunter money on the 3DS) the real Western market breakthrough wasn’t until Monster Hunter World. Just don’t play with the French.

Switch Lite probably has a two-fold aim, First is to provide the Japanese market a smaller, more portable device that functions as a dedicated handheld, especially now that the Vita’s dead long dead and finally buried, which has left Nintendo with no competition in the handheld market. While Nintendo always had largest sect of the handheld market to themselves, they flourished whenever they had competition. Hopefully there will come some competition from whatever company might want to tackle the market, so Nintendo’s monopoly won’t make them lazy. Despite Nintendo claiming that they don’t follow what their competition is doing, this is of course PR bullshit. No company would willingly stay ignorant how their competition is doing and why. The second reason is that the Switch is not exactly a child friendly device. The simple fact that the Joycons are removable device raises the system’s cost and kids can misplace them rather easily. I’ve heard few friends having to buy new Joycons because lil’ Jimmy misplaced one in the backyard. This sort of hybrid nature doesn’t really work, unless the machine is dedicated to stay in docked mode, but that’s wasting the Switch’s potential. The same can, and must, be said of Switch Lite, where now you can’t switch modes, but now kids have something that can have their mittens properly on. It is far from a perfect solution, but you won’t have perfect solution for a hybrid console like this at this moment. Perhaps if Switch Lite still supported the docking it would have some leverage, but as it stands now, for average adult, the Switch Lite is a weird choice to go for.

If we use the past portable consoles Nintendo has manufactured before, their modus operandi should be roughly as follows; produce original version, create a smaller version with some improvements here and there, then create an upgraded version that seems a standalone from the previous iterations. For original Game Boy, we have its Pocket version as the “lite” iteration and Color as its final upgrade. The GB Advance is the deviation, with SP being the lite model with backlit screen, but nobody really seems to think GB Micro as the end-all version of the system. The NDS follows this line just fine though, with Lite being a thing and DSi followed soon after. We also got the larger screen versions to go by. 3DS is pretty much the same, followed by lite and the New 3DS version.

We can also tell that the Switch has been a success from this line. The only consoles Nintendo has not done upgraded versions of are machines that weren’t a success enough. The N64 never had a clear visible new edition to it, despite the Famicom/NES gaining top loader model, and SNES having SNES Jr model. GameCube stuck to its cubic form, and we don’t count Panasonic Q as a proper variation due to it never being aimed at mass markets. The Wii had Mini, which apparently sold rather well if I’m top believe a friend who worked at retail at the time. The Wii U was a disaster and never saw similar treatment. Here we are, with the Switch. Nintendo can afford to treat it as both handheld and home console, and seeing upgraded hardware per generation has become a standard again rather than new case design, we should probably wait for the announcement for whatever souped up Switch Nintendo has been cooking for some time now. After that, Nintendo’s attention will move towards their next console generation, though it would be in their best interest to give the Switch as long lifespan as the original Game Boy had. There is no reason to cut their hardware short just because they or their third party developers would like to play with some new hardware and not be limited with almost decade old set. The hardware oriented mindset does not do favours in the console business, whereas software centric is very lifeline these machine run on. I will use the old mantra that system with weakest hardware in the end has sold the most each generation. Deep Red Ocean market can hate the Wii however much they want, but the sheer joy of Nintendo Sports was in pretty much every home possible at the time.

At least the Switch Lite doesn’t have brand confusion as the Wii U had. They’ve learned something from that shitshow.

Review of the Month; Nintendo home console cartridges

Cartridges or cassettes. Whatever you call them, the bottom line is there is something tactile in holding one. The corners, the plastic and the label artwork’s surface, they all carry something any of the disc based medias just lack. They can take abuse and survive being dropped into a lake below zero degrees after drying them out and other things like that. You can have them without their casing and still be sure that they’ll survive.

While it may sound stupid to review the cartridges Nintendo had for Famicom, NES, SNES and N64, take this as a thought practice. The insides of the carts don’t matter here, just the casing. Of course, you can’t have just the cart, you need to take into notice the overall design of the console. It would be unnatural to design a console and not give a damn about how the cart would look, right? With the exercise I hope you all think what has gone into each and every detail, how and why they were designed. One thing you all notice right away is that none of these carts have sharp corners. Things like that, small but every so vital are hidden in each design. Everything that looks simple has a complex design behind it, and these carts have some simplest shapes with reasons we can’t even begin to think why,

Let’s start with the FC cartridges.

From right to left; Salamander, Kinnikuman Muscle Tag Match and Joy Mecha Fight
From right to left; Salamander, Kinnikuman Muscle Tag Match and Joy Mecha Fight

I admit that I’ve grown to like FC carts more as the time has gone by. My first FC-sized cart was a 64-in-1 multicart that contained not too uncommon set of games. A good set, ranging from shooters like Gradius (renamed Grading) and B-Wings, to platformers like Nuts and Milk and Ninja JaJaMaru-kun, all the way classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Anyway, the problem with the cart is that FC carts need an adapter part in order to be pulled out from a NES that, and the pin layout is different. Still, FC carts are neat little things, combining a good size/weight ratio.

The 64-in-1 open. There's not much room for the PCB in there, but that's as intended
The 64-in-1 open. There’s not much room for the PCB in there, but that’s as intended

The FC cartridges came in variety of colours and shapes. Many hardcore Famicom collectors seem to pride themselves on recognizing the manufacturer of the game simply by glancing at the case’s shape, a deed that is not all too difficult with certain moulds having the logo of the company, like IREM or Jaleco. This is a splitting thing, as some of the designs are good, but some of the designs are just awful. The Bandai cartridge above baffles the mind, as the ribbed sides tend to get caught on the cart slot on the console. Well, this is a problem only if you don’t pull the cart straight up. However, this is not such a huge deal if you have a version of Famicom with the cartridge eject function, like the original or Twin Famicom. The AV Famicom could’ve used the same function, as just pulling the cart from the console isn’t a valid option, unless the accepting pins on the console are loose as hell or manage support your pull against the console with your fingers. It’s just faster and easier to hold the console with your other hand.

Still, the overall design serves the function very well. Sadly, most FC carts lack any sort of end or top label, whichever you prefer to call them. However, in the photo you can see that Konami games usually have a label that wraps to the top whereas Bandai has opted to use a specific slot for a sticker. Joy Mecha Fight actually has a tape on top of it, to which I’ve written the game’s name. Companies also tend to put something in the back of the carts, like a quick guide how to play the game and an area where to write your name in. This was dropped in every other Nintendo cartridge afterwards, replaced with the standardised info box.

The size can be a bit a problem, as the smaller the carts are, the easier they are to misplace and lose. The construction is good and the plastic used is pretty damn high quality, resisting mechanical stress very well. Next to this the plastic just doesn’t want to give in, unlike the plastic used in 64-in-1, from which we can see the insides.

Overall, the FC carts are well designed that have certain elements lacking, but seeing how there are wide variety of different ones to choose from and some of them fix problems that the other ones have. The lack of standard design has allowed more dynamic use of the carts, and everyone will find styles they like, and styles they will deem worthless.

On the other hand, the NES cartridges take a different approach. While some of the FC carts without a doubt look more like toys in comparison to the industrial grey, standard sizes and shaped carts West is more accustomed to.

Go play Sword Master. It has great music with decent gameplay. Frustrating as hell at times, but fun
Go play Sword Master. It has great music with decent gameplay. Frustrating as hell at times, but fun

The design made design choice is easy to understand. As the NES was redesigned to fit the Western sensibilities, the cart is to the console what a VHS tape is to a VCR. The Zero Force insertion, while pretty damn neat idea and functionality, was more or less a flawed design. Still, properly treated consoles didn’t have any troubles, as one of my consoles didn’t saw any sort of maintenance in fifteen years, and it was still working just fine.

Anyway, the NES cart is more utilitarian than the FC carts were. The division of the NES cart front follows the Golden Cut somewhat loosely, having the rectangle pattern on the left, and the label positioned so that its centre is in one of the cross points of the Cut. The label also wraps to the top, allowing for an end label. The arrow, which points what end goes into the machine first, is in the middle of the cart but also positions itself near the lowest line of the cut. Overall, rather pleasant design that allows the label to pop out more. The whole front is also covered in a very slight pattern fine sand-blast like pattern, which is common. It adds a nice feeling, despite the sides and the back being completely sleek.

The rectangle pattern ends with a spot for pulling the cart out from the console. The rectangle pattern also add friction and the whole position is pretty natural. However, I can’t but wonder whether or not it would have been better to shuffle these design bits around and dedicate the whole top for a sort of handle. This would have forced the label to be moved down and could’ve taken most of the cart surface. Could’ve been an interesting take.

The NES cart is about twice as high as the FC cart despite the PCB inside is still the same size. I have seen some people having problems with that, as it does waste space and plastic, but ultimately it is a very good sized cartridge. It offers more tactile experience, but sadly the carts after all these years do look somewhat barren in comparison to the Eastern brethrens. Nevertheless, the standardised appearance and more utilitarian design does work, and as the carts are sitting inside the console, there were no need to add additional bells and whistles to them. The toploader NES did change this, but this is more the fault of the redesigned console than the carts’ had one them.

The NES carts are of good design. Unlike the FC carts, they the standard shape doesn’t leave anyone cold, but at the same time they are incredibly subdued. Not many companies add so much space for the sake of design, and Nintendo did good with these. If you wanted more eyecandy from them, just remember that they’re not something to have your eyes on; they’re just containers for the game inside.

It should be noted that the FC and NES carts use different number of pins and the insides are turned. They don’t mix and match. As such, when you put a FC game into a NES with the adapter, it needs to face wrong way. Same with the NES games on FC consoles. It’s kind of stupid to play Turtles III: The Manhattan Project on my AV Famicom facing the back to front.

Enter the Super Nintedo Family Entertainment Computer System
Enter the Super Nintendo Family Entertainment Computer System

The Super Nintendo never lied. It was essentially a super version of the NES in many ways. Unlike with the NES, all the core designs each side of the ponds adhered to the top load mechanism. Unlike with the NES, PAL region shared the same console and cart design with Japan. For whatever reason the US design saw a change.
The insides of the carts are the same this time around, PCBs facing the same side and all that. The US and JPN Super NES shared the same regional coding, so the shape is different and the US carts have grooves in the back for further prevention. Funnily enough, the PAL carts have nothing to prevent the user from inserting JPN games into PAL consoles.
The JPN/PAL design is more curved and fits most hands just fine. There’s small ridges in the sides of the cart, but they offer no real purpose outside visuals. They could be for adding more friction when the cart is pushed into the console, but it’s far more practical just to push it down from the top. The lines going from the all around the cart are neat little touches on otherwise a very NES like standardised appearance. The slot on the front of the cart is part of the locking mechanism. When the power is turned on, a tab is pushed there and this is what holds the cart in place. It also prevents ejection until power is turned off. The back of the cart has a slight texture, and this adds decent amount of friction, despite the Super NES carts having no need for it.
The size is now utilitarian, build to house just the PCB and nothing more. The plastic quality is still good, thou the larger size means that the same thickness of the shells can raise some worry. I actually own a Super Return of the Jedi with the back cracked in. The PCB itself is still in perfectly fine condition, but the amount of room the PCB has inside the shells is surprising. Next to this, the JPN/PAL carts feel slightly cheap despite the plastic quality.

The Super Famicom cart is pretty neat. It’s like the best of both words of FC and NES cart, but it lacks the end label. Otherwise it’s very pleasing thing to look at. Unlike with the NES cart, the whole surface of the JPN/EUR cart is covered with that fine texture. The cart fits fine with the console design itself, and the slight curves are met with few straights.
The US carts however are… I’ll just say it straight; I’m not a fan of the US redesign of the Super NES with its darker gray and purple. The cartridge of course mirrors the console and follows the similar rugged, almost prototype look the US console has. Gone are curves, in are straight lines and levels. The locking slot is in the exact same position, but lacks the textured lines of the JPN/PAL carts. Instead of vertical lines, the US cart has sectioned 1/6 on both sides of the carts for what I imagine is where you hold the cart from. The rectangle pattern returns from the NES carts in a different form and are much larger and wrap to the back of the cart. They don’t really add much friction, as the lines on the carts are too shallow and too far between to service in this fashion. As such, they seem to be more akin to visual lines, which is not all too horrible. However, the side sections are just perfect size for pushing the carts down with your thumbs, leaving the label nicely into your view.
The US Super NES carts have a juxtaposition where they are just a tad too busy with elements with little to no detail in them. This opposes the JPN/PAL cart, which has less larger areas like that, but has the little details on the side. On the positive side, the US cart has an end label, which is nothing short of great. Perhaps it would be applicable to say that the US cart suffers from having the US Super NES as its parent console. Nevertheless, if you like how the US console was redesigned, then you’ll most likely find the US cartridge more appealing than the JPN/EUR design. It’s interesting to look at the two designs and notice how they both have a mix if FC and NES cart designs, but in different amounts.

Sleek, stylish and surprisingly far removed from the general 90's designs
Sleek, stylish and surprisingly far removed from the general 90’s designs

The N64 cartridges on the hand are meagre in comparison to either 8-bit generation or 16-bit cartridges. The design path from Super NES to N64 cartridges is pretty clear and not necessarily a good thing.

First of all, there is only one version of the N64 cartridge. No regional variations. However, similar physical region locking still applied and the back mould had different slots between Japan and US once more to prevent people from playing games across regions. Let’s get the similarities off the table first.

The N64 cart has the same vertical lines for visual flavour as the Super NES cart and are relatively in the same place, framing the label in the middle. However, the label is now more confined and has more vertical dimension. It would seem similar area for holding the cartridge applies here as it did with the US Super NES cart, but lack any sort of texturing outside the fine grain. The N64 cart has also inherited both curves and straights from both Super NES carts, saving the curve for the top and being otherwise flat. This is closely tied to design of the console too, as the curve is exactly the same the N64’s front. It’s an excellent design consistency, something that lacked in previous consoles. Well, the NES did have it to some extent, but mostly because the NES was a box you pushed the cart in.

N64 carts are hefty. They are smaller than Super NES carts and their weight/size ratio is more closer to the FC carts, and perhaps are too heavy for their size. However, unlike the Super NES design, the N64 carts don’t feel cheap. On the contrary, a N64 cart feels almost like a luxary item with its sturdy build and the ever present high quality plastic.

While the design overall is rather minimalistic, the label is there to draw your eye in. The small concave areas at the lower front corners of the cart are there to add some good visual, but don’t take too much attention. They don’t serve any functional purpose, though adding just ever so slight guides into the cartridge port in the N64 could added some firmness in keeping the cart in place. The lack of locking and ejection mechanism had an impact on the design without a doubt and most certainly were taken away as a cost cutting method.

Sadly, N64 games lack end labels. However, the design doesn’t permit them from the get go. The curved top doesn’t allow the label to wrap to the top, but I would imagine a small section could have been reserved for a separate sticker.

Out of all Nintendo home console cartridges, at least from their main line, the N64 has the least elements to mention about. In a way it is the peak of Nintendo home console cartridge design, however I would argue otherwise. If there had been one more step, other than the 64DD, I would imagine Nintendo could’ve made a cartridge to finish all cartridges. A cartridge that would’ve become the very epitome what it means to have a part of the console itself in your hands. Nevertheless, as a swansong for home console cartridges from Nintendo, N64 carts do an admirable job in showing that a well designed and a well built piece is just a joy to use. It’s a well designed piece of hardware, it can proudly say it was the last.

(The reason why 64DD disks are not included in this is because 64DD was a failed addon and they were Zip Disks and not cartridges. GameCube also had a cartridge, but that was intended only for the developers and never for the home consumer.)

Second-hand consoles prices are without a doubt inflated

As of late I have been pondering on the value of old consoles. While we all understand the value of a collectable and how it truly has value only when another person who values it in a similar manner agrees on its price. For anyone who is not into them, the machines are more or less worthless. They are relics and there are better things to use your money on at this time.

We all also learned the price of rarity when were kids. I have no doubts that trading cards taught children to value the rare cards, but in the end of the day these cards are just pieces of cardboard. Their real world value is basically nothing. It’s a really interesting trick, if you think about it. Printing a collectable card is not all too expensive, especially when these companies order them in millions. Nevertheless, these pieces fetch insane prices. I can understand when you have a baseball card from 1909, as it has some historical value and is a mirror of its time. The same can’t be said of a Pokémon card printed somwhere 1999 or later.

That what the value of an item is on a micro level; you or your group of collectors may value a thing to the heavens. This rarely is applicable to macro level, where these cards are just seen as something less stellar. Video games and game consoles fall into this category harshly, as even in gaming there is a chasm between the retro collectors and those who simply regard them worthless junk due to rereleases and emulation.

And to be completely honest, I agree with the latter while belonging to the former.

The thing is that entertainment becomes valuable only with time. This time is not twenty or thirty years, but in larger time scale. The baseball card from 1909 is over hundred years old and has some sort of cultural and historical value as it portrays a real life person and conveys information. A NES is just a console, produced in thousands and it alone does not convey historical information outside design. As a console, it always needs its partner game cartridge in order to function. A card does not. As time goes by, the console will break down if not preserved in certain state, and it may end up becoming completely inert, unable to power itself. Even now you have troubles with the TV-standards, and God only knows when television sets will lose their RC-connectors for a better standard. There are screen sets already that lack any SD-input and carry only HD sockets. Because of this it is historically incredibly important to have at least one completely accurate emulator for a console. Through this the functions of the console are preserved for future.

But collectors usually keep their machines in a good condition, that’s certain. I would even argue that some collectors are building a collection in order to create a library for preservation rather than just for gaming’s sake. I admit, I sort of all into this category, thou every game I own has been played. It’s like with toys; a toy in a box is meant to be played with, not to be stored away in a box.

Then again, there are those who value games and toys only in their mint and unopened state rather than for their actual intended purpose.

Granted, I am willingly ignoring other elements that goes into the whole dynamics of buyer-seller, collector-provider relationships to make this into a two-point argument. This is because the micro and macro elements of retro gaming are almost polar opposites at this point in time. I have no doubts that consoles and certain games will become historically significant, but they will do this only through their cultural status. That’s not sub-cultural status, but the actual, governing culture at large. Allow a bit more time to pass, and at some point these relics could be regarded as something completely else.

There has been some accusations of certain group of people, namely retro hipsters, driving price points up on older games. Indeed, I have noticed the inflation in the after-markets as well, but I would point the main reasons towards the bad economical situation next and to the fact that the actual value of these products have been lost. Objectively speaking, a console’s value is directly proportional to the games it has. A console with lower number of high quality products is automatically regarded as worse than a console with higher numbers of said games, that should be a given. This doesn’t matter to an enthusiast, hobbyists or collectors. It’s the rarity, the obscurity and uniqueness that counts the most.

Of course, rarity is a real factor of value, I am not arguing over that. And yes, there are far more factors than just rarity. However, in practical terms it should be noted that an awful product, no matter how rare, will always be an awful product and of no use. I don’t care how much I hear Atari Jaguar getting rarer and rarer these days, especially with a working CD unit, there’s no way the console is worth anywhere near hundred and fifty dollars. Not only is the console’s library atrocious in quality, but the controller is abysmally designed to boot. The same arguments apply to multiple other consoles as well, especially to the likes of Virtual Boy where you have in almost literal terms only one or two games one can argue to be worthwhile of purchase.

You used to get a copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES for five Finnish marks back in the day. That would be 84 eurocents, but with the devaluation Euro has seen the price is more like 1€. Nowadays the exact same cartridge fetches ten Euros of more. This sort of price translation happened everywhere, e.g. a cup of coffee used to be 5mk, now it’s 5€. It’s total and complete bullshit, but in this light the heightened prices can be accepted grudgingly. Or they would be, if this wasn’t a global phenomena. Same applies to used consoles, and the amount of the on the second-hand market has no diminished. Perhaps it’s more because the old consoles have become rarer sight at fleemarkets and such places and people with more ambition on the price.

Opinions may vary, but I’d like to ask anyone purchasing something collectable to stop for a moment and question whether or not the product is really worth the price it goes by. Never think for a second that so-called professionals don’t inflate prices to insane heights if they can. Diamonds, for example, are not as expensive or valuable as people are told.

Music of the Month; Ritmica Ostinata

This December we’ll avoid using the Christmas-y music I’ve been aiming here and there a we return to something more brassy; Akira Ifukube’s Ritmica Ostinata.

The last few months have been rocky to say the least. There was a lot of… mishaps first of all with increasing amounts of deadlines, and then my main desktop broke down, forcing me to get a whole rig that has been running pretty decently for a time now. There was also a death in the family, which kind of forced me to stop everything I had planned, thus pushing planned things back as well as just dropping some altogether due to all the lost time.

Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to get my editor run the blog for the time I needed to get things sorted out. Not all the plans are abandoned, their timings have just been thrown out of the window. That’s life to you.

There’s going to be few things left for me to do outside the Internet that are keeping me busier than I’d like to be, which means that some weeks may see a post break. Then there’s this small thing that yours truly is going to Scotland in mid-January to study industrial design for around a half year, so updates will get somewhat uncommon. I intend to find another person to keep this site up with me, so the flow won’t be cut too much. However, just like with everything, there are obstacles in this, mostly in that finding the right person is insanely hard.

Have you noticed how similar the Xbone and PS4 ultimately look like? They both are split into and share sort of chocolate piece look, and their main colour is black out of all. Without their few details, they’d just be black blocks of plastic. They look decent, because they really don’t look like anything.  The NES was made to look like the entertainment electronics of the time, namely a VCR deck. The MegaDrive, SNES, Saturn and bunch of other consoles do not really look like run-of-the-mill appliances, which asks the question if modern game console design has gone insanely bland because nothing is designed to have shapes any more? Of course, the 00’s and by extension, the 10’s have been very sleek, no-nonsense looks and surfaces, a thing that Apple started.  I can’t say that I personally like it, as that kind of design is rather easy to do. iPhone’s design is pretty… well, the design it has is there to justify the phone looks. That’s it. So, does the same apply to Xbone and PS4?

No, because the question is unanswerable. We know what kind of basic design a phone should have in that it needs to sit well in your hand, is able to capture your voice clearly near your mouth and have a speaker you to hear from. That dictates the core design quite a lot, unless you want to be an asshole and make a three part phone. What kind of design is necessary for a game console, or any media device?  First of all, it needs to accept the media it’s designed around, like SD cards, USB sticks, discs or cartridges. Then you have the controller, which might or might not be a separate entity from the package, ie. cordless.

I was asked What are designers needed for? recently, and the question I provided was Designers are there to fulfil your needs.

A  designer is there to take a look how something works, observe its use, and then make it work better, faster, stronger, better. It would be a selfish thing just to do whatever you want, designer whatever you want, to whomever you want, whenever you want and disregard the reason a designer as a field exists.

As such, the answer how a game console should look is dictated by its function and use, and this is why game consoles, other entertainment machines and most household appliances are hard to design; if they don’t work as intended because of the design, they’re badly designed. I’m not talking about the looks here, but also about the functions; how well a machine vents air, how the casing shells the inside mechanisms and takes impacts and how well all of it comes together as a whole piece. Both SONY and Microsoft have been failing with their console design for some time now, and it’s because they haven’t paid attention to design of their products. The looks should come naturally from the core design, but I’m afraid that too many times the process if backwards, where the design and design come from separate origin. We can have design, but we don’t need design.

These two designs are two separate things that share the same name. The first one is what I answered, the one that dictates all and everything, and then we have the second, which is people splattering stuff somewhere in order of aesthetics and good looks. We call people who use the second design as artists for good reasons and only the Lord knows why they’re in a field where they are doing more disservice than anything else.

I’m just saying that the people who design the consoles have exactly one job, and there’s no defending the fact that they failed when a machine breaks down.

Now how did Microsoft manage to put millions of dollars into the development of the Xbone controller? I have no idea, but all they had to do was to fix the D-Pad and they would have been ready to go. Ergonomics is a well researched field, and human hands haven’t manage to evolve into a new shape within a decade, so fixing what wasn’t broken seems to be the wrong thing to do. Then again, Microsoft is seeking to gain more profits from keeping you re-using any 360 gadgets with the Xbone. Sometimes it just seems they’re making new shit up just to justify the existence of any design department in any corporation.

Wii, the karaoke machine

I found myself wanting to play Wii this week. I haven’t managed to play any games properly for some time, and now I had this craving to play Wii games. There was some sort of an error some time ago with the Wii and all of my game saves were deleted. Nothing special was lost, but it does tick me off that I need to unlock everything in Brawl at some point. No, not that. I need to rebuild all the original stages again, as I’m going to import game saves from somewhere else to replace my old complete saves. Well, let’s just choose what we want to play…

…and then I remembered that my Wii is still packed for travel. My Wii is basically functioning as a karaoke machine nowadays elsewhere, so it’s far more practical to for me to keep it in its travel bag. Then again, I haven’t bought a new Wii game for some time and almost all of the games I have are already beaten in some form. Or rather were. Damn you, corrupted NAND.

Lady Psychologist still has my NSMBWii, now that I stop think to think about it…

I find it rather ironic that I have used my Wii to watch DVDs and listen to music for a period of time. I’ve never listened to any music on any other console or used any other console for movies. Now people do use their consoles for Netflix (where available) but I have separate machines for separate entertainment. I can’t play LaserDiscs on my XBOX. Now if they’d come up with a console (or PC) that would play LaserDiscs then I’d be A-OK with it. Hell, I’d probably do the first hardware pre-order in my life! Then again, I did built my PC for AV-entertainment combined with 5.1 Speaker system, so there’s very little point for me to actually even consider using consoles or anything else as a media player.

But the Wii. Using a separate software that’s been sold by Joysound, you access their servers and get karaoke songs streamed straight into your Wii via the magic of the Internet. Of course, you might need some modding magic going on before accomplishing this, but then you can start singing loads and loads of songs in the language of the far orient. The PS3 has the same service, you just need to download it and… it’s region locked completely. Now why the hell they’d region lock something like this? I’m assuming that using this service in this form really breaks few selected agreements and contracts with the a bunch of artists, at least if you’re out of the region the service is intended for.

Joysound Dive is really the definitive version, and I’m sad that I have no access to its services, and I’m not buying a Japanese PS3 for this

That actually again raises an interesting question; how hard would it be to actually out up a service like this? I’m presuming over my usual limits here, but I would assume that it should be completely possible to create a separate contract that would allow a karaoke service to use the songs’ modified versions across the globe for karaoke service? At the customer end it would seem like the optimal solution; the customer gets a karaoke service and both provider and the original song author get their share of the profits. Of course, the real world is messy and this kind of simple and effective service is rather difficult to realize due to the multilateral structure juggling between global agreements and song licensing. First you’d need a contract with SONY, then you’d need a separate contract for the songs used in service from whoever owns those songs, then you need to produce those songs’ karaoke version and obtain rights to those, unless your earlier contract dictates you to hold all rights to the karaoke versions. Then there’s the licensing issues if you’re to use video material from anything related to the song and so on… It’s a lot of hassle, but completely doable if anyone would ever wish to tackle it.

The thing is, while I do enjoy providing this kind of service to the people who mostly use the machine, I do feel somewhat uneasy whenever I boot it up even if I do need to pay for the ticket that actually allows to use the Joysound service. No, it’s not about modifying my Wii to this end, I modify my machines as I wish, but it’s rather this roundabout way of using a service via a disc that’s already region locked. I do understand the reasons behind region locking both machines and the media, and the same things mostly apply to this kind of services; they need to be kept in tight check and within limited region due to licensing and distribution. I do need to wonder how many laws I end up breaking in order to bring in a service that is otherwise unavailable in this particular region?

This just ends up bringing the penultimate question; why should Joysound, or any other company involved, care if I go into the grey region in order to give them money they would otherwise miss completely? A goodie two shoes I am not, but thenights when I’m playing Internet Scrabble does are making me think of questions like this. The last question really is, am I really doing anything wrong? This is the grey area at its best. It’s both a moral and legal question that we kind of know the answer for, and then again we don’t. It’s like with Youtube music; if you’re listening to songs that havebeen uploaded there, are you committing some sort of a crime?

I mean, it’s just a bunch of people paying for Japanese karaoke for Wii, the only way you can get close to the genuine experience. But sometimes this is not enough. While globalization has its ups and downs, standardizing various contracts for global services through the Interwebs is seriously one of the ups. There’s no reason in 2010’s to limit your digital service into one piece of continent or into one nation, unless there’s something that absolutely forces you to do so. Even for physical goods the mail system across the world has been developed to the point that if necessary, you can have a package from the other side of the world at your door steps within two days of the order.

Why the hell digital services are tied down so much again? Oh yeah, because of old contracts and views. Dammit, I’m sure somebody still wants the customers to have media players that would destroy your songs in order to enforce you to buy new ones. [Edit: There is stuff like that?] Yes, there were. The film studios wanted VCR’s to erase the VHS’ content so that you’d need to buy the film again after you’ve seen the film three times or so. Naturally, this went against a lot of things customers wanted, so it never came to be. Similar stuff popped up when CD and DVD appeared. With a strong enough laser they aimed to progressively destroy the data surface. I haven’t heard anything like this popping up with HD-DVD or BDs, but there were talks of digital erasers with mp3 files.