Switch inherits Wii’s philosophy

Nintendo Everything has an interview up on regarding the inception and design of the Switch. We’ll take it at face value for now, all this sort of interviews are mix of hard facts and PR after all. It’s a bit on the long side, four pages in total, but a good read nevertheless.

The first thing they quote with big blue font is how the Switch was designed to bring everyone together and play. Remember Wii’s We’d like to play ads? The Switch encompasses the same idea, which incidentally is shared with the NES (which they specifically mention and want to go way back to the hanafuda cards) and to some extent with the SNES. Can’t forget the Game Boy and the DS. It’s sad to see Koizumi saying that playing together is core essence of Nintendo, when they’ve done so much do disregard this. It is also not the full extent of Nintendo’s core, but this is neither here or there. What Koizumi is saying with his little speech about getting strangers into gaming is expansion of the market, something that Nintendo’s successful consoles have done.

The idea of Nintendo’s home console being a device that could be turned into a sort of game-presentation/sharing device on its own probably shaped the console all the way through the development. The Switch is chock-full of technological things that aren’t really needed, like the HD Rumble that the upcoming Senran Kagura is probably going to use somehow to imitate the physics of female body. The split wireless controller would’ve been enough to allocate this, but Nintendo does have a history of obsessing with useless WOW!-factors, like the 3D screen on the 3DS or the tablet controller on the Wii U.

While the Wii wouldn’t fit into this console-presenter idea, it had much easier time penetrating the wall that modern controllers put up. The Wiimote is an easy contraption to handle and use, which made the Wii an excellent console to boot up and have people playing games without worrying much how to control a given game. The rest was up to how well the game itself was designed. There certainly was a WOW! factor in Wiimotes without a doubt, but at least they saw use.

I should note at this point that the Switch is mentioned began development about three years ago. This is about the same time Nintendo’s main support on the 3DS and Wii U started lacking in major releases (or on VC for the matter) and fits their modus operandi. Just like with the Wii and previous consoles, about half of the predecessor’s life cycle is dedicated for the development of the successor.

Both Takahashi and Koizumi mention how Iwata helped them with engineering challenges, as both of them have design backgrounds. While they paint designers’ life as a daydreamer, it’s much more closer to constantly trying to solve a puzzle but having jack shit idea how to proceed. You just gotta make things work, and it helps if there are people in your team who can tell you what’s possible and why. Giving a designer total freedom only asks trouble.

I’m also calling bullshit on the fact that single-player games saw a rise on the N64 because only one controller was included. Knowing how Nintendo has gone on the record how they don’t follow their competitors’ actions (which is probably bollocks as well), how can they determine whether or not N64 was the reason for this supposed rise in single-player games? If Nintendo is worried about lack of multiplayer games and support this view, they should’ve dropped the price of their controllers and adding multiplayer elements to games like Super Mario Sunshine rather than bitching how third party is doing the same. It could be also argued that a game that can be played both single- and multiplayer and can stand on its own in single-player mode is superior to a game that requires two or more players at any given time.

Naming your product something that could attract the consumer is no easy deal. Sometimes you find a perfect name that has nothing to do with the actual product, like how Uncle Ben’s has nothing to do with rice, yet it’s a good name due to branding and all that. A PlayStation does give some hint what done with it, as does GameCube. Switch on the other hand doesn’t, but with the marketing and branding Nintendo’s doing, the idea of switching things up on the fly seems be associated with the system. Whatever else they had as candidates would be interesting to see, but at least it’s something simple and memorable. Like GameBoy.

One thing that will make the Switch stand apart from its competitors… actually, I’m not sure if the Switch has any competition per se. Because it’s a hybrid console, it doesn’t compete in traditional game console field. It competes against whatever Sony and Microsoft will dish out next, but they’re on weaker legs due to decentralisation of home entertainment. On handheld markets it has absolutely no competition with Vita being dead in the water elsewhere but in Japan. I hope you like importing for that little bugger. What a load of wasted potential Vita was. Whatever it is the competition will offer probably won’t be a pure bred game console. Consoles as home media centres is a ruling paradigm Nintendo has mostly gone against, and the Switch continues to do so. It’s main thing is to play games and dammit it needs to do it fast.

Takahashi’s argument that they didn’t want to fight smartphones and wanted to make friends with them makes no sense. Nintendo’s games and smartphones are two different markets, but I guess this is where the whole DeNA thing steps in. The whole social media aspect is what they gunned for, and seems to be the reason online chat and numerous other aspects of their online seems to be less than screwed up. Now that their online will actually cost money, I really do hope they’ll up their game in every aspect. I know it’s a futile wish, but it’s good to live with hope.

Nintendo also knows VR is terrible but still claims to be researching in it.

What strikes hopeful in Switch’s development is that it took in young people, to an extent. While it is good to take in new blood in order to rejuvenate your company and get in some new ideas, this is a generation that has lived with game consoles their whole lives. Unlike with the first three or four console generations, there is a preconception with high-end consumers what a game console needs to be like nowadays. It’s like how Zelda fans who jumped unto the ship with Ocarina of Time tend to rewrite Link’s Adventure as some sort of terrible aberration from the form. That’s Majora’s Mask.

Perhaps the last bit that garners a mention in this post is how Takahashi agrees that Switch should have more software than what was on the Wii or Wii U. Wii might be a bit hard to overcome, but Wii U’s statistics aren’t anything to write home about. Bloomberg seems to think that the Switch will sell more than the Wii, which is a tall order. While the initial reaction to Switch was essentially the same as with any other successful Nintendo console, i.e. dead on arrival, its sales show otherwise. Because the Switch sits in the handheld console market, it has the possibility of selling higher numbers than the Wii without a doubt. If it hits both home console and handheld markets with equal force, it’ll outsell the Wii. If the devs have games half-assed, it’ll sell less.

The Switch had a similar launch to the DS. It was big, with big sales left and right. Then came about a year long slumber, after which it was revised as a portable SNES of sorts. The Switch could have a similar cycle, where after this big start it trails off, and when enough and certain kind of software is release, blows up in sales again. Most likely during a holiday.

Thousands of failures

Great design is like great translation; you don’t notice it unless you make the effort. The problem with this assumptions is that there is no design that would have universal acceptance. Let’s use something general as an example, something most of you use in your daily life, like a cupboard handle in your kitchen. Now that I’ve mentioned it, you’re probably conscious on of its shape but may not really know how it feels in your hand. After all, it’s just a handle you pull and push every day, probably multiple of times. This handle may be very ornate or just a simple shaped metal arch, but this handle is something you never really should be conscious about. At least not after you’ve finished your kitchen renovation that took ages, made your wife mad and probably ended up costing you an arm and a leg after you managed to screw up the installation process early on. There are more fitting handle shapes than there are hands, because the hands we have all can accept more than just one shape. We just tend to notice when the handle doesn’t really want to work with our own.

The numerous handles does not mean that there is an equal amount of successes. While there may be thousands of handles that fit just perfectly, the reality is that there probably has been five times or more discarded pieces that never moved beyond prototype phase. And sad reality is that some of these protos probably were better than the final product. For each successful product there are tens if not hundred unsuccessful attempts.

Even the most seasoned designer will make missteps and sometimes fails to realize what is self-evident to the consumer. This is why prototyping and giving enough time to finalise the product is incredibly important. Not just in design, but in every field. Sad thing is that no product is truly ready and will have to be released to the wild in good-enough state. Sadly, with games this good-enough has been lowered to many times that games are essentially being released half-finished in order to hit the publishing date, and the missing content or known bugs are fixed through Day-One patch. God I hate Day-One patches, it never bodes well.

How does a designer know he screwed up? In game industry it’s pretty clear, when the consumer feedback can be directed to the designer through forums and social media. Sales is second, but that only tells you that the product wasn’t met with the best acceptance out there. It’s not exactly easy to pinpoint why a kitchen handle didn’t make a breakthrough in the market, but we have to allow some leeway here; kitchen handles don’t tend to sell tons after initial launch. They’re not something people need to renew too often. If ever.

The easiest way of knowing what went wrong with a design would to have the user tell you outright. For a handle, where it chafes, what wrist position it does wrong, is the surface too sleek to cause slipping and so forth. Not exactly rocket science, but general consumer doesn’t really care to give such a feedback. Then again, door handles really aren’t a million dollar business, so losses from more experimental and niche products isn’t a big deal. The good old and time-tested basic shapes still rule the market.

Feedback is something all designers should want. I say should, as this splits opinions. To some a finalised product is as intended and it fills the role it has been given to. There is no reason to go change the product afterwards, no matter what the feedback is. Sadly, this doesn’t really bode well, and I’ve seen few companies go bankrupt due to the people in charge unwilling to change aspects of their products. After all, design isn’t art and doesn’t require the same respect of author’s intent. This goes to visual design as well, e.g. web design is very dependant on how the consumer can navigate the site. I’m sure all of us could give loads of feedback to websites about their current designs.

However, as said, the consumer isn’t really willing to give feedback, not when it’s really needed. The skill to read this feedback is important as well, as feedback on a product is not a personal assault. One needs to be professional and distance themselves properly in order to read through some of the harsher bits. The difficult part begins when you start applying that feedback and may start noticing that the very core idea of your handle had is slowly being discarded in the re-evaluation and redesign process. This can lead to more prototyping and more discarded pieces, but this sort of thing happens only to something that’s absolutely required for a task, like how the Xbox’s controller got completely redesigned for the Japanese market after the hulking beast of a controller got some feedback.

Of course, when you have no feedback to go outside sales, you’re forces to analyse what went wrong. Unless you have some people around you to get things re-tested or even have money to hire a test-group. Sometimes self-evaluation is cheaper and more effective than general feedback when the faults are apparent (though you never thought them up before even when the faults were staring in your face) and relatively easy to fix.

If a designer (or a company) manages to roll out a second, updated version of the product and makes their initial one obsolete, the initial release has been essentially trash. There’s no way getting around it. Even with best intentions, with loads of time put into and a lot of polishing on a product, a failure is a failure and one just has stand up and own their mistake to learn from it. Everybody is allowed to make mistakes, we just need to learn from them. A designer can’t continue to create products that repeat the same mistakes, like a cupboard handle that has sharp enough corners to cut your hand open when grasped.

Hard mode is now DLC

So I was intending to leave this Friday’s post on a somewhat positive note on Switch’s possible future after reading Shigsy’s interview with Time. The largest positive thing here is that Miyamoto slightly hints that the Switch in few ways seems to be Iwata’s final piece, giving feedback on portability and ideas in networking and communicating. How much of the current networking elements are from Iwata and how much is made disregarding his feedback is an open question. Iwata spearheaded the Wii and the DS, and if the Switch is anywhere near them in terms of idea and approach, then the Switch will definitely do better than the Wii U. Not that doing that should be all that challenging.

However, Miyamoto also speaks of virtual reality again. In essence, Nintendo is looking into VR at the moment, which ties itself to the obsession of 3D Nintendo still has. If you look how long Nintendo has been pushing the idea 3D with games, you can trace it back at least to Rad Racer if not further. You could almost make an argument that the more Nintendo tries to push 3D and VR as the main element of their machine, the worse it does.

VR currently has gone nowhere. After the initial boom of Virtual Reality, nothing has come out of it. No software has changed the industry or has set new standards. We’ve been told that VR will be at its peak in few years for few years now, and this repeats every time a VR product comes out. It’s not about lack of marketing or failing to market the product right. It’s about the common consumer not really giving a damn about t he VR in actuality, and most VR headsets we currently have are far too expensive for their own good. None of them work independently, which only adds to the costs. They’re a high-end luxury product at best with no content to back them up.

That said, Miyamoto cites Iwata talking about blue ocean and red ocean marketing, two points that his own actions seem to dismiss most of the time, but does commend Iwata for bringing this ideology to the front within the company. To quote what Shigsy said;

This is something that Mr. Iwata did, to really link the philosophy of Nintendo to some of the business and corporate jargon, while also being able to convey that to all of the employees at Nintendo.

Iwata had a presence both with the company and consumers. While Nintendo had few faces after Yamauchi, Iwata stood out. He was the company’s corporate face that managed to juggle between worlds. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll probably find elements in the Switch that underline Iwata’s approach as the head of the company.

Nintendo has many faces now that Iwata has passed. It’s not just not Miyamoto and Iwata any longer, but numerous of their developers have come to front even further. It’s like almost each game or franchise is now attached to a face. Like you have The Legend of Zelda tied to Aonuma.

The recent BotW announcement video killed pretty much all my personal hopes for the game being something special, mainly because it confirms that even when Aonuma is wearing something that resembles a suit, he still comes off sloppy. Still, the video does right by having subtitles instead of him trying to speak English.

The fact that Hard Mode is now DLC signifies that Breath of the Wild won’t be Zelda returning to its glory days as an action title that requires skill, but it’ll continue being a dungeon puzzler. Whether or not these DLC packs are an afterthought or not, it strikes very worrying. The Legend of Zelda had a completely new quest after the first round. Aonuma saying that they’d like to give seasoned veterans something new and fun is outright bullshit. New Items and skins don’t add to the game but in miniscule ways. A Challenge Mode was in previous Zeldas from the get-go. Additional map features do jack shit, unless the base map is terrible in the game. New original story and a dungeon with further challenges are nothing new or exciting. These are basic run-of-the-mill post-game stuff Zelda used to have. Modern Zelda tends to have a terrible replay value, but this DLC announcement hints BotW has worse replay value than normal.

I guess this shows how Nintendo is going to deal with the Switch overall, at least after the launch. The Switch requires extra purchases to be complete, like to purchase the Charging Power Grip because the bundled ones don’t charge. The game industry has been blamed for cutting their games into pieces to sell as DLC, and it really does feel like that at times. DLC is often developed with the main game and nowadays DLC is planned from the very beginning. Taken this into account, with the announcement video with Aonuma Nintendo effectively showed that they took parts that used to be standard parts of modern Zelda to some extent and made them DLC. The veterans they refer to are core Zelda modern fans.

Nintendo can’t have two dud of a console in their hands now. Twenty years ago they could have N64 under-perform when it came out much later than it was supposed to, and GameCube couldn’t stand against the rampaging truck that the PlayStation 2 was. The economy was completely different now than what it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Wii U was pretty much a disaster, but perhaps even more so that the Virtual Boy as it was Nintendo’s main home console with full backing of the company in the vain of two of the most successful consoles in game history. Granted, not all machines can see the success of Game Boy. They could, if developed properly and the software library would see proper maintenance from the first and second party developers.

I’m still going to stick with Switch being more a success than the Wii U. However, if Zelda BotW is any indication for the future, there is a fly in the ointment.

Monthly Three; The Game Boy march

While reading on materials on the history of the Game Boy, there was always two things that popped up; people saying it outsold like no other despite having technological disadvantage and the fans of the its competitors calling each others’ favourites a piece of overpriced garbage. Unlike the NES, the Game Boy was a much larger success in all three main regions, despite it still seeing shortages in Europe overall. However, going into GB’s market success is not the point here. The design philosophy is, and how pretty much all ‘victorious’ consoles reflect this.

While I tend to give Gunpei Yokoi loads of credits about his philosophy about mature technology, he was no different from any other Japanese business executive. The corporate culture is that the man upstairs gets the glory over the hard-working underling, and this can go well up to the main chairman if it benefits them. Such was the fate of Satoru Okada in Nintendo’s R&D1 under Yokoi. In an interview with Retro Gamer (shortened here) he goes over the main design points that the Game & Watch, the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS had. Even in this small bit you see that Yokoi’s Game & Watch series was a good starting point for what was to come, as the Yokoi’s group first wanted to downsize it and make more pocket fitting. Indeed, while Game & Watch was led by Yokoi, and the D-pad design is credit to him, Satoru Okada deserves the same amount of credit for creating said device when he handled the technicality of things. A designer is only part of the solution, unless he is a jack of all trades, master of none.

The point of this group wanting to do technologically better game system is nothing new, and while on surface is all about the cutting edge technology, nothing in the Game & Watch games was new when it came to hardware. This is where the design sets in with the D-Pad and the overall shape of the unit. These are the hardware design choices that matter more than how powerful the CPU is or the architecture of the machine in terms of what makes things tick right. It’s not exactly about bringing in something new. I hate to use this term, but innovating based on existing facts. The D-Pad was, and is still a great solution to a control problem. Single buttons don’t really give the most intuitive feeling out there, unless they’re in a cross shape like on the PlayStation controller. The wrong kind of design can make it feel terrible, like on the Dreamcast and Xbox 360. In the end, the D-pad really is a very downscaled, flattened joystick in its core form.

As for the Game Boy, what is a surprise that Yokoi’s initial pitch is essentially a continuation of the Game & Watch, which Tiger Electronics’ games essentially were in many ways. Indeed, the Game Boy as it came out is the child of Satoru Okada’s ambition to push the envelope further. If Yokoi had not given in to Okada’s persistence to develop a far more robust and ambitious handheld gaming machine, we might be calling any other handheld game console a Game Gear.

This is one of the elements of the silver bullets in creation a successful console. It’s not enough it to use existing, mature technology and innovate with it, but it also is required to innovate. The Game Boy’s legacy for future handheld consoles is in its careful design to be cheaply produced and sold, while offering a lasting housing that can be carried easily and take serious damage before being decommissioned (or even survive a missile strike in Gulf War), but also offered games that last more than few minute at a time. The hardware was not cutting edge for these reasons precisely, but was good enough. Good enough is a magical term that is more successful than cutting edge. Game Boy didn’t succeed because it was like the Game & Watch, it succeeded because it used the same ambitious model the FC and NES had… at least in Japan and US. We know how well Nintendo handled Europe.

There is nothing special or magical in Game Boy’s victory march over Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear or PC Engine GT/TurboExpress. It sold for $99 at launch and was packed with Tetris, the only game that could be called perfect in design. Atari’s Lynx was out at $179.99 two months later, with lesser titles in its launch library. Game Gear launched at slightly lower price of $149 with the usual marketing campaign of it being the cooler option for mature gamers who liked hardcore titles. Like the PSP. While Game Gear was essentially a Sega Master System in a smaller box, the PC Engine GT really was a portable PC-Engine and able to play the same card based games as the home version. Its $249.99 price point was stupidly high, and this is 1990 money we’re talking about. Taking account devaluation of the dollar, the price equals around to $453.00 modern day money.

Paying $99 for a console that came with a game, earphones and a link cable to play with your friend was an option that couldn’t be beaten. Better, more robust hardware with backlit and coloured screens lost to a console designed to be enjoyed en masse by everyone, everywhere. Batteries ain’t cheap, and the fact that you got a whole lot more bang for you buck with the Game Boy than with any of its competition. The successive sales encourages more third party developers to develop games of the Game Boy over less popular options, and the rest is history. Nintendo would replicate the grey brick’s success with the DS… after they stopped treating it like portable N64 and tackled it as it were a portable SNES.

Yokoi left Nintendo at a point in the mid-1990’s and developed the WonderSwan, a terribly Game Boy-like console, for Bandai. Other than its extremely slim form and monstrous battery life of over 24h on a single AA-battery, it was also completely out of date and had no driving ambition behind it. Even its buttons were inferior in design, especially the loose D-pad that had no feeling to it. For a handheld console that came out in 1999, it had no legs to stand against Game Boy Color that was released a year prior. SwanCrystal, the best version of the console with colour LCD, saw a release in 2002, but with little support and mostly Bandai’s own games on the system, it was a relative niche product overall. Sure, it saw one of the best versions of Final Fantasy I, II and IV before modern era remakes, and even that is debated sometimes. WonderSwan is something what Game Boy could’ve been if Yokoi’s original idea had been implemented instead of Satoru Okada’s; a system standing on old ideas, re-using concepts rather than innovating based on them and creating something new.

To return to the opening to the start of the post, the very reason why people are astonished by the fact the Game Boy was so successful is because it was good enough, but still better than its predecessors. You don’t need to be cutting edge, just ambitious to have the good stuff available for everyone, and keep the quality high while delivering all sorts of games across the spectrum.

With this, I’m officially putting Monthly Three’s on hold. Whenever I get a subject that requires more than one post, it’ll return.

Monthly Three; The time Nintendo lost Europe

When we speak of NES’ success, it really is more about the success Nintendo saw in the United States and Japan. Europe, on the other hand, Nintendo lost in the 8-bit era due to their own direct actions and inactions, saw increased success with the SNES, but in overall terms their home consoles. While the PC market and console market are largely separate business regions when you get down to it, despite modern game consoles being dumbed down PCs and all that, they do exist in parallel and can influence one another. The European home computer market of the 1980’s and early 1990’s before the IBM revolution had set in permanently did compete with the home consoles almost directly, but there is a good damn reason for that.

When Nintendo brought the NES to the European region, it had to fight a different fight than in the US. The US console market was dead at the time, but in many ways such thing didn’t exist in Europe. European home computers, like ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC had firm footing in European game markets. One could even go as far to say that console market didn’t exist in the same form in Europe as it did in the US and Japan, and Nintendo’s entry to into European markets would be difficult at best. Let’s be fair, the second time North American video game market crashed in the 1983 affected European market worth jack shit. Atari was more known for their computers than for their consoles across the Old World.

Markets is the keyword here that needs to be remembered, as Europe is not one nation like the United States. While I’m sure everybody is aware that each nation in Europe has their own distinguished culture, people and legislation, I do feel a need to emphasize that you are largely required to deal with each nation independently. The European Union has made some things easier when it comes to business trading, but the less I talk about the EU here the better.

One of the weirdest pull Nintendo did for Europe was to split the PAL territory into two sub-territories when it came to locking, with Mattel handling distribution in the  so-called A-territory, while numerous other companies handled the B-territory. The Mattel branded territory also had Mattel produced NES variant, that looks exactly the same on the outside, except where it reads Mattel version and has that locking mechanism, keeping games from working on it. It doesn’t make much sense that you’d had to keep an eye on regional lockout within your own region, but that’s how Nintendo rolled, until in 1990 they established Nintendo of Europe to handle continent-wide dealings, kicking the Mattel version to the curb. One of the reasons was this that the NES was relatively rare console, especially in the UK, where the console was sold in specifically selected stores, mainly chemists and such, for whatever odd reason. You’d think selling NES at Woolworths would’ve been the best idea, but no. This applied to games too, but the rest of the Europe saw both games and consoles being more widespread. However, they were still relatively rarer sight in the late 1980’s compared to the computer software.

Some of the companies that handled NES outside UK fared better, some worse. Spain was handled by Spaco, who were lazy with their game distribution, and at some point tried to emphasize their own titles over others. In all European countries games came out few years later than their US versions, thou it should be mentioned that Sweden was one of the countries that got the NES as early as 1986, whereas some saw the console released few years later. Bergsala handles Fennoscandia overall nowadays, but before they only handled Sweden, Norway was Unsaco’s region, whereas Funente originally dealt with Finland. Importing games from other countries was a common practice in Fennoscandia, though the NES still had to fight against computers like the C64. Digging up all the history European NES has would fill a whole book, thus the scope of this entry will be kept limited.

The second reason why Nintendo failed the region was in the pricing of their games. While the US had always seen relatively high-priced games, the European market was almost the exact opposite. A standard NES release cost about £70 at the time, which turns into about 82€ or $86. Even now that price seems over the top. In comparison, Sega’s Master System had games going for some £25, or  about 34€ and $36. Even the Master System had lower sales than home computer software, that could see as low pricing as £10, or about 12€ / $12. Regional variants of course applied across the board, but the level of pricing didn’t change at any point. You just got less bang for you buck on the NES.

To add to this, the Sega MegaDrive saw PAL region release at a time when home computers were having a slight breakage point, and offered new games to play still at a lower price, making Super Nintendo’s market entry that much harder. Both Sega and Nintendo had American emphasizes titles as well, with Startropics being one of the best examples, and Sega’s overall strategy how to sell the Genesis in the US, but Europe had no saw no such emphasize. Even Sega tasked third-party companies to handle the PAL territory, such as Mastertronic in the UK, who marketed the Master System aggressively, selling the console an undercut price of £100. Sanura Suomi handled Master System in Finland, while the Belenux countries were Atoll handled Sega’s licenses between 1987 and 1993. Only a handful of European exclusive titles exist compared to the US and Japan, and they’re not remembered all that fondly in the annals of gaming history, mostly because the historians rarely give a damn about European gaming.

Furthermore, game enthusiasts quickly noticed that the NES games ran slower than intended with black bars on the screen. This was due to different standards, where PAL region ran at 50hz and the NTSC ran at 60hz. Companies across the board didn’t give a flying fuck porting their games properly, instead doing a quick job and making their games run around 17% slower. Interestingly, the only game that properly optimised for the PAL region is Top Gun 2. A more interesting oddball of the bunch is Kirby’s Adventure, which was patched to have proper pitch and tempo in music while having the engine running at PAL’s 50hz. Except for Kirby itself, who moves at normal speed, so everything around him moves at 17% slower speed than intended. This kind of screwfuckery didn’t really install confidence towards Nintendo among European consumers. In the end, the NES didn’t penetrate the market, sold games at far higher price than any of its competitor and had less titles distributed that were worse than their NTSC counterparts in terms of

Because of these reasons, many third-party titles that American and Japanese audiences enjoyed on the NES were enjoyed in different forms on various home computers at much lower prices, and sometimes in superior versions too. This was the era, where ports of one arcade title was drastically different from one another. The current differences between ports are laughable at best in comparison.

The way the European markets preferred Sega and home computer products over the NES are directly due to how different the market was, and badly Nintendo handled themselves. The sheer amount of game software the home computers, and even the SMS, had at the time essentially made the rarer NES and its library a niche. Certainly, the NES saw a small renaissance in the very early 1990’s prior to the introduction of the SNES, but at this point it was already a lost battle. There were companies offering decently priced low-end and high-quality titles for other machines than the NES.

As such, it would do good to remember that while the disruption strategy works, each region requires equal amount of care in the manner that fits that said region. If a company were to push highly Japanese titles to America, it would fail. If a company would be pushing highly American titles to Japan, it would fail. Europe on the other hand is different, with each country having a different uptake on things. Countries like France and Italy at one point were the biggest European otakulands without them even noticing it, while others shunned both Japanese and American products, concentrating on their own titles. In order to succeed in European game markets further, companies had to learn some new tricks and utilise each nation’s or region’s specific nature to their advantage. European game markets have changed drastically since late 1980’s, and perhaps that’s for the better. However, the face of European game markets, and industry itself, left a mark that is still seen and felt how companies approach European consumers. Sometimes, they just don’t.

Monthly Three: Death of the casual industry

The title may be click bait-y, but it’s really the best title for this topic. This will kick off a loose Monthly Three for the time being, as it seemed most people deemed themed posts worthless. But first I’d like to note that I am talking about the casual game industry, not about the casual gamer.

What the term casual gamer entices in the end is muddy at best. Its meaning has changed significantly at the core to the point of it being mostly a throwaway marketing term to push certain kinds of products over the other, and largely to condemn consumers with certain tastes and habits.

The first console in the 2000’s to be named as casual to any extent was the DS due to it having low-end games in mass quantity. Low-end game does not mean a game that is bad, technically or in design, but a game that is extremely easy to get into and play. A low-end game is not necessarily lacking in content or anything that most people would associate with so-called casual games, as New Super Mario Bros. on the system would show. To go further back in time, many modern industry workers who played the NES would not consider Super Mario Bros. 3 in the same league as Wii Sports, but both titles are high-quality low-end games. In comparison, the DS had high-end games like Solatorobo and Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban, which in comparison weren’t massive hits. Mostly because the aforementioned Umihara Kawase title was Japanese only, but you get the picture.

The Wii is often regarded as the pinnacle of a console, where quantity was over quality, thou history would disagree. There are consoles out there that may have smaller library of games, but in reality only one or two games are even decent. Virtual Boy being an example of this. The other end would the Game Boy and the DS itself. Nevertheless, the Wii was regarded as the most desirable console out of the three of its generation and sold higher number of consoles than its competitors. Not because of wagglan, like most suggest, but because the Wii disrupted the game industry.

The industry had abandoned low-end games almost completely before the DS and the Wii, producing mostly high-end games. These games were not of highest quality either, so for every few good title you got loads of titles with pretty design and technical aspects. The PS2 library is like this in large extent. The consumer base was not being expanded and companies continued to cater to the niche, red ocean consumers. Most people who bought a PlayStation seemingly moved to the PlayStation 2, with those who didn’t have faith in the Dreamcast and whatever Nintendo would be pushing out after the N64 were doing the same. Much like how most American comics only sell to comics comic nerds without any regards, and even in that there has been changes to cater a more niche audience.

The Wii however started much like other Nintendo’s successful consoles; low-end, but high-quality titles. This disrupted the industry, as there was very little production of low-end games going on at the time in comparison to the 1980’s or even the early-to-mid 1990’s. This goes hand in hand with the rising costs of game development, where higher-end game requires higher bucks to be finalised, but it will also lose big if it’s a bomb. Wii Sports is a perfect example of a low-end game hitting what the general consumers were looking for. Without a doubt it’s a game with a very simple surface that anyone can access, but the underlying layer of complexity, the physics, offered a challenge. There were multiple modes too. It’s execution left people to yearn more of content in similar philosophy, but after a booming start, not even Nintendo kept up with this. It’s much easier to realise your own dream of a game than take consumers’ voice into account.

However, making a good low-end game is hard. Not anyone can replicate Super Mario Bros.‘s quality, and even the Big N themselves shot themselves in the leg by giving their later 2D Mario titles less attention and resources during development, thou Miyamoto himself has admitted that 2D Marios take more work to make right. No wonder they released Mario Maker to take off that load from themselves.

The game industry doesn’t like being disrupted, especially when disruption ends up making a company huge amounts of money. Looking at the coverage the Wii was getting from both industry insiders and gaming press, the news are pretty raw. Outside the usual Nintendo’s finished we see every time they release a new console, the consumers were pretty much called idiots and considered almost like subhumans who couldn’t appreciate the marvels that HD gaming and cutting edge hardware could produce. This attitude is very apparent in the third-party games on the Wii across its years, as there is no passion in the titles. These people who bought the Wii, they weren’t the people who bought the PS2, these weren’t the people who played games. They were casual gamers.  Who has a passion to make games for people they consider as idiots, unworthy of appreciating true pieces of works?

The game industry created an industry just to cater the consumers they thought they were seeing with Wiimotes in their hands, but in reality no such area existed. This was apparent in the sales as well. When the third-party games turned out to be less than satisfactory, the Virtual Console titles became the main point of the console, outselling even Nintendo’s own new titles. Super Mario All-Starts 25th Anniversary Edition was a surprise to Nintendo, as people still wanted to play those games. Low-end and high-quality combination has always been highly desired combination when it comes to gaming, and largely is the silver bullet in plans to make a successful game. The rest comes with world and game design.

The death of the casual game industry essentially came to an end when the industry stopped making games for idiots. It wasn’t because of the hardware’s power, but the design and utility of it. It’s surprising how little people consider a console’s design anywhere else but in outer appearance and technical hardware, except when something negative had to be mentioned. The Wii could use traditional controllers, it had the Motion controls, which also served as a more traditional NES style controller, and it had the possibility for multiple other input methods (at least on the outer appearance.) However, all this largely fell apart, the potential of the Wii was kicked in the curb when Nintendo moved onwards to concentrate with their next console. If I were to say my view on the matter, the killing blow Nintendo dealt to the Wii was Wii Music, a title that nobody ever wanted and a title that showed that Nintendo too believed their consumers were idiots, unwilling to purchase their masterpieces… like Metroid Other M. Indeed, Metroid Other M is like anti-thesis to Wii Sports, filled with the intentions of making the best story-driven high-end Metroid that would wow the opposite audience of these idiots, ensuring that Nintendo and the Wii that they were the shit. What happened is common in cases like this, and the less said about it the better, except that it is a title that showcases how Nintendo once again left their larger audience, the audience that had made them a recognized name in the overall popular culture.

Nobody makes a bad game intentionally is something I hear people saying when it comes to terrible titles. However, not everybody aims to make the best title either, lacking either in passion or will to go all out on a game they themselves have little faith or value in. The casual game industry died when the industry largely stopped producing those games, to some extent. The Wii U is filled with middle-end games with no quality whatsoever, despite Nintendo making it the anti-Wii. The 3DS had such an awful start with ports and carry-over titles that it wasn’t desired until the library had grown and saw more low-end titles with less emphasize on the 3D. The less Nintendo listens to the industry, the more they find success. It just takes loads of work.

The argument that you need third-party products to succeed nowadays is partially correct. You need high-quality products on your system across the spectrum, not just from one end of the spectrum no matter who makes it. A game library is like a food circle, with high-end games being the meat and low-end games being the greens. Breads, rise, pasta etc being lower-mid end, milks, meat and fish being higher-mid end and high fat foods being the high-end foods. Roughly speaking, that is.

Ports of games people are already playing on a different systems does not allow it to rise above from the sea of grey, and seemingly ports are treated as the fries of a console library; they’re there to supplement the main burger. Third party burgers aren’t rare either, seeing both Microsoft and Sony have largely relied on third-party to make their systems big hits. Except for Halo in many ways.

Will Nintendo Switch have a casual game industry? Only if the developers start treating their consumers like retards again and unwilling to produce quality products for the system. They’ll feel that in their pockets then. Whatever the Switch ends up being is completely tied to its software library.

Demo the Trailer

There’s a rather lengthy writing on how there is no such a thing as a cinematic video game. It’s a good read, arguing largely on the same issues as this blog when it comes to storytelling in video games. If you can’t be arsed to read it, it essentially goes a long way to say that a game’s story ultimately is best when told through the medium itself; the game’s own play, not cutscenes or the like.

The question asked in the writing whether or not games need to be movies at all should be an outright No. Indeed, a player plays the game for the active play, and whenever he loses that active part e.g. in a pre-scripted sequence, the player’s interest wavers. Movies are different beasts altogether and have their own ways of doing things. Video game industry has relied too much on text and video in its storytelling, and the best thing coming from certain old school games is that they lacked both text and video to some extend and gameplay did tell the story. The game industry masturbates at their masterful storytelling never to realise most people seem to use Skip button more than anything else in these games. I’ve still yet to find a modern game that did storytelling better than The Legend of Zelda. Every step of that game is an adventure worth telling on its own.

PlayStation Expo was last weekend, and we saw a lot of trailers and some gameplay footage. There is an interesting disparity here, where the consumers get all hyped up because of pre-rendered footage that is aimed to make the game look as good as possible and often lacking in any sort of gameplay footage in itself. Game trailers, as much we might hate to admit it, are largely just about the cinematic flavour in the same sense as movie trailers are. Best bits picked into the trailer to show something nice to possibly track an interest. However, whereas with a movie trailer you may get the genuine idea what’s it all about, a trailer about a game lacks that punch as it has no interactive elements. It’s just footage of a game, or even worse, just footage of the videos inside the video.

To use The Legend of Zelda as an example again, a recent trailer for Breath of the Wild combines in-game videos with some gameplay footage with specifically selected sceneries. It’s also very boring to look at on every level. The direction isn’t anything to write home about, neither are the actual game content we get to see only a little bit of. All the enemies and NPC we see are boring as well. The music tries to hit your feelings, but only fanboys would falter at that point. Like if Mega Man X would just suddenly pop up as a Marvel VS Capcom character, same thing.

What the trailer does is that it shows you stuff that’s largely incoherent and has no context. The fantasy is represents isn’t classic Zelda, but Zelda games haven’t used their original source of fantasy for a long time now. It’s more like a Chinese knock-off now.

A trailer for a game does not meet the same qualifications as a trailer does for a movie. A game demo is to a game what a trailer is to a movie. However, for some years now a lot of people have been asking what has happened to game demos. All platforms seems to have less and less of them. There is no one concrete reason, thought the most common that gets mentioned is that a demo gives a straight and raw deal what the game is like, and seeing games’ overall quality has been stagnant, people simply aren’t interested in purchasing a game after trying out its demo. Jesse Schell argued in 2013 that games that have no demo sell better according to statistics. I don’t see a reason to argue otherwise three years later, seeing there is still a lack of demos.

If a demo cuts sales of a game, that means the game isn’t worthy in the eyes of the consumer to begin with. The less information the consumer gets, the better for the developer and publisher. Sucks to be the consumer who buys games without checking and double checking sources and Youtube videos how the game plays out, and even then there’s a lack of interactivity.

This is where raw gameplay footage serves a purpose, as do Let’s Plays. If trailers are made to simply sell you the game with the sleekest look possible only to fail you when you pop the game in and see how much everything has been downgraded from that spit spat shiny video, then raw gameplay and Let’s Plays are the opposite. Well, the opposite would be a game demo, but you get the point. The two showcase the game as it is in all of its naked glory and allows more direct and objective assessment on the quality of the product. Of course, no company really would prefer giving this sort of absolutely objective view on their game, unless the circumstances were controlled and hype would take over.

Hype and game trailers tend to go hand-in-hand with certain titles. Just as these trailers are made to hype us to hell and back, the hype keeps us from seeing possible flaws. Then you have ad people rising the fire even further and so on. Look how No Man’s Sky was hyped and how the product ended up being and you’ll see how much we need demos, but as consumer we can’t effect that point one bit. After all, we’re just money pouches to fund whatever personal glory trophy projects these innovative and creative gods of creation want to make.

I picked up Tokyo Xanadu eX+‘s demo recently and made the decision not to purchase the game until I can get it dirt cheap. The game does not stand up to Falcom’s brand overall. The demo’s content are largely boring and feels archaic, like something from a PS2 game. As a consumer I am glad I had the chance to personally assess the quality of the product to an extent before shoving my money into it. This should be a possibility for everyone when it comes to games, as developers couldn’t just dilly dally. The lack of demos is also one of the reasons why Steam allows consumers to return their games if they do not meet the expectations. Demos would have probably prevented this to a large degree.