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.

EXP

When you employ a craftsman or an artist to create a product for you, the basic idea is that you pay for the production of the product, the product itself and whatever else goes into delivery and so on. However, if we were to philosophically to consider this, we’d be paying for the creator’s experience as well. After all, a piece by a master craftsman does seem to fetch a higher price due to its quality than the same piece with somewhat less elegance by the master’s student.

It could be argued that the quality and finesse of a product has some relevancy to the amount of experience the creator has under his belt. In a modern production environment this may not be the case, as automated machines are able to produce a very even quality. To put that aside, the amount of experience a craftsman needs to learn to master his craft doesn’t end. In a way, to call someone a master is sort of oxymoron, as there is always room to improve one’s skill, but we just tend to use the term to nominate someone who has skill beyond the standard qualifications, if you will.

The experience we’re talking about here isn’t just few times working hands-on with something, or just few years. Ultimately, to be considered a master of a craft classically requires a small lifetime. What many seem to forget about other fields is that they contain the same seed from we all learn from; failure. Failure and the will to overcome that failure by solving whatever problem caused that failure to come true is what makes us learn. As an anecdote, I’ve seen people having a swell time in the workshop and haven’t seen much troubles. However, at some point they are just faced with a wall that they can’t overcome easily because they have lacked the challenges failure brings with it. I have to say that most, if not all of my experience really has been accumulated through numerous hardships that have sometimes required me to scrap numerous work hours due to a simple mistake or an unseen problem that could not have been avoided without a necessary experience.

As such, experience costs a lot of money, but we rarely see this in the product price itself. Then again, perhaps it should even be visible in there to any extent. Experience however does have an effect on the price in few ways. Like I discussed earlier this month, accuracy raises the price due to the sheer amount of time it takes for a craftsman to ensure the required dimensions are to a point. Thank God for standard tolerances, I tell you. Those things are a life saver in, money saver and time saver. Anyway, with experience gaining those accuracies is, in principle, easier as you have that knowhow to back unto. This sort of experience doesn’t really appear on a conscious mind all that much, you just have both the muscle memory and the gist of doing something right. It’s like opening a bottle. You instinctively know that lefty loosy and righty tighty and you twist the right way without thinking it too much.

And yet we all just stop thinking and wondering which was the direction on an occasion or seven.

For a moment, consider how much time and effort you’ve spent on your hobby or field of work and how much easier things just are nowadays for you, and how much you still require to learn new things and experience to be just that much better.

You know this already by hear, but it never ends. Perhaps the best way to put it would be that we can master something well enough at some point in our lives, but due to the nature of world, the evolving technology, changing tools, new requirements and numerous other things that can change a thing within a month, we can never truly master something. Perhaps that sort of search for perfect mastery of something is in vain, but it is without any shroud of doubt very admirable, whatever it is.

So, to return to the point. The best place where you can see quality and worth of your money is in whatever restaurant you frequent. The more open view to the kitchen, the better. There you can see that sometimes the more expensive price can fetch a more skilled chef. Watching a master chef working in his kitchen is a wonder. Applies to really everyone at their own work, really. Have you ever seen a master secretary? That’s a sight to behold in itself, especially when it comes to time and event management.

However, experience and mastering the craft can make a person a bit blind as well. I mentioned that changes can keep one from being a master of something, but it could be argued that mastering a craft in a version of sorts that turns archaic down the line. Traditional and digital painting being just one example that pops to my head. Sticking to one style and way and being its master may exclude tools and methods that would make things so much easier at times. This sounds like I’m talking about martial arts or something.

A good example of this really is how traditional metal and such craftsmen are becoming a sort of rare species due to how the same products can be largely made faster, easier and more efficiently. For example, if you were to employ a craftsman to make a ladle, surely you would get a fine and well made ladle with no second piece like that existing in the world. That is, if you don’t order multiple pieces and ask him to do a limited mass production. However, ordering some Chinese factory to produce ladles for a fraction of the price and gain so much more in quantity with the same quality is reality we must face.

But experience. Don’t underestimate it, and if you want to ensure something as it should be, don’t be afraid to ask for it too

The 4K generation

During the last generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were dubbed the HD Twins. Not necessarily by the industry itself, but at least a small amount of people. While the current generation, that will be usurped by the Switch next year, started with HD as well. However, seeing we’re again at a point where companies do mid-generation upgrades instead of just mid-generation re-design, I’ll be dubbing PlayStation 4 Pro and Project Scorpio, whatever its finalised name will be, the 4K Twins. Technically, Xbox One S should be added there too, but the games are upscaled to 4K rather being native. Call me nitpicky.

The 4K is a bit of a problem, because most people don’t have 4K screens yet. Just like HD became a thing in the last generation, it’ll take some time before 4K becomes a standard. Scratch that, technically 4K is a standard already, but the standard is not widespread within the general population in the Western world like. It takes time for people to adopt the latest cutting edge technology, and that’s good. Why is that good, people are holding technology back! I’ve heard someone ask. The reason is that despite some technology not being able to sell well at first, the reasons can be many. The high price, the unnecessary complex nature and usage, quality and sometimes not being wanted often are the more pressing elements. LCD television technology itself is a good example of this as both LCD, Plasma and CRT television existed, and to some extent still exist, beside each other.

It would seem that the general population prefers to have mature technology in their hands instead of cutting edge.

The 4K and HD will exist beside each other at least to the end of the century, if not more. This is a guess on my part, but seeing how 8K is already making its first initial rounds, investing into a 4K screen might feel a bit off. Then again, that is the evolution of technology. Something new will always be waiting just around the corner. That’s why we always come to a point where we can pick something new up, or wait until things are ironed out and becomes more affordable.

That doesn’t really work with the 4K twins.

If these were redesigns of the existing consoles like what we’ve seen in the past, there would be no real contest which one to pick up. Usually. The last version of PS3 is just ugly. The issues with PS4 Pro and the upcoming Scorpio will have whole slew of new problems that have not yet been fixed. Mainly because we have don’t have an idea what those problems are, but most likely both companies are well aware of the issues with their machines prior to launch. The Red Ring of Death is still something that looms over Microsoft’s machines. I haven’t heard any major malfunctions from this generation, outside some people seemingly having a bricked Wii U thanks to Mighty Number 9, but at least one person has reported a molten PS4Pro. Take that as a grain of salt and do some research on the whole thing. Every thing’s possible, I guess. I’m no plastics expert. However, ever a single case like this usually rings the alarm bells in people’s heads.

The whole possibly molten PS4P aside, the issue that we should be more aware is the performance issues. Perhaps the hardware found in the PS4P is of higher calibre than the base PS4’s, but that should also mean that the games should run at a higher quality. Yet, if we take Digital Foundry‘s reports true, some games run worse on PS4P for whatever reason. Be it because of the new hardware or lack of optimisation (or the lack of experience in optimisation on PS4P) this is something I wouldn’t accept. But Aalt, aren’t you the one who says graphics and hardware doesn’t matter? Yes, yes I am and I’m getting to that.

The whole deal with mid-generation updates is, by all means, to allow the developers to put better looking stuff out there and have their games run better. In reality, this thought goes only halfway through. Devs most likely will push for better looking stuff, but will continue to ignore optimisation and 60fps lock if the game needs to be out. Some titles will sell with their name alone, damned be the quality of the title. The design quality of a game should not be dependent on the hardware. The controller a game is played with affects more the design than the hardware, thou we all can agree that simple number crunching power can allow some neat things overall. In the end, it’s the design that counts. What design, well, that’s another post.

Now, the question I have about the PS4P, and Scorpio by that extent, if we should be an early adopter or sit back and wait the kinks being ironed out. Honestly, that’s up to you. Some places recommend getting the base version for normal 1080 screens and some say go for Pro anyway. I’d recommend just checking the facts out and making a decision on those.

But, there’s another quick thing; should we all just jump in with the latest tech and keep things rolling around at the speed of sound? No, because that’s impossible. As said, most prefer mature technology and even tech that’s half a decade old can feel the most wondrous when properly designed and put into use. Those who didn’t experience Laserdisc’s abilities to have multiple languages on the disc were in awe by  DVD’s ability to house such things. There’s also the point that not all people simply have the money to keep up with the pace. As such, expecting companies to have things living beside each other is to be expected and that is exactly why  SONY has not yet moved the base PS4 from the market. People will simply pick it up for its price alone and might have rationale reasons not to go for the more expensive piece.

You can future proof your technological choices only so far. At some point, all your equipment will be old and replaced with new standards. Old does not mean obsoleted, and old can be of service years more than the newfangled piece of tech with all the problems still laying in the shadows.

I admit that this post was, to some extent, me putting my own struggle with the current generation down and to try make sense how to proceed in purchasing a console, or if I should even make a purchase overall.

Divided by six thousand

Time is money, and accuracy demands time. This may not sound like a thought that we don’t know, but yet most often than not fail to realize that we live in a world where most things are not at not perfectly accurate. No, I’m not talking about journalism, I’m talking parts making and design.

In production we have four levels of tolerances ranging from very rough to very fine. Very rough is essentially things just done to get them finished without any care about the end quality as the maximum tolerances are around ±1mm. 1mm does not sound a lot, yet depending on the spot that margin of error can really make all the differences. For something like tractor, where you have a lot of parts that are under dire stress, the accuracy isn’t all that vital. As long as it works. Certain medical equipment on the other hand are required to be at certain size to the thousandth of a millimetre at most for the sake of the patient.

A craftsman who works with machines by hand has to gain rather large amount of experience before he has the skill to truly work within the finer points of accuracy. Experience is a major factor, as the machines we work with are not accurate themselves to a degree. Double checking levels and re-adjusting alignments as needed doesn’t really cut it, that needs to be done almost every time a work is being started to make sure things are straight. Accuracy starts with prepping and planning.

Of course, the modern CNC production has made accuracy more or less self-evident to most. The machines’ movement accuracy is nearly perfect and dependent on the systems’ own measurements inside, and the setting the user’s input. A designer has his workload here to design an item that can be machined properly and consider the dimensions of the objects.

Nevertheless, even with CNC machining, the amount of steps the machine has to make to ensure proper surface with proper tolerances can go two-way. A rough milling will leave the surface with a surface that most wouldn’t like and the corners and cuts may be nearly or even outside the tolerances. Even from a machine it takes time to properly finish the item to a finer degree. Often much less than what it would take from a craftsman, and more of than not factories don’t even have individual lathes or milling machines for mass production, just for parts repairs and prototyping.

Just like when design is at its best when you don’t really notice it, accurate tolerances are something that you may notice one in a while, but take it for granted most of the time. Things just have to fit in order for them to work, and that’s how it should be.

And yes, I totally agree. However, it also has to be valued. Object accuracy, to make sure that parts just fit together, is so self-evident that we barely give any thought how important it is to our lives. It’s natural, yet the challenge to have accurate objects rises as the required accuracy goes up. Almost exponentially so. Sure, we could always finish up an item with a sandpaper and a very fine file, but that’s not really doable in modern world. Speed and efficiency have to be considered, and we don’t have the time to dilly dally to get something just perfect. This may sting your ear a bit, but good enough is satisfactory more often than not.

However, it’s also interesting to notice that most modern designers work with absolute measures rather than within tolerances to some degree. Personally I always rally for designers to work with production tools their designs will be realized with to understand the steps and methods needed to produce their design. A craftsman tends to design within or just slightly beyond his skill set to push himself just a bit further down.

If you read into this entry a bit deeper, you might notice that this is part of a theme I’ve popped up here and there; the change of traditional design and craftsmanship being more or less replaced by modern technology. That is not a negative thing in itself, that’s change and evolution. Creating a crown is traditionally thought to be work for the artisans and jewellery makers, but nowadays we have designers and machines that can objectively make better products at a lower cost than the traditional craftsmen.

However, the work these traditional craftsmen do is barely visible and only certain fields are valued to any significant extent. I’m not even sure how well people are informed what sort of job a machinist, for example, has in his hands when he gets the plans.

We live in an age where we can substitute a traditional craft with one person with one machine. Not only is it more effective and faster, but also cheaper for those very reasons. I started this post about accuracy and how it costs money, but here I’m starting to end with a thought that in the future we might not even have the requirement for those traditional crafts and accuracy has become even more mundane that what it already is.

Each craft tends to think theirs isn’t valued enough, but perhaps that’s true. Everybody should be appreciated other fields of work just as much as they value theirs. Nevertheless, a thing like being an artisan might be one of the more useless jobs in the world, in the end, as their niche of being able to produce and design products is becoming a mundane every day thing with the advent of 3D printers and machines far superior to men.

It’s not a thought I amuse lightly. The fact is that the world demands further production and better prices, and work by hand costs. Machining may not have the same spirit and individuality, but it gets things done helluva lot faster and more efficient. New tools replace the old, names and professions change, but the demands and needs don’t change too much. Work can become obsoleted by progression, unless we consciously keep it alive.

Options do not equate complexity

Whenever I have a free option to update my programs to the latest versions for free, I usually take it. Office being one, because it’s such a standard everywhere that there really are no objections that I could reasonably make, even when there are arguably better alternatives out there. Nevertheless, I decided to roll the latest Office to my because why not, I should stay with on top how the latest version works and rolls for the future.

The first problem that came to me was with the installer and its utter lack of any sort of options. Not that the options were hidden, but the fact that there were none. The only thing you could do was to let the installer download all the files from Microsoft’s servers and then install them. No questions asked, not even language.  After looking into the fact a bit, turns out this has been an issue with some other people as well. Not all want the complete Office package, because most of them are just junk. The only ones that I wanted was Word and Excel, and because people still use PowerPoint for some unholy reason, I was more or less forced to install that piece of shit as well.

After browsing the Web a bit, I found out that Microsoft had released a file that unpack an .XML file to a destination. Whyever it needed to be inside an .EXE file is beyond me. This .XML essentially is the base for a config file you can yourself modify to exclude Office‘s elements and change such things as directory installation, language and which bit version you have.

After that a small visit in the Command Prompt to force the installer to use the .XML file and engage the modified installer you’ll end up with less cumbersome Office experience, if such thing exists.

This kind of thing pisses me off as a designer. There is nothing wrong in giving the consumer the power of options if that is feasible. Computer software has always had options with installations and even the dumbest idiot can manage a simple installation. The precedent this new Office installer gives is that consumers are treated and seen as retards that know jack shit about computing and the best option is to take every bit of control away, even from those who would otherwise understand what they’re doing. It’s a signal that Microsoft doesn’t seem to expect anything from its consumers.

There is a section of consumers who do require this sort of installers, yes. However, they are a minority and they should be lifted to the same level as the rest of the main section of users, no the other way around. Forcing a consumer group to dumb down their products and their uses creates products encourage this sort of ineptness with modern technology. It’s like using the microwave because you can’t be arsed to learn how to cook properly.

That’s the crux here. People don’t seem to be willing to learn anything what they seemingly don’t need. Even options are regarded as a complex nuisance. Again, I know I’ve harped on this issue multiple times in the past, but the more we see general, common consumer products being tied to a noose and their nature neutered for the sake of flowing use, the more products will be built into a box. While computer driven cars most likely will become a standard thing in the distant future, the simple thought of not having the control all the time on an icy road in the middle of buttfuck nowhere in the woods scares the living shit out of me.

Pretty much anything is like a lathe. The basic idea is dead simple; it spins stuff that you can chip stuff off. It becomes complex when we start to take into account the variables in the speeds and masses, and the different blades and so on. However, as complex as a lathe seems, it simply as a lot of options one needs to learn how to use the best in order to work with the machine. The exact same applies everywhere in our lives, and it doesn’t take hundreds of hours to learn the basics how to make the best of some program or even your OS. It just takes that want to learn and then utilise that gained knowledge, but the knowledge the consumer deems unnecessary they will gladly disregard. One thing less to remember.

That’s why alternatives exist. Nature hates an empty niche, and business market follows this same line of thinking, unless financially too risky or too expensive to realize. You won’t see free flight tickets, for example. Office might have multiple options to work with, just like Windows has. I intend to switch to some Linux distro in the future, so these options become more relevant at some point in the future. A lathe has options as well, but whereas you can quickly work a missing piece with a lathe, working by hands takes loads more time. The result might not be the same in the end either, as human mistakes are more prone to happen with handiwork.

While this is more or less an anecdotal post, I must add that I have been asked to remove certain elements from designs I’ve worked on to lessen Possibilities of misuse due to ignorance, essentially removing options the consumer may select due to some mistake or error, and then end up doing something he did not intend with the product. That’s why manuals exist, and despite people saying they don’t need manuals, everybody needs to read at least one once in their life to get started somehow.

I guess what I’m trying to say that you should always demand options for your product, be it a program or some other. It only benefits you and allows you the freedom of usage you’d otherwise lack, and even when you think you don’t want it, it gives you the power to have that option in general.

VR rhymes with itself, like history

The question who asked for virtual reality headsets is interesting. I’ve yet to find any solid documentation on market demand for VR in itself, but yet the game industry periodically gives it a go and it has always failed in the exact same way; the headsets are cumbersome and the games aren’t that hot. The most likely reason why companies still dabble with VR is because of pop-culture.


Remember this? This was what future Internet was supposed to be

Technology doesn’t really carry in how good VR is. You can have the most cartoony VR as possible, but as long as there’s nothing taking the best use of it, i.e. the design is awful, worthless. Gaming as a whole seems to aim to deliver experiences, not games.

VR comes and goes because we seem to regard it as something that is part of the future. SF predicted we’d live on the Moon by the year 2000 but our souls are still weighted down by the gravity. Rather than being out there in space, we’re just sending drones. Fiction can make predictions and sometimes those come true, albeit nobody wanted to see 1984’s thought crime to become a thing.

With the PS VR Youtube is now filled with content creators putting up vids asking whether or not you should get one and comparing it to other VR items. While the word of the consumer might say We want VR, the head of the consumer rarely knows what it wants. Even Iwata knew this. That’s why we need observation first and foremost, and the actions of the consumers really doesn’t admire the VR. VR headsets themselves are part of pop-culture worldwide, especially in sci-fi, but none of the real world sets have left an impact. Well, outside Virtual Boy and that was because it sucked.

As said, no level of technological advancement will make VR as it is currently showcased a genuine hit. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how VR is perceived and marketed to the low-end market, not with six hundred-dollar sets that require a large room to work in. The core design needs come from inside the device, not set it outside of them. To add to that, modern high-end game market is extremely easy to get hyped up, as evident with No Man’s Sky, and easily jumps into whatever bandwagon the industry wants to push. That’s the key too in this whole thing; the industry wants to push something that the consumer actions have shown is not wanted. Steve Jobbs did say that Customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them only works if you have a cult of stupid behind you. Apple managed to make big bucks with solid white rechargeable batteries that their core fans hailed as the epitome of new design flavour.

3D failed and the only place where you can see 3D still being hyped is in the movie theatres, because they invested stupidly high amounts of money into getting 3D projectors. Home consumers didn’t care about 3D and the fad died. It will resurface again in the future, just like how VR is cyclical in that way.

Outside the whole technological and marketing standpoint, the human nature abhors VR to an extent. We’re social beings by nature, and VR is essentially secluding one from the world. One of the big reasons why the Wii was such a success is that it gathered people together to play.


Wii would like to play is the core concept of playing together. The Wii was the center of house parties

VR fights against the inclusion of others. But Aalt, don’t you always argue that games are about escapism? Yes, I do, and VR as it is now doesn’t seem to contain many games to emulate fantastic worlds like Ultima. WiiSports is an escape from reality, and you can do it with friends. Tabletop games and RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons are about the same exact thing, and you play those with your friends. Nobody plays D&D alone, I hope.

Thirdly, human body really just hates VR. We are too varied in nature to be confined into one type of controller. Most VR sets seem to forget that people tend to have difference in how good their vision is, and how easily our sight can change. Our eyes are much more delicate piece of hardware than our hands, which can take a stupid amount of abuse before they go haywire. Hell, we still have people fighting over what’s the best controller, when in reality there is no such thing. VR sticks to its guns and has not produced anything worthwhile.

Game business needs to remember that unlike most entertainment businesses, their products are consumed actively, not passively. Their aim should be to deliver to the consumer, not to themselves. Their model should surround themselves around consumer driven ideas, not self-centered navel gazing and circlejerking. Just like with food, we pay them to deliver stuff we want to consume, not the stuff they want to create. Let’s kick a dead horse a little bit more and remind ourselves how Other M ended up being when the creative forces were let free to do whatever the hell they wanted.

There is a silver bullet/s to make a successful game on a console platform, yet the companies ignore the history electronic gaming has in favour for their visions nobody asked for or even want outside idol worshippers. There is a reason why the term fandumb exists, and all of us are part of some. I know I keep saying the same thing over and over again in this blog, which is why I at one point slowed down on commenting game news, because the industry keeps repeating the same things without further considerations. VR is just one of the many things.