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.

Sometimes globalisation sucks

A while ago there were bunch of news reports on SONY raising the price of the PlayStation 4 in Canada by fifty dollars. As a person who hadn’t given any thought about the difference in currency in North America too much, even thou I’ve taken advantages of that as an imported, this time it zinged me pretty harshly.

Some people across North America have taken this as an issue. Yet, raised prices isn’t anything in new in Canada as stated in the linked new article. I find it strange that this has seen rather large scale news coverage and people have been getting up to arms against it.

Which is stupid.  Well, from both SONY and from the people complaining.

Contrast this to Europe. A Ps4 in US is $400, and for Europe the recommended price was… 400€. Anyone who knows the difference in value between US dollar and Euro should be rising their eyebrows here. If the difference in market and weaker Canadian Dollar is the reason why PS4’s price was raised, why isn’t the price raised in the US for the same reason? 400 USD, at the moment, translates into 289.984€. 400€ converts into $551,755. That fifty dollar raise in Canadian market? Nah, that’s nothing. A hundred euro/dollar difference between continents? Now that’s complete and utter bullshit and that can’t be blamed on market differences or in the value of currency.

So OK, the EMU area has seen some serious problems in these recent years thanks to certain nations lying their ass outs in their economics reports and want to pull other countries with them down into the ditch they themselves made. I’m looking at you Spain and Greece.  Still, Euro as a currency has managed to stay ahead USD in value and has more buying power than USD. At one point it was the US that demanded the price of oil per barrel to stay as USD rather than Euro, which means that Europeans can buy oil cheaper from US and sell it more expensive to them. Dunno what’s the logic there outside the apparent It has always been like this. I’m not all that well educated on the intricacies of oil economics, so if you are, do tell me why oil is still mainly traded is USD rather than EUR world wide.

But this leads to the proper subject here, which is the Internet. Internet is world wide thing, it is not bound to one nation in terms of people who are able to access your content, unless there’s special restrictions. By definition, the World Wide Web is world wide. There should be no artificial restrictions on who sees the material you put out on the web. On the other hand, there’s a lot of good news sources that practically dismiss the rest of the world completely. By this I mean that places like IGN and so forth concentrate most of their material on US related news rather than taking account,well everything that happens within the field of the hobby around the globe. Then you have bunch of French sites having important interviews only in French, even the interview itself was most likely conducted in English. Then you have all these bullshit Game of the Year events, which may have games that were released in the States in current year, but was released somewhere earlier or will be released somewhere else later. This sort of America centric approach to things is bullshit over and over.

While that’s mainly complaining about video game journalism, which doesn’t deserve to be called journalism and has gone from trash to less worth than garbage, even Wikipedia articles reflect this to some extent. Often I go to check some small information there, and the only things that are listed are US related matters, unless the matter itself is specified to certain regions. Then I have to spend hour or so just to find that tidbit on some obscure and less than reliable site. Sometimes I just know going to library or resorting to my old books is the faster way to find the information.

While it may sound that I’m bitching about this, the point really is that Internet has no nations or boundaries. The content needs to reflect this. You also need to be prepared to take in replies and material from outside your own country boundaries. It takes effort and resources to put up a valid international news network, and it’s no wonder majority of electronic gaming journalist are shunned by real  journalists, even by those who work on the shittiest of gossip papers. Somebody called me a journalist once, and that was one of the better laughs I’ve had.

It would be nice to see worldwide comparisons and similar issues raised to further compare and contrast the issue at hand. I can’t fault for local news agencies doing news about local issues to local people. That’s all fine and dandy, I’m not going after these people for something that’s good. When an international issue is raised on sites that are seemingly international  and then stare their own bellybuttons, that’s when things are just wrong. And yes, IGN and similar sites don’t really advertise themselves as being international to begin with, but there’s some extra rub right there. The thing is, sites like that are essentially world wide and invite people around the world, but when you get down to it, they’re just regional bullshit in the end.

From a service design perspective, it is a daunting task to create a service to cater world wide crowd. However, the idea is simple; do what seems to be bind people together across cultures. Electronic gaming seems to be one of these things, even if it is in rather limited fashion. International sites take a lot of effort and resources, so of course there’s only a handful of people willing to give it a go. Why should they, when they can just write what the publishers want and advertise Mountain Dew while they’re at it? Oh yeah, that journalistic integrity and all…

Not to toot my own horn, but there has been times when I’ve been asked why I keep this blog in English when the matter pops up. My argument is that the people who I write are not bound by any nation, and anyone who wishes to read my texts should be able to do so, as long as they don’t mind non-native English with all the intricacies it brings with it. This idea seems to have worked, as I have reasonably international crowd; the only places I haven’t had any readers from include handful of African and Asian countries.  And I thank all of you. Bleh, that was too soft even for me…


Illustrations are not art

Art has become a very generic term nowadays that is thrown out there way too often in far too many situations to describe something that people usually do not understand completely. It is a term that has become something to describe anything marvelous and something that amazes a person to the point of being, well, amazed. As such, the term has lost its meaning. Good job people, art has become a concept on the same level as the word ‘cool.’

This is somewhat understandable, as it takes understanding, experiences and willful research  to realize the difference between graphic design and art. Of course, as we all know people either do not do any research or understand new things that challenge their existing paradigms. Nevertheless, it’s a paradigm shift that needs to take place not only on personal level, but on high-cultural level as well. There are somewhat healthy number of people who can make the difference between art and design, but that number is vastly smaller than the number of people who just go with the flow and ignore the difference.

In a way, I’m running a damn awareness campaign here.

One of the main reasons why illustrations are not art is the starting point with design, where the main goal is to appease the customer rather than commenting on cultural and historical phenomena, or depicting some issue that is innate to art. Design’s core purpose thus is very industrial and serves to make make the customer happy with while bringing in money to the designer/ company. A designer is tied down to serve the customer to the fullest extent and disregard any of his own opinions and wants; design is completely objective whereas art is subjective.

The second main thing is that design is actually problem solving. There is a problem, eg. a website has a need for a specific layout, or an amputee needs a new kind of artificial leg due to his choice of sports, and it’s a designer’s task to solve this problem through research, hypotheses and alternative to create the best solution possible. Through this design is also understanding people and their needs as the customer and user. Graphic design and illustrations that stem from it are this at their best; the designer needs to understand colours and shapes that trigger wanted reaction in the user, be it to guide the user to a point or inform the user of something. As such, graphic design and its illustrations serve the customer/ user.

Art on the other hand is creating something that might evoke a response of some kind from the audience, and it is about having a point of sorts in many ways. Art has no other purpose than being art and has no rules it needs to adhere to. Art serves art itself. Sometimes I hear an argument that contrasts selling art to other people and how this is the same as doing design, thus design being art. That’s not the case, as art has been always sold, and yet it’s main purpose has not been to make money even being an artist is a profession and a way of making dough. This is due to design stemming from classical arts just like many other things. Design has its roots in the Industrial Revolution and the design that we mean and know starts from there. While you could technically describe a pot from the Antique as Design retroactively, it’s more withing the lines of being a piece of work made by a craftsman. It’s something like what happened cars and the horse carriages, where cars were first know as the horseless carriages until they become known as cars. Nobody calls cars as horseless carriages in everyday language nowadays, unless they’re stuck up idiots.

Art is there to depict human need; design is there to fulfill it.

There’s a huge difference in how artists and designers think; an artist can wake up in the morning and think what he should do today while a designer wakes up in the morning and thinks how he could accomplish today’s task so that the customer is satisfied. While both people can get inspired and exaggerate, the way these often are realized are different as is the end result.

At this point we should already know a point where we can differentiate what separates illustration from art. Pretty pictures is something that illustrations and art share on very skin surface level. However, pretty illustrations are not art, no matter how you try to get around it. Sites like DeviantArt and Pixiv are filled with people calling their illustrations art and these people are dead wrong. Very few people do art there, and even less do good art.

I assume that you may have a poster in your room where you’re reading this. I have one that I bought in 1998 and it depicts Mai Shiranui. I also have another one depicting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Then, I have four pieces of art; three paintings and one drawing. The first painting depicts two young women collecting flowers and hay, the second depicts my old summer cottage, the third is a spray painting by my elderly brother depicting an interstellar icescape. The drawing depicts a rabbit sitting under a tree. Out of all these three, only the Mai Shiranui poster is design. The illustration is designed to attract the customer with the character’s own assets. It’s there to sell itself. It has no value as a piece of art, but it has every value as an illustration.

The three paintings and drawings on the other hand are art. They depict something that has a meaning and hold a value of something else than commercial money. They are subjective.

While art has become a throwaway term, it still maintains some level of caliber with it. Far too many people get offended when art is taken out of something. I’d compare it to people who call motorbikes as cars, and then somebody points out that the motorbike is actually a motorbike.

Different take on customers; for the love of God learn how to use it

Why does this program ask me this? What is this message that Windows is showing me? Why can’t my phone do this? Why can’t I tweak my Mac for better performance? Why is there a virus in my computer? Why won’t this computer work? These are questions that I’ve heard too many times, especially the last one.

Self-repair manifesto
is something I expect everybody to follow to a limited extent. The idea of can’t fix it myself, can’t own it is a bit extreme for the common folks out there, but it has the correct core in there. While I agree that some things are beyond the repairs of a mortal man and better left for fixing gods at your local shop, I’m truly expecting people to know how their devices and household items work. A surprisingly small amount of people know how their vacuum cleaner or microwave oven works, and that’s a bit alarming. In cooking, if you know how stuff works and what they do, cooking becomes both easier and much entertaining in its own rights. Then again, cooking for one isn’t the most riveting thing to do. Trust me on this. 

I recommend everybody to open some of their devices and just take a look inside what they have and just take a look at what they have inside and familiarise yourself with it. See where the power switch is, what kind of chip is attached to it, what things are in the way and how they’re all connected. Using a reference guide on what certain parts are helps a lot. For example, knowing what is a capacitor and what it does helps on the long run. If one blows up, you might want to learn how to solder in order to replace one and fix the device by yourself. Soldering isn’t hard to learn, but just like everything else, it takes some training to get the idea and become good at it.

With computers in the software side I can only blame people who never wanted to know how their system works and just want to use it without anything getting in their way. Windows Vista’s infamous security system which asked if you really wanted to do something was a direct result of people not understanding what they were doing. If something is made foolproof, it seems that its utility is almost completely lost. This in most cases also prevents the user from making tweaks and adjustments for the device as they see fit and modify it as they like. It’s pretty stupid to think that the more simplified systems get, the more text and holding the users’ hands we get, which just pisses other people off.

Windows 8 is actually a good example of this. Where Microsoft wanted to go with Windows 8 was to have it more open for the common folk who were using tablet, but what they designed was one of the worst interfaces I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a horrible GUI (look it up), even for tablets. But no, certain groups within Microsoft thought that it was best idea to make everything more simple and easier to understand, which ended up with the version we have. Honestly, Windows 8 is horribly designed, especially in home PC use.It’s just so awful to use, switching between two views and neither is completely supported. Microsoft really dropped the ball here.

And you know the reason why Microsoft thought Windows 8 was a good idea? Because there is a bunch of stupid people who just don’t want to learn how to use the goddamn operating system. In other words, the customers are stupid enough NOT to want to get into what they’re using.

I’ve said that I’ve got nothing against Apple products, I just don’t like how closed they are. But for the love of Quantum conductor, they are not any better than the competing product. You’re just too damn inept to learn what to do with them. Most Apple products, like the Macintosh PCs, are a good example of decent balance between openness and closed system; you really can’t do anything to change or tweak it, but on the other hand everything works just fine most of the time. If something goes wrong, then you’re screwed and need to contact Apple services for help. Oh but with PCs everything just crashes all the time. First, I hope you realize that Macs are PCs as well. Second, no they don’t if you know what the hell you’re doing. No buts.

Things just get more closed and stupider the more the customers refuse to understand what they need to learn in order to use different products. It’s insanely grating to think that we used to pop in a VHS cassette and press play. That worked. Now we pop in a DVD and I hear people asking how they can get into the movie. There are DVD menus that are clearly telling you what to do, and I still get a call every single week from selected people asking me how they get proper subtitles. [What in the name of fucking god. Even I never did that.Edit] It was so easier with older media. Modern media, for better or worse, asks the user to get into what the hell they’re doing.

Then again, people still don’t know the universal markings for PLAY and PAUSE. For the love that 00-Unit has for us, please learn those at least. Standardised markings exist for a reason, and that reason is to make your daily life easier.

But no, when customers are dense motherfuckers who refuse to acknowledge that there’s something wrong in them, the shit hits the fan harder than a G-Bomb. And we’re supposed to design these people a product that would be easy to use. Existing products WOULD be easy to use you would just read that one damn comprehensive manual and apply that knowledge to other similar products with little effort, trying and research. I will continue to develop and design better products for your use, but you need to meet me half-way and put some effort in there as well. Otherwise don’t blame me when I design you a house that works like 1984 police state and dictates everything you do and how you do it in order to ensure that things work as intended.

I hate that analogy. A product should be something we all can use as we want. Misusing a product or using it wrong is customers’ fault and nobody else’s.

Then again, we have shitloads of free information on the Internet and in the libraries for t people to use, and it feels like nobody is doing any goddamn research.

TWIX has misleading artwork

While I was writing the last post I resorted to many things I don’t usually take, namely loads of energy drinks. I also decided to buy some coffee chocolate as pictured.

Except it’s not coffee flavoured at all. See, that’s a service suggestion. I’ve discussed this with many people, and all of them think that this TWIX wrapping contains coffee flavoured TWIX, and it doesn’t.

Mars, what the hell? This kind of design is far too open for interpretation. Coffee and Twix and nothing more? Couldn’t they add a line along Try Twix with coffee! or something like that? Whoever decided that this was the option to go with needs his head checked. This is horrible visual design and everybody should learn from their mistakes.

And yes, it seems this wrapping did drop sales because the stores here are filled with these, more than they would usually be. I’ve heard that this wrapping might be disappearing, which is good.

But seriously, what the hell?

A matter of ease of use

You open the case, pop in the cassette into the player and press Play. It’s that easy to use a VCR. With disc format it has always been a little bit more convoluted; you open the case, pop in the disc, navigate the menus, and then possibly you are able to press Play.

Convoluted is a keyword when it comes to design of use. You want to avoid it as much as possible. However, making things far too simple in certain fields also produce results that nobody really likes. VCRs are in this regard a shining example in concept, as they require minimal input from the customer to access the purchased content and get the most out of the player’s basic function. However, the design of different players add loads of different features from different speed recordings and numerous other functions I’ve already forgotten about. Nevertheless, this kind of simplicity is always good as one of the goals to achieve in any design.

DVD and BD are a little different matter. Personally I do not find them any worse than using any other playback device in their regard, but I can’t but help to think that something went wrong when designing their interface either on-disc or in players.

While I have nothing against menus in disc formats, I do have a lot against their design interfaces in most cases. How many times have you found a disc that has loads of stupid design choices either visually or in function? Simplicity should and ease of use is lost in some discs, and I have to applaud to a lot of cheap releases for having the right idea of putting the budget into something else than damn menu screens. But no, almost all of the bigger releases have animated menus, menus with music, menus with selections that make no sense. I recall having a disc somewhere, where the menu selection where allocated into the four corners of the screen, and it made no sense how the indicator went between them. You’d expect it to move from upmost left corner to right and then down, but I can assure you that it didn’t. It shouldn’t be that hard to make simple intro screen, perhaps with a theme tune playing in the background, and simple to use menu.

But simplicity also can cause problems. With disc and cassette players it’s easy to make them function with minimal amount of effort from the user, but something like a computer operating system is a different kind of beast.

Windows is arguably the best operating system out there, otherwise it wouldn’t be as widespread and abused as it is. However, with every new iteration new problems rise as they have made Windows into more something that everybody can use.

There used to be time when using a computer required actual knowledge on how the hell you use a computer. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve forgotten loads of DOS commands that old computers needed and I used to be able to code in Pascal quite well, but with these new machines these kind of skills are unneeded. As Windows has been moved more into realm of ease of use, all the most complex functions have been moved behind the curtains of the operating system, thus the user is mostly unable to access these. In older systems you were able to access these for your own pleasure, and thus change various settings for your liking.

I do see and value Apple’s aim with their computers, but making their machines completely closed isn’t really the best option. If anyone would bother making a proper virus to a Mac OS, pretty much every Apple machine out there would be under serious threat. History has shown that pirates and hackers put their effort into systems and machines with greatest value, a reason that one should take notice why either PSVita and 3DS has not been hacked yet; it’s not that it’s impossible, it’s just that it doesn’t have enough reward to do so.

As a designer my aim in most cases is to lessen the customers’ stress to learn something new to properly use any device. However, sometimes it would be better for the customer himself to take matters in their own hands and learn to use something more advanced than just pressing play button. I would really recommend everybody to learn their computers’ OS better, what it does, what different term mean and all that, because then you are able to use your computer better and closer to its full potential. Same with every other device and system out there.

However, that doesn’t allow the designer to make convoluted shit.