A delicate piece of hardware

Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.


Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back

Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.

However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.

The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.

To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.

Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.

No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.

Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.

The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.

The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.

I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.

Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.

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.

Reprints and the aftermarket

In the wake of good news from the good ol’s Sega, they seems to be intending to further promote Yakuza in the US by doing a reprint run of the first four games. Reruns are good and bad news to collectors. Those who misses the original run can pick up these sort of games and enjoy them good as new. Then there are those who would hoard them for future sales who buy them amass. Scalpers, if you were to use the bad tongue.

The game aftermarket is bloody battle, and certain fields are largely controlled by a group of individuals. There are those who collect games in mint condition to use in the future as the basis for higher priced sales. It’s not an unknown tactic to buy the market empty of loose cartridges to eliminate competition, thus causing a shortage of supply to already supply diminished market.

Not that there isn’t anything wrong in that in itself. It’s the buyer who is stupid enough to pay extraordinary prices.

You're asking what now?
You’re asking how much now?

I picked up Battle Mania Daiginjou for some 200€ some years ago, and that was a stupidly high price. A reprint of the game would in place, but a reprint to a dead console like this is less than likely. But Aalt, why would you repress PS2 games then? Because pressing DVD is so much cheaper than mass producing plastic shells and PCBs to run a cartridge based games. As a side note, we’ll get back to this series on a later date in form of a review, and I’ll be revising Daiginjou‘s old review.

Some people were guessing that digital redistribution of games would bring down old games’ prices. Either it had no effect on the aftermarket or  raised prices further. In principle, there are more games available now than ever before in digital format for consumers. However, the core collectors who want the real deal, so to speak, are more or less willing to dish out the dosh for whatever. That’s pretty unhealthy, but such is the nature of a collector.

This is one of the reasons I don’t personally believe that physical distribution will die out any time soon, if you allow me to step outside my own rules here. As long as their collectors and people who wish to gain control over what they put money into, or value an item enough to wish to have total control over it. Not all people are comfortable with the idea of allowing another to have total control over their purchased goods. However, it is undeniable that digital distribution does cut down multiple factors in inconvenience, through the pricing overall is still overt, often meeting with physical releases’ prices. I’ve been told I’m wrong when it comes digital distribution for good decade now, and I’ve yet to see digital distribution killing the physical goods market. Diminishing it perhaps and taking its slot in there, but not killing the market overall. Of course, not all games have seen official digital redistribution, something that is extremely unfortunate. However, it is something we have to live with, especially with so many titles having their source code missing.

To get back on the subject, reprinting Yakuza is a rather clear sign from Sega what consumer market group they are targeting. It’s not the general public, but the collectors, red ocean gamers and Japanophiles. Let’s not forget the people who got into the series during PS3 games, who never managed to get their hands and play the first titles. The Yakuza games weren’t exactly hot sellers and ended up warming the shelves long enough to cut the price at least 80% in rather short time. The supply was rather large in comparison to the demand, but it seems that part of them were moved away from the circulation. In Japan the series is far more popular than in the West, and banking current fans and niche audiences is Sega’s best bet to have the series be successful.

Furthermore, the Yakuza series has not been through the best of localisations. Whatever you think of the first game’s dub, it was a fair attempt at making the game more open for the general public. The second game wasn’t tampered with, but pretty much all the rest of the games saw removal of minigames and missions to some degree, up until the latest titles. Whether or not we believe Sega’s statements why content was cut from the games, they didn’t really give them any positive press and seemed to affect the sales to some extent, considering these same niche audience that are their main target audience currently tends to prefer their games in more untouched form, head petting games intact and all. I can’t fault  them, I share their sentiments for my own reasons.

The question that rises from here whether or not it would be worth to run reprints on more games, even when the price might be higher. It’s not exactly an easy question from the consumer point of view. On one hand we do have collectors and retro collectors that would gladly purchase a new print of some high-calibre NES game like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Castlevania III, both games that tend to run at a higher price. The price would need to be gauged beforehand and probably be handled through a sort of pre-order similar to Kickstarter to meet up the costs of running a new production run. That is if we assume that we would replicate the original NES carts. As we’ve seen with 8bi Music Power and Kira Kira Star Night DX, there are more cost-effective alternatives. However, if we assume SMB3 would get this sort of reprint through modern technology, there would be split between the consumers; those who would like to have the “original” release and those would be “satisfied” with the reprint. In reality, both would be Nintendo produced official version of the game on NES. The semantic of what’s original and what’s not is strong with collectors, and these tend to drive up sales. NES is a prime example of a system to which people want to collect, and its partially because of its large library of games.

The retro game market may be skewered to hell and back, but that seems to be natural progression of valued old products market. It’ll take few decades before video games would be appreciated as proper antiques.

Ageless games across generations

Video games have more in common with hide-and-seek than with movies, literature or music. This is due to video games, and electronic gaming in general, being the latest iteration of play culture. As such games of the past, be it the NES or Atari era, still find home within the new generation of consumers just as easily as any well planned out children’s play, game or even sports would. Only in video game industry we hear something become obsolete because of its archaic technology or because we have that aforementioned new generation. Soccer, basketball and numerous other sports still are around because they are ageless because each of them has been passed down to a new generation, just as children’s plays are.

Children will invent stories as they play along, be a costume play, playing with figures or something else. While there is a rudimentary narrative running in these plays, playing is the main thing. Electronic games, both PC and console games especially, are largely a legacy of these plays. The problem with electronic games is that they are static and can’t dynamically change as the player wants. This is why more varied games are always needed and the more unique titles we have, the better. The Legend of Zelda and Skyrim may be based on a similar notion of a hero in a fantasy land, but their realisation is different and serve different purposes. On the surface the ideas and even core structure seems similar. The reader already knows, the two games are vastly different in how they are played. Just like how the narrative in children’s plays are to enforce the action of playing rather than being the main thing, so do games use narrative as a support for playing the game. Changing it otherwise undermines both playing and gaming.

An ageless game will sell to future generations despite its technological backwardness. This is why emulation will never cease to exist, as anyone who knows the basic use of a computer and reading comprehension probably has already fired up at least one sort of emulator. As an anecdote, I’ve seen people as young as seven doing this without any outside help, and they enjoyed playing Super Mario Bros. on JNes. Why Super Mario Bros.? Because Mario is still a cultural icon, and using a Nintendo system most likely the one thing that people go for first. Not because of the modern entries in the series, but due to how large of an impact the franchise left on the face of culture in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Much like the game industry at large, those companies with a long history with electronic gaming often simply ignore the possibilities of their library. Instead, we may see plug-n-play conversions of some titles like with Atari 2600, but sometimes we get a piece of products that hits the cultural nerve just the right way and outsells itself to the point of amazing even the producers themselves. The NES Mini surprised Nintendo and its execs without any shadow of a doubt, as mentioned by Reggie in a CNET interview regarding the Switch. To quote him;

The challenge for us is that with this particular system, we thought honestly that the key consumer would be between 30 and 40 years old, with kids, who had stepped away from gaming for some period of time. And certainly we sold a lot of systems to that consumer.

Reggie claims that Nintendo is aware of the popularity of their classic games, which he contradicts with this statement. Furthermore, if they were aware how popular their classic games were, Nintendo would aim to make them obsolete rather than push games that enjoy less popularity. The NES Mini, as Reggie mentions above, wasn’t just popular with the people who grew up with the console, but with basically every age tier. Furthermore it should be noted that even in Europe the legacy of the NES has become that they were the victorious console, but do go back few entries to read how well Nintendo royally fucked NES in PAL territories.

It’s not just the nostalgia that sold NES Mini. As Reggie said, NES Mini is popular among kids, and kids have no nostalgia for a thirty years old game console. The games cherry picked for the system simply are mostly well designed and can stand the test of time. Super Mario Bros. does not appeal just because it is a Mario game, but because it’s a fun adventure in a fantasy land. Zelda‘s open world Action-RPG is popular outside the fans of the franchise (and I hope to God BotW will have an open world in the spirit if the original.) Metroid‘s action-adventure appeals similarly to a larger crowd than just to the fans, thou game devs have been furiously masturbating to this genre for the last years harshly.

There is nothing that would keep Nintendo from realizing the spirit of their older games in their future titles. Nothing keeps an old game from appealing to modern consumers, just like there’s nothing from modern children playing games invented couple of hundreds of years ago. We still play cards like Go Fish! or Shitpants with our kids. Hell, one could even say that when we grow into adults (or rather, we realize we are adults) we still keep playing the same games, but stakes are just higher. Poker may replace Go Fish!  but a new generation will still play that. A new card game for kids will appear in the future to supplement already large library of card games, but it’ll never be able replace anything if it doesn’t refine the formula somehow. Even then, it’s hard to beat a solid classic.

To use another Nintendo example is the Wii. Wii’s Virtual Console sold more titles than Nintendo’s big releases in the latter part of the console’s lifecycle, and saw a slow death on the 3DS. This seems to say that Nintendo doesn’t really take into heart the notion that classic games and their core are still viable. Instead, they concentrate on something surprising and that old games are only played due to nostalgia. A sentiment the game industry at large sadly seems to agree upon. With the success of NES Mini, will Nintendo begin to value their classic games more rather than just as the beginnings of an IP? Probably not, but Switch should tell us in due time.

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.

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.

Enter Nintendo Switch

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The rumours were mostly true, the NX, named properly as Switch, is a hybrid.

If you haven’t watched the trailer yet, here it is.

This is first impression by large. You should also check Nvidia’s post about the console.

White and black are passé, the colour we’ve shown is grey all around. It has very little sharp corners and overall looks smooth. It’s what the leaks told it was, and the overall impression is very subdued, but rather attractive. I hope multiple colour options are available, and at least one is in NES colours.

The controller design, or Joy-Con as they call it, lacks a good D-Pad on the go. I understand that it’s a sacrifice that had to be made because of the nature of the machine, but it still sucks. I hope third party Joy-Cons will remedy this, and that third party Joy-Cons can add features that are not in the standard ones. The name Joy-Con is awful tho, it should be anything but just ‘con.’ The Switch is following Wii’s example by showcasing the controller itself first, not any of the launch titles. Could we expect something like Wii Sports? I hope the controllers can function as or with a Wiimote.

Not only that, but the buttons overall worry me. The plus and minus are shaped as they are, which work well with the blind or otherwise visually impaired, but the rest of the console isn’t designed them in mind. There’s no reason they couldn’t be normal buttons.

The idea of having the controllers separate is neat, but the obvious question is how much wear and tear the controllers can take before they don’t click in anymore. Is the lock mechanism exchangeable, or moulded? A lot of little questions like that pop up to me. They are mighty small when playing with a friend, but at least it’s a neat feature. I just hope games will be able to make use of it well. Sports titles at least should be able to. 2D multiplayers could make a triumphant return, even when you’d have to use a stick to control the character on-screen. D-pad or an arcade stick will always be better for the likes of Mario and Mega Man than a thumbstick.

The Pro-Controller is business as usual. I just hope the D-Pad won’t suck.

The stand/rack where the screen unit will sit in looks a bit bland, but nothing that decals can’t fix. The best thing about the Switch at this point is not on the go part, but that it uses game cards. That’s great, I’ve always disliked the disc medium for whatever reason. However, the itty bitty stand that makes the screen unit stand (seen in 1:04 in the video) will break easily. These sort of legs are just awful, and it should’ve been full console width.

This being a hybrid console, Nintendo most likely will not create a DS for the time being. This will be the first 9th Generation console, and it’ll last somewhere 2022. Because of the leaks, the surprise is very low. You will see a lot of previous gen games ported to this, as it is per fashion when a console has no defining feature to it. For example, the NES and GBA saw a lot ports from home consoles, but the DS forced companies to think outside the box and make new games. However, the more software the Switch gets, the better. I’m just hoping most of it will be something new. You can expect Nintendo to release their old games on the Switch.

However, the best thing about the Switch’s video is that it shows people playing together, as a group. It follows the same idea of playing together. However, a lot of the people in there were from certain age range, and I hope this won’t mean Nintendo is going to ignore the rest. Make this a NES 3.0.

Price can make or break the console. This one could be on the expensive side, and that could damage the console’s image. The Switch needs to be cheap and easily available, not a high-end market product. However, what’s more important are the games. This console won’t sell on its hardware, but on the games that will make use of the hardware. Nintendo has shown none as of yet, and the moment we see the games we can make further assumptions about what their goals are.