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.

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 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.

Demo the Trailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 4K generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divided by six thousand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of traditional television will change game consoles

I’ve discussed how traditional television has been changing to on-demand services for a good while now. What I haven’t discussed much is that this has removed television itself as the central point of the living room, which also means the devices connected will see a drop in significance. Physical media itself won’t disappear as people have been saying for the last ten years or so, but the form it is in will change accordingly.

Granted, saying that television will die is a hyperbole of sorts, but it fits. Just like how VHS died to make room for the VHS. Same shit, different boxers.

I’ve been watching NFL in my local American burger joint on and off, and while I’ve gained appreciation and understanding towards handegg as a sport, it did make me think how easy it is for Big D to showcase something like this in the modern era. Through that I came across the news about NFL viewership plummeting, and while NFL’s popularity has been going down, this is an indicate of where things are going. As television has become decentralised, so has our habit on how we consume it. While we do have differences in how we consume television across the world, the similarities trump them. Just check one of our old ARG Test casts to hear about it.

The game consoles will follow in suit, and if the rumours of NX being a hybrid off home and handheld consoles are true, then Nintendo has probably foreseen this trend. The high-end console gamer will not decantralise his television too easily, he has too many consoles attached to it and too many games yet to be played. For the low-end consumer who infrequently gets consoles and is still rocking his Wii, this won’t be a problem. The industry and some of the high-end consumers have already labelled NX based on the rumours as a gimmick and as the torpedo that will sink the Nintendo ship, but they did that with the Wii too. As a reminder, the Wii made shittons of money.

If the NX is a hybrid console, playing both home and a on-the-road market, it would indeed look like Nintendo is taking into account the death of traditional television. If this road proves to be true, then we have to wonder why do both Sony and Microsoft invest millions into research and development of new ultra-HD consoles that have no central point? While both of these machines could be used for their streaming services, this field is largely overtaken by other machines. After all, these dumbed down PCs will always fight a losing battle if they try to tackle a market outside their own realm. Microsoft learned this after one year of trying to push their movie, television and music streaming services, running back to high-end gamers with tail between their legs. One could argue that Microsoft has seen the death of television like Nintendo, then it would make sense for them to absorb Xbox as a brand back to PC. Sony on the other hand is fucked and nowhere to go.

Console as a media center is largely something that the last generation aimed to realise to its fullest extent. Before that PS2 could play DVDs, but that was laughable at best. Only the original PlayStation model was any good as a CD player either. You always had better dedicated devices for all that, and people tended to favour those. Now, you have tablets and whatnot with their wireless receivers everywhere and you’re able to stream whatever you want wherever you want whenever you want. That’s a harsh battle to fight against, especially when you’re trying to remind the consumers that the main thing the device is for is games. Consoles have been always at their best when they are aiming to deliver a console experience to the consumer.

Whenever Nintendo decides to fully reveal the NX will have three results. First, it will show what sort of device it is, confirm or de-confirm rumours that are about. Nintendo has not fueled the rumour train themselves, and that’s good. That has controlled the hype train, and the best thing what they could do now is to control the exposure from their and developers’ end as much as possible. This is simply to ensure that things won’t leak before they are finished, as consumers sometimes tend make false deductions on one or two trickles of valid information.

Secondly, it will show the direction Nintendo will take with the NX. Whether or not it will continue the way of the N64, GameCube and the Wii U (and Virtual Boy) is still an open question, and personally I would so much prefer returning to the NES, SNES and Wii style mindset that has profited Nintendo the most and has produced best games they’ve ever developed.

Tied to the second point is the last one, which may be the most damning. Thirdly, NX’s revelation will tell us how Nintendo themselves sees where console gaming and television itself is going. Nintendo has a spotty track record in certain aspects, but they have a solid one when it comes to defining trends and dare I say innovate whenever needed. The D-Pad just being perhaps the primary example. Let’s not forget the use of mature technology that they engineered when it came to gaming, though that has been less prominent with their more recent consoles to an extent.

The death of Nintendo has been predicted since the late 1980’s, and now consoles overall are predicted to die. However, it is far more reasonable to suggest that just like music purchasing has changed throughout the ages, game consoles will change and take new shape. They serve a market that’s incredibly wide, if the industry would just decide to provide both high and low-markets. That’s why Nintendo can disrupt the industry so easily when they decide to do so.

Competing as a multimedia device in an era where almost every device has a screen of its own and works as a fully fledged multimedia device is, to repeat, a losing battle. Game consoles and games themselves can only make an impact if they are designed and sold as games first and foremost. With times changing, the device these games are played on have to represent the era, and the era of television as the centre of our homes is coming to a slow end.

Statistics ignore everyone and everything but their actions

What makes a good game? Great gameplay, lack of bugs, pretty graphics, excellent controls, astonishing music and all that, of course. However, all that is subjective. Some people will argue that no matter how high fidelity graphics you have, they don’t look good enough or misuse effects like bloom or have an awful visual style. Great gameplay is another, with some people calling the likes of Monster Hunter and Dark Souls to have absolutely the best games have to offer, while some simply absolutely hate them and their animation management. I guess everybody agrees that games should have as little bugs as possible, thou some would argue that the existence of bugs can lengthen the life of a game and add new dimensions, like combos in Street Fighter II. Music is completely subjective, as you can have a great symphonic soundtrack that does jack shit to function alongside the rest of the game or leaves no impact on the player.

Some time ago I wrote a post about what sort of games ‘academically good’ are. Hardcore gamers wired to recognize these, but even then their own opinions and biases stand in there harshly. You can create academically perfect game, and most Triple A titles do admire this the most, but that’s not what makes actually a good game.

A good game isn’t academically perfectly made game. To put it straight, what determines a good is statistics.

Whatever a person individually thinks is a good game has a value of jack shit. What a reviewer thinks is a good game is only based on his experience with any given title and the generic view of academically good. It’s a worthless opinion. However, when you begin to look at statistics, not review statistics mind you, but sales and use statistics, you are able to see what people truly view as product worth of their money and time. Essentially, what they view as good.

This is not an opinion either. Proper statistics ignore opinions and subjective views. They’re cold facts, and the more statistics you take into notion, the more you can gather proper data what is the silver bullet in whatever genre. For example, 2D Mario has always sold more than 3D Mario. Logic would state Nintendo would produce high quality 2D Mario games because of this, but they don’t. Nintendo produced mediocre 2D Mario for the DS and it was a hit, but they never stepped up their game after that and the sales fell. They ignored the statistics and essentially fucked up.

Keep in mind that what you regard as good game is still valid, or rather is as valid as anyone else’s opinion. Opinions are the only ones we can argue over. Invalidating one opinions is invalidating one’s own opinion on the same side. One can argue for Final Fantasy V and how it’s the best Final Fantasy game ever, while the other can argue it’s really the same shit as the rest of the franchise while claiming Final Fantasy Tactics to be really the best one of the bunch. What is the objectively best Final Fantasy game lies in the statistics, of course.

I understand very well that this seems like corporate shilling. However, this absolutely ignores the companies as well. If we check the best selling (I know) multiplatform games, you see Tetris and Wii Sports at the very top with Minecraft. These Top 3 titles have well deserved their spot. Both Tetris and Minecraft not only were absolute phenomena on their own right, but have made an impact to the popular culture at large, and in case of Tetris, on the overall culture as well.

However, the data is incomplete. While it’s true that these games have sold the most unit, it ignores arcades altogether. You can’t sell a game in an arcade. Thus, we need to check the highest grossing games as well for some comparisons sake, and the titles are very much different. If we were to check even further into data, that we may not have at hand, we could check how well each of these games have managed to sell and be received each year after their initial release. We’d also need to take inflation and population change into account as well as other variables, but that’s far too much to take into for someone who isn’t educated in statistics analysis.

All the above neglects my personal games as well. Mega Man is obviously up there, but within the statistics it’s merely a footnote. Mega Man 2 looms at spot 38 in the best selling CAPCOM games, and that simple statistics tells you more than a raving fanboy ever could. It’s followed by Mega Man Battle Network 4 as the 44th most sold CAPCOM game, a thing I can’t fathom why it sits there. Nevertheless, it is the 4th most successful CAPCOM franchise out there. Still, none of these statistics change how I feel about the games I regard as worth playing and putting money into.

That goes everybody else as well, and from those the statistics ultimately form up. While it does seem like an uncaring monster, statistics are ultimately decided by the actions of the people and what they think. Those actions speak louder than any review, blog post or sales speech. That’s exactly why money speaks and wallet voting is the best, if not the only way to actually make an impact. Then again, one person’s actions against thousands of others makes little impact, and in grand scale of things that one person means absolutely nothing. Minority has their own circles most of the time, and they are always afraid that their voice will go to deaf ears if their favourite thing suddenly becomes more popular, as they become minority in their own thing. Whether or not that is wrong or not is whole another post for other time, but overall minority should never go before the majority.

Are we honest to ourselves and to others when it comes to brand loyalty?

First things first, I’m retconning myself a little bit and awarding last week’s post about Metal Gear designs a Review of the Month status. The name has been changed to reflect this. The reason for this change was that I need to do some additional work.

Then, to the actual post at hand. The now just released trailer for Metal Gear Solid V by Hideo Kojima confirms that the Metal Gear we see in the book photo is indeed in the game. Kojima even makes sure to emphasize that it is also the definitive, ultimate Metal Gear to the point of referencing 2001; Space Odyssey when it whips its sword out.

Absolutely stupid
Absolutely stupid in the context of the overall series

Whatever the author’s intent Kojima had for the series is rather blatant in the trailer; only Solid series and the entries he worked on matter and are canon in his eyes. Let’s emphasize that; in Kojima’s eyes. Currently, he is no longer associated with Konami or the Metal Gear franchise. Whatever he states and thinks is no longer relevant to the franchise, much like whatever Inafune had through for Mega Man.

For both Mega Man and Metal Gear franchises, the person most famous for them has never been the only person working on them. This is not like with literature, where you often have one author writing these works with the help of the editor, or like with more popular and successful authors, without any editor. There’s a good reason why Tom Clancy’s books became so bloated and fell in quality.

Inafune had less control over Mega Man than Kojima had over Metal Gear. This is mostly because of two things. First, CAPCOM recognized Inafune’s skills when partnering him with people who could fill in whatever Inafune lacked. Look at Mighty Number 9 to see how the game ended up being much less than initially promised when he was all on his own. Minakuchi Engineering did a lot to the franchise, and most fans don’t even realize this.

Secondly, Konami recognised Kojima’s superstar status after Metal Gear Solid. He had been a relative hit after the first Metal Gear and with games that followed, but nothing could really beat the original Metal Gear for whatever reason. This applies to the NES port, especially in the West where absolutely nobody had a MSX. I won’t deny that Kojima’s games have been popular, and that MGSV will most likely be a huge success despite many fans swearing by their mothers’ graves never to touch Konami game after all the drama that has been going down behind the scenes.

There’s basically three different ways to approach any product out there; ignore everything surrounding it and concentrate on the product itself, concentrate on the provider and follow his products ignoring their overall quality, and concentrate on the owner of the product and whatever they may be doing.

The first is most beneficial to the consumer. After all, the product is what the consumer enjoys and it needs to deliver without any excuses. If it doesn’t, it’s not the individual who is responsible but provider as a whole. A problem with this approach may be that it ignores whatever the company does to produce the products. For example, the question of child labour and inadequate working environments with H&M’s factories may turn people to go alternatives.

The second approach is the classic rockstar approach. Whatever they do is like the word of God, they can do no harm to you. This idolising is extremely harmful, because the product doesn’t really matter, just the person bringing it.

More often than not, these two are more or less combined when it comes to general consumers. However, the third one enters here with companies that do not have a face as their representatives. Coca-Cola is one, and another could be car companies. Of course, if you’re really deep into the car design scene, you may know the teams and individual designers who have headed some of the most popular cars or the most expensive ones. Then again, it wasn’t too uncommon to see people rooting for a game company simply because they deemed their products the best things out there.

Company and brand loyalties play a big part in all these, thou rockstar loyalty is a thing. An informed consumer usually is aware of all three and wages if the product is worth their money and time based on these matters. However, human subjectivity is a bitch and we all knowingly practice double thinking. While we preach to others about proper treatment of animals or people, we are willingly ignoring or downplaying the negative effects they have.

I’m not saying that we are awful people. I’m saying that we act human. We wilfully ignore certain things, but if we can be honest to ourselves, even if it comes into such things as buying things, we could find certain kind of peace. Accepting that, perhaps we all could more informed on multiple views and arguments, and then base our decisions on those while still giving chances for those things we don’t agree on.

But that would require effort, and you know how hard effort is.

Different take on customers; People love clowns

Every hundred posts we take a different stance on customers and industry. Except something different from the usual.

One thing that is absolutely stupid with customers is their inability to realize who owns rights nowadays. It is the person who pays for them. In the creative industries, more often than not the company owns what the people produce. This is largely a standard in the creative industries. Movie companies own the rights to the movies they produce as they pay for the writers and directors to make them these products. This applies especially to video game companies, where they employ people to create these games. It’s their damn job. It has always been about money and it will always be about the money. You own what you pay for. Except Steam users.

People are saying Konami is taking Kojima’s baby away. That is nothing short of horse shit. Kojima may have been the creator behind Metal Gear and yet you need to remember that it has been a job for him. He did it because he was employed by a company to make games for them to sell to the customer, not for himself. If you want to own what you do, you make it yourself. Now Kojima has all the possibilities to exercise his freedom to put  a new company and have free hands to do whatever he ever wishes. Of course, it may end up being absolute shit, as any and every creative person needs to be reined in to cut the excess far and rot off from the product and fry it to perfection.

The whole recent thing about Konami’s and Hideo Kojima’s downfall is an example where there is an idol worshipping cult following one man and his wish to make money on the expense of these cultists. These people have been sucking Kojima’s dick to the extent that Kojima has been waging a power struggle with Konami, that much is evident from the recent events. It’s easy to see how Metal Gear games have been eating most of the budget Konami has been able to sustain, and seeing how Konami almost became Kojima the Company, it’s no wonder either one would’ve fallen.

Do Kojima’s fans even know what he does? He has been mainly the idea guy behind the products that carry his name, the guy who directs and writes them. He has been in the role that is essentially a project leader and less the person who sits down and makes the game, i.e. programmer most of his life. Don’t be mistaken, his contribution is important and vital, but he would never had the products without the people who actually got their hands dirty with the games. Then of course you can question his writing, as it is cliché as hell and extremely derivative from Hollywood movies. Of course, you can even question if the Solid series is even all that good when you have hours upon hours of FMV, a prime example being Metal Gear Solid 4 with its laughably small gameplay time compared to the insanely long movies. It’s no wonder his ego has grown across the years with the fanboys backing him up every time, while other projects have been killed in order to save money for Kojima’s next brain art. Konami could release that ready Bomberman game and make good money, but it seems that at the time they didn’t care about that franchise.

What is even more stupid is that the fans seem to think nobody else could do a Metal Gear game, which is absolutely laughable idea. There are four examples of Metal Gear games that have little to none to do with Kojima and all have been taken in with great acceptance. Snake’s Revenge was first sequel to the MSX Metal Gear and was met with high praise. Fans have done pretty good job by rewriting history with the Internet, but they don’t stand a chance against people with memory, much like how Zelda fans want to rewrite Zelda II as some sort of awful game and a black sheep of the series, despite it being a huge success. It’s only the younger fans in both series who are pushing this kind propaganda, because that doesn’t fit their world view. The AC!D games had nothing to do with Kojima, and despite their different gameplay nature they sold relatively well considering they were on PSP. Portable OPS was the first Metal Gear game that was met with incredible hatred from the fans because Kojima’s name wasn’t attached to it, showing that they are easily swayed if one person isn’t associated with it. The game tried to shove home console Metal Gear on handheld and suffered from it, and its follow-up Peace Walker is actually less a Metal Gear game than its own thing. This brings is to Rising and how the series has changed with the time. Every game series, outside certain exceptions, have changed significantly throughout the years and will continue to change. There are times when new franchises are made under the same overall brand name, much like how Solid is different from base Metal Gear, so is Rising from Solid.

If you want to talk about game series that have sucked after the original creator has left them, consider the following; game industry sees constant staff changes. A creator may be programmer early on, but later kicked up to become a producer, thus having less to do with the actual production of the games than their overall visage. Miyamoto is a prime example of this. We know of his interviews that he made some coding in Super Mario Bros., but after the he most likely never has touched a line of cone, but has been directing them. Nevertheless, Mario games without Miyamoto’s involvement have been more or less big successes, especially the Game Boy Mario games.

Metroid is a series where you had the original creator killed by a car accident and was given to a whole different company to produce a 3D Metroid. We can argue whether or not the Metroid Prime series is better or worse, but we can’t dispute that at least the first game managed to deliver top notch 3D Metroid experience.

Then you have Mega Man, a series that had its original creator not even being involved after the initial design phase. Inafune has stated that Mega Man as a concept and design was ready before he was brought in to take it to the end. Inafune has been the person working longest with the series, and yet the most important changes to the series and its success should go to those who have worked under him. Then you of course have Minakuchi Engineering and Inti-Creates, completely different companies from CAPCOM, making excellent Mega Man games with Inafune in the producer’s seat. Minakuchi Engineering did better job with Mega Man IV and V on the GameBoy than CAPCOM’s own staff with Mega Man 5-8, or Inti-Creates with 9&10. Of course, people love Inafune and were willing to give thousands for his totally original piece of work that would have been produced anyway, and it ends up looking like crap.

Devil May Cry is an example, where the high staff changed after the first game, and then proceeded to make the best games in the franchise. DmC by Ninja Theory is the exact opposite, where people who didn’t give two cents about the customers or about the franchise got free hands to butcher it. You can mostly put that on Inafune and his wanting to have Western developers to make CAPCOM games. Thank God that Irregular Hunter X FPS game never came to be.

But of course, consumers want to idolise those people and think they are their friends. Of course they act like they’re the customers’ best buddies, because that’s good PR. They don’t care about you, they never had. They only care that they can keep their work and get your money. It’s business, it’s work. You have to make a living. It’s easier to become superstar developer with immense amount of fans looking up to you, as this give you leverage over the company you work for. A cleaver customer would be able to see through all this and look at the product itself rather than the clown marketing it to you. Fan boys are willing to dish their money into anything these clowns slab their name on, even if the product is laughably poor and that’s just sad. Of course, you are completely free to enjoy poorly made products, nobody is taking that away from you.

It’s a common kind of psychological phenomena, where the customer thinks a company or an individual is their friend because they make speeches or advertisement that promote a product in a way that hits the spot with them. It’s a well planned show, a rehearsed one. The words are chosen carefully as are the expressions and movements. It’s a show. All they care is to make a product good enough to make that living.

But of course, the customer rarely can even make a difference between a designer and a designer. Ask them what design is, and the chances are they’re either making shit up or call it art. Of course you can ask them to define something more specific, like what is product design, visual design, production design, service design and so on. Design is a mess, so it’s no wonder only those who work in the industries can get what design in itself encompasses. This of course has the trouble of customers and companies making shit up like responsible design, which is more or less a mindset that should be included in any design than its own field.

Outside graphic and visual designers, it’s more or less uncommon to see the designer to do the actual work himself. In production, like with games or movies, you have loads of people working on the product and you should never underestimate the amount of work these people do. It’s a collaborative effort through and through, and it is a travesty to see one person getting all the credit. But hey, why should the customer care? All they want their product and to have nice clown to love.

I’ll be honest; it feels a bit weird to “celebrate” 500th post like this, but it’s already a tradition. Next time; Nintendo NX and how Nintendo is doing on the rights tracks again.