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.

Review of the Month; Dual Shock 4

These reviews are rarely well thought out. Well, this time I had a complete idea what to review, but the mail never delivered the item in time, so I’ll have to move the planned review to a later date and think up whatever I have at hand. The thing is, the poll I had on Twitter some time ago resulted in most people wanting me to review something video game related, and I’ll be sticking to that result to a larger extent. No more knife or sharpener reviews, unless something tight comes by. However, I’d still like steer away from the usual review-a-game model. Peculiarities are where it’s at, at least for me. Controllers, system designs, cartridge reviews and so on probably will be the more mainstay element. You’ll see more or less normal game reviews anyway by the end of the year with Top 5 entries.

All that said, I did mention I’d review PlayStation 4’s Dual Shock 4 some months ago. Think this as future proofing to have a point of comparison for the upcoming third-party controller review. I’m always looking for alternative controllers that are as good as the first-party controllers in their own way. Horipad 3 Mini is a good example what tickles my fancy when it comes to more budget price controllers. However, what personally bothered me was the question whether or not the review does justice to the controller if the reader has no idea what’s the take on the base controller. Controllers also have the problem of preference. The original Xbox controller may be huge, bulky piece designed for American hands. That’s not a jab at it, it’s just stating the fact. The Japanese tend to have smaller hands, Europeans tend to sit somewhere in the middle. While the second iteration of Xbox’s controller was met with applauds, there were those who preferred the original one. If we had something called Objectively best controller, we’d have no use for anything else. However, controllers are just like pasta sauce; there’s at least one flavour that’ll be to your liking.

The version I’ll be using for this review is the DS4 model New Model. Outside two points, it’s design is the exact same as Old Model.

I wiped the controller with anti-bacterial wipe just before taking the photos, and lo and behold it already had dust on it
I wiped the controller with anti-bacterial wipe just before taking the photos, and lo and behold it already had dust on it

Let’s cut the chase; the DS4 is the best PlayStation controller SONY has produced to date. It’s not perfect, but this controller shows that breaking your mould you’ve had for a decade usually works for the better. The thing with design is that it evolves along accumulated data and production technology. The DS4 is a proof of this in itself.

So let’s give the usual bits and spots what’s on the face of the controller. You’ve got the usual action buttons, them being more or less SONY standard in a positive sense, a pretty good D-Pad on the left, two concave sticks that are a step-up from the previous controllers (thou seemingly extremely prone to quick wear and tear), Share taking Select’s place and Options being’s stuck in Start’s place. This big slate in the middle of the controller, just above the PS button and speakers, works as a touchpad and a large button that rocks back and forth.

The D-Pad is SONY’s best to date. While it is their usual schtick, it is extremely responsive and hits all the extremes just fine. The concave section in the middle let’s your thumb know where to sit just about right. There’s very little resistance when rocking the D-Pad around, but there is just enough to give that good kind of tactile feedback from the rubber domes. However, this being usual SONY, the D-pad will hurt your thumb on the long run. It’s just hard enough with ever so slightly too sharp corners. However, this is partially a necessity in order to make the D-Pad flat while keeping the SONY look and not resorting on anything that could remind either Nintendo’s or SEGA’s pads.

Share and Option buttons are clicky, but they are unsatisfactory in use. For whatever reason, you have to put blind faith and visual input whether or not you’ve pushed the button down enough. The travel is not far, but the fact that the buttons are shallow and somewhat awkwardly placed. This placing is of course due to the plate, that functions both as a touchpad or general go-to button, opening menus and such. In New Model, there is a slit on top of the plate that allows light to come through that doesn’t exist in the Old Model.

Seriously, where do all this dust come from? Oh yeah, the amount of electronic and books I have...
The slit visible above, as is all the dust around the action buttons. Seriously, where do all this dust come from? Oh yeah, the amount of electronic and books I have…
And here's the top of the controller
And here’s the top of the controller

The plate wraps to the top of the controller. The shoulder buttons are always a mixed bag when it comes to controllers, and it seems they always change the most in trying to find something new or hitting the sweet spot of current trends. SONY dropped the angular design on them, and rounded the L1 and R1 buttons with ever so slight convex middle to set your fingers in the middle of them. The slight texture is similar to the previous controllers, but not as pronounced. A good feeling overall. L2 and R2 are triggers similar to DS3, except this time they don’t suck. Their elongated form with a curve doesn’t make your finger slip off so easily this time around, and the spring gives them a rather comfortable resistance on its long travel distance. The light bar is actually pretty bad and far too large, and in dimmer rooms it will colour surfaces and even reflect from the playscreen. It would have been better to do away with it completely, but SONY’s using it for some camera stuff based on Move Controllers’ tech. I would’ve preferred a larger USB slot here, it feels that I see more broken micro-USB leads and sockets than it should be normal.

[Insert a rant about dust here]

The angular design of the back of the controller doesn’t interfere with the player’s hands and fits hands rather comfortably. The handles are well-shaped to be grasped and held, so there’s nothing special to mention about them. However, the curve under the L2 and R2 buttons has a harsh angle to meet up with the buttons when they’re pressed down, and these can chafe against your fingers depending how you hold the controller. It would seem you’re supposed to have fingers on all shoulder buttons at all times to prevent the chafing. The area reserved in the back for fingers just isn’t large enough, or the harsh corner should have been changed to something else. The trigger’s underside also will collect some dead skin and other oddities to them due to the open edge.

Might as well talk about the controller’s two halves as well. The top is sleek, semi-matte plastic that will polish fast as you continue using the controller. It’s not the best choice, and makes the controller feel just a bit too cheap for its price point. However, the second half, that wraps to the front at the ends of the handles, has this every so slight texturing to it. The feeling of this texture does not intrude and is even pleasant to the touch. The texture is actually slightly raised flat circles.

Overall, as I’ve mentioned few times around, the DS4 is the best controller SONY has put out in their mainline consoles. It’s not without its own flaws, but this has been a definitive improvement. Whatever they decide to do in the future, I hope they continue to improve on DS4’s design, thou the next step might be for the worse without changing controller paradigm. I doubt SONY will do anything like that, they’ve always been following trends rather than making them. The New Model also works on PCs via a cable, something the first one didn’t do.

What else could I say? The DS4 is a fine base controller that serves its intended use.

Switch the talk from hardware

I really do sound like a broken record at this point. With the leaks about Switch being less powerful than the PlayStation 4, things have gotten on the overdrive again with calling it a failure on the launch. None of Nintendo’s more powerful consoles have been a success. As Yamauchi said, a game console is just a box to play games on.

Take a look at Nintendo’s history with consoles. NES was underpowered compared to its competitors, yet it came on the top. Well, except in Europe, where Nintendo fucked their marketing and Europeans had their computer games. SNES was ultimately weaker than the Mega Drive thanks to the addons and despite them still came to the top, not to mention the other competitors of the time. N64 failed despite having more powerful hardware than the PlayStation or Saturn. GameCube too was ultimately a failure despite topping the PS2. The Wii was a massive hit despite being weaker. The Wii U on the other hand had jack shit when it came to software (just like the N64) and had that huge controller nobody wanted. The same can be seen in the handheld market. The Game Boy slaughtered all of its competition as did the DS. The Vita could have trumped the 3DS if it had any software worth shit, but SONY repeated the exact same travesty they did with the PSP.

The common consumer doesn’t give jack shit about how strong a console is. Why? Because they know hardware does not mean better games. People absolutely hate paying for new hardware, because it’s the games that matter. The hardware race has always been part of the PC culture, not console. Consoles have been about software race. Tech fans no need to apply for console gaming, if we’re being brutally blunt here.

Because Super Mario Bros. was such a success, you saw a lieu of games trying to replicate its success, most notably Sonic the Hedgehog. The developers just need to do their job and optimise the games, and even better, design games from the ground up for the Switch and all is golden. Of course, because everything just runs on the same engine as everything else and nobody bothers doing any extensive optimisation to ensure the smoothest possible experience (or even know how to do that at worst case) we’ll just get sad and hastily put together ports.

Consumers never bought Nintendo consoles for them being Nintendo consoles. Not outside fanboys. People bought them for the software, for Mario and Zelda. People bought PlayStation for the same reason; it had games they wanted to play, not because the hardware. Nintendo is not a niche as some would assume because of their approach. No, on the contrary. Their consoles tended to be cheaper and smaller than the competitors’ because of matured technology. This is again one of those things we’ve gone over so many times, but seems like people are still ignoring the fact when Nintendo uses Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy alongside Yamauchi’s, they strike gold. Nintendo, when they are at their best (NES, Game Boy, Wii) Nintendo is far from being a niche. Electronic games isn’t just a hobby of selected group of people, but something all can enjoy, and striking that Blue Ocean should be expected and even wanted, not the opposite. Losing hope over lack of hardware prowess is useless. Your life doesn’t depend on a game console, go outside camping sometimes.

Switch has few points going for it that most seem to ignore. One is the cartridges. This needs more fanfare, as it means the games themselves will be far more longlasting than the optical media. The lack of long loading times helps too. Oh now you care about hardware? Oh you. Secondly, the fact that the Switch is a hybrid also means the games are not required to be connected to the Internet all the damn time.

The biggest problem the Switch currently has is the fact that Nintendo isn’t showcasing any of that software. This is the sole reason why people are talking about Switch’s hardware to the extent they currently are and each and every bit of information is torn apart. There’s nothing else to talk about the Switch, and I haven’t seen anyone else to discuss its design either. The latest The Legend of Zelda got pushed back too, so the media can’t discuss that either. So, hardware it is for them to keep the clicks up. I guess I’m no better, commenting on the fact. Unless Nintendo rolls something significant on the software side with the Switch, there’s no valid reason for me to discuss it any further.

One of my New Year’s promises should be to throw this broken record to trash and just re-blog the sentence Software matters more than hardware whenever applicable.

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.

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.

In the year 1983

This really turned into a Monthly Three, but this one will be shorter than the two previous. By continuing the theme, who were the ones talking about casual games before it entered the consumer lexicon? The industry, and a bit later, the press. Gaming press never had the best reputation out there and by each year it went from bad to worse and still struggles to be a creditable field. Back in 2015 Reuters had a laughable result when it came to finding journalists with integrity in video game press. While I wouldn’t use Tumblr as any sort of valid source, this one was supported by the recent consumer movement.

This isn’t a discussion about either of those really. Nintendo Power was seen as Number Uno source for Nintendo news, and it really was. It was sponsored by Nintendo and was an excellent tool for them to advertise their products. The same applied to television and other stuff like cereals, the usual stuff. Nintendo’s death has been prophesied each generation since the NES hit the shelves, but Nintendo hitting the lower markets with wider consumer base and building up from there has always been a disrupting model. PCs at the time saw the advent of a new console generation and berated them for their backwards technology, but PC in the end you started to see console-like games on PC because of their success.

During the third generation you saw Nintendo making the market place as we know it nowadays, and when competition pushed their harder edged console aiming for the high-end users with the Mega Drive and PC-Engine, Nintendo pushed out slew of games that again hit the lower market and build their library towards the higher end market throughout the years. However, Nintendo did not repeat this cycle of disrupting the market with the N64 or GameCube. It would be Sony’s PlayStation and PlayStation 2 that would gain the favour of the  lower market due to its insanely large library.

The industry hates when Nintendo is successful, because it pleases the low-end market. Their low-end products usually end up being on the same level, in cases if not better, than the higher end market’s. Either the competing companies fight or flee the marketplace, and usually when you see companies fighting Nintendo they fail because they have some of their low-end team working on a visual copy of a Nintendo game, but not the heart of function. Sonic the Hedgehog was a competition done right when it first came out and kicked Nintendo into fighting mode.

If the industry doesn’t like when Nintendo goes against their wishes, so does the press more often than not. The modern casual-hardcore division is most likely because of Nintendo’s success in disrupting the market over and over again. However, Nintendo doesn’t seem like their history because disruption requires work and effort. It seems whenever they decide to forego disrupting the market, they end up with turkey of a system in their hands.

The current state of gaming is nothing new. PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio are just another round of Atari 5200 against newcoming titans IntelliVision, ColecoVision and Odyssey 2. However, the differences between Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles are rather miniscule and their library are largely the same. The only competition between the two platforms really is about brand loyalty and the few handful of exclusive games. They have the possibility to make them stand apart, but seeing how MS is absorbing Xbox as a brand back to PC and Sony’s pretty much at a loss what how to proceed in the future, it would seem that Nintendo’s NX will stand as a unique piece. If Nintendo aims to disrupt the market, expect the same old songs to be heard, just tweaked for the modern audience.

In the end, gaming is all about consumers’ choices. Kevin Cook put it well in Playboy’s January issue in 1983: The choice you finally make from among all of these games will depend largely on your personality and on what gets you off. Some of that decision will boil down to whether or not you want action or good looks – every former high school boy can identify with that.

The gaming press will tell us what the industry wants us to hear. After all, they are dependant on each other. The other brings them news, while the other is essentially their PR outlet. It’s not the normies or casuals that want to take your games away, that’s what hypersensitive parents and puritanical movements or such are for. Practising common sense and training your media literacy with an industry like this is a must, and that should be applied to elsewhere as well, like on this blog.

The screen is in your pocket

With the upcoming new updates to PS4 and Xbone, we’re seeing a trend where both Sony and Microsoft want to appeal to the hardcore gaming market. People are buzzing about their capabilities and all that, but in the end if the games are lacklustre, the console’s power really doesn’t matter at all. Look at PSVita, a damn nice little handheld, but its got nothing against the library on the 3DS.

As I’ve said numerous times before, PC is for hardware performance and cutting edge tech. Consoles used to stick with the philosophy of matured technology. The types of games and gameplays between PC and console are inherently different, but that line has been buried with the PC games entering console market. PlayStation was the most popular entry point, and never left. It may not have been the first console to utilise PC standpoint, but nevertheless it was something that stroke a deal. This has led consoles to be dumbed down PCs to a large extent, but at the same time everyone who plays games via Steam is playing those games via that digital game console on their PC.

Broken record, I know.

Microsoft has been synonymous with PC gaming at least since Windows 95. Other OS’ are enjoying the leftovers, for better or worse. The Xbox brand will be absorbed by the Windows platform at some point in the future, reabsorbed if you take into account that the Direct X box originally spun off from Windows itself. That will be good. The sooner Xbox as a console vanishes, the better. Nintendo will continue doing its thing. If the rumours about NX being a hybrid home/handheld console are true, this is the future where console gaming is going.

What will Sony do? They’re in deep shit, to be fair. Either they need to go the way of the dodo, or begin to emphasize something else. They have no place in the PC market, their televisions and other media equipment have been failing for some time now and they’re mostly known for PlayStation brand. If I were a dick, I’d say that PlayStation has been the thing that has killed Sony itself as a brand. They used to produce loads of new and dare I say innovative multimedia equipment. Their cassette and CD players were top-notch, their TV-sets were without a doubt cutting edge even at their cheapest and goddamn I still have a radio from the 1980’s that works better than most modern ones.

Sony has had their own little troubles. BetaMAX died in the war against VHS and Laserdisc, with VHS winning by the loads. The Blu-ray format has become more and more common, but it has not kicked DVD out from the race yet. Currently, the BD format is already competing against digital distribution. Whether or not digital distribution will end up being the main format over all else, BD and its successors will without a doubt continue the path Laserdisc paved as the collectors’ format.

Will Sony become just a publisher again? When Sony was a publisher in their pre-PlayStation days, they were known for lacklustre games. Whatever Sony will do, they can’t prevent evolution of the Screen. The Screen used to go by the name television, and before it was theatre and so on. Now, the Screen is in your pocket. It’s everywhere, you can watch and play games anywhere, anytime. The PlayStation is not. As PlayStation now, it is married to the Screen in the living rooms, to the TV. It can’t exist anywhere else, and Sony is clearly not willing to entertain handheld gaming. Sony can’t enter PC market, that’s Windows country. Perhaps, just perhaps, they can change the PlayStation into a true multimedia device for the home, except Microsoft already tried that and abandoned it very soon after.

People just want to play good games. All the companies really have to do is deliver them, but that, above all else, has seems to have become difficult within this world where those smaller groups with the loudest voice seem to be catered to. Be it the hardcore gamer or some women rallying against Dead or Alive.

Personally, I’m more or less stopped giving a damn where video games are going now. I’m just going with the flow, not really expecting any but still find myself being disappointed at times. However, I do find the constant push for 4K distasteful, as the screens meant for general consumers don’t achieve the desired quality and the prices are still high. Give it five years or so when the technology matures and prices come down. At that time those who want the bleeding edge tech will have already moved to 8K or 16K, but that’s how it always goes. Viewscreen technology moves so damn fast that’s it’s nearly pointless to keep up.

Music of the Month; Flower Girl

I was supposed to leave this month’s music until next week, but things never go as I planned. Nevertheless it’s that time again, let’s discuss some things that may or may not solidify this month and then some.

I’ve yet to have an idea what this month’s theme will be with the three sequential posts. Remakes seems to be a logical continuation from last month’s Franchises-that-tried-kids-stuff. That, or turn it around, and check children’s franchises that dabbled into adult territory, but that might just end up being discussion about modern state of comics. That is a discussion for someone else.

TSF comparison will be F-15 Eagle. F-15E Strike Eagle, will serve as the base image for the TSF, as there is no changes to the design between the base F-15 variants on the outside, par paintjobs and markings. Starting from F-15 ACTV things start to change, and I’d consider that a separate comparisons entry altogether.

Adding to the Muv-Luv matters, we had a podcast with the BETA as the subject. You can check that and the rest of what we’ve had thus far here. Sacchi was a roll on this one. Whenever the next one is up is up to a question, and subject is still open.

No idea what the review topic will be, I admit halfassing last month’s, but I guess it would be about time I fulfil my promise to review G710+ keyboard. I’m still hesitant on doing game reviews, as I don’t see them adding much to the pool, unless something exceptionally good or bad comes to my way. That, and people seem to enjoy video reviews more than text. Doesn’t that for all reviews though?

There has been a lot of discussion about Nintendo and SONY, especially about the NX and its release date, and how much SONY is making on PSN alone based on the news bit they released just recently. I haven’t had the time to go through all that yet due to being away for the last few days, but I’ll have to give it a more throughout look whenever I have the chance. Or rather, if I have.

I had planned another post before the week was out, but as said, things got in my way, so I’ll just condense it all here.

Remember how bold Nintendo was ten years ago with the Wii, and even more so with the DS? Now Nintendo is silent, not saying a thing about the NX or its games outside delaying whatever Zelda was supposed to come out. Nintendo has a history of standing tall with their products prior the release. Now we basically have just conjectures and other random tidbits of information spread around, from both Nintendo and other sources, but we’ve yet to have any solid on the NX itself, just some of its services.

Any company with such history in an industry should be afraid of that very history. Until Virtual Boy, Nintendo had no real failures on the larger hardware department. N64 and GameCube were less successful, and that came down to lack of games. The DS had a rough start when it came to software, as they were treating it like a portable N64, but that changed when Nintendo began to treat it as portable SNES. However, the 3DS has always been treated like a portable GameCube, and has suffered from it. The Wii was like a NES 2.0, but Wii U was more along the lines if GameCube 2.0 instead of NES 3.0. Nintendo could’ve changed the direction the Wii U was going for, like they did with the DS, but that wasn’t to be.

Nintendo showed with the Wii U that they have troubles conveying what they mean to the audience. I have criticised their decision to have a Japanese man speaking in broken English to the audience in their streams. They should do away with that, and have Reggie talking in straight, plain English that is easy to understand. The initial Wii U showcase is an example if Nintendo fucking this up, as people thought the pad controller was an add-on to the Wii. They don’t want to repeat that, or the lousy marketing they did with the Wii U in general.

If the NX is as different as the rumours say it is, and that Nintendo wants to properly show what sort of machine it is and how it functions, they need to consider two things; who they will replace Japanese businessmen as the spokesperson, and whether or not it is worth to have NX as complex service system as it is built to be?

I’m not surprised that the PS4 is the market leader at this time. The Wii U has no games that attract consumers and neither does the Xbox ONE. I sound like a broken clock with this one, but the hardware doesn’t matter, only the software. The one console that always wins its generation has been the one with most games. It’s the library that counts, and the more you have to choose from, the more consumers will pick the console up.  As much as the industry and the core audience hates to admit to this, companies are in to make money, and competing in a dwindling environment requires expanding the market. I have been called out as someone who hates small niche audiences, but that’s often the opposite. A niche crowd hit, a cult hit, is the best way to launch any product or brand to fame. Often it starts small, and when done well, it can become massive, if handled right.

“Our rivalry is what gives me motivation in life”

Seems like Microsoft wants to SONY to allow cross-play between the two console, and by that extent, with at least Windows 10 games. Everybody pretty much took this in a very positive way. After all, what possible downsides would it be in allowing everyone to cross-connect?

Cross-connection is a symptom of two things; consoles being dumbed  down and downgraded PCs nowadays and that outside Nintendo consoles, they lack uniqueness. Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam all share pretty much the same library. You can add Vita to that too. None of them really stand on top each other when it comes to unique games they have. Multi-platform games as far as the eye can see. This has killed the rivalry between companies and none of them try to trump over each other.

Some would argue that allowing each game to exist on every platform gives the consumer the choice of platform, but I would be required to ask if they were willing to give up quality for the discomfort of choice? While cross-platform games have always existed, each console had its killer titles. NES, SNES and GameBoy are all prime examples of consoles with titles people can recall instantly. The Mega Drive is one of this kind of consoles too. PlayStation and Nintendo 64 are another example with slew of unique games for better or worse, with PlayStation also having the vastly superior and larger library. Wouldn’t it be great if we only had one machine to play on? has been uttered few too many times. Modern gamers do not learn from history or they even know the difference between console and PC games any more. Arcade is being used as a genre rather than a style of game like the two aforementioned. It doesn’t help that PS4 and Xbone aren’t true consoles.

Microsoft has had their monopoly in OS market a bit too long. Their grip in the industry is hard to break, and with Windows 10 showcases one of the problems with that; if everyone has it, everyone are under surveillance. Microsoft without a doubt have and will abuse their OS monopoly position without any care in the world and at the expense of the consumer. Variety is the salt of life, and having just one thing forever doesn’t cut it. Linux, Apple’s OS and other alternatives exist, but are less used for various reasons, but there has been very slow but steady change for adoption of open source programs, which would doom Microsoft. Their largest revenue maker is still Office next to Windows. Xbox brand is just eating money, and that’s why they want to move and concentrate their current userbase on PC.

Seeing how both Microsoft and SONY want to have their units upgradeable, the biggest question is what Nintendo is doing. They’re quiet about NX, and whatever it will be, it will stand apart from the two other competitors. At this pace, I could believe a future SONY console could accept games that would be able to run on Windows OS. The fact that the PS4 and Xbone are close to each other when it comes to the architecture is yet another dumbed down PC symptom.

All these are what people have been saying for a long time; everyone’s playing it safe. Why? Because of money. Gaming has become too big for its own good and big money requires safe placing. I’m not talking about taking risks with new ways of gaming or like that, but how only Nintendo is deviating from the form even if little.

Gaming needs to expand in order to survive. Despite what forum wars tell you, most core gamers play on multiple platforms. Only Jimmy and Bimmy who get their mother buy them their console have one. The core audience has gotten older, they’re closer to 40-years. The video game industry is experiencing the same thing as comics, where it’s only catering a small audience while experiencing a push to include politics into them and nobody cares because nobody likes the game industry outside the core customers.

The only way to push for higher calibre of games is to make companies compete with each other as much as possible and differentiate from each other all while expanding the market. The core audience hates to hear this, but the industry needs more NES and Wiis, less Xboxes and PlayStations. An industry can’t sustain itself at this scale without behind-the-scenes unification at the consumers’ expense or hits with the consumer group that is not yet in.Consumer power can only go so far. If an industry decides to do one thing, they will. If SONY and Microsoft decide to enact on their upgradeable console business, console gamers will just disregard them and move to PC straight up…. straight to whatever is the latest OS that runs their games, which most likely means Windows. At this moment in time, we could use a relatively cheap, straightforward game console that stands on its own rather than using the same, overused raw materials Xbone and PS4, and to an extent, the Wii U are on. All this is essentially me steaming my frustration out. However, We can only hope that the industry decides to expand itself. Only then we will get titles like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. If not, we’ll only be stuck with New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, Train Zelda and Metroid Other M.Also, those who got where the title is from should consider playing that games again.

Review of the Month; PSP and PSVita

Looking for a comprehensive history chart of handheld consoles turned out to be a useless exercise. The reason why I wanted to start with a chart like was to illustrate the design that across the ages game consoles have followed very similar design ideas, and the reason why this has happened is because there’s pretty much exactly two methods how to make a handheld console to work; vertical and horizontal. These two just work, there isn’t really any other way you put the screen without making the playing awkward in a way or another.

SONY’s handheld console line has been mainly using horizontal approach. This is mainly due to the screen that governs the face of the consoles. PlayStation Portable Go is an exception to the rule, which shows that you can have vertical design. The underlying sliding mechanics of Go allowed SONY to cram PSP into a far smaller size, thou I have heard some contradictory reports on the quality of the buttons. Unlike with the 3Ds review, I will review PSP and PS Vita with each, and as I don’t have an access to Go, it’ll have to be a separate curiosity. If I ever get my hands on it, I’ll review its design as well. The reason to this is that neither console saw any truly different iterations in their lifetime (outside Go), and as such the two allow a good point of comparisons how SONY moved from PSP to Vita.

The versions that I will use in this review are PSP-2004 and PCH-2016. Both are second versions of their respective console series, so the comparison point is either little off or spot on depending how you want to view it. I would’ve wanted to review the first versions, but I don’t have access to them. I’m using a pair of PS3 controller as stands for this review.

All those scratches and fingerprints. They may feel and look nice, but both of them attract high amounts of greasy fingerprints and scratches. I use screenguards for a good reason
All those scratches and fingerprints. They may feel and look nice at first, but both of them attract high amounts of greasy fingerprints and scratches. I use screenguards for a good reason. Sadly, a bubble slipped under Vita’s guard, and I’m too cheap to change it

One thing SONY always seems to emphasize with their consoles is that they feel nicely build. They’re sturdy. They don’t feel flimsy, they’re tight. Perhaps most importantly, they feel expensive. This is to differentiate the portable PlayStation line from its competitors and make a statement of worth. They make it rather well too, especially with overall glossy colouring and selected areas of silver with PSP, and overall uniform heft with Vita.

Silver in PSP goes around the console and that neat ring in the back, showcasing the spot where the UMD will be spinning, or as it often seems to be, not spinning because the drive is broken. Mine is working, though I've had to tweak it few times
Silver in PSP goes around the console and that neat ring in the back, showcasing the spot where the UMD will be spinning, or as it often seems to be, not spinning because the drive is broken. Mine is working, though I’ve had to tweak it few times. I also have a guard on the touchpad on Vita’s back. Note that Vita’s backside has matte plastic where there is no touch function, separating it. PSP has that glossy black all over, though I admit I personally do feel PSP’s plastic feels a bit cheap

However, there are few places on both PSP and Vita where this aim for higher worth is betrayed. With PSP the very first thing is the UMD drive. When opening the drive door, you notice that the door is very thin plastic and the metal parts are equally as flimsy. It does not only look untrusty, but feels like that too. The UMD format neat in of itself, but SONY should’ve used MiniDisc rather than invent a new format. The discs are relatively well protected, much like the drive they’re inserted, they feel flimsy. Their appearance is also rather toyetic, unlike the MiniDisc that still looks good to this day. It’s weird to see a handheld that aims to be rather mature in design only have relatively immature looking disc format.

The drive itself has a neat design, but it feels so damn cheap
The drive itself has a neat design, but it feels so damn flimsy. You could just snap it off just like that

That is not the only piece that feels cheap with PSP. The memory card slot is protected by a piece of hard plastic that is connected by soft plastic. The outward appearance is decent and follows the overall curves of the console, but feel and back of the piece lack any sort of refinement. Of course, the idea is that you don’t see behind it but once or twice. The Vita remedied this problem by having all the pieces uniform in colour and having much more stylised look to them. The pieces are very small and don’t come to mind too often, but details tend to mount fast over the larger strokes.

Vita's memory card slot has cleaner design too, but these two are the prominent ones on the systems
Vita’s memory card slot has cleaner design too, but these two are the prominent ones on the systems. Notice the small hole for the speaker on PSP, and how much gunk the PSP’s slide pad has gathered through all these years. I should clean that out, it looks filthy

Speaking of the larger strokes, let’s dive into the overall design of the consoles, starting with the PSP.

For its time, the PSP was a surprisingly flat handheld console, which kept getting flatter with each new variant. Flatness in itself is not a problem while playing a game, however, as the curves on each side of the console follow the natural geometry of human hands. This allows much more comfortable grip and puts the L and R buttons at a nice place for fingers to push them. In this general shape the PSP follows the GameBoy Advance, except it doesn’t have additional bulk in the back to conform more to the hands. This is unlike with the 3DS consoles, where the flatness and straight surfaces make playing games less comfortable.

The curves also dictate the placement of the buttons. When you grab the console, your thumbs should fall into place without any tweaking. PSP’s main action buttons are rather large, only a tad smaller than PS3 controller’s. Their distance is relatively the same as well, meaning that you should have easy time transitioning from a PlayStation controller to the PSP. The buttons themselves are slightly mushy and have a surprising amount of horizontal movement. They are nevertheless very responsive and have a nice tactile feedback to them, better than what either 3DS XL models have. The D-Pad on the other hand is a standard SONY fare. PSP’s D-Pad has 1mm smaller in circumference than PS3’s and is made of same hard crystal clear plastic as the action buttons. Because of this it feels more slippery and feels harder to play with. SONY’s D-Pads are rather love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, but it is a sound design. It would’ve been better to use a textured surface on the D-Pad, but that would’ve broken the visual style of the console.

The Vita builds up from PSP’s base, curves and all. However, this time your thumbs fall unto buttons that are smaller than previously. While you’d think this would make the console smaller, the Vita is actually wider and higher console than the PSP, but it is about one-third thinner. There are two main things that separate Vita’s design from PSP. The first is that the Vita has no real corners in its design, it is very smooth console that has eliminated most if not all tight curves to sit in the hands more naturally. The second is that the touch surface in the behind has now created a need for intended space for the rest of the fingers. The Vita has two over regions in the back where you can have your middle fingers rest against or whatever position you feel the most comfortable with. However, as the touch area is rather large, the ovals are spaced rather close to the edges of the system, which can feel cramped to larger hands. I often find my middle fingers going beyond the ovals, but no game has taken any problems with this yet.

PSP used the same menu system as PS3. It works and is surprisingly compact, all thing considered
PSP used the same menu system as PS3. It works and is surprisingly compact, all thing considered

Vita’s smaller action buttons are similar in feel with the PSP’s, hard transparent plastic and all, but this time instead of having zebra rubber underneath them they sit on top of pushbuttons on the PCB. This changes feeling drastically, but on the long run it’s up to opinion which one feels better. The pushbutton ones don’t have any mushiness to them, but their tactile feedback is very sharp with not in-between zone. Personally, I’m am more worried about how long the buttons will last. On PSP I can always change the rubber underneath if it goes bad, but for PCB mounted pushbuttons I need to de-solder old ones off. The D-Pad is the same, pushbuttons underneath. However, the design has changed from previous SONY D-Pads, now being one whole unit instead of four separated directions. It is also smaller, but it feels nice. This is due to the fact that the plastic is different from previously. Yes, it is still transparent and glossy, but there is more friction to it. Without a doubt one of the best D-Pads out there, better than what the 3DS has to offer.

Both systems’ L and R buttons follow the overall shape of their consoles and are almost identical in feel. The main difference in them, outside the shape, is that the Vita allows the shoulder buttons to be pushed down from whatever point you wish. With the PSP you need to press from the corners because of pivot point inside. This is a clear design evolution to accommodate more hand sizes and ways of holding the console.

Both consoles’ function buttons (Start, Select etc) feel the exact same with pushbuttons on the PCB underneath. This clicky nature works for them, especially on PSP, where they are differentiated from the main buttons. Vita’s volume buttons placement is extremely strange, as instead of placing them somewhere easily accessible, they reside on top of the console between the game card slot and the R-Button. The Power button is opposite to them, which does feel more natural. The reason to this placement is because the face of the console was already full. Underneath the D-Pad you have the left stick and Menu button and underneath the action buttons you have the right stick, Start and Select. Both consoles’ faces’ are governed by their large screens. With PSP these buttons were placed under the screen in a more or less logical manner with other buttons, but it does make a busy looking face and in the end doesn’t look very good. With Vita the screen’s surroundings were cleaned, leaving only SONY and PSVITA logo above and under it. It does look better, but because of this some functionality is lost.

Vita has two sticks, which overall feel very nice and play games fine. They are better than PSP’s or 3DS’s Slide pads, but take more room. Perhaps they could’ve been slightly smaller by a millimetre or two. I don’t really play games that utilise them too much, so they’re a bit waste on me. However, shooting games likes Soldier Blade play really damn well.

Vita’s menu system uses bubbles, which looks gimmicky. If you want your themes to stand out, you need to position them properly. Both swiping the screen with your finger and using the D-Pad works just as fine. An interesting thing about this is that open Applications reside right, as in you swipe the screen to the left to access them. It works surprisingly well, eliminating some button usage

Handheld consoles never really had good speakers, but SONY tries to make them at least properly serviceable. The PSP has small speakers both sides of the screen, just angled up from the D-Pad and the action buttons. This is a good placement as the sound is not obstructed, but their relative closeness can cause some stereo to be lost. Vita on the other has its speakers on the very edges of the system, causing them to be under your thumbs. The sound quality doesn’t take a too large hit from this, but the closer your thumbs are to the surface of the console, the more muffled the sound will be. Of course, headphones are recommended when it comes to playing handheld games, but that doesn’t excuse the awkward if not stupid placement. I assume that the speaker elements are large enough to require more space, unlike the camera unit that’s residing just next to the action buttons.

This spot for a speaker is really damn weird
This spot for a speaker is really damn weird. This is also a nice indicator of the amount of fingerprints and how they stay on the system even after you’ve just showered. Vita attracts fingerprints and scratch marks like no other

Speaking of the camera, the only hard corners on the console can be found on its back on the main camera unit. For whatever reason it’s not smooth as the rest of the console, making it a bit curious spot.

Overall speaking, PSP and PSVita showcase the stronger suite in SONY’s design. The PSP still stands in terms of comfort and design when playing games on it, but the Vita is better in almost every respect. Hell, Vita’s battery life alone is an incredible improvement. In terms of design alone, they beat the DS and 3DS fair and square, but their library was weak. Vita is essentially dead in the water with no real games to carry it. All it is getting are ports, sequels or remakes. After some time, most of its games are ported to other platforms. The Vita has been made a useless console even by its own company, as SONY is pushing Gravity Rush for the PS4.

PSP was a neat console with only a  handful of unique games, and that will be Vita’s fate as well. It is sad to see a handheld console with such great design wasted.