Rain, Plants, and Everything Else


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Foreword

First of all, thank you for subscribing to FORWARD.

In this social-first, auto-playing video, trending topic world, FORWARD is aimed to be the opposite of all of that noise. Not quite a blog, not quite a newsletter, my hope for FORWARD is to provide a monthly dose of inspirational features for you to check out when you have time instead of offering something that will fight for your time.

In this issue, you’ll find an update on the California drought, how to keep plants alive, why it’s important to speak up, and more! This is the first issue so please be patient as things may evolve over time as the newsletter forms its own identity. But in the mean time, please take a look at FORWARD, and join me in this brand new journey.

Oh! And if you like the newsletter, please share by forwarding (hehe) the newsletter to your friends and family.

Let the rain fall down

Before and After the Rain

After weeks of heavy rain, it seems to finally help California alleviate its record-setting drought. KQED did a nifty feature where you can compare the massive difference between 2014 and 2017 side-by-side. You can check out the feature here.

Not so Tender Greens

add

Despite my best intention, I have yet to keep a single Rosemary plant alive around the apartment. My black thumb has become somewhat of a joke as Ian keeps buying me Rosemary plants to “replenish” my dead ones. You can check out the feature here.

Minus365: T-Shirts

I’ve always lived minimally, but even with a mindful intention my closet still tend to fill up over time. I was watching The Minimalists, a documentary currently available on Netflix, the other night and it totally sparked an idea for me to declutter my life.

Minus365 is where I will remove/donate one object from my life every day for all of 2017. Each month will be based on a different theme, and I’m starting with t-shirts for January to kick start this yearlong project. Just think, if I were to keep this up for the entire year, there will be 365 fewer things around my apartment, and my life!

Between all the t-shirts I was given (or earned?) in my five year of working at IGN along with other gifts and sentimental hand-me-downs, my closet is full of t-shirts. Are you curious enough to join Minus365? If so, reply to this email and send me pictures of your 30 t-shirts (or whatever you decide to remove!).

Say Something

Jamelia, A British R&B Singer

“The problem is that we don’t tell you, we speak about it amongst ourselves and you get to carry on about your day not realizing you’ve ruined ours.” Jamelia

Recently Jamelia, a British R&B singer, was on board a first-class flight with her daughter, only to be questioned by other passengers who asked to see their airplane tickets. She stood her ground and went on Twitter to explain why. You can read more about the incident here.

Now, I’m not a fan of hers because I have barely heard of her before this incident. But this happens all too often to me and to minorities everywhere. Like Jamelia said, I tend to be too polite or try to rationalize myself to be “the bigger person” instead of speaking up and calling out bullies who makes hurtful or ignorant comments.

But words do hurt, and their comments ruminate with me for the rest of day if not for weeks to come. Why do they get to carry on their day while we suffer silently? It’s not fair, it’s not acceptable, and it’s time we speak up.

Between Us: Classic Aransky

Maybe it’s my connection to RIT or maybe it’s me working at the crazy world that is IGN, but I have a lot of friends who are constantly working on various creative projects. Since FORWARD is a monthly showcase of all things interesting and inspirational, I want to use this space and share with you other interesting projects my friends are also working on.

Classic Aransky logo

Meet Michael Aransky and his new video blog, Classic Aransky. By day he’s a senior producer at IGN, and by night he’s on a yearlong journey to get comfortable in front of a camera as he works his way toward to making his first movie since 2012. You can check it out here.

If you have an interesting project and want to be featured on FORWARD, simply reply to this newsletter and tell me all about it!

Take a Minute

Photo by Michael Browning, courtesy of Unsplash

And..that’s it for January! Please (ahem…) FORWARD this to a friend if you enjoy this newsletter, or sign up below if someone had shared this newsletter with you in mind.

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As always, you can reply to this and let me know what you think.

Love wins

100w100d: A Link Between Worlds

Oh shit, totally thought this was something else but this totally rocks! Thanks @Rickhernandez76!

Day 94: Rick recently got me a copy of Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for Christmas. I’ve been vey skeptical for this game for the longest time, mostly because I never really finished the SNES original and the graphics truly looked uninteresting for me. Who knew I’d become a believer the second I started this game?

This game is all about layers and depth, but you couldn’t tell from any of the game trailers. It’s only when you switch on the 3D does that world come alive. Ten hours and I’ve yet to be able to put this game down.

100w100d: This is Water

Day 80: I was really lost the couple years after graduating college. No longer bound with project deadlines and graduation requirements, I honestly didn’t know how I should take my first step. This video encapsulates the impatience and frustration I felt after a long, stressful day at work only to get held up by something else seemingly outside of my control.

Of course, I’ve since understood that it’s within my power to see the world differently. What took me years to comprehend takes this video ten minutes to explain; I highly recommend watching this video, but ultimately I suppose that’s your decision.

100w100d: Wii Fit U

Wii Fit U

Day 64: I’m a pretty big quantified-selfer, or in a broader sense, a data nerd. From tracking my music listening habit to my weight to even my social reach, I use quantitative data to detail aspects of my life I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Lately I’ve been using Wii Fit U and its pedometer to track my body habits.

Now, this is a $20 game plus device, so it’s not exactly in the same league as a Fitbit Force activity tracker (I’m saving up for that), but it’s been effective in motivating me to doing 40 minute of yoga everyday this week.

100w100d: I finally understand Wii U

Sure boss, of course I can do my best work while this #Zelda #WindWaker #WiiU sitting beside me... There's no urge to run home and play at all!

Day 63: I didn’t really know why I bought a Wii U. I bought it by impulse because it came with my favorite Zelda title, but in terms of hardware there’s no one feature that got me super excited.

It wasn’t until I saw Super Mario 3D World and thought about my friend and her kids did it dawn on me: this console isn’t for me, it’s aimed at families with small children.

From Off-TV Play to all their games that focus on local multiplayer, Wii U is created with families in mind.

In other news, I kind of want kids now.

100w100d: winsonshuen.com

Wordpress logo

Day 49: After a few days’ worth of considerations, I’ve decided to move my blog off of WordPress.com and onto my own domain.

The funny thing is I used to own this very domain name years ago, but accidentally gave it up when it expired and some company’s been parking my URL until several months ago. It took no time to transfer my old blog posts and settings over, and I’m able to customize all the things to my heart’s content thanks to the flexibility WordPress.org offers.

It’s true what they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

100w100d: Stress

Animal Crossing

Day 36: A lot of people have told me that I don’t know how to not be stressed. I’m actually quite adept at managing stressful situations but it often takes me some time to unwind even when everything is over.

Today was one of those days when I was sandwiched between back-to-back meetings and having everything due all at once. I managed to get everything out, but the stress lingered until I turned on Animal Crossing, when a villager came up and gave me a gift because I’ve been so nice to her. Ahhh…

I almost got teared up when that happened.

100w100d: Reset

Day 28: With everybody working (and networking) overtime during E3 week, my apartment was less of a quiet sanctuary and more of a Nascar pit stop. Roaming the floor by day and drinking our way deep into the night, there were hardly any time to sleep before we do it all again the next day. That is E3.

Well thank goodness for today. I woke up early and went into full reset mode. Starting with the dishes, I cleaned along the u-shaped path of my apartment and five hours later, my sanctuary has returned. Ahh…

Next up, my email inbox at work.

100w100d: Animal Crossing

My New Nickname

Day 27: Animal Crossing is a game that looks incredibly dumb on the surface, simply because you won’t understand its charming, addictive gameplay unless you play for yourself. When I showed my dad this game, he just gave me a look and shook his head.

Basically, you live in a village where your residents are animals. You fish, catch bugs, and gather fruits so you can sell them and pay off your house. That’s pretty much it.

But here I am, ten hours into happily playing this adorable game when the rest of the world is living it up in real life.

100w100d: Facebook

Day 25: To ween off Facebook, I recently decided to remove the app on my iPhone. It’s only been a few days, but the itch is ever so prevalent every time I unlock my phone. Did anyone like anything? Did anyone comment on anything? I never realized how these silly numbers and strings of text could become the currency of my self-worth.

More importantly, Facebook has turned this… feeling into something so quantifiable and marketable. It’s not enough to know if someone likes you, because the answer is no longer true or false, but how many.

Question is, where does it end?

100w100d: 3DS

3DS & I

Day 23: I was one of the five suckers who bought a Nintendo 3DS on the first day, back in 2011. Buyer’s remorse was natural with any major purchase, but it hit notably hard for the 3DS since there weren’t any games worth buying in the first six months.

Fast forward to 2013 and I find myself unable to put the system down. Not just for videogames, but for everything from playing music to drawing notes to my friends to counting my daily steps taken.

One of my favorite Nintendo franchises, Animal Crossing, comes out tomorrow — we’ll be even more inseparable then.

Introducing Everest, a productivity app for iOS

Everest iOS App LogoWe’re in the middle of January and a lot of people are still working on what they want to achieve in 2013. For me, it’s to re-activate this blog and publish a new blog post once a week.

My friend Rod recently told me about a project he’s been working on. Combining a reminder, a to-do list, and a social network, Everest is a productivity app for the iOS that aims to help you live your dreams and achieve your goals.

I still remember this line (I tend to pick up sayings and re-adapt them as life lessons) from this episode of The Simpsons where Bart was helping Ms. Krapappel set up a muffin store so he could avoid confessing to her he was the reason why she got fired. Through The Answer, a spoof of The Secret, he suggested to “break your dream down into smaller wishes, then break those down into wish-able actions.” Everest helps you do exactly that. Continue reading “Introducing Everest, a productivity app for iOS”

Game makers: You're losing me as a gamer

My Current-Gen Game Collection
My Current-Gen Game Collection

I remembered in middle school, I would try my hardest to save my allowance just so I can buy a $29.99 game to feed my Nintendo Gameboy. In high school when I was working part-time at the SFUSD as a web designer, I would do the same thing and buy not some, but ALL Squaresoft (now Square Enix) game releases on the original PlayStation. Final Fantasy VII, Parasite Eve, Bushido Blade, Brave Fencer Musashi, Xenogears— you name it, I have it. Everything was so exciting for me and the creativity I found in videogames seemed limitless.

Fast forward to today when games are more accessible and affordable than ever, and I find myself lacking the motivation to even pick up the game controller. I’ve bought my fair share of games in the past twelve months, from Zelda: Skyward Sword to Dark Souls to Rayman Origins, yet the only game I have actually finished was Uncharted 3 back in December of last year.

Part of that reason is the overall direction of gaming. A medium that used to transport me to another world has become something I’ve seemingly played just eighteen months before, changed only by the edition or version printed on the cover. Slowly but surely, I find myself turning on my PS3 at the end of the work day only for Netflix and nothing else. Not even for a quick round of Street Fighter IV.

Games are now created with increasing production value, they are also taking less risk to ensure profitability. Assassin’s Creed II was amazing, but in what way were the next two follow-ups original? Resident Evil 4 was a complete turnaround for the series, but how successful did Capcom in taking Resident Evil 5 to the next level?

Walt Disney didn’t build his empire by creating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and then follow-up with Snow White 2, Snow White 3, or even Snow White 3: Ultimate Remix Edition. So how can videogames possibly be mainstream (or otherwise be taken seriously by critics) when most games out there just look like a ripped-off Michael Bay movie? Alien first-person shooters in a post-apocalyptic setting, really?

That’s why I’m honestly more interested in an offbeat game like Rhythm Heaven Fever than Skyrim or Syndicate, just as I’m more interested in risk-taking game like Bastion than another generic modern war shooter. Videogames are created to inspire and introduce people to new experiences, so perhaps ideas should come from organic inspirations instead of market research data.

I’d happily play an original game with a distinctive message instead of a rinse-and-repeat game that offers little more than an upgraded weapon. Until then, I don’t mind using my PS3 as a glorified Netflix player.

❤ wins


Winson Shuen works at IGN but is not an editor. All opinions expressed here are solely his own and do not represent his employer by any means. You can follow him on Twitter @vdot90.

Why I love buying used games

The gaming industry is going through some tough time. “We’re not making as much money as before and it’s all because of the used game economy!” cried all the big game publishers. But as big of a taboo as it may be, the fact remains that I love buying pre-owned games.

Image from videogamewriters.com

As a consumer I can’t afford to buy a $60 game every time there’s a big game release. When I was a kid I had to save up for weeks just to buy a $29.99 game to feed my Nintendo Gameboy. Even as I’m finally getting my first paycheck in the next few weeks, most of it will be going toward other things: food, rent, booze, and you know, life.

A game isn’t like a movie in that it’s not something that has a set budget with a set duration. I can easily schedule in a movie because I know it’s is going to cost me around $10 and around two to three hours. Games, on the other hand, start anywhere from $30 to $60 (plus potentially a monthly fee) and may very well take me twenty to fifty hour to completion (if I’m lucky). And while I wish I can say I’m excited to dedicate fifty hours of my life leveling up or to collect all 100 feathers in Assassin’s Creed II, the same fifty hours can and sometimes have to be spent elsewhere like buying groceries, going on dates, and again as you know, living a life.

And then there are all the shit that game publishers do. Like rehashing the same game two to three times over the course of a year: Game of the Year Edition, Ultimate Edition, Arcade Edition, Off the Record Edition, whatever. No sane person is going to spend full retail price buying all of that. And by releasing all these different editions across so many games, game publishers are pretty much telling me to hold off from buying them on day one since there’ll always be better, if not more refined, versions of the games coming out just around the corner.

So where do buying pre-owned games come in? They come in when I can get the same game for a cheaper price. They come in as a trial to see how the original Darksiders is before buying the upcoming Darksiders 2 at full retail price. They come in when I can sell my now-defunct regular version of the game in exchange and to indulge over the now flashier, complete edition of the game.

If the pre-owned game economy ceased to exist, then consumers will be more wary in buying videogames, period. Without pre-owned game, the $60 price tag would then be considered as a hard cost. What might’ve been a “buy now, think later” mentality now becomes “well let me sleep on it.” It’s also one less reason to buy Madden or Call of Duty this year as opposed to next year or the year after that.

Buying pre-owned games is also more environmentally friendly. It may be a silly point to some, but it’s one of the main reasons why I continue to prefer buying used games. Instead of a game going by the wayside or being left behind in the attic, I get to be proactive in giving the product a second life.

I wrote about my feelings toward digital downloads before (http://bit.ly/oblFED), and I’m still skeptical about it all even if it’s inevitable. Game publishers seem to be banking on it as a way to kill off the used-game market, but I ultimately think it’s more harm than good to limit a legal method for consumers to purchase a game.

Remember, iTunes is a successful story in combating piracy and physical media, but even they had to succumb to getting rid of DRM that was already in place. Consumers want to own what they buy; not be limited by the content or be treated like criminals.

Maybe the problem isn’t how to maximize profit to please those finicky shareholders, but to create products that are appealing enough to be worth buying full price. Maybe it’s not so much as crying foul over the fact that people buy used games, but to learn why people do it in order to win that segment of people over. Gamers are constantly growing up, so maybe it’s time the game publishers do too.

A Windy Post to My Windy Road to IGN

IGN LogoIn all sincerity, I cannot believe I’m writing this post right now. I’ve often dreamt about the things I want to say about this and the way to say them, but at the end of it all, I’m just… in awe.

So here it is: I got a job from IGN Entertainment. For those who know me from my high school days would immediately recognize these initials dearly and what they mean to me, but for those who don’t, well, they “won the Guinness World Record for the most visited video-game website in 2011.” At least according to Wikipedia.

As excited as I am about this opportunity, I’m trying to be careful as to not make this a boasting post. It’s not, and please allow me to apologize in advance if it reads this way. My friend Tommy once said I have “a knack for unintentionally sounding like a prick.” I’m not really.

So instead of writing what this job means to me, I really want to talk about how I got here. Or there. Whichever is grammatically correct.

Pretty much this time last year, I submitted my resignation letter to old company. I resigned not because I didn’t like what I was doing or that I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I just wanted something else. I spent the next few months traveling the world, well, more like lounging around the world. For the first time in a long time, I was able to not do anything and get away with it. So I didn’t do anything for a few months.

Reality finally sank in as my return flight landed back in the San Francisco International Airport. I quit my job because I wanted something else; now what?

All my life I wanted to be in the gaming industry. I’ve never been a particular good gamer, but I grew up being fascinated by videogames, and especially the gaming culture. This passion, geeky or otherwise, has always been a huge part of my life. But how was I supposed to go from being unemployed and inexperienced to something else? Anything else?

I didn’t have the answer, and in ways I still don’t. But I knew how passionate I felt toward gaming, so one night I created a blog and just started writing. I started writing about videogames and its perpetual man-child industry. I wrote about how frustrated I was with CityVille and how Nintendo needs to grow a pair. I wrote about when not to read videogame reviews and when top scores used to be good enough. My writing skill is passable at best and I probably don’t know enough as an industry expert, but I have my opinions as a consumer.

At the same time I started applying for videogame-related jobs. I put my Facebook friends to work and within a few weeks there were as many as four interviews a week. But the interesting part was that all of them responded saying while they loved my personality, they couldn’t hire me because of the lack of direct industry experience.

After the first wave of interviews there were nothing. So I started to apply to jobs based on my skills. Then just… jobs. Any job. I was still getting interviews here and there, but the positions were so random that it was hard to show enthusiasm for things I obviously didn’t care for. It slowly became less of finding a job I want to any jobs that wanted me. Unsurprisingly, none of them wanted me.

I didn’t mind rejection the first couple times, or even the first couple dozen times, but it’s hard not to take them personally as they slowly pile atop my head. And eventually I did. I stopped telling people how my job search was, because honestly, what’s the point?

You’ll get there. You’ll land on your feet. These words are difficult to take in when all you see in the inbox are rejection letters. I didn’t even know what to tell my friends when they asked what kind of jobs I was looking for. “I really want a job in the gaming industry!” “… Are… are you serious? You want to find your dream job? In this economy?” I’d imagine all of them to say.

Time and time again, I was kicked back to square one. Then what? Now where do I go? Being happy-go-lucky has never been my strongest suit, and it’s even more difficult when the task at hand doesn’t look like there’s a finish line. It was during this time that I had to really put my optimism to the test. I kept my enthusiasm and hopes high by keeping my gaming blog active. I read through three grammar books from cover to cover and I kept writing.

It was also around then that IGN acquired their long-time competitor 1UP (then owned by Hearst). I was intrigued by the acquisition because as a fan of 1UP, I was happy to see the financially-struggling 1UP finally able to secure their future by partnering up with the biggest gaming website in the world.

I haven’t applied at IGN during this time because I once lost my password from a long time ago and was never able to reset it on their old system. But I checked the site again after hearing about the acquisition and they changed it to a simplified, streamlined system. And, as luck would have it, there was a job listed there describing not only everything I’ve done in the past, but also everything I’ve *wanted* to do. The rest, as they s… So I applied, and was eventually hired.

This post is getting ridiculously long, so I’ll spare you all the interview details. It went pretty smoothly overall, but it was only when one of the interviewer told me that she’s read my blog and liked what I had to say did I realize just how much this job opportunity means to me. She said it nonchalantly so, without realizing the brick wall she just threw at me.

So, a thousand words later, I guess what I’m saying is that searching for a job sucks and finding the right job seems downright impossible. But it’s not, and it’s absolutely worth it. But unlike hollywood movies where they cram everything into a 20-second montage, you actually need to spend the time and work hard for it. Applying for this particular job took at most 5 minutes and writing for this blog took half a year, but convincing myself to actually take a leap so far away from my comfort zone? That took me a year, if not years before finally take the plunge.

As for what’s going to happen to this blog — absolutely nothing. I’ll still be writing here, in my own imperfect voice. I actually hope to write more, and better, now that I’m immersed by such talented and motivated people at IGN, all sharing the very same passion as I do. I am fully aware that landing a job at IGN doesn’t mark an end to anything, and in fact just means this is where the hard work begins. I have so much to learn and I’m excited to finally see where my passion can take me. So cool your grits guys, srsly.

Steve, Jobs, and everything in between

I’ve been thinking Steve Jobs ever since his abrupt resignation yesterday.

It’s not a good or bad thing, nor is it a happy or sad thought. It’s weighing on my mind because it unravelled a lot of things that I’ve been shoving to the mental back-burner for the past few months.

I reread his resignation letter again and again. Here are the exact words in case you haven’t read it yet:


To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Steve

The fact that he used the word “unfortunately” has painted a negative tone to the entire letter. As much as I want to idealize the reason for his resignation is so he’s able to take a well-deserving break, I’m secretly afraid that it’s just my wishful thinking.

As an incredibly inward thinking person, someone who’s able to drown himself with his own thoughts, I’m in the pre-emptive stage of grieving. I’m not grieving about his life specifically, however inevitable it may be, but moreso as something important that’s been such a big part of my young adult life.

I didn’t follow — for a lack of a better word — Steve Jobs well until senior year of high school. I had no idea who he even was when I bought my first 333Mhz Blueberry iMac G3. The computer came with the hockey-puck shaped mouse that everyone seemed to hate except for me (the trick is to hold it at an angle.)

Then I started reading and learning more about my iMac, and eventually I stumbled on one of his keynote presentations online. I guess that was the first day to the rest of my life in a way.

Through his presentations, I learned to admire his salesmanship. His keynotes completely changed my thoughts on public speaking and the power of an effective presentation. As an insecure teenager, something that still rings true today, I admired his utter confidence in his products, even though the Macintosh marketshare was less than 3% back in the day. He taught me confidence and self-worth by not seeing his niche products as runner-ups, but as the BMWs and the Mercedes-Benzs among the rest of the crowd.

Over the years, I was there when Steve first unveiled Mac OS 9, the tangerine iBook G3, the original Airport, the 17″ Powerbook G4 with the first backlit keyboard, the future of Mac OS X, the unveil of the MacBooks, the “1,000 songs in your pocket” iPod, the “these three things are in the same device” iPhone and the “magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price” iPad. And from Cheetah to Lion, each release of Mac OS X also marked a specific year and experience in my life.

But it’s one thing to reminisce about the past and to make meaning from materialistic, mass-produced products, it’s another to realize the impermanence of something you hold dear and what that may mean in the uncertain future.

Steve’s liver transplant, his battle of pancreatic cancer, and his determination and passion to continue working are mental reminders for me to stay humble and grateful for what I have. I relate these reminders to think of my ongoing unemployment not as a sign of rejection or defeat, but as a rare opportunity to use this time to truly work on myself and to discover the things I’m most passionate about. It’s not easy to be optimistic for me, but I’m grateful to have the support I have from the many friends and family who I incessantly depend on.

Steve’s resignation yesterday, and the implication that it’s something health related, reminded me of all of this, as well as a plethora of once-buried feelings that’s again floating onto the top of my mind. His health inevitably reminded me of the severe health issues a close friend of mine is currently going through.

I don’t want to discuss too much about my friend, but the realization of the fragility of life is the most humble, human experience ever. It’s also absolutely nerve-wrecking. As kids we once thought we were special, invincible even, and as we grow up we learned humbleness and opportunities through successes and failures.

But it’s only this year where I’m slowly learning the meaning of hopelessness. As if watching a car accident at a snail’s pace where there’s nothing I can personally do to help. It’s the first time in my life where I have to witness something where there’s no solution for. Instead of seeing a ray of hope or the light at the end of the tunnel, all you see is a brick wall ahead of you.

I feel that way about my friend, and also about Steve. I guess that’s what I meant when I said I’m in the pre-emptive stage of grieving after all. I’ve learned a lot from Steve, but this is certainly the hardest lesson yet. And as much as I want to say I’m happy for his resignation and wish him the very best in his recovery, it’s still a sad day to see an era that hold such importance for me coming to a end. As much faith as I have in Apple and Tim Cook, Steve’s resignation is yet another nudge in my inevitable road toward adulthood.

Curb Your Fanboyism

I often see comments on internet forums about how great one system is while simultaneously trashing another. People seemingly won’t hesitate for a second to voice their opinions on how hard the Xbox pwns and how the PlayStation equivalent doesn’t even come close. As for Nintendo, why, what are you, stupid?

I get that people are loyal to something they love and own. Gamers are very passionate about the things they care about, so as a defensive mechanism these arguments often turn into attacks. Somewhere along explaining why Xbox Live rocks will eventually turn to why the PlayStation Network sucks in comparison, and in an attempt to defend why the PSN is a solid alternative comments will consequently be made about how Xbox Live requires a paid membership to do something that the PSN offers for free. A PC gamer would then chime in on how how Steam is the ultimate network to play online games, only to be retorted by the fact that PC gamers need to upgrade their graphics card every six months. It’s a never-ending loop to brewing something bigger out of nothing.

But these arguments extend far beyond gaming platforms to basically every aspect in the videogame spectrum — Battlefield 3 vs. Modern Warfare 3, Resident Evil vs. Silent Hill, Activision vs. EA, Nintendo vs. Apple, Just Dance 2 vs. Dance Central; just about everything under the sun seems to be worth arguing about.

Street Fighting IV Loading Screen

These kinds of comments are tearing apart something that we all care for so much. It’s been a long and winding road to see how far gaming has become from the past twenty years. It’s taken so long for gaming to be taken seriously by mainstream society, hell, it was only earlier this year did a California judge finally related videogames as art, and because of that they deserve the same level of First Amendment protection as books, plays, and movies. Shouldn’t we spend our collective time and energy celebrating that milestone victory instead of arguing which looks the best in 1080p?

“The PlayStation Move is pointless.” “The 3D in the 3DS is just a gimmick.” “Social games aren’t real games.” These comments are dimes in a dozen on the internet, but the way I see it, different devices and genre of games just serve different purposes for different demographics. Just because you’re not one of the five million people who bought Just Dance 2 for the Wii doesn’t mean the people who did are any less of a gamer than you are. Just because you don’t understand the point of a pricey, albeit limited, portable device doesn’t mean the 3DS is doom to fail. And just because people didn’t spend as much time playing Final Fantasy 7 growing up doesn’t give you the right to invalidate other gamers.

As much as I commend people for voicing opinions, our opinions need to be constructive and of substance. As fans of this finicky, ever-changing entertainment medium, our voices shouldn’t be mindless and alienating because too much of that will end up as white noise destined to be drowned. As loyal gamers, we need to be more encompassing and welcome new gamers with open arms, instead of making them feel intimidated and inadequate. Sure, we need to speak our mind to provide constructive, if not critical, feedback, but like a critique in an art class it’s not helpful when you say “I hate it” without explaining why or how it could be better.

You don’t need to love everything, but you do need to give respect to the games, as well as the creative talents behind those games. You see, the gaming industry, as with any industry, cannot be solely made up of a single genre of games or publisher. For example, can you imagine the music industry to only consists of one artist or genre? Some people like jazz while others prefer metal or hip-hop. I don’t personally listen to hip-hop, but that doesn’t mean I would start bashing on Jay-Z in favor of Miles Davis. These two artists are different, but they’re also essential in ensuring the music industry survives in the modern age of dwindling sales and instant gratification. The same idea applies for videogames and the gaming industry in general.

Pig Up Launcher

We need competition and variety in order for the gaming industry thrive. We need to be respectful of each genre, yes even facebook games, because otherwise the entire gaming lineup would consists of nothing but Michael Bay-esque first-person shooters. As much as I don’t understand the appeal of Zynga games, they’re a pioneer in social media gaming and a success story to peak the interest of other game makers to follow suit. Without the success of CityVille from Zynga, perhaps there would’ve never been a Pig Up! from PopCap Games. Expanding platforms and building audiences is how industries, gaming or otherwise, can blossom and thrive.

And who knows, you may end up liking an unfamiliar game if you just give it a chance.

How Nintendo tries, and fails, to be Apple

Nintendo apple logo

It’s apparent Nintendo wants to replicate Apple’s approach to product cycles. Tweak a product slightly on a regular basis, sell the product at a favorable profit margin (instead of a loss), starts printing money, etc; that has certainly been working well for Apple, and for the most part Nintendo has been successful with that strategy as well with Nintendo Wii (which is more of a GameCube upgrade, cynically speaking) and the Nintendo DS/DSi/XL series.

That is, until now.

The iPad 2 is a marginal update compared to the original iPad. Yes, it’s thinner, lighter, boasts two cameras, a bigger hard drive, and has a faster processor. But other than that, there aren’t any major differences compared to the original iPad. The product launched earlier this year with much fanfare and has been selling like hotcakes every since.

The 3DS is also an update to the already popular Nintendo DSi. It features a stereoscopic (3D) display, a more powerful processor, as well as a series of much-needed software refinements. Unlike the iPad 2, however, the product launched earlier this year to cold shoulders and hasn’t been selling too well. The press (and the general public, by proxy) has since deemed the product as a failure, to the point where Nintendo has announced today massive-cuts not only for the 3DS, but also on the salary of the company’s president as well as the representative directors in an attempt to please the increasingly-disgruntled shareholders.

Though, just to provide some sort of perspective, the Nintendo 3DS did sell 4.3 million units globally in the past four months. In contrast, the original Nintendo DS sold 5.4 million units in the same duration that was also over the holiday season. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time Nintendo is slashing prices shortly after a product’s launch. They did the same thing with the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and yes, the Virtual Boy.

Both iPad 2 and the 3DS were created as updates of a previously-successful device, but why did the outcome of these two devices vary so much? One of the signs point to the 3DS’s hefty $250 price tag. Unlike the iPad 2, where despite the marginal technical upgrade, the price remained the same from its predecessor. The 3DS, however, started off with a premium price-tag of $250, a sharp jump from Nintendo DSi’s $170. The price hike implies 3DS to be a completely new device (even though it really, really isn’t), but moreso it exudes arrogance: you’ll buy it no matter the cost.

Of course, the demographic for both companies is different as well. A $499 entry-level iPad is ultimately more affordable to a full-time working hipster living in San Francisco than it is for a typical middle-schooler who relies on his monthly allowance for a $250 Nintendo 3DS. But even though both companies have their own die-hard, loyal fanbase, Apple tend to create products that cater to their “I’m a Mac” demographic while Nintendo continuously ignore their fans in their new products in hopes to expand their market share. As a result, the blue ocean has never been colder.

Then again, every cloud has a silver lining. This recent price cut may just be the alarm call needed for Nintendo to stop their stubbornness and finally get some work done. From what I’ve seen of the next-generation game console, Wii U seems to be another “minor upgrade” product to the current Nintendo Wii. Yet from the single-touch, non-portable tablet controller to the limited Internet support, the console can be so much more if only Nintendo gets more aggressive with the product, instead of sugar coating their complacency with half-hearted “That’s not what we’re about” excuses as usual.

There can only be so many comebacks before consumers give up. Apple came back with the iMac and never looked back. Can Nintendo do the same?


Image courtesy of Nexus404.com

My thoughts on Day 1 of using Mac OS X Lion

This is not a review of Mac OS X Lion. (Ars Technica has written a brilliantly, 19-page review, if you’re interested.)

Instead, I want to note my initial thoughts as day one of using Lion. I’m sure things may change as I become more familiar with the operating system. But as it stands, here’s what I think:

Mac OS X Lion 10.7

Ultimately, it’s not a matter of what Lion has to currently offer, but rather it’s a window peek to Apple’s vision of the future. Sure, Lion provides a series of refinements over the previous operating system, but the concept of turning your laptop from a primary device to just another smart device, is entirely new. And because of that, I don’t think it’s fair to judge whether or not Lion is a successful follow-up to Snow Leopard until a few updates down the road.

Through Lion we’ve learned that the Mac App Store is now the default software digital distribution method. Apple is no longer tolerant of bulky and increasing venerable optical drives. And looking at the bigger picture, I welcome the change. I’m fully aware that there will be a transition period where it will be a pain in the ass to install software that exists only in a DVD format, but over time I think this is a smart move not unlike when Apple first abandoned the floppy drive in the original iMac back in 1998.

On top of that, it’s clear that with the arrival of Lion, as well as the MacBook Air and Mac Mini released today, Apple is changing the install and recovery system completely. Instead of providing users with setup and restore DVDs, everything is now stored in a hidden harddrive partition. And in case users truly messed up the computer, Apple also offers Internet Recovery in their newer hardware, where they are able to connect to an Apple server directly and reinstall the OS that way.

The scrolling direction is reversed in Lion. Like the iPhone and other touch screen devices, when you scroll your fingers upwards, so does the content. I understand everyone’s frustration in having to unlearn what they are familiar with, but again, I think it’s a smart move to do now rather than a few years down the road. It’s important to make the user experience consistent, especially for those who are growing up with smartphones in hand.

The way it helped me is to rethink the concept of scrolling: instead of scrolling down in the window, I’m pushing up the content directly.

Full screen apps. It’s funny how for years Mac users have complained that full-screen apps sacrifice valuable desktop space and effective multitasking, only to find that to be the prominent feature in the latest version of the Mac OS X Lion. Then again, that was before mutli-touch gestures became a standard in user-device interaction. Instead of shuffling between countless windows in the Windows taskbar or to repeatedly hit alt/command-tab to get to the desired application, users simply have to swipe on their multi-touch mouse or trackpad in order to pull up Mission Control and be able to move from one full-screen application to another. Now that I have access to full-screen apps at the swipe of my (three) fingertips, It’s hard to imagine editing pictures in iPhoto or trimming footages in iMovie without taking advantage of my entire computer screen.

Speaking of Mission Control, it’s basically a combination of Spaces + Dashboard + Exposé. Like I said in the WWDC post, I’m always happy to see Apple consolidate some of their key features in the sea of has-beens pet projects they’ve developed over the years.

Mission Control in Mac OS X Lion 10.7

The thing is, technology is now different compared to what it once was five, maybe ten years ago. I grew up bragging about processor speed and hard drives storage capacities. Those hardly matter anymore, so as a “modern operating system”, Lion is focusing on what’s important today (ie: digital distribution, cloud access) as opposed to holding on to what once mattered. And as much as I’m not a fan of Launchpad, Lion’s version of an application launcher, it’s a clear sign of direction Apple is adamant in going.

From abandoning floppy drives in the late 90s, to the myriad transitions (ie: Classic/Carbon/Cocoa, PowerPC-to-Intel, 32-to-64-bit architecture), Apple has always been forward thinking that way, stubbornly so, even at the risk of frustrating and alienating their most-loyal customers. To me, Lion is yet another gear in the transition in pushing Mac OS X (or would it be iOS?) another step forward.

Player 2 Press Start: A tribute to the unsung heroes

From Luigi in Super Mario Bros. to Jimmy Lee in Double Dragon, being the younger brother often means I have to settle for Player 2 characters. But using the term “settle” isn’t really justifiable because these lesser-known sidekicks were the ones I know and love; they were the ones who were there for me growing up.

LuigiMy love affair with support characters began with Luigi. Before Nintendo made Luigi a more distinguished, overall sloppier character we know (but mostly loathe) today, he was initially created as a direct replica from his A-list celebrity brother Mario. That meant that even though I was the second player, I had the same potential as Mario. Born with the same jumping gene as the so-called original, I was always the one who ended up saving Princess Peach Toadstool — not Mario.

In my mind, Mario games are wonderful, but it’s Luigi’s Mansion that’s captured my heart. The way he’s forced to vacuum the entire house (much like me growing up) only to clumsily fall off the stairs is infinitely more relatable than a fat man’s ability to fly from wearing a fursuit.

Unlike the main characters in videgames, born with gold PSN trophies in their mouths, stories of supporting characters are much more interesting to me. Gamers often talk about Cloud, Aerith and Tifa, but only those who went out of their way were able to convince Yuffie to join the quest in the battle against Sephiroth in Final Fantasy 7.

NightwingI’m more captivated by these unsung heroes in almost every thing I play, watch, and read. While Batman can’t seem to ever stop whining about his massive fortune and deceased parents, Dick Grayson is the one who has to deal with his parents’ death without any fortune left behind, all while struggling to become his own man. Sailor Moon may be the moon princess, but there’s something undeniably cool and admirable about the ever independent, yet unfortunately named, Sailor Uranus. Darkwing duck is the terror that flaps in the night, but Gizmoduck is the one who ends up saving the day with his built-in can opener.

At the end of the day, while everyone wants to be the main superhero who basks in the spotlight, I just want to be a useful sidekick who knows when to throw in the Master Sword (Ahem). Maybe being the younger brother makes me more aware of others, or maybe it helps me realize that I don’t need to be the center of attention in order to craft out my own identity. But just like Leslie Chow in the Hangover or Jack from Will and Grace, these under-the-radar, supporting characters may just end up stealing the spotlight at the end.

Why I'm not down with online download games (for now)

There’s something special about rushing home to crack open a newly purchased videogame. Before removing my jacket or throwing down my backpack, I’d rush over to the living room and turn on my game console. While the console is slowly powering up, I’d use every bit of my fingernails to scratch open the stubborn plastic wrap. Start from the top and unravel the plastic around its body; my fingers are every bit as excited as the brain controlling them. It is nothing short of a magical moment.

More than music, books, or movies, I simply love buying videogames in physical formats. Sometimes I actually like to arrange and play with the Gameboy and DS game cartridges themselves. There’s nothing better than spending the morning hours of an overcast Sunday morning in bed stacking game cartridges like gambling chips or demolishing them like a real life version of Boom Blox. It’s an incredibly dorky thing to do, I admit, but it’s something I’ve been doing ever since childhood and the experience is certainly part of why I feel connected with the gaming culture in general. I don’t want to stop simply because all my games now reside in the cloud.

My DS Game Collection

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue buying music on iTunes or downloading apps on the App Store. But like a grandfather recalling days of old, I fail to understand the appeal of purchasing core games digitally as opposed to owning traditional, retail copies.

Unlike buying music or other types of entertainment, downloading full games take a long time. There have been nights where I thought, “Ah, I’ll just spend the rest of the night playing whatever games I find on Steam.” But only when I confirmed my order did I realize that the only entertainment for the rest of the night was watching the download bar progress. Whereas I can begin watching the movie as it’s being downloaded, I have to download the entire game completely before I can proceed to install and enjoy the game. Digital delivery usually means instant gratification, but core games don’t have that advantage due to their sheer size as well as the relatively slow internet connection we currently have today.

What’s makes even less sense to me is the concept of buying games digitally for home consoles. Hard drives fail and things happen. On a PC, I can at least back up my games, wipe my harddrive, perform a fresh install, and start over. But what happens if my console eventually fail and its warranty has since expired? Unlike the previous generation of game consoles where I can simply swap out the memory cards and games onto other working consoles, there’s no easy option for me to back up my games that are stored on the hard drive (as well as the saved data associated with the games). I can’t perform a fresh install even if I’m able to because apparently it’s illegal.

I understand the PlayStation Store has a 5-time download limit to purchased content, so I should be able to re-download them onto another working unit if necessary. But I pay to own my content on my PC as much as I do on my PS3, so why can’t I treat them the same way?

With Steam being so successful and with the recent launch of the EA’s Origin service, I wonder if retail games will suffer the same fate as music, books, and so many types of digital media that are now living in the cloud. Maybe I’ll be less of a skeptic in a few years when we’re able to download a full game within minutes, but until then, my nostalgia and my constant fear of Murphy’s Law is keeping me from hopping to the digital bandwagon.

BioShock Infinite's unrealistic leap toward videogame progress

I’ve never played the original BioShock and I haven’t gotten past the first Big Sister in BioShock 2, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the new BioShock Infinite game coming out in late 2012.

I’m excited because I’m so drawn to the game’s graphical style. Unlike most western developers who constantly chase after the ultimate realism in videogames, Irrational Games’s Creative Director, Ken Levine, is steering BioShock Infinite into a whole new art direction.

The world in BioShock Infinite is vibrant and detailed but with a comic-book influence, in a way similar to a stylized cartoon in high definition. The characters, in particular the mysterious character Elizabeth, have exaggerated human features.

Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite
Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite

In an interview with Gamers With Jobs last year, Ken Levine explained that:

A movie uses photorealism quite often because it’s free. We don’t get a cost benefit for being photorealistic, it’s the same reason Pixar’s not photorealistic, you just end up creepy… There’s no need to be photorealistic and I think it’s kind of a cop out. I’d much rather play a game that’s stylized.

I love that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate realistic graphics in videogames, far from it, but I don’t think as gamers we should limit ourselves to a singular style of art.

Videogames are fundamentally different when comparing to other art forms, such as writing or photography, because there’s this constant need to be on the cutting edge of technology. Even when it comes to moviemaking where it’s socially acceptable to make no-frill romantic comedies, it’s often considered to be a sacrilege to create a videogame with outdated graphics. Can you imagine Mass Effect 3 with blocky textures from the Nintendo 64 era?

That’s why game designers tend to chase toward art styles that replicate reality. That way, they can show off their latest and greatest achievements by bragging about the quantitative, technical side of art. They start talking the game’s ability to run in 60 frames per second or the computer’s system requirement in order to replicate such reality smoothly. Realism is also something consumers are most familiar with, and why it’s a safety net for most game publishers.

But because of that, it becomes a risk for game designers to implement anything other than realistic graphics because that’s all consumers are familiar with. It would be like how the music industry would only focus on Pop because consumers are only exposed to Lady Gaga.

The thing is, artists shouldn’t produce art that are solely conformed by consumers’ expectations. Instead, artists should create things that represent their creativity, even if they happen to challenge consumers’ perceptions of what art should be. Otherwise, paintings would never move past Impressionism and music would still be consisted of four independent movements.

Legend of Zelda Wind Waker
Can you imagine Wind Waker any other way?

Just imagine games such as Animal Crossing, Borderlands, No More Heroes, or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker without their distinctive art styles. Imagine if Anime characters are drawn with proportional human features, or if all of Pixar’s famous characters were created with ultra realism in mind. They may still be mind blowing, but in exchange they would’ve lost the sense of magic they are now known for.

BioShock Infinite is exciting partly because its art style is refreshing and it stands out from many of the videogames in the market today. Unlike the latest installments of Uncharted, Call of Duty, or Gears of War where I have clear ideas of what the final products may look like, I haven’t seen enough of BioShock Infinite to really know where (and how) Ken Levine will ultimately take us in the colorful, yet collapsing, air-city of Columbia. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a leap of faith, but one I’m happy to take. I’m intrigued from what I’ve seen so far to learning more about the game, even if Elizabeth does look like a character from Bratz.

Cool Your Grits, srsly

I’ve been writing here on Coolyourgrits for a while now. Some posts are longer than others; some posts are better than others. But just what does “Cool Your Grits” really mean and who is this person constantly ranting away?

In a way, it’s my way of saying “Calm the fuck down, people”! It’s great that people are passionate enough to feel the need to defend what they love, but sometimes people just need to calm down.

The thing is, games are magical to me. They’re what I turned to so I wouldn’t have to deal with my otherwise boring life, and I have no intention of using them to fuel more negativity — something that is already running in surplus — into my daily life.

And that’s why I don’t waste my energy tweeting about how the Nintendo 3DS is a “waste of space” or how Battlefield 3 is sooooo much better than Modern Warfare 3. My jaw is on the floor every time there’s a new Uncharted trailer just like any other gamer, but I also know when to stop and smell the planted roses in Animal Crossing. As I get frustrated by Seth’s cheapness in Super Street Fighter IV, I remember how I can wind down with games like Flower and Kirby’s Epic Yarn (ideally the Snow Land stage).

There’s no divide for me. I’m a passionate gamer because I love all videogames. I’m idealistic enough to believe that different genres of games have different purposes cater to different people. I don’t hate Penguin Press for publishing kids books just because I’m a non-fiction nut, so why should I treat games any differently?

So cool your grits, folks. Take a notch down from your fanboyisms and tear down your Berlin Walls of hyper-criticisms. Learn to be a kid again, the way you could make out an entire world from a few unflattering pixels. Instead of complaining how games companies are never doing enough to please your majesty, take the time to try out a different style or genre of games. You might end up a better, happier gamer because of it.

Twilight Princess is better than Ocarina of Time

(This article contains minor spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.)

Having never been a Nintendo 64 owner, I’ve never had the chance to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time until Nintendo upgraded the graphics and rereleased the game for the Nintendo 3DS earlier this month.

I guess that makes me a bit of a late bloomer, but at the same time, I’m fortunate because I get to experience the game for the first time with a fresh 2011 perspective. Because I’m not tied to any sense of nostalgia, I actually noticed a lot of issues with Ocarina of Time that slowly helped me realize why Twilight Princess, despite its disrepute among fans, is overall a better game in every conceivable way.

Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The reason I’m comparing the two games — as opposed to Wind Waker or any other Zelda title — is simple: Unlike Wind Waker, which features a Hyrule drowned beneath a vast ocean, the world and characters of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess are quite similar.

To start, Ocarina of Time has more than its fair share of annoyances. First and foremost is Navi. She is rarely helpful. Like a sugar-addled child with ADHD, she zooms around willy-nilly, often flying over to random objects and calling attention to them, even though they’re of no importance.

By contrast, Midna actually has a personality and is tremendously likable. She’s mostly stays out of your way, but in the instances that the player gets stuck, Midna jumps in with helpful, precise advice about where to go and what to do. Navi offers only generic, idle chatter that generally amounts to something like “Hey, let’s go to the next dungeon!”

Some of the puzzles in Ocarina of Time really bothered me, too. I’m not talking about finding heart-container pieces and Gold Skulltulas. Such collectibles are par for the course in any Zelda. It’s the puzzles you have to solve in order to keep the story going that get to me.

The challenges seem arbitrary compared to Twilight Princess. I would have never in a million years guessed that playing the Song of Storms at the windmill would drain the well water or that I’d have to take a leap of faith by walking through the wall at the bottom the well.

The same goes for the Spirit Temple. After realizing that I need to become a kid in order to pass through the small hole, I hastily warped back to the Temple of Time. Only then did I realize that I needed to walk outside the Spirit Temple first in order to get Sheik to teach me the Requiem of Spirit. Without it, young Link isn’t allowed to pass through the Gerudo Fortress. In the end, I had to turn back into adult Link, warp back to the Spirit temple, reenter the temple, and exit the temple normally in order to initiate the cut scene with Sheik.

I know I probably acted too fast for my own good, but what player would trudge all the way back to the Temple of Time by foot when they could easily warp to the destination? It would’ve been fine if Nintendo had provided some kind of barrier or advice (i.e., an actual reason for Navi to interrupt me) against prematurely leaving the temple. In Twilight Princess, players are not able to warp inside of dungeons, period.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The puzzles in Twilight Princess arise more organically. For example, when someone stole the medicine-soaked wooden statue, I instinctively knew to seek out the scent and locate it. People might think these puzzles are too straightforward, but at the very least they make sense.

I understand there’s an eight-year gap between the two original releases, but playing Ocarina of Time makes me appreciate what a great game Twilight Princess really is and why it deserves more recognition than it gets. When I finally returned to Twilight Princess after finishing Ocarina of Time, the detailed hubbub of the castle’s town market left me speechless.

Twilight Princess’ art direction is unbelievable. The fully developed characters populate a vast world and fill out a compelling story. The dungeons are challenging, and the minigames are bountiful. And best of all, it has the series’ most epic Ganondorf showdown. Players have always yearned for a darker, more mature Zelda game, and with Twilight Princess, Nintendo delivered.

Twilight Princess seems to correct many of Ocarina of Time’s misses while simultaneously hitting all the right notes with the things it changes. So what is keeping it from being an all-time fan favorite? Is it because it’s too similar to Ocarina of Time? Or is it because Ocarina of Time was the first encounter fans had with an open-ended Zelda experience? Maybe it’s just plain, old franchise fatigue.

I’m not saying Ocarina of Time is a bad game by any means. But playing Ocarina of Time so far after its original release simply made me more aware of the improvements Nintendo implemented with each successive Zelda. That said, it has been five years since Twilight Princess came out, and I am eager to see how Nintendo will take another step forward with the upcoming Skyward Sword.

Update: This post has since been featured on the front page at Bitmob.com!

Club Nintendo Coins expiring on June 30

Club NintendoJune 30 is the last day to redeem the Club Nintendo Coins you’ve earned between the year 2008 and 2009. Club Nintendo is a rewards program that allow gamers to earn Coins for purchasing games, game systems, as well as answering surveys on Nintendo’s website. Coins can be used for exclusive gifts that are not available anywhere else.

Club Nintendo Coins expired after two full Club Nintendo years, beginning from July 1 to June 30. So that means if you’ve earned any Coins in the Club Nintendo year from July 1, 2008 to June, 2009, next Thursday (June 20) will be the last day you’ll be able to spend your Coins for various gifts listed on the website.

Super Mario Tote Bag from Club Nintendo
I recently spent 250 Coins on this Super Mario tote bag

But what’s more is that you can reach a different status by earning a specific amount of Coins during that Club Nintendo year. Earning 300 coins will promote you to Gold status while earning 600 will get you to the Platinum level. Being promoted to those statuses will earn you a bonus gift sent directly from Nintendo at the end of that Club Nintendo year. Those statuses will reset every Club Nintendo year.

If you are short on Coins, you can earn quite a few of them by taking short surveys on the Club Nintendo website. The surveys range from product registrations (ie: What made you decide on buying this game?) to post play surveys (ie: How are you liking the game?). For a limited time, you can also earn Coins by linking your Nintendo 3DS to the newly launched Nintendo eShop.

You can visit the Club Nintendo website as well as its FAQ page for more information.

Should I give in to an increasingly shooter-based gaming future?

I have this problem when it comes to playing shooters: I may be the worst player in the world when it comes to titles that rely on aiming and accuracy.

My hands just don’t know what to do. To be more specific, the years have trained my right thumb to press face buttons to execute the perfect Hadoken in Street Fighter 2 or summon Shiva in Final Fantasy 7. Button mashing and stat-tracking have always been the bread and butter of my gaming credentials.

Menu screen of Final Fantasy VII
This is what I'm used to

Thanks to Super Smash Bros. Melee, I chose the Nintendo GameCube over the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox as my console of choice during college. Since there were very few role-playing games available for that system, I had to adapt to action-based fare like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Metroid Prime. It was a big transition from menu-driven RPGs to titles that require quick hand-eye coordination, but it was manageable, and I eventually became quite adept thanks largely to Nintendo’s innovative Z-Targeting system.

While it’s one thing to use the right analog stick to manipulate a camera, it’s another to depend on it for pinpoint headshot accuracy. I simply can’t do it. Like an old dog, it’s difficult for me to learn a new trick when my right thumb is so accustomed to pressing buttons. That’s why I’ve always avoided anything involving aiming and shooting as best I can.

But something happened in the past several years. Not only are there fewer and fewer traditional RPGs, but more and more games are increasingly adapting aiming and shooting as their primary gameplay element. Instant classics like Mass Effect and Fallout 3 are technically in the role-playing genre, but their shooter-based gameplay has kept me away for years.

The same could be said for the action-adventure genre: I was awesome at Batman: Arkham Asylum and Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time, but for me, Infamous was an utterly hopeless endeavor — an action game that had melee options, but focused primarily on accuracy and shooting. I eventually finished it, but not without letting go of my pride and setting the difficulty to easy. Ugh, I’m still ashamed.

Infamous is an open-world action-adventure that features aiming and shooting as a primary focus

I understand that a big part of the changeover has to do with the fact that technology now allows us to experience instant inputs that result in direct consequences. Developers no longer have to rely on heavy text or a four-minute Guardian Force summon to present an epic sense of scale. Now, everything can be done in real time.

No one was more excited than me when Nintendo unveiled the original Wii. Like a late-night infomercial, I wondered if this could be the product that would change my life forever and allow me to play shooters. And for the first time, I was a complete badass at Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition — games I had no chance in finishing if it wasn’t for the intuitive motion control. It’s an unfortunate reality, however, that developers never took full advantage of the console.

It’s not that I don’t like the concept of shooters. I’m just hesitant to see more and more games moving toward core design concept that I’m not sure everyone has a knack (or a desire) for. As I see this trend grow bigger every year, it’s quickly becoming a sink-or-swim issue for me.

Should I stick to the few remaining traditional role-playing and action-adventure games and risk missing out on the majority of medium’s best experiences? Or should I face the reality that shooters are the new standard and suck it up, even if it means toning down the difficulty to easy and retrying the same mission 50 times?

Update: This post has since been featured on the front page at Bitmob.com!

Amateur Advice: 5 Things Nintendo Needs to Do

Amateur Advice is a new, on-going series on my advice to gaming companies and the overall tech industry from someone outside the fence, without the typical “industry” experience and with nothing to lose. In this post, we take a quick look on what Nintendo is trying to achieve and what they need to do to get there.

In the E3 media presentation this year, Nintendo unveiled their next generation gaming console named the Nintendo Wii U. They mentioned that while they brought over many casual, nontraditional gamers onto the Nintendo Wii, they now want to bridge the gap between casual and hardcore gamers with the new console. So, in a sense, what Sony and Microsoft have been doing but in reverse order.

The Nintendo Wii U controller has a 6.2″ touch screen in the middle of an otherwise traditional controller. Users are able to use the touch screen as a supplementary screen to the game they’re currently playing or to transfer the visuals from the television over to the controller. The controller can be used to play games by itself, but it is not meant to be used as a portable device and will not function outside of the home console’s reach.

Whereas we understood that both the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii were derived from the blue ocean strategy, or the concept of reaching for a broader audience instead of fighting over an existing and shrinking demographic, we have no idea what the Nintendo Wii U is about. Does the blue ocean strategy still apply? If not, how is this different from the now-motion-control-enabled PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360? In what way is the Nintendo Wii U not another me-too product?

With Nintendo raising so many questions while answering so few in their 80-minute presentation, it’s not surprising that many of us are now more confused (and in turn skeptical) than ever. Here are my thoughts on the five things Nintendo needs to do to get back on track:

  1. Rebuild the story and the message you’re trying to convey. Explain to us the bigger picture and how the Nintendo Wii U can deliver. The blue ocean strategy was an excellent way to explain why we needed a stylus with the Nintendo DS and why the Wii controller looked like a remote. Give us the backstory on why the touch screen is essential on the new controller and ultimate why we should care.

  2. Marketing. While it’s sounds pretty absurd to name the console with two one-syllable, unrelating words, it’s slightly less absurd if people think of it as a wordplay of Wii 2. Maybe the logo animation should start with Wii 2 with the 2 turning sideways and into a capitalized U? Whatever it may be, do the homework to find out what’s the best way to communicate the brand. Remember, it takes one bad move for consumers to dismiss a product regardless of features or quality.

  3. Don’t get complacent. You hit a home run when it came to the Nintendo Wii, but that’s because consumers never had motion control gaming before. But the Wii U is a lot more similar to the original Wii in terms of user experience, as there are already a lot of abandoned and/or inactive Wii owners. If anything, Nintendo has their work cut out for them because of that.

  4. Go out of your way for third-party developers. The era of “a good product will sell itself” is over. It’s no longer enough to make the platform flexible and expect developers to come knocking on the door. That’s because other developers have been developing for other platforms for years, and there needs to be an incentive to them to return to Nintendo’s console. Most games are multiplatform these days and Nintendo needs to do whatever it takes to ensure every multiplatform game will make their way to their new console.

  5. Make the controller portable. The controller certain looks like an iPad, so why not make the Wii U controller portable? If Nintendo is going to take a risk, they might as well take a real one. Imagine reading an ebook from Amazon Kindle or playing Plants vs. Zombieson the way to work; there are huge opportunities if the controller is integrated with the Nintendo eShop. Not only will that catapult the Nintendo eShop into the mainstream audience (akin to the blue ocean strategy), but it will also be the only mobile device with a traditional button layout — something mobile action games sorely need.

    And don’t worry about the Nintendo Wii U controller cannibalizing the sale of the Nintendo 3DS. Apple’s iPhone and iPad coexist very well because the two devices offer very different experiences. Same goes for the Wii U controller and Nintendo 3DS. They have their own unique features (one has 3D while the other one has a bigger screen) and they will certainly find their own place in time.

So those are the five things Nintendo needs to do in order for their next console to succeed, but what do you think? What can Nintendo do to make their next console a success? Do you think they’re on the right track or do you think it’s ultimately a lost cause?

E3 2011: Nevermind who won…the question is: "Where are we going?"

I realized I’d been on Twitter way too long when I started fuming on this one, single tweet that read: “Hands down, Sony won this year’s E3.” What is that…36 characters? Hardly worth losing a night’s sleep over. Yet there I was…just absolutely incensed and wondering what gave that person the right to say such a thing.

I watched all three media presentations from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. But honestly, who cares who wins in E3 anymore?

These presentations ran like the Academy Awards. Different game developers got up on stage, read their cheesy lines, showed the videos, and filled the remaining, awkward silence with a “joke” or two before the eerie woman with the answering-machine voice introduced the next guest. Rinse and repeat. That’s what these presentations are.

Of course, the audience is mostly interested in the products, and I’m not sure what to make of most of those this year. Microsoft largely focused on Kinect, and, specifically, voice recognition. I don’t have an Xbox 360, so I might not be seeing the entire picture here…but why should video-game experiences be based on voice-controlled menu navigation or gestured-driven gun construction? Like Adam Sessler had previously said in his soapbox podcast, why is gaming constantly trying to push the envelope to where it doesn’t need to be pushed?

Same thing with Sony’s presentation, where they pushed 3D in a very big way. Every 10 minutes or so, they told the audience to “please put on your 3D glasses now.” They’re even releasing a PlayStation branded 3D television. Yet in all of the gameplay videos and demonstrations, I have yet to see any evidence why 3D gaming is a must-have instead of a nice-to-have.

And then there are the hardware announcements:

  • The PlayStation Vita. It’s basically a Wifi and 3G enabled PSP, but with better graphics, a touch screen, front and back camera, and…a rear touch pad? Again, Sony has failed to answer why I need a rear touch pad. To make the mountains go higher? How is that taking gameplay to the next level?
     
  • Nintendo announced the successor to Wii, named the WiiU; except, is it really a successor? Or is the new controller the only feature? This device has a 6.2″ screen, which provides players with a place to view secondary information or allows them to switch the output from T.V. to controller. But why does any of that matter if I can’t use the controller as a portable, iPad-like device? And just who asked for these very features? Why should we care?

These presentations are like watching Lost. Instead of providing answers, I’m left with more questions. “Who won E3 this year?” I honestly don’t care because I’m too busy trying to find out where these E3 presentations are taking us.

Update: This post has since been featured on Bitmob.com front page!

Software Put Back in Focus in WWDC 2011

I really liked the WWDC presentation this year. It has been a while since Apple put the focus on software instead of using the spotlight to announce their latest iPhone or hardware lineup. This year, however, it’s all about the software with an adamant declaration that the PC age is over.

The presentation was separated in three areas: Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud.

Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion

Out of the three segments, I was most impressed with Mac OS X Lion. I’ve been a big skeptic with how Apple was going to seemingly marry iOS components while throwing away years of what Mac OS X was built upon. I thought the move to full-screen apps means sacrificing the ease of use and the multi-window-working nature that separates Mac OS from Windows.

But what I had forgotten was the arrival of Multi-Touch gestures. More than Exposé, more than the Windows Start menu, and certainly more than using alt/cmd-tab, gesture-activated Mission Control gestures look like it’ll be the de-facto way to navigate between screens and applications in Mac OS X Lion. Mission Control looks like a mash-up of Exposé and Spaces, which I applaud Apple for combining two key features in the sea of has-beens pet projects. (Anyone still remembers Widgets or Sherlock?)

Mac OS X Lion will only be available via the Mac App Store, which is bad news for me since I’ve been looking forward to upgrading my MacBook from Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger to Lion. According to Apple’s site, it seems like the only way that’s going to happen is if I upgrade to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopord first, before upgrading to Lion via the Mac App Store.

iOS 5

iOS 5

I have a feeling we haven’t seen the killer feature of iOS 5. Don’t get me wrong, the features covered are definitely welcomed, if not necessary. But showcased features like the Notification Center, camera, calendar, and PC-free setup seem so reactive instead of proactive. Specifically speaking, these features are all reactive to what Android is already doing. What ever happened to “Others are busy just to catch up to this version, and we’re going so much farther in our next version”?

That said, iMessage and Newsstand is what I’m most interested in. What will iMessage do to Texting plans as we know it? What will eventually happen to the concept of email if we can now send text, videos, contacts, locations and more instantaneously?

Newsstand is important because this can take Apple where the iBooks Store hasn’t. Amazon Kindle is great for reading books thanks to its e-ink technology, but magazines are designed to be flipped, skimmed, and tossed, and the color-richness nature of magazines is where the iPad will shine.

iCloud

iCloud logo

Apple made a huge deal about this, but I just can’t seem to care all that much. Steve Jobs revised his analogy of a digital hub he once used for the iMac years ago and is now applying it iCloud, declaring this “the post-PC age.” I understand what Steve is saying, but I just don’t find his presentation to be anything new.

Maybe it’s because I’ve already have all my information living “in the cloud.” I’ve been a MobileMe customer for years and already have all sorts of information pushed to me automatically. On top of that I also use Dropbox for my documents, Amazon Cloud Player for music, and Gmail as my primary email.

What’s missing for me is how iCloud is different from anything I just mentioned. Unlike the original iPod or iPhone in that even though they were not the first products introduced in their respective markets, those devices also offered groundbreaking features that we hadn’t seen before: a 4GB hard drive for the original iPod, multi-touch display and revolutionary music app for the iPhone. Instead, iCloud looks like a me-too product. The only thing interesting I saw in iCloud is that it is ad-free and free; certainly a jab to Google.

iTunes Match

Steve’s “One More Thing”. Too bad I just don’t get it. Basically it’s $24.99/year to convert all my non-iTunes purchased songs to DRM-free 256kbps AACs. But why is it on a per year basis? Does that mean the second I stop paying, all my songs will revert back to non-iTunes status? If not, can’t I just pay for one year to convert all my songs to paid status and have it pushed to my devices from that point on?

Also, does the $24.99/year price tag means I can now pirate unlimited songs since iTunes Match will change to legal, iTunes status anyways? Is that why they’re charging iTunes Match on a yearly basis, because piracy will never go away? The concept of iTunes Match just doesn’t seem very well thought out.

What did you think of this year’s WWDC? What are you most looking forward: Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, or iCloud? What are your thoughts on iTunes Match?