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: 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: 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: 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.

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.

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

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!

Why I'm Not Feeling Sony's Welcome Back Program

Sony has finally unveiled its Welcome Back program to make up for the month they took down the PlayStation Network (PSN) after being hacked, with millions of user data and credit card information stolen.

PlayStation Network Logo

Sony’s Welcome Back program includes two free game downloads and a 30-day trial with PlayStation Plus. The offer is definitely nice, but I just don’t know how I feel about it. In a way it reminded me of how Microsoft lost the antitrust lawsuit in 2006 and ended up passing out free PCs and discounts of their own software to public schools. It’s less of a settlement than it is a way to shove their products down people’s throats.

I’m sure I’m just being cynical. I’m sure a lot of people who use PSN regularly are thrilled to receiving free games as well as a free test drive to Sony’s premium online service. I’m just not one of them, even though my personal data was stolen just the same.

So what does it take for me to get back to the Sony bandwagon? I don’t know, maybe a hug and a card?

The main issue for me is that I simply don’t know if I can trust Sony again. The fact that they’re still getting hacked means I’m still wary of again having my information stolen. It’s nice they’re passing out free Burnol, but it doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of being burned again.

I haven’t turned on my PlayStation 3 since the day I heard about the hack, and their Welcome Back program isn’t so tempting for me to hastily update the console anytime soon. I still love you Sony, but let’s take a step back and just see what happens, okay?

What about you? Are you happy with Sony’s Welcome Back program? Or did you expect more from Sony?

This is why I game

I am notoriously a bad gamer. The other day I plunked down my $8, or $8,000 in unemployment currency, and bought Splinter Cell: Conviction. I knew I would never finish it. I never finish games.

But unlike my other hobbies like playing guitar, doing yoga, or anything that I eventually gave up on, I never did manage to give up gaming. Playing Splinter Cell: Conviction made me realize it’s not me. It’s gaming.

More than anything else, a good game is never discouraging. Instead it teases you, frustrates you, and at the end of the day it leaves you yearning for more. So you die, and you fail, but instead of giving up and calling it a day, you end up telling yourself “One more try. One more turn.”

That’s how I’ve always gamed. Same with Angry Birds. Same with Uncharted 2. Same with Monster Hunter Tri. Same with Civilization IV. Gaming to me has never been a success on first try; like learning to walk it encourages you to get back up and try again.

A good game isn’t about finishing the story. That’s a book, or a movie if you’re lazy. Instead it’s about being in the moment. It forces you to immerse yourself in another person’s situation and presents opportunities to think on your feet, way better than any WWJD bracelets ever can impose on you. That’s why the premise for Donkey Kong Country Returns is shorter than a 140-character tweet (mind control jerks stole Donkey Kong’s bananas), and why Batman Arkham Asylum will never be remembered for its final boss (it’s Joker, imagine that).

All of these reasons are why I game. I get to live outside of myself, get thrown in situations, and be encouraged to try and try again until I succeed. Only gaming can make critical thinking (and dying) this much fun.

In Defense of the 3DS

The Nintendo 3DS has been out for a little over two weeks ago, yet it was only last night did I finally get completely caught up with my video podcast queue on iTunes. I’m usually very open minded when it comes game journalists’ opinions — the way I see it: they’re the experts, not me.

So I was eager to watch Adam Sessler’s Soapbox to see how he likes the 3DS. I still remembered how enthusiastic he was in E3 last year about the device, so I was surprised to hear how unimpressed he was with the final product. As much as I have the utmost respect for him, as I do with most of the game journalists over at G4TV, I couldn’t help but to respectfully disagree with him on this one.

Picture of Nintendo 3DS
Image from Wikipedia

 

Besides that particular episode of the Adam’s Soapbox, I’ve also collected other common criticism I’ve read for the 3DS from other sources online. in risk of sounding like a typical Nintendo fanboy, I do want to give my two cents about the device as well as my thoughts on what’s being said by so many others online.

Weakest. Lineup. Ever.

The most frequently heard criticism is regarding the launch lineup title for the 3DS. People simply went nuts about how poor they thought the games all were, and how nothing is worthy for their purchase.

Now let me be clear, I didn’t get any launch titles either when I bought my 3DS, so it’s not like I think the lineup is anything to write home about. (I have, however, played Street Fighter IV a few times thanks to my friends and co-workers) But at the same time, the launch lineup for the original DS wasn’t anything special either. Sure, there was Super Mario 64 DS, but it was a port the very same way it is for Rayman 3D.

But does anyone still remember Feel the Magic: XY/XX for the original DS? The Urbz: Sims in the City? Ping Pals? How are they any better than PilotWings Resort or Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars for the 3DS?

With every play, I’m increasing impressed by the graphic and technical quality of Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. The fact that Capcom was able to port a ps3/xbox360 title over to a portable device as well as their ability to cram so many of the 3DS features (online play, StreetPass) into a cartridge is nothing short of amazing.

At the same time, there’s not a single game in the original DS launch lineup where I was impressed with as I am with Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. It seems like everyone just wants to be a Debbie Downer about this launch lineup but at the same time be in denial that the Nintendo DS launch lineup was so much worse.

But see how well the DS turned out to be.

Same format

One of the things Adam said that stuck out to me was that while every other media has more or less remained the same, gaming is constantly pushing the technology envelope — to the point where consumers no longer want to catch up.

He made an example that reading has been relatively the same ever since its invention. Even with the arrival of Amazon Kindle and other ebook readers, the reading experience itself hasn’t changed much for the most part. Same goes for television and movie watching, so why must gaming be so progressive?

But what Adam has forgotten are the experimental parts of reading and movie watching. Reading hasn’t changed much on the surface, but at the same time the objective of reading has changed drastically in the past two decades. What used to be a rainy day, lazy sunday activity is now a on-the-go casual read. Blogs. RSS. Twitter. Those are all evolving products of reading. So while the act of reading itself hasn’t changed (ie: you still read one word at a time), the way we read is vastly different now than even few years ago.

With movie watching, there’s also 4D. You know, like those Back to the Future rides at Universal Studio or those tacky movie shorts where you’re exploring the jungle and are suddenly chased by a t-rex. I’m not saying those are revolutionary and that one day it’ll be the default experience in mainstream cinema — hardly — but they do exist.

I think the 3DS is the same thing. Nintendo’s stance of non-3D compatibility is pretty much a guarantee to ensure the gaming experience will remain the same for the most part. But the 3D technology simply adds an extra layer to that experience, much like how hyperlinking is to reading or pop-up facts are to pop-up videos.

I’m by no means saying the Nintendo 3DS will be a complete success. I simply don’t know if it will, but at the same time we shouldn’t discount it as simply being gimmicky and unwanted by the consumer right from the start.

Portability

Then there’s the whole 3D experience on-the-go argument. How the 3D technology isn’t really meant to be portable because it requires the precise angle to make everything work and any slight adjustment will automatically engulf your eyeballs in flames.

But that argument can be made for anything.

And you know what? That’s why people know not to use the iPad in direct sunlight. Or listen to the headphones when they’re driving. Some people can’t even read books on the bus. Some people can’t even be on the bus without puking. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for books, or in case for the latter, no place for buses.

Even in the days of the DS lite and the Game Boy before it, most of my intense gaming session was when I was at home, on the couch, plugged in. I know they’re portable devices, but I also know I want to be comfortable when I’m fighting the final boss in Golden Sun — a task that can easily take more than 30 minutes. Otherwise, I won’t commit and start up the game.

The same can be said with the 3DS. Yes, it’s a portable device, but it doesn’t mean i *have* to play it absolutely anywhere and everywhere. That’s also why there’s the 3D depth slider.

Battery Life

My reaction to this criticism really was, are you kidding me? Has anyone even played a game on the iPhone? Because the last time I played Plants vs. Zombies my iPod touch conked out after an hour of play. I currently use a HTC G2 and I have to charge that phone twice a day. (To be fair, the battery life for the G2 and iPod are a lot longer if the screen stays inactive, but how is that different for the 3DS, where it sports a 3-day standby battery life?)

If people can be forgiving with the iPhone playing casual games, why can’t they treat the Nintendo 3DS the same way? Why should this be any different?

I know the DS lite has crazy battery life, something I’m still surprised by to this day how they were able to pull it off. But at the same time, the battery life for the original DS (DS Phat, if you will) as well the Nintendo DSi is only 10 hours with the backlight off. Considering that 3DS is a completely new device in its first generation, is it really a fair criticism?

So those are the issues I wanted to get off my chest. Like I said, I understand the Nintendo 3DS is not perfect. But is it really fair to call it a gimmicky and already say it won’t catch on, two weeks after its launch? Haven’t we learned from the original iPod or the original DS? What do you think?

Fine, I'll write about the 3DS

As much as I was curious about the Nintendo 3DS, I never thought I would actually buy one, much less on launch day. I did, however, play with the idea of buying the system and putting it up on eBay. Somewhere in my head I had the idea that the 3DS was going to sell like hotcakes, or specifically like the Nintendo Wii, and that it was going to be an easy way to make a quick buck. I was sure the extra $20 or whatever would surely propel me out of poverty and into upper-class status, complete with a monocle and top hat.

But unlike the Nintendo Wii, the systems never completely sold out. The economy was also not doing as well as a few years back comparing to the Wii launch. Minutes after the purchase and my tell-tale heart began whispering, daring me to open the 3DS.

Come on, you might as well.

You know you want to.

…Fine.

But only so I can write about it.

3DS: Take a Look Inside

No doubt about it, the biggest feature about the Nintendo 3DS is the ability to see 3D without the need to wear special glasses. And on that level it works really well. But it takes me half a second or so for my eyes to adapt everytime I switch from looking at real life objects and the 3DS display. The difference is even more prominent when I look in-between the 3DS display and a computer monitor.

Maybe I’m just getting old.

And the interesting thing about the 3D technology is that it’s not recommended to children under seven. Since their eyesights aren’t fully developed at that age, Nintendo warns that seeing the 3D images may permanently damage their eyesights, and they’re not shy to tell you over and over about it. From instruction manuals to parental settings to the permanent icon in the home menu, it’s hard to ignore all the warning labels Nintendo is spamming on its own device. We get it, you don’t want to get sued.

It’d be interesting to see how Nintendo will keeping kids under 7, a key demographic on any level, from using the 3D technology. “There’s a new Pokemon 3D coming out! But too bad I’m under 7 and the warning label says to not use it. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I turn 8.” Right.

“This is pointles”

Another cool thing about the Nintendo 3DS is that Nintendo seems to finally understand the need to work with and not against the internet. Instead of having friend codes for each and every game in the DS, the Nintendo 3DS has a single 12-digit code and you can manage your universal friend list at a centralized place to manage. Yep! Universal friend list!

I was quick to realize that just because you have friends on your friend list doesn’t mean you can actually communicate with them. At the time of writing, there is no way to send a message to your friends on the 3DS beside posting a public status update for all your friends to see. And by status update I really mean a 16-character line of text.

DS compatibility

A lot of people have already complained about the upsampling quality of DS games to the current 3DS, but personally I don’t think it’s a big issue. From Animal Crossing: Wild World to Super Mario Bros. 64 to The New Super Mario Bros., I’m not noticing a huge sacrifice in graphics quality. In fact, when I do run in native mode (by pressing Start + Select when launching the DS game), I find the original screen size a bit too small.

These are just a few things I’ve noticed from playing the 3DS in the past few days. Did you get the new 3DS? How are you liking it? Tell me your experience by leaving a comment below, I’d love to hear what you think!

When top scores used to be good enough

Besides save slots or passwords, the next best thing you’re likely to remember in a NES or Game Boy game is the Top Score. You know, the number where it took months of nonstop practice to take over the top spot, where it was previously occupied by the ever dreadful AAA.

That score meant everything to us when we were kids. As much as our parents tried to convince us that “It’s just a number,” that five or six-digit score singlehandedly sum up our gaming skills and our childhood.

Not only was that score something we were proud of, but it was also something we can brag about with our classmates at schools. Top scores were our original bragging rights.

Then slowly the bragging rights evolved to more than high scores, but to what we were able to find and collect in videogames. Things like the invisibility cloak from Zelda: Link to the Past, or breeding a gold Chocobo in Final Fantasy VII.

Back then, we could easily visit our friends’ house after school or during our days off. But as we grow older, friends fall apart, cousins move away, and life in general gets in the way. In turn, we’re no longer able to easily show off our gaming achievements the way we did in the schoolyard.

Up till now, Nintendo has been taking the old school approach. You can collect everything to your heart’s content with Nintendo games ranging from Animal Crossing to Pokemon to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but everything you collect lives locally in your console. You can show off your house in Animal Crossing whenever your friend comes over, but there’s also a sense of pride and self-satisfaction by just roaming the town by yourself

Meanwhile, everyone else in the videogame industry has moved on. XBOX, PS3 and now even Apple has brought that idea of collecting in-game achievements to the online world in a leaderboard format. And because your collection is now broadcasted to the entire world (or at least to your friends on your friend list), the basis of collecting something is no longer focused on what you have, but on what you don’t. The self-satisfaction we used to get from our collection has become something of this desire, this need, for instant and constant approval.

I was playing Sim City 2000 again for the first time in years yesterday and ended up staying up all night. I was hooked at playing the game because unlike CityVille, I didn’t have to worry how my city was in relation to those of my facebook friends. I didn’t have to stress about getting the fancy skyscrapers before they would because I have nothing else to compare to. Instead, I was immersed on making my city as best I could. And really, shouldn’t that be the point?

Trust me, I’m thankful for what technology has brought us in the year 2011, but I just wish we can be satisfied with the things we do have instead of constantly yearning for more. You know, the days when reaching the top score was good enough.

Product cycles: Ain't age nothing but a number?

Mobile phones have always had short product cycles because consumers, especially those in Europe and Asia, are so used to changing their phones every six months.

And between the new Macbook Pros released late last week, and the anticipation for the upcoming iPad 2 in March on top of all the iPhone and iPod releases later this year, it seems that Apple is updating their products more often than ever.

But wait a minute. The same can’t be said with the videogame industry, right? With Nintendo DS pushing past its sixth year in November and the PS3 currently in its fifth year, game consoles seem to be immune to the ever-shortening product cycles compared to other consumer electronics.

I don’t know how Sony does it, but despite being in its fifth year the PS3 still feels very much like a new console to me. Likewise with the XBOX 360. The only console showing its age so far is the Nintendo Wii, and much of that is because of the difference in its graphic capabilities compared to the PS3 and XBOX 360 from the very beginning.

So what makes game consoles so uniquely different from other consumer electronics? Why are their product cycles acceptable to span well over five years when laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and other tech devices require product updates every eighteen months or less? Continue reading “Product cycles: Ain't age nothing but a number?”

Spent: Can you survive a month on $1,000?

Spent Logo - Play Spent at http://playspent.org

Over 14 million Americans are unemployed.

Now imagine you’re one of them.

Your savings are gone.

You’ve lost your house.

And you’re down to your last $1,000.

Can you make it through the month?

I recently heard on NPR about this simulation game called Spent. It’s about surviving a month with your last $1,000. The game is a collaboration between McKinney and the Urban Ministries of Durham.

I must say, the game intrigued me from the very beginning. I’ve always thought that I live a fairly frugal lifestyle, so living a month with $1,000 didn’t sound like a big challenge. Boy, was I taken for a ride.

The presentation is dark and grim from the very beginning. It truly sets the tone that you have nothing else, and this $1,000 is your last resort. The game barely has any graphics other than a few representative icons on the menu bar, but the way Spent captures your attention is through a ticking time line. With each passing day, the thin red line moves down a 30-day calendar along with your new bank balance.

You start off by picking one of the three jobs: restaurant worker, warehouse worker, or an office temp. These all have different pay scales, but they also come with different requirements. Being a restaurant worker means you have to buy a uniform, a warehouse worker means you need a car, while being an office temp means you have to pass a typing test.

I fortunately passed the typing test, but my friend who also played the game didn’t. Chances are, if you’re from a lower-class background like many of those in this everyday scenario, you may not have adequate computer skills to pass the test, either.

Days go by quickly, but not without making some tough decisions. You have a fever — do you call in sick or go to work anyway? Your landlord raises rent — do you pay or do you move out? A collecting agency calls — do you answer? These are just a few questions that make surviving a non-stop stressful experience.

And then there’s a twist: You also have a child to support. So how do you make these tough decisions while also caring for your kid? I won’t list all the questions, but some of the choices are even more difficult to make when you’re trying to decide between spending what you barely have on short-term survival or investing in your child’s future.

I played several times to see how I could save the most money. There was one time I was able to save up to $500, but that was after skipping out on car registration payments and not giving my mother money for operation. And either way, I could never have enough money for next month’s rent.

This game truly opened my eyes. Not in the sense that I need to stop spending money (since I’ve never been a big spender), but in how much life’s unexpected things cost. With a child to support, the game also gave me a renewed sense of gratitude for my own parents that no other simulation has before.

I recommend everyone to give Spent a try to see how much you’re able to save or how long you’re able to survive at all.

Update: This article has been featured on the front page of Bitmob.com!

Don't leave me, videogame journalists!

tl;dr – Videogame journalists are constantly leaving, but with technology the gaming community will grow stronger than ever before.

Instead of Superman, Batman, or any other comic book superheroes, I’ve often spent much of my childhood dreaming of becoming a videogame character like Mega Man. It was years before I had my first videogame console – the Nintendo Gameboy, but playing the original Mega Man on the NES for the first time at my friend’s house had left a gaping impression to this day that nothing else can compare. The action-packed side-scroller, as challenging as it still is today, always leaves me yearning for so much more. And in many ways, Mega Man (and his trusty companion Rush) was my ultimate idol.

When it eventually dawned on me during my teenage years that my right arm would not automatically turn into a robotic arm of destruction, I began looking for other, perhaps more human-compatible, opportunities. I looked at not only the things I’ve always obsessed over — videogames, but also the career paths that derived from that very obsession.

It was also at the beginning of the Internet, at the time when AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy roamed the earth at the top-notch speed of 14.4kbits per second. Anime midis and porn aside, videogames-related news was always my most searched item on webcrawler.com.

Reading about videogames eventually lead to the great discovery of this website called the Imagine Games Network. Known as IGN today, it was also where I was first heard of Matt Cassamina and Fran Mirabella III. Through their news updates and game reviews, I was instantly hooked and was visiting the website as soon as it’s updated, precisely every night at 10pm pst.

My source for videogame-related news has grown to more than just IGN since then, but my infatuation with the journalists remain. From IGN to The 1UP Show to X-Play’s feedback, I desperately wanted to become one of them.

And I’m not the only one. In fact, there are so many of us who grew up reading videogame reviews and now we all want to be professional journalists. The pool of journalists-wannabe is increasing by the minute, so the videogame journalism industry is growing strong, right? Continue reading “Don't leave me, videogame journalists!”