My name is Christopher Lage, I've been playing video games since I was a small child. The first this I can honestly remember is getting an NES for Christmas when I was 3 and playing the Mario Bros./Duck Hunt Game that came with it. Ever since I've been a gamer. I even spent a few years claiming to be "industry personnel" and it's gotten me into an E3 at a very reduced cost! (Thanks GameStop). Not to mention half of my wardrobe is free advertising for old games. I did work for the company as an assistant manager for three years and now I'm currently a security director for a shopping center.
What I'm currently playing:
New Super Luigi U (Wii U)
Pokemon X (3DS)
The Stanley Parable (PC)
What I'm waiting for:
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)
Six hours into my lovely campaign of Resident Evil Revelations and everything is going great. Now to add some backstory to this lovely adventure with our favorite zombie/ B.O.W. hunters I can say that I've beaten every single Resident Evil title before; excluding RE6 because it's shit (and also why I say every). But things changed during chapter 12; and those who are playing this game on the Wii U know what I mean...
The integration of Miiverse for Resident Evil Revelations is absolutely fantastic. When you die you'll receive a a series of messages posted by others who were killed in the same place you were. It's the entire reason I picked this up for the little next-gen that could - but only if you die in the same area once or twice. And let's just say that I've died at the hands of this title's version of Nemesis (to keep it spoilerish free) way too many times. How many? Seventeen. Yep, 17 times I tried to defeat that guy, and 17 times I had failed. I couldn't understand why I kept dying; I knew the patterns and weak points. I even swapped guns around mid-fight as to never run out of ammo and score damage min-maxing. It felt like my reflexes just weren't fast enough to hit him after teleporting. And I began to question whether or not I could kill this bloke. And for the hell of it, after staring at the same death messages pop up sporting the same "OMG I keep dying!" and "How do I kill this guy!? No Fair! :(" theme, I decided to refresh the messages. This is what showed up on my screen:
I couldn't believe it. Someone else seemed to be having the same problem I had. I couldn't describe the frustration and rage I felt from constantly dying, and then taking a break to clear my head, and then dying some more. However, when I saw this message it really got me thinking. What if at some point I just can't play video games any more? Not due to death, financial struggles, or lack of interest. What about if I can't react fast enough to kill an enemy teleporting, or I fail a QTE during a cutscene, or just cannot for the life of me get beyond a certain point? What if I pre-maturely can no longer play video games because I am not good enough. This is the first time in the 20 years of engrossing myself in a hobby that I ever thought this way. We've all been unable to complete a game before for one reason or another, but for some reason after coasting through Revelations at a fairly brisk pace with lack of death and not really getting stuck this hit hard. What if I am getting older, delaying my reaction time and reflexes and I can't play video games even if I know what I'm doing? It scared the crap out of me.
Which brings up the point of interactive media and how the game industry differentiates itself from movies, TV, etc. I'm never going to be "too old" to appreciate a musical composition, or not "good enough" to finish watching a film. But to see a narrative of a game to conclusion there may come a point where you simply will not be able to experience the content ahead without proving some sort of skill. It's the reason we see games ranging from Mass Effect, to Journey, to Bioshock Infinite. All three sow enthralling narratives, however present unique gameplay scenarios where you may get gated from following through the story. It's something that proved itself very real to me today. But sure enough, after the attempts hit double digits, and minutes turned to hours I escaped by the skin of my teeth. Without any remaining herbs, and one hit away from death on trial 18, one rocket to the chest finally put the baddie down, and it made me re-appreciate how much I love video games and the reward for saving the day. Even in a virtual sense.
With both Sony and Microsoft now with their cards on the table, eyeing a "Holiday 2013" release schedule what is Nintendo to do with the Wii U? The console's timing was ambiguous at best. With it's November 2012 launch and a six month drought aside from Lego City Undercover, Monster Hunter Tri Ultimate, and Resident Evil Revelations; none of which should have to carry the burden of being system sellers - they're not - how can Nintendo right the ship? The obvious answer is a change in direction of the branding of the system; the easy solution? Learn from the Xbox One's mistakes.
The easiest way to win back the core audience starts with a rebranding of the Wii U system. The perfect place to start is with the Pre-E3 Nintendo Direct. Choose which President of the Company comes out, and say these 4 things:
1. There is no fee to play pre-owned games on our systems 2. There is no fee to play games online or use our video streaming service 3. The greatest back catalog containing 30 years of titles, in addition to hardware compatibility with Wii software 4. Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Star Fox, Donkey Kong - all in High Definition
And straight out of an epic rap battle, Iwata drops his bananas, or Reggie spikes a ham to the ground and walks off. Queue a sizzle trailer of previously announced and unknown titles with release dates for 40 minutes and the presentation ends.
We're already beginning to see the effects from gamers across the globe in regards to always online, manditory peripherals a la Kinect, and terrible business practices only making the barrier of entry for new players increasingly difficult. Sure, the Xbox One has voice commands and facial recognition so grandpa won't need the controller to watch The Price is Right, or re-runs of Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman, but when the grandkids come around they'll have to pay $60 to pop in the next "family-friendly" dribble that MS expects Rare to waste their talents on if he's not in the room and the kinect can't scan his face to log into his profile? Ballocks.
Nintendo always marches to the beat of their own drum and it's a thumping baseline of games, games, games. No ridiculous business practices (which are anti-consumer), no online passes, no fee for online services which others charge for, none of the nonsense which caused all those PC master race folks to flip-flop from PC to console, and now increasing back to PC as their preferred platform of choice.
The system so many thought to be dead and buried within the first year of it's life has plenty of opportunity to rise from the grave. And if Nintendo can do what Nintendo does best; which is make games. The Wii U will be the most charming, colorful, and whimsical zombie to grace our eyes.
NOTE: This is just a reflective piece or work... sort of video game related. But not really. Just needed to get this off my chest, and if it connects with someone else who's going through the same things let me know we can help each other out maybe?
9.9.99 – The day that the culmination of Squaresoft's massive marketing campaign paid off. Final Fantasy VIII was released at the crossroads of my life. I was 13, in my first week of high school and struggling with my first bout of seasonal affective depression (SAD). While a common place in my life now and something that I sort of deal with; at the end of the last millennium it was devestating. The one thing that kept me sane, grounded was Final Fantasy VIII. Fast-forward to the year 2012 I'm a much different person than was was 13 years ago. I've been in several relationships, had different jobs, lived with different people, and had a plethora of experiences from Maine to California and beyond. While SAD has made an appearance in all of these “lives” I've had it just seemed to hit harder this year than ever and there was one thing that has been constant throughout all of it – Final Fantasy VIII. So I dusted off the old PSX and grabbed my copy to experience the story of the game protagonist I've connected to most of all – Squall Leonhart.
“Reality isn't so kind. Everything doesn't work out the way you want it to. That's why... As long as you don’t get your hopes up, you can take anything... You feel less pain.”
Playing through the game I've come to realize that the internal conflict Squall battles with mirrors much of my own, the only difference being I don't wield a gunblade. No I didn't grow up in an orphanage, nor did I have to deal with growing up on my own. However at the core both of us are introverts; regardless of the journey the destination was the same. Spending a majority of my time alone, by choice has cost me a lot of friendships and missed opportunity however it's comfortable. I don't need to worry about what other people think of me, or over think comments, looks, and the like directed towards me. Not to mention a few years back while in a relationship, the one very dear to me had left. It was crushing, I changed my job, I moved, and tried to distance myself from everyone and everything.
“Someday you're bound to lose everything. Everybody around will be gone. Then what are you left with? Nothing. Nobody... It's so miserable. And inevitable. It's so hard to recover from something like that. I never want to deal with that again. I can't. Even if it means being alone.”
It's been three years since then and I've begun to come out of my shell again. It's awkward, there's no rhyme or reason to it but just opening up to those around you can be difficult. I've spent some nights home alone but making a conscious effort to get out. In addition the introduction of alcohol to the social equation makes it a little easier. It feels like I live two lives, and they're trying to merge. It's an amazing balance act; one which questions my mental faculties at times. I know that the transition has and will continue to be difficult and it won't assimilate to my personality overnight but it's happening; slowly but surely. Am I happy about it? The truth is I have no idea. The person I am and the person I've yet to becoming will surely be different. And time heals all wounds, but it only takes the time of the year to re-open them.
Final Fantasy VIII absorbed 60-70 hours of my time during this fall and took my mind off itself when things seemed the darkest. Do I know the story inside and out, or where to acquire items for weapon sythesis, or where to draw/battle GFs? Of Course! But was it a boring experience? Absolutely not! It's just nice to know that you're never alone either in this life or a digital one. A character, avatar, or even another human being that you can relate to. If you learn some new things along the way its always a plus.
“To tell you the truth… I worry too much about what others think of me. I hate that side of me… That’s why I didn’t want anyone to get to know me. I wanted to hide that side of myself. I hate it. Squall is an unfriendly introverted guy. It made it easy for me when people perceived me that way. That’s a secret between you and me. Got that?”
Since Nintendo has the "fuck-all we'll do what we want" approach to letting the masses know when the Wii U is coming out; I've been feverishly going through my Wii backlog at about a game a week pace at the moment. As of this writing I've "completed" Metroid: Other M, but have to go back into it one last time to finish the epilogue. Unfortunately for the completionist in me, I now have a dreaded item completion percentage on my map in each area of the BOTTLE SHIP. I'll end up losing more hours scouring the areas to make sure I have everything, it's a horrible curse. But lets take a look at whats on the agenda until that oh so vague time of year Nintendo is calling Holiday 2012:
Not pictured: Xenoblade Chronicles (rebuild Colony 6), The Last Story (Available 8/14), and Pandora's Tower (currently on order from import)
For Skyward Sword it's only a matter of completing Hero's Quest but all together I've got at least 200 hours of gaming left in this generation of hardware (with SS, Xenoblade, Pandora's Tower, and TLS taking up the bulk of it). Most gamer's have the notion that backlogs are evil, attribute them to work in some form or another, or a monumental challenge to dredge through before spending more money on games they'll want to play later. For me its quite the opposite; not only do you get to experience new gameplay, stories, and entries in some of your favorite franchises but the additional price of admission lets you jump in on the conversations of games that you may have missed out on in the past. Augmented with the addition of the internet, where you'll always be able to find someone, somewhere, to have a conversation about a game you've been playing is an added bonus.
For example, the aforementioned Metroid: Other M. I picked this doozy up at Best Buy for the insanely low price of $5 brand new! For the 50 Club Nintendo coins I got for it, it was worth the price alone! However regardless of my previous views on the title from my albeit short time with it upon release, I wasn't sure what to expect. For the record when Other M did come out: I picked it up day one, brought it home, played about 2 hours of it and thought that it was pure shit. I didn't like the controls all that well, I thought the cut scenes while gorgeous, ruined Samus as a character, and promptly returned it. In fact I was more of a detractor to others wanting to pick the game up. Working for GameStop at the time, I encouraged others to cancel pre-orders or just choose something else when they brought it up to the counter. There was a hatred attributed to blind, immature, fanboyish rage that left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Now that I've completed it, I want to apologize to all those folks who I steered in the wrong direction.
I know baby, it wasn't you. It was me. I'm sorry
Other M wasn't perfect by any means. I still have some of the same issues I had with it when I originally picked it up and acted like a dick. However I've come to terms with the overarching plot/story design. There are going to be folks, like myself, who didn't want a "coming of age" tale of Samus as a character. It doesn't ruin her as a solo, kick-ass bounty hunter, if anything it adds depth and an inner monologue to the first bad-ass woman of gaming. Depth I was too blind to see during my initial play through. In terms of restricting item usage and powers until authorized by Adam, I understand why it happened. The game would have been far too easy (its not very difficult to begin with), if I could do anything and everything right from the start. Without ruining anything for those who haven't played it, the call backs, fan service, soundtrack, and nostalgia the game does offer; it was well worth the $5 price of admission. I cannot recommend this game highly enough if you get a great deal on it! Not to mention giving me the inspiration for this blog post, it was a win-win.
Remember folks, its August. The dog days of summer still have some time left before we all can jump back into gaming for the fall season. I'm sure like myself, some of you guys and gals are replaying games you've already completed, or just doing something else entirely. These are worst few months of the gaming year, and have been since the dawn of time. We know what to expect with June-Sept and every year I find myself increasing more bored with the hobby in general during this time. This was the first year I've been able to really take a step back, analyze and prioritize my backlog, and really start to get through it. Its been a positive experience so far.
Just do yourself a favor and treat it less like something you have to do, and more like something that you want to do. There are brand new experiences, stories, and characters sitting on your shelves: some you'll love, and some you'll hate; nothing is perfect. But it will shorten the wait for that big blockbuster fall game you're looking forward too and you just might learn something along the way.
With Electronic Arts' announcement a few days ago that Dead Space 3 would be going for a “broad appeal”, and the title needed to sell five million copies to stay viable and competitive in the market it made me cringe. EA is absolutely mental in thinking that survival horror games, with or without the bastardization of modern gaming habits would sell five million copies. Dead Space 2 was on pace last year to sell roughly three million copies, outsold Dead Space two to one in it's first month, and included an online pass for its less than stellar multiplayer (psst... free money). The game was a true evolution in survival horror for the franchise and improved an already stellar use of atmosphere and classic gameplay mixed with modern technology. Dead Space 3 could have sold five million copies, but of the three million or so folks who bought Dead Space 2, how many does EA think would be interested in Cold Gears of Bro-Fisting War Space?
The issue at the heart of all of these problems with game development is the fact that console wars of yesteryear have been replaced by a new war. A war between game players themselves. With such a huge change in the gaming industry and the introduction of millions of gamers into the fold this current generation who play social games via Facebook and through mobile devices, the term “casual gamer” has come to be associated with the types of games people are playing, not the amount of time invested in games in general. This is the Casual vs. Hardcore war!
This is the underlying problem of the regrouping of casual and hardcore gamers. We've seen an artificial grouping of a population of gamers who are considered casual: who may not even own a console, may never even heard of the IP a developer or publisher are marketing, but are still being factored in to a game's sales expectations and setting goals that are unrealistic. A more drastic problem is the grouping of all “hardcore” gamers into a single category. Game genre's exist for a reason! Survival horror fans will buy survival horror games, shooter fans will eat up Call of Duty, RPG fans will [almost] always buy a Final Fantasy title or Elder Scrolls. These are broad generalizations but consumers who purchase certain types of games will always gravitate towards them based on their preferences. With that said here are just a few recent examples:
“So we have a number of different experiments going on, and [when] we decide that we’ve found the right one of those to really help bring Zelda to a very big audience, then we’ll be happy to announce it.”
-Miyamoto on Zelda Wii U
"Looking at the marketing data [for survival horror games] ... the market is small, compared to the number of units Call of Duty and all those action games sell. A 'survival horror' Resident Evil doesn't seem like it'd be able to sell those kind of numbers."
-Kawata on Resident Evil 6
The homogenization of games has becoming detrimental to individual markets, individual players, and the companies that produce them. Soon we'll be left with nothing but brown/grey blobs of shooters that all play exactly the same, either first person or third person cover shooters with different pallet swaps for players, enemies, environments, and guns. When history looks back at this console generation the leap into photo-realistic gameplay will be synonymous with guns, guns, and more guns. With the addition of crossbows as it's last dying breath of “innovation.”
But there's a glimmer of hope in all the dread, the one genre of game that seems to appeal to the casual and hardcore gamer as the business models, and consumers seem to see how those two terms are defined these days: platformers. Believe it or not New Super Mario Bros. is a hardcore game, Rayman Origins is a hardcore game – these two examples just have mass appeal. Since the 8-bit days of gaming the platformer has been a constant both in terms of design, fun, and appeal. Most folks in the 24-39 range (oh god we're old!) more than likely grew up on platformers like Pitfall, Mario, and Mega Man.
But what makes these titles hardcore? We'll use the Mushroom Kingdom universe as an example (since it's argueably the most recognizable). Let's run down the checklist of things that make the cut in *most* games today which are categorized as hardcore:
Boss Fights – Koopalings & Bowser
Defeating enemies – Goombas, Turtles, Hammer Bros.
Collectables – Coins, Red Coins, Stars
Secret Areas – Star World
Different Weapons/Abilities – Fire Flowers, Tanooki Suit
Nintendo seems to have laid the golden goose with the Mario franchise. One of the main reasons the titles continue to be enjoyable year after year is for one simple reason, they're FUN! Publishers and developers take note, not all games need to be the same, just make them fun. Figuring out what players like in a franchise doesn't rely on making it a muddling mess of the same thing that worked for everyone else. Do what works for you, mass appeal isn't nearly as important as the fans who will continue to buy your titles for what they are. Give Suda 51 a call and ask him how he keeps making games, games that critically are blockbusters but never reach that mass appeal. Success is what you make it, just don't make your success off of trying to be like everyone else. Because when that happens everyone loses.
After getting a chance to digest all of the news and trailers that Iwata showed off during the latest Nintendo Direct video there was one thing that kind of worries me, especially considering the companies track record over the last few years. I'm taking about April 27, 2006; the day that the most bad-ass codename for a system ever, Revolution became Wii. If Nintendo were to change the name or try and tweak the branding for the Wii U, this would be the time to do it.The issue isn't really the name for me, because initially when the Wii was formally announced as just that I cringed a little bit. However 86 million units later and I'm glad that I was completely wrong. If there's one thing Nintendo does well, it's succeed at being unpredictable.
Nintendo built a brand that got people playing games together. "Wii would like to play" was a great motto for them and the way they explained the name with "ii" meaning good in Japanese, and that the two characters represent the remote was pretty clever. If Nintendo wants to capitalize on customers who've invested into the Wii brand they need to do more to differentiate itself from it's predecessor, and that starts with perception. At this time the Wii U pretty much looks like an add-on, solely based on how they presented it at last years show. To the casual audience who owns a Wii they might go to the store looking for just the tablet. The conference was very similar to the Wii's where they focused a majority of their presentation on the controller. Rightfully so, it could very well change the way games are played for the future. But at this point they need to show off the rest of the hardware or they'll lose confused consumers who don't have a pulse of the industry and are "casual." Wii 2 (or if they want to be posh Wii "Squared") would put the system on equal footing in terms of brand presentation as the rumored Xbox 720 (Durango), and PS4 (Orbis). Just having that number puts it ahead or better than the previous one with little work in terms of a marketing standpoint.
Here's what Nintendo needs to do for the system to be successful at launch, pretend I know what I'm talking about for a second. I'm getting to use my business education for once to make predictions. Now I know what a bullshit analyst feels like...
Pricing: It's been reported, all rumors at this point, that the Wii U costs Nintendo about $180 to produce, allocating roughly $50 for the controller. It's still unclear as to whether or not multiple controllers can be used per system. If that's the case it wouldn't surprise me if they retailed for $69.99. It's a little more than what people are used to paying for Xbox 360 controllers that have charge kits, and there's no way that a 360 controller costs anywhere close to $50, and it won't look terribly expensive in comparison due to its large touch screen. In addition the console should be priced no higher than $299. We learned this generation that the ceiling for console prices is $300. Both Sony and Microsoft learned it the hard way, especially with lacking launch line-ups. No one is paying $400-$600 for something out of the gate. At $300 it's marginally more expensive than the PS3 and 360 but truly will be a "leap forward" in tech. Considering the specs we know of so far.
Promotion: This area doesn't have me too worried, however Nintendo needs to do this right or we'll have another 3DS situation on our hands. The system does need something packaged with it at launch. I couldn't think of anything more perfect than Super Mario Bros. 4. It's unknown at this time whether New Super Mario Bros. 2 for 3DS is SMB4, but we won't know until they say what Wii U Mario title they're working on. In addition, from everything I've read about Battle Mii and Chase Mii, they could be this systems Face Raiders. Nothing spectacular, but packaged in to get people talking about the system as a little extra.
Based on what we know so far here's what the potential launch line-up could look like (based off release dates for other systems):
Assassin's Creed III Batman Arkham City Darksiders II Metro: Last Light Ninja Gaiden 3 Pikmin 3 Super Mario Bros. Wii U
Not too shabby! That's just based off the little info we have, some of it upwards of a year old. In that list there's something for everyone.
In about six weeks we'll have all the answers (hopefully). Nintendo needs to have a strong show, being the last of the three conferences this year. Especially since Sony and Microsoft don't seem to have anything mindblowing in terms of the rumor mill at this point. Both companies have said they won't be showing off or detailing the next incarnation of consoles. Sony will probably focus on proving the PS Vita has some life in it. Microsoft will probably show us more ways to yell in the direction of our televisions and stick with the Kinect focus and maybe some integration with GFWL, Kinect PC, and Windows Phone.
So after all that and for those tl;dr folks... I've got 4 words for you. Wii U, Get Hype!