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About
Since I've started writing on here a bit more again, I should probably add something to this. As the banner image of my blog says, I'm a graduate student. Yes, I'm that class of people which Marge Simpson says has made a poor life choice. The fact that the wife of Homer Simpsons is saying that should tell you something about my quality of life. :P

I like writing about games, which is what you'll see me do on here when a subject sufficiently motivates me. Sadly, writing about games comes at the cost of playing games, so my blog posts are fewer and farther between than I'd like. I usually write with regard to monthly musings, retro games, games I'm currently playing, or events in the games industry that perk my interest.

When I'm not DOING SCIENCE! or playing games, I can be found training in karate (my life is a fighting game!), writing about stuff other than games, or tearing up the dance floor.
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Say what you will about Nintendo, you have to admit they have one hell of a dedicated fanbase. Far more than either Sony or Microsoft, Nintendo has long enjoyed a surprisingly personal relationship with its fans, many of whom grew up on the companyís consoles and games. Iím one such fan, whom since the days of the NES has had the good fortune to own every generation of Nintendo console and portable. That kind of long history with a companyís products can create a very strong loyalty that is not easily swept away. Nintendo, for all of its achievements, has made some pretty poorly calculated mistakes. Through it all, the companyís fans have stuck with them, praising Nintendoís storied history of innovation and quality.

This very dedication is what makes the events of this past week rather significant. When Nintendo repeated its refusal of plans to localize Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandoraís Tower in the United States, the companyís famously dedicated fanbase very vocally turned on them and rebelled.

Itís surprising to think that three niche Japanese games, which have received no attention in American media outside of enthusiast games websites like Destructoid (which has arguably given them the most coverage), caused this kind of a reaction. Donít get me wrong, these games all appear to be very fun, interesting, and great for any JRPG fan to own. However, Iíd argue that these three games are simply the straw that broke the camelís back. This reaction is the culmination of the years of neglect that Nintendo is guilty of toward its fanbase.



(Before I go any further, I should specify that when I say ĎNintendoí, I mean ĎNintendo of Americaí and, to a lesser extent, ĎNintendo of Europeí. As far as I know, this article does not apply to its Japanese audience.)

Itís been a long time coming when you think about it. Nintendo has a history of not localizing or publishing games that do not fit what it perceives to be in the interest of the mass gaming audience. One of the most singular examples of this was Mother 3, the sequel to cult favorite EarthBound. Despite an entire community of gamers begging Nintendo for a stateside release and flooding their offices with all manner of Mother-related paraphernalia, Nintendo refused time and again to bring the game to Western shores. In recent years, Mother 3 has become a symbol of that which Nintendo will not promote or, usually, allow on its western consoles: the niche game. This is the game that, by design, simply will not sell on the level of Mario, The Legend of Zelda, or even Metroid.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, the niche game is what brings diversity to a consoleís game library. The PlayStation 2 and, ironically, the Super Nintendo are some of the best examples of how niche games that donít have wide appeal can become what a console is known for among its fanbase. While I love Super Mario World and A Link to the Past, those arenít the games I think of when I think of how much fun I had with my Super Nintendo. I think of Chrono Trigger, ActRaiser, EarthBound, and Final Fantasy IV and VI. (Yes, there was a time when Final Fantasy was considered niche. I should add another disclaimer that Iím a fan of JRPGs. Remember, this is about niche games and thatís my niche.) Similarly, when I hear people reminisce about the PS2 on Destructoid, you know what game comes up the most? Persona 3 and Persona 4.



Unfortunately, Nintendoís efforts to appeal only to what it thinks will sell reliably well to a mass audience has resulted in a rather bland and homogeneous offering in the past generation. Itís not a coincidence that, before and after this yearís E3, there was an omnipresent rumbling from gamers about the same-ness of Nintendoís line-up. Super Mario. Legend of Zelda. Mario Kart. Star Fox. Super Smash Bros. With that line-up, I could very well be talking about the game line-up for any of Nintendoís systems since the N64. Pikmin, by far the most neglected and niche of Nintendoís own franchises, got a passing ďyeah, thatís comingĒ after the presser was over.

The result of this is a disgruntled fanbase that is sick of its Wiis gathering dust and its 3DSís sharing a disturbingly similar future. Nintendoís refusal to diversify their consolesí offerings is even more damning in light of the bland drivel that third parties have been shoveling onto them. This is the road that has led to Operation Rainfall, a surprisingly vocal movement that has utilized social networking to organize Nintendo fans that are sick of the companyís seemingly irrational refusal to give their most loyal customers what they want. Over the course of one week, they were able to boost an old listing for Xenoblade on Amazon (then titled Monado: Beginning of the World when Nintendo was flirting with bringing the game stateside) to the top of the games sales charts, above even Ocarina of Time 3D, and has kept it in the top ten since.

Despite this rather demonstrative statement of the fansí intent-to-buy, Nintendo refused to release Xenoblade in the US. Even though it is already being translated and dubbed into English for European release. It has also declined to localize Pandoraís Tower and The Last Story, the latter of which has been garnering praise in Japan as one of the finest games ever created by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creater of Final Fantasy. (It got a 38/40 in the famously critical Japanese gaming publication, Famitsu.) As if the refusal itself werenít bad enough, Nintendo did it on Facebook. No official press release. No statement from Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime, despite the fact that the gaming enthusiast press have repeatedly asked him personally about these games. On top of all that, it was flippantly a day late Nintendo originally said they would make an announcement.



The result has been a snowballing PR disaster for Nintendo. In just 30 hours, the Facebook post has received over 6,000 comments. Nearly all of them have been slamming Nintendo for its decision. Whatís even more interesting is that these comments arenít the poorly worded rants of irrational idiots like the kind that flooded the PSN Facebook page during the networkís outage. These are well-articulated expressions of frustration and disappointment from long-time fans, many of whom have said they are seriously reconsidering WiiU and 3DS purchases after being being loyal to the company since the NES, SNES, and N64 days. IGN ran an article today with just a few of the hundreds of responses its Nintendo-focused podcast e-mail and twitter account received from Nintendo fans that were throwing their hands up in hopelessness with the company they once loved. According to a recent tweet, Operation Rainfallís followership has increased by 50% since the Nintendo Facebook post. Theyíve been retweeting the frustration of Nintendo fans worldwide.

The cracks have started to show in Nintendoís dam. Nintendoís historically dedicated and personally attached fanbase have seemingly had enough of the neglect the company has shown them over the last generation. Despite cries for a much more diversified gaming library and new IPs, Nintendo has ignored them and simply strutted out sales charts at E3 press conferences. Hopes were raised when during the last E3 press conference they promised strong third-party support for the WiiU and a diversified gaming library that would be able to support a diverse audience. Sadly, Nintendoís refusal to release a game that is already being translated for another region and has received the #1 sales position on Amazon due to pre-orders alone have shown that the company has no plans or resolve for actually keeping that promise. The result is Operation Rainfall and a fanbase that, for the first time I can remember, seems to be planning a retreat from their once-loved company.

If you donít believe me, check out one of the many comment sources Iíve mentioned. Fans are actually complaining about getting a new Legend of Zelda instead of these three niche, relatively unknown, Japanese role-playing games.

When was the last time you heard a Nintendo fan lament about a new Zelda game?
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Well, Nintendo has done it again. Following in the grand tradition of the DS, the Wii, and the 3DS, Nintendo has dropped something wholly unexpected on gamers during their E3 media briefing, despite the fact that everyone was expecting it. Regardless of your opinions of Nintendoís efforts, you have to admit that with Nintendo, whatever they put out will cause a massive shitstorm in the gaming community. More than twelve hours after they revealed Project Cafe to the world, people are falling over themselves to try and make sense of what it all means, including yours truly.

Like many watching the Nintendo event, I was expecting Nintendoís new console to be a return to the enthusiast gamer. The rumors and the mock-ups all pointed to the Big N coming back to their original audience with a high-powered system and a fancy controller that would promise nothing but hard-as-fuck Marios and Zeldas and Metroids as far as the eye can see. We were all prepped to hope that Nintendo was coming out with the GameCube HD. Hell, all the controller mock-ups weíve been seeing for the last month all looked like monstrous Wavebirds with screens shoved into the face. Sure, motion controls would be kept around as a quaint legacy of these weird past few years, but for all intents and purposes, this was going to be the console that enthusiast gamers had wanted from Nintendo from the very beginning.



Needless to say, you could practically feel the disappointment of the entire gaming community when the new console was revealed to be awkwardly named the ĎWiiUí. In that second, Nintendo made it clear that they were not abandoning the gaming audience they had picked up these last few years. This new console would be a successor to the Wii, not the GameCube. It didnít help when they first showed the controller, which looks like an iPad with joysticks, buttons, and a d-pad on the sides. Everything in those first minutes of the WiiUís reveal screamed Ďcasual gamerí.

Ö then came the montage.

If youíve watched the video of Nintendoís media event, you know the one Iím talking about. It looked like a typical Wii commercial. White clothing everywhere, bouncy yet calm music, a sterile living room. The WiiU controller being held in front of a TV as a slightly different way to do motion control. I admit it: I was shaking my head in disappointment. However, I kept watching because I wanted to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to see where they could take this.

As the montage kept going, I started noticing something. The WiiUís users kept switching the TV screenís image to the controller and taking it with them. People would go about doing stuff all over the room while using Nintendoís odd controller the way that was best for their current situation. Playing a game on it so dad could watch a baseball game on TV. Using it to play a simulated boardgame between two people on a coffee table, which is much more intimate than on a big 42Ē TV screen. It was very subtle, but the sheer dynamicism and adaptability of the controller started to grab my attention. It was definitely a game controller, but at the same time, it had the flexibility and portability of an iPad. People were using this thing the way Iíd seen people use tablets around the home... to play console games.

Thatís when my jaw dropped. Holy shit, I thought. Thatís what theyíre doing. Everyone has been wondering how Nintendo would compete with the iPad and smartphones... and theyíre not. Theyíre fucking incorporating them.

Itís like the old Borg saying goes: if you canít beat Ďem, assimilate Ďem. Then possibly beat them.



At this point, I was definitely intrigued. I was now watching my computer screen with close analytical attention instead of detached disappointment. I watched Reggie and Iwata talk about Nintendoís motive with the new controller, but there were enough of the companyís usual buzzwords that none of it really stuck with me. It was the same platitudes Iíd heard before with the Wii.

Ö then came another montage.

This one was a series of sound bites from a variety of third-party devs. It was a lot like the dev montage we got during the 3DS unveil this time last year, so I initially rolled my eyes. We get it Nintendo, youíre promising third-party support. Like you did for the 3DS. Which weíve seen so much of. Dev after dev voiced their praise of the WiiUís innovation and it was all the usual suspects... until Ken Levine popped up.

Ken Levine.

The creator of Bioshock hasnít minced words about his dislike of motion control and looked positively pained when he announced during Sonyís media event that his new game, Bioshock Infinite, would include optional PS Move controls. It isnít too much of a stretch to say that Sony had likely offered to subsidize a significant amount of Bioshock Infiniteís development to the point where it would have been stupid of Irrational Games to say no.

And yet, here was that same man, positively fucking glowing about the WiiU. One of the Wiiís biggest detractors was praising the promise of its direct successor. If that wasnít enough of a shock (oh Iím so clever), it was Ken Levineís short bite that finally made me realize what the hell Nintendo was doing with the WiiU. All he said was he loved that he could play it where he wanted, including in his bed while his wife was reading a book or sleeping next to him.

Thatís when it hit. This was Nintendoís answer to one of the gaming industryís biggest quandaries: how the hell does gaming adapt to the fact that their original audience, kids in the late 80s and early 90s, were now grown up and starting to have lives that took away from gaming? As their lives began more dynamic and their free time got divided into small chunks instead of large blocks, how would games adapt to fit them?

This was Nintendoís answer: making gaming flexible enough that it can fit a wide variety of lifestyles. It is literally nothing short of giving gamers a console and controller that is as diverse as they are.



Suddenly everything in the opening controller montage made sense. People taking the controller with them throughout the room. Moving the game from the TV screen to the controller screen and back again. Using it as a touch controller, as a motion controller, and as a traditional button controller. Casual games. Hardcore games. Everything in between. The WiiU seeks to do nothing less than incoporate all current paradigms of control and gameplay into one portable, dynamic device and leave it up to developers and users to decide what is best for them. No more shoe-horning of motion control and no more stringent adherence to the standard joysticks and buttons. You can have both and everything in between. As Iwata said at the very beginning of the reveal when he announced the consoleís name, it is up to you.

Itís genius when you think about it. In the last five years, gamers have become a wide and diverse spectrum of people, thanks to the Wii and the iPhone. What constitutes a video game and a gaming interface is now a much more open and complex question than it was a console generation ago. Nintendo learned first-hand during the Wiiís lifecycle that restricting the choices of the gamer and the developer only serves to alienate an audience, even if it serves to bring a new one into the fold. The WiiU is their answer to this problem: make a console that is as diverse as gamers themselves.

Iím truly excited by what the WiiU can do for gaming. There is so much potential, but there is as much for success as there is for failure. Nintendo needs to be extremely careful in how this is marketed and to ensure that the games released for the WiiU are as diverse as the audience it wishes to cater to. I am by no means convinced this will work, and so little is known about this console and the games that will support it that it is really impossible to say with any confidence how it will fare. Still, Iíve been a gamer for the last 22 years since the tender age of 5, and if thereís one thing Iíve learned, itís to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt. I think theyíre onto something here, and I really hope it works. If the WiiU really does live up to its potential, all gamers will benefit, no matter their taste or lifestyle.

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Final Fantasy games are like sex: some will be mind-blowing, some will disappoint you, and you never forget your first one. I know Iíll never forget the first time I picked up a copy of Final Fantasy IV, then II in its simple yet seductive red box, at Blockbuster Video. That game totally rocked my nine-year-old world for three glorious nights. I rented it two more times before my parents gave me a copy of my very own for Christmas. Now with my own consistent save file, I blew through the game. (Note to the chillens: Yes, at one point in the distant past, save files stayed with the game cartridge, which made repeated rentals a risky affair for RPGs.) For several wonderful weeks, Cecil and company were my constant companions whenever I had a free moment. The gameís closing credits came all too soon... so I simply restarted the game.

I would embark on this journey at least fifteen more times over the next seventeen years.

To say that Final Fantasy IV has had a significant impact on me as a gamer would be an understatement; the game has affected my entire life. FFIV was the game that turned gaming from a simple childhood toy into a serious hobby and life-long interest. I have played every port and iteration of the game mutliple times, to the point where I know it like the back of my hand. If Iím walking around and my mind starts to wander, itís very likely Iíll start humming the chocobo or overworld themes. Whenever I write fiction, I will inevitably find myself using songs from FFIV, among others, for writing specific types of characters and scenes. Oh yeah, the whole writing thing began, in part, as a the desire to create a story like that of FFIV. I am not being hyperbolic when I saw that this game was life-changing.



However, a game that is life-changing doesnít necessarily mean it is worth coming back to again and again, especially to the degree that Iíve found myself returning to Final Fantasy IV. It seems odd that, of all the games I could choose to replay on a nearly annual basis, it would be one of the most linear and streamlined ever made. There are very, very few sidequests in FFIV and the player has almost no control over the development of the characters or the composition of the party. The player is walking down a very narrow corridor, but it's a very well disguised, beautiful, and entertaining corridor, filled with memorable moments and endearing characters. I dare say you could devote an entire season of Chad Concelmoís ďMemory CardĒ series to this one game.

I still feel a tinge of excitement when Cecil and Kain march out of Baron at the gameís outset with ďOpeningĒ playing in the background. I love how Rydia, after watching Cecil defend her from Baronís soldiers, pauses as she lets go of the vengeful hatred she has for him and the sweet, delicate tones of ďRydiaĒ begin. Thereís the feeling of relief and accomplishment when Cecil finally becomes a paladin and achieves redemption at the summet of Mt. Ordeals (complete with the skin-tingling drumroll of ďPaladinĒ.) Then thereís my absolute favorite moment, which is when Rydia returns as a fucking badass and rescues the entire party from Golbezís dragon in what can only be described as ďsummoner smackdownĒ. She even waltzes in right when the most epic of Nobuo Uematsuís battle themes, ďBattle with the Four FiendsĒ starts up, thus kicking the badassery into high-gear.



You may have noticed that each of those moments was associated with a particular song from the gameís soundtrack. That isnít a coincidence. Final Fantasy IV began my love affair with video game music and work of Nobuo Uematsu. Before there was easy downloading of music from the internet or digital music players, I was recording the gameís music on my Talkboy (that was the lovely recording device from Home Alone 2) so I could listen to it whenever I wanted. It has been a mainstay on every portable music player Iíve owned and is an album Iíve returned to time and again. Nearly every song on that album has become tied to a number of memories and emotions, and itís one of the albums I go to when I need a song thatís ďjust rightĒ, be it for writing inspiration or working out in the gym.

Finally, Iíd be remiss if I didnít mention that Square has done its level best to keep me coming back. It might surprise you to learn that Final Fantasy IV has no less than four different versions in the United States; not just ports, but versions with substantial differences. This is more than any other Final Fantasy game, except Final Fantasy I. Donít believe me? Letís count. There is:

1. The SNES version (original ďeasy versionĒ in Japan)
2. The PlayStation version (original ďnormal versionĒ in Japan)
3. The Game Boy Advance version (revamped translation and tons of bonus content)
4. The DS version (polygonal graphical revamp, new gameplay, voice acting, bosses have new tactics)

I have each of these versions and have played them multiple times. As if that werenít enough, a fifth iteration is coming to the PlayStation Portable that contains another version of the original game (sprite graphics in the style of the PSP Final Fantasy I & II), the sequel The After Years that came out on WiiWare in 2009, and a completely new chapter that bridges the two games. This is being billed as the definitive version of FFIV, and Iíd believe it except for the fact that every other version of the game I bought was billed as the definitive version! The worst part is that I already know Iím going to buy this. I want to play this interlude chapter. I want to see what the game looks and plays like with this new graphical interpretation (I really like pretty sprites). Square releases this shit for people like me who have never, ever been able to quit this game!



If this sounds completely ridiculous, I really canít blame you. The only defense I can give you is that I keep going back to Final Fantasy IV because I grew up with it. This game influenced me more than I would like to admit and, as such, I feel a very strong connection to it. It came at just the right time in my life, when I was young enough to be affected by it but old enough that I would understand it. Thatís why I return to it time and again and have this compulsive urge to own every version. I feel like I have this vested interest in what Square does to this beloved game of mine that they have seen fit to update and alter every few years. The fact that Square even sees fit to do this to FFIV, out of all the games in the series, is rather remarkable. Iím not the only person who canít stop coming back to FFIV, because apparently Square-Enixís own staff canít stop either. I choose to believe that this is because this game really is something special and Iím far from the only person who was so deeply affected by it.

I hope I continue returning to Final Fantasy IV throughout my life. I hope that, one day, I will get to show my children this amazing game. Even if they see just a little bit of what I see in it, I will be overjoyed that such a connection exists.
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I have a very mixed experience with games on the iPhone.  I think I’ve downloaded about ten of the silly things and, until recently, only two held my attention for any length of Civilization Revolution and GodVille.  While the latter is more of a spectator affair you check along with your news feeds, Civilization Revolution is the only iPhone game I can confidently say I’ve lost hours to.  That’s because is fucking Civilization and, even then, it was mostly on long rides in a car or train where I didn’t have my DS.  With the arrival of the quirky Game Dev Story, however, I can now in all honestly say I am truly addicted to an iPhone game.

If you’re currently looking at your screen with a WTF expression, wait until you download it and find yourself playing it at 2 in the morning.     I have a very mixed experience with games on the iPhone.  I think I’ve downloaded about ten of the silly things and, until recently, only two held my attention for any length of time: Civilization Revolution and GodVille.  While the latter is more of a spectator affair you check along with your news feeds, Civilization Revolution is the only iPhone game I can confidently say I’ve lost hours to.  That’s because is fucking Civilization and, even then, it was mostly on long rides in a car or train where I didn’t have my DS.  With the arrival of the quirky Game Dev Story, however, I can now in all honestly say I am truly addicted to an iPhone game. If you’re currently looking at your screen with a WTF expression, wait until you download it and find yourself playing it at 2 in the morning.  Then you’ll have the WTF expression I had last night.   {{page_break}} So let’s get the basics out of the way.  Game Dev Story is a $4 game that is currently available for iDevices from an independent Japanese outfit called Kairosoft.  It’s a business simulation game that harkens back to the early days of the Super Nintendo, when games were powerful enough to make turn spreadsheets into vibrant, animated sprites but constrained enough to limit the level of complication.  The best Japanese import was Koei’s Aerobiz, a game where you run an airline that I remember renting a couple of times and really enjoying (but not enough for it to make my Christmas list as a 9-year-old).  In Game Dev Story, you don’t run an airline but instead run a freaking game studio.  Yes, the game I always wanted is finally here, albeit 15 years late.  You get to start your own game studio, choose each game’s genre and direction, and manage your employees as they turn each vision into reality.  With each effort, your games are judged by game critics, the industry, and most importantly, the consumer public.  After all, its their money that will allow you expand your company and make even more games!   The addictive magic of Game Dev Studio lies in its simple, iterative nature.  After you start your company and hire your first group of employees, the game follows a very basic pattern.  You’ll start by picking a game’s genre (“RPG”, “shooter”), type (“cartoon”, “war”) and then choosing its direction by assigning points to 8 areas, including “approachability”, “game world”, and “polish”.  You even get to decide if you want to spend more money to take your time on it or rush it out to make some quick cash.  From there, your employees work on the game, which is represented by four numerical parameters: fun, creativity, graphics, and sound.  When your game is finished, you can give it a name and release it into the wild for review critics to judge and consumers to buy.  While that game is selling, its time to start work on your next effort. This would get pretty boring pretty fast if it weren’t for the various ways that Game Dev Story keeps you on your toes.  First, there is the quest to make the best game possible, which just isn’t possible when you first start your company.  You have limited resources with which to hire employees and you’ll be forced to hire the bottom of the barrel at the beginning to get anything done.  As you get money from the games you can make, you’ll have more resources to train your employees, level them up in their respective roles, or simply hire better ones.  You might even be able to contract out for high-quality talent on the occasions when you really want to boost one aspect of your game to get attention.  Unfortunately, while you’re improving your staff, you will also have to contend with the constantly changing face of the game industry.  When you start, only the PC will be available to develop for.  However, very soon some companies will start selling consoles, and all of them require increasingly expensive licenses in order to develop on them.  As a result, you’ll have to choose your platform(s) of choice very carefully.  Those will small market shares mean it will be harder for you to make big money, but platforms with larger market shares mean more companies you have to compete against.  On top of all of this, you’ll have to contend with random events, both good and bad, that the game will occasionally throw your way.  A gaming magazine might give your current game some love that will boost its sales or a competitor could release a game very similar to yours right before you launch.  Thankfully, you can buy power-ups and items that can provide a boost to your employees when you need it.  It all keeps the gameplay surprisingly fresh given that it relies on a basic iterative structure.   Topping it off, Game Dev Story has a charming presentation that encourages you to keep your business funny and light.  It’s presented in a sprite-based isometric style that will remind new gamers of Facebook-style social games and old gamers of the classic Japanese SNES games that inspired them.  The artwork is simple, yet vibrant and animated, and everything conveys meaning and understanding instantly.  Word of advice though: if you’re playing on the iPhone, make sure you hit the ‘Pad On’ button on the title screen.  This will activate a helpful gamepad on the bottom of the screen that doesn’t obscure anything but makes navigating menus a breeze on the iPhone’s smaller screen.  The art style goes hand-in-hand with the game’s quirky sense of humor, which describes the last 35 years of gaming history with light-hearted jest.  All of your favorite consoles show up in parody, from Intendo’s IES to Senga’s Uranus.  Don’t expect history to repeat itself though, because at least on my run, Intendo’s Virtual Kid actually kept 10% of market share for five years.  This in turn, at least in my case, inspires the gamer to approach the game with a similar lampooning sense.  Case in point: my first sequel-worthy game was a Cartoon Action game called ‘Dukedom Hearts’ and ended up spawning four sequels across three consoles. By now it should be clear that I freaking love Game Dev Story.  It is the first original iPhone game that I can say this about.  Not even Civlization Revolution, which is based off a computer game I adore, managed to grab me the way this little indie Japanese gem has.  It’s charming title that is a dangerously addictive combination of fun and engrossing.  The game design cycle is just short enough that you’ll be finding yourself thinking “just one more game, and this time I want to try...” after each game you make.  Plus, the game is only $4!  FOUR FREAKING DOLLARS!  I’ve gotten less enjoyment out of games that cost ten times that amount!  Do yourself a favor and give Game Dev Story a try.  It’s just too awesome.  The only downside is that you need an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to play it.  I don’t know of any version of the game for Android, but hopefully they’ll release one soon! Oh, and one more thing.  One thing I didn’t get to pursue during my first playthrough of the game is that you can develop your own console.  However, this requires very careful development of your staff in order to make one of them a swanky hardware engineer.  I haven’t gotten to try that out yet, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what it opens up in the game!  









The big event for Dtoid SF this past weekend was undoubtably the Destructoid Extra Life charity marathon that raised over $6000 for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.  While Tactix, Hamza, and crew were busy being super amazing awesome at Dtoid HQ in this endeavor, the fabulous Stella Wong and I stepped out for a few hours to see Hideo at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.  The concert, which featured live music from an eclectic range of Japanese video games and anime, was rather unique for its incorporation of theatrical narrative and performance.  I’ve never really seen anything like it before and, since it was pretty amazing, Stella and I wanted to share what we could with you all.  On the chance that it comes to your area, make sure you check it out! Hit the link more to read about our experience at this awesome event!

 



 

The big event for Dtoid SF this past weekend was undoubtably the Destructoid Extra Life charity marathon that raised over $6000 for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.  While Tactix, Hamza, and crew were busy being super amazing awesome at Dtoid HQ in this endeavor, the fabulous Stella Wong and I stepped out for a few hours to see Hideo at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.  The concert, which featured live music from an eclectic range of Japanese video games and anime, was rather unique for its incorporation of theatrical narrative and performance.  I’ve never really seen anything like it before and, since it was pretty amazing, Stella and I wanted to share what we could with you all.  On the chance that it comes to your area, make sure you check it out! Hit the link more to read about our experience at this awesome event!   {{page_break}}   I knew we were in for something pretty different from a standard concert when, as a sax and piano played the bluesy “Goodnight, Julia” from Cowboy Bebop, the lights illuminated the far side of the stage to reveal a few lonely patrons in a bar tended by a sole barmaid.  When the song ended, the barmaid’s attention became focused on a gruff patron she could tell carried a burden and a story.  After some coaxing with kind words and the promise of free drinks, the patron began telling the ill-fated story of his friend Hideo and his “quest for justice”.  From this point on, most of the concert followed a pattern of alternating narrative exposition (via the bar conversation) with musical sequences featuring animated or live action for more climactic events.  It was a very interesting and entertaining alternative to the traditional video game / anime music concert and, for the most part, it worked well. First, there was the music, which was fortunately the strongest part of the event.  Pulled from a wide range of sources within Japanese video games and animation, the program nevertheless formed a very cohesive whole that flowed and fit well with the narrative.  Additionally, most of the songs have, to my knowledge, not been featured in a live concert event before.  While the concert did include some more well-known numbers from the Final Fantasy series such as “Aria de Mezzo Carattere”, “Don’t Be Afraid”, and “Those Who Fight Further”, the majority of the program ventured into lesser-explored territory.  In fact, the high point of the show for me was the performance of "Canta Per Me" from the anime series Noir.  The song was already an entrancing old favorite of mine, but seeing it performed live was a wholly different experience.  I think Stella can attest to my jaw hanging open the entire time.     The plot of the story was surprisingly good.  While a bit predictable, especially for this audience because it included a number of Japanese entertainment tropes, it actually managed to pull of a few cool surprises.  I was genuinely surprised by the events that led up to the show’s final battle.  The acting ranged from mediocre to good.  While the concert takes its name from the character Hideo, the two main characters are the patron and barmaid who tell most of the story.  Thankfully, these two had the strongest acting chops of the group and fit their roles well.  The other minor roles were a bit more hammed up, but they were featured so little in live-action sequences that it didn’t matter much.  In fact, the only real weak link of the show was the art that was used to tell most of the story.  When actors weren’t on stage during a song, which was the case for most of the first act, animation stills were projected above the stage in time with the music.  It was an interesting technique, but it suffered because the art just wasn't up to the level of the rest of the production.  Stella noted that the anatomy of the characters was off at times, which I’d have to agree with.  However, when used simply to portray large backdrops or scenery, which was most of the case for the second act, the art definitely added to the show. It should be noted though that where the show really shined was when its two components, the music and the performance, meshed so well that it became more than the sum of its parts.  Interestingly, I found these moments to be when the performance would deliberately reference or pull from a song’s original source material in order to deliver meaning or impact.  Examples of this include the performances of “Aria de Mezzo Carattere”, when the performer is singing goodbye to her love (and throws said love's flower bouquet into the audience!), and a medley of Mega Man battle themes, when two adventurers have to fight through four distinct “Blood Lieutenant” bosses.  It was moments like these that not only demonstrated the understanding that the show had for both the material and the audience’s connection with it, but also that the show knew how to use that connection to enhance its own.       Overall, the Hideo concert was an amazing experience and it shows great promise.  I truly hope that the organizers continue to develop and grow this show, because I really think this could become something incredibly special.  The music was performed very well, the narrative was more than I had expected, and the performance as whole definitely had a few ‘wow’ moments.  I know that I’m still blown away from the trio of hooded women singing “Canta Per Me” and hearing one of the best performances of “Aria de Mezzo Carattere” I’ve ever heard.  Hideo is a terrific example of how a new generation of video game and anime music concerts can be inventive to distinguish themselves from more traditional shows like Distant Worlds, Play, and Video Games Live. Oh, and the final battle medley incorporated “Scars of Time” from Chrono Cross.  How awesome is that?   (Quick thanks to Stella for taking all these awesome photos!  I should also note that the above YouTube links don't do the quality of the music performance justice.  They are a pale  imitation of what these guys are capable of in a proper concert hall.)  










If I had to pick one gaming genre that has defined me as a gamer, I would have to go with the JRPG. While Iíve loved titles that run the entire gaming gamut, from Super Mario Bros. 3 to GoldenEye, Iíve probably sunk more hours into JRPGs than any other genre. As such, Iím very well acquainted with the infamous gaming mechanic of the Grind, much to my own chagrin. Iím more of a story guy and, since I donít have a lot of time to spend on games, Iím not someone who wants to wander aimlessly through an open field or trek the same dungeon repeatedly just to be sufficiently prepared to take on a boss. Donít get me wrong, I want to be challenged, but I donít want that challenge to be how long can I endure tedium in order to be able to have the right stats to survive a boss.

However, the recent release of Dragon Quest IX got me thinking about the Grind. I am both simultaneously pleased and disturbed that the game has accomplished what I thought to be an impossible feat: it has made me enjoy the Grind. Craziness, you might say! I agree! When I realized I was actually looking forward to turning on the game just to level up my characters, I was shocked and intrigued. It got me thinking what was it about Dragon Quest IXís approach to the Grind that had yielded this result. It also started me thinking about what this means about Grinding in not just gaming, but in life. So pull up a chair, pour a beer, and learn how you to can learn to like the Grind.



As I said before, I hated the Grind whenever it would rear its head in games prior to Dragon Quest IX. In fact, it actually killed my interest in its predecessor! There was one point in the game where you fight a character that has been posited as the main villain (who knew if he really was though) and the difficulty just spikes through the roof for no reason. It was so obvious I would have to do some ridiculous grinding to get the right combo of skills and levels that I just completely lost interest. I havenít picked the game up since.

Now along comes Dragon Quest IX, which (so far) has not elicited the same disappointed response from me. In fact, I actually look forward more and more to playing it. A quick comparison of the two titles yields some insight into what (for me at least) can make the Grind more of a joy and less of a chore. The first, and most obvious, is that the Grind should be optional. Demanding that the player remove themselves from the flow of the gameís narrative, or simply break the pacing that has been set for the gameís progression, is disruptive and inspires resent on the part of the player. However, giving the player the option to do so and making it worth their while is a different story. Dragon Quest IX offers the player an array of fun optional classes that are acquired throughout the game, but you have to start from level 1 if you want to switch to them. You can do just fine with the original six classes available at the gameís outset (at least far as Iíve gotten in the game), but if you want to get good at these new ones youíre going to have to deal with a little Grind.

This brings us to a second necessary component for an enjoyable Grind; lots of short-term gratification. Itís this aspect that makes me think Dragon Quest IX may have one of the most brilliant leveling schemes known to man. After a battle, experience points are divided up among the party members based on level. Higher-level characters get more of a share than lower-level characters. At first glance, I assumed this was simply to prevent power-leveling in the gameís multiplayer. However, as I began to experiment with newer classes (and therefore had some characters at Level Awesome and others at Level Noob), I realized it also had utility for a single-player party. Level Noob characters will still increase at a faster right if theyíre in a party with Level Awesome characters, but the portioned experience mechanic makes sure leveling continues at a measured pace. Instead of giving you a rush of new levels at the beginning followed by a slow crawl, the game gives you a constant drip of leveling. Additionally, it also encourages the player to take the risk of actually progressing in the game with a party that contains a significant level disparity, since the player will want to get these lower level characters more experience offered from stronger monsters. Thatís right: the game actually encourages you to stop the mindless Grind and instead try a more difficult, risky Grind.



Finally, it also helps that Dragon Quest IX is a portable title. It was a shocking move when Square-Enix first announced this break with tradition, but it has resulted in some fantastic improvements to the series. In addition to the multiplayer and wi-fi add-ons, it has resulted in a game that was designed to be played in shorter sessions. This includes the Grind! A Grind is much more enjoyable when it is done in bite-sized chunks. Instead of knowing that Iíll be sitting down for an hour or two to Grind away (hello MMOs!), I can whip out my DS when Iím waiting for my Double-Double at In-N-Out and go through a good amount of battling. The game can be picked up and stopped at a momentís notice with the help of the gameís quick save feature, as well as the DSí own clamshell pausing feature.

Anyway, as I was mulling all of this over, I realized that this says a lot about the Grind in real life. This is probably obvious to many of you, but for some reason Iíve only just now had this epiphany. When dealing with chores, errands or a job, taking the Dragon Quest IX approach can make a difference. First, itís always better if itís optional. I realize that may not always be an option (oh I crack me up), but if possible try and do the task when itís most convenient for you or you feel energized for it. For example, I personally always do most chores and errands on the weekend, because it makes me feel productive. I donít do them on weeknights because I already feel like Iíve been working away in the lab. Iím making the choice to do the task then instead of feeling like I have to.

Second, some sort of measured gratification for the task always helps. Itís that whole carrot-stick argument. Knowing that there will be some sort of feeling of progress (it doesnít have to be a reward, per se) helps get stuff done. Itís one of the reasons, I think at least, why people find sticking to a diet or working out to be so difficult. You want results now, but it usually takes weeks for your waistline to start showing a real decrease or your muscles to have definition. On the flip side, itís why people people will put off larger tasks for smaller ones, because the small ones can be done quickly and give one the feeling of progress. Therefore, giving yourself milestones that break up a big endeavor can really help. Just like in Dragon Quest IX, getting measured reminders over relatively short periods of time that youíre getting closer to your goal is going to keep encouraging you.



Oddly enough, as I was mulling over this entry, I saw an older article from Jordan Devore about an upcoming iPhone to-do list app called EpicWin, which essentially seeks to turn your real-life Grind into an RPG Grind. As such, chores and tasks that you do translate into rewards for your character, such as experience and items. Itís an interesting idea to use the mechanics that entice a player to do the Grind in a game to do the Grind in their daily lives. However, as Dragon Quest IX has demonstrated, there is a fine art to making the Grind less of a chore and more of a joy. I personally will be interested to see how much EpicWin makes me look forward to cleaning the bathroom.
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