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12:31 PM on 03.14.2014

The Movie Quote To Perfectly Summarize Nintendo's Situation

So I saw a movie recently called Grumpier Old Men. It, like it's prequel, is a movie about... grumpy old men. And there is one scene where John (played by Jack Lemmon) is talking with his father (played by Burgess Meredith) about dieting. The father remarks that he weighs 90 pounds at the age of 95 with a diet of cigarettes, beer, and bacon, and never exercising a day in his life.

So what in the world does this have to do with Nintendo? The fact that it used to be run by a grumpy old man? Good guess, but no.

Play the video below and skip to the 1:02 mark:



"Now, according to all o' them flat-belly 'experts,' I should'a took a dirt nap... like, thirty years ago! But each year comes and goes, and I'm still here. Ha! And they keep dyin'."




Think about it for a minute.
  read


8:05 AM on 02.03.2014

Ubisoft: Delays Done Wrong. Developers, Take Notes.

Delays suck. You get so excited for a product, then all of the sudden, "Woop, sorry guys! Gonna have to wait a bit longer plzundrstndkthxbai!"

Delays can happen for many reasons. Quality issues, conflicts within the development team, floods, alien abduction, mo-cap actors being deported to Ireland. Regardless of the reason, there are ways to properly handle delays, both after the fact and beforehand in case such a thing were to happen down the road.

Ubisoft is a master class of how not to do and handle delays.

Let's start with the funniest one in my opinion: Assassin's Creed III for PC. It's no secret that Ubisoft treats PC gamers like shit, especially when it comes to Assassin's Creed. Every Assassin's Creed PC release since Brotherhood has come at least a month after the console releases. But Ubisoft promised that III would be the game that would release simultaneously for all platforms (interview tidbit at the bottom).

Gamespy: So when's the PC release date?

Ubisoft PR: October 30th

Gamespy: Yeah, but when's the real PC release date?

Ubisoft PR: It's October 30th.

Gamespy: Uh huh. And can you say that with a straight face?

Ubisoft PR: You can ask me as many times as you like, but the answer will be the same.

Gamespy: Very well, let's move on. So, when will you announce the delay of the PC version?

Ubisoft PR: ...

Turned out the answer was August 10, 2012, two months before console release.

And then Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag got delayed on the PC. But this time Ubisoft actually gave an explanation, which was basically, 'we need time to adapt the game to PC.' 

Yeah, like we couldn't figure that out the first three times.

As you probably noticed, people weren't as burned about Black Flag's delay as much as ACIII's. Why is that? Well just like Black Flag, we expected ACIII to be delayed. But Ubisoft kept saying, "Nonononono, we promise, we triple promise that this won't happen." And then it did. No one likes it when promises are broken, so when Black Flag came around, Ubisoft promised nothing. Lesson learned, right?



Nope! Time for Rayman Legends!

We all know this story, so I'll just tell it in a nutshell. Rayman Legends was originally a Wii U exclusive that got delayed a little over a week before its February release all the way to September so that it could be ported to other systems.

Why did Legends get delayed? Was Ubisoft fearful of the Wii U's low install base? No, otherwise they wouldn't have bothered bringing it to the Vita. Were they just greedy bastards who just wanted every cent they could get out of every gamer? Maybe. 

We don't know why Legends got delayed, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that this delay killed what hope the game had in growing legs. See, many people argue whether or not it would have sold more if it remained a Wii U exclusive. Would it?

Yes it would. See, we live in an industry where every developer and publisher is dependent on launch sales. After the first month, the game usually falls off the radar, and if it didn't maximize profits at that point, then it was a failure. Nintendo games are a different story. Their games continue to sell long after release. Just look at Mario Kart Wii. That game came out five years ago, and it sold one million units last year.

Let me reiterate: Mario Kart Wii came out in 2008. It sold one million units... in 2013.

How many developers can say that for their games?

Let's look at a more recent example: Super Mario 3D World.

The internet world was in chaos when Media Create's Top 20 Chart for 11/18-11/24 was released, as it revealed that Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (released on 11/21) was at #1 with 277,082 units sold, while Super Mario 3D World (released on the same day) was at #2 with 99,588 units sold.

Huh? A 3D Mario (a game that historically sells less than 2D Marios) on a system with a low install base sold less than a game on a system with a much larger install base? Sound the alarm! Nintendo is doomed! It's over!

Or is it? Let's fast forward a month.

Media Create Top 20 Chart for 12/16-12/22. Super Mario 3D World? It's at #5 with 86,408 units sold, making a total of 327,514.

Lightning Returns? Nowhere to be seen.

Hey, how about we go to the most recent one, the Top 20 of 1/20-1/26? Especially with January being the worst month for video game sales, 3D World must have lost its steam by now, right?

Nope. It's still charting, totaling 470,687 units. Lightning Returns, on the other hand, isn't even in the Top 50.

So what does this all have to do with Rayman Legends? Well, by February 2013, the Wii U had been around for nearly three months. People began wanting something new. This was the perfect opportunity for Ubisoft to plant a seed through Legends. Sure, it wasn't going to sell millions right out the gate, but its status as an upcoming quality Wii U exclusive would have pretty much guaranteed that when someone did buy a Wii U that it would one of the games included in that person's purchase, and it would have kept going long after release.

When Ubisoft delayed Legends and made it multiplatform, the game went from 'awesome exclusive' to 'just another game.' And it didn't help that it released on the same month as Grand Theft Auto V.

But Ubisoft was determined that this was the right decision. And how did it work out?

It didn't. In November 2013, Ubisoft announced that Legends (as well as Splinter Cell: Blacklist) failed to meet sales expectations, surprising absolutely no one. And I don't just mean that out of spite. By the time Legends was released, there were already so many better games out already and on the horizon, so it's no surprise that people chose them over this.

There are conflicting reports about which version of Legends sold the most, but I see more saying the Wii U version. Wouldn't be surprised. Nintendo gamers love them some 2D platformers.

What's funny is that a few weeks after launch, Ubisoft executive Alain Corre told CVG that they were not ruling out bringing Legends to the 3DS. Ironic, isn't it? He's basically saying that if their game bombs, they'll come crawling back to the company they fucked over in the first place.

And a 3DS port made perfect sense. After all, to my understanding, Origins did relatively well on the Wii and 3DS, and the 3DS is the best-selling gaming device right now, so why not? Well, right after it was announced that Legends was a financial failure, Ubisoft said that they were indeed porting the game...

...to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

This is going to bomb even harder than it did the first time. Let me tell you why.

First, and let's not kid ourselves here, the reason people are buying these two consoles is so that they can play games that are nigh photo-realistic. Legends is the antonym of the 'next-gen promise.'

Second, the vast majority of the people who buy consoles at launch are not 'new' consumers, but rather people upgrading from previous systems, people who have played the crap out of these systems and are ready for more, so if people were interested in this game, then they would have played it by now. There's something to be said about selling the same games to the same people.

Third, there's release date and price. Tomb Raider had only been out for 10 months, and Square Enix expects us to pay 60 dollars for minor graphical tweaks and DLC for the game type that nobody likes or asked for. Legends hasn't even been around for six months, and Ubisoft expects us to pay 60 dollars for 'sharper textures,' new character skins, and no loading times within levels. 

If this doesn't spell "Disaster," I don't know what does.



Finally, we have Watch Dogs.

Let me tell you about my experience in anticipating this game.

When Ubisoft first introduced it at E3 2012, I, like many others, was blown away. And they followed it up with more amazing trailers and screenshots, and they even did another awesome demo during the Playstation 4 reveal.

Then E3 2013 came around, and I was very excited to see what Ubisoft would show this time. During their own press conference, they showed a CG trailer, which kinda bummed me out, but I figured they would show gameplay at Sony's show. And they did...

...It was an escort mission. And it was all downhill from there.

A few months after E3, we were shown another gameplay demo of Watch Dogs, this time showing Aiden infiltrating a building to install a virus into a control center so he can control electronic devices in that area. That's when I realized:

This is Assassin's Creed. Instead of hidden blades, we have iPhones. Instead of horses and pirate ships, we have Lamborghini's and Corolla's. Instead of viewpoints, we have control centers. It's the same. Damn. Game. After you get past the novelty of 'hacking' stuff, which is essentially "PRESS BUTON TO WIN GAEM," it's really nothing different from what we've played before.

And just when I thought my interest couldn't get any lower, Ubisoft delayed the game in October 2013, just a month before release. It was a damn shame for Sony, as they were promoting this game out the yin-yang. And what has been shown about the game since? Pretty much nothing.

I'm gonna say this right now: Watch Dogs WILL fail to meet sales expectations. Here's why.

The first reason, one that is always concerning as far as games go, is the budget. Back in June 2013, executive producer Stephane Decroix said that Watch Dogs' budget exceeded 50 million euros (that's 68 million dollars).

To reiterate, the budget was over 68 million dollars BEFORE the delay. How much is it now? Originally, Ubisoft expected the game to sell 6.2 million units at launch. How much does it need to sell now?

This is why I believe these rumors of the Wii U version's cancellation to be ridiculous. At this point, Ubisoft needs all the sales they can get, and cutting off a platform will not help them.

The other reason is the change in Watch Dogs' status as a game. At first, it was to be our first step into true next-gen gaming. But now that the next-gen console hype is starting to wear down, it's become just another game, just like how Rayman Legends lost its star status when it was delayed and became multiplatform. By the time it actually releases, we will have had plenty of 'next-gen' games to satisfy the hunger we had in the beginning. And it doesn't help that Ubisoft has done pretty much nothing so far to assure us that it will still be amazing.

Now before anyone tells me "But Trogdor! Everyone at IGN, Kotaku, and NeoGAF are very excited about it!" Let me tell you something: These are the same people who were begging Ubisoft to bring Rayman Legends to other platforms, and Square Enix to do the same with Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut. If those keyboard zealots actually represented the mass market, none of those games would have sold as poorly as they did.

The internet gaming community is a minority. An annoyingly vocal minority, but nonetheless... a minority.



So there you have it, folks. Three lessons to take from this:

First: Do not promise a release date. Use the word 'expect.' By using 'expect,' you let consumers know that anything can happen, and they'll be less upset if something does happen.

Second: If you're releasing a game on one system, go with your gut and keep it that way. Do not listen to people from internet forums telling you otherwise. It will be worth it in the long run, when all is said and done. And if you do delay it and make it multiplatform, you only have yourself to blame if doesn't work out.

Third: Do not blow your load about your game until you are 200% certain that the release date is golden and you know there will be absolutely no problems. You can only hold people's interest for so long in the event something happens.

Expect to hear from me if the Wii U version of Watch Dogs does get canceled and the game doesn't meet sales expectations.   read


12:54 PM on 01.19.2014

The Grant Kirkhope Formula: How to Write Music Like the Man Himself

Hi. My name is Stephen. It's been my dream since the age of eight to be somehow involved in making video games. I am currently in university majoring in Computer Game Design, with the aspiration of one day becoming a music composer for games. Today, I would like to share some knowledge, both to aspiring musicians and people who just want a good read.

As far as video game music goes, my absolute favorite composer is Grant Kirkhope. For those who don't know, Grant Kirkhope is a composer who has written music for quite a few games, most notably the two Banjo-Kazooie games for the Nintendo 64, as well as Donkey Kong 64.  

It is pretty much an established fact that Kirkhope is a bona fide badass. You can't really have a discussion about Banjo-Kazooie without mentioning his name and how awesome he and his music is. 

But how does he do it? How did he make such memorable and amazing tunes? Well, this is where the title of this blog comes in. 'The Grant Kirkhope Formula' is a term I made up for the songwriting process of the N64 games Kirkhope worked on, namely the ones listed above. What I mean is, I've been 'studying' his music for a long time and I've noticed that Kirkhope seemed to like to use certain 'catalogs' of instrument combinations for the levels he would write for (Like how a lot of BK's and BT's snow levels use a lot of the same instruments), and I think that was they key. If you limit the amount of instruments to use, you'll be more likely to give each part as much TLC as possible if you want people to like your song. And that's how Kirkhope's songs became so memorable. You can tell that no one part in a song was given priority over another.

And that's not to say that his style is overly complex. On the contrary, it is actually quite simple. Today, I am going to show you how to write a Banjo-Kazooie song in a way that will totally not come off as self-promotion... *cough*



PREPARATION



For aspiring musicians who want to become composers for games, replicating Kirkhope's style is a great place to start, mainly due to it's simplicity. First, you need three things:

1. A music writing program of some sort. Personally, I use Sibelius when I write songs (although I am slowly transitioning to Logic Pro). Sibelius is a program that allows you to write music just as the composers of old did, but in this digital age, you have an advantage: When you put notes down on the sheet, your computer will emulate that sound, and you can play back your whole piece to see how it sounds, making it easier for you to know where to make changes. Some of you may be overwhelmed by traditional notation and are more comfortable with Piano Roll (you know, those little block things) in programs such as FL Studio, and there's absolutely no problem with that. However...

2. A knowledge of writing music. This is why I prefer Sibelius. If you don't know how to write music, then Sibelius can help you by teaching you how to read it first. As far as quarter notes, half notes, rests, and the like go, you can learn that by just plopping notes down and seeing what comes out. But it is crucial to know the intricacies of time signatures, key signatures, and tempos, and I'm not too sure if other programs make it as simple as Sibelius does (I could be wrong, though. But in my opinion, transitioning from traditional notation to blocks is much smoother than vice versa). It may sound like a lot of work, but trust me; Once you can read music, you can easily write it.

3. A desire to write music. If you're an aspiring musician, this shouldn't be a problem.

Got all that? Of course you do. Let's get started!


GETTING STARTED



First, I want you to listen to this. This is the very first song I ever wrote over a year ago.

Doesn't sound very Kirkhope-ish, does it? Well that's because I didn't intend it to be at the time. When I wrote this piece, I wanted to sound like you were visiting a fortune teller in an old school RPG. Hence, the title of this song, 'Madame.' So why did I show this song, then? Well, in time, I would turn this into a Banjo-Kazooie style piece, simply by changing and adding instruments.

And that, my friends, is the secret of 'The Grant Kirkhope Formula.' You can literally take any melody you come up with and make it sound like a Grant Kirkhope piece. It all depends on the instrumentation.

So for today, we are going to write a song in the style of Clanker's Cavern from Banjo-Kazooie, and we're gonna keep it simple. Please take a moment and watch the linked video. Once you're done with that, we'll move on with creating a melody.



MELODY



Now, since we're writing a Clanker's Cavern-styled piece, the best key to use for this dank and messy kind of level, in my opinion is B Flat, but feel free to experiment as you follow the instructions below. And let's keep the tempo at about 100 BPM (beats per minute).

Once you have that in mind, just go about your day and make up some melodies in your head (or aloud). You can do this in the shower, on a walk, whatever. Once you come up with something you like, WRITE. IT. DOWN. Trust me, if you don't get it down on something before you go to sleep, you will forget about it. And if you think your melody sounds bad, you're wrong. It sounds great.

And remember to take the melody's length into account. Clanker's Cavern lasts about two minutes before repeating, and it has several segments that sound different from each other, as well as a key change in the middle. My original song I showed you, 'Madame,' was only about 30 seconds before it goes into repeat because there was only one 'segment,' unlike Clanker's several. However many 'segments' you want in your melody, try to keep it under two minutes, so that when it repeats, it will still feel fresh.

Another thing you should keep in mind when coming up with a Grant Kirkhope style melody: The range. If you notice, the ranges of his melodies are never extreme; they never go all over the place. If you need assistance, use a piano as reference. Pick a small section of keys and work with them. To put this in simpler terms: Dream Theater likes to use every note in existence. You are not Dream Theater.

Once you get your melody down, it's time to decide what instrument(s) to use. Well, one of the more prominent instruments in Kirkhope's catalogs is the clarinet, which is the instrument that provides the melody for the latter part of Clanker's Cavern before it repeats. Let's use that.



BASS LINE



So with the melody taken care of, we need a bass line, percussion, and off-beat brass (I'll explain that one last). Now for the bass line, just do the same as you did with the melody. It will be much easier now that you have a melody to go by (although some people prefer vice versa). This may sound like me being a lazy instructor, but trust me: Your imagination is the most important tool of songwriting. You can take all the music theory classes in the world, but, as useful as they are, they ain't gonna help you if you have a weak imagination.

But one thing to keep in mind when making a bass line: Keep it simple. You can just do quarter notes if you must. Just don't make it more complex than the melody.

Now there are a few instruments Kirkhope uses for his bass lines. For a Clanker's Cavern style piece, a tuba works best.



PERCUSSION



Unless you're a percussionist, writing percussion parts in Sibelius will be a pain in the ass. This is one the advantages of programs that use Piano Roll instead of actual notation. If you're using Sibelius, this video is a godsend. It's actually really easy once you know what you're doing. Since you hopefully have a melody and bass line down, coming up with a percussion part should not be difficult.



OFF-BEAT BRASS

The off-beat brass, in my opinion, is the defining feature of a Grant Kirkhope song. Now, what do I mean by 'off-beat brass?' Well, let's refer back to Clanker's Cavern. During the four-count, you'll hear a pair of brass instruments making very brief sounds in between one and two, two and three, and three and four (aka the off-beat). For the off-beat brass, take two brass instruments, have one play a note, then have the other play a third below that note. When I say a third below, I mean the third note in the sequence starting with the note already placed. To make it simpler, you have the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. If you're playing A, then F would be the third below it (A, G, F). In sheet notation, if you have a note placed on a space (as opposed to a line), the lower third would be the space right below it.

Sometimes thirds won't work with the song you're doing. It may sound better in fourths or fifths. Experiment!

As for instruments, I'm not sure if Kirkhope uses two of the same instrument, but I use a trumpet for the high third, and a French horn for the lower third, just to add a little extra flavor.



FINISHED!



Once you've gotten all that down, congrats! You've written a song!

Now remember that song I showed you earlier that I wrote, the fortune teller one? Well, let's hear it now, using the steps that I provided!



(I suggest you watch it in full-screen)


That is much better. See what I mean? It's all in the instruments.

Now, are we done? Of course not! This is Grant Kirkhope we're talking about here! We're just getting started!

Usually, each level in the Banjo-Kazooie games has about one song with multiple variations, each one sounding like their own song. In this blog, we're going to cover three variations, starting with the most common one:



UNDERWATER



I'm not too sure what instrument Kirkhope uses for his underwater songs, but the closest thing Sibelius has is a harp. 

When you place a harp in Sibelius, it will create two lines of music: one with a bass clef (to cover the lower notes), and one with a treble clef (which is worth 20 Notes). Just copy and paste the melody on the treble clef line, and the bass line on the bass clef one. Done and done.

When you are finished, it should sound something like this:



(Again, it's best to use fullscreen.)


See how different it sounds? And it doesn't even require that much effort. It's freakin' awesome!



DEEP CAVE



There are a couple of ways to handle this. Usually, Kirkhope just uses a marimba and calls it a day, but sometimes he gets fancy and adds a theremin. For my piece, I just used a marimba and called it a day.

The marimba, like the harp, has a great range and also uses a bass and treble line when put into Sibelius. The beauty of Sibelius is that it allows you to change the instruments without messing with the notes you've put down, which is very convenient for emulating Grant Kirkhope's style. So you can really just change the harp to a marimba and you'd be done. However, in a deep cave, you want to build suspense, and in situations like this, less is more. So if your original melody or bass line has sixteenth notes or higher, make them quarter or eighth notes, like I did for the song below.

When you are finished, it should sound something like this:



(Please to fullscreen.)


And now you have three songs. See how easy this is? Now comes the fun part.



BOSS FIGHT



Aww yeah. Grant Kirkhope goes to town when it comes to the boss fights. And now you have the opportunity to go absolutely nuts with your music.

The most important part of a boss fight song is the intro. The intro is its own little thing that serves to let the player know just how screwed they are for picking a fight with the boss. Take, for example, the first two seconds of 'Weldar' from Banjo-Tooie.

Be creative with your intro. Brass, strings, whatever. Don't hold back. Just make sure that the intro is no longer than two seconds.

Now, unlike the other variations, you're going to have to make some changes for the boss fight, namely two things:

One: Increase the tempo. Experiment as much as you need to, but it has to be faster than it was originally.

Two: Whatever instrument provided the melody originally, change it to brass. For extra flavor, use a trumpet to play the melody, then have a French horn do the same, but an octave lower.

Another minor change that would help is to keep the tuba for the bass line, but restrict it to quarter and half notes. It fits better, trust me. Oh, and adding a timpani can also help. And cymbals. You need those clashes.

Now there is one last thing to add on to the song: Strings.

With strings for boss fight songs, Kirkhope does one of two things: Either he has them do eighth notes the whole time (like in Chilly Willy and Chilli Billi), or he has them do blistering fast arpeggios (like in Weldar and Mr. Patch).

I have not experimented with arpeggios yet, but it would seem that they are 32nd notes. Pretty damn fast. Kirkhope's arpeggios are usually eight notes long. Start with one note, then build up to the fifth note, which should be the same as the first, but an octave higher, then notes six through eight will be going down in that same order. Then you just repeat.

Doing eighth notes is a lot easier, as it's just one note the whole time. Either way, make sure you have two string parts. I find it easy to just have them be violins. If you're doing arpeggios, have them play the same thing to add extra oomph. But if you're doing eighth notes, have one play a note, and have the other play a third or so below it. I say 'or so' because, as I said, there will be times when writing in thirds just sounds weird. For example, in my finished piece, the strings played a fourth apart instead of a third.

When you are finished, it should sound something like this:





And there you have it folks! You have completed what is necessary for a Banjo-Kazooie level. Give yourself a pat on the back.

So remember when I said that this totally wouldn't be self-promotion? Well, I apologize if you couldn't detect the sarcasm. As many people, including Kirkhope, will tell you, it's hard to get into the industry as a musician. And I'm witnessing this firsthand. There are so many internship opportunities I see at my university, yet none of them are looking for musicians. They all want programmers and animators, things I'm not good at.

What's a composer to do, huh? Well, as those same people will tell you, the answer is persistence. Do everything you can and more to get your name out. At some point, someone will listen.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this blog. Feel free to check out my website, as it has all my music neatly organized, unlike my SoundCloud page. 

You know, I had this blog on my mind for a while, but didn't really get the chance to get it down until now. I think I should make a series of this, maybe have the next one cover a snow level or something. Don't know when that will be, though.

Well, once again, I hope you enjoyed reading this! Until next time!   read


12:47 PM on 01.03.2014

The Playstation Controller Philosophy: Sacrifice Convenience For Novelty

The Dualshock pretty much set the standard for what a controller needed, and Sony knew it. So when they made the Playstation 2, they hardly made any changes to the controller. They just made it lighter and made most of the buttons pressure-sensitive, and they called it the Dualshock 2. And it was great.

Then when the Playstation 3 was announced, things started getting weird...

And no, I'm not talking about that abomination that was the boomerang design.


Never forget.


No, I am referring to one of gaming's most infamous moments in recent memory: Sony's E3 2006 presentation.



Yes yes, I know, 599 US dollars, Giant Enemy Crab, Riiiiiidge Racer! Did I get everything? OK, moving on.

Near the end of the presentation, Phil Harrison and Ken Kutaragi got on stage to introduce a "brand-new" feature of the Playstation 3 controller: Motion controls!!!!

The controller's name was based around this feature: SixAxis, short for 'Six Axes/Degrees' (the official term is 'Six Degrees of Freedom'). On stage, Harrison showed that however he moved the controller, the object on screen followed. Then he made splashes in a bathtub with a rubber duck.

This demonstration was... weird, to say the least. It was mainly because it felt like it went too long without showing actual games that would use SixAxis, which gave everyone the impression that the feature was just a knee-jerk reaction to the Wii (Spoiler: It was).

Near the end of the demo, people began wondering, "OK... but how would it work in an actual game?" And then, as if Sony read their minds, they showed off Warhawk, a game about driving a flying vehicle and blowing stuff up.

How did this game differ from the rest? Well Sony was determined to show Warhawk's superiority by showing off SixAxis, ditching the sticks and using the controller itself as a means to maneuver the ship.

And... yeah.


It was quite clear that it would have been easier to just use sticks. And that's what I mean by 'sacrificing convenience for novelty.' And the only thing that could possibly make that situation worse is when the novelty in question doesn't work.

It took one game to make people believe this.

Lair was a game that had everything going for it, namely two things.

One: What better developer to make this kind of game than Factor 5? Their Star Wars: Rouge Squadron games proved they were more than capable of something like this.

Two: YOU'RE RIDING A FREAKING DRAGON!!! How could this possibly go wrong!?

One word: SixAxis. That feature single-handedly ruined Lair. It just. Didn't. Work.

Now they did patch in control stick functionality, but it was far too late. Rest in peace, Factor 5.

Speaking of SixAxis being the name for the controller, what did this mean for rumble? It wasn't called 'Dualshock 3,' but they wouldn't just throw it away, right?

Well, they did. The reason? Well Phil Harrison called it a 'last-gen feature' and motion controls would make us forget about it.

Yeah, that lasted about a year.

So what's next? No, not the Dualshock 4. It's the Playstation Move! This was Sony's attempt to steal the Wii's audience, with two remotes (as opposed to the Wii's Remote + Nunchuk layout), both of with had more fluid response than the WiiMote, and buttons.

As evidenced by the Kevin Butler ad, one of the biggest selling points of Move was having much more buttons than the WiiMote, allowing you to do more things in your games. Ironically, that was the exact reason why it failed to capture mainstream attention (apart from the piss-poor games built around it, and the half-assed implementation of it in AAA games). The appeal of the WiiMote was its lack of buttons, allowing users to just pick it up and play games easily. It was convenient for them.

Next, we move on to the Vita.

The DS is very successful. The DS has touchscreens. Smartphones have touchscreens, and they are successful as well. Therefore, touch screens = success. Thus, if we put two touch inputs on our new handheld, it will be twice as successful.

Yep.

Finally, there's the Dualshock 4.

When Sony announced the Playstation 4 this past February, they showed off the Dualshock 4, as well as their latest knee-jerk reaction to Nintendo: a touch pad. Not a screen, but a pad.

Now, let's talk about the games that utilize the SixAxis, the Vita's touch inputs, and the Dualshock 4's touch pad. I will go by system, and give my take on how each game (that I know of) utilizes the system's feature.

Playstation 3 (SixAxis)

In Heavenly Sword, you use SixAxis to control arrows in slow motion to direct them to your enemies. While neat, it gets repetitive and boring after the first two shots... and you'll be doing this quite a bit.

In inFAMOUS, you use SixAxis to control your Thunder power, which you earn at the very end of the game. It feels like Sucker Punch completely forgot about SixAxis until the game was nearly finished, then decided to slap it on just so they can say the game takes advantage of the feature. Does the second game even use it? I never played it.

In Killzone 3, you use SixAxis to turn some wheel thing to set up a bomb. That's it, as far as I remember.

In Flower, you use SixAxis to control the movement of the wind. While awesome, it can be hard on the wrists, especially in the second to last level where you carefully avoiding getting shocked.

In Journey, you can use SixAxis to control the camera. I use the right stick.

In Heavy Rain, you use SixAxis as an input in the game's many quicktime events. The one in the very beginning when you shake the controller to simulate Ethan shaking a carton of orange juice actually felt natural and better than conventional inputs. You know something's wrong when the only game that actually makes good use of a feature is a game by David fucking Cage.

And that's about all I remember. If there are other games that use SixAxis, nobody ever talks about them. Shows how everyone truly feels about it, huh?

Playstation Vita (Touch Screen and Rear Touch Pad)

In Gravity Rush, you use the touch screen to slide around and dodge attacks. The tilt controls feel much less tacked on.

Persona 4 Golden, the most successful Vita game, doesn't use the touch features.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss, thanks to the touch screen, proved that quicktime events CAN be worse.

In Dynasty Warriors Next, you can tap on the rear touch pad to cause shockwaves, which is actually kind of neat, as rolling your fingers is a natural motion humans make. It's much better than repeatedly mashing a button. Oh, and you use the touch screen for duels. Fuck that.

Tearaway... Tearaway is a special case, as it's the only Vita game made by a developer that actually wanted to create something unique, and not the same shit, but with a twist! Seriously, if you have a Vita and you don't have Tearaway, you're a terrible human being.

Playstation 4 (Touch Pad)

In Killzone: Shadow Fall, you use the touch pad to select what you want your OWL to do. 'Cause, you know, it's much more convenient than using buttons and sticks where your fingers are naturally placed.

Knack doesn't use the touch pad.

In Blacklight Retribution, you use the touch pad to taunt, check the score, and to spin your customized weapon and character when you're viewing them. Wow.

In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, you use the touch pad to zoom the map. Wow.

In Injustice: Gods Among Us, you use the touch pad for minigames, which is what you do when you can't think of a way to implement a feature in the actual game.

In inFAMOUS: Second Son, you use the touch pad to gouge out your enemies' eyes. I'll admit, that's kinda awesome, but is that all it's gonna be used for?


The reason I did this was to show that there are hardly any Playstation games that would feel like lesser experiences if these controller features didn't exist (Hell, most of them would be better). Now, this isn't to fault the developers who use these features. I mean, it's there, so you might as well do something with it, right?

And that's exactly the problem. Sony is not giving these developers any incentive to go out of their comfort zone to create unique experiences. Hell, Sony admitted that the Dualshock 4 was designed to appease FPS developers, 'cause we don't have enough of those, right? So when these developers make their games, they approach these new features with the mindset of "We might as well," making the use of the feature as half-hearted as Sony's implementation of it into the controller. And it doesn't help that most of the successful Playstation games are multiplatform, and the developers want to make each version identical to the other.

I'm not saying these features are bad for business, far from it. But it's clear that Sony doesn't think in the long term when implementing these features. They don't approach them with a long term vision. They implement them because they're trendy, they're cool, they're what other successful companies are doing right now. Ever since the Playstation 3 was announced, they have repeatedly gone through this cycle of boasting about these great features and then not even acknowledging them.

SixAxis was a joke from the beginning, the Move is merely a memory, and the Vita had only been around for a year before Sony decided that it would find better success as a peripheral.

How long is it going to be before the Dualshock 4's touch pad is given the same treatment?   read


7:43 PM on 12.17.2013

The Gamecube Promo DVD: Trailers Done Right. Developers, Take Notes.

So there's a Nintendo Direct tomorrow. Exciting, isn't it? Always a pleasure to see trailers for soon-to-be-released games. But what you may not know (or have just forgotten) is that Nintendo once took this 'direct' approach to advertising 11 years ago.

In 2002, retailers handed out free DVDs (Officially called the 'Nintendo Preview 2002 DVD') to consumers that contained promotional footage of upcoming Gamecube titles. And I believe there were some DVDs in Nintendo Power issues (I think that's how I got mine). I'm not going to cover everything shown in the DVD because there is a LOT. In fact, for your convenience, here's a YouTube playlist of all the videos.

For this blog, I'm going to cover the trailers that caught my eye when I was a kid. And each game title will have a link to their respective trailer.

Now let's start this party with...

Vexx

I never had the chance to play Vexx, but I remember watching this trailer countless times. It was just amazing. The CG was cool to look at, the gameplay looked really fun (seems like God of War with a touch of Nintendo), and the music... the freaking music, man.

It's a shame. It didn't seem like Vexx got any attention when it was released. From the playthrough I saw on YouTube, it is criminally underrated.

Animal Crossing

'A real-time game that's happening every second of every day.'

Those are the first words spoken in this trailer. And then they just bombard you with activities to do: Furnish your home, run errands, go fishing, do this, do that. Or don't. Things are always happening whether you're playing or not.

It's like reality away from reality. And who doesn't want to live in a village of cute, talking animals? I mean, come on.

Oh, and the live action clips? They're funny as hell.

Super Mario Sunshine

*sigh* I used to play the demo at Target all the time. I just really enjoyed the idea of using a water pump to help you reach places.

Not much to say about the trailer. I just love Mario.

007 Nightfire

I like this game better than Goldeneye. Come at me.

This trailer got everything right. It had the classic theme song, it showed beautiful women, it showed fancy vehicles and weaponry...

And the best part of the game wasn't even shown in the trailer. I'm of course talking about the multiplayer. Skyrail, that one map with the cable car that circled its perimeter? Best. Map. Ever.

Star Fox Adventures

I don't know about you, but I had a lot of fun with this game. Sure, it wasn't the Star Fox we had hoped for, but it was a good game nonetheless.

Except for that Test of Strength that had you mashing 'A' like a madman. Fuck that part.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite trailers. It does get points off for using royalty-free music (the song's called 'The Conquest 60') instead of original music, but if nothing else, it was a really good choice of song. Fit perfectly with the visuals.


Now how can you talk about the Gamecube without giving a mention to...

Metroid Prime

Motherfucking Metroid Prime. This trailer had the most rocking tune ever. That buildup in the beginning was just perfect. It hit all the right notes (pun intended).


Now there is one last trailer I'd like you all to see:

Phantasy Star Online Episode 1 & 2

This was the trailer I watched the most. All because of that music. Just listen to it. It's beautiful. And you can listen to it in its entirety here.



Now what do these trailers have in common? And not just with themselves, but with Nintendo trailers of today?

They show gameplay.

We live in an age where companies are afraid to show what their games are actually going to be like when we're actually going to play them. And what do you do when you're not confident in your gameplay? Announce the game at least a year before release with a CG trailer or target render (or beefed up PC footage), and then promise that the final product will look exactly like that.

And that's what they all are: Promises. Promises just waiting to be broken.

Nintendo doesn't do that with their trailers. They show gameplay running on their hardware and their hardware only, so you can expect one of two things: either the game is going to be exactly like the trailers show, or it's going to be even better.

For that, I am grateful for Nintendo. You should be too.   read


2:53 PM on 11.11.2013

My Flawless Half Life 3 Theory

Gabe Newell

Gaben

G-A-B-E-N

G (7th letter in the alphabet)
A(1st letter in the alphabet)
B(2nd letter in the alphabet)
E(5th letter in the alphabet)
N(14 letter in the alphabet)

7(G) + 1(A)= 8
2(B) + 5(E)= 7
14(N)

8/7/14

Half Life 3 will either be revealed or released on August 7, 2014.

You heard it here first.   read


2:32 PM on 11.05.2013

Call of Duty: Ghosts (or 'How NOT to Tell a Story')

Infinity Ward hyped up the Campaign Mode for Call of Duty: Ghosts because its story was being written by a guy named Stephen Gaghan, who apparently won an Emmy for something.

If I didn't know better, I would've thought it was written by a member of Call of Duty's majority demographic.

Here's the premise of Ghosts:  Remember that mission in the original Modern Warfare where you're trying to stop some nukes from hitting the East Coast?  Imagine if that mission failed, and there were missiles aimed all over the US.  There's your premise.

Now the game begins with a middle aged man telling a story about these few soldiers who managed to fend off hundreds of enemies by hiding in the bodies of their fallen comrades. Though not exactly original, it was pretty well told, and the visuals complemented it quite nicely.

While this story was being told, I imagined that this man was telling it to his kids who haven't graduated high school yet and have expressed interest in joining the military.  I also thought it was being told at night in the living room, before the kids went to bed.

Nope.  It was being told outside, in broad daylight, to two grown-ass men.

Because of this, I immediately knew two things: One, the dad was/is one of the Ghosts. And two, he's preparing his kids to become Ghosts too.

Oh, and Hesh?  Logan's (you) older brother? I dunno who did his voice, but I hope he never lands a gig again. He cannot act for shit.

Anyway, America blows up.  Fast forward ten years.

Now the boys are in the military, and daddy sends them to No Man's Land, where nobody ever goes.... ooooooohhhh.

If you're not a complete moron, you can already tell that they're being sent for one last test, and if they pass, they join the Ghosts. Hesh even gives it away during the briefing, pretty much!

Now before I continue, I have a question about Riley, the dog:  Why?

Here's what you can do with him: you can make him attack people, or you can control him yourself to attack people. That's it.  So why hype him up so much? Well, judging from what I've experienced, it's because the game brings nothing else new to the table.

But that's for another time. For now, let's talk about Riley's contribution to the story...

...or lack thereof. He seriously does nothing in the game that humans cannot. It's obvious that Infinity Ward put him in there because everyone knows that people are suckers for cute animals in danger. When they said they didn't know what to do with Riley (meaning, to kill him or not), I predicted that someone would wound him, 'shocking' the player, but he'll turn out to be alright. Spoiler alert: I was right

Anyway, Logan and Hesh meet up with Keegan and Merrick, who turn out to be Ghosts, much to Hesh's surprise... at least I think he was surprised. You know what?  Fuck it. I'm calling him 'Keanu' from now on.

The four men set out to find a captured Ghost named 'Ajax' before he gets killed.

SURPRISE!!!! He doesn't make it.

Before Ajax dies, he points to a kill list on a wall and mentions a name: Rorke. Keanu asks who Rorke is, to which one of the Ghosts responds with 'There's no time to explain.'

Seriously? How long does it take to say, "He was one of us, but now he's killing us?"  It was obvious right from the moment the name was mentioned. Ghosts are supposed to be these anonymous badasses, yet someone has a list of them? But of course, Infinity Ward felt the need to save the 'surprise' for the end of the next mission.

Oh, and it's coupled with another 'surprise:' Daddy's a Ghost too!

If you don't plan on playing the game, go on YouTube and just watch Keanu's reaction to Daddy unmasking himself.  I laughed harder than I ever did playing Saints Row IV.

Daddy 'reveals' that Rorke (I'm not sure if I'm spelling this right, so do forgive me if I'm wrong) was a Ghost, and recalls the day Rorke 'died' through a flashback mission.

Rorke was exactly what I expected him to be: bad-tempered, growly voice. That's about all there is to his character.

After the Ghosts kill this South American dude, the bus you're on goes vertical due to the bridge collapsing. You hang on to Rorke and the game prompts you to 'let go,' as if you're supposed to feel guilty or something.

The flashback ends, and your team is sent to capture another South American dude. You do so, and after Keanu pushes him into a room with a large TV and the team starts asking him where Rorke is, I thought "OK, it's a setup, Rorke's gonna appear on the TV to taunt us, then the building will start to collapse."

It was a setup, Rorke appeared on the TV to taunt the team, and the building started to collapse. You escape.

Afterward, explosions happen, and you capture Rorke.

It's revealed through a long-winded briefing that shortly after Rorke was separated from the Ghosts, the Federation captured him and tortured him. Oh wait, I mean they broke his body, his mind, and his soul.  Ugh.

Anyway, Rorke is taken to a plane, Daddy tries to use Talk no Jutsu on him, and Rorke summons his army to rip off the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises.

Afterward, explosions happen, and Rorke's army enters your base and ties you, Keanu, and Daddy to chairs. I pity you if you don't know the outcome of this.

That's right, Daddy dies. And here is where I realized the biggest problem with Rorke. He is so predictable. At one point, you break out of your chair and try to grab Rorke's gun. Of course, you fail, and Rorke goes, 'Huh. I like you, kid. *turns to Daddy* You could learn something from him.'

Here's a lesson for aspiring movie/TV/game writers: Show, don't tell. If you need to tell something, do it once. Show it the rest of the time.

After Daddy dies, Keanu finally shows a hint of emotion, and Riley gets shot (but don't worry. He's fine).

Afterward, explosions happen, and you use Special Beam Cannon on Rorke and Keanu (but don't worry. He's fine).

The two of you sit on a beach and revel in your victory. Here I thought, 'Well, it's not the most original ending, but oh well. It was decent.'

Then they just had to fucking ruin it.

SURPRISE!!! Rorke's still alive! Yes, he survived a .44 Magnum shot through the chest, and drowning in a train car that got thrown underwater. To make things worse, as he drags you away... the credits roll.

That's right. They ended a four-hour long campaign... with a cliffhanger.

And that's how you don't tell a story in a video game.  Lesson for aspiring game developers: There's a difference between a famous writer and a good writer.

Use a good writer.   read


11:20 AM on 10.09.2013

Dynasty Warriors: Graphics Done Right. Developers, Take Notes.

A lot of people like to use Dark Souls as a good example for… pretty much everything in terms of game development.  And they do so for good reason, of course.  But there is another developer worth noting who follows a similar development philosophy to that of From Software (and is also based in Japan. Imagine that.). That’s right.  It’s Tecmo Koei and its subsidiary Omega Force.

Now there are quite a lot of people who don’t like Dynasty Warriors, so you may find the very idea of Tecmo Koei setting a good example to be preposterous.  But I urge you to read on and at least see where I’m coming from.

Tecmo Koei doesn’t really talk about the budgets and sales numbers of their Dynasty Warriors games, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s not exactly a big-budget IP (I don’t say ‘franchise’ anymore because Phil Spencer made me hate that word).  Since it has a relatively low-budget, that means the games are going to be crap, and will subsequently bomb, right?  Well apparently not, considering Tecmo Koei is still making games.  If you want to know what they’re doing right, then please:



Let’s say you’re a developer.  You have this amazing idea for a game, but you don’t have enough money to make your vision a reality.  What do you do?  If your resources are heavily limited, then your first priority should be making sure your game is at least fun to play, right?  If you agree then CONGRATULATIONS!!!!  You’re smarter than almost every single Western and Westernized Eastern third party developer.  Why?  Because you have something they don’t:

Priorities.

Actually, the Western guys do have priorities as well.  They just have them completely wrong. See, Western developers are like spoiled, over-privileged children.  The publishers give them exorbitant sums of money for their games.  And much like a spoiled child would use that money to buy something shiny and expensive, the developers will more often than not use most of their budget on graphics, Hollywood actors and all that crap.  Next thing you know, the game sells multi-millions, still fails, and causes layoffs/closures.

And from the looks of it, this behavior will not stop anytime soon.

In an interview with VG247, Eric Boltjes, lead designer of Killzone: Shadow Fall, said that while the Playstation 4’s architecture makes games easier to develop, it actually takes more time, money, and effort to make the games (Totally called it, by the way.  ‘Simpler,’ not ‘cheaper.’) 

Boltjes had this to say: 

“The architecture is really cool because it’s easier to develop for, you get more memory, you get more hard drive space, you get more processing power so the architecture is easier,”

“It’s also a lot more demanding, because the production effort needed just to make a next-gen title now is not doubled; it’s quadrupled.”

You hear that?  QUADRUPLED!!! And this is coming from Guerrilla Games, a FIRST PARTY DEVELOPER!!!  Now, Mr. Boltjes, why, despite having architecture that allows for simpler development, do next-gen games need so much more money and effort?

“That’s because everything needs to look that much better.”

………

See, folks?  Spoiled, and over-privileged.  The same attitude that has caused well over 120 developers to close down this generation.

And from the looks of it, it's only going to get worse.

Now what does all this have to do with Dynasty Warriors and what it does right?  Well, since the games are low budget, Omega Force has the humility to push graphics aside and make sure the game is actually fun to play.  A great example of this behavior is the Gamasutra interview with Platinum Games (another Japanese developer?  Who would’ve thought?), when Atsushi Inaba says, 

“Working with Nintendo, one thing that comes out of that is that we're not able to cover up weaknesses in the core gameplay by making the graphics prettier or adding cutscenes, or whatever. The concern, first and foremost, is the core of the game and the quality of the gameplay.”  

Omega Force does almost the opposite in the sense that they cover up weaknesses in the graphics by making the gameplay freaking awesome.  And before you say “But it’s just mashing one button over and over again!” try playing on Chaos Mode (the way it’s meant to be played) with that mindset, and we’ll compare notes.

But of course, while the game is fun, you can’t have it look like crap, right?  See, you may have heard people (particularly those who primarily game on Nintendo systems) say that ‘Graphics don’t matter.’  What they mean is, ‘Graphics do matter, but they should not be the number one priority in game development.’  It just doesn't take as long to just say ‘Graphics don’t matter.’  Let’s face it; just like how we humans are with looks, if you say graphics don’t matter, you’re only fooling yourself.  You need your game to look presentable in order to attract gamers.  And that’s exactly what Dynasty Warriors’ graphics do.  They may not be mind-blowing, but they get the job done.
 
Now I’m going to use Dynasty Warriors 8 for the Playstation 3 as my example.  I’m not going to provide images or link videos because this is the type of game that needs to be seen in motion and raw, not still and compressed.  Also, I understand Tecmo Koei announced a Playstation 4 version of Dynasty Warriors 8 with Xtreme Legends that has some graphical upgrades, but I’m not going to talk about that because we don’t know just how much of an improvement it will be over the PS3 version.  Plus, since DW8 was released during the later years of the PS3, we can assume that that’s just about the best Omega Force can do with the hardware.

The way Omega Force approaches graphics is pretty simple: What is the player going to be looking at at all times?  These are the things that need to look good.  In the case of Dynasty Warriors, there are three things you’ll be looking at at all times: Your character, the weapon your character is using, and (if applicable) your character’s mount.  Want to know why those three things look more detailed than everything else in the game?  Because Omega Force knows you’re not going to spend much time looking at the other things.

This is why I laughed at the part of Game Informer’s review that said that the wall textures in the bases are laughable.  Seriously, how much time do you spend in a base during a battle?  Most of the time is spent in large open areas, so why waste time and money making the walls look pretty?

And the cannon fodder that serve as enemies.  Why do they all look the same… and crappy? Well let’s look at their purpose in the game:  They run up to you, get hit, fall on the ground, and disappear.  If your budget is limited, why spend time and money making different and good-looking models, especially if they’re just going to disappear when they die? 

The lesson Omega Force is teaching us here is that a lot of what we refer to as ‘finer details’ in games are not worth the time and money because the majority of gamers are too impatient and/or shortsighted to admire them when they're actually playing the games.  

But that’s not stopping Ready at Dawn.  

About three months ago, the developer showed off some visual details they can pull off in their exclusive PS4 third person shooter, The Order: 1886.  The guys at NeoGAF made a HUGE deal about the screenshot showing the detail on a copper pump.  


Wow, look at the detail on this thing that none of us are going to look at when we actually play the game.

It does look nice, yes.  But here’s the thing:  It’s a pump. Since it’s a third-person shooter, you’re going to be too busy shooting people to admire the finer details in the game world.  And you’re not going to look at them when the fight’s over.  You’re going to rush to the next fight so you can keep shooting things.

This is part of why I believe that this next generation is not going to be anywhere near as big a graphical leap as people are hyping it up to be.  See, when the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were announced, all they had to do was show off their games and let them speak for themselves. People understood that the graphics got a whole lot better just by watching.  But with the Xbox One and Playstation 4, now developers have to show us tech demos and use fancy technical terms like occlusion mapping, tactleneck physics, dynamic particles and other terms that people pretend to understand but don’t in actuality (I’m one of them, if you couldn’t tell).

And that is what worries me.  The games cannot speak for themselves anymore.  If you sat down and were shown a gameplay video of Watch Dogs, you would not be able to tell which system it was being played on unless someone or something told you ahead of time.  If Ubisoft did not post that video showcasing the features of the next-gen versions of Assassin’s Creed IV, you would not notice any of them when playing the game.  If Mark Cerny did not show that ‘million particle’ demo before announcing Knack during the Playstation 4 reveal, I would have thought it was just an uninspired game, and not a glorified tech demo disguised as an uninspired game.  Every time I see gameplay of Infamous: Second Son, while the developer hypes up the graphics, I always say to myself, “Well, it does look pretty… but I think I’ve played this game already… twice.”  And don’t even get me started on EA Sports and Crytek.

Do you know why developers talk so much about graphics?  It’s because they know that when it comes down to it, their games bring absolutely nothing new to the table.  With the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, you’re going to be playing the exact same games you’ve been playing for the last 8 years, but with a slightly shinier coat of paint.  In fact, after the PS4 reveal, Jim Sterling did a Jimquisition on it, and he expressed concern that due to the industry not changing its attitude, this next generation may not be a generation in its own right, but rather an extension to the current one with slightly better graphics.

And he’s right.  As long as it’s “the same old gaming industry with its same old bullshit,” nothing is going to change.

But developers are not wholly to blame.  For the last 7-8 years, I’ve run into tons of people talking about how a certain game is awesome because ‘the graphics are amazing.’  And every time I hear that, I jump into the conversation and ask them what specific details in said game blew them away.

To this day, I have yet to find a person that could properly answer that question.

And I know exactly why they can’t answer the question: like developers, gamers throw the word ‘graphics’ around as a buzzword.  Developers say ‘next-gen graphics,’ and gamers and press alike just eat it up.  Gamers say a game/console is awesome or sucks because of graphics, and people immediately believe them, so they don't have to worry about further justifying their opinion.  

Developers’ prioritization of graphics over gameplay has taken a toll on the reasoning of the average gamer, which only serves to further strengthen their desire to make better graphics. It is the unhealthiest relationship this industry has seen, and it has caused both parties to become delusional to the point where they think the hype train is still going when it arrived at its destination a couple years ago. 

This could all be easily fixed.  All these people have to do is follow the examples of their Japanese counterparts (as well as the indie developers, of course).  People keep saying Dynasty Warriors is the same game every time, yet I doubt any of them would even give it a chance to see what changes are made with each installment and see why people keep buying them.  People like to rag on Platinum Games for their games not selling, but at least they have the balls to make the games they actually want to make and not just quick, safe cash grabs.  People constantly bash Nintendo for ‘being stuck in the 90s,’ which I consider to be a good thing, since apparently running a game business like it’s the 21st Century only ensures bankruptcy.

But let’s be realistic.  For years, these Western developers have shown that they would rather go out of business than abandon their ‘next-gen’ ideals.  And according to Guerrilla Games, the collective cost of their recklessness will be even greater this generation.

Assuming Sony lasts long enough for Omega Force to make a Playstation 4 Dynasty Warriors from the ground up, I hope that they stick to their development principles.  In fact, I hope all the Japanese developers I’ve mentioned stick to their guns in the short period of next-gen development being ‘the thing.’ Because if they do, they will be among the few remaining after the industry receives its long overdue wakeup call.

And believe me.  It’s going to happen this generation.  Guerrilla Games pretty much confirmed it.

And when the dust settles, the fallen (and there will be many) will wonder how it all went wrong. And the survivors can only tell them:

“Please understand.”   read


1:04 PM on 09.06.2013

Sony is Flirting with Death, and Death is Showing Interest

In the deep jungles of the internet, you will find many individuals who claim that this will be the last console generation for Nintendo (Hell, you might even be one of them). Whatever the reason they feel this way, it is irrelevant.  What matters is that people are expecting Nintendo to go third party or bankrupt this generation.  But if we're talking about losing money, then why does nobody discuss the possibility of Sony dropping out of the hardware market?

The reason I ask is because while the mainstream press would have you believe that Sony has the road paved for them, Sony themselves are telling a different tale: one that will most likely not have a happy ending.

When I first read that Sony was going to have to sell their New York and Tokyo headquarters, I was a little concerned about how they were doing financially.  Then I came across this article, and I was flabbergasted.

To make it easier for you guys, I will summarize the article for you:  Sony lost around six billion dollars this generation.

SIX.  BILLION.

To put it in perspective, Sony banked hard off the Playstation and Playstation 2.  But in one fell swoop, with the Playstation Portable and Playstation 3 (though mainly the latter), they lost every single cent they made off their game division throughout the ten years prior... and then some.

That alone should tell you that things are not going smoothly for Sony.  If the 3DS and the Wii U not selling well at first is considered enough justification for Satoru Iwata to be replaced, then Kaz Hirai should have been burned at the stake years ago.

Now Sony did tell Eurogamer that they are not planning as big a loss on the Playstation 4 as they did with the Playstation 3.

Well, I certainly hope so!  But I'm not sure if Sony can afford a loss on the Playstation 4 period.  Especially when you take into account their other source of loss at the moment:

The Playstation Vita.

I honestly have no idea what Sony is trying to do with this thing.  Because it clearly isn't 'Make it a Success.'  It's doing bad right now, and Sony knows it.

About a month ago, the internet was pretty much set on fire when it was revealed that Nintendo sold only 160,000 Wii U's throughout the first quarter of this year.  Every gaming website and their mother immediately made articles and about how the Wii U is a lost cause and there is no hope for Nintendo.

Well not too long afterward, Sony released its Q1 financial report.

They didn't even show the sales numbers of the Vita.

Don't believe me?  Check out the report for yourself.  If you look at the top slide on page 8, you'll notice that they combine the sales numbers of the Vita and the PSP.

At least Nintendo has the balls to show the world how bad their product is selling.

And before you say "But look!  They also combine the PS3 and PS2 sales!"  Look at the bottom of the slide.  The third footnote states that the PS2 is not actually included in the report, so there you go.  And even then, the combined sales of the PSP and Vita chart at 0.6 million, so you can only imagine how bad the Vita is really doing.

And not a single major gaming website reported on this.  It just flew right under the radar.

Now let's talk about an apparently integral part of Sony's next-gen plan:  The indie developers.

Not long after Nintendo established a partnership with Unity, Sony did the exact same thing.  At first, I thought this was yet another instance of Sony copying whatever Nintendo was doing while completely missing the point of why Nintendo was doing it in the first place.  But then I saw their E3 presentation.  And after watching that, along with reading a ton of articles about Sony's approach to indies, I was amazed.  I said to myself, "Wow.  Sony actually notices the potential in these guys. They're not shamelessly copying Nintendo.  They're thinking just like them.  I love it!"

Then Gamescom happened.

If you watch Sony's Gamescom presentation, you see a lot of indie games coming to the Vita, but there's next to nothing coming from Sony themselves that make you go "Wow, I should really consider getting a Vita."  I didn't think too much of it at first, but then I came across an article that put it all together.

About two weeks ago, IGN did an interview with Sony's president, Shuhei Yoshida, and he said that bringing Gran Turismo 6 to the Vita would be really hard.

Really hard, he says.

The gap in hardware capability between the Playstation Vita and the Playstation 3 is much smaller than that of the 3DS and the Wii U.  Yet Masahiro Sakurai is crafting Super Smash Bros. for both the 3DS and the Wii U at the same time...

AND HE ONLY HAS ONE FREAKING HAND!!!

But the Worldwide President of Sony is telling us that bringing the newest entry to their biggest selling IP to their own handheld device, which has not seen a big-selling first party release in its entire year and a half of existence... would be really hard.

Sony is not supporting indies out of the goodness of their heart.  They are doing so because they cannot afford to support both the Playstation 4 and the Playstation Vita by themselves.  And rather than just give up on the Vita, they... Actually, let me tell you what I mean by, "Give up on the Vita."

In spirit, Sony has already given up on the Vita.  Yoshida pretty much solidified that assertion. But the Vita is being sold at a loss, and with the recent price drop, that only means they are going to lose even more money with each unit sold. And rather than just stop manufacturing the thing and simply kill it off to slow down the money-bleeding, they are just going to leave it to the indies and hope that they will bring in the cheddar.

And they won't.  Why?  Well let's take a look at the 3DS, the system that the Vita is competing against.  The top ten best selling games for the 3DS are ALL developed and/or published by Nintendo, with the exception of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, which sits at number 8. Why is this? Well, it's because it's Nintendo.  They made the system. They know how to make quality games for it.  That's why the 3DS is selling very well.  

As a lot of people say, especially when it comes to Nintendo:  First party games sell systems.  The Vita is no exception.  It's not special.  And if Sony, the guys who made the damn thing, can't even get it off the ground, what makes you think anyone else can?  You can't just make a product and expect someone else who wasn't involved in its development to make it a success.  It doesn't work that way.

And you may say, "Well, when the Playstation 4 launches, Remote Play is going to turn the Vita into a massive success!"

No it's not.  Why?  Well, it's for the exact same reason why the PSP failed to beat the DS, and why the 3DS is trampling over the Vita as if it doesn't even know it's there. The purpose of Remote Play is for people to able to play their Playstation 4 games on the go. That right there is the reason why it's not going to be a success.  If consumers wanted to play a console game (or console 'experience,' as Sony likes to call their portable games), they would do so on a console. The only people who will take advantage of Remote Play are the hardcore Playstation gamers who either already have a Vita, or will get one just so they can get their Playstation 4 fix wherever they are.  

General consumers, however, do not buy handheld devices to play console games, and they especially do not buy them as companion devices for their home consoles.  They buy handheld devices to play handheld games.  And next month, when the 2DS launches, Nintendo is going to prove this... for the third time in a row.

So given everything we know so far, what does it all mean for the Playstation 4?

Well, simply put, if Sony wants to live to see another generation, they need the Playstation 4 to dominate.  And I don't just mean that it needs to outsell the Xbox One and the Wii U.  I mean it needs to be a multi-million unit selling success, right out the gate, every month, with no sales slumps whatsoever.  

In addition, they need a high software attach rate (a good guess would be two digital first party games per unit) and a high PS+ attach rate (there's a reason Sony is charging for online multiplayer now). Otherwise, they will just continue to bleed money with every console sold.

And you may say, "Well don't worry!  Since it has over a million preorders, the Playstation 4 is bound to dominate!"

History disagrees.

The Playstation 3 had a million preorders as well. The Wii U's preorders were sold out in its first week, and its launch sales outpaced those of the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360.  The Gamecube's launch sales outpaced those of the Playstation 2 and the Xbox.  The Dreamcast had the most successful USA launch at the time.  The 3DS was Amazon UK's most preordered console ever, and in the United States, its preorder numbers doubled the Wii's.  In Japan, the PSP's launch sales outpaced those of the DS.

Preorder numbers and launch sales mean nothing.  They are not indicators of long-term success.  Never were, never will be.  Plus, I think it's a bit much to expect the Playstation 4 to sell millions this holiday season, especially considering that the Wii was cheap to manufacture (and therefore, purchase), the economy wasn't the complete shithole it is now, and it only sold 3 million units from launch in November '06 to the end of that year.

If you still need convincing, here's another thing that is overlooked by many:

No home console in history has ever been able gain adequate market share post-launch while maintaining a price point above $300. The NES, SNES, and Genesis were all priced no higher than $200. The Playstation struck it rich from the start at $300. The Nintendo 64, despite being greatly outsold by the Playstation, was a success thanks in part to its $200 price point. The Saturn, on the other hand, was a complete failure, thanks in part to having a $400 price point before the Playstation's launch. The Playstation 2 dominated, but mostly because, at $300, it was the cheapest DVD player you could get at the time. The Wii pretty much took over the world at $250. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 didn't become hits of their own until they got into the $200-$300 range. 

As I said before, in order for Sony to succeed this generation, they need to settle for nothing less than total domination.  And the way I see it, in order for that to happen, they need nothing less than a miracle.

To tie back to the story analogy I used earlier in this blog, if this tale is to have a happy ending, then there needs to be some sort of deus ex machina implemented into the story.

And I don't think the author has enough ink for that.   read


8:37 PM on 06.02.2013

My Gaming Story: Three Words That Sealed My Life

I was born on Janurary 8, 1992.  I spent most of my infancy sleeping.  Children with Asperger Syndrome learn to speak at either a very early age, or a very late age.  I spoke my first coherent sentence at the age of five...  Oh wait.  Videogames.  Right.

In 1996 (I was 4, if you can't math), my dad came home from work one day with a really big (to me, it was big) box.  My dad was a tech geek.  He always needed the latest and greatest technology in the household.  This new piece of tech in particular was called the 'Nintendo 64.'  He plugged it in, plopped a controller in my older brother's hands, and turned it on.  What followed was a sequence that would essentially determine the direction of my life:

"*coin sound*   It's-a me!  Mario!"

And when Mario's face flew right at me on the TV screen, I was blown away.  From that point on, I just couldn't stop playing.  Videogames became the perfect form of entertainment for me.  Going outside?  Pah!  What's so fun about throwing a frisbee around and running down the same street every day?  Doing ninja flips and throwing dragons around (I thought Bowser was a dragon.  Shut up.)?  That's where the real fun is.  To me, videogames were (and still are) even better than reading.  With books, your imagination is limited by the action the text dictates.  With videogames, while there are things you need to do, you are given the freedom to make up any story you want.  Every game I got was a treasure trove of stories just waiting to be told: Diddy Kong Racing, Star Fox 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64... I was in heaven.

Of course, I had a life to live, and when Kindergarten started, there was some adjusting that had to be done.  And as a kid with Asperger Syndrome (something that I would be unaware of until 8th grade), one thing I have trouble doing is adapting to changes of routine.  I would refuse to go to school, either because I didn't get my videogame time in, or Gulla Gulla Island wasn't on yet, which used to be the indicator that it was time to go.  And it wasn't just me.  My older brother had this problem too.  So after some thinking, my parents set a rule:

You may only play videogames on weekends.

This infuriated me.  I'd have to go through five days of hell school every week to be able to partake in my favorite hobby.  For the first couple months I would sneak in a little bit of play time when mom and dad were outside, but I eventually got used to it.  And that rule remained in effect until I graduated high school... in 2010.  Afterward, I thanked my parents for setting that rule.  Had they not done so, my grades would have suffered badly.

With videogames still being a niche hobby at the time, very few people around our area played them.  And since that was all I was interested in, making friends was rather difficult.  But I didn't care.  Mario was all I needed.  But when I heard that we had family in New York that had gamer children, I was ecstatic.  When we drove up to Albany, I was thrilled to play some Mario Kart 64 with my cousins.  But they didn't have an N64.  Instead, they had this weird device called a 'Playstation.'  When I went down to the basement,  I saw my cousin Andrew playing this game called Final Fantasy VII, and decided to talk to me about it.  After noticing how confused I got from watching the combat of the game, he decided to get into the airship and let me fly it around.  With the awesome music and the feeling of exploration I got from my N64 games, I thought to myself "This is my kind of game." After seeing that I was comfortable with the flying, Andrew decided to go upstairs to get some juice.  It was then that I saw this little red blob on the ground, and decided to fly towards it.  If you've FFVII, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  And apparently, Andrew had been playing for two hours before I arrived.  He was not happy.  But in the end, I was glad that I was exposed to a new video game system.

Videogames were a gateway to many things for me.  One of those things was Japanese culture.  During Kindergaten, I was in a phase where I loved the medieval theme: knights, dragons, you name it.  That's how I became obsessed with The Legend of Zelda.  But afterwards, I was in a ninja phase, mainly due to the film 3 Ninjas.  One day, during our weekly trip to Blockbuster (RIP), my eye caught an N64 game titled Mystical Ninja: starring Goemon.  As soon as I saw the word 'ninja,' I asked my parents to buy it.  When I played it, I had the same problem as I did with Pokemon Blue: I didn't know how to get out of the first room.  I was so used to doors with knobs.  But as soon as I figured out how to get outside into the game world, that was the beginning of the greatest adventure I ever had in a videogame.  Everything about Mystical Ninja was amazing: the characters, the dialog, the humor lost in translation, but most importantly, the music.  I still stand by my opinion that this game has the greatest soundtrack ever. I still find myself humming some of its tunes every day.  As I got older, I learned that while this game seemed different compared to other western games, it was par for the course in Japan.  That was when I decided that Japanese culture is best culture.

Mystical Ninja was also the first videogame I beat. I was eight years old.  When I saw the credits rolling, I asked my dad "Dad?  What's with all these names?"  He replied "Those are the people who made the game, Stephen."  My mind was even more blown than when I first played Super Mario 64.  Up until that point, I thought videogames grew from trees.  As soon as my dad answered my question, I resolved that I would make videogames when I grew up.  My parents constantly tried talking me out of it, but more on that later.

When I was nine years old, I learned that not every game was all sunshine and rainbows.  My brother had his best friend Walter come over to play games with us.  When we went to the basement, Walter put an N64 cartridge out of his pocket and popped it into the system.  The game was titled Conker's Bad Fur Day.  What a game to start with, huh?  It was just mesmerizing, the stuff this game had.  Urination, vomit, projectile defecation, profanity, blood, gore.  I wasn't even traumatized by it.  I thought it was funny as hell.  My dad disapproved, of course, but after talking to my brother and I about the difference between fantasy and reality, he was more accepting of M-rated games.

From the end of elementary school onward, I exposure to video games greatly increased.  I discovered the internet, my dad won a Playstation 2 in a contest (at least, that's what he tells me), everything was just dandy.  Then, in 7th grade, I overheard some classmates talking about this upcoming games called Halo 2, where, and get this, this'll blow your mind:  You can play with other people... all over the world.  This was something even my dad was amazed at (again, tech geek).  So, that following Christmas, we got an Xbox, Dad hooked us up with Xbox Live, and we were ready to take on the world.

The online community was fantastic.  There were no try-hards, no trolls, just people who wanted to have fun.  And at the end of every match... Every.  Single.  Match... we would all say "Good game" to each other.  None of us knew each other, but we were all friends.  We were all a community...

What in the world happened?

Seriously, what happened?  Were people beginning to take these games seriously?  Were children who don't know better getting their hands on Xbox Live?  Was it all these things and more?  Why did something so beautiful have to turn to crap?  Why?

I tried to deal with it.  I really did.  But there was one Halo 2 match that changed all that.  It was on Coagulation.  I was on the Blue team.  I was team-killed in the first ten seconds.  I was team killed the entire game.  When I asked what the deal was, all I got was "Shut the fuck up, n*****."  "Go die, you n*****."

N*****, n***** n*****... The entire game.

I'm white.  You know why they called me 'n*****?'  It was because I had the word 'black' in my Gamertag.  But what was the full Gamertag?  Black Dynamite?  Black Weed-smoker? Black Dingaling?

Nope.  It was "Black Sabbath1."  Black Sabbath.  The all-white heavy metal band.

I gave up online gaming right then and there.  My brother still does it, but not me.  I told myself it would only get worse.  And judging by all the YouTube videos I see getting featured on gaming websites, I was right.  To this day, the only multiplayer modes I put up with are local multiplayer and online co-op with people I know.  And it's worked out pretty well so far.

As if that slap in the face by reality wasn't enough, it decided to kick me in the nuts in my junior year of high school.  My older brother, Kevin, had graduated, and has now left for college.  I depended on him to get anywhere socially, to get people to recognize me.  When he left, I literally felt like I lost the most important thing in my life forever.  I felt so lonely.  And the fact people would now only talk to me to ask how my brother was doing didn't help.  In high school, I was never my own person.  I was 'Kevin's little brother.'  I thought the silver lining in Kevin being in college would be that people would begin to see me for who I really am.  I could not have been more mistaken.

So how did I deal with this?  Videogames of course.  But now, I wasn't playing them to see what new adventures await me.  I was doing it to get away from reality.  I hated it.  I wanted it to go away.  I wanted Kevin to come home.  I wanted things to stay the way they were, because again, I have great difficulty adjusting to change.  And this was just too much to handle.  Videogames stopped being fun to play.  They became time-wasters, making the wait for Kevin to come home at the end of each semester feel less unbearable.

I remember reading some quote online that read something along the lines of "The only thing worse than feeling lonely is enjoying it."  Well that's exactly what happened.  I got used to it.  I began enjoying the solitude.  I created my own silver lining to my dilemma. I told myself, "Look dude.  Those guys you see every day in high school?  After you graduate, you're gonna be commuting to university.  You are never gonna see these assholes again."  And it worked.  I felt better, knowing what the future had in store for me.

I am beginning my fourth year in university, majoring in Computer Game Design (That's right, bitches!  It's a thing now!).  And I know exactly what I want to do.  I want to make music for video games.  I want to create a legacy like that of Grant Kirkhope, my idol in game music composition.  I want people to use my music for Garry's Mod videos and have people comment on them like "Oh, you used music from [insert game title].  Awesome!"  That is what I want to do.  I have been writing music for a couple of years now, and all my peers who I have shown my stuff to have been greatly impressed.  I cannot wait to do this as a profession.

Looking at pieces of my life individually, it may seem rough, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm thankful that it all happened the way they did.  I may not be where I am now, were it not for all my life events.

Videogames are my past, present, and future.  And I regret nothing.

Thanks for reading!   read





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