Been gaming since the NES days. I remember computers, before the internet. My motivation to learn how to read was to play Final Fantasy. Games have, wonderfully, helped shape my life. I love games, history, writing and discussion. Pursuing that is the goal.
I've played games on Nintendo consoles for most of my life, but PC gaming opened up to me in the mid-90's. Current platforms: Wii U, 3DS, Steam. Typically playing: backlog of retro games.
We live in interesting times. I can't wait to see where the industry goes next.
1. Old enough to not have the internet growing up, young enough that I've always been around games. That's pretty much explains it. I was born just before the Nintendo launched the NES in the US, and grew up with that generation. Thankfully I had two awesome older brothers who also loved games. Between the three of us, our parents stood no chance of getting away from gaming. I still have most of those old games, and every time I open them up to find sheets of graph paper filled with tips and tricks alongside beat up manuals, I'm reminded of gaming before the internet. I don't mean to suggest that it was better back in the day, just a little more D.I.Y.
2. I love academics By the time I became a teenager, I fell in love with history and literature. Initially, it was more of a hobby. I wanted to read good stories, so I thought, "why not explore the thousands of years worth of stories that already exist? It'll be a 'greatest hits' tour." A simple enough idea, but one that spun into two university degrees, a handful of years of teaching history, and continued pursuit of higher education. I love the stuff, questions are my lifeblood and learning never leaves me bored. It doesn't really matter if the learning is about historical eras, philosophy, sociology, museum studies, international relations, literary criticism, game theory, or level design.
3. I didn't use to Most of the inspiration and drive for learning came when I was in the latter part of high school and then college. Interestingly enough, from pre-school to grad school, my grades over my life tended to follow a standard supply/demand graph. My crappiest grades were in elementary school, the best were in grad school. I had no motivation. But that's the cool thing about growing up, for me. The older I get the more motivation I have to do the things I love.
4. Books I love science fiction and fantasy novels. Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea-cycle and Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" books hooked me early on. I became obsessed with Ed Greenwood's character Elminster (he's still my favorite wizard) and R.A. Salvatore's Champions of the Hall (the dwarf king Bruenor and his adopted daughter Cattie-Brie, the barbarian turned adventurer Wulfgar, the ever relaxing halfling Regis and, of course, the loner and moral beacon, Drizzt Do'Urden). I read Asimov, Orson Scott Card and a smattering of Terry Pratchett. Currently, I'm all about some Patrick Rothfuss and Braden Sanderson.
5. Comics Like any kid whose formative years were in the 1990's, I knew comics were inherently cool. X-Force and Spawn were my entry points. But this was an interest primarily fueled by my older brother. When he stopped buying monthly issues, I stopped reading along with him. That was until I was in undergrad, and I discovered instocktrades.com. Trade paperbacks were what got me back into comics. I should be more specific, buying trades written by Geoff Johns got me back into comics. This was a singular author that convinced me that there are no such things as bad characters in comics, only bad writing. Do you think I expected The Elongated Man to become one of my favorite heroes after reading Identity Crisis? Do you think I wanted that? Now I hand pick storylines that I'm interested in: a Blackest Night here, an Amazing X-Men there, maybe a little Long Halloween, and possibly a Superman Red Son or Marvel 1602. But the real surprise was Brian Wood. Demo, Channel Zero and DMZ changed the way I read comics. Enough said. Currently reading: Age of Apocalypse Omnibus.
6. Tabletop games and board games I'm currently engaged to a woman who's crazy about tabletop games, so I don't think this hobby is going anywhere. But Dungeons & Dragons, when I think about it, was probably the catalyst that started it all. I was four or five the first time I played, and I can still remember that gorgeously corny AD&D 2nd edition Players Handbook. It was an adventure played with some neighborhood friends, Dungeon Mastered by my best friends older brother. This is the group that formed the "Stand By Me" of my childhood. But keep in mind, this was long enough ago that being a nerd meant getting your ass kicked at school. As excruciating as it was at the time, those hours spent with friends after school were priceless. We made D&D characters, and sometimes never played them, painted Warhammer figurines, came up with imaginary side stories for Hero Quest and raced each other to see who could finish the new Final Fantasy first. All the while, mostly keeping that side of myself from my parents who thought a role-playing-game meant satanic worship. Good times. Anyway, enjoy this Doubleclicks video, they're super awesome.
7. The games that got me into games Primarily JRPGs, platformers and adventure games for the NES. All those games that you found out a decade later were actually Japanese, and it blew your mind. A particular point of pride was that my motivation to learn how to read was because my brother told me I couldn't play Final Fantasy 1 unless I could. I got a Super Nintendo and an N64, but by that time I had discovered PC gaming. Command and Conquer, Baldur's Gate, Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, Monkey Island and Tex Murphy were my jam. By the time the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox were released, I started retroactively collecting a PS1 library. This is where I started collecting games that were a generation or two behind the current tech. I remember realizing that, despite technology getting better, newer games weren't inherently better games. Just like plays, books, standup comedy, movies, or board games weren't necessarily better because they were recent. This meant there were a lot of potentially good games out there that I'd never played. This was also the gaming generation that got me into handheld games. Before the Gameboy Advance, I thought of handheld gaming as decidedly lesser experiences than console or PC gaming. But once I had a SNES in my hands, I was hooked. When I was in college, most of what I played was the DS and PSP, that was where the games I loved were.
8. I'm a Smasher ... But not in a competitive way anymore. I bought the first Smash on the N64 the day it was released. From that point until the summer of 2004, my best friend and I played tournaments every weekend over pizza and insults. Every... week... no exceptions. My heyday in local tournaments was the late Smash 64 days and the early Melee days. I've been playing Project M recently, and couldn't be happier with it. But I'm still going to play the new one with item turned on.
9. I'm a Pokemon Trainer All I will say about this is that I've played every generation, as they were released. My save time total between all the games, from all generations, is just under 1700 hours. *Considers the possibility that an alien mind controlling force has been coercing me into playing Pokemon much like Twitch Plays Pokemon*
10. I'm a Virginia boy I was born, and have lived in every major city, in Virginia. Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads are all very different places, and that's pretty cool. Camping, fishing, rock climbing, spelunking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Kayaking down the Rappahannock, swimming in the James, and hiking along the York (or Pamunkey River, depending on who you are talking to). You are never more than two and a half hours away from anything. And the food's awesome.
Not a week goes by without seeing a comment or an article online about the Physical vs. Digital games debate. And for a while, I thought I had found my answer. I was perfectly happy buying the consoles that I was personally interested in, a couple of years after they initially released, and pick up a small, focused collection of games for it. I would just as often go back to play an old game that I never got around to as much as I played new titles. But then I noticed a build up, of sorts. All these used and traded games from various systems were piling up. Cartridge after cartridge being found in random drawers and moving bins. PS1 discs crammed in with CDs inside shoe boxes. I could play my Super Nintendo, but tracking down the right cords and connectors was a nightmare. My organization was crippling my ability to play all of my games. I've always considered myself a gamer, as an aspect of identity, for as long as I've had working memory. These games, these artifacts, these memories didn't deserve this. I knew I needed to change something. Inspiration came from TheCoverProject.net, a group of people dedicated to the collection, archiving and formatting of video game box art. All this for the purpose of re-casing your old games and presenting them in a manner consistent with an earlier part of their lives. There are tons of youtube videosdescribing this process: what the challenges are, and how to pull it off. Before I decided to do this, I told myself that I would do the research first and know what I was getting into. I thought I was prepared, and I wasn't. This is how a games project grew into something bigger.
HOW I STARTED. The first thing that I had to determine was the scope of the project. I ultimately decided on casing my Gameboy Advance, loose DS, NES, SNES and N64 carts. This meant that I was dealing with two different types of cases, one of which would need modification.
Nintendo DS cases to store GBA and DS. Unless you would like to pay someone $8 -$10 bucks per case, you need to go to Nintendo's Online Store. You can buy grey Nintendo DS cases individually, or in packs of 5 or 10. Red cases can only be bought individually or in a pack of 5. Ten cases will cost you $7, five cases will cost you $4, one case will cost you $1. Shipping was fast, and usually arrived ahead of schedule. This is by far the best deal on these cases, but it is only while supplies last. A few months ago, from the time of this posting, Nintendo was selling DS game cases that still had the GBA slot, but no more.
Casing my NES, SNES and N64 games was much more of a challenge. After researching several options, which include specialty made NES cases, it became apparent to me that the only financially feasible way to do this was to do it myself. This led me to MediaShelving's Universal Slim game cases. But here's the rub, you can only buy them in packs of 100, so ask yourself if you have that many games you can case. The price has also been steadily rising each month. You can find videos that say they are $42 for a pack of 100, then $52, and currently, $59 per pack. Another hurtle: if you want to purchase these, you have to submit the order, they will email you back with a quote that includes your shipping cost (for me, it was $20), and then you have to message back to confirm the order and give your payment information. It's a laborious task compared with most other online purchases. All things considered, it took me about two and a half week from the initial inquiry to receive my game cases. The cases are very high quality, but can't do everything you want them to do without some modifications.
THE COST AND CHALLENGES. There were expected costs, and then there were numerous unexpected costs. Expected costs: price of games cases from Nintendo and MediaShelving, legal sized paper for printing box art, ink. Unexpected costs: the volume of ink, non-availability of game box art, the tools I would need to do modifications, physical injury, discovering that games are missing, tracking down and re-purchasing those games, and the time it would take to modify the cases, print and compile everything. I was attempting to print art for about 75 games in the Universal Cases, and about 25 DS cases, so depending on your ink cartridge capacity, expect to have to buy four to six sets of ink. The cases and ink alone will cost you over $100 if you are casing 50 to 75 games. Some videos suggested that you get an omni-tool, or a dremel, to cut off extra pieces of the Universal Games cases; I used a sharpened wire cutter and did it by hand. That was a huge mistake. Not only did I blister my hand in several places, the whole process took significantly longer. Longer because I needed to give my hand time to rest. My advice, buy a tool to do your cutting for you.
The last major stumbling point was discovering that games I thought I owned were missing. Racking my brain to remember who borrowed what, where I lost something, how it could have been lost and how I was going to replace it was horrible. And I'm still missing a good number of games. This list includes New Super Mario Bros, Zelda Phantom Hourglass, Castlevania Order of Ecclesia, Final Fantasy IV DS, Metroid Zero Mission, Final Fantasy IV Advance, Breath of Fire II GBA, Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Cruisin' USA, Harvest Moon 64, Mario RPG, Blackthorne, Contra III, Mega Man X, Street Fighter 2 The New Challengers, Faxanadu, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3, Ninja Gaiden 1-3, Dragon Warrior II, and Bad Dudes. A couple of these individually would have depressed me, all of them together was a shock which caused me to begin searching my state for used game shops, flea markets and yard sales to correct that which was terribly wrong.
CHANGE THAT HAPPENS OVER TIME. Going out and searching for these games did something. Somewhere between talking with collectors on forums, looking at articles about quality CRT-TV's, and going to off-the-road establishments to haggle prices, something happened. I began to think of these games as something different. The game became more than what appeared on the screen or how intuitively I controlled it. I began thinking of video games as something larger than code, visuals, or interaction. Two things dawned on me; video games are composite sociological expressions and the nature of what a specific game is changes over time.
What I mean by composite sociological expressions is that the "video game" only comes into being when several systems are being used at the same time to produce something no combination of fewer pieces can duplicate. There are the creators of the game (stuck in a particular time and place, producing a singular product), the player who is the true engine of the game (provides agency which creates an interactive experience), and the set of devices you are using to experience a designed product (controller, screen, native output, original or modified hardware, emulation). All of these variables working together makes the game to a person, but this also means that "what a game is" changes from person to person, and over time.
My second point is that a game, as an interpreted cultural expression, or as a physical artifact, has a lifespan. There are points in this lifespan: development, marketing, release, market reaction, contemporary market presence, resale, clearance, junk, retro, collectable, artifact. Or something like that. The point is, our perception and our memory of a game changes over that lifespan. When I was 6, Super Mario Bros 3 was the game I had to own, the game my friends all had, the game that would give me endless enjoyment, the game that was right down the road at Toys R Us or the rental store. It is none of those things to me now. It's a seminal Nintendo title, a game that partially defined a console, fond memories, a joyfully nostalgic play through, a game I will keep for sentimental and collector value, the game that I lost track of, the game that I discovered was missing, the game that makes me think about my own complacency, the game I own in two other digital formats, the game that I haven't physically seen in years. But there is more surrounding video games than console, game, TV and controller. The instruction manual, the articles and review in magazines, the lovingly written tips and tricks scribed on graph paper are all part of the game for that individual and part of a composite cultural memory of that game. Then there is the question of how you experience games that are now retro; "best" possible quality given modern tech or most "authentic" experience using old equipment. Every game is a dozen different things to millions different people in an infinite amount of moments. And it's always changing. It's amazing, and it's worth remembering, worth preserving.
That urge, preservation, came with a shock all its own. If a video games is a thing to preserve, it's because it's in danger of ruin. The days when you would go to a store and buy a game, and the product you bought was software wrapped inside specialty hardware, are over. In a lot of cases today, the game disc is just an obsolete method of transportation to the consumer. So I started doing research, trying to understand how people today are trying to collect, preserve, remember and showcase these old video games: these expressions of our culture. There are a few good books out there, but I will recommend one. "Game After," by Raiford Guins is an amazing archeological and anthropological look at video games. But it doesn't consider a game a static objects with singular meaning, it looks at what games mean to us. What are we saying when we put a video game in a museum? What is the Smithsonian saying about emulation when it connects all its retro consoles to modern flat screens in its "The Art of Video Games" exhibit? What does it say about the industry that an ever growing group of people are spending more time exploring older games? When does the games container, become content itself? How does that change the value or perception of the game? It is a fascinating book that, as its title suggests, looks at games in their continued lives after they leave the current media spotlight.
From wanting to organize my games, to anthropological studies on gaming: that's quite a rabbit hole, isn't it?
THE RESULTS AND REFLECTION. I am happy to say, that I have cased my still growing collection and all I've been doing is enjoying the fruits of my labor. I've tested every game, and they all worked! There's not a dead battery among them.
Every day since completing this project, I wake up early in the morning and make sure to play a game or three for a half hour or so. I think about them differently, I reflect on their meaning as entertainment and on their meaning to me, both equally valid. I ponder what they mean to other people, and it inspires me to find out. More and more I find myself leaving my apartment to explore this hobby instead of relying on my internet connection. I meet people, swap stories, share anecdotes and every time that happens, gaming grows a little bit, develops a little bit. Staring at my gaming shelves and consoles, I can't help but feel like I'm reclaiming a little bit of myself too. Organizing and understanding myself just as much as these technical curios sitting on my shelf.
About a month ago, I stumbled upon The Cover Project, an online initiative of fans and enthusiasts to collect scans of video game box art. These scans are usually customized to be easily printed and slid into CD/DS/DVD/Universal game cases. For hours I scoured the web to find any youtube video, blog or article that described this D.I.Y. process in detail. I was not disappointed. Examples abound. I was drawn into the rabbit hole. Since then, I have devoted much of my free time and budgeted cash to recollect, organize and then case my old games collection.
Despite my research, I really didn't know what I was getting into. Once I have finished the project, I intend to post a blog describing the investment, the challenges and some self-reflecting thoughts on the subject. One of those unexpected challenges was the urge to fill out each console library that I was organizing. I still owned a lot of my favorite classic games, but it was horrifying to realize that certain treasures, particular jewels, were missing. So I started looking. I've done this once before, in college, but that centered around PS1, PS2 and PSP. This time it's NES, SNES, N64 and GBA. For now, these are the games that I found.
Zelda II, Legend of Kage, Wizards & Warriors, Slalom, and 1943 were all found at local retro gaming stores. The only one that I already own is Zelda II, but only as part of the Gamecube Zelda Collection. I loved the game when I was younger, but revisiting it with a Wavebird controller didn't pan out well. I want to give it another shot. Legend of Kage and 1943 are games that I am really excited to explore, one for laughs and the other because of how often it comes up in retro gaming podcasts. Shadow of the Ninja and Vice Project Doom are games that I had only heard about in hushed tones back in the day, and finally decided to track them down online after MANY youtube collectors suggested it. Just remember, don't buy the first copy you see... it's likely cheaper elsewhere.
DKC 2: Diddy's Kongs Quest. Need I say more? This is a game I only ever rented. Once It got pulled from the Wii Shop Channel (along with its predecessor and sequel), I knew that owning the cart would be the only way to consistently, authentically, play the game. Super Smash TV, is badass, but holds a special place in my heart: a game that is a fond reminder of time spent with my older brother. DKC 2 and Super Smash TV were games that I found at a flea market (affectionately referred to as a Dirt Mall), and were super cheap. I can't recommend enough tracking down your local venue(s) and spending a few hours on a weekend or two.
Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon is a game that I irrationally, fanatically love. I can't pin down exactly why, but I do know that every time I played this game I was hysterically laughing throughout. I only ever rented it, I'm thrilled to finally own it. Mischief Makers, for me, was the game that my good friend in middle school had that I could never found myself. Apparently, all I had to do was wait 15 years. Both of these games were found at retro gaming shops. Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie and Blast Corps (notice the pattern? *coughrarecough*) were games I owned and lost over the course of 10 years and 8 moves. Banjo-Kazooie was by far, the most expensive. But Perfect Dark and Blast Corp were surprisingly cheap. Both Pod Racer and Rogue Squadron were online purchases and yet another example of how waiting can turn up great deals. They were almost half the cost of other sellers, I suspect this was a person who just wanted to get rid of it. The carts are in great shape, with the boxes (albeit a little beat up), manuals and ads included. Special Note: becoming a regular at your friendly local retro gaming shop is a great way to have good conversation, and occasionally get discounts on games :)
Fire Emblem and Mega Man & Bass are two great examples why, if you want to collect old games, you should love yard sales. Spring is on us, people are cleaning their houses, their storage units... and getting rid of all that "junk" on their own. I got these games dirt cheap, but honestly, would have paid out the nose for them if grandma knew what they were worth. Fire Emblem especially, I lent that game and Sacred Stone to a friend/acquaintance in high school, and of course never got them back. Concerning Turtles, guilty pleasure all over the place. I love me some Ninja Turtles, almost to a fault. On the NES and SNES, they were usually great brawlers, and I've heard good things about this one. This is the only one that I picked up at a Gamestop. A terrible place for old games, but there are still a few that have small collections of GBA games. It might be worth your time to call some stores and ask if they have any, my guess is that they'll all be gone in a year or two.
Have any cool games that you just picked up or wish you could find? Recommendations? Thanks for reading!
Gaming as a cultural expression is growing. It is important to remember that videogames did not bloom out of nothingness, just as film and movies did not develop without the context of theater and narrative driven literature. Early videogames were sometimes attempts to replicate the systems and dynamics of tabletop games. Today, many game mechanics from tabletop RPGs and Euro-style boardgames have integrated into the design sensibilities of videogames. We can see it in the behind-the-scenes A.I. accuracy/damage number crunching in Mass Effect. We can see it in how we manage resources in Civilization. We can see it in the grid-based combat of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. And we can see it in our Pavlovian reactions to loot drops and leveling up. One informed the other and changed the way we consume and access entertainment. Reboot Connection is a blog series, an attempt to discuss and recommend a tabletop game that speaks to a videogamer's sensibilities, because we should all play more games.
I introduce, Boss Monster!
Type of Game: Dungeon Building Card Game
Developer: Brotherwise Games, LLC
Number of Players: 2 -4
Time to Play: 15 - 30 minutes
Expansion: Tools of Hero Kind, $9.99
The Connection Boss Monster is a card game that devotes itself to a loving homage of 8-bit games. The packaging looks like an NES Black Box case, and even the expansion looks like a Gameboy case! All of the art is drawn and designed to remind you of the good games of yore: Mega Man, Mario, Castlevania, Double Dragon, Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Zelda. But if you look closely, you'll even catch references to The Song of Ice and Fire, Brandon Sanderson novels, the Nolen Batman movies, and other wonderful geek culture. The game is about heroes going on dungeon runs, but here is the twist, you are the Boss Monster. Machinima did a great job with this video which tells you what to expect, if you decide to join the monstrous ranks of Legion!
This game's theme is at its best when it walks that precarious tight-rope of trademark infringement. Examples of the bosses you can play as are: The Sultan of the Sewers King Croak (King Koopa), Gorgona (Medusa), Father Brain Cerebellus (Mother Brain), The Angry Golem Robobo (Abobo) or The Progenitor Lich Xyzax (Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax).
The Heroes that will come tromping into your dungeon, attempting to wound you and steal your loot, are easily recognizable. Baden the Pantless just might be related to Arthur (Ghouls n' Ghosts). Johnny of the Evening Watch, whose band o' brothers is sworn to forsake family, take the gray, and clear dungeons (You still know nothing, Johnny Snow). The Elf Pyromancer, proof that some elves just want to watch the world burn (Why so serious?). The Angel of Light, who's not a rip off of Pit from Kid Icarus. Hya, the Legendary Shinobi, who collects dark swords of chaos and travels on ghost ships of doom. Wallbanger Basketweaver, the hobbit, burglar extraordinaire. And Antonius the Rune Knight, not to be confused with Adolin Kholin, who dons rune charged armor and duels his way through dungeons (The Stormlight Archives).
The Rooms and Traps you will build to guard against the Heroes are inspired by cult classic movie jokes, retro games and references to modern media obsessions. Brain Sucker Hive (Metroid). Liger Den (Napoleon Dynamite). The Crushinator (Super Mario World, NSMB Wii/Wii U). Dragon Hatchery (Daenerys Targarians three baby dragons). Mimic Vault (Final Fantasy Mimics). Torture Chamber (The Princess Bride). Golem Factory (Double Dragon 2). Neanderthal Cave (Kunio-kun).
But in order to prevent competing Boss Monsters from attracting and killing all the Heroes, you will cast devious Spells on each other. The Assassin spell give a Hero in another dungeon three more hit points, the equivalent of mainlining the Animus. Counterspell (Expelliarmus!) will cancel another Boss Monsters Spell. And Giant Sized, which will... holy crap that Toad looks pissed!
The Mechanics Brotherwise Games has provided a good overview of the game setup, rules and goals. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in the nitty-gritty of gameplay. The Basics: kills Heroes to get Souls, fail to do so and get Wounds. 10 Souls and you win, 5 Wounds and you lose.
Gamers who are familiar with ideas like resource management, agro and mobbing will immediately recognize what this game expects you to do. The resources that you manage are the quality and quantity of your treasure (the person with the most rooms that provide Fighter treasures, attracts the Fighters... the person with the most rooms that provide Wizard treasures, attract the Wizards... and so on). You'd better be attracting Heroes, because you need their souls to win. But you need to be competitive in what treasure types you have, so you can stall the Heroes in town, and prevent your rival from getting the chance to slay a do-good-er. And what kind of despicable, vile, disgusting villain would you be if you didn't backstab your rivals when they get too close to winning! Expect to be hexed, cursed, and ensorcelled by your compatriots in evil. The expansion, Tools of Hero-Kind, adds Magic Items that the Heroes can equip rush your dungeon more easily. If you kill the equipped Hero, you win the Magic Item as well as his Soul. It's truly a blast when a trademark sensitive version of Link comes into Father Brains dungeon with the Holy Hand Grenade, only to be stopped by a trap room that shares a striking resemblance to the giant plunging castle spikes from Super Mario World.
The Verdict The game is fun, fast, and simple once you learn how to read the icons. The balancing act that I have to do between making my dungeon strong enough to protect me, while attracting heroes to or blocking heroes from different dungeons, is a lot of fun. It plays almost as quickly with 2 players as it does with 4 players, since all players complete most of the round phases simultaneously. Set-up time, break down time, and teachability are all simple and streamlined. Boss Monster is not quite pocket sized, but it's still very portable compared to other tabletop games. Even the worthwhile expansion will fit in the base box. The mechanics of the game combine basic card play with modern design concepts (like agro), and presents it in a nostalgic, playfully reverent way. This game is very good, but not great. Sometimes you will want to play another game because almost all the cards you drew in a 20 minute game, were crap (not that I'm still bitter about that).
If you happen to be a person who remembers 8-bit and 16-bit games fondly, but aren't all that into card and boardgames, there is a very good chance you will like this game. If you are looking for complexity, similar to Dominion or Magic The Gathering, it isn't here. But the theme is strong and well executed. It keeps luring me back with its hilarious, nostalgic pixel graphics. After a dozen plays, I still laugh at small details in the art that I missed, or didn't get at the time. It's a simple game that invites in all who want to play.
The internet is still an infant. A long and complex development lies ahead as this social/digital creation matures. But right now, we have some excruciating growing pains to go through. Digital bullies and extortionists are going after our ability to communicate with each other in a long-form, meaningful way: podcasts. This has been developing for the last two years, but the first major milestone will happen in October 2014. This is a look at Patent Trolls: who they are, what this means, what the challenge is and how we can fight back.
The Issue: A Patent Troll is, in essence, a business that specializes in acquiring software patents (the more broad the language, the better) with the intention to sue content producers. The purpose of the lawsuit isn't to take the little guy (or the corporation) to court, just to intimidate them into settling out of court. It's a shakedown fueled by legal intimidation and the threat of huge financial burdens if you try to defend yourself. In the case of corporations, they tend to settle out of court because they have the means to do so. In the case of individuals and small businesses, it's often enough to cripple the business through licensing fees. This issue has become big enough that it is actually having an impact on national economies. In the summer of 2012, the BBC reported that patent trolls in the United States cost businesses 29 billion dollars.
"Patent Troll" may seem like a new tactic, but it isn't the first time a similar tactic has been used by leeching middlemen. In the United States, when the 1836 Patent Act was passed, it gave the federal government the ability to examine existing and new patents to ensure there was minimal overlap, essentially. This created a new sort of lawyer, and was the beginning of the Patent Shark. They would purchase patents on the design of things like barbed wire, canisters, railroad breakers and other tools which were vital to the US and its citizens ability to spread out west, set up homesteads, or build shipping/transportation infrastructure. Most of the patent sharks targets were smaller railroad businesses and farmers that didn't have access to legal defense, let alone the funds to hire said defense. This lasted until the 1890's and largely fizzled out because farmers began organizing politically (Populist Movement), and the government began to enter a period where they would take on more initiative in the lives of everyday people and businesses (Progressive Movement); both of which discouraged and challenged these shady practices. A more in depth narrative of this can be found here. But these were patents on physical machines and mechanical designs. Software can also be patented, but because it is digital, it opens up new opportunities for patent trolls.
NPR did a very good interview with the founder of Personal Audio, Jim Logan, in May 2013. Here, he makes the argument that he created and patented the intellectual idea of the podcast. What he did was found a company which intended to record voice readings of magazines on cassette tapes, and then mail them to the consumer. It isn't his fault that the technology didn't exist at the time, but he came up with the idea and now every podcast on the internet owes him money. Also, forget about the fact that he is on a podcast, which will be distributed digitally, and will not pay him licensing fees.
The Context: Then in February, 2013, Personal Audio subpoenaed podcast creators Adam Carolla, and HowStuffWorks with a patent on "System for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence." Translation: we own playlists and podcasts, give us money. An abstract for the patent and the full patent itself can be found here. This is nothing short of a threat to all people who create or enjoy podcasts. This would limit our ability to express ourselves online, this would strangle vibrant aspects of enthusiast communities. The Patent Trolls are going after the big podcasts first, but the effect is meant to trickle down. This could force other business who employ podcasters to charge for their content to pay off licensing fees, potentially crippling the medium. In an interview with Rich Eisen, Carolla jokingly said, "... if they are sueing me and Google, pretty much everyone else falls in between there." Check out The Podcast Legal Defense, they do a great job discussing related topics, reviewing and outlining the issue.
"The Rise of the Patent Troll" is another great production that discusses the dynamics of this situation. Also, be sure to check out Kirby Ferguson's TED Talk about this same issue.
Most people will say that the way to beat a patent troll is to call them out, be vocal, be public and challenge them. Chances are, they don't want to pursue litigation because of the costs. Personal Audio, however, seems to be doubling down. In February 2014, they filed a subpoena against the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) who are supporting the conflict against patent trolls, which states:
"All fundraising activities in connection with the proceedings in the Patent and Trademark Office specifically Concerning the '504 patent, including but not limited to the Identification of the names of all Persons who donated or contributed and Identification of the amounts contributed by each Person, as well as the Identification of any promised contributions which have not been received yet as well as the Persons who promised such contributions and the amount thereof."
This only applies to the fundraising project that the EFF is associated with, not any of the other crowdfunding initiatives associated with Personal Audios patent trolling. However, it does show us how these kinds of businesses treat the legal system as a means to an end, or a tool to coerce. Adam Carolla's court date has already been set in October of 2014, and he is not going to settle. He is going to fight it. Recently, he has been a guest several other podcasts in an attempt to get the word out. On April 3rd, 2014, Adam was on the Rich Eisen Podcast and spoke pretty frankly about how the issue makes him feel. They begin talking about the issue around an hour into the show. Below is a quote from that segment.
"It's sort of the opposite of American. Ya know what I mean? It's very American go out and build your stuff up, and build yourself a small business and have your own employees, and this is THE MAN. Ya know, coming in and doing it a way that's very cyber-y, and twenty-first centur-y and Buck Rogers-y. But this is a, essentially, going to be illegal in 5 years. [There is no way they are going to win this in court] But to me it's like finding the cure to your particular cancer three years after your in the ground. That's nice, but I gotta beat it now."
Most legal speculation suggests that Personal Audios claim will fall flat, but it will still cost Adam 1 to 1.5 million dollars to go to court and get that decision. More than that, Adams case will set the precedent for future litigation. That is why this is important. He's taking one for the team and doing what must be done so this issue doesn't get any worst. Because of that, I think this is worth supporting.
The Love: Of course, you can donate to Adams war-chest of legal funds here. But I don't want to suggest that this is the only, or even the best way for everyone to lend their support. It isn't feasible for everyone to use their hard earned cash as their means of support, but this isn't only about money. This is about all of us and the way we communicate with each other. Even if all you do is write a blog post, even if all you do is tweet an fyi, getting the word out about this is the most important contribution any of us can make. Better yet, talk about it on a podcast! The more visible this is, the higher it trends, the more people feel a need to talk about it, the better we can all put pressure on patent trolls. Make them wish they never dared.
March 31st, 2014, was the last day in the fiscal year for Nintendo. The previous year had not been particularly kind to the Big N in terms of profits and perception: low Wii U sales, the emergence of the next-gen competitors, a fiscal forecast that plummeted almost 750 million which resulted in a bottom-line loss, Iwata cutting his own pay, and speculation of his resignation continues to agitate. All of this is precisely why the last two weeks have been so unique. Since the beginning of April, 2014 (the new fiscal year), Nintendo has been nothing short of aggressive in its pursuit to capture our attention. They are doing this by augmenting their most recent marketing plans (Nintendo Directs, controlled media output of game features, disclosure of release dates) through transparency and depth of future content.
Let's do the quick list.
The Joke: April 1st, Nintendo partners with Google to bring gamers one truly impressive April Fool's Joke. Yes, the video pitch was misleading, but the distraction of searching your GoogleMaps app for Pokemon, cleverly hidden, around the world was a joy. This is likely the product of Nintendo's stated initiative in late January to foster partnerships with other companies, allowing them to use Nintendo licensed characters. Other examples of this could be Nintendo's partnership with Pennzoil at South West Interactive last March, or Nintendo's agreement with Tecmo Koei to develop Hyrule Warriors.
The Turbo-Boost: A few days later, games media sites around the internet exploded with Mario Kart 8 information, sparking numerous discussions on forums, podcasts, videos and blogs the internet over. This is more of a traditional move by Nintendo, but it does remind us of a few things. Nintendo needs this games to sell, and hopefully that means they will make this game a feature-complete home run release.
The Nostalgia-glasses: Almost within 24 hours, we're told that Gameboy Advance games were arriving on the Wii U eShop in April, and given a list of ALL of the months GBA releases. This is unique in a few different ways. We nearly never get a formal heads-up from Nintendo about what VC games are coming out, let alone the beginning of a new VC platform. It's strange that GBA isn't on 3DS (outside of Ambassador games), but I have slowly grown to the idea of playing GBA games on my new Super Deluxe GBA XXL..... I mean, the Wii U Gamepad.
North America and Europe
April 3 - Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Metroid Fusion, Advance Wars
April 10 - WarioWare Inc: Mega Microgames, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
April 17 - Golden Sun, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
April 24 - Yoshi's Island (Super Mario World 2): Super Mario Advance 3
The (Falcon) PUNCH: Another hundred hours later, we're getting information bombs from Sakurai about Super Smash Bros 3DS/Wii U. In terms of Nintendo's marketing, presenting information through a Direct isn't unusual. The depth of the coverage was. 40 minutes of Smash, with details catered for the all parts of the Smash community. Not to mention to 200 photo info drop that snuck onto the internet afterwards. For Fun! For Glory!
The Fever Dream: But we didn't get just one Direct, we got two of them within forty-eight hours. Tomodachi Life (not to be confused with Tamagachi) is, in essence, Nintendo's 2DS/3DS crack at a Sims-like-game which you populate by importing Mii's. Frankly, I don't care about this. But it's hilarious and bizarre appeal doesn't escape me either. Imagine the wildfire of gossip in Middle School hallways when different cliques of pre-teen girls hear about who is marrying who in-game. If nothing else, just watch this eleven minute Nintendo Direct on Tomodachi Life; it's truly ridiculous. How many Nintendo execs want to date Samus? Will Reggie and Iwata ever stop wrestling over that bar of gold? Will Bill Trinen ever stop hallucinating? My Body is Ready!
All of this within ten days. This is unusual. This is a noticeable change. Good change. But is this a change that will continue? Currently, we are seeing Nintendo participate in marketing awareness with new fervor, but it's short term release calendar gives us something to be anxious about. Firm dates are only really set for games that are being released this month (with the exception of May 30ths Mario Kart 8 release). For the month of April, the Wii U will release: the aforementioned GBA titles, Lego: The Hobbit, NES Remix 2, and Child of Light. After that, we simply don't know. Reports suggest that Shovel Knight is on the horizon, but what about the rest of May and Summer 2014? Smash Bros 3DS will probably sell great, but I doubt it can shoulder that load by itself. Hopefully we will get more information soon, and avoid another Wii U drought.
Nintendo and Google did a good job together, but will Nintendo regret associating with Pennzoil? Will their character licensing plan fail, making a joke out of Hyrule Warriors? Will the GBA continue to be supported or will it ultimately be a pathetic smattering of games (I'm looking at you N64 VC)? And will Nintendo be able to deliver with Kart 8 and Smash Bros, achieving the sales that they need, or will it be good-not-great 3D World/Tropical Freeze level of sales? Was it a mistake for Nintendo skip having a formal presence at PAX-East? What do you think?