Monday, May 27, 2013

One Box to Rule the Dull

So, this past week saw a seemingly endless deluge of negative press for Microsoft's reveal of their next foray into console gaming, XBOX One.  

Let's just be clear - that criticism was wholly deserved.

Microsoft has made it clear that they want to rule your living room.  According to their own press conference, you can seamlessly switch between playing a game and watching television!  Oh, and you can watch television!  And sports!  And Halo (for five minutes)...and TELEVISION!!!

What Microsoft has done is basically create the world's most expensive CableBox One, capable of doing everything you can already do with another remote, and all for the sake of being your One source for entertainment in the home.

Unfortunately, they have essentially doomed their product to obscurity of the Virtual Boy variety.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news (actually, when it comes to XBOX, I love it), but people can already do everything that the XBOX One does for much cheaper, without the nonsense of having to pay a fee to play used games, and without having to have a connection to the Internet with your previous machine.

Now, I've never been a fan of the XBOX.  I have always felt it to be an extraneous bit of machinery, about as interesting to me as the Neo Geo.  It's not that the machine, itself, is bad - it's just that there's nothing on it that I want to play.

The Kinect, I will admit, is a very cool piece of machinery, and that it's now going to be standard is very "Next Gen," to use the nonsense term used to describe anything newer than the current model of products.  It was, however, poorly integrated into gameplay over the course of its late-stage lifespan, and really functions as more of a motion controller...for your television.

Prior to owning an XBOX 360, I would constantly decry its worthlessness.  I ran into some extra cash, however, and ended purchasing one with every intention of falling in love with it.

To date, I own fewer than ten games for the system, and about once a week, I go to the website to check on any new releases for the system, only to be disappointed.

XBOX has built up a fan base that consists almost wholly of 18-35-year-old males (mostly white) who enjoy nothing more than cracking open some Nattie Ice, firing up their bongs, and reclining in their beanbags or faux leather sofas to play an EA sports game, shoot some guns, or...not much else.  

In fact, I'd go further to say that the system is almost entirely aimed only at the American audience, as few other countries have hopped on the XBOX bandwagon.  Hell, in Japan, you can barely give the damned things away, much less expect them to purchase one, and Japan is very likely the culture in which gaming is most integrated into daily life.

Yet another revelation, this past week, was that the XBOX One would be region-locked, meaning that only software purchase from the same country as that of the XBOX console will work with the machine.  I'm not really certain why Region-Locking is such a big thing, these days (as Nintendo has hopped on that stupid bandwagon, as well), but there's really no point in locking the XBOX One - few others have any plans to purchase it.  

I wasn't really hoping for something new; rather, I was expecting to be pleasantly smug when it came to their big reveal.  I did not, however, expect to be dumbfounded by how off the mark Microsoft would be when it comes to gaming.

Given the direction of both Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo looks to be the only company actually dedicated to putting out actual games, and simply dedicating Apps to deal with other types of media.  

As someone who grew up through the video game era, I got into playing games with Nintendo, and it looks like I'm going to be sticking with them, in the long run.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Vicious Cycle of Broken Game Industry Logic

I have been a game enthusiast for the vast majority of my life, excepting the few years when I was too young to actually play the games, and one of the newer trends of the last decade in gaming that has driven me up the wall is the circular logic of game production companies and consumer interest.

What do I mean by that?  Well, let's take a look at the most recent (and, to me, irksome) example of a game creator using circular logic to justify his refusal to localize two games for Western audiences:

In a recent interview with Kotaku, the Tales of... series creator, Hideo Baba, informed the world that there were no plans to localize Tales of Hearts R or Tales of Innocence R:

"Unfortunately, at this present time we don't have any plans to release any of the Vita titles," Baba said. "One of the main reasons is, unfortunately the PlayStation Vita is doing relatively poorly in North America, so it's one of those things that if the numbers increased considerably, then it's something we could consider."

Really?  That is maddeningly stupid.

So, the PlayStation Vita is Sony's latest attempting to beat out Nintendo in the handheld gaming market, and a little more than a year out the gate, it's very clear that this is unlikely to happen.  

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of early adoption when it comes to new systems, especially if they show promise - and the PS Vita does a lot of things right; but, for everything it does right in terms of design and output, it makes up for by doing something wrong:

The graphics output is admittedly better than that of the PSP...which would be more apparent if those graphics got the chance to shine in the form of games.

You see, it's great to boast that your system has the potential for amazing graphics, but when the games released for the system are really only a bit better than their PSP counterparts, it's just not enough to pique the interest of anyone other than the most hardcore of game enthusiasts who will notice those differences.

Granted, it's very early in the system's lifespan, and graphics don't generally get noticeably better until later in a console's lifespan, but that's no excuse for certain gaming studios to simply port PSP versions of games to the Vita when it has better graphics capacity.

The LEGO games, for example, are a prime example of games that could have been better made to take advantage of the Vita's higher graphics capacity.  It wouldn't have been that hard to scale back the resolution on the graphics from the PS3 version and make it playable on the Vita; instead, we get the PSP version with slightly upscaled graphics.


The Vita has a great touchscreen...but, it also has an entirely worthless backside touchscreen.

Not to sound like a Luddite (or like Dolores Umbridge), but innovation for the sake of innovation should be discouraged.  

I'm not certain what Sony was thinking, but who on earth felt the need to include a touchscreen on the back of a handheld console?  Who thought this was going to be either useful or useable?  Not only does the addition make it annoying to hold the console, but it makes the thing a bitch to store and transport without scratching the back of it.

And there really haven't been a whole lot of games that make a lot of use for the damned thing.


Which brings us to the next few things on the list of reasons why the Vita isn't popular...well, anywhere:

It's too expensive in every market, at every price point, for both versions.  After a price drop in Japan, sales of the system soared, but prior to that, it sold fewer consoles than the XBOX in Japan.  And this is what makes Baba's statement about popularity even more infuriating - to say that they won't localize games in the West because the system isn't that popular, here, is ridiculous; the Vita isn't popular in Japan, either, and yet, they remade not one, but two games in the series for an unpopular, overpriced system.

In addition to the exorbitant price point, there just aren't very many games for the system that are either interesting or worth buying in the NA and EU markets.  Don't believe me?  Take a trip to your local video game retailer, and count the number of available titles for the Vita.

Go ahead...I'll give you a moment.


Okay, I'm impatient, so I did it for you.

I went to the Gamestop website and did a search for Vita games with the following parameters: All Games; New

This is what I found: 64 games

Of those, 32 are "Currently Unavailable Online," 9 are "Pre-Release," and several of those games are different versions of the same game.

It's been over a year, and there are barely any damned games out for your system in America.  How do you expect people to be interested in your system if you don't release any games for it?

Which leads us back to Hideo Baba's argument about not localizing games.  Why would you argue that a system isn't popular enough to localize when part of the problem is that there aren't enough games out to make the system popular?

It's that circular logic that prevents the Vita from being a truly great handheld console.


And so, we're here, a year later, and really no better off than we were a year ago.  The system's not popular, so they don't release more games in the West, so the system doesn't become more popular.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Nintendo Fanboys Shocked That 3rd Party Developers Aren't Jumping on the Wii U Bandwagon

If there's one thing as a gamer with which I have a major issue, it's the concept of Fanboy-ism.  Fanboys are people whom, for whatever reason, back their developer, console, handheld, et cetera ad infinitum to the point of insanity.  The object of their fanatical allegiance can do no wrong, and anyone who disagrees with them just has no taste, no idea what they're talking about, or is too dense to understand the genius that is x.

XBOX 360 adherents rave about the system like it's the best thing since the HDMI port; Nintendo fanboys never stop going on about how 3rd Party titles always bypass their favorite Nintendo systems, handheld or console.  I don't often run across PlayStation fanboys, though, as their systems really do seem to have something for everybody.

As an owner of all of these systems (and sometimes two or three of the same ones), I can honestly say that I'm not that impressed with XBOX or Nintendo, most of the time.

I grew up playing the Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES) and the Super Nintendo (SNES); for me, the greatest days in gaming are long since behind us.  Those games were the pioneers - the games that set the stage for good home gaming design (and bad design), and to which I return when I need a pick me up. 

Call me a luddite, but I just have little desire to play games that don't hold my attention for longer than a few hours.  I don't care so much about graphics, as much as I do about story, gameplay, and replay value.  

I've owned an XBOX for nearly a year, and it does a lot of things well.  Play DVDs?  Meh.  It's okay.  Motion controls?  The Kinect is pretty awesome.

But, want to play anything other than an FPS or a Sports game?  Your options are pretty limited.  To date, I have maybe six games for the system, and I don't think I've played any of them with the same kind of dedication I've paid my 3DS, DS, or PS3.

If you want a JRPG, that narrows the field down to a handful of decent titles worth playing, which is understandable, given the XBOX's almost wholesale rejection by the Japanese market.

My Wii?  I've owned that since 2008, and frankly, I use it more for the Virtual Console than I do any of the current games.  The Zelda games for the system, though critically acclaimed and certainly well-designed, just don't feel like Zelda, to me.  I don't care about the Twilight Princess, or the Sky People.  

As for any JRPG/RPG gaming?  Nintendo's handhelds are far superior in terms of their offerings in that regard.

But, the big whine we hear from Nintendo Fanboys (and girls) is that 3rd Party developers don't release games for "core gamers" on Nintendo platforms.

Well, suck it up and go buy a different system.

So, you want the best in games?  Go to a different system.

I've had my Wii U since the week it came out, and frankly, it's just not there, yet.  Much like the Wii, it's going to take time to get on its feet, and until they come out with more games, better games, and more content, in general, there just isn't going to be a whole lot going on for developers to take the bait.


Nintendo really lost its reputation as the company for hardcore gamers when they lost ground to the PlayStation.  Say what you will about the N64's cartridge capabilities, but that's not where the market was, and that wasn't what consumers wanted.  

When they finally went to a disc system with the Gamecube, it was with a proprietary disc that was awkward, and in a system that clearly had enough room for a full-size disc.  And the graphics capacity just wasn't there.

When they released the Wii, they broke ground, but presented and marketed it as a family-friendly system for casual gamers.  And it worked.  It gained them that market.  But, still, it was kids' stuff for "serious gamers."

In fact, the only arena wherein Nintendo remains the uncontested master is the handheld gaming market.  Sure, you won't get the best graphics money can buy, but you get good, solid games, and a shit ton of games that interest other gamers.

So, any image that Nintendo has that makes developers think twice about bringing hardcore content to their consoles is an image that they, themselves, have crafted.

If you want more proof of that, go to Nintendo's website.

This is a website designed for kids; designed to be family-friendly.  Everything is bright and colorful, and bubbly and happy.  This is a site that no web monitor would filter out.

Now, go to the PlayStation website.

Aside from the very creepy Sack Boy, there's a guy point a handgun on the front page.  Well...unless you're in the NRA, I doubt that's a family website you'd send your kids to to check out their newest system.

Now, to the XBOX 360 website.

Call of Duty, Gears of War, Skulls of the Shogun.  The only thing family-friendly about this front page is the picture of the family in the tiny square talking about family-friendly movies.


Now, to be fair, all of these consoles release games that are family-friendly, and perfectly appropriate for children.  Each of these companies have a bevy of games that parents can get behind their kids playing without fear that they're going to end up shooting up an elementary school.

Unfortunately for the Nintendo Fanboys who want these games on their Wii Us, Sony and Microsoft didn't build their gaming franchise based on video games meant for kids.  Nintendo was around longer as a gaming entity, and so they got the unfortunate reputation for putting out games geared towards kids, and if they want to break away from that image, it's going to take a decade or more of hardcore change, and that's not likely to occur.

So...Nintendo Fanboys - start accepting reality, and understand that 3rd Party games don't make their way to the Wii and Wii U because there just isn't that much of a market for the games.  These developers know that they have a consistent market with Sony and XBOX, and those gamers aren't very likely to grab a Wii or Wii U just to play Call of Duty.

I'm sorry.  Suck it up, and move on.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's Okay to NOT Like Something...

I get into arguments all the time; I wouldn't call myself "curmudgeonly," otherwise.  Some of the most frequent video game-related arguments I encounter involve one or another aspect of "Fan Boy-ism" - when someone likes everything a company puts out regardless of whether or not it's actually good.

I have, at certain points in my life, been guilty of this sort of fanaticism.  For several years, I ate at the trough of Final Fantasy, pretending to like everything that Squaresoft/Square-Enix released, regardless of how great or awful it was.  We must, however, eventually put our blind adherence aside and just be honest, not only with ourselves, but with others, as well.

Take, for example, and argument I got into early in 2012, where I asserted that few video games put out music that sticks in your head.  Case in point - the Zelda series of games.

I have, for almost my entire life, been a musician.  I am a classically trained opera singer, a trumpet/horn player, a fair pianist, and a music arranger for both instrumental and choral music.  I have literally thousands of songs stored in my memory, for one reason or another, and I can identify the source, whistle, hum, sing, or play the melody, and give you a time signature, key signature, and count structure for almost any piece that's ever caught my attention.  Most of the past twelve years have been spent choreographing movement and equipment work to music.  I get music; I understand it; I have a deep connection with it.

The Zelda series has often been the source of several haunting, annoying, and memorable melodies, ranging from the unforgettable overworld theme in the original NES game to the opening theme in A Link to the Past.  Ocarina of Time presented us with several irksome ocarina tunes so catchy that I still hear them when I'm trying to go to sleep.  Even Windwaker had a few melodies in it that were worth humming.

But, for the life of me, I can't remember a single note from either Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. Nothing grabbed me as particularly moving, poignant, or memorable.  The music was well-written, to be certain, and I won't argue that it was a case of bad composition; but it was utilized so sparsely and poorly that it served only as occasional background noise.  It never became a focal piece of the game, and provided the player with a moment that made you pay attention to it.

A heated argument, of course, ensued, and several video links were posted; how could I not find Midna's Theme (or whatever it was called) beautiful and moving?

Well, honestly, the piece, itself, is moving, and were I sitting in a dark room or a concert hall listening to a performance of it, I'd most certainly be moved.  However, in the context of the game, it falls largely flat.

And the problem doesn't lie only with the Zelda franchise; Final Fantasy, a series whose soundtracks have spawned countless orchestral arrangements, concerts, CDs, rearrangements, and OSTs, has fallen victim to the badly used music trend.

Even Final Fantasy XII, for all it's flaws, had gameplay-appropriate music, and the occasionally memorable moments in an inexorably tedious game were made almost completely by the soundtrack that accompanied them.  Final Fantasy XIII, though?  Aside from being a shitty game, the music seems largely like an afterthought.

I'm certain that the composers really went out of their way to come up with a complex and nuanced score, but it is very clear that no one sitting in the room asked anyone outside of the room whether or not the music was effective.

It's okay to not like something, just as it's okay to like something.  While cases of "like" are always subjective, there are reasons why certain things become popular where others do not.  Much as I loathe Lady Gaga (and her music), her songs are catchy (like the plague); I can't tell you who sings a certain song, but I can probably recite a line or two from it if it's accessible.  I'm not a huge fan of Sir Mix-a-Lot, but I can bust out with "Baby Got Back" every time it comes on at Frat Rat Karaoke.

And when I get a video game theme stuck in my head, chances are it's going to be the repetitive, tinny refrain of a classic NES game, where music HAD to be thoughtfully composed to make the best use of the sound chip, rather than an overly complex score written to fill in the gap when you're sitting in front of your screen watching an FMV instead of actively playing.  Hell, I often use those video breaks as time to take a piss.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nintendo Power's Big Leap

You know, I get it; people are nostalgic for Nintendo Power, and at first, I felt the same way...until I remembered the last issue I picked up.

Maybe I'm showing my age, here, but what Nintendo Power became in this century is a pale shadow of what it once was.  I understand that times changed, and Nintendo needed to update its format to meet the needs of current gamers, but at some point in the last decade, it failed to live up to the promise of its name.

I vividly remember getting my first issue of Nintendo Power - the very first issue.  It was amazing in terms of what it offered: gaming tips and tricks to give you the "power" to play your "Nintendo."  Maps, codes, hidden items...all of these were explicitly laid out for the reader alongside previews of upcoming games, cheesy and awful 80s/90s advertising gimmicks, contests, interviews, and game reviews.  It was a go-to source for everything you needed in gaming, and if it wasn't in the book, for just the price of a long-distance phone call to Redmond, WA, you could call a Nintendo Game Counselor to help you through that tough level (just ask my parents; I'm certain their wallets remember).

As I became an adult and shifted away from Nintendo's consoles, I left behind Nintendo Power as the games I wanted to play were seldom on the system.  By the time I'd graduated high school, my subscription to the magazine had long since lapsed, and aside from occasionally picking up a copy in Walden Books if the cover image grabbed my attention, I rarely, if ever, thought of the magazine.

And then, I went Christmas Shopping for Myself (which is really the best way to do Christmas).

In December of 2003, I went to a Super Wal*Mart in Turkey Creek Pavilion in Knoxville, TN, and wandered over to the video game section where I found the Nintendo Gamecube being offered in a bundle with a Legend of Zelda Collection game and a year's subscription to Nintendo Power.  On a whim, I bought it, and sent in my subscription information.

What I got in the mail honestly shocked me.  It was such a pretty magazine with so little of the content that once made it great.  Gone were the maps, codes, tips, and tricks, and in their place were overly enthusiastic reviews for games that would've never gotten past the door a decade earlier and shit tons of statements reading, "Want to find out what's next for Nintendo?  Stay tuned for the next issue of Nintendo Power!"

...And the next issue was just as lame with even less information.

I get the Nintendo of America sold the magazine to a different company, and no longer backed it, but seriously? It didn't get better.

(Flash forward seven years to a Borders Books and Music in Los Angeles)

While waiting for my partner to get out of work so we can go meet a friend for dinner, I wandered into the gaming section of the magazine aisles and picked up a copy of Nintendo Power.  So little content was present that, after flipping listlessly through the pages, I literally dropped it back into the rack without putting it with its mates.  I may have actively hidden the magazine, so terrible was its offering.

So, what happened to the once great NP?  I honestly don't know.  At some point, I suppose, Nintendo decided to focus on doing what every other gaming company was doing and just focus on making games.  They left the magazine behind, and the staff, I guess, went to find other jobs.

Interestingly enough, there was a market, at one point, for moving their original format to the web and monetizing what they had to offer in electronic form, but, as with most gaming trends, they weren't very quick on the uptake.  Nintendo got out of the business of offering maps, tips, tricks, and codes, leaving that to Prima, Brady Games, and whomever else started putting out player guides.

It didn't have to be that way.  They could have shifted all of those aspects of the magazine to the web.  But, they didn't.

Go to Nintendo's website, now, and you can tell that, as a company, they still don't really grasp the whole "online" thing.  A paragon of feckless design, the Nintendo website offers visitors a flashy front page displaying whichever big product they're pimping at the moment, and then...there's the rest of the site.

It's hard to navigate around the site, and trying to find information beyond the surface requires some serious digging through layer upon layer of bad website design and misleading links.  Go to their Club Nintendo section, and the "Member Sign In" link is so much smaller than the "SIGN UP NOW!!!" button, that it's almost invisible.  Try to find out information about your account, and you have to go on a scavenger hunt to find the right link.

Want to get support for a product you own?  They have that...sort of.  It's just the most basic of information.

Want to get more details on an upcoming game?  They have pictures and a few sentences, as well as an advertising video that shows as little gameplay as possible.

Want to know what games they have in the eShop, DSi Shop, or Wii Shop?  Good fucking luck.  The search function doesn't even return with all the games available at the time.  Trust me...I've hunted for them.  

Ultimately, I get it.  Nintendo's goal is to make great consoles, which it does...eventually.  But, as with Nintendo Power, they've left gamers in the dust.  

Some of my favorite memories from my childhood and early adolescence was getting my monthly issue of Nintendo Power, with the lame game cards, Pogs, and whatever other "collectibles" they were offering at the time.  I loved opening up a new issue and poring over the contents and, unlike the porn I'd steal from under my dad's mattress, actually reading every sentence.  Every "Special Issue," Collector's Cover, and sweepstakes was full of possibilities, and every month, I'd scour the "Coming Soon" section for the release dates of game in my favorites series of games, and every month, I'd be let down to find no new information.

So, yes...there's a part of me that mourns for the loss of Nintendo Power; unfortunately, that part has been mourning for so long that there are no longer tears to cry.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How Marketing Works (And How Not to Do It...)

One of my favorite phrases, as of late, has been "fanboys."  iPhone fanboys; Nintendo fanboys; XBOX fanboys.  There's a fanboy for everything to do with consumer electronics, and there's nothing funnier or more pathetic than watching them unbox their new products on video.

That having been said, I'll just get to the point of this screed - how two companies can produce vastly different products at roughly the same price point, and the one with the lower tech specs will (and already has) won the day.  These two companies are Nintendo and Sony.

If there are two companies whose consoles and gaming devices need almost no introduction, they are Nintendo and Sony Playstation.  Both companies have made consistently impressive contributions to the world of gaming, but when it comes to handheld gaming, one company just keeps getting it right, while the other continues to fail.

It is hard to argue that Nintendo has and likely always will win the day when it comes to handheld gaming devices.  Since the release of the Gameboy in the late 80s, Nintendo has consistently released products that provide an endless amount of return on consumer investment.  These devices never seem to die, barring catastrophic accidents, and the games, while not always the highest in technology, are consistently remembered as being staples of their respective generations' childhoods.  Each new handheld system brings something unique to the market - the Gameboy was the first that allowed gamers to play full games at home; the Gameboy Color brought darkened colors to life; the Gameboy Advance brought backlighting; the DS brought touchscreens, then cameras, and now 3-D.

Sony, on the other hand, has always had the more impressive technology.  The PSP could seemingly do everything; games in full, bright color, graphics capacity that made games a pleasure to play, internet connectivity via WiFi, UMD movies and games, and eventually, a fantastic catalogue of downloadable full games, both new and classic.  Unfortunately for Sony, their handheld devices have just never been that successful when compared to their lower-tech competition.  They've almost always had subtle design flaws - the original PSP was too thick; the PSP Go was too small, and uncomfortable to play; the PS Vita...well, that shit's just a mess, all around.

So, when Nintendo announced that its next "Next Gen" console system, the Wii U, would have a handheld gaming component that would allow gamers to take the game off the big screen and into their hands, it seemed like the perfect marriage of their successes - combining their more dedicated handheld gamers with their more casual Wii gamers.

Of course, every market analyst predicted that this system would be "another" massive failure - it wasn't high-tech enough, innovative enough, or dedicated to the hardcore gamer.  When they speak of this being "another" failure, they are, of course, speaking of the stumble-ridden release of the 3DS handheld system, which initially suffered from a massive dearth of games that anyone wanted (or wants, even now) to play.  What these naysayers all seem to forget is how lackluster was the release of the first Nintendo DS.  A year later, when the 3DS had by far surpassed the first-year sales of the original DS, those same market analysts had to eat a little bit of crow, as their predictions fell far short.

Luckily for their jobs, the Wii U came along to underwhelm them.  But, once again, they're going to be wrong.  In fact, they already are - every single retailer of the Wii U has sold out of the 32GB Black Wii U pre-order, and most have sold out of the 8GB White Wii U version...two months prior to its release.

When the Vita hit their hands, however, reviewers could blow enough hot air into the gamersphere, praising its fantastic resolution, innovative back-side touch screen, dual analogue sticks, and the promise of great things to come.  And it could have been all of those things (even with that still-useless back-side touch screen)...but Sony, it would seem, is not Nintendo.

Sony has yet to understand that they don't dominate the gaming market.  They continue to overestimate their popularity, hoping that an almost invisible marketing campaign will be sufficient to sell their overpriced device that can't seem to decide what it wants to be or to whom it should be geared.  

The tech specs appeal to hardcore gamers...and those capabilities have yet to even begin to be tapped.  They can't get any 3rd party developers to even touch the damn thing, since no one in Japan seems to want one, and even fewer people over here want it.  

Worse is that it STILL has yet to do what it was promised to do.  Yes, it can Skype.  It took two months, but it could do it.  And yeah, you can watch Netflix on long as you don't mind holding the damn thing and draining your battery just to get through a single episode of Sons of Anarchy.  

And that brings up the nightmare of its terrible design aesthetic.  The thing is just a nightmare to hold, because the backside has that worthless touchscreen on it.  Conveniently, Sony has placed two painful indentations on both sides of the bottom where you can hold it up on your physiologically weaker pinky fingers, while attempting to hold it with the rest of your fingers held in a claw grip to hold onto the two vagina-shaped indentations on either side of the back-side touch screen.  The design requires you to both hold it gingerly and squeeze it in the least comfortable of ways.

But, ask any market analyst, and they'll tell you all about how the PS Vita is an amazing device. was the Apple Lisa.  And anyone who knows their Apple history knows how THAT one worked out.  Actually, the Apple Newton would be a better comparison.  Or the current Maps App.

At any rate, if you want to know why Nintendo continues to win the day, all you need to do is look at their reputation for putting out devices that last, even if the novelty of their innovation wears off.  It's not always about graphics and spec techs; it's often more about appealing to the right audiences with the right kinds of disposable income.  Fanboys may love you, but you're never going to build a cottage industry if you rely on them.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Square-Enix Peg in a Round Hole World...

After paying little to no attention to the happenings at the E3 convention (as per usual), I am just now catching up with some of the goings on with my former favorite video game company, Square-Enix.

There is much shared history between S-E and myself; together, we had a relationship that spanned almost three decades.  It has become apparent, however, that the time has come for me to bid farewell to them on a sour note...which is ironic, considering their next "major" release is Final Fantasy Theatrhythm, a lame ass rhythm game featuring music from their once glorious past for the Nintendo 3DS.

Some of my best memories from childhood involve Squaresoft games, before I even knew that a single company was responsible for my favorite games.  I would rent Final Fantasy for the NES from the local video store, Video Madness, nearly every weekend just to start back where I left off (assuming someone hadn't replaced my save file).  When I finally purchased the game, I would take it everywhere I went.  Family beach trips were spent indoors with the tinny 8-bit music filling our condo while the rest of the family were outside on the sand and in the Atlantic.  As they enjoyed the waves pounding against the coastline, I was traveling by boat from one port to the next to fulfill my quest to save the world from Chaos.

As I got older, my love of Final Fantasy grew with the platforms; from Final Fantasy Legend on Gameboy, to Final Fantasy II (which they never told us was actually IV) on the SNES, the Final Fantasy series of games grew up, it seemed, alongside me.  When I entered high school, Final Fantasy VII and VIII introduced the novel concept that characters used vulgar language, blood was actually red, characters got drunk off of alcohol as opposed to milk or soda, and, surprisingly enough, some characters who inhabit the worlds of Final Fantasy were gay.

Sure, they were gay at a bathhouse in a slum, participated in a very confusing exercise-based gangbang, and then dragged a barely unwilling Cloud into a sauna to relax the muscles...all so he could gain access to the "best" pair of underwear to dress up like the most attractive female he could be......

Actually, now that I look back on that, this scene was pretty transformational, for me, at the time when I was just coming out in high school.

I digress.

Square-Enix was once a transformational company, constantly pushing the boundaries of RPGs to new heights, and fundamentally redefining for an entire generation of gamers what it meant to play a Role Playing Game.

And then came the ability to have realistic graphics.

With the release of the PS2, their landmark series, Final Fantasy, suddenly shifted from a series that was more about the story to one that was more about the graphics.  Square-Enix went from releasing a new main-series Final Fantasy game once every 1-4 years, to suddenly having six-year release schedules.  They instead focused on releasing spinoffs, remakes, ports, and a slew of Final Fantasy VII drivel that just needed to stop.

At this year's E3, Square-Enix unveiled their Luminous game engine with a tech demo that featured a fake Final Fantasy game, and of course the tech geeks lost their fucking minds.  What's sad is that they didn't actually present anything worth buying.

Instead of localizing the series that it bought when they enveloped Enix, Dragon Quest, they continue to release the games only in Japan, despite the cries from their Western fans.  They went even further to ruin the series by making the latest iteration of the game, number ten in the series, an online game.  Awesome.  So, you've taken the last bastion of the classic JRPG and turned it into an online nightmare?      Great.

Unfortunately, gone are the days of the good JRPG from Square-Enix, and instead, we're left with gaming travesties like Final Fantasy XIIII and XIII-2.  

The moral of the story is this:

RPG fans don't want better graphics; they just want better games.