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.