What I'm working on:

Various write-ups.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My Favorite Gaming Moments Vol #1

This is a series of posts that present my favorite gaming experiences throughout the years. All of the following content is personal opinion and reflects no statement of general quality or value with regards to what others may enjoy.


Catching Suicune in Pokemon Crystal


I still remember every part of this experience so many years ago.


Suicune is actually special to me for more than one reason.

It was why I wanted Pokemon Crystal more than Gold or Silver. As a kid, I didn't know the difference between the Pokemon games on a store shelf, but I thought that Suicune on the cover was the coolest thing ever and wanted Crystal as my first Pokemon game on that merit alone. Suicune also ended up being both my first proper legendary Pokemon and my first use of a Master ball. The second I saw it, I new EXACTLY what I was going to do. There wasn't even a real battle and, by the end of it, I was over the moon with my new catch for weeks. I rarely used Suicune, but I kept it in my party for as long as I played the game and up until I lost it many years ago during a move.

I think everyone that plays Pokemon has a favorite moment and, for me, this was one of the bigger ones.


The end of Phantom Hourglass


He may have been rough on the lead up, but I think he more than makes up for it by the time the credits roll.

Phantom Hourglass is a game that a lot people say wasn't a very memorable game in the Zelda franchise. I disagree, having found it to be a very fun and interesting title in the series.

I thought the touch controls were smart and intuitive, I liked having Ciela 'guide' link by the Stylus tip, and I insist that the usage of the DS hardware is some of the most clever I've seen on the platform outright. There's also Linebeck, a fun character with an interesting personality that ends up being a highlight of the game's climax and conclusion through an uncharacteristic act of selflessness, making for one of my favorite moments in a game outright.

Even if others may not hold it in similar regard, this is a game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing and am definitely glad was made.


The Microwave scene in MGS4


Me and my friends talked about this scene for days.


Though not as affecting now for various reasons, the Microwave scene in MGS4 was a striking moment in my gaming history.

It was the culmination of everything that had led up that moment. I was fast approaching the end of the game, and here I could see everything unrelentingly fall apart in a montage as I pushed forward, barely hanging on, desperately crawling to the end of the hallway. After getting so invested in the story and everything that happened on the way to the closing of Solid Snake's last chapter in the Metal Gear saga, I could hardly keep myself from being overwhelmed with determination as the feeling of hopelessness encroached.

When it's all said and done, I don't look back at this sequence as a particularly important part of the MGS series as a whole, but, in the moment, I can say that itwas incredibly notable for me at the time.

Looking back, I'd apologize to the triangle button on my old Dual Shock 3 if I could.

My Favorite Games: Rayman 2

Rayman 2: The Great Escape

A game experience that enraptured me with its unforgettable mystique



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Potential Features for Animal Crossing on the Switch

Hello again!

As some of you may remember, and in some cases be annoyed about, mainline Animal Crossing skipped the Wii U.

But why?

Financially lucrative, appealing to most demographics, and genuinely adored, having this franchise pass over Nintendo's last home console seems like a wasted opportunity to many. Personally, I believe that a big part of why this didn't happen was that the principle novelty of the hardware was dual-screen play.

Though unique among home consoles, dual-screen functionality has been leveraged as the primary means of moving the Animal Crossing franchise forward on Nintendo's handhelds. Wild World on the DS saw a more intuitive interface and expanded feature set that later carried over into New Leaf, alongside a plethora of other additions and adjustments. In many ways, Animal Crossing games tend to be improved iterations of each other as opposed to full-blown sequels, so releasing a title on the Wii U might not have only seemed a little redundant but also as a less convenient way to play as well.

It doesn't help that the development team was quite busy coming off of New Leaf, having a hand in building the Wii U's interface, Nintendo Land, and four other projects: two of which were Animal Crossing related and one being Splatoon, the first entry in Nintendo’s wildly successful new IP .

However, with the release of the Switch, we now have hardware that’s abandoned dual-screen play as its core feature, instead finding its novelty in being functional as both a handheld and console. Because of that, I believe that an Animal Crossing made on this platform won't be disadvantaged by losing the pivotal boon of playing anywhere or held back by the technical limitations of a traditional handheld, making it a strong place to push the series forward with little compromise.

Today, I thought it'd be fun to consider what interesting innovations or mechanics could be implemented on a Switch version of Animal Crossing to provide a unique, interesting play experience.

Here are just a few that I’ve come up with.


Tablet Notifications


I think an external notification system that allows players to receive more notable updates on what's going on in their game would be pretty useful.

An external notification system would be great to keep you informed when playing another game or doing something else entirely.

Something like this could be integrated into the standard notification system of the Switch or an external app. Whether available on the cartridge, through the eShop, or even on mobile, a lean secondary application would be a great alternative to help conserve battery life in portable mode. A mobile application in particular, perhaps integrated through the Animal Crossing mobile game, would provide the benefit of a notification system you'd always have on hand. Being optional would mean that only those who really want to keep up with their game would have updates coming in, respecting players in a way that most apps typically don't.


StreetPass-style Trading


Though Nintendo's confirmed that StreetPass isn't a feature of the Switch, I feel that a means of hypothetically connecting it, the 3DS, and mobile platforms in some way could have interesting interactive uses.

Connecting players across all platforms would be a great way to bolster the respective communities of each game.

Trading in particular is something I think would be fun. Imagine putting items that you don't personally want out for a new home. Passing by folks playing New Leaf or the upcoming mobile game would allow you to give away these things alongside accompanying letters, and maybe receive something unique for yourself.

Maybe an expansion of shops would allow you to design your own items to sell and provide a means for passersby to show their approval later on or even buy something for themselves! I think that this could be a really cool way to make bells and expand social engagement in a safe, rewarding way.


Window Mode


In much the same way that the introduction of handhelds has been an excellent fit for allowing us to enjoy Animal Crossing in short bursts, I think that the application of a secondary mode for home use might also provide an interesting means of increasing efficiency and respecting the player's time.

Window Mode would be an immersive feature that would be like, well, a window into the game's world. Functioning like an informative, interactive screensaver, it would intuitively allow players to see what's going on in their towns.


Wouldn't it be fun to count down and watch the New Year's fireworks from the comfort of your own home?

You could see what the weather's like, if you've got mail, perhaps a hint of whatever festivities may be happening on a given day, and more. You might even get friendly villagers saying hello, dropping things off, or wanting to talk! Of course, some folks might not like having too much socialization come their way, so you would be able to adjust your —customizable— blinds and/or curtains to make it so that other villagers know you're looking for a little privacy.

Personally, I think this would be a really fun little touch that could also help players who tend to get lost figuring out what to do and allow those at home to passively engage with the game while still being productive instead of dedicating the time to sitting in front of the television and turning the console on and off when wanting to play.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What I Want from Breath of the Wild

Originally published on February 27th, 2017

Hey folks! With the release of the Switch being just a week away, hype is in overdrive all around. What excites me most about next week isn't the Switch, however, but the release of Breath of the Wild.

Yes, after years of waiting, speculation, and anticipation, the 3rd of March will finally be the day we get our hands on one of the most ambitious titles in the Legend of Zelda franchise yet, and I'm very ready to sink my teeth into the massive open world of Hyrule for myself.

Being the last week until the game's release, previews have started to pour out of the press. Though I've been avoiding these write-ups and videos with the aim of immersing myself entirely in the game without knowledge of anything that'd be pleasant to discover on my own, that hasn't stopped me from having my own hopes for what it'll be like to play.

Today, I've decided to gather up all of the things I'd love to see Breath of the Wild do to highlight what I personally think would be an amazing experience.

Here's what I want from the game.


Gameplay


Starting with gameplay, there are some things in particular that I'd like to see in this release.

The folks at Nintendo always seem to love hiding secrets in their games, whether they be references to other franchises like the animal masks in Majora's Mask or mechanical obscurities like getting in a Koopa shell in Super Mario 3D World, these oddities never fail to make me feel like there's more to a game than meets the eye and that I'm in on something special. I'd love to see more of these in Breath of the Wild. I Know that it's pretty much a guarantee that we'll get to see these warm little touches regardless considering the precedent, but the fact that Breath of the Wild has such a massive world only excites me so much more about the possibility of find numerous things that I'd never expect to see, whether in a Zelda game or otherwise.

Another thing I really want is challenge. Because this game has an open world in the truest sense, I don't want to be held back from progressing by artificial walls of any sort. Within reason, I want my successes to reflect my skill more than they do the quality of my inventory: I want to be a better player, not have a better character. I love the idea of doing something that seems restrictively difficult and knowing that I can overcome it instead of being forced to turn around and take a different path until Link is somehow numerically more capable. Things like this would mean that I can make my own challenges by approaching dire situations on my own terms. The pinnacle of that sort of design would be defeating Ganon right from the get go, and I fully intend to give it a try to satisfy my own curiosity before really delving into the rest of what the game has to offer. Knowing that this is technically possible already has me wondering what incredible things a skilled player could pull off on their adventure, and I look forward to becoming that player myself.

Just imagine beating down Bokoblin by flailing around a piece of meat with Magnesis!

On the other end of things, I want the simple, obvious things to be entirely in my hands to figure out. I'd love to get a fuller sense of satisfaction from recognizing what's necessary through my own observations and experimentation. Essentially, if the game is put together in a way that respects my intelligence instead of telegraphing what needs to be done before I get the opportunity to engage with the situation, I'll be a very happy camper. I'm not actually too worried about things on this front, as it seems very clear that most situations are designed to be open ended with regards to how players approach them. It's even been said that there isn't a typical companion character in the game because they want to grant players the complete freedom to forge their own path, and that is very encouraging to know.


Story


Though I know that the freedom of Breath of the Wild is also established in a way that allows players to have their own personal stories to tell at the end of their experience, I'd really like the primary narrative of this Zelda game to be as fully featured as the ones we've seen in previous entries of the franchise. I recognize and appreciate that we can defeat Ganon without contextualizing our play-throughs with the cutscenes in the game, but I hope that those of us that do pursue them get a rich background to paint the picture of what happened leading up to our adventure.

I also would really love smaller plot threads being explored through side-quests. These could be especially memorable if Nintendo approached them with the kind of depth and variety we've seen in Majora's Mask.

Something else I've really been wanting from a Zelda game, though not necessarily this one, is an exploration of the "Era Without a Hero". This is a part of the Adult timeline that takes place after Ocarina of Time but before Wind Waker and is the period in which the flooding of Hyrule occurred. I think it'd be compelling to experience that Era, especially if things weren't necessarily as simple as we might think.

What if the Legend only says that the hero was nowhere to be found because he failed?

Though the Link from Ocarina of Time disappeared from this timeline, the Link in Wind Waker still had the Spirit of the Hero. Why would it simply be gone in the intermediary time, especially when the royal bloodline still continued and Ganon broke his seal? What if this doesn't mean that there wasn't a hero, but that he failed? After all, failure isn't unprecedented in the Zelda universe continuity, as the Decline timeline is dedicated to a scenario in which Link does not succeed in defeating Ganon.  In that case, it would make sense that the legend of his time would ignore him as the chosen hero destined to save Hyrule. In their eyes, if he fails, how could he be? I think it'd be incredibly interesting to see a game like this that, ultimately, would be more of a tragedy: justifying the need to call upon the Goddesses to flood Hyrule.


Lore


Relevant to the story front, I'd love to see more strong world-building in Breath of the Wild. The immense size of the game lends itself to an enormous amount of potential with regards to painting a richer picture of Hyrule than we've ever seen before.

I want to learn about past tragedies through the rubble of architecture and the remains of civilization. I want to enter ruins and be able to trace the path a guardian might have taken as it left destruction in its wake. I want geography to show me why certain groups live in certain places and how that reflects on their way of life.

Translating Hylian glyphs or running through tapestries like this would be a great way to flesh out the world.

Even side-quests could build on this front, indirectly helping expand our understanding of the world. Just imagine learning about the various cultures of Hyrule, whether through the remains of what was or through the new villages and communities that exist in the present.

Going back to respecting player intelligence, I'd also love to have much of this done in a way that indicates thoughtful design as opposed to directly feeding the player through optional exposition. There's nothing wrong with doing things in that way, but I think that primarily presenting the lore through deliberate choices with the geography, ecology, architecture, enemies, and NPCs would be all the more enriching to those of us who want to put a careful eye forward, thus making the experience feel all the more cohesive and the world more alive.

The Way I See It: Marketing the Switch as a Handheld

The Way I See It is a category of pieces that represent my personal opinions or reasoning on subjects I enjoy or have a lot to say about. Though at times the write-ups may be built on well-researched and verified information, as a general statement, I do not speak with absolute authority on any given matter covered. Thank you for your time.

Let's get back to the topic of the Nintendo Switch. A common complaint I've seen again and again is that the hardware isn't being presented well to potential consumers. A whole lot of folks have insisted that Nintendo's not being smart about the Switch by marketing it as a console first. "Why sell it as a weaker console that you can take with you when you could advertise it as a really powerful handheld that you can hook up to the tv?" they say.

There are a lot of reasons for why they wouldn't want to do that. In fact, looking at things as a whole, there's little to no value in presenting it in that way at all.

Here are some of my thoughts and an elaboration on my perspective.


Price


Let's start with the money factor.

I'll put it bluntly: At 300 dollars, the Switch is not priced to sell as a handheld.

Looking back at a relevant and recent example, the 3DS entered the market at 250 US Dollars. By the second quarter of the hardware’s availability, it had become apparent that this was not a wise move. Sales so solidly plummeted that they didn't just fail to meet projections, but they also contributed to Nintendo's first quarterly loss in about 8 years. Nintendo quickly turned around on this and heavily dropped the 3DS's price, aiming to encourage sales, regain their market momentum, and build their player-base to convince developers and retail partners that the handheld could achieve a degree of success comparable to its predecessor.

The Switch retails for 50 dollars more than the 3DS did before its price drop with no pack-in game or holdover distractions like AR to speak of.

Advertising the Switch as a handheld first and asking consumers in the same market group as the 3DS - one that has shrunken by about a 3rd if we're being generous - to pay 300 dollars for it is utterly untenable. On top of this, potential buyers from the console market would likely balk at the prospect of putting that much money down for a handheld when the same amount could buy them a PS4 or Xbox One with a game included and the assurance of an already expansive software library instead.

Speaking of software, the pricing there is also a glaring issue that would need to be addressed.

Typically, the roof of handheld game pricing is about 40 US dollars. Full-scale Switch games cost the standard 60 associated with new console games. When posing the Switch as a handheld, every market would find problems with this amount.

Many console gamers looking from the outside would ask why they'd have to pay the same price for a handheld game as they would a standard console release, seeing it as a lower value proposition. On the other side of the spectrum, the financially minded handheld gamer, who already has the price of the device to consider, would only be further detracted by a perceptible cost increase for software. Things get even worse when looking at mobile gamers who do most of their shopping on app stores: through their frame of reference, they'd be apprehensive of paying 10 dollars for a single game, let alone a solid 60.

Where money is concerned, Nintendo needs to set the right context to justify the investments that they and their partners expect consumers to make, and no part of telling the world that the Switch is a 300 dollar handheld with 60 dollar games succeeds in doing that.


Practicality


On top of pricing concerns, let's consider the functional value of the Switch being a handheld-first device. Sure it'd look like a step forward to the handheld gamer, but what about the other market groups?

To everyone else, its console functionality wouldn't seem all that attractive would it?

3DS games and the like tend to be smaller, bite-sized experiences that are made with the consideration that the hardware has a limited battery life and will be used in unstable settings. A lot of games in various genres designed in terms of those parameters would likely feel shallower, shorter, less engrossing, and less meaningful to those who primarily play games on consoles and personal computers. Implying that Switch games are like this adds unnecessary apprehension of the quality of experience that console gamers would end up finding on the hardware; it goes against the appealing current messaging that you can take your full-featured console game with you anywhere you go.

Calling this a handheld device you can hook up to your tv raises a further, possibly more potential stifling, marketing issue: the mainstream audience doesn't associate the 3DS with handheld games, but the titles they get on their phones. Take a walk in their shoes. Would you at all want to play a majority of those games on a television given the opportunity? Mobile games are almost universally centered around basic mechanics and aren't graphically intensive. Folks playing on a phone have a convenience that isn't found anywhere else in that they can play their games in any environment and usually still have a hand free to do other things. They can play while on the train, waiting in line at the store, running their errands, and even while watching tv. Giving mobile gamers something that seems to take that all away doesn't sound like an alluring kind of novelty, does it?


Closing


The long of the short of it is that Nintendo marketing the Switch as a console that you can play on the go is a stronger strategy when compared to the presented alternative. It allows Nintendo to pose the hardware and software in a way that's more palatable to all markets in terms of price as well as easily manage the expectations of the kinds of games it's been built to facilitate. Console and PC gamers will very clearly understand the concept of the hardware and consider the allure of playing upcoming games in the same capacity that they usually do at home wherever they'd like. Handheld gamers will be able to look at the Switch and recognize that it's an even bigger leap in scale and graphics than they might typically expect. The mobile market will very immediately understand that the software and hardware are not directly comparable to things like their phones and app-store games, allowing them to appreciate the device’s merits on its own terms.

As far as I can see, marketing the Switch as a handheld first would only be smart if all that mattered for its success was its perceived power. I'm sure that it's clear to those who really think about it that things aren't that simple, and the overall value of pushing the Switch under those extremely specific terms isn't just low; it's actually potentially very damaging to the success of the hardware.

Nintendo has never released the most powerful handhelds on the market, yet they've always succeeded in the face of their competition. They've done this by pricing their hardware competitively, providing great battery-life, and, more recently, having novelties that turn heads. As a handheld, the Switch offers none of these things. Is it then still worth it for Nintendo to pose their latest flagship device under this marketing context, just to look more powerful?

If you asked me, I'd say no.