Hunch: Nintendo Revives “Super” Branding

Moments ago, WSJ broke news that Nintendo will be announcing a new Switch in 2019. This continues a trend of WSJ breaking Nintendo news.

Earlier this evening, after seeing reviews for Super Mario Party emerge, it dawned on me the appropriateness of the “super” brand in an era of mid-cycle console refreshes. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a next-gen console at the time, but “Super” now feels like a supreme version of an existing console.

My crack-pot hunch is that this new Switch will be named the “Super Switch” (as opposed to “Switch XL”) and will feature a larger display (smaller bezel), richer speakers, better kickstand placement, and Bluetooth headphone support at a minimum. Just a hunch.

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There are too many video games. What now?

Excerpts from Steven Wright’s Polygon Cover Story, emphasis my own:

Everyone can make games, but be realistic. … It used to be that you could do something that nobody had ever seen before, or you could do something familiar really well. Now, it has to be innovative and have incredible quality.”

Games are surely easier to make than ever before. Easy for me to say as I’ve never made a game, but I have to believe that today’s technology has decreased the barrier of entry to development. That’s not to say it’s easy to create a good game. Like any good art or media, that is an incredibly difficult feat.

The tech to create games is more accessible than ever. Formal eduction to learn how to make games has become readily available. The distribution of games becomes increasingly easy via tools like Epic’s Unreal Engine which allows developers to “more easily ship games and seamlessly optimize gameplay across platforms.”

For those developers creating online experiences, the choice and complexity of platform to develop for and release to shrinks ever more with cross-platform play becoming increasingly popular.

It begs the question there is inevitably one experience everywhere, how do the plethora of games become seen? I believe indies will come to depend on large publishers for marketing budgets to cut through the cruft. But those publishers will be increasingly looking for guarantees on their investments. Not a chance on a new indie title.

When Finnish studio Housemarque released a twin-stick shooter called Nex Machina into the wilds of Steam in 2017, it didn’t exactly expect the game to to set tills alight. Even with those lowered expectations, however, the team behind the acclaimed defend-’em-up Resogun found itself shocked at the lack of impact that the Housemarque name seemed to have on the droves of consumers scrolling through Steam every day. When the sales numbers finally trickled t in — Housemarque declined to discuss specifics for this story, but SteamSpy and this recently patched achievement leak puts the number slightly below 100,000 copies sold as of summer 2018 — the mood was somber, with the studio’s head of publishing, Mikael Haveri, describing it as “devastating.”

The past few games I’ve played (and enjoyed!) on iOS have been published by Annapurna Interactive. The brand has made its impression. I couldn’t tell you the developer of any of these games.

The frequency at which a publisher for multiple developers can get its brand in front of the player is far greater than any indie developer. Recognition by saturation.

If the publisher is able to consistently publish top-notch experiences, they also become a trusted curator of which players will seek new titles.

If a developer seeks to have the same level of recognition, they are absolutely required to create something “innovative and of incredible quality” to compel a player to invest in their complete experience, thus building a relationship. The longer the experience lasts, the deeper the relationship becomes.

Blizzard and Epic have created addictive experiences that continue pull players back in over and over, again and again, for hours on end; drilling their brand in with each launch of the game as well as their proprietary launchers and stores.

Nintendo iterates on familiar and successful franchises to deepen the association of a particular IP to Nintendo, thus deepening the player’s relationship with and trust in Nintendo. Should a new Nintendo IP comes along, chances are those with a relationship with Nintendo will give it a try. And because Nintendo consistently creates stellar experience, the trust will likely grow.

Capybara Games released an innovative title of incredible quality for iOS in Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery days after the iPad 2 was released — arguably the first experience of its kind. The title was of novel design, mysterious, tonally unique, integrated social sharing to encourage peer-to-peer marketing, and was immersive and long enough to draw players back in through to completion during the early days of a platform. While Capybara may not be a household name, their design and tone is now familiar.

All of this said, the chances of a developer becoming a household name are far slimmer than a publisher who’s essentially become a curator. The same could be send for indie record labels and film distribution/production houses.

Devolver’s Nigel Lowry says that although many industry veterans and gamers alike think of the gaming market as a finite amount of money that hungry consumers are willing to spend in a given time period — say, this bloody holiday season, which is particularly awash with high-profile franchises that must duke it out, such as Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead Redemption — in the past few years, it’s become apparent that the limiting factor isn’t measured in dollars, but hours. In a climate where every game is stuffed to the gills with five tiers of colored loot, massive open worlds, reams of optional content and a dozen content patches lurking on the schedule before the core package even hits store shelves, it seems that game developers are battering each other harder than ever before to compete for the attention of games worldwide.

“Even if the most hardcore gamer plays 14 hours a day, that’s still a finite amount of time,” he says. “And if you’re spending 10 of those in a PUBG, or a Fortnite, what does that leave for the rest of us? It’s true that timing of release is critical, sure, and I don’t think that single-player, smaller-scope games are going to go away; there’s always going to be room for that. But time is something that you really can’t move, and you have to account for that when people move into these long-term relationships with games.

See Self-competing and Time Blocking.

I truly don’t know what the future of indies is, but it doesn’t look great.

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Cross-platform play coming to PS4, starting with Fortnite

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

Sony has finally stopped fighting the future: A beta for cross-platform play, including support for Fortnite, launches today.

“The first step will be an open beta beginning today for Fortnite that will allow for cross platform gameplay, progression and commerce across PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac operating systems,” PlayStation president and global CEO John Kodera wrote on the PlayStation Blog. “We see the beta as an opportunity to conduct thorough testing that ensures cross-platform play is best on PlayStation, while being mindful about the user experience from both a technical and social perspective.”

This is a major reversal of its longstanding policy of keeping PlayStation fans segregated from the rest of the industry, after arguing that cross-platform play might even be unsafe. Others in the industry had argued that the policy was due to monetary concerns. Many publishers, including Bethesda, had been pressuring Sony to make this change, and developers such as Psyonix have already spoken openly about how easy the change would be to implement from their end.

This is industry shaking news. With this breakthrough, cross-platform play will become a new norm.

Not to belabor the “console wars”, but I suspect this will encourage deeper investment in first-party exclusives (Nintendo’s game) leading to more studio acquisitions (Microsoft’s new game), as well as bigger deals for third-party exclusives (Sony’s game, traditionally).

Finally. Finally. Finally. Finally.

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Books Are My New Albums

The perfect song is “Have You Forgotten” by The Red House Painters.

Not the official album version on “Songs for a Blue Guitar”, but the version that only appears on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s 2001 film Vanilla Sky, of which the song only appears for a brief moment during the film: six minutes in, lasting only 20 seconds, and tucked into the background under banter between Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. Easily missed if you’re not paying attention.

So, how did I find it?

Some time around 2003, I was on a family trip to Oregon. My brother and I were driving through Oregon’s lush mountains, trailing my parents and grandparents who were navigating. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful space. Tired of the CDs we had been spinning, I decided to pop in the Vanilla Sky soundtrack. It was my favorite film at the time.

I came to own the CD after hearing a song at the end of the film that moved me profoundly. The lyrics were foreign and I never heard sonics like it. Certain it must be on the soundtrack, I tracked a copy down and scoured. Not Radiohead. Not Peter Gabriel. Not Afrika Bambaataa. Of those artists I’d never heard of: not two seconds into the Red House Painters track it sounded too structured — skip — but Sigur Rós sounded close. It was not quite right, but I was tracking the right scent.

Fumbling around the early-‘00s internet, Sigur Rós’s website listed a slew of live recordings, one of which was the track used for Vanilla Sky’s finale; what would become known as “Untitled 4” or “Njósnavélin” or “The Nothing Song”.

Needless to say, I had never listened to the full Vanilla Sky soundtrack before. I had only purchased it on the chance of obtaining “The Nothing Song”.

So, a time came during our trek to Oregon that I was sick of the other albums I’d brought, and decided to give the Vanilla Sky soundtrack a spin.

“Have You Forgotten” came on and the world became a painting. After the first listen, I listened again. And again. And again. It was perfect. Lyrically, sonically perfect.

This version is not available via traditional streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify. I could — maybe should — encourage you to purchase the Vanilla Sky soundtrack, but I’ve done the leg work to discover this gem, so I’ll save you the trouble. Just this once:

The perfect song. Full stop.

Music discovery as we knew it is a thing of the past. Radio is still a powerful tool to promote Top 40 and the latest singles. Deep cuts are just a click away. A playlist will introduce you to bands and tracks of particular themes or influence. But the archeological process of obtaining limited releases, a band’s first EP, or a compilation for a single track have been fast removed in the day and age of streaming. Albums can be thrown away after a track or two in instead of considered an investment; not pilfered or appreciated for their concept or the one magic gem hidden before Track 1, tucked away at Track 7, or 10 minutes after the last song. It‘s free to listen and time is money.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. Quite the contrary. I would have killed to have all of this music at my disposal as a teenager. Money was tight but my craving for new music was not. $5 would score me a new Punk-O-Rama compilation with 20 tracks. $10 would buy an album at Best Buy — maybe not the one I was looking for, but anything was better than nothing. $20 for something more desirable but a little harder to find at Tower Records. I recall finding The Appleseed Cast’s Low Level Owl: Vols 1 and 2 at two different stores in Berkeley — my crowning music discovery bounty.

For better or worse, those days are long gone. Even a local punk band can release music on Apple Music for $20 and a few clicks. It’s (virtually) all there.

If the music discovery itch has been scratched, what is the next frontier? Truth be told, it’s quite possibly the oldest form of media discovery out there: Books.

Amongst the centuries of tomes, the mountains of paper and ink, books are ripe with treasure. One that speaks to me may not speak to you. Chapter 4 is not Track 4. Jumping to the good part is not an option. Short of a collection, books must be taken in as a whole. And that whole is an investment up front. Choose wisely. And if you’re short on dough, hopefully your choice nets out a sentence or two that you can hang your hat on. Something meaty. A compass. An inspiration. A goal.

It’s all very obvious, but for someone who lived and breathed music and didn’t take up reading until age 29, it feels like rediscovering an old me. I’ve read 16 books this year. 12 in 2017 and 24 in 2016. Some are good. Some are bad. I finish all of them. Even a bad book hones my hunt for something perfect. All wash over you. All are an experience. All cost money and time and patience.

I’m still searching for the perfect book; the perfect passage; the perfect sentence. Hear you me, it will be done. (It won’t.) But until then, discovery is back in my life. The hunt is on. Thankful, I have not forgotten.

Oh, and the perfect album is Elliott’s “Song in the Air”.

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The Nintendo 3DS and the Importance of Ports

Viewers of Nintendo’s 9.13.2018 Direct were witness to a treasure trove of future Switch titles. To name a few:

  • Animal Crossing
  • Luigi’s Mansion 3
  • Mega Man 11
  • Final Fantasy VII, IX, X, X-2, XII ports
  • Yoshi’s Crafted World
  • New Super Mario Bros. U port
  • Diablo III
  • Civilization VI

But the one announcement I keep coming back to is the 3DS port of Kirby’s Epic Yarn — a 2010 Wii title — in the form of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn.

This is not the first Nintendo home console port to the 7-year-old portable console — Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii), Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii), most recently Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U), to name a few — but it was the first during this Nintendo Direct. Shortly after, a port of the GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion (2001) was announced as a marketing tactic fix to hold fans over for Luigi’s Mansion 3 on the Switch.

In 2017, Nintendo stated that they would continue to support the 3DS/2DS past 2018, alongside the Switch. Current sales numbers of the Switch reflect that of the hugely popular PS4. But even with that success, it’s fascinating to see Nintendo port back-catalog console titles to it’s aged handheld. The telling reason is the 3DS’s continued sales numbers, continuing to post 6.4 million units sold during Nintendo’s fiscal year 2018 ending March 31, 2018 alone.


It’s one thing that Wii U titles are seeing new life on the Switch — Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker — but it’s even more interesting the see the same tactic for a device that third-party support has all but dried up.

Nintendo sees continued life in the 3DS — a 2017 version in the New Nintendo 2DS XL is probably one clue — and seems to have found a method to maintaining the growth of an already stellar catalog with it’s own IP.

Short of the minority who still own a Gamecube or Wii, there is no other place to play Nintendo titles like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Luigi’s Mansion, Donkey Kong Country Returns, or Xenoblade Chronicles — all of which have or will have a Switch sequel. If you don’t have a 3DS/2DS, these games may be attractive enough to pick one up on the opportunity to play or replay alone. But even for existing owners of the 3DS/2DS, this stable of first-party ports are certain to whet appetites for their Switch sequels.

The 3DS is a brilliant promotional tool for the Nintendo Switch.

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Xbox All Access Pass hardware, software, and services subscription

Ben Thompson, Stratechery Daily Update:

That noted, it is not too difficult to imagine this program morphing into something much more significant in the ninth-generation, which is due in 2020. I’ve already discussed the anticipated shift to streaming, at least for some titles; that, naturally, fits a subscription model perfectly.

What is particularly compelling, though, is idea of assuming regular hardware upgrades throughout the generation. Microsoft could, of course, simply charge its best gamers for those slight upgrades every time they come out, but what if instead of financing new consoles the model was more akin to leasing? Pay one monthly fee, get access to online services, streaming games, and new hardware every few years?

Consumer hardware as a service.

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The television equivalent of the novel

Wonderland by Steven Johnson

Art is the aftershock of technological plates shifting. Sometimes the aftershock is slow in arriving. It took the novel about three hundred years to evolve into its modern form after the invention of the printing press. The television equivalent of the novel—the complex serialized drama of The Wire or Breaking Bad—took as long as seventy years to develop, depending on where you date its origins.

I’ve often thought about today’s serialized, bingeable, Golden Age of Television as the visual equivalent of the novel. Rich worlds. Deep investment in characters. Time to marinate with relationships and stakes.

Before the Golden Age of Television, I was captivated by trilogies — hell, I still am — namely Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (Extended Editions!) I hadn’t read the books, but I felt an attachment to the characters. Its cohesive production, year-over-year release schedule, and follow-through of Tolkien’s parallel stories and stakes built a world I was able to immerse myself in.

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings runs 9 hours in total, the extended editions running 11 hours — not dissimilar from a Golden Age television series.

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Polygon: Captain Toad feels like “Nintendo experimenting within the Mario Universe”

Polygon’s Michael McWhertor on the Quality Control podcast with host Dave Tach:

For a few years now, I have promoted and evangelized Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. To the point where I think even people at Nintendo are like, “hey, send this guy the Captain Toad review code first.”

I love the game. I love the character. It’s a great little puzzle game. It was one of those things that was released on the Wii U — which didn’t have a ton of great games, but this was a real standout in my opinion — and not a lot of people owned the Wii U. [Captain Toad] was something that was overlooked by a lot of people. It’s a fun little package. Now that it’s out on Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS, people have no excuse not to go play Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

In 2013, Nintendo released Super Mario 3D World, and excellent platformer for the Wii U. In that game, there were a handful of levels featuring Captain Toad. You gave up control of Mario, Peach, Luigi, etc., and you played as Captain Toad in these tiny little diorama-style levels where Toad would walk around with a headlamp and a heavy backpack.

He couldn’t run and jump. He could basically just walk around levels. He could fall down things. There were switches you could pull to raise him up on platforms. But each one was just this cute, clever little puzzle level that felt like Nintendo experimenting within the Mario Universe.

Mike and I share similar feelings about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The game itself is a charming, clever, puzzle game. But beyond that, it’s a wonderful expansion on a more realized Mushroom Kingdom. And it was great to see the character return in Super Mario Odyssey.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Captain Toad is genius.

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Kotaku: Octopath Traveler Is Nothing Like Final Fantasy VI

Jason Schreier:

The producer of the gorgeous upcoming Switch game Octopath Traveler made waves this week with a quote in which he said that mechanically it was a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy VI. Other people have made similar comparisons. But Octopath is nothing like Final Fantasy VI—it’s more like a SaGa game, with some experimental ideas that work, and some that really don’t.

I’ve played a little over an hour of the Octopath Traveler demo and am chipping away at some initial thoughts. One of those thoughts — contrary to both Takahashi-san and Schreier — is that Octopath Traveler feels like Final Fantasy X.

Each character has an individual relationship, conflict, and narrative, the visual turn-based system is akin to that of FFX, and there is an odd mismatch between the writing style and voice acting; the writing feels high-brow English juxtaposed to the modern American voice acting. While it’s certainly not the same problem, it is reminiscent of FFX’s infamous laughing scene.

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FastCoDesign: Why tech’s favorite color is making us all miserable

Amber Case:

A decade after my experience with the LED fans, I started seeing blue displays everywhere. From mobile phones to in-car displays, blue lights were becoming the norm. It’s hard for me to think of any examples of prominent high-tech products on the market now without pale blue screens or indicator lights. LED-based bulbs with more blue light are fast replacing incandescent bulbs. The default display to our iPhones and Androids operates along the blue spectrum, as do our laptops; new cars, especially those like Tesla which aspire to be “futuristic,” come with blue-lit dashboard displays, and so do our “smart” appliances, televisions, video game consoles, watches–the list goes on.

Unless it’s the post-apocalypse, imagery of the future is generally always depicted by some form of light. This article provides a brief history and effect of shifting from red and orange light (function) to blue light (form) on screen and in real-life.

I was obsessed with the blue eject light on the original PS2. When powered on at night, married to the start up chime, the blue light was a beautiful touch to round out the futuristic design and marketing of the console. The Wii’s disc drive bay gave me a similar feeling.

The poet in me would say it’s vast and mysterious sea, sky, and stars that make blue so extraordinary. While I agree that red and orange are preferred from practical standpoint, there’s no denying that blue is gorgeous. The Zero Counts design is certainly guilty of leaning on blue — ZC blue (#004992).

Regardless of your feelings about the film, try imagining Tron: Legacy with an orange Grid. Gross.

(Link via The Loop)

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