Nintendo: Amusement Provider

Takashi Mochizuki, The Wall Street Journal:

Rivals were pursuing high-end games with ever-greater technical sophistication. “We looked back at what Nintendo has done, and when you think about it, it’s really been an amusement provider,” Mr. Koizumi said. The Switch’s concept of playing games anywhere with anyone was born.

“When the concept was set, most of the Switch’s basics came together quickly,” he said. “Things like, you have to be able to take the controller outside, and you’ll need two of them.”

The 48-year-old Mr. Koizumi, who has participated in making titles in popular Nintendo series such as “The Legend of Zelda” and Mario, said one of the first decisions was to attach the two controllers to the console, making a self-contained unit that can be taken anywhere for two-person play.

“You could go out with a hand-held game device, but you can’t play with others if they don’t have the same device,” he said. “We wanted to provide people with more options to play games.”

Mochizuki has done a nice job extracting a top-level perspective of the Switch from his interview with Yoshiaki Koizumi.

Between Fils-Aimé’s comment about consuming Nintendo IP and Koizumi’s amusement provider bit, Nintendo has circled the identity wagons.

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The Switch is a home console. The Switch is a “home” console. The Switch is a “home” console?

Chaim Gartenberg reporting for The Verge:

Storage-wise, the Switch includes 32GB of onboard memory, which feels dramatically low in today’s age of 500GB and 1TB Xbox Ones and PS4s, especially with the modern focus on downloadable titles. However, storage can be expanded through the use of microSD cards. Games for the Switch will come on physical GameCards, which may help alleviate the console’s onboard storage space by offloading most of the storage requirements for each game to the individual GameCards.

Lastly, the Switch can connect to the internet through an 802.11ac Wi-Fi connection, with the ability to connect to up to eight Switch consoles at once for local multiplayer. Additionally, the Switch will be able to connect using Ethernet using a USB LAN adaptor with the dock.

I keep needing to remind myself that the Switch is a “home” console you can take with you. That is the dream.

But the fact that the dock does little outside of charging and video output, not to mention the need for a USB LAN adaptor for an Ethernet connection, begs the question, “can Nintendo keep up with this ‘home’ console marketing push?”

The Switch is a powerful tablet with novel input devices. Curious to see how many players use it while docked. Also curious to see if developers cater to battery life over fidelity and performance.

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Nintendo Switch’s ‘dedicated smart device app’ to allow consumers ‘to play those connected experiences… while they’re on the go’

Nintendo.com:

Online lobby and voice chat

Our new dedicated smart device app will connect to Nintendo Switch and let you invite friends to play online, set play appointments, and chat with friends during online matches in compatible games─all from your smart device.

Reggie Fils-Aimé offered WIRED’s Chris Kohler soke additional color:

The reason for that is, it continues to reinforce our commitment to online, and do so in a way that will enable the consumer to enjoy their Nintendo Switch and to still be able to play those connected experiences—like Splatoon, like Kart, like fill in the blank—while they’re on the go. Instead of having some sort of bulky gamer headset, you’ll be able to do it right off your smartphone, put in your earbuds that you use for your standard mobile device. We think that’s a pretty sweet solution. That’s part of the overall opportunity that we see in a subscription service.

This is another novel idea. Perhaps it unburdens the Switch by offloading online communications and interactions to the smartphone, possibly conserving battery life and performance. Moreover, it seems to suggest that the Switch can continue online interactions when away from Wi-Fi.

It might also make for a nice Switch + AirPods experience.

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Reggie Fils-Aimé: ‘I don’t mind how you interact with our IP as long as you’re interacting with it every day’

Reggie Fils-Aimé, in an interview with TIME’s Matt Peckham:

TIME: Mr. Iwata once said of the Wii that he wanted it to be “something that you turn on right after turning on the TV.” Do you still think like that?

Reggie Fils-Aimé: I would say that our thinking has evolved, in that we envision the consumer having a direct experience with our intellectual property (IP) as the core foundation of the company. Meaning, I want you to love what you’re doing with Zelda, with Animal Crossing, with Smash Bros. Nurturing that love for the IP is the overarching objective.

How we will do that will now be executed in a variety of different ways. It’ll still be executed with a dedicated gaming system or systems. It’ll be executed through mobile. It’ll be executed through licensed merchandise. It’ll be executed in other ways, like what we are doing with Universal Studios. So it’s not so much changing the way you interact with your TV. It really is all about how you interact with our IP.

And part of the reason why this has evolved is, you talk to a lot of millennials, and they don’t really have the same type of engagement with their TV that I grew up with. They’re interacting with other screens now, and they’re just as happy interacting with those other screens. And so that has caused us to really continue refining our proposition. In the end, I don’t mind how you interact with our IP as long as you’re interacting with it every day.

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Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 Impressions

On Friday, January 13 at 1 PM Japan Standard Time, Nintendo unveiled new details about their Switch “home” console. While hard tech specs didn’t make an appearance — I thought for sure Nvidia would have been showcased — deeper insight to the Joy-Con, play styles, and 2017 library were provided. Above all, what the keynote will be remembered for is an awkward Squid Researcher.

Nintendo Switch will launch in “Japan, US, Canada, major European countries, Hong Kong, and other territories” on March 3rd. It will retail in Japan for ¥29,980, the US for $299.99, and varying prices in the European territories. Software will not be region locked, which is an incredibly big move for Nintendo.

Pre-orders for the Switch went up after the event and appear too have quickly depleted.

Presentation

As a whole, the presentation felt backwards and tonally awkward. Without building any hype, Nintendo opened with launch dates and pricing. The Joy-Con demonstration as well as the trailers for first-party titles 1-2-Switch and Arms felt long-in-the-tooth. At least two of the presenters garnered “WTF” moments that also seemed to throw off one of the translators. And then there was Hisashi Nogami’s Splatoon 2 appearance as a “Squid Researcher”.

Nintendo makes cute games and they’ve done cute things during presentations, but they’ve never struck me as outlandishly awkward. The Splatoon 2 portion sapped the presentation of its professionalism, which feels odd to say as it’s a game about squid children shooting paint at one another. At it’s core, Switch is a toy. But it’s audience doesn’t treat it that way. Nintendo is a global company. It has been since the Wii, and certainly before that to its core, 30-somethings audience.

Even for the crazy toymaker, there has been something professional about their presentations, marketing, and — since the Wii — industrial design. The latter of which is present in the Switch. The system’s design is as plain as ever and comes in stark contrast to a squirt-gun wielding executive taking the stage.

Switch

Note the quotes around “home” in my intro. Early in the presentation, Nintendo stated that the Switch is a “home” console:

7:45: “Nintendo Switch is a video game system for the home.”

8:14: “Nintendo Switch has been designed to be a home console gaming system that gives you the freedom to change your play style.”

Within 30 seconds, Nintendo hammered on the idea that Switch is built for the home. It felted pointed and explicit. It’s an important point. The Switch is intended to be the dream: a home console you can take with you.

Modes of play include:

  • TV Mode: “Typical video game style.”
  • Tabletop Mode: “Play video games in front of a screen with others, wherever you like, even away from the TV.”
  • Handheld Mode: “Take it with you and play indoors, outdoors, or anywhere you like.”

On the point of battery life, Nintendo claims that the Switch will have two-and-a-half to six hours of battery life when in a portable mode. Nintendo.com gives the example “The Legend of Zelda™: Breath of the Wild can be played for roughly three hours on a single charge.” After October’s initial announcement and industry chatter after, I crossed my fingers that the Switch’s portable play would average three hours. At it’s minimum, two-and-a-half hours is a sweet spot. It may not get you through a flight from San Francisco to New York, but it shouldn’t need to. Studies show that 3 or more hours of gaming can being to have negative psychosocial effects.

The Switch will also offer  8-person local multiplayer in portable mode. Depending on adoption, this could be a killer feature. The capability alone screams that Nintendo is gunning for a new generation of portable gaming.

Last but not least, it was great to see Nintendo adopting USB-C. Color me shocked that Nintendo, the company that passed up HDMI on the 2006 Wii and was still using resistive touchscreens on the 2011 3DS and 2012 Wii U, would ship a device with the latest standard in USB technology.1

Joy-Con

These are impressive little gizmos with a funny name. From what I could count, they include:

  • 7 gameplay inputs (buttons) on each controller
  • Analog stick
  • NFC (shown on right, but presumably both)
  • Home button (right)
  • Camera button (left)
  • Accelerometer and gyro sensors
  • “-” (left) and “+” (right) buttons
  • Motion IR camera (right only)
  • HD rumble

The HD Rumble demonstration claimed that the sensation of a glass with one, two, or three ice cubes rattling as well as the glass filling up with water could be felt in a single Joy-Con. The best I could figure was that HD rumble include three independent rumble motors, allowing for altered effects.

It’s worth noting that when the Joy-Con are separated from the Switch itself, the right Joy-Con features a joystick in its center. I can’t imagine this feels great. I guess I’ll leave it up to a company that shipped a controller with an analog joystick in its center to make that call.

Games

We’ve known about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since 2013. And the October 2016 announcement of Nintendo Switch teased a new 3D Mario game. Two staples we, without a doubt, knew we were getting. Even Skyrim was a fairly sure certainty for the platform.

1-2-Switch

The equivalent of Wii Sports for Wii and and Nintendo Land for Wii U, 1-2-Switch is Switch’s tutorial game. It looks extremely awkward, but I’ll blame that on the all to lengthy Mexican standoff demonstration. For better or worse, it was a solid reminder that Nintendo is a toy company.

Arms

Interestingly, Nintendo introduced a first-party fighter. But not just any fighter. In true Nintendo fashion, Arms is also a shooter of sorts. A fighter-shooter hybrid labeled as a “Fighting sports game.” It looks like it might even be fun without motion controls. Like other Nintendo franchises before it, it appears to feature a cast of (possibly) memorable characters such as Spring Man and Ribbon Girl. Will Arms be the next Wii boxing or Splatoon? What do you think of the name?

Splatoon 2

While Wii Remotes (how did they not go with “Wiimotes”?!) were available for Wii U, Switch seems like a much more natural fit for Splatoon. As far as motion control shooters go, I loved the feel of Metroid Prime 3 on Wii. It’s also nice to see Nintendo doubling-down on this new franchise.

Super Mario Odyssey

Mario is out of the Mushroom Kingdom, and seeming into the real-world. At least for some portion of the game. Super Mario Odyssey is meant to evoke “the excitement when visiting unknown countries for the very first time.” The visuals look incredible, relying heavily on shadows and environmental physics. This is in contrast to another visually impressive Mario game — Super Mario Galaxy, which used an opposite lighting effect on Mario, providing a white shine around his model. While the visuals and openness of Super Mario Odyssey look sunning, there is something discomforting about seeing the cartoonish Mario next to Sim-ish humanoids. I’m most looking forward to this game.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I’ve always wanted to dive into the Xenoblade series, and this might be the title that does it. The art design is imaginative and the scale looks impressive. The blue armor and prominence of a helmet on one of the characters kept screaming “Mega Man” and had me scraping credits in search of any possible crossover. The one thing I couldn’t shake from this trailer was the scene of a character riding a lion-like creature. The frame-rate seemed very low and jittery. A similar jarring moment occurred during the Xenoblade Chronicles trailer in the Nintendo Direct 1.14.2015. (See my note mid-way down the page.)

Project Octopath Traveler

Boy, oh boy, does this game look great! Next-level Paper Mario meets Retro Final Fantasy? It’s titles like this that make me excited for the portability of the Switch. Something about retro stylings screams “personal” and “portable” to me.

Skyrim

I’ve been itching for a portable version of Skyrim since I tried playing on Xbox 360. Skyrim is a game to get lost in; to spend hours with. But to spend hours taking over the TV in our house would be unconscionable. Needless to say, I never got more than three hours into this game on Xbox 360. I’m very much looking forward finally working through this game on my own portable screen.

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

There was a brief clip of a Street Fighter game during the final Switch video. Like others, I immediately thought we’d seen a glimpse of the Virtual Console on Switch. Alas, it appears to be a standalone version of Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers.

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe

I kept wondering if the glimpses of Mario Kart throughout the presentation were a new Mario Kart game. But they appeared too similar to Mario Kart 8.

Low and behold, Nintendo will be re-releasing Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Switch as Mario Kart 8: Deluxe with some extra bells and whistles:

  • Pop some balloons in the revamped Battle mode, complete with Balloon Battle and Bob-omb Blast.
  • Inkling Girl & Inkling Boy from Splatoon, King Boo, Dry Bones, and Bowser Jr. join the roster!
  • Players can choose a new Smart Steering feature which makes driving and staying on the track easy for novice players and kids even at 200cc
  • Returning items include Boo, the item stealing ghost, and the Feather, which gives you a high jump in battle mode.

Mario Kart 8 is one of the greats. Some of my fondest video game memories are of playing that game. (Not to mention, my fondest Zero Counts moment!) I wholeheartedly agree with Stratechery’s Ben Thompson:

Super Bomberman R

I don’t have much to say about Super Bomberman R. I was never a huge fan of the Bomberman series. I do recall playing a ton of Blaster Master Jr. on Game Boy. I mainly wanted call out my nostalgia and affection for Bomberman 64.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is a Switch launch title. Nintendo presented this as huge news, but it comes off more as a confirmation to quell fan fears. Beyond that, not too many additional details were given. The new, extended trailer showed off the breadth of the open Hyrule as well as new and familiar characters. And while cartoony, the tone of the narrative seemed fairly adult.

My favorite part was the Vanilla Sky ending to the entire presentation. Open your eyes…

Bringing It Together

At the very beginning of the keynote, Shinya Takahashi gave a quick run-through of Nintendo’s past consoles. It had a nice Apple-y touch, focusing on the innovation and lessons of the past to brought Nintendo to the Switch:

  • Famicom (NES): Shipped with two controllers
  • Game Boy: Pioneered portable video games as we know them today
  • Super Famicom (SNES): Added X & Y and L & R shoulder buttons
  • Nintendo 64: Introduced the first analog joystick and rumble (Rumble Pak) to a controller
  • GameCube: Included a handle with the intention to be a home console could move from location to location
  • Nintendo DS: Touchscreen portable gaming
  • Wii: Brought motion controls to the mass market
  • Wii U: Enabled console gaming off the TV

Without question, Switch is another unique and possibly industry changing device. Like Apple, Nintendo often skates to where the puck is headed, defining industry trends. And without question, the biggest dream of all is being able to take your home console on the go.


1I am so thrilled that USB-C seems to be taking off like it is. Within months of Apple going whole hog on their MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, I’ve purchased a Drobo 5C and ROLI Lightpad Block that are also equipped with USB-C. Now I’ll be able to add Nintendo Switch to the mix.

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How the inventor of Mario designs a game

The explainer people at Vox put together a nice distillation of Shigeru Miyamoto’s design philosophy:

I imagine this interview was filmed during Miyamoto’s monstrous press tour for Super Mario Run. Love the inclusion of beautiful animations and archival footage by Vox’s team.

For more on the design of World 1-1, watch Dan Emmons’ breakdown ‘Level 1-1 – How Super Mario Mastered Level Design‘.

For more about the business side of Nintendo, read ‘Console Wars‘ by Blake J. Harris.

For more about his characters and Super Mario Run, watch/listen to Miyamoto’s interview with Katie Linendoll at Apple SoHo.

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Polygon’s 2016 Games of the Year

I’m proud to say that I played three of the 10 games chosen as Polygon’s 2016 Games of the Year, my reviews of which you can find below:

I also played Uncharted 4, which I thought to have a profoundly moving story and absolutely stunning visuals. My review, which somehow finds room to discuss Mega Man 7 and 2016’s atrocious Warcraft film, can be found here.

Also of note, Pokemon Go took the world by storm, something unprecedented in video games since the Wii. It may have seemed ambitious to deem it Game of the Year in July, but I’ll argue that due to its cultural impact, I wasn’t wrong.

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Inside: A Review via ‘Death by Video Game’

Simon Parkin, Death by Video Game:

Games achieve chronoslip because they replace the real world with a new one that moves to its own laws of physics and time. This reality engages us totally, and we synchronise with its tempo.

Video games, from the simplest card game to the most vividly rendered fantasy world, consume our attention. When we become lost in a book, we enter a state where the fabricated world and its characters seem to real and pressing that we lose all sense of time. Small wonder it’s so easy to lose oneself in a good game, where one becomes not only an eavesdropper or onlooker on a world, but also an active participant in its action and drama. Video games go further than other fiction: they revolve around us and react to our every choice and input. Just as a piano needs a pianist or a violin needs a violinist, video games are lifeless without us. They need a player in a way that a film does not need a view to function.

IMG_0657Simon Parkin’s book, Death by Video Game, categorizes 12 different facets of video games that, for better or worse, make the medium addicting. Reading it, I felt vindicated. I wasn’t alone in my reasons for play, and was enlightened about the reasons others gravitate toward the activity.

As an entertainment medium, video games offer escape, control, and story. As a technology, they push the bounds of simulated physics, animation, textures, and lighting. As a social platform, they foster community via global communication and participation — each of these facets evolving rapidly year over year. In my lifetime, I’ve gone from playing limited, albeit revolutionary, 8-bit single-player side-scrolling jaunts to open world massively multiplayer online role-playing games to photorealistic action-adventure juggernauts.

After finishing the read — a difficult one to put down, mind you — came a steadfast itch to pick up a controller. No Man’s Sky, an exploration game with over 18 quintillion procedurally-generated explorable planets, which is briefly touched on in the book, had just been released. And Inside, Playdead‘s successor to their melancholy indie hit Limbo, was gathering incredibly high marks.

In the debate of open-ended vs short story, I will always choose short story. Therefore, Inside.

inside

Players are thrust into a dark and wooded area as a boy being hunted by mysterious men in trucks; dogs seek you as their prey. Peak X-Files. Once you have escaped the wood, you happen upon a farm and cornfield. Deceased wildlife pepper the dreary, fog-laden landscape. And what’s that worm-like thing sticking out of that pig?

You are eventually lead into the factory cum rabbit hole. The dark and cryptic mysteries you’ve experienced within the 10 minute introduction pale in comparison to what is “inside.”

More than their incredible art style, subtle and gradual storytelling with layers of mysteries, answers, and more questions, and impeccable taste for atmosphere, developer Play Dead’s fantastic switch-a-roo two-thirds into the game sticks with the player. A shock and horror convention is elegantly flipped on it’s head leaving you, the player, scrambling to rework your preconceived notions about the story and characters. It’s challenging, and in hindsight, speaks to the reaction and thought process of being wrong that so many feel today. Can we really be so sure about our truths? Are our beliefs simply sold to us by a manufactured narrative that elicits good as evil, god as grim, heaven as hell? How perceptive can we truly be? Is our mind a slave to the brain? Are we really in control?

It’s difficult to discuss Inside without giving too much away; therefore, I will leave you with an appropriate quote from what turned out to be an appropriately timed and, ultimately, serendipitous read, the aforementioned Death by Video Game:

Moreover, video games flatter us: their worlds exist for our benefits, and usually, revolve around us. A video game requires a player: without input, it is inert. Our world, by contrast, seems indifferent to us. The cogs around us, both natural and human-made, turn regardless of our interest or input. It is sometimes difficult to know whether we matter, whether anyone cares. When a company loses our details or forgets about us for some reason, we talk of being ‘lost in the system.’ This is how loneliness is seeded in the human heart: a sense that the world and all of its people are indifferent, oblivious.

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Edwards: ‘The wipes are the cheesiest thing in the world’

Regarding differences between Star Wars story and saga films, I failed to notice the omission of the iconic Star Wars ‘wipe’ in Rogue One.

Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, in an interview with Empire:

4. The famous ‘wipes’ do exist in other cuts

We did have versions of the film [with] wipes, and then it just felt like we were doing it because we could. The wipes are the cheesiest thing in the world. The only time you can ever do it and not be cheesy’s in Star Wars. There’s part of me that wanted the wipes and things like that, but the film is supposed to be different. We were given a license by the studio to be unique from the others, and we just took that license and ran with it as an excuse to try and be a bit more out there.

While I won’t disagree with Edwards, I think “cheesy” is the wrong word. Whimsical, perhaps?

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Rogue One: The Sound of a Story

Michael Giacchino (Lost, Star Trek, Up) is the first Star Wars film composer to step foot in John Williams’ shadow.

Giacchino in an interview with Anthony Breznican, Entertainment Weekly:

Entertainment Weekly: So you were a late addition to the Rogue One crew…

Michael Giacchino: Yes, literally the last thing I expected I’d be doing this month would be this. I mean we were literally planning a vacation when I got the call asking if I could come and talk to them about it. At the time, it left me with literally four and a half weeks to write. So it was one of those decisions where you’re like, okay, well… And I was talking to my brother about it. He goes, “Oh, come on. You’ve been writing this score since you were 10! You can do this.”

Giacchino, the long time J.J. Abrams collaborator, had replaced Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Grand Budapest Hotel).

EW: What inspirations will we hear in the music?

MG: It does borrow from traditions that both John [Williams] and George Lucas borrowed from when they made the original Star Wars, you know. George was looking at Flash Gordon, the old serials, and John was looking at [Gustav] Holst and different composers along the way to get a baseline for what he wanted to communicate. There is a wonderful musical language that John put together for the original films. I wanted to honor that vernacular but still do something new with it, something that was still me in a way.

My great friend Scott Kawai often makes the case that Michael Giacchino is the next John Williams, with a style heavy of colorful and memorable themes. Without reading too much about Rogue One, I assumed he had been the first choice for the film. The revelation that Desplat was the first choice was a shock to me. Desplat’s music is certainly incredible with an air of moody atmosphere, but does not strike me as “Star Wars”. I’d kill to hear his take on Rogue One.

There are inclinings of the saga’s legacy in Giacchino’s score— curious woodwinds and dancing percussion at the opening of “He’s Here For Us”— but there is a drive in the timber that strikes less fantastic and more brooding. It is immediately clear that the “stories” have room for exploration and departure from the “saga”. There are ties back to the episodic series, but at their core, Giacchino’s pieces are something new and derivative; they are always less memorable, iconic, or sure of themselves. Nonetheless, there are many times when the presence of brass brightens and lifts what is ultimately a grittier film to something more familiar and nostalgic— something more reminiscent of Star Wars.

As for the touches of William’s throughout Giacchino’s score, The Force Theme is heard when Bail Organa enters the frame. Likewise, The Imperial March is heard during Darth Vader’s appearance. During the film’s finale, both themes are heard as two iconic characters make stunning (re-)appearances, which can be heard in “Hope” on the film’s soundtrack.

However, the one that struck me the most was the piece backing Rogue One‘s title card, the finale of “A Long Ride Ahead” on the soundtrack. Briefly teasing Williams’ Main Title sequence, it kicks off the iconic C-G half-notes but branches into something new and less confident.

Kathleen Kennedy says they’re trying to break from some of the traditional Star Wars tropes, like doing away with the opening crawl. Sounds like that applies to the music as well?

Kathy said that to me, too — “No one is asking you to do what was done before.” I feel it’s important to be me, but in this universe, we’re working within. That was sort of the challenge. It was never sort of, “Oh, you have to do this, this, and this.” It was always just: “Here are the emotions that we need to cover.”

As a story outside of the saga, Giacchino’s freedom is extremely evident, for better or worse. My question is whether or not Giacchino’s score will be the audible language of all Star Wars stories to come, or just specifically Rogue One? Even more specifically, is Rogue One‘s title card sequence strictly Rogue One‘s title theme, or has Giacchino defined the theme for all Star Wars stories?

The other changes—the omission of the opening crawl, lower-left location queues, a lone title card— are so heavy-handed that it leads me to assume the themes Giacchino has established for Rogue One will permeate future Star Wars stories.

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