Iterative vs. Redesigned Experiences

Everyone seems to have a solution for Nintendo. They need to develop for iOS. They need to stop making consoles. They need to be purchased by Disney. My two cents? They need to reinvent their properties.1

The Nintendo 64 is my favorite video game console. It’s not due to the use of polygons, 3D environments, and the fact that it looked much better than Playstation. It’s that beloved franchises were reimagined, reinvented, and redesigned.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U was released yesterday. I’ve played all of the versions prior, and they are all fine games, but they are all iterative. For this reason, I hesitated to drop another $59.99 on an experience I’ve already had. Needless to say I made the purchase after soaring reviews, but a morsel of remorse lingers. I more or less know what I’ll be getting.

Super Mario 64 could have just as easily been another side-scroller, albeit with better visuals. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time could have been another top-down adventure. Donkey Kong 64 could have gone a number of pre-existing directions. Sure the Metroid series skipped the Nintendo 64 generation but Metroid Prime could have been another 2D platformer. The fact of the matter is that these titles reinvented their respective franchises. The worlds and characters we loved were shown in a new light and perspective. Sure, they are great games but they reinvented the way we thought about the franchises. This is what makes them so special.

Nintendo stepped out of the box to deliver entirely new experiences. Super Mario 64 was a new way to think about Mario; a new standard in-addition-to, not in-lieu-of. Mac vs. iPhone; not iPad vs. iPhone. Super Mario Bros. 2, 3, and World are iterative of Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Sunshine, Galaxy, 3D Land/World are iterative of Super Mario 64. This is not the same problem as sequels and spin-offs.

If the doomsayers are correct and Nintendo’s failure is eminent, redesigns are going to be required to prevent it. So far, the majority of first-party titles on Wii U are iterative: Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. While not every redesign has worked in Nintendo’s favor, they are certainly refreshing. This is another reason why I think Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is genius; while it’s not a new take on a old classic, it’s a new perspective from the Mushroom Kingdom. Until then, it’s back to smashing and karting.


1 Paragraph added for editorial context.

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‘Disney can save Nintendo, and it would only cost $19 billion’

Steve Bowler, writing for Polygon:

Disney wouldn’t see Nintendo as a hardware company or even a software company, just as they didn’t see Marvel as a comic book company. Nintendo holds some of the best intellectual property in the world, from Mario to Link. Kids are still wearing Mario and Luigi shirts next to their classmates wearing Minecraft and Iron Man logos.

There are incredible properties, from Metroid to F-Zero, that would offer Disney huge opportunities in everything from film to theme park attractions. Nintendo, when looked at through the lens of an acquisition, is a bundle of amazing, well-known characters and worlds that are criminally underused.

Nintendo is the last company that owns characters that could compete with the worlds that Disney already controls, and adding Mario to the Disney original characters, Marvel superheroes and Star Wars would mean that Disney all but owns entertainment as a whole.

I initially scoffed at this article as a pipe dream so many of us have already had (especially yours truly), many after watching Wreck-It Ralph. One could sketch Nintendo franchise themed rides over a map of Disneyland. (Peach’s Castle in the hub, Metroid and Star Fox in Tomorrowland, Fantasyland becomes Hyrule, Donkey Kong in Adventureland, etc.) We have all certainly envisioned a reboot of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show using Super Mario 64 to current era models, worlds, and voices(?). Of course this sounds awesome/mind-blowing/impossible.

But then the reality of it all hit:

Star Wars is Disney.

Marvel is Disney.

It was as if I had never really given weight to the thought. Nintendo has always been so evident and ripe to fit along classic Disney franchises. But Marvel and Star Wars? Put in the context of Disney buying Nintendo and Nintendo just seems like a no brainer put up against the other two.

On the flip-side, the majority have been spelling doom for Nintendo for years. And Nintendo has been putting up one hell of a fight. Let’s see how these Super Smash Bros. numbers do.

UPDATE: How about that ad to the right of the piece?

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Golden Age Thinking

I’ve never felt as old as I had this morning. I kicked off my day watching Stuart Brown’s Brief History of [Video Game] Graphics. On my commute to work, I listened to Johns Gruber and Moltz discuss ’80s computing technology on The Talk Show.

Being born in ’85 (we may as well call it ’86), some of topics discussed in both of these pieces grazed the edges of my memory but weren’t so far off that I couldn’t muster up a sliver of recognition or plausibility for the topic at hand. However, many of the subjects and terms (DOS, floppy disks, “raster”, 8-bit, etc.) had me pining for life in an earlier time. A time when faster, smaller, cheaper meant a Gameboy vs. Gameboy Pocket; not a 250GB 2.5″ HDD vs. 3TB of cloud storage. It may seem crazy to wish for a pre-Internet era, but then again, Golden Age Thinking is crazy.

Paul (Michael Sheen), Midnight in Paris:

Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

I then got to thinking about my mother’s lack of interest in technology. She’s on a candy-bar phone, still abides by a phone book, and prints out directions from MapQuest. Maybe she was never focused on her Golden Age as much as she is comfortable living in it. Where she stands in the current tech landscape is likely a Golden Age for others.

I love technology, but at some point (and I don’t feel it’s too far off) I will I call it quits on trying to keep up? Will I settle in what will become a future someone’s Golden Age? All I know is that this morning, I was the guy in the 7 year old car (ancient by Silicon Valley standards) listening to talk radio (podcasts) on a 2+ year-old smartphone. And today’s music is terrible. And I’ve been to a movie theater once in the past year. And there will never be better TV than Seinfeld. And I don’t understand EDM (Electronic Dance Music / Erotic Dancing Miley / Exorbitantly Deep Minecraft). And I’m comfortable.

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‘The making of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker’

Danielle Riendeau of Polygon in an Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker producer and director Koichi Hayashida and Shinya Hiratake:

“We began with Super Mario 64,” Hayashida told Polygon via video conference. “While Super Mario 64 was quite an interesting game, we heard that roughly 20 percent of gamers found it too difficult,” he said, brandishing a copy of the Nintendo 64 game. “We kept that comment that the game was too challenging and made games like Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World with that in mind.”

But, in making 3D Land and 3D World, the team felt it was getting away from a fundamental design principle that made Mario 64 so special: the idea that the levels were a sort of “diorama” or a “garden in a box,” entire worlds contained in relatively compact structures. In creating the Captain Toad stages for Mario 3D World, the studio was able to go back to that idea, and keep the challenge level accessible.

That’s how the team created the handful of stages starring Captain Toad for Super Mario 3D World. They represented a different style of play from the traditional 3D platforming in the rest of the game — slower paced and more cerebral, they offered players something of a refresher between obstacle courses and cat-powered wackiness.

In addition to the variety of interesting cross-overs and spin-offs, it seems like Nintendo has been a bit more open as of late, offering more peaks behind the certain.

As for Captain Toad, I love that Super Mario 64 stands as its foundation. However, my favorite part of Super Mario 64 is the challenge. It is always great to take a swing at impossibly difficult missions year after year. There is almost a “young grasshopper” feel to it. I hope Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker’s accessible “challenge level” isn’t too far removed from Super Mario 64.

Either way, this interview solidifies my thought that Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is genius.

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Kate Upton and Game of War

Paul Tassi writing for Forbes:

It just seems like a strange pairing, and I think if Upton or her support staff understood the industry more, they’d realize that Game of War is a relatively spammy title compared to other offerings in the video game industry, and rather beneath one of the most famous supermodels in the world. Though I suppose what was almost certainly a multimillion dollar paycheck for no more than a few day’s work will draw all the kind words the game requires.

It’s an interesting, unsettling age we live in where games can be bad by nearly anyone’s standards, but still be hugely profitable with enough marketing to herd easily-addicted players toward a microtransaction-stuffed title. It seems to be working quite well with Game of War, but I’m not sure how long these kinds of titles can continue to find success, as they seem to have a short shelf life once players get tired of being milked endlessly.

While I find the Game of War marketing campaign adolescent and lazy, I don’t have a problem with Upton being placed in ads or the game itself any more than I do Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I’m sure she was offered a fine deal for her likeness. In-game celebrity is something we should be getting used to. (Peter Dinklage voiceover in Destiny, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood)

Regarding Tassi’s thoughts on the longevity of “these kinds of titles”, Transformers: Age of Extinction grossed $1.09B. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles grossed $474.4M. I hope you see what I’m getting at here. And I’m a huge TMNT fan.

UPDATE: It looks like Game of War have released a new version of their Twitter campaign, reading “Will you be the hero?” vs “Will you be my hero?” Not that the banner image differs as well, with less of an upfront focus on Upton. Context suggests “the” seems more in-line than “my”, but is this a variant or a rebrand?

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‘New Video Games Shouldn’t Be So Broken’

Luke Plunkett, Kotaku:

I get that making games is hard. That publishers force deadlines on teams, that accounting for millions of players is rough work, that a myriad of technical complexities mean completely eradicating bugs is an impossible task.

As a paying customer, though, I just don’t care anymore. Why? Because right now, the blockbuster video game industry is taking more than it’s giving back.

Another good read about the growing trend of broken games, the need for bigger testing budgets, and the call not to pre-order games.

Plunkett continues:

If a car, or DVD, or rice-cooker, or phone, or basically anything else launched with significant parts not working, or not working as well as advertised, it’d be slammed. People would demand their money back, and they would get it, because there is an expectation that when you pay money for something, it works.

My similar thoughts from November 11, 2014 below:

This does not, however, address the problem of protection from broken product. This is not film or music— botched playback would never escape manufacturing; a bad bounce would never escape the studio. Pre-orders for products so deeply rooted in real-time mechanics and engineering, notoriously subjected to time crunches and annual release dates, cannot wisely be considered for pre-order without subjection to reviews. While I implore patiently waiting for reviews on this type of product, release date and post-release date embargo lifts, as Kuchera implies, are cowardly and bullshit.

Hat tip to Brett Batesole.

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‘A Passionate, Limited Core’

MIT lecturer Michael R. Trice on #GamerGate numbers, emphasis his:

In both the case of tweets and RTs about 500 accounts create half of the total volume in the conversation. Regular daily participation floats around 3,000 users. Then there’s a large body of several thousand accounts dipping a toe in the conversation.

This suggests that however organized or unorganized the movement, the conversation around #GamerGate on Twitter has a central core limited to a few hundred highly active accounts. The total mass of the conversation is in the tens of thousands, though over 80% of those members are involved on less than a daily basis.

Interesting case study. Social media can certainly act as a megaphone for tiny groups and individuals. These small groups get even louder when they play to our natural sensitivity toward criticism, threats, and negativity. An 8-year-old kid and sound as legitimate and scary as a group of fully capable 28-year-old adults.

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Space Age Color Blindness Options

@Spaceageapp:

Making sure Space Age is colorblind friendly.

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Awesome accessibility awareness. And top level too. (Tap Options on the title screen and there they are!) That alone earned Big Bucket Software my $3.99.

Space Age: A Cosmic Adventure is currently available for iOS. Looking forward to playing. Also hearing great things about the soundtrack by Cabel Sasser.

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Friendly Freemium Reminder

@ustwogames:

That’s it, we’re giving up the premium game. Next time we’re just going to sell you 500 coins for $2 instead.

Love this tweet.

Relinking to some thoughts I had on Clash of Clans; a gross, empty, unfulfilling, time and wallet suck.

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Ustwo Offers 8 New Monument Valley Chapters for $1.99, Gets Hammered with 1-Star Reviews

@ustwogames:

Seems quite a few people have gone back and 1 star reviewed Monument Valley upon update because the expansion was paid. This makes us sad.

Terribly sad news. Admittedly, I initially tweeted the new levels were free upon seeing that my app had automatically updated to 2.0. After a quick check and ‘duh’ moment, said tweet was deleted and replaced with the following:

Monument Valley 2.0 by @ustwogames is out! $1.99 IAP for 8 new chapters:

https://t.co/5diI1iys0V

My review of 1.0:

http://t.co/vNJ9V7vBZz

I’m so thrilled that the folks at Ustwo decided to release additional content for Monument Valley. The game is an artistic treasure; mind-bending and beautiful. Worth well over $6 for the complete package, if you ask me.

Eli Hodapp at TouchArcade has a brilliant piece on the dilemma. Likewise, John Gruber’s take is spot on. Relinking to some other worthwhile pieces on free-to-play and premium models:

Ustwo: Monument Valley “left money on the table” with premium pricing
Ustwo director of games Neil McFarland on the creative benefits of avoiding free-to-play via GamesIndustry.biz.

Mobile is burning, and free-to-play binds the hands of devs who want to help
Barry Meade of Fireproof Games writing for Polygon.

Finishing with an excerpt from my Monument Valley 1.0 review, dated April 6, 2014:

It seems the urgency for time has permeated the minds of the developers at ustwo. Monument Valley’s 2-3 hour play-through is the perfect amount of that decadent cake. The experience of Monument Valley is sure to please both the hardcore gamer and casual audiences alike. In fact, it is the perfect example of the importance of short and sweet, possibly introducing these polarizing audiences to a new approach in game design as seen in Journey, The Room, or EDGE. And like that decadent cake, Monument Valley’s length, design, and puzzles are mesmerizing enough to feel satisfied yet haunting enough to warrant constant craving. If DLC is abound, sign me up.

Signed up for $1.99 this morning. Would have given more if they asked.

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