Category Archives: Design

Ben Thompson: “What Nintendo is doubling down on is controllers”

Ben Thompson, in his latest weekly free Stratechery piece, “Surface Studio, Nintendo Switch, and Niche Strategies”:

What Nintendo is doubling down on is controllers, another smart move. I argued in 2014 that controllers are so important to the user experience of consoles that they will hold off general purpose devices like Apple TVs when it comes to living room gaming; Nintendo’s bet is that they can attract gamers who want mobility by offering high fidelity control that smartphones can not4.

First and foremost, you should subscribe to Ben’s Daily Update. $10 per month gets you the best business/technology analysis out there.

Second, Ben’s observation is something I should have realized and mentioned in my “Nintendo Switch and Parents” piece. As a reminder, I wrote the following, emphasis just now added:

Enter the Nintendo Switch. A dedicated seemingly state-of-the-art-ish portable/home console multiplayer-ready uncompromised gaming device, surely ready for YouTube when on wifi (an optional data plan would be even better), by the greatest game designers on the planet, Nintendo.

By uncompromised, I was eluding to those features we consider critical to console gaming: power, fidelity, and breadth. One item that skipped my thought was physical controllers. Because physical controllers have been a staple of console gaming since the beginning, it was easy to overlook. But the importance of Nintendo doubling-down on physical controllers for the Switch, seemingly ignoring touchscreen capabilities based on the Switch trailer (however, patents may reveal otherwise), cements the vision, nay dream of portable console-level gaming.

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Nintendo Switch and Parents

Parents surrender their phones and tablets to their children. E.g. child clamours for device—iPhone, iPad, or otherwise—the parent surrenders said device to child. Child commences gaming and/or YouTube.

This is anecdotal, of course. My wife and I have no children. But we’ve seen this time and time again with friends and family.

And if it’s not the guardian’s own device, it’s a separate device dedicated to gaming and/or YouTube for the child.

From the POV of a parent, wouldn’t it be nice to keep your device on your own person?

From the POV of a child, wouldn’t it be nice to have your own device dedicated for gaming/YouTube without the other unnecessary calendar/email/messages/etc apps?

Enter the Nintendo Switch. A dedicated seemingly state-of-the-art-ish portable/home console multiplayer-ready uncompromised gaming device, surely ready for YouTube when on wifi (an optional data plan would be even better), by the greatest game designers on the planet, Nintendo.

While none of the talent in the trailer appear to be under the age of 20—even donning red cups at a rooftop party!—the Switch could be a game changer for the household.

Of course, it will come down to Nintendo’s ability to attract third-party devs—a feat they have struggled with since the Nintendo 64. And not just any third-party titles, but titles outside of Nintendo’s own legacy: education, infants, toddlers, etc. Lock down the third-parties with simple development and distribution, and (price willing) the Switch will be a boon for parents and children alike.

Children: here’s a device for the things you care about.

Parents: take your devices back.

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Nintendo 64 and Avoiding ‘Sequelitis’

Sam Machkoveh, Ars Technica:

Perhaps most notably, this was the last console on which Nintendo could rehash its older characters and series without fielding non-stop complaints about “sequelitis.” The console’s best first-party games were mostly sequels—Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, F-Zero X, even Wave Race 64 and Excitebike 64—and yet all of them felt incredibly new thanks to their steps up to fully 3D engines. Nintendo had been a purely 2D game-making company for nearly a decade, yet it somehow pulled off the transition to 3D gaming in pretty much every way that Sega flubbed its own total overhaul.

Yours truly, in a November 2014 post titled Iterative vs. Redesigned Experiences:

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 (I’m looking at you, Star Fox Adventures…), they are at the very least 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 (because there is no old classic!), it’s a new perspective from the Mushroom Kingdom. Until then, it’s back to smashing and karting.

Pokémon Go was the most recent example of a redesigned rather than iterative experience. Real-world Pokémon is an experience many fans have yearned for since the days of Red and Blue (or Green). Nintendo’s decision to make Niantic, Inc.’s Ingress a venue for real-world Pokémon was not only brilliant, but for a company that’s built their namesake on changing our perspectives, hidden-in-plain-sight.

With surprise experiences like Pokémon Go and Nintendo’s further foray into the new terrian of smartphone hardware, we are sure to see at least a handful of  redesigned experiences on mobile. With the NX, my hopes are not so high. But if anyone can reimagine the console experience, it’s Nintendo.

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Disneyvania

The release and my playthrough of The Witness happened to coincide with a ramp-up in my video game podcast consumption. (Maybe not so much a coincidence than a subconscious attempt to glean a hints from podcasters.) Through this, I came across a couple of keen observations of the game’s design that I had not considered:

Idle Thumbs, ep 248, 14:55:

Jake Rodkin: It uses so many rules of Disneyland-esque design and video game level design to make it easy to navigate, but it’s not built assuming there’s that huge framework of video game messaging beneath it.

Chris Remo: That Disneyland thing is a good comparison. Video game designers have often—for good reason—and accurately pointed to Disneyland as a really useful design touchstone. Not for the experience of the rides themselves, but for the design of the actual park.

JR: Disneyland is the closest we have in real life to a constructed open-world level.

CR: Areas are connected where there’s an intuitive sense of structure, but when you’re in any given place, it feels like it’s entirely enveloping you.

JR: Until you come around a corner and then the foliage and architecture perfectly frames on a sightline – spire that is in a waypoint to a different land of the park.

CR: And The Witness is totally like that.

I completely agree. The Idle Thumbs crew may also have unraveled a core reason why I loved Myst so much. And quite possibly why I love Disneyland so much.

Jared Petty on IGN’s Game Scoop!, ep 376, 3:27:

This is a secret Metroidvania game. In a Metroid game, you get to an area. You can’t get far. You go off to a different area. You find a power-up. (In this case, the power-ups are not items you find in the game. It’s the knowledge that you gain through working out a different set of puzzles.) You get frustrated. You go off to a different area. You learn something. You come back. Boom! You get through.

Sometimes you can “bomb-jump” your way around it by figuring out something by being clever that you got a little ahead of. Or a little more doggedness or experimentation. It’s a neat game.

A very neat game.

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Blind Gamer Beats Ocarina of Time

Rich McCormick, The Verge:

His final video, uploaded on January 2nd, shows him using the same method to defeat Ganon, the game’s pig-faced final boss. Particularly important in Garrett’s playthrough was the use of the hookshot — a Zelda mainstay that fires a retractable chain — as a form of echolocation. When Garrett fired it against a wall, he’d hear a telltale clang; if he fired it into thin air, it would reach the end of its tether before returning to his hand, spooling backwards with a different noise.

Utterly fascinating. Congratulations, Terry!

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Porting Primer

Bridging the Generation Gap: Porting Games to New Platforms by Tom Bennet of Polygon.

From remasters to down-ports to cross-platform development, this is a brilliant introduction to the world of video game porting. Audio version read by Dave Tach via Polygon Longform podcast.

Separate from porting, I am ever intrigued by the following:

Commentators have also levelled criticism at the arguably destructive nature of certain re-releases. These titles exist on a spectrum; to use film as an example, there is an obvious difference between Criterion’s restoration work and LucasFilm’s treatment of the Star Wars films.

Cifaldi argues that true remasters — distinct from remakes or reinterpretations — respect the original artistic intent. “If we’re talking about The Last of Us Remastered, we’re talking about 3D assets,” says Cifaldi. “You’re actually going to the original source elements and presenting them in an even cleaner way than before. And I would argue that that is a totally valid approach for that kind of game; it is the equivalent of putting [Star Trek:] The Next Generation on Blu-ray.” [Edit: This paragraph originally omitted the Star Trek reference from Cifaldi’s quote.]

Is there any legitimacy in stating 2D animation is more evergreen than 3D? Are 8 and 16-bit sprites poorer quality 2D animations, or are do they stand in a class all their own? Are there any instances of 3D animation that stand the test of time?

I can look at Mario’s first primitive 8-bit version without any cringing. Mario’s 64-bit likeness on the other hand is rough on the eyes. In the world of cinema, there is no batting an eye to any classic hand-drawn animation. But even with today’s advances CG characters and worlds thread a fine-line between believable and terrible.

I guess what I’m trying to ask is is 2D definitive?

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“Science isn’t always a great substitute for fun.”

Justin McElroy, in a short and sweet dual-review with Dave Tach at Polygon:

For example: New weapons and items unlock at what feels like a glacially slow pace, but that forced me to focus on becoming competent with the items I had on hand and genuinely improving. Compare that to Call of Duty, where I tend to flit between the shiny objects I seem to unlock after every round and never really live with one long enough to become deadly. For a casual fan like myself, that’s a big plus.

Admittedly, that slow pace (along with the lack of weapon customization) left me without the compulsive burning desire to play “just one more game” only to see what new trinket was right around the corner. It’s an impulse that games like Call of Duty and Destiny have down to a science, but science isn’t always a great substitute for fun.

I want to play more Battlefront because it’s just that: It’s fun.

I vividly recall spending hours with the original Star Wars: Battlefront for PS2. An hours more with Star Wars: Battlefront II. They were unlike any shooter I had ever played. And surprisingly for a licensed game, they were fun.

Back to the piece. Dave Tach:

With the notable exception of Boba Fett (and even he has a bizarre and unwieldy control scheme), I have much more fun as an anonymous Rebel or Stormtrooper. Their modes are much more interesting than the movie hero power trip.

I recall feeling initially jarred when diving into the original. I had come in with the expectation that I’d be questing as one of the franchises heroes, and it turned out to be my first experience of the Star Wars universe outside of the perspective of said heroes. I quickly became fond running missions in anonymity. I had an avatar in the Star Wars universe with no preconceived story arc. In turn, anonymity only amplified my desire to continue playing.

I’ve been looking forward to the Star Wars: Battlefront reboot for a long while now.

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Nerdist Interviews the Cast of Warcraft

Nerdist nabbed an answer to a question in my previous post. It’s Garona.

From WoWWiki:

Garona Halforcen is a half-orc half-draenei quest giver for the Horde in the Twilight Highlands. Like most others, she believed she was half-human until the truth was revealed to her. She is an assassin and a spymistress.

From the Nerdist interview, it appears Garona is half-orc half-human, which, in the visual language of the Warcraft Movie, seems to justify her unanimated self. I don’t think it works and still lends itself to an awkward visual balance.

Daniel Wu, playing the part of Gul’dan:

If they don’t seem real, it’s going to be hard as an audience to get into the character. But they are very real. And they are very compelling as CG characters. Like two minutes into the film, you forget that they’re actually CG characters.

They don’t seem real. However, I said the same of Avatar. And after a few minutes into that film, I was onboard.

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Warcraft and Toontown

News of a Warcraft movie with the involvement of Duncan Jones and Legendary Pictures has had me excited for years now. Unfortunately, this trailer does not.

I’ve eagerly awaited every Blizzard in-house cinematic since Starcraft’s in 1998. (If I recall correctly, it shipped on the Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal disc.) I don’t believe Blizzard’s in-house cinematic team had much to do with this film. And if true, that is a sad fact.

In the games, the orcs’ robust physique is met with nearly as robust human physique. Blizzard’s own in-house cinematics reflect this as well:

Physique aside, the use of real actors against what appears to be a solely computer-generated backdrop and animated rivals is jarring. (See also the Star Wars prequel trilogy and The Hobbit) I thought we were working passed this. I thought the gag of cartoons working in Hollywood was in the process of being shuddered. Confused about how real actors would look in either the orc or human role, I figured they’d both be bolstered by CGI. I figured wrong. On the upside, the close-ups of the orcs look great.

I’m not a World of Warcraft player, but within an hour or so of the Warcraft Movie trailer premier, a cinematic trailer for World of Warcraft: Legion, the upcoming WoW expansion was released. This is the kind of visual consistency I was hoping for:

All I’m saying is the unbelievable visual inconsistency of animated characters and backdrops alongside real actors is tired. Give me real or fake. If both, let’s stick to the Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam gags.

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Lumino City on iOS

Developer State of Play:

Lumino City has been created in a unique way. Everything you see on screen was made using paper, cardboard and glue, culminating in the building of a 10 foot high model city. Laser cutting was used to create finely detailed environment, and miniature lights and motors were built in to bring it to life.

This game is truly a work of art. Not to mention the captivating execution of story just moments in.

“Winner of numerous international awards including the BAFTA for Artistic Achievememt…” For some reason, regrettably, I held out on playing the Mac version. Happy to have this in my pocket. Looks stunning on iPhone 6s.

Lumino City is now available for iOS.

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