Category Archives: General

Kudos to Nintendo’s E3 Booth Team

Yahoo’s Ben Silverman and host Jeff Cannata on the DLC podcast:

Ben Silverman: I think the problem wasn’t that there were fans there, I just think that no one was prepared for this. The management of the [Los Angeles Convention Center] didn’t route people in ways that made sense. It was just like everyone go and charge through these gigantic halls. The booths weren’t set up to handle that crush of fans.

On the first night — Tuesday night — Nintendo furiously reorganized their booth so that Wednesday and Thursday it would make more sense.

Jeff Cannata: And kudos to them because they did a great job. Tuesday it was literally just a sea of people at the Nintendo booth. It was unmanageable, completely. And kudos to them for staying up late that night and figuring it out. They had structure that really worked for the rest of the show. I mean, it was a six hour line — I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy — but it still at least allowed movement through their booth.

My friend and I took note of Nintendo’s queue management restructure on Wednesday as well. It was very cool to see. However, the lines for Super Mario Odyssey remained completely insane, but at least there were lines.

I mentioned that my friend and I lucked out in playing Super Mario Odyssey. Wednesday morning, after being let into the LACC, we beelined it for Super Mario Odyssey, but were discouraged to find that the line was already three hours long. A Nintendo booth actor/temp — dressed in a New Donk City themed suit and fedora no less — whispered “a secret” that the attendees sitting on a bench behind us with Switches in handheld mode were actually partaking in the demo. To a passerby, they looked like attendees playing on their own consoles. We were none the wiser until the fedora-clad “Donkian” gave us the coat full of contraband treatment. (I don’t think he was in character, but it fit the bill.) We immediately formed a line next to the bench, sparking another lengthy queue.

In all fairness, the actor/temp should have informed those waiting in the longer line that the Switches on the bench were demo units as well, long before my friend and I arrived. On the flip side, the lengthy Super Mario Odyssey line was a for a docked Switch with headphones — the full console experience. The bench Switches were portable mode only and did not feature audio, one of my favorite elements of Mario games.

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E3 2017

E3 debuted in 1995 — 22 years ago. This year, for the first time ever, the Entertainment Software Association welcomed the public to the expo. As a follower of E3 since age 9, I was overjoyed to have nabbed one of the 15,000 publicly released tickets.

The Event

The days leading up to the event were spent streaming presentations from Microsoft, Bethesda, EA, and Sony. Nintendo’s event took place while I was in the air, so I dove headfirst into the tidy 25 minute Nintendo Spotlight upon touchdown. I’d missed Ubisoft‘s presentation, but felt fairly caught up after scanning headlines during the cab ride from LAX to the Los Angeles Convention Center. I was ready for E3.

As expected, the entry lines snaked around the building. I had braced myself for standing in lines for three days straight. In the meantime, I took to booking appointments for the Sony booths via the Experience PlayStation app. I attempted to sign into the app with my PSN credentials only to find myself in an “incorrect password” loop bug, identifying storefronts and cars for CAPTCHA for upwards of 30 minutes. (Mind you, the likely “slammed by tens of thousands of E3 participants” LTE reception was poor. This did not bode well for my battery.) I could have signed in as a guest, but was hoping for a bit of PSN love if signed in. After several failed attempts, my password was finally reset, I successfully signed into the app, and was able to grab one of the remaining theater demo slots for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. All other demos and theater slots were booked. Try again at 2pm.

Our entry line eventually moved into the Convention Center’s south hall where buzz was abound the cacophony of video game themed booths. Final Fantasy. Capcom vs. Marvel. Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Massive projections. Lighting flurries. Dragons. Cram over-the-top Disneyland aesthetics into an overcrowded casino and you have E3. Entering the gates of the video game holy land seemed everything I’d hoped it’d be.

Then we looked for games to play. And looked. And looked. And looked. The massive crowds had overtaken all available consoles for the next handful of hours. All lines were quickly capped. Luck being our only chance to play anything, it quickly became apparent that a three day pass for a single price was less of a steal as it was a requirement to actually feel like you were able to participate in what E3 had to offer. It would certainly take at least three days of waiting in lines for an attendee to play your top five choices of E3.

Clinging to hope that the crowds would thin out over the next two days, my friends and I took to wandering, stargazing, and stabbing our phones for appointment times at the Sony booth. Splitting up and sharing our experiences proved to be the best strategy. Nintendo’s construction of Super Mario Odyssey‘s New Donk City was the star of the show. IGN’s production crew and round the clock coverage was captivating. A plethora of fighting game competitions littered both halls. (I was transfixed watching Injustice 2 fighter Jen annihilate nearly every competitor that showed up.) Ubisoft made their presence known with multiple massive projections, live demos from development teams, and plenty of Just Dance 2018 performances. (Any tips for getting Hyuna’s Bubble Pop out of one’s head?)

While it was nice to see and play highly anticipated games ahead of release, the real magic of E3 2017 were the extravagant booths, passionate publisher/developer staff, wandering games media personnel, and ecstatic fans. The lines were hellish and I really wish I’d been able to play more. It was an exhaustive, discouraging experience that could have been more conducive to consumers with better line management (Sony’s mediocre app was the best experience and even that was painful), more live demos rather than hands-on areas with larger theaters, co-op or multiplayer experiences when possible, more occupied floor space, and simply less people. One full day may have been enough, but three was required to participate in more than one activity. It was certainly a childhood dream come true and I was expecting no less, but I can’t say I’ll be retuning to E3 without media or industry credentials in the future.

The Games

At the end of day three, I walked away seeing live demos of Uncharted, Spider-Man, Monster Hunter World, Days Gone, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, and played Super Mario Odyssey and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. (My friend and I lucked out by standing next to a nearly unoccupied Super Mario Odyssey demo and I waited two hours for 16 minutes of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.) In hindsight, it was not enough to feel fulfilled by the experience.

Of the two games I played, Super Mario Odyssey was the better. Odyssey feels like the perfect amalgam of all 3D Mario adventures: The playground of Super Mario 64‘s introductory courtyard, Super Mario Sunshine‘s NPCs, Super Mario Galaxy‘s inventiveness, and Super Mario 3D World‘s fidelity. Above all, there is a “weird” factor that has been generating buzz. The various worlds Mario can travel to feature a variety of art styles: the playable New Donk City feels like a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater / Sims hybrid while the Sand Kingdom felt like a traditional 3D Mario world with a new classic 2D side-scrolling mechanic added to the mix. (Think The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.) The game played as great as you can imagine, but the real allure is looking forward to the variety and trying to figure out just what the hell is going on!

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the game I’m most looking forward to. It’s gorgeous and surprisingly deep. I can’t recall ever seeing the Mushroom Kingdom in such detail. And like any great Mario game, it feels like it may be deceptively difficult. I’ve never played an XCOM game, and the demo seemed to only scratch the surface, but the number of methods to approaching and evading battle seemed impressive. There is a certain chess-like quality to the game in that you may need to think twice or thrice before executing a move. Enemies lurk in around cover and, if you’re not careful, environmental elements can throw off your game. I do worry that variety will be a problem; the old “Sonic” syndrome where the first handful of levels feel great but then feel dull or repetitive or both. We shall see.

Uncharted looks like Uncharted. I certainly love the idea of playing as Chole, but the sequence shown did little to suggest that this would be any different from previous iterations. And that may be fine, but unless there is a drastically different element (Uncharted 2‘s sequences > Uncharted 1, Uncharted 3‘s story > Uncharted 2, Uncharted 4‘s fidelity > Uncharted 3), I feel it’s a bit soon to jump back into this world.

The live Spider-Man demo went a little off script from the Sony presentation but was largely the same. I love the Arkham-like feel, but the reliance on quicktime events is a bit off-putting. Still, I’m looking forward to this game. (Now I want Insomniac to make a TMNT game!)

Days Gone was touted for it’s variety of mission approaches and environmental effects on the population, but the post-apocalypse / zombie infestation disenchanted me. How are we not done with zombies yet?

Both Monster Hunter World and Middle-earth: Shadow of War looked incredibly chaotic yet impressive. The highlight of Monster Hunter World came when a giant iguana-like monster crashed out of a nearby forest to feast on another gigantic beast — albeit lower in the food chain — plumping up like a snake after the meal, and sauntering back into the forest. Back at the nest, the iguana-like creature regurgitated part of his meal, summoning it’s offspring to the feast. Later in the demo, the same iguana-like creature would join our battle against a T. Rex-like monster as the T. Rex-like was trespassing on the iguana-like’s territory. Quite the world!

Middle-earth: Shadow of War looks to be focused more on castle raids than the previous entry. Players will recruit orc war chiefs throughout their play and choose which ones they will bring into a castle raid, strategizing their recruits’ strengths vs. the castle’s war chiefs’ weaknesses. Before the demo, director of technical art at Monolith Mike Allen touted enhancements to the nemesis system; however, these did not seem evident to me. I was expecting something more along the lines of the beloved Brûz.

There was lots of buzz about Detroit throughout the show. It plays like Heavy Rain, allowing payers to investigate a scene in attempts to build a successful outcome to a dire situation. While I did not get a chance to play Detroit, I did observe four different endings to the hostage scenario players were given the opportunity to partake in: 1 failure, 3 successes. The failure resulted in the hostage being killed. The successes varied in:

  1. the player sacrificing himself to save the hostage
  2. the player saving the hostage, but being shot during the encounter
  3. convincing the rival android to comply, saving the hostage and himself

There are plenty of games that offer a variety of situations and solutions, but to see these different scenarios play out next to each other simultaneous by different individuals’ actions was rather interesting to see. I can’t say the game is for me, but of those that played it, most felt it was the game for them.

As noted, I wasn’t able to partake in much. Nor were all games showcased during the presentations being showcased — Anthem and God of War most notably. Ultimately, I feel I’d gotten everything I needed from the presentations. A trip to E3 was not warranted.

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Sold on Cross-Network Play

During the Nintendo Spotlight: E3 2017, cult favorite Rocket League was announced for the Switch. The announcement included the bullet point “Cross-Network play”, officially detailed on RocketLeague.com, emphasis my own:

Rocket League will also support all of Nintendo Switch’s play modes, including TV Mode (docked), Tabletop Mode, Handheld Mode, and both Online and Local Multiplayer. Online Multiplayer supports up to eight players, and Cross-Network play will be supported as well, allowing Switch players to hit the field with players on Steam and Xbox One.

The idea that I can play the exact same game with a friend on a different console should not be novel. It is a future I’ve been hoping for, and honestly, a no brainer from a consumer’s perspective.

For non-exclusives, I don’t want to have think about shutting out some of my friends based on a console decision. A handful of my friends prefer playing on Xbox One. Another handful prefer playing on PlayStation 4. I’m caught in the middle and certainly don’t want to purchase the game twice. (Nor should I be expected to own both consoles!)

Without the knowledge of different online communities, buying a game as a gift can be a tremulous experience for family and friends. Confusion exists for the non-gaming community. There are horror stories of purchasing Wii U games for Wii owners. Hell, there was confusion between NES and SNES games back in the ’90s. I would argue that purchasing a game for the correct console, but being locked out of playing with friends simply because they own a different console sounds like lunacy to those without gaming knowledge.

However, as Myke Hurley on the Remaster podcast points out, PlayStation will not be partaking.:

It’s very awesome that [Rocket League] has Cross-Network play. You’ll be able to play against players on other platforms. This is just PC and Xbox right now, which is the same for Minecraft. With the new Minecraft, you will sign in with an Xbox Live account to play on the Switch. So this is something it seems like a bunch of different game companies are getting together with one notable absent platform which is PlayStation.

This is not a technical limitation. It is political.

Jeremy Dunham, VP of publishing at Psyonix, in an interview with Polygon:

“It’s literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically,” Dunham told Polygon. “In reality it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”

As an owner of all three consoles, the gesture of Cross-Network play between Xbox One and Switch — even between two games, Rocket League and Minecraft — is enough to push me over the edge of purchasing and playing third-party titles available for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Xbox One.

Cross-Network play is the future for third-party titles and I have faith Sony will follow suit. Until then, whenever I’m debating which “HD twin” to play third-party multiplayer experiences on, Xbox One gets my money, simply on the potential that their willingness will bring more shared Cross-Network play experiences. (Come on, Overwatch!)

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Hail Mario 2: Electrodrome Boogaloo

In 2014, I wrote Hail Mario, a post about Nintendo’s aggressive strategy to bolster Wii U sales with the release of Mario Kart 8:

Nintendo gambled for positive reviews two weeks before launch, is now chalking up at least $40 in games to every US and Canadian Mario Kart owning household, and prays that their Trojan horse will be the spark to move units. Since release, the game has received stunning accolades, Club Nintendo has been brought down by what can only be assumed as immense traffic for free games, and at least one Wii U newcomer is being tugged at by curiosity.

When people think of video games, a large majority picture a mustachioed plumber in a red hat, but Master Chief and the Minecraft universe are only 3 points down. There are still many plays to be made but a well-timed, well-calculated marketing play this big could be enough to save the game. Mario Kart 8 may give Nintendo the lead they need to send a message to the HD Twins: Nintendo’s race is not over.

The post was picked up on Daring Fireball and is far and away the most popular Zero Counts post. (Thanks, Mr. Gruber!)

Mario Kart 8‘s early review embargo showed confidence in the game and got media outlets openly singing the game’s praises well ahead of release. In addition to building hype, Mario Kart 8 came bundled with a free download for one of four AAA games.

For the Switch, Nintendo has released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe — a slightly enhanced version with a revived and much beloved battle mode and all cups, courses, characters, and DLC unlocked. To add, what I had already considered the best Mario Kart entry to date, can now be taken on the go and played in a myriad of situations — TV or portable; solo, local split screen, or online; out of the box 2-player with Joy-Cons, 8 paired Switches, or 12 player wired LAN. (Mic has a great breakdown.)

Until this point, the Switch has been a Zelda machine; a single player experience. There were a handful of multiplayer games, but nothing close to a must-have or system seller. With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo has released the true test of the Switch’s promise — console-level gaming with anyone anywhere. How would new Switch players react? Would previous Wii U owners (and likely Mario Kart 8 owners) care? How does portable multiplayer hold up?

On Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s release day, I brought my Switch to work. It was the perfect venue to test the Switch’s out-of-the-box local multi-player experience. In fact, it was the first time I’d attempted any multi-player on the device in any of its various forms. As far as I know, I’m the only one in the office with a Switch. Gasps filled the room when I removed the Joy-Con from the display. I handed one over to a colleague, showed him around the tiny controller, and away we went.

While the 6.2-inch display is fantastic for a single player experience, split-screen is a bit uncomfortable, but not impossible. The fun had over bouts of office Mario Kart eclipsed the discomfort, but it was never completely put it out of our minds. Likewise, a few gripes and cramps were had from the ergonomics when using a single Joy-Con as a primary controller. The situation is tight, but for an experience like Mario Kart 8, the pain seemed to be worth the pleasure.

At home, as my wife and I settled into bed, we decided to have a go at one race. I tried to place the Switch on the bed between us — an impossible feat due to the unforgiving kickstand. So, a book was used as the foundation. We peeled away the Joy-Con and we’re off to the races. Together we squinted at the tiny screen. I proved to be too uncomfortable for extended periods of play, but we agreed that it would serve well on flights.

The main annoyance came from the placement of the L and R buttons. For her, they felt too close together. To be fair, fitting such a functional controller in the palm a hand is a feat. In fact, there were multiple instances throughout the day when players were shocked to find that the Joy-Con rumbled too.

Breaking out Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch is all fun and good, but there’s not much for players of the original Mario Kart 8. Mario Kart has always been about the party atmosphere, and this version is the ultimate. And I can see myself jumping into a quick pick up game here and there, but otherwise, I’ve been there done that. There’s nothing to unlock. No new cups, courses, or characters. The portability of the Switch paired with Mario Kart plugs a some gaming holes some may never been the wiser, but nothing more than a quick casual experience romp.

I wish I could speak from the newbie to Mario Kart 8 experience. For that, see Jeremy Parish’s Retronauts review of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s a fantastic game, but even for newcomers, what does Mario Kart feel like without triumphing for new cups or characters? Does the high polish of Mario Kart 8 hold its luster without striving for something other than victory? Does the out-of-the-box portable multiplayer feel as novel when you haven’t played MK8 on a TV for the past few years?

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows off all the Switch has to offer, but other than pure competition, there’s no hook. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a must-have for party moments and quick pick up game, but not a system seller. At least not at $60.

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Phil Collins: Crash Bandicoot man

A fun tidbit from Phil Collins’ memoir “Not Dead Yet”:

Somewhat dazed, I go back to the hotel, the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Lily, now aged nine, is waiting for me, which brightens things up no end. She and I start playing Spyro the Dragon—computer games are one of our new shared passions. I love them, and I love Spyro, although if push comes to shove, I’ll declare myself a Crash Bandicoot man. As if by magic, the hearing in my left ear roars back. It’s like I’ve been underwater, but the blockage is suddenly gone. Thank God for that.

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Eurogamer: ‘Docked Zelda Stutters in Places Where the Mobile Experience Does Not’

Richard Leadbetter, Eurogamer:

In terms of performance, it’s immediately clear to the naked eye that the docked Zelda stutters in places where the mobile experience does not – and to confirm this, we manually counted frames by eye based on our camera shots to ensure accuracy in producing the performance test below. It’s really easy to isolate this issue as it occurs frequently in the open world, right from the beginning of the game. In some places, we see the smooth 30fps update while docked drop down to a momentary 20fps – confirming a basic double-buffer v-sync implementation.

Home console?

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Jose Otero, IGN: ‘Attaching and detaching [Joy-Con] from the [Switch] is satisfying to the point that it’s almost addictive’

Jose Otero, IGN, timestamp 3:11:

Outside of the tiny face buttons, the analog sticks, digital triggers, and shoulder buttons feel solid and well made.

The Joy-Con are surprisingly comfortable and versatile in the hand too. And attaching and detaching them from the console is satisfying to the point that it’s almost addictive.

I remember feeling satisfaction attaching and detaching Controller and Rumble Paks from the Nintendo 64 controller’s expansion port.

I can’t wait to get my hands on this thing.

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Just (Quietly) Dance

Xavier Poix, Managing Director of Ubisoft’s French studios, in a corporate update interview on UbiBlog:

Is the Switch going to revolutionise the market like the Wii did?

XP: The Wii attracted a very large audience – including kids and families – because it offered, on one hand, the motion controls, allowing for intuitive interactions with the console and on the other hand games with a strong social component. These aspects gave us the opportunity to develop Rabbids and Just Dance, for example. The Switch will probably have a similar impact, thanks to the mobility offered by the console. You don’t have to have a home console and a mobile console anymore; there’s one console, which is mobile, that you can bring anywhere.

Nice to see these comments, but that line-up doesn’t strike me as all to weighty. I see the value in the audience Ubisoft is targeting, especially after their experiences on the Wii and Wii U, but what of Ubisoft’s AAA games like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs? How will those hold up on the Switch?

And has anyone reported on the Switch’s speakers? I can’t imagine Just Dance being a thrill in handheld mode.

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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.

UPDATE: Nintendo’s UK website now lists the Switch’s technical specifications, confirming separate wired LAN adapter:

Communication features

Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac compliant) / Bluetooth 4.1 (TV mode only. A wired LAN connection is possible through the use of a commercially available wired LAN adapter.)

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