Category Archives: General

‘Everyone feels lost all the time’

Uncharted director and writer Amy Hennig and Campo Santo (Firewatch) founder Sean Vanaman in conversation for Polygon’s excellent 2017 Year in Review essay series:

Amy Hennig: I talk to students and young developers sometimes, and they’re always sort of amazed to find out that everybody has imposter syndrome.

Sean Vanaman: I still feel like I’m ripping everyone off.

Amy Hennig: You look back at your own work and go, “I’m not even sure how I did that.”

Sean Vanaman: Exactly.

Amy Hennig: So even though you have this underlying sense of faith and tell yourself, “Well, I’ve been here lots of times, and I’ve always figured out a way to solve these problems, so I’ve got to relax and assume that I will figure it out again,” in the moment you’re like, “I don’t know how I did that before. I don’t know what I’m doing.” And everybody feels that way. It’s something I haven’t heard creative people talk about that much until recently. I always hear this sigh of relief when I bring it up. Everyone feels lost all the time.

This is a wonderful conversation between polar perspectives. Whether you’re running a large ship or a tiny dinghy, self-doubt is inevitable. I’ll add that it’s not just the captains that encounter it.

The quicker everyone and lay bare their uncertainties, the quicker the entire crew can sail in the same direction.

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Dark Souls: Remastered Announced for Nintendo Switch

During today’s Nintendo Direct Mini, Nintendo announced Dark Souls: Remastered will be heading to the Switch on May 25, 2018. The title will also be launching on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

This continues a trickle of AAA third-party ports to the hybrid portable/set-top console. In 2017, among other third-party ports, Bethesda released Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and DOOM to the console and will soon to be releasing Wolfenstein 2: New Colossus.

Dark Souls was originally released in 2011 for PS3 and Xbox 360. It spawned two sequels and riff Bloodborne.

I have never played a Souls game. The idea of sitting in front of a TV, beating my head against an insanely difficult boss for hours on end is not a luxury my life can afford. However, doing so on a portable console is a whole different story.

Killing hours traveling, accompanying my wife on the sofa, relaxing in bed, stealing myself away to any place to chip away at a game are the reasons I’ve tucked my consoles away. Furthermore, the ability to quickly put the Switch to sleep and seamlessly launch back into a title make it my ultimate gaming device. For all of these reasons, I feel the Switch will allow me to join the Souls conversation, finally.

While Dark Souls: Remastered is the first of the series, the announcement of another classic PS3/Xbox 360 port to the Switch extends my enthusiasm for the console. I’m reminded of how tickled I was seeing this tweet by Jon Cartwright:

Honestly, it’s remarkable to see a Nintendo console glean so much third-party support. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed for Cuphead.

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Miyamoto: ‘I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans’

Simon Parkin reporting for The New York Times:

Even people like Mr. Miyamoto, 65, a leading figure at Nintendo since the 1980s, is ceding control at the company’s Japanese headquarters.

“More and more I am trying to let the younger generation fully take the reins,” Mr. Miyamoto said.

This younger generation has been carefully chosen; Mr. Miyamoto says he wants people who are more likely to create new kinds of play, rather than merely aim to perfect current ones.

“I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans,” Mr. Miyamoto said. “I make it a point to ensure they’re not just a gamer, but that they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.” Some of the company’s current stars had no experience playing video games when they were hired.

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Joy-Confirmation

Andrew Goldfarb reporting for IGN:

According to Koizumi, part of Switch’s appeal may be the hardware itself, which allows playing to be a different social experience than smartphones can offer.

“Just to add a little bit to this idea of how people viewing smartphones as an influence on the future of portable gaming, I certainly wanted to see all the possibilities of having controllers that could be separated from the hardware, so that you could be able to hand one to another person in a variety of different environments,” Koizumi added. “I think that really represents an amazing advantage over smartphones. That was something that we had focused on very clearly as something we could achieve to reach that distinction.”

It may not add much weight, but here’s an image after my younger cousins swarmed me at Christmas, asking if I owned the Switch.

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The Verge: ‘Nobody would be talking about the Switch if it wasn’t for the games’

Andrew Webster on Nintendo’s A+ “Verge 2017 tech report card”:

Hardware has rightfully been the focal point of Nintendo’s 2017, but nobody would be talking about the Switch if it wasn’t for the games. And Zelda isn’t enough to make a successful console. That was one of the Wii U’s biggest issues; while it had some excellent titles, there were often months that went between notable releases. Since the Switch debuted in March, Nintendo has released a steady stream of acclaimed games, several which were ports or sequels to Wii U games that not enough people played. Mario Kart 8 got a deluxe edition, for instance, while the colorful shooter Splatoon received a revamped sequel. And while most of the third-party games on Switch were ports, with older games like LA Noire and Skyrim, they felt new and exciting again on the hardware.

I still believe there is a valid debate for Nintendo’s greater achievement of 2017: The Switch or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

(Note: Nintendo received the first A+ Verge tech report card.)

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‘In 2017, I Turned to Video Games to Avoid Trump and Conspiracy Twitter’

Justin Charity, The Ringer:

These alternative histories are false — but thrilling. My playing through them isn’t exactly productive, but I can’t say that my year-long gaming retreat has felt any more wasteful than the supposedly more mature engagement with politics by way of media, including social media. Wolfenstein II is escapism; and so, for the most part, is the ongoing debate about whether classical liberals should punch Nazis: They both induce fantasies about power and choices that most of us are unlikely to prosecute in the real world. Ideally, we organize. We lobby elected officials, we activate our neighbors and whatever followers we have, and we vote. But American progress is a long haul. In the grand scheme of Trump’s presidency, a 100-hour role-playing game is still a much more sensible way for me to squander my downtime than reading viral strains of conspiracy theory, surrendering what little serenity I have left in these dire times. If I want to obsessively watch the world collapse at the hands of a corporatist egomaniac, I’ll replay Horizon: Zero Dawn.

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Nintendo of America launches Nintendo Power Podcast

Nintendo:

Nintendo of America has released the very first episode of its new Nintendo Power Podcast. With Nintendo Power Podcast, Nintendo employees, developers and special guests discuss the world of Nintendo – from Mario to the Legend of Zelda, and everything in between.

The first episode of the powered-up podcast features an in-depth interview with Nintendo developers Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi about the making of the Legend of Zelda™: Breath of the Wild game.

Also, Nintendo of America employees Chris Slate (previously editor-in-chief of Nintendo Power™ magazine), Damon Baker (from Publisher and Developer Relations) and Kit Ellis (co-host of Nintendo’s weekly YouTube show Nintendo Minute) take a look back at Nintendo’s action-packed 2017.

I missed the boat on the original Nintendo Power magazine. As a Genesis kid, Nintendo Power was the extra flair that made me envious of my NES and SNES owning schoolyard peers. A brilliant marketing gimmick that helped build Nintendo’s IP into cultural touchstones for our generation.

Hearing word of Nintendo’s newly launched Nintendo Power Podcast rekindled those old memories — a new marketing gimmick and bolstering of IP for a new generation. And I’m happy to report that the podcast is a quality production that extends beyond news and marketing fluff. The banter from hosts Slate, Baker, and Ellis is honest and really no different than some of my favorite podcasting cross-talk, but with nice perspective from within the company. The quiz section is a great hit of nostalgia. And the interview with Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi sheds light on much of the design origins and thinking behind one of the greatest games ever made.

It is with relief that I see potential for depth in this show. It seems Nintendo understands the overlap of podcast consumers and Switch owners — 77% of podcast consumers range between the ages of 18-54; 80% of Switch owners range between the ages of 19-44. That’s not a market for pure marketing fluff.

The final touch of polish is that n the theme; an evolution of of Nintendo console sound design. It reminded me of the logo I designed for the Ported Podcast — the Ported Key.

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‘But then Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’

Victor Luckerson recapping Nintendo’s year as “The Best Tech Story of 2017″for The Ringer:

It all seemed like enough to burn through the last of gamers’ goodwill for the often maddening company. But then Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and a lifetime’s worth of anti-consumer transgressions were suddenly forgiven. In an era filled with cynical IP cash-ins across entertainment, Nintendo used a formulaic, nostalgic franchise to deliver a fresh reinvention of open-world gaming mechanics. The game is an adept mix of old and new, borrowing elements of Skyrim and Minecraft but augmenting them to recreate the whimsy, mystery, and intrepidness that a lot of gamers felt the first time they booted up the original Legend of Zelda or the seminal Ocarina of Time. The gushing praise for the game, the best-reviewed title of the year, proved that endlessly cynical gamers will always have a soft spot for a Nintendo classic done right.

Zelda immediately transformed the Switch from a curiosity to a must-have gadget. Gamers like Yai Torres, a 30-year-old resident of Arlington, Virginia, who had skipped out on the Wii U, got the system the day it launched. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a Nintendo product but I’ve always been a follower in terms of the latest games,” Torres says. “The fact that they had such a cool console with such a cool game clicked for me.”

I’m still pondering whether The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may be a bigger achievement than the Switch. Would Nintendo have had such a stellar year if the Switch launched with Super Mario Odyssey?

(Aside: Fun to see Victor end his piece where I was originally going to begin mine: the insanity of 2017.)

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Big-N’s Big Year

Since the failure of the Wii U, Nintendo’s future had been in question. Turn to mobile? Sell to Disney? Sell to Apple? Retire Mario?

The question marks and judgement loomed with the 2016 announcement of Nintendo’s new console, the Switch. A console poised to bring the worlds of mobile and set-top gaming together. The dream. But could a company founded on family friendly, under-powered hardware make a dent against the HD twins (PS4 and Xbox One) and a world where seemingly everyone above age 12 carries around a mobile supercomputer?

Questions. Questions. Questions.

In 2017, Nintendo answered.

Switch

The Switch is a literal game changer and its portable/set-top hybrid gimmick is working.

Released world-wide on March 3, 2017, the Switch has sold 7.63 million units as of September 30, 2017, according to Nintendo’s six months financial results briefing for Fiscal Year Ending March 2018. To offer some context, Wii U shipped 3.61 million units in its first 7 months, PS4 sold 7.0 million in its first 5 months; 10 million in 10 months. Microsoft has kept much of the Xbox One’s numbers quiet, but the console sold 3.9 million units in the first 2 months, almost 10 million in 12 months. For the long-game, the PS2 sold 155 million units. The anomalous Wii had lifetime sales of 101.63 million. Xbox 360 sold 84 million units. PS3 sold 80 million.

In the same briefing, Nintendo revealed that over 50% of owners play in both portable and TV modes, 30% play exclusively portable mode, and the remaining 20% play exclusively TV mode.

Compromises notwithstanding, there also seems to be a growing yearning for all games to be brought to the Switch. I’ve unhooked my PS4 and Xbox One. I’ve moved my Switch dock to my nightstand. I’ve gone full handheld. Nintendo has successfully untethered the console gaming experience from the TV, and it’s difficult to go back. The divided worlds of handheld and set-top gaming have coalesced and it’s everything we’d ever dreamed it would be. Without a doubt, this is a future Nintendo has been envisioning since the wildly successful Game Boy.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Launched alongside the Switch in March, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out of the gates a scorcher.

To set the stage, the initial teaser for the Wii U (prior to the announcement of the Switch) gave a glimpse of an open-world Hyrule, an art style blending The Wind Waker’s cell-shaded cartoon aesthetic and The Twilight Princess’s realism, and an action-packed cinematic:

But it was still yet to be determined if Nintendo was truly offering the open-world 3D Zelda adventure fans had been dreaming of since the original?

Could Nintendo actually deliver an open-world game on par with the likes of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and Bethesda’s Skyrim? If so, how would it innovate? How could it innovative? Would Nintendo’s beloved IP be a fit for an experience of that magnitude? Could Nintendo deliver something of that size and scale?

Nintendo’s 2016 E3 trailer would set imaginations ablaze:

Nintendo seemed to be offering up answers to every question.

Lo and behold, they delivered one of the greatest, most innovative gaming experiences of all time. It not only checked every box and crossed off every worry, it set new standards for open-world games.

From the onset, the player is cast out into the world. There is little in the way of tutorials and much in the way of freedom. Players can roam anywhere and climb anything. The world is a sandbox that encourages invention by utilizing elemental chemistry. Damn near anything is possible. There is no standard way to play the game. Gating is thrown away in lieu of trusting the player to the creation of the designers. Both player and designer are treated with equal importance. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, respect is a two-way street.

That’s not to say that I think the game is perfect. I have my gripes. I feel the music is lacking. Aesthetically, it is not a world I’m keen to revisit. The sword delicacy is maligned. Characters — NPCs and enemies — become repetitive. There is a lack of character present in previous Zelda entries — namely A Link Between Worlds. While this list seems like it would break a game, these faults are surprisingly easy to look past. The game is just that good.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best selling Switch title to date, now exceeding 4.7 million units. During its launch month, Zelda sold at an unprecedented 100% attach rate for the Swtich. The game maintains a 97 Metacritic score and boasts a 170 hour “completionist” play time on HowLongToBeat.com.

Regardless of your standard of measuring a game, one thing can be said — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a special experience. Nintendo stripped one of their most beloved franchises down to its core and rebuilt it in a way that sets the standard for open-world games going forward.It is a triumph for a myriad of reasons; but most of all, like the Switch, it was reliving on a dream.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Wii U’s abysmal sales are no indication of the quality of games produced for the console. Arguably, it’s home to some of the greatest Nintendo titles ever — Mario Kart 8, New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. The Wii U’s hit to miss ratio is sure to be one of the lowest of any console, yet most potential players missed out on surefire classics. Thankfully, Nintendo bolstered the Switch’s launch year line-up with one of the best.

Mario Kart is a household favorite franchise, and Mario Kart 8 is the best of it’s form. Selling 4.42 million units, porting the greatest Mario Kart game to the Switch so early in its lifecycle was a brilliant move. It allowed Wii U owners to share the experience with the uninitiated and show off the Switch’s built in local multiplayer gimmick. Playing Mario Kart is like riding a bike. With the Switch’s ever-present multiplayer, players can crack off the Joy-Cons and immediately share and experience. Maybe even an office tournament:

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.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe wasn’t much more than Mario Kart 8 + the DLC with a new Battle Mode. Whereit falls short is it’s insistence to unlock everything the original game had to offer. It’s certainly a great value to provide new players with everything there is to offer, but nothing is left for anyone to pursue. I’d have loved to re-race for the cups I’d previously unlocked for the Wii U version. It was truly surprising how demotivating it was to play one of my favorite games when everything had been achieved for me.

However, while I still believe retailing for $60 is a bit high for the title, it can’t be understated how great it is to have the highest-fidelity, local multiplayer ready, greatest Mario Kart game with you at all times.

Splatoon 2

In the vain of Wii U ports, Splatoon 2, the sequel to the Wii U’s Splatoon, sold nearly 75% of the original within 2 months (3.61 compared to 4.87 million units).

Splatoon takes the shooter genre and turns it into a kid-friendly paintball frenzy. Splatoon 2 added tot he experience by offering a single-player campaign. But the addictive core of the game is its short, territory-hording Turf Wars. Two teams do their best to ink as much of a stage’s territory in their color while warding off the opposing team. The bouts are short and weigh-in much like a Mario Kart race. It’s always anybody’s game. Players can feel just as important in supporting roles as they can on offense.

Splatoon 2 was the first game to support Nintendo’s Switch Online iOS and Android app. Though, much ire was drawn by the app’s poor online chat service. (Players are forced to route communications through their smartphone as opposed to the Switch.) I have not had an opportunity to use the app, so I will not comment.

In addition to a problematic smartphone app, my main gripes with Splatoon 2 are the inability to back out of lobbies while waiting for players as well as the near impossible task of playing with folks on your friends list. It’s infuriating.

However, the core game is still a delight and shows off the prowess of the Switch’s online multiplayer — at least once a match is underway. Splatoon 2’s stylistically original and serves as an inviting experience for all next to its gritty wartime counterparts.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

In August, Ubisoft delivered the first Mario experience on the Switch. Yes. Ubisoft. Not Nintendo. Ubisoft. Trusted with Nintendo’s icon and core franchise, Ubisoft delivered not only a charming title on par with other Mario entries, but a tight, satisfying, and unique strategy game to boot.

In the vain of XCOM, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle plays like cartoon chess. The player selects a team of three (Mario + two other characters, so long as one is a Rabbid) to battle a slew of Rabbid baddies in a series of turn-based bouts across 4 worlds. As players progress, weapons are upgraded and skills are gained. There are plenty of collectibles to keep completionists active. Difficulty spikes are educational rather than infuriating. And the Mushroom Kingdom is more gorgeous than ever.

VGChartz puts the game at 0.51 million units sold, which doesn’t seem like a huge disappointment, but for a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, I’d like to see it bump up a bit this holiday season. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an absolute delight.

Nindies

Say nothing of big third-party titles like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Skyrim, or Doom, the growing selection of top-notch indie — or “Nindie” — titles is nothing to scoff at.

One of the biggest concerns of Nintendo is their seeming inability to attract third-parties to their consoles since the SNES. The Switch is no different. It is the “second console”. But, boy has it attracted grade-A titles. The current #Nindie Hits roster looks a little something like this:

  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
  • Rocket League
  • Stardew Valley
  • Overcooked
  • Axiom Verge
  • Retro City Rampage DX
  • Cave Story
  • Severed
  • SteamWold Dig 2
  • Golf Story
  • TumbleSeed
  • Thumper
  • and more!

While Nintendo has been quiet on first-party titles for 2018, the plethora of indies (and major third-parties) porting to the console provides Switch owners a stable of great games for months, nay, years to come.

SNES Classic

Boy howdy, get the nostalgia intoxicated ready. On the heels of Nintendo’s wildly… successful(?) NES Classic came the SNES Classic. With a library of 21 classic — arguably essential — games, the SNES Classic was/is the hot item of 2017.

Launching on September 29, 2017, retail lines and online pre-orders were a mess. I’d imagined Nintendo had learned from the missteps of the NES Classic, but seemingly, no. Initially, it may have been easier to stumble across one, but it has again turned into a frenzy for the little throwback.

Whatever the issue, be it awful channel supply or manufacturing woes, the Classic series is another fortune in Nintendo’s pocket — if not monetarily, for the press coverage.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario. The pinnacle of Nintendo’s franchises.

A new Mario title is something special. The best video game maker does not squander its resources on Mario. Nintendo uses Mario to define console generations, gameplay innovation, artistic direction, and design standards. Mario is as much an icon as he is a vision.

Super Mario Odyssey launched on October 27, 2017 — 7+ months into the Switch’s lifecycle. It is a reimagining of the Mario series, with a series of worlds outside of the Mushroom Kingdom in a play-style similar to arguably the most important Super Mario game of all time — Super Mario 64. (If that last sentence gives you pause, just wait until you beat the game.)

Like Zelda, I have my qualms with Super Mario Odyssey. The world design is too disjointed without a cohesive story. The move-set is over-the-top. The inability to distinguish what Cappy (Mario’s new hat-companion) can and can’t possess is frustrating. The music sides cinematic over thematic. The main storyline is… odd, if not gross. Overall, little outside of New Donk City is memorable.

My misgivings aside, numbers speak for themselves. Like Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey boasts a 97 Metacritic score. “Within three days of its release, the game had sold over two million copies worldwide.” (Wikipedia) Nintendo of Europe claimed that Super Mario “Odyssey is both the fastest-selling Mario game and Switch game ever in the region.”

Super Mario Odyssey is without a doubt a change of pace for the franchise. While I do wish the execution was a bit tighter, I am likely in the minority. Through and through, it is a quintessential Mario game. It is undoubtedly fun and innovative; charming and warm. It is the perfect nightcap to Nintendo’s fantastic year.

Game of the Year

From the launches of the Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March, the announcement of a Nintendo theme park, frenzied and flawed retailing of the SNES Classic in September, to the heralded Super Mario Odyssey in October and stable 3DS sales throughout, 2017 was Nintendo’s year.

Nintendo has established that great gaming experiences should not be limited to TVs. It’s hard to imagine the Switch wasn’t always the company’s vision. The Game Boy sold 118.69 million units. The DS: 154.02 million. The 3DS: 68.98 million and remaining stable. The Wii U, while a flop, put the writing on the wall. Porting gameplay to the GamePad was a now obvious sneak peek at the future we’d all been dreaming of.

The company is projecting nearly double operating profit from the previous fiscal year, forecasting 960 billion yen ($8.6 billion), up from 489 billion ($4.39 billion). While it seems obvious that the 3DS line will eventually spin down, they’ve just released the new 2DS XL line as well as decent stream of games. Meanwhile, the Switch is just getting started on what appears to be a very bright future.

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New Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game

Arcade Heroes:

From what I have played and watched, it fulfills those expectations. The game is a beat ’em up just like you would want it to be. Yes that does mean more button mashing than stratagem but that’s part of the charm. The turtles will also do different attacks such as throws and there are items to grab and use such as smoke bombs, shurikens, trash cans, one that makes you spin around in a kind of tornado attack, etc. There are plenty of enemies to duke it out with, there is interaction with your environment, multiple attacks including the ability to throw enemies into the screen, special “Turtle Power” attacks which behave as quick cut scenes, big boss battles, combo tracking, items to use and more. Admittedly it is weird to play a TMNT game that doesn’t have the voices for the characters that I grew up with but that’s ‘old man – get off my lawn as I remember it’ syndrome there.

Beat ’em up fans can also take heart that the Raw Thrills development team stated that they played a number of classic beat’ em ups as they designed this to “get the feel right”. Apart from playing the original TMNT Konami titles, they specifically mentioned “Final, Fight, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon” while also implying that they played through several others.

TMNT beat ’em ups are a hallmark for a generation. Kids of the late ’80s / early ’90s cut their cartoon/video game/comic/action figure teeth with this franchise. I probably spent a small fortune of my parents money on the original TMNT cabinet. The NES, Super NES, and Genesis ports were some of my favorite games. I love any chance they get to make a comeback, especially in such a namesake format.

The execution of this cabinet looks and sounds extremely promising. I like to avoid Dave & Buster’s whenever possible, but this may be hard to resist.

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