Category Archives: Media

Traditional Games

Walt Williams in his book ‘Significant Zero’:

A traditional game is a challenge in which a player’s skill comes up again a rigid set of rules. Turn-based strategy, multiplayer death match, platformers—these are traditional. The modern, high-end, blockbuster AAA game is not a skill challenge. If it were, the player might fail and be disappointed, and then we wouldn’t sell as many copies. The rules are fluid. We change them to create tension, surprise, or excitement. Saying yes to the player only goes so far, and that distance is the exact length required to make you feel in control.

Last week, a colleague of mine asked how far I was into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I told him that I was in the middle of the fourth (and possibly last) stage — Lava Pit. (For what it’s worth, I had recommended the game to him.) I also told him that playing Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the most fun I’d had with a video game in a long time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was great, but the aesthetic doesn’t draw me back. Likewise, Splatoon 2 is lots of fun, but only in casual, Mario Kart-style doses. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battlle has me not only progressing through the main campaign, but backtracking to achieve better, cleaner results in previous battles and optional challenges.

Right now, it seems the “traditional” game is where I find fulfillment. When life feels like a maze, solving simple, zero-stakes problems — in a world you adore — is unbelievably gratifying.

If platformers fit into this bucket, then boy, oh boy am I looking forward to Super Mario Odyssey.

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Why I love video games

Chris Plante in his first piece since returning to Polygon:

I love video games, but what I might love more is the opportunity I’ve had over the last decade to share the imperfect games with other people, people who might have otherwise passed them on their occasional visit to GameStop in search of Madden or Destiny, Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. I like finding greatness in the world’s biggest games, too, but I recognize they set an expectation of polish and scope that so many games can’t match. When I criticize a game, I do so to set expectations, to provide context, to interrogate what doesn’t work and to shine a light on what does.

This is exactly how I used to approach music and how I currently approach books. With music, it used to be a mainstream vs. indie thing, but I’ve learned to appreciate the big budget works for what they’re worth as well. With books, it’s less about popularity and more about topics—granularity.

In any case, it’s great to see Plante back at it. A stellar writer and critic. We’re lucky to read his work.

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The Cubs Way, Music, and Management

“Is that Tom Waits?”

“Yeah. Do you like Tom Waits?”

“I love Tom Waits.”


I am haunted by a childhood memory. Around age 13, my Little League coach and assistant coach had a falling out. Team practices were put on hold. For a kid unenthused about sports, you’d think this was a blessing. But the team was working well together and… winning!

We had a fantastic cast of characters resembling The Sandlot. There were Bennys, Hams, and Yeah-Yeahs. Maybe a Squints here and there. I myself felt like Smalls. We were a mixed bag, some with little to no skill, but we bonded. We helped each other. The loss of practice was arresting. Devastating.

Mike called me up. He was one of the leaders — very much a Benny type. He was organizing a practice and called me up to summon others. After we got off the phone, I had a thought: we should bring music. I loved doing any activity to music. I called Mike back.

He didn’t call it a stupid idea, but he suggest that we didn’t need it. I hung up and felt silly for the idea. I’ve never forgotten how embarrassed I felt for suggesting the idea.

In his fantastic book “The Cubs Way”, author Tom Verducci notes an immediate tactic new Chicago Cubs coach Joe Maddon took with his team at the opening of the 2015 spring training — his first spring training with the team:

After Maddon’s opening speech as Chicago manager, the Cubs took the field—actually, a wide swath of grass out in back of their training center—looking like a different team. The best way to measure the immediate change in the Cubs under Maddon was in decibels. As the team began its morning stretch, a huge speaker blasted “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix. What followed were more tunes from among Maddon’s rock-and-roll favorites, including “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones, “Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Tom Sawyer” by Rush.

“I’m a product of the ’60s and ’70s,” he told his new team. “You’ll have to put up with that.”

After reading this passage, I felt vindicated. My 13-year-old self’s idea was not stupid. Joe Maddon plays music. It’s not that big of a deal. Scaling back a bit of focus for a bit of fun encourages free thinking and flow. (A big reminder that my 13-year-old self had shit for brains.)

I’ve recently taken on a new management role. It is challenging beyond belief. With these challenges, I’ve put lots of attention into how my manager runs his team. One of the simplest and subtlest tricks he uses is playing music during one-on-ones and meetings. At times, it can feel distracting, but more often than not, it lightens the mood and opens up conversations outside of work. In a recent case, we hit on our shared love of Tom Waits. (What’s he building in there? A team. I’ll stop.)

I’ve now applied music to my one-on-ones. Nothing too distracting. No early-’00s post-hardcore, ’80s pop, or ’70s prog rock. Mellow electronic, jazz, or my Apple Music Chill Mix do the trick. I think it’s helping. It’s lightened the mood. And — for me at least — makes me feel a bit more connected to my team.

Music can be an equalizer. Embrace it. There shouldn’t be rules to how you manage or run your team meetings. Find energy. Find flow. Find commonality. And while you’re at it, find a copy of “The Cubs Way”.

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Brian Crecente says Goodbye to Polygon

Brian Crecente:

So I wrapped things up at Kotaku and joined Grant and crew to help launch Polygon. Then somehow five years whipped by and before I knew it I went from covering presidential press conferences and breaking news on new games to spending my days writing about esoteric pinball machines or the state of gaming and game culture in Cuba.

When Rolling Stone contacted me about joining the magazine on its 50th anniversary, I simply couldn’t say no. I’ve spent more than a dozen years talking about how I wanted to build the Rolling Stone of gaming publications. Where better to do that then at Rolling Stone?

I’ve always looked forward to Brian’s work on Polygon’s Good Game column. Good Game is host to a wonderful catalog of news and opinions about the good happening within gaming — a medium and community continually made a scapegoat of evil in this world. A kindred spirit, Zero Counts was founded upon a very similar message.

Glixel (Rolling Stone’s gaming vertical) has been publishing some spectacular pieces as of late. I’m very excited to see how Brian’s legacy and institutional knowledge from Kotaku and Polygon bolster Glixel.

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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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GameStop Announces Midnight Switch Launch

GameStop press release:

This just in: GameStop, a family of specialty retail brands that makes the most popular technologies affordable and simple, announced stores will have a limited supply of Nintendo Switch systems available for walk-in customers on the March 3 launch day. Customers who were not able to pre-order the system are encouraged to attend GameStop’s midnight launch events held at stores across the nation for an opportunity to purchase Nintendo’s revolutionary new home gaming system.

A few thoughts:

  1. I’m screwed. Fat chance I’ll make a midnight launch. Fatter chance there’ll be any Switch(es) left around noon in Tahoe. Fattest chance there’ll be Switch(es) days/weeks later.
  2. Five out of the six sites I found reporting this news did not source GameStop’s press release. Not Polygon. Not GameStop. Not USA TODAY. Not BGR. Not SlashGear. However, Tom’s Hardware did. Pitiful.
  3. “Simple” is the last word I would use to describe GameStop.
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‘Metacritic’ Still Matters, But For How Long?

Chris Baker, Glixel:

The hue and cry around that score is the best evidence that Metacritic deeply matters to many people. And not just fans – the bonus payments that game makers receive from their publishing companies is often tied to the Metascore and those same publishers spend a great deal of time and effort trying to predict the number as it could affect everything from retail orders to returns.

But the games business, and games themselves, are changing. In many ways, a snapshot of what the critical consensus is at the time of launch does not reflect the ultimate nature of a game. Is Metacritic still relevant in this new climate?

A great insight to the inner workings of Metacritic. Must read.

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‘On the internet, no one still knows you’re a dog’

John Markoff,  former technology reporter for the New York Times, in an interview on Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode podcast:

On the internet, no one still knows you’re a dog. I think identity and the fact that you disconnect [real] identity from your internet identity has proved incredibly vexing for society. It played out in this election. It played out in Brexit. (It was a factor in both—I don’t know if it was a deciding factor—but I actually do blame the internet.)

I grew up with John Perry Barlow and his manifesto in WIRED in which he argued that cyberspace would be this “Socratian” abode above the grimy politics of the world. Then I realized I was wrong.

The internet is simply a reflection of all the good and the evil in the world.

[…]

What’s striking to me is that what the science-fiction world saw in the ’80s and ’90s has actually come to pass; the cyberpunk sensibility. There was a book written by Vernor Vinge in the early 1980s called True Names. The basic premise of that was you had to basically hide your true name at all costs. It was an insight into the world we’re living in today.

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