Category Archives: Technology

Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 Impressions

On Friday, January 13 at 1 PM Japan Standard Time, Nintendo unveiled new details about their Switch “home” console. While hard tech specs didn’t make an appearance — I thought for sure Nvidia would have been showcased — deeper insight to the Joy-Con, play styles, and 2017 library were provided. Above all, what the keynote will be remembered for is an awkward Squid Researcher.

Nintendo Switch will launch in “Japan, US, Canada, major European countries, Hong Kong, and other territories” on March 3rd. It will retail in Japan for ¥29,980, the US for $299.99, and varying prices in the European territories. Software will not be region locked, which is an incredibly big move for Nintendo.

Pre-orders for the Switch went up after the event and appear too have quickly depleted.

Presentation

As a whole, the presentation felt backwards and tonally awkward. Without building any hype, Nintendo opened with launch dates and pricing. The Joy-Con demonstration as well as the trailers for first-party titles 1-2-Switch and Arms felt long-in-the-tooth. At least two of the presenters garnered “WTF” moments that also seemed to throw off one of the translators. And then there was Hisashi Nogami’s Splatoon 2 appearance as a “Squid Researcher”.

Nintendo makes cute games and they’ve done cute things during presentations, but they’ve never struck me as outlandishly awkward. The Splatoon 2 portion sapped the presentation of its professionalism, which feels odd to say as it’s a game about squid children shooting paint at one another. At it’s core, Switch is a toy. But it’s audience doesn’t treat it that way. Nintendo is a global company. It has been since the Wii, and certainly before that to its core, 30-somethings audience.

Even for the crazy toymaker, there has been something professional about their presentations, marketing, and — since the Wii — industrial design. The latter of which is present in the Switch. The system’s design is as plain as ever and comes in stark contrast to a squirt-gun wielding executive taking the stage.

Switch

Note the quotes around “home” in my intro. Early in the presentation, Nintendo stated that the Switch is a “home” console:

7:45: “Nintendo Switch is a video game system for the home.”

8:14: “Nintendo Switch has been designed to be a home console gaming system that gives you the freedom to change your play style.”

Within 30 seconds, Nintendo hammered on the idea that Switch is built for the home. It felted pointed and explicit. It’s an important point. The Switch is intended to be the dream: a home console you can take with you.

Modes of play include:

  • TV Mode: “Typical video game style.”
  • Tabletop Mode: “Play video games in front of a screen with others, wherever you like, even away from the TV.”
  • Handheld Mode: “Take it with you and play indoors, outdoors, or anywhere you like.”

On the point of battery life, Nintendo claims that the Switch will have two-and-a-half to six hours of battery life when in a portable mode. Nintendo.com gives the example “The Legend of Zelda™: Breath of the Wild can be played for roughly three hours on a single charge.” After October’s initial announcement and industry chatter after, I crossed my fingers that the Switch’s portable play would average three hours. At it’s minimum, two-and-a-half hours is a sweet spot. It may not get you through a flight from San Francisco to New York, but it shouldn’t need to. Studies show that 3 or more hours of gaming can being to have negative psychosocial effects.

The Switch will also offer  8-person local multiplayer in portable mode. Depending on adoption, this could be a killer feature. The capability alone screams that Nintendo is gunning for a new generation of portable gaming.

Last but not least, it was great to see Nintendo adopting USB-C. Color me shocked that Nintendo, the company that passed up HDMI on the 2006 Wii and was still using resistive touchscreens on the 2011 3DS and 2012 Wii U, would ship a device with the latest standard in USB technology.1

Joy-Con

These are impressive little gizmos with a funny name. From what I could count, they include:

  • 7 gameplay inputs (buttons) on each controller
  • Analog stick
  • NFC (shown on right, but presumably both)
  • Home button (right)
  • Camera button (left)
  • Accelerometer and gyro sensors
  • “-” (left) and “+” (right) buttons
  • Motion IR camera (right only)
  • HD rumble

The HD Rumble demonstration claimed that the sensation of a glass with one, two, or three ice cubes rattling as well as the glass filling up with water could be felt in a single Joy-Con. The best I could figure was that HD rumble include three independent rumble motors, allowing for altered effects.

It’s worth noting that when the Joy-Con are separated from the Switch itself, the right Joy-Con features a joystick in its center. I can’t imagine this feels great. I guess I’ll leave it up to a company that shipped a controller with an analog joystick in its center to make that call.

Games

We’ve known about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since 2013. And the October 2016 announcement of Nintendo Switch teased a new 3D Mario game. Two staples we, without a doubt, knew we were getting. Even Skyrim was a fairly sure certainty for the platform.

1-2-Switch

The equivalent of Wii Sports for Wii and and Nintendo Land for Wii U, 1-2-Switch is Switch’s tutorial game. It looks extremely awkward, but I’ll blame that on the all to lengthy Mexican standoff demonstration. For better or worse, it was a solid reminder that Nintendo is a toy company.

Arms

Interestingly, Nintendo introduced a first-party fighter. But not just any fighter. In true Nintendo fashion, Arms is also a shooter of sorts. A fighter-shooter hybrid labeled as a “Fighting sports game.” It looks like it might even be fun without motion controls. Like other Nintendo franchises before it, it appears to feature a cast of (possibly) memorable characters such as Spring Man and Ribbon Girl. Will Arms be the next Wii boxing or Splatoon? What do you think of the name?

Splatoon 2

While Wii Remotes (how did they not go with “Wiimotes”?!) were available for Wii U, Switch seems like a much more natural fit for Splatoon. As far as motion control shooters go, I loved the feel of Metroid Prime 3 on Wii. It’s also nice to see Nintendo doubling-down on this new franchise.

Super Mario Odyssey

Mario is out of the Mushroom Kingdom, and seeming into the real-world. At least for some portion of the game. Super Mario Odyssey is meant to evoke “the excitement when visiting unknown countries for the very first time.” The visuals look incredible, relying heavily on shadows and environmental physics. This is in contrast to another visually impressive Mario game — Super Mario Galaxy, which used an opposite lighting effect on Mario, providing a white shine around his model. While the visuals and openness of Super Mario Odyssey look sunning, there is something discomforting about seeing the cartoonish Mario next to Sim-ish humanoids. I’m most looking forward to this game.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I’ve always wanted to dive into the Xenoblade series, and this might be the title that does it. The art design is imaginative and the scale looks impressive. The blue armor and prominence of a helmet on one of the characters kept screaming “Mega Man” and had me scraping credits in search of any possible crossover. The one thing I couldn’t shake from this trailer was the scene of a character riding a lion-like creature. The frame-rate seemed very low and jittery. A similar jarring moment occurred during the Xenoblade Chronicles trailer in the Nintendo Direct 1.14.2015. (See my note mid-way down the page.)

Project Octopath Traveler

Boy, oh boy, does this game look great! Next-level Paper Mario meets Retro Final Fantasy? It’s titles like this that make me excited for the portability of the Switch. Something about retro stylings screams “personal” and “portable” to me.

Skyrim

I’ve been itching for a portable version of Skyrim since I tried playing on Xbox 360. Skyrim is a game to get lost in; to spend hours with. But to spend hours taking over the TV in our house would be unconscionable. Needless to say, I never got more than three hours into this game on Xbox 360. I’m very much looking forward finally working through this game on my own portable screen.

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

There was a brief clip of a Street Fighter game during the final Switch video. Like others, I immediately thought we’d seen a glimpse of the Virtual Console on Switch. Alas, it appears to be a standalone version of Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers.

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe

I kept wondering if the glimpses of Mario Kart throughout the presentation were a new Mario Kart game. But they appeared too similar to Mario Kart 8.

Low and behold, Nintendo will be re-releasing Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Switch as Mario Kart 8: Deluxe with some extra bells and whistles:

  • Pop some balloons in the revamped Battle mode, complete with Balloon Battle and Bob-omb Blast.
  • Inkling Girl & Inkling Boy from Splatoon, King Boo, Dry Bones, and Bowser Jr. join the roster!
  • Players can choose a new Smart Steering feature which makes driving and staying on the track easy for novice players and kids even at 200cc
  • Returning items include Boo, the item stealing ghost, and the Feather, which gives you a high jump in battle mode.

Mario Kart 8 is one of the greats. Some of my fondest video game memories are of playing that game. (Not to mention, my fondest Zero Counts moment!) I wholeheartedly agree with Stratechery’s Ben Thompson:

Super Bomberman R

I don’t have much to say about Super Bomberman R. I was never a huge fan of the Bomberman series. I do recall playing a ton of Blaster Master Jr. on Game Boy. I mainly wanted call out my nostalgia and affection for Bomberman 64.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is a Switch launch title. Nintendo presented this as huge news, but it comes off more as a confirmation to quell fan fears. Beyond that, not too many additional details were given. The new, extended trailer showed off the breadth of the open Hyrule as well as new and familiar characters. And while cartoony, the tone of the narrative seemed fairly adult.

My favorite part was the Vanilla Sky ending to the entire presentation. Open your eyes…

Bringing It Together

At the very beginning of the keynote, Shinya Takahashi gave a quick run-through of Nintendo’s past consoles. It had a nice Apple-y touch, focusing on the innovation and lessons of the past to brought Nintendo to the Switch:

  • Famicom (NES): Shipped with two controllers
  • Game Boy: Pioneered portable video games as we know them today
  • Super Famicom (SNES): Added X & Y and L & R shoulder buttons
  • Nintendo 64: Introduced the first analog joystick and rumble (Rumble Pak) to a controller
  • GameCube: Included a handle with the intention to be a home console could move from location to location
  • Nintendo DS: Touchscreen portable gaming
  • Wii: Brought motion controls to the mass market
  • Wii U: Enabled console gaming off the TV

Without question, Switch is another unique and possibly industry changing device. Like Apple, Nintendo often skates to where the puck is headed, defining industry trends. And without question, the biggest dream of all is being able to take your home console on the go.


1I am so thrilled that USB-C seems to be taking off like it is. Within months of Apple going whole hog on their MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, I’ve purchased a Drobo 5C and ROLI Lightpad Block that are also equipped with USB-C. Now I’ll be able to add Nintendo Switch to the mix.

Tagged , , , ,

Marco on Phil with John

On June 9th, 2015, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, a man who has spent half of his life at Apple Inc., joined Daring Fireball’s John Gruber on stage for a live episode of The Talk Show.

Here’s a bit from Marco Arment:

This meant a lot for both John and podcasting. Apple sent an executive to be interviewed on a podcast, and one of the highlights of John Gruber’s career as a writer didn’t involve writing at all.

To quote Marco further, “I’d listen to their podcast.” It will be remembered.

Tagged , , , , , ,

One Tool to Rule Them All

An important read about Tim Sweeney and Epic Games covering Unreal Engine, it’s use in interactive experiences from cinema to video games, the potential of VR and AR, and the state of free-to-play.

Chris Plante, The Verge:

When asked if Unreal Engine 4 will span the next 10 years, Sweeney says that it’s for the foreseeable future, that Unreal Engine will get to “the promised land,” a vision of the future Sweeney’s hinted at earlier in the day during his speech at the Game Developers Conference. “This is the word I was afraid to use earlier. This is the convergence of all these forms of media.”

Technologists, media theorists, and game designers spoke of the convergence ad nauseam in the 1990s, when film and video games came together in a garbage fire of media that could neither be called a good game nor a good film. In the 2000s, the convergence was replaced with the notion of transmedia, with entertainment spread across different mediums, connected through a shared universe or narrative. However Sweeney believes the convergence is making a comeback, that the graphics world is seeing humans and technology meeting at a unified point. Sweeney sees photorealistic 3D objects and lighting and virtual reality attracting game designers, sure, but also industrial designers, architects, and film makers to engines like Unreal Engine 4.

In this future, or present if you ask Sweeney, lessons learned from one field, say an architect designing a virtual building, can be applied to games or film, and likewise. Sweeney believes the potential application of the engine across all fields increases exponentially as information is shared.

All of this raises the question: does Epic Games identify purely as a games company? “We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields.” Sweeney doesn’t see the industries as all that different. More interesting than Sweeney’s prediction of field-sharing information and experience is the speculation of the fields in some ways merging together. For their most recent demo, Epic Games partnered with Weta to create a VR demonstration featuring the dragon Smaug from the The Hobbit.

The separation between game and experience and art is becoming more defined. Under the guise of this piece, interactive experiences such as Journey and Dear Esther feel like the blossoms of Tim Sweeney’s greater vision, most recently demonstrated with Smaug.

Update: I failed to mention the main reason why this important. Not only does the diversity of Unreal Engine 4 practical uses help clarify the categories of computer generated media, there’s this:

… this year, Unreal Engine 4 is free — the company asks for a 5 percent royalty for any commercial product made with the engine that makes more than $3,000 a quarter.

Commercial product: a product that can make money (i.e. video games, VR/AR experiences, movies, TV shows, YouTube shorts, amateur animations, etc.).

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Home Economics 2.0

I’ve spent the better part of my career in technical support roles; hours upon hours equating RAM to freeways and CPU-cores to cooks in a kitchen. Countless individuals taking backup advice with a “ya, sure” and a head nod. People terrified over the word “server” and unassuming over the word “cloud”. It baffles me how such basic knowledge is so foreign.

We spend large parts if not the majority of our days wrapped up in feeds and phones, devices and displays. How is it that none of us understand the fundamentals of how they operate?

I am not talking about the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) behind everyday objects. I am not talking about teaching higher level concepts or tinkering with “niche” concepts like geometry, chemistry, or physics. I am talking about the everyday. I am talking about principle understanding of devices we fear to go without. Tools we use more than anything else in our lives!

Why is it that computer classes are electives? Why is it that those enamored with video games are the only ones expected to understand the relationship between browser tabs and RAM? Why is it that those obsessed with science fiction, participating in chess club, or enrolled in AP classes are the only ones expected to understand the severities of hard shutdowns? Why should cookies, encryption, or battery drain be mysteries to anyone born into today’s world; mysteries to those touching unfathomable technology at 12-months-old?

This is not STEM. This is fundamental. This is commonplace. This is home economics.

Wikipedia:

Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), also known as home economics, is the profession and field of study that deals with the economics and management of the home and community.[1]The field deals with the relationship between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.

As a subject of study, FCS is taught in secondary schoolscolleges and universitiesvocational schools, and in adult education centers; students include women and men. It prepares students for homemaking or professional careers, or to assist in preparing to fulfill real-life responsibilities at home. As a profession, it includes educators in the field and human services professionals.[2]

The field represents many disciplines including consumer science, nutrition, food preparation, parenting, early childhood education, family economics and resource management, human developmentinterior designtextiles, apparel design, as well as other related subjects. Family and Consumer Sciences education focuses on individuals and families living in society throughout the life span, thus dealing not only with families but also with their interrelationships with the communities. Other topics such as sexual educationfood management, and fire prevention might also be covered.

Not a single mention of computers, yet nearly half of our time is spent in front of a screen. (Source: KPCB)

The misunderstanding or incomprehension of OS differences, dot-version subtleties, and computer languages can be expected. What should not be expected is the misunderstanding of “memory” versus “disk space” or the incomprehension of a kilo/mega/giga/tera/petabyte.

I do not fault those without basic computer knowledge or those born into this embarrassing system. There are simple things about computers I’m sure I do not wholeheartedly understand. There are simple things I use every day that I don’t understand. I drive a car to work and still have a very little idea of how it operates. I’m intimidated by the cable, electric, and gas lines in my home. Hand me a toggle bolt (yes, I had to look it up) and I would swear it was a missing piece from an Erector Set. I’m a music junkie and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the technology behind vinyl records and cassette tapes, let alone speakers themselves!

The lack of basic knowledge about the technology we utilize day-in and day-out, the technology we can’t go five minutes without touching, tapping, refreshing, or waking gives me chills. I’m sure I get more pleasure from solving technological problems for people than most, but I sure as hell get tired of the same questions day-in and day-out. I know this is much bigger than a blog post, but his needs to stop. Redefine Home Ec 101 and make it mandatory.

Tagged ,

Online-Only Consoles

Dan Stapleton, IGN:

When Microsoft announced the Xbox One in 2013, it was going to require an always-on internet connection to function. After backlash from gamers and Sony’s gloating proclamation that the PlayStation 4 would play games just fine without the help of the internet, Microsoft backed down and dropped the requirement (except for a one-time console activation). As it turns out, Microsoft’s initial approach was more realistic about the modern reality of how games are made, and what’s effectively required in order to have a reasonably stable experience with a physical copy of a game you buy off the shelf today. Your console will indeed run without a connection, but your disc-based games may not give it much to work with.

This piece started and ended exactly how I wanted it to; picking up with Microsoft’s original (and much maligned) “always-on” strategy, and ending with today’s “always-on” gaming reality.

Ben Kuchera recently spoke with former AAA developer Keith Fuller for this tragicomic piece on the instability of recent AAA titles. In short:

This sort of thing is more common than you think, and it leads to muddled, unfinished and often buggy releases. It’s not a matter of including the kitchen sink; developers are sometimes tasked with adding a hot tub at the last second as the project develops.

Stapleton touches on the fact that patches are blessing, but I seem to remember a time when there weren’t even a reality. Maybe I’m showing nostalgic naivety, but I’m having a very difficult time recalling game-breaking bugs from the pre-PS3/Xbox 360 era. But can today’s AAA, reality-verging games truly exist in a non-patchable world?

Games are more complex than they have ever been. The benefits of more powerful hardware are simply enablers. In 30+ years, we have moved from simple sketches of fantasy to unparalleled productions that now challenge reality. Global resources are required to make today’s video games. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the time and resources it takes to generate cutting-edge animations and textures in highly detailed main characters, let alone randomly generated NPCs. I imagine it’s easier to create windblown hair now than five years ago, but nothing compared to the two frames it took in 1988. Just because a console “can” doesn’t make it any easier create.

As an aside, allow this 2011 piece from Gamesradar entertain you: Top 7… horrendously buggy games we loved anyway. Only one of which did not ship on a patchable console. Oh, how I wish Microsoft would have stuck with their original strategy.

Tagged , , ,

Xbox One’s 7th Core

A very interesting read from Richard Leadbetter at Eurogamer:

Up until recently, both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have reserved two entire CPU cores (out of eight available) in order to run the background operating system in parallel with games. Since October, Microsoft has allowed developers access to 50 to 80 per cent of a seventh processing core – which may partly explain why a small amount of multi-platform titles released during Q4 2014 may have possessed performance advantages over their PS4 counterparts in certain scenarios.

However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the additional CPU power comes with conditions and trades attached – however, there is the potential for many games to benefit. Firstly, developers need to give up custom, game-specific voice commands in order to access the seventh core at all, while Kinect’s infra-red and depth functionality is also disabled. Secondly, the amount of CPU time available to developers varies at any given moment – system-related voice commands (“Xbox record that”, “Xbox go to friends”) automatically see CPU usage for the seventh core rise to 50 per cent. At the moment, the operating system does not inform the developer how much CPU time is available, so scheduling tasks will be troublesome. This is quite important – voice commands during gameplay will be few and far between, meaning that 80 per cent of the core should be available most of the time. However, right now, developers won’t know if and when that allocation will drop. It’s a limitation recognised in the documentation, with Microsoft set to address that in a future SDK update.

The concessions Microsoft has been making to the Xbox One (revised DRM model, “dis-Kinect”, price-drop, bundles, and now opening the seventh processing core) are admirable, and considering the recent spike in sales, certainly make for an interesting future for the console war. However, these are just that — concessions. Sony has continued to stay the course with compelling hardware and a simple story. Not to mention this is another hit against Kinect and the original vision of Xbox One.

Tagged , ,

Golden Age Thinking

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

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

Paul (Michael Sheen), Midnight in Paris:

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

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

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

Tagged , , ,

The Innovators

Earlier this evening, I had the very fortunate privilege of attending The Morris Series: Leadership and Innovation, featuring Walter Isaacson put on by The Aspen Institute. Even more fortunate that today is the release date of his latest book, The Innovators.

The introductory illustrated timeline of innovation in the book reads with the following dates:

  • 1993 (Mosaic, AOL)
  • 1994 (Web log and directory, Pathfinder)
  • 1995 (Wiki Wiki Web)
  • 1997 (Deep Blue)
  • 1998 (Google)
  • 1999 (Blogger)
  • 2001 (Wikipedia)
  • 2011 (Watson)

The decade long gap between 2001 and 2011 is a bit alarming. Was it glazed over as said decade has been under careful watch by Isaacson’s primary audience and may read as redundant? Is it simply that he aims to address said decade within the book? I’m hoping for the latter.

Not only did the late ’90s account for the blossoming of the Internet as we know it, but 2001 marks the year of the September 11 attacks. Two critical events intersecting on a single timeline. Add in adolescence (the insane flourishing of ideas, rebellion, and independence — this particular generation referred to as “millennials” by some), and you have the perfect mixture for… something…

If not from himself, this “something” is what I hope someone of Isaacson’s stature addresses. A large majority of the fresh engineering talent, and possibly the next round of innovators, moving into the professional workplace witnessed both the late ’90s blossoming of the Internet as well as the September 11 attacks during adolescence. That must shape the philosophical and social ideas surrounding up-and-coming technology in a profound way, and I would love to know how.

Tagged , ,

Digital Amnesia

A must see 50 minute documentary on digital record keeping and our history.

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, Digital Amnesia:

We’re going to want archives of every form, of all of the different generations: Physical form, the micro-film form, when they lived on CD-ROMs, when they’re on hard drives, when they’re on the next optical polygraphic whatever. We’re going to want to keep each one of these generations to make sure that we have a way of knowing what really happened and not make it so that people can go and change the past.

I am all for digital goods and less physical clutter, but there is something so fleeting about it. I recently wrote about my theory of technological rubber-banding; a craving for analog technologies in an increasingly digital world.

I’m not sure if I’ve brought up my practice of buying physical (preferably hardback) books once I complete the ePub version. Why not start with the physical version? Reading books has always been a personal challenge. I find it less daunting to visualize and feel one page at a time on a static tablet rather than see exactly how much more I have to read in physical space. Then why the physical version? I use it as a trophy and physical memento of the book. Too quickly do I forget the contents of books. Seeing one that I have completed on my shelf is a positive reminder that I have not only finished reading the book but that I had actually read it at all.

Over the past few years, I have grown deeply concerned over the preservation of digital history, beginning with early software including video games and code printed in the backs of magazines. It became even more alarming when I heard the following quote from Blake J. Harris, author of Console Wars, on the HarperAudio Presents podcast:

When you’re a kid, you’re not always conscience of how you choose your interests. I always felt like it wasn’t a choice to play video games. It was part of your lifestyle.

Getting a Genesis for my birthday a few years ago reminded me of all of that. I hooked it up, thinking it would be sort of nice and nostalgic to play these games again, but I found that not only was it that, but these games were still very enjoyable and very challenging.

Knowing that this was such a big part of my life and that there were so many hours spent and so many entertaining games and aspects to the culture, I went to Barnes & Noble on 86th Street. It’s an enormous Barnes & Noble. I asked where the video game history section was, assuming it would be near the film history or music history sections. The woman pretty much laughed at me. That it was pretty amazing. For an industry that’s bigger than music and film, there was not only a video game history section but when I asked for one of the books on Sega and Nintendo, the woman told me there was no such book that they could even order. The only thing they had on video games in the entire store was walkthrough guides.

That was kind of shocking to me. It wasn’t like a light went off and I thought, “I will fill this need!” But I did.

Even more shocking is the vanishing of historical online events in MMOs and the like; events that are completely digital yet full of human, communal interaction. This is one of the most re-listenable podcast episodes I have found. I still have a hard time not tearing up during the close:

Stanford University gaming curator Henry Lowood on the Library of Congress commissioned “Preserving Virtual Worlds” project, as heard in A Life Well Wasted: “Gotta Catch ’em All”:

In terms of practical projects, there are basically two things:

One is preservation of games. We have, for example, the Cabrinety Collection. We have roughly 25,000 games from before the early 1990’s.

Also, a lot of work that we are doing is on how the heck we’re going to be able to make sure people have access to games and especially the multiplayer networked games and things that happen in those games 50, 100, 200 years from now. How are we going to save that history knowing that for other media such early film much of that early history of was lost?

Jason Scott, digital historian, Digital Amnesia:

The half-life of software is insane. The fact that we go from “this working” to “this not working” in not just the span of a lifetime but in the span of less than a generation. And I mean unreadable. Like unreadable, physically unreadable because the signal is gone. Or physically unreadable because there’s no device to read it or the documentation is gone.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine and I rounded up as much audio content from our time playing in bands in the early 2000s that we could find and launched the Altamont Archives. (Written article here.) While we were able to scrounge together a majority of the content, much of it was lost to bad CDs, no backups, no access to master recordings, and low-kbps audio rips. It’s gut wrenching to remember that there were songs you loved that you will never hear again. Complete memories lost.

I am less concerned about changing the past and more concerned about forgetting the story of the Information Age. I recently had a nostalgic back-and-forth with game designer Pete Vigeant about hearing our first MP3. Until then, we were convinced computers would only ever be capable of MIDI output and unable to deliver high-quality organic sound. It was a blip in time that will likely be forgotten or at the very least delivered as a footnote in a grade school history textbook. But to our generation, it was (to use Vigeant’s words) “sorcery.”

Tagged , , , ,

4K and the Console Gamer

John Archer, writing for Forbes:

What every single person who gets caught up in these hilariously petty arguments fails to recognise is that actually the PS4 and Xbox One are both past their sell by dates. In fact, they’ve been living on borrowed time from the very day they launched. Why? Because neither of them truly support 4K.

This argument might initially seem a stretch to ‘normal’ people not involved day to day in the inner workings of the AV industry. But I’m confident that within as little as 12 months most of you will agree that their inability to deliver games at a ‘4K’ or Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution of 3840×2160 pixels – or something close to it, at least – will make both the supposedly ‘next generation’ consoles feel like yesterday’s news.

I don’t know anything about John Archer or his qualifications so I take his opinion about 4K penetration with a grain of salt. However, I would love to believe that 4K will be taking the speedy and monumental strides Archer claims. Relinking to my (premature) excitement about the adoption of 4K.

But where does this fit in with console gaming? Contrary to Archer’s argument, I don’t believe the core console gamer will put up much of a fuss as long as 1080 is the maximum render their console of choice offers. If anything, there will be a continued and tired assault from PC gaming enthusiasts as to why this is a sign that PC gaming is better. Though he’s speaking on the software front, I believe the points made Polygon’s Chris Grant on console software’s generational obsolesce are relevant.

I won’t lie and pretend that the resolution differences between the Xbox One and PS4 don’t bug me. Even if a huge difference between the two can hardly be seen, there is discomfort in knowing that the specs of the Xbox One can’t quite keep up with the PS4. This coming from a guy that continued to enjoy the original Wii long into the PS3/Xbox 360 cycle. But when the difference is as stark as two-fold, graphical comparison must be shelved and each individual system taken on it’s own merits. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was a hell of a sight on Wii. Likewise, The Last of Us seemed to be on another level against other PS3 titles. That said, it is a far cry from saying core gamers will be upset about not performing at 4K if neither of the HD Twins can perform at that rate.

I won’t hold my breath, but wouldn’t it be something if the Wii U’s successor rendered 4K resolutions in time for the next-gen Legend of Zelda?

Tagged ,