Category Archives: Design

Polygon: Captain Toad feels like “Nintendo experimenting within the Mario Universe”

Polygon’s Michael McWhertor on the Quality Control podcast with host Dave Tach:

For a few years now, I have promoted and evangelized Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. To the point where I think even people at Nintendo are like, “hey, send this guy the Captain Toad review code first.”

I love the game. I love the character. It’s a great little puzzle game. It was one of those things that was released on the Wii U — which didn’t have a ton of great games, but this was a real standout in my opinion — and not a lot of people owned the Wii U. [Captain Toad] was something that was overlooked by a lot of people. It’s a fun little package. Now that it’s out on Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS, people have no excuse not to go play Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

In 2013, Nintendo released Super Mario 3D World, and excellent platformer for the Wii U. In that game, there were a handful of levels featuring Captain Toad. You gave up control of Mario, Peach, Luigi, etc., and you played as Captain Toad in these tiny little diorama-style levels where Toad would walk around with a headlamp and a heavy backpack.

He couldn’t run and jump. He could basically just walk around levels. He could fall down things. There were switches you could pull to raise him up on platforms. But each one was just this cute, clever little puzzle level that felt like Nintendo experimenting within the Mario Universe.

Mike and I share similar feelings about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The game itself is a charming, clever, puzzle game. But beyond that, it’s a wonderful expansion on a more realized Mushroom Kingdom. And it was great to see the character return in Super Mario Odyssey.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Captain Toad is genius.

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FastCoDesign: Why tech’s favorite color is making us all miserable

Amber Case:

A decade after my experience with the LED fans, I started seeing blue displays everywhere. From mobile phones to in-car displays, blue lights were becoming the norm. It’s hard for me to think of any examples of prominent high-tech products on the market now without pale blue screens or indicator lights. LED-based bulbs with more blue light are fast replacing incandescent bulbs. The default display to our iPhones and Androids operates along the blue spectrum, as do our laptops; new cars, especially those like Tesla which aspire to be “futuristic,” come with blue-lit dashboard displays, and so do our “smart” appliances, televisions, video game consoles, watches–the list goes on.

Unless it’s the post-apocalypse, imagery of the future is generally always depicted by some form of light. This article provides a brief history and effect of shifting from red and orange light (function) to blue light (form) on screen and in real-life.

I was obsessed with the blue eject light on the original PS2. When powered on at night, married to the start up chime, the blue light was a beautiful touch to round out the futuristic design and marketing of the console. The Wii’s disc drive bay gave me a similar feeling.

The poet in me would say it’s vast and mysterious sea, sky, and stars that make blue so extraordinary. While I agree that red and orange are preferred from practical standpoint, there’s no denying that blue is gorgeous. The Zero Counts design is certainly guilty of leaning on blue — ZC blue (#004992).

Regardless of your feelings about the film, try imagining Tron: Legacy with an orange Grid. Gross.

(Link via The Loop)

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Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft Story Labs has a great piece by in-house writer Deborah Bach about the development of the Adaptive Controller. It’s great storytelling through and through; chock full of touching stories, business cases, and design implementation all the way down to the packaging.

Here’s the opening story:

Dan Bertholomey awoke in a hospital in June of 2010, four days after a hit-and-run driver almost killed him while he was riding his motorcycle, to the sinking knowledge that he’d lost the use of his right arm and hand.

As he lay in his hospital bed, Bertholomey pondered his future. He thought about his daily life and the things he loved to do. How am I going to game again, he wondered? He’d been an avid gamer since age 10, when an original Pong console from Sears magically transformed his family’s television set into an electronic playground that he could control. Bertholomey was instantly hooked. He loved the competitiveness of gaming, loved the places it took his imagination.

Bertholomey continued gaming into adulthood, playing often with his son and daughter. In 2005, when he was 40, Bertholomey placed sixth on “Madden Nation,” a televised competition of the U.S.’s best “Madden NFL 06” football video game players. For him, gaming wasn’t just a hobby, something he did in his spare time. It was a lifestyle.

“You can’t fathom losing something that you love so much, said Bertholomey, 52, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. It’s incredibly devastating.”

Bertholomey began looking for ways to play with one hand. He found someone to hack him a foot pedal that connected to his Xbox, but it didn’t work well for him. He eventually taught himself to play with his left hand, but it was awkward and he couldn’t play at anywhere near his previous capacity.

The solution Bertholomey needed is now a reality — and it has the potential to make gaming accessible to players with disabilities worldwide. The new Xbox Adaptive Controller, which will be available later this year, can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving gamers with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customize their setups. The most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company, the device can be used to play Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games and supports Xbox Wireless Controller features such as button remapping.

Bertholomey, who is among a select group of gamers who have been testing the device, said the controller makes it easy to create different setups for various types of games and seamlessly switch between them. Gamers can set up three different gaming profiles on the controller and don’t need to reset the device every time they change games, as they sometimes do with modified controllers.

This controller is really something else. There should have been steps taken to get to this point a long time ago, but this is wonderful, nonetheless.

I’ve recently wondered how to make games more accessible. The thought (rather shamefully) finally occurred to me while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch in handheld mode. I have perfect eyesight, but the text was just small enough to be uncomfortable to read. Seeing as the game was originally intended for a TV experience on Wii U, it’s not terribly surprising that the experience wasn’t tailored for the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen. However, with the success of the Switch and Breath of the Wild, it’s surprising Nintendo hasn’t patched the text size while in handheld mode.

More recently, I’ve been playing God of War on a 720p TV. Golly, is the text tough to read.

Software accessibility is difficult, let alone manufacturing a piece of hardware for a niche audience. But it’s a niche audience that must to be considered. Where many companies seemingly glance over serving mental and physical handicaps, it’s wonderful to see Microsoft doing the right thing by enabling play for as many people as possible.

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Adjustable Charging Stand for Nintendo Switch

Nintendo:

The adjustable charging stand allows the Nintendo Switch system to be charging while in Tabletop mode, enabling longer play sessions.

Home console?

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Most Video Games Are Too Long

Patrick Klepek for Vice’s Waypoint:

Minit knew what it wanted to accomplish, and how long it took to accomplish it. Done. But it also left me wanting more. If they announce a sequel—may I propose Another Minit?—I’ll be there with bells on. Too many games leave me exhausted, as if my dozens of hours have only made a small dent. (This is especially true for open world games.)

I recently played and completed Florence on iOS in 40 minutes. In that short stint, it hooked me, filled me with hope, sadness, and nostalgia, and ultimately left a last impression on me. It felt much like Disney’s Paperman short.

I understand the feeling of immersion, but even with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — as focused on in the previous post — I was yearning to finish. Most of the most impactful gaming experiences I’ve had have been shy of four hours; Journey — again, mentioned in Lewis Gordon’s ‘The Rise of the Ambient Video Game’ previously linked to — has been the most impactful of all. Another being Dear Esther.

Speaking got both Journey and Dear Esther, see also ‘Why the Two-hour Game is the Future’.

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The rise of the ambient video game

Lewis Gordon, writing for The Outline:

Both The Legend of Zelda and these ambient records channeled the natural elements of water, earth, and air — phenomena of increasing rarity in the modern Japanese city. To step into such video game worlds was to stabilise oneself within the frenetic noise and anonymity of the expanding urban spaces. The Famicom allowed players to experience video games from the comfort of their home while Yoshimura, alongside other ambient artists of the era such as Satoshi Ashikawa, designed their records for public spaces whose mood they attempted to subtly augment. Later, in 1993, Haruomi Hosono, member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, released Medicine Compilation From the Quiet Lodge, an ambient album touching on house and techno but infused with Japan’s past and elementalism. Its title articulated the healing potential of music created outside of the metropolis.

A lovely observation and read by Gordon.

In Rainbows

After publishing ‘Building Zero Counts’, I became curious about syntax highlighting — the walls of rainbowed text you see splayed out in front of developers.

In ‘Building Zero Counts’, I used a gradient from sea foam green (#00fa92) to Zero Counts blue (#004992) to denote code. Here’s the Bitbucket Pipeline YAML example I used:

image: php:7.0.27

pipelines:
 default:
 - step:
 script:
 - apt-get update
 - apt-get -qq install git-ftp
 - git ftp push --user $SFTP_username --passwd $SFTP_password --verbose sftp://ftp.[host]/home/[username]/[domain]/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/modules/minileven/theme/pub/minileven
 custom: # Pipelines triggered manually
 full-deploy-after-jetpack-update:
 - step:
 script:
 - apt-get update
 - apt-get -qq install git-ftp
 - git ftp init --user $SFTP_username --passwd $SFTP_password --verbose sftp://ftp.[host]/home/[username]/[domain]/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/modules/minileven/theme/pub/minileven

The color scheme and implementation is completely useless, but it’s meant to abstract how I perceive syntax highlighting. In the tech industry, it’s impossible not to see engineers, developers, and designers living in front of colorful walls of text. And for me, it’s impossible not to want to live and work in this world of rainbows. So, the way I display code on Zero Counts is a window into the beauty I see, the envy I have, and my ignorance of what is actually going on with syntax highlighting.

Poking around, I found some interesting posts about syntax highlighting and some methodologies behind color schemes and implementation. Ethan Schoonover’s Solarized is a simple color scheme that shares the same syntax highlighting between light and dark themes. It’s inspired by reading in the shade vs direct sunlight and incorporates fixed color wheel relationships:

Solarized works as a sixteen color palette for compatibility with common terminal based applications / emulators. In addition, it has been carefully designed to scale down to a variety of five color palettes (four base monotones plus one accent color) for use in design work such as web design. In every case it retains a strong personality but doesn’t overwhelm.

Meanwhile, Evan Brooks notes switching to semantic highlighting from syntax highlighting — an inverted use of highlighting, moving away from colorizing built-in keywords such as let, var, and function to coloring user-defined variables, methods, etc.:

We think syntax highlighting makes the structure of code easier to understand. But as it stands, we highlight the obvious (like the word function) and leave most of the content in black. Rather than highlighting the differences between currentIndex and the keyword function, we could highlight the difference between currentIndex and randomIndex. Here’s what that might look like:

Brooks’ method has been incorporated in a variety of text editors. Beyond that, KDevelop had actually incorporated semantic highlighting in 2009 — five years before Brooks’ post:

Understand code: The real facility that helps you understanding global code-structure is the navigation-tooltip or the code-browser. However those are not very useful to understand local algorithms. The following picture illustrates my favorite part of the semantic highlighting: Local Variable Colorization. That colorization assigns a semi-unique color to each variable in a local context. This allows much easier distinguishing those variables, largely without reading their full name at all. By freeing you of actually having to read all the variable names, this allows grokking local code relations faster, and has already helped me fixing quite a few very stupid bugs right away. 🙂
Great minds!

Syntax highlighting is a silly reason to want to learn to code, but well designed colorization and implementation certainly make it an attractive work environment. Who wouldn’t want to live in rainbows?

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Switch Ports Hamstrung by Mario Carts

Christopher Dring in conversation with Ralph Egas, CEO of Abstraction Games:

He continues: “Performance is not really the issue. The issue instead is in the size of carts. The 32GB carts are expensive, you shouldn’t be wanting to do that. So we need to fit everything on 16GB, whereas the standard game on PS4 is much, much larger. It’s a crazy ratio we’re talking about. However, thankfully, there are a lot of opportunities for reduction without changing anything anyone will notice. Another thing we can do is do a cartridge version and then do staggered downloads to make the game complete. That’s probably the hardest part. Finding all the new technicalities and quirks that you get with a new platform.

Interesting and somewhat encouraging that performance isn’t the primary challenge of porting to the Switch. Also encouraging that dual-layer DVDs — the ancient technology used by the PS2 and Xbox 360 — maxed out at 8.5 GB. (Apparently, Xbox 360 discs topped out at 7.95 GB.) Thus, I remain hopeful for Final Fantasy X and Kindgom Hearts ports.

Please forgive me for the headline.

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Nintendo: Crazy Toy-Con Maker

Michael McWhertor, Polygon:

Labo will let Nintendo Switch owners build cardboard versions of real-world items like a 13-key piano, fishing rod or motorbike. Nintendo calls those cardboard creations Toy-Cons. And, by inserting Joy-Con controllers into those Toy-Cons, players will be able to play games themed to the cardboard creations.

“With each Nintendo Labo kit, kids can transform modular sheets of cardboard – specially designed to interact with the Nintendo Switch console and Joy-Con controllers — into creations called Toy-Con,” Nintendo said. “As you build, you will have fun discovering how the technology works, and might even invent new ways to play with each Toy-Con!”

No one could have predicted Toy-Con. Try as you might, cardboard attachment kits for the Switch are not just out of left field, they are on a different pitch altogether.

There is an increasing wealth of junior robotics and toy-to-life experiences on the market. This is a clever, unique take on that market — and does Google Cardboard one better.

When folks call Nintendo a crazy toymaker, they’re not joking.

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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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