Saturday, 31 August 2013

Predictions for Console Launch 2013

  I`m posting this up, mainly so that I can say that I called it later. 

  Predictions for Console Launch 2013

  We live in a curious season when three new consoles launch in the same span and I insist that portables be considered consoles just because.  Alright?  Ignoring the protests, we are on with the main event!

  2DS (or 2Dees, if you`re a journalist). 
The 2DS is going to succeed, because it has all of the benefits of the hugely successful 3DS platform, without the annoying extra bits of being: ”unsafe for children under 7.”  I know a good number of adults who loved the DS line, would like a simple upgrade, but could not get behind the stereoscopy, or the extra price to pay for it.  If there were any other doubts, I submit the name that shall seal the deal: Pokémon.

  The Playstation 4
I`m calling it now: the PS4 is lining up for a clean console transition.  Similar to the PS One to Two transition, Sony will have the enviable problem of how to kill off the successful PS3, but will have a reliable fan base of in service PS4 consoles to fall back.  Sony even brags of over a million PS4 pre-orders, which is not the same as the WiiU`s 3.6 million sold units, but is a great start and will permit it to overtake it with only a little bit of luck and momentum.

  Speaking of the WiiU
Momentum needs more than launch hype, and selling approximately 3.5 million in one quarter, and less than 160,000 million in the next, should be a sobering lesson for anybody.  Nintendo, I love you, and I genuinely stand by for the quality, but you`ve got to do something about these software droughts.  Maybe consider something with a longer shelf life, like Pokémon or Animal Crossing, or some kind of MOBA or, hey, Square Enix has that struggling MMO Dragon Quest X on the Wii, before the droughts happen.  Which is usually around console launch time, I`ve noticed.  My predictions for the WiiU are that the console will improve this season, bolstered by the recent price cut, and may even hit as high as five million installed units.  Nothing will save the WiiU from being listed to third place until Wii Fit U and Mario Kart 8 appear, and I`m calling it now: Wii Fit U will slip its 2013 launch window.  I want my next Wii Fit, Nintendo!

  Xbox One
Well, time to earn some fan rage, even I haven`t already.  Small signs are showing up to reveal strange weaknesses at Microsoft.  The console has slipped to a 2014 launch in a dozen European territories.  Delays, so far not serious ones, have appeared in localizing Kinect`s voice commands.  There`s an impressive list of launch window games for the console, but critically, I see work piling up in establishing services Microsoft wants us to view as indispensible.  And is it me, or does Microsoft has running problems avoiding bad press from early adopter problems, like the Red Ring of Death, or early criticism about Windows 8s.  I`m calling it now: I believe that MS will make its ship date for North America, and then promptly tailspin, losing critical momentum as the launch window elapses.  All of the big players will appear, but XB One (Xbone?) will struggle to communicate its meaningful changes over the Xbox 360, to say nothing of the PS3 and PS4. 

  Pole positions
We seem to be in a market where the relative strengths of the consoles to serve their audience can be measured by sales, and that such equate to pole positions in a race.  We`ve widely seen that Nintendo is agnostic of this sort of competition, which is good because in last place:

  WiiU – To advance, WiiU needs a market niche to serve, and I guess 1986 loyalists aren`t going to be enough.  Wii Fit U will help, a lot!  But to appeal to the casual audience, or build a new one, Nintendo almost needs to set the plan of getting us all playing together aside, at least until the infrastructure for us to play together is built.

  Playstation Vita – It`s recent $50 price drops is nullified by the 2DS, and the entire market is being cannibalized by non dedicated machine, smartphones and tablets.  More power, console on the go, these just aren`t working for Vita.  Lots of great indie games, though.  There has to be some way the portable can stand out, not just from its direct competitors but also from the more expensive, feature rich consoles it emulates.

  Xbone (what is the respectful way to refer to this?) – Xbox One will tailspin, I call it now, and will lose critical momentum against its better prepared rivals.  Whether it’s the higher price, or complications with features, I`m sure they`ll get it all sorted out sometime after Christmas, but remember that every Microsoft product, from Windows to Office, to the 360, all the way back to DOS 1, has shipped slightly buggy and needed time on the market to fix.  They have precisely the opposite problem of Nintendo, and while that is proven to be a slowdown that they can spend their way out of, it will cost them, and money talks, but takes its own time.  They will end behind the WiiU at Christmas, and surpass it only when the rest of Europe has its launch date.

  Playstation 4 – I call it again.  PS 4 is lining up for a smooth transition.  They will end, probably just ahead or the WiiU, which is impressive enough in and of itself.  Getting past launch hype will be the PS4`s greatest hurdle, but there too they have Sony`s excellent relations with both third parties and indies.  It will take a while to learn what sorts of games move PS3 owners to upgrade, but by the time of XBone`s protracted European launch, they will be comfortably out in front, behind only the …

  2DS/3DS family – I think this bunch is now to be referred to as the 3DS family, but I can`t be sure.  The abiding danger for this group is name confusion – I want to buy my kid this 3DS Pokémon, but the cheap system says 2DS – I could pay that but is it compatible? – while the more expensive one shares the name 3DS but has this nasty warning label about blindness in kids.  Overall, I think it will be fine, with another 10 or 15 million new handhelds joining the market.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Wherein I join the blogosphere in saying ... "You're trolling me!"

  I just blogged yesterday about a serious problem that I’m having with my 3DS, and how I was stuck reconsidering things.  News reached me late in the day that Nintendo has published a new model, called the 2DS.  I swear to God, that this is a troll.  No?  It looks so much like a troll…!  Alright fine, I’ll update my opinions from yesterday based on this new model.

  The 2DS is a slate like tablet with two screens (more on the 2D in a minute).  Sleep mode is accessed via a physical slider.  Right away, without a clam shell triggered sleep mode, the design fault that I experience on my 3DS is easily and cheaply evaded.  Clever move, Nintendo.  I see what you did there!

  This may be a tacit admission that the 3DS XL, though younger than the 3DS, is subject to the same fault, but there is no announced recall, and at this time, the fault is not even officially acknowledged to exist.  Bear in mind that it took me a while to find any confirmation online that anyone else was having problems comparable to mine.  Maybe it doesn’t affect every machine.  Maybe they caught the fault later in development and fixed it in the XL model.  Maybe Nintendo really is clever like a fox, like an eeeevil fox.  Should I imply a connection to Redd from Animal Crossing?

  In any case, transferring my data to a 2DS retains access to all of my physical and digital content, costs $40 less than a replacement 3DS, costs $70 less than a 3DS XL, handily assists with my cash strapped wallet, and all that it costs me is stereoscopy and StreetPass/SpotPass.  Hmm, I don’t know Redd, this painting seems a little … off.

  First, something I have blogged about before.  StreetPass works just as fine as it would for the XL, but there is no way you could put either an XL or a 2DS into your pocket.  It would work in a backpack, but even a fanny pack might be too tight.  Try to imagine that fashion statement.  Bottom line, I enjoy having my DS Lite or 3DS with me in my pants or coat pocket, depending on the season.  It tucks neatly out of the way, and it proves efficient for StreetPassing, which I find a clever and efficient means of adding content to a game in play without letting the player have everything at once.  Admit it now gamers, I’ve done it too: if players have all of the options for free, we take all of the options.  If we have to find people with a 3DS to get another option, we’re gamers, we go looking for other 3DS gamers.  And that’s healthier!  And we want to be seen as normal and stable, not carrying backpacks to walk the dog or stroll the beach!

  Setting this objection aside, there is still the issue of stereoscopy.  Okay, okay, I will admit it, because it sure looks like Nintendo has admitted it.  No-glasses-3D is a gimmick; it hasn’t set the world on fire, so Nintendo dropped the price by dropping the feature.  The 2DS will only display all of the 3DS games in 2D mode.  Some games really aren’t helped by the stereoscopy, but then they still look different and cool in 3D, at least for the one seat in the house that they work for.  Seeing rows of cardboard cut out soldiers standing in the fields of Fire Emblem, flying through hailstorms of fire in Kid Icarus Uprising, these are cool displays, and the 2DS is not capable of them.

  Nintendo has their sales-pitch well made though.  The 2DS is for gamers age 7 and up, for whom the stereoscopy was never a great selling point.  Unmentioned is the other 10% of the audience, who can now play the 3DS library of games without feeling left out.  It scarcely needs to be mentioned, but I will mention it anyway; Nintendo has nullified Sony’s recent price cut for the PlayStation Vita.  The 2DS is still the budget entry level handheld, with an impressive software library, two features that make a $199 Vita seem utterly ridiculous to the nation’s Moms while they’re shopping for the holidays.

  It’s all very clever for the younger families, but is this a console for me?

  Tough call, but I enjoy the stereoscopy.  The ability to fold the clam-shell and StreetPass is valuable to me, doubly so when it packs neatly away.  I … the possibility of the hardware fault is real and menacing to me.  As I said yesterday, my DS Lite is 6 years old and that is normal for me – I don’t want to buy a console that may or may not die in another 17 months!  And even if the 2DS is short lived for other reasons, it costs $40 to $70 less than the other options.

  I need time to mull over this.

   ... It doesn't really address the digital problem, does it?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Digital Preservation hits home

  Sorry for not posting for a bit.  I have a conundrum, and its name is digital preservation.

  First, some background.  I just finished a series on Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS; the only detail that I left out was that I had purchased it digitally, along with a number of other eShop hidden gems, like Steamworld Dig, some of the Guild02 games like Bugs vs. Tanks, and a score of virtual console games.  I expended real money, money that I worked hard for, to play games that are by and large good.  

  I would like to retain access to these games, much as I currently have for the DS, Wii, Gameboy Advance and Gamecube games up on my shelf, and much as I have for earlier 3DS titles (Fire Emblem: Awakening, Castlevania, Resident Evil: Revelations).  As long as everything just works as intended, I, and I’m sure others, can ignore the question of how.  As long as everything just works…

  My 3DS has encountered a technical fault, and encountered it just after my three month warranty extension ran out (it was purchased in February 2012).  After exhaustive Googling of the problem, I found at least confirmation that others have had the problem before – it’s a loose fuse.  There’s even a wiki to detail how to fix it, and good news, as loose fuses are easy fixes … after one has managed to completely disassemble the 3DS in a 22 step process handling circuit boards small enough to require tweezers.  Then reassembling the device! 

  Nintendo didn’t build the 3DS, or any of its hardware, to make tampering inside easy, and I respect their reasons why.  Any attempt to do this myself runs the risk of completely scrapping the device, and with it the only system on which I can currently run 3DS software, including the boxed 3DS software up on my shelf with the classics.  I could still send it in and pay Nintendo for the work – that starts at $85 plus shipping.  That is already half the cost of a new device.  Also, I live in Ontario, meaning that my service center is in Vancouver (Nintendo of Canada – sheesh).   

  After adding an extra eighty or so dollars Canadian onto the price, it really isn’t any cheaper to send it in, than it would be to buy new.   Heck, I could chip in $15 more (plus tax, oh the joys of Ontario) and try out that 3DS XL.  This brings me, tangentially, to another problem – there are now some awesome looking games on the WiiU I’d like to try, and $200 or so to replace my 17 month old 3DS, when my DS Lite is happily chugging along at 6 years old, feels like a terrible drain on a hobby.

  And that is what this is for me, a hobby.  I don’t want to keep spending a fortune every 17 months, and if I did, I would game on a PC!  Isn’t the benefit of a boxed video game machine supposed to be that it just works? 

  Purchasing a new 3DS is now more or less mandatory for me, as I have a lot of money tied up into it in both digital and retail copies.  The retail copies are fine, and they will transfer over no problem, as easily as inserting the cartridge into another cartridge slot.  The digital content is the content that I need to make a move to preserve. 

  So this makes me understandably introspective.  I never liked the MS/Sony conceit of accounts, though I do experiment with Steam.  Accounts are a frank truth, at least; purchasers do not own the content that they purchase.  As long as everything works, then there's no difference, but as soon as they online system drops for maintainence or hackers the purchaser loses all of the content hosted remotely that they purchased.  I’ve been dealing with computers since my dad caved in and started sharing his computing hobby with me, back before preschool.  Also, I’m of the 1986 crowd, so before preschool was a good deal before my fixation on Mario and Zelda, just for clarity.  I can take responsibility for my own digital content, I don’t need accounts and high cost servers to manage it for me, and I don’t want to pay monthly to access it.

  I want to own my content.  I want all of the rights and privileges that I used to have on the NES and SNES, and Gameboy, not because the games were so much better than PC knock-offs of Battleship and Pac-Man (they were), but because the rights are better.  I acknowledge my responsibility to back up my own content, I know what that means and I stay current on it.  Downloading eShop games almost means the same thing.  I have a responsibility to back up my own content, and I have the rights (de facto, if not for any other reason) to save the content onto any save system that works in Windows today.  Even the supreme conceit of Nintendo, that I must play Nintendo games on a Nintendo system, I can acknowledge.  I see why they did that, anyway, and DS/3DS games would look terrible on any other display because of the screen cropping.  But Nintendo still has its DRM to make sure I don’t try it. 

  Nintendo has released a data transfer tool, that takes all of the data from on system (a DSi, or a 3DS) and transfers it to a valid other system (a new 3DS; there’s a whole separate one for a Wii/WiiU transfer).  If I wait too long, I can’t run the 3DS, and the content becomes trapped.

  My 3DS still works today.  I can still get my Animal Crossing: New Leaf fix, and I can still look forward to Zelda: A Link Between Worlds in a few months.  I have precious little extra, and it looks like I had better forgo Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, to say nothing of a WiiU, until better days roll around.  Even at this, I will probably get over it.  What can I really do, besides experiment in cheap emulation?  But I’m still upset.  This represents a good $200 extra out of pocket, and would have paid for a lot of great games. 

  It’s left me wondering what other means to preserving access to content might be out there.  The door to PC gaming is still wide open, and the Playstation’s account systems have been restored, eventually.  The overly drawn out affair is something I now have all too much sympathy for.  Maybe Sony’s way is the correct way. Don’t forget, when the network was hacked, gamers were all screwed together!  Nintendo’s way doesn’t have that central point to attack, but each device will fail in its own time, and this is much sooner than it had any right to be.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Animal Crossing: New Leaf summary

  I claimed that I could describe what sort of game Animal Crossing is.  While some of the mechanics and foci are similar to what has come before, Animal Crossing is its own game.
  • Careful scripting and controlling of the player sets up the story, explains the big picture, and then releases the player to experiment.  Before long, the story opens up, and players can set their own goals.
  • Conventional NPCs like Isabelle and Tom Nook gateway the player to new content.
  • Deep mechanics provide players with tasks that can be mastered, and provide better rewards to mastering players.
  • The unending, affable banter of the townsfolk animals give the player new targets to strive for, new tasks to undertake, new furnishings for the house, or just a relief from impending repetition fatigue.
  I’ve thought about how to continue this series, including listing the long line of user generated content options, but very quickly these ideas became gushing.  I’ll mention it in passing, along with the acknowledgement that the Able Sisters pattern design tool, or the ability to make music boxes at Retail, are options that players should explore on their own.  I don’t know how my going into detail would improve gamers’ appreciation of the work that went into them, so reader: take my word for it, they are fun and creative!

  I want to touch on accessibility in Animal Crossing, as I claimed that it was a game for everyone to enjoy, and gamers waiting in the wings may as well jump.  Not everyone is having fun, as without exception, Nintendo EAD has without thinking about it confirmed a racial bias.  All of the Villager protagonists are by definition white.

  I can see how it happened, as Animal Crossing New Leaf (and the others in the series before it) begins the game and tailor the character by means of a first person conversation with Rover.  Race isn’t something that can be identified by player responses (or we might have bigger problems than just passive exclusion).  Apparently, there are ways to tan (burn?) the Villager until V is dark skinned.  It just takes a lot of patience, and possibly more battery life than the 3DS has, to pull it off.  It isn’t convenient at all, and stands as an awkward racial bias.

  Nintendo as a company doesn’t have a racial bias; the Miis entered gamer culture with darker skin tones from the day the Wii launched!  Animal Crossing players can import their miis directly into the game, skin tones and all.  But the Mii mask doesn’t look the same as the uber-cute chibi Villagers, and that too fails to satisfy.  I think that it is simply plain that Nintendo has blundered into a race minefield in America that they don’t have in Japan, and that the plans to address it came late in AC:NL’s development.  This blemish against the game is a shame, as almost any and every other part is polished to perfection!

  I might have to swallow my words, as I said previously that anyone could enjoy Animal Crossing, and truly, anyone wanting to live as the only (white) child among tons of goofy, funny animals, anyone who wants to build a perfect dream home and live there part time, will find Animal Crossing to be a joy to play.  I hope that as many people as possible try it, as it deservedly stands as one of Nintendo’s greatest, and most brilliantly unusual offerings.

  Animal Crossing is a good life fantasy; it is as easy as you like, and you can work at it as much as you want.

  Thanks for reading.