I remember a time, years ago, when I looked down on my Wii and its three enjoyable games in disgust. And I said, “If the next system doesn’t have any games, I’ll just stick with whatever Playstation we’re up to by then.”
I remember a time shortly thereafter, when the Wii U was first announced. And even before it failed to attract third-party developers in the exact same way as its predecessor, I looked at the gimmicky concept and said, “I’ve seen April Fool’s announcements that would make better systems than this.”
I remember a time after its launch, when I seemed to be quite correct, when a friend finally convinced me to try playing it. “How can you judge something you’ve never even played before?” I played it. It was even worse than I thought.
I then argued that he should eat a handful of dry leaves from the ground. He said he didn’t want to. I asked how he knew he wouldn’t like them if he’d never tried them.
I remember a time before the “Nintendo NX” was even a thing, when I said that if the next system was gimmicky or had no games or both, it would fail. I remember when the rumors started coming in and most of them sounded terrible. The worst ones, I thought, were the ones that described it as a system that could swap in and out of multiple modes to be played on the television or on the go or with friends.
Then I saw the announcement trailer for the newly-dubbed “Nintendo Switch.” And in that moment, I realized that it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong.
And rest assured, if I happen to see someone who’s been wrong, I’ll be sure to tell him.
The Switch seems like a novel concept, but nothing in the commercial really swayed me. To me, it’s just another example of how willfully out of touch Nintendo has become with people who actually play video games. I mean, sure, we have sweet rooftop parties and bring our portable gaming systems and are all millennial. All the time. But everything else in that commercial was way off the mark.
I’m particularly surprised at how easily the “no more gimmicks” crowd was swayed. After the trailer I saw a number of people who’d been spewing the most venomous anti-Nintendo comments for months do an immediate about-face. I’m not sure why, mind you, since a portable/not portable hybrid with detachable controllers seems like the very definition of a gimmick. But, well, here we are.
Obviously, people are allowed to change their mind. What confuses me, though, is that the conversation effectively went thusly. “I refuse to buy another gimmicky Nintendo console. I just want a regular game system,” the fans said.
“Well, good news,” Nintendo replied. “This one is also gimmicky.”
“Is it a gimmick that changes the way we play games, like virtual reality?” the fans asked.
“No. But it does change the places you play. Like, at home. Or next to a basketball court. Or maybe at a rooftop party or something,” Nintendo said. “You know, like the Wii U’s portable second screen. Only instead of that, exactly that.”
“Okay. I’ll take ten.”
This sort of short-sighted changing of opinions reminds me a lot of how people thought of M. Night Shyamalan movies. “The Sixth Sense” was pretty good, so they went to see the follow-up, “Signs.” And when that was pretty terrible, they decided his first movie was just a fluke. Then, his next movie started getting attention and next thing you know, they had to go see that one, too. Years later, we’re stuck at one good movie followed by nine or ten awful ones. Yet, more likely than not, whenever his next movie is announced, people are going to forget all about his failures and focus on the one good thing he ever did.
In the end, I may be wrong. After all, there do seem to be a lot of companies pledging third-party support for the system. And when it really gets down to it, the games are going to be what matters – not gimmicks or transforming consoles or a bunch of hipsters on a rooftop somewhere, drinking non-GMO wine and playing “Mario Kart Switch.”
But frankly, pledges aren’t software contracts, so I’ll believe it when I see it. Or not, as the situation may be.
The truth is, I got burned with the Wii and I never really got over it. And since nothing has really changed I haven’t seen point in changing my mind. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Wii U.
Now, I’m not exactly a rabid X-Men fan. I petered out sometime after “X-Men: First Class,” largely because the timelines started to get confusing. And I never saw any of the Wolverine solo films in their entirety, since I usually just caught the second halves when they aired on television. But I am a fan of not driving franchises into the ground.
The fact that they’re actually doing a movie to end Wolverine’s story line has me intrigued, since I was expecting they’d keep trying to lure Hugh Jackman back with higher paychecks and promises of vegemite.
I saw the Red Band trailer, and I have to say I was fairly impressed. It offers a raw, gritty take on the character that I think has been oddly absent from a series about a raw, gritty character. They’ve constantly teased the idea that despite all he’s been through, for a mutant who’s essentially immortal, there’s bound to be a happy ending eventually. Only, what if there’s not?
In any event, I’ll let the trailer speak for itself.
While looking for the trailer, I was surprised to see there’s actually a second trailer out. I mean, I’m not sure about the wisdom of releasing two trailers back to back. But I thought this one was impressive, too. Check it out.
Wait. Hm. Something’s not right here. Specifically, it’s the same exact movie and trailer as “The Last of Us.”
Hold up. Let me get a summary for the movie.
“A worn and grizzled Logan lives in a future he didn’t ask for, one of the last of his kind. Despite surviving the trials and tribulations that brought the world to this bleak place, he eventually comes to realize that he’s lost everyone he ever cared about and now, all that’s left for him is survival. When an unexpected mission falls in his lap to protect a young girl who may be the key to saving the world, he realizes that it may be his last chance at personal redemption. Also, Sir Patrick Stewart is there.”
And the summary for “The Last of Us.”
“A worn and grizzled Joel lives in a future he didn’t ask for, one of the last of his kind. Despite surviving the trials and tribulations that brought the world to this bleak place, he eventually comes to realize that he’s lost everyone he ever cared about and now, all that’s left for him is survival. When an unexpected mission falls in his lap to protect a young girl who may be the key to saving the world, he realizes that it may be his last chance at personal redemption. Sadly, Sir Patrick Stewart isn’t there.”
Oh. Right. Sir Patrick Steward. Well, carry on then.
All right. So they aren’t identical. I wouldn’t go quite that far. But there’s more than a superficial relation between the two.
If you play both trailers at the same time, you’ll notice that a lot of similar beats come at around the same time. Logan waxing poetic about the changing world. Joel and Bill explaining that things are different now. Professor Xavier trying to convince Logan to protect the girl. Tess explaining that escorting the girl is no different than any other cargo. The big crescendo with both Joel and Logan going into a berserker rage. Even the strange choice to accompany both trailers with depressing Spanish guitar music.
Both Joel and Logan have become old men with beards who are on the “Norwegian fur trapper” end of the grizzled spectrum. Both have lost the last person they truly cared about. Both have a no-nonsense fighting style that puts effectiveness over fairness. And both seem to be heroes only in the sense that they often end up in places where someone needs help, and they’re the only option.
“All right. Fine,” you say. “If you don’t like it, then don’t see it.”
Only, I kind of love it. Ninety percent of the stories I read about the hero’s journey stop somewhere around the part where they defeat evil and happiness ensues forever. At worst, we’re sometimes left on the cliffhanger that while things didn’t go quite as planned, there’s always hope for the future.
But heroes die. It’s part of the journey they tacitly agreed to when they first set out to save the world, either by choice or necessity.All that’s left is the choice to die as an old man in bed, or to die as something like the hero they once were.
Preferably after severely messing up a few dozen bad guy with adamantium claws.
So the trailer for this movie just dropped and I am fully ready to jump on the hype train, aircraft, spaceship or any other hype-based mode of transportation.
I won’t pretend to have a lot of insider information on this movie, because I don’t. And to some degree, I’d rather not. The recent leak culture going on disguised as fan excitement isn’t doing good things for the industry. The big reveal of a character six months before a movie releases tickles some people in just the right way, but to me random photos without any real context are the worst sort of spoiler.
But I digress.
Instead, I will just include the trailer, allowing anyone who hasn’t seen it to do so in a single click rather than two or three.
I will also share – perhaps unnecessarily – that I am super-excited about this movie. As I said, I don’t know much about this movie except that I saw the first one. But to me, that’s really enough.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of the few movies that’s had me hyped at every single stage of development. I knew from the first previews that even though I’d never heard of it, I had to see it on opening day. And then my son was born, thus derailing this story quite spectacularly.
(Writer’s Note: In case this wasn’t clear, I don’t consider this a bad trade-off because, hey, free baby.)
But my enthusiasm held for the months it took me to actually go see it, which is pretty rare for me. And when I finally saw it, I wasn’t in any way disappointed. It was, in fact, one of only two movie examples I would classify as “rollicking” – the other being the highly underrated “This is the End.”
And what’s more, it’s something I bought immediately on DVD and have watched over and over since then. That’s not even something “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” can claim. (I did buy the DVD but I’ve only watched it twice since then.) Then again, the movies I tend to watch most often are probably “The Mummy,” “Little Nicky,” “Constantine” and “Hellboy,” so unless you happen to be my wife – who shares my odd tastes – your mileage will almost certainly vary.
I will end with random trivia, because why not?
Vin Diesel was given a version of the script that has English translations of what Groot is saying. The idea is that since his only line is “I am Groot,” he has to stress the words differently or add emphasis depending on the meaning he wants to get across. I found that interesting, but given that it’s a fact about Vin Diesel, I shouldn’t be surprised because everything about that man is inherently interesting.
Kurt Russell is Chris Pratt’s father. (But only in the movie, so far as I know.) No spoilers here. I just thought we’d left the era of “movies with Kurt Russel in them.” And I’m not sad to find out I was wrong.
Reading up on things, it lists a ton of people from the first movie as now being part of the Guardians. I’m not sure exactly what to make of that. So I’ll hedge my bets and say it’s one-half interesting and one-half probably a misunderstanding.
As news of Nintendo’s new NX console continues to not pour in, I’ve decided to focus my efforts elsewhere for a while.
Okay. That’s a lie meant entirely as a segue. I’ve honestly given up on the NX already, because that was my policy with the Wii U about three minutes after I heard it described. It was also my policy during the last year of the Wii’s life cycle, where they’d clearly given up on it but kept saying, “Well, maybe we’ll do another Zelda game or something for it? So, you know, one game released per year is pretty good for a system, right?”
Actually, that’s got a weird sort of symmetry with the Wii U now. “Don’t give up on the Wii U. There’s a Zelda game coming out for it eventually. Maybe? So, you know, one game released every two years is pretty good for a system, right?”
But I digress, which I should probably stop doing while I segue.
I recently watched a video that was basically just thirty upcoming game trailers cobbled together. In hindsight, it’s not a good way to digest the information. Because at the end all you’re left with is a vague sense of confusion and you’ve actually forgotten the name of the game six minutes in that looked sort of interesting. You know the one. It was right after the “Metal Gear” spin-off with zombies. Or maybe any trailer would’ve looked good after that one.
Alas, I’m not here to point out the highlights. Even before I watched this trailer ball I’ve been burned by so many good-looking games in the past that turned out to be garbage that I’m incredibly wary nowadays. And my historical average of deciding which games were worth recommending based on trailers alone is low enough that I don’t think my readers deserve more of my horrible guesses.
No, this is more about game marketing itself.
Game preview articles tend to be a bit better, if only by virtue of not being a series of flashing images of explosions meant to dazzle you without any real substance. But they’re far from perfect. In fact, the thing that prompted this article in the first place was reading several previews and realizing that once I’d scrolled down far enough that the title was no longer visible, it may as well have been a preview of any game coming out in 2017.
But it’s more than just having the information run together after reading so much of it. Even games in wildly different genres (say, first-person shooter versus action RPG) are more or less pulling from the same shared script. And the worst thing is that, in addition to being just copied and pasted, I’m starting to realize that none of the words actually have any meaning to begin with.
Here are a few things I keep seeing in game previews that tell me literally nothing.
“Story-driven” games or games “with a narrative focus.” The more I hear this, the less I’m sure what exactly it’s supposed to mean. After hearing a reviewer say this about “Overwatch,” a game that literally lacks a story mode, I can’t even say that it’s code for “our game has a plot.”
Granted, they have released a number of animations for it that look amazing. But those aren’t part of the game. It’s like the stories in the manuals of NES games. You can make the manual a 160-page comic but if I can’t squint at your pixels and roughly tell what’s going on, it’s not a story.
But even when games have a story, I’m a bit skeptical of developers who tout their games with these words. I’ve never seen a restaurant describe its clam chowder as “so-so.” Yet, I’ve eaten bad clam chowder before. Those experiences have taught me that even if taste didn’t vary from person to person, the last person I’d trust to tell me about food would be the people whose profits hedge on whether or not you eat there. In short, leave the previews to players and game reviewers.
At least when those reviewers acknowledge that to be “story-driven” the minimum price of admission is, you know, having a story.
“1080p,” “4k” or “60 frames per second.” Graphical resolution is a lot like a garnish next to a high-priced meal. I expect it to be there, but it’s probably the least important thing on the plate.
So what’s wrong with having games with fluid animation and graphics so clear they make reality look like I just rubbed sand in my eyes? Well, nothing – at least not inherently. The bigger issue is that frames per second has become a bit of a lightning rod for gamer angst that more or less boils down to one number being bigger than another. That’s when you start to see angry forum denizens post things like, “Oh, sure. The demo clocked at 60fps but the benchmark tests looked closer to 56. And unless you play it on a native 900p, it looks like garbage.”
And I’m just sort of nodding along before asking, “But you still shoot at bad guys and they drop power-ups, right? Or…no?”
In short, I sort of gravitate between not really understanding the Sudoku-like jumble of numbers and not really caring. Because numbers.
And when it comes to 4k, it’s even worse. My TV doesn’t do that. Yet, it’s still too nice a TV for me to put on the curb and drop two grand just to make that set of numbers go higher. And unless I get the new, more special PS4, my games still won’t look better anyway. So when someone says a game plays at 60 frames per second in 4k resolution, I briefly consider the seventeen different things I’d need to upgrade to even notice (one of which being my own eyes) and then go home and admire the pile of $3200 I’m saving.
Oh, right. I had a kid. So…not so much.
“There are lots of collectibles to find!” I’m not sure when adding tedious work to games became acceptable. I’m even less sure of when it became a selling point.
Don’t get me wrong. I like finding secrets. In an excellent game, it can give you a few extra hours of enjoyment on something you’ve beaten in practically every way imaginable otherwise. And when it’s done organically and/or offers fun rewards, it can push those 40 hour games into 60+ hour territory while still leaving you wanting more.
But more often, it’s done in the most slapdash method available. They give you a list with a bunch of greyed-out words that you want to be white. No special character conversations when you find an object. No reward for completing the list. You’d essentially achieve the same sense of victory by turning up the brightness settings on your television.
“An expansive open world to explore.” Okay. Now I’ll preface this one by saying that it’s only a bad thing about half the time. But when it’s bad, it can transform your epic fantasy adventure into little more than a walking simulator.
“The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim” is an above average example of open world success. While it didn’t necessarily manage to make the people living there look like real people who actually exist in between your visits, the world map is insane. Sure. You can beat the main game in something like a few hours if you put on your blinders and go straight ahead. But if you feel like turning over every rock and investigating every run-down shack you come across, well, let’s just say that I never finished doing it. And I’m the obsessive type.
The trick to wide open spaces is putting lots of things in it – especially things totally unrelated to the main quest. Side quests, crafting nodes and teeny tiny Easter eggs can be found almost everywhere. It’s just a matter of picking a random direction and heading that way. Or even just pointing yourself at a random bookshelf, since all the books are actually readable.
Will it be your cup of skooma? Not necessarily. Some people don’t like to read. And once you’re outfitted in top-tier gear and there’s little chance of actually finding something worthwhile in a hidden chest, I realize it loses a bit of its allure. But that still leaves treasure hunts, finding the aftermaths of interesting events and entire villages tucked away just out of sight.
Blackreach, for example, was an entire subterranean country that I just happened upon that had nothing to do with the main story.
As far as bad examples, I won’t throw any games under the bus. But there are more than a few open world games with literally nothing of interest between towns. And while the scenery is sometimes pretty to look at for a while, even that gets boring when you realize there’s no reason to wander off the main roads to go in for a closer look.
Cough. “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.” Cough.
Okay. So I will throw one game under the bus here, which I hate doing, because I actually really enjoyed the game otherwise. It was fun to play and had very visually distinct and interesting places to walk through. But it didn’t take me long to realize that was largely the extent of it – walking through them. I mean, sure, you got attacked by random enemies. Though, saying that’s actually fun is a little like saying it was fun to move around in Pokemon caves because you ran out of repel and a Zubat is attacking you every three steps.
So…maybe I have a couple games to throw under the bus there.
I’m once again trending toward a column with no solid point at the end, but it is what it is. The gist is this, though. If your game is great, you’ll have more than enough honesty available to sell it. And if it’s lousy, I admittedly understand wanting to talk it up and, you know, actually make some money off the thing you’ve been working on for the past sixteen months.
If I had anything like a point to make here, though, I think it would be a warning to not stray too far from the truth – even when it’s not pretty. Unless it happens to be the last game you plan to make, keep in mind that gamers remember. And they aren’t often kind to liars who bilked them out of $60 when the sequels come out.