Tag: video games

The Proof is in the Preview

Expectation Reality.jpg
(Left) Preview screenshot. (Right) Release day screenshot.

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.

skyrim-map
And I actually had to cut off one side of the map to make it fit.

“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.

Which sort of makes me wonder how or if they’d try marketing “No Man’s Sky 2.”

No Jack City

Author’s Note: Although it will be obvious within a few sentences (if it wasn’t already from the title), this is a negative review of the new iPhone by someone with a fairly negative view of Apple products. Wait. Now, it’s the second-newest iPhone? In the course of finishing this paragraph, I think they came out with a new one.

Author’s Second Note: Yes, that was a “New Jack City” title pun. I’ll save you the time of looking it up. It was a movie you didn’t see.

iphone-7

It’s said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And sometimes, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from itself.

I’m not sure when we got locked in these endless product cycles. I suspect it was shortly after someone realized they could make people pay for the same thing over and over again by shaming them for owning the slightly-less-than-newest thing. Much like almost everything they do, though, Apple seems to have taken that existing concept, put a coat of paint on it and made it their own.

For one reason or another, I’ve never really gotten into iPhones. Every time it’s time to upgrade my phone, there tends to be a perfectly competent alternative for about $500 less. $700 counting the cost of switching out all the cords I already have for the ones with ends that actually fit into Apple products.

More importantly, Apple uses proprietary everything. When I was considering buying an iPod, I found out that none of my existing music would work on it. As far as problems with MP3 players go, that’s…sort of a big one.

But I semi-digress, even if this is informing the greater issue at hand…

I wouldn’t go so far as saying I hate Apple. They’ve never done me any personal harm even if I don’t like how they do business, sue competitors and have a smaller tax bill than I do. And, perhaps most importantly, businesses are incapable of feeling emotion and are more or less indifferent to any feelings you have for them. Or they would be, except they aren’t capable of indifference.

For the most part, I just sit back and enjoy the annual jokes that the iPhone 7 is going to be the best thing since the iPhone 6S or whichever numbers and letters are happening this year. (Is it annual? It feels like less.) Either way, the idea is that each generation is less a leap forward than a sideways step over a puddle.

And this year, for the first time, I’m not 100% convinced it was even a step forward.

So all the little bits and pieces are better. I have no doubt of that. I’m sure it’s faster and its pictures are sharper and its sounds are crisper.

Basically, if it wasn’t straight up missing a headphone jack I bet it’d be pretty cool.

airpods

Sure. You’ve got the wireless AirPods – a missed opportunity to name a product AirBuds if I ever heard one. Or, you know, you could just shell out the extra $30 and buy an F-22 Raptor and just fly to the people or bands you want to hear.

For me, $160 (I exaggerated the price, slightly) is a lot to pay for headphones of any quality. Maybe my ears aren’t good. Maybe it’s that trained experts have routinely been unable to tell whether they were listening to music on new or five-year-old headphones. Either way, that seems like a rather large investment so a commercial can say things about their product like “richer, fuller sound” and “deep, vibrant treble.” Or whatever two adjectives and noun you want to throw together.

But unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iBerg.

I’ve seen the videos. And yes, it seems cool to have integrated voice commands or touch technology built right into them. You can make a set of wireless earbuds as advanced as you like, but they’ll still have the same problem – the users have been broken for years.

Here’s a neat little trick. Go to Google Maps and pick a spot at random where other humans might be. Now go to that place. And when you get there, say, “That was lucky. I just dropped my phone. Good thing the headphones caught it.” Proceed to watch with amazement as every other human being there explains that the exact same thing happened to them within the past year.

In this case, wireless headphones suffer the same problem as headphones with cords longer than the distance from your ears to the floor – they better at surviving swinging around near your knees than just hitting the ground.

Now, let’s try this again. Pick another spot, or ten, or a hundred. (It won’t matter.) And say, “Oh, no. I just misplaced my phone earbuds.” You’ll likely get a number of people just giving you blank stares. Eventually, a very helpful individual will ask, “Have you tried following the cord out of your audio jack? They’re probably at the end of that.”

Wireless technology has been around for decades now. The reason anything has become wireless is the same – convenience. Just like the reason other things have remained wired is the same – practicality.

Video game controllers are wireless because teenagers were sick of their parents tripping over clearly visible cords and grounding them for it. If we’d have been able to convince parents to just walk behind us, wireless controls might still be another five or ten years away. Sadly, they were pretty dead-set on walking through the two-foot gap between players and the screen, so the wires had to go.

I’m sure any number of phone companies have toyed with the idea before. “Hey. Could we somehow make headphones wireless? And is there any way to make it look like you crammed a cigarette in each ear?”

To which his boss would reply, “I understand you’ve been a bit off since your wife left you, John, but it’s been ten months. Pull yourself together.”

Only with Apple, the pitch meeting seems to have gone a different direction. “Hey. Could we somehow make headphones wireless? And is there any way small children could eat them?”

To which the guy who isn’t Steve Jobs whose name I never learned says, “Great idea! If they look really stupid we can market losing them as a perk.”

And with Bluetooth, at least if your child ate them you’d know exactly where they were.

In summary, it feels like the new iPhone was designed by someone who’d never actually used a phone before. Sure. When it comes to specifications all the numbers are higher, but it seems like one of those strange marketing gimmicks like “the phone for people who don’t use phones.” Which seems clever until you realize, phone users are the only people buying phones.

Of course, people are still going to buy it. And the EarPegs, or whatever they’re called. So it is what it is.

And if all of this was too much reading, you can see the issue summarized here:

Oh, and the credit for that goes to Collegehumor.

Review – “Journey” (PS4)

So I have Playstation Plus, which gives me somewhere in the area of four to seven free games on the first Tuesday of every month. I figure it’s high time I started using it.

Playstation Plus does tend to focus mostly on older games. As an intelligent person, I see the sense in this, as giving your game away for free on day one is a pretty crummy marketing strategy. As a gamer, grumble grumble, I want new free games.

There’s not much point in reviewing games that have been out for months or even years by the time of their free release. Reviewers have already said pretty much everything there is to say within a few days of any game being released. In the case of preview copies, reviewers cut that time down to about a week before the release.

All that being said, let me immediately break my own rule and review Journey.

journey

The Background. Journey first came out in Spring of 2012 and was developed by Thatgamecompany. And no, that isn’t a typo. That’s their actual studio name. Which I guess makes sense, because using no creativity whatsoever to come up with their name gave them plenty to spare for their actual games.

Though they haven’t made many thus far, they have a solid pedigree as the people who made that game where your little thing ate smaller little things (Flow) and that game where you controlled flower petals in a breeze (Flower). Again, none of the preceding things were typos.

Like the previous two games, Journey is a short game with no dialogue, no onscreen meters and only the barest of story lines. The graphics are stylized, looking beautiful without wandering too close to actual realism. Except for your character’s robe and scarf, which animate well and flow about in the wind believably. If nothing else, I can say that this title revolutionized scarf and robe physics in video games.

In the same way that Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball revolutionized…um…jiggle physics, except without the long sigh when you say it.

The Basics. The game starts you off as a nameless robed figure in the middle of a ruin-filled desert where you’ll spend most of your time playing. After climbing a small hill you’re presented with a view of the glowing mountain in the distance. And that’s…pretty much all there is to it. There’s no story or anything else to otherwise motivate you to go there, except that it’s constantly looming there in the distance looking all enticing and whatnot.

With so many games beating you over the head with your character’s motivations (which are oftentimes stupid or impossible to relate to) or throwing long, convoluted stories at you (which are oftentimes boring or impossible to understand), Journey was honestly a breath of fresh air.

The same objective is in sight almost the entire game with no need for detours. There are no sidequests to rescue supporting characters. No collect-a-thons to pad out the game time. Just a robed figure. A glowing mountain. And a desert between them.

There are some story pieces thrown in here and there in the form of visions and murals, yes, but because there’s no talking, almost everything you see is open to interpretation. While it’s fairly clear that something very bad went down from the paintings you find, that much is already clear to anyone who notices the ruins almost everywhere. The clues are subtle without being intentionally vague, meaning that any two players might have played very different stories on their way through the game.

The ending was admittedly open to some interpretation but by the time you reach that point you sort of get the idea that it doesn’t really matter. It’s a fulfilling enough closure that you don’t feel cheated. And, as the title suggests, the point of it all was the journey – not the destination.

Or, at least, I think so. The cynical part of me says that a lot of the praise this game gets for being philosophically deep could have just been people filling in the blanks themselves. I suppose we’ll never really know.

The Rest. Gameplay itself is simple and straightforward. You have a scarf that lets you jump and glide through the air slowly. As you progress your scarf will grow longer, allowing you to jump higher and glide longer. You’ll slide down slopes in certain sections. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.

There’s is a mechanic that seamlessly adds other players to your game as semi-permanent companions on your quest. I’ve heard it can be very fun and you can grow very attached to these people, but they’re an entirely optional experience. Unfortunately, I had a sum total of three people appear – two of which were too busy screwing around to move forward and one who kept me waiting ten minutes while they failed the same simple puzzle over and over again.

I inevitably left all three behind and didn’t look back, though your mileage may vary if you find people who are helpful and/or competent.

While I wouldn’t say the game is very challenging, I personally feel that it’s as hard as it needed to be. It’s enough to engage the player without bogging down the straightforward narrative. I don’t think the developers wanted the video game portion to detract from the story, if that makes sense.

The simple story and soundtrack get you very invested in a character you essentially know nothing about (aside from them being a robe and scarf enthusiast). The result is that you’re given swells of excitement, fear and hope as you get closer and closer to the summit. And it leaves you wondering why games that give you so much more emotional fodder to work with rarely provide the same highs and lows as Journey.

(Except for “The Last of Us.” I have paprika in my eye. I was making deviled eggs. Shut up! I’m not crying. You’re crying.)

That all said, I realize that a two-hour game with very little story and possibly less payoff for an ending might be a hard sell for some. I liked the cinematic feel of the game and its ability to get me to feel things, but I also understand that some of you are dead inside. And that’s fine. I mean, I guess it’ll just hurt less when your pets die.

Final Thoughts. I honestly haven’t come up with a concrete scoring system for reviews yet. (My best idea thus far is a sliding scale of “not fun at all” to “amazingly fun” atop a scale of “short” to “long,” but I have to tinker with it.) In the case of this game, I would even hesitate to rate it by the same scale as other games because it just is so fundamentally different as a playing experience.

The Verdict. Though not exactly rollicking fun to play, the game is nonetheless absolutely worth experiencing from beginning to end. Just prepare for the feels.

If the Gloves (or Robotic Legs) Fit…

I grew up in an era of video games that left a lot to the imagination.

Okay. To be fair, my first system was an Atari 2600. It’s underselling things quite a bit to say that only a lot of imagination was involved. Most of those games were about 2% blocky graphics and 98% imagination.

Yars Revenge

Except for “Yar’s Revenge” (where you were some kind of…wasp maybe?) and “Q*Bert” (where I just have no idea), which were somehow even worse.

By the Genesis era, things were a bit better. Except that I owned a Sega Genesis and not a Super Nintendo like everyone else, of course. But I guess it was okay. I mean, we had Sonic and…um. Hmmm. Sonic? Oh. And the Streets of Rage trilogy.

I’ve been around long enough to see a lot of the old characters move into the third dimension (some more smoothly than others) and taking on a little more detail than in their early pixelated sprite days. It’s answered a lot of my questions. Though, surprisingly, even with modern artwork I still have a lot of questions about some of these characters.

I’ll start with an easy one.

Knuckles

Does Knuckles have fingers under those gloves? Or is it some kind of weird flipper, like the Penguin in “Batman Returns?” I mean, that would certainly go a long way towards explaining why he hid it under a glove.

For that matter, are those spikes part of his hand, or attached to the glove? It’s about twenty years later and I’m not any closer to knowing. I realize I could worry about things that actually matter, but I was kind of saving all my productive thinking for after I figured out every video game mystery over the past twenty-five years.

Oh. And yes, I realize Knuckles has gloves with individual fingers in Sonic Boom, but that doesn’t really prove anything. For one, that’s an alternate universe. Two, I’m kind of skeptical of using Sonic Boom to prove any point, really.

Star Fox Legs

Does the entire Star Fox crew have robotic legs? And if so, there’s the obvious follow-up question. What happened to their non-robotic legs?

I’ve heard plenty of theories over the years ranging from horrible accidents to having their legs amputated so they could handle G-forces better. (That’s not the way blood works, by the way.) And while every one of those theories acts like they have concrete proof, thus far it’s all hearsay. Granted, some of it seems like fairly educated hearsay, but until I get some official word, I’d take any of those theories with a grain of salt. Especially that one about Arwing chemtrails sterilizing minorities.

My personal favorite theory at the moment is that they need robotic legs to run down that long-ass disco hallway in the intro. Seriously. How long is that hallway? They’re running at a full-out sprint for 26 seconds and it’s still going.

I guess it was either cut off their legs and give them robot parts, or not put the hangar on the opposite side of the ship from the crew quarters for some reason.

Samus

What’s the deal with Samus Aran from Metroid? I’ve heard that if you beat the game fast enough you get to see a Samus with no helmet. Unfortunately, my first playthrough clocked in at about 260,000 hours, which apparently wasn’t good enough. Yeesh. Those games really were “Nintendo hard,” am I right?

Then I had to let the system rest. By the time I turned the Nintendo off it was hot enough to carry on a localized form of fusion usually reserved for the cores of stars.

But now, after thirty years, I finally get to see what sort of weird alien Samus is. Maybe, like, a green dude or something. Hold on. Wow. This guy has really long hair. And a very skimpy bikini. Maybe it’s just what they wear in space.

Wait a minute…

P.S. Oh, also, for the three people who remember Yar’s Revenge, I found modern artwork for it. Check this weirdness out.

Yars Revenge3

So I guess you’re not a wasp? You’re, like, a guy in a mech…or…yeah. I’m not seeing it.

Where You Go, I Cannot Follow…

Game Dice

I don’t want to get into the whole argument as to whether one is born a nerd or it’s a choice they actively make.

I lean towards the former, if only because as far as my memories go back, I was doing something I would have probably hidden from my wife (if she hadn’t also been a nerd). There was the obvious stuff, like being a little too into video games. Or anime. But there were earlier signs, like channeling my early writing energies into so, so much Sonic the Hedgehog fan-fiction. (I might still hide that one from my wife, actually.)

Or possibly teaching myself how to read just to spite the teachers who said I couldn’t be taught by reading every book in our house. And consequently reading the first Wheel of Time book at the age of eight because it had the coolest cover.

People would assume, then, that I like anything and everything that’s even remotely nerdy. And for the most part that’s true. But even I have my limits.

I’ll start with probably the nerdiest thing I’m involved in and then move on from there.

Subtitled anime. I’ve actually never understood why some people just couldn’t watch anime in the original Japanese. I sort of get the argument some people make about not wanting to read while they watch a movie, but only if that’s how they feel about everything.

If you refuse to watch “KonoSuba” (arguably one of the funniest anime series ever made) and then turn around to watch “Les Miserables” (not arguably just really, really boring) in the original French then you, sir (or madame) are a filthy liar.

Japanese Pop Nightcore music. Okay. I realize I was supposed to start the list of things too nerdy for even me here, but I just remembered this one, and it’s probably a bit worse than subtitled anime.

In my defense…well, I don’t need a defense. Nightcore music is awesome. And some English song lyrics are cringe-worthy, at best. (That’s a whole other column, though. Stay tuned.)  Musical lyrics attained perfection in the Queen era and, to a slightly lesser degree, during William Shatner’s on-again, off-again interest in spoken word albums. In short, I’d much rather have no idea what anyone was saying than hear them say something really, really stupid.

Okay. Seriously. Now we’re starting the list…

Tabletop games. Let me preface this by saying that I really want to enjoy these. I should also explain that a good part of why I never got into them was because I’ve been perpetually isolated from other nerds that might even play them with me. I’ve had exactly one real experience playing Dungeons & Dragons, and it didn’t go well.

I was playing as the typical rogue/thief character and exploring the depths of one ancient ruin or another when I found a door that was locked and couldn’t be opened. I later learned that this was “flavor text” by the dungeon master just meant to flesh out the scenery. I took it as a challenge. And, after a streak of rather uncanny luck in my dice rolls (three 20’s in a row), I’d managed to pick the lock and wedge the door open so it didn’t fall again. The dungeon master promptly conjured up some chest to be in that room and told me to just loot the thing and stop derailing his story.

I then proceeded to bash my skull open on the door because I didn’t crouch low enough and died due to a rather uncannily bad streak of dice rolls.

It’s certainly not something I’d mind trying again. But for the moment, it’s not something that’s really feasible for me. And it’s probably the one item on this list I honestly regret not getting into.

Live Action Role-Playing (or LARPing). Basically, you take tabletop gaming, remove the tabletop and then go outside instead.

Sometimes you dress up in cosplay first.

I have nothing against it, strictly-speaking. My only real issue is that its one of those things that requires all the individual gears to be moving in the same direction. All you need is one person who decides they’d rather never be hit and it turns into a bad day playing pretend at recess. “I throw fireball! It hit you and…” “Nope. You missed.” “Um…I throw a lightning bolt! It paralyzed you.” “Nuh-uh. It made me stronger!”

My problem with this is, I had too many friends at recess who were “that kid.” If we were playing superheroes, they were Superman. Oh, and kryptonite couldn’t hurt him. Also, he had a gun for some reason? It made my Batman infected with the Venom symbiote look downright reasonable in comparison.

Latching onto some scrap of nerdy territory and then judging everyone who wanders by. When I grew up, being a nerd wasn’t socially acceptable like it is today. You had to do that sort of thing on the down-low.

So I understand why some people who have defended comics, anime, etc., for decades being a little annoyed that now everyone and their kid dressed as a stormtrooper is getting involved. These people put a lot of hard work into being part of a counter-culture that everyone hated them for. It’s like driving in the slow lane for miles and then having someone cut over at the last moment to skip all the waiting – except replace “miles” with “thirty-six years.”

And “waiting” with “having goat blood poured on you at prom.”

I don’t believe in judging people as being “true fans” or “real gamers” or the like, because I want these things to be welcoming and hospitable to newcomers. Because as much as some people might hate people not as devoted as they are getting involved in their interests, they should just be happy that this is something they can openly enjoy now without being stuffed into a locker. That or, you know, the goat blood thing.

Not to mention, there’s always someone nerdier out there. So before you go judging someone for only watching Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, remember there are people out there who could just as easily put you to shame. Only they won’t, because they’re too busy actually enjoying their lives.

No Man’s Buy

No Mans Sky.jpg

No Man’s Buy. See what I did there? Eh? Eh? Next time I see you in person, remind me to elbow you suggestively. That’ll really drive the pun home.

I should start this by saying, no. Mercifully, I didn’t end up buying “No Man’s Sky.” As someone who buys games on day one maybe once or twice a year, I tend to put a lot of research into my decisions. The truth is, I was really excited about it from the very first announcement trailer. It was only in the week or three prior to launch that I started seeing a lot of red flags that suggested I might find it more exciting to put $60 into a long-term savings bond.

And post-launch, it’s gotten considerably worse.

If you’ve been listening to the rumblings online (or plan to finish this sentence), you’ll know that most major retailers are offering unrestricted refunds for those dissatisfied with their purchase. That’s the sort of response generally reserved for games that launched with massive bugs that made it unplayable for one or more consoles. It only gets worse when you realize that it does happen to be buggy, in addition to just very disappointing.

So, how did we get here exactly? How could such an ambitious project end up disappointing everyone? And how could exploring an infinite Universe end up so tragically boring?

The real question is, how could it not end up disappointing and boring?

Consider this lesson on expectation. If I walked up to you and said that I was about to dragon kick you in the stomach and then run off, I doubt you’d be disappointed. Well, I mean, you’d be understandably upset, sure. Nobody likes kicks to the stomach. But after you got up and brushed yourself off, you’d probably very grudgingly agree that, yes, I delivered everything I promised. I might even get a decent Yelp review.

(Assuming people still use Yelp?)

My long, rambly and dragon-kick-y point is, it’s very easy to meet low expectations. Despite being a very small developer, Hello Games tried to downplay that aspect. Instead, they emphasized exploring a huge galaxy that would take longer than your feeble existence to explore even a small part of, with new discoveries around every corner, rich environments and deep, engaging gameplay….yada yada yada. You get my point.

That game was never going to happen. Very likely, that game never will happen. Because if it did, not only would it be the last game you’d ever need to buy (which isn’t good for video game profits down the line) but it would be a significantly better alternative to your everyday life (which isn’t good for humanity as a species).

Given this is the case, all that’s left is a boring slog through a painfully limitless Universe. Think about it. Would you rather have a small but exciting game set entirely in the automotive section of a K-Mart? Or a dull, repetitive one set in a 1:1 scale version of the real Universe?

In fact, it’s strange how a lack of interesting gameplay makes slogans meant to promote the game sound more like torture. “Explore a limitless Universe with fun, engaging gameplay! It never ends!” Versus, “Explore a limitless Universe collecting the same things over and over! It never ends. EVER.”

“Now give us the access codes!”

That being said, I’m not necessarily blaming players for having high expectations. (It’s sort of what we players do.) In all likelihood, Hello Games (the developer) is going to have to eat its share of the blame pie. Players can have, like, a thin slice. But don’t fill up on blame pie. You’ll spoil your dinner.

The thing is, though, is that I don’t think the developers did bad work. I’ll limit their failure to creating more hype than they could deliver on and a failure to understand that a large scale exacerbates problems with repetitive gameplay rather than helping. But I love that they tried. Because while the game they delivered feels like a tech demo rather than a full game, it’s admittedly the seed of a very interesting idea or two or fifty.

Imagine a huge Universe (albeit one smaller than the one in “No Man’s Sky,” so people could actually explore it all in a human lifespan) with a meaningful plot, epic space battles, interesting gameplay beyond just resource collection, different factions (perhaps including a huge, unstoppable evil force threatening to consume it all), real customization, rare items to find, so on and so forth. Or…you know…like, all that, but in a really good Star Wars game.

So, yeah. Pretty much, I’m saying they need to sell off to Disney immediately. And then I can explore an enormous Star Wars Universe with my lovable crew of misfits.

When my savings bond matures I would so buy that game…

An Excess of NX (Rumors)

Nintendo-NX

Assuming you’ve been online for at least the past fifteen minutes, you’ve probably seen the latest seven or eight leaks for the NX – Nintendo’s upcoming home console.

Okay. That’s an exaggeration. But only just.

Since the NX was first announced, there hasn’t been much official information available. And as almost anyone knows, in the absence of official word, a vacuum is filled by those willing to risk legal action by posting leaked pictures and product specs. Unfortunately, if all of these are to be taken as simultaneously true, then the NX is a seventeen-foot-tall cyborg Tyrannosaurus Rex with a built-in Blu-Ray player that plays flash cartridges by plugging them into its time-traveling water filter.

Of course, it’s just as likely that most (or all) of these supposed leaks aren’t real leaks at all. But (gasp) that would mean people are outright lying online just for the attention. And I’m simply not willing to accept such a bleak worldview.

Whatever the case, there’s no denying that with all these leaks and rumors, it’s gotten hard to keep track of everything. So I’ve done the legwork for you and gathered them all here. You’re welcome.

1) The NX will have the graphical power of a late-model Ford F-150.

2) The NX will wear band shirts for bands it’s never seen in concert. And it didn’t even buy the CDs. It just went on Pirate Bay. Ugh.

3) The NX’s favorite John Hughes movies will be “Maid in Manhattan.” Yeah. I looked it up when I heard the rumor. He seriously wrote that one.

4) The NX will prefer “going Dutch” on dates.

5) The NX will be vegan, but won’t be all in your face about it.

6) The NX will play so-called “video games” using “storage media” via some form of “controller peripheral.” Or so the rumors go. (Seeing Nintendo’s track record, this might be the rumor I’m least sure about.)

7) The NX will be filled with rich, creamy caramel.

8) The NX will be innovative while maintaining a classic feel. Whatever makes people buy it. Or maybe Nintendo will just print “We Made the Wii, Remember?” on all the boxes.

9) The NX’s grandfather is sort of racist. But it’s, like, that folksy racism. And you’re like, “Well, it’s not cool, but as long as he’s only around family it’s sort of funny. I mean, he grew up in a different time, right?”

10) However it pans out, the NX almost certainly won’t be the worst system Nintendo ever made. As long as it’s not the Wii 2 or X or some garbage like that. If that’s the case, God help us.

I realize that list sounds a bit negative and…it is. Look, I’m not what you’d call a fanboy of any system. So I’d be more than happy for Nintendo to make another smash hit like the Wii. But when I say “like the Wii” I don’t mean “literally, the Wii again but with a weird tablet.” Nor do I mean, “like the Wii, in that it relies entirely on some half-assed gimmick no one was asking for.”

So, rather than concluding with some grim assessment of the system’s future failure (like I did for the Wii U half a year before its release), I’ll just say, good luck. And I hope only the good rumors I’ve heard are true.

Basically, not the one where it’s portable and can be taken apart like a pizza so two people can play.