First Draft

Nintendo has been in the news a lot lately. Much of the internet would have us believe that they have been in the news for their lemming like dash towards the cliff of obscurity. Of course these kinds of headlines catch our attention and provide very "clickable" for the sites that publish many of these stories. But, when one reads through the digital garbage piles and starts to look at the non-traditional articles that are being written about Nintendo we see that Nintendo is a company that is daring to change the way that we think about video games: Yes! While continuing to make the same games over-and-over.

Laura Hudson of Wired.com put together an article today that shows how Nintendo is broadening their audience and the development team behind Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

How?

By including more female developers on the team; half to be exact. Aya Kyogoku, one of the directors on the newest Animal Crossing, was completely surprised when she found out how much the dynamics change when you have more female input into projects. Here is what she was quoted saying in the Wired article;

Having worked on this team where there were almost equal numbers of men and women made me realize that [diversity] can open you up to hearing a greater variety of ideas and sharing a greater diversity of ideas. Only after having working on a project like this, with a team like this one, was I able to realize this.

We can deduce from that last sentence that this kind of inclusive culture wasn't the norm for Ms. Kyogoku.

Now, of course, the stereotype is that Japanese society and, as a microcosm, the video game industry in Japan is very sexist. That is true. But, it is also no less true of American, Canadian, Argentinean, British, Chinese, Irish, or Iranian developers. What makes this old Japanese company different is that they are trying to get the message out that they are taking steps to make the industry more inclusive. The Wii and DS showed us that Nintendo wants to broaden their audience. We see that Nintendo from their GDC talk that Nintendo also wants to broaden the traditional concept of who works on games. Yet, anybody who follows the video game industry knows that this doesn't matter to the fairweather Nintendo fans that write about games on the internet.

The video game blogosphere that support and contribute to sites around the internet cannot see the minutiae of Nintendo's actions. When Nintendo announced their DS, they scoffed at the inane puppy petting simulator called Nintendogs. But, they were quiet when millions around the world purchased the game and system in droves. The constant commenters bitched and moaned about the Wii when it debuted; the name, the controller, the lack of Mature titles, etc. (Which they never bought when they did release; e.g. Madworld, House of the Dead: Overkill, and No More Heroes to name a few.) They continued to bitch about it for the next two years when they couldn't find it in any store because their granny was playing it at the nursing home. And these are the people who have created the most recent brouhaha concerning Nintendo's most recent financial problems.

It would be wrong if I tried to say that Nintendo is enjoying as much success now as it has in the past. But no company is! We are living in a different economy.

The biggest problem for Nintendo right now isn't a monetary problem; it's a PR problem. They are fighting against the image that the internet is giving Nintendo. They are fighting against young white men from Western countries who are dominating the discussion around the viability of Nintendo's decisions: past, present, and future. The audience that Nintendo is courting isn't the WASPs who post on IGN or Gamespot; they are courting grannys, girls, and people who don't go to IGN or Neo-gaf everyday. If you are one of those people who say "When is Nintendo going to make a Call of Duty style game?" or "When is Nintendo going to have GTA?" then you have missed the point of every decision that Nintendo has made in the last 10 years. You are not the target audience anymore! You are not the majority of the market share anymore!

Nintendo is doing the best thing for them right now. They are trying to take back the microphone. Mr. Iwata is speaking directly to the audience through their Nintendo Direct videos. They hit back at the naysayers after the last financial call by giving away a free copy of Pokemon with the purchase of a new 3DS and a first-party Nintendo game. Nintendo is doing what the video game enthusiast audience is not doing; it is changing.

I really hope that Nintendo can help change the conversation; change the players, change the topic, and change the assumption that the Western market has colonized the video game market.

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Are you ready for micro-transactions in Gran Turismo 6? Well Sony is!

This is the Puente Nuevo, or New Bridge, and that is a Ferrari. New meets...old?

Sony announced that Gran Turismo 6 will have micro-transactions. They did not give any information about how much these credits would cost in dollars or I guess I should say euros, since the announcement was made on the European PlayStation.Blog. This is what Sony had to say about the credits,

(F)rom launch at retail you’ll find a new option for building your ultimate fantasy car collection in-game credits will be purchasable through PS Store or your friendly local retailer at the following denominations: 500K, 1 million, 2.5 million or 7 million credits which you’ll be able to apply in-game for cars and parts. To know how much your credits will get you, take a look at the menu of choices. For 1 million credits you could get all the cars below.

Nobody is surprised that Sony is moving in this direction, especially considering how much money Forza makes on DLC and how well iRacing.com has been doing recently. Sony has been talking about doing this for years, so this shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that they finally dropped the hammer. The real surprise will be whether GT players will fall into the DLC trap that catches so many of us with one game or another. We will all have to wait with bated breath to see how much they will be charging for these credits, and if their player base is willing to pay what they are asking. (Especially, when we keep in mind Patrick's great article about Skullgirls DLC.)

Along with this announcement, Sony announced that Gran Turismo 6 Standard Edition and Special Edition are available for pre-order on PSN. In the bulky Special Edition, you’ll get the full GT6 Game, 20 extra cars (Torque, Performance, Adrenaline and Velocity packs), custom PSN avatars, paint chips, race suits and race helmets. If you do choose to pre-order the game on PSN you will get the cars included in the Precision Pack for free as well.

These cars are:

  • GT-R NISMO GT3 15th Anniversary Edition
  • R8 LMS ultra 15th Anniversary Edition
  • Corvette Stingray (C7) 15th Anniversary Edition
  • Model S Signature Performance 15th Anniversary Edition
  • Viper GTS 15th Anniversary Edition
Precision Pack

20 extra cars seems like a lot of cars, plus the five in the precision pack. This almost seems like it might be a season pass in disguise. If Sony is giving away 25 free cars for Special Edition purchasers, then it might be a little premature for people to freak out about their DLC plans.

I am pretty excited for Gran Turismo 6. I spent a good amount of time playing Gran Turismo 5. GT5 was a great game, but it did have some glaring flaws. I think, in the end, the amount of time that the game spent in development compared with the overall quality of the game leads me to believe that the game was probably an overall failure for Sony. Hopefully, GT6 will be a step back in the right direction for the GT series.

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The Book of Mormon: A review

I recently went to the Orpheum Theater's production of The Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon plays with themes from South Park their long running television series on Comedy Central; the silliness of religion, American rubes who in the end realize their way of thinking is skewed towards their small worldview, and comedy that hits home so hard that you will cringe. The Book of Mormon is not the duo's first musical production, but it is the first to win multiple Tonys.

The story follows Elder Kevin Price (Nic Rouleau), a missionary who knows that god will reward him for his steadfast faith, and Elder Arnold Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), a bumbling, lying young follower who has never even read The Book of Mormon. The mismatched duo are paired together to spread the word of god in Uganda.

The musical starts with a wonderful opening song “Hello!” The song introduces Mormonism to the audience. (I assume that most people who attend The Book of Mormon are aware of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) This number sets much of the tone for the rest of the musical. The opening scenes set up that these 'Elders' are being trained to travel the world and convert the dark skinned heathens, but these 19 year old kids, who have yet to experience life themselves, are grossly unprepared for their mission.

When the Elders reach Uganda they are greeted by Nabulungi (Syesha Mercado) who takes the Elders from the train station to their shack. It is during this time that the audience is sees the juxtaposition between the heavenly, faultless Salt Lake City, Utah (Or, as Nabulungi says, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti.”) and the poor AIDS ravished village that is being tyrannized by the comically named General Butt-Fucking-Naked who is obsessed with female circumcision. (Google the real: General Butt Naked.)

Elder Price (Nic Rouleau) converts us all into believers.

It is here that the cherubim Elder Price starts to see the cracks in the church walls. His fellow missionaries have yet to convert a single person, in the hilarious song “Turn It Off,” the missionaries teach Elder Price and Elder Cunningham about their surefire method to dealing with difficult situations and 'un-godly' urges: Just turn it off like a light switch.

In the second act, Elder Price runs away from the daunting task that he feels that he does not deserve. Elder Cunningham has committed himself to baptizing some of the natives, before the Mission President comes to evaluate the completely unsuccessful mission. Elder Cunningham is so concerned with converting the villagers that he makes up his own stories about Joseph Smith.

Elder Cunningham, a good natured yet unprepared and undereducated trope of Joe America, baptizes the whole village, but not before 'baptizing' young Nabulungi under the stars one romantic night.

Elder Price comes back to the fold after Elder Cunningham finds him swilling coffee in a local cafe. Elder Cunningham informs Elder Price that he has converted the missionaries and that Elder Price should come back to the village before the Mission President arrives to evaluate their mission.

The final half of the second act is a mix of broken promises, angels coming to Earth on the Starship Enterprise, reconciliation, excommunication, and redemption.

The Book of Mormon does a great job of laughing at the ridiculous stories and practices of Mormon people. (There is a great line in one of the songs that mentions that Black members still were not allowed into the church until the 1978.) The musical also does a good job of redeeming the two protagonists and showing that anybody can do some good in the world.

The music is outrageously funny and many of the numbers sounded like they were inspired by other musicals and pop music. Nic Rouleau blew me away from the beginning with his powerful voice. Syesha Mercado's bouncy, inquisitive, courageous portrayal of Nabulungi was a treat every time she appeared on stage. Also, Giles Terera, who played Nabulungi's father, was extremely funny. The only member of the cast that I wasn't particularly impressed with was Chris Jarman, who played the General. He seemed quiet and his energy was well below the energy of the rest of the cast.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker are the voices of a whole generation of people. With The Book of Mormon, they are speaking to a whole new audience who may never have watched an episode of South Park. The humor was crass, the script was painfully funny, and the subject matter was taboo. I heard a woman behind me after the show comment, “Wow! If Barb was here, she would have walked right out.” I would like to think that there were a few Barbs, Joes, or Ishmaels there that were shocked into enjoyment.

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PS4: No Streaming Media Sharing (DLNA)?? Wha???

The ULTIMATE Frequently Asked Questions for North America brought to you buy the PlayStation.Blog.

There has been a lot of shit-slinging in the past months between Sony and Microsoft. Mostly because of policies that Microsoft intended on implementing into their new XBONE console upset their consumers and the company ended up giving in to the consumers' demands. After the community lashed back at Microsoft over things like not being able to use used games and Kinect's mandatory plug-in policy, the company quickly corrected the issues. It looks like Sony, the company that has been goading Microsoft recently after it's continued backpedaling in the recent months, might be doing some backpedaling soon. (* I guess, at least Sony documents the points at which they might backpedal by marking them with an *.)

According to the PlayStation.blog's "PS4: The Ultimate FAQ - North America,"

This means that you will NOT be able to use your PS4 as a streaming box at launch. Of course, Sony did mark their caveat at the bottom, but we know that a simple little asterisk is no match for a seething internet fanboy. I think that this decision is a bad revelation one week before launch. It's bad mojo. Consumers will not be able to use MP3s, or audio CDs of any kind on the system. The system will allow in game playback using the Sony proprietary music service Music Unlimited.

I don't know how many people bought into Microsoft's Zune Marketplace approach to digital entertainment. I know that the movies that they sold did very well for them, but I am not sure how many people pay for the service or just rent on a per product basis. But, I do know that Microsoft would love to pull Windows Media Player out of the XBONE. (Shit! I never got it to work on my XBox. I used Nullriver Software's Connect 360 and it always worked for me.) Microsoft would love to have everybody buy a la carte from their market place or buy into their monthly service.

I just hope that they provide these services at a reasonable price and that Sony keeps 'exploring possibilities.' Sony recently has been like Barack Obama when he became president five years ago, he rode into office on a wave of hopes and dreams. But, recently he has been fallin' off and those hopes and dreams that we all had are buried under debt and broken promises. Sony, too, looks to be falling towards the sea like Icarus. Don't be getting too close to the sun Sony. You might be swimming in the kiddie pool with Nintendo soon.

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Can I get a Witness? Huh?!

Look up 'lush' in the dictionary!

I just did some updating to the wiki on The Witness page. Today was the first time that I have heard about the game, but it looks beautiful and the mechanics intrigue me. The game is set to come out on PC and PS4.

Jonathan Blow said in an interview on the Playstation.Blog, that The Witness was going to be an open world puzzle game. Now, with the puzzles being attached to doors and things that probably hide keys, in the same vein that Myst did it's Open World Thang, I am convinced that the world will have open world aspects but also be shuttered in many ways too.

The only thing that has me a little worried is that Blow said he went out to make an 8 hour game, but this game is more like 25 - 40 hours, depending on how long you want to meander in this type of scenery. Now, I will spend 25 - 40 hours playing Plants vs. Zombies. I will even spend 25 - 1000 hours playing games like Tetris, Lumines, or Puzzle Quest. I am worried that this game is going to have too much story to keep me interested in a puzzle game for 25 - 40 hours. Puzzle games are intrinsically 'pick-up-and-play.' Braid had a lot of story chocked into a pretty short game. I hope that this game is able to keep me interested for such a long time, or the story is accessible enough that I can enjoy this game at a leisurely pace.

I'm excited to see what this game is all about. It looks like it could be a beautiful game to play. Jonathan Blow has proved that he can make insightful, fun, nostalgic games once. Here's hoping he can bring back those elements in The Witness. I just hope that he can bring some other elements in since this game is stacking up to be 2 - 5x longer than Braid.

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Nintendo is releasing a special Pokemon at 200 Namco Amusement arcades in Japan - Oct 12 - Dec 10

We all know that people love Pokémon. It has been a phenomenon for a long time now. It is still crazy popular in the west, but in it's fatherland of Japan it is an old standby that never falters. Pokemon has kept up it's popularity through the years and, with the newest release on 3DS, it is converting a whole new generation of players.

According to #'s twitter account,

famitsu
“ナムコのお店でDS”で『ポケットモンスター X・Y』キャンペーン開催 http://t.co/iaZ4zLwcNs
10/10/13 4:20 AM

if you go to one of the 200 Namco Amusements located across Japan between October 12, 2013 and December 10, 2013, connect to the #, answer a quiz, and you will be added into a lottery (for the chance) to win a (”メガバシャーモ”になれる“アチャモ”)Achamo that will turn into a MEGA Bashamo. Now, since everybody can't win the special Pokemon, you might also win other prizes based on location.

It looks like Nintendo is getting back to the glory days of making those of us who live overseas supremely jealous. If you want this special Pokemon, get yourself to Japan before the Fukushima reactor leak hits Tokyo and we get Neo Tokyo.

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Vita TV vs. The World

How can you say no to that controller?

Sony just keeps on jamming it's over confident sh'long into the mouths of Microsoft and Nintendo. It's like one of those dark movies that you find on that porn site that blinks awake at the end of a very bad tab opening bonanza. I never really thought that they would start going after Nintendo, because - come on - they are really just sitting halfway in a drain pipe hole and they really didn't need Sony coming over and kicking them a little farther into the whole. I really thought that the two Japanese companies would be really showing the solidarity for one another that is so prevalent in Japanese culture.

It seems like this new Sony is finally moving towards the company many Westerners have been begging Sony and Nintendo to become for years. Sony seems to have picked up on the Western business practices of Sir. Sir Howard Stringer. They seem more nimble and they are poised to take on the burgeoning online, indie loving Western market. Nintendo on the other hand is still trying to hold onto that Samurai past. They still think that they can run their business like an auto company, instead of running it like a highly technical, fast paced electronics company of the future.

外人? どこ?

Nintendo seems to be stuck in the 1980's where that "crazy Japanese" corporate structure was still a novel idea. But, the industry isn't trending that way anymore. Look at Shigeru Miyamoto, he is still the main shot caller at Nintendo and he is pushing these family experiences that get everybody around the TV together. But, that is not how people play video games anymore. Not even in Japan. Japan is trending towards mobile and the west is trending towards online games.

Miyamoto-san: Starting to look like a hobbit!

The new PlayStation Vita looks awesome. I really think if they can woo some services their way, if they can push their PlayStation Plus program as much more of a monthly download service, and if they could partner with cable TV or Direct TV in America this could be a great move for Sony.

If they don't do some of these things then this is going to turn into the PSP Slim.

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Auteurs...

Video games are just starting to get a grasp of the idea that the developers are going to been seen as auteurs. With the explosion of indie games within the last 10 years or so, we can see that video games have reached those pretentious beginnings of any artform. Publishers and developers are really going to have to go through some changes to bring these indie developers into studio style design. At this last E3, I heard so many times that Sony is really courting the development teams behind the indie games scene. Everybody was quick to point out that Microsoft had people around talking to the indie guys, but, most people agreed, Sony was really rubbing elbows anywhere and everywhere.

After watching the trailer for Mirror's Edge 2, I noticed that the developers behind this game really know that they are speaking to a hardcore, well informed audience that really wanted to see the return of this game. I think it is a real testament to EA wanting to make EA Digital Illusions CE into a powerhouse that this game was even green-lit. Hopefully, that final message ("Coming...when it's ready.") that shows after the trailer foreshadows the way EA will act as a publisher this coming generation. Hell, it could just be a brazen attempt at appealing to the market, but I guess we will be finding out soon.

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Japanese mind games

Pull/Push booooyyy!

I finally just bought a 3DS. My old DS Lite shit out on me a couple of months ago. I either rode her to hard or in her last year or so I forgot all about her and she withered up and died. I tried to resuscitate her back to consciousness with a new battery from Amazon, but that spark just wasn't there anymore. She just kept on running out on me.

My new Nintendo 3DS is a Mint x White version and the first thing I did was purchase a 2000 Yen Nintendo 3DS eShop card so I could get that Pushmo that people recommended so fiercely. The tutorial levels really didn't do a good job of showing off what the game really has in lethal doses. It is perfectly understandable that the tutorial levels would be bland and easy to pass, but the designs should at least be fun and engaging. I guess Nintendo thought that most people would at least get past the tutorial and move on to the first set of interesting puzzles.

These kids know FantaVision kicks ass! It might not have been the best game to get for launch..but 100 Yen in a bargain bin...

It was during this second level that I started to see so much of Picross in Pushmo's design. Also by linking these two really addictive, fun games, I started to list all of the great Japanese puzzle games that have come out. Pokémon Puzzle League, Puyo Puyo, Money Puzzle Exchanger, Lumines, FantaVision (Fuck you! FantaVision was good!) I could probably fill a few pages about all of the great puzzle games that have come out of Japan.

The mechanics make the game fun to play; they aren't nearly as easy as Picross, but mixed with the 3DS' screen they are enough for now. I am sure that Nintendo will iterate on the controls for the second game.

Now, like many people I also can see Nintendo swirling down a drain. Great puzzle games cannot save the company. Nintendo should be courting indie developers to get more games like Pushmo on the 3DS. I don't know if the US Nintendo 3DS eShop is as barren as the Japanese shot, but Nintendo needs to get it's Virtual Console game up to par. They also need to realize what Xbox realized a few years after Xbox Live got going: people don't only want to download subpar/overpriced versions of Pac-Mac, they want to buy kick ass original titles like Geometry Wars and Shadow Complex.

James Mielke just had a big conference in Kyoto to court western journalists; to show them that there are a lot of hard working Japanese indie guys that do amazing stuff. Microsoft and Sony can't take all of the indie market with them. Nintendo, you gotta step up to the plate.

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On a 56 hour long haul with Large Marge

I downloaded Euro Truck Simulator a few months ago. It was on sale for $8 and I had just watched a Quick Look about Euro Truck Simulator 2. I thought, "What the hell! I spend more than that on lunch!"

I usually throw on a podcast and plug away for a couple of hours. It is really relaxing to watch the countryside go by listlessly. Especially without the repercussions if I was really driving a truck after working for 8 hours and drinking two glasses of shochu. Sometimes I get a little tired and I smash into another car. Usually because the fucking piece of shit sedans will stop on the middle of the goddamn interstate!

The game has a few easy milestones that act as a career. I am sure if I was being super careful I could have finished them much quicker than I did. But, sometimes it is fun to drive from Lyon to Manchester while drinking some whiskey and listening to The Comedy Button. (It is a little bit like playing the drunk driving part in Grand Theft Auto IV but the game isn't what is simulating the drunken reaction.)

I never quite understood why people would play flight simulation games. I never was a kid who played PC games, so I never got into flight simulators. I have always loved driving cars. Ever since that first time I took the emergency break off my mom's car and rolled it into the street, I have always wanted to do stupid shit on the road.

I love playing Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, but with those games you really have to pay attention to where your car is going. It can be very relaxing, in the sense that I understand the tracks and know when there are turns and straightaways, but I still need to pay attention to the speed and layout of the track. On the long straightaways of the Autobahn in Euro Truck Simulator, I can loll in and out of concentration. I can more intensely to the discussions on the podcasts. I have even been know to send out a Tweet. I am sure that WoW players do many of the same things when they are idling.

I really have put 56 hours into Euro Truck Simulator. But, my time with the game has been...relaxing.

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