What a week.
I've sat here for hours just marveling at the sheer volume of crazy, awful stuff that's taken place in the last several days. From the attack last Monday, to the manhunt that gripped all of Boston on Friday, the week in-between barely allowed for a moment to properly ponder everything that had transpired. Trying to focus on the world of video games last week was like an exercise in futility. Yeah, a few interesting things happened, but so what? Who wants to read navel-gazing examinations of video game journalism or bitch about the latest Nintendo Direct when the world around you is going crazy? Some undoubtedly do, especially those looking for an escape from the reality going on outside. Me personally, I found it exceptionally difficult to escape from any of it.
So you'll forgive me if my mind hasn't been able to establish much of a focus on the events of gaming in the last week. It's been tough to think about much outside of my friends in Boston, who have had a fairly horrendous go of it in the last several days. All I've wanted to do since this work week came to a close was find a way to relax and unwind, so the girlfriend and I have been working our way through Arrested Development and Breaking Bad (which she's never seen), and I've been digging into a few games I've been sitting on for a while. It's been nice, though it hasn't allowed me much time to think of a proper column topic for the week.
Instead, I thought it might be nice to get a little reader participation going and venture back to my old Burning Questions days. I put the call out on Twitter Friday, and plenty of you responded in with questions that ranged from tremendously useful to, well, less so. Still, those who did help allowed me to wring a column out of all this nonsense, and for that I am quite grateful. So let's get to the questions then, shall we?
Q: Do you think Sony's aggressive courting of indie developers matter to their/the core audience?
Thanks, and keep up the great work!
I look at it this way. Xbox Live Arcade became the juggernaut of downloadable gaming it did because Microsoft was aggressive in securing lots of interesting games. Not everything hit, but the stuff that did helped bolster that marketplace's reputation as a place to find quality stuff. Likewise, the studios behind those games benefited from the strong install base Microsoft had. Whether or not the average PlayStation owner is aware of Sony's recent push to make its own store the desirable destination for indie games, nobody's going to complain about having a greater abundance of quality games to play on their console of choice. So while it might not matter to everyone now, it will as long as Sony keeps up this push and keeps bringing cool, exclusive titles to the platform. I mean, I've certainly been giving my PlayStation 3 a lot more work lately, thanks in no small part to the strong stream of stuff coming to the PlayStation Store. It's pretty much the only reason my Vita hasn't completely fallen into shadow, as well.
What are your thoughts on the state of platform exclusives as we head into the next generation? With AAA game budgets reaching well into the range of Hollywood blockbusters (and beyond), it seems more and more impracticable to restrict a game to a single platform. Are we likely to see more platform specific DLC or "exclusive release windows" instead of full-on exclusives, or do you think Sony and Microsoft will try harder than ever to work out these kind of deals in order to sell their machines? Or is this not even a real issue and I'm just talking out of my ass?
You're entirely right about the cost/benefit of doing console exclusives getting way out of whack. Big third-party publishers need financial benefit to make these exclusive deals, and a lot of that used to come from co-marketing. Now even that seems like not of quite enough benefit to third parties outside of the indie development scene. I think that's maybe part of why there's been this shift from Microsoft to Sony there. Microsoft has traditionally been pretty awful about promoting Xbox Live Arcade games, since it likes to sell its ad space to outside advertisers. Sony, on the other hand, has been way more attentive and aggressive about pushing those indies, which has got to make signing an exclusive deal a whole lot more attractive. That's where the future of third party exclusives is, in my opinion. It's way cheaper for console makers to focus on pulling in exclusive DLC and other content, as well as exclusive deals with indie developers.
Also, thank you for teaching me the word impracticable. That one's going into my regular rotation.
Q: Hey Alex,
The summer movie season is just about upon us and there are a lot big ones this year (Iron Man 3, Star Trek, Fast 6, Man of Steel, Monsters U, World War Z, Pacific Rim, and the list goes on.) What movies from this year's summer movie season are you looking forward to seeing?
This summer does seem like it ought to be a good one, doesn't it? A couple of extremely distressing looking outliers notwithstanding--World War Z and The Lone Ranger, I'm looking at you--it's hard to find much fault with the big ticket items. Fast 6 should be amazing, Pacific Rim has me giddy with excitement, and Monsters U will undoubtedly drag me out to the theater as well. I expect Star Trek Into Darkness, despite that most dire of titles, should be quite good, and even though I haven't liked a Superman movie since Superman II, or a Zack Snyder film since 300, I am inexplicably drawn to Man of Steel. It might just be my peculiar love of either Kevin Costner or Michael Shannon (or both). But I'm into it.
The one I'm holding out special hope for is Neill Blomkamp's Elysium. One of the few directors whose use of CG actually draws me to their movies, versus inadvertently repelling me. I'm also secretly hoping Michael Bay's Pain and Gain is actually fun stupid, as opposed to just unbearably stupid. Then again, I'm one of the few people who will defend Bad Boys II, so I'll probably be fine with it.
Q: 1) Let us assume that the rumors about the Next Xbox requiring an 'always online' connection are accurate, how do you think that Microsoft would pitch that 'feature' to the average American consumer?
3) Excluding Big Rigs, what was the most soul crushing game you have ever reviewed?
Keep up the great work,
Matt in Baltimore (@baltimore on the GB boards!)
1) They kinda already did, didn't they? Obviously "deal with it" won't be their official messaging, but that unfortunate phrase has regrettably infected the next Xbox's messaging already. It might not be fair, but that's the risk Microsoft has run by waiting so long after Sony's unveiling to say anything. When you don't deliver the message yourself, you risk letting the message be dictated by others. My guess is that when Microsoft does finally decide to unveil the thing, they'll bill it in the most positive way they can, downplaying whatever more draconian elements may or may not even exist. I doubt they'll even address it as more than a bullet point, since there's not much reason to call attention to it outside of basic functionality description. Unless that always-online functionality does something awesome that none of us know about yet, which I kind of doubt.
2) I'm not going to pretend I have inside information on how one company or another does business, because I most certainly do not. I do know that when a multinational corporation is having tough times, it's often easier for those at home to blame those who aren't there, versus those that are sitting right in front of them. Maybe the blame is being assigned properly, and maybe it's just some epic-level buck-passing. Again, I really don't know, but I have my own theories.
3) Who said I ever had a soul to crush?
I don't pretend to be some expert marketing-dude, but doesn't it seem odd to you with all this deafening silence from Microsoft? Every week some crazy new rumor is spreading like wildfire on social media and gaming websites, and every time Microsoft either ignores it or make a "we have no comments right now" statement. I understand that they probably have a special date set aside for their reveal, but doesn't all these rumors and Microsoft's apathy hurt the company in the end? I mean, the least they could do is throw up a counter somewhere to a date to get the hype going, like Sony had prior to their PS4 reveal. I even listened to their Earnings Conference Call, and all they said to their investors were "stay tuned in the upcoming months".
This maybe turned a little longer than preferred, but I guess my question is: Is Microsoft experiencing hubris similar to Sony leading up to the PS3 launch? Why all this silence and unwillingness to talk about their upcoming plans?
Chris (@cincaid on GB)
I'm not going to speculate on what specifically might be going through Microsoft executives' heads right now, because I don't know what the situation with that console is at the moment. I know that the reason Sony didn't reveal some key things at its announcement event is because those things just weren't ready to show. Microsoft might be in a similarly fluid situation, with certain components, features, and whatever else still not quite finalized. That doesn't bode well, considering that we're just a couple of months from E3 (ugh), but if shit's not ready, shit's not ready.
I don't think apathy is the right word for how Microsoft has handled things so far. I'd say it's just caution. I'm sure plenty of people over there are frustrated that the story of this new system is starting to get away from them, but presumably there is a marketing plan in there somewhere, and the company is just sticking to it. Until we see what it is we've actually been waiting for, it's unfair to assume whether this is just over-caution on Microsoft's part, or the result of some genuine issues. We'll see soon enough, hopefully.
Q: How'd it get burned? How'd it get burned?!
I'm glad you found something to occupy your time while locked inside all day Friday, Casey. Good of you to keep busy in the face of such terror.
Q: Hello Alex.
Recently my brother joked about us assembling a collection of every Nicolas Cage movie, Well, it started as a joke but now 11 movies later I'm slowly running out of shelf space. Anyway, whats your favorite Cage movie and your favorite Cage Moment from his career? if its something I don't have yet I'l be sure to make it next. (but not Next, I already have that).
Well, I suppose this was to be expected. I try not to play favorites with Nicolas Cage movies, since they're all rather special in their own way. For action, I always take The Rock. For comedy, it's hard to argue with Raising Arizona. For sheer batshit weirdness, nothing quite beats Vampire's Kiss.
As far as individual moments go? It's too hard to pick. Pretty much all the choices I'd make live in this supercut, however.
Q: Alex - of those games so far released in 2013, which are the ones you didn't think would be any good but ended up pleasantly surprised by?
I'd actually been pretty well looking forward to most of the games I've played thus far this year, but a few have managed to surprise me. DmC in particular was a surprise treat, as I have never enjoyed that franchise on any level. I always hated Dante, I never cared for the world or the mechanics. It's hard to explain, but there's an elegance to the way that Ninja Theory executed that concept in DmC that just spoke to my sensibilities as a player far more than the old games. That's just me, though. I realize plenty of people prefer the older ones, and that's fine. Just for my money, DmC is more my speed.
I've also been pleasantly surprised by how much I've enjoyed BattleBlock Theater. I had no reason to think The Behemoth wouldn't deliver, but after so many years in development, you never know. Fortunately, it's great, especially in co-op. My girlfriend's about as picky a gamer as they come, but she's been all about BattleBlock co-op. Except for these last few levels that we still need to finish. Those have been a damn nightmare.
Q: Did you watch Wrestlemania? If so what did you think? If you saw Raw the next night how amazing were that crowd?
I did watch Wrestlemania, as well as much of the RAW the night afterward...as well as the RAW the week after that. My feelings, I think, echo much of the rest of the Internet. I thought Wrestlemania, outside of a couple of exceptional matches, was pretty forgettable. I thought the insane revolt pitched by the crowd the night after was wonderful, but completely unsustainable. David Shoemaker over at Grantland pretty much captured my exact thoughts on the PPV and the RAW afterward, and Brandon Stroud's endlessly weary and disappointed tone in his Best and Worst of Monday Night RAW features reached a moment of perfect sadness in this week's entry, as he recapped how the WWE is just utterly incapable of ever capitalizing on a good thing. Hence why I watch one episode of RAW with such rapt attention, and then find myself flipping away as often as possible the following week.
Wrestling constantly bums me out. Yet I keep paying attention to it. Is this what it's like to be in an abusive relationship?
I still think a big budget BioWare RPG about putting on a WrestleMania would be a great idea.
The idea of a wrestling RPG where you spend all your time building up your character within the context of the larger WWE Universe™ and wrestling is only a tangential part of the process is terrific, and will never get made. Why? Mostly because the WWE seems to prefer to think of its video games as competitive in nature. The fact that we get the totally ludicrous storyline editors in the main WWE games is kind of a weird blessing that I keep expecting someone at the WWE to finally discover one day and immediately put a frantic halt to.
That said, I feel a WWE Crush Hour 2 is far from out of the question. Surely one of 2K's budget studios could revive this vital franchise.
Q: Hey Alex,
As the internet's leading expert on professional wrestling video games, what do you think are the best pro wrestling games out there? What did you think of the Gamecube games as well (Day of Reckoning 2 especially)?
Jesus, is that what I am? What is my life, even?
Most of my favorite wrestling games of all time fall around the N64/PlayStation era. WCW/nWo Revenge, WWF No Mercy, and Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 were all personal favorites, along with Fire Pro Wrestling G and D. I've liked a few modern games, like some of the old PS2 SmackDown! games, and I actually really liked WWE All-Stars, absurd as it was. I know I reviewed the Day of Reckoning games but honestly, I can scarcely remember anything about them. I seem to recall them being vaguely similar in mechanics to the old AKI games, but not quite as much fun. That also might be colored by my generally unfavorable memories of wrestling in the early to mid-2000s. Chris Masters? Heidenreich? Snitsky? The late, but pre-murder/suicide years of Chris Benoit? *shudder*
I heard sales numbers for WiiU is about 67,000 units and vita is about 35,000 units. These seem like terrible numbers, I wouldn't know though. Could you talk about the state of the WiiU and Vita? Will all these Mario/Zelda games be enough to save Nintendo? Will the Vita ever sell better?
Murphy! It's you!
Those seem like terrible numbers because they are. Also, they're not necessarily correct. The Wii U reportedly sold 55,000 units in this past month of March. That was after selling something like 64,000 units in February, and 57,000 in January. Again, these are just US sales, but they are fairly abysmal for a new console in the US. As for the Vita, I haven't seen confirmed numbers for last month, but most people seem to be quoting around 33,000 units sold.
The point is, neither system is doing very well right now. Nintendo has the benefit of at least having stronger 3DS sales of late to bolster its bottom line, but the Wii U's inability to catch on I don't think bodes very well. You hope that a stronger lineup of games at E3 would boost interest, but up to this point, the company hasn't been making a compelling enough argument for why people should upgrade from whatever other console they currently own. More games from its big franchises may help, but it's really going to depend on how people respond to Microsoft and Sony's new offerings. If people aren't necessarily sold on whatever tech these consoles are working with, and the price they're set at, then maybe the Wii U has a shot at catching some attention then. But if Sony and Microsoft price affordably, and the tech is enticing enough, then I don't really know how Nintendo recovers from that. Not saying they can't, just that I don't know what the solution is.
As for the Vita? I have absolutely no idea where that thing fits into the longer term picture. Like the Wii U, it's actually a pretty great device that, tragically, I'm not sure really belongs in this time and place. All the games I've really been enjoying on it are the Vita ports of PS3N games. At what point does it even become necessary to release carts when you can just sell everything digitally for both PS3 and Vita with, I'm told, relatively minimal cost to do so? I like some of the games that have been released for it at retail, but when was the last time one of those of any note even came out? And what's on the horizon? Killzone? Tearaway? Sure, but neither of those even hit until the fall. It's looking awfully barren up until then...
Q: Why is Nintendo so restrictive when it comes to their back catalog of classic games? During the most recent Nintendo Direct they announced a few games from the SNES era to be released on the Wii U Virtual Console. Why don't I have the option to purchase these games on my 3DS? I would really love to play things like Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and other games from that time period but they just aren't available to download. Why is that?
Thanks Alex. Enjoy the great work you do at Giant Bomb. Stay safe out there!
It's true. I don't know that I've known a company more restrictively cautious with its back catalog than Nintendo is. It's almost like they spend all their time trying to figure out the best rollout strategy for their classic games, and in all that discussion, forget to actually put out the games.
There's a part of me that thinks it's just Nintendo being Nintendo. This company is not known for its online savviness. The Wii's online capabilities were barely existent, and the Virtual Console quickly turned from a neat little nostalgia marketplace into a relatively dreadful parade of lackluster game announcements. Like, hey, it's great that you got TurboGrafix 16 games. Except for the part where a lot of these TurboGrafix games aren't that great. There's some good stuff on there, but the whole weird snafu with Wii VC purchases not carrying over to the Wii U is pretty weak.
At the very least, there are some signs that Nintendo is starting to come around. The Wii U's online systems are, at the very least, an improvement. And the 3DS' eShop has been downright reliable, not to mention has been offering numerous retail games for download as of late. Still, I think it's nuts that the old Wii VC store didn't just carry over to the Wii U, and that the 3DS virtual console hasn't really picked up more steam. I imagine licensing had something to do with that as far as the non-Nintendo published games go, but for the Nintendo stuff? There's still tons missing from the lineup. If you're going to try to get people to stop emulating your games and pay you instead, you have to at least try to offer a good swath of the stuff people want to play. Here's hoping Nintendo gets its act together with that sometime soon.
Q: Do you ever think we'll reach a point when there will be no new consoles? Will there ever be a final generation? And when we reach that point, what happens to video game development? Do developers have to begin placing emphasis on other aspects of development rather than graphics?
P.S. Guns of Navarro is the best name for an Op-Ed column... ever.
Pat from N.Y.
This is such a weird question to think about, but it does seem like the thing everybody's asking themselves in the face of this new generation. Could we end up in a place where consoles cease to be our primary gaming delivery systems? Yeah, totally. We could also end up in a place where interactive entertainment no longer qualifies as "gaming," exactly. Technology evolves in bizarre, sometimes jarring ways. If consoles died out, I expect that there would have to be a pretty significant shift that takes place first. People like games enough that I think a strong alternative method to consoles would have to rise up first. We haven't seen that yet, but I expect that if something like that is going to come along, it'll be in response to how this generation of consoles sells.
I don't think gaming as we know it will disappear, if that's what you're asking. But just as the Internet has radically affected how movie theaters and television networks do business, I expect that we'll see changes in how people access and play games. It'll all just depend on how people respond to this new generation and the technology it offers us. Once again, all we can do is just wait and see.
If you would like to send in a question for a future mailbag edition of The Guns of Navarro, send Alex an email at Alex@giantbomb.com and put "Mailbag" in the subject header. By the time he gets around to doing another one, your question may have become wholly irrelevant, but you can always fix that by sending in a new question. Nifty how that works, isn't it?