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The Wii U and it's Chances to Survive This Generation

With all this speculation about the PS4 and the next Xbox-- hardware, features, prices, other things that cost money and everything else under the sun-- I can't help but think about Nintendo and their supposed laughing stock of the business, the Wii U. Even Cliff GearsofWar Face recently made some comments on how the gaming industry is on the verge of a cataclysmic collapse (something I know nothing about, nor did he elaborate on the matter) and for some reason also mentioning that Nintendo is on their last hardware legs.  Cliff certainly wasn't the first (nor will he be the last) to say something like this about Nintendo, but I'm here to suggest that Cliff and everybody else who thinks that way is dead wrong.  Not only do I think that Nintendo will manage to survive this new generation of gaming and ensure another Nintendo console, I also will go so far as to say that the Nintendo Wii U will be knighted as the "Big Cheese" when this new generation is over and done with.

Ok.  So where does all this hubbub come from? Especially when I'm aware that Nintendo's latest console is moving at the rate of a semi-truck in a traffic jam.  I've even joked a few times about how Nintendo forgot that they needed to release video games along side their new console.  Forget about jokes, the hardware powering the Wii U is the joke of the internet party.  Can't tell you how many times I've heard something along these lines, "This is the console Nintendo should have released 7 years ago."  And how about that controller?  A lot of us are still baffled why Nintendo released that big thing as the main controller, instead of as some optional accessory.  So why in the heck do I think these plumbers got a shot at taking it all?

I'll begin with my bread and butter.  I feel that because the Wii U's hardware is so underpowered in comparison, there's no other way for Nintendo to effeciently compete in the market than by figuring out a way to release a better gaming library than its competition.  Now, if Nintendo can't do it by impressing the market with graphics, they will have to find a way to do it through innovative gameplay, creativity and by taking major risks with their famous titles and with new IP.  It wouldn't suprise me if we were to see some of the whackiest and wildly interesting games come out for this beast. Sure, I know right now we haven't seen anything of the likes (let alone games in general) thus far, but theres a lot of time. The last time I checked the competition hasn't even stepped foot onto the playing field.

Next I'll serve you a decent hamburger: Price.  I know the official prices of the PS4 and the new Xbox haven't been released, but I'm willing to bet, however you slice it, that upfront the Wii U will be the cheapest console.  However we all know dropping money on a console doesn't get you everything you need.  Right now the PS4 is screaming additional costs.  Just exactly what they are I'm not sure.  But my guess is we'll need to pay for online gaming, cloud gaming, and possibly even just general subscription fees (which would give us free updates and access to the PSplus store and stuff like that). 

Then I'll end on a half burnt pop tart:  When all is said and done and we can finally all go to to our favorite toy store and buy any one of these new consoles (and a power ranger action figure...and some roller skates....and like a spaceship Lego thing) I think the Wii U will resemble a "gaming console" the most...What the hell am I talking about?  Well, I guess I mean on the inside (sounds sexy).  Sony made it pretty clear that the "way we play" is changing.  They are taking the steps to change the concept of their gaming console as a prodominently one function device by giving us more than just games.  Now where that original function (the act of playing a video game) is regarded in Sony's grand scheme is beyond me.  For all gamers sake, I obviously hope it's still their number one priority, but with Nintendo I know it still is.  While we may have many reasons to turn on a PS4, with Nintendo we have pretty much just one. 

I just realized I haven't been saying much about Microsoft.  Well, I don't know much about what's going on with their new system.  Who knows really.  But my guess is they're still hammering as many gadgets and features onto that thing that could make it power a small NASA spacecraft.  

I also didn't really define what I mean by the Wii U becoming the "Big Cheese."  Sorry about that.  I'm still on the fence whether the Wii U will sell the most consoles. Sony (and maybe Microsoft) may be onto something with their whole social thing.  They may end up with a more customers than ever before because of that.  I guess it just depends on how they market it.  But the "Big Cheese" for me refers to the console with the best value for the gamers.  Meaning, it's going to have the best game library (with an exception to small indie games), the best price, and treat gamers the fairest--meaning no crazy subscription fees, solid backwards compatability and no funny business with used games.  

This is my theory and I'm stickin' to it.

 

 

 

 



  

Here a PS4. There a PS4. Everywhere a PS4 PS4

I just saw an interesting post by a GS user "Nameaprice" that inspired me to write a quick blurb.  

Nameaprice mentioned that the route Sony was taking by bringing gaming everywhere--the idea of playing the PS4 anywhere and being connected to the PS4 universe on any mobile device---wasn't exactly a good thing for gamers.  Mostly because we shouldn't be spending a huge chunck of entire life around a console or a PC.  Even the worse culprits of game addiction must have a little something that whispers in their ear, "It's time to call it quits."  Sometimes we just gotta' leave the house and "actually" remove ourself from the world of video games (and I'm not just talking about those inevitable times when work, sleep, school or other obligations come breathing down our neck).

Now, I don't want this to turn into a "how much time gamers should and shoudn't be playing video games before it fries their brains" discussion.  More I just want to discuss what Sony's (and Microsoft's if they do go down the same path) motivations for building a system that can and will exist outside the walls of the living room.  I'm a bit lacking upstairs on the subject (and also maybe too old timerish) to fully grasp the benefits of all the mobile features of the PS4.  

It seems that Sony wants us to log more time on their system then ever before, a goal that before  could only be reached by delivering cosumers more and more games.  However now that time doesn't neccessarily need to be used playing a video game, Sony plans to drive usage up by improving things like social networking, exclusive Apps, a better PSplus and most importanly, allowing users to access their PS4 from places that are not within 30 feet of the console.

So where am I going with this?  Well, I'm not really sure.  It more just makes me asks questions like:  Is Sony going to be squeezing more money out of us than ever?  Will all this emphasis on branching the PS4 out into a piece of technology that is not just a one function device effect games in a negative way?  Should gamers be cautious of bringing "gaming" everywhere?  Will Microsoft go down the same path?

 And I'll end this blog the same way I ended my last one...What about Nintendo?  With all this talk about Sony wanting to make their new system simple and easy to use, it seems the WiiU is shaping out to be the simplest of them all. 

Is the PS4 a Gaming Console?

However long it took me to realize, it still pains me to admit that no longer is the gamer the only type of consumer Sony is concerned with.  Back during the days of the PS1 and 2 us nerds were the only ones Sony was trying to please.  But not anymore. The PS4 seems to be shaping out to be a piece of technology that is the central part of the living room and possibly even the future of social networking.  Two features that don't spring to my mind as that important to my ideal next generation gaming console.  

Now, I still hope that delivering a high-quality video game experience is the number one priority of the boys and girls working at Sony.  They did go out of their way to stress the point that they're making a console that is easy to develop for, whether you're big time like EA or small time like Number Non inc.  But there is no doubt in my mind that Sony is trying to capture a lot of new customers.  No, not necessarliy the fans of Xbox or the next generation of gamers, but the millions of millions of people that have never even considered buying a gaming console.  

It's possible that people bought the PS3 for the blue-ray player alone, but I doubt it.  The addition of the Blu-ray player was a really sweet bonus for gamers.  But what about the PS4?  Are all the new features of the PS4 really sweet new gadgets just for gamers to fool around with or is the whole concept of a "gaming console" starting to turn on its head?  Is it possible that the day has come where people are going to buy a "gaming console" with no intention of playing a video game at all? Or maybe they will just see the act of playing a video game as a cool extra feature like gamers once saw the blu-ray feature in the PS3?

Another question to speculate on is, how will Microsoft react?  Will they pitch their new console like Sony did, beating around the topic of single player gaming like the elephant in the room?  And where does Nintendo fit in to all this?  When all is said and done, is it possible that the Wii U will remain as the purest gaming console of them all? 

 

 

 

PS4 Announcement: PS4 Missing in Action

I'm not sure if Sony knew or didn't know how unprepared they were for their conference.  If they did know then it wouldn't surprise me.  I had already assumed (with the help of many of the bright game analysts of the day) that their sole motivation was to strike first by spreading word about the PS4 as soon as possible, even if it came at the cost of putting together a shabby first impression.  However if they didn't know, and in fact they were 100% ready, then whoever organized the event probably belongs doing some other line of work.  

The first thing I noticed was the lack of enthusiasm.  Beyond videos being full of color and sound, I saw little life in that room.  The audience barely appluaded.  Which is something completely puzzling because this was the announcement of the PS4 for Gods sake.  How hard could it be to spark some jazz?  Just show off the console and your jobs done.Oh wait, right...It wasnt there.

The Presenters  (Please forgive me on not including the presenters names) 

When the first presenter said the words PS4 for the first time ever, officially beginning the dawn of a new generation, there was no pause nor was there an applause.  Now, Im not here to suggest that confetti should have fallen from the ceiling and strippers run up on stage passing out free bubble gum to the crowd (while that may have been nice), a simple pause for some cheers and a few in-house fist pumps could have done the moment justice.

I feel if most of the presenters had shown a little more of themselves on stage, and less of that professional muppet pitching a product that they came off as,  we would have seen some more enthusiastic and genuine presentations that the audience could have got behind.  But instead we got monotone voices and drabness.  I mean seriously, I dare you to go back and watch the Fantastic Bungie 4 again. 

Then there was the part when the creator of Braid got up on stage and threw a jab at the previous presentations.  He said something along the line of, Hard to follow all those explosions.  This remark sort of mocked the general brainless action genre that dominates so much of the gaming market and in turn brings Sony the cash money money.  I know Sony is trying to send a message that its all Indie now (Ya...right) but wedging the guy behind Braid between Killzone: Bloodfest 4 and Final Fantasy 27 felt a bit out of place.

No Core

No, Im not talking about the CPU.  Im talking about the glue that holds all the magic pieces of a presentation together.  In previous years the main core was rock solid because it was so bloody obvious:  Games and a side helping of Hardware.  That was the only way to win fans over.  This time around, as Sony laid out, the gaming industry is changing.  Technology is changing.  So likewise they are looking to set the standard for this changing industry by incorporating features never before seen in a gaming console.  Features like better socialibilty, easier graphical interfaces, developer friendly software, cloud gaming, innterconectivy with mobile devices, and whatever else I'm omitting.  Maybe 8 years later the PS5 will, on top of all that, also cook your dinner, drive you to school, pay your taxes, mow the lawn and marry you if you find yourself still single later in life.  

            And guess what?  Whether Sony wants to believe it or not, this generation's (and every generation of Sony console that follows) central core is still the games.  Yet Sony certainly didnt send that message when the meeting began with a display of hundreds of faces beamed around the room.  The social network.    At points that initial message was so heavy that I felt Sony was treating game demos like they were the elephant in the room or something.  This is what I like to call, getting off on the wrong foot.  This is what I like to call, not knowing your fanbase.  This is what I like to call, stupid.

            As the meeting dragged on it became blatantly obvious that Sony was just pulling mediocore tricks out of a brown paper bag in no particular order.  Tricks that would impress your grandma but would make your buddies yawn.  There was no trick to give Sony a strong lead in or a strong exit.  Nor was there any rabbit or woman getting sawed in half in that bag.  There was no climax or rock bottom.   Everything was just randomly average, without any sense of excitement being built. 

No Hardware

            Im willing to suggest that if Sony had actually brought the PS4 and showed it running and what the OS looks like, I probably wouldnt even be writing this blog.  There is so much latent excitement in gamers ready to splooge all over the place just at the sight of a new piece of hardware.  No matter how boring the presentations might have been that followed, at least we could just stare at the mighty fine and shiny piece of craftsmanship sitting on the stage. 

            Where the hell was Japan?

                I wanted to see more Japanese software and hardware developers there.  From them we got nothing.  Just some CGI and the message, There will be a new Final Fantasy.  Wow.  Seriously? If theres one major advantage the Sony has over Microsoft, its having a monopoly on the brightest minds in Japans gaming industry.

 

 

 

 

                

The End of Something and The End of The Last of Us

The world is saved, the boy and girl fall in love, the story is won.  Or, the world rots, it doesnt work out for the lovers, the story is lost.

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It seems the majority of movies and video game plots have a similar theme going on.  The beginning usually reflects a birth or awakening of something, while the end usually reflects a death or putting to rest of something.  I know there are reasons for this.  It certainly helps present a new experience in a way that the majority can latch onto and hang with, and to end that same experience with some closure. 

But rarely do movies or games dare to end (or begin) in the middle of something (If they have, you can bet your college fund there's a sequel or it's on the way), which would reflect more on what we experience all the time.  In my life there are so many question marks about the future.  Then when I think about my past, the further back I go the fuzzier it seems to get.  I guess that means there is no clear beginning either.  The only force that can possibly put an end to it all is far more powerful than what the ending of a movie, book or video game can string together. 

Ive been thinking about this subject today because I heard someone mention a theory that the main character of The Last of Us dies at the end. They also followed this by mentioning that in the sequel you would play as the girl.  For me there are a few reasons that come to mind why killing off the main character at the end of the game is an idea that should have been stomped out the second it was mentioned.

First: For what I was going on about at the start of this post.  The death of a character at the end of a plot is so incredibly cliché and convenient from a creators standpoint that as a viewer/gamer its almost impossible to take the moment seriously.  Therefore, taking any emotional investment accrued during the course of the game and flushing it down the urinal.    

Second: For what I was going on about in my last blog post.  You've probably (definetly) already died.  So if the game finally does decide to officially whack you, it would just seem comical.  Its like, "Ya, thanks, I did that like a thousand times already."

It also seems to go against the logic of playing a video game in the first place.  Why go throw the effort to survive, if the game is going to suddenly toss you an unavoidable death?

This is all speculation.  Heck, who knows what the game is going to be like.  If the ending is far from what I just mentioned then this whole blog post will also be seen as wasted effort (A skill which I've come to master in my 26 years on this planet). 

So how could The Last of Us end in a way that both is what I call "In the middle of something" and not be forced into a corner where Naughty Dog must release a sequel? 

First of all, sequels are always options, no matter what sort of cliffhanger is left.  But with the whole Zombie/Apocolypse setting, it really aint hard to end in the middle of something. We can all presume the world in The Last of Us is long past the point of fixing. Both characters just want to survive. Honestly, the developers can just call it whenever they feel like it.  For instance, call it when the characters realize the situation in front of them is just too overpowering, leaving the gamers to speculate on what happens to them.    

And Im not totally against the whole idea of the father figure dying.  Actually, him dying at some random point might work out.  It still would go against my second and third points, but it would leapfrog the first one.  Then, of course, you would have to play the following parts of the game as the girl.  Which is maybe a reason why shes on the forefront of the cover.       

***The title of my post came from Ernest Hemingway's short story with the same name: The End of Something

It Ain't Serious When It's Too Serious

The other day I read this Chinese legend about a girl who had a magical book. It was magical because inside the words and letters could rearrange themselves with every read, making a forever changing story.  

But books, movies and everything else that beams chunky plots down your ears, eyes and undies are fixed.  They can't change.  This is why I feel serious story-driven video games have an inherent flaw, a flaw which leaves me numb to feeling emotions for the main character, the other characters and the entire plot in general.    

In one sense its the obvious driver-seat/puppeteer problem.  The medium by default sticks you in the perfect position to mess with a story and create your own. But that doesnt happen.  Fight it all you want, youll still find what everyone else is going to find. Sure alternate endings have started to pop up more often than gerbils in the sunshine, but those arent an endless resource.  Play through enough times and youll see them all. 

I guess a solution is playing the game exactly how it was meant to be played, an attempt at adding +5 to the realism skill tree.  Play it rationally, that is.  Based on what you know of your character, make the decisions you feel your character would.  For example when a character addresses you in a non-cut scene moment, you stand there and listen.  Not run around them in circles. 

From the gamers perspective, this sort of goes against the natural.  You want to do more than just sit there, than just puppet, than just sit there taking orders from some higher power.  So instead, when characters speak, I like checking out the surroundings, trying to punch allies in the face, jumping in place and trying to do the moonwalk.  All of which should make the other speakers stop what they're doing and say, WTF? 

Another problem I have is with the inevitable death thing.  Unless youre some Jack in the Godstalk who never fails in games, some tosspot who uses cheats, or some rug-burn who only plays games on super easy mode while piloting their character like a grandma behind the wheel of a Volvo,  Im guessing we all die a few (hundred) times along the way. I dont know about you, but I cant help but remembering all those deaths.  This alone removes me from any serious business thats going on plotwise. 

I want a good story like anybody else.  And Im not saying the stories of many video games are not excellent.  But the set-up of the medium itself degrades their emotional quality.  Ive been reading up a lot on The Last of Us recently.  Looks fantastic.  I read The Road awhile back too.  A book I was emotionally engulfed in.  But then again the son didnt suddenly decide to do sprints along the wasteland while his father was delivering sagely advice.  Nor did the father die, only to be re-spawned at the nearest checkpoint, ten pages in.

When I heard about what the people behind the ZombieU did with their plot, I kind of liked it.  One character dies and a different one is born.  Sort of makes sense.  I also like the idea of Hardcore mode, which is featured on Diablo and Torchlight.  If you die, game-over.  Its ruthless, but it makes you interact with the game in an entire different way.  Should all heavy story-driven video games have this option?  Yes.

ZaiJian

Won't be around for awhile. Thanks for the few of you lads who have been tracking my stuff.

The Hall of Computers

I was with a Chinese girl I really wanted to sleep with. I'd met her at a club. We'd gone on some KTV dates, we walked the streets of Beijing and even had dinner together a few times. One night we were out shopping at a mall for a bit then afterwards I asked her if she liked playing pool. She did. We found a place near my apartment. It had the Chinese characters for "Pool" lit up in bright red above the main entrance. I left my bike outside and we walked in.

The space inside was absolutley gigantic. Pretty dim lit. But no pool tables. Just endless rows of computers. Must have been a over a thousand desktops. And almost all of them were being used. Many people were sleeping on office chairs. Something that had been planned for because they were wrapped in warm blankets. I stared at everything. "It's like this every day," she told me.

She grabbed my hand and walked me across the hall. She brought me into the room with the pool tables. A much smaller space. We waited at the counter for someone to come help us. We played pool for about an hour. We both didn't play very well. Even though I had no idea how, I kept trying to show her how to hold a cue stick properly the whole time. Other people there would stare at us from time to time. It's not often they get to see a Westerner.

It was about ten o'clock at night on a Monday. She had work the next day so we decided to leave. We passed the mammoth hall of gamers again and went back outside. After that night we kept seeing each other, and eventually we slept together. She started to cook dinner at my place. She called me when I was at work. She told me she loved me.

One night she took me on the back of her electric bike. I put my hands around her waist, and we scooted through some busy Chinese streets. I don't remember us every coming home that night. It was the last night I saw her.

Game-Changers and Time-Killers

So I was taking a piss the other day and felt a little pain down there. Nothing abnormal, actually have been pissing fine since (thank you for your concern). But it got me thinking about how video games don't light a fire under my rear-end.

Age is playing a big part of it, I know this. This isn't to say someday my attitude towards video games will have snowballed enough to become a bitter, old, white politician snowman of the present. Nor never would I make the claim that the quality of video games has somehow depreciated since the later 80's, nor would I claim the opposite. I just don't know. But what I do know is that I'm fatter and I can't run as fast as I used to be able to.

Where does it all go from here? Death? Certainly. But even before that. Great films still burn my soul, so does a great book or a nice pair of clean undies. Still like to see my bedroom in order, my computer desktop clean and a new pair of shoes on my gigantic hairy feet. I know I'm not dead, yet. But video games, even the greatest ones of this generation, still leave me with a cloudy aftertaste.

What the hell am I talking about? I'm talking about the concept of a game-changer against the myriads of time-killers. While any piece of art (and pretty much anything for that matter) can fall under what I call time-killers---anything we do to pass the time--most pieces fail to become anything more.

Game-changers are something that alters your perception of the very things around you. They change the way you interact with the world. This can be an extremely minor thing, or something on a much larger scale (like when Descartes said that one day he realized everything he once believed wasn't true at all). As your bones become a bit more brittle and your heart gets a little weaker, you tend to search for activities that push your brain a little harder than the activities you did from when you were snoozing through grammar class. You tend to start valuingthe little time you have on the planet. To do that you cut back a bit on the time-killers.

Now, please don't suggest that I think all time-killers are the same. You can call organizing your condoms in your sock drawer a time-killer but never in a million years would that be the same as killing the time by playing Half-Life 2 or Dark Souls or something. But what I am suggesting is that you walk away from both events the same person. Sure you have different memories and conversations to bring to the table around the water cooler the next day, but everything else is still the same: How you go to class or work the next morning, how you view the time you spend with friends, family or your significant other.

I do recognize that video games are starting to grow up. I'm sure a lot of you can throw out the names of many titles that disagree with what my wine-induced state is trying to get at. But let's be honest, they're sunk in years of heavy-armor procrastination equipment. Good-luck getting out of that muck.

Django and the Alteration of History

What a ballsack Tarantino has. He's taken a lot of criticism over the years for the content of his films, and hasn't even bent a muscle. Not apologizing for nothing. He stands by his films like a tattoo would on your left butt cheek. From what I can remember (my memory sucks) this criticism stems from an overabundance of gratitutious violence. Django certainly doesn't make any exceptions. But there's a aspect of this film (also relates to Inglorious Bastards) that just made Tarantin's balls grow even bigger (I envy those balls). It's what makes this film so friggin good.

The subject of History, in any nation, is such a revered subject. And the further back you go the more revered it seems to get, even though the data becomes more and more dubious. This is why I think you can call Lincoln (or any president that came before him) gay and get away with it, because who knows really? Sure, on the other hand, a lot of stuff doesn't have much room for dispute: The pyramids were built, the Roman Empire was a beast, urinals were invented.

But there's even this sense that history must be passed on in such a revered way, and while the facts maybe a bit dubious, there still must be an attempt to pass them on as accurate as possible. So suggesting that Lincoln was gay will come off highly offensive to many people, even if there's no proof to suggest either way.

Django (likeInglorious Bastards) is a clear infraction of the history books: Wait...A black man, mid 19th Century, a bounty hunter? That's preposterous. No way in a million years that could ever happen...However, this reversal of roles (especially in the circle of Westerns which have all been dominated by white heroes) is so rarely done in film (or pretty much anywhere).

But Django is just a movie. It's not like our history teachers are all of a sudden explaining to the next generation of kids that black freedom was the result of hundreds of blacks overpowering the south with a massive revolt, instead of the events of the Civil War. But even if they did, would it be so awful? Would the foundations of America break down?

What I fear is quite the opposite. The indefinate glorification of our history. A history that is so afraid of being altered. A history so afraid to be forgotten. So instead we keep all the dead moments stored away carbonite and every so often refreshing them with new documenteries, new history texts or big friggin (pointess) blockbuster hits likeLincoln.