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My thoughts on Ouya thus far

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I am finally sitting down in the evenings to play a game on Ouya. It feels good, I gotta say. I tried a few demos but only found one game I felt I really, really liked so far: Polarity, which I hate to have to note isn't listed anywhere on this site at all. Now that I'm really getting into it, here are some thoughts on the Ouya thus far:

To begin w/, the user interface has gotten a lot better since I got it as a Kickstarter backer but still needs work. The seemingly endless updates I had to endure to get the new interface after not turning my Ouya on were interminable but now that I'm there, I am reasonable pleased with the progress so far. I am finding everything I want to w/ only a little difficulty. The problem though is a little difficulty is still too much. The main problem I am having is figuring out which games I even want to try. Based on whatever selection criteria they are using, I am just not able to tell the difference between a game that feels at home on the bigscreen or just a good game from elsewhere that was ported over and only kind of works. They seem to have both in equal measure, which I feel is a pretty poor ration considering we are talking about featured games here. I can find a game I want if I know what it is but last night, for example, I wanted to find a good (non-Final Fantasy III) RPG to try out and just couldn't figure out how to seperate the wheat from the chaff. I find I have a problem w/ both the 3DS eStore and PSN as well but I still think Ouya needs more work than either of those.

As far as hardare itself is concerned, I have thought and still think it's a good little box. The controller is really great---and I say that despite the fact that it has two major issues: an uncomfortable d-pad and buttons getting stuck under the face plate. It's little, cubic form factor is attractive and I feel like the Tegra-3 has plenty of juice to allow creative devs to make beautiful and good running games. It is really nice that you can use whatever controller you want with it too. I really have no issues w/ it, though I think my expectations might have been lower than some as far as graphics, especially.

I think the big question, however, w/ Ouya is the games library. I think it is hard to complain if you look at what you are really getting. This is a brand new console that for under two hundred bucks overall, you can get both the console and enough good games to keep you occupied for months and months. What other console has ever offered that this close to launch? Game Boy Advance, maybe. They are hard to find but there's legit exclusives and legit ports all over the Ouya library. There is a comparative wealth of good games compared to any new  console ever. True, there are tons of bad games which is all anyone seems to want to talk about but, at least if you are a fan of indy games, Ouya is shaping up to be the best console ever.

In any case, at the end of the day, I am still happy that I supported Ouya's kickstarter and I am pleased w/ playing games on the device. I confess I am a bit dissapointed with it overall but it's only been officially out for a couple a months and I have been pretty dissapointed with any new system I've bought at lauch. Ouya has a ways to go--and a seemingly unreasonable amount of hate going its way--but I think w/ the progress they've made so far, it's a good bet that they will get there.

Muramasa: Rebirth: Finally a game that makes Vita 100% worth having

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Don't get me wrong, I love my Vita--at least in theory--but up until I popped this little chip into my fancy, white Assassins Creeed model, I didn't really feel the love. Definitely I had a blast playing Little Big Planet Vita and Hot Shots Golf but those were just another entry to an existing. And, sure, Sound Shapes is definitely irreplacable but it just didn't quite feel big enough to be a system maker. Muramasaa: Rebirth just might be. Yeah, I know I just bagged on two other games for being new entries in their respective serieses and this is actually a remake, which I suppose is even worse but something about this game on this system just really works. The bright graphics really pop on the small screen and the artstyle makes you feel like you're holding a piece of art in your hands. The controls feel great straight off the bat and feels right at home even w/ the Vita's teeny buttons. Definitely, if you were on the fence about a Vita, check this out. It's awesome.

Ouya Launches Today

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And there is barely any coverage around here. Does this seem right to you? It seems to me this is a novel Android console that actually exists and that gamers are excited about. I am kind of not too dissapointed they didn't cover the debacle w/ getting the Kickstarter backer consoles out but, at this point, I'm starting to feel like any coverage would be better than no coverage.

I can never make sense of E3 (and other big industry events).

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I know a lot of folks around here really look forward to E3 but I look forward to it being over. I suppose I would enjoy attending one of these events in person but, to me, the coverage on them is self-indulgent and meaningless. "Hey! There are a thousand freaking games coming out! We are going to tell you about all of them right now!" Maybe it was truly awesome to get all your video game news all at once back when the industry was a bit smaller but it is just noise at this point. W/ the amount of time I'd have to put in to make any sense of E3, I might as well take on another job and that would cut into my gaming time.

OK, I am through being a curmudgeon. Time to get back to my GBA.

Mental Illness, Automatic Weapons and Video Games

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"It's those volent video games. He played them for an hour a day."

I overheard a coworker saying this a couple days ago in regards to the Adam Lanza, a man who one week ago was completely unknown and will now forever be remembered as the Sandy Hook shooter. This is not known to be factually true (and also oddly specific in the case of this particular quote: "an hour a day"). It is true Adam Lanza played some violent video games but the extent of his playing or how much of his life it took up. Just for the sake of argument though, let's just say he did play lots of violent games. I am not so much concerned w/ what one guy I work w/ thinks but of people's overall attitudes toward gaming.

Now, I know a lot of gamers will try to brush off the idea that violent video games create violent behavior off as ridiculous using themselves as an example. "Of course playing video games makes you violent," they will say voices dripping in sarcasm, "Why I murdered a habbit of nuns myself the other week!" This is great if your ultimate goal is to be flippant but does not seriously address the issue at hand. Of course, playing violent games do not lead to violent behavior in 100% of cases and I don't think anyone is really saying they do. The question is not whether but how much and when violent video games can awaken violent behavior in people already inclined towards violence and otherwise.

In the case of Adam Lanza, it seems pretty clear cut: if you notice a mentally ill person getting too involved in games with realistic violence, you really gotta take a good hard look at that situation. Most situations aren't so clear cut though and so I think the gaming industry and gaming community needs to take a good hard look at itself and seriously address the issues like these--and not just for the sake of worried parent either. If we want games to be taken seriously as art and entertainment form on par w/ literature or film, we need to also acknowledge the negative aspects of creating and consuming such a powerful medium.

Screen Scratches Still an Issue on the 3DS XL

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I feel really dumb for letting this happen on both my original 3DS and now my 3DS XL, assuming the problem would be fixed in the latter case, but the bottom screen still causes scratches to the top screen. Or, to be more accurate, dirt can get stuck between the screens and it scratches along the outline of the bottom screen. This probably won't be an issue for most people if you don't carry your system in your pocket but for those of you who do, either get a screen protector or keep a cloth in between the screns. That is what I'm doing now.

Video Games in MoMA

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I personally don't need the MoMA's approval to think of video games as art but apparently this is a big deal. Here is the list of what they aquired so far (from MoMA's website):

Pac-Man
Tetris
Another World
Myst
SimCity 2000
vib-ribbon
The Sims
Katamari Darmacy
EVE Online
Dwarf Fortress
Portal
flOw
Passage
Canabalt

Now, I haven't played through all these games and am not even familiar w/ some but this seems like a pretty good start to covering gaming history. Certainly, there are some glaring omissions. First off, apparently MoMA has not even talked to Nintendo but if they can't get Mario or Zelda games, the whole thing is bunk in my opinion. I also think they need an classic American arcade game to compliment Namco's Pac-Man (andAtari game would be a logical choice). Seems to me too that they need a big-budget FPS of some sort to really capture gaming culture and an open-word, non-MMO RPG like Skyrim. There looking to go for forty though games overall so I'd rather not dwell too much on what they don't have (esp. sinc they do plan to include many of the things I mentioned).

As far as what they do, the ones I am happiest to see are:

SimCity 2000 - This is probably the game I have spent the most time playing in my life. I just love it. Naturally, the original SimCity was more groundbreaking but 2000 is the one where they really nailed the formula and had the perfect balance of user-friendliness and complexity. I really like Maxis's philosphy of not creating games but software toys at the time. (You see a game, like baseball, you can only do one thing w/ but a toy, like a ball, has limitless possibilities...) You could really play SimCity 2000 any which way you wanted--though lets face it, the best thing to do was build a huge city and then destroy it w/ natural disasters.

Passage - I can't imagine this was anything but a no-brainer for them. It is the first video game I'm aware of created specifically to be art that garnered any kind of main-stream media attention.

Tetris - To me this stands out as perfect elegance in design. There are lots of games that are equally simple, equally fun or equally addictive but Tetris just has that certain something that makes it timeless. Perhaps the good people at the MoMA can figure out just what this is because I have no idea why there's about ten versions of Tetris I can't seem to stop playing whenever I pick them up but Dr. Mario just doesn't do it for me. (If they do want to include another falling bricks game though, I propose Lunines.)

These ones, I am more skeptical about:

Myst - This was a big deal at the time and, as per gamer lore, popularized the CD-ROM drive for gaming. Personally though I just think it shouldn't be included because it sucks. And I say that blunty because it is absolutely horribly awful to play and anyone who says they like it is lying. I might suggest Return to Zork as a similar adventure game that is not terrible. Hell, put Liesure Suit Larry in the exhibit for all I care. I just don't want to hear another word about Myst. We got enough of that in the nineties and it sucked then too.

EVE Online - Adminttedly, I am not a huge MMORPG guy but it seems to me Everquest was earlier and more influential and World of Warcraft is the peak of the genre as far as popularity. Picking EVE Online is like doing an exhibit on heavy metal and including Judas Priest but not Black Sabbath or Metallica. You could do a hell of a lot worse but there's just stuff that makes more sense when you only have a limited selection.

And these are a few I now want to play because of the list:

vib-ribbon - This doesn't sound so mind blowing w/ today's technology but had I been aware of a PlayStation game where you take the disk out and put a music CD of your choing in, well, that would have had me going freaking nuts.

Dwarf Fortress - City building w/ rouguelike qualities complete w/ ASCII graphics? I could play that at work and people would just think I was doing some crazy computer thing beyond their comprehension. Count me in.

Nintendo 3DS StreetPass in Japan

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StreetPass is not that big of a thing here in the States. I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, take public transit w/ hundreds of people to work, carry my 3DS w/ me everywhere and even in the summers when I take lunchtime walks through a very popular park filled w/ toursits, I get maybe two or three StreetPasses a week. I will tell you it's a whole different story in Tokyo.

Standing outside a fairly crowded train station--not a huge transit hub like Tokyo Station or anything like that, mind you--I'd get a SpotPass every few minutes. Actually riding the train virtually guaranteed a few as well. During rush hour, you will almost certainly get ten, which is the most you can get at once, on your way to work and likely if you checked halfway through your trip, you'd wind up getting even more than that. There are also places like Akihabara (aka Tokyo Electronic Town) where there are groups of people sitting around and playing 3DS where you can basically stand around and get as many StreetPasses as you care to get. I stood there for twenty minutes or so collecting street passes and playing Puzzle Swap and as soon as I got through one group of people in puzzle swap, I'd have eight to ten more street passes waiting for me. It is pretty incredible to say the least--and an enourmous amount of fun.

All of this kind of makes me wonder where the 3DSes are in the US. Certainly, there is not as many per capita here but the 3DS is still selling quite well in the US. Certainly, it is not many dozen times more popular in Japan as it is here as the amount of StreetPasses I get would indicate. I suspect the likely culprit is simply that people don't carry them around w/ them here. Also, the US being much less safe than Japan, perhaps people keep their SpotPass feature turned off to avoid potential problems (or maybe that is just one more reason to leave it at home). In any case, it is kind of a drag that more people don't take advantage of StreetPass here for whatever reason. It really is a whole different world where people actually use it.

Further thoughts on the 3DS vs. Vita Debate

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The Vita hardware is growing on me and I'm now thinking I might put it on equal footing as the 3DS XL.

While I think the 3DS XL has greater impact on initial impression w/ its huge dual screens, the Vita's screen is just a work of wonder that looks great in all kinds of conditions and can be viewed from pretty much any angle you can concieve of. The 3DS has a dimmer screen w/ a much lower viewing angle even w/ the 3D effect turned off. W/ the 3D on, it must not only be viewed pretty much straight on but actually the right distance from your face. This really does matter when you're gaming on a handheld too because when the action gets intense, it is nice to be able to move the device around again w/o it getting all wonky. The Vita screen is more functional in a way that's important for gamers.

On the other hand though, I'm really just not seeing the Vita's greater graphical capabilities make that much of a difference in reality. I was just playing Resident Evil: Revelations on 3DS. My most graphically impressive Vita game is Assassin's Creed 3: Liberations and, while that looks better on paper, when you actually play games on it, it is no more impressive. I am not counting the polygons here, I am playing games. Either 3DS developers are just better able to push its boundaries or the graphical superiority of the Vita is overstated. (Although I must acknowledledge that this is a bit of an unfair comparison w/ RE being played mostly in narrow passageways and AC being in a more open worlde environment.)

Also, the Vita does have another huge flaw which I feel is on par w/ the 3DS having it's volume slider on the side where it is easy to hit accidentally: your hands cover the speakers when you hold it in a normal playing position. This mutes the sound quite signifigantly the way I play. During tricky portions of games where I tense up a bit, it can almost mute the sound complete from one side or the other. This is not as bad as the screen going blurry on the 3DS but it still has a negative effect on gameplay.

That said, when the speakers are unobstructed both of these have really good sound in my opinion. Both have a good feeling of stereo spread even w/o headphones in. I think the Vita may be a bit louder but not so much that it really affects things. One thing I have not tested though is sound/video playback on the Vita w/ headphones. On the 3DS, the music player has a problematically low volume that really hurts it's usefulness as a media player. Honestly though, since the Vita has such a nicer screen for (non-3D) video playback, I think it wins as a media player--though, again, I haven't tested this much and really only watched a few YouTube Videos on it.

Writing this piece out now, I'm starting to find myself wondering why I can't just recommend the Vita over the 3DS wholeheartedly. This is honestly Vita's lack of portability. The 3DS and 3DS XL will easily fit in jacket pockets and in the pockets of jeans of all but the skinniest variety. You don't need a case because it folds shut. By all reports, the Vita's screen is quite durable but what I really worry about is the little analog sticks which poke out and get stuck on things if you try to put it in a pocket, which it is a little too long for anyways. Basically, you need a case to transport your Vita and, really, that makes it big enough that you need to have a bag to keep it in. Either of these devices is more portable than an original Game Boy or a Sega Nomad but we've been spoiled by decades of very portable handhelds. The 3DS just wins hands down on being able to take it w/ you.

At the end of the day, I'd say these systems are very much on the same level hardwarewise. So my new advice is as follows (and is a totaly cop-out): Get both! Keep your Vita in your bag and your 3DS in your pocket. Come on, you know you wanted someone to recommend this option to you. Buy both and buy a ton of games. I am telling you what you want to hear people! You'll thank me one day.

3DS XL vs. PlayStation Vita: First Impressions

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First off, I think the 3DS XL is by far the superior model for Nintendo's system and it's what I'm chosing to base this comparison on. Secondly, I have not played hardly any Vita games so, just to be clear, this is my impressions of my hardware and system software.

From a design standpoint, the Vita looks a little more "adult" but I think they are both about equally refined in most elements. My largest complaint as far as appearance about either is that the Vita's screen is not centered vertically on the device which just looks a little funny to me but does not affect gameplay. I am also not all that keen on the 3DS XL's two-tone color scheme but it does look much better in person. As far as practical concerns, the volume slider on the 3DS XL drives me batty because I am constantly moving it accidentally (why not put in on the bottom like on a DS Lite, Nintendo?) but I do prefer being able to suspend the system simply by snapping it shut whereas on the Vita you have to reach around to a rather small power button on top.

Screenwise, the Vitas screen is really incredible. It is large, very sharp w/ no scanlines and perfect backlighting. It is bright and fantastic. That said, I feel like the 3DS XL is more impressive. The resolution isn't nearly as sharp--and it's not as capable graphically--but that second big screen really provides. That is w/o taking into account the 3D effect on the 3DS XL, which to me does add quite a bit to the experience. The Vita feels like it has a big screen for a handheld but the 3DS XL truly feels huge to me.

Controlls are another big difference. I think the Vita has the advantage here, at least theoretically. Both systems feature d-pads, four main face buttons, shoulder buttons and touch screens but the Vita has dual analog sticks and an additional touch pad on the back. The reason I say theoretically is because the face buttons on the Vita are downright tiny, which makes them somewhat awkward, and the analog sticks don't quite feel as good as the slide pad on the 3DS XL. I'd wager most fans of modern FPS and action games will prefer the Vita for the dual analog sticks but I personally prefer the way the 3DS feels in my hands.

As far as the included software, I have to give the nod to the Vita here unequivically. Navigating and viewing on the same screen just feels a lot more natural to having a touch screen on the bottom and another screen for input (though this setup works great for gaming). For starters, the Vita has an actual usable web-browser which alone puts it a class above the 3DS XL but the inclusion of things like Google maps means it might be a practically useful device for that undoubtedly relatively small group of people who have a handheld gaming device and not a smart phone. Additionally, at this point, the Vita has what I feel is a much better selection of games available for download and even though Nintendo is increasing its selection, I have a feeling Sony will have no problem continuing to compete.

The biggest thing against the Vita right now is it's still a relatively new system and does not have the kind of depth to it's gaming library as Nintedo has w/ 3DS. For this reason--and since I feel they are on relatively even footing as far as hardware quality--I'd have to recommend people who have neither to start w/ a 3DS XL. There are a lot of people for whom dual analogs are completely necessary and for those people, I might recommend and waiting for that killer FPS that will undoubtedly come out of Vita. Otherwise, the 3DS XL is going to scratch your handheld gaming itch and it can scratch it right now.