Archive for the ‘Justin’s Words of Wisdom’ Category

Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Thoughts on the PS4

By Justin Polak
Co-Founder, Ambassador of the Mushroom Kingdom

It’s been a few days since the dust settled from Sony revealing a slew of details for the forthcoming PlayStation 4. It’s been awhile since I have chimed in on anything, let alone video game industry related issues, so I figure now is a good time to poke my head out of seclusion and give a few quick thoughts. Keep in mind that what I am about to say is merely speculation…

THE CONTROLLER

Call it good business sense or call it Sony borrowing ideas yet again, it should come to as surprise that Sony is adding a touch screen to the DualShock 4 controller. The screen will most likely be used to interact with games/applications like you would with a smart phone or tablet. I think it would be a good idea to use it as a makeshift mouse for real time strategy games or something similar. Over the last few days, people have been worried games might rely too heavily on the touch pad, or that the feature will interfere too much traditional gameplay. All I have to say is that when the Wii controller was revealed, people fretted at the idea of seemingly waving your arm all over the place. Not only did that turn out just fine, but most popular games stuck with a control stick and button scheme for their games.

The DualShock 4 will also share traits with the Xbox 360 device, Kinect. Apparently, the controller will synch to the PlayStation 4 Eye, which has a camera that will be able to determine exactly how many people are playing, where they are in the room, multiple facial recognition features and a microphone that’s in the controller so the console can easily tell who is talking.

I was never a big fan of the Kinect, but I liked the interactivity. I always felt that if the idea has a chance to evolve more, it could be streamlined into gaming properly. While I still feel generally apathetic about Kinect and the PlayStation 4 Eye, I do feel it’s a step in the right direction. Most people forget there was a time when normal video game controllers were very awkward and there was no such thing as a D-pad. Sometimes it just takes awhile before an idea can truly evolve.

THE SOCIAL ASPECT

What seems to be getting a very mixed reaction is the social elements of the PlayStation 4. At any time, you’ll be able to post what you’re doing on sites like Facebook. Did something hilarious just happen in a multiplayer match? Good thing you can screen cap or share a video of it! Do you regularly stream games or always wanted to, but were too lazy to set up your PC to do so? Well, the PlayStation 4 has you covered there.

While some gamers are more cynical about social media and having video games being involved with it (understandably), I don’t see the big deal as long as the games don’t force you to partake in sharing what you do online. I highly doubt you’ll be locked out of a game because you didn’t let Facebook know that you earned another trophy. As a person who has dabbled in video game streaming, I like the option to invite friends to watch me horse around. Some of my fondest gaming related memories have involved hanging out with a friend or two while we all figured out how to beat a video game. Living an adult life means it’s harder to get together with friends at times, so I am stoked for the option to have another avenue to that sort of behavior.

The way I see it, online multiplayer has allowed friends to play together online when visiting each other in real life wasn’t an option. Plus, with the way the world is today, many people have friends online that they have never met in real life. This was a smart move on Sony’s part.

“I WANT TO PLAY NOW!”

Something I’m surprised that more people haven’t talked about is Sony’s emphasis on cutting down how long it takes to start playing a game from the moment you turn on your console. A gamer that is more cynical with modern games might tell you that he remembers the good old days where you slapped a power button and were playing a game in a matter of seconds. The PlayStation 4 still won’t be able to turn on from being completely off and get you right to the action right away…but that’s why it comes with a suspend feature. At any time you can press a power button on the controller instead of powering the whole system down. The PlayStation 4 will then go into a sleep state, and players can resume whenever they want.

My only concern is that modern day console hardware isn’t what it used to be. I’m hoping that using this feature often won’t produce more wear and tear on the console and cause it to break down faster. I may be cynical about this, but I find it disheartening that all of my video game hardware from the ’90s keeps on going on as if I only bought it a couple of years ago, while if I look at something modern the wrong way it will spontaneously combust.

ANOTHER SCREEN

Once again, it sppears Sony HAS been paying attention to the competition. The controller/screen hybrid Wii U pad has turned some heads ever since it was revealed. But instead of coming out with a similar device, Sony has opted to let gamers use the PlayStation Vita as another screen, so you don’t have to use your TV to play games. Didn’t get a Vita, but still want a another screen to toy around with? Sony is releasing an app for Android smartphones that will allow you to use the device as game map, or something similar. Going back to the social aspect a bit, you can also use the phone to watch people play games with this app.

While I love the Wii U game pad, I’m not too sure about Sony’s angle on using another screen. Watching someone play for even a decent amount of time will most likely drain the hell out of a phone battery. Also, the Vita hasn’t been doing too well in terms of sales, and I doubt people will rush out to get another expensive device just to play a game on a smaller screen. If you already have one, then sure, the idea can work. I just get the vibe that this idea was thrown together too quickly to compete with how the Wii U plays games.

OTHER THOUGHTS

The game line up for the PS4 seems to be pretty good already. Many familiar faces are on board, and even a couple of new ones. Again, if your a modern gaming cynic, you’ll only see the same old song and dance. But I do feel that there is already something for everyone when it comes down to the games (personally I am excited for Watch Dogs).

Backwards compatibility is nice, but the lack of it isn’t a deal breaker for me. Then again, I am the kind of person who still has every console/device I ever had lying around somewhere, so I don’t rely on new hardware too often to revisit old games. Plus, Sony did say they were working on bringing older games to the system digitally.

Most people find the lack of an actual PlayStation 4 console to be a bit odd/suspicious, but I don’t see any problem. They are most likely hashing out some minor details and all will be revealed at E3 in a few months. I remember when Nintendo did the opposite when they revealed the Wii. They released pics/specs about the hardware, but the controller was nowhere to be found. We all know how that turned out. Maybe Sony will have something up its sleeve with the actual console…

OVERALL OPINION

While none of the details regarding he PS4 made me bounce across the room, I don’t see a grim picture, either. I am excited for a few newer features I have enjoyed on a PC for a long while, and cautiously optimistic about other elements. I just hope that Sony doesn’t drop some crazy price point on us again like they did with the PlayStation 3. All in all, it’s nice to see that Sony could possibly get its groove back, and the only thing any of us can do now is wait.

Front page image from kotaku.com. Image 1 from bgn.com. Image 2 from gamingirresponsibly.com. Image 3 from mashable.com. Image 4 from latimes.com. Image 5 from thenextweb.com. 

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Kars4Kids

By Justin Polak
Co-founder Ambassador of the Mushroom Kingdom

Usually in my column, which I admit I have been neglecting in the past few months, I mostly talk about my views and opinions concerning the video game industry. Occasionally, I experience something out of left field that I simply have to write about. Granted, technically this article is years in the making, but the events that inspired it are only a couple of months old.

I generally avoid listening to the radio. My choice isn’t out of elitism, but I simply would rather control what I listen to without long-winded commercials interrupting every ten minutes. Years ago I figured, why listen to radio when I have a stack of CDs, and now I sometimes figure why listen to the radio when I have a mp3 player?

I say sometimes, because throughout the years I have become more interested in sports, but mainly football.  Though I’ve always considered myself a Chicago Bears fan, in a short couple of years I have gone from causally catching a game (or going to one) to making damn sure I catch NFL Redzone (a special channel that plays all football games at once without commercial interruption and only focuses on scoring or other key plays).

Before I knew it, I decided to listen to one of the most popular sports radio shows that is on when I get off of work. Hell, I even listen to part of Mike and Mike’s first hour on the way to work. I am even at the point where I like following sports news even if I don’t watch a sport! As much as I am enjoying myself diving into the sports world, paying attention to it on the radio has come with a hefty price.

Some radio listeners may be familiar with the Kars4Kids ads that have been rotating for many years. Well, it’s mainly one ad which contains a jingle that I am sure those of you who have heard it are now tearing out their hair and preparing to track down where I live for even bringing it up. If you are someone who hasn’t heard it, yes, it’s that bad. Of course, I will be a dick and embed it here on this very page, but I must warn you…the song is so terrible that you might end up destroying whatever room you are in worse than the most drugged up rock star out of sheer rage.

If that didn’t annoy you, then are like what I used to be like. You see, I didn’t first encounter Kars4Kids with my obsession of sports radio. Occasional contributor Steve McCarthy convinced me early last decade to listen to a political talk radio show. Granted, I did not agree with the station’s political views, but about 90% of the time the hosts horsed around while they talked about news and it generally made for a quite hysterical listen. From time to time I used to tune in just to see how the show was doing, and I actually heard the jingle linked above several years ago. As I said at the beginning of this paragraph, I was not annoyed.

Sure, I saw why people were annoyed with it, and when friends reported to me that they are still rotating that commercial right before I started to listen to sports radio, I couldn’t believe it. I even sung the song to them just to get under their skin if I were losing in one of the many card games we play when we aren’t out and about.

After less than a week of regularly listening to the radio, I converted. I couldn’t stand the jingle, and much like one of my friends, I now shut off the radio entirely when the jingle hits the second cymbal splash. Unlike them, I wouldn’t stop there. I had to do something about this monstrosity! After Googling Kars4Kids I have discovered that there was a great number of people who hated the commercial as much or more than I. So I did what people of my generation always do when we dislike something: Make an edit of it with the power of YouTube!

I got a few laughs from real life friends, online acquaintances and a few random people. The video is modestly sitting at a few hundred views that slowly but surely climbs. Then one day I log into my account and see this:

That’s right. The official Kars4Kids YouTube channel found my parody…and dared to like it. I seriously didn’t know what to do or how to feel. I mass texted people who were aware of my video, and then I felt…a surge of motivation. As you can see from the above comment, they invited me to take a listen to their new mix. Little did they know I have already heard it and nearly rolled my eyes out of their sockets. While the original jingle is a satanic ear worm that crucifies babies, the rock mix is cheesy. When I first heard it I had to make sure that valveeta wasn’t leaking out of my car speakers. Well, listen for yourself!

When I got home that day (I first saw their comment through an e-mail notice while at my job with filtered internet), I went to work right away. However, I am not a one trick pony. I was happy to make another funny edit, but I decided to go a different route. First, my reply:

Hey, if they were going to try to kill me with kindness, I had to return fire in the same way! And now, my take on their rock mix!

Sadly, I have not received a response on this one. I can only assume the sheer brutal nature of my edit caused almost all of the Kars4Kids office personnel’s heads to explode. Having said that, I still patiently await their next move…unless they are too afraid to act.

Actually, when bumming around on YouTube, I am not the first person they contacted concerning an edit of their jingle. Someone made a techno remix. The description of the video doesn’t have kind words to say and that the song is edited to sing, “Donate your kids today!” It doesn’t matter to the Kars4Kids YouTube channel! They simply told the person to submit the song to their jingle contest that was running about two years ago.

I’m not to sure what I have learned from this other than the fact that I appreciate that the charity obviously has a sense of humor about peoples dislike of the jingle. Granted, I think they are smart enough to know that it is free advertising even when some asshole on the internet splices in the darkest footage from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Terminator 2 in there.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t hate their commercial(s) from now into eternity!

 

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: The Wii U — Concerns and Comments

By Justin Polak
Co-founder Ambassador of the Mushroom Kingdom

Well, it’s been roughly a month after E3 and most of the dust has settled concerning most major announcements. I have had time to rationalize my thoughts and impressions, so I decided to be one of many people who throws their two cents about the Wii U, Nintendo’s successor to the Wii.

This would be the fourth time Nintendo threw a curve ball when it comes to how video games are played. The original Nintendo DS successfully integrated a touch screen in the handheld market, the original Wii popularized motion controls and the 3DS has brought glasses free 3D gaming to the table. Now, the Wii U sports a touch screen in it’s large, but reportedly comfortable controller. The controller will allow players to interact with games by using the controller screen itself and a conventional television. Other features include a microphone, camera and general motion controls.

As much as I like the idea of the controller, I do have a few concerns already. First, how much is the Nintendo going ask consumers for the Wii U? The way I see it is that the 3DS debuted at $250, which was the same price point the original Wii was at when it launched in 2006. I can’t see the Wii U debuting lower than $450–and I’m being generous here.

I’ll admit I’m no analyst, but I can’t ignore that I strongly believe part of the draw of the original Wii was it’s drastically cheap price compared to its competitors at the time. I’m going from memory here, but the Xbox 360 was still over $400 (if you wanted a worthwhile version of the console), and the PlayStation 3 was still $600 at the time of the Wii’s release. The revolutionary motion controls definitely helped move the console towards middle aged households, retirement homes and all sorts of new consumers. I’m not taking that away from the big N.

However, try to look at things from the point of view of new consumer in the video game industry, much like one you would have found around 2006/2007. What’s the first thing most “normal” people look at? The price. You could talk all day why you may think the 360, PS3 or using a gaming PC is better than the Wii, but even if you convince an average consumer that your opinion is valid, the price will always have the final day, especially in today’s economy (I hate saying that for the record).

If the Wii U doesn’t have the same price advantage over its competitor this upcoming generation, Nintendo might find itself in the same awkward place it held during the GameCube days. Even if my price concerns works itself out somehow, will the same consumers that bought the Wii be willing to purchase another console? While it’s more common and acceptable for people to upgrade technological gadgets these days, people may be hard pressed to purchase a Wii U if their original Wii has been an expensive dust collector for a couple of years.

Going back to the topic of the controller, how much will an additional/replacement controller cost? Another major hurdle Nintendo will have to clear with everyone is reasonable pricing for such an elaborate controller. I’m throwing out a random number here, but given today’s prices for more conventional controllers, I can’t see how a normal controller will be under $100. Again, I feel like I am being generous.

I shudder to think how many younger players are going to break these controllers, and what a dent on the wallet it will be to replace them. Nintendo has always been awesome at building durable hardware with great replacement plans, in my experience. However, I don’t see how Nintendo can offer a good replacement deal for such an elaborate set up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these controllers are bound to fall apart at the drop of Mario’s hat, but the idea of something like that breaking in my possession is making me sweat. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

As far as the controller’s potential, while I am excited for what the controller can do, I hope that most developers don’t opt to make the controller’s screen a map or inventory management device. By peeking around the internet, I have seen some pretty cool ideas, but they all have come from users on message boards. While some cool ideas were showcased at E3, I am still waiting for something truly groundbreaking to come from the device.

Now, what that revolutionary idea is, I don’t know. What I do know is that while I absolutely loved the original Wii, DS and (currently in the process of falling in love with the) 3DS, I haven’t truly felt like something had truly shattered my perception on what a video game can be. While the touch screen on the DS and the Wii’s motion controls has rewritten the rules and obviously pushed the industry in a different direction, and I have enjoyed those innovations immensely, I haven’t played a video game that made me feel that all games should use motion controls or a touch screen. This is a very hard idea to convey simply because this game of mine doesn’t exist, but maybe the Wii U can finally give me the great unknown that I am looking for.

At the end of the day, I realize that some of my concerns may seem like I am borrowing trouble. I’m not going to mince words: I love Nintendo, and I do want to see them succeed, which I guess is why I have the concerns in the first place.

All photos from nintendo.com.

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: The Future of DLC

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador of the Mushroom Kingdom

As each day passes, it becomes more and more apparent that DLC (downloadable content) is implemented more and more across many different types of games. Thanks to the rise of easy-to-access online services for consoles and the ever increasing speed of internet connections, releasing additional content for existing games is no longer limited to expansion packs in the PC world. If anything, it’s been that way for quite awhile now, but the amount of content that is available becomes more and more frequent as time goes on. Sooner or later, it will come to a point where almost every game will be expected to have DLC, much like how some gamers are baffled if even the most single player heavy game doesn’t have some sort of online mode.

I’m not in the camp that thinks more DLC means developers will cut back on content on the disc. In fact, I am generally happy with how much content games give players these days. There are games out there that obviously try to use DLC to earn a quick buck, but much like how I view most topics in the video game industry, it’s not as out of hand as one might think.

My concern is far greater concerning the issue, and when I read this Destructiod article reporting on the Elite service from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, a bunch of red flags went off inside my head. Long story short, Activision’s plans for the Elite service is both a free and paid program. The paid part let’s you access in-depth stats, join specific groups of players, participate in competitions that reward you with real life prizes and an “improve” mode that is designed to make you a more efficient CoD player.

A price point has not been released concerning the Elite service, but I already dislike the idea of it. When you break it down, you are paying for a game, your online service provider (in most cases, of course), if you’re playing on Xbox Live, your Gold Account, and then an additional service which ends up being another yearly fee? Seriously? Should you have to throw Activision more bones just to learn where you died a bunch of times on a map? Is it worth paying more money to participate in official tournaments when existing real life tournaments are out there? Do you need an improve mode when you naturally get better the more you play these games?

Let’s think about how many Call of Duty games have hit since Call of Duty 4 was released in 2007. So far, we have had three other games released every year with MW3 slated to drop this November. Chances are another CoD will drop in 2012. Activision has already said that they plan on using this service for each CoD game starting with MW3. Why invest more money in a yearly service that is essentially a glorified stat tracker and interactive strategy guide? Another game in the series will drop, and you won’t spend too much time, if any, playing the previous installment. While it’s nice the service appears to carry across multiple games, it seems the only way you will get your money’s worth is if you play nothing but CoD each and every year.

I’m worried that if this service truly takes off, other developers will start similar programs. In terms of console gaming, this sucks weather you are a part of Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. You are already paying a yearly subscription on XBL, and not having to pay anything to use PSN is a perk in itself. Can you imagine having to pay another yearly fee for stats and tips in a Final Fantasy or Madden title?

While I did infer that I don’t mind DLC as much as the next gamer earlier, I’ll admit that I wish prices were cheaper and some content was more robust. From what I’ve seen, the majority of gamers have a harsher criticism of DLC as it is than myself. The Elite service goes way too far, and I can’t imagine this sitting well with most people. Unfortunately, I can see a lot of major fans of the CoD series buying into the program without a second thought.

However, a system similar to this can be used in the right way. Take, for example, Rockstar Game’s approach to DLC with their “L.A. Noire Rockstar Pass.” For a limited time you can buy an option to have all current and future DLC releases for just $10. This ends up saving you half of what you would spend if you bought each DLC individually.

This is exactly how DLC should be offered. If you aren’t interested in buying all the extra content, you can pay $4 for a pack or two. If you would like to experience it all and save some money, then go ahead and buy the pass for just a few dollars extra. No yearly subscription bullshit, no useless features, just extra content for a reasonable price.

I hate to sound like one of “those” gamers, but I hope Activision’s Elite service fails hard. Gaming is expensive enough as it is, and I don’t see the need to pay for a service that should be free in the first place. The Halo series have offered similar, but admittedly not as in depth services like the Elite program for several years now with no additional cost. Plus, who’s to say that the CoD even has that much life left in it? Activision sure successfully plowed the Guitar Hero franchise into the ground. No matter how any of this plays out, my only wish is to see DLC used as a way to offer consumers fun, expansive bonus content, and not a scheme to tack on unnecessary fees for minor information.

Front page image and Elite screenshots from wired.com, LA Noire screencap by Eric Stuckart.

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Video Game Nostalgia

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

Although I am guilty of cynicism myself, I get annoyed at how much of it I see these days when it comes to the video game community. Most message board conversations arrive at the point where people revel in a massive amount of nostalgia. There are many posters who believe that gaming today isn’t nearly as good as it was a decade or two ago, and I have a problem with that sort of mentality.

I’m all for people having a variety of opinions. In fact, I am also guilty immersing myself in a few nostalgic memories. Obviously, many of my favorite games are from older generations. However, I think I have come to accept where most of those feelings stem from.

Before I truly dive into the subject, I want to make clear that I am not trying to tell anyone how they should feel. I’m not even presuming to know how you personally feel. I am merely speculating on why certain people feel they way they do when nostalgia and video games mix. Plus, it’s my damn column!! Seriously, this is just me basically theorizing. If any of the following pisses you off, don’t let it get to you.

What I think a lot of older gamers don’t realize/remember as that their perception of the world was vastly different as a child. You could grow up with the most terrible parents in the world coupled with having to deal with third world conditions, but many simple things in life can ensnare your attention during those innocent years. Sometimes certain media enters your life at just the right time. There are so many awesome memories attached to said media that anything current doesn’t really have a change of toppling such powerful experiences.

If technology grew at a slower pace and the Atari/arcade boom started to happen today, many people around my age (very close to 29 as of this writing) wouldn’t really care for it. Sure, I know about the reports of business men playing Pac-Man, Galaga, etc. on their lunch breaks back then, but how many of those people kept up with the industry?

Some people need to face up to the fact that sometimes being young played a huge part in the reason why an old PC or NES title seems so much better than any billion dollar blockbuster game released today. Yes, there are countless older games that blow away games that have dropped in the last five years, but there are also a mountain of games from the bygone era that sucked a lot more than the worst video game on store shelves today.

Every single time I see someone bitch about shovelware I release a huge, disappointed sigh. I believe I talked about this in my Casual Games article, but allow me to repeat myself a bit. Like I said a year ago in that very same article: Shovelware is not a new thing. Stop falling back on that excuse to support your point that gaming sucks today. Plus, you’re not an idiot. Even people who only buy a couple of games a year can tell the difference between a well-produced game or some cheap cash-in. This “phenomenon” isn’t nearly as bad as some people make it seem.

There are exceptions to what I am saying, and I understand that. I have a sister that’s ten years younger than me yet she legitimately loves games that I grew up with more than current games on average. However, there’s a catch. Many of these games she played were when she was a very small child. Plus, some of her other favorite games are on the Nintendo 64. Not many people my age would include as many games from that time as opposed to older titles.

I once again find myself coming to the conclusion that timing is the key to why so many people feel this way. Ten years ago I remember seeing message board threads talking about 8-bit and 16-bit games like they were the holy grail. Now that there are a whole new set of gamers, I see more and more threads popping up and talking about gaming as if it started with the 32 and 64-bit era.

I have no problem with this. Usually, any game that is listed from an 80′s or 90′s child are excellent titles. I just hate to see when the same people who can write such positive things think that gaming today is terrible when the reality is that the more you age, the easier it is to get nostalgic. Gaming isn’t terrible today. It’s just not the same from how it was when you first started to play.

Many aspects in the video game industry has changed. There are certain aspects in gaming that is dying, but the new things that are growing from change are cool too. Hell, there are countless video games purposely designed like an older game. Most of these titles are either free or far less than the $60 companies are asking for today when it comes to big name titles. Only a few years ago the very same publishers would want you to shell out full retail price for a collection of old games or a title that resembles one, thus being minimalistic.

Older games are awesome. They are still a huge part of  my life, and I will never grow tired of them. However, I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that I would feel the same way about them no matter when I was born. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing…I just wish that certain gamers could see past it and look at the brighter side of gaming today.

Original version of front page image from bitrebels.com, Galaga screenshot from blingcheese.com, Pac-Man screenshot from blogs.forbes.com, Total Recall screen from gamesdbase.com, Scott Pilgrim screenshot from shop.ubi.com.

 

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Video Game Box Art

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

This has been a pet peeve of mine for years. I would say the source of it comes from browsing an old vBulliten style video game message board back in 2003. I never really posted at the place in question, but I found the community to be funny, informative and interesting. However, whenever someone made a box art thread, I rolled my eyes before I even opened it.

The discussion always went down the same path. The box art for an upcoming game would be posted followed by pages and pages of the community complaining about it. I just never understood why people got so hung up on box art. There are some people that even claimed that they wouldn’t buy a game due to the low quality of box art. While I doubt they followed through with those type of claims, were these posters forgetting that there was an actual game within the box?

Look, I get pretty bummed when a game’s box art is terrible. But seriously, is it really that important? I care about the game inside the box, personally. Quality box art is more of a perk to me, not a necessity.

Alright, I heard some of you yelling at me just now. You are saying that bad box art can cause some consumers to ignore a game that is considered excellent simply because they judged it’s merit off an awkward looking cover. To use a famous example, the cover to the US version of the Playstation 2 game, ICO, was considered an abomination. I have seen everyone from game journalists to casual gamers claim that if the US kept the Japanese box art, or at least went with something similar, the game would have sold better.

I only half agree with that logic. While I am positive ICO’s US box art scared away some potential buyers, I’m pretty sure that the most of the same people would pass over the game if the Japanese box art was displayed in America. Instead of saying, “This game looks stupid because of this dumbass horn kid,” they would say, “This game looks stupid because it looks foreign and uninteresting! WHERE IS THE FUCKING GUNS MAN?!”

In other words, there are gamers out there that are just plain uninterested in a game, and they could care less if the box art looks good or not. If there is someone out there who rather slaughter aliens with a vast array of weapons, no game like ICO is going to win them over. Again, the US box art is atrocious, but you can’t sit there and seriously tell me that the sales would have been significantly better with different box art.

You want to know what had awesome box art? Phalanx. You want to know what was on the box? A country bumpkin looking dude playing a banjo! What type of game was it? A simple shooter game. You know, one of the many 90s games that had you controlling a space ship against an endless force of bad guys coming to kill you. Rumor has it that they choose such an unconventional cover to attract customers since there were many games like it at the time.

I find this funny for two reasons. One, to me this an an early example of trolling. Two, while Phalanx did turn some heads with it’s box art, it ultimately shows that what really matters is the quality of the game and that it does not matter what you do with the cover. While I haven’t played the game myself, I have heard that it’s a pretty decent game for it’s genre. Sure, it’s remembered more for it’s box art, but either you liked shooters or you didn’t. Most people would have made the same decision on if they should purchase the game or not, even if the cover looked “normal.”

While discussing the idea for this article with my friends, one of them pointed out that he thinks the box art for the original Metal Gear Solid is perfect. All it has is a while background with the red logo on the center, and I must say I agree. But with a classic game like MGS is one of the first fond memories you have about the box art? Is it even the tenth memory you have when thinking about it? The Twin Snakes remake for the GameCube was considered over the top, and I recall people complaining about the box art at the time. If you’re one of the people who had a bad experience with Twin Snakes, again, is the box art really one of the aspects that pisses you off, or was it Snake kick flipping off a missile Matrix-style?

When all is said and done, I see no reason to invest strong emotions on box art. It’s nice when you have a sleek looking cover, but unless you plan to stare at it all day, I think your main concern should be the game itself. I’ll admit that I probably sound just as crazy and nitpicky at the type of gamers I am complaining about, but we all gotta get our rant on sometimes.

Front page image from kotaku.com.

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Nintendo’s Questionable Moves and the 3DS

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador of the Mushroom Kingdom

I purchased a Nintendo 3DS at a midnight launch on Sunday, March 27th. Although I already gave my first impressions on the 3DS, I have had more time to explore my feelings on the handheld, both from personal experience and some statements Nintendo has made relating to it. Although I am happy with my 3DS overall, I can’t help but envision problems in its future.

I’m not sure if Nintendo is being wise about competition from Apple with its slew of apps on the iPhone, iPad, etc. Reggie Fils-Aime, President and chief operating officer at Nintendo of America, has said that he doesn’t think Apple is a viable gaming platform. This idea baffles me as it makes me feel that Nintendo has missed how their own success from the Wii came about. Prior to the Wii’s launch, if you told anyone who followed the game industry that Nintendo would catapult themselves back on top of the console world, most people would double over laughing.

See, while Apple doesn’t have nearly as much handheld revenue as Nintendo, it’s easy to see that Apple’s share of the pie is growing. The reason why the Wii was so successful, especially right out of the gate, was because it appealed to the casual market, an untapped resource at the time. Currently, Apple is luring in the same type of people in the same manner. I work with a bunch of people who still hold the opinion that video games are a children’s format for the most part, but they are quick to bust out their iPhone and play a glorified flash game. To me, this is exactly like seeing older adults and grandparents giving the Wii a shot, it was something far more simple to interact with, therefore more appealing to partake in. Oh, and it’s an easy way for game companies to make a ton of money.

As far as how all this connects to the future of the 3DS, it concerns me greatly that Nintendo is essentially sticking its nose up at “garage developers.” I understand that Nintendo doesn’t want a lot of shovelware (pause for laughter), but again, the most simple ideas are sometimes the best ones. If you don’t believe me I’m sure a few angry birds would like to have a word with you.

As if Nintendo doesn’t feel it slammed the door hard enough on it’s fans, they made the 3DS region locked, which is to say that it is impossible to play imported games (until someone inevitably comes up with a work-around). Region locking usually is standard practice in the game industry, but it makes me wonder why Nintendo let the original DS slide on that issue in the first place. I realize that this isn’t really a big deal outside of a few hardcore enthusiasts that can’t wait to play a new game before it is localized, or worse, a game that won’t be making it to their shores. However, this move seems like the icing on that cake after everything I have learned about Nintendo’s current attitude.

Hey, remember the last time Nintendo got arrogant? They had a great thing going and the Nintendo 64 seemed like it was going to continue Nintendo’s dominan—

Ohhhhhh….

Hey idiots! Listen to your customers! Let normal people make games for your download service! Stop burying your head in the sand and pretending that Apple isn’t a problem! Are you guys suddenly deciding you want to make less money and have another company sneak up on you again and knock you back to last place? Look, I love Nintendo, but when they make moves like the ones mentioned above it seriously makes me wonder if they like the feeling of being outdone by their competition! They’ll never admit this, but Nintendo could have easily crashed and burned after Sony took over. And here’s the kicker, the Android market is just as dangerous, so either way, Nintendo better watch their backs.

As far as the 3DS goes, I’m sure many great games will be unearthed for it. The 3D is cool–for those who aren’t negatively affected by it–but it’s not enough to keep the handheld above water. In the next couple of months, the only game I am excited for is the Ocarina of Time remake. I don’t even care if the game is in 3D or not, and it worries me that I am getting pumped up for a game that was first released in 1998. Sure, the game’s getting a face lift and Nintendo has promised new features, but Nintendo better have more up it’s sleeve than remakes and older franchises that rely on 3D technology…especially since, again, it’s not working for everyone!

I’ll admit that I could be a worry wart, or that I am borrowing trouble. Even if Apple does grow even beyond the most positive analyst’s expectations, who’s to say that the 3DS won’t thrive regardless? Well, there was another company you might have heard of that marched to the beat of its own drummer. They took a lot of risks, and some ideas took off at supersonic speed. At one point, they were on top of the market and everything seemed to be shifting their way despite all odds. Then a slew of bad business decisions and abysmal hardware eventually dethroned them, and they are currently yet another modest developer. Say it with me:

SEGA!

Front page image from elder-geek.com, Nintendo 3DS photo from sciencemagnews.com, photo of Reggie Fils-Aime from 3dsbros.com, Android and iPhone photo from areacellphone.com, PlayStation photo from el33tonline.com, Sega Saturn photo from emuparadise.org.

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Rebecca Black Might Be A Robot And Other Observations

 

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

If you somehow haven’t seen Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video, educate yourself by watching the video below.

As I am one of the many to browse the internet too much for my own good, I inevitably ran across one of the latest popular videos. After watching this video during my nightly internet patrol and waiting for the ambien and vodka to assist me to sleep, these are several theories I have come up with concerning this music video.

1.) Rebecca Black thinks she’s in a TV show.

I knew nothing about this girl when I first watched this vid. I honestly thought I was watching a promo for a new Teen Nick show. When I realized this was a typical  music video for a pop song, it was obvious to me what was really happening. Poor Ms. Black is a victim of The Truman Show Delusion, a disorder where someone is convinced that their life is a reality TV show. In a radical form of therapy, Black’s friends and family gathered enough funds and resources to have her shoot a music video. The theory is that if Rebecca was allowed to fully embrace her schizophrenia, she would snap back to the real world.

2.) Rebecca Black suffers from depression and is deluding herself.

Hey, it takes one to know one. Every single time I want to feel cool, I just imagine all my friends rolling up in a convertible which I also have to make the difficult decision of sitting in the front or backseat. Then I wake up in my own vomit the next day after a night of boozing/drugging it up because I have no friends. I proceed to drive towards work in a hallucinogenic state where I believe I am flying the Battlestar Galactica. Rebecca Black is not so different from myself. She may be smiling and laughing, but underneath it all is a tortured soul that knows nobody really likes her. Look at the picture for this point! She’s drugged out of her mind and that kid wants to blow his fucking brains out!

3.) That asian kid at the party is the most realistic thing about this video.

If you ever been to any party you always notice that one Asian kid that is there, but nobody really knows him. You may seem him talking to a couple of people, but he awkwardly sits in the same spot. You watch him get shot down girl after girl as he tries to look comfortable examining a plant. You almost feel sorry for him, but talking to the poor kid might risk your own fragile popularity, so you refrain from speaking to him. The whole night you sit there eyeballing him just waiting for him to start doing karate or something. Oh relax, I’m just joking. The real reason he’s there is because he’s escaping another weekend of his overbearing parents making him do math.

4.) Rebecca Black is really a robot.

If I am wrong about the young lady being depressed and on drugs, then my other theory is that she’s really a robot. Oh sure, you think he singing is the worst case of autotune you ever heard since she sounds like the child from Small Wonder, but the music industry has been suffering for years and the only logical step from manufacturing pop music is manufacturing the pop star itself. In fact, I bet this has been going on for years! How else could Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards still be “alive?” In all my years watching sci-fi, one key thing I have learned is that fooling a human with a realistic robot isn’t hard if it is possible. Terminator or Cylon, anyone? Yes, building a robot would be expensive, but if you manage to turn out a hit single or two, you’ll make your money back and then some! Insert your own Justin Bieber joke in this last sentence.

5.) The rapper dude stole Rebecca Black’s family car and is constantly urinating in it.

I honestly can’t think of another reason why this man is in this video. He’s not even on screen for more than 20 seconds! I only get the urine vibe since I can’t pin what he is doing with his damn face.  Well, that and I am guilty of stealing cars while defecating in them myself. It’s a shame for me to admit this, but that’s how I got my 7th DUI. Yes, I have an excellent lawyer.  Anyway, he seriously breaks the flow of the song, which is an accomplishment in itself, and appears out of nowhere. Upon first viewing the video, there is no way anyone can see this segment coming. I have nothing against rap or rappers that decide to pee somewhere where little girls have been, with the exception of R. Kelly, but this might be the most puzzling aspect about this music video to me.

6. Rebecca Black is in hell and sent the video from the Depths of it.

This isn’t going where you think it is going. It’s far too easy to say that this kind of music must be played in hell 24/7. Allow me to take a slightly easier route. I believe most pop music is created in hell as an easy and convenient way to trick the masses into getting a ticket to its front gate. You might note the screen shot I have next to this point is slightly off. I assure you that I have not Photoshopped that screen cap. I honestly took random screen shots and what you see is the result. I think the lighting in this scene is a dead give away. What else could hell look like? Another way to prove my point is just listening to the way she says, “Friday.” I guess I know what it would sound like if the lady at my DMV started to spontaneously sing.

7.) Rebecca Black time traveled to the past to convince Ice Cube to make family friendly material.

The first part of the plan was to inspire him to make Friday, of course. All joking aside, in an alternate timeline Ice Cube’s popularity grew far too big, but stayed with his gangta rapping roots. When I say big, I mean BIG. He made the popularity of Dethklok seen in Metalocalypse seem garage band-like in comparison. As a result, the world fell into chaos as most everyone tried to emulate a gangsta mentality. Rebecca Black, checking herself before she wrecked herself, traveled to the past where she showed Ice Cube how the world would turn out. Ice Cube, horrified by the events to come went on to make the Are We There Yet? series to ensure his popularity wouldn’t get out of hand. To further close the deal, Ice Cube has been allowed to keep a sizable portion of his income from the alternate timeline so he won’t be tempted to gain the dangerous popularity that he is capable of.

8.) We have all been trolled.

At the end of the day, I refuse that music this bad was created on accident. Pop music has tended to scrape the bottom of the barrel for the last ten years, but this is seriously trying my fucking patience. Over the years, I have learned to ignore or laugh off sensations like Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers or some random person to come off of American Idol. I know lyrics in some music get pretty awful. Even bands I adore sometimes have very weak lyrics, but most of “Friday” sounds like some nonsense, well, a young girl would make up while walking home from school! I must conclude that Rebecca Black is the ultimate troll, and she crafted a song in such a perfect way to annoy a great number of people. You may laugh at the absurdity of this song and video like I did, but she’s the one currently laughing her way to the bank.

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Don’t Buy Super Mario All-Stars

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

I know that Eric talked about this around the original release date, but as of March 13, one final run of the Wii version of  Super Mario All-Stars will be shipped. In case you forgot (or are too lazy to look at Eric’s link), the $30 package comes with the original All-Stars, a music CD and a small booklet with minimal information about every Mario game in the main series.

Just as Eric did, I bought the title because I like collecting gaming memorabilia like this. The price wasn’t too bad and it would give me an excuse to run through the SNES versions of the originals once again. And here is where I came across my first problem.

It didn’t seem like I was playing at my usual level. While I’m not as skilled as a player you would see recording a speed run video, I consider myself well above average in terms of mastering Mario games. I quickly figured out that there was a small, but noticeable lag. For example, I never have a problem making a quick jump off of an object that only has enough room for one Mario to stand on. After a quick search on the internet, it turns out that the lag is a result from the Wii’s controllers being wireless. It doesn’t matter if you use the Wii remote itself or a Classic Controller attachment of either kind—the delay is there. If you were a Gamecube owner and have one of those controllers lying around, you can play the game without any delay, but using an analogue stick feels very unnatural to me, and don’t even get me started on the d-pad for that controller. I have small hands for a dude, and even I feel like Andre the Giant when I handle that portion of the controller.

If you read Eric’s article, you’ll also notice that he complains that the CD and booklet leave something to be desired, and that Nintendo has put together better packages in the past. I would be willing to forgive Nintendo for their lazy efforts if the port wasn’t so lazy itself. Anyone else remember when Square-Enix ported their SNES Final Fantasy games to the original Playstation? Yay, sound effect lag, frame skipping and absurd saving times! Okay, so those were worse efforts, but I am sadly reminded of them. Then again, at least the ports of Final Fantasy Anthologies and Final Fantasy Chronocles offered extra content.

Nintendo pretty much slapped an All-Stars ROM on a Wii disc. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just had some intern download a ROM and emulator off the internet. You know what this product reminds me of? It’s like Nintendo is that one kid in High School who knew he had quarter of a year to put together his final project, but crammed it all together in the last two nights. It wouldn’t earn him high marks, but he’d at least barely pass the class.

If Nintendo was trying to aim low, even then they still could have done a little better. Personally,  I say forget the CD and booklet. If you must include artwork, just keep it on the disc. There would have been more than enough room. You know what have been really cool? Include both the NES and SNES versions of the original series, Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. Yes, you can get most of that on the Wii’s Virtual Console, and it would annoy fans that already downloaded those games for it, but why would Nintendo worry about such a thing? Look at how many times these games have been ported or remade already. If Nintendo REALLY wanted to be cool, offer free Wii Points for those who have already bought the games on the virtual console. Sure, they’d make you register at Club Nintendo for this to work, but the process would be easy. In this scenario they wouldn’t give you enough points to cover all of the purchases, but it still would have been a reasonable compromise, hypothetically speaking, of course.

I know I sound like I may be expecting too much, but Nintendo has proven that it can put out a product with very little effort on their part and still manage to make both themselves and their customers happy. A preorder bonus for reserving The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker was The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time/Master Quest disc. For free, Nintendo gave this away for simply going to a Gamestop and putting at least five dollars down on Windwaker. The master quest portion of the disc contained the original Ocarina of Time, but every dungeon was very creatively remixed.

Speaking of Zelda, are you familiar with the Zelda Collector’s Edition? It has the NES titles, Ocarina and Majora’s Mask on the disc. You may see it at stores that sell used games here and there, and you can find it online for a decent price. When it was first released, you couldn’t buy it in stores. My memory on this is a bit hazy, but I believe all you had to do to earn a free copy of this game was register five first party Nintendo titles on their website. If you owned a Gamecube, it was hard NOT to have five first party games back when this bonus disc dropped.

My point is that Nintendo is more than capable of doing something better when they put together packages like All-Stars. If they wanted to go a half-assed route, fine, but at least make sure the port has no lag and lower the price.

The worst part about this is that the reason why another shipment of this collection is coming is due to fan demand. I feel that if the consumers who demanded this product knew the truth about it, like I do, they would walk away from the deal. I realize at this point I may look like a eccentric person shouting atop of a soap box, but bear in mind that I am usually one to tolerate ports and re-releases. Again, while I would have been upset at the terrible effort in the package, I wouldn’t be so upset of Nintendo at least took the effort to make sure the games were emulated correctly.

This version of All-Stars, appropriately enough, feels like an old plumber who has lost his touch. When you first hired him, he made quality his number one priority. He fixed your problem using very innovative ideas and made sure that you were satisfied with the job before he left. Over time, he became more tired and even more lazy. He used to replace a leaky pipe, but then he realized that customers were just as satisfied by duct tapping the cracks. Now, he comes into your home begrudgingly fixing a botched patch job he installed just a couple of years ago.

Teach Nintendo a lesson. Don’t buy this run of Super Mario All-Stars.

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Justin’s Words of Wisdom: Would A Final Fantasy VII Remake Even Work?

Image from gamersireland.ie.

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

As if enough people across the interwebs didn’t discuss this subject enough, I decided that I should throw my hat into the ring. In all honestly I am writing this because I recently played through Final Fantasy VII again, followed it up by watching Advent Children Complete and I am currently playing Crisis Core to top things off.

I said in my FFIV article that I didn’t really care if FFVII would get a remake or not, but I admitted that Square-Enix might as well do it at this point. Now, the official reason why they say the project never got off the ground is the desire to reunite the original team together. Any hardcore FF fan knows how hard that task is to accomplish. Many team members have scattered, and key staff are usually tied to other projects constantly. The notion certainly isn’t impossible, but it is still unlikely in my opinion.

While I certainly believe that’s a reason why Square-Enix hasn’t tried to pull off a remake, I think there are multiple unsaid reasons why it’s not really happening. Even if I am incorrect in that assumption, I believe these reasons would be tough to tackle.

Image from lockergnome.com.

With the Compilation of FFVII, many new characters have increased the universe’s roster tenfold, and some important events have been altered. My concern is having the newer material drag down the original material. Should they include scenes where Genesis from Crisis Core talked to Sephiroth in Nibelheim’s Mako reactor? For that matter, should they include scenes from that incident at one point where the Turks get involved? And I’m only naming a couple of examples from one part of FFVII’s overall story.

Square-Enix is stuck either way. If they include the scenes from other FFVII related games, people who haven’t played them will be understandably confused. If they don’t include the scenes, many hardcore fans will be disappointed that the newer content was ignored. A good compromise would include nods to other FFVII projects, but even then the remake would seem like a convoluted mess, which is one of many complaints from critics of the original title.

Which leads me to the next problem: the story. I’m not one of those people who thinks FFVII’s story is terrible, but I think some ideas should have been fleshed out more. Okay, sounds good, right? However, there would be so many scenes that need to be extended and/or completely rewritten that the game will seem like a completely different title if it is approached that way. Again, some people would have no problem with this, but there would be an equal amount of people who would not like to see many changes.

Image from movie-shop.us.

FFVII was made in the same vein of the original Star Wars. There were so many problems and experimentation during production that no one expected it to be as big as it was. That’s why the full motion videos are very inconsistent and there’s a pointless CPR minigame, among other oddities. Was I the only one that thought that  a snowboarding minigame so soon after the death of Aeris was just weird? Can you imagine how silly the cross-dressing scene would be with Advent Children visuals? Or how about that scene where Cloud gets duped into sharing a bath with a bunch of burly muscle men? I bet you forgot about that.

Okay, I heard some of you. Why does a FFVII remake have to look like Advent Children? When I discussed this with staff writer Steve McCarthy, he pointed out that they could go for an anime look.  After all, the original game had an anime style to it. However, I don’t think Square-Enix would want to go down any other path. It seems that Advent Children set the standard for how the FFVII universe should look. Plus, how many fanboys would whine and cry if Square-Enix actually had the balls to do that? If you thought the backlash for making Windwaker into a cell shaded game was bad, I guarantee the outcry would be worse in that scenario. If they are going to make a remake, it’s likely that they will go for a more realistic approach.

It all comes down to this: a FFVII remake would do a poor job pleasing fans. Sure, you can’t please everyone, but I fear no matter how Square-Enix would tackle it, the majority of fans unhappy would outweigh the satisfied customers. Thanks to the Compilation and FFVII being a product of its time, the remake may not work like some fans would hope.

Front page image from spawnkill.com.

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