All posts tagged nintendo

If you care about games as games, then you should be as disappointed as I am to see that Boom Blox sold only 60,000 copies, even with pantheonized director Stephen Spielberg at the helm. Was his own critically panned addition to the Indy series a harbinger of the move away from well-executed formula in both games and films? Or have the formulas simply become more surreptitious about invading our pop psyche?

Boom Blox is a great game. It accomplishes what many party games want but can't do- elicit laughter, name-calling, and a group agony of suspense over an individual's gameplay, all within ten minutes. The physics are so well done that smashing blocks is the Wii equivalent to popping shipping bubbles. But each ball toss, nothing we haven't done a million times in our lives, causes a whole room to hush, tense up, and then explode along with the shower of blocks in the game.

I think the game takes advantage our primal instinct, that need to dash apart hours of construction a castle made of blocks represents, but gives it to us without the need to clean up the mess. There's no guilt, just the enjoyment of aftermath. Cause, reaction, cause, reaction… and at the same time we know exactly what will happen, but not what happens exactly.

It's a time-tested formula. It's proven. It usually works. And yet it failed on the same platform Nintendo made it work. I don't want to believe there is some kind of Nintendo magic that they apply to their first-party games. There were too many mistakes in how Boom Blox was marketed, how its art was directed, how it was priced, etc. blah blah. However, at the end of the day, I can't help but feel that its simplistic fun, like the taste of a fine Italian pasta with nothing but EVOO and a shred of cheese, is not what epic thrill-seekers with a taste for more "refined" fare are willing to give a sliver of chance…

…unless of course they're giving it to Nintendo.

Saturday night, I waited in line at midnite outside an EB Games to get my pre-ordered copy of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The nerd mass extended almost two blocks, a bit short of the Halo 3 line, and was quite impressive. I stood behind a midget and every assortment of Fanboyicus ultimus you could think of. I foolishly made a bet with a co-worker against the chance that people would cheer as the door opened. Sure enough, the door opened and a squeaky roar erupted, nearly knocking over the Kirby-esque midget in front of us. My co-worker went on to predict that the first person to get his copy would walk out with his copy held high above his head, lips puckered into a shameless woot. Sure enough, exactly that happened.

And that is the phenomenon behind this game. Boys near tears came out of the store skip-trotting in an effort to reach their cars and get home asap with minimal dignity lost. All in vain.

Anyways, I immediately had a mini smash party the next day, and it was good. The game is everything you loved (or hated) about the previous ones, but with utter content overload. My brain staggered when, after unlocking nearly a hundred trophies, I went to my trophy gallery to see that I had barely covered up a speck of the trophy room. The amount of polish is unbelievable for a game this size. The only real downer is Nintendo's friend code system, which makes it a pain to add friends to play with. The WiFi connectivity is smooth as butter, and anyone who disagrees probably has their wireless set up incorrectly. Even the Wii controls aren't all that bad, although I still use the Wavebird.

Six years later, I am still playing a game that kept my college years unproductive. Nintendo, sir, is genius, or we are all fools, blissfully smashing away.

The Games Developer Conference (GDC) ended this week, and while I'm a bit unhappy about how it's slowly being turned into a place to announce big upcoming titles (don't make this E3, please), it was a good show. I got some great books from the GDC books store (Zimmerman and Salen's Rules of Play and a game business/legal stuff book), and Xstine was lucky enough to attend two full days of workshops on staging and normal mapping workflow.

The emphasis by both Microsoft and Nintendo on the importance of the rising wave of micro-developers, a mix of indies, individuals, and small-timers, is a glimpse of what I think will be a powerful trend in the future. I'm excited at what XNA and WiiWare will offer. It is inevitable that as the tools and the venue for games mature, game development will meet extreme democratization. The long tail will grow with the short head, Chris Anderson would say.

So it would behoove all gamers to anticipate that wave, and plays some of the Independent Game Festival's finalists and winners for best independent games. I especially recommend Fez, Crayon Physics Deluxe, and Goo!. While I think indie games are a little hung-up on physics based interactions at the moment, it's inarguably a parsimonious flavor of design to make, and it's just great to see these little games eating into the mindshare of triple-A titles with multi-million dollar budgets. It makes this gamer proud.

Speaking of proud gamers, I had the pleasure of watching one of the best documentaries since Murderball. It's a story of good and evil, the American spirit, the meaning of life… and nigh-unwatchable world of competitive Donkey Kong, where grown men's lives revolve around the high score board of an ancient arcade classic. There are priceless lines from characters I'm embarrassed to say reside a bit in all of our inner nerd. And yet the movie was crafted so very very well that even while we are incredulous at how socially retarded these people are, by the end of the movie we are swept up in the drama of it all, and that silly game becomes almost as epic for us as it is for them. You need to watch The King of Kong tonight!

So with what looks like a slow, struggling recovery, I may be wrong about the stock market's resilience. It wouldn't be the first time. To be honest, fancying myself a technical trader, I've never been very good at the buy-and-hold game. Accumulators probably had a ball with this dip. I took it as an oppotunity to accumulate high dividend stocks. I am no baller in this arena, and I will not play the rebound on a court I don't know. I'll remain cautious, and more importantly, I will not regret gains I might miss out on. That's my style, I'm stickin' to it.

After Nintendo's amazing financial statement came out, Sony follows up with equal aplomb… in the form of pompous bullshit. It's shocking that Sony CFO Kobuyuki Oneda said:

"Actually, because the number of units [of PS3] sold was not as high as we hoped, the loss was better than our original expectation,"

Ignoring the massive costs of R&D, support, and over-manufacturing, let's just think about the sheer illogicity of this spin. If I were the worlds ugliest hooker and had my legs spread on the street next to a bedpan with "five bucks a fuck" scratched into the rim, I'm less of a slut than the rest since no one would be taking me up on the offer.

Get real.

Meanwhile, I am trying very hard to find an Xbox 360 to buy, probably an elite. I've already pre-ordered Bioshock, and I'm just waiting to see if the system price drops on August 12th. This coming gaming season is going to be unmissable, and the raving reviews of the 300 HD-DVD makes my wallet suicidal.

Leaving for DC for our very first excursion to the fabled East Coast, our firm intention is to capitalize on a precious long weekend. For the flight, I am bringing along my Nintendo DS and Hotel Dusk, but the recent announcements from Nintendo have me slightly riled up, if there can be such a state.

Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Geometry Wars DS, Mario Strikers Charged, they all make me happy. But Planet Puzzle League, a revival of the puzzle perfection that was Tetris Attack, has me in throes of ecstasy. Do nerds lose their virginities to the nigh-sexual stimulation delivered upon slabs of unassailable gameplay? If so, then Tetris Attack was my first, and I remember her way too well.

A puzzle game is a funny thing. Its purpose is to stroke you until you are frustrated with mounds of unfulfilled resolutions that dance tantalizingly within reach. Yet pleasure in them is in the play, not the completion. Each time you do it, you learn to can go longer, and in time it's second nature. You gain mastery of a new, simple universe with simple rules, until you meet another player. Pitted against each other, you become addicted to unending contests of attrition.

The perfect puzzle game, which Tetris Attack is, never lets up. The split second of breath it gives you to either save yourself, or let a fuckton of bricks crush the life out of you is like trying to pants Death and escape alive. A perfect puzzle game, like Tetris Attack, doesn't give you or your opponent any cheap saves though. Each near-death experience is earned, and each earned is in turn a riposte, and each riposte can add up to a counterattack upon your nemesis' unpreparéd ego. I would say this game is the purest distillation of human power struggle and its wanton equilibrium ever made.

You know when a game is perfect when in the end a match between equally skilled players is decided not on luck, but on preserverance. This isn't the imbalanced Puzzle Fighters, the analog Wetrix, the stoic Tetris, the feminist Zuma, the arbitrary Lumines, or the shallow Bust-a-Move. This is Planet Puzzle League. Be afraid.

Yes! We FINALLY got our hands on a Wii. Xstine had been calling every EBgames and Gamestop every week for the past godknowshowlong when she had nearly given up on it, and handed the torch to me. Calling the service centers for Best Buy, Circuit City, and Fry's, I had them scour the whole of the bay area for any remote shard of salvation. It was futile. I typed "Wii tracker" on a whim, letting Google do my searching. Wal*Mart was the only online vendor with available Wii's and even then, there were only their 7-game mega-bundles.

I decided to call Wal*Mart anyways, even though I had foresworn never to shop their again after buying three shattered Kingdom Hearts in a row from one. A teenager so greasy you could sense it through the phone static answers me.

"'Scuse me, just wanted to know if y'all have any Nintendo Wii consoles." You can tell how jaded I was.

"Yeah, just got a shipment in, they're selling fast."

I screamed at him to hold one for me. I damned his ancestors when he said he couldn't. I tore downstairs into my car, crushed the pedal, nearly side-swiped eight old ladies and a dozen squirrels as I barreled down the freeway. I glared at each car I passed, wary of their intentions on my Wii. MY WII.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the other side of San Jose. I forgot to wear a belt, but I charged into the store anyways, holding up my pants. Hoochimamas cocked their eyebrows at me. Had they never seen a geek in the wild? Breathless at the software counter, I yelped for a Wii, but the lady there seemed to already know what I wanted. In a cute latina accent, she told me there had been ten in the shipment, and now I was staring at two remaining.

"Do you want any games, sir?"

"I have to pull myself together first. There's time for games later."

As I stood jubliantly at the check-out, like Robert E. Lee at Manassus #2, like Alexander the Great looming over the frayed ends of the Gordian Knot, like Sir Galahad preparing to spank the virgins, a phone rang.

"Hello, Wal*Mart electronics department. Sorry sir, there's only one left. No, we can't hold it for you."

I nearly shouted out "SUCKER!" but I was already dashing out the door. Long story longer, it's all hooked up, and in fact I'm looking at my blog right now on my telly, amazed at how fantastic Opera Wii is. And last nite, Xstine and I watched Robot Chicken on Youtube, on our couch! Brilliant! The packaging, the interface, the feel of the console, it's all so planned, so… Nintendo. Critics of materialism wouldn't get it. There is something very immaterial about the Wii. It's like owning a physical brick made out of accessibility. For the nerdcore in me, it also represents bloodlust and victory, something hitting 70 in WoW hasn't even given me. I'll post more, after I take my medication…

Yeah, ok, I'm finally done with the subject. It just feels so good to have seen this from miles away. The indulgence in criticism, vulturey I call it, really should be man's eighth sin. I've always felt the critical (and commerical) success of a console has always been linked to its controller. From the Atari 2600's emancipating joystick, to the NES' revolutionary gamepad, to Sega Genesis' sleek but uncomfortable three-button pad, to the classic SNES, to the alienating N64, to the re-classic PS pad, to the Buick-sized XBox controller that was slimmed to a successful "Japanese"-style precursor to its latest bit of perfection, and so forth.

So it comes as no surprise, then, as the sell through rate of PS3s declines on the black market and at retailers, Sony brazenly claims their SIXAXIS controller, an engineering marvel they claimed at E3 to have no gimmicks, had won an Emmy. They gloried in the announcement. They squirmed like a teenager rolling in a vat of oiled Maxims, and prematurely immaculated their product. A day later, they recanted, saying they had jumped the gun. The Emmy was given not to their SIXAXIS, rumbleless from the Immersion spat, but to the PS One controller, in conjunction with Nintendo. Ouch! Holy wax-affixed feathers, Batman!

On the bright side, video game publisher stocks took flight today. Pity I got knocked out of my Activision stop, but it was a high stop and I'm happy with the trade. I've been watching Sony stock too (SNE) but it seems like there is too much weakness, despite breaking out of its channel. But news about poor sell-thru, which isn't really news to anyone who's gone to Best Buy recently, cast a big glaring sun, daring them to rise higher on their borrowed wings.

So I had my first two days of sit down time with the Nintendo Wii. I stopped by Dan's place Friday nite, and he brought it over to Xstine's little birthday party the nite after.

The verdict?

I'd be kicking myself for not buying one if I wasn't so goddamn sore.

The thing was seriously fun, although I've wrecked eight different muscle groups trying to throw 94mph fastballs and hitting rabbits in the face with a plunger gun. The Wiimote was alot smaller and lighter than I expected, but once you were trying to hit a homer, you forgot about stuff like that. Golf was addicting, boxing was a workout, and somehow only a girl was able to throw the bowling ball straight. Proof that spin comes from the left… brain.

I woke up in the morning paralyzed from the neck down. Yeah, we got THAT into the stupid minigames it had. We spent a good amount of time playing the Rayman Raving Rabbids game, trying to pump a mine car into a roadblock so that it's bunny passenger in the Superman suit would eat a pail-full of dirt 150 yards away. The only weakness with the system is that while we were laughing our lungs dry the whole time, it's probably not as exciting solitaire. For that, I can only wait for Metroid…

We return refreshed from Thanksgiving in thankless LA with more than turkey under our belt, but a few things learned as well!

– Do not enter the Alterdimension of Wedding Preparation wantonly. Trying to balance our desire for a humble affair with my parents' desire for a sort of go-for-broke-extravaganza-cum-Chinese-cash-machine was a hopeless venture, as if taking the back-end of a No. 2 to the indelible Dorian Gray. I'll end up kowtowing to a much more showy affair… literally.

– Daniel Craig fuckin' rocks as the new James Bond. He's got equal parts soccer thug, rapier wit, and loyalist to the crown, making him the most British of the Bonds. The Bond girls this time are top notch too, the Tanqueray Ten to Brosnan & Co's Tanqueray. Pay the man some respect and go watch Layer Cake if you haven't already.

– The Wii is being marketed in a completely new way. I stood at Target watching the infomercial? trying to decide if they were selling a game console or a sonic toothbrush. The very fact that I hated the approach probably means they'll tap into a geriatric mother lode of casual gamers.

– Democrats may be a good change for Congress, but they're stopping at nothing to be a disaster on the economy. Between the populist minimum wage promises that really affect only 5% of the workforce (mostly part-time teens), the complete avoidance of the Alternative Minimum Tax law (which you'll learn about very soon if you didn't get surprised by it already), the lowering of mortgage interest rates (are they nuts?), and their simultaneous insistence on Republicans balancing tax cuts with budgets cuts while their own tax cuts are being paid by the ghost of Christmas past, we're in for trouble. But that's ok, since they get to blame it on Bush's expensive war, you know the one that made us forget about Clinton's social security scam?

In a downward spiral of serial debacles, Sony announced today that after the estimate of 4 million PS3 units by end of year was slashed down to 2 million, with launch seeing a paltry 100,000 units for Japan and 400,000 for the U.S., guess what? Japan, the heart of PS3 loyalty, is actually going to be getting 80,000 at launch. In completed unrelated news, end of year units for the Wii is expected to "handily" beat 6 million, with 1-2 million estimated ready to go at launch. Preliminary reports rumor 24-120 Wii's per Best Buy.

Let's step back from the numbers here. What the heck is Sony doing? Do they really want their plentiful holiday season preceded by plentiful consumer base exposure to their competitors? And their weapon against the monumental XBox Live is a petulant adaptation of XFire (for which support falls into the duties of individual developers), completely ignoring the necessity of the online community in the console world, a need PC gamers have taken for granted? Even the Wii Channels system is taking the Animal Crossing model to make gamers networked and personal. The story is quickly going from a Miracle on 34th St. to Great Expectations to Macbeth.

Admittedly, their launch list looks like the strongest of the three so far, but it's almost as if they were actively sowing the seeds of confusion and disappointment into their product. From PR snafus to logistics drama, we're seeing a lot of weakness as they strut and fret their hour on the stage. Though people who find the whole console war debate irrelevant would say the market is robust enough for them all, and the industry stands to gain no matter who is the victor, if they're wrong, there is no doubt that Sony has its hands furthest down the cookie jar.

Despite growing apprehension in the currently overbought market, I recently bought a good chunk of Nintendo stock, something I should have done a long time ago. Even with a soft landing, the economy isn't too supporting of the PS3 price point, nor an alinear jump in game sales (yes I know it's cyclic). I think very soon, the industry will realize that huge budgets net huge revenues, but huge profit margin is what ultimately counts. As it stands, only the Big N seems to be on that terra firma. Looking at how game stocks did this past year, shareholders agree that "next-gen" is just bluster, signifying nothing. Show me the money.