Thursday, December 18, 2014

Puppy!

My dog is a genius. She can be naughty. I'm crate training her. She sings a lot, barks and howls.

 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

bought 3DS XL


I had the regular 3DS since 2011 and I played New Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario and Luigi - Dream Team, Luigi's Mansion 2,  and Mario Kart 7 on it.  I also upgraded to GBA SP ten years ago.  My GBA graduated high school with me. In high school, I played Mario Kart Super Circuit, followed by Castlevania Circle of the Moon, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and Super Mario Bros. 2.  Then I didn't upgrade the DS to DS XL, because I had to purchase PSP, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii.  I played each of those consoles for at least 15 hours each.  I added Bravely Default to my collection due to the ranking on gamerankings.

If you like your portable gaming three-dimensional, clam-shelled and big, then Nintendo's 3DS XL fulfills those broad, unconventional requirements. It's a design refresh that more closely references both previous generations of DS hardware (and the incoming Wii U) -- all while touting a substantially bigger, 3D-capable, parallax-barrier screen. Aside from a larger battery, the XL's internals rehash what we first saw over a year ago: the controls remain the same, with no addition of a (mildly) hardcore gamer-courting second analog stick. For what it's worth, the device does arrive with a 4GB SD card in-box (up from 2GB in the original), matching the approximate doubling in physical dimensions. 18 months is a long time in gaming, especially these days, and although 3DS sales have recently rallied against Sony's latest, we reckon the 3DS XL has double the appeal of its forebear. We'll explain why right after the break.


Pros

    Bigger screen improves the 3D effect significantly
    Improved battery life under some conditions
    More comfortable to hold and use

Cons

    Digital content still lacking
    No secondary analog stick
    Not the most powerful of handheld hardware

Summary

If you've been holding off from buying a 3DS, the improvements to the screens and battery are enough to warrant a purchase, but some issues still remain.

Hardware

It's a huge relief to see Nintendo return to the cleaner, tidier lines of the DS Lite and DSi. Gone are the awkward tri-colored gloss and the angular, bizarre shape of the 3DS. Instead, it's now a simple, softly curved oblong, which looks more mature and considered. Closed, the 3DS XL's matte finish wraps around both halves -- and unintentionally reminds us of Sony's Tablet P. Fortunately, the casing is far more solid than that Android tablet, and feels much slimmer. In fact the device's thickness feels (and measures) roughly equal to the 3DS, despite the explosion in screen size, improved battery life and a 46 percent weight increase to 336g (11.85 ounces).


While gamers with smaller paws may not agree, the 3DS XL feels more at home in-hand than the 3DS -- not to mention, it looks a good deal classier than what came before. Thanks to those rounded corners, the device doesn't dig into your palms like its slightly squarish predecessor. The circle pad is still supremely comfortable, just the right side of tactile, while the faithful Nintendo button medley and D-pad still do the trick.

    We don't understand why they couldn't have embedded another analog stick into the 3DS XL -- certainly, it's not for lack of space

Even more than what's changed, it's what's still missing that baffles us. Given that the 3DS has been furnished with a secondary analog stick through a slightly unwieldy peripheral, we don't understand why they couldn't have embedded one into the 3DS XL -- certainly, it's not for lack of space. Our review sample arrived with Resident Evil: Revelations in the slot -- a game that's not very forgiving without that second stick. It's also worth adding that while the plastic stylus on the bigger hardware remains functional enough, we miss the classy, extendable chrome pen that arrived in the original 3DS. The collar buttons are just as responsive as Nintendo's preceding handhelds. And if you weren't a fan of the cheap-looking button trio underneath the secondary screen, you'll be glad to hear that the odd bar has been replaced by three more standard-looking -- and feeling -- buttons. The SD slot has been repositioned to the right edge, meaning that Nintendo's sticking with standard removable storage. There's also now a horizontal cubby for the aforementioned stylus, referencing the DS Lite and DSi of gaming past.
Displays

DNP Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but it's still not quite enough

Bigger is better. Maybe it's our review-jaded eyes, but the larger, 4.8-inch screen (just shy of the width of the PlayStation Vita, although slightly taller) seems to make the 3D effect less taxing, not to mention more immersive. The similarly expanded secondary screen also offers more real estate for touch-heavy titles. The pair of screens, however, still looks a little incongruous, each boasting different sizes and dimensions. While matching the humble resolutions found on the original, we found the screens both had comparable (if average) viewing angles. The main screen may be 1.8 times larger, but it packs the same 800 x 240 resolution of last year's model -- now spread a little thinner, with the more typical 'flat' 320 × 240 display also unchanged on the secondary.

    Even if the 3DS XL doesn't win on crispness, however, Sony's onyx wonder can't (and never will) output 3D content

Purely number-wise, it doesn't sound impressive to anyone spoiled by Retina displays and the like. The screens on the original weren't the sharpest back then, but the jagged edges on fonts and detail is noticeably more pronounced on the bigger model. It goes without saying that the Vita's screen is a stronger performer, both visually and technically (being capacitive and all). We presume this is why Nintendo imposed filming and photography restrictions on its reviews for the 3DS XL, even though pixel math dictates that the bigger screen won't look so hot close-up. Even if the 3DS XL doesn't win on crispness, however, Sony's onyx wonder can't -- and never will -- output 3D content.

Software

So apart from size, the hardware hasn't changed that much. The same can be said for the software, but it's a good chance to see how Nintendo's embraced online content and gaming in the midst of strong smartphone contenders. Since launching last March, Nintendo's baked-in software, including eShop, Spot Pass, Mii Plaza and online functions, have had time to grow and it's particularly noticeable when it comes time to interact with other users. During the first few months of use, you weren't going to pick up many Mii visitors -- not unless you were hanging around gaming writers, tech bloggers and importers, anyway.

Now, whether we flit across the country by train or park somewhere in center city, we pick up new Miis -- and accessories -- in the process. Admittedly, the games that tie into this social component really aren't worth your time, but the simple process of connecting with other users -- and being notified of it -- still makes us smile. The uncomplicated approach makes online gaming a cinch. With access to WiFi, we could connect in-game with a single option selection and would soon be battling strangers with far greater skills than we could ever muster. The friend PIN system also allows you to connect with real-life competitors.

The augmented reality games are still baked into Nintendo's newest portable, although they haven't moved on in any way. If you've played with them on the original, you're getting the same deal again here. The Nintendo eShop has expanded its offerings since we last opened our online wallets for the 3DS launch, with its wares separated out for ease of navigation. "In Stores" houses demos of incoming 3DS titles, and is presumably where the full-length games will be housed in the near future. Next is the Virtual Console, wrapping up NES, GameBoy, GameBoy Color and (gasp) Game Gear titles for anyone over 20 to replay again. It's joined by software and mini-game channels and a recommended videos collection. Unfortunately, the likes of Netflix and Hulu weren't available on our review model here in the UK and overall it's still not as good as it could be. While it does give taste of how content will be sold through Nintendo in the future, we'd like those to be available now, not in another two months.
Battery life


Nintendo reckons you'll see around three to six and a half hours of gameplay from 3DS titles, and between five and eight for simpler DS games. In our experience, we managed an average of four hours of playtime in full-fat gamer mode, with the 3D switch and brightness cranked up to maximum, WiFi connected and around two hours of online play folded into our test. As even Nintendo forewarns on the console, how the 3DS XL is used has a huge impact on total runtime. Switch off the 3D mode, dabble with older DS titles and retro hits, and you'll see a substantial improvement in battery life. We did just that, also switching on battery saver mode and dropping brightness down to the middle setting, and got closer to nine hours of playtime -- it's a substantial improvement but obviously means limiting your gamer habits to some extent.
Transitioning


Nintendo's explanation for the lack of an AC adapter in both European and (some) Asian countries is that most buyers will be coming from older hardware -- naturally. Thus, buried in the settings menu, is the option to transfer your content -- like your digital purchases -- across from original 3DS consoles and the DSi. You'll need both devices and an SD card to get it done, and it feels like an exercise in frustration compared to the effortless systems in place for other gaming challengers like Google Play, which allows you to house your purchases on multiple devices without so much hassle.
Wrap-up

DNP Nintendo 3DS XL review Bigger is better, but it's still not quite enough

After playing with the 3DS XL, we returned to the original only to find it difficult and awkward to use in comparison. The new size is an improvement in so many ways, including ergonomics and playability. The bigger screen makes 3D gaming less tiring, and offers a larger sweet spot for Nintendo's all-important gaming effect, while the curved edges simply fit your hands better. Competition remains tough, however. The Vita remains clearly ahead technically, while Nintendo banks on its strong in-house software team to bring in the customers. Pitch Resident Evil: Revelations against Uncharted, or Super Street Fighter IV 3D against Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and it's clear to see on those big ole' portable screens which has the most potent hardware. But if you've been waiting out for a 3DS Lite before taking the plunge into 3D waters, then we can't help but recommend Nintendo's latest. We just hope the company can give its online content offering a shot in the arm soon, as it's really starting to age the hardware.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Owns Chrono Trigger Crimson Echoes

This sequel to Chrono Trigger was 98% done and in development for 5 years. Everybody likes it. Chrono Trigger 2 has  a 4.7 out of 5.0.
 
Lets  look beyond those and look at the game itself, the parts that were actually completed. The plot line weaves a very compelling main narrative in which the heroes are summoned to put a stop to King Zeal. How was he resurrected? It turns out to be a friend rather than a foe that did the deed. While the original Chrono Trigger plotline focused on bending the rules of time to protect history, this sequel has much heavier undertones with regards to the consequences of one’s actions in time. The party triggers a timeline change in the past while battling King Zeal, and must consign an entire future of Reptite Kingdoms that spawned from the change into nothingness. Crimson Echoes does a terrific job of bridging the gap from Chrono Trigger to Chrono Cross in it’s storyline. It doesn’t do quite as well at wrapping up the loose ends. For instance, a sidequest to start Lucca’s orphanage was left woefully underdeveloped and felt tacked on, while the game’s idea of why Crono and Marle wind up appearing in Chrono Cross will make you think of the term “magic bullet” pretty quickly. The aesthetic changes will either leave you cold or strike you as good ideas. One of each from me: I don’t mind at all that Crono learns to talk in this game, and as I read up on the reasoning behind it, where the group wanted multiple characters to shine, it struck me as a fairly well-thought out plan. On the other hand, Frog loses his middle ages accent and text because it isn’t there in the Japanese version of the game. While that’s all well and good, he loses a lot of his character in the switch. His dialog rings hollow and he speaks at times in a way that makes you wonder why the change was made at all. I don’t have any problem with them making him a little less stereotypical, but there are ways to do that without making it feel like he loses who he is in the process. I just felt like I had a stranger in my party. One of my big pet peeves with Crimson Echoes is the amount of original areas made inaccessible. I don’t need every place in the world to be a gateway into a new sidequest, but would it have been so hard to keep the Dactyl Nest or the Denadoro Mountains in 600 A.D.? Post some guards out at the gate and come up with a magic bullet idea about why the party isn’t allowed in if need be. It just feels weird to navigate familiar world maps without access to every area. You’ll look for openings in mountains for minutes before you realize that something is gone. Then when some areas are beaten, they simply vanish from the World Map as if they never existed. Awkward. The basic game play is unchanged, but through a lot of the game you’ll feel like the difficulty has been knocked up a notch. Partially this is because it has, but actually it’s because for a lot of the early game you don’t have three characters in the party most of the time. If you thought the Black Omen was difficult, try having to go through an entire forest when your party is Marle solo. You start learning just how many Ice spells it takes to kill an enemy pretty quickly, because there are a lot of eight minute battles involved. Some characters are given new moves, but mostly they retain their earlier skills. Magus got a pretty good makeover in terms of his learned skills, mostly because he loses all the multi-target elemental spells, but the characters as a whole average around two or three skills changed up. One of the best things the game has going for it are the new areas and maps. The Reptite timeline has a slew of wonderful designs, and Singing Mountain is an incredible dungeon. They pass the smell test for sure, and you never question whether they are part of the game or not. At least after you find it, in Singing Mountain’s case. The final dungeon did a terrific job of integrating the idea of The Dead Sea from Chrono Cross with the sixteen-bit technology of Chrono Trigger. Wander too far off the map and you’ll suddenly find yourself moving from a castle that you erased to a portion of 2300 A.D. that died after you beat Lavos in Chrono Trigger. I’d say this game rates a solid 8.3-8.4 on my scale. The flaws are very noticeable, but it’s hard to keep down a main storyline that’s this good. Contrast this to say, Final Fantasy 4’s The After Years, which could only be considered a truly good game if you played it with nostalgia, and I think you’ll find that Crimson Echoes is a better game. I wouldn’t call it a must-play, but if you still harbor any feelings for Chrono Trigger, I think it’s worth the 40-50 hours it will take to finish and the 2-3 hours it takes to find a copy of the 98% version. It’s a very ambitious vision that is still completely playable even though it wasn’t finished.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Homebrew channel now operational


I had the roms for a long while, but now I have all the emulators.  I ran these SNES and GENESIS emulators on Playstation 2 ten years ago and Playstation Portable eight years ago.  Wii now plays my V64 roms.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bankrupt videogame companies


In many ways, the video gaming industry has never looked more promising: smartphones and tablets have massively expanded the addressable market; wearables (including virtual and augmented reality devices) are enabling new interaction models and experiences; and user generated content allows studios to add depth and re-playability at little-to-no cost. In 2013, the industry generated more than $65 billion in revenue – representing a nearly 30% increase in only 5 years and totaling 82% more than the global box office and 3.2 times the size of the recorded music industry. Despite this, brand-name studios – including some of the most celebrated and commercially successful ones – continue to hemorrhage or shut down entirely.
Mobile is only a part of the reason why. Over the past decade, the video game industry has been fundamentally upended:
REDEF_BallMatthew_Gaming1
Led by the Nintendo Wii, the seventh generation of video gaming was the first to really achieve mass market adoption. As the console base proliferated, the industry benefited from a nearly 350% increase in annual unit sales – from under 150M in 2006 to 630M only four years later. Yet, this trend abruptly reversed itself in 2010 – and industry volumes have since fallen to fewer than 460M units. Over this same period, we’ve seen an even greater reduction in industry output: 48% fewer (non-mobile) games were released in 2012 than in 2008 (accurate estimates for 2013 could not be sourced). See-sawing demand and competition typically challenges industry economics, but in fact, these trends have provided the industry with a shockingly consistent increase in average unit sales per game:
FOG.2
In theory, this should have driven industry stability – but over this same period,
studios have had to contend with exponential increases in ‘tablestake’ investment costs. In the early 1990s, game development required only a handful of programmers, designers and artists. However, the sophistication of modern gaming engines and ever-rising graphical standards have driven this figure into the hundreds. Some blockbusters, such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed IV, have even exceeded 1,000 (with each team member having a total annual cost of roughly $100,000). Once-modest marketing expenditures have also grown to rival those of major motion pictures. All in, 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V is believed to cost nearly $265M – placing payback sales volume at roughly 10M units (25x average sale volumes). Though GTAV is an outlier, few studios can still afford to develop 2-3 ‘average’ blockbuster titles per year – and a single failure can be ruinous. Furthermore, these titles still need to compete against the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto for finite consumer spend.
The normal recourse for this cost creep is raising prices, which remain largely unchanged from the early 90s. In fact, prices have actually eroded by 38% over the past twenty years after accounting for inflation. As a result, today’s studios feel pressure on both the top and bottom lines. Increased sales per game have helped, but they’re insufficient in and of themselves. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be shocking that there has been such dramatic reduction in the number of market participants. But the gaming industry has not just more financial precarious, it has also become more complex.
REDEF_BallMatthew_Gaming3
Over the past five years, the traditional gaming categories, PCs and consoles, have shrunk by nearly $1.5B. During this same time, online and mobile have both doubled, generating an additional $12B and $5B in revenue per year. While mobile has primarily cannibalized time and spend from traditional gaming forms, online has had the most profound impact on veteran gaming studios. Like motion pictures, video games have evolved from a product to a recurring service:
REDEF_BallMatthew_Gaming4
While games used to follow the standard media product lifecycle, they’ve transitioned to a new model where the goal is to drive (and monetize) ongoing usage. Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, which generates revenue through online monthly subscriptions (and soon in-game transactions too), did not reach its peak quarterly user base for nearly five years – at which point quarterly recurring revenue had increased 1,400% over its Q4 2004 release. Though this growth was supported by sequel-esque expansion packs (in Q1 2007 and Q4 2008), the franchise’s ‘Entertainment as a Service’ value is proved through its ability to both sustain and grow paying subscribers in the 26 and 22 months paid months in between releases.
The success of WoW and other EaaS games (not all of which are MMORPGs) explains many of the aforementioned trends:
  • By increasing the amount of time the average player plays per game purchase, total industry unit sales are likely to drop
  • The focus on developing and establishing blockbusters (which require far more depth than an average 15 hour game) drives studios to reduce the number of games they produce and increases development costs per game
  • To meet lofty payback targets, publishers amp up initial marketing costs
  • To sustain user engagement, marketing and promotion expenses (tournaments, advertising, developer programs etc.) long after a game’s initial release
What’s more, studios need a far greater skillset than ever before:
REDEF_BallMatthew_Gaming5
Until recently, game production was straightforward: a studio would design, build, test and perfect a game – there was a “ship and forget” mentality, to use industry terminology. Unfortunately for many, the Entertainment as a Service world is far more complex: Studios/publishers must manage customer relations, foster user generated content and experiences, design and oversee complex in-game economies (which may generate up to 100% of the game’s revenue), provide ongoing patches and bug support and so on. Even the classic skillset of game development is strained: Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet has pursued a 2 week content release cycle in order to drive user engagement. Whether the game is even getting paid for these “services” depends on the game; many users expect it for free after paying for $60 of content. As a result, many games have team supporting for at least a couple months after release. In addition, games that were unable to achieve the necessary user scale are often made free-to-play in hopes of increasing engagement and in-game commerce – further challenging industry economics.
There simply aren’t many studios with the skillset, IP and balance sheet to compete in this new market. As a result, we’ve seen a dramatic thinning of the “middle layer” of studios. The largest studios (such as EA, Bungie, Rockstar) will continue to survive, as will niche developers and lean mobile shops. However, we’re likely to see mid-market players continue to exit (which will drive further reductions in industry output).
For all its promise, non-mobile game developers face a harsher reality than ever before. Though consolidation will drive back office synergies and some increased talent utilization, it will not resolve the aforementioned issues. Premier developers, such as Activision or Rockstar, would no doubt love to increase prices. Yet, this would inevitably initiate price-based competition in an industry already moving to free-to-play models in order to maximize the total userbase.
To survive, studios need to acknowledge the reality that content creation, curation and consumption is being democratized. For many executives in the media & entertainment industry, this concept is anathema; they believe that their veteran experience and instinct can pick ‘winning’ game concepts and turn them into blockbusters. Even if and when this is true, the final game will fall short of its potential if it remains tightly controlled. To quote Gabe Newell, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Valve: “Games are essentially going to be nodes in a connected economy where the vast majority of digital goods & services are user created vs. created by companies… Our users have already outstripped us spectacularly… They’re an order of magnitude more productive.” How can a studio fight back spiraling development, marketing and support costs? It doesn’t. It outsources them to users.