Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 Charity Wrap-up

I meant to post this sooner than I am (especially since our team finished Extra Life duties this year in November), but now is a great time to reflect on how successful our Extra Life campaign was this year.  As always we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our friends and families who donated to both Children's Medical Center and Our Lady of the Lake this year.  Our team does the fun stuff (play video games, bug people on social networks, etc.), but the real heroes are all of you who make sure the children we support are receiving much needed funds.  From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Now on to the numbers!

This year we took a different approach to the marathon.  For starters we supported two hospitals, since the majority of our donors are split across two states.  Secondly we had the entire team play from one location.  Both of these were meant to directly address some lessons learned from last year.  We still have some things to tweak (see lessons learned 2013 at the bottom of this post), but a lot went really well.

Last year (2012) we raised $590 for Children's Medical Center.  We had three team members all playing for the one hospital.  This year (2013) we raised $866 with a breakdown of $658 for Children's Medical Center and $208 for Our Lady of the Lake.  The really encouraging part about those numbers is that we did not sacrifice donors to Children's Medical Center in favor of Our Lady of the Lake.  We beat our total last year and were able to give to an additional hospital.  I cannot tell you how rewarding this is.  We initially had a goal set for $1,200, but a few avenues for donations that we pursued outside of our family and friend circle never really panned out.  I reduced the goal to $800, but luckily we were able to surpass that lowered goal.  We are slowly climbing towards $1,000 in a given year.

Our year over year total for donations rose $276 or roughly 147% of last year's total.  If we just look at Children's Medical Center, we increased our donations by $68 or 112% of last year's total.  Our Lady of the Lake has no comparison point, since it was a new hospital for us this year.  For now, thanks to all of you, we have raised a grand total of $1,456 over two years for the hospitals.

Next year we are considering a Spring marathon to support either Extra Life or additional charities.  I am still evaluating this.  I do not want to burn people out and lose donations for any one cause, but if we can manage two major events per year and raise money for both Extra Life and additional charities such as Child's Play or Operation Supply Drop, I would really love that.  I encourage everyone reading this to learn more about any of these great causes.

Last but not least we have this year's lessons learned.  For starters I have to apologize.  I was unaware of Twitch's archiving policy, and I did not cut any highlights from our live stream before the videos were removed.  The first big lesson learned is if we live stream on Twitch in the future, then I need to do a better job of moving some of the footage to YouTube or my local storage.  Luckily we also took a lot of pictures and some live video and shared to Facebook, but I know some people were hoping to see highlights from the stream.

Another lesson learned is make sure all games work as expected in advance.  I thought John and I could start up a local Left 4 Dead 2 multi-player session with minimal effort, but I was sorely mistaken.  It is a convoluted and confusing process to get multi-player for that game working on PC.  Sadly some of you may have seen a few minutes of angry streaming on Twitch as John and I were testing things.  Next year we will have to plan more suitable games that are also stream-able.  We also had to drag an old CRT TV into my office for the retro streams of Custom Robo and Super Mario Advance.  The TV was only outputting in black and white for us, but it worked.  I have a new monitor though for next year to assist in dual screening gameplay captured off of legacy systems.  We will try to make this a much bigger part of future marathons because everyone loved it (including the players).

Finally both John and I hit a wall of severe fatigue around 2AM - 3AM again this year, and frankly gunning caffeine is not sufficient to bust through it (nor is it very healthy).  Next year we are planning to pause the marathon at 2AM, sleep for several hours, and resume the marathon around 8AM following sleep.  That would mean we start at 8AM Saturday and roll until 2AM Sunday.  We then pick things back up at 8AM Sunday and roll until 2PM Sunday afternoon.  This would keep the players sane and much more healthy through the weekend.  It is fun to pull all-nighters, but it is also a chore to grind through the quiet hours of the night.

Thanks for reading through our 2013 marathon highlights.  We appreciate everyone who makes each marathon for charity such a wonderful experience and success, and we wish everyone a safe, relaxing, and happy holiday season.

See you in 2014.
- Scott

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pokémon X/Y Early Impressions

Early Impressions: Pokémon X/Y for Nintendo 3DS

Just over 4 hours into Pokémon X and with 36 Pokémon entered into my Pokédex, I feel like now is a great time to provide some impressions from a long time series fan for anyone curious as to how things have changed.  If I can summarize everything I am about to type in one word it would be "streamlined."

Look and Feel

Pokémon X and Y look to add some cool new features to the formula, and alongside new features comes a graphical overhaul that has been long awaited by series fans.  I have played every generation of the main Pokémon series, and I can honestly say the new coat of paint was one of the things I wanted most.  While playing it on my 3DS XL, I cannot help but feel like the handheld version has finally simulated the one thing the home console Stadium and Coliseum games have done well, which is make the battles more exciting.  The home consoles have the announcer to add to the drama, but that is one thing the handheld version is still missing.

Not to be outdone, the audio for this game is also much better than in years past.  That is entirely due to the technical limitations of previous hardware, but nonetheless it is nice to sit and play Pokémon with a good pair of headphones and really enjoy the experience.

Aside from the graphics and sound, the player also gets a bit of an upgrade.  Limited customization options are available for the first time ever.  Aside from picking your character's gender, which you have been able to do in a few of the previous games, you can also pick skin tone and hair color from a few preset options.  As you travel the game world you can also buy custom clothing, another new feature.  It is not full player character customization like you would find in a Mass Effect or Elder Scrolls game, but it is a start that allows for some differentiation.

Pokémon Availability

This is where streamlining comes into play.  In generations past, the player would pick a starter Pokémon from a selection of 3, each having a starting element of Fire, Water, or Grass.  This game is no different, but Nintendo and Game Freak have provided way more options this generation than ever before.

Initially the player gets to choose from Fennekin, Froakie, and Chespin (Fire, Water, and Grass respectively).  Nintendo is also running a Mystery Gift promo right now that allows players to download a Torchic with some pretty cool stats via any Internet connection.  Torchic is the Fire starter from the Game Boy Advance generation of games, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald.  Torchic is not only a solid Fire Pokémon, but it also comes with Boost, an ability that increases its speed after each turn, and an item that will allow it to Mega Evolve later in the game.  More on Mega Evolutions momentarily.

In addition to this generation's starters as well as Torchic, the first ever generation of starters is available for the player to choose from very early in the game.  Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle (Grass, Fire, and Water) allow you a lot of flexibility in your early party, covering all weaknesses that you were stuck with in previous games (anyone remember having just a Charmander to go against Brock's Rock Pokémon in the original game?).  Needless to say half of your party of six can be fleshed out with legitimate starter Pokémon from the outset.

One other huge change that fits into the theme of streamlining is NPC trades.  In previous games you would come across non-playable characters offering you a Pokémon trade.  If your party was full or you did not have the right Pokémon with you, you would have to visit a Pokémon center to access a PC and swap your party out.  Now the PC simply pops up and allows you to access your storage boxes when a trade is prompted, another long overdue feature.  On a sidenote from that, Pokémon Marts are now inside of the Pokémon Centers, so even that is streamlined.  I have not found this generation's Day Care yet, but I hope the interface is improved there as well, though I want to say the Day Cares in previous generations at least had a PC available to swap Pokémon out without having to leave to find a Pokémon Center.

Level Grinding (or lack thereof)

Level grinding is easy to cover here because it is practically non-existent again due to streamlining.  In previous games if you caught a Pokémon later in the game, swapping it into an established party was at times difficult.  You had to either leave the Pokémon at a Day Care to level as you progressed without it or swap the Pokémon in and out of battle to allow it to earn EXP.  Additionally you could use an EXP Share item, which in the past was a Hold item, meaning you had to assign it to a specific Pokémon who would then siphon off EXP from active participants in a battle, leaving only those active participants to receive a percentage of the EXP for the fight they won.  Now the EXP Share, received after the first gym battle is completed, is a Key Item that you register.  It provides EXP to the entire party, where any active participants receive full EXP for their involvement, and all other Pokémon receive a percentage of EXP after that.  Some purists may choose not to use this feature, but the vast majority of players will set it to on and never touch it again.  It is huge for leveling parties.

Another new feature is one that should have been included ages ago.  In previous games if you were battling a wild Pokémon and opted to catch it instead of defeat it, then once the Pokémon was caught no EXP was gained.  Now Pokémon will receive EXP for battles that end with a successful capture.  It is a feature that allows players to truly pursue catching every Pokémon they come across.

Some Pokémon also benefit from friendship ratings that used to only be improved by walking around the in game world while the Pokémon was in your party.  Now the game features a new mini-game mode called Pokémon Amie where you can pet, feed, or play games with party Pokémon.  I originally thought I would ignore this feature after trying it once, but my kids adore it.  This is a great way to get younger children involved in the series, especially since Pikachu, found early in the game if you have some perseverance in the first forest segment, has had its voice altered to match the cartoon version of the character.  A lot of in game characters will compliment you if you catch a Pikachu, and kids will love playing the mini games with it.

Still to Come

I have not been able to fully test all of the features of the new game yet.  Nintendo has been detailing Mega Evolutions in a lot of the press for the games.  These are basically in-battle transformations that allow a Pokémon to gain different abilities or types depending on the Pokémon and the version of the item they are holding.  Mega Evolutions require a specific item to be held by specific Pokémon, and the items change slightly based on the version you play (X or Y).  I hear you can trade Pokémon from one version to the other with the item from that particular game, but have not tested it.

This is also supposedly the most robust online/network capable Nintendo game ever according to some media outlets.  Features include the usual trading, battling, and tournaments from previous versions as well as the ability to cast party buffs on passers-by via Street Pass.  I look forward to test driving these features in the future.

One final and massive change involves what were previously known as Effort Values or Stat Exp.  In previous generations, simply leveling a Pokémon without paying attention to its Effort Values, or EV, would get you crushed in live tournament play.  The formula and understanding of EV training was always complex even for me, so much so that I never bothered with it (and lost plenty of online battles as a result).  I will not bother trying to explain the system, but here is a Bulbapedia page on it for those interested.  This is another streamlined feature in X and Y.  This generation has functionality called Super Training.  I have not gotten into this yet either, but again here is an article, this time on, explaining the new system and how mini games allow better control of EV training to all levels of users.


I may have left a few things out, but those are the major items that caught my attention in the first four hours of gameplay.  Maybe most importantly for fans is that this game still feels like Pokémon even with the new features and presentation.  Any fan of the series will feel right at home, and newcomers will enjoy a modernized trip to the world of Pokémon.

Enjoy playing.
- Scott

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Blog Re-branding, Twitch Debut, Extra Life 2013

Lots of updates to throw at everyone tonight.

First off, John and I have officially signed up for Extra Life 2013 under a new team name.  My son asked us to go with something a little more positive this year, and after some deliberation our team name is now Super Game Boys inspired largely by Nintendo's Super Game Boy cartridge and the original Game Boy and Game Boy Advance devices.  You can locate our team page on the Extra Life site here.

We are supporting two regional hospitals this year.  Please see the donation links below.  Remember your donations go straight to the hospital listed, and all donations are tax deductible.  Click the "Support me!" button on the player pages and follow the instructions to submit a donation.  Thanks for everyone's support!

To donate to Children's Medical Center in Dallas, TX, visit this page here.

To donate to Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital in Baton Rouge, LA, visit this page here.

In line with our Extra Life efforts this year, I started playing with the open source recording program Open Broadcaster Software.  John and I tested it tonight, and, despite our audio and comedic timing needing extensive work, it went pretty well.  We will do occasional live streams on our freshly opened Twitch page.  Delayed uploads and the occasional offline recordings can be found at my existing YouTube page here.

We are planning marathons on August 15th/16th from 9PM to 1AM and throughout the international marathon on November 2nd/3rd.  We look forward to everyone visiting our pages and hopefully enjoying some of the content.  Suggestions welcomed!

- Scott

Saturday, June 8, 2013

E3 2013 Primer

The Electronic Entertainment Expo kicks off this week, and this is a particularly newsworthy show.  Sony and Microsoft are both bringing new hardware to the convention, and Nintendo is expected to show what the second round of games delivered for their recently released Wii U will look like.  All of the different 3rd party publishers are also clamoring for top billing on at least one of the systems.  With the next generation of gaming comes privacy and consumer concerns as well as pricing and release questions.  So what should people look for during this year's expo?

The Hardware

Sony held a press conference earlier this year to announce their new console, the PlayStation 4.  The focus of the event was on same day digital releases, cloud functionality, and easy access social media sharing, in addition to some new games planned for the console.  The general reception was reasonably positive.  Their console will also be shipped with an improved PlayStation Eye peripheral, which will function similarly to Microsoft's Kinect, which gets mentioned shortly.  Sony has promised 40 games at this year's expo for the PS4, but has not specified whether they are all exclusives or not.  I suspect some are multi-platform titles with a few key exclusives sprinkled in.  My top "game to watch" on Sony's system is Destiny, the latest from former Halo development house Bungie.  This will be a multi-platform game, but it sounds like Sony is giving Bungie some floor time during their press event.  Also expect Sony to provide answers to some of the questions Microsoft is currently getting hounded over.

Microsoft also recently announced their new console, the Xbox One.  I will not rehash some of the heated debates littering the internet of the One's muddied announcement.  Microsoft has dug itself a hole by stating the new console requires an internet connection to play games due to licensing and authentication process requirements, only allows games to be loaned to a friend once (and those games you lend can never be given back, nor can they be given to anyone who has not been on your friend's list for a minimum of 30 days), and does not support game rentals.  They are also leaving it up to publishers to decide if "participating retailers" can resell used software.  Additionally privacy advocates have raised alarms over the upgraded Kinect peripheral.  The peripheral is always on and must be connected.  Per Microsoft the Kinect device will not record or upload conversations, but it is always listening for the command "Xbox On" for start up.  For more details visit Polygon, whose coverage has been incredibly thorough.  They also have an excellent opinion piece on their site regarding the consumer concern with an always on / always connected console.  My top "game to watch" for the One (ridiculous name by the way, not sure how people can still say the Wii U is that bad of a name) is currently just a rumor.  Rare, developers of classic franchises Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark as well as Viva Pinata, are supposedly reviving an old favorite for the new hardware.  If it is a new Banjo Kazooie game, that would be interesting.

The Games

I mentioned what to expect with Microsoft and Sony, but what should we expect from Nintendo?  Nintendo is not releasing new hardware this year, since both their 3DS handheld and Wii U home console are still relatively new to the market.  The 3DS has a full head of steam, with an install base approaching 32 million worldwide.  The Wii U has been lambasted by industry pundits for a lack of releases post launch and lack of engineering prowess when compared to the hardware mentioned above.  For a deep dive on the Wii U launch, read my analysis here on the blog.  I actually have two "games to watch" on Nintendo systems, and really I guess you could say there are four games total.  Sega and Nintendo announced a partnership to bring Sonic exclusively to Nintendo hardware over the course of three games.  One is an Olympics tie-in; another is unannounced but rumored to be a Mario-Kart + Sonic & All Stars Racing mash-up.  The other game in the agreement is Sonic Lost Worlds.  Lost Worlds will be released on both 3DS and Wii U, exclusive to those consoles.  I want to see the functionality between the two versions.  Is there multi-player across platforms?  Can you save on one device and pick up where you left off on the other?  I have similar questions about another unrelated game with the same premise.  The new Smash Bros. game, developed in collaboration between Nintendo and Namco Bandai, will make its debut, also exclusive to 3DS and Wii U.  I have the same questions for it.  Is there a compelling reason to buy both versions, or better yet can Nintendo capitalize on the install base of the 3DS to help sell Wii U hardware?  It would also be interesting to see if Mario will be battling Goku of Dragonball fame due to the development partnership with Namco Bandai, but I do not expect to hear the full Smash Bros. roster this week.

Outside of the major hardware sellers, the 3rd party front looks largely familiar.  EA will be pushing its latest sports in-game engine, called Ignite.  Ubisoft will be bringing the promising Watch_Dogs to the event along with the latest Assassin's Creed title.  Activision has promised the next Call of Duty and Skylanders titles.  Disney will be bringing its Skylanders alternative Infinity to the show as well.  Warner Bros. will be sure to have the latest footage of the next Batman title, dubbed Arkham Origins.  Konami has a new Metal Gear, where the lead character will now be voiced by Kiefer Sutherland.  Platinum games should have some new details on Bayonetta 2 as well.  I would love to see some Indie developers surprise us or see the new players in the hardware space like Ouya, GameStick, or Oculus Rift show off something exciting, but the games mentioned above will probably take the lion's share of the press space outside of the discussions generated from the new consoles themselves.

Hopefully the above keys readers into a few of the hot topics going into this week's conference.  Every year people are surprised by one or two titles and let down by others.  It should be an interesting year due to the current video game market as well as the new hardware and technological advancements.

- Scott

Monday, April 22, 2013

Injustice Gods Among Us DLC Character Predictions

My local GameStop has a great manager who talked me into purchasing Injustice Gods Among Us for Nintendo Wii U this past weekend.  Originally I had just planned to trade a few things in after doing some cleaning in my office and potentially purchasing Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for Nintendo 3DS, which was sold out.  I had heard great things about the game and love DC Comics, so it was not a hard sell (especially with 30% extra trade-in value when buying the game netted me an additional $6 or $7 in-store credit).  I am glad I was talked into it because it is a superb fighting game with an excellent story mode.

I do not want to spoil anything, and I have not completed enough of the game to write a full review.  Taking that into consideration, I started to think about other ways I could talk about the game.  With the announcement that interstellar gun-for-hire Lobo would be the first character available as DLC, I got a little inspiration considering the characters I want to see from the game that were not included in the first batch on disc.  Without further ado, here is my spoiler free wishlist of DLC characters for Injustice.

DC Comics' Lobo as he will be seen in Injustice.
Starfire is an easy first choice for me.  Her character has been rebranded several times over the years, but her current incarnation in Red Hood and the Outlaws is much more mature than in the past.  Starfire, a.k.a. Koriand'r, is an alien from the planet Tamaran gifted with flight, super strength, endurance, and durability, so she already fits the fighting build.  She also has optic beam and energy burst projection to flesh out her Super Moves.  Additionally most casual fans recognize her from Teen Titans the animated series.  Considering Cyborg, Raven, and Nightwing are already in the game, this all bodes well for her.  Cyborg even retains his voice actor from the animated series.  Fans will love hearing him scream his patented catchphrase from the show in game.

Likelihood of DLC appearance: Very High considering her powers, look, and relevance

Starfire behind Arsenal and Red Hood on the cover of Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 from DC Comics' "The New 52" relaunch
Another character made famous by inclusion in the popular Teen Titans animated series, Beast Boy is a much less likely DLC character, but he is certainly not less interesting.  Beast Boy is a changeling, meaning he can swap forms with animals that he recalls from memory.  This would be difficult to implement in a game, but potentially the developers could give him basic fighting moves and pick several easier to code animal forms for significant attacks like Super Moves.

Likelihood of DLC appearance: Slim due to difficult implementation

Beast Boy as depicted in the Teen Titans animated series from Cartoon Network

Both of these characters are hyper-intelligent primates with super strength and physical attributes.  Either would fit beatifully with oversized brawlers already in the game (Bane and Solomon Grundy).  Mallah has ties to both Beast Boy and the Titans, but Grodd typically is seen battling the more prevalent Justice League.  Grodd can even be seen in the background of one of the stages.  I am not sure if the background featured characters are excluded as DLC since they already appear in game or not.  I have also spotted Martian Manhunter, Mister Terrific, Hugo Strange, Metallo, and Parasite in the background on several stages, so I hope all of those wonderful characters are not excluded.  It would be hard to justify using a character while also seeing them in the background though.

Likelihood of DLC appearance: Middle of the road, could be yes based on abilities and relative ease of implementation, could be no based on Grodd appearing already as a background character

Gorilla Grodd in battle armor highlighted by the Injustice Wikia page in the background of a fight between Catwoman and Solomon Grundy

I have a special place in my comic loving heart for the outcast team of The Doom Patrol.  Most readers do not know about them even though they appearred in cameo roles in both the Teen Titans series due to their connection with Beast Boy as well as the wonderful animated Batman the Brave and the Bold.  I list the team generically because I would love seeing any of them in the game.  If I had to narrow it down I would say Elasti-Woman, Negative Man, Robotman, or Ambush Bug.  I would love to see Negative Man or Ambush Bug more than anyone else.  I could additionally see Bumblebee in the game, but that is due to another Teen Titans animated connection.

Likelihood of DLC appearance: Slim due to higher profile characters being ahead of them

Cover to DC Comics' Doom Patrol 121 from the original series run

I almost did not even put the Metal Men.  They did appear in Batman the Brave and the Bold, but they are on the fringe of recognizability in the grand scheme of things.  Their backstory consists of Dr. Will Magnus creating humanoid robots out of several metallic elements of the periodic table.  There are Gold, Iron, Lead, Mercury, Platinum, and Tin robots on the team.  I think the Metal Men may even be behind the Doom Patrol in terms of marketability, but they are loveable characters.  The biggest problem here aside from low popularity is determining which of the elements to pick.  The team might make more sense as background characters if Magnus Labs was chosen as a DLC map.  I am not sure that any DLC maps are planned though.

Likelihood of DLC appearance:  As playable almost zero chance, higher chance as background characters in a DLC stage

The Metal Men standing with Dr. Magnus, Platinum is the female character

These characters are substantially more recognizable than most of the ones I mentioned previously.  Captain Cold is from the Flash's rogues gallery (and the Flash enemies will most likely take at least one DLC slot, since they are second only to Batman's enemies in terms of uniqueness and recognizability), while Mr. Freeze of course is known for giving Batman a hard time in Gotham.  I could see either character getting some DLC attention, but I would put my money on Captain Cold simply because Harley Quinn, Bane, and the Joker already represent Gotham's villains in the game.  If Captain Cold does not get added, then look for either Mirror Master or Captain Boomerang to be added to give the Flash fits.  They could also add Reverse Flash, but I suspect a costume for the real Flash accomplishes the same thing.  I did read that Ed Boon, who directed Injustice, asked fans to vote for either Martian Manhunter or Reverse Flash for DLC, so we may see a lot of interesting twists and variations on items covered in this list in the future DLC releases for the game.

Likelihood of DLC appearance: High considering their powers and notoriety, second only to Starfire on this list

Captain Cold from DC Comics
That is my list for DLC predictions with Injustice.  I suspect we may see more conventional characters like Vandal Savage (most recognizable from his role in the animated DVD/Blu-Ray release of Justice League: Doom) in the future, but this list was meant to capture characters I personally hope to see in the game some day.  I have been a DC Comics fan for a long time, so all of the details above were pulled from memory.  I only ventured onto the web to pull source links and images as well as check spelling.  

Everyone should play this game, especially if you have ever enjoyed a fighting game before or if you are a DC Comics fan.  The mechanics are sound (think Mortal Kombat as a reference point more so than Street Fighter), the story is engaging, and the game looks great.  

Hopefully some of my predictions prove to be true as more DLC characters are revealed.  Feel free to leave your DLC wishlist in the comments!

- Scott

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Analysis: The Wii U Launch Part 2 Turning on the System

So you bought a Wii U, now what?  Well if you bought a launch Wii U, then your first boot is greeted by one of the most daunting day 1 software updates in history.  Initially the press was unable to complete their reviews of the hardware because this patch, which enabled core system components like MiiVerse and the digital store front Nintendo eShop, was not available until hours before retail released the console into the wild (Engadget story the day the patch went live:  The patch was bulky and slow to download, and confusion and/or bad luck during the install caused some gamers to accidentally brick their consoles, which means render them inoperable (source:  Truth be told I tried to find an article stating when the day 1 patch was included in the retail shipments of Wii U.  I want to believe that anyone who buys the console moving forward no longer has to do this, but unfortunately I do not have anything supporting that.  The software should be a more recent version in retail now than what early adopters dealt with.

Getting past the patch issues, what happens next?  Unlike former Nintendo systems, on the Wii U users get to create an online account that allows them to access MiiVerse and the Nintendo eShop.  There are some quirky things about how Nintendo implemented user accounts.  For starters there are no system level achievements (something gamers who have experience with Steam, Xbox, or PlayStation have gotten used to seeing).  Also your accounts are tied to your console, which means unless you contact Nintendo for assistance with a legitimately busted system, your purchases, save data, etc. are stuck on the hardware you created your account on.  This also differs from some system, such as Xbox, where you can look-up your account on a friend's system and move your ID over for multiplayer sessions.  Doing a Google search for this topic brings up a myriad of articles focused on what happens if your console breaks as well as what happens if you buy a used console (search results:

The good news is that most of the scary stuff is out of the way.  The good stuff is more fun to talk about.  For starters, taking a step back and looking at the hardware, the Wii U is much sleeker and entertainment center friendly than previous Nintendo machines.  The GamePad itself is sturdy.  The buttons feel good, and the device is not too heavy.  You can check the system out at demo kiosks in most major electronic stores and GameStop locations, so I will not belabor the design here nor will I deep dive into the tech, which is pretty interesting in and of itself (check the Iwata asks hardware edition for some cool details or check out iFixit's teardown  One additional note though, all Wii peripherals are meant to be compatible with the system.  I honestly have only used my Wii-mote during the system transfer process and while playing Nintendoland, but Wii-motes, the motion sensor, the Wii Balance Board, etc. should all be compatible with your Wii U system.  The system does play Wii discs, albeit through a built in emulator.  I kind of lied before about being done with the scary stuff, but this part is optional.  If you owned a Wii and opt to move your content to a Wii U, there is a system transfer process that is honestly more trouble than it is worth.  Not all games are transferrable (Lost Winds refused to transfer from my system, and the content that does transfer as well as your ability to play Wii discs are all driven by an emulator as I mentioned before.  You basically have to switch your console into Wii compatibility mode via an application on the home menu.  The process takes quite a while, and it may not be entirely worth it.  The Wii U cannot play GameCube games, so some people may prefer to just keep the Wii connected if they still use it for an extensive library of Virtual Console games, any WiiWare titles that do not transfer, or to play GameCube discs.  The only other note on hardware I have is that you may also want to purchase a separate hard drive.  The Wii U comes in two SKUs, Deluxe and Basic.  Even the Deluxe only has less than 30 GBs of storage available for game data, which is not much for digital game buyers (storage details:, external hard drive guidelines:

As far as applications go, there are some decent ones baked into the system as well as some cool stuff available on the Nintendo eShop.  As usual Nintendo charm is apparent in everything.  The music is relaxing on almost every menu you navigate to, and the interface is intuitive.  One thing you will notice right away is the Wara-Wara plaza.  This is the main screen where Miis congregate across systems.  You will be treated to the most popular MiiVerse posts here, and you can set what type of games you want displayed in the plaza via parental controls (I had to swap to child friendly titles after the ZombiU stuff kept popping up).  There is a great article with Nintendo developers and executives explaining the motivation for this type of social platform on a gaming console or as they call it "an empathy network" (  It goes into more detail than I will, but some of the features include posting screenshots from games you are in, liking posts from other uses (called "Yeah" in MiiVerse), and more recently filtering content based on who actually owns the game or who you are friends with.  The features are actually very similar to communities in Steam for PC gamers.  It can be a lot of fun aside from the excessive "should I get this game?" posts and the small percentage of users begging for "Yeah" responses.  They are constantly updating and improving the social aspects based on feedback as well.

Finally before wrapping up this installment, I want to heap some praise on Nintendo for dramatically improving its digital store.  The Nintendo eShop (same name as the 3DS Nintendo eShop; however, they are not currently connected nor do they share accounts or currency, stay tuned for news from Nintendo on that front) contains a lot of first day digital games, some great Indie titles, and soon a full Virtual Console.  They are releasing Virtual Console games one per month for 30 cents leading up to the full Virtual Console launch later this year.  I believe Kirby's Adventure is the current 30 cent title as of this writing.  You can also connect your eShop account to Club Nintendo for great rewards including games and physical products.  Nintendo has run Club Nintendo for a long time, and it is a hidden gem.  The rewards are often times rare merchandise or full games, and it is easier now than ever to get credit for hardware and game purchases (you can also take surveys on the games you buy for additional points).  This is separate from Nintendo's "Digital Deluxe" promotion for early purchasers of the Deluxe Wii U SKU (for details on that promotion go here:  Club Nintendo has been around for a while and hopefully will continue on for a while.  Nintendo posts "How To" videos on their YouTube channel on some of these services, and I linked one related to Club Nintendo for reference.  How to connect a Club Nintendo account to your Nintendo eShop data:  Nintendo has significantly bridged the divide with Indie developers with this console, which will be a great content generation source moving forward (source:

The future is bright for the system software.  The eShop continues to get content, MiiVerse is coming to smartphones and tablets (source:, loading times will be improved with a couple of planned system updates (loading times to be discussed in a future installment), and the full Virtual Console will launch later this year.  I got a little long winded on this installment of the Wii U launch analysis, but if you have questions about the system not covered above, feel free to sound off in the comments.

- Scott

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Analysis: The Wii U Launch Part 1 Media and Consumer Criticism

In November of 2012, Nintendo launched the Wii U, its first high definition home video game console.  The primary message of Nintendo's marketing campaigns and expo presentations focused on the asymmetric gameplay capabilities permitted by the new tablet controller, the Wii U GamePad.  Despite the excitement surrounding Nintendo's famous franchises making the leap into HD, the console launch has been somewhat marred by customer confusion, cumbersome system software, and a lack of exciting games.  Originally Nintendo stated that the console "launch window" would run from November of 2012 through March of 2013, and now that March 2013 has come and gone, this series of articles is being written as one Nintendo fan's thoughts on what went right with the launch and what went wrong.

Nintendo originally announced the Wii U in 2011.  The console had to be re-introduced at E3 2012 due to widespread confusion over what the system actually was.  The naming convention ("Wii U" versus "Wii 2" or a different name altogether) as well as Nintendo's focus on the GamePad peripheral made consumers and media alike claim the new system was not a new system at all but instead an add-on for the original Wii.  Most recently at the 2013 PAX East expo, Nintendo handed out what have been deemed as "absurd" and "embarrassing" flyers promoting its latest console over its previous one (source Kotaku:  This just further proves the identity crisis Nintendo has caused for itself.  Focusing more on the hardware and not just the controller or branding the system a little differently could have helped this substantially before it happened, but it is what it is.

Getting past the identity issues leads many people to a frequent complaint against Nintendo from non-fans of their products.  Nintendo is often accused of focusing on gimmick controllers and not bleeding edge hardware.  I have never had an issue with this (though I heartily dislike motion controlled Zelda), but people are frequently confused by new input devices.  Nintendo's GamePad (pictured) is actually very close to what Nintendo has done with the DS/3DS hardware in terms of gameplay concepts.  They provide asymmetric ways to interact with game worlds.  Many developers have yet to fully capitalize on what is available, but flashes of brilliance can be found in games like ZombiU and Lego City Undercover (to be further addressed in future installments of this series).  Nintendo's famous game designer Shigeru Miyamoto has spoken at length about two screen capabilities, and the company has pushed for this ever since they provided capabilities to connect Game Boy systems to the Nintendo GameCube years ago (Miyamoto interviews with Wired and CNN respectively:,  I tend to agree with the legend, let's give developers time to make the tablet sing.

From a sales perspective, the numbers match the criticism detailed above.  The system is constantly selling lower than the 3DS, Sony Playstation Vita, and Playstation 3 in Japan, while in Europe and the United States Microsoft's XBOX 360 is dominating it.  European retailers tried a price cut to stimulate sales to no avail (source My Nintendo News:  Quite frankly the price is not terrible, but the software needs to be better.  Several games have missed the launch window, and a large portion of the games that made launch are lackluster ports missing DLC or games that have been available on other consoles for months.  The software will be there eventually, but it is not there yet.

Over the next several installments of this series I will be digging into the hardware itself, the system software, and the current game library (both digital and retail).  Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with the analysis in the comments.

- Scott

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Alphabet Challenge

Let me start by saying I cannot take credit for this idea.  I have been tracking my video game collection and completion progress over at the fantastic Backloggery web site.  I highly recommend the site for anyone looking to keep track of not only the video games they own but how often they actually play through them.  The creators of the site do regular live stream events, and the community has a lot of great people in it, which leads me to this idea I found while browsing some of the other collections listed on the site.

I saw a common theme on a handful of user pages.  It seemed as though some of the players were taking the alphabet A through Z and picking a game out of their collection to play and beat based on the title matching the specific letter they were on.  For instance you would count Gears of War as a [G] title.  My understanding is this is a creative challenge to encourage people to play through games they might otherwise not be playing.  It also encourages putting a dent in that particular player's backlog (for my specific backlog you can go here).  After some consideration, I realized I lose focus on games I am playing too often, and this would be a fun undertaking to keep me disciplined.  As a result, you can find my personal "Alphabet Challenge" below.

I only have games I currently own listed, and these are all games I have not yet finished previously.  All of the games are console games or PC games that I spent money on or was gifted.  The only empty letters are Q and Y because I could not find any game titles in my collection that start with those letters surprisingly (I may have some legacy games I am missing, but regardless I pulled from the consoles I currently have out and operating).

Alphabet Challenge 2013
[A] - Assault Heroes (360)
[B] - Bayonetta (360)
[C] - Crimson Shroud (3DS)
[D] - Darksiders 2 (Wii U)
[E] - Epic Mickey (Wii)
[F] - FTL (Steam)
[G] - Gears of War 2 (360)
[H] - Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy(Steam)
[I] - ilomilo (360)
[J] - Jamestown (Steam)
[K] - Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)
[L] - Little King's Story (Wii)
[M] - Megaman ZX Advent (DS)
[N] - No More Heroes (Wii)
[O] - Odin Sphere (PS2)
[P] - Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Darkness (DS)
[R] - Resident Evil: Revelations (3DS)
[S] - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
[T] - Toki Tori (Steam)
[U] - Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom (360)
[V] - Vagrant Story (PS)
[W] - Wizorb (Steam)
[X] - Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
[Z] - Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii)

I do not have a deadline to complete this list, but obviously I hope to finish these games this calendar year.  I still plan on playing games not on the list, but at least one or two of these games needs to be underway in parallel.  I do not plan on going in order, since I am actively playing a few of the titles listed already (specifically Crimson Shroud for 3DS and Wizorb on Steam).  I also reserve the right to exchange a game on the list for another title of the same letter if the original proves to be a drag.

Wish me luck!
- Scott