Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 16, 2014

Email: Heroes of the Storm

I’ve been watching Day[9]‘s videos for Heroes of the Storm myself, and I can agree that what I’m seeing has me excited to the point where I’m really hoping that my computer will be able to run it when a more widely available version comes out.

I play League of Legends myself, and what I’ve see of Heroes (abbreviating it as HotS seems awkward considering that there’s also Heart of the Swarm) looks like it’s everything I like about League of Legends but without most the stuff I don’t like about League of Legends. There’s a particular game mode in LoL called ARAM (All Random All Mid – one lane with all campions randomly decided) which is currently the mode I play most frequently, and it gets rid of most the stuff that bogs down the bulk of the standard game and gets right into why I like the game and what I find fun about it – champions duking it out against each other and fighting as a team.

I certainly wouldn’t be able to say for sure without playing it, but I’ve got a feeling that Heroes may well be Blizzard basically taking ARAM and expanding it to the entire game, but without the two factors that give ARAM it’s name.

If your computer can run Starcraft 2 well, it should run HotS too.

The hate against HotS is a very healthy sign. A bad sign about a new game is indifference. Passion is what you are looking for. Passionate hatred is just as worthy as passionate love. Passionate hatred can easily flip to passionate love and vice versa. (Notice the swing with the Diablo 3 players. Passionate love when the game came out followed by the most passionate hatred I’ve ever seen. After patch 2.0, now it is back to passionate love. The indifference is not there as it is for, say, Torchlight 2.)

Over my many decades of gaming, the issue of games agining is an important one. Why do games age? It is not just the older graphics. Some games like Pac-Man have not aged at all and are just as much fun today as they were then. The biggest aging element to games is bullshit. There are bullshit elements in the game that need to be removed. I love the original Metroid. But there were many bullshit elements in the game such as powering up your life by standing by a pipe hitting the same insect enemy over and over and over again. That’s bullshit. I’m glad it is completely removed from future games. While that issue didn’t bother us much at the time, today, we recognize that it shouldn’t be there. It simply isn’t ‘fun’ even though we felt ‘clever’ and ‘hardcore’ by using it. Another example would be the birds knocking you off in Ninja Gaiden 1. At the time, we thought ourselves ‘elite’, ‘expert’ and ‘hardcore’ for going through that. Today, we recognize it for being a bullshit experience. And don’t get me started on the underwater level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1 for the NES.

Interface changes are where most of the bullshit is at. Early PC games are unplayable not because of poor graphics but because of poor interfaces. Of course, they weren’t poor interfaces during their time period.

In some ways, I feel we’ve forgotten what games are about. Games these days are all focused on ‘careers’. Your Starcraft 2 multiplayer is a ‘career’. How ridiculous it is to have ‘careers’ in a video game! One of the best examples of how a video game should be is Bomberman. It’s accessible, it’s fast, it’s fun, it’s addictive, and you can lose and not care. There is no such thing as ‘Bomberman career’.

As a whole, video games should be getting prettier and playing better with technology, and they should also be carving away the bullshit like Michelangelo slowly chipping away excess stone from David. It’s like in Warcraft 2 where everyone would start with a single peasant. Every multiplayer game we had to sit and watch our townhall get built and a farm before anything could happen. In Starcraft, you started off with your ‘townhall’ and a few peasants to eliminate that bullshit.

My problem with the Game Industry or Excessive Game God Egos is that they go the REVERSE and start adding in bullshit that shouldn’t be there. This, to me, makes the games feel more aged even though they are ‘newer’. Adding in bullshit would be like adding in narratives that shouldn’t be there or ‘cinematic movies’ where no one cares. If there is anything I’ve learned about myself with gaming is that I am highly allergic to bullshit. It is like reading a book where there is tons of rhetoric that hogs up space and time where you can’t get to the content. Classic games are classic because of the lack of bullshit in them, that is why they aged so well.

I think most of the players of DOTA 2 and LOL are younger people. Some claim their ‘veteran gaming status’ by playing DOTA since Warcraft 3. Our standard of history, and of video games, begins when we first start playing. What I think will happen is that a decade or two from now, people are going to find DOTA 2 and LOL ‘aged’. It won’t be due to poorer graphics. It will be due to some bullshit mechanics in DOTA 2 and LOL that will be ‘baked out’ of the newer games. This is the natural process of all gaming though. There might be some babies thrown out with the bathwater of course. Vanilla WoW had many bullshit elements that deserved to go away, but some elements were tossed that removed the fun factor of others. Vanilla WoW required a strategic view of leveling up where you zone hopped and continent hopped. In modern WoW, the strategy to leveling is gone which has made the leveling process ‘boring’ to the point where Blizzard is considering axing it.

I suppose I’m excited because HotS seems like it was made to include me, not exclude me, and it is a game I think I can get others to play with me. I tried to get others to play DOTA 2 with me. The number of heroes available at the start overwhelmed them. All the tactics like stuff to buy, last hitting, etc. just flew over their heads. They quickly stopped playing. then I had to stop playing because if I can’t get my friends to play, why should I play?

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 15, 2014

History: Origin of Atari

melnorme

“I am Trade Master Greenish in command of the Melnome starship ‘Inevitably Successful in All Circumstances’.

“I bid you a formal welcome, reader.

“Though we Melnorme have just recently arrived in this region of the Internet, we have long desired to make contact with you gamers and look forward to an extended profitable relationship.”

“Where the hell did you come from? And how did you get on Malstrom’s blog?”

“These are very good questions, and they have very good answers! However, you would be unable to afford such answers. Let us just say that I come from a video game called Star Control 2 where I supply answers of current events, new technology, and ancient history for a price of credits. Ask your question, and let us get on to business.”

“I would like to purchase information on ‘Ancient History of Video Games’ for 75 credits, please.”

“While you probably believe video games were old back with the NES or PlayStation, there existed a decade in the 1970s where gaming was being done. We know it today as the cryptic First Generation of Video Games.

“Nolan Bushnell grew up in Great Salt Lake as a son of a cement contractor. He already showed signs of being an unusual child. When he was in seventh grade, he was six foot four. He constantly read science fiction and built futuristic things in his garage. He enjoyed doing entertaining pranks. By attaching a hundred watt light bulb to a giant kite, he convinced the neighborhood that aliens were attacking. In another instance, he removed the shot from a few shotgun shells, wore a ski mask, borrowed a car, and ‘shot’ a fellow student. The fellow student smashed ketchup packets on his chest as he fell over on cue.

“Nolan Bushnell went to college at Utah State and then University of Utah by majoring in engineering. Once in a heated game of Poker, Bushnell bet and lost his tuition money forcing him to work at an amusement park guessing people’s weight and ages. Soon, he ran the arcade there. He began hanging out in the computer’s computer lab that was running one of the first video games made: Space War!.”

Above: Space War!

“After graduating, Bushnell moved to California and worked at the computer-graphics division of Ampex. At home, he created versions of Space War! that did not require an entire computer as the university had used. Now you might ask, reader, what does any of this have to do with video games? We all know about Space War. But Bushnell innovated in two ways. First, his home version of Space War!, called Computer Space, did not require a huge computer. It was using cheap parts. Second, Bushnell envisioned Computer Space standing alongside pinball machines, pool halls, and bowling alleys. It was Nolan Bushnell who invented the video game arcade.

“Bushnell approached various companies, especially pinball companies, about Computer Space. They turned him down. The one that didn’t was Nutting Associates that made solid state coin op games. 1,500 Computer Space units were made.

“Computer Space was not successful. Out of 1,500 made, only around 500 to 1000 were sold. Bushnell offered to make a sequel but demanded he be given ownership in the company in return. Nutting Associates refused causing Bushnell to make his own company.

“Making a company with a friend named Syzgy, Bushnell was ready to make Computer Space machines and sell them himself. However, Syzgy was already taken. Nolan Bushnell, being a gamer already and a huge fan of the Japanese game Go, made the name of the company on the equivalent of ‘check’ in Go: Atari. The investment in Atari was $250 from each partner meaning a $500 investment behind Atari.

Above: Nolan Bushnell

“Back in his home laboratory, Bushnell made a new game. The problem with Computer Space is that it required both hands and had an instruction manual over a page long. Bushnell thought of the simplest game which was tennis from the demo of Odyssey console by Ralph Baer in LA in May of 1972. The Odyssey, launched in 1972, was the first video game console.

Magnavox-Odyssey-Console-Set.jpg

“The Magnavox Odyssey was powered by six C batteries though an AC power adapter could be bought separately. The console had no sound capability. It launched at the price of $100 in 1972. The console came with dice, poker chips, and score sheets to help keep score. While there are many reasons cited for Odyssey’s failure in the market, the most interesting one is that people thought the tennis game was the home version of PONG. Realizing it wasn’t, people returned the Odyssey in droves.

“Bushnell went with the tennis game idea because it could be played with one hand (with a beer in another) and understanding the rules were simple: “Avoid missing ball for high score.” Bushnell improved on the game concept by adding scoring within the game and sound. It was named PONG for the sound it made.

“In the fall of 1972, Bushnell placed PONG in Andy Capp’s tavern. As people began to play, people gathered around and a line formed. One woman expressed her shock at how the signal could go to the TV studios and back in such a fast amount of time. The idea that the signal was generated locally was not perceived by her. This was, after all, the first time the masses interacted with a computer. On the second day, the machine broke due to it overflowing with quarters. Another larger coinbox was installed, this time a casserole dish. It now took a week to fill up with quarters.

“PONG was generating $300 a week. Knowing he had a hit on his hands, Bushnell wasted no time into going into full PONG production. He drove by the unemployment office and hired people off the street. They were long haired technicians of ill reputed characters. Atari would have a fund for ‘unwanted pregnancies’ as well as a fund to get employees out of jail.

“With the long haired technicians he got off the street, Bushnell had PONG production in an abandoned roller-skating ring. Remember that there was no monitor business in those days. All PONG machines used Motorola TVs. The plastic case, tuner, and RF circuitry were thrown away and only the raw tube and video drivers were used. Production was around ten PONG machines a day.

A vertical rectangular wooden structure with a visual display unit embedded in the front side.

“This was not fast enough for Bushnell. He needed to expand. Investment bankers who visited Atari were shocked to see employees in stripped jeans and sneakers (if they wore shoes at all) working whenever they wanted. There were no staff meetings. Bushnell, himself, was wearing T-shirts or flower-print shirts. The smell of marijuana ran throughout the air-conditioning system. A few of the employees there had beards so large that you couldn’t see their faces.

“It was the cash infusion from venture capitalist, Don Valentine, that allowed the company to grow. More staff was hired, and Bushnell lied to Al Acorn to make a home version of PONG saying that General Electric was waiting for it. The fact that General Electric never called and never showed up did not register to Acorn that something was off.

“Atari was growing so fast as PONG became an international hit. Help-wanted ads were placed in the local newspaper that said ‘Have Fun and Make Money’. This would attract the fortieth employee of Atari (a technician making $5 an hour). He was a college drop out of Reed College and living with his Mom and Dad. He was skinny, long-haired, with a thick beard, whose resume had nothing relevant except for a few engineering courses he had taken. “We’ve got this kid in the lobby,” Bushnell’s secretary announced. ‘He’s either a crackpot or he’s got something.’

“His name was Steve Jobs.”

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 15, 2014

Why People Are Excited For Heroes of the Storm

The fun aspects of MOBA games are getting drowned in the hardcore bullshit. Blizzard has a history of taking a genre, removing the bullshit, and creating new market growth. World of Warcraft didn’t become the top selling MMORPG by being hardcore. Warcraft 2 didn’t become popular because it had ‘gritty, dark’ graphics. Starcraft 1 was an extremely simplified RTS compared to the more hardcore options at the time.

The purpose of a video game is to be fun. That is the job of the video game. The job of the video game to ‘enrich with culture’ or to ‘prove you are more skilled’ is a job for only a few gamers. It is a niche job. If you look at the employment of hardcore gamers, you will find many of them unemployed or in a leisurely job. All the ‘pro-gamers’ out there have the mushy look of a toddler, an easy life with little hardship. A weary salesman or a hardened laborer from the Eagle Ford oil shale are not going to be playing ‘hardcore gaming’ on their time off. They would rather dedicate their free time to their families and to other enjoyable things than throwing it into a stupid video game all day.

I was watching Day[9]‘s video stream of Heroes of the Storm, and I was getting excited for the game. Day[9] isn’t a terrible player. He knows how to play Starcraft well. The game does many things that I’ve been wanting MOBAs to do. I love, love, love the emphasis on the maps. I like the emphasis away from items and other bullshit.

I cannot tell whether the DOTA fans are freaking out or if some of them are Valve Corporation’s marketers. It’s hard to tell the two apart! DOTA players are some of the stupidest gamers I’ve ever seen. They are the illustrative hardcore gamer. Always screaming, always screeching, and they are always ‘right’.

The problem is that DOTA players don’t even understand DOTA.

Much of the ‘design’ of DOTA, which was made by the Warcraft 3 Community (which includes Master Malstrom) and wasn’t designed by Icefrog, was solidified into place by hard barriers of the Warcraft 3 engine. I was there. We tried to do many other things with the Warcraft 3 engine. But the game engine could not handle many units at all. The game would start lagging. This is why Blizzard had the ‘upkeep’ in the main game as to encourage players to not make a ton of units (and it is also why the Starcraft 2 engine was designed to have a TON of units. This reason was literally elaborated on Starcraft 2′s reveal]. Therefore, having very few units on the DOTA map wasn’t a design choice but a design necessity. Many DOTA spells operate similar to Warcraft 3 hero spells for the same reason. Most of the DOTA design came from limitations of Warcraft 3′s engine as well as its strengths.

Then the Valve Corporation did something extremely stupid. They transferred the entire DOTA custom map to DOTA 2 with barely changing a thing. It’s still essentially the same custom map. The reason why this is stupid is that it is confusing the DOTA design as if it was intentionally designed that way. No. Much of it was hardwired due to the limitations and strengths of the Warcraft 3 engine.

“But DOTA 2 is getting a map editor.” I see that. But how is that going to change the experience than what the Warcraft 3 editor did? I can tell you already how the DOTA 2 Editor will be used. It will be used to make Footman Frenzy and Tower Defense maps. In other words, port more Warcraft 3 custom maps over.

While Heroes of the Storm has its roots in the Starcraft 2 engine, I really like how Blizzard is designing the engine around the game instead of the other way around. There’s not much flashy going on in DOTA 2 because Icefrog says, “Flashy stuff will detract from seeing what is going on…” or something like that. In HotS, you see all this flashy stuff. With very good artists, as Blizzard does have some of the best artists I’ve seen, they can make the game flash and not get confusing. Most professional game companies can.

There was a story about the DOTA 2 development being pissed off that all they are doing is just porting over the Warcraft 3 map. I’d be pissed too. The ‘business model’ of DOTA 2 is nothing more than just to get people into Valve Corporation’s store. That is not the business model I like. I don’t want the game’s purpose to be designed to lead me to a store. I want the game’s purpose to be a game.

I did try League of Legends way, way early on. I didn’t like it then. I’m unfamiliar with its changes. It still does the things I dislike that DOTA does.

Who is HotS for? It is for people who hate the bullshit of the MOBA scene along with its insufferable players. It is for people who want something different in the MOBA genre. And it is for Blizzard fans who enjoy the universes and wouldn’t mind a Smash Brothers type arena experience in them.

There has been much talk about Blizzard’s hit and miss lately. Diablo 3 endgame was a miss. Starcraft 2 multiplayer was a miss. World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm was a miss (haven’t kept up with WOW since then). But the misses all have one thing in common: Blizzard was designing the game around the hardcore gamer. Diablo 3 sucked because someone thought Inferno where you needed tons of resist all gear and many one shot kills was a good idea. Starcraft 2 sucked because someone thought the game should be designed around E-Sports.

“The heroes in HotS are too slow.” I’m not sure about that. They seem to be going the same speed as Warcraft 3 heroes did. It appears Blizzard has learned that they made Starcraft 2 too damn fast. The multiplayer was so fast that APM, not strategy, differentiated where one ended up in a league. If you play earlier RTS games, you won’t find any of them as fast. Not Age of Empires. Not Total Annihilation. Not even Starcraft 1. The only prior RTS I think that matches Starcraft 2′s speed is Dark Reign and that was because Dark Reign wasn’t designed around many harvestors (only one or two tankers per water hole). The high speed in Starcraft 2 made multiplayer a chore. It was the main contributor to ladder anxiety. You shouldn’t be losing a RTS game just because you sneezed. It didn’t really help E-Sports either because the pro-players realized that when the masses don’t play the game, then they don’t care about pros of that game.

HotS looks like a game I can relax to after dinner. And that is the job I want from a video game. Hardcore gamers need to stop whining and go get a real job. Then they will discover the true purpose of a video game.

Ahh, the February 2014 NPD numbers.

Those inside the Game Industry are very, very excited. They were very worried about Xbox One’s poorer showing in January. Now with February’s numbers, they are happy that Xbox One won’t be a Wii U.

PS4: 258,000 / 0.9 = 286.7K
Xbox One: 258K
Xbox 360: 114K
Wii U: Nearly 82.5K

I love this paragraph from the link above:

As always, these figures only represent physical items sold at brick-and-mortar stores. The NPD does not include digital and online sales in its monthly report, which is why it’s best to view these numbers as a snapshot of a much larger picture.

This paragraph would not have been written if the retail software sales weren’t down around 9%. This is a dishonest way for the Game Industry to cherrypick conclusions. They will never, ever admit software being ‘down’ or ‘bad’ because they can always say ‘but there are online sales which aren’t accounted in the numbers’.

Minecraft is such a great game as it destroys the veil of lies we are seeing from the Game Industry. Why in the hell are Minecraft retail sales so high on the Xbox 360? The game has carved a permanent spot on the top ten list. If you add in online sales of Minecraft, it will have a higher number of course. The truth is that a high selling game will sell more in retail AND in online sales. Software retail is still very much a barometer of software popularity. The point is this: digital sales hover around 10% of the retail game sales. When a game doesn’t perform well at retail, it is not an excuse for someone to say “that doesn’t matter” because of ‘digital sales’. If a game bombs at retail, it likely is bombing in digital sales as well.

If hardware wasn’t physical but had ‘digital transmissions’ (let’s pretend 3d printers could make our game consoles), you would hear reporting that the hardware sales are ‘more than’ what they actually are. Since hardware isn’t digitized yet, they can’t pretend those numbers are something they aren’t.

The Game Industry Logic going around this month is that “Declining software doesn’t matter because that ‘declining software’ is from the prior generation consoles. This generation is seeing a much faster transition period.” But you cannot apply this logic to speak about the software, it must speak about the hardware as well. If this logic is true, then the ‘faster transition’ means the hardware sales of Xbox One and PS4 are worrisome. If Gen 7 -> Gen 8 software decline doesn’t matter because of ‘faster hardware transition’, then you must also say that the February 2014 hardware numbers aren’t that strong. Let’s say the transition is ‘normal’ for the purpose of example. Then that would mean the software is down and that hardware is doing OK. But if you say transition is ‘faster than normal’, then software would be OK and hardware sales would be down. This is why you can’t trust what the Game Industry says. They lie to themselves to make themselves feel better. As absurd as that seems, it is exactly what is going on. (Gen 7 hardware is at the bottom of this post.)

This is largely ceremonial at this point, but here goes: The best selling console of Generation 8 will be the PlayStation 4. It will not be close. Xbox One cannot sell outside of English speaking countries. Wii U is selling worse than the Gamecube. (Although I wonder what the 3DS numbers are…) This is why you wait until at least February NPD to have a clear idea of the sales patterns. People assumed January NPD that Xbox One wasn’t going to sell in America. But January NPD, especially after a launch, is always squirrely. It’s better to wait until the month after.

It can be argued that the PlayStation 4′s supply limitation is boosting the Xbox One’s numbers. When people go to the store, they find Xbox Ones there but no PS4s. PS4 is losing sales from the limited supply. Since Xbox One is not that different from the PS4, Xbox One could be gaining from the PS4 limitation. This is completely unlike the Wii phenomenon of Generation 7 where the no supply of Wii didn’t drive people to buy a Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Why would it? The Wii was so different. But since Xbox One and PS4 are similar, one’s supply limitation is the other’s gain.

The PS4 supply limitation will not last much longer. As I type this entire post, the PlayStation 4 has been available to buy at Amazon. I recall with the Wii, that it just sold out in seconds. However, we don’t know how much supply of PS4 there is. Maybe there are boatlods of PS4 that is selling a ton but isn’t selling out because the supply is so massive. It’s impossible to know what the level of PS4 demand is in America until supply meets demand. It is also impossible to know what the level of Xbox One demand is until PS4 supply meets PS4 demand. I remain suspicious that some of those Xbox One sales are people who couldn’t get a PS4.

To show you just how pathetic some of the people are in the Game Industry (at least on the American side), they are waiting with baited breath for the Xbox 360 to outsell the Wii in the United States. The reason why this is pathetic is because the Xbox 360 has two additional years on the United States market than the Wii does. The Xbox 360 was released a year before the Wii and the Wii successor came out a year before the Xbox 360′s successor. Worldwide, Xbox 360 is still behind over 20 million units. If the people are going to make some sort of deal that the 360 , with two additional years of market time, outsold the Wii in 360′s only viable market, then we might as well declare the Gamecube outselling the original Xbox worldwide.

And I hate to be ‘that guy’, but the Xbox 360 is famous for its hardware numbers. It’s not uncommon to hear Xbox 360 households go through three or four hardware problems. 360 might sell more hardware units than the Wii overall in the United States, but the Wii will still have a larger installed base.

Nintendo’s collapse, both in home and handheld console, is much more attributable of losing the kid market. What are kids playing these days? They are playing Minecraft on the Xbox 360. They have also become the primary Call of Duty players. Nintendo’s aesthetic is no longer being seen as ‘kiddie’ as it was during the Gamecube Era but more as ‘weird Japanese crap’. The Classic Mario and Zelda games have been integrated into American culture. However, the modern Mario and Zelda games are seen as outsiders. Mario in a Cat Suit seems ‘creepy’, and the Wind Waker graphics still suck. While Nintendo’s problems this generation are many, one being missed is how Nintendo is designing its games for a Japanese audience. With the Wii, this was not the case. Twilight Princess, which sold very well in the West but not so well in Japan, was designed in response to the West’s hatred for Wind Waker’s aesthetics. “We can’t have the game not sell well in Japan!” Nintendo says. So they make their games try to appeal to Japan. Since Japan no longer seems as interested in video games, Nintendo games now don’t sell in both Japan and the West as opposed to just Japan. Gamers are interested in games, not ‘Japanese culture’. In the 80s, many gamers had no idea that Mario and Zelda were made in Japan. Today, with things like that atrocious Tingle, Nintendo games have an ‘in your face’ attitude about declaring they are from Japan. The Wii U comes across as a freaky Japanese device with bizarre Japanese games (hello Wonderful 101) that makes people run away in terror.

Note how there is no generation over generation analysis? Let’s find out why. Here are Generation 7′s numbers from February 2007:

NPD North American hardware sales — February ’07

  • Nintendo DS – 485K
  • Nintendo Wii – 335K
  • Sony PS2 – 295K
  • Microsoft Xbox 360 – 228K
  • Sony PSP – 176K
  • Nintendo GBA – 136K
  • Sony PS3 – 127K
  • Nintendo GameCube – 24K

NPD North American software sales — Feburary ’07

  1. Crackdown (Xbox 360) – Microsoft – 427K
  2. Wii Play w/ remote (Wii) – Nintendo – 371K
  3. Diddy Kong Racing (DS) – Nintendo – 262K
  4. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) – Nintendo – 130K
  5. Guitar Hero 2 w/ guitar (PS2) – Activision – 130K
  6. Gears of War (Xbox 360) – Microsoft – 119K
  7. Major League Baseball 2K7 (Xbox 360) – Take-Two – 113K
  8. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360) – Capcom – 111K
  9. WarioWare: Smooth Moves (Wii) – Nintendo – 109K
  10. NBA Street Homecourt (Xbox 360) – Electronic Arts – 102K

Remember that the Xbox 360 had already been out for over a year in 2007. The console launched in late 2005.

What is obvious from looking at that list is how much larger the overall universe of game consoles was. Sony may not have been doing well with the PS3, but the PS2 was still moving a massive amount of units given its age, and it being obsolete.

Is this generation transitioning faster or is it that the Xbox One and PS4 aren’t stupidly retarded as Xbox 360 and PS3 were? The HD Twins of Generation 7 were ridiculously expensive, prone to constantly break down, and weren’t ready for the mass market. This is why Generation 7 was so long.

As I finish this post, I see that the PlayStation 4 is still available at Amazon. The supply of PS4 should be catching up to demand fairly soon. Didn’t Sony say April? That could be right.

Still no change from my expectations of Generation 8. Depending on whether you want to say the transition is ‘faster’ than normal or not, either the software sales are down or hardware sales are down. Take your pick. Generation 8 is not showing healthy numbers. You don’t see new market growth anywhere. You don’t even see a holding. Even if you exclude everything Nintendo from the universe of gaming, everything is down. This is in sync with the rest of the nation’s economic numbers. Retail is down everywhere. Why should we be surprised that retail is down for gaming too?

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 12, 2014

Birth of Gaming

We’re starting a new category here called ‘History’ which will be posts about the history of gaming. We’re going to focus on things of gaming that most people don’t know or forgotten. The first one is about PONG.

A vertical rectangular wooden structure with a visual display unit embedded in the front side.

Everyone knows about PONG. What people don’t want to say is that Nolan Bushnell tried out another game before PONG called Computer Space. Computer Space was Space War (Space War was the game played in the computer labs at the time). Computer Space didn’t sell. The game was too complicated. PONG appealed because it had one rule: “Hit ball for high score.” PONG was placed in Andy Capp’s Tavern where regular people saw and used the thing.

The belief out there is that hardcore gamers are the backbone of the gaming market. To the contrary, hardcore gamers destroy the gaming market. If Nolan Bushnell was the hardcore gamer first, he would have tried to ‘improve’ Computer Space and make it more ‘accessible’. What he did instead was try another game entirely. Thanks to the ‘casuals’, the commercial gaming was born. As we will see, in order for gaming to expand, games must not be made for the ‘hardcore’.

PONG has become so iconic that it is used in commercials decades later.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 12, 2014

Email: The Gaming Backlog

Hey Master Malstrom,
hope all is well. Check out this link: http://kotaku.com/were-buying-more-pc-games-than-we-can-play-1493402988

No surprises there. Hardcore buying more games then there is time in a day to play, and then sit amazed at the fact that this is clearly not healthy (for your pocket and otherwise).
Better than that: on the “results” section, check the “Average Gamer” — “10 hours engaging with gaming media”. 10 hours. TEN hours a week browsing forums, websites and playing games analyst with zero practical results. Who is this mythical “Average Gamer” who has seemingly infinite time to do all that stuff? Is the Hardcore “average” now?

This is just too funny, I’m sorry. The supposedly “Average” gamer spends a part-time job playing games and browsing forums (25 hours) and let’s forget the other category even exists (100 games in backlog, really?).

I guess I’m just not “Average” enough.

Haha, that’s funny.

Why is there any ‘shame’ of having a ton of games? Here is an idea. Back during PC gaming in the 1990s or even Commodore 64 gaming, people used to have HUGE collections of games that they never played. What were these people? They were warez users.

We argued how warez wasn’t an issue to hurting game sales because warez users wouldn’t be buying the game anyway. Also, since they pay nothing for it, they feel the game has such little value that they won’t play it. If you paid $60 for a video game, you would damn well be investing some time into that purchase.

Another reason why most PC games bought aren’t being played is because most PC games are crap. Most games, in general, aren’t that good. If they were that good, they wouldn’t be sold for a few dollars.

With the NES and 16-bit consoles somewhat (mostly the NES), I would rent STACKS of cartridges and just go through them. I actually did play the entire NES game library. Some games I would think were crap and not play them anymore. Some games just SEIZED ME and wouldn’t let me stop playing them. They were ones I would end up buying. Some games were ‘Good’, ones I wouldn’t mind owning but was in no hurry to buy them.

Games I remember completely taking me over were Mega Man 2, Life Force, Ducktales, Punchout, Double Dragon II, Shadowgate, and Metroid. Ones that were ‘Good, but no reason to rush out and buy immediately’ were ones like Mega Man 1, Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers, Dr. Mario, Gradius, Contra, Double Dragon 1, and RBI Baseball.

Due to networking with friends and their video games, I was able to have access to a huge Commodore 64 and early PC game collection. I played a little of everything. Only a few games really seized me.

Since we can’t rent PC games and most them don’t have demos (why would a demo or renting matter if a game is a couple of bucks?), the only consequence is to have a huge collection of games rarely played. This is the warez guilt in action. If games costed $30+, you’ll see the return of a few blockbusters and many bombas. Remember when Jumpman came out? Boy, that game was fun! (It came out in 1983. Where were you then, reader?) The designer became a millionaire.

Ahh, Lode Runner. Now THAT was great gaming. With PC gaming and Commodore 64, I remember there being many many games but only a few you actually kept playing.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 11, 2014

Email: Music Category

Hey Master!
Just sending this e-mail to say that I don’t have time to nothing since the last eight months, I’m studying eight or nine hours a day (including weekends) for a very competitive public job in Brazil, I have time just to study, to see my girlfriend and to train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu during the week. Yet I always find a way to have time to read your blog! That’s the way how I can relax reading about one of my passions: videogames.
With the Mega Man 4 post I remembered the Music category the website used to have and I really miss it. The blog used to be more charismatic with it. I used to read the articles and posts listening the music of the games, it was very ‘immersive’ hahaha.
You should revive it!
And very nice idea with the Old Man Advice category.
Keep kicking the industry butt.

Hmm, we can bring the music category back. It was stuck at 99 with the 100 going to be the Last Post Ever. But we can keep going on. Or start all over! hahaha

I’ve noticed that no matter what is said about a game or even screenshots of the game, nothing impacts like music. Music takes you back.

I also find posting about video games to be relaxing. Most of my time I’m reading on business or legal stuff. Video games just seems such an absurd thing. Since I’m not in the Game Industry, everything that happens here is greatly amusing!

 

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 11, 2014

Email: Impressions on “A Link Between Worlds”

I was bit hesitant on writing to you regarding the latest Zelda game on the 3DS, since I assume you have received plenty of correspondence about this game.
I read some online reviews before purchasing it, and quite a few of them claim that is best Zelda game in years. After playing it for eight hours, I have to say that I completely agree with such statement, and that is exactly the problem. If this is the best game in series in years, than it clearly proves how far the series has fallen. This game shows of how far Nintendo as fallen as a game developer.

The first strange thing about this game, is the plot. It blatantly obvious that at some point during development, this game was going to be a remake of the AlttP. For some reason though, the developers decided to make it a sequel from a narrative standpoint, even though it severely hurts the continuity established in AlttP, especially in two main points:

- The most glaring one, is that Lorule looks exactly like the Dark World in AlttP.

- The plot revolves around the unification of the three triforces (Wisdom, Courage and Power). In a AlttP,
there is mention of only ONE triforce (which you recover from Ganon at the end of game).

I fail to understand why didn’t Nintendo just remake the original game, instead of coming up with this extremely poorly written diatribe of a plot.

Gameplay wise, the game is a carbon copy of AlttP, with the developers having tweaked only a few things. The biggest change to the typical Zelda formula, is that now the player virtually start out with all the items that typically have been kept hidden in dungeons in previous games. I do believe that this is the highlight of the game, but also comes across as a wasted opportunity. It seems that the developers did not think it through very well on this one. Most dungeons still revolve around one item, and some of them will even tell you which item you need before entering it. Also, by giving you the items right from the start, the feeling of being increasingly more powerful as you progress through the game is mostly gone.

Another addition is the “stamina gauge” which replaces the magic gauge. I believe that this mechanic breaks the game, since you no longer need to ration consumables. Since you never run out of arrows, it becomes almost pointless to use the boomerang. Or better yet, since you cannot run out of magic, you can keep on using the Fire Rod to kill enemies in the game, as it overpowers most of them (especially after you upgrade it). If it wasn’t for the delay when using the Fire Rod, you wouldn’t even need to swing your sword at enemies.

But enough with the bad things. The great thing about this game is that it reminds you as to why this series was so popular to begin with. During the majority time I spent with the game, I had a blast rediscovering Hyrule. I literally could not put this game down. The game cuts with a lot of the fluff that was been killing the series since Ocarina of Time. The dungeons, for the most part, are once again designed as mazes and not as a collection of solve-this-puzzle-to-advance rooms. The game’s plot might be a poor retelling of AlttP, but as long as you manage to ignore it, it does not interfere with your progress. The game also does not take the player by the hand like the most recent entries in the series (i.e. Skyward Sword), and by having most of the items available from the get-go, the player is free to go anywhere in the game, much like the original Zelda. Unfortunately, unlike the original zelda, the game is way too easy. I still remember how, in the original Zelda, you could go to Death Mountain right from the start, but once you got there, the Ghinis and the Lynels would make short work of you. it was the game’s not-so-subtle way of telling you that you were not supposed to be there yet. In comparison, in this newest entry, you can easily dispatch a Lynel with the Fire Rod. Sure, you can swing the sword at them several times, but why bother? I felt that the game wasn’t isn’t even trying, so why should I?

Another issue I take with this entry (albeit a personal one) is that the darker tone of AlttP is completely gone. I always loved how that game, despite its cartoony graphics, had some relatively dark moments (i.e. seeing the Flute Boy dying right in front of you in the Dark World). What does this game offer instead? Characters like Ravio.

Although not as fruity as Tingle, his attempts at humor are awful. This is just the kind of stuff that need to be completely taken out of Zelda games. I really dreaded going back to Link’s home since I knew that I would have to put up with him.

Overall, this game is to AlttP what NSMB is to SMB 3: a half-hearted attempted at recapturing what made the series so great. The really sad part about this game, is that it feels like a symptom of whatever management issues Nintendo is currently facing right now. How can Nintendo compete against other companies, if they cannot even compete against themselves? This product is clearly inferior to another product that the company made more than twenty years ago. And no, I not being blinded by nostalgia: the first time I played AlttP was when it was ported over to the GBA, and the first Zelda I ever played was OoT. I am currently replaying AlttP right now, and the further I get into the game, the more I realize how much Nintendo phoned it in on this game.

It seems that we consumers will only experience disappoint with Nintendo games unless there is some drastic change inside the company. How the might have fallen.

Very good review.

The reason why Nintendo can’t do a remake is the same reason why all game developers can’t do a remake. Every game developer believes he or she is a special snowflake, brimming with ‘creativity’, and wish to impart their dashing personality onto the game. Starcraft fans are greatly annoyed at Starcraft 2 developers for replacing units that shouldn’t have been replaced. Maybe not a full remake of Starcraft, but there was no need to replace Dragoons with Stalkers as they are the same unit. Bringing back some of the Starcraft 1 mechanics wouldn’t be a bad idea especially compared to the Starcraft 2 ‘ball of doom’ boredom.

Everyone believes they are interesting people. The truth is that most people are dullards. In show business as in sales, you have to have an above average personality. My suspicions are that the early game developers were not average people. But now that we have game developers whose life experience has been other video games, the personalities border on average if not below-average. This is why I think we see all this immature dull crap in video games now. (This also includes the indie games which may have solid mechanics but immature content.)

My 13 year old nephew has this Zelda game, and he told Uncle Malstrom that he likes it a ton except that it is way too easy.

I think you hit the nail on the head when describing Link Between Worlds as the ‘best Zelda’ in a long time but falls flat when compared to the classics. Simply REMOVING THE AONUMA DESIGN CHOICES already improves the fun a thousand-fold. Just like the reappearance of 2d Mario with NSMB DS, it was easy to acknowledge that the basic 2d platforming mechanic is VERY FUN. But that is all it is: a mechanic. There needs to be more. NSMB Wii at least brought in 4 player mode which shows some ambition. Since then, it has been EA Sports iterations for NSMB and other Nintendo series. There is no passion. No ambition. The only passion and ambition is for these social losers to impart their ‘creativity’ and ‘personality’ in the video game. The games have a personality of a dud because they are made by people who have personalities of dullards.

“That is so mean, Master Malstrom!” the reader weeps bitterly at me. But it is not mean. Look at Shigeru Miyamoto. The guy is a character. He has a bountiful personality. Look at other major oldschool game developers, and you will see the same thing. Richard Garriot is not an average personality. He makes haunted houses, dresses himself up all weird, flies into outerspace, and calls himself Lord British. Interesting people make interesting games.

I think you are right in pinpointing how Zelda LBW lacks the sense of growth since you ‘rent’ items. This highlights the missing RPG aspect to Zelda. Zelda is about you growing in power and strength. Even Miyamoto used that definition way back when in describing the early Zeldas. Zelda is not Shadowgate where you get items to solve ‘puzzles’.

I hear also that in this Zelda, you can avoid the enemies and largely avoid combat. That’s a damn shame. No wonder people say the game is so easy.

I’m not sure how Nintendo is interpreting people’s response to Link Between Worlds. Maybe Nintendo thought it would do numbers like NSMB and consider the game a failure since it doesn’t pull those numbers. But Nintendo has to be hearing the praise and dislikes for clearly falling with the praise being on the Old School values side and the dislikes for the remaining Aonuma values side.

Why couldn’t the game be harder? Or, rather, why couldn’t we start the harder version at the beginning instead of playing Boring Mode first?

What is so wrong with RPG values in Zelda? We’re not talking level raising like in Zelda 2, but just ‘better stuff’ to make you overpowered at combat. Zelda always was a little Diablo. For challenge, people would not use items or not gain heart containers. But that element has been lost with the Aonuma Design.

I am constantly amazed how Nintendo will take risks with Zelda to do all sorts of crazy things such as cell shaded graphics to flooding the world with water to flooding the world with trains to touch screen only Zelda but stubbornly refuse to take the risk of incorporating old school gameplay. What you are saying, emailer, is that Link Between Worlds is a step in the right direction, but it is only a step. It is as if Nintendo is so scared to fully jump into the arcade/RPG gameplay.

I really dislike the lack of RPGs on Nintendo systems or ‘long term games’. Nintendo does great with short term games such as platformers. Zelda gave us a RPG experience. Metroid did too in a way as Metroid is about gaining new weapons and strengthening yourself.

Super Paper Mario was the biggest miss I’ve ever seen. That game would have been perfect for a 2d Mario RPG. But in Nintendo’s eyes, RPG stands for ‘tons of annoying shitty dialogue’ and ‘crappy story’. Nintendo’s been doing both those things with Zelda and Metroid lately. “Super Metroid is not about Samus getting abilities and powering up her suit. Super Metroid is about maternal instincts,” Sakamoto informed us.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 11, 2014

Email: Last gen Console Tail

So, is the last-gen console tail shrinking because of the economy shrinking, or is it shrinking because anyone who wants a Wii already has one (I know a lot of gamers who gave theirs away once they got tired of it), and the 360 and PS3 haven’t price-dropped at all?

PS3 is a 7 or 8 year old console that’s still $250. PS2 cut their price from $299 to $199 in its second year. Artificially inflating the value with larger hard-drives and free games (or free download codes) still doesn’t change the price-range. Especially when people would rather be spending their hundreds on a new iPhone. Something’s gotta give here

No focus on gamer expansion = total mercy to macro-economics. For Generations 4-6, everyone said how gaming was expanding when it wasn’t. It was riding the boom of the economies. Now that the macro-economics is going the other way, they are contracting.

Nintendo defined this because Japan has been in economic trouble far longer than the West. Nintendo succeeded with the DS and Wii. Gamer expansion became ‘healthy’ numbers in bad economies, it became INSANE numbers in healthy economies.

Based on this, I expect PS4 numbers to come down to earth. Cannibalization can only go so far. Note you have the Game Industry and analysts quiet about PS4 numbers instead of doing cartwheels like the Sony fanboys. They know the economy sucks.

I’m a recent owner of an iPhone so I’ve been getting my head around it all. If something can be used in a bar and look cool, it will be huge (hence PONG or Donkey Kong). Wii Sports could be played at bars. It was cool enough. These smartphones are all over for these ‘cool’ bar hoppers. Smartphone deals a ton with social media. Social media = female media. Who else is really that interested in stupid facebook and texting all the time?

360 and PS3 non-price drops reflect that MS and Sony are only interested in keeping them profitable at this point. PS2 could be price dropped because it was profitable to do so. I think it is illustrative of the bad economy (have you seen food items getting smaller but the price remaining the same?) and it indicates how ridiculous the PS3 and Xbox 360 overshot the mass audience.

If you look at all the generations, you see the consoles keeping pace with each other up to the seventh generation. MS and Sony decided to ‘leap ahead’ a generation to make Gen 8 consoles for Gen 7. This is why the PS3 and 360 costed so damn much. Why did they do it? For the ‘omg HD graphics’ which both MS and Sony had a ‘living room war’. Sony was heavily invested in Blu-Ray, MS in HD-DVD. The hardware costs blew up the budgets. Nintendo wasn’t the odd man out, they were the only sane ones.

With Gen 8, we see Sony putting out the decent console (which is still spectacularly below PC gaming as it should be). Xbox One and Wii U have a sizable cost of the console cost to be not for the console. It is for the controller. People aren’t going to pay so much money for a gimped console with a funky controller. “But they did it with the Wii.” No, they didn’t. Wii Mote didn’t cost hundreds of dollars. Wii wasn’t 599 US dollars or had the Red Ring of Death. Wii was the only decent console then that was interested in doing the job of a games console.

In Gen 8, PS4 is the only console interested in being a games console. Xbox One is more interested in showcasing The Price is Right and other bullshit media. While Nintendo mouths the words, “It is all about the games,” the games seem uninspired like EA Sports iterations while their passion is more to GamePad doing TViiiiii or 3DS with the ‘omg 3d’ having 3d movies and using cameras to play games based on cards. Gamers don’t care about that shit. And non-gamers don’t care about it because they see the game machine as something to play games.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 11, 2014

Email: Explaining PS4 strong sales

I believe it can be explained exactly by the shrinking market, as there’s no more room for a war. That’s a very different generation than others because this won’t be a generation marked by a fight between companies.

Let’s say there was a war between two countries, it destroys almost everything, and then it ends. Allies are in bad shape, the people are starving, everyone barely made out of this war alive.

Right after this war ends those two countries declare war again. What happens? People won’t jump into arms again to fight like before. Tthey’ll quickly side with whoever they think will win, the one with better weapons, trying to avoid a new war or making it short.

Don’t waste time thinking at this point. We still don’t have the data to say whether the PS4 is selling ‘strongly’ or not. By ‘strongly’, I mean ‘sold out’ months from now with high supply.

 

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