Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 9, 2017

Email: Why the Wii U failed

Dear Malstrom,

I generally agree that it is the software that sells the hardware, and the Wii U certainly had poor software in the early stages, but it got some great games later such as Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, Lego City Undercover, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Brothers, Hyrule Warriors and Runbow. Yet the Wii U never shot up much in sales with any of these games. I think there were several reasons for this. First, the name of the console was extremely confusing. Many people thought that the Wii U was either an add on for the original Wii or some kind of educational tool (“U” usually stands for University). They didn’t realize that this was a brand new console. Furthermore, the console is confusing at first glance. I remember showing my Wii U to my cousin, and he said, “What is it?” I had to explain to him exactly how it worked, which is a far cry from how people instantly understood the Wii and the Switch.

Also, a new console requires you to spend about $150 million in marketing to get the word out. Nintendo didn’t do this. There were really no commercials for the Wii U during the first year it came out (and still not many after that). You can have the greatest games in the world, but it does you no good if people don’t even know they exist. By January 2014, the console was labeled a complete failure and there was speculation that Nintendo might just abandon it outright. Once it was dubbed a loser, that made it even harder to get even the people who knew about it to jump on board.

Finally, the Wii U would have had better software if the hardware had been better. Nintendo actually underpowered the console to the point where it was actually less powerful than the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3! Think about that. A console released in 2012 was actually less powerful than two consoles released 2005 and 2006! Because of this, games designed for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 could only be released for the Wii U if they were gimped, making them vastly inferior and thus harder to sell. This along with the Wii U’s small install base is what caused the third parties to abandon the console in droves. So better hardware would certainly have meant better games.

No, the Wii U DID shoot up in sales when certain games were released such as Mario Kart 8 or Hyrule Warriors or Smash Brothers U. The Wii U was even being sold left and right to get a copy of Zelda BoW despite the Wii U being recalled!

“Wii U’s problems weren’t just the games, it was blah blah blah…” It IS all about the games. People knew what the Wii U was. The games simply were not appealing.

Look guys, I went through this same issue when the Wii was released. No one wanted to admit that the Gamecube software sucked which led to bad sales. Super Mario Sunshine? Yech. Mario Kart Double Dash? Nah. Smash Brothers Melee? The best selling game on the system, but it can only do so much.

This problem also goes the inverse when you have a system like the Wii. “Wii has no good games. It only sold due to marketing and branding.” Bullshit. Wii Sports is one of the best video games ever made. Wii Fit popularized the Balance Board. NSMB Wii and Mario Kart Wii were great house party games. The Wii sold a ton of software. The sales numbers show it.

If you say ‘bad marketing is what doomed the Wii U’, then you are also saying the reverse which is ‘good marketing is what sold the Wii [or whatever]’ which is NOT true.

It is the games.

It is always the games.

One reason why I got a Wii U and its library is because I am tired of wussies who are too scared to critically examine their games. “Wii U games are soo good, OMG!” We’re going to find out. But I know this for sure, NSMB U and Nintendo Land are NOT great games.

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Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 9, 2017

Email: NSMBU review

I pretty much agree with your review, as long as you are comparing it to the pedigree of other proper 2d Mario games only. If you expand to the larger pantheon of all games, I feel the game deserves more like a C+/B-, mostly because of the end game. It’s a shame they didn’t scrap everything prior to world 7 then redid the other worlds, because you’re right that’s when they finally started hitting their stride in making something compelling again.

If they could have just done that, dropped the old coat of paint that this series has been using for far too long, and returned the emphasis to world exploration instead of level design, they really would probably have made something worthy of the title of “SMB5” — and no, i don’t feel NSMBWii is worthy of that title.

As for MM11, I’m holding out hope the microtransactions will be at a minimum. Game companies have to be paying attention to EA’s stock right now and taking note.

My rankings: (Note that when I do true retro, I use a different scale)

A is ‘killer app’; you buy the hardware to get to the game.

B is ‘good game’. Once you already have the hardware, you want this game.

C is the ‘OK game’. It’s not bad to have, but you don’t really miss it if it isn’t there.

D is ‘meh’ game. It is boring and unremarkable.

F is a terrible game that you can’t stand playing for whatever reason.

How many ‘killer apps’ did the Wii U have? Not many as the console sold like crap. We can even verify them through the sales charts! Mario Kart, Zelda BoW “Wow!”, and Smash Brothers are ‘killer apps’ for Wii U which is why they are all are ported to Switch.

At least NSMB Wii gave us a new way to experience 2d Mario with 4 people simultaneous play. NSMB U is the first true spectacular failure for 2d Mario. Hell, even the Lost Levels had mystery to them.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 9, 2017

World 12: Online

“Being safe from evil is, in my mind, an uneven tradeoff for the fact that you don’t get to be heroes anymore, in that you can just opt out of fighting evil.”

-Ralph Koster, lead designer for Ultima Online. SOURCE: Ultima Online Post Mortem.

Ultima Online

Generation 5

Released 1997

When Origin was bought out by Electronic Arts, Origin became ‘digested’ and eventually would go caput. However, there was a brief time during the ‘digestion’ that Origin got a massive amount of cash infusion to do several projects that it wanted to do. The just released Ultima VIII: Pagan was the first Ultima game not well received by the market. Origin was used to winning in the market. For their own pride and their company’s pride, they needed to come up with a release that fit their revolutionary lineage of games.

Above: Starr Long

Long joined Origin’s quality assurance team in 1992. Starr, and co-worker Demarest, were fans of online games such as Neverwinter Nights and DOOM.

…the pair started to realise the importance of this kind of social gaming, and saw an opportunity to take Origin Systems to the forefront of ideas and creative design once again. Reflecting on his experiences, Starr Long told Replay “the Internet was just beginning – it was like ‘wow, people don’t even physically have to be in the same space anymore, they could get social experiences through the Internet’.”

Together they started to knock ideas back and forth, based upon these new experiences, and came up with the premise of a multiplayer Ultima, or “Multima” as they affectionately termed it. [SNIP]

Long and Demarest pitched “Multima” to the founder of Origin and he was impressed, immediately seeing the potential of the idea, having had scattershot ideas of a similar multiplayer premise for the series. Garriott couldn’t however give the go ahead to this project without the permission of EA, and so he explained the ambitions of this new online experience and was met with unenthusiastic eyes. “We went through a period of time where we tried to convince everybody that this would work – it took us a long time to convince Electronic Arts,” said Garriott.

-Adam Tingle, The Making of a Classic Part I. SOURCE: MMORPG.COM

I always thought the alpha of Ultima Online was a modded version of Ultima VII or even Ultima VIII. I was wrong. The Alpha was made in Ultima VI!

Initially Ken Demarest was contracted to develop a small prototype utilising the Ultima 6 engine as a network demonstration of how the specifics would work, and later in 95’ Rick Delashmit modified the aforementioned engine to create a death match test, Raph Koster, creative designer, explained “Rick converted Ultima VI to be a 100-person Orks vs. Humans [game]. They ran that as an internal play test. Based on that, Garriott was able to get funding for the final product.”

Interestingly when UO went into production, Richard Garriott stepped back from the day-to-day role within the development of project, instead handing the reigns over to Starr Long. Talking to fans in an IRC discussion, Garriott explained “Ultima IX is in fact my main focus at Origin…in fact UO has been managed and run by Starr Long.. with me watching over his shoulder”. Although the head of the studio would give a creative hand from time to time, it wouldn’t be until Ultima Ascensions’ postponement that he would take an active role in developing the game.

-Adam Tingle, The Making of a Classic Part I. SOURCE: MMORPG.COM

The Open World concept is not just ‘big world’ where you play in ‘non-linear’ way. It is not a coincidence that the Open World was originated with Ultima I and each installment pushed the Open World concept further. Certainly Ultima games were influenced by other games (Times of Lore, Wizardry, etc.). But gaming, itself, kept wrapping around one concept: go around and kill stuff. DOOM was fun in multiplayer, but DOOM is not an Open World game.

What if the interaction and crafting of the Ultima series was brought to online gaming? What if you needed other players in order to achieve goals? And wouldn’t the virtue system be present by having people gain notoriety through the game community and not be an ass?

Inspired by pen and paper gaming; the project wouldn’t focus on the heroics of the individual, but instead the idea of co-existing in a world with others. You could be a hardened fighter, slaying monsters, or instead you might be a simple blacksmith, forging the armour and weaponry for those more courageous sorts – both play styles were catered for, and both equally important: you need the chain of production to get anything done, even in Britannia.

This concept of “playing to bake bread” wasn’t widely lauded as a breakthrough in roleplay, instead it grew derision from certain portions of its audience with Shadowbane’s press campaign running slogans of “we don’t play games to bake bread, we play to crush” – but for the team the idea of immersing yourself in fantasy was key, warrior or not. Raph Koster, now moved to creative lead, and his wife would also see the completion of the crafting system they had earlier designed – an ingenious system which attached abstract concepts to game objects, explaining further Koster on his blog wrote “for example, any object with the “wood” quality could burn when an object with the fire “fire” quality came into contact with it. Crafting was the act of moving qualities from one object to another.”

-Adam Tingle, The Making of a Classic Part II. SOURCE: MMORPG.COM

Based off of Meridian 59’s numbers, Electronic Arts thought that 30,000 sales would be the lifetime number for Ultima Online. But in order to stress test Ultima Online, Origin needed volunteers. If anyone wanted to test the game, send an envelope with two dollars so Origin can ship you a beta disc. 50,000 people did this. Electronic Arts, shocked, moved the Ultima XI team onto Ultima Online and infused tons of money into the project. While Ultima Online was only designed for a small number of people, in the last nine months EA was demanding the game be designed for at least ten times that.

The Story of Ultima Online

Above: Intro to Ultima Online

Did you know that Ultima Online actually has a story and fits into the canon of Ultima lore? Origin did not like inconsistencies.

The story goes back to the end of Ultima I when the stranger-that-would-become-the-Avatar kills Mondain and shatters the Gem of Immortality. The Gem of Immortality holds the world of Sosaria. Within each shard is a copy of that world, its own server so to say. This explains why there can be so many multiple worlds with different events and actions going on them. The shattering of the Gem of Immortality into ‘shards’, why each realm is a ‘shard’, is the origin of the word ‘shard’ today in MMORPG language.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game or MMORPG was coined by Richard Garriott.

Above: The cloth map of Ultima Online. The game cost $64.99 and cost $10 a month to play.

 

Trammel

Ultima Online was wrecked by player killing. No one had made a MMORPG quite like this with so much freedom. Human nature was revealing its fascinating head and people would cheat, kidnap, rob, and murder. Origin would create a copy of the game and call it Trammel where it was not possible to player kill without the other player’s consent. Trammel was named after one of Britannia’s two moons (the other being Felucca). The original Ultima Online world with its player killing was renamed Felucca.

Above: The original Ultima Online commercial

Ultima Online would see the rise of people buying houses in it (legal question: can people own property in this virtual world? Courts ruled no), online gambling, and all other legal cases that I’m not going to go into. Everquest and World of Warcraft stand tall in large part due to those pioneering pains Ultima Online went through and legal precedents it established.

The spirit of Ultima was about role-playing… by playing a role… not just min-maxing stats. Ultima Online’s open world defined the online RPG experience in ways that competitors would copy…. just like they did with Ultima First Person Perspective (Ultima Underworld), Ultima world interaction RPG (Ultima VII), Ultima tactical combat and world exploration RPG (Ultima III), and so on and so forth. If you say to the makers of these RPG games, “Man, your game reminds me of Ultima,” they will take that as the ultimate compliment.

But there is another story with Ultima Online. It was the first Direct X game ever made.

 

Origin helped craft and give us Direct X

These are the words of Alex St. John, one of the creators of Direct X.

For those who do not know, PC gaming stayed on DOS and never ran on Windows because Windows was such a memory hog. PC games want direct access to the hardware which Windows prevented with its shells. Direct X was the solution. The success of Direct X allowed PC gaming to thrive, become more accessible, and spawn the Xbox game console franchise.

There was a time before I joined the game industry that I was just a gamer fanboy like most teenagers.  I made my first games on a Commodore Vic-20 when I was a kid in Alaska and I avidly consumed Commodore games well into the Amiga generation before Commodore tragically went out of business.  When I moved on to PC-Dos gaming I of course began playing Origin games.  Ultima was the Diablo and World of Warcraft of my generation.  The Ultimate graphic RPG that all nerd kids loved to play.  Back then Richard Garriott was the geek lord to games almost everywhere.  When I was a kid playing Ultima games I never thought that I might actually meet or become friends with Garriott (Lord British) one day and get to play a small role in one of the greatest gaming revolutions ever… the first great graphic MMOG, Ultima Online.

-Alex St. John, “Ultima Online and Direct X.” (Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nmm_ND4TTDEJ:www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/06/21/ultima-online-and-directx/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

Above: Alex St. John

Here is the story of how Ultima Online, aside from revolutionizing online video games, revolutionized PC gaming technology. Listen!

In the summer of 1994 I had been given the opportunity at Microsoft to move on from my role as Publishing Evangelist having played an instrumental role in overhauling the Windows 95 and Windows NT print architectures and graphic capabilities.  My management wanted me to become a MAPI evangelist but I had little knowledge or interest in the space.  I had heard about a role as a Game Evangelist coming open but it sounded like a tedious chore since the task involved rounding up thousands of DOS games and getting them adapted to run reliably in the Windows 95 command shell.  I hadn’t given the opportunity much serious consideration until a twist of fate stuck me with the role.  Intel was making noises about a new software multimedia layer that they were creating and wanted a Microsoft speaker to support the launch of an API platform called 3DR (It had an earlier name that I don’t recall)  Microsoft and Intel were engaged in a sort of cold war for control of the PC platform.  Intel wanted to prevent an open market for third party PC accelerators in favor of keeping as much Windows media functionality dependent on the Intel CPU as possible.  Paul Maritz, then responsible for all Microsoft platforms wanted to send an evangelist to “investigate” Intel’s initiative and devise a counter strategy for Microsoft.   I was asked to do the job at the last minute because I was the graphic expert with a 3D background who was most comfortable with extemporaneous public speaking.

My report back to Paul Maritz was that Intel’s strategy was to systematically virtualize the Windows driver architecture such that the entire Windows hardware stack was running on top of Intel hardware emulators.   I proposed as a counter-strategy that Microsoft should focus on enabling the broadest range of new hardware and media accelerators for the PC as possible to keep the PC hardware market as open, diverse and therefore dependent on Windows as possible.   It was a few months later that I wrote the first Taking Fun Seriously strategy document that proposed focusing on gaming and gaming driver API’s as a way of squeezing Intel out of the software emulated hardware business.  I was given the job of “Game Evangelist” and got saddled with the enormous chore of trying to ensure that thousands of DOS games would be made compatible with the Windows 95 CMD shell.  It was this very early initiative to work with leading DOS game developers on rudimentary support for their games that began the DirectX saga.

-Alex St. John, “Ultima Online and Direct X.” (Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nmm_ND4TTDEJ:www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/06/21/ultima-online-and-directx/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

 

The first game company the Microsoft Direct X would go to would be Origin.

Of course the very first game company on my list was Origin located in Austin Texas and recently acquired by Electronic Arts.  I found a technical contact there named Zack Simpson who was responsible for their libraries and a lot of their technology strategy.  I had some Microsoft “Games Evangelist” business cards printed up and hopped a flight down to Texas.  (My first meeting with id Software and John Carmack took place on the same trip, but that’s another story)  I’m embarrassed to say that the experience of visiting Origin for me was like a kid on Christmas morning, it was magical.  When I arrived at Origins office building I was disappointed to find that there was no receptionist at the front desk, just a sign pointing toward a dark off kilter doorway that read; “Waiting area”.  The waiting area was a dark corner with one chair occupied by a human skeleton wearing a suit with a brief case at its side covered with cob webs.  I had just stepped through the looking glass.  None of the doorways at Origin were straight, down some long hallways the door ways each tilted a little further to the left than the next giving you the odd sensation that you should lean to the left and try to walk on the walls.  Every office was a menagerie of monsters, armor, game art and funny signs and posters.  It was a very fun, creative and I suspect demanding place to work.  The Origin people, like their leader were all very creative, intelligent, passionate about their work and comfortable with their eccentricity.

The assembled about 30 people who were working on various Origin projects including Wing Commander III, Crusader and other games to listen to the Microsoft guy speak.  I demonstrated WinG for them, extolled the virtues of creating games for Windows 95 and informed them that if they were receptive to working with Microsoft on making Windows games, I would be their point of contact.   They listened politely which was a better reception than I got at many game companies.  (Doing Darth Vader impressions while I spoke was a more common reception)  Afterwards Zack, Ken Demarest (creator of the famous Multima prototype) and a few other engineers working on the game libraries to talk about Windows game development.

Boy did I get an earful.  They all hated Windows,  and hated Microsoft, the universal theme was the Windows was a giant, bloated resource sucking monstrosity that obstructed access to the hardware and media capabilities their games needed and consumed precious RAM and CPU cycles for no useful return.  Unlike evangelists from Apple and IBM they had met with they were shocked to learn that I was actually an engineer ( and genuine fan of their games ) and made them give me a detailed accounting of all of the technical problems they perceived with Windows.  It was probably that first dialog that set most of the gears in motion for thinking about how to redesign Windows truly be a gaming platform.  Zack was very intelligent, very knowledge and very comprehensive in his understanding of what Windows needed to have a prayer as a gaming platform.  I don’t think any of them believed I had the power to do a damn thing for them back then and frankly neither did I, but it started with understanding the problem.

-Alex St. John, “Ultima Online and Direct X.” [Emphasis is Malstrom’s.] (Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nmm_ND4TTDEJ:www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/06/21/ultima-online-and-directx/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

Origin and Ultima Online helped craft, design, and eventually popularize Direct X.

Above: Ultima Online gameplay

Origin’s mad genius Zack Simpson was instrumental to teaching Microsoft how to support games and in getting Ultima Online created as the first DirectX Game

Once we’d covered the mundane technology minutia, we got onto the subject of multiplayer gaming which was a very new and novel idea in gaming back then principally because computers were expensive and hard to network in that era.  It wasn’t as though people had a couple three thousand dollar gaming PC’s in their homes, let alone knew how to configure their modems to connect with each other over an analog phone line. I attempted to make the case that aside from Windows innumerable shortcomings it was their best hope for making networked games in the future.  We talked extensively about how amazing a multiplayer version of Ultima would be.

Zack seemed very motivated by this conversation and asked me if I might be interested in having dinner with Richard Garriott that evening.  He encouraged me to talk to Garriott about the possibilities for multiplayer Ultima on Windows.  Of course I readily agreed and spent the rest of the day trying to calm the butterfly’s I was getting from thinking about having dinner with the greatest game designer of all time as far as I was concerned.   I can’t recall the restaurant we ate at but I do recall that Garriott arrived in a black Lamborgini with the girlfriend du jour.  Richard was living large from his recent EA sale.

-Alex St. John, “Ultima Online and Direct X.” (Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nmm_ND4TTDEJ:www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/06/21/ultima-online-and-directx/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

The reader may ask, “Malstrom, why are you posting everything St. John is saying?” It is because the source is cached. This signals this information will soon be lost for eternity once the cache is cleared. What St. John is saying will be preserved here at least.

 

The next parts of this story I’m told are NOT consistent with some of the popular lore about how Ultima Online began.  I never followed the books and stories that came from the success of the first great graphic MMOG and I have had some angry responses from people in the game industry who readily assert a different sequence of events and timing.  I don’t know, I can only say what I recall and confess that perhaps the passage of years and old age has altered my recollections.  That said, some of these conversations are fairly vivid for me because I was certainly highly starstruck when they occurred.  I recall that Garriott tended to work his own version of the Richard Branson look with the regal beard and hair.  After some small talk I started enthusing to him about how cool a multiplayer version of Ultima would be.  Garriott is eccentric, you definitely get the sense that part of him is living in another time and place but during that conversation I got the distinct impression that he was NOT sold on the idea of making a multiplayer Ultima although clearly people around him had been working on him about it.  Two parts of the conversation stuck in my memory.  I recall that he expressed doubt about how a multiplayer Ultima game would keep a party of players together.  He was concerned that they would all run off in different directions and not stay on the same screen together.  I recall expressing that such behavior might not be a bad thing, why not let them?  People would form parties naturally when the game circumstances suited them.  He had doubts about how story lines and scenarios would be kept synchronized in such situations.  To me he seemed skeptical of the idea but receptive.  I did not know at the time that Ken Demerest had already written the now legendary multima demo.  I left the evening with the impression that Garriott was still early in his receptiveness to the whole multiplayer gaming idea.

-Alex St. John, “Ultima Online and Direct X.” [Emphasis is St. John’s.] (Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nmm_ND4TTDEJ:www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/06/21/ultima-online-and-directx/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

He’s right. What he is saying is certainly not part of the ‘lore’ that created Ultima Online.

Above: Ultima Online’s “Stones” music. Original midi version. (Ultima Online music was originally midi but was remade. Old Schoolers prefer the midi.

Interestingly Garriott had enormous curiosity about everything, he is also an amazingly generous person.  Although he was not committal about my urging him to make a multiplayer Ultima game for Windows he agreed to send three of his best engineers to Microsoft for a month to attempt to port Origin games to Windows.  It was the enormous success and impact of this mission that fundamentally shaped and defined the DirectX platform.  The three engineers where Zack Simpson for Ultima, Frank Savage for Wing Commander and a third engineer who’s name eludes me which is unfortunate because he was the one who showed me a multiplayer demo while at Microsoft.  Zack worked on getting Ultima running on an early prototype of DirectX, Frank on Wing Commander and I would have sworn that their engineer was doing some kind of multiplayer port.  I recalled Zack and the other engineer showing me what I recall them claiming was a demo called Multima running on Windows using the Crusader engine.  Years later I asked Zack what his recollection was and he said that they might have shown me Ken Demarest’s multima demo.  In retrospect, had I known that I was participating in a historic moment I might have paid closer attention to what was going on.

In any event, I’m certain that they showed me a multiplayer Ultima like game running on Windows.  During their visit they worked closely with the early DirectX engineers which played an instrumental role in educating Microsoft developers in how games were actually made and what was needed from an operating system to support them.  A close relationship developed between the Origin and Microsoft folks which really helped shape the technology.  Zack was outspoken and demanding which was exactly what otherwise relatively cocky Microsoft people needed to get the message.  During that period, Origin also worked closely with the Windows 95 group to get their DOS games working in the Windows 95 command shell.  That effort was run by a young program manager named Bob Heddle, which is noteworthy today because Bob went on to become responsible for the XBOX Kinect product.

-Alex St. John, “Ultima Online and Direct X.” [Emphasis is Malstrom’s] (Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nmm_ND4TTDEJ:www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/06/21/ultima-online-and-directx/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

With Ultima VII, Origin engineers made some amazing systems such as the John Miles sound system which other games used. Is it any wonder that Origin engineers would have influence for the development of Direct X?

I can’t tell if Bob Heddle was an Origin employee or Microsoft employee. Regardless, Heddle was responsible for Kinect.

Here is what changed with Windows 95 thanks to Origin’s influence:

Although the DirectX API’s are well known today, they weren’t the only solution to Windows gaming problems.  There were many changes that had to be made to Windows to support games that did not merit participation in the DirectX family of API’s.  With guidance from Zack and other respected members of the game community that he introduced us to we made many changes to Windows 95 and NT to better support games including;

1)      The KillGDI API added to WinG to disable the Windows GUI so games could talk directly to the video card without a fat Microsoft driver in the way.

2)      API’s were added to Windows 95 and Windows NT to allow games to prevent virtual memory used by games from being paged out by the OS

3)      Changes were made to the CD-ROM drivers to prevent caching that slowed game load times

4)      Autoplay was added to Windows 95 to enable games to install and boot directly from a CD

5)      The UDP protocol layer was exposed in the WinSockets API to support real-time multiplayer gaming

6)      A hack that would become DirectInput was created (by Craig Eisler, now responsible for XBOX ONE Online Services) to enable digital joystick and gamepad support

In short, Zack Simpson and Richard Garriotts role in pioneering MMOG games went well beyond creating Ultima Online.  In a sense Ultima Online, although it was not launched until 1997 was the very first independent DirectX game created.  *I was unsuccessful at persuading Origin to use Windows NT servers instead of Linux for Ultima Online but no hard feelings… They really challenged the NT team to meet the performance they were getting out of Linux.

-Alex St. John, “Ultima Online and Direct X.” (Cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:nmm_ND4TTDEJ:www.alexstjohn.com/WP/2013/06/21/ultima-online-and-directx/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

Origin was responsible for Auto-Play feature in Windows 95? Who knew!?

 

Ultima Online certainly revolutionized online gaming, but it revolutionized the technology behind PC gaming. This second revolution is never talked about.

 

Ultima Online 2

Above: The logo for Ultima Online 2

Ultima Online 2 development was started in 1999 and to be released in 2001. The game was 3d and would improve upon the MMORPG genre. Origin even tried to remain consistent with the storyline by saying some of the shards of Mondain’s shattered Gem of Immortality were combined which combined all times into one resulting in a Steampunk world.

Above: Trailer to Ultima Online 2

A commenter on the above video claims to have been a developer for the game.

Worked as a web developer at Origin while this was in development. The whole project was a complete disaster. There were a lot of talented people working on the game but the project management was just awful. What you see in this trailer is just about everything that was ever finished. Mo-capped models and static environments that a character could walk around in. As the video shows, there was more focus on martial arts moves than building the game systems. Damn shame because the art was badass.

-“budkin”, declared developer on UO 2. SOURCE: Youtube.

Development was ceased for UO2 by EA because they said they did not want to eat into UO 1’s sales and profit margins. However, if “budkin” is correct, then the actual reason was because nothing was getting done. Most of the UO2 development team left to go make Tabula Rasa.

The trailer is quite fascinating and a showcase of ingenious editing.

 

Shroud of the Avatar

Shroud of the Avatar is not a sequel to the mainline Ultima games or could even be considered an actual Ultima. Shroud of the Avatar is actually a sequel to Ultima Online. Funded by kickstarter and made by many people whose “hearts are in the right place despite their lack of skills” (as was told to me), the game should be coming out soon. Shroud of the Avatar’s main claim to novelty is that one can alter how much multiplayer he or she wants in his or her game world. You can play by yourself, with friends, or with everyone. It is up to you. Richard Garriott thinks this will be the natural progression. Is he right? I don’t know.

Above: Gameplay of Shroud of the Avatar

Above: An early review. The game is still months from release and still being developed.

“What is going on here, Malstrom?” demands the reader. “Your entry with Ultima Online is very short where it could go very long. Ultima Online was one of the most revolutionary video games ever made!”

As always, I am stunned by the wisdom of the reader. What you say is true. The reason why not more is unfolder over Ultima Online is because other sites have done a thorough job on this, and I tip my hat off at them. Instead, I prefer to focus the spotlight on what people do not write on.

The reason why you do not hear much, despite being the most recent, of the last Ultima made is because of all the heartbreak.

“Heartbreak?”

It is too difficult to talk about (and those wh0 do go insane [ex: Spoony]). The final say of Ultima on the Open World is the most hated, despised, and reviled Ultima ever made. It will baffle the reader… as it resembles like every RPG you see today.

[Back to Table of Contents]

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 5, 2017

Wait for the other shoe to drop for Mega Man 11

So much excitement!

But wait for the DLC, the micro-transactions, and the loot boxes. Do you think it is just going to be a game? hahaha, silly reader!

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 5, 2017

Email: Why the Wii U didn’t appeal

Hey, Malstrom

I can tell you why the Wii U didn’t appeal to everyone, and it really had nothing to do with the games. It was entirely the gamepad.

I’m mostly your stereotypical male lifelong hardcore gamer. My younger sister is also a lifelong gamer, but she’s the type of gamer who only plays a few games per generation A LOT (she wore out an N64 racing game’s battery backed memory from playing it so much). While I pay attention to the ins and outs of gaming or consoles, she’s more the type who checks in once in awhile to see what’s happening, and if she sees something she likes, she immediately gets excited about it, and it usually falls in line with casual interests that explode. She got excited for the Wii because the motion controls looked cool, she was excited for the DS. She generally likes to get an Xbox or a Playstation later in a generation because she likes playing a sports game or two and Nintendo is generally just shit at getting major sports-game support in a way that isn’t gimped.

With the Wii U Gamepad, she hated it immediately. It looked terrible, it looked bulky, she didn’t like how it was described to work. It was a very visceral reaction.

However near the end of the gen, we did end up picking one up (we split costs and share consoles), and she completely flipped on it. She liked being able to hook her TV up to youtube with it, she liked being able to game on the couch or in her bed with it even though the console had to be nearby, she liked games like Splatoon, which made shooting multiplayer games she generally didn’t like fun and low-pressure. When she saw the Switch and how it removed the tethering of the Wii U Gamepad, she went NUTS over it, she’s bought more games for it than she’s ever bought for any other console and we’re not even one year in.

The Wii U was a failure because Nintendo was actually right, they did need to get it into people’s hands to get across how good, if incomplete, the concept was, but that was the general problem, people aren’t going to come to you so you can prove your concept, you have to prove your concept to them in a way that they can just see and instantly have make sense. A tablet that you can only go so far with and that still has to be connected to your TV didn’t make immediate sense to people the same way the Wiimote or Switch docking did. It wasn’t like the DS where you could see the concept early on but there weren’t any must-have games to play on it, or even like the Vita, which does a lot of what the Switch does but had no games that anyone cared about on it, the Wii U was never going to be saved by a killer game or killer slate of games because people just didn’t connect with what it did at first sight.

No. Console Sales 101: games always, ALWAYS sell the hardware. If the hardware isn’t selling, the problem is with the games.

This is not what Nintendo wants to hear. This is not what Nintendo fans want to hear. But it is the golden law of console gaming: the console is just a box you buy to get to the game.

There are no game consoles out there that didn’t sell because the game library was ‘too good’. This is hardcore gamer alternative reality. What exactly were the people supposed to buy for the Turbografx 16 if they didn’t like shmups? The CD-i, the 3DO, the Jaguar, the list goes on.

I remember the Atari 2600 not selling until Space Invaders came out. This one game rocketed the Atari 2600 and created a market where third parties could make games for it and be profitable (Pitfall! “Jump over the alligator, reader!”)

The NES was really shitty hardware. No one liked it. The reason why Nintendo put out the NES Advantage was because gamers demanded joysticks. Who played with a controller that you held with two hands? And WTF is with that D pad?

“Fuck that NES shit. Nothing can touch the Commodore 64!” I said this.

It was the games that defined the NES, it was games that caused people to buy the system.

If the hardware isn’t selling, it is almost certainly because the games are not appealing to the mass market.

When the Switch launched, people said, “Dead on arrival. Look at that atrocious game library.” I thought the game library was awesome. You had Zelda. You had Bomberman. You had Mario Kart. You had Binding of Isaac. You had Puyo puyo Tetris. You had Street Fighter 2. People aren’t buying the Switch because of the hardware, they are buying the Switch for the software. This is shown with more Zelda BoW “Wow!”s sold than Switch hardware initially. This is shown with the very high sell through of Switch software. Software sells the hardware, not the other way around. It is the Golden Law of Console Gaming.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 5, 2017

Email: Wii U Pro Controller on PC, DKC Tropical Freeze

I’m glad someone else recognizes how awesome this controller is. It’s what every controller should aspire to be, perfect d-pad, amazing ergonomics, good sized buttons that have just the right amount of resistance, analog sticks that don’t require you to buy rubber caps just to prevent them from literally melting (looking at you, Playstation controllers), and a battery life that’s so long I actually can’t measure it correctly and all I know is that I use it every single day and I have to charge it once a month, or at most 3 times every 2 months. It’s insane.

Problem is, I already exhausted the small Wii U library a long time ago. But fear not when you also get to that point (shouldn’t take too long sadly), as there is a program to use it on a PC. It’s been my main PC gaming controller for years now. Search wiinupro and you’ll find it.
It can take a bit of work to get it to play nice with your bluetooth adapter depending on the drivers and all, but it’s so worth it.

As for the Wii U, I believe it’s a great purchase, especially if Nintendo continues to play hard to get with the ports on the Switch. We all know they’ll happen, just a matter of when. They’ll probably wait for when Switch releases hit a dry period. But as for right now, some great games to enjoy on it, chief among them in my opinion is Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze.

Tropical Freeze has what NSMBU lacks, a desire to build a world and have every level feel like a small part of that world. Sure, there’s crazy things like giant popsicle machines and flying sawmills, but the way the game does its best to make that feel like part of the world is something you don’t see in most platformers. You’ll go from a clear skies Savannah level to then meet and dive straight through a huge hurricane in the next, and that hurricane is spreading wildfire over the next part of the map so the next level is a blazing inferno, it’s fantastic, and the music has to be heard and speaks for itself. The level design is downright surgical, probably the best in any platformer as far as gameplay flow and synergy between obstacles go. It’s very hard though, and if you get annoyed at precise timing requirements you might not enjoy it as much as I did.

What game it is for me though, every level is unique in both theme and gameplay concept, and it executes everything perfectly.

By the time it came out people already pronounced the Wii U dead though, which is a sad thing. It needs a Switch port, more people need to play that game, preferably using the Pro Controller, which more people should also get before they are gone. The Switch Pro Controllers can’t even come close to it.

I’ll get to DK Tropical Freeze soon enough. I do love the Wii U controller and its lush D-pad. I’m going to try a Mayflash adapter to play it on Switch. If I can do that, I’ll get another. Fuck these $80 controllers with bad D-pads! I could also use the second one for PC gaming too!

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 5, 2017

Email: 3D World

One quick note. You may not like 3D World, but I do find myself replaying it. It has some of the slow gameplay and ridiculous suit ideas, but it’s fun. If I had to limit myself to five Wii U games, it would always make the cut.

I’m worried that it is as boring as NSMB aesthetics and that the game is designed around 4 player multiplay making lame bloviated single player levels.

I’ll try to pick it up sooner or later.

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 5, 2017

Email: NSMB U

I forgot all about that ghost stage and most of the bs in the game. Whenever I play it, I play from the same save file to avoid the stuff that I don’t like. That probably should have been a red flag there. Also, I never made it past the first world of Luigi U. It’s not tough, it’s just not fun. It was pretty much a scam to sell a bs rom hack and to appease Luigi fans with the year of Luigi nonsense that someone came up with two minutes before it was announced.

I’ll tackle Super Luigi U but only after I get the NSMB U toxicity out of my system. I do like the idea of a Luigi platformer and shorter levels, but I dislike the re-used assets. We’ll see how it goes.

 

 

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 4, 2017

Mega Man 10

I love it!

And for more awesomeness, Mega Man Legacy 1 and 2 will be on Switch (where Mega Man is on cartridges, where he belongs).

Mega Man Legacy 1 is

Mega Man Legacy 2 is

Mega Man must never die!

And to you hardcore gamers who think this game is ‘beneath them’ and not a ‘real game’, no Mega Man for you!

For the nostalgia…

Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 3, 2017

Email: Nintendo 64 games that have aged well

The thing about the Nintendo 64 is that it’s basically only going to appeal to you if you like 90s style FPSes, arcade-y racing games, wrestling games, and 3D Nintendo games. There was just SO little support for most genres.

Here are some of the games that I can still endorse personally, though your mileage may vary.

FPS:
Doom 64 (original game, not a port)
Quake II (also an original game, similar to the PC version gameplay-wise, but with all new levels and a split-screen multiplayer mode)
Turok
Turok 2
Turok 3
Turok Rage Wars (and “arena multiplayer” version of Turok, don’t bother with this one if you won’t be playing multiplayer)
Goldeneye 007
Perfect Dark
Forsaken 64 (if you like Descent check this out, probably THE best “Descent clone” [and it IS a clone, I’m surprised they didn’t get sued for copyright infringement])

RACING:
Cruis’n USA
Cruis’n World
Cruis’n Exotica
Off-Road Challenge
Hydro Thunder
San Francisco Rush
San Francisco Rush 2049
Rush 2
Wipeout 64
F-Zero X
Mario Kart 64
Wave Race 64
Road Rash 64

MISCELLANEA:
Star Fox 64
NBA Hangtime
NBA Showtime
NFL Blitz
NFL Blitz 2000
NFL Blitz 2001
NFL Blitz Special Edition
Gauntlet Legends
Rampage – World Tour
Robotron 64
Vigilante 8
Vigilante 8 – 2nd Offense
BattleTanx
BattleTanx – Global Assault
Blast Corps
Goemon’s Great Adventure
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Super Smash Bros.
Sin & Punishment
Ogre Battle 64

And then depending on what you think of 3D Mario and early 3D Zelda, both Mario 64 and the 2 Zelda games on the system are OK.

I’m probably missing a few, but that covers the bulk of what’s still worth playing. As you can see, if you’re not into certain genres, it’s a pathetically small and limited library.

I couldn’t agree more.

It will be interesting to unravel the Wii U library. Some say, “It is the best quality library ever!” Sales suggest otherwise. Since few bought a Wii U, people can say anything. I already know Nintendo Land and NSMB U are not great games. Hyrule Warriors is pretty good.

I like that the Wii U has a proper D pad. There are also many 2d platformers for the Wii U. Wii U’s library is rich in 2d platformers and has four Zelda games (not including the Virtual Console). The Wii U classic controller is very good, has great D pad, and has a stupendous battery life.

People keep blaming the Wii U hardware for the Wii U’s market fall. However, I quite like the hardware. Wii U is 100% backwards compatible with the Wii. The Wii U classic controller is god-like, and the Gamepad is obtuse but not bad. I am strongly suspecting though that the games are terrible or irrelevant which sank the system. I’ll find out for sure as I wade deeper into the library.

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