Switching back to Nintendo

My mate Matt Allen kindly agreed to voice his excitement for the upcoming Nintendo Switch console in the form of before and after posts. Here’s part one.

The Nintendo Switch launches March 3rd, and I could not be more excited.

I have been watching the unveiling, promotion and rumours since back before we even knew it was called the Switch. That’s when I used to spend about an hour every day on the NX Reddit page, poring over product patents and rumours. Instead of keeping up with my favourite TV shows, I now just watch YouTube videos about the Switch, breaking down the hardware, talking about the launch line up and discussing all the things that could be possibly coming in the future. I have stopped listening to true crime podcasts and now I just listen to video games podcasts. In a nutshell, I am obsessed.

(I’d recommend Filthy Casuals, Infendo, Nintendo Sushi, Nintendo Week and Radio Free Nintendo. I would be lying if I said I didn’t listen to around 10 more a week on top of these.)

There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about a product launch, or excited about a game coming out – but I am worried I’ve been completely swept up aboard the Nintendo Switch hype train, and I may go crashing off a cliff if the console doesn’t match my expectations.

nintendo hype train

A Nintendo hype train, yesterday.

I haven’t always been a huge Nintendo fan(boy). I didn’t buy the Wii U until late 2015, and play the vast majority of my games on my Xbox One and PS4. Growing up in England, I played a lot more Sega as a kid than I did Nintendo – as did all my friends and relatives. Most tellingly, I haven’t had the opportunity to play on a Switch. I am not a reviewer; I am not in the media; I am just a guy with a bit of an unhealthy obsession with a new console.

So what is it that has got me so excited, and why should I be worried? In true internet list style, here are my Three Pros and Cons for the Nintendo Switch.

nintendoswitchlogo-svg

Pros of wanting a Nintendo Switch

Pro Controller and Joy Cons – The versatility of the controllers for the Switch is great. The Joy Cons can be detached, so right out of the box you’ve got a console that two can play. Including a Share button has great hope for the future when it comes to streaming and sharing games footage. It also has something called HD Rumble; these controllers have a lot of tech packed into them. The pro controller has analogue stick positions like the Xbox, which is by far my favourite games controller.

In addition, I can tap my Amiibo on an NFC chip on the Joy Con without having to get off my butt and go to the console when it is docked – this will make it extremely easy for me to stay lazy and overweight, especially considering the controllers’ healthy battery life (20 hours on the Joy Cons, 40 on the Pro Controller). And yes, I have over 100 Amiibo, so it will be pretty great to actually get to use them for something.

The Line Up – Although the Switch’s launch line-up seems a bit thin on the ground Nintendo games are some of my all-time favourites. Within a year of launch I will be playing a new Zelda game, a new Super Mario game, a new Splatoon game and Mario Kart 8. Since this is the first hub world Mario game since Sunshine I personally can’t wait – throw in the 60+ indie games coming in 2017, along with new Sonic games and Skyrim that I can play on my daily commute, and it’s clear the console will offer a lot of game time in the first 12 months alone.

It’s a Hybrid – If for some reason you have read this far and didn’t know, this console is both a home console and a handheld. Drop it in a dock and it connects to your TV, pick it up and walk away, and you are playing on the go. This is perfect for me as I slide further into my 30s and don’t have as much time for console gaming as I’d like to.

Nintendo Switch

Cons of buying a Nintendo Switch

Joy Cons – Yes – I know I had this as a Pro, and no – this isn’t just here so I could make a Pros and Cons pun. With the added focus on motion control seen in the launch title 1 2 Switch, Nintendo seems keen to look back on the success of the Wii rather than take a bold step forward from the Wii U. Games like Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers comes with extra motion control modes that, frankly, look terrible.

Am I worried about motion control? No. I think it’ll have some clever uses and there will be some fun to be had, but it’s just not the image I hoped we’d get with this generation. I think the marketing focus should be on Nintendo Switch being a home console that can be taken with you. If the message of what this console is and who it is for gets even slightly muddled it may not sell well, which would be a shame as I don’t want another Wii U.

The Line Up – Although there are a bunch of great Nintendo games coming in 2017, I am actually a bit worried about what impression these give out to someone who isn’t following the news as obsessively as I am. Yes, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is coming at launch – but if you don’t like Zelda, you don’t have much to choose from. I’m excited by the idea of over 60 indie titles releasing this year, but a lot of them have already aired on other consoles or on PC. A portable Elder Scrolls title is amazing – but Skyrim has already been out for six years, not to mention its mod-friendly next-gen update last year.

Hopefully the games will keep coming, but if sales don’t look promising then developers won’t be as inclined to keep making the games. It feels like a missed opportunity for Nintendo – they had the chance to come out with a splash at the start, or at least to have all the dates for games in the future locked down.  Maybe another month or two of development would have helped. I feel like maybe it needed to come out this financial year more than they feel ready to launch it right now.

It is a Hybrid –  I can walk away with the likes of Zelda and Skyrim in my hand, and play it on the bus (or toilet) – that’s going to be great. However, there is a reason that games this big haven’t made it to tablet – they would kill the battery. And kill the battery the Switch probably will – it only has a battery life of between 2.5 and six hours. Six hours is not conducive to a session in Skyrim, I would guess.

Although you can get a larger replacement battery for the Wii U, there’s no such luck with the Switch. As a hybrid console, it’s got to be different things for different uses – possibly too many things. This console can’t be all things for all people, and is already delivering a mixed message on marketing. Is it a successor to the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS? The fact that it is portable and both handheld and console development teams have been merged would seem to suggest so, but that’s not the word we are getting from Nintendo, who understandably has to keep investors happy.

All aboard?

So where does this leave me? I have three things that excite me about this console – the same three things that I also am worried about. It leaves me at a Day One purchase. It leaves me pre-ordering the Pro Controller just in case I hate the small buttons on the Joy Con. It leaves me excited.

I have so many hopes for the console and have already heard exciting things, the launch line up has been beefed up on the last few days with some special E-Shop titles, but my hopes for a full Virtual Console on Launch Day are definitely not going to be met.

We will just have to see how it goes in March. I for one will be off Reddit and YouTube for the day and fully invested in Breath of the Wild, even when on the toilet if I so fancy it.

Matt Allen is a gamer and games collector who loves all consoles. He once accidentally ran a Pokémon Go event for 1000 people, after he invited a few friends to meet up and didn’t set the Facebook event to Private. He loves retro games and has an obsession with Fallout.

Microsoft buys Minecraft – part 3

In the final part of his examination of Mojang’s sale to Microsoft, Anton takes in the geek culture reaction.

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

Now that the business side of it is all discussed, I feel it is time to move on to talking about what may be the most important part of the whole equation.

People sometimes overreact. Hair-trigger geeks tend to overreact slightly more than average. I think that this is because they feel almost totally invested in the idea/show/film/comic/game/character/book, and have attached some part of themselves to it. If that changes, they change. They cannot possibly be the same person if this part of their life is different.

geek culture blog minecraft

Image by Anton Krasauskas – and it’s a doozy!

So when such-and-such gets killed off in whatever series of books, or whatsisface turns heel and powerbombs thingybob through a table, it has not only affected the story, it has actually affected their life. By becoming affiliated with Microsoft, Notch, Mojang and Minecraft have, to some people, ceased to exist in their true form and will forever more be tainted.

Granted, this doesn’t make any logical sense. Looking at it from this angle, it’s difficult to understand why anyone could get upset about anything like this. But the internet, as hard as we try to see it differently, is an illogical place. Rage motivated by hard-lined opinions will always look ridiculous to the outsider. But Minecraft is, understandably, just that important to some people.

I wonder whether there would have been the same volume of displeasure if Notch had left the company before the sale went ahead. Notch, for the last few years, has been an icon to many people. He has been the definitive archetype of the little guy; the underdog. He has surpassed anything that anyone could have expected from him, and through the whole thing he has stayed that humble independent game creator archetype.

But when something becomes big enough that it crosses language barriers, cultural barriers, age gaps and gender differences, there are inevitably going to be a lot of people who want to attach a name or a label to you. He has been called both a hack and a saviour countless times, usually in the same comments thread. To some he is the man who restarted the Indie Games movement and brought it out into the mainstream. To some he is a fraud who took an idea that someone else had and made it his own. But to none of these people is he a human male who made a game that was well liked and critically acclaimed.

And that appears to be the problem. For all of this vitriol and venom to make sense, Notch cannot possibly be just a man who made a game. Either he has had this plan in mind all along and was just stringing along the punters until he could sell out, or he has been tricked out of his beloved baby by the evil MegaCorporation who will destroy and devour everything good about the game they love.

At the root of it all you can find the main reason that internet rage exists: because people are scared about their toys being taken away from them. It sounds trite and oversimplified, but in any of the major trolling scandals of the last five years the basic argument has always been that my opinion means more and if you disagree then I will publish your details on the internet and order fifty pizzas to be delivered to your house, which is then followed by torrents of abuse. These things really do mean that much to some people. If Minecraft had no intrinsic value to someone who was playing it, they would not care so much. If they hadn’t poured weeks of their life into building a cathedral or a village with temples and pyramids then literally no one would care. But because it has become such a huge part of who they are, they feel the need to defend it. Otherwise those weeks and months of building a farm and amassing a huge collection of wolves would be rendered pointless.

To some people, it really does matter that much. Enough to write a two and a half thousand word essay on why it matters at all. And there are not many games that could do that. Gaming as a whole is such a broad subject because it encompasses all sorts of things, from the people who play games to concepts of level design and risk vs reward. But Minecraft is one of the few games that is almost a subject of its own. It is so many different things to so many different people. That is something that has not been achieved on such a scale in as long as I can remember. And as long as people continue to play it, it will survive.

Thanks so much to Anton Krasauskas for his take on the Mine-crosoft situation. You can find Anton on Twitter @ajkrasauskas

Microsoft buys Minecraft – Part 2

Will we lose the Minecraft modding community? And can Microsoft be trusted with a truly iconic franchise?

Following on from last week’s post, guest writer Anton discusses what Microsoft could feasibly do with their new titan of a gaming property – not to mention the company that made it. 

A major concern for those who play Minecraft on the PC is the future of third party mod support. There are entire sub communities that don’t even play Vanilla Minecraft anymore, choosing instead to spend their time with one of the countless mods that has popped up during the game’s lifespan.

Each of these mods takes things in their own weird direction, letting people choose what sort of Minecraft they want to play. There’s a Pokemon mod; there are mods that add countless new elements; enemies, creatures, weapons, tools, abilities, textures, resources and so on. There is one huge mod pack that lets players build huge mining and drilling facilities, allowing the player to automate the mining and processing of entire swathes of land. You name it, someone has probably spent a few dozen hours programming it and adding it to their own bespoke version of Minecraft.

For these people it is a game that lets them make the game they want to play. Like Steve Jackson’s Generic Universal Role Playing System (or GURPS for short) in the world of pen and paper RPGs, Minecraft for some is more like a toolset than a game. But to be able to get all this usability from the game requires that the players are allowed to modify and adjust the code, play around with the parameters and manipulate various other factors to their hearts’ content. Will Microsoft allow all this stuff to continue to happen? For now they probably will. But it would not be a shock to see an “Official” Mods section on their cash shop. And why would you buy a mod when someone can figure out how it was done and make that mod themselves for free?

(By the way, I am almost positive that there will be a cash shop at some point in the next few years.)

minecraft ship

image and building: Ruth Allen

The truth is that of course someone was going to buy Mojang. It was really only a matter of time until it got snapped up. It’s actually not hyperbolic to say that Minecraft and Mojang have changed everything about the landscape of current gen gaming. They introduced the concept of crowd funding to a mass audience, brought online gaming to a whole new generation and convinced parents around the world that games can encourage learning on a scale not considered before. Game companies are starting to experiment with different art styles as pixels and voxels come back into fashion. And now all of that has been claimed by Microsoft in one single purchase. Every single piece of it. It’s not just the game itself that has been bought. The entire world around the game now also belongs to Microsoft. The books that have just recently been released and spent most of the summer at the top of the children’s book charts are all now property of Microsoft. The Lego sets, the plushies, the action figures, the Minecraft Convention ‘Minecon’, all of it. Even the Steve heads.

There are those who say that there is absolutely nothing to worry about; that Microsoft has a history of making quality games. And I can agree that in the past there have been some great titles. Solitaire and Minesweeper are pretty good. The original version of Flight Simulator is one that I remember fondly but looking back on it I can’t actually remember why. And then there is Age of Empires, which was a respectable series in its day. But you only have to look at how long Age of Empires Online lasted to see what they are willing to do to even their most beloved of PC franchises. It was, like so many similar games these days, a glorified shakedown machine disguised as an old favourite. In terms of how badly managed it all was, it was matched only by EA’s latest shambles, the once beloved Dungeon Keeper. And then there is Games For Windows Live which has officially been dismantled, but it is easy to get nervous about what Microsoft might be planning when you look at the captive audience that they now have control of. It worries me that they won’t be able to help themselves and will shoehorn in some bloated social network overlay that connects you directly to the online capes and hats shop. And some sort of online Minecraft/Bing network.

I can’t do this anymore. I tried to remain as impartial and as fair as I could. But even I am a little bit dubious as to what Microsoft will do. There have already been confirmations that there will be a Pocket Edition of Minecraft specially designed for Windows Phone. I’m guessing that it will come bundled as Standard with all new copies of Windows – whatever number they are up to. The Mac, Linux, PS4, iOS and Android editions will probably stay exactly as they are now for the rest of time. There will be minimal free updates. There will be special Xbone tie-ins and Avatar items. There will be at least one film out in the next five years. Probably a TV show. All pigs in the game will start wearing I ❤ Surface t-shirts. All glass textures will be replaced with the Windows logo. Cows will have cameras in their eyes so they can spy on you and send the information back to Microsoft HQ. Steve will be replaced with Bill Gates. The Nether will be filled with pixelated Macbooks and iPad, all of them on fire. All the tools will be monogrammed with little MS’s. And all the graphics will be changed so it looks like they were drawn in MSPaint.

Maybe that last one isn’t so bad.

…TO BE CONTINUED.

Microsoft buys Minecraft – Part 1

The Mine-crosoft Debacle rages on, as guest writer Anton Krasauskas gives his thoughts on Mojang’s purchase by Microsoft.

I wanted to give this article a little bit of breathing space before I wrote it. I felt as though this topic was far too big to simply dive into. I wanted to be in a position where I could plug myself in to the whole picture and come out with a sort of wordy collage that covers all the points I care about.

At the end of the day big companies buy up successful smaller companies all the time. When Microsoft bought up Rare, I wasn’t really that bothered. Even considering what they did to Banjo Kazooie. (Viva Pinata was alright I suppose. Conker was…let’s not get into that.) The big question that has been floating around my head this whole time is: why do I care so much about this particular game? What is it about Minecraft that has whipped up such feverish hate from all corners of the internet? Is it just the typical rabble rabble rabble that we’ve all come to expect? Perhaps. But if that’s true, why do I almost feel as though it’s actually justified?

mojang logo microsoft

I can’t remember the year that I bought my copy of the game. But I can remember that zombies still dropped feathers, there was no Nether, no saddles, no Endermen. It was a long time ago. There was one podcast that I was aware of and only a handful of people making videos on Youtube. That community is almost unrecognisable now, even just a few years on. It has grown exponentially month upon month to a point where there are channels and personalities that are making a living just from their Minecraft content alone. I never made any videos or put up building guides or anything like that, but there are people who started doing just that at around the same time as I bought my copy. And now those guys have changed all their Youtube money into pennies and are doing the best impression of Scrooge McDuck that they can. We felt like we were part of a thing that was going to be kind of big. Not like Super Mario big, but maybe STUN Runner big. Little did we know that evil men and women sitting in plush leather seats were plotting to steal our beloved game away from us whilst murdering puppies and then using the dead puppies to eat babies with.

Luckily for us all though, it just got sold to Microsoft instead, which was a big relief.

original Microsoft logo

I think that the main problem that people have is that it’s Microsoft that has bought Mojang. I can’t say for certain whether people would have been as upset if Sony had been the ones to make the offer, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. There seems to still be an idea in certain corners of the internet that Microsoft has no business being involved in gaming. People are desperately waiting for them to fail in some way, and take great pride in pointing out flaws and failures whenever they occur, but we are of course talking about a subculture of individuals that expend a significant amount of their total energy hating things for no other reason than because they can.

Some people were always going to be angry about the huge, evil, lumbering, monstrous corporate entity “Microsoft” purchasing tiny, little, super-friendly, indie startup “Mojang”. In a lot of people’s heads, Minecraft is their game as much as it is anyone else’s. They have been involved in the game since before it was Beta. And to take this choice out of their hands feels to them like they have been robbed. To sell their game (and therefore to sell them as players of the game) to Microsoft is tantamount to betrayal. There was an unspoken trust there that these people were still paying money to the single digit roster of staff working at a tiny little independent start-up company that was just finding its feet. They were giving their money to a cute, delicate newborn duck, and now this huge, faceless, clanking behemoth has stomped the duckling into the concrete and is laughing at each and every person who believed that this tiny little duckling might one day grow wings and fly away to join the bigger ducks in the sky.

But Mojang is a company. A very profitable, successful, lucrative company. And Microsoft is a bigger, more successful, more lucrative company. There is no little guy, just like there is no evil dickhead mob boss. There are just two very well off companies that decided to get together. It helped that Notch was looking around to sell for at least the last six months, but we’ll get into the personal element in a future discussion.

minecraft church

St Ben’s

minecraft church

St Ben’s by night

The main issues that Minecraft players have seem to be fairly obvious. They are worried that they will cease to be a community. The Xbox has been notoriously tarred as the only console with a player base made up of monosyllabic, pre-pubescent, racist, misogynist CoD players and maybe a handful of guys playing FIFA. That is not where they want to be positioned. The Minecraft community is incredibly close knit to say how large it is. And Microsoft has a reputation, possibly undeserved, for looking the other way when it comes to addressing the issues of player harassment and abuse. Players of a family inclusive game about building and creating probably don’t want to be associated with that crowd. I’m sure that there are some nine-year olds who will get home from school, flick on the Xbox, add a floor to their gigantic dinosaur mansion and then switch over to Ghosts so that they can shout “Faggots” as loud as they possibly can for an hour. The audiences are not incompatible. But I am also sure that there are some people who love CoD, but think that Minecraft is gay or boring or whatever, just like I love Minecraft but think that CoD is pointless and irritating, not least because of all of the abuse. Abusive toss rags are not Microsoft’s fault, I understand. But the reputation stands for a reason. And Microsoft has to take some part of that blame.

Follow Anton on Twitter @ajkrasauskas. Watch this space for Part Two of the Microsoft/Minecraft discussion.