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By Nate VanLindt On 10 May, 2017 At 12:35 PM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured, News, NINTENDO, Opinion, ROG News | With 1 Comment

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If you’ve made it past the title of this article, you’ve probably already formed an opinion on this issue.  However, let’s set the record straight.  I love Nintendo’s games.  They make fantastic first party software and many of their games are quite fun.  They also make some durable hardware and their handhelds have excellent battery life.  I’m not a fanboy for any system, I’m just a gamer who likes to play a variety of games.  Unfortunately, Nintendo is making it harder and harder to do just that.  I simply want to buy a system, buy a game, play the game.  It should be a simple recipe, but things have somehow gone wrong.

First up is the hardware.  Forget about all the older systems as we already know how great those are.  Let’s only look at the newer systems.  The WiiU has a painfully paltry 32 GB of storage space without buying a hard drive for your system.  Essentially there is no storage for modern games, especially with the trend towards digital distribution that Nintendo is trying to push.  The same goes for the Switch: a brand new console that has 32 GB of storage space (expandable with MicroSD).   Add the fact that Nintendo’s systems rely on gimmicks like the WiiU tablet and the Switch’s portability instead of raw power for higher-end software like the Xbox and the PS4 and you have an underwhelming experience.

On the portable front, Nintendo is also shooting themselves in the foot.  Since the original Game Boy Advance, they’ve made multiple hardware revisions to every single system they’ve released without offering any rebates to the consumer.  Being an early adopter with Nintendo is a punishing experience.  The 3DS is on its third revision since its release currently (the New 3DS XL) and the announcement just came that  they’re putting out a 2DS XL system and are likely to retire the 3DS line altogether.  As an early adopter to the 3DS line, I lost money replacing the 3DS with the 3DS XL when it came out due to the vastly superior screen and system design.  I did the same on the New 3DS XL which could play some games that the previous iterations couldn’t in addition to a more stable 3D experience and better battery life and screen quality.  In looking at the 2DS XL reviews, it also appears that the build quality has cheapened on the new units with thinner, flimsier top screens and a messy and easily fingerprinted matte color scheme to save fifty dollars on the price.

At this point you may be wondering why anyone even bothers, with 5 versions of the hardware out there.  Nintendo really needs to take the time to determine a solid design and stick with it.  Every version of hardware I have to buy means less games that I buy for that system.  And software makes more money than hardware.  Simple, right?   Don’t even get me started on the NES Classic, one of the most high demand Nintendo products in recent memory, which was under-manufactured, poorly distributed, and then shut down before demand was ever filled.  It was essentially a console that was one big ad to remind people that Nintendo was still around and it was purposely made scarce to fuel demand for Nintendo products.

Now we come to software.  Nintendo, like all game companies, is putting out software that’s unfinished, requiring internet connections and updates for optimization.  In addition, they’ve begun catching up on the DLC market that other consoles and computers have been exploiting for over a decade.  But Nintendo has terrible internet connectivity in their devices, a poorly optimized digital storefront, and worst of all, their digital content is extremely expensive.  If they run sales on DLC, the sales are 10-20% off, not the deep discounts everyone else does.  And now they are leaving out large chunks of their games and charging full price for the remainder of the games too.

Look at the forthcoming Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.  It’s a $40 game which you can buy the season pass for, providing all five DLC packs for the low discount price of $45, five dollars more than the game itself!   And that $45 is a 30% savings off of the retail price of the downloadable content!  On top of that, the game has a pair of Amiibos that can only be bought in a set for $24.99 which unlock additional content.  In the end, to get the complete game with all content works out to $110 plus tax!  This is becoming a standardized marketing tactic and a large number of consumers are falling for it.  I’ve purchased every North American Fire Emblem game since the original release on the Game Boy Advance  and due to this style of predatory sales, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia will be the first Fire Emblem I will not buy.  I feel confident in saying that it won’t be the last one I skip either.

This isn’t an isolated incident either.  Many of Nintendo’s larger first party titles have expensive Amiibos that had very little to actual gameplay.  The much-lauded Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (WiiU, Switch) which only came out a month ago suffers from Amiibo diarrhea.  Eighteen (yes, you read that right) Amiibos add content to this $60 title, five of which were released just for the game totalling an MSRP of $84 plus tax excluding the other 13 figures.   It also already has an Expansion Pass available at a whopping $20.  It’s a large pack, to be fair, but it brings the grand total for the official Breath of the Wild content and main game to a ridiculous $164.   And don’t forget that if you don’t rush to get these short-printed Amiibos, the price goes up quickly on the secondary market and you may end up paying as much as $60 on eBay for an ‘out-of-print’ figure that was just released.  Not all consumers will buy all the extras, but the point is that they shouldn’t have to in the first place.  A game should be overall self-contained when it is released and this is certainly going overboard.

Finally, Nintendo also has a unique view on digital rights management which only allows the transfer of your digital content to another console a total of eight times.  With my upgrades to various iterations of Nintendo systems, I’m personally up to five transfers on some items and that’s without ever having broken a system or had one stolen.  A few more upgrades and I won’t even own the content I paid for anymore, whether I’ve had a chance to play it or not.  No other company does this.  Not Sony, not Microsoft, not Steam.  For everyone else, once you buy it, it’s yours as long as it’s on your system or still available on the server.  What makes Nintendo so different about this?  As far as I can tell, simple greed.  There’s absolutely no excuse for this system of DRM.

I’m tired of paying for inferior processing power on my hardware, multiple hardware upgrades, add-ons that don’t add-on and content that should by all rights be free downloadable additions or already in the game.  As consumers, why are we tolerating this ridiculous amount of nickel and dime-ing for a sub-standard payoff?  I find that for the amount of money I have to spend on Nintendo’s products, I’m simply not getting enough enjoyment out of them anymore.  As gamers, we need to speak with our wallets if we ever want this to stop and Nintendo is the place to start that conversation.   We need to ask ourselves if we are buying for the love of gaming anymore or just simply buying because we can’t stop ourselves.  And we need to be aware that the money we spend, even if it’s just a couple of bucks on a random DLC that interests us, equates to millions of dollars worldwide for companies that don’t put out a better product with that money.  I’ve loved your products for a long time, Nintendo, but I just don’t think I can support your company any longer.

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By Nate VanLindt On 22 Mar, 2017 At 07:44 PM | Categorized As Books, Comics/Manga, Featured, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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Chances are you probably grew up reading either the ‘Hardy Boys’ or the ‘Nancy Drew’ novels.  Those old blue and yellow-spined hardcovers on your bookshelf filled with stories of the exploits of Frank and Joe and Nancy and Bess.   Just the mention of Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene brings back fond recollections for many of us, and they weren’t even real people.  All the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories were ghost written by contract writers for years.  The same goes for the ‘Bobbsey Twins’ books by Laura Lee Hope and the ‘Tom Swift’ novels by Victor Appleton Jr.    These books gave literally generations of young readers the basics of deductive reasoning and entertained them all the while.  The first Hardy Boys book was published in 1927 and the first Nancy Drew book in 1930 and they’ve been in continuous print ever since.

With their long-lasting popularity, it’s not surprising to see Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys occasionally resurface every decade or so for a facelift and some renewed book sales.  But one thing that most any fan would definitely not be expecting is the new comic series from Dynamite Comics entitled ‘Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie.’  ‘The Big Lie’ is everything that no one would expect from a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys team-up comic.  It’s gritty, violent, and hard-hitting right from the beginning.  The content is grim, the artwork has a rough retro feel, and the story is quite frankly, shocking.  It’s hard not to go into details without ruining the plot, but suffice it to say a fair assemblage of well-loved characters manage to make an appearance in issue one without things feeling crowded. On top of that, there are some surprising cameo appearances that might cause you to wax nostalgic.

Anthony Del Col of Kill Shakespeare fame manages to pull together tendrils of all our communal visions of Bayport from our childhood and weave them into the beginnings of a crime drama more reminiscent of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street than a children’s mystery.   On top of that, Werther Dell’Edera’s minimalist art, which echoes notes of Darwyn Cooke but with more rough realism, perfectly rounds out the feel of the story.  Frank, Joe, and Nancy live very much in our present in this story and not in the picturesque Bayport that we read in novels as children.  People in this world are imperfect, petty, vicious, and most assuredly real.  It’s a novel approach to characters that have been relegated to childhood memories for far too long.

For those of you that weren’t raised on a steady diet of old clocks and tower treasures, never fear.  ‘The Big Lie’ stands well on its own regardless of your familiarity with the original source content.  It’s well-written, well-drawn and starts off a solid crime drama with a bang.  Issue one is at local comic book stores now, but it’s hard to expect anything but greatness from the forthcoming issues.  This one is a sleeper waiting to become a hit and whether you’re a fan of Frank, Joe, and Nancy or not, ‘The Big Lie’ is an absolute must-read for the indie comic reader.   One caveat however – this comic is definitely not for young readers.  It’s rated Teen+ and well deserves the rating.

By Nate VanLindt On 5 Mar, 2017 At 06:12 PM | Categorized As Books, Editorials, Featured | With 0 Comments

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Since the advent of Harry Potter, the popularity of teen and children’s writers has skyrocketed.  As many adults are reading these books as kids are and bookstores have assembled whole sections of their stores for the wide variety of teen material available.  Much of the volume of material available tends towards teen science fiction and fantasy, following in the Potter and Hunger Games trends.  Other writers have branched out into suspense and even horror.  But this isn’t a new genre.  A few spectacular writers broke ground in these genres decades ago.  One of these early few was the esteemed young adult writer John Bellairs. 

Bellairs wrote several books in the mid to late 60s, ranging from religious parody to fantasy.   In the early 1970s, he wrote a dark fantasy novel for adults, but publishers recommended he rewrite the book for young readers and in 1973, The House With a Clock in its Walls was born.  With artwork by the legendary artist Edward Gorey, The House With a Clock in its Walls found immediate success.

Bellairs’ flair for the macabre along with Gorey’s edgy panels drew together a uniquely dark story.   His characters were realistic, flawed, and captivating.  The villains had no issues torturing and killing children, much like the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales and this stark look at the supernatural underbelly of 1950s New England went on to win 5 literary awards between 1973 and 1982.  He went on to win 13 more awards for his other books as well.  But Bellairs wasn’t done.

He went on to write a total of 15 children’s horror novels primarily focusing on three main characters.  Of those 15 books, 12 were stunningly illustrated by Edward Gorey.  Notably, the Dial hardcover library editions of Bellairs’ books feature wraparound dust jacket artwork by Gorey and a unique font, creating a wondrous and foreboding atmosphere before even opening the books themselves.

What’s truly remarkable about Bellairs’ work, however, is how enduring it is and how well it has aged.  Each book comes in at around 150-200 pages, but the length belies the quality of the content.  Evil wizards and sorcerers abound and time travel, human sacrifice, and Armageddon are common themes.  They aren’t simply dark, though.  The characters are well-written, the stories cohesive and self-contained.  For an adult going back to re-read these books, they have managed to stay compelling and powerful and should be a must-read for the kid who loves a scary story in all of us.

John Bellairs died in 1991 at the age of 53, but he left a legacy of fiction for all of us to treasure.  Several movies and shows have been made of his work based on The House With a Clock in its Walls and The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, but they are extremely difficult to locate and have low production value.  Eric Kripke, of Supernatural fame, has been rumored to be working on a current movie adaptation of The House With a Clock in its Walls, but the project has yet to have materialized.  Kripke is said to have been inspired by Bellairs’ work as a child.  With any luck, a modern movie of Bellairs’ seminal work will inspire a whole new generation in the years to come. 

For those that are interested, most of John Bellairs’s books are in print (and have been continuously since their release) and available on Amazon or at your local library.  An original set of the Dial hardcover library editions can run upwards of $500.00 on eBay, even for ex-library copies.  A fan tribute website still runs to this day.

 

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By Nate VanLindt On 1 Mar, 2017 At 09:28 PM | Categorized As News, PC Games, ROG News, Xbox 360/Xbox One | With 0 Comments

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Microsoft announced at the GDC Conference this morning that they are starting the Xbox Live Creators Program, a program that allows independent developers to rapidly publish Xbox Live games for both Windows 10 and the Xbox One.  This will be a streamlined process that allows easy integration of Xbox Live features such as leaderboards and player stats along with a basic Live sign-in presence and several other functions.

The Xbox Live Creators Program will allow for Xbox Live’s 55 million plus active members to have more access to independent titles, allowing for greater choice by gamers and a chance for small developers to shine.  It is compatible with several common out-of-box dev tools and does not require a dev kit for access to the program.   Unfortunately, the current structure of the Xbox Live Creators Program does not allow for multiplayer or achievements and limits some other functionality. There will be a new Creators section of the Microsoft store for Windows 10 which provides a “more curated store experience.”

Microsoft says that publishing and certification will be done in a “totally open way”, which should mean that we will see an extremely wide variety of content appearing quickly.    Microsoft will also allow developers to upgrade to the existing Id@Xbox program to enable full functionality of their releases even after they have been published through the Xbox Live Creators Program.  This means that if a game does well at the community level, it has a good chance of an update that could let it stand on its own with titles from larger developers and studios.

Microsoft previously ran a similar program called Xbox Live Indie Games which ran for 7 years on the Xbox 360 and published well over 3000 games but was shut down in fall of 2015.  The two programs appear at first glance to be similar in structure, but only time will tell if the Xbox Live Creators Program achieves a more widespread success than the previous iteration.

For those aspiring game creators who would like access to the Xbox Live market as an indie developer, joining requires a Windows Dev Center account (applications can be found here:  https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/) and the completion of a survey which allows you to join as an Xbox Live Creators Program Insider (found here:  https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3395011/Xbox-Live-Creators-Program-Insider-Sign-Up).   The Xbox Live Creators Program is currently in ‘Preview’ mode and accepting applications but has not gone fully live yet.

 

 

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