Nintendo Switch Analysis Update

Time for another look at how the Nintendo Switch is doing in the markets. Bloomberg reports that Nintendo beat analyst’s prediction for the second quarter by a large margin. The company reported an operating profit of 16.2 billion yen ($145 million). The analysts predicted 10.6 billion yen. Bloomberg quoted an analyst as follows: “The reason profit beat estimates is of course the Switch,” said Keiichi Kozera, an analyst at Tachibana Securities Co.’ No kidding Kozera. But what does this mean for the overall numbers in terms of hardware?

Nintendo sold an estimated 1.97 million Switches during the quarter. Add that to the 2.97 million sold in the first month, and we’re close to 5 million consoles. Way back on release night, I mentioned that the Nintendo was anticipating shipping 5 million units this year. It would appear they were right, and they remain on target for shipping 10 million units this financial year (note that I’m using “units sold” and “units shipped” synonmyously here. I probably shouldn’t but what the hey I’m not a journalist). In other words, the Big N is doing quite well so far.

On the software front, NintendoLife reports that 13.6 million units have been sold globally. That’s a decent number against 5 million consoles sold, assuming the 5 million units are in homes and not sitting on retailing shelves somewhere (hint: they’re probably not). Zelda still leads the pack with 3.92 million sales, with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe a close second at 3.54 million. I wonder what 3rd party is looking like, but as far as I know there has not been any major third party release yet.

The Switch is looking more like it’s a huge hit for the company. Though I still believe they should invest in open retro consoles as a viable option. Fanboys can dream, right? And if you didn’t look at my old post, I predicted 30 million consoles sold throughout its lifetime. Analysts predicted 55 million. If Nintendo can keep this pace up over six years, we all might have been wrong.

Morality Systems in Roleplaying Games

When I read the D&D handbooks two decades ago, the morality systems write up always fascinated me. Recall that D&D has a sort of morality grid which grew out of the lawful/chaotic/neutral categories from the basic game. If I’m not mistaken, the Good and Evil modifiers were added later. From Jeffro Johnson’s excellent Appendix N:

For those who have no experience with tabletop role-playing games, I may be unable to convey how strange and divisive this element really was. You see, in what tended to be a vaguely naturalistic setting players in the game would set forth into the wilds to kill monsters, to win treasure, and to evade diabolical traps. But for some reason, Gary Gygax felt it necessary to demarcate what was essentially the spiritual allegiance of every character, monsters, and plane of existence in the game. When other designers tried their hand at the medium, this was often the first thing they eliminated, but it remains an integral part of gaming culture to this day.

All the Alignments in One Game

I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the hypothetical scenario laid out in the PHB in which a party consisting of one character of every alignment tried to divvy up the treasure from a successful adventure. It was supposed to illustrate why it’s a bad idea to run a group with clashing alignments. Instead, it provided one of the most interesting passages in that book and fired my imagination for what the roleplaying game could look like. Just imagining the tension in that group gave me a lot of ideas. Years later in one of my games, I would get my chance to play with something like that, with two lawful goods, a neutral and a chaotic good, and a neutral evil.

One of the guys was a paladin while the evil character was a wizard. There was low trust there, but it made for some tense drama, especially since the wizard was bidding his time until the group got the point where his win condition was in effect. He had to remain hidden from the good players the whole time. Led to some interesting roleplaying for sure. Since we never finished that campaign (surprise), I can’t say what would have happened during the final reveal. But it was shaping up to be an epic betrayal.

I haven’t played many other pen and paper RPGs, so I don’t know what their alignment system are like. But I have played a lot of digital roleplaying games. Off the top of my head, here are three that boasted alignment systems:

Deus Ex

Granted, the morality system in Deus Ex wasn’t so much lawful/chaotic/good/evil as it was stealth/non-stealth/lethal/non-lethal. The first Deus Ex usually had multiple paths around obstacles like locked doors, and you didn’t have to sweep and destroy every enemy on the map to get to the exit. That said, this was one of the first games I encountered where the game story and dialog might change depending on your actions. In one of the earlier levels, for instance, if you go about like usual Terminator in FPS mode, the quartermaster will rebuke you and not give you as much gear for your next outing. There’s probably something to say about Pavlovian social engineering there, but I think it reveals more about the developer’s biases than anything else.

Fable

Peter Molyneux’s Xbox opus had a streamlined morality system. If you wiped out an entire village of innocents, the action nudged you into the evil spectrum. Do that enough, and eventually, your character’s avatar would start growing devil horns and just look evil. On the other hand, if you acted very good during the whole game, you’d get a halo of sorts. It’s been a long time since I played Fable, but I remember being disappointed that Project EGO ended up being an action RPG with some window dressing morality.

Mass Effect

Ah, the paragons and renegades of the Mass Effect universe. What was sold to us as an epic story in which our choices matter ended in a mess of Pick Door 1/2/3 to get the ending. Your choices ultimately didn’t matter, resulting in the famous community backlash against the developers. What was the point of a morality system if all you got were three variations of the same lame ending?

My Campaign

No doubt I’m being harsh to the digital games. It’s pretty hard to make an interactive experience that has a meaningful ethical dimension to it. In my own game, I’ve been thinking about this fairly hard, to make it more just a hack-n-slash adventure. We play exclusively by email these days, so the interactions are asynchronous, and there’s plenty of time to reflect on your actions in the game.
I’ll have more to say about this in next week’s post. Thanks for reading!

Metal Gear turns 30

Metal Gear came out on that obscure MSX platform some 30 years ago today, according to Konami’s various social media feeds. As I originally started this blog as a tribute site of sort to the earlier entries in the series, I thought it would be fitting to make note of it today.

Of course, the franchise is moribund today. I saw Yong Yea posted impressions from E3 about the upcoming Metal Gear Alive (or whatever it’s called) but I have no intention of supporting future Kojima-less titles. Especially zombie-themed co-op shooters. Anymore so than I have any intention of going to Japan to play the MGS3 panchinko game. The only thing that might possibly revive my interest is a MGS remaster-remake, and I have a feeling that would be botched. If Nintendo-Silicon Knights (in its heyday) could barely get it right, what makes you think Konami in its current form could?

My conspiracy theory before MGSV came out (and Kojima’s ouster) was that Phantom Pain was going to feature a retelling of the original Metal Gear as its denouement. Considering the direction the game went, and with it only half finished upon release, it’s plausible. But probably not realistic. What could have been, if Kojima had been permitted to finish his masterpiece?

Still, not to be too petulant about it all; here’s to you, Metal Gear. I spent many hours of my life enjoying the games that spawned from this humble action title; the stealth convention built out of necessity and the silly story that served as window dressing for a premise that eventually got ambitious.

Legend of Zelda: the Atlantic Take

Recently Karen Han wrote a missive to the Legend of Zelda series. It’s done in the Atlantic style of lengthy rumination without a lot of payoff. I haven’t read this particular take on the venerable franchise before: she observes that essentially Zelda is a coming of age tale, repeated over and over again. Eschewing the larger mythos of the saga to focus on the personal, she notes:

Every installment sees them [Link and Zelda] struggle with decisions and mature (in ways big and small) over the course of the game’s story – they’re stuck in perpetual, precarious state of ‘growing up.’ They navigate spaces that over time have become more difficult to tranverse and more populated, just as the real world expands as one ages. And so, it’s dawned on me: With its young characters, its longevity, its accessibility, and the evolution of its gameplay, The Legend of Zelda is hands-down the best franchise about the joys and frustrations of leaving youth and facing the challenges of adulthood.

Like I said, I hadn’t thought of it that way before. But what’s absent from her analysis is the representation of the mainstay villain, Gannon. What sort of message does he send as the constant foil? He, after all, is “reincarnated” much the same way Link and Zelda are. And how about the Triforce itself? The object of the central conflict of the series has something to do with it all too. She says she gained insights about growing older, but besides passing remarks on Link’s emotional maturity (or lack thereof…) and pondering the gameplay mechanics, she doesn’t have much to say.

Perhaps her ending can shed some insight:

Zelda has been there for me at each stage of my life, echoing my own progress over the last decade and a half. That the games are still evolving, and they still hit home, is a comfort…I wouldn’t say I’m done growing up-maybe I never will be-but then again, neither is Link.

Of course, Link is “reincarnated” for each game, so he has a excuse. Note that the author is about 30 years old, if her dates are right. She must have found some pieces of her Triforce by now.

 

 

E3 2017 Thoughts and Reactions

Quick post today for my final E3 2017 thoughts. Firstly, Happy Father’s Day to the dads out there. I’ll be resuming a regular schedule now that E3 is over. Starting tomorrow I’ll give an update on the Makers from the last two weeks, and we’ll get back to Read From Memory: FFVII and some long plays, among other things.

If you need a refresher, I listed all of the games that got some time during the pressers:

“Winner” of E3 2017

Anway, my E3 2017 thoughts: Overall I found the pressers underwhelming this year. I know the game journos get obsessed with who “won” E3. In my view, as the media gets more democratized every year, the trade show has become less important. Can anybody actually “win” an event that’s becoming irrelevant? But we should respect tradition, right? And we have our pet companies or products we like to root for and see do well. So if I had to choose, I would give “Winner of E3 2017” to Ubisoft. They had a strong presentation: they didn’t pander with social media stars like EA and didn’t show off a collection of trailers for games we already knew about (Bethesda). They also get points for showing off original IP. Skull & Bones looked spectacular.

And come on, they announced Beyond Good & Evil 2. It may not be on the same tier as say Half-Life 3 as far as legendary whales still out there, but it was getting close. I have some reservations about Ancel’s opus, as do others, particularly about the tone and feel of the game.  But for now, let’s bask in the glow of the fact that the sleeper hit of 2003 is finally getting its long overdue sequel.

Console Makers at E3

I wasn’t particularly enthused by the Microsoft presser, though I admit they did much better this year overall in their presentation. The XBox One X (X.B.O.X.), formerly Project Scorpio, feels pricey at $500. This appears to be a new precedent with this generation: initial release of the platform; a slim-line revision of the hardware and price drop; a “1.5” hardware update half way through the cycle; followed by an ultra souped-up version to round it out. But something tells me that you whiffed when the most buzz you produce is from backward compatibility with your very old games and a controversy over an indie developer’s 3-year-old tweets.

Sony coasted this year, despite their very impressive stage theatrics. Ending the conference with a lengthy Spider-man demo says it all. But they may have earned it. Four years into this generation of consoles, it’s pretty safe to say that Sony has “won” the battle this round. I wonder about their commitment to VR. There are some impressive looking games, but the jury’s still out if it remains a fad. Practically speaking a $800+ buy-in for the tech is still a bit too rich for my blood for novelty. As for the rest, I just want to play the games at this point: God of War 4, a new Uncharted, etc.

As for Nintendo, well, they’ve cut down on their press conferences, which I still think was a wise move on their part. Metroid Prime 4 got a pretty announcement trailer and generated the associated buzz, though I’m still a little mystified that they chose not to give the Samus Returns remake any time during the presentation. Mario Odyssey looks fantastic, and the news about the core Pokemon RPG was somewhat exciting for a quite a few. Nintendo remains a unique creature. I would like to see more for the Switch regarding third party support, though with Rocket League, Minecraft cross platform with Xbox, and their own version of Skyrim, FIFA, etc., I grudgingly admit that they’ve got most of the bases covered.

Panels

I only managed to catch one panel with Hideo Kojima. It was what you would expect: a softball session mainly about the movies he enjoys and some of his philosophy on making games that we’ve all heard him talk about before. As promised, there was no news about Death Stranding at all. I wonder if the lingering conflict with Konami is having any effect on the game’s delivery? The best place to find out about the influence movies had on Kojima as a designer remains a series of essays he wrote over ten years ago for PlayStation UK magazine. They appear (in Japanese…) in the promotional book Metal Gear Solid Naked, but some translations are floating around on the net if you dig.

In closing, E3 2017 wasn’t a great show, and it reflects the declining importance of the big gala on the West Coast. The fact that it was open to the public this year speaks to that. Let’s look forward to GamesCon this summer and the Tokyo Game Show in September.

 

 

Who was the actor in Ocarina of Time?

Zelda University muses on the identity of the actor used as the base for Link’s model in Ocarina of Time. From the post:

The recently released Hyrule Arts and Artefacts book is primarily stuffed to the gills with artwork from the Zelda series’ 30 year history, but that artwork is occasionally adorned with a bit of commentary from Nintendo artists Yusuke Nakano, Satoru Takizawa, and Yoshiki Haruhana. One of the more interesting bits of commentary to emerge is that during development of Ocarina of Time, the design for Link was actually based off of a ‘famous Hollywood actor’.

Paul Myth think a young Leonardo DiCaprio fits the bill.

I wasn’t aware how much Japanese game artists take inspiration from Hollywood until a few years ago when I saw this side-by-side:

Fantasy Baseball Update Week Two (and One)

I missed last week’s update for fantasy baseball. The Makers are in their textbook form with awful pitching and good offense. I took a bad loss Week One but managed to squeak out a win in Week Two. So I’m off to a 1-1 start in 2017. There was no shame in losing to last year’s league champion, who also had the first pick in the draft. He narrowly won in Week Two. Things tend to return to the happy mediums, and if my pitching manages to stabilize (I have three number 1 starters on my squad) I may be able to make a serious go at the playoffs. Anyway, here’s how the Makers did. Afterward, I’ll talk about my transactions and look ahead to Week 3.

Week One: Fantasy Futility

I was eager to see how my top tier pitcher Madison Bumgarner would do. It was a two start week for him as well, so I hoped he would put up enough points to put into striking distance for a Victory. His results? He went 0-2, with a rough loss in his first outing. To make matters worse, Quintana (White Sox) and Gray (Rockies) did poorly as well. In fact, my starters only managed to win three games with a reliever picking up another W. That’s pretty terrible. But special mention goes to Sam Dyson, closer for the Rangers. He put up negative thirty-nine points in Week One. You read that right. He blew up three times and coughed up a lot of homers. I was leery of him since he had turned in a strong performance in the World Baseball Classic. Guys who do well in that tournament don’t seem to keep doing well once they return to the MLB. I suspect he’s hiding an injury. Or the league adapted to him. Either way, it’s the Rangers’ problem in RL.

Points Breakdown for Week One

All told the Makers put up 301 points, which is far short of my goal of 70-80 points per day. Dyson’s “contribution” knocked my final tally down into the 280s. My best pitcher was Bumgarner as expected but he still only managed to earn 36 points. My top offensive player was Margot for the Padres with 28 points. I drafted him at pick 277 overall. Go figure. Miguel Cabrera, my first round pick, was a nonfactor with -2 points.

Week 2: Improvements and Injuries

The pitching did somewhat better this week. I booted Dyson after he blew up again. My new problem child is Quintana. More on that in a moment. The injury bug is coming around my roster. I lost my starting catcher and my starting shortstop to the DL before the week began, and starter followed them as a bookend. I had drafted Cervelli to be my “backup” catcher, and he’s done quite well in that role, but he’s still not a great long term option. Losing Jean Segura hurts more though he’s not a top-tier shortstop. My infield is quite thin after I decided to draft an additional outfielder. John Gray, a starter for the Rockies, left Saturday with an injury which turned out to be a stress fracture. So he’s done for a while.

For all that, I managed to pick up a win.

Points Breakdown for Week Two

This time the Makers put up 331 points, a 30 point improvement over last week and 48 overall. That was just enough to sneak past my opponent who ended with 326. As Wellington once said, it was a damn near-run thing. I’m thanking my lucky stars one of his closers got the Dyson Effect on the last day, blowing up spectacularly for -12 points. Such is life and baseball. Once more my late drafts managed to exceed all expectations. Inciarte was my top offensive player, tallying 46 points (really?). I picked him at spot 204. Cabrera did better with 30 points this week, but he’s now DTD thanks to fouling off a pitch. On the pitching side, Johny Cueto was my best thrower with 24 points. Bumgarner put up a measly 4 points. The same as Adam Warren.

Roster Changes

As I mentioned, I lost Sanchez and Segura to the DL, and I jettisoned Dyson. I elected to fill the open slots with pitching for the time being. I picked up Casilla (A’s), Devenski (Astros?) and Warren (Yankees) on the strength of their reps as relievers. They rewarded me with one point total. Not a great return for three transactions to say the least. But at least I limited the Dyson Factor and didn’t end up in the red thanks to them. I was about to get brave and pull the trigger on drafting Sabathia, who is in the midst of an alcohol-free contract year renaissance. Alas somebody else picked him up for a start spot just before I could get him. C’est la vie.

I’m still looking to fix my pitchers. It would be great if any my top starters could produce wins. Bumgarner took a loss this week, and Quintana may be the new Dyson. I wasn’t pleased with his previous start. Nor was I encouraged by his optimistic take on his loss this week (“you know, after I stunk up the joint, I was pretty good”). I’ll give him one more start before I seriously look to drop him. He may be feeling the pressure of being a trade piece for the White Sox or their new top guy. I don’t know what. But when you let the A’s and the Twins knock you around, your status as the front-of-the-rotation guy is questionable.

Outlook

The Makers are currently sitting in 9th place overall in the league. My team leads in no categories. That’s cause for concern. But for Week 3 I’m looking to continue the steady pace of 45 points per days. Looking at how the other teams are doing I think that’s reasonable. 70-80 points per day may not be an attainable goal in this league. I’m going to be looking for a new starter, potentially two if Quintana continues to struggle. I think Jean Segara will be returning from the DL, so that’s a plus.

On the whole, I have a weird week. The baseball schedule is weird in April eh? Bumgarner goes again on Wednesday, and then I have the rest of the rotation going on Friday. I’m not comfortable without having a starter going at least every day, but such is the price you pay for drafting guys in similar positions on the depth chart. The team I’m up against nearly defeated the league champion last week. So it looks to be a tough slog.

Overall, it’s an OK start to the season given my unfavorable position in the draft this year and the nature of the game itself.

Essays on Adventure Modules

Ever wonder what game designers think of their favorite modules? Then you should read Our Favorite Adventure Modules And What We Learned From Them. These essays were Kickstarter updates for How to Write Adventures that Don’t Suck. Several contributors to that book wrote about their favorite modules. Goodman Games collected them into an ebook as a stretch goal reward. The essays celebrate old favorites while demonstrating sources of inspiration for game designers. I’ve read all the essays over and noted a few that resonated with me. I’ll talk about that below. As an added bonus I’ve provided links to the selected modules and author profiles.

The Adventure Modules

There are sixteen essays total, most no longer than two pages. I appreciate the brevity considering the heft of HTWADMTDS. It ends up being a good primer on a lot of the classic modules of D&D and AD&D. I’ve never heard of some of these before. Here’s a list of a few discussed. Click the titles if you’re interested in poking through these modules.

There were some other shout outs to non-D&D sources as well.

The Essays

Two essays stood out to me. First, “The Solitaire Adventure That Changed My Life” by Lester Smith. I had the experience that Smith describes but in reverse. I was the DM who had to “wing it” with a bare bones adventure. It led to one of the more memorable adventures I ran with my old group. An issue of Dungeon had come in. I remember the cover art showed a man dying because a woman poisoned him. It was probably more fleshed out in the magazine (it was). But before I could read it, most of my group stopped by after school. We decided we wanted to play D&D. Since I was the regular DM of the group… So I skimmed the issue and put something together while the guys rolled out characters. We had a lot of fun as they investigated a manor haunted by this musician’s vengeful ghost.

The second essay relevant to me was “The First Campaign” by Kevin Melka. D&D like many other “hardcore” hobbies has a bit of an on-boarding problem for new players. Old D&D, in the days before the ubiquitous Internet, in particular, was confusing for people new to it all. I’m not talking about the rules per se; I mean what adventures to play and buy.

Product Confusion

What was the difference between D&D and AD&D and AD&D2e? What about different role playing systems altogether? Could you buy a box set, like say Rod of Seven Parts, and play a game of D&D with your buddies like you could a board game? Or did you have to buy all those $20+ companion books to go along with it?

Not a lot of information was available in those days. If you were like me and you had no local gaming store, who could we go to? (We had plenty of comic book stores and plenty of toy model stores around. But those owners always made it quite clear they were not interested in D&D. Or kids asking about it.). So my friends and I figured it out as best we could, and we still had a lot of fun with what we did come up with. When I got to college and meet some gamers, I noted how much more they knew about the game. Heck, they knew more about and the ecosystems of RPGs in general. I had no idea how to run real campaigns for instance. So Melka’s piece hit home for me.

The links to the essays are below. They were project updates on Kickstarter so scroll past the blather to get to the good stuff.

  1. A Bit About Tsojcanth: My Favorite Module, With A Caveat
  2. Markessa and the Madman: the Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade
  3. Castlemania
  4. Falling in love in the Desert
  5. Me against Nosnra
  6. My Favorite Published Adventure: The Sample Dungeon
  7. We Did the Mash
  8. The Caverns of Thracia
  9. The First Campaign
  10. The Solitaire Adventure that Changed My Life
  11. Playtesting a Legend
  12. The Random Dungeon Generator
  13. My Favorite Adventures
  14. My All Timey Favoritest Adventure Ever
  15. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
  16. A blast from the past

Use for a Game Designer

I’ve dabbled in game design for over a decade now and have run a few campaigns via email over the last few years. Reading this book has been useful for getting others’ perspectives on game design. We all know our strengths and weaknesses as GMs. It’s good practice to play to strengths rather than compensate for weaknesses. In my case I’m pretty terrible at traps and puzzles. But still, I like to see what’s out there. I’m already interested in picking up The Caverns of Thracia to get a taste of the level design. And I do tend to make funhouse dungeons like Castle Amber. There’s a lot for me to learn and grow as a designer. I’ll talk about that more next week when I go over HTWAMTDS in more detail.

You can get a copy of How To Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck herefor $7.

Kojima on Ghost in the Shell

Since his split from Konami, Hideo Kojima has branded himself as an artistic Wiseman. I use this term for creators who love to talk about other mediums and know what they’re talking about. Not that Kojima never did this before, but now that he’s free of his old company it feels like he’s been indulging this habit more often (how many game designers have a LEGO figure?). He’s written several essays about films at Glixel, most recently about Ghost in the Shell. It’s an interesting read. Read the whole thing there.

Kojima in the Shell

Kojima’s thesis is that the “ghost” of a work is the theme of the original idea, and “the shell” is the medium of the idea. He states that the original story was printed as a weekly serial in a popular magazine. That was the way it worked in those days. I know next to nothing about magna, so I take his word for it. The serials were collected into a book so you could read the full story “over and over.” A book was a better shell since you could digest the story’s philosophical musings. In this sense, Kojima says the later Direct-to-Video anime also got the “shell” right. You can watch it as many times as you want and appreciate its “ghost.” So how does the 2017 live action movie do?

“As a Hollywood movie, it finds a certain degree of success by interpreting the ‘ghost’ of the story – the fundamental theme – through its visual presentation, and it’s actually extremely successful at fitting into the shell of a Hollywood blockbuster.”

But…

“As a real fan of the original works, though, I can’t help but feel that the production was trapped in the shell of the original, and as a result, it fails to come into its own.”

Critiquing the Shells

Essentially his critique boils down to: the movie is an unimaginative remake of the anime. In other words, it’s a “safe” adaptation. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen also suffered from the same problem.

The philosophy of dualism is beyond the scope of this plain, simple gaming blog. But consider Kojima’s insight in the context of translated experiences. He explains that the original work poses the question “what does it mean to be human?” Contrast this with the Scarlett Johansson movie which asks “who am I?”. To put it in gaming terms, this is the difference between a strategy game and a mere riddle. Think of any strategy game you know and consider how much a session engages your mind. A riddle is only good one time: once you know the answer, the riddle is no longer a game you can enjoy. In this case, it’s the riddle of identity.

I’m going to skip the Hollywood version and watch the anime. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it anyway.