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Hail Mario 3: Revenge of the Stock

Cameron Faulkner at The Verge:

Nintendo has announced its Black Friday deals, and chief among them is a $299.99 Switch console bundle that includes a free download code for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This deal will start on Thursday, November 28th, and will be available at several retailers. So far, we’ve seen it confirmed in Target’s Black Friday ad, but expect it to pop up at the other major players, like Best BuyWalmartAmazon, and more. 


Getting a free game with the Switch is great, especially one that’s as good as Nintendo’s popular kart racer, but there’s some fine print with this deal that you may, or may not, care about. You’ll only get the free game with the HAC-001 version of the console, the original launch model that has been superseded by a new version with vastly superior battery life (a range from 4.5 to nine hours versus the original’s 2.5- to 6.5-hour claim, depending on the game). 



This deal might read as a way for Nintendo to clear out its remaining stock of launch units without cutting the price, but thankfully, the older version is no less capable, and crucially, no less fun to play on.

I’m willing to bet Faulkner is correct here.

I’ve written about Nintendo’s use of Mario Kart 8 as a unit mover. For the Wii U, it was used as a final Hail Mary to reinvigorate Wii U sales with not only the game, but a very early review embargo and a free additional game. For the Switch, it was a the first widely recognized party game to offer local multiplayer support, allowing early Switch adopters to showcase the console’s unique modes of play ahead of the holidays, namely table-top mode — the mode that allows two local players to play anywhere, each leveraging a single Joy-Con as a controller and prop up the Switch as the screen.

Here we are on the other end of the spectrum. With the wild popularity of the Switch and a relatively new SKU that boasts better battery life, what better way to exhaust stock of the original SKU than to throw in arguably the most polished, popular, and accessible game in Nintendo’s library for free.

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Polygon’s 100 Best Games of the Decade

Polygon Staff:

We began with a long list of around 300 games that team members nominated. Then we individually voted for the 50 we most wanted to see in the list. After we tallied the votes, we gathered together to sort out the unholy mess, and to argue the merits and faults of the top 150.

After a surprisingly calm and erudite discussion, we agreed on the following list. It is, by its nature, a compromise, but it’s the best we’ve got.

A fun look back at a decade that now seems shorter than it felt — I’ll blame that on the past three years.

I played 23.5 of the 100 titles mentioned in this list. Honestly, that’s more than I thought I would have. (While Red Dead Redemptions 1 and 2 are counted as a single entry, I only ever played the first, so it counts as half.)

As I have a soft spot for Nintendo games, I’m happy with Polygon’s Mario pick over what I assumed would be the shoo-in. Likewise, I’m happy to see an overwhelming industry/fan/consumer favorite sit extremely high in the list at number 2, but not receive top honors. Societal/cultural impact takes precedence here, as I argued back in 2016.

My biggest takeaway is that the past 10 years of games have broadened the scope of what constitutes a “video game” more than any other decade. That seems an obvious observation as there’s evolution in any medium, but video games by their infinite malleability allow for innovation and creativity beyond any other. Video games can be anything (and therefore video games do not exist). Just read Polygon’s justifications for Device 6, Johann Sebastian Joust, or Journey.

If 2000–2009 cracked the door on infinite possibilities, 2010–2019 blew it wide open.

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Video Games Do Not Exist

I was invited to write an original piece for the ‘From the Aether’ newsletter — the bonus newsletter for backers of the Into the Aether Podcast Patreon., which, as of December 9, 2019, became available to the public. I’d love it if you gave it a read on Medium.

I’ll leave a teaser here, but I encourage you to listen to the podcast. If you’re so inclined, become a patron of an insightful and welcoming low-key video games podcast.

The year is 20XX. Video games do not exist. They never have.

But tomorrow they will.

And when they come, all of today’s modern technology and tools will be available to their creators. There will have been no precedent other than their analog counterparts, which — come to think of it — consist of cardboard, cards, metal or plastic tokens, dice, tiles, paper, pencils, backpacks, guns, talking… walking… geese…

[Edit] This piece was updated on December 9, 2019 to reflect the public availability of ‘Video Games Do Not Exist‘.

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‘But when I play video games, I begin feeling guilty and even bored’

I had the great fortune of hearing a question I’d asked to the hosts of the Into the Aether podcast via Discord repeated on the episode “There’s a Troll in this Chili’s”, timestamp 34:51. (Honest to god, the question is more serious than the title of the episode.)

Yours truly:

Howdy! I love video games. I love the idea of playing video games. At work, I get excited by the idea of sitting down for a long bout of video games. But when I do, I begin feeling guilty and even bored. Am I broken, or am I just playing the wrong games? Have either of you dealt with this?

Hosts Brendon Bigley and Stephen Hilger spent nearly 25-minutes thoughtfully addressing these questions, ranging from living in the moment, mental health, and easing up on the burden caused by zeitgeist and “completionism”. Even if this weren’t my question, I’d tell you it’s worth your time.

If you’re unfamiliar with Into the Aether, the hosts bill it as a “low-key video games podcast”, but I think they’re selling themselves short. It’s funny and intelligent; the commentary on video games is never one of snobbery; the subject matter spans beyond just games and into art, community, and culture. It has honestly become one of my favorite shows. And over the past few months, it has quickly jumped up my priority listening queue. Seeing as I only listen to podcasts while out on a jog, I find myself running a bit more often these days.

Additional note: Prior to launching Into the Aether, Brendon Bigley interviewed me about Zero Counts and about my piece “Big-N’s Big Year”. You can find the interview at the bottom of the post or on the Ported Podcast feed.

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‘It’s like friendly punk’

Bennett Foddy, Playdate game developer, in an interview with Edge Magazine (via Apple News+):

We’ve standardised around two hardware platforms: the touchscreen, and ten buttons, two analog sticks. That’s got its benefits, but you miss out on novel experiences. So yeah, there is something that is kind of punk about it, and that yellow case. It’s like friendly punk.

I recently restored my Game Boy. I don’t play it. It just sits on my desk. But I pick it up every now again because, aside from nostalgia, there’s something so pleasing about it.

As I’ve been thinking about Playdate today, it dawned on me — that something is the buttons.

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Playdate

Playdate press release:

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

There’s more: Playdate includes games — a full season of them. The games will be delivered over-the-air, once a week for 12 weeks, and they’ll be a surprise: when the new game light flashes, you’ll never know what you’re about to play. Panic recruited some of the world’s best game designers — some well known; others under the radar — to make games exclusively for our system. Playdate isn’t just hardware: it’s a complete experience.

Hot on the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Game Boy, this little handheld console is a sight to see.

Since bringing my Game Boy back to life, I’ve been yearning for the good ol’ dot-matrix days. But I’ve also had the feeling they‘d likely disappoint. Rose-colored glasses and all. Seeing the Playdate feels like a realization of that pining. Something new of something old:

Playdate’s 2.7-inch (68mm) screen is a unique, black-and-white, low-power LCD from Sharp, with a resolution of 400 × 240. On the surface, it might be tempting to compare the screen to, say, the Game Boy. But Playdate’s display is quite different: it has no grid lines, no blurring, is extremely sharp and clear, and has much higher resolution. It sounds odd to say, but: it’s truly a “premium” black-and-white screen.

And it wouldn’t be the same without Teenage Engineering. At initial glance, I knew something looked familiar. Sure enough, I noticed that Teenage Engineering had a hand in the design (and crank!) of the Playdate. I keep a PO-20 in my nightstand and am constantly enthralled by its ingenuity.

I encourage you to read the press release in full — ideally on an iPhone or iPad as there’s a very cool AR experience to check out. The damn thing is so cute!

I’m signed up to receive updates about the Playdate and I recommend you do too.

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A Video Game Developed To Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Seems To Be Working

Zack Zwiezen, Kotaku:

According to researchers, every two minutes spent playing the game is equal to five hours of lab-based research. Because Sea Hero Questhas been out for a few years and downloaded and played by over three million players they’ve collected the equivalent of 1,700 years of research data on Alzheimer’s

Researchers involved with the project studied people who carried the APOE4 gene, which is thought to increase that person’s risk of developing dementia, as they played the game. They then compared these people’s results to the results of folks who played the game who don’t have that gene.

“We found that people with a high genetic risk, the APOE4 carriers, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. They took less efficient routes to checkpoint goals,” said Professor Michael Hornberger, a member of the team.

Two minutes. 99.33% of time shaved off. Truly incredible.

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Nintendo Knew How

Shahid Kamal Ahmad on the Remaster Podcast, looking back on Reggie Fils-Aimé‘s legacy:

This is a real problem with video games, right. You go into video games as a new person who hasn’t played video games. You play a modern AAA game, and first of all, you have tutorials that are extremely patronizing for the really experienced player. But still bewildering for new players. How do you get those players in? Nintendo knew how.

Nintendo knew that they had to make the controls more accessible, and Reggie knew [those controls] were coming with the Wii. He knew that would be suitable for people who were intimidated by the controller. Personally, I thought that was an absolute genius move.

I’ve had issues with controllers for a long time. Not personally, but in terms of accessibility. There’s been this steady increase in the complexity of a controller. It hasn’t become easier to use; it’s become more complicated to use. Yes, it’s got more features — now you have touchpads; now you have analog buttons; now you have analog sticks; now you have two or three or four more buttons on the thing; now you have pro controllers and elite controllers, £120 controllers. What Nintendo recognized was, “oh, we can do something that does away with all of that and introduce an entirely different type of technology that ‘hey! It’s actually not that expensive to manufacture.’” It was utter genius.

Keying in on the phrase, “I’ve had issues with controllers for a long time”: You and me both, Shahid. You and me both.

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‘But the answer is simpler when it comes to the real money maker for Microsoft’

Chris Plante, Polygon:

But the answer is simpler when it comes to the real money maker for Microsoft: Xbox as a streaming platform available on every app store. Microsoft could bring its streaming service to any smart TV and streaming device without all this backroom dealmaking necessary for Switch, and reach a considerably bigger audience.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see all of the above. Going off the others’ reporting, it seems Microsoft is certainly trying to bring Xbox Game Pass to Switch, but the real game changer will be if — like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon — Xbox becomes an app pre-installed on your next TV.

Leave it to Plante to identify the obvious. I’m over here kicking myself that I didn’t think of an Xbox app pre-installed on TV in ‘Activision, Microsoft, and Platforms’. Especially after CES and the growing number of pre-installed services on smart TVs.

If we do see a pre-installed Xbox app, has Microsoft already positioned themselves as the dominant controller manufacturer? In addition to their standard wireless controller, they offer the Elite and classic “Duke” designs as well as the Adaptive Controller, a huge service to those in need of accessibility features.

I personally can not stand the Xbox controller and much prefer Nintendo’s Pro Controller or the PS4 DualShock 4. But if neither of those two options open themselves to an Xbox app — the former due to hardware limitations / lack of foresight, the latter due to some bizarre proprietary lock-in strategy — as an Xbox owner, Microsoft is already poised to be my go-to controller. And with an already broad selection of controllers tailored for the Xbox experience, it makes them the clear winner.

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Rumor: Microsoft Bringing Game Pass And Published Titles To Switch

Imran Kahn, Game Informer:

According to a report from outlet Direct Feed Games, an outlet that has a strong track record for rumors especially centering around Nintendo, Microsoft and Nintendo are about to get together in a big way in the near future. Not only will some Microsoft games find their way to the Switch, but it looks like the entire Game Pass library might arrive via the magic of streaming. 

Oh?

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