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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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‘A thin blanket against the cold reality’

Michael Futter, Polygon:

The sad truth is that the die was cast at Activision Blizzard months, if not years, before these layoffs were first hinted. What makes this so exceptionally painful is that there is an understandable mental link between layoffs and poor financial performance. It’s nigh impossible to rationalize or justify 800 people being shown the door as a company reports record sales.

And yet, here we are. Poor planning, a failure to adapt to current market conditions and consumer desires, and too much investment in trends (like toys to life games) has left Activision Blizzard in a place where it needs to make drastic cuts. That’s a thin blanket against the cold reality that executive pay is broken and now hundreds of people are out of work.

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Polygon: The battle between Steam and Epic Games Store is heating up

Ben Kuchera, writing for Polygon:

The good news for players is that everyone wants their business, and the battle for that business is structured in such a way that prices are going down, while profits — at least, in some cases — may be going up. Epic Games has found a way to get players to more closely consider the economics of storefronts, and it did so with both exclusives and a lower price. This won’t be the last time we see this approach as the platform wars continue in 2019.

I nearly titled my piece Activision, Microsoft, and Platforms “Platform Wars”.

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Switch Is Selling Like Wii, Thanks To Traditional Nintendo Games

Chris Kohler, Kotaku:

NPD didn’t release the exact sales number for Smash, but it gave us enough to roughly figure it out. It said that Ultimate exceeded the launch month sales of Super Smash Bros. Brawl by over 70 percent. Since that number is known (2.7 million), we can add 70 percent to it to get rough first-month sales for Ultimate at a little over 4.5 million units—again, not counting download sales.

In fact, Ultimate’s debut was, NPD said, the best launch month for a console-exclusive game in “video game history.” The strength of the Switch overall also boosted the sales of its major games, sending 2017 games Mario Kart 8, Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey into 2018’s top 20. Overall, NPD said, Nintendo made more money on software than any other publisher this year, a feat it hadn’t achieved since—you guessed it—the salad days of Wii, in 2009.

Back-to-back big years?

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20 Years of StarCraft

Kosta Andreadis, writing for IGN:

In the mid-to-late 1990s, the real-time strategy (RTS) genre was not only popular but ubiquitous. RTS games of various styles and settings were everywhere, and a company named Blizzard Entertainment was at the forefront. The studio had become a household name with gamers thanks – primarily – to three titles: 1994’s Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, 1995’s Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and an action role-playing game released on the final day of 1996 (and developed by Blizzard North), Diablo. These games cemented Blizzard as a company that made high quality cinematic story-driven experiences that were fun, accessible, and infinitely repayable.

With StarCraft, its third real-time strategy game, Blizzard would leave behind the fantasy world of the breakout Warcraft franchise and set its sights on the distant future. It would take players to a science-fiction setting where humans and strange alien races engaged in isometric high-tech warfare. And the studio would go on a journey of its own; in the time between Warcraft II and StarCraft’s launch in 1998 the look and feel of the game would change drastically – alongside its story, characters, vehicles and other player-controlled units. This is the story of that evolution… and the success beyond.

I remember seeing the original StarCraft trailer for the first time. If memory serves, the trailer was included in the WarCraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal expansion set CD-ROM. At the time, the trailer felt like something out of a Ridley Scott film, only grander. Comedic space goons alarmed and destroyed by a large, brooding, mysterious craft. I was bewildered.

Andreadis has put together a tight, well-written retrospective of StarCraft. If you enjoyed the original in the late ‘90s, there are lots of great bits of development insight in here.

The following might be my favorite bit:

Compared to the advances made in digital recording technology available today, to create the sounds and music for StarCraft the team made use of a suite of external synthesizers and outboard hardware, utilising more traditional recording techniques. “Early versions of some of the sounds were pretty cringeworthy,” Glenn admits. “Certain units required more experimentation to get something really unique and special. The first version of the Hydralisk was just plain silly until we figured out how to make them ‘talk’ without words.” This experimentation led to some interesting sources for what many consider to be some of the best sound effects for an RTS of any era.

“Lots of units in the game started with voice as the origin; our voices,” Glenn reveals. “Though most are tweaked beyond recognition. We also used voice for sound effects, such as the Marines’ walkie talkie static. Voice and mouth sounds, like whispers, hisses, and breathing were a big contributor to creating source material to be processed into various strange effects, sweeteners, ambiences and even in the music. One of the chittering Zergling sounds is just me grabbing my cheeks and flapping them open and closed quickly. Processed with pitch and other effects afterwards.”

Unfortunately, no details on the Nintendo 64 port.

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UK video games market is now 80% digital

Christopher Dring, reporting for GamesIndustry.biz:

It seems a bit negative for the physical market, but these figures do not include hardware. And actually more consoles were sold in 2018 than in 2017. GamesIndustry.biz can reveal over 2.4 million games machines were sold in the UK last year. PS4 was the biggest selling console, with sales flat year-on-year, but Nintendo Switch was the biggest growth area, with Switch console sales up more than 20 percent.

Indeed, physical remains a strong part of the games retail business. According to ERA, the best-selling game of the year was FIFA 19 with 2.5 million units sold… 1.89 million of those sales came physically. That means when it comes to AAA releases, digital sales only account for around 25 per cent of the games sold. However, that percentage is getting bigger. Last year, 20% of FIFA 18’s sales were digital.

I don’t find it terribly surprising that an annual sports title garners the top spot for physical game sales. I can already see the GameStop shelves littered with used copies of FIFA ‘19 this fall.

The trend of the rise in digital also comes as unsurprising when physical games are all met with a barrage of software updates. Sure, one may be able to save a few bucks on a physical copy — and sell it back — but in the world of instant gratification, digital download — albeit a tens-of-gigabytes download — is quicker than a trip to the store plus a tens-of-gigabytes update.

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The year in gaming controversies

Colin Campbell, Polygon:

These events must lead most observers to the view that game companies have a long way to go before they can truly present themselves as caring about their employees, their customers, or the world that they inhabit. But they are at least now subject to vociferous disapproval when they make their most grotesque mistakes.

Perhaps meetings are taking place right now, in which execs are noting the previous damage of their own actions, and making necessary alterations. More realistically, as we enter the new year, the issue of unions is in the air. If and when employees organize themselves into unions, game companies will have more to worry about than bad publicity. In 2019, maybe we’ll see a change for the better. Maybe.

This article is a great retrospective of an industry on the cusp of being held accountable. I don’t say that lightly. These are incidents on record. There’s bound to be many, many more that have not been to light. It’s wonderful to see focus put on these issues by media outlets.

I’ll admit that I remain glued to the video game industry for the fun and surprise of it all. But to see the harsher reality elevated more than ever is refreshing.

In any case, the comments on this article are something else. No one should ever be harassed. No one should ever be expected to work 100 hours per week. No one should be subjected to cheap gambling tactics or unjustified lockout to earn a company an extra penny or two. In 2019, maybe we’ll see a change for empathy and maturity from companies and audiences alike. Maybe.

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Gruber: ‘There is a thing to being “Mac-like”’

John Gruber, with guest Jason Snell, on his podcast The Talk Show with John Gruber:

There is a thing to being “Mac-like”. And there was, and it was strong. It’s literally what kept Apple alive.

If Mac-likeness hadn’t been an important thing, there’s no reason everybody wouldn’t have switched to Windows at the time — that there was more to it than, ‘OK, you’ve got a rectangular window and the windows all have “close” buttons and “zoom” buttons, and then there’s a menu bar with an agreed upon set of typical things like “file”, “edit”, “font”. You double-click on an app. There’s a mouse that moves around. You can select text. There’s a scroll bar over on the side you can drag up-and-down to move up-and-down on a document. And there you go — there’s a GUI. If you can use one, you can use any one and that’s all there is to it.’

It is true that that is the description of the modern graphical user interface of a windowing system. But there’s so much more to the Mac-way of doing things and of organizing things. And of feeling at home. It’s such an amazing thing when you feel at home in an app you’ve never used before because it uses all these familiar conventions. Those conventions went so much deeper than just draggable windows with a “close” button and a menu bar.

This is a great discussion of the level of detail and consideration for human interface guidelines. I encourage you to give it a list. It struck me as I closely followed Twitter’s branding guidelines for the redesigned footer of Zero Counts.

I became a Mac convert in 2004 with the iBook G4. Before that, I was put off by the consistency of Mac apps, which is a wild thing to consider. I mistook variety in user interfaces for freedom, and thus, the Mac as a restrictive system. This notion was reinforced by the Mac’s minimal amount of hardware customization. Together, the Mac was but a toy for casual users. I had completely missed the point of the Mac, and apparently had no consideration for elegant design.

The level of consistency displayed in a majority of the most popular Mac apps makes it all the more apparent when something doesn’t quite feel right. Not to mention when something is completely disorienting. The app that jumps out to me most is Pixelmator.

Pixelmator includes loads of floating windows and tools. If I’m not mistaken, this was inspired by the original Photoshop GUI. I’ve been a big fan of Pixelmator, but I’ve always felt lost in it’s GUI.

Now, with the single window design of the new Pixelmator Pro, I feel at home. It’s not to say I’m completely familiar with all of the ins and outs, but I was able to immediately jump in and find my way around.

As the successor to a heavily used app, reworking the entire GUI is incredibly risky. But the ease at which a longtime Pixelmator user can dive into Pixelmator Pro with little effort is a testament to the macOS HIG.

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