Monday, March 31, 2008

Quidditch Just Isn't Very Well Thought Out

The rules of quidditch are really stupid, and I'm going to explain why in excruciating detail.

Now I'm guessing that you, the reader, either already know the rules of quidditch, saving me the need to rehash them, or - you're saying "what's a quidditch?", in which case I predict you're really not going to care once you find out. Either way, I don't need to explain the rules. But here they are anyway as a reference.

OK. Imagine soccer. Except somewhere on the grass there's a little chocolate bunny. And when the chocolate bunny is found, the game ends and the finder's team get 15 extra points.

Now, how much effort would you put into scoring goals in this version of soccer? Not too much, huh. Wouldn't proper strategy dictate that the whole thing just turn into a massive bunny hunt? And when a player spotted the bunny, he would call over his "seeker" to grab it, and that would be it?

I mean, why would you even bother with the soccer ball?

This, basically, is Quidditch. Who would give a rat's ass about scoring a goal in this game? The majority of the positions and players in the sport involve scoring goals through floating hoops - but in almost every case, the winner of the game will have nothing to do with how many goals are scored. The goals mean nothing. For the goals to ever make a difference, one team would have to score at least 15 more goals than the other team.

And if one team scores 10 more goals than the other in a soccer-like scoring environment, but loses anyway, then what kind of game is that?

The only game I can think of in real life that has a similar cheap-win mechanism is 9-Ball pool, wherein a player can make 8 consecutive, exquisitely perfect shots, then screw up the last shot and allow the opponent to immediately win the game. But even in 9-Ball, you play best-of-7 or something.

And why the hell are fictional games & sports in sci-fi and fantasy always just 3 dimensional versions of familiar sports? Quidditch is just field hockey with a z-axis. (And a chocolate bunny.) Where's the invention? Where's the fantasy? Is the future of sports really going to be the sports we already know, except we all fly around?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Blu Ray Wins the Format War. So What?

I have two points here.

First, who does Sony think is going to rebuild a DVD collection from scratch to make it all Blu Ray? Is anyone going to do this? Yes, we did rebuild our VHS collections for DVD - that's true. But a) the difference between VHS/DVD is night and day, b) DVDs offer tons of superior convenience like interactive menus and slim storage, c) they offer boatloads of extra content, and d) VHS hasn't entirely gone away anyway. Some people still use it for hard to find items and for recording.

Now why would anyone rebuild a DVD collection into Blu-Ray? Do any of those reasons hold up? No, they don't. Blu-Ray is only a marginal improvement. There might be a gradual migration of sales, sure, but nothing like the arrival of the DVD standard. This is laserdisc, folks. You heard it here.

The second point is that the entire video sales industry is about to start showing symptoms of the terminal illness that is currently afflicting the music business. Why would anyone buy music if they can download it for free? The only thing keeping the patient on life support at this point is that some people still haven't figured out how to share music online. Why do you think Barry Manilow has been putting out chart-topping CDs lately? Could it be because his audience is the only demographic left that still gets its music from Target?

I already know early adopters that illegally share movies online. Probably you do too. The only thing slowing the mass adoption of movie stealing is the still (at this point) high memory and RAM demands that these downloads make on current computers - movies are big files - and also a general ignorance on how to do it easily. But over time, and I'm talking only a few years, both of these obstacles will vanish.

"But movie downloads give you a grainy, low resolution picture!" say the studios. "Plus, you get no extra content!" Sure, sure. But it's free, and that's the key word. You know what food always tastes good? Free food. It's the same with Batman Begins.

Government enforcement? Impossible. I've said this before and I'll say it again. If your intellectual property can cheaply and quickly be converted into ones and zeros, there is absolutely no way to protect it from piracy. That's essentially a law of nature. The cost it would realistically take to enforce anti-piracy policy would be far greater than the benefits gained.

Movie-download-pay-services? Won't work. How can you beat free? Movie-download-for-free-if-you-look-at-some-advertising services? Same deal. How can you beat free with no ads?

We are only a few years away from the complete collapse of the home video market. There will always be a market for the movie theater experience, but the act of going to a store and buying a "thing" that you take home and unwrap and slide into an expensive player? Those days are fast approaching their end. Everyone will be carrying around massive movie collections on keychain flash drives, all acquired illegally and for free, and it just can't be stopped. There might still be a few people - A/V geeks, who want the whole hi-def experience and who therefore will still shell out big bucks for legitimate movie-watching equipment and the movies themselves - but they will be few and far between. They will be like their counterparts in the 60s and 70s: the guys who had their own screening rooms where they could run films at home. But the rest of America will watch lower-res free movies.

You don't think America will settle for lower-res? Think about the telephone. When I was a kid, there were no cell phones. Every call was on a land line and it was crystal clear. Now, it's the 21st century, I live exclusively on a cell phone, and the quality of any particular call is shitty. "Hello? Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" That's modern phone life. We settled, en masse, for shitty phone reception because the reward was the enormous convenience that came with cell phones. Movie viewing is about to take its own step backward, for similar reasons of convenience.

Short sell those film stocks now, people, the floor is about to fall out. And Blu Ray. Think about all the champagne corks popping over there at Sony. Do they have any idea what's about to happen? The format war is over. But Blu-Ray didn't win. My keychain flash drive won.

Monday, March 03, 2008

So That's It. To Play Any Nintendo Game, Going Forward, I'm Going to Have to Wave a Stick at the TV.

I mean, every game? EVERY LAST GAME?

Is it just me, do I have to be the first one to say this - but isn't this completely stupid? How is it that an interface best suited for Mario Party 8 somehow became mandatory for every game on the system? Games like Metroid and Mario - games that require the finest precision - now have to somehow be reduced to magic wand waving, motion sensing control?


Look, I had as much fun as anybody slipping on the armband and trying out Wii Bowling for the first time. That was a great 20 minutes. Putting custom eyebrows on my Wii character and picking his hair? Great stuff. Kudos to Nintendo for delivering a quality half hour of entertainment.

But thanks to that one enjoyable diversion I have to see the greatest franchises in video game history forfeit their intricate and elaborate control schemes and submit to the magic wand fad? Again, I ask: every game? Every last game?

We've seen these games before. They're called Light Gun games. Light Gun games have their niche and they have their fans. If you're the kind of gamer who likes playing the same 10 minutes of game hundreds or thousands of times, then yes, light gun games are probably for you. But if the president of Nintendo announced that henceforth, every game for Nintendo would have to be a light gun game, wouldn't we all just be a little ticked? How is this Wii remote any different, in terms of the challenge it offers and the way it dumbs down a game, than a light gun?

Sure, kids, grannies, knock yourselves out. Casual gamers, pick up and play gamers, sure. There's a class of gamer out there who wants to experience everything the game has to offer in the first 10 minutes. The Cooking Mama gamer. The magic wand is perfect for this person. There's another class of gamer who wants a skill-equalizer. A game where a novice can be competitive against a pro. Like Mario Party, where whoever is ahead will be gradually handicapped until the others catch up. The magic wand is perfect for these gamers, because the skill-ceiling it offers is really quite low.

Nintendo man. I tell ya. For the last 5 years, this gimmick shit has taken over their corporate philosophy, and the available real estate for gamers like me has been shrinking and shrinking. First it was "connectivity". They wanted to turn the gameboy into a controller that you would attach to your Gamecube for innovative multiplayer. The Gameboy screen itself would become a secondary screen for use by the game.

Not a bad idea in theory, except for the inconvenient fact that in order to make proper use of this scheme, a game would have to be seriously dumbed down. The Zelda and Final Fantasy franchises produced 4-player offerings for this "connectivity" design, and, well, they were really bad. And a pain in the ass too. If you wanted to play Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles to its 40 hour conclusion, you had to find 3 other people, all with gameboys and connection cables, to meet somewhere for regular sessions of Final Fantasy multiplayer. Did that ever happen, anywhere?

Then the Sony PSP came out. I've never played a PSP, but I blame it for killing my Gameboy Advance. Nintendo was forced to counter the PSP by rushing out a successor to the GBA. And so we got the DS, with its stylus gameplay.

Fuck you, stylus.

So, with the DS, Nintendo basically said "If you want to continue to play your favorite Nintendo games on gameboy, then you're going to have to use this stylus." And with that edict, every gamemaker had to go back to the drawing board and put stylus functionality into their games. Useless, pain-in-the-ass, un-fun stylus gameplay.

"Well, that's okay." I said at the time. "I can still play my favorite games on the big screen." Then the Wii was announced and its wand-waving control scheme unveiled. And now it's all over. The lion's share of the greatest game franchises of all time - exclusive to Nintendo - are now only accessible to those willing to twirl this stick gaily about, swishing it this way and that, jerking, wiggling and pantomiming.

Look, video games have a certain cerebral component. They're not ALL just twitch button, arcade-y affairs. I like the strategy elements in an RPG, or an RTS game, or a puzzle game, or a an adventure game. These are games where there's not necessarily anything special about the controls. Tetris, one the greatest games of all time, really only requires two buttons: a directional pad and a rotation button. Games aren't always about the interface. In fact, the best games usually make you forget there even is an interface. Nintendo's decision to make every game a light gun game demonstrates that they don't give much of a rat's ass about that. They're going to differentiate their product in the only way they can - by creating a unique interface that's truly unusual and un-copyable. "No more ports," Nintendo is saying. Every Nintendo game will now be fully unique.

Well, fantastic. I'm glad it's worked. But in doing this they've changed the DNA of the games the system will support. Now every game has to somehow include all the excitement and challenge of that machine at Dennys where you try to grab the stuffed animal with the robotic claw.

I don't want that shit. I don't want my Wii to be party central. I want to zone out to a cool metroid game with the shades drawn and doritos on my shirt. The last game I was able to enjoy in the old fashioned style was the new Zelda, since a Gamecube version was released too.

And it wasn't even that good.