Remembering Satoru Iwata

Mario mourns Satoru Iwata

We were deeply saddened to hear the news that Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo, passed away yesterday. It is only fitting that we remember him by sharing what we loved about his contributions to the gaming industry.

“In our minds, the Nintendo difference has always made up our foundations. The first is innovation. Our goal is always to do something different, something no one has thought of before. In truth, some of our inventions aren’t better than others, but we never stop trying to innovate. Mr. Yamauchi always tells me we should achieve something that brings fresh, surprise, and joy…I like that.”
-Iwata, E3 2001 (Before becoming President)

“Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone!”
-Iwata

iwata-sanSatoru Iwata was responsible for more gaming memories, specifically in our younger years, than any other single individual or even group of individuals combined. Under his leadership, Nintendo released the GameCube, DS, Wii, 3DS, and Wii U. The DS was a huge and monumental release for Nintendo, cementing its place probably forever with enough cash reserves to make mistakes and pick itself back up again.

The first quote above foreshadows inevitable failure. No one is perfect, and when you strive to create something new and fresh all the time you will eventually land yourself with a flop, or in the case of Nintendo a struggling system or two. When systems in the past (and present) struggled for Nintendo, Iwata cut his own salary in half rather than see the company’s employees be let go. He took responsibility for “failure” and did not let executive decisions fall upon the shoulders of the company’s workforce.  Iwata didn’t bow to the pressures for Nintendo to join the ranks of free-to-play or to change its practices or abandon its principles to simply align with common times.

“I do not like to use the term ‘Free-to-play.’ I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called ‘Free-to-play’ should be referred to more accurately as ‘Free-to-start.'”
-Iwata, Time Magazine 2015

Iwata-san was the mind behind the regularly-released Nintendo Direct “live”-streaming events where Nintendo would regularly discuss what was happening and coming up in the near future. These Nintendo Direct mini-conferences replaced Nintendo’s larger conference showings at E3, proving that a major company or publisher needn’t bring a huge production value show to a stage in order to reach its fans.

Mr. Iwata was also largely responsible for Nintendo’s push toward first-party titles. In a sea of awful and truly lacking (in quality and number) third-party releases, Nintendo developed and innovated more on first-party titles than any of its competitors to ensure that not only their brands were kept alive but the players had something to enjoy.

We sincerely hope that the next President of Nintendo will hold true to Satoru Iwata’s principles and philosophies. They were not always a guaranteed success, but they meant fun, fresh, innovative ideas for a consumer-first company.

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”
-Iwata

Assassin’s Creed Unity Review

Assassin's Creed Unity

My original plan was to forgo an Assassin’s Creed Unity review, but after finally completing the game I feel like I need to write up some of my thoughts.

My wife was a major contributing factor to my enjoyment of Assassins’ Creed Unity because, for the first time ever, she sat next to me for every single minute of gampeplay. Although she’ll play the modest card and deny it, she’s fluent in French and an encyclopedia of French history. Throughout my play-through I would turn to her with guidance with what the heck is going on in this thing called the French Revolution. Having been to France and loving the city of Paris, she was a great tour guide helping me figure out puzzles and helping me to understand the nonsensical mumblings of the French language.

Story

Assassin’s Creed is one of my favorite gaming franchises because I love how Ubisoft plays with the facts of history to twist our world into one big shadow game of Templars vs. Assassins. Unity does not disappoint in terms of history — especially if you’re into the French history like my wife — but doesn’t keep up with previous AC titles’ ability to create a story bigger than life.

Almost all (like 99%) of the “real life” story has been cut out of the game, leaving the player in control of Arno Dorian. The actual story of Arno is rather dull. He’s the son of an assassin who is killed within the first minutes of the game leaving him to be adopted by a prominent Templar family. Revenge drives Arno’s decisions through life as does his love for the daughter of the man who adopted him.

The player is (ready for this?) only known as “the player” of Helix, a game by Abstergo (Templars in modern day) once again using genetic memories for entertainment and their nefarious purposes. (Obtaining artifacts and pieces of Eden, etc.) Your gameplay feed is hijacked by Assassin’s and you’re asked to join the order as an initiate. It’s actually weaker and even less cool than I’ve made it sound here.

One of the more intriguing sides of the story in Unity is how the Templars and Assassins were trying to broker piece, and how such an act caused rifts within both organizations. How that plays out drives a great deal of story. [Read more…]

Alts and Twinking

When MMOs were still in their infancy — actually, before they were even called MMOs — I used to have a serious problem making multiple characters and struggling to choose which one to play. People called this being an ‘altaholic’ or having ‘altitis’.

Being an altaholic, I was constantly swapping characters without being able to choose which was my favorite. I would play levels 1-10 or 1-20 multiple a dozen times. Eventually, I would settle on a character I enjoyed enough to take to max level or close to it. Every class was so unique and set apart from the others.

I have memories of spending countless hours trading items I accrued on one character to swap them over for items for another. In other words, I was a decked out warrior and I would swap my gear with other players to be a decked out wizard. Often I would make equal or better trades for the same gear. In fact, I think my worst case of altitis was one weekend in EQ where I ended up swapping Druid gear for Monk gear, then to Warrior gear.

I LOVE twinking. What is twinking? I forget the term is practically lost to this generation. Twinking is when you give really good items to a character that would never have been able to obtain those items naturally. In EverQuest it’s like giving a Smoldering Brand, a Short Sword of the Ykesha, Flowing Black Silk Sash, etc., to a level 1. If twinking were really a thing in WoW, it would be equivalent of giving top tier raiding gear to a level 1.

Just this weekend I spent two whole days twinking my Bard. I farmed plat on my Magician, sat in Commonlands tunnel, and auctioned to buy gear. “WTB Mistmoore Battle Drums and Lambent Armor!” I’d have a few trade macros to advertise my interest. I’m almost to the point where I just need a few more pieces for my Bard and he’ll have the best stuff he can wear outside of raiding. The result? He’s WAY more fun to play.

Let’s analyze this for a second:

  • I enjoyed so many different characters that I couldn’t decide which to play
  • My gear was shared across my alts
  • Time spent on some characters was spent to enhance or advance other characters’ gear
  • Playing through the content multiple times wasn’t a deterrent
  • I could trade almost everything

That sounds nothing like the MMOs of today. MMOs today are the antithesis of such features. Often only one class is interesting since they’re all the same, gear is bind on pickup, content is so linear and exact that playing twice is mundane, twinking is unnecessary since everything is ridiculously easy, and economies are almost non-existent.

While not something I can simply point to an say, “Do this and your MMO will be great,” it’s definitely something worth noting. Isolating what we like(d) about the past games and trying to see how those features or systems intermingled with the rest of the game’ design can really shed some light on how we’ve lost a lot of depth and meaningful gameplay in today’s MMO designs.

 

Bringing Back Videos in a New Way

Keen and Graev's Youtube ChannelI’ve given a lot of thought recently to where I see the blog going for the remainder of 2015 and into the near future. I’m always thinking about whether or not there’s something we can do to enhance the blog without taking away from our core competence of writing content about the games we play.

When Twitch was just starting out we dabbled into streaming a bit. I might consider doing that again, but a capable internet connection is not available in my area at the moment. Even so, streaming doesn’t mesh with the style of content we provide here. We’re not entertainers. We’re not serious journalistic types. We have always provided something that most sites lack; Something we have always been about: Discussion.

I want to start making videos again, and I want to tailor them towards a deeper and more analytical discussion like you see here on the blog. For example, when I talk about immersion and danger in a MMORPG, wouldn’t it be great to actually show that in a video and walk through the process of identifying those traits? Showing what I’m writing about seems to me like it can only enhance or augment what is already taking place here on the blog.

Videos were one of the biggest ways we kickstarted our blog’s success. Remember those Age of Conan beta videos I shot where I ran around the battlegrounds and discussed how each class felt compared to the others? Those brought in 100,000’s of views and visitors. How about those cheesy Allods online videos? I can’t believe some of them broke 100,000 views. The facts cannot be ignored: Videos are a preferred medium.

I’m not looking to provide TV-like entertainment or provide something you’ll tune in to every afternoon at work for a laugh or to distract you. That space is already monopolized and readily available to you on Twitch. I’m looking to provide something I haven’t found, and a space I think is empty and ready to be filled. I have the experience, especially in MMOs, to provide commentary on gameplay mechanics, design elements, and the type of stuff readers of this blog would want to see. My hope is that by turning my written-medium into video form I will be able to reach a wider audience to not only grow our blog but help educate and improve the gaming community.

The style of these videos will be very casual and similar to the “let’s play” style that has become popular over the years. I’ll probably throw an intro on there (with custom music composed by my Wife — she’s an awesome composer & arranger) and launch right into showing you gameplay with discussion.  From there I’ll just launch into playing and discuss what’s going on. I expect to probably have series going for games. I might have everything from an EverQuest series of let’s play videos to Assassin’s Creed. Whatever the game, there may be multiple videos and I want them all to showcase the games while highlighting that thoughtful discussion.

These videos won’t be super regular at the start. I can’t promise one a day yet or anything. I want to test the waters and get my own feet wet with figuring out exactly how I want to create them, but my goal is to eventually be making them regularly. They will be especially interesting and worth-watching for upcoming and newer games. I will be going through some older games as well, but will focus my efforts on what’s new when those opportunities are available.

I will, of course, post everything here. If you want to give us a follow on our (currently very out-of-date) Keen and Graev Youtube page please do! I’m also looking for feedback on a name. How about “Keen Insights” … yay, nay? The name might come later.

Conglomo-catch-up-blog

Welcome back! The holiday weekend is coming to a close, and that means it’s back to games and back to blogging. I think now is a good time to give you guys a conglomoblog with details on what I’ve been up to and where I see things going in the second half of 2015.

Right now there just isn’t a log going on in the MMO sphere. MMOs really are my bread and butter, but over the last two years I have really embraced other avenues of gaming. I’m hoping to see 2016 be a year for MMOs, but that’s a discussion we’ll likely have 6 months from now. In terms of MMOs, you know I am still playing on the EQ progression server and dabbling in ESOTU.

What I’m playing

My two main go-tos right now are Assassin’s Creed Unity and Splatoon. My wife and I are playing Unity together and easily over 25 hours in with a bit more to go. She loves the history, and I love the gameplay of being an assassin in a semi-open-world. I have to say though that Unity is lacking compared to Black Flag and the Ezio series. I just bought Assassin’s Creed Rogue on Amazon (on sale for $9.99 on PS3); Rogue came out at the same time as Unity but received no marketing at all and is actually heralded by many reviewers as one of the best in the entire series. I will definitely write up my thoughts on Rogue upon playing.

Splatoon remains some of the best fun I’ve had on a console. Nintendo has provided continual FREE updates to the game since launch including more weapons, maps, game modes, and special events. The word I would use to best describe Splatoon isn’t a technical term like “FPS” or “Shooter” — Splatoon is a playful game. I hope the attention Nintendo has given to the online game here translates into their new online service coming soon.

Where I want to go…

I’ve decided just now as I write this to hold off on telling you in this post my plans. I’m going to turn that into a post for tomorrow morning. I’ll just throw a teaser in here and say it’s something I have wanted to do for some time but haven’t had the time or the freedom to do so until now.