Nintendo Switch first impressions


By now you’ve probably seen news about the Switch. It’s Nintendo’s new console-tablet-thing (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term) that was announced earlier today. As a Nintendo fan, I’m personally pretty excited. It’s no secret that Nintendo has been floundering lately, especially stateside. It has been suggested that they should do what Sega did in 2001 and give up on the console market and focus on making software for third party consoles. But Nintendo has always dominated the handheld arena. Yes, tablets and smartphones have stolen a bit of their market, but the success of the 3DS has shown that Nintendo can still hold their own in that area. I think the Switch is a great move for them, because it unifies their handheld and home console into one.

First off, let’s talk about controls. Ever since the Wii, Nintendo has been all-in on “unique” controllers, and the Switch seems to go back on some of the weirdness, which is much apreciated. As you can see in the above trailer, the controller is basically a normal, Xbox-style controller that splits in two and snaps on either side of the tablet. Razer has an Android tablet with a similar design, and I’m sure others have tried this, but I think Nintendo is the first company to do something like this in an elegant way that looks like something I’d want to play on. Using the tiny side controllers on their own is a nice option I guess, but I don’t see developers using them for much, as they look pretty cramped. I like the new version of the Pro Controller; nothing fancy, just a good, solid, traditional controller. It seems to have the same buttons as built-in one, so I’m really hoping that this means all games will allow you to use either controller. No more wondering which of your myriad controllers a game is compatible with, please (I’m still annoyed that I can’t play Splatoon on a pro or classic controller, which, judging by the end of the trailer, is set to change in the sequel).

I find it odd that we never see anyone touching the screen on the Switch in the trailer. It would be super ironic if they went from having a home console that has a touchscreen where it doesn’t belong to having a tablet that doesn’t. I’ll be really surprised if this is the case, however, and I suspect that they simply chose not to show it because they wanted to distance it from the Wii U in users’ minds. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of Nintendo’s design specifications this time around that every game must be playable with the controller only, since otherwise you won’t be able to play if it’s plugged into the dock. As an added bonus, they get people like me to speculate with their friends about whether or not it’ll have a touchscreen for a while.

I’m curious about the battery life. I’ll be impressed if they can get more than a couple of hours on battery playing a game like Skyrim. Will they drop the resolution for tablet mode to save battery? What about graphical quality? Come to think of it, my 3DS probably gets less than three hours per charge at this point, so maybe it won’t be a big deal.

Speaking of 3DS, this brings us to the interesting question of what happens with the current consoles. The Switch seems to have the capabilities of both of Nintendo’s current consoles. Sure, they’re saying that it’s a third category that’s meant to coexist with other consoles for now, but they also said that the original DS wasn’t going to take the place of the Gameboy line. I’m pretty sure Nintendo is giving themselves an out; if this ends up being a disaster, they can always bail on it and come out with new versions of the DS and home console.

I’m a little frustrated with Nintendo for the way they went about this. We’re well past convention season now, and it’s coming out three months after the holiday release window when new consoles traditionally do best. They’ve said they waited so long because they were afraid of competitors stealing their ideas, but I’m pretty sure that the amount of hype and press that they lost by announcing it this late in the year far outweighs any risk of some other company stealing their ideas (which is going to happen sooner or later anyways). Also, this trailer dropped just one hour before the trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2, which, let’s be honest, is probably much bigger news in the eyes of the average gamer. They announced that the trailer was coming out last night (really? Couldn’t you have at least tried to build hype first?), so it’s not like they didn’t know the biggest game of 2017 was being announced the next morning. Annoyances aside, for the first time since they announced the Wii, I feel like Nintendo is finally heading in the right direction. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m excited to finally be optimistic at all about a Nintendo hardware release.

Steam: Mods For Sale

SteamPaidModBannerFUS RO DOLLARS!
Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Now that we have that out of the way…

Since everyone and their cat is talking about this, I thought I’d weigh in. Yesterday the above banner appeared across the Steam homepage heralding the addition of a new system that allows users to charge for their mods. Side note: technically, mods have only been on Steam for about 3 years, so saying that Steam “has always been a great place for discovering community-made mods, maps, and items” is a bit of a stretch, but that’s beside the point. The point is, the Internet quickly exploded with hate for the new “feature.” As of this writing, 13 of the top 15 “most helpful” reviews for Skyrim, the only game with for-pay mods thus far, are negative, not because of the game itself, but because of the for-pay mod system.
EDIT: Scratch that, in the time it took me to finish writing this post the two positive reviews have been pushed down. They’re literally all negative now.

One of the main reasons for playing Elder Scrolls games, at least for the PC Master Race, has always been the mods. For instance, I play an Imperial named Palpatine who uses lightning magic and a red 2-handed lightsaber. That small moon, Secunda? That’s no moon. And, of course, I had to add the Space Core (he currently lives on a shelf in my house and chatters away to Lydia and my adopted daughter all day). There are, of course, many other less silly and universe breaking mods that add everything from new armor to new quests to new NPCs to graphical improvements (yes that’s possible, believe it or not). Do these things add to my enjoyment of the game? Yes. But there’s no way in Oblivion that I would ever pay for them. But I don’t think this is the kind of thing the system was created for in the long run. Granted, a quick glance at the current list of the paid mods shows that they’re mostly to add a handful of cool looking items and expanded versions of existing mods. But I think the real usefulness of this feature is not to add bite-sized DLC, but to incentivize modders who have bigger ideas.

Think about it. How many awesome free projects, whether mods or standalone games, have been abandoned because the creators got burnt out or didn’t have time anymore (in other words, this). People aren’t dedicated to a project they have no prospect of getting money for, even if they’re really excited about said project. They might model a cool set of fantasy armor and dump it into a Skyrim mod, but rarely does anyone create something on the scale of one of Skyrim’s official DLCs. Honestly, people who create DLC-sized mods should be compensated, and conversely, if people know they’re going to be compensated, they’re more likely to make DLC-sized mods. If Bethesda released Morrowind remade in the Skyrim engine, charged $60 for it, all of the Morrowind fanboys would be throwing money at their monitors right now. So you’re saying that if a team of players remade Morrowind within Skyrim and sold it for $10 you’re not going to buy it? I don’t even like Skyrim that much and I would buy that. Yes, there will be plenty of people who create mods for fart magic and dubstep guns and try to sell them for a dollar, but in general I think the hope is to encourage a higher quality of mods.

I have to admit that, judging from the reaction of many players, my opinion is far from popular, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never even attempted to mod anything, so it’s not like I have my finger on the pulse of the modding community. Also, Skyrim is far from my favorite game, so maybe if this was being piloted on a modable game I really like, Torchlight 2 for instance, I would be a little more annoyed. But I’m not going to hate Valve for making this feature available. I’m of the opinion that, if I don’t like a given feature, I’m not going to use it, but I’m not going to label anyone who does use it as a traitor.

In the end, I hope this encourages the already amazing modding community of Elder Scrolls, and eventually other games, to come up with even more amazing things. Yes, there will be a certain number of mediocre mods that would have been free if they were released last week that some guy is now going to try to charge a dollar for, but I think it’ll be fairly self-policing (no one is going to pay for a lame mod, so eventually the creator, if they’re smart, will be forced to make it free). If it means we get just a few projects that are of higher quality and scale than people would have been willing to create without pay, then I think it’s worth it.

EDIT: After just three days, Valve pulled the paid mods from the store and offered refunds to people who purchased them. Valve and Bethesda both apologized for misreading the modding community, though Valve conspicuously didn’t promise never to try this again with other modable games. Only time will tell.

The Challenge of Returning to a Game

Does anyone else have a lot of trouble picking up a game where they left off, especially RPGs and MMOs? Because I certainly do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thorough Taris in Star Wars: Knights of Old Republic. To this day I’ve never beaten it, despite telling myself over and over that I’m going to make it through this time. I just got back from a two week vacation last week. We basically sat around and did nothing, but we did it 14 hours from home. It was wonderful. I, of course, did a little bit of gaming while I was away. I just got a new Kirby game (so insultingly easy, yet somehow still really fun), played a little Torchlight, and finally got around to making a new world in Terraria to check out all of the new stuff they’ve added since 1.2 (and boy is there a lot). You may notice one particular game missing from this list: Guild Wars 2. Even though GW2 is pretty easy to hop in and out for short play sessions, I didn’t ever manage to get around to it. Now that I’m back I feel a little lost. What should I do now? Work on map completion and dungeons on my 80 engineer? Crafting? One of my myriad alts? I have one more character slot tempting me, but the only class I don’t have yet is the necromancer, and that’s because I’ve gotten several of them to about level 5 and ended up deleting them in favor of another class. I’m told they’re a very late-blooming class, so maybe I should just hold off on that till I get another birthday insta-20 scroll. I’ve even considered rolling another engineer, but that seems silly.

Sometimes it’s not so much losing momentum when you come back as not remembering what the heck you were doing. This was my case with Skyrim. I was very late to the Skyrim party. I waited until the Legendary Edition (the game + all of the DLC) went on sale for 50% off on Steam. It’s a good game, and certainly impressive both graphically and in its sheer scale, but I’ve never really enjoyed it that much. It’s just a little too open. But I gave it a shot because everyone says it’s the best thing to happen to video games since the joystick. I used to play Skyrim, but then I took a… break. (I promise this whole post wasn’t just an excuse to say that… maybe a little) I stopped playing for a while, probably because of some other game that I was genuinely interested in not just because everyone says it’s the best game ever, and when I came back a couple weeks later I had no idea what I had been doing. I tried following a quest marker, and got myself insta-pwned by some trolls (actual trolls, not the internet kind). At that point I ragequit and never went back. Every now and then I hear my friends talking about stuff they did in Skyrim or some crazy mod and I think about going back, but I never have.

I often feel bad for this behavior. I really enjoyed this game a month ago, and now I’m having trouble remembering why. But if I’m not enjoying the game, what’s the point? Games are supposed to be fun. If I’ve squeezed all the fun out of a particular game, it’s time to move on. Maybe it has to do with that weird, abstract concept we call “getting our money’s worth.” It’s a strange concept, because there doesn’t seem to be a predictable enjoyment level associated with a dollar; I can buy a cake pop at Starbucks for $2.50 and eat it in a minute and be satisfied with my purchase, but if I spend $2.50 on a game and only enjoy it for an hour I’ll feel anxious about it for days. And of course there’s the old saying that “time is money”; if I’ve sunk a lot of time into a particular game or character, I feel obligated to continue to play it.

Maybe it has more to do with the fact that I know there’s more fun to be had in the game if I could just get back into it. Again, I was really enjoying this game a month ago, nothing has really changed, I just have to push through the burnout and I’ll be loving it just as much as I was then.

So what do you do? Do you have any burnout-fighting techniques to share? Or do you just move on and find something new?