Week 31.21: Calling… you hear the calling

Let’s start with games; skip this if hating on games is part of your identity. I spent way too much time on Call of Duty Mobile this week. It’s the mobile game addiction I’ve always been searching for, but not the one I expected: all stupid guns and camo instead of illustrated gacha. The new season has started and I’ve already cleared half through the Battle Pass objectives which are meant to last all month.

A couple of weeks from now, there’s gonna be some sort of new undead/zombie survival game mode that I’m looking forward to. Call me old and an MMO noob, but games with timed events and “seasons” are fascinating. I’m used to being able to play any level or mode you want once you’ve bought it or it’s been released. But here, in Fortnite, and I’m sure many others, the principles of live broadcast TV have been co-opted to create time-limited community experiences. Is this how the metaverse works? 🤪 I’m into it though (while acknowledging Episodic Everything calls for a huge time commitment).

I don’t know who this might help, but do not go into Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club games with high expectations. I got Game #1 of 2, The Missing Heir, and was thoroughly disappointed. Specifically, I wrote down “what a crock of shit” in my notes. I ended up finishing it with the help of a walkthrough just to have it over with.

These are game designs from the late 80s, remade with all new graphics (honestly good), but the core gameplay and writing survived for this first-ever release outside of Japan. For historical reasons, I can see why they did it. But nobody really needs to click through obtuse dialogue and travel-to-location menus over and over until some new option gets unlocked, not in 2021. I would have preferred if they went for a linear visual novel with less interactivity. As things stand, it was a dated, painful experience and I’m glad I didn’t buy the two-game bundle.

In anticipation of playing NEO: The World Ends With You which just came out, I started watching the anime adaptation which covers the events of the first game. I wasn’t expecting much because other such series have suffered from cutting the story down too much, or low budgets, or the inability to translate an action-oriented game to a different format.

Wow, this one seems to be an exception. It’s all here, the stylish character designs, graffiti and hip-hop inspired art direction, and even new mixes from the soundtrack. The battle scenes are actually dynamic, three-dimensional, and inventive. It captures the excitement, look and feel, and atmosphere that the old Nintendo DS game implied and articulates it. If the new game is anything like this, I can’t wait to get started.

(The post title is a reference to this song from the original game.)

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Otherwise, lots more Olympics. If I just tune into some live event, that’ll be a couple of hours evaporated in mushy minded sloth. It’s too easy to have it on and kinda pay attention. Michael C. mentioned in his last weeknote that he’s a conscientious objector to the games on account of the public health hazard and incompetence surrounding Tokyo now. I’m not joining in solidarity, but since I’ve started watching them I’ve developed an opposition to certain events because they are just unnecessary suffering, especially in the Japanese summer heat.

Take weightlifting: why do we need to see men carry the equivalent of 10 fully packed travel suitcases above their heads? Someone lifted 226kg today. His knees were wobbling. I saw several bruised and swollen knees being iced, actually. Their elbows probably pop out all the time. It’ll be wheelchairs and discount vodka for many of them in their later years. Do we need this? Why isn’t Russian roulette at the Olympics then? I’m sure it’d be a hit.

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Did I do anything productive? Erm… I took some photos (without leaving the house)! We get some nice sunsets in my area, and while this example was far from the best, I decided to get a camera out and play with some RAW processing on my iPad. I got some shots over an hour and a half and made a collage.

Also got back to some 3D modeling in Dreams, but discovered my brain is currently not wired to do it very efficiently, so I’m in for some painful neural trench digging over the next few weeks.

Week 28.21:

  • This week was partially lost to the lasting side effects of my second vaccination. I spent several days feeling ill, fragile, and tired. There was a local case of a teenager who experienced cardiac arrest while exercising a week after his first dose. So when I had to move the couch a little on Wednesday and it caused my heart rate to spike again, I just elected not to exert myself at all afterwards.
  • I didn’t have any coffee for about four days, which might have made the headaches worse. I didn’t have any alcohol for seven. Probably the longest stretch since the pandemic began.
  • Felt like the perfect conditions to finally get started on a visual novel, so I’ve begun Root Film on the Switch. I played the (narratively unrelated) Root Letter years ago on the PS Vita, and it was a shoddy game. This one’s much better. It’s got great atmosphere and vibrant, lovely artwork, with almost all dialogue fully voiced.
  • Nintendo also announced a new Switch model that appears to address my main gripes with the original: the awful, dim screen and poor battery life. The latter was already “fixed” with the silent gen 2 upgrade over a year back, but now we’re talking OLED. I may be tempted when it finally gets here, provided the markup isn’t extreme.
  • We were meant to visit Gardens by the Bay for a walk and to see the Chihuly exhibition, but since I wasn’t feeling up to it, we settled for the new Fast and Furious movie instead; our first time in a cinema since you know when. Hey what do Apple and F9: The Fast Saga have in common? Most of the people we used to like are gone, a successful formula is followed all the way to the bank, and they’re just obsessed with magnets.
  • I’ve been coming up with lame standup routines in the shower. What do you call sexist jokes? Classical humor.
  • During the movie, the sole of my barely worn New Balance sneaker damn near came off. I had to hobble home to avoid it falling apart in public. I don’t get why shoes do that when you wear them a few times and then leave them in the cupboard for a couple of years. The glue disintegrates? Does that happen if they’re unsold in a store too? Anyway, managed to find a new pair of Nikes in my size on their official Lazada store, which used to be almost impossible. Feeling good about my future shoe needs.
  • Pushing our luck even further with the going out, we had dinner at an izakaya over the weekend which, as many others have noted, feels really weird now with the ruling that no music should be played in restaurants (to keep people from speaking loudly). It was… libraryesque. One more reason to choose outdoor seats.

Week 20.21

  • Community Covid cases in Singapore continued to rise. We were getting over 20 a day for a bit, which prompted new soft lockdown measures. Although stores can remain open with fewer visitors at a time, dining out is now on hold. Restaurants will have to survive on takeout and deliveries. You can’t be out walking about in groups of three or more. Basically, we’re staying home again for the next month unless absolutely necessary.
  • This coincides with the start of my vacation time, but it’s alright because I wasn’t intending to do much outdoors for the time being anyway. There’s a long list of entertainment options to get through, so I just need to focus on the content and resist the stupid urge to buy a PS5 or new TV.
  • Back in the days of the Nintendo DS, I absolutely loved The World Ends With You (TWEWY), a rare action RPG that nailed combat, music, art direction, setting (Shibuya), and story. Just thinking about it invokes the sort of nostalgia normally reserved for long-gone places where I used to hang out. A sequel is coming out this July after 14 years! So I’m now replaying the original on my iPhone and watching the new anime series in anticipation.
  • I’ve mentioned before how open-world games set in real cities have become a proxy for being able to visit them during the pandemic. If I started playing TWEWY in 2007, then it was probably shortly after my first visit to Tokyo. Perhaps this played a part in how much I like being there. Well, I bought Judgment for the PS4 last week, and will be getting on that as soon as I give finishing Yakuza Kiwami another go next week. The Yakuza games are great for this sort of virtual tourism, replete with all the sounds you hear on the street, like the actual Don Quijote jingle for instance.
  • I discovered a new Apple Music feature by accident: since iOS 14.5 you can search/browse by record label. I got really excited about this, because it means you can look up, say, the entire Verve catalog of jazz classics. When I shared this with someone, they didn’t understand why someone would want to do that. Okay then.
  • Reading: still on The Diamond Age, if you can call 10 minutes a week active reading. Just not been in the mood.
  • Netflix: we watched the new Vox Explained series about Money, which is really about Money in America, which is really about how fucked up Money in America is. We all know about student loans (and the high cost of education), credit cards, scams and misleading ads, casinos, and lack of retirement savings, but I couldn’t see the scale at which these problems impact American society. We have them too, but there are thankfully some non-optional systems that help people save and insure themselves.

Mobile or Console, the Name of the Game is the Same

Playing Oceanhorn on the new Apple TV, with a Bluetooth game controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus, feels distinctly like a traditional console gaming experience. It’s been compared to a modern Zelda title, and if you’re in the mood to explore, its large world lends itself to leaning back on the couch for a good hour or more.

What’s interesting is that you can pick up your iPhone later and continue your savegame synced over iCloud, at which point its modified-for-touch controls and mini quest structure actually turn it into a modern mobile gaming experience.

What might be undersold by a simple bullet point — “Cloud Saves” — is really significant: one game that can be played in very different contexts, made possible by having the same OS in your pocket and living room (and car, one day). It’s probably the future of gaming.

Much like how we now commonly design for the web, going mobile-first in gaming makes sense for companies looking to the players to come. That means not making the mobile bit just a simplified companion app with minigames connecting back to the “proper” console version. The level of control complexity and engagement can and should scale to the device, all within the same game.

Geometry Wars 3

Many of the guidelines for apps on the new Apple TV force developers to adapt the experience to the available controller. Geometry Wars goes from a dual-analog stick shooter on a regular gamepad to an auto-shooter when on Siri Remote, where the player only has to steer. You get what fits, but never less than the whole story.

The experience of seamlessly jumping from a phone to a 60” TV reminds me of how it felt to play the first iPhone games. I remember Crash Bandicoot, in particular, as a sign of things to come. You could get games like it on the Nintendo DS, but they weren’t downloaded over Wi-Fi in seconds, for mere dollars, or paid for electronically. It made the portable gaming systems of 2008 feel dated. And as Apple added more power, multitasking, social features, and cloud saves to iOS, the iPhone overtook them completely.

Games on the new Apple TV have more than a whiff of that to them. Even if the platform doesn’t come to dominate gaming a decade from now, I believe the winner will work and feel like it.

In a sea of diminished companies out-innovated from changes they didn’t see coming, it’s gratifying to think that Nintendo may have played their cards right with the upcoming NX. It’s rumored to be a home console with a detachable mobile device, playing games that also work with smartphones and networks from its rivals. God knows how they’ll do it, but that describes the right shape to survive: experiences designed to shift context, open to different forms of interaction (hey, even VR), ready to fill varied slices of time, long or short, in a busy user’s day.