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There Will Be Streaming

Since I will not be getting a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One anytime soon, I’ve decided that I want to start streaming some of my PS3 and WiiU gaming on Twitch, and posting some videos to YouTube. This is basically as a warm up for when Dark Souls II arrives in March, as I plan on doing some videos and podcasts of the billion hours I plan on spending with that game. I’m also killing two birds with one stone, as I’ve been unable to pull the crew together for Co-Op Critics podcasts as often as I’d like, and this will provide some additional content to be shared here.

After doing some research, I decided to go with the Roxio Game Capture HD. There are some who prefer the Elgato Game Capture HD, but the Roxio was a bit cheaper and got solid reviews, particularly when it came to the editing software included with the device.

I’ll probably record a bit of Minecraft, Dark Souls and Bioshock Infinite streaming on PS3, and on the WiiU, probably some NES Remix and maybe some older games. Again, I’ll likely skip around, as I want to get used to using the device and the editing software. At some point I’m sure I’ll do an actual playthrough, but I’m not ready for that level of commitment yet.

Is there a particular game that people would like to see me play, hit me up on Twitter @SeeBrianWrite, or leave a comment below.

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Curse of the Early Adopter, Or: Why I Just Bought a PS Vita Again

Games, people. Games. That’s what it really comes down to.

That’s why I’m sitting here staring my new PS Vita, the second one I’ve bought in the past two years.

Yup, I was one of the early adopters that bought a PS Vita back in early 2012 when it debuted in the U.S. And by January of 2013, I had traded my Vita in when I purchased a WiiU. The main reason I got rid of the Vita (other than needing cash for the WiiU), was because of the lack of good Vita games. The irony is that I traded in the Vita and bought a console that had the exact same problem as the Vita. But that’s a sob story for another time.

Fast forward to 2014, and I grabbed one of the Walking Dead bundles off of Amazon, which netted me the Vita, a 4GB memory card, and download vouchers for The Walking Dead, Retro City Rampage, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Those four games right there are better than any four games I had at one time for the Vita the first time around.

Add to that the fact that with PlayStation Plus, I have access to the aforementioned Uncharted, Wipeout 2048, Gravity Rush, and more. The icing on the cake is the ridiculous Steam-like sale Sony just had, where I picked up Soul Sacrifice, Thomas was Alone, Spelunky, Stealth, Inc., Killzone: Mercenary and Lone Survivor.

For the same price I bought my original Vita, a game and memory card for, I now have a library of over a dozen of the best games to come out for the Vita.

The lesson here is the same one I learned with the WiiU, and the same one that PS4 and Xbox One owners are learning right now–new consoles rarely launch with a lineup of great games. For many consoles, the first year is filled with mediocre ports and a lack of titles altogether. So if you can just wait, if you can just hold off for that one year, you can usually get a better deal for the console overall, and have plenty of great games to play on it.

I did not heed that lesson when it came to the WiiU, and the first several months of that console were pretty rough, which is one of the reasons it’s struggling so badly. Had I waited until this holiday season, I could have grabbed a great WiiU bundle and would have had a bevy of great games waiting for me.

The good news is that so far, I’ve been able to hold off on getting either a PS4 or an Xbox One. With my current consoles and the Vita, I have more games than I can possible play right now. I may finally be learning my lesson when it comes to early adopting.

But probably not.

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Black Flag Made Me Finally Fall in Love With Assassin’s Creed

As a gamer it makes me extremely happy to say that I have finally found an Assassin’s Creed game that has really clicked with me. After putting at least ten hours into ACIV: Black Flag so far, I love pretty much everything about it. And while you could dismiss my liking of the game by saying it’s the least like the other Assassin’s Creed games in the entire series, I think it goes beyond that.

From a design standpoint, the way Black Flag introduces you to the game’s systems is fantastic. You pretty much have access to everything from the get go if you’re already familiar with everything, but you are officially introduced to the combat, ship navigation, crafting, contracts and upgrade systems in a way that builds upon itself and never feels overwhelming. And so far, my engagement in these systems has been pretty optional. The ship combat is fantastic, but if you wanted, you could avoid a lot of it, meaning you could also ignore a lot of the ship upgrades. Similar to the physical combat system, you can take a stealth-based approach to ship navigation, avoiding unnecessary combat and paying off officials to keep your wanted level down.

The freedom to approach almost every aspect of the game the way you want is what keeps this game fresh for me. When I tire of the story missions, I can just hit the high seas and battle some ships, attack citadels or even hunt sharks and whales until I want to jump back into the land-based missions.

Another huge plus of Black Flag is the “real world” storyline. Gone is the boring Desmond, and instead in this one you are an employee of game developer Abstergo, makers of the Assassin’s Creed games. As you go about your daily duties, you find out there is more going on at the company than just making games. It’s a fun story that almost borders open parody, but it’s a heck a lot more fun to play than the previous non-Animus storylines in the AC games I played.

I think what I am enjoying most of all in Black Flag though is the main character of Edward Kenway. In many ways, he’s the personification of those of us who never got into the AC lore. He doesn’t give a crap about it. He’s a guy trying to make his way in the world and make the big score. His dialogue is great, and he’s just a fun character to spend time with.

There was a point that I almost gave up on the Assassin’s Creed series altogether. I’m glad I didn’t. Black Flag is a blast.

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The Games Industry Really Has Become the WWE

Polygon’s Emily Gera wrote a brilliant post on her personal blog today about how the games industry has turned into a spectator sport akin to World Wrestling Entertainment. It’s a fantastic read, perhaps the most insightful post I’ve read about games this year. And it really hit home with how I’ve been feeling lately as a 39-year-old gamer who is just kind of sad about the state of the industry today.

First, go read the article on Emily’s blog.

I was actually having a conversation on Twitter with Co-Op contributor Dave Fetterman that directly relates to the sentiment expressed in Gera’s post. I was reflecting on the fact that as of late I find myself becoming part of the Nintendo Defense Force, feeling the need to reply to the constant negativity that seems to be aimed at the WiiU and Nintendo in general.

I’m a WiiU and 3DS owner and I have two kids, so for us Nintendo’s consoles are a constant source of fun and entertainment. I also have a Xbox 360, PS3 and a PC, so I play games wherever I can get them. In this last console generation, I’ve probably spent the most time on Xbox 360. Not that any of that matters, except to say that I don’t have a “console of choice” per se.

The thing that kills me is these narratives that are built up not just by the rabid fanbases of each console, but the games media as well. Over the past year, and into this holiday season, one of the biggest is that not only is the WiiU not a “next gen” console, but it’s already dead in the water. There is no reason to buy a WiiU, and there is no hope of it recovering from its slow start. Some are even calling for Nintendo to get out of consoles entirely, either moving exclusively to handhelds, or giving up hardware altogether and becoming the next SEGA.

Consider this: you can get a WiiU bundle for $299 right now that either comes with Wind Waker HD, Skylanders or two Super Mario games. Right now, the WiiU has a slew of great games to play: ZombiU, Pikmin 3, Nintendoland, Super Mario 3D World, Wonderful 101, Lego City Undercover and plenty more. And the console is backwards compatible, which means you have the entire Wii library as well. It’s a great value, especially as a family console. But that narrative is boring, right? Who wants to talk about what a fun experience the console can be when we can all hail its impending doom from the highest mountain, right?

When it comes to the PS4 and the XBox One, the ebb and flow of the narrative changes daily. The PS4 goes from being more powerful than the XBox One to having a worse launch lineup to being a better value to being inferior because it doesn’t let you control your living room in the same way XBox One does. On the flipside, XBox One had terrible party chat one day, a lack of free demos the next and then Kinect makes it better than the PS4 (despite the fact no one wanted it before launch and thought its addition was not worth the extra $100).

And this stuff isn’t just message board or comment section chatter. These are storylines that all of the major gaming news sites are feeding into daily. Much of the chatter from gamers is happening in response to these stories. The gaming news sites are just as much the creators of these narratives as the fans. The same goes for the publishers and hardware makers themselves, and you don’t have to look any further than this year’s E3, when the mudslinging between Microsoft and Sony was on stage for all the world to see. Microsoft ended up changing their whole strategy for the console based on the narrative that games journalists helped create when they took fan reactions and jabs from Sony and ran with them relentlessly. Microsoft was the bad guy–they didn’t get it. Sony came out of E3 as the “winner,” the company that really understood what gamers wanted from the next generation. Nintendo wasn’t even allowed to be part of the discussion, as the media took Nintendo’s lack of a spectacle presentation as a reason to marginalize them completely and just focus on the narrative that the upcoming generation was a two-horse race.

All of this is where the spectator sport of the games industry comes in, and where Emily Gera’s analogy is so brilliant. There has to be Good Guys (Babyfaces) and Bad Guys (Heels) in order for anyone to care. Those Good Guys and Bad Guys will switch places when it suits the overall narrative, but there will always be someone to root for and against, and those creating the narrative get to decide what roles the actors are assigned to.

This whole spectator sport aspect of the industry takes the focus off of the games, off of the fun, and off of the escape that games offer me. It also devalues the exact type of writing that Emily Gera displayed in her brilliant post. Because if gamers would rather read about how many PS4’s failed over launch weekend or how dismal WiiU’s sales were this week than a feature on the design of Resogun, that’s what Emily and those who work for other gaming sites will be writing about. And that just feeds into the spectacle our hobby has become.

The absolute saddest thing about the current state of the industry is that some of the best writers out there, people who earn a living writing about games, have to turn to their personal blogs in order to post ideas that are not part of the larger narratives, part of the spectacle. If you think I’m exaggerating, look at how many current and former games journos have their own side blogs and podcasts, and look at what they produce for content. For most of them, those side projects are where they get to actually celebrate games and talk about the things they love.

Now, the state of the industry isn’t going to change anytime soon, although I hope articles like Emily Gera’s will at least get people to do some self-reflection. I would love to see something like Upworthy come along for the games industry. Some sort of aggregator for games writing that celebrates the hobby, where features about people’s experiences with games and what they love about them are shared and promoted, as opposed to the gladiator arena that currently dominates games media.

I’m rambling now, so I’m going to wrap this post up. But you really need to go and check out Emily Gera’s post, because she is dead on.

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NYCC 2013: Super Mario 3D World Impressions

Despite the fact that the Nintendo booth at NYCC was jam packed for four straight days, I got a couple of chances to play Super Mario 3D World. The game is coming out on November 22nd, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Nintendo Mario game–that is to say, it’s awesome.

One of the bigger additions to gameplay in this new Mario iteration is the Cat Suit. By grabbing a bell-shaped power-up, you gain the ability to scale walls and pounce on enemies. I love the scaling ability, as the level I played was wide open, and there were several ways to navigate it. There is a certain chaos to four players running around a 3D level, and the cat suit contributes to that chaos in a fun way.

And although it’s not unique to this Mario game, there’s so much to be said for the “pick up and play” accessibility of the game. Both times I played, I was with complete strangers, but the ability to just pick up a Mario game and know what to do seems ingrained into our DNA at this point. There’s really nothing else like it.

In my first play session I went through a standard level, but the second time was a boss fight. We faced off against a snake-like monster and his minions in a large arena. The boss battle was a combination of avoiding falling objects and platforming, and it was a ton of fun.

There’s really not much else to say except that Super Mario 3D world looks and plays great, and it should be a blast for the whole family when it comes out for WiiU in late November.

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WiiU Price Drop–Better Late Than Never

Finally.

Nintendo announced this week a $50 price drop for the deluxe version of the WiiU. This price drop will take effect on September 20th, the same day the new Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD bundle comes out. Even better, the Wind Waker HD bundle will also retail for $299, and will include a Zelda-themed GamePad, and a digital version of the Hyrule Historia compendium, which, if you haven’t seen it, is amazing.

So, the price drop puts the full-fledged version of the WiiU at $299. The PS4 will retail for $399 and the XBox One for $499. From a price standpoint, I feel like WiiU would be better priced at $249, but the fact that Nintendo has now aligned the console at $100 bucks cheaper than PS4 and $200 cheaper than Xbox One is a great thing. There are now clearly three options out there, and for those who are making the choice based primarily on price, there is at least now a marked difference between Nintendo and the other consoles.

The Zelda bundle is a no-brainer if you are even considering getting a WiiU. Hyrule Historia alone launched at $35 and is an amazing tome. Throw in the game and the special controller, and that’s a great package.

As much as the WiiU’s lineup of games has been maligned, by the time the other two new consoles launch, WiiU will have a pretty nice stable of games. We already have Nintendoland, LEGO City Undercover, Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Luigi U, ZombiU, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Game & Wario among the more notable titles. Wonderful 101 and Rayman Legends are just around the corner, with Wind Waker HD and Scribblenauts Unmasked (the DC Universe Scribblenauts game) following right behind. All of those games are either out now or will be by the time the next PlayStation and Xbox consoles launch. Not too shabby.

So yes, Nintendo completely squandered the year long head start it had to build WiiU momentum. And the third party support is as bad as we all feared it would be. BUT, the price drop will help overall sales, and there are plenty of great games out now and coming in the near future to make the WiiU a worthwhile purchase.

The biggest question for Nintendo now is whether or not the WiiU price cut was too little and too late. There is no question they should have either priced the console lower at the start or cut the price as soon as the game drought hit. Whether this move turns the console’s fortunes around remains to be seen, but I will never doubt Nintendo’s ability to turn things around after what they did with the 3DS, which is now blowing the doors off every other console in terms of sales.

There are still a couple of things I’d like to see Nintendo do that I think could go a long way to helping speed the recovery of the WiiU. For starters, an Ambassador Program for early adopters would be nice, similar to what Nintendo did with the 3DS. Building in more interactivity between the 3DS and the WiiU (like remote play or using the 3DS as an alternate controller) would be great as well. But I think the biggest thing Nintendo needs to work on with the WiiU is its implementation of the GamePad. Outside of ZombiU, Nintendoland and LEGO City Undercover (to a much smaller degree), hardly any games take advantage of the functionality of the GamePad. It’s one of the defining factors of the console, and it’s sorely underutilized.

For now though, I’m happy that the price cut has finally arrived, the games are starting to pile up, and a new bundle is on the way. Here’s hoping it’s enough to get the WiiU back on track for this holiday season.

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How Amazon Could Re-Create the Wii’s Success

So, rumors were flying around the internet this week that Amazon is currently developing an Android-based gaming console, which will be released before Black Friday this holiday shopping season.

Now, most avid gamers will scoff at this potential news, for a few reasons. First, the recently-released Ouya Android gaming console has received mixed reviews at best, and while we haven’t seen actual sales numbers, the console does not appear to be selling briskly.

Second, we have the Xbox One and Playstation 4 coming this holiday season, and most avid gamers that are looking for new hardware will be investing in one or both of those consoles.

Finally, many avid gamers associate Android (and iOS for that matter) games with phones and tablets, and tend to look at those games as inferior experiences to console and dedicated handheld gaming.

Here’s the thing, though–avid gamers looked at another gaming console as providing inferior experiences to more casual audiences. That console was Nintendo’s Wii, and it recently crossed the 100 million-sold mark since it’s 2006 release. Unfortunately for Nintendo, when they developed the WiiU, they got away from what made them so successful last generation created an expensive console that left more casual gamers behind.

Amazon has a golden opportunity here to fill a missing spot in this upcoming console generation. For that matter, Apple does as well, but seems uninterested in taking gaming further than it currently is on iOS devices. Both Amazon and Apple already have app-based ecosystems full of games. Unlike the Ouya, they also both have brand recognition and a built in consumer base. So, if Amazon decided to put together an inexpensive gaming console that featured a controller and played all the games on their app store and then some? A lot of parents would be seriously considering that console for their kids this holiday season.

It makes sense that the Amazon console would be able to take advantage of other apps as well, like the Amazon Prime Video library, Netflix, and other streaming media apps.

So, imagine an Amazon gaming console and controller combo releases this holiday season for $99. It plays hundreds of games from the Amazon App Store, and a new app or game can be downloaded for free each day. The console also features Netlfix, Prime Instant Video, Audible, and more. Maybe it even allows you to use your Kindle Fire HD as a touch-based controller or a second screen.

Anyway, you get the picture. If Amazon plays their cards right, they could deal a substantial blow to both Apple and Nintendo, and offer the less expensive gaming experience to families that the Wii did in the last console generation.

I am very excited to see what happens with this, and I hope the rumors don’t turn out to be unfounded. There is definitely a part of the gaming market to be filled here, and someone will eventually take advantage of the opportunity. It’s only a matter of time before Apple comes to its senses, so Amazon should strike while the iron is hot.

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Grr! Where Are All the Games That I Don’t Have the Time or Money to Play?!!

This is a bit of a tangent, but it came to mind as I was watching the E3 presser reactions on Twitter over the past 24 hours.

Every time a new console launches, there is public outcry from gamers about the lack of games for it.

Every. Single. Time.

XBox 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS, Vita and now WiiU are just the examples from this generation. Despite promises from both Microsoft and Sony about their launches, I think we all know that at some point in their launch cycle, there will be a drought of new releases.

You know what? It’s not that big of a deal, people.

You could make the argument that it matters from a business standpoint, because of course having a robust library for your new console will help sell units. But most gamers act as if they are on the boards of these companies, getting up in arms about something that doesn’t even affect them.

A lot of gamers act as if they have unlimited money and time when they rant about this topic. Would I have liked the WiiU to have a better launch lineup? Absolutely. But the fact is, the only game I’ve completely finished for the WiiU so far has been ZombiU. I still need to finish New Super Mario Bros. U and LEGO City Undercover, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Not to mention that I’ve got a slew of games from the eShop that I’ve barely touched. I’m not even ready for Pikmin 3 yet, whenever the hack it actually comes out.

And I don’t think I’m that far from the norm. Most of us don’t have the time and money to play everything. If the new XBox One launches with 27 games on day one, or even over the first three months, do you have $1600 and 270+ hours to play them between November and January? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most gamers don’t.

So, who gives a crap if there are a slew of games at launch? You’re going to get two or three over the first few months and then grab the others for less moeny down the road, if at all.

WiiU is going to be just fine come this holiday season, and both new consoles will have more than enough games to keep gamers happy. They’ll certainly have more than enough to keep me happy, as evidenced by the hundreds of games I’m still catching up on from this current gen.

So, everyone just settle down, okay?

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It’s Not You, PS4 and Xbox One–It’s Me

So, Microsoft had their Xbox Reveal event today and announced the XBox One. Similar in specs to the PS4, XBox One seems to be differentiating itself in terms of it’s commitment to being your one media box, with a focus on TV, web and Skype integration. There are a million articles about the new box, and Game Informer has a nice hub of info here.

Right now, I own an XBox 360, PS3, WiiU and 3DS in terms of gaming-centric devices. I also own a smartphone, an iPad 2 and a Kindle Fire HD. Yes, I have a bit of a tech-buying problem. Here’s the crazy thing, though–with all those devices, I currently spend less than five total hours a week playing games.

And that is really the big difference between now and when the last console generation started. When I first picked up an XBox 360, I had one less child, and a lot more free time. I spent an average of 15-20 hours a week gaming, sometimes more. Every weekend I was up until the wee hours on XBox Live with friends. I put hundreds of hours into Modern Warfare and the Left 4 Dead series, among others. I also spent a hefty amount of time with the PS3, much of it on RPGs that I pumped countless hours into as well. I’ve spent over 300 hours on the Souls series alone.

Over the past two years though, my gaming has decreased dramatically. Picking up the WiiU was probably a mistake–not because there’s not enough games for it, but because I have little time to actually play it. Don’t get me wrong, ZombiU was amazing and I’ve had a blast playing Lego City with my son, but the lesson I’ve learned here is that I just don’t have the time to be the gamer I used to be anymore.

Not to mention, as the “Year of B-Games” has reminded me, there are a ton of XBox 360, PS3 and Wii games that I still want to play. At my current gaming rate, these could last me years–literally.

Which may ultimately mean that I don’t end up grabbing either the Xbox One or the PS4 come this fall. My compulsion to buy new tech will surely be eating away at me, and I’m sure I’ll cave at some point. But I think there’s a very good chance that for me, the next console generation will be a one console generation. I’m going to have to pick one and go all-in, as I simply don’t have the time (or money) to justify being a multiple console owner anymore.

I’m still looking forward to E3, and I’m still excited about the future when it comes to games. But much like the other hobbies that have been marginalized over the years, my days of 24/7 gaming are over. I may be spectating for much of the next generation, as I’ll still be playing catch up on the games I have yet to experience from current consoles.

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The Nintendo 3DS Is Enjoying An Embarrassment of Riches Right Now

After a rough launch two years ago, the Nintendo 3DS has emerged as one of the strongest consoles of this generation and right now, it may be the best console on the market. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but for a console that just launched in 2011, the 3DS had an amazing software lineup, and the next year is looking fantastic as well. In the US alone, the 3DS has sold over 8 million units, which is a better pace than the original DS set in its first two years.

In the past two months, Fire Emblem Awakening (240,000 units in US), Monster Hunter 3D Ultimate and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (415,000 units) have all had strong launches. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is coming in June and will likely be a huge hit on the 3DS as well.

In yesterday’s Nintendo Direct, a slew of new 3DS games, as well as upcoming virtual console releases were announced. Mario Golf: World Tour, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, a new Mario Party, a new Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, the latest Professor Layton, and a sequel to Zelda: Link to the Past, are all planned for release this year.

On the virtual console and eShop front, two Zelda GameBoy games (Oracle of Ages /Oracle of Seasons) are coming in May, three new Level-5 games are on the way and the acclaimed Bravely Default: Flying Fairy from Square Enix is coming later this year. It’s already been a great year for the eShop, with games like Crimson Shroud, Cave Story, Crashmo, and Tokyo Crash Mobs, to name a few. The virtual console offerings are robust as well, especially if you were part of the Ambassador Program. Even in just the last few months, NES gems like Ninja Gaiden and Zelda II have arrived, adding to a huge collection of classics that are already available.

It’s really an amazing time to be a 3DS owner. There is a great balance of classic and new games available for the console, and with gems like Liberation Maiden and Crimson Shroud, well-known developers are flexing their creative muscle with downloadable titles that are a perfect fit for the handheld.

If there’s one negative about how awesome the 3DS is doing right now, it’s that the WiiU’s struggles seem even greater by comparison. If there’s one thing Nintendo proved with the 3DS though, it’s how to recover from a poor start. Let’s hope they learn some lessons from the 3DS soon.