One Week with the Switch: Thoughts & More Thoughts on Portable Gaming

Last week, I picked up a lovely neon-coloured Nintendo Switch. It’s the first time I’ve bought a console so close to launch, and I’m usually more pragmatic before committing to purchasing a piece of hardware, but two things about the console really made me want to check it out. The first was the positive response surrounding Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While it sounded like a fun adventure game in it’s own right, I became very interested after hearing conversations about the different systems of the game interacting in interesting ways. I’m a Zelda fan, and it sounded like a good Zelda game. Secondly, I bought a New 3DS about two years ago, and I really love it. The Switch, while touted as a console/handheld hybrid, seemed to me to be primarily a handheld, and that made me want to check it out more so than it being a TV console. Also, and perhaps the main reason that tipped me over to buying the Switch, is that I’m 30 and my wife and I don’t have children. We can afford to buy toys for ourselves sometimes.

Initially I had been very skeptical of the Switch. It looked to me to be something that would have been popular and cutting-edge back in 2012. From the 720p screen with large screen-bezels, to reports of 30 fps caps and limited internet functionality in the typical vein of out-of-touch Nintendo; this seemed very much to be portable technology that had been left in the dust years ago by the mobile phone and tablet industry. On announcement of the Switch, I thought that everyone already had something better; whether that be the 1080p smart devices in most of our pockets, the 2K/IPS tablets many people use on a daily basis, or our consoles and/or PCs already attached either to giant TVs or LCD panels on our desks. Nintendo has it’s dedicated fans, but what about the Switch would make the general public want to buy it?

However, the biggest revelation for me was actually using the Switch for the first time, and realising how forward thinking its central design actually is. This is a device that I want all my other devices in the future to model themselves after. Except for the use of Friend Codes. Oh, Nintendo!

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Begin Again: Stylised Sincerity

Last year my wife and I watched a movie called Begin Again (2013). It has a loose romantic-comedy-drama framework but was produced by Judd Apatow, so all the characters say “fuck” and the leads don’t get together in the end. The movie is fine, but would otherwise be forgettable if not for it’s own internal contradictions with the themes it’s trying to convey. It stars an actual pop musician in a surprisingly subversive, self-parodying role that borders on performance art, and for this reason I find this movie really fascinating.

While my esteemed colleague Adam is playing with his new VR-gadget and no doubt preparing some more riveting articles about his experiences in The VR Zone; I’m going to recount the story of a forgotten movie and critically analyse it for no-one’s enjoyment but my own.

Begin Again stars Keira Knightley as a Real Musician™ called Gretta, who at the start of the movie is on a stage in a noisy music bar playing an acoustic guitar and doing that whispering-her-lyrics thing, in that style that’s really popular on corporate indie radio and Youtube. This movie exists in an alternate reality though, and no one is paying attention to the beautiful musician playing popular music at a bar for watching live music, except for Mark Ruffalo; here playing a down-and-out music producer called Dan, who is captivated by Gretta’s Real Music™ performance.

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The Only Winning Move

This article contains spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line and early spoilers for Undertale

In my previous article I compare the actions-with-consequences that are forced upon you by two games: the excellent Spec Ops: The Line and the amusing Accounting. These are actions that garner much criticism from the games’ characters but are outside the control of the player – they are the only options presented and the game doesn’t proceed until you take them. I tried to argue that being criticised for such forced decisions in Accounting is annoying but it is tolerable (and maybe laudable) in Spec Ops because it fully embraces this theme as a means to empathise with the protagonist. In Spec Ops you play the tunnel-visioned Captain Walker who sees no alternatives to his actions and stubbornly forges onward without considering the bigger picture. The game’s story introduces tragedies that are then the result of this obstinance and openly blames Captain Walker for them. Spec Ops then goes further by telling Walker (and perhaps also the player) that these hideous consequences could have been avoided if only he “just stopped”. But what does this mean in gameplay terms?

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Don’t Blame Me – I Had No Choice!

An irresponsible splurge recently had me picking up one of those HTC Vives and so I’ve been lost in a wonderland of Virtual Reality. I’ll write up an article some time about my experiences with VR but for now I’d like to write about one particular game, the recently-released Accounting by William Pugh (of Stanley Parable) and Justin Roiland (of Rick and Morty). Don’t consider this to be a review, but rather a jumping off point for a discussion about decision-making and player responsibility in games. Actually, no wait, I’ll give a short one-sentence review of Accounting right now. It’s very entertaining and terribly fun, but I don’t know if I would even call it a game.

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Why Make a Firewatch Film?

A few days ago RPS reported that Firewatch is getting a movie adaption. It looks like the rights to this movie adaption and other “future projects” have been bought by a production company, for what that’s worth.

I’ve already written about how I liked Firewarch (and hated the introduction), and I’m pleased that the game has been as popular as it has that media production companies have caught the whiff of a potentially money-making property. It’s always good to see something different receive acclaim and find an audience, so good-going developers Campo Santo!

However, let’s pretend for a moment that this isn’t just film-studio speculative purchasing of a potentially popular brand-name (are there plans for a Firewatch franchise?) and have some fun doing some speculation of our own!

How could a Firewatch movie be handled if it were actually going to be made?

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I Don’t Trust these Goddamn Guys

The game begins with your return to Dunwall and you are soon met by the ugliest man in the world. “Corvo, two days early,” he says in a weedy yet arrogant voice, “Full of surprises, as usual.” I wonder what the chances are of this man turning out to be a villain, and estimate it to be around one in one. Two minutes later he has guards arrest you next to the body of the slain Empress. I don’t think this is a spoiler, since it happens in the opening minutes and, really, is the premise that begins the game. This article will be full of other spoilers, though, so don’t read on if you plan to play Dishonored. It really is a truly excellent game. After you’ve played it, read on as I bitterly criticise it.

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The Hitm’n – A Night at the Opera

It had started like any other job. Some Pablo-Escobar-wannabe in Chile and his son were in the coke trade together, and had stepped on the wrong people’s feet. I’d been called in to dispense some high-roller justice. Discretion is always the plan, but sometimes things don’t go to plan.

The tabloid rags reported my failing like the salivating lapdogs they are; 15 dead and one injured. I’d hit the targets, sure, and I got out of there relatively unscathed, but there was a civilian casualty and another poor mook laid up in the hospital. Worse, I’d been seen and a cool fifteen-gees were needed to keep the gawker from flapping his yap to some upstart investigators.

Just another day, but I could’ve done better. I don’t need to admit that often. In my mind, I couldn’t stop replaying the moment that the bullets started to fly and when it all went south. I was never this rattled; what was going on?

Then Diana called.

“Agent Forty-Seven” her cold, sophisticated voice did things to me.”I think I’ve got just what you need.”

“Listen baby – This ol’ Hitm’n isn’t what he used ta be!” I told her matter-of-fact-like.

Suddenly her voice changed. It was warmer and slightly amused, “how would you like to go to the opera in Paris, Forty-Seven? Tickets on me. You could use a vacation!”

Vacation…  that was the plan…

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