Does Nintendo have a monopoly on retro?

Retro video games have become big business these days. With products like all these mini consoles such as the NES and SNES classics, the Atari Flash Backs and the various collections of retro games, it’s become clear that a large segment of the gaming consumer base has an affinity for products that remind them of the glory days. But have you ever noticed that most of these retro products are either made by Nintendo, or done in the same style as Nintendo products? Even the wave of “retro inspired” games many come in the form of pixelated 8-bit graphics. This desire to recapture our youth has expanded beyond the generation who grew up with Nintendo. More and more young people who never owned an NES are getting into “retro” collecting or retro gaming.

Okay so the question is does Nintendo have a monopoly on retro? I don’t mean they are the only company making products that fall under the retro umbrella, rather my observation is their products, new and old, are the central focus of all things retro related. I never considered playing big box PC games or classic computer games as retro gaming. Part of this is PC’s are inherently backwards compatible by their natures. This is coupled with the fact the majority of the well known PC games retro gamers might collect are typically re-released on modern consoles in an near endless manner anyways.

A few years ago I purchased a PS4 because, for me, the original PS1 was starting to get nostalgic and I was really missing those old franchises. The fact FF7 HD was promised early in its life was a major contributing factor. But despite feeling nostalgia for the Playstation brand, I never considered it retro. For me, maybe I am missing the mark, but I even consider new or modern Nintendo games are retro games. Even thought it just released a few weeks ago, Kirby Star Allies could easily fit right in with my Kirby Super Star on SNES. Aside from the HD graphics and the modern look, it really doesn’t feel like a modern AAA title at all. In fact in all honesty, I rarely think any Nintendo game falls into that camp. I am not one of those who think of this as a bad thing, for me part of the appeal for Nintendo is how they aren’t Sony and how they don’t change with the times. Even if you pick up a new console with a nee fangled controller scheme, at the end of the day the games still always feel like the same old classic Nintendo games I have grown to love.

Looking back I can honestly say I don’t get this vibe with Playstation or even PC games. One of the reasons I diverged from the Playstation and stuck with GameCube instead of PS2 is because the PS2 felt so different from PS1, whereas Nintendo GameCube felt like a new and improved N64. When I looked back at the Wii I overcame my dislike of motion controls and developed a strong affinity for the platform based on all of the retro goodness it brought to the world.

I don’t even get excited for “modern AAA” games coming to the Nintendo Switch. Part of  that is I own both a gaming PC and a PS4 already, but also, the appeal of a Nintendo console is the Nintendo style games. My question remains then, do Nintendo games automatically qualify as retro games by default? If so, does that inherently give them an unabridged monopoly on the genre?

Collecting loose action figures versus sealed?

Nearly 20 years ago I started getting back into collecting action figures. What got me back into it was a combination of the Robots in Disguise Transformers toy line and the Star Wars Prequels toys getting released. I mostly started buying new toys in those two lines while also going back to retro G1 and G2 Transformers.

One of the things I told myself to justify collecting toys was layers of lies. For the G1 Transformers I convinced myself they were “cool” because they were made with metal parts. I also thought they were acceptable because they turned into semi-realistic classic cars. I even would use the line, these will be worth even more money in the future.

However, at the end of the day I really just wanted to own the toys for the very childish purpose of actually playing with them. I know, if you collect action figures, or other toys, the accepted norm is to keep them sealed or at the very least displayed on a shelf as “collectibles” but if you actually enjoy using them as intended suddenly you become extra weird.

This is where I got to thinking, what if you are that weird? I mean it’s easy to just make the case that anyone who collects toys or action figures already has some sort of problem to begin with. I don’t know if I accept the notion it’s automatically OCD, if kind of sounds like an excuse when people blame their “OCD” on something when most of them in reality don’t actually have clinical OCD. Oh well, that’s a story for another day.

I guess I just wonder if a person has to make all of these excuses to enjoy pursuing a particular hobby, does it mean there is something wrong with the way that person feels about their hobby? Sometimes, I wonder if it really just means there is something with the hobby itself. I am not sure if that line of thinking is particularly productive. Then again, who am I to determine what is healthy behavior when I sit here typing away on a blog talking about whether or not I want to collect Transformers toys as a hobby or just for the fun of transforming them?

I guess, for me personally, the reason I always had a problem with buying, and keeping, sealed collectibles of any kind, is it limits your actual enjoyment of the product. As an example in the interest of hoping something would gain value if I kept it sealed instead of just enjoying it as intended, I still to this day have an unopened tin of flavorless mint candies in one of those NES shaped collectible tins. I will never be able to get to a point where I trust the candies contained within to open and eat it them, so they remain sealed until the end of time.

Back when I first got back into collecting Star Wars figures I was beginning with a combination of the then-current Star Wars prequels as well as picking up the various Power of the Force and other lines featuring classic figures. Even at that time I was still opening them up. I told myself I could justify it by keeping them on the shelf being properly displayed. This never worked, once opened and “played with” they didn’t just lose their resale value, the reality was I always lost the little accessories that came with them. At even tried keeping them in plastic baggies at one time, but even that proved to be too cumbersome when the reality was I preferred tossing them into a shoe box where it would be easier to just grab the figures I wanted at that moment.

All of this meant I eventually ended up with a bunch of loose, incomplete and well worn figures with absolutely zero resale value. Thus, I either ended up donating them to thrift stores, or giving them away to my sisters’ various kids at different points in time for different reasons, usually as birthday or Christmas presents when I was too broke to get them something new. In the end I learned that I was not a toy collectible at all, not even a little bit. Really I was just a big kid at heart who never wanted to give up the things from his childhood. Whichever method you prefer just remember the whole point of any hobby is to get personal fulfillment, not as some sort of misguided investment.

Thor Ragnarok thoughts

I know it’s been out for a few months and I just got around to watching it last night. Full disclosure, I haven’t seen the second Thor movie yet.

I am starting to think that either I have aged out of the Marvel super hero movies, or I was never that into them in the first place. I loved the first Thor movie as with most of the solo Marvel movies. In fact of all the Marvel movies I have seen the only two I didn’t care for were the first Punisher movie from the last go round and Daredevil. I know those aren’t Marvel Studios movies but I am talking any movie featuring Marvel Comics characters. So how did I find myself watching Thor 3 and not enjoying the movie?

I felt the movies have not gotten to a point where they are all basically just mini-Avengers films now instead of stand-alone superhero pictures. This has become a bit of a chore trying to keep up with all of the movies, but even beyond that it’s starting to introduce unnecessary clutter into the film. I get these are Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but I kind of miss the days when you could watch a solo movie and the only connection to the other films were throw away references or end-credit scenes. Now it’s gotten to the point where if you miss one or two you could go into a stand alone sequel and be totally lost. I am not even sure if it is entirely possible to just watch the three Thor movies as JUST Thor movies. I haven’t seen Thor 2 but I can already tell if you missed Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and Civil War, among who knows how many others, you could go into this movie totally lost.

How about the movie by itself then? Screw it, I honestly cannot take this movie on its own, there was just too much going on that I know I missed by not watching certain other movies. I know who Doctor Strange is, sort of, from the comic books, but I am getting older I haven’t ready any comics since I was much younger, so I shouldn’t have to watch a throw away side movie in this grand shared universe just to make sense of the third movie in what should have been a stand alone series with just connections to the larger Avengers movies. Okay, so now it’s gotten to the point where you can’t just keep up with the main line you have to follow all the side movies. I remember the days when reading those epic cross overs that it would be cumbersome trying to track down all the different issues from the off books that weren’t in my regular reading list. X-Men were among the worst when it came to cross overs. For all the love the Marvel Movies get, I prefer how the X-Men films do it where each movie does loosely references each other but could each stand alone as they often ignore one another.

Okay enough rambling now what did I actually think of the movie? I guess if I had seen these other films it wouldn’t feel overwhelming because there were just a lot of things going on that didn’t make sense within the context of this individual film. That in itself made it harder for me to enjoy the film. Yes, the action was good, the characters were true to their previous portrayals and the over all plot was largely convoluted to the point where it felt like all they were doing was using this as either a filler movie to get to the next chapter of The Avengers or just using it as a cash in to keep the wheels going.

As far as this film being a commercial for the movies I haven’t seen goes, yeah well it would be easier if there wasn’t one of these films coming out a month for 12 months out of the year.

The perils of playing ROMS on a laptop

Gaming on a laptop has always been one of those iffy tasks that doesn’t always go as planned. The biggest deal to over come is not having a strong enough video card, fast enough CPU or enough RAM as a desktop gaming computer.Another issue that often arises when gaming on a laptop is a lack of USB ports.

Of course, sometimes a gamer has little to no choice. As of right now the PS4 is my dedicated gaming rig. Unfortunately I haven’t landed on my feet following my move across country so I am stuck using my laptop. Sure, I do have a Nintendo Switch but even in portable mode, it requires being docked for charging and I haven’t had a chance to dig out the dock just yet. That leaves me with two choices, gaming on my phone or gaming on my laptop. (Yeah realistically not gaming at all is not an option).

The first thing I decided to do was dig out some of my USB gaming pads to see which emulators I would be able to run. I realized that having moved across the country leaving so many of my gaming items in the heat of my car, I hadn’t considered the possibility of any of them becoming damaged.

I have long been accustomed to playing my Sega Genesis roms using my USB SNES controllers. Okay well truth be told they are real SNES controllers I hook up using a USB adapter. Also, remember I still purchase all of these ROMS via the eshop on my Wii and Wii U so this is just what I consider an emergency back up when I don’t have any other option.

Now what happened is the reversal. For the first time I wasn’t able to locate my SNES controllers so I ended up having to use Sega Genesis 6-button pads for playing SNES games. The issue with this is, it’s missing a button so mapping the controls has to be done on a game by game basis. In the end, it became too much of a frustration to even bother so I called it quits. I also dug out my PS3 controller and my N64 USB controller but those didn’t go over well either. The N64 controller didn’t work out so well because the D-pad wasn’t responsive. I wasn’t sure how to get the PS3 controller working with my laptop so I might have to try again some other time.

Not too long ago I watched an episode of the sitcom, The  Big Bang Theory, where Sheldon was playing some N64 emulator using his laptop. He was having a less than ideal experience during the episode. Now truthfully he was trying to make a point by using the keyboard as the primary controller. I was never able to get any enjoyment out of playing roms using the keyboard, heck I don’t even play PC games that are meant to be played with a keyboard, if I can’t use a joystick or game pad I don’t even bother.

My first indication there was going to be an issue as when I hooked up my very expensive arcade stick. I couldn’t get the emulator to recognize any of the inputs. This was depressing but predictable considering how I had it tossed in the trunk. I knew there was a risk it wouldn’t work but I held out hope, in my experience most controllers tend to be a lot more durable people often assume anyways. Once I realized it wasn’t working I switched over to the Sega Genesis 6-button pad. The first one I tried, the Pro Pad 6, didn’t work. It let me record the inputs in the INI file but whenever I loaded up the emulator, for  some reason it lost the inputs or the controller just went dead, I couldn’t figure it out.

Finally I was able to get the standard 6-button pad to work so I mapped the keys, booted up Super Mario World and died at the first jump, three lives in a row. It was frustrating because the layout of the Sega pad just wasn’t compatible with the SNES layout, my reflexes weren’t able to adjust. I then had to spend the next few minutes playing around with custom button mapping configurations until I found one that was comfortable enough for me to be able to play the game. Now, it was at this time I realized I was going to have to do with with each and every game I played. I figured as much, playing Genesis games with an SNES pad always required creative button mapping, hence the reason why I have the Sega pads and the USB adapter to make use of them in the first place. In my opinion if you are going to use emulators in place of real hardware, for whatever reason, at the very least try to use authentic controllers with USB adapters to augment the experience.

In the end the experience wasn’t worth the time and effort wasted trying to re-play a  nearly 30-year-old game I have played countless times. I guess it might be in my best interest to find the Switch dock and get that thing charged up. Either that or see if I can get fresh batteries in one of my Game Boy units. Ah, the perils of being a gamer without access to his gaming consoles. Welcome to 2018.

What it’s like returning to your hometown after going to college

Hometown is kind of a strange term for me. I was one of those people who comes from a family that ended up moving around quite a bit when we were growing up. The concept of a hometown is truly foreign to me, to be honest. The closet we ever came to having a place we could call home was this town in Kansas. We didn’t even live there long enough to call it our hometown, we just lived around there enough it was the closet we had. That changed when we moved to Nevada.

I have mixed feelings about moving away from a town I despised, going to college, starting a career and then returning years later. On the on hand, it’s been nice rubbing my success into the noses of those still here living their lives, on the other hand, it’s been kind of miserable coming back. Not to mention, I was mostly kidding about the noses thing. Honestly really it’s more like just pointing out to those who either never believed I would amount to anything, that I did, or showing those who always believed in me they were right to do so.

The hardest part was leaving behind what was the best job I have ever had. Knowing that I came back with the hope of getting into a better job, the sinking feelings in the pit of my stomach reminds me the chance I made a terrible mistake. Still, there is something to leaving a place as a young adult and returning an adult. The most difficult part has been discovering how my of my former friends have left. This is equally frightening for me, being here mostly alone, but also comforting knowing they had the good sense to move on and stay away.

Fortunately for me, this is only temporary. I only moved here while I am looking for a job in the city nearby where I want to work. I didn’t just up and quite my job as I had done in the past. I have already been told that basically I am the ideal candidate and they said they have multiple openings I would be qualified for. Because the position is in the media business, I understand the process it takes getting hired on. As of right now I can at least take small comfort in knowing two local papers have agreed to afford me the opportunity to ell them stories as a freelancer in the interim. It keeps me working in the field while I await the job I moved here for to get through the red tape it takes to hire someone in our business. Between background checks, credit checks, calling references, pouring through writing samples, videos, etc., it can take a while.

Remaining optimistic in the face of being unemployed in a town I left behind has been nothing but a challenge. At the end of the day, things don’t always go as planned. All things considered, I really can’t complain too much, after all I did get to do a music video with a world-famous professional wrestler recently. Sometimes you just have to balance optimism with realism, something I think every journalist has to learn at some point in their career.

Four-Twenty: Nintendo Labo Day

This past Friday was April 20, known in some circles as 4-20 or Four-Twenty. It’s not like it’s a true special day or anything but for Nintendo fans this year it’s going to be known as Nintendo Labo Day.

A couple of months ago Nintendo revealed their latest experiment, Labo, a series of new “toys” that are basically do-it-yourself crafts, made entirely out of cardboard. Right around the time this new product was unveiled, many Nintendo fans began cracking jokes immediately about the new venture. I even made a video that included my own lame joke.

Now that Nintendo Lab day has arrived the internet is crawling with a whole new assortment of videos reviewing the products. I didn’t want to get into the actual product line itself or even discuss the reviews. Instead I just wanted to contemplate the deeper meaning behind it’s existence and what it means for the future of Nintendo.

It’s not much of a secret to most Nintendo fans that the company started out as a maker of playing cards. What might be lesser known is Nintendo previously created card board toys back in the 1970’s. Even I didn’t know that but I did my share of research once Labo was announced. For me, however, I actually connected it back to the days of the Nintendo GameCube. During that period Nintendo had a product on the market known as the e-reader. This item combined trading cards with the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance. This was the time when Nintendo really began working towards combining their home console and handheld markets. The e-reader worked with the GBA and the GC using GBA connectivity. Mostly this was done via the Game Boy Player.

What does any of this have to do with Nintendo Labo? If you take a look at Nintendo’s product cycles they tend to repeat themselves. There are certain patterns a person can see to get ideas into the insight of the future products Nintendo might be considering. One of the ways you can do this is look at their toys from pre-NES/Famicom lines. To this day Nintendo has made a concerted effort to create modern, digital versions of many of their previous entertainment products.

When the GameCube was announced Nintendo was in a low point where Sony was dominating them. The company responded by doubling down development of their more profitable hand held division, relying heavily on their lucrative joint-venture with The Pokemon Company. For all of their talk about keeping their video game consoles limited to playing games only, Nintendo released some videos on the GBA.

Around this time Nintendo began making strides into combining their two units. The connectivity was one product that was obvious. Eventually they continued combining the products until the Switch. While the Wii was a curve ball it also wasn’t entirely out of left field if you knew where to look. For starters, Nintendo invested heavily in VR in the 1990’s, they were the ONLY major video game company from the time to actually bring a VR product to market. If you look at the design of the Project Reality, it was clear they were contemplating making it a VR based system. Once it was obvious the technology wasn’t right yet, with the failure of he Virtual Boy, Nintendo distanced themselves from VR. However, they continued to make strides in making games more interactive and immersive. One thing they did was use features from the VB controller into the design of the GameCube controller. This was followed by the company re-introducing motion controls with the Wii, a control scheme they have incorporated into every home console they have brought to market since.

Again what does this have to do with Labo? If you think about it, Nintendo continues making strides into trying to make video games continually more immersive and interactive. What this leads me to believe is that combined with the continued success of the Switch and the strides Sony is making in VR and with the rise of Augmented Reality, I see Nintendo Labo as Nintendo’s next step towards realizing a truly interactive VR/AR hybrid that will make the company’s products even more unique. I can’t begin to imagine how this will play out, I do think it’s a hint at where they will be going next. Based on the time line, it makes me assume we won’t see the realization of this future tech they are clearly working on behind the scenes, until after the next generation. We saw them using cardboard (e-reader) with the GameCube, itself an extension of Virtual Boy, which was before the N64. Now we are starting to see the return to them using this technology to interact with a product that combines touch, portability, card board, motion controls and VR/AR concepts all in one. The reason Labo even works in the first place is their new HD Rumble and 3D sensors that are built into the Joy-Cons.

What we know from Nintendo’s history is they rarely abandon old tech, they just find new ways to adapt it to their next product line. I am anticipating the console that follows the Switch’s successor will probably incorporate all of the things we have seen attempted in the last few years. Again, I won’t try to predict what Nintendo will do, but I can safely assume the features we are seeing with Joy-Cons, Switch and Labo are here to stay, in one way or another.

Model trains, Disneyland and Minecraft

In 1996 when I was 13 years old my family moved from a small town in Kansas to a small city in Nebraska. Once we moved there  discovered a department store that had a toy section that included a model train area. Between that and the model of he town on the film Beetlejuice I became interested in model trains.

Recently I learned that Walt Disney’s obsession with model trains is what inspired him to begin development of Disneyland. My own interest in model trains is what helped me develop a fondness for Sim City which in turn blossomed into my current strong interest in Minecraft.

It’s not much of a secret that the way I prefer to play Minecraft is to develop my own model towns. Complete with, you guessed it, trains. Okay Minecraft doesn’t actually include trains as a realistic option. However, it is possible to create a reasonable railroad look-a-like using mine carts, gravel and rails. The biggest downside is how time consuming world building can be in a game that requires a person to lay one square at a time, brick by brick.

Okay, so model train and the town building that goes along with it is also time consuming. However not brick by brick, square by square. The real difference is that in model train layout building you assemble model buildings one complete wall at a time. Now it occurred to me  that in model train layout buildings you don’t really build the interiors, it would be difficult to glue miniature furniture and the like together on that scale.

This was when I realized that building towns in Minecraft didn’t have to be so time consuming if a person only focused on building the exteriors instead of decorating the buildings insides. The main reason this revelation became important to me was how much time I spent going through each building, placing beds building couches, book shelves and entire kitchen appliances. I finally decided if in physical model train building you only build the exteriors and then populate it with dressings like plants and animals.

The other day I was at Target and I picked up a Time magazine devoted to the history and development of Disneyland. During the course of reading the articles I learned Walt Disney himself was even more obsessed with model trains than me. His obsession lead him to building life-size miniature trains and buildings on a full scale in his own backyard. His wife learned that he was never going to be satisfied with building these towns on such a small scale so she pushed him into realizing his dream by developing a full sized theme park. The rest is basically history.

There was a time not that long ago when I had contemplated the idea of buying a piece of land and creating my own miniature town using easily to assemble buildings that I could dress up. This plan of mine is what started my journey into the world of Minecraft in the first place. I set out to create a version of that plan in a way that it would work within the structure of the game. Sadly, not too long ago I ended up losing my game save. All the work I had invested into this idea was lost. At the time I did have everything backed up a cloud save tied to my PS Plus account. I haven’t paid for my PS Plus account since January so I don’t even know if those cloud saves are even safe.

It’s kind of interesting learning about having something in common with one of the most famous men in Hollywood. Nonetheless it’s only been 1 week since I left my apartment behind and I am already experiencing what could be described as “Minecraft withdrawals” I do have the mobile version on my phone, it’s not quite the same. I am not torn between just hooking up my PS4 or seeing if I can purchase a copy of the game on either the Nintendo Switch, or the PC version for my laptop.

I already have the game on the Wii U but that console wasn’t nearly as portable as originally promised. I know the Switch version is supposed to be inferior to the PS4 version but also superior to the Wii U version. The only real reason I am leaning towards that version over the best version, the limitless PC game, is because the Nintendo specific stuff is too tempting. In fact the only reason I even have the Nintendo Wii U version is because of the Nintendo exclusive features. Truth be told it didn’t take very long for me to get bored with that version. Mostly due to the fact the worlds I can create in the PS4 version was vastly larger than those possible on the Wii U. There was also the fact I had already spent so much time building up worlds in the PS4 version. Now, of course, with having lost all of my saves it doesn’t matter as much which version I play considering I will be basically starting from scratch.

I had a lot of things I wanted to say about the Disneyland magazine. I think I might spend some more time digesting all of the information contained within before I dig into it further. At this point in time it’s been longer than I wanted since my last feature article. I figured this was as good a time as any to put something down. I guess they say you never know where inspiration is going to come from. I was thinking about the boring old small towns in the Midwest I used to pass through. At no point in my life would I have ever guessed that setting would have been inspiration for the most famous theme park in the world. If you think about it, you never know where great ideas will come from.