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No, Nintendo Doesn’t ‘Need’ Third Parties

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The need for Nintendo to attract third parties has been severely overstated, given what niche the Switch is trying to fill in the console marketplace. Far from the PS4 look-a-like that we expected, the Switch is another Nintendo console that challenges industry norms. As a result, much doom and gloom has been perpetuated about how its innovation will turn away third parties. However, rumor of the Switch’s need for third party support has been greatly exaggerated.

The truth is, ever since the Nintendo 64, Nintendo’s marketing has fallen out of touch with most third party developers and with most gamers. Nintendo consoles have remained secondary purchases for most gamers, even when Nintendo has attempted to satiate developer’s desires for better graphics with more powerful hardware, as with the GameCube. Despite such an increasingly obvious trend toward second-class consoleship, the way that Nintendo markets toward consumers hasn’t changed, until now.

With the Switch, Nintendo is finally admitting that, despite how neat it may be to play Skyrim on an airplane or NBA 2K at an actual basketball court, they aren’t targeting first console purchasers anymore. Instead, they are marketing the Switch as a complementary console for PS4 and Xbox One owners who wish to play Nintendo exclusives. Due to this shift in marketing strategy, third party games, as means to attract consumers to purchase the Switch, have lost much of their puissance. Add to that the fact that Nintendo chose as its console’s main chip an aging ARM processor instead of the more commonly used x86 architecture, and it becomes evident that their focus is on the experiences that they can craft instead of trying to compete with the Xbox One and PS4’s level of third party support.

This may not seem the wisest route for Nintendo at first glance. After all, wasn’t one of the Wii U’s greatest failures the fact that it didn’t have enough third party support to even muster a Madden or FIFA release past the first year? Not exactly.

The Wii U failed, not primarily because of a lack of third party support, but because it sold poorly and was sold for a loss even a year after launch. The added cost of the GamePad didn’t help either, costing Nintendo around $79.25 per console, an incredibly high price for a peripheral that was abandoned by most developers less than two years after release. Nintendo has lived and even thrived through consoles that sold poorly, the N64 and GameCube’s sales were anemic. The Wii U came after a poor 3DS launch that cost Nintendo millions, was marketed poorly, and had less than a year headstart over the PS4 and Xbox One. It wasn’t Nintendo’s first failure, but it was by far their most ill-timed.

Third party games, in reality, have had little to do with the sales of Nintendo consoles since the Nintendo 64. The GameCube had more third party ports than one could shake the proverbial stick at, and yet it still managed to sell less than the original Xbox, a console that, despite its graphical fortitude, was not known for good sales. The Wii had massive third party support, but in an ironic turn of events, the majority of those games were shoddily constructed shovelware that did little to change the preconceived notion that it was a console for children and the elderly.

In fact, the Wii U may have suffered from its initial focus on third party games. By overemphasizing the release of old, mid-generation games that were already popular with consumers on other consoles, while simultaneously failing to secure third party support much past launch, Nintendo seemed even more out of touch with consumers’ wishes. If they were to make the same mistake with the Switch and overemphasize the small commitments that companies like EA have made, they would appear just as laughable as they did five years ago.

With the Switch, it seems as if Nintendo has finally recognized that, for the most part, gamers buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games while continuing to play popular third party games on another console, or a gaming PC. In the past, Nintendo’s handhelds have succeeded as secondary consoles, not because they had ports of popular AAA games, but because they had great Nintendo exclusives, popular indie games, and a smattering of third party titles not available on any other platform (Bravely Default comes to mind). With their next system logically, but not officially, replacing both the 3DS and Wii U, it stands to reason that they should use the same strategy with the Switch and attempt to leverage their strength with handhelds to bolster poor console sales.

At the end of the day, Nintendo’s greatest strengths lay within itself. Their franchises are instantly recognizable to gamers and non-gamers alike. If they can successfully utilize that consumer recognition, then there is no doubt in my mind that the Switch can reverse the downward trend Nintendo’s consoles have been stuck on for the past twenty years and deliver a truly memorable console. If they avoid the temptation to switch things up but instead play to their greatest strength, their games, the path back to relevance becomes that much clearer for Nintendo.

Although a gamer since before I can remember, there is not a better definition of me than these three words: Christian, moderate, and learner. I am steadfast in my Faith, my Beliefs, and in my Opinions, but I am always willing to hear the other side of the discussion. I love Nintendo, History, and the NBA. Currently a PhD Student at Liberty University.

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. ???? ??????

    February 19, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    the author is a retard.

  2. John Cal McCormick

    February 20, 2017 at 9:03 am

    “The Wii U failed, not primarily because of a lack of third party support, but because it sold poorly”

    Obviously there’s a lot to unpack in this article, and it’s fair to say that I disagree with basically all of it, but this sentence in particular caught my attention. What does this mean? That’s not “why” the console failed. That’s the conditions for failure. It’s the effect, not the cause. It’s like saying that John Lennon died not because somebody shot him, but because his body could no longer sustain life.

    This article is kinda indicative of a problem that Nintendo faces on a wider scale. There’s too many people willing to perform mental and semantic gymnastics to try and put a favourable spin on everything they do, ultimately to the detriment of the product. Yes Men don’t ever help. Looking at a product objectively (or as objectively as one can) and critiquing it helps. The Wii U failed for numerous reasons, including but not limited to third party support being non-existent.

    No console in history has been a hit without third party support. I’ll reiterate; no console in history has been a hit without third support. And so ignoring all evidence to the contrary and just defiantly proclaiming that Nintendo will be fine without third party support isn’t going to help anybody. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to this site featuring articles in five years time entitled “The Switch failed not because it didn’t have third party support, but because people didn’t buy it.” And it’s the sort of thinking that means that Nintendo won’t get any better. Their staunchest fans are contributing to their downfall, by dismissing all criticism as “haters gonna hate” or coming up with increasingly elaborate explanations for why their chosen console failed.

    • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

      February 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Excellent comment, John. What I am saying is that there is no need for Nintendo to attempt to market to a consumer base that is fully saturated.

      • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

        February 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm

        In my opinion, a lack of third party support was a tangential reason, at best, for the Wii U’s failure. Developers most likely would have dropped support after the PS4 and Xbox One’s release due to hardware constraints.

        • John Cal McCormick

          February 20, 2017 at 4:45 pm

          The problem isn’t – inherently – lack of third party support. Theoretically a system could be a success without it. It just needs other things to balance in its favour. The problem is that Nintendo doesn’t have those things in their favour. They’re sat in a very perilous middle ground.

          They want to be a second console. Okay. That’s a direction. It makes sense. And it’s actually one I’d advocate them going full tilt for. So why is this console selling at a premium price? Why is the accessories so expensive? You can’t tell people that your product is a second console, a sidekick to their PS4 or Xbox One, and then try and sell them it for more than either of those consoles are going for. Optically, it’s so, so bad. Marketing-wise, it’s a big ask to make that make sense.

          Alternatively, they can go the premium console route. They’re already priced like that. But they don’t have the third party support to back that up.

          They’re stuck in the middle. They’re not fully in either camp. And that’s exactly the same problem the Wii U had. And like the Wii U, it’s happening because of what I think are poor decisions in hardware design.

          It might pan out, but as someone who’s been watching trends and marketing and the business side of the industry for many years now, I’ll be surprised if the Switch is a hit. You can never really predict these things because you never know when there’ll be that lightning in a bottle moment, but the Switch looks like it’s caught in a very dangerous middle ground, and I’m not expecting it to be a hit.

          • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

            February 20, 2017 at 6:55 pm

            That’s a pretty detailed breakdown of their business strategy there, and I agree with some of your points. I admit that my heart sank a little when they announced it would be $300. After all, there are Xbox One and PS4 bundles that come with games for that much. However, after the Wii U sold for a loss well after launch, I think they prioritized making a profit off of every console over consumer outreach.

            One could argue, I suppose, that if they didn’t include portability, then they could have sold a more powerful console for cheaper, but I think that misses the point.

            Nintendo has always prioritized innovation over typicality. The NES had R.O.B, the SNES, had the Super FX chip, the N64 had full 3D graphics, the GameCube had analog triggers, the DS had dual touchscreens, the Wii had motion controls, and the Wii U had a tablet. I think for them to make a generic, even if premium, console would be an affront to their true nature as innovators.

          • John Cal McCormick

            February 21, 2017 at 9:42 am

            I’ve never really understood the “Nintendo has always been the innovator” argument. I mean, sure, they do play against type. But a) some of those “innovations” are just Nintendo pointlessly reinventing the wheel to be wacky, and b) their hardware “innovations” have resulted in every one of their home consoles selling worse than the one before it with the sole exception of the Wii.

            The point that I’m making is that Nintendo’s business strategy seems to need a change. Just saying, “Yeah but this is what Nintendo do! They innovate!” isn’t the solution. It’s not the answer. It’s actually the root of the problem they face.

            Without getting too in depth for the sake of this comment not being an essay, look at the commercial viability of the Switch, in your opinion, and then take a look at the only Nintendo console to break their downward trend in sales figures, the Wii. What’s the biggest difference between the two?

            You might say that the Wii has an easier concept to grasp, and I’d say that’s certainly a contender. But the most stark difference for me is the cost. The Wii launched at $250 and came with a game. The Switch is launching at $350 (I think?) with no game. So it’s basically $400.

            You mention Nintendo cutting out the portability to make a more powerful console, but do you really think that is the best strategy?

            Like I said before, Nintendo is in a weird middle ground. For me, unless they can capture the public consciousness – which is an incredibly difficult thing to predict or pull off – like they did with the Wii, then they need a sound business strategy. Somehow I don’t think a handheld with an HDMI Out port is on the same level as the inclusive gaming mantra that the Wii had.

            So you’re left with a number of options. If Nintendo is going to embrace their position as the second console of choice for gamers, a place where they don’t need third party games and the console is solely used for first party Nintendo games, then they need to be cost effective. For me, removing the portability of the console is something that they definitely should have considered, but I wouldn’t have made the console more powerful at all. I’d have done everything I could to lower the cost.

            A Mario and Zelda machine shipping at $200 is a no brainer. That’s a compelling price for a second console. It doesn’t matter how powerful it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s on par with PS4. Nintendo does incredible things with underpowered tech. They’d make great looking games that played well.

            But that’s not what they’re doing. They’re selling a premium console. A console that is more expensive than the competition on the market right now despite being less powerful. They’re not the cheap second console or the PS4 competitor. They’re the worst of both worlds – an expensive console that can’t compete in terms of raw power, and doesn’t appear to have the strong backing of many developers.

            If the Switch was a budget console then I’d agree with the title of this article. But it isn’t. And I think it’s delusional to just assume everything is going to be okay when there’s a huge amount of evidence to the contrary. Hence, I think they do need third parties.

          • Brent Middleton

            February 21, 2017 at 8:53 pm

            The Switch is shipping for $300.

            It’s in an interesting middle ground, I agree. But then again, so was the Wii. It was less powerful than the PS4 and Xbox One, and it wasn’t supported with AAA third party releases at launch beyond one single title–Call of Duty 3. The Wii was able to sell based on its form factor and first party software (namely Wii Sports) alone. The third party devs came running afterwards.

            Nintendo’s portable line has succeeded much in the same way. Form factor and first party software (mainly Pokémon, Mario, Mario Kart, etc.).

            No one wants watered down versions of For Honor or Mass Effect Andromeda on the Switch. Not receiving AAA multi platform support (aside from the major sports franchises already confirmed) isn’t going to be the death of the system. Instead, like Wii and Nintendo’s handheld line, third parties will need to bring software specifically made for the Switch if they want to sell on the platform. And those games will come if the Switch is successful on its own merits, just like the handhelds have been.

            The Switch has the form factor and first party content down. It has much better marketing than the Wii U, which was it’s greatest fault. It also has tons of indie support, which is interestingly taking the place of traditional third party’s on the console.

            Is the price ideal? No, but it’s also not very expensive for a new console. It’s $50 more than the PS4 and Xbox One, but those have been out for 4 years. People have had those systems or their friends have had them for years now. The newness of the Switch combined with its form factor (the main appeal of the console) is going to see it do well. Zelda will hold launch down, Mario will hold holiday. Indies and games like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe & Fire Emblem Warriors are going to fill any software droughts, another huge problem of the Wii U.

            Is it going to be a Wii-sized hit? Of course not. But it’ll do well. The Switch is far from doomed to the Wii U’s fate. The third and fourth months will tell a far better story.

          • John Cal McCormick

            February 21, 2017 at 9:34 pm

            This is precisely my point though. Sort of.

            Nobody wants to play the rubbish version of Mass Effect or a port of a game that came out months ago on other systems. That was the Wii U approach to third party support that went down like a lead balloon.

            The point is that they have neither parity with the other consoles or price reflective of their nature as the second console. The worst of both worlds, as it were.

            The Wii, as I recall, shipped with Call of Duty, Madden, Need for Speed, Rayman Rabbids, some licensed rubbish (rubbish that sells, though), that awful Tony Hawks spin off, Red Steel, and some lesser known third party stuff like Trauma Centre. Then first party wise it came bundled with Wii Sports, which for all intents and purposes was all the Wii was to much of the casual user base getting one as a Christmas present, and a Zelda game for the hardcore.

            The Wii had a lot more going for it in terms of obvious commercial appeal AND it had the attention of third party publishers.

            The Switch looks very expensive, despite the fact it’s cheaper than the price either it’s competitors launched for, because it’s entering the fray midgeneration. That’s perfectly understandable but it also doesn’t change how bad the optics of the situation are when you can pick up a PS4 or Xbox with all of the most popular games on the market for less than the cost of a less powerful Nintendo system that pretty much has Zelda.

            I’m not writing the Switch off. I just think writing off the importance of third party support is something that Nintendo fans quite often do without actually looking at the grim realities of the situation, and the historical evidence that suggests the contrary.

          • Brent Middleton

            February 21, 2017 at 10:10 pm

            I see where you’re coming from. The launch is definitely lacking, though I’d argue that the Switch has pretty obvious commercial appeal. The Swich can recover after launch though, like the 3DS did.

            The Wii only became attractive to third parties when it took off–which it did because of it’s motion controls, Wii Sports (which showed off those motion controls) and price. The handhelds do well because they’re convenient alternatives to sitting in front of a TV, and they have killer aps like the Pokémon series.
            The Switch has a unique form factor like both of these–it just needs a Wii Sports or Pokémon–esq killer app.

            The Switch could not have supported current gen third party support and been a hybrid without costing hundreds more than it does. It could’ve been a premium-priced powerhouse, but people would then complain about the $400-$500 PS4 Pro-like pricepoint and just stick to the cheaper current gen console’s for their third parties. They could’ve gone for a $200 Nintendo-only machine like you say, and that’d be interesting, but then it’d be competing with its own still-thriving 3DS line.

            I think that because of their timing, and the position the Wii U put them in, they had to either wait a few years until the PS5 etc., or straddle the middle now and try to succeed based off the form factor of the system (like they did with the Wii and like they do with their portables) instead of harnessing the power that would let them support AAA third parties. Because of the Wii U’s fate, they were basically pushed into a corner mid-generation.

            If it does well on its own, third parties will come with great exclusives like so many did on the DS and 3DS. The Switch just has to prove itself somewhat on its own first.

            It’ll be interesting for sure. If it fails after launch, Nintendo would be wise to have a price drop and push Mario at holiday to give it a second chance, similar to the comeback story of the 3DS after its abysmal launch. We’ll see!

          • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

            February 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

            I completely agree. The 3DS got to an incredibly slow start, but picked up pace when the price was cut. As I say in the article, the Wii U was by far their most ill-timed failure coming not only in the middle of a generation but also when they could have used a much needed financial boost after having to sell the 3DS at a loss.

          • John Cal McCormick

            February 22, 2017 at 8:53 am

            The Switch can definitely recover. It might not even need to recover. It might be a huge hit. But the 3DS recovered thanks to a combination of serious price cuts and the eventual arrival of big games. I question how much room Nintendo has to move with the price of the Switch. I’m pretty sure if there was any wiggle room it’d already be cheaper than it is.

            The Switch does need a killer app but it’s very difficult to see where that could come from. It certainly doesn’t have one at launch, or one that has been announced yet. Wii Sports was a very easy sell because it used the unique nature of the hardware perfectly and anybody could grasp the concept immediately. What could you possibly do to take advantage of the Switch hardware, which when you boil it down is really just changing screens? Not only that but Wii Sports was affordable, and came packed in with the console. For a lot of people who bought the Wii, Wii Sports was all it was.

            I know that the Switch couldn’t achieve parity with PS4/Xbox One and remain cost effective, but that’s why I’m questioning the entire focus of the console, if they want it to be a huge success. If all they want is to sell respectably and be their own thing then the Switch will be fine. It can hit Wii U sales. Probably even Gamecube sales. Maybe. But word on the street is that internally they think it’s so special it’s going to be a Wii-level hit and that’s absolutely bonkers to me.

            The focus of the console just seems askew to me. Regardless, it’s going to be super interesting watching it all unfold. It’ll be of little consequence to me since I’ve already decided I won’t be picking one up until Mario hits, but I’ll be interested to see how it’s selling once the novelty of launch wears off and the hardcore Nintendo crowd have already bought theirs.

          • Brent Middleton

            February 22, 2017 at 11:59 am

            I’d say Super Mario Odyssey will be their killer app at holiday by showcasing that you can take a huge triple-A anywhere. Zelda will already do this, but Mario might do it better. That combined with a $50 holiday price cut and it should be fine. It doesn’t need a pack-in in its first yea, it just needs to enter that holiday impulse buy range, and for a console $250 would be the sweet spot. Announce Smash Switch with all the Wii U DLC included for early 2018 and it’ll do fine.

            Probably not Wii numbers, but because of all the improvements in marketing and expected software droughts over the Wii U, I’d be hard pressed to see it do that poorly. It’s seemingly poised to hit Xbox One sales numbers in its first few years, and while that won’t be stellar, it’ll still be respectable. But who knows. The 3DS did 60 million. Crazier things have happened.

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‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.

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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.

Old Haunting Grounds

The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.

All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.

While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.

Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.

A New Era, a New Season

Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.

Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.

Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.

New Duds to Boot

Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Axe to Grind

Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.

Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.

A Better Destiny Awaits

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.

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What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?

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The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.

Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.


Sidebar Games

It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.

Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?

What Can We Expect?

Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.

Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.


Fabraz

Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.

Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.

What Can We Expect?

Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.


Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment

It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?

What Can We Expect?

A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.


Chucklefish

Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.

What Can We Expect?

Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.

Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.

Dating

One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.

My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.

World-Building

When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.

Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.


The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.

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‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different

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Death Stranding Slow Connectivity

Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found? 

About Death Stranding…

It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity. 

Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer. 

Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another. 

On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.

Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.

Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right? 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy. 

Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes. 

In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves. 

This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.

As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together. 

Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time. 

The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

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