Three point Five Adapter is proud to serve you each Monday and Friday. In this episode, we crunch the numbers. Continue reading Three point Five Adapter – Numerology
Three point Five Adapter is proud to serve you each Monday and Friday. In this episode, we get the feeling that we are being watched… Continue reading Three point Five Adapter – Condemned
Three point Five Adapter is proud to serve you each Monday and Friday. In this episode, we depart from our regularly scheduled world and delve into one a little less existent. Continue reading Three point Five Adapter – Welcome To The Next Level
Three point Five Adapter is proud to serve you each Monday and Friday. In this episode, we level up our understanding of the world and the march of time. Continue reading Three point Five Adapter – Generations
Three point Five Adapter is proud to serve you each Monday and Friday. In this episode, Our Beloved Scapegoat has passed, and we mull over the consequences of a world no longer free of consequences. Continue reading Three point Five Adapter – The Scapegoat
By now, you’re probably painfully aware of the problems that are plaguing the biggest of Nintendo’s mobile apps, Pokemon GO. A crossover of sorts with Niantic Labs’ augmented-reality sensation Ingress, GO tasks players to venture through a world, capturing Pokemon and battling them against others. The twist is that the world being explored is our own– literally. GO uses the player’s location data on their smartphone to track what Pokemon are nearby. So you might encounter, say, a Drowzee at your favorite all-night diner, or a Zubat near the tunnel you take to work. It’s a fantastic concept, and based on what I’ve played so far, it is an amazing game.
I wish I was playing it right now.
The game’s launch, starting Tuesday night in Australia and New Zealand and ongoing as I write, has been an utter, unmitigated disaster. This is a failure that’s to be expected from new online developers, but not necessarily from Nintendo and certainly not from Niantic. In short, what should have been the opening fanfare on the series’ 20th anniversary celebration is rapidly turning into a bloodletting that threatens the Pokemon brand as a whole. There are three core problems plaguing the game right now, and each one is directly traceable back to either Nintendo or Niantic not doing something they should have. These are sins of omission, things that any experienced developer only ever faces once before correcting them in their next project.
The first, and probably the one people are most upset at dealing with right now, is the flawed to the point of useless login procedure. Upon starting the game for the first time, the player is asked to log in either through a Google account or their Pokemon Trainer Club (PTC) account. The PTC option is the best choice, because it is (ostensibly) tied in to all of your other online Pokemon services– your Global Link account for the games, your online card game account, your real-world card game ranking, etc. Unfortunately, this requires the game to authenticate against the PTC, which is a massive bottleneck. The single-sign-on server has been reduced to rubble since noon today. Now, if you were to log in via the Google account, you might be able to get in… but your data is tied to your account, not your device. So if you had managed to get a good start on the PTC account, you would have to start from scratch on the Google account.
The solution to this is simple, from a standpoint of any developer who’s ever had to build a login portal pass-through of any kind: store the login as an encrypted token in your database, and issue the user a token that corresponds to their data on your system, not the authenticator’s token. This way you only go out to the authenticator when you absolutely need to, and not constantly re-authenticate. In addition, by not tying data to a remote authentication token, you can then allow a user to link multiple login methods to the same data, in case they don’t have (or want to create/use) one of the offered login options. Going to the authenticator is a costly action, and as a developer it’s your responsibility to minimize that cost. This is basic stuff for any kind of distributed system, not just highly-complex ones.
But more than that, the existing login scheme violates an emerging mobile-app design trope: it asks for a username and password on every launch from the title screen (and the game frequently crashes back to the title screen, trashing its login token in the process for reasons unfashionable to man and Pokemon alike). I don’t think any mobile game released in recent memory has used a username/password authentication setups as its everyday login. Most rely on secure identification information provided by the mobile operating system, and if the user requests additional protection, it’s secured by the phone’s local authentication (your unlock code, for example, or thumbprint/other biometric key). Smartphones are the last single-user environment in consumer computing. Many apps have tossed aside the archaic and error-prone username/password setup in favor of allowing the app to act as if nobody else in the world even exists. Even my banking applications only ask for my password in dire circumstances; the norm is simply to accept thumbprints as proof of identity and move on.
(As an aside: I labor to believe that Niantic coded the app that way on purpose. What I think happened was that Nintendo, in a misguided attempt to protect users’ privacy, forbade both token caching and account linking. Worse, the PTC login token may have a uselessly short lifespan, on the order of fifteen minutes or so. It makes sense, but at that point, they both should have realized that using the existing consumer-facing PTC login process would be a Very Bad Thing and would develop a similar process specifically for communications related to the app. An N-to-N solution, so to speak.)
The second problem comes in the form of how the app went live. After the game’s open beta ended last week, speculation ran rampant on when GO would have its public launch. You would expect a reference here to whoever had the right day in the proverbial office pool, but in fact there wasn’t even enough time to set up such a pool. The game was suddenly released in the Australia and New Zealand regions on Tuesday night at about 10:30p EDT. There was no fanfare, no announcement, nothing. Niantic wouldn’t even register their support Twitter until Thursday morning. In the official silence that followed, North American users swarmed to create ANZAC-regioned accounts for the Apple Store and Google Store, or resorted to sideloading the game (downloading the game app from an unofficial source and installing it manually, something common on Android but difficult on iPhones).
Setting up regional rollout is not difficult, and certainly it’s not the issue here. But it was botched badly in this instance, because an obvious and elegant solution to the issue presents itself by virtue of the game’s nature. GO requires the player’s accurate location, right? So why not release the app as a “pre-load” in all regions, and then allow access based on location in order to prevent the servers from overwork? This allows geographically large regions– the United States, in this case– to be divided into cascading rollout zones. The simplest zone distribution would be by time zone, but other factors could inform that decision. I don’t think this has been done before in a mobile app, but it’s certainly something to consider.
More damning than the rollout timing, though, was the radio silence out of Nintendo and Niantic throughout the whole affair. These are not plucky indie developers who have to choose between addressing public complaints or fixing their game. They are big enough that they ought to have halfway competent PR groups. (Though given Nintendo’s PR catastrophes this year, I think we can say that they in fact do not have a PR staff that is even minimally competent.) It is absolutely unacceptable to meet consumer queries with disinterest bordering on apathy. I would have preferred even a somewhat hostile response over nothing; at least with a venomous reply, you know they actually saw your question.
Finally, and this is probably the most distressing fault that I’ll address, the game has virtually no tutorial or information on how to play. There is no online manual, no on-screen guides, nothing. I honestly thought my game had soft-locked when I went up a level, because nowhere did it say “Swipe to dismiss” on the all-encompassing celebration screen. Using a Poke Stop (waypoint, which when used gives valuable items like Poke Balls and Revives) was similarly opaque. There is a short explanation of Pokemon Gyms when you first try to use one, but nothing comprehensive on what the Gyms are or what they do. There is a daily login bonus that grants you some of the game’s real-money currency, but nowhere is it explained that it’s dependent on how many Gyms are under your direct control. Battling is a rough affair, especially because while the Pokemon do respect type advantage and disadvantage, getting a Pokemon to use their special move is not explained at all. And in the absence of this information, players are falling back to approaching the game like any other Pokemon game, when it is definitely not meant to be just another main-series game.
I’m going to be perfectly clear: Pokemon GO is a good game, but it is not a traditional Pokemon game. Battling and trading are the focus of the handheld games. GO is not about that. GO is instead about exploration and collecting, and indirectly about area control in the real world. If you go into this game looking for battling and saving the world, you are going to be disappointed. Instead, if you view the game as an incentive for physical activity, similar to critical darling Zombies, Run!, the game becomes much more engrossing. The real-world aspect of the game may feel gimmicky, but it is integral to the game’s design.
So having players approach the game as a traditional Pokemon adventure does it a disservice. If it were more obvious to the player that going out to Poke Stops to restock your is more economical than buying them from the cash shop, the player would do that. If it were stated that controlling Gyms grants the player free cash shop currency, the player would do that, too. Even basic information like attack type match ups would be helpful. Without that information, the player runs a high risk of frustration and boredom– two things lethal to any game. The game is too complex to approach solely on intuition. A tutorial should be the next top priority for Nintendo and Niantic.
Pokemon GO is, I still assert, a good game. But it has not had a good start. I mentioned way at the top that the catastrophe that is this launch could poison the Pokemon franchise as a whole. That was not hyperbole. Think about how Star Fox Adventures was the first harbinger that the series would never again reach its former glory. Or how Xenosaga Episode 2 killed the hopes of that series reaching its full conclusion. One game, if it’s bad enough– or perceived enough as bad– can ruin a franchise beyond salvaging. I think Pokemon GO has a good chance of undeservedly being that game. And should that happen, I will weep for it, dry my eyes, and move on. I just think it’s a little early to start digging that grave.
On Monday at 10a PDT (1p EDT), Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) kicks off with the as-usual keynote speech by Apple CEO, Tim Cook. It’s been a tradition for a long time that the early-summer conference reveals the software upgrades to Apple’s iOS and Mac OS X systems, and this year adds watchOS to the lineup. As a dyed-in-the-wool Appleologist (hail our Eternal Leader, the Jobs), this has always been something for me to look forward to, and this year is no exception– but for a completely different reason. We’ll get to that in a moment.
On the flip side of the equation, though, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) also starts on June 14th (Tuesday) this year; much like last year, when the two events converged. Even though E3 proper doesn’t start until Tuesday, two of the Big Three– Microsoft and Sony– typically have their major announcement events on the day before. Microsoft begins the coverage at 9:30a PDT (12:30p EDT), with Sony starting at 6p PDT (9p EDT). Nintendo isn’t doing a major event, but will instead be running their Treehouse Live stream all day on Tuesday starting at 9a PDT (12p EDT). E3 has been winding down as a major show since the “pause” it went through after 2006 (incidentally, the only one I ever went to– and yes, I do bring that up more often than I should), with more companies either front-loading the majority of their announcements in their own venues, or simply skipping the show altogether in favor of more “open” events such as PAX or Awesome Games Done Quick.
Still, it’s been a tradition for the years that I’ve been blogging to go over each company and make some predictions, assertions, and otherwise look like a total nerd. Who am I to argue with a tradition that I set myself up for? To save space, though, and to have them all in the same place, I’m going to go over both WWDC and E3 in this post. Buckle up, kids, this is gonna get geeky.
Apple: iOS hits a major milestone this year with the inevitable release of version 10. The annual refresh cycle of the force behind Apple’s outstanding growth post-iPhone is not expected to be the revolutionary leaps forward that iOS 4 or 9 were; instead, Apple is focusing on usability and minor tweaks across the board. Siri– Apple’s long-parodied digital assistant who often requires assistance herself– is slated to get an API for third-party developers, allowing users to command Siri to handle tasks in apps beyond the default ones. Honestly, being able to ask Siri when my next bus arrives will be a godsend, as right now I need to tap on an incredibly unresponsive watch interface to get that info without digging out my phone. Speaking of the Apple Watch, watchOS 3 is slated to become more independent of the iPhone– a few months back, Apple began mandating watch apps be able to do something without requiring communications with the phone. This will be a blessing, particularly if it’s not limited to the next iteration of the hardware (but who am I kidding). Siri is also coming to the Mac, as Apple sunsets the clunky OS X name in favor of MacOS– incidentally, that’s what they used to call the operating system after System 7 but before OS X. Beyond that, I can’t really think of anything that I’d want from Apple this year. Honestly, if the rumors that this year’s iPhone hardware is going to be of minimal improvement compared to the 6/6s come true– which I’m more than willing to believe– I may end up breaking my every-two-year upgrade pattern and waiting for the 2017 device, which is supposedly going to be a significant departure. We shall see.
Sony: PlayStation VR, Sony’s answer to the Oculus Rift and suchlike, is scheduled to make its full debut next week. One of the major things that both Sony and Microsoft have been fending off has been the rumors of a hardware refresh for the relatively young PS4 and Xbox One, respectively. In the PS4’s case, I can see that happening if only to incorporate the PSVR’s “booster box” (additional hardware that sits between the headset and the console) into the console as an all-in-one unit. I don’t think Sony is going to make a big deal out of it, but it would be interesting to see if they announce the new hardware alongside other titles in their Monday evening event. (By the by, I’m still salty that I didn’t get tickets for the Fathom Events-powered theater experience. I had completed the registration, on time, twice, and got error pages. Kinda thinking Sony might want to consider a better way to get those tickets distributed.) In terms of software, we’re going to see a lot of third-party stuff highlighted, but Sony might reveal a new Gran Turismo title that works with the VR headset. I would love nothing more, in terms of ludicrously out-there wishes, for the PSP to be officially sunsetted and its software added to PS Now (their streaming rental service), along with a completion of the PSP’s catalog on digital; it is criminal that some of the system’s best games (Brave Story: New Traveler, the Star Ocean remakes, Valkyrie Profile Lenneth, Tactics Ogre…) are still physical-only.
Microsoft: And here’s where I kinda fall down, because I don’t yet have an Xbox One, and so far I have seen nothing to make me want one. Cuphead looks kinda cool, but I’m willing to bet that’s just a timed exclusive. Rock Band 4 was literally only on my short list because of the sunk-cost fallacy (read: all my DLC was on the 360). I could honestly not care less about the Halo games, and there are no other exclusives on the horizon that have me interested. Not even the system’s precipitous price drops over the last few months could sway me (even if I had the money). The cynic in me says that the price drops are due to a hardware refresh coming, but that makes little sense because unlike the PSVR, there’s no reason for the Xbox One to become more powerful than it already is. I think we’ve hit the wall of diminishing returns in terms of graphics, and that’s okay. What I want to see is MS embracing its “it can’t get worse” status at the moment and start taking risks with games and ideas that might not be conventional, but might be hits in hiding. Really, I want MS to become the company that they were in 2007, when I picked the 360 over the PS3.
(As a side note to Microsoft’s thing, I want to give a mention to one of the people who became one of my personal heroes while he was at Microsoft, Stephen Tolouse. His blog is full of incredible insights on the state of the video game industry from the perspective of one of its giants. Please check it out.)
Nintendo: Okay, first things first: we’re not gonna see the NX this year. Period. Not gonna happen. Whether or not that’s because Nintendo is adding VR to the system or just because it’s not entirely ready is up for speculation, but it is going to remain under wraps until next March at the earliest. For good or for ill, we’re stuck with the Wii U and 3DS for at least one more year. In my opinion, that’s in the “good” column. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of what either of those systems can do, particularly the New 3DS– though that particular machine is a victim of being too late for its own good. Nintendo is going to make Pokemon Sun and Moon the focus of its Treehouse Live show, along with Kirby Planet Robobot (releasing today). There’s also been rumors that a new DLC pack is coming for Mario Kart 8. Beyond that, quite frankly, there is no telling whatsoever as to what Nintendo will show. We might hear about some paid DLC/expansions for Splatoon and Super Mario Maker, and we may also see a few more indie darlings like Freedom Planet 2 and whatever Yacht Club Games is doing to follow up Shovel Knight. We might see a new, proper Metroid game. We might finally see Nintendo dig deep into its back catalog and reboot some series– the Wii’s preview slides back in 2005 teased a “Gumshoe” remake, which would probably be much cooler than it has any right to be. My pie in the sky wish is that Nintendo buckles and finally remakes Gyromite with an augmented-reality ROB, possibly through the New 3DS. You can’t tell me that the thought of ROB coming back wouldn’t be cool. (Oh, and Mother 3, but that’s less of a silly hope now that it’s the only one left.)
Square-Enix: We already know about the HD Remaster of Final Fantasy XII, titled The Zodiac Age. There was a comparison video released earlier which shows off some of the graphical upgrades; that’s not the reason I’m excited for the game. No, the fact that it’s based on the improvements made in the International Zodiac Job Edition that has me excited. Beyond that, we’re probably going to see only a few minor things announced; Final Fantasy XV is nearing release, which is nice, but eh. (I know it sounds like sacrilege that I’m not excited about a mainline FF game, but… eh. It just looks so… run of the mill.) We might see a few more clips of the FF VII remake, which is slightly less eh; I’m interested in seeing how the game changes as it shifts towards a more episodic format. It really seems like Nintendo is getting the best of the Dragon Quest series, but it also seems like North America isn’t. SE is also thinking about the Mana series, which hasn’t been done justice in North America since Legend of Mana in 2000; it’s entirely possible we could see a compilation release, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Kingdom Hearts 3 is also probably on the list. For a major surprise, we might see the first glimpse of the 4.0 expansion for Final Fantasy XIV– particularly now that the 3.3 patch landed last week– which may involve the liberation of Ala Mhigo, giving players the first opportunity to go on the offensive against the forces of darkness. Of course, if SE were to consider re-making Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, too, I wouldn’t complain (best damn beginner RPG since Super Mario RPG).
Blizzard: Don’t expect a whole lot here. They just released Overwatch– which I should be playing instead of writing this– so they’re going on a bit of a break. I honestly don’t know what they have left beyond continuing World of Warcraft expansions.
Atlus: Persona Persona Persona Persona. Social Links Social Links Social Links SOCIAL LINKS
Sega (and Atlus): I forgot Sega bought them. Seriously, outside of P5, Sega doesn’t have much on its slate that has me really excited, except maybe Sonic Boom (which I still believe in) and Dawn of War III. I’m going to insist that Sega try to bring Puyo Puyo Tetris out in the West, but that never happens.
Valve: More Team Fortress hats. Still no Half-Life 3.
GungHo Online: More Puzzle & Dragons, hopefully announcing a localization of the new 3DS game.
Bushiroad: give Cardfight Online pls
With that, I think we’re set on what’s coming next week. I’m probably going to be completely wrong on a lot of these, but that’s actually a good thing. I like surprises.
This week saw the release of Blizzard’s video game Overwatch, available on PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The game is advertised with a tremendous amount of flair and pomp, with Blizzard’s usual blitzkrieg of videos, previews, and so forth. But in actually describing what the game is about, Blizzard is being uncharacteristically minimalist. It’s a multiplayer objective-oriented shooter. That doesn’t mean a whole lot to people who aren’t already steeped in the intricacies of video games, and even then it’s pretty vague. Fortunately, Overwatch is more than just a handful of words.
The primary conceit of the game is that two teams of six characters compete to control objectives and complete simple missions. Only four game types are available in the launch package: Assault, which tasks players to capture or defend two control points on a map (one at a time); Escort, where players must lead a vehicle through dangerous territory– or stop the payload in its tracks; Control, where there is only one control point, and victory is determined by being the first to hold the point for about two minutes (non-consecutively); and Hybrid, which combines the Assault and Escort types by requiring the attackers to capture a drop zone for the vehicle they are escorting before the vehicle can arrive. Games typically last less than ten minutes each, but during escort missions the attacking players must reach checkpoints to extend the time allotted time that defenders must hold out for. At launch, twenty-one characters are available, and more are anticipated.
Prior to the game’s launch, there were rumblings that Blizzard was trying to make Overwatch the next big game in eSports, like how their StarCraft and StarCraft 2 have been massive draws in South Korea and the world over. Given the description of Overwatch as an objective-oriented shooter, one might think that the game would be suited towards the kinds of long-form, contemplative gameplay that has characterized the majority of eSports’ broadcast output. Indeed, shortly after the game’s open beta period earlier this month, Reddit users on the League of Legends board were abuzz with the thought that this title might kill interest in League. I’m proud to say that’s not the case, and it’s for the same reasons why League is a strong game as well. Basically, both games scratch different itches.
League of Legends is an extremely slow-paced game. It has moments of quick action, but predominantly there is a lot of 1000-foot-high strategic planning going on that makes for a very different kind of tension. Players who rush in to get kills find themselves facing an extremely steep death penalty: respawn timers range from twenty seconds to over a minute, and not only are you out of the action during that time, you’re not gaining the gold and character levels needed to stay on an even footing with your opponent. The game also has an order of magnitude larger roster of characters– over 140 to Overwatch‘s two dozen. There is an established level of tactical balance in League that involves knowing which characters are strong against others. But probably the most glaring difference once a player has experience with both games is that League of Legends is a much longer-term game than Overwatch.
When you pick a character in League, you’re committing to that character and that role for anywhere from twenty minutes to almost an hour and a half, depending on the game. The concept of “lane swapping”– changing the role a player executes dynamically, essentially breaking the established metagame to get an advantage over an unwary enemy– is relatively unorthodox in worldwide League play, which is fixated on a very rigid game structure. There are rules of the game and then there are conventions: guidelines which have become so ingrained into high-level competitive play that players can’t help but learn as they gain experience. In short, League is a very regimented game that differs only in its details, and cumulative errors and advantages build up to victories.
Overwatch chucks all of that. Games are fast– under ten minutes– and the action is relentlessly non-stop. Death comes quickly in the game: Widowmaker, the arachnid-themed sniper, can one-shot several weak characters like Tracer and an unarmored D.Va. Fortunately, you’re only out of the game for about eight to ten seconds after death, and since characters don’t evolve at all during the match there’s no progression to fall behind on. If you’re the short-range Mei finding yourself stopped by an enemy Reinhart’s huge energy shield, however, you’re not stuck with her: players can change their active character during the match. There are a wide variety of maps and game modes, in contrast to League‘s trusty old Summoner’s Rift. Victory in Overwatch hinges on every moment, but errors are fleeting; an early mistake doesn’t hinder you twenty minutes later, or even twenty seconds later.
If it sounds like I’m overwhelmingly favoring Overwatch, I have to admit I am a bit more happy with the new game than I am with League of Legends right now. But that’s not to say that there’s a clear hierarchy between them. And, probably most telling, I vehemently disagree that Overwatch has a place at the eSports table. The game is too fast, too “blink and you miss it” to be an effective spectator sport, which is a failing both of the somewhat claustrophobic three-dimensional maps and the first-person perspective making it difficult to get a good birds’-eye view of the action, which is a hallmark of League‘s televised presentation.
But is Overwatch a bad game? Absolutely not! And is League of Legends officially obsolesced? Of course not! I love them both, and I’m thrilled to live in a time where both games are active and popular. Like I said earlier, the two games fulfill very different roles in how people play. Trying to say one replaces the other is like saying “Oh, you like Final Fantasy? Here, you’ll love Street Fighter!” If anything, I think it’s great that there is that variety of video games available.
When I was in college, I picked up Pocket Fighter as a way to intentionally leave my comfort zone with the games I played; there had been too many samey RPGs out at that point and nothing else really appealed at the time. It rekindled a spark in me that I hadn’t realized had gone away. Tournament fighters had undergone the same kind of overload before I really discovered RPGs, and platformers before both of them. Whenever something becomes too commonplace, a shakeup can really help people discover what made them love the games in the first place.
Overwatch is an exceptionally strong game, and is probably the best objective-shooter on the market today. There are a few mechanical glitches with the game, but those are fleeting and probably going to be fixed in short order. Blizzard has made what could be an early contender for Game of the Year, and with any luck there’s more to come.
Tomorrow marks the North American debut of Yo-Kai Watch, a 3DS game wildly popular in Japan but only now being released (four years after its original release; more on this in a bit). To people outside the so-called otakusphere the game is hardly a blip on the radar; many North American game players haven’t even heard of it. Within Japan, however, the game looks to unseat Pokemon as ruler of the “collect everything” style of game. It’s easy to take this at face value and just write it off as a clone, but the truth is a bit more complex. It’s also telling of a trend that helps identify where video games are headed.
In Yo-Kai Watch, a young boy named Nate has an encounter with Whisper, a specter that owes him a favor after releasing him from an ancient capsule. Whisper follows Nate around as a sort of polter-butler, helping him identify the various other Yo-Kai (spirits) within the town. Some of these spirits are friendly or beneficial, like Komasan (a guardian dog); others are antagonistic or dangerous, such as Negatibuzz (a mosquito that appears to cause temporary depression). If a Yo-Kai is affecting a person, Nate might either befriend the spirit or be forced into battle. Along the way, of course, Nate will collect the various Yo-Kai and send them into battle to protect his town from being utterly overrun.
At first glance, the game appears to be yet another interpretation of the Shinto pandeistic mythology; spirits are everywhere, affecting people or things whether those people know it or not. However, where Pokemon puts a stronger emphasis on the competitive aspect of the game’s battles, Yo-Kai Watch heavily favors simply making peace with the spirits, rather than forcing them into battle. It’s a fantastic alternative to Pokemon’s often cutthroat nature. For younger players or those looking for a less adversarial kind of game, I’d highly recommend it.
But it’s precisely that (if you’ll excuse the pun) spirit of nonviolence that is attracting me to the game so strongly. It’s a refreshing trend to see so many games being released where ruthless competition isn’t fostered for its own sake. Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer and Undertale are just two more examples. All of these are predicated on a strong message of peacemaking; in Undertale, taking a bloodthirsty approach to the game results in it getting progressively bleaker. In an era where video games as a whole are routinely blamed for acts of real-world violence, it’s encouraging to see so many games looking to buck that trend.
Yo-Kai Watch is not perfect in this regard, because there are still times when violence is unavoidable. Self-defense is the order of the day, though, not relentless aggression, and so the game becomes a bag of mixed messages. Fighting is a conscious choice in the real world, and that is the stronger message that Undertale tries to stress. Yo-Kai Watch’s message of peace-bringing could be better served by adding the option to talk down opposing spirits rather than beating them down. Diplomacy has been a bit of a mixed bag in video games, though, and so it’s not surprising that Level-5 didn’t include it in this game.
Then again, there’s always next time. The game that North America is getting tomorrow is merely the first in the series; the third game is being released in Japan soon. In a funny enough twist, Yo-Kai Watch 3 takes the setting out of Japan and into the United States, featuring appropriately American Yo-Kai modeled after astronauts and football players, for example. If the game catches on in the US– and considering the enormous media push that Nintendo and Hasbro are putting behind this release, it’d be a shock if it didn’t– we might see Whisper pal it up with those spirits soon enough.
A few years before my Dad died, my sister gave me a rather interesting Christmas gift: a ticket stub scrapbook. I was already well into my habit of seeing movies regularly, but there was something a bit more to the scrapbook than just a place to keep a record of what I’d seen. I put every ticket stub I had into it, which meant we went to see National Treasure 2 that weekend. As time went on, though, I meant to try to keep a perfect record of my cinematic consumption from there on out.
I love movies, but more than just watching them I love going to the movies. A theater is, for me, a place of refuge, where I can set aside the troubles of the real world for a couple of hours and watch someone else’s story unfold before me. There is peace to be found in even the most gleefully violent turn-your-brain-off action cliche heap. And it’s all larger than life, larger than is possible to replicate at home. I won’t ever give up my huge flatscreen, but it’s nothing compared to a glorious DLP IMAX wall of film. So I go to the movies, because some movies just plain deserve to be seen that way.
In Cleveland– actually Macedonia– I would almost like clockwork go to the theater and see one or two movies each Saturday. It was a comfortable and peaceful routine. I kept it up when I moved to Pittsburgh, but as I started to get back to collecting games and anime series for my library, I found myself more and more spending those Saturdays at home, marathonning a game or TV box set. I had almost ended the practice.
The scrapbook changed that. I started paying attention to release dates; if there was something I wanted to see, I tried to go on opening weekend. Funnily enough this also meant seeing some big-ticket Ghibli films, too, like the theatrical runs for Ponyo and Arietty. And, of course, the Marvel movies were starting up again. It was a good time to go catch some flicks.
And then depression hit. One of the first things that depression does is take things you once loved to do and make you feel bored by them. Actually, you don’t feel bored. You don’t feel enjoyment. You don’t feel pleasure. You just plain don’t feel anything. The technical term for this is anhedonia, from the same Greek root that gives us hedonist. Someone who is anhedonic is literally unable to feel pleasure or happiness. You can tickle them all you like but the laughter will be a mere unconscious physiological response; there will be no sincere mirth in it. Kind of like baking out a tray of cookies, only to open the oven and find absolutely nothing inside, not even the baking sheet the cookies were on. You wanted cookies. You got a puzzlingly intractible nothingness.
Movies, either at home or in a theater, just didn’t do it for me anymore. It baffled me, because while I was in the theater I was laughing along with the punch lines, gasping at the villains, and generally appeared to be enjoying myself. But it never sank in the way it used to. Of all of the things that I could say about depression, that is the most frustrating topic to discuss because there literally is no vocabulary in any language on earth to accurately express the complete and total void within my mind. Even the word void doesn’t cut it: it implies a contrast with non-void. If it had been just a dead chunk of my brain– like I’d had a stroke or something– eventually neurons would reroute themselves within the healthy parts to restore proper order (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). Depression isn’t so much having to make detours in your brain’s highway system as it is waking up one morning to discover that every square millimeter of asphalt in said system has spontaneously become molten lava, and your car’s magnesium rims have just exploded, setting your garage on fire, and you have to be at work in ten minutes. Still not accurate. But close. The reality is worse.
The kicker of it is that it’s completely out of one’s conscious control. It’s all to do with neurotransmitter levels in the brain, the internal messaging system that allows four pounds of flesh to safely run the other hundred-odd pounds. The brain, already awash in a faulty mix of those signaling chemicals, overcorrects for their influence. Unfortunately, at this point the damage is done, because the overcorrection becomes the new “how to fix this” procedure. When next the sads hit, the brain goes overboard in the other direction, unbalancing itself unwittingly because it has difficulty telling whether or not a little grief is going to germinate into a full-blown crash.
I used to wonder why people drink to excess, or use drugs that they know are not good for them, or do other self-destructive things in the name of avoiding feeling bad. I don’t anymore. At a certain point, you become desperate to feel happy again– to feel anything again, even just for a little while. I hit that point. Hard. But I still count myself extremely lucky that I was lucid enough to know the dangers were far worse than the potential benefits. Not everyone does. Worse, not everyone who hits that point even cares.
But I got help. I am on medicine now– it’s not a cure-all, but I’m not the zombie I feared I would be, either. I’m back in therapy. And, probably most importantly, I’m going to the movies again. Today was a double-feature, Jurassic World and Inside Out. I lost the stub for the first one, which upsets me (but not that much– it was a pretty basic monster movie, saved only by Chris Pratt’s outstanding performance). But the second flick… it felt great to go back into the theater and sit down as the lights dimmed.
For the first time in a very long time, I found peace in the darkness.