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Wii and U

by Federico Fasce on 9 June 2011

Post image for Wii and U

The name is not so good. Ok, I guess I’ll get over it. After all my first console was an Intellivision. I can’t really say if this is a good or a bad move for Nintendo, right now. We have seen to little of Nintendo Wii U to say something about it. I love the way Nintendo makes games, and in my library the space taken by Wii games is more than the one taken by Ps3 and XBox 360 games TOGETHER. And yes, I’ve played and enjoyed them all, for different reasons.

So, Wii U. The first thing I’ve noticed is the way they have totally ignored the console, putting the spotlight on the controller. Everyone wanted an HD Wii, and Nintendo is doing it. But they kinda ignored the graphics power. It’s like for them is not really a selling point. Today you need it, but it’s not that the thing making a game fun. The controller is way more important, because it defines the experience in some ways. It defines its more than the bells and whistles of HD graphics. The new controller can move the action from the screen to the living room space. It’s family centric (and family is the most repeated word during the keynote). So the controller enables a certain kind of play. Wiimote did that too, but in different ways. When Wii was presented, the console was still at the center of the show, though the controller was obviously the most discussed thing. Today, the console is not so important. What’s really important is the experience and the interaction. That’s it. In a way they learned from Apple. When speaking about iPhone and iPad, Apple never talks about technical specs. Just few developers, for example, really know which CPU is mounted on an iPhone 4, or how much Ram it mounts. But I’m digressing.

The new controller generates a lot of confusion. As I said, I’m not entirely sure of it. It looks like an experiment, and in some ways is more difficult to understand than Wiimote. But it’s fascinating. It opens possibilities. It challenges my mind like no controller did before. Sure, it screams imperfect information, and it can introduce in offline multiplayer digital games an element they lack: the possibility for the player to carry asymmetric information, which could easily lead to patterns like temporary alliances, diplomacy or simply deception. But this is only scratching the surface. As for the Wii launch, I really hope that designers will find some clever ways to use this thing. And maybe for that Satoru Iwata needs to review his thought about indie developers and to open the access to the platform as much as possible. Good luck with that.

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There’s no such thing as a portable console

by Federico Fasce on 24 May 2011

Gameboy

Well, the iPhone, maybe. But I’m not sure.

The point is, when I was a high school student, I bought a Gameboy. Yep, the original one. Big, warm grey plastic, crappy screen. And yet I was constantly mocking friends with Lynx or GameGear. Actually, I got a GameGear myself, so I was the subject of my own mockery. The other consoles were boasting those full color backlit LCD Screen, and their batteries lasted for about fifteen minutes. You couldn’t even finish a game of Sonic and it was over. Unless have brought with you this huge power adapter and finding a power outlet, of course. Which was pretty difficult on the bus, you know. Gameboy batteries, on the contrary, lasted thirty hours. Plus, Tetris, one of the most addictive game ever, was included with the console. A lot of games were fast and immediately fun, perfect for the small gaming sessions which happen on the road. It makes a lot of sense. I brought my Gameboy everywhere, and it was just perfect, despite being so clunky.

Fast forward to the next-gen era. The handheld market is pretty dynamic. Nintendo alone released four versions of its DS franchise, plus the new 3DS. Sony is trying to put PS games on their phones, has the PSP and the Go (a big failure, but still) let alone the incoming NGP. None of these are really hand-held consoles.

Sony tried to bring the home console entertainment to the hand-held world. Pretty good if you travel a lot, during long trips, or when in hotel with nothing to do. But terrible, really terrible for short burst of gaming.

Nintendo DS, however, has a more Gameboy-like approach. A lot of games are quite playable in the space of a bus ride, but unfortunately the touch screen and the stylus are not that compatible with a crowded and bumpy ride through the town (have you ever tried to draw a line while on the bus? Then you know what I mean). 3DS is even worse: the 3D screen only works if you stand quite still, since even the slight movement can make you lose the effect. And the batteries? 3 hours, which for sure are not the Game Gear’s fifteen minutes, but still force you to bring a power cord pretty much wherever you go.

Mobile phones are only slightly better: when I play games on my iPhone I drastically reduce the life of my battery, and you don’t want to drain it too much, since that is your phone also.

So, basically, I feel the need of a true handheld console. Too bad my old Gameboy died a while ago.

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A matter of language

by Federico Fasce on 2 May 2011

Gonzalo Frasca's September 12

When speaking about serious games and stuff a lot of people come out with the objection “shouldn’t a game be fun? What’s the point in making it serious?”. The problem here is always the same. Almost ten years have passed since the first instance of the brilliant Greg Costikyan’s piece “I have no word and I must design”, but we still lack a shared vocabulary to even understand ourselves. It’s obvious: can you define fun?

Probably my Anglo-Saxon colleagues are luckier than us. Raph Koster wrote a great book trying (and I think managing) to define fun from a scientific point of view. Plus, the word fun lacks the hidden meaning the italian word – divertimento – has. This word bears evidently the concept of aversion and escapism (from latin di-vertere, to turn elsewhere).

But escapism is not exactly fun. Is not even the only motivation we have to play. As Koster puts it, is the inner neurobiological satisfaction we get when we decode a pattern, the aha moment when we solve some problem or we learn a skill, that is the zero-grade of fun. And that could be experienced even if the game is disturbing, controversial, or openly not a source of escapism.

So, when people argue “shouldn’t a game be fun?” I guess the only possible answer is that yes, it should. But fun is not escapism, and is not necessary for a game to make you evade from reality. That’s about it.

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Oh, noes.

by Federico Fasce on 1 May 2011

So, Sony fucked up. Big time. The personal data of millions of PSN users are now leaked. It’s still unclear what it’s the situation of their credit card numbers, though it seems a few people have had problems (but that could be just a coincidence) and there is a rumor about cc numbers lists being sold on the internet (and this could be a hoax). Meanwhile even the FBI is looking into the matter. PSN users are obviously concerned about their data and their credit cards, but Sony doesn’t seem to care so much. They just put up a not-so-reassuring post in their blog, and then emailed it to all the PSN subscribers. A week after the attack. Sure, they are now trying to promise that they will make up with their users, but the feeling from outside is that they don’t have a clue on how to deal with this disaster. Plus, they now appear as those not enough concerned with security and for sure they’re going to lose an awful lot of clients.

Today one of the most used hosting service in Italy, Aruba, went down, due to a fire in their server farm. Now Aruba us a low-cost service, probably aimed to the prosumer rather than to a professional firm. And yet I was surprised to see even important Italian websites go down with them. Sure, a fire is an unpredictable event. But come on, no redundancy at all?

I guess security is going to be the next buzzword. Finally.

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Still here

by Federico Fasce on 27 April 2011

Lunarcade

Well, I guess this post should have been written, at some point. I’m being horribly discontinuous in keeping this blog, but I really need to make it running. That said, it’s a pretty busy time of my life. Plus, I’m now officially the IGDA Italian chapter leader, and I really want to keep this thing running the best way I can.

Recently I have been at Lunarcade event in Milan, met a lot of cool guys and jammed for two crazy days. These kind of events are exactly what Italian game dev community needs. Too bad there wasn’t so many people attending, but I guess this could change just doing more events. That’s why I hope I could help the great guys at Santa Ragione with their project.

The good news is that Italian indie scene is alive and kicking. We need just a little more commitment.

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