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April 2013

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Special Edition: BioShock 2 Developer Conference

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker2K Games's BioShock 2 is getting a little extra attention these days thanks to interest in BioShock Infinite, so it seems only appropriate to revisit this episode of the old Kombo Breaker podcast which originally aired February 9, 2010.  Before you step into the shoes of a Big Daddy, why not learn what went into the making of the game?  Just prior to the release of the game a few members of the development team at 2K Marin sat down for a phone conference in which they discussed the development process, and rather than just provide a brief transcript of their remarks, I recorded the whole hour-long conversation that we presented as a special extra edition of Kombo Breaker despite the fact that we're not in it beyond my initial introduction.  Would you kindly listen to it anyway?  You'll find it's a nice bookend to last week's Episode 98.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Special Edition: BioShock 2 Developer Conference

Don't Expect Another EarthBound Sequel

EarthboundIt's funny how the world works.  European video game players have been clamoring for Mother 2 (known as EarthBound outside of Japan) for nearly two decades, and thankfully that game is coming to the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console later this year.  North American players have enjoyed Mother 2, but have since demanded an official English version of the sequel, Mother 3, which was released in Japan back in 2006.  Japan has had ongoing access to the entire Mother trilogy, so what could they have left to demand?  Mother 4, of course.  Kotaku reports that Japanese fans have been asking the franchise's mastermind, Shigesato Itoi, to consider another sequel.

Recently on Twitter, a fan tweeted this to 64 year-old icon: "Mr. Itoi, please think about a way to make Mother 4." Itoi's response? "Muri" (無理) or "impossible".

Wanting what you can't have is a global truth, it seems.  I'd love to see a Nintendo-released localization of Mother 3, but I'm content to let it end there.  It's very difficult to capture lightning in a bottle and yet the EarthBound series has managed to do so consistently.  If Itoi feels that he's unable to produce another sequel that lives up to the legacy set down by the other games in the franchise, then it's best to let it go.  Should he ever change his mind, come up with a brilliant idea, and convince Nintendo to make it happen, then I'll gladly show up to play the game when it's available in English, but if EarthBound truly is done, then I say thanks for all the memories and here's hoping for good fortunes to everyone involved with the series.

New Grand Theft Auto V Trailers Showcase Characters

Rockstar has released a trio of new trailers for its upcoming Grand Theft Auto V which showcase the game's three new protagonists: Michael, Franklin, and Trevor.  Each trailer gives us a little background on the men with Michael as the family man who wants more out of life, Franklin as the gang member who wants more out of life, and Trevor as the freaky violent addict who wants more drugs in his body.  Or so it all seems, anyway.  It's never a good idea to assume you know everything about a Rockstar game and the company's trailers should never be taken at face value, but I do love how that company can assemble a trailer.  Rockstar makes excellent use of music to take things up a level, and setting Michael's trailer to Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" is brilliant.  I look forward to playing the game later this year.  It releases on September 17, 2013 for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.

Super Mario Crossover Grows More Awesome

I've mentioned the amazing 8-bit smashup that is Super Mario Crossover before, but now it's worth mentioning again as the free Flash game is about to get an upgrade to version 3.0 which includes new levels, skins, and a few other tricks.  The team at Exploding Rabbit is hard at work adding the contents of the obscure Super Mario Bros. Special into the mix.  Here's the explanation:

We decided to take the levels from an obscure Mario game called Super Mario Bros. Special. It is a pretty weird game that even has some new items and enemies. Playing the game is an absolute nightmare because it’s on an old Japanese computer and it has many technical limitations. Now that it’s playable in SMBC, it can finally be enjoyed like other Mario games.

The other big feature we’re adding is levels that change based on difficulty. This means if you play on easy mode, you’ll play an easier version of each level, and for hard mode, a harder version. I really enjoy the hard mode levels. Since I’ve played the game so many times, I’m used to playing through the levels pretty quickly, but on hard mode, I have to stop and think about what I’m doing. It’s really fun, and it plays with the player’s expectations. Easy mode is also fun. Instead of just making the levels easier, we added tons of coins. It makes you want to collect as many as you can so it changes the gameplay a bit.

And of course, there are new skins. Many of the skins in the trailer were released in version 2.1, but I included them since many people may not be aware of them. The new map skins are Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES and SNES), Super Mario Bros. Special, Atari, and Castlevania. There are also some new character skins that were not shown in the trailer only because there is so much stuff in the game it’s difficult to show it all. As mentioned in the trailer, the new version will be released in May or June.

I can't wait to try this new version.  The Crossover series is basically made of nostalgia, and the new trailer looks as if even more memories are packed into the game than ever before.  The Super Mario Bros. 2 skin will make you smile, I promise.  Playable Mega Man Robot Masters are a great bonus, too.  I can't wait to see what the development team comes up with next.  The pantheon of great Nintendo Entertainment System franchises is just about completely represented here as it is.

EvilCast Recap - Episode 174

EvilCastDown two members of their usual panel, Blake Grundman and Ross Polly of the EvilCast podcast at Games Are Evil invited me to sit in yet again for this week's episode.  With topics like Nintendo's diminished presence at E3 2013 and how the new Star Trek video game missed the mark (including a fun flashback to E3 2011 where Blake and I attended an early pre-alpha preview of the game), how could I say no?  We also talk about layoffs at Electronic Arts, Nintendo's Wii U image problem, and Zynga's latest troubles in the wake of the launch of Draw Something 2.  Mix in some discussion of the Injustice: Gods Among Us mobile game and a few other recently released titles and you have yourselves Episode 174.  Join us for some heated discussion and to hear Ross admit he's never seen Robocop but has somehow seen the non-existant Blade Runner 2.  I'm still not sure how either of those are possible.  Also, I'd like to apologize to the people of Detroit in advance.  You'll understand why when you listen to the show.

Super Monster Brothers Takes In-App Purchases And Copyright Infringement To New Levels Of Insanity

SupermonsterbrothersWhenever a gaming platform becomes a smash success, cheaply-developed shovelware inevitably appears.  Fortunately, the major console and handheld gaming platform producers maintain an approval process that requires lots of time and money to pass.  You just can't throw any trash at the wall to see what sticks.  Mobile app stores, on the other hand, are still new enough that there is a minimal approval process in place to publish an app.  Consider the ludicrous case of Super Monster Brothers by the keyword-centric Adventure Time Pocket Free Games, for instance.  This is a little platformer game for iOS that is built of assets ripped from other, better games.  Pokémon are the star characters (although they've been edited slightly to include hats).  When they jump, they make the jump sound from Super Mario World.  Copyright infringement is just the tip of the iceberg here; the real insanity comes from all of the in-app purchases that the game attempts to force on players.  Watch IGN's iPhone Garbage team tear this poor excuse of a game apart as it tries to overcharge them for every playable character, disposable weapon, and power-up.  $100 for an unlockable Charizard?  Sure, why not?

Obviously this game is intended for younger audiences who borrow a parent's iPhone to play.  The pop-ups ask for money, the child doesn't understand what they're doing with the agree button, and by the time the game is over, mom and dad are in the hole for $1000 worth of pointless content.  Apple really should step up their approval process to catch scummy apps such as this one.  Apps using stolen assets are nothing new (and another issue that should keep them off of the store), but these kinds of persistent in-app purchase prompts aren't doing the mobile gaming space image any favors either.

Star Trek Game Misses The Point Of Star Trek

Star TrekIt is not easy to make a Star Trek video game that stays faithful to the core of the Star Trek concept.  Digital Extremes is the latest developer to try to create a Star Trek game that holds true to the spirit of the franchise, but they missed the mark by a wide margin.  Poor Justin McElroy at Polygon had to suffer through the recently released game for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and PC and while his experience was poor, at least an entertaining review came out of the madness.  You really should read the entire piece to find out why Star Trek fails so much (there are many technical issues holding it back), but my favorite part of the review explains why this game was doomed from the start: it does not understand Star Trek at all.

Is there a worse fit for the world of Star Trek, that subversively powerful force of social equality and acceptance, than a brainless, cover-based third-person shooter? I submit that there is not. (You do get to pilot the Enterprise for one stage, but by "pilot" I mean you play a terrible, poorly explained turret mini-game.) Everywhere else, Kirk and his partner Spock are given optional objectives that emphasize phasers set on stun rather than kill, but rewards are paltry and a fourth of the game's achievements are built on accruing kills. So you tell me.

At one point, a crewmember on the radio refers to the Gorn (the disposal phaser blast catchers that keep you from your objectives) as "creatures." A sentient alien race that happens to not speak English. A Starfleet officer. Creatures.

The "creatures" have absconded with a dangerous, magical MacGuffin that the Vulcans need for their "New Vulcan" colony to replace their exploded homeworld. Kirk and Spock set out to shoot every possible Gorn to bring that MacGuffin back.

The Gorn have also "infected" some Starfleet officers and turned them against our heroes, possibly because developer Digital Extremes already had the character models lying around.

Here's the thing about Star Trek that people don't usually remember: it's not about space battles.  Star Trek is not really an action program.  Sure, characters shoot at each other and starships engage in a little space combat sometimes, but most of Star Trek involves Starfleet officers sitting around a table discussing how they should handle the crisis of the week.  Most of Star Trek is meetings.  Deep Space Nine engaged in more combat than any other Star Trek because it was set during the Dominion War (and there's going to be action in wartime), but typically when the fighting breaks out on Star Trek, it's because the characters failed to find a peaceful solution to their current problem.  Dropping Kirk and Spock into a generic third-person cover-based shooter just doesn't work if one hopes to be true to the characters.

Continue reading "Star Trek Game Misses The Point Of Star Trek" »

Nintendo Shakes Up E3, Forgoes Annual Media Briefing

Nintendo Media Briefing, 2007The annual Nintendo media briefing during E3 week is, for many, the highlight of the week of industry activities in Los Angeles.  The company's top management and notable designers take the stage to announce new products, the audience at home and in the room react accordingly, and everyone has a good time.  In many ways, a company's media briefing sets the tone for the coming year.  I've been fortunate enough to attend Nintendo's annual show seven times over the years and they are a blast; for better or worse, people always talk about the Nintendo media briefing.  Unfortunately, change is coming.  Nintendo has announced it will not hold its annual briefing at E3 this year.  While the company will still be at E3 and will maintain a booth on the show floor, the big spectacle of a stage presentation has been abandoned in favor of smaller meetings with business partners behind closed doors and a series of online Nintendo Direct presentations.  Here's the official statement:

As you’ve already seen, a lot of news about Nintendo games and services that traditionally would be held until E3 is being delivered this year through Nintendo Directs, and various press events. This approach will continue between now and E3. No matter where you are in the world, you’ll be fully informed. We look forward to continuing to provide you with Nintendo news and content in ways you haven’t before experienced. Beyond the news that will be communicated through Nintendo Direct videos in the run up to E3, at the show itself we’re hosting two smaller events on Tuesday morning before the LACC opens instead of just our traditional one event. A media event and a partner presentation will both occur that morning. While the audiences will be different between the two events, both will occur on the Tuesday morning of E3 (June 11) which is the date and time period the public has come to expect for Nintendo to deliver E3 news.

 At the Nokia theater we’ll meet with business partners (retailers, publishers, analysts, etc.) from the NOA territory and discuss our plans for driving the business and providing tailored information that this group finds useful to their operations. Nintendo has done these same type of business meetings at past E3 shows, but has not in the past few years. This year we are returning to that business partner meeting format. New this year at our booth in the LACC, prior to the show opening, we’ll invite a small group of media to play our games. We will have a strong line-up of beloved franchise experiences available for immediate hands-on play. We are continuing to consider exciting new ways to bring the news of our games and information directly to the players at home during the E3 timeframe, and will have more to say about that at a later date.

This makes sense for Nintendo this year.  Without flashy new hardware to debut, the company has to compete with Sony's new PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's next Xbox for mindshare and press coverage.  No matter what Nintendo announces for the Wii U, it just can't compete with the competition holding up The Future.  Nintendo's in a hole right now as the Wii U has failed to duplicate the instant smash success of the original Wii.  The mainstream media will turn to the new products from Sony and Microsoft when reporting on the amazing new developments coming out of Los Angeles in June.  Nintendo will get a mention, sure, but a minor one.  It's just how it goes; people don't like to cover a loser, and Nintendo has some work to do to be seen as a winner again.  Microsoft is headed out of the current console generation as a proven winner.  Sony has some positive buzz thanks to the early announcement of the PS4.  Nintendo has stacks of unsold Wii U consoles and a noticeable lack of amazing games on store shelves.

Continue reading "Nintendo Shakes Up E3, Forgoes Annual Media Briefing" »

Nintendo DS Retires With Honor

Nintendo DSNintendo has released its latest batch of sales estimates for the upcoming fiscal year, and while the company plans/hopes to sell a bunch of Wii U consoles, 3DS units, and even a few classic Wii systems, it estimates that it will sell zero units of the family of Nintendo DS systems which signals the impending retirement of the hardware; of course, the original DS and DS Lite are long gone, but the DSi and DSi XL are still hanging around.  You can buy a DSi, but don't count on them being around as new items for much longer.  GoNintendo summarizes:

Looks like Nintendo is finally going to move away from creating the Nintendo DS.  The current fiscal year, which ends March 2014, forecasts total sales of the Nintendo DS at 0.  Nintendo hasn't officially said that they're stopping production of the system, but they did offer up this statement.  What they say makes it clear that the DS is winding down.

Nintendo will continue to sell Nintendo DS Hardware but is not revealing a unit sales forecast at this time.

With that said, the Nintendo DS family of portables managed to ship 153.87 million units around the world.

All hardware is retired eventually.  I remember the mourning period when the Game Boy Advance packed up and left town; the last games out the door were all kiddie licensed games produced on the cheap.  The Nintendo DS has enjoyed a more honorable cool down period as the best games for it continue to be sold.  New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart DS are still out there on store shelves.  You can still find copies of Super Mario 64 DS which released nine years ago.  I carried my DS everywhere for several years, taking it to college classes, multiple E3s, and basically everywhere I thought I'd have a chance to get in some quick Mario time.  I'm sad to see the DS go, but it had an amazing life and brought us some fantastic games.  In addition to the titles I've already mentioned, I also highly recommend that you track down Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Tetris DS, Kirby: Canvas Curse, Metroid Prime Pinball (with Rumble Pak if your DS features a Game Boy Advance cartridge slot), Yoshi's Island DS, Kirby Super Star Ultra, the three Castlevania games, Chrono Trigger, and Kirby Mass Attack.  The DS library will live on thanks to the Nintendo 3DS's backward compatibility features, but the DS hardware has earned its place in video gaming history and deserves a honored retirement.

Microsoft Preparing To Reveal The Next Xbox

InterocitorAfter months of officially staying off the record regarding its next video game console, Microsoft is finally ready to start talking.  The company has announced a press event set for May 21, 2013 at which time it will reveal the new Xbox.  Here's the announcement via Xbox Live's Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb:

On Tuesday May 21st, we’ll mark the beginning of a new generation of games, TV and entertainment. On that day, we’ll be holding a special press event on the Xbox campus and we invite you to join us via the live global stream that will be available on, Xbox LIVE and broadcast on Spike TV if you are in the US or Canada.

On that day, we’ll share our vision for Xbox, and give you a real taste of the future. Then, 19-days later at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, we’ll continue the conversation and showcase our full lineup of blockbuster games.    

We are thrilled to pull back the curtain and reveal what we’ve been working on.

That's quite the grandiose announcement.  Microsoft is playing to win on this one.  Note the careful use of language that frames the video game industry as waiting around for the next Xbox to arrive before the next generation officially begins.  All of the major players have used language like this at one point or another, so it's not exactly a surprise, but I always get a kick out of watching for it to appear.  As for the next Xbox itself, there's been all kinds of rumors circulating out there.  Some are credible, others aren't.  I'm waiting for official announcements before I praise or denounce anything, so even though I'm not planning on buying into the Xbox ecosystem, I will be watching the event next month with great interest.  New product reveals are always exciting.