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Power Button - Episode 171: Nintendo App-rehensions

Power ButtonThings get heated on this week's episode of the Power Button podcast as we discuss Nintendo's recent announcement that it's partnering with mobile publisher DeNA to come to the smartphone and tablet app store near you.  Nintendo is also working on its next traditional video game console, codenamed NX, and we spend some time hashing that revelation out and how it relates to the mobile news, too.  Round 1!  FIGHT!  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Nintendo Going Mobile, Announces New NX Console

Mario jumpsNintendo announced a partnership with Japanese mobile platform DeNA this morning, signaling an intent to bring its popular franchises and talents into the smartphone/tablet space.  Here's Mike Futter at Game Informer to explain:

The games that DeNA will be working on are completely new, rather than ports of existing titles. Nintendo's entire slate of intellectual property is open to the mobile company to tap for its creations. Nintendo continues to hope that its mobile presence will drive interest in its dedicated video game console devices, something the company has stated as a goal for entering the smartphone and tablet space. 

In addition, DeNA will be developing a membership service for Nintendo that will be accessible on PC, 3DS, and Wii U. The as yet unnamed service is targeted for launch later this year, however it was not specified if this will be a regional rollout or if the duo will attempt worldwide release.

As if that's not enough of a business bombshell, it was also announced that Nintendo's next dedicated gaming console, codenamed NX, is in the works.  We'll hear more about that and how it fits into the DeNA deal in 2016.  Here's Stephen Totilo at Kotaku to explain what we know about the NX:

Seeking to put off questions that Nintendo's future would be entirely mobile, Iwata says that Nintendo is still very much in the "dedicated video game system market", and that their next piece of gaming hardware is code-named the "NX".

"Nintendo has decided to deploy its video game business on smart devices, but it is not because we have lost our passion or vision for the business of dedicated video game systems", he said.

"On the contrary, because now we have decided on how we will make use of smart devices, we have come to hold an even stronger passion and vision for the dedicated video game system business than before." 

"Now that we're less devoted to the dedicated video game system business, we're more devoted than ever before!" Talk about your double-talk. Iwata should run for office.

"As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business", Iwata adds, "let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand new concept under the development codename 'NX'."

Continue reading "Nintendo Going Mobile, Announces New NX Console" »


Last Dance With The iPhone 4S

iPhone 4SI'd been pushing my iPhone 4S long past its expiration date.  Purchased in June 2012 after my iPhone 4 did a spinning flip off of a countertop and smashed screen-first into a cabinet handle, my trusty 4S had been showing signs of wear and tear for a while.  No cracks, scratches, or cosmetic damage, thankfully, but instead I'd noticed little things like ongoing decreased battery life, apps frequently crashing, apps forgetting data, settings not staying set, and the ballooning of "Other" data that iTunes was unable to recognize, delete, or handle that had filled up the gadget's meager 16 GB of storage.  The phone even refused to be wiped for a fresh install from a backup.  I keep my technology around until I've clearly worn it out, so the 4S's time had clearly come.  It was time to upgrade.  Like all technology transitions though, nothing is ever as easy as it sounds.

Continue reading "Last Dance With The iPhone 4S" »


Power Button - Episode 162: The Great Prognosticus Predicts!

Power ButtonGaze into the future with this week's episode of Power Button in which our in-house seer, The Great Prognosticus, speculates on what the year 2015 holds for trends in the video game industry.  Marvel at potential price drops!  Wonder at the bottom falling out of the crowdfunding movement!  Look onward to where Destiny will go!  Fear the coming glut of microtransactions!  Tomorrow's just your future yesterday.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. Next Time: Preorder early and often if you want to get your hands on our discussion of limited collector edition releases. Ryan Olsen of MonkeyPaw Games is your exclusive pack-in for this spirited discussion.


Sonic The Hedgehog 3 Pitched For iOS

Sonic 3 and KnucklesOver the past few years we've been treated to completely revised and improved versions of Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for iOS and Android, but the best of the original Sega Genesis era, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 locked on with Sonic & Knuckles, has yet to arrive on mobile platforms.  The developers behind the previous releases have come up with a proof of concept vertical slice of the beloved game running on iOS and now hope to convince Sega to fund actual development.  Here's a video of the demo in action showcasing Angel Island Zone and a lengthy blog post detailing the technical challenges in bringing Sonic 3 up to modern expectations.

Aside from the tricks used to make each level more interesting visually, the levels themselves were also filled with various gimmicks and events with a wide range in degree of complexity. For a legitimate remake project, all of these things would have to be duplicated in exact detail. This is something with which we took great care in re-creating Sonic 1 and Sonic 2, and so, we’d expect no less from ourselves in the case of Sonic 3 (& Knuckles). However, in some ways, this makes the job of re-creating the game somewhat more difficult than when the game was first created from scratch, because instead of being the ones who make the decisions, design the methods, and plant Easter Eggs and other subtleties on a whim, we instead have to fully understand and accurately reproduce what was already done in a way that is virtually indistinguishable from the original.

This is actually where our different methods come into play. By preference, Taxman has acted mostly on the basis of observation, carefully observing what happens at run-time and then reproducing it with his own methods. When I was brought into these projects, one of the reasons was that my understanding of Sonic the Hedgehog came from an understanding of the original assembly code itself, and experience with reading and manipulating it. This meant that I was able to take specific methods from the original code and apply them to whatever else I was doing, which in this case, was re-creating the games using the RSDK. It was especially handy when observation couldn’t readily, or at all, explain what was happening. Observation also has its merits, though, as it’s a great time-saver in straight-forward cases, and there are advantages to writing your own code without bias, such as the potential for more-easily creating cleaner and more versatile code, and guaranteeing a from-the-ground-up understanding of the method. That’s not to mention how repeated observation can expose strange exceptions. The code, too, could easily expose an obscure behavior in some cases, or at the very least, be used to easily obtain exact values. I tend to move between the two as it feels appropriate, and between the two of us, we seem to catch pretty much everything.

While I'm not much of a fan of touchscreen gaming when it comes to platformers (I prefer a control pad and actual buttons for precise control), I eagerly bought all three Sonic re-releases for iOS as they were released.  They play very well for iOS games largely because of the loving care that went into development and the simple fact that Sonic only needs one action button to play rather than separate buttons for jumping, shooting, item use, etc. as more complex games require.  I'd really like to see Sega get involved with this pitch and greenlight proper development.  More mobile releases would be nice, but this version would really fly on modern consoles and PC.  One assumes Sega has crunched the numbers on this sort of thing and come to the conclusion that it's not financially viable, but I can't believe that one of the best hits from the Genesis era could be unprofitable in today's market.  Sonic isn't what he used to be, but his original adventures still stand the test of time.


Lost Chrono Trigger Subplot Deemed Too Depressing

Chrono TriggerSquare's Chrono Trigger stands out as one of the best RPGs from the Super NES era of gaming and would later go on to spawn a semi-sequel in Radical Dreamers, an actual sequel for the Sony PlayStation, and enhanced remakes for both the PS1 and the Nintendo DS as well as mobile platforms.  The story of how a band of unlikely heroes band together via time travel to destroy an ancient space parasite eager to devour the planet is one of gaming's most detailed, most surprising tales, and while the game offers plenty to do and many sidequests to explore, one subplot was dropped from the game during development because it was deemed too depressing.  In a game where time and fate regularly screw with the protagonists, how depressing did a story element have to be in order to be scrapped?

Before answering that, let's recap.  Late in Chrono Trigger, the main protagonist, Crono, is blasted into atoms by the aforementioned space parasite, Lavos.  The other heroes escape the carnage, but Crono is truly dead and it's possible to finish the game without him.  Thanks to time travel, however, it's also possible to go back to the moment of his death and swap him out for a lifeless Crono clone.  The clone is obliterated instead, Crono goes back to the future with his friends, and everyone can resume fighting the good fight as if the whole thing never happened.  As the game's story planner Masato Katō revealed in an interview translated by The Chrono Compendium, the original plan for this plot was far darker and provided an even greater example of time acting as a judgmental force.

There was also a time during a meeting when the idea of the main character dying came up, and the whole room suddenly burst into laughter. I seemed to be the only one who thought “That was a serious suggestion, what’s so funny?” and sat looking blank. (laughs) Although at that point Mr Horī did say “Hey, that might be pretty interesting.” Incidentally, the idea that I had at that time was for Crono to really die, and the others would have to go back in time and enlist a version of Crono from the night before the Fair. Then after the final battle they would have to return him to that point in time and bid him farewell. But that idea was rejected (laughs). They said it had to be a happy ending, so we eventually settled on the story with the clone as it is today.

Chrono TriggerThe protagonists would have access to a spare Crono through time travel, but would have to return him to the moment he left his relative present in order to avoid corrupting the timeline.  It's a very Back to the Future idea reminiscent of the film's subplot involving Marty McFly struggling to tell Doc Brown that furious terrorists would gun him down in the future.  How would the party have explained to the Crono from the past that they needed his help without divulging information about his own future?  While I'd hate to have seen Crono die permanently, it would have been interesting to explore this subplot as an optional quest.  The choice would be yours: do you fight to save Crono by replacing him with a clone at the moment of his death or do you take the easy way out and recruit a younger Crono knowing that he'll still die later once you're done with him?  Perhaps the gaming world wasn't ready for that kind of thing in 1995, but as games have grown deeper and grittier, I think today's audiences could handle the choice and its consequences.  For death to matter in fiction, it has to stick.  Just ask Aeris.


Power Button - Episode 147: The Highest Of Definitions

Power ButtonIt's become a popular and profitable practice for publishers to re-release their video games from previous generations of hardware for current consoles and handhelds.  Games such as God of War, Halo, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, and many more have returned under the guise of remastered editions.  Last generation's high definition remake lives on under new terminology.  On this episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman and I discuss whether or not all of his rehashed content is ultimately worthwhile for the industry, compare notes on what it takes for each of us to buy a game all over again, and take a sidequest into the world of SimCity and SimTower.  It's a delightful ninety minutes of conversation.  Hurry and listen before we re-release this episode as a remastered edition!  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Microsoft Buys Minecraft, Mojang

MinecraftAfter years of being pitched on its potential and popularity, I have to admit that I still don't understand the fuss behind Minecraft.  I remember back in 2010 when Robert Alsbrook and I were still hosting the short-lived Press The Buttons show for Internet television where in between shooting segments, he'd try to sell me on the game and how I needed to be involved with it.  I didn't see the point; it's just digital LEGO bricks, right?  Where's the story?  Where's the gameplay?  Not my thing.  Not everything is.  Microsoft sees the value in Minecraft though, as the company has announced that it's bought Minecraft and its developer Mojang for a rumored $2.5 billion dollars.  That's a lot of digital building blocks.  Polygon has the story.

Microsoft's Phil Spencer said that the relationship with the studio began when the two companies started talking about bringing Minecraft to the console.

"Minecraft quickly became the top online game on Xbox Live, with over two billion hours played on Xbox 360 in the last two years. That working relationship set the ground work for other opportunities. We've long seen the incredible potential of Minecraft," he said. "At Microsoft, we believe in the power of content to unite people. Minecraft adds diversity to our game portfolio and helps us reach new gamers across multiple platforms. Gaming is the top activity across devices and we see great potential to continue to grow the Minecraft community and nurture the franchise. That is why we plan to continue to make Minecraft available across platforms - including iOS, Android and PlayStation, in addition to Xbox and PC."

I especially like the line "We've long seen the incredible potential of Minecraft."  Translation: "Someone was making a lot of money and it wasn't us."  Microsoft pledges to keep the Minecraft community spirit alive and won't clamp down on the property.  Minecraft will continue to exist on competing ecosystems like the Sony PlayStation and mobile platforms.  The Minecraft convention Minecon will go on.  Beyond that, I'm curious to see what changes the new management makes in the popular game especially since Mojang's current leadership is departing.  You don't spend billions of dollars on a property just to sit back and do nothing.  Like Minecraft players, Microsoft will surely want to play with its new toy.


EA Is Interested In Games For Apple Watch

Apple WatchNow that Apple has announced its upcoming Apple Watch wearable computing product that ties in to the iPhone for complete connectivity, video game publishers are interested in exploring how their products can work with the device.  Electronic Arts is just one of the major third-party publishers investigating how to bring new ways to play to the Apple Watch and devices like it.  CVG explains:

"Now with Apple's big announcement with the watch, there's a trend here where wearables are going to increase in performance, capability and unique functions over time that we believe will enable gaming experiences.

"In fact," [Executive vice president of EA Mobile Frank] Gibeau added, "we have two teams prototyping wearable experiences that are not only standalone, but also some ideas where you can actually use the fitness component in the watch that can unlock capabilities in the game that might be on your iPhone.

"Or you could do crafting or some other auction trading on your watch that goes back into your tablet game that you might check out later when you get home.

I'm curious about the Apple Watch and would definitely find ways to use it if I owned one, but I'm not rushing out to buy one on the first day it's for sale.  As for gaming, while the obvious first step is to try to bring popular app games to it, I'd like to see console games integrated with it.  It could be a much more useful second screen experience.  Imagine if an important key statistic or two was displayed on the watch such as remaining hit points or ammo left in a weapon.  You'd have to turn the watch around on your wrist so it faced you while holding the controller, but it'd be easier to juggle that holding a tablet or PS Vita in your lap while playing.  There's definitely potential here, but like with all new ways of interacting with technology and information, it'll take time and testing to fully understand what works and what does not.  Still, I'd like to believe that there are more useful and compelling ways to use the watch for gaming than just crushing candy.


Yuji Naka Goes To The Hidden Palace Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 2's Hidden Palace ZoneOne of the greatest stories in the genre of Sega Genesis lore involves the theft of an early unfinished version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 from a toy fair in 1992.  That stolen cartridge went on to be illegally distributed in Asia as the finished version of the game featuring fragments of levels that did not make the cut for the final product such as the Wood Zone and the mysterious Hidden Palace Zone.  The latter zone was hyped in the gaming magazines of the day, leaving many fans confused when the finished Sonic 2 did not include it.  Jump ahead several years and you'll find this version of the game circulating the Internet in smokey backrooms where devoted Sonic fans dig through its code like archaeologists excavating a tomb.  Heidi Kemps wondered if Yuji Naka (formerly of Sonic Team) had any idea that all of this was happening, so she went straight to the source to find out.  Did Naka know that fans were digging through his team's old work and exploring unfinished, cut content?

The Hidden Palace Zone was well-known among the Sonic faithful, but did Naka know the extent of what fans had already dug up?

“Actually,” I replied, “that ROM’s data is out there. Online.”

Naka seemed pleasantly surprised. “What? You're kidding! Tell me more. I had no idea.”

Was this really happening? 

“I have it here with me,” I continued. “On my laptop.”

“Do you, now?” He smiled again. “Somehow, I’m not surprised. You’re truly quite the fan.”

I turned on my laptop, booted up my Genesis emulator, and clicked on the file. It didn’t occur to me at first that I would be showing a top Sega executive my copy of an illegally duplicated development ROM on my PC. The thought didn’t even cross my mind until the title screen, the one different from what we all saw in 1992, appeared.

“Ahhhhh, yes,” said Naka, recognizing the early image.

How wonderful to reunite Naka with his older work in this manner.  I wonder if other developers would be so gracious.  As for the Hidden Palace Zone itself, after becoming a curiosity and a conversation topic amongst the Sega faithful, it finally showed up in the iOS and Android remakes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as a proper, completed level.  Even the company itself is in on propagating the legend.  I absolutely love stories like this one.  I've watched this story unfold over the past twenty years, following it from those original mock-up screenshots in Electronic Gaming Monthly to the online dissemination of the unfinished ROM all the way to the end.  I feel like I have closure at last.