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August 2013

Nintendo Activates 3DS StreetPass Relay

StreetPassOne of the neatest functions of the Nintendo 3DS is the StreetPass capability which allows 3DS systems that pass like ships in the night to wirelessly tag one another with player information.  If you have a 3DS in your pocket or purse when you walk by another 3DS owner, then the two systems trade data such as current played title information, Mii, short custom messages, and other things.  That data can then be used to play the games in StreetPass Plaza.  This kind of thing works wonderfully in places where 3DSs are all over the place (for instance, Japan), but it's a bit more difficult abroad.  Not all cultures are so quick to carry handheld gaming systems with them in public.  Fortunately, Nintendo has rolled out StreetPass Relay in an attempt to spread the StreetPass love.  Eurogamer explains how 3DS owners can now StreetPass with players who aren't actually in the same location at the same time.

Nintendo is rolling out a fresh 3DS firmware update to support StreetPass Relay, a method of StreetPassing the previous visitor at a Wi-Fi hotspot.  Relay will save the last person's StreetPass data and pass it on to the next. The next person's data will then be saved and passed onto a future visitor.  It means that people in areas with fewer 3DS owners will still be able to ensure at least one StreetPass per location.

Relay was first announced back in June, but support for the feature is only being added now, via 3DS firmware update 6.2.0. It's live in North America now, and will presumably pop up in Europe in due course.  24,000 Wi-Fi points across Europe will support Relay, along with 28,000 Wi-Fi points in North America.

Sounds good to me!  As I've said, aside from gaming-centric events like the Electronic Entertainment Expo or GameWarp (where it's expected gamers will crowd), I hardly ever StreetPass people in the wild.  I've carried my 3DS through malls, parks, stores, and other places where people accumulate and I'm lucky if I pick up one tag out of every three trips.  StreetPass Relay takes a little of the proximity-related fun out of the process, but it's worth it to collect more tags.  StreetPass is rather useless without other 3DSs in the area.  I need puzzle pieces to collect and those Mii hats aren't going to unlock themselves.


PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Is Basically Done

PlayStation All-Stars Battle RoyaleDespite seeming high hopes at Sony and developer SuperBot Enterainment for PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale for the Sony PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, the mascot-based brawler in the vein of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. didn't quite catch on with the PlayStation audience.  SuperBot was let go from Sony's employ a while ago which left Santa Monica Studio with the job of finishing the remaining downloadable content.  Four new characters and two arenas were added to the game following its release last year, and though fans have hoped for more, that will be all.  Santa Monica Studio has announced that aside from an upcoming balance patch and a few free costumes that are rattling around in storage, there will be no additional DLC coming for All-Stars.  Here's some of the announcement:

There will not be any new DLC characters or environments released for PS All-Stars. We were proud to work with SuperBot Entertainment and they created a great game, but the characters that have already been released to-date represent the full content for PS All-Stars.  In the course of any game's development, there are always elements that never quite get finished or the team decides not to use in the final game. Some of these additional materials from the game’s development phase have been recently released, but unfortunately these are very far from finished assets and were not included in the final game for a number of production and legal reasons.

I enjoyed All-Stars and spent about three months dipping in and out of it, but it just doesn't hold up.  It's fun, but lacks the staying power and depth of better games like it.  Moreover, Sony just doesn't have the extensive library of fun, recognizable characters with immense histories to use in the game.  Nathan Drake, Kratos, and Ratchet have cachet, but a lot of the All-Stars roster feels like filler.  The sad truth is that without the third-party characters like Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and Cloud Strife that made the PlayStation brand so memorable in the early years, All-Stars feels like a missed opportunity.  There's nothing inherently wrong with the game as is — it's fun! — but it could have been so much more.  I make it a point not to judge a game based on what it doesn't do, but in this instance I can make an exception.  This game's entire reason for being is to bring PlayStation mascots together, and the absence of a decent chunk of characters that represent the brand in the minds of the community is a major missed step.  I'd like to see Sony try again with this idea if it can get the rights to some of those key characters, and I don't blame Santa Monica for moving on now.  There are other projects in the works that are primed for greater success.


Wario's Only Apology

WarioNintendo's crude and greedy Wario is not known for his introspective qualities.  He wants what he wants and won't stop until he gets it.  He goes out of his way to feed his id and makes no apologies for his behavior.  Well, except this one time.  Video series Cool Bits points out a neat hidden moment in 2003's Wario World for the Nintendo GameCube in which Wario annoys the player with obnoxious singing (the classic "Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah" chant done in a childish sing-song tone) for nearly an hour on the game's pause screen if the player lets it go on for that long, then suddenly shuts up after uttering a sheepish "Sorry."  Check it out.

What I find most interesting about this easter egg is that I believe this is the only time in Wario's established history that he's apologized for anything.  Now that's character development!  We're talking about a man who has stolen castles, swiped untold riches, clobbered pirates, cheated at sports, and slammed a bucket over Mario's head among other heinous deeds.  Has he ever apologized for any of it?  Nope.  Irritating singing?  That's worth a sorry.  Wario truly lives by his own strange code of honor.


Power Button - Episode 101: Volatile PR Personalities Unleashed

Power ButtonThere's a lot of negativity in the social media space of the video gaming community.  Developers, PR managers, and other public faces of companies and organizations are on the front line of threats of violence, rape, and death on a daily basis.  How in the world did things get this bad and what can we possibly do about it?  On this episode of Power Button we start with a discussion of Phil Fish's breakdown in the face of continued anger (and he can give as good as he gets) and how it's just the latest example of toxicity poisoning part of the industry before leading into how this issue just feeds on itself.  Please welcome new co-host Blake Grundman who begins his run on this episode, and because Blake is here, we conclude the show with a brief discussion of pinball and my recent visit to the GameWarp 2013 arcade and pinball event.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or 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.


Power Button - Episode 101: Volatile PR Personalities Unleashed


The Gaming Social Media River Of Slime

It's a river of slime!It's been a week of introspection in the world of video game media thanks to the Phil Fish controversy in which the developer behind Fez decided enough was enough when it came to personal attacks against him and decided to abruptly cancel the recently announced Fez II and withdraw from the community.  People have been talking about what this kind of thing means for the community and how we can change things to cut down on negative energy, death threats, and other garbage spewed by angry people in the cesspool that can be sections of social media.  Rob Fahey at Games Industry has a great idea to minimize this sort of behavior: stop encouraging it.

[O]ne other thing that has been thrown into stark relief by Fish's departure is that certain parts of the media, far from trying to clamp down on abusive or toxic behaviour and comments, have actually been thriving off it. There's a new strain of games media "personality" which has emerged in recent years which openly thrives off the primordial slime of negativity and hatred that pollutes so many comment threads and forums around the Internet - a kind of games media "shock jock", a hugely negative, cynical personality who seems to have nothing good to say about anything, who channels the cynicism and nastiness of the darker corners of the gaming world into a slicker and more carefully packaged format. Marcus Beer, who trades as "AnnoyedGamer" and dropped the offending straw on the camel's back when he called Fish an "asshole" on a GameTrailers show, is one such character - there are quite a few others who are cut from the same cloth. The online personas these people present are calculated to justify and validate the kind of gamer who participates in flinging hateful abuse at public figures within the industry.

I recall, when I first started writing about games professionally, being absolutely stunned at the existence of some really cynical and unpleasant people in the games media - people who had simply been at these jobs for too long, had fallen out of love with games but had found themselves, presumably, with no marketable skills that would allow them to work elsewhere. It was an unsettling experience to go to events or travel abroad on press tours with people whose eyes glazed over if I talked about games I'd enjoyed recently, or who openly and with curious pride announced that they hadn't played a game in years. They were always a small minority, but they were generally not very pleasant people overall and they were always around. The Games Media Shock Jocks give the same impression - disgruntled men (for they are always men) who don't like games much and seem unhappy with their lot in life, but have found an outlet in cynically stoking the fires of discontent among angry, hate-spewing teens. Awful, soul-destroying work if you can get it.

I've never understood the popularity of these personalities who sit in front of the camera episode after episode and profanely rant about new games, old games, and everything in between.  I've tried to understand what makes these shows entertaining, but I just can't bring myself to sit through it.  There's enough anger and toxicity in society these days as it is without me inviting more of it into my world via a YouTube link.  I like to think that I do my part to improve things by speaking well of games I enjoy.  Sure, I have criticisms, but I never outright slam a game without backing up my opinion and I certainly never wish death, rape, or violence on someone who works in the business.  Angry teens are going to be angry teens, sure, but that kind of behavior and personality should not be encouraged by the community's elders.  People need to set a better example.  Hold up things you like and explain why you like them.  Show your favorite forum a fantastic game the other members may have missed.  Set a positive example and stop encouraging the shock jocks to further their unneeded craft.

The more I think about it, the more gaming social media is like the river of slime flowing underneath New York City in Ghostbusters 2As I'm sure you'll recall, the pink psychomagnotheric slime responds to and amplifies emotions.  Feed it rage and it makes people near it angrier, but give it good vibes and it'll make a toaster dance.  We're all swimming in that river of slime when we participate in gaming social media.  The decision we need to make is whether or not we want to drown in that slime as it smothers us or use it to make the Statue of Liberty parade through Times Square.  For more on this topic, join Blake Grundman and I as we cover this issue on Episode 101 of the Power Button podcast in which we discuss the negativity in the community and how it impacts developers and other public faces in the industry.


The History Of The Oregon Trail

Oregon TrailMost people who grew up in the 1980s with a computer in the classroom have fond memories of MECC's classic The Oregon Trail edutainment game in which players are tasked with journeying across the North American wilderness as pioneers on the way out west.  The game has been upgraded and modernized several times over the years, but how did it all begin?  What is the story behind The Oregon TrailJed Lipinski at Mental Floss takes us back in time to the days of teletypes with this fantastic tale.

Rawitsch debuted The Oregon Trail in his classroom on December 3, 1971. He rolled the teletype into the center of the room, and the students gathered around. The machine churned out a roll of paper with questions like “How much would you like to spend on clothing?” When a kid typed in a number, the machine delivered a new question, along with an update on his or her condition. Some imagination was required. In order to hunt, students had to type the word bang. If they typed the word quickly and accurately, the machine responded: “Good eatin’ tonight!” If they faltered, the machine sniffed: “A little slow on your Colt .45.”

It was no Grand Theft Auto. But for students who’d experienced computers only as glorified calculators, The Oregon Trail opened up a whole new world. After a few rounds, the kids who previously had no interest in history knew a little more about the geography of the Western U.S. and the brutal realities facing 19th-century pioneers. The game worked on a conceptual level too. “The Oregon Trail was one of the first educational software applications that put you into the program,” Rawitsch says. “Despite the lack of graphics, students who played weren’t students anymore. They were settlers crossing a wasteland. Their decisions were a question of life or death.”

I was part of my county's Gifted Student Program while in elementary school where children who tested well at a young age were sent once a week to a special classroom.  One of our learning stations was an Apple IIe that only ran The Oregon Trail, and that computer was always engaged.  There was practically a waiting list to have a turn, and eventually we started playing in small teams to move things along.  I entered the GSP program in first grade and my class came back to the game year after year until the program ended after sixth grade even when it was no longer part of our curriculum just because it was so much fun.  I've seen the newer versions and while they look more impressive and are more detailed, there's just something about that Apple IIe version from my childhood that stands out in my mind as the definitive version of the game.  Maybe it's the death by dysentery.

(via MetaFilter) 


Super Mario Bros. Crossover 3.0 Available Now

Super Mario Bros. Crossover 3.0

In the wild daydreams of my youth I would imagine a video game in which Quick Man ran through levels based on Super Mario Bros. that had the visual appearance of Super Mario Bros. 2.  I'd conjure up visions of Samus Aran blasting Castlevania monsters and Pit exploring a world that resembled the one seen in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.  Normally one is expected to put such childish notions aside as an adult, but thankfully we don't have to do that thanks to the release of version 3.0 of the previously teased Super Mario Bros. Crossover.  This free web browser game allows players to mix and match elements from Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Metroid, Blaster Master, Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, Kid Icarus, and many other popular games all set against the levels of Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. Special.  If you want to send Dr. Wily running through a world based on Super Mario Land 2, then this is your chance.  It's a truly special creation that is going to eat up at least a few of my evenings over the next week as I explore all that it has to offer.  I mean, I just can't turn down a playable Quick Man.