All up in Nintendo’s Business

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Among both the console manufacturers and video game developers in general, Nintendo stands apart. Not just in terms of their games or consoles themselves, although those are certainly a result of the way Nintendo stays askance. But rather Nintendo is just different in terms of the way the business is run; in its decisions and very culture. Sometimes, this sees them make some greatness, such as when they single-handedly pulled the entire video game industry out of the dark ages. Sometimes, this sees them make some really boneheaded decisions, such as when they decided that online gaming was just a passing fad. For like ten years.

But even with all the ups and downs this causes, it makes them a very interesting company. They intrigue the businessman part of me endlessly. Why do they do the things they do, even when it flies against all established knowledge? The fantasizing about that really appeals to the part of my brain that makes my heart skip a beat at the words “Six Sigma”. And you know, it’s been a while since I’ve done any business analysis. I think I might be jonesing.

So anyways, let’s take a look/wildly theorize at the things that make Nintendo the way they are. Now, as we’re doing this, I want to say that a lot of what I’m going to talk about next, particularly about the culture of Japanese companies, comes from things I learned from people who got their chops in the era where all the businessmen were scared Japan was soon going to dominate the world, so that might color my perspective a bit. Also, some of my classes were, like, really boring, so I may only be half-remembering some things. So, you know, don’t put any money on any of this. With that out of way, let’s dive into the business character of Nintendo.

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The first thing in understanding what makes Nintendo tick is understanding where they’re coming from. I know this is going to blow you minds here, so hold on to the back of your skulls, but, see, Nintendo is a Japanese Corporation. And I don’t know if you realize this, but Japan has a different culture than we do in the rest.

Sorry, I might be going a little fast there. Go ahead, read that paragraph a few times, until you can wrap your head around those bombs I dropped. When you catch up, we’ll be here for you.

Let’s take a look at what that means. No matter where you are, corporations are publicly owned companies. People buy and sell stock in that company outside the control of the company itself. Stocks represent a portion of the ownership of that company with all that entails, including a share of the highest level decision making and a share of the company’s profits, delivered by means of the stock value increasing or by dividends paid out to shareholders.

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The One Lovely Blog Award

There was supposed to be a blog post here.  A long one.  I’ve been working in my spare time on one for a while.  This is one that I’m putting a lot into.  Working a lot of thought and research into it, meaning it’s probably going to be one of those posts that so tailored to my own mental processes that not many others are going to agree with or be interested in the content, but it’s fun to put those out every once in a while, and what’s blogging if you’re not selfish every once in a while?

In any case, I had planned to put this post here, today, figured that I’d have the time to finish it up over the weekend.  Unfortunately, life, as it often does, said no.  Between work, chores, homework, and social obligations, I’ve not had the time I wanted to to work on that post.  Looking at the post, I’m not anywhere near finished.  So, we were going to be looking at one of those sad, sad times where it takes me a while to get a post out, and everyone’s hearts feels smaller in the interim.

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Then, I remembered that a fortnight ago, the lovely Athena at the lovely blog Ambigaming had nominated us here at Lost to the Aether for the One Lovely Blog Award.  I’ve been a little hesitant to follow up on that, what with the fact that this is one of those viral social things and I’m just not very social conflicting with the fact that I think I am totally awesome and love talking about myself.  These two opposed mentalities created a stalemate until… well, until I needed some quick content and this provided a good framework.  You should go over to Athena’s blog and thank her for that.  While you’re at it, check out some of her posts, too.  I mean, if you’ve been following me this far, you probably enjoy overthinking video games, and she does that really well!  Especially if you’re interested at all at how brain science works with video games.

And yeah, some of you who’ve been with us for a while may be wondering how I might have anything more to say about myself after I’ve already been Double Liebstered and a Versatile Blogger.  Oh, how much you underestimate me.  I am as complicated as I am mysterious.  Besides, the OLBA on requires me to state seven things about myself.  Seven!  I could do that all day.

Let’s go!

  1. I was a giant Nintendo fanboy for the longest time.  Yeah, the bad, argumentative type.  I don’t know what to say, there was something wrong with me.  That had lasted until I was given a PS2 back in 2007 and got to expand my gaming horizons.  Even now, I’ve owned at least one version of every console and handheld Nintendo’s put out, aside from the Virtual Boy.
  2. I stopped acknowledging my birthday years ago.  This way, I never age, and shall remain eternally youthful.
  3. I haven’t really written into it here, but as you may have guessed from my ill-fated and poorly suited to the internet-format attempt to create a graphic novel, I really like graphic novels.  Or comics, or manga, or whatever you want to call them.  I read more of those than I do traditional literature.
  4. My father was a huge gun nerd.  I have never cared about guns, but I was able to, check the safety, securely unload, and strip a gun at the age of five, thanks to him.
  5. It seems that most of my interests have pulled a complete 180 from where I was as a teenager.  As a youngling, I was never very interested in dancing, dating, sports, clothes, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I’ve really grown into and now I kick myself for wasting all those times and opportunities in my teenage years.
  6. My hair is my best physical feature.  I’m like Samson, and that’s where my power comes from, except my power is to make people weak in the knees and keep them from thinking of anything else.
  7. I’m not a fitness freak or anything, but I’ve gotten really into calisthenics in the past few years.  I can’t even say why that specifically, but those bodyweight exercises just feel so satisfying to me.

So… there.  That’s me.  And wasn’t that fun?  We’ll see you all again, once I get caught up with life!

The Tabletop Critique-Cards Against Humanity

I’m just going to guess you’ve heard about Cards Against Humanity by now. Because, really, chances are. It’s gotten a little bit of attention. On the interwebz. I hear some people like it.

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Right, so, if you don’t know about Cards Against Humanity, it’s basically Apples to Apples, except it’s intended to be played the way everyone really played Apples to Apples. The game is played by someone throwing out a statement card. Everyone else plays the cards in their hands that finish up the statement in the most humorous or awful way. Whoever gets the biggest laugh wins, then it all starts over again.

Also, the cards, they tend to be a little… brusque. Dirty jokes and black comedy. That’s part of the charm. Don’t play this game with your mom.

So yeah, game’s simple to play, so there’s not much analysis of the mechanics here. Let’s get down to the judgment here. Is the game good? In the right circumstances, it’s a great time. You have to enjoy this type of humor to have a good time with it, but if you do, yeah, it’s good. It’s pretty dependent on having a good-humored crew playing with you. Larger groups do seem to make it more fun, but the big key is that they have a sense of humor that aligns with yours. I played with a group that did, and had a great time. Played with a group I didn’t know so well, whose humor was more about alluding to baby murder as quickly as possible, and it was a lot more hit or miss. I played it drunk in a party, and it was like I found a new reason for living. I played with my mom, and we ended up having a long conversation about Jesus and my eternal soul.

Blazes, this is the quickest post I’ve written in a long while.

Oxenfree: A Case Study of Theming

Themes in fiction. They’re one of those things that are easy for the authors to work in, easy for the readers to detect, and they make everyone feel smarter for their inclusion. Themes are great. Just latch onto one idea, bring it up in your story a few times in a few different ways, and bam, you have an easy way of making your story go just a bit below the surface level.

Ok, so maybe it’s a little more complicated than that, but not by all that much! Given that themes are all in the eye of the reader, it can be easy to just work some themes in there accidentally. Hell, I’d been finding themes in the Saints Row series, and you know, if they had the sort of creative minds to be deliberately carrying a solid idea through than maybe they’d be able to write an ending that doesn’t suck without overriding it the next game. Moreover, themes are fun! Try finding some consistent ideas in the next story you go through, and see for yourself!

Oftentimes you see a theme, at least one implemented deliberately, the work will have something to say about it. Not always. And really, the works that don’t impose anything on their themes aren’t necessarily any worse than those that do. But what you rarely see is a work that does make a conclusion about its theme, and fits it into the greater work, but that conclusion comes entirely from the consumer. That’s a way of handling a theme that is largely unique to videogames, and even then, it’s something you’ll see rather rarely. So when Oxenfree freakin’ rocked it, I felt compelled to take a moment to recognize it.

Now, you might notice Oxenfree was released relatively recently. So I’m going to be talking about a modern game here. On Lost to the Aether. That never happens. It’s like Christmas and your birthday all put together. And we’ll be talking about some plot stuff. But I’ll do my best to keep it spoiler light. For the most part.

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So, Oxenfree has a theme of guilt and blame. It’s not like a major thing in the game, so don’t expect it to be hammering you over the head with it, but it’s a concept they return to every now and again, enough for it to gain some mental real estate. It does some minor exploring of the concept. Or rather, it guides you through it. Sometimes, stuff happens. Bad stuff. People are unwittingly involved in the bad stuff happening. Whose fault is it?

For example, in the beginning of the game, you meet your dead brother’s ex-girlfriend. She blames you for his death. You get no other information as to the circumstances. How do you react to that?

You track down your stepbrother investigating some creepy stuff. You find something strange, he wants to push it further. You end up unknowingly doing a thing because of it that triggers the inciting incident. Who’s to blame there? You for actually doing it? Your stepbrother for putting you in that situation? Nobody, because seriously, who would expect that thing to be holding evil?

Even the backstory event that set things up happened because people were forced to act with insufficient information and there ended up being some grave consequences for it. Is it the executor’s fault for doing so? The person who held the limited information for putting it in the hands of those who had to act? Nobody’s, because everyone did the best they could with what they had? One background character spends her entire life blaming herself for it and trying to deal with it. Should she have done so?

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At every stage, the story poses the questions, then lets you put in the answer. What does the narrative have to say about this concept? Entirely up to you. And that alone ends up doing some interesting things with its treatment of the theme. It turns the story from your garden variety plot to something with elements of a thought experiment. It forces you to be more introspective about the plot, to reflect and conclude on happenings there. And that is a way of storytelling that is so uniquely videogames.

The Tabletop Critique-Magic the Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers

Despite my best intentions, Christmas happened again this year. Sorry about that. A man can only do his best, and although my best is considerable, it takes some time to efficiently bring Christmas to a close. Until then, I suppose we all have no choice but to suffer through it.

In the meantime, that means presents, from people. To me. They try their best. This year, me and mine seem to have gotten a lot of tabletop games. It’s been rather a year for that. A lesser man may simply play them, and leave it there, but I’m much more than that. Instead, I shall use this opportunity to enlighten the world! And you’re welcome.

Right. So with all my traditional self-absorbed pompousness out of the way, I got a lot of new tabletop games this holiday season. I’m going to review them. Sound good? Good.

The first game on the Tabletop Critique chopping block is this little number here.

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Magic: The Gathering holds a special place in my heart. I was super big into it as a cub. Well, as super big into it as you can get without actually owning any cards. See, I had those types of parents who thought that anything their children enjoyed was a tool of the devil, so, I had to rely on borrowing stuff from friends. Still, there was a time in my life where my thoughts were constantly on Magic. Beyond just the game itself, the stories, the world-building, and the lore had a really strong impact on me, kickstarting my imagination at a formative stage in my life in a way that little else did. It may be a little odd, but Magic was where I first started playing with storytelling, using the cards as setpieces to craft my own tales to tell myself, which built into one of those good old lifelong passions.

Eventually, I did start picking up the card game itself, then lapsed out of it, and now generally only play on special occasions. I still do have a lot of fond memories for the flavor and the world, however.

Which I suppose is where Arena of the Planeswalkers comes in. It’s a competitive miniature-based tabletop game. I know absolutely nothing about Heroclix, so I feel completely comfortable assuming this game is exactly the same but with a different flavor and a major twist to the mechanics somewhere. Each player controls one planeswalker figure and a collection of critters associated with them, then uses this squad to attempt to conquer all the other players who are doing the same.

In keeping with the source material, you’ve got five colors to work with, each with their own planeswalker, creatures, and spells. Each comes with their own strategic focuses, strengths, and weaknesses, giving you the tools you need to craft your tactics in taking the other teams down. Combat takes place on a game board that can be set up a couple of different ways, with a few obstacles and terrain features to present risks and opportunities. Each creature and planeswalker has different stats and traits, each spell card affects the battle in different ways, you get the picture.

Arena of the Planeswalkers isn’t very flavorful, but mechanically, it does carry the Magic the Gathering feel about as well as you could expect when turning the card game into a board game. The mechanics of it are quite simplified, but the functions carry over into the new format quite well. Summoning creatures plays much the same role as in the card games, and well placed spells will twist the flow of the game in exactly the same way as they can in the card game. In terms of mechanical feel, the game has built it’s similarities with the CCG with unequivocal success. Continue reading