Debug Mode: Games of 2018

I’m still doing this Debug Mode video game show thing! In fact, I’ve been working on content for the channel a lot lately. If my plans don’t get too derailed, 2019 should be the biggest year yet (which is to stay I plan on releasing more than 2 videos – hopefully many more than that).

For now, here’s a look back at the games of 2018: the good, the disappointing, and my top 5 favorites. Happy New Year!

State of the Switch

One year ago today Nintendo pulled back the veil on project NX which was revealed to be a hybrid home/portable console called Nintendo Switch.

I was instantly impressed by the concept and how well the original trailer showed it off. After being down on Nintendo in the Wii era, I came back to the company with the Wii U, a console with excellent games but a terrible ecosystem. The Wii U ultimately didn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the original Wii or Microsoft and Sony’s consoles and failed. Nintendo badly needed a win with their next device and the Switch looked promising.

Now here we are 7 months out from the system’s launch. The Switch remains the most interesting and exciting game consoles in years.

I exhaustively catalogued my thoughts on the Switch in a review earlier this year. Since then quite a few fantastic games have premiered or been ported to the system and some system updates have dropped.

The Good

I have mostly good things to say about the Switch. The library of games has been absolutely fantastic for the first year of a console. Zelda and Mario Kart led the way with a host of unique, mostly high-quality indie games filling in the gaps between major releases.

Although Splatoon and ARMS weren’t my thing, they were both new, exciting franchises that took advantage of Nintendo’s unique strengths in hardware and software development.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle went from being the subject of ridicule when it was leaked earlier this year to being an incredibly (critically and commercially) successful merger of Mario, Rabbids, and turn-based strategy puzzling.

Recently there have been some indie heavy-hitter making their debut on Switch like Axiom Verge, Golf Story, and Steamworld Dig 2. And much to my surprise, I am once again finding myself enthralled with Stardew Valley now that it’s available portably.

Super Mario Odyssey, one of the most anticipated games of the year, launches next week. Despite how incredible Breath of the Wild was, Mario Odyssey looks like it could be even better and most certainly will be a system-selling game.

Also of note: you can actually buy a Switch now without too much trouble. I expect the holiday rush will find them going out of stock again (especially post-Mario launch).

Just yesterday, the 4.0 system update dropped with a new video capture feature and a system transfer feature. The video capture is so far limited to 30 second clips and only in certain games that support the feature. but it’s kind of crazy that such a feature even exists on a portable machine.

4.0 also enables support for wireless Bluetooth headphones and headsets which gives hope that voice chat might be integrated directly in the system in the future rather than relegated to a smartphone app.

The Bad

The Switch remains a fairly barebones system outside of playing games. For me, that’s mostly fine. I don’t need a web browser, Netflix, or YouTube. I have that everywhere else. But other features found on Xbox, Playstation, and Steam like cloud saves and a more robust storefront would be welcome additions.

Virtual Console is still nowhere to be found. I was annoyed, actually, when Nintendo announced the SNES Classic Edition, a followup to last year’s hot NES Classic Edition which was infamously hard to get due to low stock. These mini-consoles feature some of Nintendo’s most beloved classic games – games I would love to play on Switch – not some stupid box tethered to my TV with too-short cords.

The only thing Nintendo has said about classic games on Switch is that some amount of them will be available with their paid online service. Unfortunately, they’ve delayed the launch of that service and Nintendo’s past online service offerings do little to inspire confidence that they will get things right when it does launch.

I haven’t had any hardware issues aside from the left Joycon connectivity issue at launch which Nintendo fixed quickly for free. But I will say that when playing portably the system can be a bit creaky. While my Joycon are still firmly attached to the side of tablet, there’s just a little wiggle to them that I hate. It’s never been a problem. I just wish the attachments felt a little more solid, especially when playing more intense games.

The Ugly

The Switch’s online app came out for smartphones over the summer. Meant to connect players in online gaming sessions and allow for voice chat in the most backward way possible, it lived up to the legacy of Nintendo really not getting the internet.

Looking Forward

The aging 3DS is still hanging on with notable Metroid, Mario & Luigi, and Pokemon remakes all coming out in the latter half of this year. The Switch will almost certainly never sell as well as Nintendo’s cheaper portable platforms of the past and such a large install base means more potential game sales for any given title on that platform. It’s unlikely that Nintendo will totally stop making games for 3DS as long as there’s enough profit there. But it’s hard to imagine a world in which Nintendo releases a 3DS successor. One way or another the Switch will supplant it despite the number of 3DSes sold.

Switch sales have been very promising though and industry reaction is positive. That is great news for indie games and third-party games coming to the system. It also sounds like Nintendo is soliciting a diverse selection of games for their console including the sort of hardcore western games that generally don’t appear on Nintendo’s platforms.

One year ago, nobody would have ever guessed that DOOM (2016) would come to Nintendo’s next console, but there it is alongside Skyrim, L.A. Noire, and Wolfenstein II – all third party games coming to the system soon. Personally I don’t really care to play any of these on Switch, but it’s great to see that support. Third party games like FIFA and NBA 2K are more important for mass appeal of the platform. Fortunately both of those are reportedly solid ports.

The Switch has become my go-to platform for most kinds of indie games. Given the choice between sitting at my desk, on my couch, or lying on my back to play a game, I’m going to choose that last option. Playing games is one of the ways I relax and sitting at my desk at home after sitting at a desk all day at work isn’t nearly as attractive.

Nintendo itself has announced a number first party games coming in the future. Franky none of them are as exciting as Zelda or Mario – not yet, anyway – but a system this successful is much more likely to have the full weight of Nintendo’s game studios behind it. And that’s very exciting given the stellar games we’ve been seeing in recent years.

Back on the Wii U, Nintendo’s gems were hidden behind bad marketing and a confusing system. With the Switch, Nintendo is once again making a console people actually want to buy and games that are even better.

Gateway Dragon Boat Festival – From the Air

I mentioned a while back on the podcast that I bought a drone. I’ve had it for about 7 months now, but haven’t had as many opportunities to use it as I’d like.

I was pretty skittish about it at first. I started looking up drone regulations in the United States. Between reading about those and worrying about flying an expensive piece of equipment that could very possibly crash or fly away, I got to feeling like I’d made a mistake buying it to begin with.

Since then I’ve gotten much more comfortable with flying. It’s not the controls so much. Those came kind of naturally from years of video games and a history with flight sims. What I worry about is the connotation of flying a drone around. I worry other people will freak out or call the cops or something even though I’m extremely cautious and never do anything creepy or dangerous to others. Now, I’m feeling like I can actually fly without somebody coming over and yelling at me. I’m not saying they would. It’s my own insecurity more than anything. I don’t want to be the center of attention in public, really.

I really, really enjoy flying and the footage from these things is incredible all things considered. I’ve got a DJI Phantom 4 which is a nice drone, but still reasonably affordable for people who are into this sort of thing (and I found a good deal too). The features including object detection, tracking, and 4K video capture are remarkable. Just a few years ago this was unobtainable technology for the average person, but now you can capture footage that used to require helicopters and planes.

So this is my first drone video I’m putting out in public. It’s the first thing I’ve shot that can kind of stand on its own as something interesting to watch. Oh yeah, and it’s in 4K so take advantage of that if you’ve got a 4K display.

Continue reading “Gateway Dragon Boat Festival – From the Air”

Debug Mode: Top 10 Games of 2016

It’s been a while since I made a Debug Mode video. In fact, I got all the way through 2016 without producing one even though I intended to do so.

I still have a bunch of ideas kicking around for topics. I want to move away from “reviews” like I’ve done in the past and talk more about concepts or specific aspects of games I find interesting.

2016 had so many great games. I wanted to comment on my favorites. So this is still more review-ish than I will probably do in the future, but I’m fairly happy with the way it turned out.

And it’s a list, of course. People like lists. I like lists. Lists are fun. Psychology, eh?

Debug Mode: Cities Skylines review

Well it took much longer to get this out than I wanted. It would have been released sooner if not for a few personal and professional matters that delayed things. And also that fight with the printer. Yeah, that story was about me trying to print the script for this video.

I have a lot of ideas for future Debug Mode videos: games I want to talk about and topical videos too. I’m even contemplating covering some movies or TV shows. I’ve got a lot of partially written scripts. A lot of footage captured.

I was working on a completely different subject but then Cities: Skylines came along and I knew I had to cover it. As a longtime SimCity fan, I was super disappointed by the 2013 entry in that series and Cities: Skylines is this amazing game because it fixes nearly everything that the other game got wrong.

Continue reading “Debug Mode: Cities Skylines review”

My not-so-new show: Debug Mode

Back in November I had the softest of launches for an occasional web show about video games (or whatever else I want to talk about – it’s my show) called Debug Mode. The first episode was about Call of Juarez: Gunslinger for no particular reason other than I thought it had an interesting narrative structure and it wasn’t already talked about to death.

I’ve done a few videos about games before and I’ve wanted to do something more structured and regular for a long time. Now that everyone and their little brother (especially their little brother) is making video content about games, I thought it would be the perfect time to saunter into a crowded medium with opinions of my own! It doesn’t help that I don’t have a particular “angle” or easily distillable style. In fact I haven’t really found my style yet and I suspect that will take some time. Then again, most of the games commentators I really like don’t fit into short, easy descriptions either.

Continue reading “My not-so-new show: Debug Mode”

SimCity Beta Impressions (video)

And now for something a little different! I got into the closed SimCity Beta toward the end of last month and I told myself I was going to make a video review of it. So I did. Behold!

I’d like to do more of this kind of thing. Not just for games (although it’s easier to get game footage than some other things) but for many topics. Plus I want to get back into creative productions. Unfortunately most of the creative ideas I’ve had in the last year do not fit well with my set of talents and skills.

Go figure.

I either need to acquire new skills and fake the talent or fake/force/steal ideas for the medium in which I supposedly work. Stuff like this is pretty simple to do so it’s probably a good place to start.

la possession du requin tigre

I have some oddly titled films, don’t I?

Here’s another one. Yes. It’s really got a French title. Please don’t ask me to pronounce it as I would butcher the language.

This is an older film I’ve just finished. It was shot in the summer of 2011 and conceived a year or two before that. Having shot the entire thing, I decided the best course of action was to sit on the footage and not do anything with it for over a year.

No. Not really.

Several things held this up. Probably the biggest was a lack of urgency. Then I decided to do some effects work on it. That proved time consuming and soul-crushingly monotonous.

In the interest of building intrigue, I am not going to say much more about the film at this time. I will have a follow-up post soon which will give a more in depth explanation of its creation, original intent, and how I think it turned out by contrast.

If you happen to know the individuals in this film you will probably find it humorous. If, like most people on Earth, you do not, then you will probably be bored and I can’t really blame you. At least it’s pretty, I hope. (And weird. It’s really weird.)

If you do find the imagery beautiful to any degree, don’t credit me. God is the best lighting technician and set dresser.

Slap Me with a Wet Fish!

Yes, that’s right. The title of this post is, in fact, “Slap Me with a Wet Fish.” That is also the name of a film I made last semester with two classmates. It was our first project in the excellent class Cinematography and Lighting and my only experience shooting on actual film.

My major was “Digital Cinema Arts” which is basically a pseudo-film degree. I say “pseudo” because we didn’t actually use old-fashioned physical film and because most people think you have to go to California to get a film degree.

Having never shot on real film before, this project was quite an interesting little challenge. There was no LCD viewfinder. No deleting or ignoring bad takes. No instant playback of our footage. And no helpful displays of any kind. It was just a plain old box with film inside and a lens on the front.

We had a single 100 foot reel of 16mm film which equated to approximately 3 minutes of footage at the standard 24 frames per second. We had no ability to edit our footage so each shot had to be done in one take and in sequential order. There was no sound recording either which is a shame because I feel like it could really do with some old-timey music.

The footage looks kind of like it was recorded from an old VCR (that’s what we used before DVDs players and DVRs, kids) for two reasons. For one, this was shot on an old Russian camera which is the source of the flashes and the jittering. Secondly, it has undergone transference from film to digital which is never a good thing for quality.

In the words of Tom Ostertag who graciously took it upon himself to convert the footage of everyone in class, “The color, resolution, and dynamic range suck compared to the real thing” so keep that in mind when watching. Even though the transfer is less-than-ideal, these wouldn’t see the light of day at all without his hard work. Thanks, Tom!

Like all projects I did in school, this one began with a great idea. Oh, no wait. I mean it began with the complete and utter absence of ideas.

Actually, that’s less true of this project than most. My original idea was to shoot a chase sequence of some kind but given our limitations I think it’s probably good we didn’t attempt that although one could say we sort of ended up with a slow, creepy chase scene of sorts.

My other idea was the “crosshair” shot. Ever since I saw the banisters in the theater building at Lindenwood I wanted to shoot something like that. They always looked like crosshairs to me but that’s probably because I’ve played too many shooter games. Since we were in the theater building for this project and it fit the story we were doing, I suggested we try the shot. I wasn’t sure it would work but I think it did fairly well.

I’m also quite fond of the first shot where we see the stalker’s face. It’s good old-fashioned monster lighting. Reminds me of Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster.

We came up with the title by using some sort of random dialog generator online. The generator, of course, spit out total nonsense. The phrase “Slap me with a wet fish” stuck out to us. Marie, the female lead, couldn’t stop laughing about it the whole time. I think it’s wet part that does it. Imploring someone to slap you with a dry fish just wouldn’t be as funny.

We used Tom’s Macbook to shoot intertitles. We basically wrote the dialog at random as we came to it. We didn’t really know why Tom was displeased or why he was stalking Marie until we shot the end.

Lincoln Trailer

Happy Friday!

It’s been a busy week. Work, paperwork, more work. Yeah. I haven’t really had time to do as much writing as I would like so you get this instead of one of the other posts I’m working on.

Enjoy the new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s latest film Lincoln. Or don’t. You could hate it too. Tell me if you do, I’d be curious.

I am indifferent, personally. I was quite excited about this movie and now I’m merely interested. The trailer’s a little too… feelgood for me. I tend to hate trailers for being silly oversimplifications of the movie or giving too much away or just being terribly cliched. I’m hoping this one is an oversimplified representation of a complex story and character.

Abraham Lincoln is a controversial figure. Maybe not in the general public, but with people who’ve done deeper research he’s either very well liked or despised, at least from what I’ve seen. History majors, poly sci people, or those otherwise obsessed with the Civil War period tend to have pretty strong opinions on the man. Some are of the opinion that Lincoln was more of a pragmatist than a great crusader. Ending slavery was politically expedient so he did it. Others believe he did it of a deep moral conviction. This trailer seems to lean heavily toward the latter depiction of the man.

I don’t know. I expect the truth is somewhere in between. One thing all historians agree on: Lincoln did not hunt vampires.

Well hopefully it’ll be good. It does have top notch production value and a slew of great actors. So that’s promising. And Spielberg’s done some great historical films in the past like Schindler’s List and my favorite war movie ever, Saving Private Ryan. I guess I’ll be cautiously optimistic for this to be really good.

What else is there to get excited about this year? The Hobbit? Pff. I was starting to get excited about that but then Peter Jackson had to go and make it a trilogy. Now I almost don’t care. I’m sure my tune will change closer to release. I have to stop myself now before I rant about that.

As a funny aside: I started typing “Lincoln vs.” into Google. The first three autocomplete suggestions were “zombies,” “Cadillac,” and “vampires.” The fourth suggestion was “Lincoln vs. Douglas.” Oh the times we live in.