A new Animal Crossing: first steps

Being one of the many previous players of Animal Crossing games, it’s been a distracting autumn following the rumours, news, and then releases of the new iteration: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp (ACPC). I’ve been playing it on my Amazon Tablet – a decent sized screen – every day since the non-Australian launch nearly a week ago and, with one significant caveat, have hugely enjoyed it. Initially there were high hopes of carefully proceeding, making academic-quality notes along the way through a diligent exploration of all aspects of the environment. However, this went out of the window within about 30 seconds as I was enticed, with glee, to metaphorically run around the world and remember a place that was – is – new and yet so reassuringly familiar.

It looks like Animal Crossing. The colours are vivid and bright. The sounds are familiar from previous games. Run across different surfaces – sand, wooden boards, autumn leaves, and they change. And footsteps are sometimes left behind, quickly fading away. The background music is pleasant, and it’s one of the few games where there isn’t a rapid urge to find the menu option to mute this quickly and permanently.

And, so far, many of the characters are familiar from previous iterations. The grumpy eagle. The administrator who is really the boss in disguise through the games. The sisters who makes and sell clothing. One of the Nook family, the most explicitly capitalist aspect of this (for Animal Crossing and Nintendo) financially and ethically complicated game; but more of that in a future post.

And the relentless positive aspects. It’s true, the animals are sometimes grumpy, or in a mood, or a strop, about something. But “they” are usually genuinely happy when you drop by, want to listen to what they say (it’s a good franchise for teaching people that listening can be both polite and rewarding in some way), and especially when you give them something they want, even if it is usually a fruit, fish or butterfly the could have easily obtained themselves. It’s that last aspect that forms part of the central progression mechanic of the game, but again more of that some future time. For now, it’s just good to enjoy something that is, well, far more enjoyable than certain aspects of social media.

The significant caveat? The overall aesthetic is jarred somewhat by small but garish rolling rectangular banner, advertising guides to get you started and ways of paying money to get shortcut items (“Special Offer!”). It disappears when you move, but when you stop for a few seconds it reappears. I loathe the constant background distraction that is this banner. While it’s understood that this is a freemium game, and in some ways is a belated experiment by Nintendo to see if or how it can recoup investment on such a free-to-play game, this banner feels very un-Nintendo like. The game contains other paths for the company to extract (real) money from players, making this an arguable over-reach.

But for now I’m just ignoring that banner as best I can and playing on, while enjoying a few of the better social media asides and putting a few screenshots on Flickr for anyone to view or use. This looks like being my winter game of choice, unless I reach a point where it is too difficult to progress without paying (real) money, in which case I’ll bail. We will see.

Nintendo Wii: first impressions

A decade ago to the day, I blogged a review of the Nintendo Wii. It’s informal, unedited and more of a stream of thought, and tips over into fan/enthusiast realm a little too often. But, as I and others await the forthcoming Nintendo Switch console, I’ve found the review and republished it here, mistakes and babbling intact…

+ + + + +

After a week of Nintendo Wii overindulgence, a bit of a ramble.

The Wii itself. Tiny! I mistook it for an external hard drive at first: “Is that really it?”. It’s a small, flat white box with a slot at the front for discs. There’s buttons for eject, reset and power, and the slot lights up when a disc goes in. The sockets in the back are sensibly positioned, and there’s also a USB input; plus, a concealed slot at the front for SD cards from digital cameras.

The packaging in the box is also very un-console like. As Frans in Tampere noted when his arrived, it contains lots of little compartments with various things in them.

Overall, there is a distinctly Apple-Mac style to the whole system, with everything being streamlined, white, with soft corners and hidden sockets and wires. Maybe that’s accidental, maybe deliberate, maybe (suspect strongly) it’s a statement that this is not a huge, testosterone-fuelled souped-up Microsoft-Sony powerbox, but something very different.

The controllers in motion. The controllers are a neat piece of kit, containing no doubt some bedevilling electronic circuitry. Put your hand through the strap and hold it. There’s various buttons on the front, and one button-pseudo-trigger on the back. The controller is quite light in the hand, with the weight increasing noticeably when batteries were inserted. However, thankfully, even after 9 hours of constant Wii play, the controller never started to feel heavy.

And the motion. It’s all about the motion of the player. There’s a Flickr pool of pictures of Wii players in motion that’s worth a look. This is all pretty much the opposite of the old-style sit-still-and-press-buttons mode of game control. The 14 Wii Sports and Play games, between them, take you through a surprisingly large rota of possible motions, twists and turns. In a nutshell:

  • the motion is transferred immediately to the game. Swing the bat in baseball, and see it swing on the screen. No discernable lag (which was my main concern before playing the Wii).
  • in some games, you can plug in a different controller, the nunchuck, which is held in your other hand. This offers extra functionality e.g. move your character with the nunchuck, while targetting your opponent with the other.
  • the controller detects motion in any and every direction. Up, down, left, right, back and forth, sweep to the left or right, and so on. Games such as Laser Hockey and Table Tennis show that the speed of the motion also makes a difference.

Mii creation. Miis are little characters that you create, to be used in Wii games. The editor is simple to use but surprisingly powerful, enabling you to draw recognisable representations of people’s heads.

Miis on the screen

You can either start “from scratch”, or take a head from a gallery and adapt it. There are now 14 Miis stored within my Wii, each based on a person on the island I live on. Librarians in particular have been adept at creating Mii representations of themselves and sharing them.

Where it gets really fun (haven’t tried this yet myself) is that you can let Miis wander off around the net. As Michael Stevens notes:

One of the most exciting things for me about the Wii and it’s Mii characters is the ability to leave your Wii on and connected to the internet. You can set your Miis to “Mingle” and they’ll wander off and visit your friend’s consoles!

When you’ve got some Wiis, you can do various things within the Mii creation centre, such as arranging them in a variety of ways, making them line up or run around.

Wii Sports. Comes with the console; five games plus training and fitness options. You have to stand up for all of these.

Bowling is the most satisfying, and the one we’ve done more than the others. You bowl using normal bowling actions. You can add on various turns and spin if you wish, and either release the ball in a sensible manner or be a complete poser (I wish to stress; this is NOT me):

Someone playing Wii bowling

Unfortunately, there may be a flaw in the game, as one of the locals achieved a high score (three strikes in a row at one point, called a “Strike Turkey”) merely by hurling the ball in almost a cartwheel motion. [Update: no-one here has yet managed four strikes in a row, despite many people trying this over the last few weeks.] We’ll be carrying out more tests to see if she fluked it. For the rest of us, scores were close, and figuring out turn and spin are involving activities. This is fairly physical, but unlike boxing you can play several games in a row without the need for a lie-down and a cup of tea.

Tennis. A likeable game, much better in multiplayer mode than in single player mode. You serve, and can do backhand and normal returns, plus other things we haven’t yet figured. Note: you don’t do the running about – your Mii does that for you on the screen. You just stand there and serve and/or return. We haven’t tried four player mode in this, but suspect that it’ll be a bit chaotic; we may need to do some furniture rearranging first so everyone has enough room to swing their racket/controller without decking an opponent.

Golf. I dislike golf in the real world for a whole load of reasons and cannot bring myself to play this with any enthusiasm. Ask Tiger for a review.

Baseball. This was good. You alternate between pitching and batting, holding the bat and throwing the ball as you would in the game.

Someone playing Wii baseball

The running and catching is done for you. Single player mode and two player mode available; in the latter, one player pitches for a bit while the other bats, then they swap over. However, as the game went on, my arms got progressively more tired. Batting is a good demonstrator of the response of the game to the motion of the controller.

Boxing. Blimey; tiring. You use both the controller and the nunchuck, holding them where your gloves would be. Guard your face and your body. Swerve left and right. Punch and hook. It’s three rounds, with knockouts and countdowns. If you’ve got energetic kids, it’s probably a good one to tire them out. It also acts as a good cardiovascular workout if you can manage to play two or three games in a row; the sweat was pouring off me, but that shows how unfit I am. Visually it’s kinda cartoony in style – no blood or graphic violence, so it’ll be more acceptable to concerned parents, and okay for public use in libraries. I can’t stress enough – this game is physical:

Two people fighting it out through Wii boxing

Training. Ah, this is good. For each of the five sports, you are presented with three differents kinds of task. For example, with bowling, you have to bowl around an increasingly difficult set of obstacles; with golf, you have to hit the ball onto a target area (which made that game at least slightly interesting). Boxing was, as with the game, very strenuous, involving a workout with a punchbag, and also hitting your training partners pads without hitting the partner himself.

Fitness. The session picks three training routines at random for you to do. Similar to Brain Age on the DS, you are awarded a fitness age (mine is currently 25, which as a 38 year old I am very happy at), based on criteria such as balance and stamina.

Wii Play. Nine games; you can sit down for all of these. All the games have 1 or 2 player modes. The disc comes with a controller; as it adds just five pounds to the price of the controller on its own, it’s a no-brainer to buy this.

Non of the games have long-term appeal i.e. you won’t play them every day for a year, but there should be a few in there that you’ll like and keep coming back to. They also serve as an excellent introduction to using the controller. Though these are all simple games, visually (especially cow racing and fishing) they are often very imaginative in design.

Shooting Range. Shoot at balloons, clay pigeons, and flying ducks. Fire at cans to keep them in the air. All very fairground like, and a pleasant introduction to this set of games. As it progresses, you find yourself having to shoot UFOs which are trying to abduct Miis hiding in the long grass.

Find Mii. Simple, but mentally taxing. You have a number of Miis on the screen at the same time, and have to find a matching pair or trio, the odd one out, the fastest moving one, or whichever one is sleeping. Neat variations in display make it gradually harder. The Miis may be running, going down three sets of parallel elevators (hard), or swimming, watching tennis or floating around in space. On the higher levels, it’s dark and you have to shine a torch around madly in order to see the odd Mii or two. Here’s a picture of lots of Miis swimming towards you:

Find Mii

Good in both single and multiplayer mode; this game has obvious positive cognitive benefits e.g. pattern matching, search strategies, memory workout. It also helps tremendously if you’ve created some Miis before playing this game, as those will be easier for you to recognise as opposed to the computer-generated ones.

Table Tennis. Not sure about this. Very little movement of the controller required. One player mode was dull e.g. have a rally of 100 hits which get increasingly quicker. The game also is a little odd to watch, as the hands and bats are disembodied from the rest of the player.

Pose Mii. Bubbles fall from the sky with the outline of your Mii – in a particular pose – in them. Twist the controller to line up your Mii to fit the outline in the bubble, and press the button to get the matching pose. Didn’t grab me, possibly as I find twisting the controller clockwise or anti-clockwise the least natural (or most self-aware) of the movements possible.

Laser Hockey. Basically like the air hockey machines in arcades, but with a neon lit game area and controls. A simple game, the sound effects of which are a bit like Chu Chu Rocket on the Dreamcast. Most goals tend to be own-goals, with you or the console player accidentally knocking the ball back into your goal. Using the ends of your paddle to knock the puck back is a useful tactic for worrying the opponent. Looks both retro, and cleaned up and refined. A good game for post-party chilling out.

Laser Hockey

Billiards. A dull remake of various pool and billiards simulations, with plodding lounge music in the background. Topspin, backspin, select the direction, the usual. The one innovation is that the controller is the cue. Pull back on it and the cue pulls back on the screen; push it forward to hit the cue ball. Okay if you like this genre of game, but otherwise has little to offer.

Fishing. Not too keen on playing this myself, but others here really liked it. There’s a fishing pond (excellently drawn in a cardboard cartoon-style) with some fish in it. Cast, move the float around, pull out a fish that’s biting. Avoid the small fish (minus points) and aim for the bonus fish of the moment (double points). Similar to Sega Bass Fishing on the Dreamcast, but in a much more simplified way.

Charge!. A simple racing game, but instead of cars you use cows. For this game, you hold the controller horizontally between both hands:

Wii Charge!

Tilt to turn; roll forward to accelerate, backwards to brake, and push upwards to jump over hurdles. Collect scarecrows to get extra points. Fun to both play and watch – also everything in the game is knitted! Look closely at this screenshot:

Cow racing. As you do.

The cows, the road, the grass, the sky and clouds; all knitted. From a visual point of view, brilliantly imaginative; one of those things you get only from Nintendo and Sega at their best. In two player mode, it can get hectic (you can make the cows rear up, and knock each other). Possibly the best game in Wii Play; worthy of expansion, with new courses, more cows, more sound effects, and possibly the odd weapon (cow pat?) into a full game.

Tanks! Move your miniature tank around a landscape, avoiding the shells and missiles from other tanks while blowing them up with shells and mines. It’s an isometric view, with a neat laminate flooring effect for the playing area. This can be played with the controller alone, or with the nunchuck added on (easier). I quite enjoy this, as it has a good rate of difficulty increase.

Zelda: Twilight Princess. Yes, it looks great. The controls work fine, and very quickly I was fishing, running, jumping, riding a horse, calling a bird of prey and getting him/her/it to retrieve a cradle, and doing all manner of other things. Very enjoyable.

And the nostalgia is strong. I was an Ocarina of Time player, and spent much (far too much) of two months having fun with that particular game. When you start Zelda: Twilight princess, you immediately hear some of the music from that game. Other elements of the game immediately, and deliberately remind you of Ocarina. The reviews are universally good.

And the area to explore, do things in, and solve puzzles in to progress, looks huge. But this is my personal problem. The game obviously demands a very large time commitment, which I don’t have to give (unless I can find some research funding that is based around playing Zelda for a few months). I could (try and) restrict myself to bite-sized chunks of the game, and spin it out over a year, but will that have the same degree of satisfaction as playing it for a significant part of each day ? And also; is the balance tipped too much towards the nostalgia of Ocarina as opposed to being a new and fresh title?

So, for me, a dilemma, and Zelda stays in its box for now. For other people – if you have the time commitment, and you haven’t played Ocarina of Time, then it’s a strong “buy”.

Should you buy the Wii? Look, it’s cheap compared to the other consoles of this emerging generation. The fun per pound/dollar ratio therefore looks very good. If you have a group of people – of any age or demographic – you’ve got a much higher chance of everyone having a go than for most social activities. Think your grandparents or great-grandparents won’t be interested, or can’t play it? Wrong. Buy one; buy a copy of Wii Play (which comes with a controller) and two more controllers and a nunchuck. And a battery recharger with batteries (see next point). That’s still pretty cheap overall, and you have all the kit for up to 4 people to play at the same time, plus 14 games in total to work through.

A few other notes. Battery life. The controllers use two AA batteries each, and chew through them quickly when the Wii is turned on. Battery life lasts about 30 hours for the ones provided, so when the Wii is not being used, make sure it is turned off (especially if you are using multiple controllers). Even better, get a recharger that can take multiple batteries; otherwise, you may be spending more on batteries than games.

My to-do list:

  • I haven’t touched on the Internet functionality yet, as I haven’t plugged it online. Am intrigued by this, especially the concept of letting my Miis wander off into other people’s Wii console areas. For another day.
  • We also haven’t used the Photo Centre. This is where you can view photo’s (and possibly do other things), which you can load in through the SD card port concealed on the front of the Wii.
  • Also I’ve hardly touched Zelda (see above), and not yet got the Rayman Rabbits game. So, much to do over the next few weeks. The Rayman games in particular looks good, as it consists of around 70 mini-games where you do lots of very silly things, such as milking cows:

Competitive cow milking

Research potential. The Wii is a machine that’s also ideal for the facilities you get in academic institutions, such as lecture rooms kitted out with big screens. Here’s an example, of what I suspect is tennis, being played in a lecture theatre (naughty player on the left is not strapped in):

Auditorium tennis

And if that’s not big enough, it turns out to be relatively easy to do your own Wii sensor set-up; some guys have developed their own sensor bar (cost: 20 dollars) so they can play the Wii on a 344 inch cinema screen.

I’m hearing on the ground that various academic research centres and forward-looking departments are getting a Wii, such as the DigiLab in the Open University. A few minutes of play, and ideas start popping into your head for research projects; I have a feeling this machine may be used a lot across academic disciplines such as game studies, psychology, medical research and sociology. From this perspective, here’s a few quick research ideas for which the Wii is particularly suited:

  • Game interface design; how it differs between traditional games and those playable through motion-actions.
  • First encounters with video games – using motion-input games – by elderly, non-playing or anti-games people. How do they get on? Is their gameplay helped by full instruction and training, as opposed to being left to figure it all out?
  • How gameplayer correlate the real physical motions they do to the onscreen action (but, taking this beyond previous overdone “hand-eye coordination” studies).
  • How gameplayers physically react to onscreen visual, offscreen visual (other players), and audio cues. For example, with the tennis game (which requires only hitting the ball and not running around), why do some people just hit the ball but others go into a “mimic” frame of mind and start (unnecessarily) running around the room as if playing real tennis? And note the previous “cow milking” picture, observing how players often gradually crouch in towards the screen, perhaps in some kind of subconcious hope this give them an edge.
  • Following on from the research and thesis of Dr Jonas Smith, are players behaviour towards each other:
    How players interact
    …affected by the motion-nature of Wii gameplay, as opposed to old-style button-pressing sedentary gameplay?

  • Keyboard replacement: how far can motion-based controllers be taken in replacing the keyboard (and other methods of input) in game play and serious data entry?
  • Combining the motion-centric Wii with different kinds of visual display. There are a couple of intriguing pictures that someone has put on Flickr of their daughter apparently playing the Wii while wearing the Icuiti headset. This simulates having a “floating 42 inch widescreen TV” permanently in front of you. So to summarise; that’s a gaming session with no television and using wireless motion controls – plus, the Icuiti removes the restriction of facing a fixed tv screen all the time. So if the Icuiti came down in price and lived up to it’s publicity, this could become an intriguing combination?
  • Using Wii technology on other computing or gaming platforms. Judging from the number of “I made this” videos on YouTube, this looks relatively easy; for example, here a video of someone explaining how his Wii controller now functions for the game World of Warcraft.
  • Character representation and recognition as Miis; there’s some applications in there for the psychology crowd.
  • Mii culture. It’ll be interesting to see what people do with their Miis, especially as they can be “let loose” online and roam into other peoples Wiis.
  • Operating other stuff using the Wii remote. Seems like there is a constant stream of websites and videos where people have worked out how to program the controller to do something else, such as operating a vacuum cleaner. So what else, of use, can be more effectively controlled using Wii hardware?

There’s also health and medical research potential, including:

  • Cardiovascular benefits from playing games demanding physical response and control. It looks like Nintendo may be actively developing some games with this in mind.
  • Mental, memory and cognitive stimulation through games such as Find Mii.
  • Rehabilitation from physical injury.
  • Gaming as pain management, or a distraction from pain and discomfort. There’s been some research on this previously; the physical nature of Wii games opens up more research possibilities.

Because of the inspiring and thought-provoking nature of the games and gameplay, it’s an absolute must-get for any decent games research centre or group. If, in a few months time, an academic games research centre doesn’t have a Wii in a communal staff area, then it is questionable how serious they really are about video games and gameplay.

Library potential. Yes, it is suitable for use in a public library. The games are okay for people of all ages; the motion aspects of the game mean that it negates the criticism of gameplay being a sedentary activity. The games are very pro-social in nature, almost willing you to try them in multiplayer, as opposed to single player mode. Also, spectators get a lot more fun out of watching people play Wii games than last-generation button pushing titles. The difference now is that you aren’t just watching a game on a tv screen, you are watching real people playing a game that is also represented on a tv screen.

Some libraries are moving quickly on this. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburg acquired a Wii at launch and are using it heavily, as has a public library in North Carolina, while the Rochester Hills Public Library lend out Wii games.

A few words of caution, though. You’ll need a fair bit of space for this activity, especially for four-player games. Also, Wii gameplay, I suspect, is louder than games being played on other consoles – the noise coming from players and spectators. It’s been pretty loud here with a few people playing and watching. The distraction of motion may also cause a problem in some libraries where that isn’t the “done thing”. But maybe that’s a good thing. There’s also an increased danger of equipment being damaged by people who don’t use the strap, but this isn’t a problem with anyone who sensibly “straps up”.

For libraries: there’s no question. If you’ve got a suitable corner where there’s not a problem if it’s a bit noisy, a tv and a couple of hundred pounds, then go for it.

Future potential. It didn’t take long for people to start using the Wii in ways Nintendo hadn’t intended, or even thought about. Making it web-compatible using the Opera browser was a start, as it means that Flash-based applications can be run through the Wii. And so, if you search around the web, you’ll find an instant army of teccies, building Wii-centric stuff. Here’s one example; someone who controls the lighting, heating, security and other house-based functions through his Wii.

Final word: for Nintendo. Kudos for providing a system that is genuinely fun to use, and makes people who have never been interested in games (or even repelled by them) want to “have a go”. Now, please: more innovative, quirky, offbeat and unusual games that make good use of the controllers; and also a few that can tap into wireless DS use, so verbal input can be used.

Nostalgia, and Zelda day

Nostalgia is a double-edge sword. It can reawaken memories, make you happy, give focus to your life, or remind you to find about about or contact that long-lost friend. Or it can make you yearn, or grieve for something past or gone, or take up your time and prevent you from living in the here and now. Perhaps nostalgia needs a warning label: “Best used sparingly and selectively”.

Digital games are little different, and nostalgia pervades the sector. Retro was, and is, a major part of the gaming landscape. More than a few of us in middle age, and older, were gamers in previous (multiple) decades. Long-forgotten sequences, screenshots, tunes and songs have an often strong pull. More so than most other media, arguably; rather than just passively absorbing the images and sounds, being an active player has probably embedded the coda of what we experienced more firmly within our neorology. [I really should be a good academic researcher and find several weighty scientific works to give credibility to this, but it’s early morning and this is still coffee number one]

Today is November 21st. That doesn’t mean much in history. The Plymouth Colony settlers signed the Mayflower Compact in 1620. Thomas Edison announced his invention of the phonograph in 1877. The Flag of Estonia was formally adopted as the national flag of the Republic of Estonia in 1918. The first permanent ARPANET link was established between UCLA and SRI in 1969. Some other things happened.

But this day, and tomorrow, are the days when Nintendo often release a major Zelda game. In 1991 it was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

And on this day in 1998, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I’d recently acquired a Nintendo 64 as I eased myself back into gaming after several nyears of little playing, and I bought Zelda: OoT on a whim, being only partially aware of the back history of the franchise. However, it then took up most of the conscious part of two months of my life. I regret nothing.

Unlike many others who rushed through it with the primary or sole aim of completion, I wandered around the landscape, poking at various things and trying other things out. Hence, the two fulfilling months of experimentation, and my mind thinking “Oh! You can do X. So, maybe, you do Y. And not necessarily just in this game, but in other places.”

Is or was it my favorite game? It’s up there, but probably not (Shenmue on the Dreamcast for various long-form reasons is a more likely contender). Or the one that had the most influence on me? Again, it’s up there, but Phantasy Star Online (also on the Dreamcast) was pretty much a life and career changer.

However, for soundtrack it wins (Halo being a close second). Therefore, there is little surprise that the net contains thousands of reinterpretations of the many tunes. This post contains several of Gerudo Valley, the point in the game where I realized I was slowly approaching the end and Zelda: Ocarina of Time was, and still is, one heck of a cultural achievement. Enjoy.

Five hopes for 2016

A new year is upon us, and who knows what it will bring. Global peace, or global chaos? Advances in medicine and science, or pandemics and problems?

However, this is a game research website so I’m restricting my hopes to game-related ones. Here’s five.

1. Google Scholar is still around at the end of the year. I’ve come to rely on GS a lot – though not exclusively – in recent times for picking up on game research articles and papers. Google Scholar Alerts in particular is a nifty thing for being rapidly told when a cool researchers work has appeared. While it’s not the only service of its kind – there’s also academia.edu and researchgate, as well as databases researchers inside a university can use – it’s still a pretty useful source of materials and notifications about materials. The problem is that Google has a habit of shuttering niche services (Reader was far more popular and that didn’t survive), but I’m hoping they won’t take the axe to Scholar, especially as the tiny number of GS staff – less than ten – means it costs very little to maintain. Plus, looking at own citation graph which is starting to tail off is a good nudge to publish more.

2. Let the next Zelda game be a classic. Whenever it appears. Everyone has a different view on the Legend of Zelda games franchise. I really, seriously, enjoyed Ocarina of Time on the N64, to the extent that work was neglected for two months while exploring it as much as the internal system allowed (and occasionally, progressing the main quest). Since then, other Zelda games have fallen short. I didn’t like the constant moon-crashing-into-you time pressure of Mask, and the sailing of Windwaker, though initially lovely, soon became samey. Thus, a classic Zelda game would be most welcome. With just some elements of previous ones, such as shooting arrows while riding a horse, though original enough not to be a total remake. Also, it would be nice to see it available actually in 2016. While Nintendo do the quality-perfectionist-finished-when-its-absolutely-finished development thing more than most, there are limits and many other distractions for expectant gamers.

2.1 While we’re in Nintendo territory, a new Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo 3DS, please. There’s next to no chance of getting that, and I’m not picking up any 3DS-AC vibes so am not counting on that as a hopeful hope. Alas.

3. Reasonable reporting and consideration about Virtual Reality hardware, software and systems. Especially in academia (where you would think that cooler heads would and should prevail) we’ve often seen the “Tech X will disrupt education” vs “The Tech X is dead” polarising divide which doesn’t help anyone. Social media and its tendencies to be a platform for shooting off, and amplifying, pithy soundbites, is not always a great help either; edtech is often complicated and nuanced – like it or not. There is going to be a lot of ephemera around VR for the remainder of this decade at least; too many venture capitalists and companies have sunk too many dollars into this particular tech, and they want their investment plus a bit of profit back. But, as it does, this is leading to a giddy numbers headline race while not answering the reasonable issues educators have (note you can swap out VR for another tech in these questions):

  1. How much will VR cost (that’s the total cost of everything, including time to learn, set-up and run the tech in a educational situation)?
  2. Are there relevant and independently analysed examples of VR use in education?
  3. Is there independent research showing it works in education i.e. VR gives “better” results than using other tech, or no tech at all, in comparable pedagogic scenarios?
  4. How supported and sustainable is VR tech? Will the same kit still be relevant, useful and actually usable across several academic year cycles?
  5. Can the robust and relevant pedagogic evidence for VR to date be summarised in an easy-to-read manner?

…and not uncited “Look, LOOK, at my massive bar chart!!” graphical sales guesses I mean forecasts for 2019.

4. Running on from that last hope, it would be good to see Jisc and similar organisations in other countries more fundamentally commission and update reasonable, useful, timely and evidence-based guides and reports on gaming and other technologies. Yes, there’s an element of self-interest here as I am one of those people who occasionally writes a few of these. But they are needed, especially – as in the previous point – where educators otherwise just encounter polarising arguments and grandstanding while looking for more relevant materials. In the recent case of Jisc it is pleasing to see guides gradually come back to the foreground as something open, free and useful that they provide. Having an explicit guide search option for reducing costs is also pretty useful in these times; the most feedback I received about the gamification infokit compiled last year for Jisc Digital Media concerned the low-cost options as opposed to expensive shiny systems (see 8.5 and 8.6). It would be good to see many more such guides commissioned and updated regularly, not just for games, gamification, virtual reality and augmented reality but for the wider spectrum of other technologies which educators may consider investing in and using.

5. Please: just one decent regular TV series on video games. The UK hasn’t had one since BITS and that was a very long time ago. It’s a weirdly strange thing, this almost total lack of intelligent game analysis on TV, especially as this particular medium outsells most other in the wider entertainment sector. The BBC in particular has a regular film review show, and book review and author programs, and even regular gardening programs – but no games show. It can be done on mainstream TV; Charlie Brooker hosted an excellent documentary on games not that long ago…

…but it was just a one-off, not a series or regular TV slot. So we’re back to games being pretty absent from terrestrial TV, and predominantly mentioned in the mainstream media for some negative reason, whether accurate or just blatant opportunistic bandwagon joining. Just one, weekly, fifteen minutes show that considers the wider range of digital and analog games which a large proportion of the viewing audience choose to indulge in, doesn’t seem much to ask. Or maybe it’s really too late and the audience has already gone to other places.

Anyway; that’s my wishlist. I wish all games researcher, developers and players everywhere a great year of great games, no matter what else happens.

K.K. Faire

Every now and then in Animal Crossing you get a glimpse of the depth of the game (and it is an unexpected and terrifying depth, at times) and the level of thought and attention that was invested in the design.

One of many things you can collect in New Leaf (and some of the other Animal Crossing games) is music. There are various tracks, all by K.K. Slider (a guitar-playing dog – if you aren’t familiar with Animal Crossing, just go with this). Each track fits into a distinct genre. The album sleeves in themselves are particular pocket-sized art covers. But, the music is also playable, so long as you have a record player, gramophone (tends to be a bit scratchy), jukebox or some other player.

And there are many tracks to collect and play.

One of my favorites is K.K. Faire. Here it is:

…and a different version, preferred by some (the drop-off and restart is fun):

I thought this was some kind of Appalachian or deep south or bluegrass derivative, but was wrong. This is a remastered version of a folksong called “Tancha Mebushi” from the Okinawa and Ryukyu Islands of Japan. Here’s the original:

I love that, rather than create a new and random piece of music, K.K. Faire is carefully based on a traditional song.

And someone else has come along, taken one of the Animal Crossing versions, and remixed it. A little bit new-agey, but still an interesting variation:

Also, K.K. Faire has appeared in previous iterations of Animal Crossing. Here’s a Let’s Go To The City version, which sounds a little deeper than the New Leaf version:

…and this version sounds slightly faster and clippier (I don’t have the vocabulary of a musician, sorry):

It should be noted that K.K. Slider has produced other songs for citizens (I can’t really think of them as players) to collect in the Animal Crossing games. A *lot* of other songs. Though if you aren’t familiar with the game, but are more familiar with e.g. Daft Punk, this may be your best route in…

Animal Crossing: some research

As a fan, player, observer and casual researcher, it is pleasing to see that there is a small but regular flow of research articles and papers concerning the game franchise Animal Crossing. Here are five such publications, with links to free PDF versions for each.

2015. Animal Crossing: New leaf and the Diversity of Horror in Video Games. By Ashley Brown and Björn Berg Marklund. [PDF]

2013. Game Cutification: A Violent History of Gender, Play and Cute Aesthetics. By Emily Flynn-Jones. [PDF]

2008. The Rhetoric of Video Games. By Ian Bogost. [PDF]

2007. Touching is good: an eidetic phenomenology of interface, interobjectivity, and interaction in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Wild World. By Bryan G Behrenshausen. [PDF]

2005. Constructing a Player-Centred Definition of Fun for Video Games Design. By Stephen Boyd Davis and Christina Carini. [PDF]

The Legend of Zelda

February 21st 1986 – 29 years ago today – the first Zelda game was released; first on the Famicom, then the NES, then other Nintendo platforms. The opening titles:

Basic for nowadays. But of the time, it was good – seriously good. Some gameplay:

It’s interesting to listen to that video, and identify the various tunes and sounds (e.g. 3:17) which Nintendo have carried through into many future Zelda games.

Influential? Very. No Legend of Zelda, no … rather a lot of gaming things, not just Zelda or Nintendo-associated. The Wikipedia page has a good run down of the impact and legacy of this particular game.

Here’s how Legend of Zelda ends:

Happy birthday, Link and Zelda.

A trip to the hairdresser

The last few days have seen some banging and hammering above the Able Sisters’ shop and yesterday the reason why became clear: a hairdressers had opened there.

Thus, I found myself in Shampoodle, being queried by Harriet (no spoiler: Harriet is a poodle).

Getting a new hairstyle is not cheap.

Cost

You also get asked a ton of questions to narrow down what your hairstyle will look like:

Kinds of casual

…and how it matches your persona:

Loose guy

Cute guy

There’s an interesting thread somewhere in here about gender perceptions within the game, as the “guy” and “girly” difference has come up before in conversation with animals.

But then we move on to color.

Bright color

I selected a bright color. The options given come back to the predominant narrative arc of Animal Crossing, that it is a relentlessly positive game with a vocabulary to match. Other games may have just given me the options of blond, blue, orange and so forth, at this point.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf, on the other hand, gave:

Choices

If I had selected an intense’ color instead, the color options would have been:

  • Burning love
  • Forest
  • Deep Sea
  • Moody

Hair color selected, the rather violent, and totally automated (no actual poodle paws involved) process of getting a hairstyle took place:

Under the dome

Dazed

Hmmm

That was fun. But, the aforementioned financial hit then comes:

Cost

I’ll probably go back over the weekend and try the makeup. Because it’s a game and I can. Wish me luck.