My Nintendo Switch Hopes

The Nintendo Switch just released and everybody seems really hopeful. Early demos proved promising, and the Zelda launch title is being praised by many as one of the best 3D Zelda titles ever made.

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed the 1st Party titles on every Nintendo home console, especially ones with some kind of multiplayer aspect, and I’m a huge fan of Nintendo handhelds. What I’ve seen from the Switch so far seems to combine the best of both worlds exceptionally well. As such I will definitely be picking one up at some point. (Holiday 2017 most likely.)

I do have a few hopes for the console though. Hopes that have yet to be confirmed or denied.

1: Good Battery Life. 

Vital to any handheld device.

As of this writing, no one has mentioned the battery life of the console itself beyond just saying “good” or “acceptable”. And I’ve heard nothing on the life of the controllers. My various handhelds in the past have had 4-8 hour play sessions per charge. Obviously, 8 hours would be fantastic, but 4-5 hours is my acceptable range for this new system. I am worried though that all of the power needed to run the Switch will have shortened the possible charge it can hold. Here’s to hoping the 720p resolution downsizing reduced power consumption as much as they were hoping it did.

2: Two Player Tabletop Mode.

Obviously an altered promo image, but it gives me hope.

So we know that the Switch has Local Multiplayer (something pretty rare in modern gaming), even utilizing the 2 halves of the Joy-Con as independent controllers for some games. (Like Mario Kart.) We also know that the system has a Tabletop Mode, in which you can pull out a mini stand on the back of the screen and detach the Joy-Con to play like a home console on the go. (For instance, at a friend’s house, so they can see the game you’re playing.) My hope is that games with local multiplayer allow for the 2 Joy-Con halves to be used for a 2 player experience in Tabletop Mode. (Even if it’s a minimalistic 2 player experience.)
Bringing my Switch to a friend’s house or my local gaming club on order to share my play experience with friends will make me very happy. But being able to hand someone a controller so they can play my handheld with me will vastly improve a non-owner’s experience, and will most definitely lead to more sales. For example, if I owned a Switch and a copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe I could invite some friends over to play with me, and it would be a fun time and then they’d leave and probably not think about it again until the next time I asked them over. But if I was hanging out at my friend’s house and pulled out my portable Switch, set it up at their dining room table, then handed them a controller to play, the experience would be so much better. Not just for the convenience, but because they’re now experiencing it in the comfort of their own home. Now every time they sit at that table they’ll be reminded of the fun they had playing that console. They’ll start to want one for themselves. (This concept has been proven many times with people lugging older consoles to someone’s house in the past.) What I’ve read of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe implies that local multiplayer will only be available when plugged into the dock, but it would benefit the company so much if that were untrue. I guess we’ll find out come April.

3: Third Party Games.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

So many complaints have been made regarding Nintendo consoles not having enough 3rd party support. Personally, I don’t know how much of that is due to them just being hard to deal with. What I do know is that a lot of companies have claimed that Nintendo consoles are hard to program for. The biggest issue seeming to be that developers are unwilling to make a game that doesn’t utilize all available features of a console / controller. So many games could have been made for the Wii without motion controls, or for the DS without touch controls. The Switch controller can be used as a normal controller. If developers would just make normal games for it, then Nintendo can focus on the innovation using the mechanics they developed.

Not every game needs to be at the cutting edge of technology, and I enjoy plenty of games that aren’t trying to reinvent gaming. If the Switch can get a good selection of games, both 1st and 3rd party, in its first year then the console will be worth the purchase and future support from customers.

4: Limited Free-to-play Online Games.

Convinced me…

Alright, now we get into a controversial subject. Nobody wants to pay for a console, pay for a game, then pay a monthly fee to play that game. At the same time, the ever increasing amount of gamers puts a lot of need for increased server count for online games. Nintendo has always been pretty far behind the online gaming trends, but they’ve started catching up. And with that they’ve decided to start charging a subscription fee for online multiplayer gaming. This is a smart move if the Switch does as well as they hope, since all those extra players will ideally require more server expenses.
On the other hand, the new cost of the service might push gamers away from the service entirely, negating the need for that revenue in the first place. Many people are already racking up charges in the hundreds of dollars on subscription services; between the various TV programs, MMOs, Xbox and Playstation Online, “loot crates”, and a dozen other services it becomes overwhelming and very expensive. Nintendo is so late to the game (pun fully intended) that people might just not be willing to add them to the list of people they pay every month.

Playstation got around this problem by offering 2 things: Free games for paying members that otherwise aren’t free, and free-to-play online games. Both Smite and Warframe are popular FtP online only games that are playable on PS4 without paying the online subscription. The 3DS also has some FtP games in its collection, though none with online play to my knowledge. To entice people who can’t or won’t pay for that online fee to buy your console (especially in our current “social gaming” society) having a few games that can be played online without that subscription goes a long way. And it just might get players hooked enough on playing online with your console to start paying the fee for other games.

All in all, it looks like the Nintendo Switch is going to be my next video game console purchase. The question is: Will it live up to its potential?

The best idea I’ve ever had.

Please read this until the end. You won’t regret it.

​3d animation. Characters are in the Style of animated Tim Burton movies, but the film is much more colorful and bright. Scene opens on a super fat guy bouncing a bowl of ice cream on his stomach. High, cartoonish bounces; the scoops get hang time before plopping back into the bowl. He keeps looking from the bowl to his girlfriend next to him. They are laying with their heads together, but their legs opposite one another; his chin by her eyes. They are smiling. They are on the beach. We only see to the girl’s shoulders, but she is tiny next to him.

The bowl bounces funny and the ice cream lands on his face. They both bust out laughing and he says “Every time.” A typical hot cheerleader type walks into frame and hands him a towel. She tells them “We’re one short for volleyball. You want in?” The couple nod and the man stands. He lifts his girlfriend onto his shoulder. You see she has no legs. He moves and she hits. The game is made of a diverse group of people who normally wouldn’t be hanging out together in traditional settings.

The scene blurs and the words “Be excellent to each other.” appear on screen. “Bill and Ted’s Sense of Right Foundation.”

Literally, the entire scene takes less than a minute. Please, someone with the reach and knowledge to make this happen, make this happen.

Card Games in the Internet Age

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So I’ve been playing collectable card games for nearly 2 decades now, and there’s one thing that I’ve always wanted: An easier way to organize my cards for deck building. Sleeve pages in a binder are nice, but require a lot of time invested to make sure that they stay organized as you pull cards from them to use and put new cards in them.

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On the other hand, we have many online applications that allow you to build a deck using every card available, and even playtest those decks. Most of these programs are unofficial of course, and don’t really replicate the fun of building a deck with cards you’ve collected and dueling your friends in person. But there’s a third option that game companies are overlooking.

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An automatically updating collection program would be immensely helpful. Consider this: The company making the card game distribute a program that contains a list of every card made so far. As new sets are released, the list is updated. The program lets you mark cards you have (including a second kind of mark if you own a playset of said card). You can search via type, set, what have you like those unofficial programs do. You can build a deck using only cards that you have marked as owning. You can even click a button that shows you a test starting hand.

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This allows you the fun of building a deck with cards you collected, and makes it easy to keep track of cards you own. On top of that, it cuts down on upkeep time for organizing your cards because you don’t have to remove them from your collection binder when building a deck, until you have finished building it.

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There’s one extra feature that can be tacked onto this program fairly easily: Pricing. Have the app check for individual card prices on 2-3 popular websites, then list those prices with the cards. This promotes the individual card sales that drive the hobby, as well as making it easier for new players to find trade values to prevent being ripped off by veterens. It’s a double whammy of usefulness.

What’s more, all of this can easily work on a mobile app. Programming the deck building portion sounds a little difficult, but everything else is fairly simple. Clickable lists to keep track of a collection already exist and the rss feed technology for checking prices is pretty straightforward.

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In the age of the internet, card games have been lagging behind. And while games like Hearthstone are pushing the hobby more digital, it’s a bit too digital for my tastes.

I, for one, would be more inclined to play a new card game if I could go into it with an easy collection app like this. Wouldn’t you?

Points of Light – A new way to outline

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Light in the darkness

There’s a concept in Dungeons & Dragons. It’s that the world is full of darkness, and the cities you visit are points of light in that darkness. They protect people from the monsters, devils, and natural disasters so common in the darkness. Your adventurers also fit that description.

Recently, I began working on an outline for a story. Unlike most of my stories, I had no idea where the plot was going, only who the characters were. So I sat down and started listing those characters and the places where I’d already written scenes. Halfway through I realized that I knew exactly what character arcs I wanted those characters to go through. Which, of course, began to shape a plot within my mind.

I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with D&D. Everything. You see, if your outline begins with those points of light (characters and locations), then they begin to form constellations in the darkness. The plot naturally flows from the characters, instead of around them.

Your characters, and the places they travel are the dots. The plot connects those dots. The story is the finished picture.

I’m really enjoying this method of outlining. It might even become my main way to do it.

The Best Character in Star Wars

We have a character; let’s call him Bob.

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Bob is an outcast from his people. So he lives in solitude until a chance encounter with someone important, and ends up embroiled in a conflict that will decide the fate of everything. He proves himself to be a hero in the eyes of his people, and is given the rank of General in their army. He then leads his army to victory against their most powerful foes. It’s a shaky victory to be sure, but it’s still a victory. Now he’s a war hero on top of everything else. Over the next ten years he becomes embroiled in the politics of his people until one day he finds himself a Senator. He makes friends with a few other senators, and enjoys his new life without all of the fighting. Then one day his senator friend is asked to lead the government. Bob trusts this man implicitly, and is his friend. So when the senate votes on the issue of this friend’s power, Bob gives his support. The friend goes on to rule the government with an iron fist, and turns out to be a very bad man. What then does Bob do?

That character arc is awesome. It’s real, it’s full of turmoil and twists. An unredeemable man is redeemed, twice. And then he makes a terrible mistake and needs to be redeemed again. Except this time he might not choose the right path.

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That character arc also belongs to Jar Jar Binks. The personality of the character was over-the-top goofy, and completely unnecessary to Episode 1, but that isn’t all there is to the character. Despite only existing to draw children into the theater, and despite being pointless on the surface, Jar Jar actually was an important character to the franchise. Without him, Naboo would never have been freed from the Trade Federation’s clutches. Without him, Amidala would never have become a senator. Without him, Palpatine would never have risen to power in the senate.

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And with Episode 3‘s end, Jar Jar finds himself in a precarious position that we never get to see the resolution to. Two of his three best friends are evil and running the Empire together. The other is dead. Will he remain loyal to those closest to him, doing terrible things in the process? Or will he do the right thing and turn on the only people who care about him?

Jar Jar did both good and bad in his lifetime. He was more real than anyone else in the Prequel Trilogy. And yet, he remains the most hated character in the franchise because people can’t overlook his goofy personality in a single movie, despite him not acting like that in the other two films.

Jar Jar deserves his own book in the Disney EU. He deserves to be remembered for what he is, not what he looks like on the surface.

Believing in the impossible

Everything in the universe exists. That’s it. Science goes to great lengths to explain the HOW of things existing and functioning, but it can never explain the WHY. To accept that you are alive, to accept that right now you are reading my thoughts on your computer screen (phone screen), is to accept the impossible. It can’t work, and yet it does.

To accept anything in existence is to accept the impossible. You already accept the impossible. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this now. So why is it so ridiculous for someone else to accept the impossible? Why is one kind of impossible just blindly accepted by the masses without a second thought, but we analyze others to death and argue over them.

What makes your impossible beliefs better or worse than anyone else’s? Why is God (or gods as the case may be) just part of your life, but Aliens are a ridiculous concept. Why is String Theory an acceptable field of research, but Telepathy is the work of crazy people? Why do we believe in the witchcraft that is getting drunk, but time travel can’t exist? (Reverse any of these examples for more examples of actual ways people think.)

Stop caring about what’s correct. None of it’s correct. We’re all insane, believing in the impossible just to function.

Judge a book by its cover

My entire life I’ve been told that you should never judge a book by its cover. While the meaning behind that phrase is a good one (people don’t act a certain way because of the way they look), it’s actually a pretty dumb phrase.

A book cover has two purposes: 1) To bind the book and keep the pages safe from external sources. 2) To convey what’s in the book.

If you can’t judge a book by its cover, then the cover isn’t doing one of its jobs.

Cover Inspirations
Here are two covers that I personally love. The cover on the left is meant to appear like old school covers, when leather binding was common and before images on books were a thing. The image doesn’t exactly convey what kind of story is inside, but it does convey a feeling: This book is old. The subtitles at the top convey the kind of story. And it works. The cover on the right tells you without words exactly what kind of story is inside. High Fantasy, dragons, and a party of adventurers.

A cover’s imagery is important, but even simple imagery can be effective if paired with a great set of words and a nice font. What matters is that potential readers know what they’re getting into just from that front cover.

Now here’s an example of two terrible covers:Bad Covers

Nobody knows what these are about from the covers. We don’t know the genre, the mood, or even if they are both fiction (one is because Novel is in the title). They didn’t even try, and don’t deserve any sales because of it.

How about this one?
Blood on the Moon

Does it convey what the book is about? It sure does. Now, this is a bad cover because it looks like a ten year old is just learning what Photoshop is, but it does convey what the story is about. And since this book was free at the time I found the image, conveyance is really the most important thing here.

Most cover designers will explain to you what kinds of covers sell. Hell, I’m one of them. But you know what’s more important for to focus on for someone designing their own cover? It isn’t rehashing popular styles to boost sales numbers, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s conveying what your book is about. (making it look nice is a secondary objective). Convey your story premise on the front of the book, and readers will find themselves compelled to look inside.

The Useless Information Age

The internet is a wondrous place. I can watch some random person play video games, I can get my shows and movies streamed instantly instead of waiting for a specific time, I can listen to music from around the world, and I can look up anything my heart desires… Except that I can only find the answer to my questions if they aren’t important.

I can easily find out who a no name actor is in his debut role. I can learn all about some random popstar’s colon health. I can be taught the very detailed lore of a 5 minute long video game. But for some reason I’m unable to look up a term elementary school teachers expect children to know.

My nephew came home with homework in which the only instruction was to identify the CV words. That’s it. Now, I’m almost certain that the teacher told him what that meant during class, but when was the last time you saw a 6 year old give a crap about what was being taught to them at school. So the adults in his life were left to figure out what that meant. No textbook; no hint; just “CV words”.

It took half an hour of searching two separate search engines to determine that it might refer to words that contained only a consonant and a vowel in that order. Maybe. You see, the only actual explanation for CV the internet apparently knows is a term relating to a resumé, and I know that had nothing to do with this first grade worksheet. I was only able to glean the relationship to consonants and vowel because of context clues in a bunch of articles that kept throwing around C/VC, V/CV, CVC, and CCCCVCCC without a single mention of CV. (finding these articles was way more work than it should have been on its own)

I’ve heard a dozen times that the internet on a smartphone is like the Library of Alexandria in your pocket. Well, apparently the Library of Alexandria was full of half naked women shaking their asses and fart jokes, because the internet contains very little useful information… and I’m starting to get sick of how difficult this “convenience” has become since I first signed on.

Lessons From NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is an event that spans the month of November with two goals: Increase your word count, and help you finish a first draft. Many writers (especially new ones) struggle with both of those things.

Personally, I’ve never had trouble with either in the past. The first draft of my debut novel was done in about a year (and I was working on at least 4 other stories at the time). I also could boast 4,000+ words on the days that I wrote, because I was passionate about my writing and had lots of free time.

Then I published a book. The last six months leading up to that release date were the hardest I’d ever worked on a single writing project. I couldn’t sleep, I forced myself to forego other forms of entertainment in favor of editing and rewriting, and I couldn’t write any of my other ideas for fear of losing interest in that story.

Needless to say, when I finally let go of that book and left it to the hands of the masses, I stopped writing. For a month and a half all I did was read, watch TV, and play games. It was a much needed brake… and it ruined my writing flow. When I sat down to begin the newest draft of The Coming Storm (the sequel to my debut) I could barely sit still long enough to write a paragraph.

Slowly, as I let my mind wander to my other stories, I upped that to a scene per sitting. Then to two to three sittings per day. But I wasn’t even hitting 1,000 words per day (outside of the occasional blog post). It was a depressing time for me. I felt like I’d ruined my only shot at a career I was good at. (I’m no master yet, but I recognize my talent for what it is)

Along came NaNoWriMo. It was the middle of October and I could see this event looming on the horizon. I had wanted to participate since the year before when I’d discovered it; I’d even written an outline for a story that I swore I wouldn’t write outside of the event. And here I was, barely writing anything. So I forced myself to write; 500 words per sitting minimum, or I couldn’t read or watch anything… and no more games (except my weekly Tabletop). This also meant no food either, since I’m incapable of eating without something to entertain me during a meal.

I had begun to write nearly 2,000 words every day I wrote, but I wasn’t writing every day yet. November hit and I tried my hardest. I still couldn’t make myself write daily, but I was consistently writing around 1,500 – 3,000 words on the days I did. I even took note that the further behind I got from the par goal on the website the more I wrote on that day.

Lesson the first:
Deadlines Matter (or Set Goals)
Even arbitrary ones like NaNoWriMo help improve word count. Telling myself “You have to write 8,000 words today to have any hope of succeeding” made me write more than I had on any previous day that month.

Lesson the second:
Arbitrary Deadlines Can Only Get You So Far
Yep, I just said they are helpful. Now I’m going to explain why they aren’t. In NaNoWriMo the result of failing is a resounding “Oh well, I’ll try again next year”. There is no punishment, no consequences for failing to meet your deadline. Why? Because it’s meant to encourage new writers, and 50,000 words in a thirty day period is hard for some veterans.

When I was given six months to finish my novel or give up as an author, it kicked me into high gear. I worked harder than I ever had to ensure that I had a product I was proud of, and a career I loved. (And that same deadline is hanging over my head now for book 2) When I was given thirty days to write a first draft of a book that might not be published for years, I felt no urgency. I nagged myself to do it, but I knew failure was totally an option. There was no downside.

Lesson the third:
I’m a Seat-of-my-pants Writer
I’ve always written as the ideas come to me, and outlines were difficult for me. I knew that it was considered out of the ordinary to do so though, so I tried outlining when I could. The first book I ever published had an outline, so I made myself do one for NaNoWriMo as well, assuming it would help me meet the goal. I was wrong. The outline for my first book was a great starting point, and a neat thing to show my friend, but the final story was so different from that outline that I’m not even sure it was worth doing in the first place. And my NaNoWriMo project? I had a hard time writing it every day because the outline was so detailed that I felt like the story was already written.

When I hit that 4,000+ mark in a day of writing, it’s because I’m writing as the ideas come. I’m switching stories in the middle of a scene. I don’t have a schedule or force myself to stick to a single story. Sometimes I’m not even writing prose, and am, instead, writing pages of backstory that no one will ever read. That’s what works for me. It may not work for you.

Above all else, NaNoWriMo has taught me where to start a new writer. If you hope to someday make a career out of writing: Start with setting a realistic goal. (I will write and finish a first draft in 2015. I will outline a story during the month of February.) Move from there, to adding deadlines with consequences. (If I don’t finish my first draft in the next six months, I have to sell my Xbox. If I don’t write 2,000 words today then I can’t watch a movie with my friends.) Follow through. (I actually did sell my Xbox in pursuit of my career.) If you can’t bring yourself to do it, have a friend be in charge of the punishment; they will usually do it. Use an arbitrary deadline (like NaNoWriMo) to discover what kind of writer you are. If you normally outline, force yourself to write a first draft without doing it. If you never outline, force yourself to before you even start writing. Let the absence of fearing failure allow you to experiment, while still having a deadline hanging over your head.

I didn’t meet my goal of 50,000 words this November, but I did manage to triple my word count from the four months leading up to it combined. I’d say, in the regard of improving my word count (and reminding me why I write in the first place), it was a success. And for that I deserve this badge, even if the website disagrees.

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