In January, on my quest to finish more games in 2018, I played through Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS and I Am Setsuna on the Nintendo Switch. While they are both throwbacks to the 1990s, the games are not similar. Metroid: Samus Returns is a side-scrolling action-platformer with deep puzzling and exploration. It is technically a re-imagining of the Game Boy’s Metroid II: Return of Samus, but it’s really more of a spiritual successor to the SNES classic, Super Metroid. I Am Setsuna is a top-down turn-based RPG, reminiscent of Square’s SNES era games, with a heavy nod to Chrono Trigger. Despite their incompatible play-styles, in my determination to play them both to the end, I found a deeper understanding of the roadblocks and challenges that games in general are designed to offer. At their best, games force us to struggle, maybe learn, and then reward us with a feeling of accomplishment when we overcome a tough obstacle. At their worst, they provide a sense of frustration that gives way to boredom, ultimately leading to giving up, or simply forgetting to continue. What follows is an examination of why I finish so few games. And I suspect it might not just be me.
I’m going to highlight three characteristics that help us see a game through to its end. First, a game has to give us a sense of progress, whether that’s through a narrative story arc or a series of challenging levels, it’s all the same. We have to be working toward something. Second, a game has to maintain a sense of novelty. I think the downfall of many modern, sprawling open-world games is that we drown in repetitive tasks. At some point, those icons on the word map, whether it’s in Assassins’ Creed, Horizon, or Far Cry, they start to look like chores and do not inspire me to continue playing. It’s a tightrope that developers have to walk, balancing a perceived demand for bigger, longer experiences against the finite list of ‘things to do’ in any given game. And third, a game has to keep a balanced level of challenge. A drastic change in difficulty, whether it’s a punishing difficulty spike or an over-powered character making everything a walk in the park, they both detract from the experience and make me start thinking of other games I’d rather be playing. Continue reading “Until the Credits Roll…”
Nihilist Arby’s is a Twitter account with nearly 400K followers and, according to itself, absolutely nothing to say. It does, however, provide an interesting lens with which to examine the evolution of advertising and brand identities on Twitter, particularly in light of Lessig’s work on modern sharing economies. In his 2008 work, Remix, Lawrence Lessig puts forth that all economic exchanges are based in either 1) a commercial economy, in that they revolve around something of tangible value, such as money; or they are 2) a sharing economy, in that they are based on something intangible, such as friendship, or a favour. When corporate brands utilize crafted identities on social media sites such as Twitter in order to engage directly with consumers, they are attempting to shift their marketing from a commercial economy—in which advertising mindshare is attained through the purchase of time or space in which to advertise—to a sharing economy—one in which friends, or in this case, followers, will spread the message without being compensated. If you say cool things, your cool friends will repeat those things, right?
Nihilist Arby’s is parodic satire. Regardless of the account’s surface level claims to the contrary, it has something to say. However, Arby’s is not the target of the parody. Nihilist Arby’s satiric barbs are aimed at Brand Twitter as an entity. Account creator Brendan Kelly, while working in advertising himself, “imagined a scenario where someone in charge of a brand’s Twitter account…would be ‘exposed to…how meaningless everything is.’” Nihilist Arby’s is how Kelly envisioned such an epiphany might play out. According to Kelly, the use of the Arby’s name “had less to do with anything specific about Arby’s and more with how goofy it sounded.” Although the Nihilist Arby’s account is still active, tweeting at least twice a month over recent months, it has plateaued in terms of growth. The official Arby’s Twitter account currently has more than twice as many followers as the Nihilist Arby’s account. However, Nihilist Arby’s engagement numbers— its likes, retweets, replies, etc.—dwarf those of the brand’s official account by a wide margin. This engagement comes on the backs of absurdly dark laments about the meaninglessness of life coupled with the obligatory exhortations to “enjoy Arby’s.”
Brands have existed on Twitter since the platform’s inception in 2006. In fact, as Nathan Allebach said over on Vulture, “Twitter has facilitated a new sort of intimacy for brands, one in which they can blend in with people and develop their own personas.” Brands on Twitter, like almost any entity on Twitter, are seeking to parlay this intimacy for engagement, as a means to attain the markers of a successful digital meme as they are defined by Shifman in 2019’s Memes in Digital Culture: namely fecundity or “swift diffusion,” longevity, and, to a lesser extent, copy-fidelity. In many cases, brands are actively seeking to have their followers manipulate the message and, in some way, make it their own, so that copy-fidelity is less important than fecundity. For example, here, the official Arby’s Twitter account is straightforwardly (rather too straightforwardly, really) asking for interaction:
Note the engagement numbers taken from a Nihilist Arby’s tweet from the same week, thus having a similar amount of time to attract engagement:
The less active Nihilist Arby’s, with fewer followers, has almost ten times as many likes and twice as many responses. These equate to engagement, to the “swift diffusion” Shifman refers to as a marker of successful meme spread.
Arby’s response to Nihilist Arby’s highlights how well they, as a company and a marketing entity, understand advertising’s new sharing-economy landscape. As Arby’s CEO Paul Brown put it, “You don’t want to be a friend with that kind of a person who’s defensive and you can’t joke around.” In his statement, the executive is explicit about what kind of “friend” he wants Arby’s to be. Ultimately, rather than using legal action against the Nihilist Arby’s account, the marketing team decided to embrace the parody. They created a marketing event by sending the account-creator a bag of Arby’s sandwiches and a borrowed puppy to pet for a while, with a note that read: “Cheer up, buddy. You live in a world with puppies… and sandwiches.”
In this manner, the relationship and interaction between Arby’s the brand and Nihilist Arby’s the parody highlights one of the biggest differences between marketing in commercial economies and in sharing economies as they are defined by Lessig. As brands continue to, through their advertising, define themselves as individual accounts with personalities and relationships, they give up some of the control over their own image that they may have formerly enjoyed. If they want to walk with the cool kids in the halls of the high school that is Twitter, then they are going to have to learn to laugh at the jokes.
Sherwin-Williams missed that day at marketing school. A few weeks ago, Buzzfeed ran a story about Tony Piloseno, a Sherwin-Williams employee, and apparent paint-enthusiast, who operates a Tik-Tok account, @tonesterpaints, with a staggering 1.5M followers.
When Sherwin-Williams found out about the successful account, they fired the kid.
Tony had been working at a Sherwin-Williams store for three years. He probably started making these Tik-Toks because of the exact existential dread that Nihilist Arby’s is attempting to illustrate. According to the Buzzfeed article linked above (give ’em a click already), the sixth video Piloseno made reached 1M views.
But when Piloseno reached out to Sherwin-Williams marketing, offering to share his following with the company, they didn’t send him sandwiches, puppies, or even paint-rainbows. They accused him of stealing company materials and time and sent him packing. He didn’t do those things. Again, according to Buzzfeed’s reporting, Piloseno purchased any paint that wasn’t already part of a customer’s order. But all of that is beside the point. The point is:
This is not how to best use social media to promote your brand!!!
My guess is that the dust has not yet settled in the marketing department over at Sherwin-Williams. But at the very least, things are looking pretty good for Tony Piloseno.
This past weekend, Toronto hosted the Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo. Over the past few years, the people at Enthusiast Gaming have grown the show into Canada’s largest videogame event. They seriously know how to throw a party. Greg Miller and Nick Scarpino from Kinda Funny brought their A game, along with their friend Shirtless Spider-Man. … Continue reading “Round-Up! EGLX 2018”
This past weekend, Toronto hosted the Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo. Over the past few years, the people at Enthusiast Gaming have grown the show into Canada’s largest videogame event. They seriously know how to throw a party.
Greg Miller and Nick Scarpino from Kinda Funny brought their A game, along with their friend Shirtless Spider-Man. World Gaming presented the WESG Canadian Qualifiers for CS:GO, PES2019, DOTA 2, and Vainglory. Nintendo was showing off Super Smash Bros. Ultimate— fans waited in long lines to get some hands-on time ahead of its December release. There were talks and panels presented by industry insiders and prominent YouTubers like DreamcastGuy and Toronto’s own Shane Luis. A separate Developers’ Conference offered workshops and mentoring, away from the bustle of the main show floor. The show floor itself was packed with multiple stages, artists and developers, retro-arcade cabinets, cosplayers, Fortnite, VR, speedrunners, fighting-game tournaments, and thousands and thousands of fans.
The energy and passion and fandom was infectious. I had a smile on my face the entire weekend. I spent time with dozens of great games and some amazing developers. In no particular order, here are a few of my favourites. Continue reading “Round-Up! EGLX 2018”
I’m about to give you some very bad advice. Are you ready for it? Here it is: Don’t be afraid to start over.
I’ve tried to dedicate 2018 to finishing more games. I wrote about it here, and here. So far this year, I’ve seen the credits roll on a baker’s dozen of games. This doesn’t happen by picking up half-finished efforts and starting over. But I’m telling you, if your gut tells you to do it, go with your gut. It’ll be ok.
I strayed from my quest back in May, committing an egregious crime against the completionists’ cause. I deleted all of my Witcher III save files and began Geralt’s journey anew. They say nobody ever ‘finishes’ The Witcher III. Well, I put about fifty hours into it when it released a few years ago. After completing the second act, the Novigrad quest-line, I decided to take a break before setting off for Skellige.
We all know what happened next. Not with Geralt, but with me, with all of us at some point or another. Life got busy, some other game got released, I read a good book— for one reason or another, that ship never sailed. Like so many other ‘big’ games, my attention span was no match for the massive amount of content available. I’ve made my peace with that. Continue reading “Permission to Begin Again”
Spectrum Break, available on Steam for PC and Mac, is a puzzle platformer for masochists. I mean that as both as a recommendation, and a warning. Deceptively simple mechanics and colourful presentation are the wrapping, but inside the package are dozens of levels, each one more maddening than the one before.
You control a little sprite on a surf board, leaving a trail of sparks on every surface he touches, all against a stylish backdrop of falling stars. The little surfer dude can move left and right, and he can jump. That’s it. Simple right? His goal is simple as well. Each level sees him surrounded by colourful outlines, geometric shapes, of various angles and sizes. When the surfer makes contact with an outline, it becomes solid. If a solid shape hits an outline, the outline becomes solid. Once all the shapes are solid, the level is complete. Still sounds easy? Continue reading “Spectrum Break: Review”
Double dipping. The phrase means different things depending on the context and the situation. It’s a faux pas, committed at the snacks’ table in the break room. In business and finance it is a frowned upon practice, usually considered unethical, in which a person or corporation games the system in their favor by, for example, writing off the same business expense in two different tax categories for a double deduction. And in gaming, it is the curious practice of paying for the same game twice on two different gaming platforms.
It is a personal choice, and unlike the other examples listed above, it is a victimless crime. But it still draws the ire of people. Even when there’s a legitimate reason, like having groups of gaming friends on two different systems for the same multiplayer game, someone will shame you for it. The internet loves to shame.
I personally try to avoid double dipping, but on occasion I can justify it. Sometimes a great sale will tempt me to revisit a game, a different platform and a bargain basement price can be a nice excuse to play Resident Evil 4 for the umpteenth time. If a game comes up free on PS+ or Xbox Live, I’ll add it to my library whether I have it on the other system or not. But that’s for free, so… The Nintendo Switch offers the portability factor, so at least there’s always that excuse. Even still, I try not to spend money on games I already own. But recently I broke my own code. And I did it in grotesque fashion. It gave me some real insight into the flaws of the game in question, and into the kind of gamer I have become. Continue reading “Shame On Me, Fooled Twice By Destiny 2”
NieR: Automata is going to have a long tail. The release schedule in 2017 was a chain reaction of hit titles exploding on the scene; RE7, Persona 5, Zelda, Mario, Horizon, Cuphead, etc… Players will be sorting through the rubble of overlooked and passed over titles for some time, and NieR: Automata will be on many a backlog list. It was well received, garnering an 88 on Metacritic. It sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. It is a success by any metric. It was developed by industry powerhouse Platinum Games, published by Square Enix, yet it somehow maintains the quirky cache of an indie title that those ‘in the know’ wink and nod about, across darkened corners of the internet. When a player dares to lament, “I don’t get it,” the Enlightened form a cryptic smile and whisper: “Keep playing, you will.” Yes, NieR: Automata is going have a long tail, and it will prove to be a divisive title, as those who have the patience to discover its beauty argue against those who do not see a reason to keep digging. And neither group will be wrong. Continue reading “NieR: Automata— Unanimously Divisive”
Last week, Mike Ybarra, the Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft, tweeted, “Very few, far less than 50%, actually finish games they play. Why don’t you finish games you buy/get? (Finish = beating last boss, etc.).” It’s not a new question in the community, but it’s one I’ve been asking myself lately. I finished some games in 2017; a few full experiences like RE7 and a 100% completion of NieR: Automata, and shorter games like Night in the Woods and Doki Doki Literature Club, are just some examples. But I have a much longer list of games I sampled in the past year, and promised to come back to. Not to mention a few games that I purchased with every intention of playing but have yet to even boot up. While 2017 left the gaming community with a particularly large embarrassment of riches, the backlog phenomenon is not unique to this year. Continue reading “Finish Him”
Dark Souls, along with its predecessor, Demons’ Souls, has ascended to the lofty height of being genre defining. From Software has produced excellent sequels to Dark Souls, and with Bloodborne, they retooled their own formula into what is sure to be another lasting franchise. There have been decent attempts at imitation like Lords of the Fallen and The Surge. Nioh draws comparisons. The upcoming Code Vein, from Dark Souls’ own publisher Bandai Namco, is banking on its similarities, marketing them. Souls-like, as a genre term, is now as deeply planted in the gaming zeitgeist as Metroidvania or Roguelike.
One defining quality of the Souls-like is a return to difficulty, often compared to the punishing lessons of NES classics like Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, and the more difficult levels of classic Mario games. So without further ado…
5 Ways Super Mario Odyssey is a Souls-Like:
The Fashion- Every enemy in Dark Souls can end you with one or two hits. That’s just the way it is. Therefore, Souls players tend to care less about the statistics, and more about the fashion. Just Google Fashion Souls, you’ll see what I mean. In Mario Odyssey, literally every enemy can kill you in three hits, and the outfits offer no protection at all, so the player is encouraged to fashion their Mario in any style they desire.
The Death Ring- Every time you die in Mario Odyssey, you lose 10 coins. Every time you die in Dark Souls, you lose all of your souls. But in both games, if you manage return to the spot you perished before dying again, you can recover what you had lost. The penalty might not be much in Mario Odyssey, but I often feel compelled to regain those coins anyway. It’s a Dark Souls thing.
The Bowser Banners- After scaling a challenging platforming section in Mario Odyssey, the player is often rewarded with a Bowser Flag, that can be converted to a Mario flag, and then used as a fast travel point. Just like the liberally sprinkled bonfires in Dark Souls 2 and 3.
That Level and That Boss- Here there be spoilers, but in Mario Odyssey, there is both a level and a boss that are directly lifted from Dark Souls. You’ll just have to trust me that you’ll know it when you see it.
Mind Controlling Headwear- One of the more tragic tales in the original Dark Souls is that of Solaire of Astora. He only wanted to be so grossly incandescent as the sun. While he can, in fact, be saved, most players saw him mesmerized by the Sunlight Maggot, a loathsome parasite that fashioned itself into a crown and drove him insane. Sounds like the Sunlight Maggot might be Cappy’s cousin, or, at the very least, be from the Cap Kingdom?
Obviously, I’ve been having a bit of fun here. But they are all valid points as well. Either way, let me have it the comments. I look forward to your thoughts.
Super Mario Odyssey is only one week old and it already feels timeless. I was 21 years old when the Nintendo 64 launched with Super Mario 64. I spent months poring over every polygon, peering around every corner, plumbing every pipe. And then my gaming life moved on. The thought of Mario 64 never stopped giving me those warm, fuzzy feelings, but I also never thought about it too deeply. I didn’t play the 3DS remake. I never revisited it on an N64. It was a legendary game from my past and that was enough. I didn’t miss it. Or, I didn’t realize I missed it, until last week.
The very moment Odyssey began, a smile crept across my face. Little audio cues, Mario’s ‘voice,’ the ominous drums that accompany Bowser’s Airship, the coins’ iconic ding, they all dialed up the nostalgia. My muscle-memory kicked in as I pushed forward on the stick and saw Mario’s little legs start pumping. I reflexively timed his jumps, Hip, Hup, WA-HOO! Triple Jump: check. My grin grew wider. The first hours with this game were like a time-machine, giving me an admittedly rose-tinted window into a simpler time. It is a perfect follow-up to Mario 64. And, it turns out, I did miss Mario 64. I missed it a lot. Continue reading “Welcome Home, Mario. We Missed You.”