Reactions to Nintendo’s E3 and the new Metroid game

Generally, Nintendo fans are some of the best in the world. They love the company and its games, and want to see the company succeed. That support is especially important right now, as Nintendo begins to transition to the NX next year. But after yesterday’s Nintendo Direct, its fans have shown their vile side.

This week is E3, the biggest annual gaming conference in the world. This is when all of the hit new games are announced and upcoming exciting titles are demoed. Nearly every major publisher and console maker has a press conference—except Nintendo. Rather than do a traditional press conference, a few years ago Nintendo started doing Nintendo Directs: cool videos that would air that would show new trailers and release dates for upcoming games. Nintendo started the week out strong: there was a great reception to the Smash Bros. Direct on Sunday, and everyone loved the Nintendo World Championships later in the day. But it seems that the reception to what they showed on Tuesday has been less than stellar. For the first time I can recall, the entire 40-minute presentation has a less than 50% approval rating, despite announcing at least three new games; such as The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, a multiplayer co-op Zelda game in the same vein as Four Swords, and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, a crossover between the Mario & Luigi RPG and the Paper Mario series, and a new Animal Crossing game. Each of these games’ individual games ratings have above 60% approval rating, so there has to be something else.

For the first time since 2010, a new Metroid game was announced: Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Many of you know that Metroid is my favorite video game series, so I was quite excited about this. However, it’s a spin-off that doesn’t seem to even include the main character, Samus Aran. This has not been well-received. It’s one thing to have a spin-off for a series that gets lots of love, like Mario, but it’s a little trickier for Metroid. It got no recognition for its 25-year anniversary by the company in 2012, and the series’ last game, Metroid: Other M, was not nearly as well reviewed as the Metroid Prime games of the 2000’s. Federation Force’s approval rating currently? Ten percent of 309,000 views—the most total views for any individual game shown in the direct, and the least positive rating. After six years of being ignored, Metroid fans only get a spin-off, with a release date of 2016? I can see the bitterness there. But some recognition is better than none, and I don’t see how that could cause people to start a Change.org petition in order to get the game cancelled. To make matters worse, no developer information about the game was given to viewers. We were just thrown a trailer, expected to be excited, and move on. Over at NintendoWorldReport, they mention Federation Force as a prime (hah!) example of the broader issues in the Direct: a lack of consistency and storytelling. 

This is hugely frustrating to me. It sends the message of fans being snobbish and ungrateful to a company that can really only do so much. No, it’s not what we wanted, but it’s better than nothing. If anything, this game would help to get new Metroid fans and raise awareness for a series that is critically acclaimed, but doesn’t sell well. It’s very easy to see a new fan saying “Hey, I saw that Metroid Prime game on 3DS. What’s this Metroid Prime Trilogy on the Wii U e-Shop?” and bring in new fans to the series. The last thing any Metroid fan would want is for Samus to be the new Captain Falcon: well known in Smash Bros., and hasn’t had a separate game released in over 10 years. To start the petition is insulting to the developers that have already spent time developing the game, and tells Nintendo “We don’t want Metroid”. The developer is already contracted and should be paid for their work, so canceling is not something I foresee. These fans are forgetting to vote with their wallets: the best way to ensure more Metroid games in the future is to buy any that come out. Wanting it cancelled is completely counter to that notion.

With that said, is the game a true Metroid game? No. It shows none of the traits of any Metroid game before it. Do we have all of the details about the game? No; it could be great or terrible. But it is sad to see that so many people have rushed to hate it before anyone even gives it a try.

The Apple Watch, Revisited

Hopefully you saw my last piece on the Apple Watch. In it, I argue for the standard model of Apple Watch, primarily based on on the argument of higher durability. But after visiting the Apple Store earlier this week and trying some on, I’ve decided that the 38mm Space Grey Sport may be the way to go.

There are a number of advantages to getting the Sport model. The cheaper price of entry is a benefit that can’t be overlooked. The lower price of entry allows for a number of options with the newly-freed cash. It would lead to a lower cost of entry for a later model. It would also soften the blow in case it got irreparably damaged. The savings could also be used to justify the purchase of AppleCare (always a good idea), additional bands (the space grey only comes with a black band, and that white band looks all too showy/sweet for me to avoid), or even a bedside stand such as the TwelveSouth HiRise. As for the size, the 42mm looked too much like having a screen on my wrist rather than having a watch on for my taste.

Going with the space grey Sport is not without its drawbacks. First and foremost, the Ion-X glass isn’t as strong as the sapphire of the higher-end model. An additional downside is that the attachments for many of the bands are stainless steel, rather than aluminum; this won’t be the cleanest of looks. Hopefully, this is something that third parties will be able to rectify.

Ultimately, it’s a balance of cost, desire, looks, projected longevity, and environment. If you want one, you’ll have to ultimately judge for yourself what works for you. But recently I’ve been seeing just how often people check their phones, and paying attention to my own habits. I really think I can benefit from it. I definitely encourage you to try one on if you can—it’s your first glimpse of the future.

Update: One thing I forgot to consider is the smaller battery of the 38mm. I’ll have to think about that some more and maybe give the 42mm some more thought. Battery life is critical, and with the recently announced watchOS 2 with native apps, battery life will be even more of a concern.

The Apple Watch

(Originally written on 9 May)

The Apple Watch is out. People have it. It’s shipping. You’ve probably heard about it. It’s a marvel of engineering, and has that typical Apple lust factor. I’m currently on the fence as to whether I want to purchase one (and which one), for a variety of reasons: skepticism of its abilities as a pure watch, the ‘generation one’ factor, my current iPhone, and offline use. Despite those concerns, I really want one. But which one, why, and is it even worth it?

First, let me get this out of the way: many people have asked “Why do you need an Apple Watch?” It is a valid, yet shallow question. The cynic might respond “Well, why do you need anything other than food, water, and shelter”, but I’ll give you a direct answer. Think of Apple Watch more as you would an advanced digital watch. They do more than tell time—they offer the date, day of the week, timer functionality with a lap counter, and some offer even more such as a small calculator or other such things. The Apple Watch is an extension of that idea, rethought for our world of constant notifications, pings, connectivity, and increased data/information consumption. In that light, the Apple Watch (and by extension, the Pebble and Android Wear) make much more sense. Just as digital watches from the 80’s improved, so too will this new generation of smart watches.

My Experience with Watches

When Apple first announced the Apple Watch, they marketed it as doing three key things: a timepiece, a fitness tracker, and a new/better means for communication. My first concern about the Apple Watch deals with its namesake: timekeeping. I have worn a watch for just about as long as I can remember. My first one was a Mickey Mouse one, and I remember running though a number of cheap Timex models in elementary school. I recall having a cheap Swatch for most of middle school, and being given a Bulova watch as a present from my dad for my 16th birthday in high school (definitely the greatest birthday present I’ve received from my parents). I wore it every day up until I lost it on an aircraft carrier in the summer of 2014, and after an agonizing few months without wearing one, I purchased the exact same model the following December. Suffice to say, I’m used to having and wearing a watch, thus the Apple Watch is naturally alluring as an intriguing update to the centuries-old watch to the 21st century for the masses.

All of the watches that I’ve had have been analog, which I appreciate for its ability to offer both fuzzy time at a quick glance (e.g. upon seeing where the minute hand is pointing, determining roughly how many minutes past/until the hour it is) or precision (e.g. timing to the second how long it takes to get from my room to my girlfriend’s room or how many seconds until I’m late for an ROTC activity). Thankfully, the Apple Watch is accommodating in that it offers a very wide variety of customizable faces that are styled as both digital and analog.

Issues with the Apple Watch

The biggest fault of the Apple Watch is a compromise necessitated by its design: it can’t always show the time. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball and some horologists have noted, this makes Apple Watch is inferior to even a watch from Dollar Tree: due to not constantly displaying the time. Though Apple Watch does wake up upon a raise of the wrist, this works less than 100% of the time (probably above 96%, but still not every time). This is due to the display not being constantly on in order to save battery life; a necessary concession, but a critical flaw. Even if the raise-your-wrist feature doesn’t turn the display on, a simple tap will do the trick; however that tap must necessarily come from the other hand. Depending on what the other hand is doing/holding, that may not be possible, and what a simple action of an innocent glance becomes a source of frustration. Additionally, the raise-your-wrist only keeps the display on for about 6 seconds; if I just want to time something for even just ten seconds, it now becomes a two-handed affair. This is one qualm that I know will become more apparent and frustrating over time.

My second issue with the watch is the sheer fact that it is a generation one product. I generally try to avoid getting generation one products, but this device is tempting my resolve. Bugs always get sorted out, battery life gets better, it gets smaller, etc. in the later revisions. But there are two key reasons why I would go against my better judgement and become an ‘early adopter’ of the Apple Watch. The first is that I still use an iPhone 5, which is the oldest supported iPhone that the Apple Watch is compatible with. It is possible that the next generation could only work with later iPhones, putting me in a tough spot of needing to upgrade my phone as well. The second reason is that a year from now, give or take, I will almost assuredly be stationed on a Navy ship somewhere out on deployment—and there aren’t any cell towers or Wi-Fi on ships (which isn’t fun, let me tell you). Using an Apple Watch in that environment would be counter-intuitive because I would get the drawbacks of the Apple Watch as a timekeeping device without its advantages in connectivity. Essentially, save for port visits and dry-dock periods, my time with the watch is a one-year trial. Is that limitation enough to preclude buying and using one now? I don’t know, and I don’t have a way of truly knowing until next year.

Benefits

With all of that said, why buy one? Three reasons stand out to me: discreet notifications, Apple Pay, and fitness capabilities.

What separates the Apple Watch from other smart watches is the Taptic Engine. Rather than playing a notification sound, the watch can tap you on the wrist to alert you—and only you—that you’ve received something important. This is great in classroom settings, meetings, and church where phones shouldn’t be checked. I’ve seen where other smartwatches light up when a notification is received, and that defeats the point of discretion. I recall walking in an eating hall once and seeing a fellow Vandy student’s Android Wear smartwatch light up with a text message that contained sensitive information from his Dad. With Apple Watch, that doesn’t happen.

Apple Pay hearkens back to some of the limitations of my iPhone 5: it doesn’t support the hardware for Apple Pay. But I do know that it is growing and spreading quite quickly, and I would love to be able to use it at the stores that I frequent. It would be especially handy in situations when you would want to pay for something without having a wallet, such as during exercise.

The number one reason why I would want an Apple Watch because of its fitness tracking capabilities. The Watch serves as a pedometer and keeps track of your daily activity and displays it for you. It also reminds you every hour to stay up and stretch—and when I can go for hours sitting in a chair at work, this would be extremely beneficial. It keeps track of the data over time as well. Given that I need to work out for ROTC (and don’t like to), having a visual record of how active I’ve been would serve as great motivation for me to work out. In addition to this, the Apple Watch can store music for playback during running (via bluetooth headphones). This has recently become a very important feature to me, as I accidentally washed my iPod nano about a week ago.

These three factors, combined with the ever-growing number of watch applications, means that there is an infinite number of possibilities for the wrist, and I want to play a part in that growth.

If So, Which?

With all of that said, it isn’t as though buying the Apple Watch renders my current Bulova watch dead. Additionally, if I so choose, I’ll be able to purchase a true military-grade [analog] watch that will serve that environment much better if necessary, and switch back to my Apple Watch once I’m on shore. If I was to go through with the purchase, there is still the question of which size and model to buy. There are two sizes available: 38mm and 42mm, with a $50 price difference between the two in the Sport and ‘Standard’ models. (For obvious reasons, I’m not considering the gold Edition models.) The only differences between the two are the materials: the Apple Watch Sport has an aluminum body and an ‘Ion-X enhanced glass’ screen, while the standard model has a sapphire display. Most bands can be purchased separately, and are compatible with both models (the only exception being the space grey link band, which comes only with the space grey watch).

I think many people look at the differences between the two models and say “Well all other things being equal, it seems like a no-brainer to get the Sport model!” But I ask you to kindly hold your horses. More than any other piece of equipment, a watch takes a heavy amount of damage. It knocks into metal and wood, all the time. It encounters rain, mud, and sweat. It is taken off, and put back on hundreds and thousands of times, and sometimes it gets dropped during that process. While it may seem like a raw deal from a computer/geek perspective to have two models differ in price but have the same specs, it makes more sense to me to pay for durability here, even when the upcharge is $200. Like I said, I’ve had a lot of watches, and scratches, dirt, and gunk show up easily. C|Net has some great tests that they run that show the durability of both models of the watch, specifically the display. Their tests on the standard Apple Watch simply show what science and chemistry already knows, and that’s that sapphire is the second-hardest material known to man, running behind first-place champ diamond. The fact that it’ll be able to take a pounding is a good thing to me.

Regarding sizing, the watch I usually wear is quite small for a men’s watch and is very similar to a bracelet. For this reason, I’ll likely go with the smaller 38mm version and save my $50 (and likely apply it toward getting an extra Sport band). The question of which band to order it with is a trickier question to answer. If price was no issue, I would go for the link bracelet in a heartbeat. Nearly all of the watches I’ve ever worn have had link bands, and I love the heftier weight and ease of the clasp. But given that Apple’s link bracelet is $450 (not including the price of the watch itself!), that’s not quite an option at my current pay grade. My second choice is the modern buckle. It is the smallest band Apple offers overall, and is considered the most ‘feminine’. Despite that, the clasp looks professional and gender-neutral, is leather (which would be a nice departure from my usual) and allows for easy one-handed operation, unlike the traditional men’s leather watch band in my experience. It too, however is quite expensive at $249 (separately; each of the bands is $50 cheaper when ordered with the standard Apple Watch). Additionally, it is only available on the 38mm, which would not bode well if I decided I wanted the 42mm size instead (or it turns out my wrist is too large). The last option, available in both sizes, is the Milanese loop. It is like a fabric of steel coils, and is infinitely adjustable. The fact that it is metal and cheaper than the buckle makes that my top choice. Certainly buying the 38mm size will mean that I will still have the option of buying the modern buckle separately at a later time.

A quick side note: the ability for customers to be able to easily switch out their bands is pure marketing genius on Apple’s part, and opening it up to third parties is even smarter (and good for their coffers). Soon, I think we will be seeing many designers enter the band-making space that previously haven’t thought much about watches and wearable technology, and that will lead to great innovation and creativity in the space. Who knows, maybe in a year’s time, I will be able to get a cheaper link bracelet than the one Apple is offering.

The Competition

There is one other thing that could stop me from getting an Apple Watch: a Fitbit. It’s a bit too much to fit in this article, but it is a consideration. No other smart watches are really a consideration for me.

Conclusion

Who knows, maybe it will be that I won’t like my Apple Watch. If that is the case, it will make a great gift to someone, or be relatively easy to sell due to high demand. If I do love it, I can be sure in the knowledge that should I purchase the standard model, it will be durable and last me quite a while, even if it will eventually run out of batteries and be outdated, like all other technologies. Certainly the capabilities it has are numerous and awesome (and increasing), and I look forward to trying them out and seeing how I can integrate them to my life. I can already think of one: dictating a message to Siri while on my bike. The best way to know is to have one myself and try it out.

A New Endeavor: Tech Down South

Recently, I’ve decided on embarking on a new adventure with a friend, Matt Wilson (a student of the school out east): a weekly podcast. It’s something that we’ve talked about for quite a while, and after a false start back in November, we’ve finally put  something together that we’ve put some energy behind. The name of the podcast is “Tech Down South”, where Matt and I talk about any tech-related news that comes out for around 45 minutes. Given that we’re big Nintendo and Apple fans, expect those to be popular and common topics, but we’re working to include other, more general information as well. You can check us out on Twitter via @tds_show, or on the web at techdownsouth.wordpress.com. I hope you give us a listen!

Go Buy a Wii U

Having read some reviews of Bayonetta 2, I was moved to make a Public Service Announcement: Go buy a Wii U. Right now, it has the widest variety of games, and the highest reviewed games. There’s something for everyone. The Wii U won’t get the most. The Wii U will get the best. The game that prompted this article, Bayonetta 2, just received a 10 on GameSpot (they’ve only given out eight 10/10 scores in 18 years of business, including Bayonetta 2). IGN also awarded it a 9.5, and they don’t hand those out like T-shirts.

Let me just say that I don’t like GameSpot; I think they’re overly-harsh graders. Among their biggest slights, they gave Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze a 6/10 and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption an 8.5/10. After the latter review back in ’07, I simply had to stop taking them seriously, as Prime deserves a 9.5/10 and no less. Them giving DK a 6 merely validated this claim, as that game earned no less than an 8 in my opinion (and most others agree).

With that said, Bayonetta 2 only serves as another game in a long list of original content that the Wii U offers. Shooters? Grab Call of Duty: Ghosts or Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist. 2D Platforming? We’ve got plenty: Rayman Legends, the aforementioned Donkey Kong, Shovel Knight, and more. Oh, you meant 3D? Check out Super Mario 3D World. Racing? Need for Speed U and Mario Kart 8 will keep you occupied for weeks. Adventure? Pikmin 3 and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (one of my personal favorites). Action? Hyrule Warriors and the upcoming Bayonetta 2. Fighting? Injustice: Gods Among Us and of course the upcoming Smash Bros. We have it all.

The Wii U truly offers something for everyone, and if you’re a true video game fan, you’re really missing out by not owning one. I highly recommend it. If you don’t want a new one, you can usually find one for cheap on Craigslist (your win, trust me). Make it happen.

Quick and Dirty: Predictions

Today is a day than many of us have been looking forward to for a while—the new iPhone is going to be announced today. What will it look like? What will it be? Everyone’s waiting with baited breath to find out. Here are some off-the-cuff predictions on what I think we’ll see.

iPhone:

  • We’ll see two iPhone sizes: 4.7 and 5.5.
  • the iPhone 5C model will remain the same and drop in price
  • the 4S, as the last 30-pin device that Apple sells, will finally be gone.
  • The naming scheme will change. I don’t think we’ll keep seeing “#” and “#S” revisions; each size will get its own name, a la the iPad. I think we’ll see an iPhone C on the low end, the iPhone S [for standard], and maybe an iPhone P for Pro or something. Maybe not, but a new naming convention I think is in order.
  • They’ll have gorgeous sapphire screens that will blow Gorilla Glass out of the water (pun intended).
  • A8 chip is at least 1.5x faster than the A7, and will allow for some great iOS 8-only features
  • We’ll FINALLY get a 138 GB iPhone, but the new high-end model may start at 16 GB just so that they can still hit an entrance point of $199

iPad

  • It’s not the iPad’s event. We’ll see that next month, along with some new Macs

iPod

  • We may get some updates here, but they may not be mentioned in the keynote.
  • The iPod touch will have its processor bumped up. It’ll also FINALLY
  • The nano may get some hardware bump so that it can work with health kit.

Apple TV

  • I think we’ll see and Apple TV SDK released, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t either. Right now, it’s a nice curated experience, and some of Apple’s content deals may not allow them to have an SDK, as it would be easy to make apps that allow showing pirated content potentially easier (even if there are already 100 ways to do that without adding the Apple TV to the list).
  • A controller for the Apple TV? Haaa, just kidding. But maybe we’ll see Ninten Apple say “make a controller like this”.
  • The physical device will have about the same dimensions, but internally it’ll get the A7 at least.

“iWatch”

  • As much pomp and circumstance as is going into this event, it’s clear a new product is being announced, and the iWatch is that new product. I don’t think iWatch will be its name, but since everyone else is already sold on it, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it just to make things easier. I think it’ll be more of a dial or band that will allow for various straps to put on. I also think it will be gorgeous and be low-power. I’m thinking of around a $150–$200 watch that runs on the M7 and tracks health data like steps, heartbeat, etc. and works with HealthKit.
  • Ive himself will come on stage and announce it.
  • Haha, just kidding. But he will be in an awesome video that shows after everyone craps their pants over it.
  • It won’t be out until February/March of next year (which is unfortunate, because I wanted it as a 21st Birthday present).

iOS 8

  • It launches next Friday, and it will be the best-reviewed version of iOS so far. It will finally allow for the type of interactions we’ve always wanted in iOS. I’m personally super pumped, as the TouchID authentications will be spectacular.
  • Siri will get some new languages, but I don’t know what else she could do at this point. It’ll be interesting to look at, because right now Cortana and Google Voice both have it on her.

The importance of this keynote cannot be understated. This is a “Stevenote”, “iPad Annoucement”, “iPhone 4 [minus spoilers]”—level presentation. Just as the iPhone 4 has really defined the look and feel of the last 4 iPhones, I think that what’s announced today will be the next pivot in the iPhone’s lifestyle. This keynote will also define Tim Cook’s era as CEO at Apple. It goes well, and he finally gets the monkey off of his back [not that there should be, but people are stupid]. However, if it fails [which it won’t], then it would be a disaster, only because it’s Apple and people think that Jesus himself sits on the Board of Directors.

They’ll also have one thing that will blow everyone’s minds. One feature in the new iPhones, one thing about the “iWatch”, I don’t know. But it’s going to say to everyone “We’re still Apple. We still run this shit show.” And most of all, I will surely be up in arms over what to spend all of my money on.