29 October 2009

DSi LL: What's the Big Deal?

My riffs on ANBUKaptain's posts continue today, when I say this: I fail to see how the announcement of the DSi LL is a slap to the face to gamers.

Big Deal? Or Little Deal?

For those who haven't heard, Nintendo yesterday announced new, larger-screened iteration of the DSi would release in Japan in November, and Europe in early 2010. The DSi only launched seven months ago, so this has angered some people. But where to start, where to start?

Let's start with:

1. You, Joe Gamer, are not the DSi's intended audience.
The biggest giveaway is its lack of a GBA cartridge slot. Nintendo netted most of the gamers they were going to net with the original DS, and picked up the stragglers (like me) with the DS Lite. The DSi was designed with the respectable salary man in mind. It looks more business-like - it could pass for a PDA - it has downloadable applications on DSi Ware that aren't games, and Nintendo announced their intention for several non-gaming applications of the handheld in the future, for use at baseball games, subway stations, et cetera. If you want to upgrade, that's your choice, but if you don't get wise to the business model soon, you will be disappointed. It was never intended as an 'upgrade' model. There's not many people who've wanted a DS that don't already own one. The DSi, and now the DSi LL is about widening the net and making people who don't want one see the value in it.

2. What are you really losing here?
This recalls a parable told by the Man himself:
"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

"But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

This is of course, about something far more noble than gaming, but the core message still rings true (imagine for a second that the denarii are great videogames, and the 'work' is what they paid to play them): if you purchased a DS, a DS Lite, or even a DSi, you paid what you were willing to pay at the time, to play handheld games at that time. You didn't pay to play DS games seven months down the track, or in two years time; you paid to play them right then and there. If someone doesn't discover the DS until late in the system's life-cycle (the eleventh hour, if you will), their only real option is to purchase the upgraded version of the hardware. But would you trade the time they didn't get to experience all these great DS games for the better hardware? I know I wouldn't. Don't grumble that others are getting better hardware, rejoice at all the great gaming experiences you've had thus far! Furthermore, rejoice that Mr. Salary Man too can share in those same great experiences!

3. It's more expensive, dummy!
Even if you bought a DSi, chances are you still paid less than what you'll pay for a DSi LL next year. That, and like I said before - YOU'LL ONLY HAVE IT NEXT YEAR! The Japanese will be paying ¥20,000 (US$220) and Nintendo confirmed it'll be selling at a higher price than the DSi in Europe as well. This is the basic math behind it: mo' screen = mo' money, yo! Makes sense to me.

4. What were you expecting?
Name the last Nintendo handheld that didn't have incremental improvements throughout its life-cycle. Yeah, I thought so. In fact, name the last console. To not expect it (and accept it) is to ignore over 20 years of console history (probably even more than that). Even if you can't see the difference, the guts are always changing. Early adopters know what they're getting themselves into; they know that they're paying a premium to get ahead of the curve. It's an acknowledged risk, and it's the price of entry.

5. The DS is approaching the end of its life-cycle.
This means that the market needs to be re-invigorated on a regular basis to maintain momentum. The phrase 'change or die' springs to mind. Products need to get slimmer, slicker, and in brand new colours! And they need to do it in shorter, more regular intervals when The End is in sight.

Still angry? Well, then let me ask you this: if you could do it all over again, would you really wait six years for a slimmer handheld, increased battery life, and a bigger screen? Or DSi owners, let me ask you this: Would you wait 7+ months for a bigger screen and extra battery life; and would you pay extra for the privilege? Knowing what you know now, would you wipe your memory of the last six years (or even seven months) of handheld gaming experiences, for an incremental upgrade? Because you can't have it both ways.

25 October 2009

Digital Crack: Plants Versus Zombies.

Mere minutes become hours. Hours become days. This is one of the hallmarks of digital crack. Plants Versus Zombies lays claim to one such hallmark. In fact, I don't know what I'm doing sitting here writing about it when I could be playing "just one more level" right now instead.

Plants Versus Zombies is Home Alone: The Videogame.

No, not those God-awful platformers.

It possesses the same spirit of the film: "this is my house, I have to protect it." Except you are a more pro-active Kevin. The objective this time is to prevent the felons from even getting across your front lawn*. And this time the felons are zombies. And instead of putting Micro Machines on the floor you have carnivorous, combat-ready plants.

* I guess from that perspective, it's also Gran Torino: The Videogame. "Get off my lawn!"

The suburban household setting lends Plants Versus Zombies an immediacy and intimacy that other 'tower defense' games lack - you really feel like you are protecting your own family from this undead threat. Still, it eschews realism in favour of cartoon hilarity, which is what you need when Suspension of Disbelief is dialed to eleven. The endearing craziness of your opponents is reminiscent of the 'Earthlings' in Toejam & Earl: old man zombies become angered when you destroy their morning paper, pole-vaulter zombies leap over your front-lines, line-backer zombies charge for your end zone. Some just walk around with traffic cones on their heads.

Soon the fight is taken to the backyard, and you must use the family pool to your advantage.

Plants and zombies would seem like an odd pairing initially, but after extensive play, it soon becomes apparent that these two entities are flip-sides of the same coin. It's a simple twist on the age-old conflict between Man and Nature; this time, both sides are vegetative.

Life imitates Art: a real-life, flesh-eating** Pitcher Plant. [** Flies only.]

Anyway, I'd better get back to it...productive work, that is...yesss...

If I've piqued your interest at all, the game is on special for $6.99 US (AU $7.70) over at PCGameStore, presumably due to Halloween.