Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The World is Moving for no Reason!

I had a discussion with a friend the other day about platformers and he asked a question "What is the point of a scrolling screen? It doesn't make sense from the point of the character." I laughed gave the obvious answer: the challenge. He retorted "No, that doesn't make sense to me. If I'm supposed to be the guy on screen, it doesn't make sense to me." He had me. I couldn't answer. I mean, have you just been sitting around and had the world start to suddenly rotate so suddenly you're forced to keep moving to survive? NO! (If you're answering yes you need to stop reading this now and go nap.) Can you just imagine walking down the street and suddenly you're running as everything scrolls by at some uncontrollable speed and for no real reason? It makes no sense! Why do we retain this holdover from the 80s?

Sure, there are falling ceiling tiles and moving floors, but those can make sense in fantasyland because they're still plausible. However, a scrolling screen makes little sense to the character, especially since the feat can't be replicated in 3D. Moving platforms just make more sense and can be used far more creatively - think Rainbow Ride from Super Mario 64. Let's bury this odd contraption we call the scrolling screen and move on. It had its time and I'm tired of it pissing me off.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Xbox Live Arcade Desires: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Live!

The Xbox Live Arcade service has proven to be a great platform for revitalizing older PC and console titles and delivering them to a newer audience - however there are some games missing that may prove to be excellent additions to the service. Consider this....

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Live!
Stop singing the Rockapella jingle in your head. We're not talking about that.

Many children who went to school during the 80s and 90s will recall several games fondly - Oregon Trail, The Munchers series, and Carmen Sandiego in its various flavors. A crook has committed a spectacular heist and it's your job to track them down. Fond memories include the blocky graphics chosen to represent the various cities around the world, the henchmen as they snuck across the screen when you chose the correct city to go to, and the occasional flying knife or other object intended to harm you, the gumshoe. Collect all the clues and you could get a warrant from your successful sluething. Find the crook before you get your warrant and they go free. The howls of frustration still ring in many ears.

As with the Xbox Live Arcade Desires series of titles so far, the same case can be made for this game's revival. Carmen suits the family demographic Microsoft is desperate to steal from Nintendo, by cleverly educating players while injecting a good dose of fun to cover up the "not-so-awesome" parts. Again, the title is flexible in the sense mom and dad can take part in the fun while the child can still be the star. And nostalgia is just plain cool.

Improvements here could be simply amazing, depending how much effort is put into rebuilding this title for the Xbox 360. As agents travel they could see other henchmen and have to help act as an informant to other A.C.M.E. agents working on other cases ("I saw him with a red coat.") by choosing from a few possible responses. As cities are traveled to, news feeds from the area could scroll on the screen courtesy of RSS. And of course cities could be changed and updated with new pictures and relevant information over time. A mega-case could be put out in which agents must work together to help find the ever elusive Carmen herself. The possibilities here are amazing.

So Where is it?
Carmen Sandiego has perhaps the toughest time of all Xbox Live Arcade Desires games so far - revival attempts on the GameCube resulted in a spectacular flop. While Carmen Sandiego and the Secret of the Stolen Drums was considered a decent update by many critics, marketing was poor and as a result the desired sales did not materialize. When you're expecting sales off a beloved title that flops it puts more than a single nail in the coffin for future revivals. With the economy struggling, securing funds for a doubtful sequel just may not happen.

If someone out there with power is reading this, consider a revival of Carmen Sandiego. There is definitely a market out there, but keep the expectations real.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Letter to WoW Addicts

I have a saying - you're gay, straight, or WoW. I do not like World of Warcraft at all. Even the abbreviation WoW bothers me. There's nothing "Wow" about the game in my opinion. I thoroughly oppose this total crap with a fiery vengeance. How can I say this? How can I offend the mighty Blizzard gods? Frankly, I don't care if I offend the gods of Blizzard.

If you're a fan of the game and don't fall into this definition by all means skip down to the next entry. This is not about you. This entry is about the folk that do nothing but eat, sleep, and WoW. The ones that schedule their life around WoW and delay actual physical activities in the name of a raid. I'd like to deliver breaking news to you - there is life outside of the computer. You can go out there and see actual things that you can touch and feel and hold. You cannot pay credit cards with gold or maintain good health. Your level one billion sword of awesome? It isn't real. You have achieved nothing. Turn off the computer and go outside. See the burning ball of gas commonly called "The Sun". One day your game will end and you'll realize you've wasted so much time and money doing nothing. Leave the WoW, come back to real life. Use the internet for what it is meant for (it isn't Night Elf porn). Email your friends, tell them you've recovered. Start WoW anonymous. Someone misses you.

Much Love,
-Digital Stardust

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nintendo World Class Service?

Rewind back to the late 1980s and 1990s and think of Nintendo. Besides crazy colored dinosaurs, mushrooms, Chozo Statues, hypersonic rocket cars, amazing 3D evolution, and a yellow rat, the house that Mario built seemed to be a generally friendly, customer-oriented company. Contact Nintendo today and compare it to contacts from 10 years ago - you'll find eroded customer orientation and a much stronger corporate mentality. Is Nintendo HQ taking the fun out of games?

One thing has traditionally been accepted by users of Nintendo's product: it is reliable but when it breaks contacting Nintendo for repair is a friendly, easy experience. Call 'em up, tell him what's broken, get a fix as quickly and friendly as possible. So prevailed this attitude from the beginning of Nintendo's video games through the 90s - it was even supported by the famous "Nintendo World Class Service Centers" with emphasis on "World Class". Despite Nintendo's failures in other areas (broken hardware promises and cancelled games), the repair process was always a pleasant experience.

Contact Nintendo for an repair today and you'll find much has changed. As Nintendo moves to a more corporate mentality, gone are the "World Class Service Centers" and in general the special "World Class" touch that made Nintendo a great company and replaced it with a good company. Callers are now pushed in the front and out the back door. Yours truly called upon the breaking of his DS's R-button to speak with Redmond. The representative I spoke with was polite, but she was definitely not "World Class". The conversation went something like this:

Nintendo: "Thank you for calling Nintendo, how can I help you?"
Me: "Hi! My DS is broken in the R-button region. I know it's out of warranty but I just wanted to know the cost of repair."
Nintendo: "OK, sir. A Nintendo DS costs $90 to repair out of warranty but it will get you another year warranty."
Me: "Wow, expensive. What are my other options?"
Nintendo: "You can purchase a refurbished unit for $X instead."
Me: "Also expensive. It's almost the same price as a regular retail DS. I would like to think about this."
Nintendo: "OK, thanks for calling Nintendo."

Nevermind the fact I actually had another question relating to my customer file with them and wanted to update some information. I never got the chance. I would also have liked to thank her for a moment of her time but I was not allowed this. A polite representative but definitely not the Nintendo of yore.

I had the chance to dial Redmond again when my Wii broke. The conversation was definitely better and I could tell the person I was speaking with actually enjoyed their job and had been with the company a while. He took the time to answer my questions fully and brief me on the fine points of my repair (you may lose your saves, Miis, etc.). I found the experience on the whole to be far more enjoyable than before. But I will still shocked from the other experience as I had never heard of this treatment from Nintendo.

Now I'm not a demanding fellow on the phone like consumers often are. I answer phones for a living too and understand it's easier for everyone if I just get to the point, say what I need, and move on. I don't dally or ask redundant questions. We all have more things to do in life. It's made my contacts for repair easy.

The second part lies in the repair itself. Nintendo made it easy for me by sending out a label via the internet...when before they'd send a box and a UPS fellow to take it from me. It was a nice personal touch. Whatever though, I can deal with it since the FedEx/Kinkos is so close. I boxed the Wii and sent it out for repair, able to track it online. Nintendo still delivered the fixed product earlier than estimate (I got my Wii within a week instead of two, like I was quoted). There was a small detail I noticed - Nintendo did not handle the repair themselves. The box itself was not from a company name! It was from a "John Trujillo" (or similar name) and listed some random California address. Creepy.

As I opened the box and pulled my console out I found my Wii had made friends with some muddy-looking handprint at some point during the repair process. This had never happened to me before on any previous Nintendo repair. The horrified gamer in my promptly cleaned the console, nevermind a photograph, I was far more concerned muddy handprints were inside the console too and I wanted to make sure the thing worked properly. (No I didn't actually open the console.) After plugging it in I did find a sweet note - Minitec, the third party repair company, had actually transferred the Miis and saves from my console to this one, including the locked ones. (You don't know the relief in knowing you don't need to play Subspace Emissary twice.)

After verifying everything else but the handprint seemed to be in working order, I decided I'd let Nintendo know what was up since I had simply never seen this come from their name before. I made the mistake of dialing Redmond a third time and spoke with someone with quality between call one and two. The conversation went something like this:

Nintendo: "Thank you for calling Nintendo. How can I help you?"
Me: "Hi! I had my Wii repaired and I wanted to share a few things with you regarding that."
Nintendo: "OK, what did you want to share?"
Me: "Do you change serial numbers when a console is repaired for easy reference?"
Nintendo: "Yes."
Me: "OK, well I am unaware if my console was outright replaced or repaired, but I guess someone you contracted for the repair handled it-"
Nintendo: "Yeah, we've had a lot of demand for the Wii and have contracted two other companies to help us with handling repair. One is in California, where yours went, and the other is somewhere else. It looks like the PCB[*] was replaced."
Me: "Oh! OK. Well that's good to know. I have some old and some new console. Anyhow, I just wanted to let you know that while I appreciate the repair and am happy to have the console back, the experienced was diminished."
Nintendo: "How?"
Me: "There was something that appeared to be a muddy handprint on the console housing."
Nintendo: "A what?"
Me: "Something that looks like a muddy handprint. Can you let Minitec know they're trading in your name and repairs like this really make me question if my repair is complete or reliable? I understand you did me a favor and I don't want to be the person who complains like an ungrateful person, but I just wanted to pass that along."
Nintendo: "Absolutely, I'm so sorry. I'll forward this along."
Me: "Thanks. Like I said, I'm not trying to be a nagger but you've traditionally been great to work with so I thought you might appreciate the feedback."
Nintendo: "I agree. Thank you!"
Me: "Thanks!"
*PCB is slang for motherboard in repair-world.

The call was ho-hum, but I was surprised when Nintendo called me a few hours later the same day.

Me: "Hello?"
Nintendo: "This is Nate from Nintendo, how are you?"
Me: "I'm good."
Nintendo: "I understand you were unhappy with a repair."
Me: "Yes, my Wii had what looked like a muddy handprint upon being returned to me. I thought I would share the feedback with you so it would not happen again."
Nintendo: "Oh absolutely. I'm very sorry this happened and I will let our third party know. You have a good day."

At this point several things went through my head. The first was "WHAT?! My issue was escalated and you didn't do jack!" The second was "What the hell happened to Nintendo?" The third was "I hope my Wii doesn't break again." The fourth? "I am going to request my repairs go to the factory only in the future."

Nintendo sent me a letter this week and asked for more detailed feedback. I fully intend to reply and let them know what happened, but my faith in them is waning.

So what happened at the big house of N? I learned a few other things about them in my conversations. Nintendo now has three call centers. Redmond is mostly Spanish-speaking, California has most of the English-speakers, and the third call center handles other calls (I believe French-Canadian, though I am not able to verify this). Nintendo's working beyond capacity, as stated when the representative indicated they're contracting repairs.

As Nintendo has grown and begun to relocate some operations to other locations it appears they're also moving call centers. In theory this makes good sense - you can spread your time zone coverage around easier and save your employees moaning and groaning about schedules, reducing turnaround and training costs for new employees. The downside is communications can be very slow to move about. I personally believe service was 100x better when it was all housed in Redmond under one roof. This isn't so much a commentary on bad service, there are plenty of sites on the internet you can go to for that. This is more an addressing of Nintendo's slow transition from being "World Class" to operating as an "okay" global company. I don't deny Nintendo needs change, but when changing it is critical to remember the things that make customers come back.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Woah. A good Sonic Game?!

Sega may have finally stumbled upon a GOOD Sonic game. Kotaku has posted a humorous take on the new trailer but when it comes down to it, the trailer is COOL. I'm actually interested in this game. And you know it has a shot at being good since Bioware is developing it. Anyone else find it interesting?