Nintendo is doing Mario Kart 8 DLC Right

With the budget of AAA games today, companies are looking to bolster the bottom line more and more with DownLoadable Content that releases after the original game releases.  These add-ons vary from Maps for multiplayer, to addition story driven sequences, to simple tweaks, like character skins and new difficulty levels.  This content has a big profit margin for publishers and developers because the start-up cost is so low.  The programmers already did all the R&D, the engine is built, most of the art assets are already done, all it takes is a little bit of creativity to rearrange what has already been built in a new way and ask $15 for the optional add-on.

The problem is that over time it seems like DLC has become less about us buying some cool Bonus stuff after-the-fact and more about paying again for things that should have already been in the game.  Part of this feeling comes from companies like Activision building the DLC for Call of Duty before the game even releases, but then holding back the already built content to release to consumer piecemeal for a premium price.  Nowadays, if you want to experience everything in a game, expect to pay $120, not $60 over the life of the product.

Then there is Nintendo.  We got our first taste of how the Big N does DLC when they released New Super Luigi U as an add-on for New Super Mario Bros U, the 2D platforming launch game for Wii U.  For those $15 dollars, you got 80 levels!  Nintendo remixed almost every level in the original game to be completed the Luigi, who handled completely differently and was required to finish every level in less than 100 seconds, effectively making the whole DLC a giant speed run.  Between the amount of content and new way to play, it was pretty hard to get mad at that.  Plus Nintendo didn’t work on it until the original game had already come out.

And now we have the announcement of the DLC packs coming to Mario Kart 8.  Nintendo has already released three new Cars and a new set of tires for the racing game for FREE (though Mercedes paid something: for more on that see the article below), but for the next two pieces, the total cost is only $12 for 16 new courses, 6 new characters and 8 new Vehicles.  Sure, the programming overhead is done and some assets might be reusable, but this DLC is half as big as the entire original game!  And once again, Nintendo didn’t start until the original game was done (and didn’t make the original game any smaller to compensate).  By offering fantastic value, proper fan service, and doing one thing at a time, Nintendo is showing everyone else how to do DLC right.  Now if only they would release some proper old-school Battle areas…

-The DPad Bulls

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Is It Okay to Complain About Free DLC?

I don’t know how many of you out there have ever played this little cult title I love known as Mario Kart, but the eighth game in the series, (the aptly named) Mario Kart 8 for Wii U recently got some free Downloadable Content in the form of marketing for Mercedes-Benz. For over twenty years, Mario and friends have been zipping around in, well, Karts, with some cartoony motorcycles thrown in for Mario Kart Wii. But now, for the first time in the series, cars from the real world are in Mario Kart and fans seem to be split down the middle on it. Some are thrilled to have three new cars and a set of wheels, while others think that some sacrosanct rule has been transgressed by allowing a real-world brand into the game? In the end, whether you mind or not may come down to whether or not you like Mercedes cars or not, but I’m not not here to settle that for you. I’m here to settle the most common rebuttal to the opposition. They say, “How can you be upset about it when it’s FREE?” So I’d like to think about that for a moment. Can you be opposed to something when it’s free?

So maybe this argument is over before it starts. After all, I can think of a couple hundred things off the top of my head that I wouldn’t want even if they were free: a bucket of vomit, polio, a tiger… you get the idea. Though perhaps the more fair way to go about it is to ask only about games. Is there a game you would wouldn’t want even if it was free (not counting Russian Roulette)? Really, for any video game, board game, card game, anything, the worst case scenario is that you don’t like the game and throw it away. The insinuation with the argument that you can’t be mad at free things is that in the worst case, it’s only a zero sum game. You’re not out any money, so you’re not losing something. Unfortunately, this is a fallacy.

The problem is that if you don’t like having Mercedes-Benz in your Mario Kart, there ISN’T any way to throw it away or get rid of it. Sure, you can delete the entire game from your Wii U and start from scratch if you don’t mind losing all of your progress, but you can’t get rid of only the DLC. On top of that, the automatic update that adds the shop link to the main menu means that every time you turn on Mario Kart, you’re going to see the bar if the bright red exclamation point and a picture of a Mercedes on the main menu. Not to mention that you’ll still see other players using them if you play online. My point is that it isn’t feasible to completely ignore the DLC. So if you prefer to only play with real-life cars in Need for Speed, you’re out of luck. If the magic is ruined for you, it’s now irreversibly ruined, so you definitely have a legitimate beef with the promotion, free or not. Fortunately for me I don’t mind it, but if you do my sympathies. And feel free to explain to anyone who tells it doesn’t matter because it’s free that they’re missing the point.

-Doug H

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HD ports and Definitive Editions

So, I must confess that the console I’ve been playing the most the past couple weeks is my old Gamecube. I’m a bit OCD and I enjoy going back to polish off games that I never 100% completed. This time around, I took on the task of replaying The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker with the goal of collecting all collectables, including completing the figurine collection. For those who don’t know, there was an item in Wind Waker called the picto-box, that was essentially and in-game camera. by taking a picture of any character or enemy in the game and bringing it to an NPC near the second dungeon, you could get figurines with descriptions to put in an in-game gallery, similar to the trophies that you collect in Super Smash Bros. There are over 100 figures, so it’s a time consuming task to say the least.

All of this is a long-winded (pardon the pun) way of saying that I’ve been looking at old gamecube graphics for a lot of hours. So when I put in my copy of Wind Waker HD, last year’s rerelease for the Wii U, it was something of a shock to the system. Nostalgia might make you remember Wind Waker like Wind Waker HD, but when you put them side by side, it’s a stark difference. As much as I enjoy the collector’s pleasure of owning the original gamecube disc (I never have been able to bring myself to sell games I’ve beaten), there is no way I would ever play through the Gamecube version if I decided to beat Wind Waker a fourth time. Between the graphics and the elimination of some fetch-questing, I’ll stick with the HD version from now on. All in all, the upgrade was worth buying the game again at full price. At least to me.

Why then did I make the opposite decision on another game that many consider classic?  Just recently, Naughty Dog rereleased their critically acclaimed PS3 title, The Last of Us, on PS4.  Being a fan of the original game, I considered upgrading, but eventually decided against it.  Tomarris, my friend and counterpart over on the YouTube side of The Daily D Pad, came to a different conclusion, as you might know if you came here from the link in his Last of Us tips and tricks video.  But for me there wasn’t enough value in the “Definitive Edition” for me to pay up a second time.

First of all, like Wind Waker and its HD counterpart, I have looked at the PS3 and PS4 versions of The Last of Us Side by side in the same room.  To my own eye (and agreeing with the anecdotal evidence), you can tell the difference, but it is slight.  When you use the right stick to swing the camera quickly, the difference is most apparent.  The higher frame rate on the PS4 version is easily seen under these circumstances.  Also, in low light in-game environments, the PS4 version seems to show less shadow because of upgrades to the engine.  Most  of the time, though the graphical differences weren’t glaring to me.  If you have ever been to an eye doctor to have your eyeglasses prescription changed, the difference from 720p on the PS3 and 1080p on the PS4 is like that very last set of choices on that lens device that you look at the eye chart with.  “Is the line of letters clearer with choice A … or B.  A … or B.  You usually need to  go back and forth a few times until you’re sure which lens makes the image clearer.  The subtle upgrade in resolution with the Definitive Edition is like that.  Side by side with the old version, you need to look back and forth a few times to be sure.  It wasn’t like Wind Waker HD, where it was obvious as hell which was which.

In the end, I almost upgraded anyway when Gamestop offered 50% if you traded in your PS3 version, but I balked for two reasons that very likely don’t apply to you, dear reader.  The first is that I mostly play single player, so free multiplayer DLC is not a draw for me.  The second is that the total Hard Drive install on PS3 is about 5.5 GB between the main game and the Left Behind DLC.  On PS4, the mandatory install is 50 GB.  Killzone: Shadow Fall was the same, and at that pace, I can only put 9 games (remember that with firmware, the actually PS4 memory is quite a bit less than 500GB) on my PS4 at a time.  So in the interest of putting off buying a bigger Hard Drive for as long as possible, I’ll stick with my PS3 copy.

-Doug H

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Is Day One a good thing?

As this Blog is just starting, Day 1 seemed an appropriate topic to begin with. What is Day 1 for a video game blog, you ask? Well, there are plenty of “Day Ones” (my, that is an awkward plural in writing) out there, particularly in two video game arenas. The first, and most obvious, I think, is the survival game. Whether you’re playing Minecraft, DayZ, or Don’t Starve, Day One is crucial. Every new play-through starts in that same place. But, as our title asks, is that a place we want to be?
First off, I don’t think anyone is under the delusion that a Day One is much fun by itself. Your first day in Minecraft, the popular resource gathering and building game, is spent scrabbling to put together just enough to get through the night. In DayZ, an online, zombie survival sim, where frankly the difficulty means that your Day One is also your only day, it is about as far from fun as you can get to be basically alone and naked, scrounging through tins and candy wrappers in abandoned farms, hoping just to find something useful enough to use before a zombie, or worse, other players find you. Despite the promise of a fresh slate, Day One in these games is most defined by starting from zero and having a long uphill climb ahead before any kind of stability or security can be found.
A different kind of example we can look at is the strategy game. Take Advance Wars, for example, the turn based, grid based classic for the gameboy. Each turn is a Day and those first few turns in games that usually have thirty or forty, are always exactly the same in most cases: beginning the construction of infantry and support troops to make enough money or secure enough space to build the bigger, better, units. It’s always the same and it’s rarely interesting. How about Pikmin. In this case, Day One is essentially a tutorial, and everyone loves tutorials, right? The Prosecution rests. But what about the Defense?
Now to be fair, any Day One does serve a purpose of a kind. While I jest about tutorials, you have to learn how to play Pikmin somehow, right? No one runs before they walk. Working backwards, the Day One in Advance Wars (or similar games like Fire Emblem) may often be the same, but it is in those first few turns that determine the course of everything that follows. Watching your opponent early on lets you know whether they plan to play the long game or invest early, trying to wipe you out before you can produce high powered units. What fronts are they defending, etc? And to be fair, campaign missions in Advance Wars usually start the player out with Units already on the field, and a specific arrangement of Enemy troops to analyze.
So how about the survival game? I don’t think I can ever justify calling Day One “fun” in Day Z or Minecraft, but I do think I can justify a value for it. The early days of a survival game provide the difficulty, and in extension, the reward for these games. Why do people enjoy super difficult platformers like Cloudberry Kingdom and Donkey Kong Country Returns? Because when you finally do prevail, it’s really damn satisfying. You feeling like you’ve conquered the world! If it was easy, the reward wouldn’t be so good. Likewise, without suffering through Day One (and Two and probably Three) in a game like Day Z or Minecraft, it wouldn’t be as special to have built a home, or fortress, with defenses and resources, and security. You get the satisfaction (if you stick with it) of looking out at what you’ve built and knowing that you made all, against the odds, from nothing.
In the end, despite how little fun a Day One ever is, I think we need them in our video games. While beginning with an empty battlefield in Advance Wars is still annoying, in all the other circumstances above, I thing Day One is something you need. You need it to set the stage, lay out the rules, and challenge you to make it to Day Two. So the next time you’re with a friend who’s playing Minecraft or DayZ for the first time and feels like they’re not any good, maybe prop them up and tell them it’ll get better. Unless they suck at video games. Then they should stop and go play Kirby.

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Doug and Tomarris