What Do You Want To Do When You Get Older?

I can’t be the only one who got into his late 30s before deciding it’s time to tackle this big question? To this point I’ve not known the answer. Instead of pursuing a vocation or a career, I’ve settled for a string of customer service jobs – in several areas of insurance and, most recently, on London Underground stations – and for the past 5 years I’ve been quite happily unemployed, a househusband and latterly a stay-at-home dad. Recently I’ve been thinking of this question, and considering several answers.

It may sound,in the surface, like a contradiction in terms, but I exist on this fine line lazy and hard-working. That is to say: when I have something in mind that I consider suitably important, or enjoyable, I am quite content to while away hours, days and weeks to perfecting it. But anything else, I’d rather not do. I played guitar for hours every day until I was happy with my skill level with the instrument (though in recent months I’ve been thinking I’d like to take it further now). When I work on a piece of art I can put tens of hours into making as good as it can be, to push myself to the limits of my talent.

For some years I’ve considered a career as an artist. Trying to tap into the tourist market of Amsterdam with my line-art cityscapes makes quite a lot of sense, as I’m sure there is a market for just such posters and postcards. I spend hours drawing the images, but then don’t put in the time and legwork to make it happen.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a comic, to follow 2014’s doomed Deathridge. The latter saw some small success when I self-published, with the majority of reviewers praising it, and a select few readers giving positive feedback always. But I lost heart with the few bad reviews – partly because I knew I could, and should, have done better. I rushed the comic to meet some imaginary, arbitrary deadline, just to push myself unnecessarily. It was stupid, and a shame that I let something so daft get in the way of making the comic perfect. So the new idea would have to be special, really push myself to breaking point with my drawing and writing. And if, after all that, it’s not good, then I know for sure that it’s not something I should pursue.

Both of the above artistic endeavours are still feasible. They can both be worked on in my spare time, using the iPad Pro I bought precisely because it would enable me to sit and draw wherever I am. But they’re just not clicking right now. I’m not in the right frame of mind to get stuck into either one.

Which leads, in a roundabout manner, to my latest self-improvement avenue.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing and recording a new album. Really this idea came about a couple of years ago the last time I started a band, and we discussed a desire to record some songs. As is always the way, the band got nowhere and came to nothing, so once again I am thinking of recording all parts myself. Which is always fun. I learned a lot in 2015 when I wrote and recorded a song every week as that year’s creative project, and hope I can put that knowledge to use to record a better album than I did that year.

At the weekend I received a call from a guitarist, with whom I’d started my first band in Amsterdam, a little over 3 years ago. He told me he’s come to the realisation he’s getting older (52 this year), and only has one chance to do something with his music other than play alone in a room. He wants to get a band together, write some songs, and record them. So he has something to leave behind.

This final sentiment has been turning over in my head for some days. For my whole life I’ve not been too concerned about leaving anything behind. We’re here, then we’re not, and that’s ok. But not I have a young son, and everything looks different. I said yes to the band, naturally, as I crave to play with others again after a few months without it. It’s actually most of two years since I played in a room with a full band.

Thinking of recording this band-to-be, I realised I have much of the equipment required to mix the album myself, and save many many euros in the process, but of course it needs to be fantastically good, with a professional finish. I’m not at that standard, but I’m certain I could be.

So after that long, pointless message, I come to the point – I am considering a new career, that of Audio Engineer. I am reading up on it all, and at this point you must understand it is little more than a thought. Inspired by a story my wife told me a while back about a man who didn’t want to pay thousands to have his house renovated, he instead paid a few thousand to complete a course, became qualified, and did it himself. And now he runs his own company, getting paid to do it for other people.

I suppose my thinking is, simply, that with the right learning I can mix, perhaps also record, our band, and make the record myself, saving paying someone to do it for us. Then, maybe, the skills will be ingrained enough that I can make a bit of pocket money from it.

Sure, I know it’s not the kind of job that will grant me a sizeable income, but if I can turn it into something to be proud of then that will be nice.

When I imagine my son at school, being asked “what does your daddy do?”, I am sure I’d rather he say “he records bands and makes records” than “he plays PlayStation”.

Into 2019

Another year over. Each one seems to fly by faster than the last. It’s been a good one by all accounts, with many great video games released, some good music, films and TV, and in a personal note watching my son grow to be two and a half has been a pleasure. I succeeded for the first time in completing a daily project without missing a single day (results to be found here). So, what’s next?

The first thing to announce is my next daily creative project. I’ve thought over several options, including a daily webcomic, a weekly song (last done in 2015 with 45 songs recorded) and continuing the daily sketches from this year but with a more focussed theme. I even contemplated taking a year off to avoid burning out. It was the recent purchase of an iPhone XR, with its fantastic camera and large screen, that made up my mind – 2019’s daily project will be one of photography.

There is an accidental, recurring theme in my general photography of paths. The simple act of travelling from one place to another, literally or figuratively, is fascinating to me, and so next year’s project will take that name and concept towards its natural end – “Paths”.

As with all my projects, this one will not be done for its own sake. Instead it will be used to focus my creativity and improve a particular set of skills. In this case the art of photography itself, with framing, composition and so on improving through the year, whilst at the same time learning how to make the most of my iPhone’s camera, associated software and, at least at weekends, teaching me better use of my DSLR (a Sony Alpha 390 that has been stuck in its bag for several years, largely unused.) I have a new battery and an empty SD card waiting for me.

I also intend to purchase various equipment that will help me to learn and improve. In this case this will most likely come in the form of various lenses and (probably the most important) a tripod. I have a desktop one, but not a full-height stand.

All in all by this time next year I hope to have come a few steps closer to mastering photography and to have permanently upgraded my ability to take better photographs.

I mentioned a daily comic as one option for this year’s project, and that idea is not entirely out of the frame. In addition to my new photography project, in addition to finally setting up my Etsy shop and trying to sell some of my art, I intend to start work on a comic.

There’s not a lot to say at this point, except that it will involve a video game setting and will take its name from this blog, and my main social media brand – Bitland.

Watch this space.

So. These are my loose plans for staying busy in 2019. I’m quite excited to get into it all and enjoying the satisfaction in a year’s time of having successfully completed another daily project, and carrying the improved skills that go with it into the future. How about you? Do you have any creative projects planned for 2019? Or maybe you just have a list of video games you’d love to finish this year? Come chat me up on Twitter @BitlandGaming.

Gaming PC? Probably Not

I last built a gaming PC in 2009, to play Left 4 Dead in a clan I had then recently joined. It costs £1000 and lasted until I gave it to a friend near the end of 2014, before I left the UK, still running new games at least at 1080p60 on medium to high settings. It was fun, I always loved to sit at my desk, isolating myself in a digital realm and getting away from the real world, a feeling that console gaming on a sofa doesn’t quite achieve. Since I gave it away I haven’t had much desire to replace it.

Things have changed a lot in console gaming over the last decade. Starting with Xbox’s launch, and continuing through the seventh and now eighth generations of video game consoles, we’ve seen the gap between console and PC gaming close. Once upon a time, games on DOS were quite different to those on Nintendo’s consoles, which were again different to Sega’s. Not just in terms of graphics and sound; the style of gameplay itself was different. As we moved into the early days of 3D gaming in the mid-1990s, things didn’t change. Each manufacturer (including Sony once they joined in, and Sega until they stopped) had their own way of going about things that was reflected in the games released on their systems. Look at PlayStation or N64 for example. Two systems doing much the same thing at the same time, but if you saw a screenshot you’d likely immediately recognise the flavour of the system, and therefore know what system the still was from.

Roll on to today, and there is little to distinguish a game on any of the two major consoles, or Windows. Sure, there will forever be someone running comparisons of graphics across the three, and sure Windows will always win… but if you take this away, the games are the same. No scenes are cut to fit the game onto a disc, or levels reduced due to RAM limitations. The only tangible difference comes down to how important those graphics are to you, and your choice of controls.

This ignores console exclusive games, which may or may not be a selling point. They may influence your decision to choose one system over another, but they don’t fundamentally change the fact that the experience is similar throughout. I’m also discounting Nintendo consoles because they don’t quite fall under the remit of this article; Nintendo have been, and continue to be, on their own path basically since they joined the race.

In respect of the Xbox One, many of the games I play include cross-buy, meaning if you buy a game on Xbox One, it is also playable on Windows 10. This assumes you bought the digital license, and is not applicable to discs for whatever reason.

Ultimately my point is: I don’t need a gaming PC, with its high outlay, to enjoy the games I want to play. Sure they don’t look as nice, but the current consoles sure look great at 1080p, sitting 3 metres away from my TV, even before you consider Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. It’s far more comfortable to sit back on my sofa, controller in hand, with carefully optimised surround sound.

Since I ran a Left 4 Dead team I’ve suffered long-term effects of repetitive strain injury, making keyboard and mouse use difficult, but a controller remains comfortable. Sometimes it helps to turn of vibration, but that’s a small concession. I’ve become quite adept at playing the games I want with a controller, and game developers have at the same time become quite adept at satisfactorily using the controllers.

Thanks to my iPad and my Switch I can also enjoy a game whilst sitting on the sofa with my family – no need to isolate myself in a separate room any more.

My PC used to double as a workstation, using a Wacom tablet (sometimes just a mouse) to create art. When I discovered iPad Pro and Apple Pencil a little over a year ago, this role (that had in any case been perfectly filled in the interim by a Mac Mini) became redundant. GarageBand on my Mac Mini (and at a pinch on iPad) has become my choice of software when recording songs, and my USB interface works perfectly with both. Entertainment is handled by the iPad, with apps for Netflix, Youtube and Spotify keeping me going. I can mirror these apps to Apple TV while I work, or plug my iPad into any HDMI port via an adapter – useful on trips.

I’m struggling as I write this to come up with a single reason to purchase a gaming PC. It seems the only reason is improved graphics. And, if it means anything to you, the use of mouse and keyboard. And maybe a few games that aren’t available on consoles.

Anyway, there’s no point to this post. I just feel like writing. If, however, you feel like sharing your feelings – please do, either below, or find me at Twitter @BitlandGaming. Cheers.

PlayStation Classic – My Thoughts

“Just get a Raspberry Pi, Braaaaaaah.” No. This is not that kind of smug commentary, where I try to prove I know something you don’t, and that you’re stupid for that. But there are some alternatives to the PlayStation Classic, a mini version of the first PlayStation that comes with two replica controllers and 20 built-in games. Here I discuss my thoughts on the machine.

First of all, I feel I should say this is the first of the recent rash of mini consoles that I have had zero excitement for. NES, SNES, C64 all caught me in their hype bubble, but all three ultimately disappointed me. NES Mini was the best of the bunch, but I’m just not that interested in its library. SNES Mini has slowdown in most games I tried, which left me preferring OpenEmu on my Mac, and the C64 Mini… well let’s just say the games have aged, mostly terribly, and the mini has tarnished my fine memories of the system! But this repeated disappointment in reliving games from my past is not the main reason I have no wish to buy the PS Classic – that would be due to the selection of “classic” games being presented.

Sure, these things are subjective, but that list is… disappointing. Resident Evil Directors Cut, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII are the only two that really stand out to me, and I have them already on my PS3 (having sold most of my PS discs some time ago). Others may have their eye on a few of the other games, but to me they’re nothing more than curios of a bygone age, where they should stay. Even an old favourite of mine, Syphon Filter, is a mess of a game by modern standards. I tried it recently and got tired of it quickly.

Licensing is clearly an issue for this, and similar units. Activision’s license to sell Tony Hawk games famously expired a couple of years ago (leading to the rushed, awful Tony Hawk’s 5, which can never be released again (with the game actually on the disc rather than downloaded, using the disc as proof of license), nor fixed, because they’re not allowed to sell it ever again. This rules out four fantastic games from the series that were released on PlayStation from appearing here. Undoubtedly other games and series are unavailable to Sony for similar reasons – particularly sports games that rely heavily on short-term licensing, or games with licensed music (remember when Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was updated, removing several songs from the soundtrack even for people who already owned the game. Gran Turismo is another obvious example, with cars and music licensed to appear in the original release.

Other games for which Sony hold a license (Crash Bandicoot and Spyro for example, for which games from both series are available on the PlayStation Store on PS3) are absent presumably for one reason – in an attempt to not interfere with sales of their “remastered” collections. Likewise Resident Evil 2, for which a remake is due in a couple of months. I don’t personally believe that this rings true. In fact, I find it likely that to have included at least the first of each series of Crash and Spyro would add tremendous value to PS Classic, whilst allowing people who haven’t played them to see what they’re all about – and possibly lead to more sales of the trilogy remasters.

The PlayStation was home to a great new breed of rhythm games – Parappa The Rapper, Vib Ribbon, Bust A Groove. Any of these would be welcome additions to the PS Classic, except perhaps Vib Ribbon, which relied heavily on its ability to build levels from your own CDs. There is, however, a bit of a problem. Due to latency issues introduced by modern LCD and similar televisions, the games are largely unplayable today! The few milliseconds of delay in a typical modern television’s processing are enough to through your timing off and lead to a failed song. Want proof? Try and play either Parappa or Patapon Remastered on your PS4 through HDMI. It doesn’t work.

So, there are (mostly flimsy, financially-led) reasons why the game selection is so weak, with many of the true classic of the system being absent. Why Sony decided not to, for example, include more of the Resident Evil or Final Fantasy games is beyond me. Tomb Raider, Soul Reaver, Tenchu, Silent Hill, Parasite Eve (available on the Japanese release!), Doom, Quake 2, Driver, any number of Street Fighter and RPG games are all conspicuous in their absence.

Which leads to a solution, one that certainly works for me, and may perhaps for you too. It’s a simple solution, and one that ultimately grants you exactly the same experience as the PlayStation in terms of using an official controller and a modern HDMI connection to your modern TV set, albeit with a customised list of games.

I simply went onto the PlayStation store and bought myself the games I wanted, which I then downloaded to my PS3 and my PS Vita. I can play the games on my TV when I fancy it, or on the go with the Vita. With PS3 I can, of course, use an official DualShock 3 controller (not too dissimilar to the PlayStation controller) and output with several scaling options at 1080p. Those games that aren’t available on the PlayStation Store, or for those of you who prefer a physical representation of your games library, are widely available to buy on disc – PS3 is compatible with PS discs, and will emulate a memory card to save your progress.

All in all this renders the PS Classic obsolete before it even launches. Which is a shame. If only Sony had put a little more thought and effort into the product, maybe I would have been more excited by it. As it is, it can go sit in a special, dark, damp place previously occupied solely by @Games Mega Drive replicas.

These are my thoughts on the PlayStation Classic. Perhaps you agree with me, perhaps not. Either way, look me up on Twitter to continue to chat @BitlandGaming!

Nintendo Switch Online (and others) – Thoughts

So the other day Nintendo dropped their Switch Online service. After 18 months of online play with the likes of Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 DX, anyone wishing to continue to play these games over the internet must now subscribe to the online service. Here are my thoughts on the service as we’ve seen so far, and further on equivalent services from Nintendo’s rivals.

What you get:

Nintendo Switch – €19,99 per year for an individual, €34,99 for a family account allowing up to 8 members. A handful of online-capable games available, and a library of NES games with added online multiplayer functionality. Discounts on select eShop games are promised soon. Controversially, the online subscription also provides a cloud service for your save games – much like PlayStation Plus (Xbox One provides this for free as standard). The difference, and the reason for the controversy, is that Nintendo provide no local manner in which to back up your saves, so if you don’t pay you lose it all in the event of a broken or lost console.

Sony PlayStation 4 – €59,99 per year gets you online in any game that supports it, discounts on many games on the PlayStation Store. Included games every month include two PS4 and two PS3 titles, sometimes with crossplay which means you get up to 4 PS4 games and many of them also work on PS Vita. Lately they’ve been including PSVR games too. PS3 games will be phased out in the next few months.

Microsoft Xbox One – €59,99 per year. Much like PlayStation Plus, Xbox Gold unlocks full online play on all available games, discounts on select games in the Xbox Store, and included monthly games. Two for Xbox One, and two for Xbox 360. The 360 games always work on Xbox One thanks to backwards compatibility. The big standout is that Microsoft allow you to keep all the Xbox 360 games forever, even if you unsubscribe – so even ignoring the other benefits, for €60 you’re getting 24 games to keep. Nice.

Value for money:

On the surface, It seems Nintendo provides the best value, at one third of the cost, or much less if you sign up with 7 others for the family account. But when you look at what you get for that money, it starts to look pretty weak. Only a couple of games exist with online multiplayer (Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 DX being the main two). For 18 months these have been playable with no additional costs – longer when you consider their Wii U versions.

PlayStation Plus and Xbox Gold may cost a good chunk more, but those consoles also provide considerably more online playable titles, and I would argue much better value in the included games – after all, so far the NES games included with Switch Online include Super Mario Bros 1 and 3 amongst a heap of games I could not care less about (Subjective I know), but anyway most of them are the same games you’ve already bought on various systems previously. “Oh but you can play them on the go”. Well yes, but they’re also available (for individual purchase – which they are not on Switch) on 3DS. Not to mention the ease with which you can emulate NES on various handheld systems. So that’s not enough to entice me. For balance, the games are very well emulated, and look great on the Switch’s lovely screen.

Microsoft are clear winners in the value stakes, for the Xbox 360 library you can build and keep.

Issues of storage:

Both PS4 and Xbox One have internal hard drives, upgradable, to store your game purchases. They also both require full installations of all disc-based games, so if you buy a lot of them you’re likely to need to upgrade quite quickly even if you opt for the larger 1 or 2TB options. Thankfully both consoles make this quite simple, with support for USB 3.0 hard drives – and both provide enough power to their USB ports to support a 2.5″ drive with no additional power.

Nintendo Switch has a paltry 32GB of internal flash memory, and support for Micro SD. I recently upgraded mine with a 256GB Micro SD, which cost €79 – the same as a 4TB (i.e. 16 times the capacity) USB hard drive that I use with my PS4. This simple fact makes the Switch a less viable platform for a downloaded game library, even with the games being generally a lot smaller. Perhaps this is why Nintendo have opted for only NES titles with its online service, which take up almost no space.

Where my money is:

For years I paid for Xbox Gold, from about 2004 to 2010, so I could play Rainbow Six 3 and Links 2004 with y mate mike. Back then there were no additional benefits to the service besides being able to access online servers.

Then I got a PlayStation 3 and Sony started to offer free games with the online service. Whilst I rarely played online, I did enjoy the included games, so I switched to PS Plus until very recently when I let it lapse. There came a point where I felt that the games they gave me had little value – I had by then purchased all the games I really wanted, and many of the extra games that they gave me were of little interest; disposable, short-term fun.

A few months ago I started paying for Xbox Gold, and recently found an online store selling a year for €40, so I jumped on it. I still don’t really play online much at all, so the main benefit comes with the included games which seem to be of a much higher quality than those offered by Sony. And the fact you keep the Xbox 360 games after it all is brilliant. And then I am able to occasionally play Forza online, which is nice.

Conclusion:

So for the time being, my online allegiance is to Microsoft. If I only had a PlayStation then PS Plus is also perfectly serviceable. Nintendo have a lot of work to do before their service provides any kind of value to the consumer. They need to stop relying on their ancient NES games to carry them.

The thing is, if Nintendo provided the games individually on their eShop is probably buy a couple of them. I just bought Sonic The Hedgehog for probably the 15th time. When the price is right it makes sense. But I can play Sonic now basically forever.

All three services provide a free trial period – 14 days on PlayStation or Xbox, 7 days on Switch, so you can have a go at any of them and see what you think.

I haven’t mentioned Steam here. I don’t think a fair comparison can be made, after all Steam is primarily a shopping platform with a front end to organise your purchase and an overlay to help with online play. It’s a great service, one I used to use an awful lot before my right hand gave up and made using a mouse impossible. Whilst online gaming on PC is (for the most part) free, it is also supported by private servers, for which some individual or organisation is paying. Besides, it’s not a closed platform as the consoles are.

Incidentally, those online PC games that do charge, such as World of Warcraft, cost annually more than any of the console services. For one game.

Nintendo Switch – Some Thoughts After a Year of Ownership

I realised last night that I’ve had my Switch for almost a year. It’s hard to believe a whole year has passed since I finally caved and grabbed the console, not long before Super Mario Odyssey was released. In that time, though, I’ve played many hours of many games (my current library is 93 games strong) on the system and thought it about time I shared my thoughts. Something of a long-term review I supposed.

Build Quality

The build quality of Nintendo’s consoles historically has been pretty solid. Sometimes the plastics can look a bit cheap, or toy-like, but they’ve always been solid. Not brittle, not flexible. Switch is no exception, and feels like a quality, premium product in the hand. The slightly rubberised finish of the joycons and main console are pleasant to the touch. And that screen… it makes even the mighty PS Vita screen look a bit rubbish. Well done Nintendo. If I had a complaint about the screen, it’s that the lens is plastic. I understand that this is because a glass screen would be more prone to shattering when dropped, so in that respect is makes sense, however it does detract from the overall premium feel of the console, and could be prone to scratches. I installed a glass screen protector on mine, which has been fine for a year.

That said, I have discovered a weakness in the design, and that is in the clips that hold the Joycons to the side of the console. I’ve had three of the controllers replaced because they stopped holding on, and with little pressure would disconnect. On investigation it was obvious that notches had formed in the plastic clips on the Joycons themselves, creating a slope where there used to be a flat surface, allowing the controllers to fall free quite easily. My current set have been in place for a few months now with no further problems, so maybe Nintendo solved the problem with a harder material.

Battery life in handheld mode tends to be around 3-4 hours, dependent of course on screen brightness and the game you’re playing. I’ve played simple indie games in the evening with the screen brightness low for a few hours and still had juice to spare. Considering the size and quality of the screen, this is no mean feat so points to Nintendo for that.

Finally, the power supply provided is of a high quality, with a thick, heavy cable and bend protection to keep it safe where the cable meets the plug and connector. I bought a second one – one stays connected to the dock, which is in turn connected to my monitor in my office upstairs. The second power supply is down in the living room so I can play on the sofa without worrying about having to take the console to the dock in between sessions.

In Use

As I’ve said, the console feels good in your hands. I play mainly in handheld mode, and then mostly on our sofa while a film or such plays on the TV. Comfortable for long game sessions despite its large size, the rounded corners of the attached Joycons don’t dig into your palms. It’s a shame the power socket is on the bottom, as slouching on the sofa means the power cord pokes into your belly. It would be better on top, though I have sought out a right angle adapter (with no luck so far) to solve this another way.

The screen is a wonder. Great contrast with some very strong blacks and whites and lovely colours in between, and a very bright backlight to show it all off. The buttons are, for the most part, well-positioned and satisfying clicky. The joysticks too have a satisfying weight to them, though they’re not suitable for all genres of game, as they are quite short compared to those found on traditional controllers. The only problem I’ve had with the Joycons is caused by their small size, and my massive hands. It’s too easy to knock a button when using the analogue sticks (or vice versa), and the “minus” button on the left Joycon is difficult to use due to its proximity to the left stick.

The console is easily inserted into its dock, with the gameplay immediately transferred to the attached screen (in my case a 25″ 1440p monitor. The maximum output of the console is 1080p, so for me the image is a little blurred, not that I notice once I’m playing. The system clock speed is reportedly increased when docked, which can improve the performance of some games.

One of the better reasons for docking the system is the Pro Controller. Basically the same as any other games controller available today, it is a very solidly busily thing, which feels great in the hand. The buttons and sticks are bigger and better than their Joycon counterparts, and battery life is an impressive 20+ hours. It also supports motion control elements found in the Joycons and supports rumble.

The Games

The Switch library is, in a word, incredible. Also inedible, and to make sure you know it they’ve coated the cartridges in a foul-tasting chemical. I tried it, it’s true.

It lacks a lot of the AAA third party titles found on the other consoles, as is typical for Nintendo, however it is backed by an impressive array of indie titles (both on the eShop and retail cartridges) and some fun first party games.

So far I’m not that impressed with Nintendo’s own releases for their console. Super Mario Odyssey (one of the main titles I bought the system for) is ok, but not my favourite of the series by a long shot. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild is likewise far from my favourite in its series, though it has its charms, particularly when you let go of expectations and fall into the world.

Too many of their other releases are re-releases from Wii U’s library, and too many of those are released at full price despite being several years old at this point. Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Hyrule Warriors are amongst the offenders, though the latter two are at least priced at €40 (against a standard retail price of €65) which offsets their age a little. They are both considerably more enjoyable on the Switch too.

Nintendo blame inflated cost of indie games on the cost of their proprietary cartridges, which a publisher must purchase from the big N. They also suggest that the higher prices on the eShop compared to Xbox and PlayStation stores is due to price matching the retail cartridges. Considering that the same business practice was in use on bother Wii U and Wii before this, both of which used optical discs, I’m going to call that a lie. It’s a shame that some games cost around 25% (sometimes much more) over the same game on other consoles. Sometimes the strength of playing on the Switch is enough for me to repurchased my favourites with Nintendo tax, sometimes it isn’t. I suppose the marketsupports the prices they set, so we won’t see a change any time soon.

There are many great indie games on the system. Axiom Verge, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, Owlboy, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Celeste, Mutant Mudds, Super Meat Boy, Salt and Sanctuary, Not A Hero, Super One More Jump, Shovel Knight, and Poly Bridge are some of my absolute favourites. My absolute favourites at the moment are Hollow Knight and Dead Cells, two 2D “Souls-a-like” games that have beautiful art and clever design. Quite a few of these games come to cartridge, often at a premium – most are around €20 to download, but cost €30-40 on cart, though several have added value in the form of printed manuals, art books, and other fun gifts.

One reason I prefer physical media on Switch over a download is the lack of storage space on the console – 32GB, much of which is taken by the operating system. Thankfully the Switch supports Micro SD, which has come to a point that a 128GB card is quite affordable (to anyone that can afford the console and its games) so all is not lost. You should, however, be aware that one way publishers are cheaping out on cartridges is to provide only half the game, with a several gigabyte download required to play the game. I personally have decided to avoid these games altogether, as a point of principle – I won’t support such business practice, and I prefer to reserve my storage space for the games I want to download that aren’t available on cartridge.

Labo

One final thing to discuss is Labo. Released earlier this year, with more packs to follow, Labo is a lot more than “a pack of cardboard” that many dismissed it as. The pack I purchased has many toys to build, with the cartridge complaining both software to enjoy the toys and detailed videos to help you build them. Using features of the Joycons, including the infra-red camera and HD Rumble, you can control a cardboard car, or (my favourite) play a cardboard piano. Such is the ingenuity of Nintendo, they’ve even updated Mario Kart 8 to support the Labo motorbike handles, which is quite cool.

It’s not for everyone, but as a father with a young son I look forward to him growing up and being interested in building the rest of the kits with me.

Conclusion

I think I’ve said all there is to say about the Switch. It’s a fine bit of kit, and my favourite way to enjoy the many fine indie games that are supporting the industry today. It’s a shame that Nintendo have their heads up their bums with their (re-)release schedule, and there seems little hope after over three decades that they’re about to wake up and smell the coffee, but at least we have a fine system on which to enjoy many fine games that are available. It’s strange how trends form, because Wii U was an equally strong console with some fantastic (and new) first party titles, but it was ignored. Switch was destined to be a success even before it was released, and that has borne true. It’s almost as if people can’t think for themselves. But still, I’m happy that Switch has turned the tide and sold many millions of units. Hopefully it means we’ll see a more solid release schedule in the years to come, with some original titles instead of it being the Wii U2.

Remastered Games – The Best and Worst

There’s a lot of talk lately about remasters (and remakes) in gaming. Spyro The Dragon is coming soon, we just had Dark Souls, and several other high profile releases either came recently or are coming in the near future. Here are my thoughts on the best and worst of them so far, and some ideas about what makes them good or bad.

Now when I talk about a remaster I mean a game that is re-released on a newer hardware version with shinier graphics, a better frame rate, but otherwise unchanged. Minimum effort is required on the part of the publisher, who is effectively releasing the same code with the settings at a higher level (if you imagine the same game on a PC). A remake requires some more man hours to create, generally with completely new graphics to make the game look modern. Unfortunately in most cases (Crash Bandicoot or Shadow of the Colossus for example) the underlying game engine is unchanged and so you are left with a clash between shiny new graphics and aged, clunky engine, that I find jarring.

THE GOOD

Dark Souls Remastered – This is a super recent release, and I’ve been well into it on Xbox One since it came out. I’ve previously completed the game on Windows and PS3 (with a real sense of achievement!) and loved the two sequels, so was very excited to get back into it. On the surface it’s just another remaster that turns the graphics settings up based on the last-gen release, throws in the DLC, and ultimately gives the same experience – with one key change; it runs at 60 FPS. whilst this isn’t necessarily the type of game I’d usually say would benefit from 60 over 30 FPS, it seems to have made my dodge timing a lot easier, and it does look very nice. It’s the same game, and it’s one of my favourites, so I don’t mind having it again as my PS3 is out of use and I don’t have a Windows PC. All that could have made this release better would have been the inclusion of Demon’s Souls. €40 for a single, old game seems a little steep compared to the trilogy sets mentioned below that cost the same…

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection – In terms of value, a trilogy boxset is becoming increasingly rare as publishers realise that the consumers will buy each game separately for €25 rather than as a set for €40. Thankfully Uncharted came out as a set on one disc at a good price. I’m not a massive fan of the series, but I do enjoy them so this was a perfect way to play through them. The graphics really pop here; they maintain their previous gen look, but cleaned up significantly and with a smooth frame rate. It truly feels here like we’ve reached a point that the hardware is finally powerful enough to realise the developers’ ideas.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection – Another well-priced collection of games, this one contains Games 1 to 4 in the series. The first two originally came on Xbox and here are presented in their “anniversary” editions with graphics upgraded as they were issued on Xbox 360. The other two appear as originally released on Xbox 360. There is so much value here it really puts many other re-releases to shame. I’m not a massive fan of the games, they are fun but by no means my favourite first person shooters, but they are worth experiencing, and this is frankly the best method.

Various PS3 HD Trilogy packs – For the sake of this article I’ll include the God of War collections, which each had two games. Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell, Devil May Cry, Prince of Persia. These collections gather some of the finest games from the PlayStation 2, and generally clean up the graphics well. Controls and level design are often clunky, such was the state of play in the early 00s, but this is unavoidable. Once again providing tremendous value, a slightly upgraded user experience, and the chance to revisit (or for the first time) some great titles.

THE BAD

Burnout Paradise Remastered – This one gets pride of place at the start of this list simply for being the most disappointing. A lot of hype was thrown about pre-release about the upgrades they were making to the game, with redrawn textures, 4K 60fps gameplay (on the right hardware) and other small improvements. I have an Xbox One S, in which I purchased the game, and my initial reaction was “oh.. this looks a bit rubbish”. There’s no indication that it looks better than it did in 2009 (I used to play it on Windows), certainly it’s not improved in any obvious manner. The soundtrack is the same as ever and a matter of taste – though to my ears it just shows how crap music had become by the late 00s. Gameplay is again just as you remember, there are no improvements to the game engine or vehicle handling – which is to say it’s simply not all that good. Racing games improve over time in respect of their physics and handling, and this really shows it age. The Burnout games were hardly the most advanced games this way in the first place, and it’s now easy to see the shortcuts they took on the assumption you’d always be driving at high speed. All in all this stinks of a cynical cash in, when a new game with a modern engine would have been far more satisfying and represented a greater value for gamers.

God of War 3 Remastered – I did so enjoy the third game in the God of War series. It pulled together everything that had been built in the first two games and created something truly brilliant. Epic story, tight controls, satisfying combat, it had everything and is one of the best games available on PS3. I picked up the remaster when I found it very cheap, thinking it would be nice to have another run through it before the new GoW game came out. My disappointment here stems from how little it brings to the table. I couldn’t see any real improvement to the looks compared to playing it on PS3. God of War games have always been amongst the best at squeezing all the power from the hardware, so I suppose there wasn’t really anything to improve here.

Crash Bandicoot N- Sane Trilogy – This is the entry I expect to upset the most people. This is a well-loved series, and a well-loved remake. It sure looks beautiful (way beyond what was possible on PlayStation in the late 1990s), and the games are still tremendous fun, but the same old creaky engine underneath left me feeling a bit strange – seeing this shiny, new looking game with a 20 year old engine underneath hurt my brain. Collision detection is terrible, and so is your ability to successfully navigate the 3D environment. If they’d put the same effort into ironing out these niggles as they put into the graphics this would have been closer to essential. As it happens, in a moment of great hypocrisy, I’ve pre-ordered the Switch version, as I have a feeling I’ll be more willing to overlook these faults on that system compared to my PS4 Pro.

Wii U to Switch Ports – This is little more than a cheap stab really, but I’m going to add my voice to the dissenting crowd over the matter of Nintendo’s Switch re-release schedule. The games aren’t the problem – I’m looking forward to playing Captain Toad again, and I’ve already bought (and enjoyed) Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 again. I also gave Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze another go, but returned it. I just don’t care for the game, which is ruined by its controls. If they re-released Super Mario 3D World I’d buy it in a heartbeat. The problem is, Nintendo knows this. Which is why they’re charging full price for what are essentially ports. They add nothing (besides perhaps some DLC and a slight graphical bump) to games that are now several years old, but want €60+ for them. Nintendo aren’t known for their consumer-friendly business practices, so it should come as no surprise, however looking back at Wii U’s fantastic Zelda HD releases, which came at an budget price and truly updated a couple of their most beloved games, it’s a shame they haven’t maintained this standard for this generation.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

These two games don’t really count as remasters or remakes. They simply came out around the dawn of a new hardware generation, and found their way onto both old- and new-gen hardware. However, whereas many early generation games can look no different than the previous gen release, these really improved upon what came before, and both were influential on my decision to invest in a PlayStation 4 a few years into its life. What two games? Grand Theft Auto 5 and The Last of Us of course! Both games show what can be done when new hardware is embraced to improve a game from the end of the previous generation. The Last of Us simply looms gorgeous and runs more smoothly, but it’s GTA that really pulls out all the stops – it looks fantastic, even several years later. It adds many cars from earlier games in the series, and a hundred extra licensed songs in the in-game radio. Tremendous added value and well worth an upgrade for any and that don’t have the newer version.

So there you have my thoughts on a few of my favourite and least favourite remaster/remakes on current hardware (and one group of released from PS3). I don’t subscribe to the idea that remasters are a bad thing, quite the contrary, but there are ways to market them honestly, and price them fairly, which seem to be becoming less prevalent in an increasingly dishonest industry.

Let me know in the comments here, or look me up on Twitter, what you think. Are there any remasters that have really excited you, or perhaps disappointed you?