Daily Archives: March 8, 2006

Reader Request Week 2006 #4: The Nintendo Revolution

Mmmm… let’s talk video games! Greg Lescoe asks:

Having been a videogame journalist for some time, I would assume you’re keeping tabs to at least some degree on the industry itself. That said, what do you think about Nintendo’s potentially risky gamble to eschew better visuals (at this point not as significant an upgrade as in previous generations) in favor of other, non-graphics-related upgrades? And do you think that their refusal to do the "let’s put everything imaginable into a silver box and charge half a grand for it even though nobody will use it for anything but videogames and maybe movies early on" thing will help or hurt them in the end? 

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I think Nintendo is going to come out of it just fine, as long as they can manage to get the Revolution in at the $200 price point.

I think it’s important to note that Nintendo is not actually playing the same long-term game as Sony and Microsoft. Sony and Microsoft are in a battle to the death for control of your widescreen HDTV in the living room, not just for the purposes of game playing but for the rather more nebulous purpose of being your front-line "media center." There are rather more levels to it, of course (I just wrote an OPM column about this so I won’t get into it here, but if you think Sony’s dropping Blu-Ray into PS3 just to have a more convenient game storage medium for its games, you are wrong wrong wrong wrong), but essentially those two are in a war for your living room.

Nintendo, I think, doesn’t want to be in your living room; it wants to be in your ten-year-old’s bedroom, hooked up to the little TV in there. Or if it is in your living room, it doesn’t necessarily want to be there first, it just wants to be there too.

And I think that’s wise, actually. Speaking for myself as a parent, I know that the video games Athena likes are the video games Nintendo excels at (and excels marketing itself as a platform for), the silly and mildly-but-not-too-challenging sidescrollers and jumpers. These games need not be super-intensive graphically, they just need to be fun. When Athena goes over to her grandparents, they haul out their Super NES and Athena goes to town on the Mario Brothers games for that. Does she care that the graphics are from four console generations ago? Not a bit. Heck, right now one of her favorite games is Demon Attack, which was was originally for the Atari 2600, and which she has emulated on her PC (also, in case anyone asks, why yes, I do own in on cartridge, as well as owning an Atari 2600). If she can groove on Demon Attack, she’s not going to give a crap whether the Revolution is going to have the same level vertex shading as the PS3. She just wants a fun game. As, I suspect, would most folks.

Again, the key here is price point. $200 is key. At $200 — and especially compared to the Xbox 360 and the PS3 — the Revolution comes in looking like a nicely affordable toy, something that you can get for the kids or that you can get for yourself without busting the bank (in fact $200 is not trivial. It just looks good in comparison). If Nintendo can hit $200 with the Revolution, they’re going to be golden. I mean, I would buy one just to give to Athena. If they come in higher than $200, well, now you’re talking real money, aren’t you? And it becomes less attractive.

You ask: What value is there in being the second game console in a house? Well, think about it: How many second TVs do Americans have? How many second computers? How many second cars? How many second everythings do we have? Americans (and I suspect others) like having second things, which typically are of lesser capabilities (or at least lesser dimension). You have the big screen TV in the living room and the 19-incher in the bedroom. You have the desktop and the laptop. You have the new car and the auxiliary car. You have the big dog and the little dog you got to keep it company. And so on and so on.

The folks making those 19-inch TVs are not laboring under the impression that TV is going to be the primary TV in the house; they just know you want another TV. Similarly, it’s not really a stretch to conceive of a console marketing itself as the second console, especially when so many gamers already own some combination of PS2, Xbox or GameCube, all of which will die a death when the next-gen consoles are all out. Gamers are already tuned into the idea of having two consoles, and having a $400 and a $200 one is a heck of a lot cheaper than having two $400 ones.

If Nintendo can manage to pull off the "second console" thing, they’re going to end up looking really smart, and their success will be in addition to, rather than at the expense of, the PS3 and the XBox 360.

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(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here

Reader Request Week 2006 #3: Writers and Technology

Zhwj asks about where writers and technology intersect:

Where do you think writers should be, technology-wise? With your presence on this blog, and your forays into online distribution and publishing, you probably are in the upper .n% of technologically-capable writers. And we don’t tend to hear too much these days from writers who insist on pecking things out on an Underwood. What’s the minimum technical competence at present? e-mail? online research? regexp formulation? How much does technology help (or hinder) writing? Obviously this will depend subject matter and such, but is it still possible to buy envelopes and stamps and have that be your connection to the publishing world?

Well, strictly speaking, as the vast majority of magazines and book publishers out there in the world demand query/submissions to be mailed in with an SASE, and all but the most bleeding-edge technophile publishers at the very least still accept such queries/submissions, you can indeed still get along with envelopes, stamps and paper. And I doubt that’s going to change any time soon.

Indeed, to some extent, rabidly technophile writers are at a disadvantage to more traditional writers. To use myself as an example, it’s been so long since I’ve conducted business using paper that I don’t even own a printer anymore, and haven’t for about two years now. When documents come that need to be printed out, I forward them to Krissy, who prints them out at work (I understand she pays her work for the cost of the printing) and brings them home. But what this means is that I don’t in fact query or send submissions to magazines/publishers who require paper submissions; in effect, I am cutting myself off from that 80% or so of publishing opportunities. Now, personally speaking this is not too much of a problem because at this point in my career work tends to come looking for me rather than the other way around, and people with whom I work are willing to tolerate my “paper is what happens to other people” ways. But a writer who was just starting out or who did not have a professional network akin to my current set of connections would be dumb to do what I do.

(And to be clear, just because this is how my career works today doesn’t mean that’s how it’ll work a year, five years or ten years from now; if it ever comes to a point where I have to get a printer or risk not being able to work as a writer — duh, I’m buying a printer. I like being on the tech edge of things, but I’m also not stupid about it.)

However, this is only talking about the submissions process. Can writers survive without recent technology in other ways — such as research, connecting with sources, working with editors and so on? Again the answer is yes… if you live in New York, London, Los Angeles or other places where the cultural infrastructure allows a writer real-world access to these things. If you wish to live somewhere $2000 a month gets you more than a one-bedroom third-floor walk-up, however, you really do need to be connected. To use myself again, I live in a small, rural community with one very small library, hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away from the editors with whom I work on a regular basis, and an equal distance from most of the people whom I deal with for interviews, materials and so on. I could not do the non-fiction aspect of my writing career with any sort of facility, living where I do, without today’s technology. I could do the fiction aspect of it reasonably well, but even that would be more difficult. This is in fact technology’s gift to writers: Now we can live anywhere we wish and still have access to the tools and people that (and who) allow us to be able to do our jobs. Thank you, technology!

Technology does have its drawbacks as well, of course. As I noted at a panel at Boskone, thanks to the advent of the Internet, this is the first era in which a writer’s primary tool of output — the computer — is now also his primary tool of input. Which is to say the same machine you write your stories on is also the machine from which you get your news, correspondence and entertainment and also (for a growing number of far-flung writers) community. And it’s easy to switch between input and output modes — so easy it becomes a real problem. At one point writing The Ghost Brigades I had to switch off my broadband connection because I was checking e-mail every sixty seconds rather than thinking about what I was writing. Equally, I now make it a point to get up from my computer when I’m plotting story because if I stay in front of the computer, I’ll just ego-surf or read other people’s blogs. Which doesn’t actually help me tell my story. Now, writers have never had a problem procrastinating, ever, so one can’t blame technology for this. But one can recognize that technology makes it easier.

One also should recognize that technology shapes writing and writers; the tools one uses matter in one’s final product. I have no doubt that my writing is directly informed by the technology I use to write it. I can’t imagine trying to write a novel on a typewriter, for example; I realize other people did it — for a century! — but then people lived without antibiotics, too, and I don’t want that either.

Here’s an interesting fact: All my novels to date are first drafts that weren’t outlined in advance. Why? Because the computer makes that possible. I can edit on the fly as I write so many of the major tasks of additional drafts of a book (polishing of the text, sanding down plot lines, etc) occur as I go along. The rewriting I’ve been required to do for my novels (so far, at least) has been minimal because by the time I write “The End,” most re-writing has been done as I went along. I suspect it’s not accurate to call the draft I send to my editors a “first draft”; it’s more of a “fractal draft,” in that it incorporates several waves of on-the-fly editing, emanating backward from various points in the text, terminating at the point of completion.

Doing this sort of “fractal draft” would not be impossible on a typewriter (or on a pad of paper), but it would be difficult to the point of distraction, which is why writers did have second, third and subsequent drafts of their work. Drafts are an artifact of the technology. Now, I’m aware that many writers still make two or more drafts even though they use computers, and I won’t gainsay them for doing so — the writing process that works for you is the writing process you should use. But I’m glad I don’t have to do that, and I’m glad I work on technology that allows me to write in a manner that is both comfortable and natural to me.

Back to the question of where writers should be with technology: I think if you have a recent computer and a decent Internet connection with e-mail, you’re fine — you’ve got output and input covered. Most everything else is ancilliary — possibly useful, possibly distracting, but in either case not absolutely necessary. For example, take blogging: I certainly find it useful, and in general I think it’s a great way for writers to stay connected to readers and to fellow writers. But is blogging necessary? No. You can still get along nicely without it, and ultimately, most writers today still do. Or cell phones: Handy little things, to be sure, but I went until a month ago without one and I never had any problems maintaining a writing career, and now that I have a cell phone I don’t find it doing much for me as a writer.

Despite all the neat new toys and gadgets, the last critical technology for a writer was the Internet; there may be a new killer app for writers on the horizon, but I’m blind to what it is if it’s there. For now, a computer and Internet connection with e-mail are mandatory for writers, technology-wise, and all else is elaboration.

(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here)