Words

Nintendo’s Big Switch

 

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Is this a 180?  Or maybe it’s just a 90 degree shift?  We won’t truly know till March, but Nintendo’s January 12th and 13th conferences seems to be evidence of a massive change in Nintendo’s strategy.  The Nintendo Switch itself seems to be a return to the weird, forward thinking Nintendo of years past.  After the runaway success and then nearly immediate stagnation of the original Wii and the confusing release and bizarre support of the Wii U, Nintendo needs a win.  Nintendo needs a system that will put them at the forefront of gaming again.

That’s a little hyperbolic, but even as someone who never owned a Nintendo home console, I’ve always been fascinated with them.  Nintendo consoles offered something unique from the more iterative and PC leaning consoles from Microsoft and Sony (especially Microsoft, more on that another time.)   As the Xbox and Playstation continued to try and compete with the PC in terms of power and how many gritty shooters they could each put out, Nintendo held firm with a release of titles aimed at everyone (for the most part.)  Mario games reach out to all ages and groups.  Nintendo just seems to have a knack for making games that are accessible as well as deep, competitive and engaging.

Since I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself growing more disinterested in the gritty, bloody shooters that I used to lust after as a kid.  I can’t even begin to count the number of virtual “enemy hostiles” I’ve lain waste to since my my first shooter (Project Snowblind) slid into my Playstation 2.  I’ve played every Call of Duty up to Black Ops 3, and I’ve decided to skip Infinite Warfare simply out of future-fatigue and a desire for a new gaming experiences .  Or at least new to me.

The Switch is the most excited I’ve been for a game release since the announcement of the Playstation 2.  I remember scouring magazine racks and websites trying to find any nugget of information that I could about the Playstation 2’s release.  If you remember, the internet was in it’s infancy in 2000-2001.  We had dial up, making simple searches take hours.  Today, I find myself doing the same thing with the Switch.  I keep scouring gaming websites and Reddit looking for any clue as to what the Switch will be, what its launch title looks like, how great will the portable element be?  For me, the PS4, and Xbox One were necessary, iterative upgrades that excited me insofar as having the latest system to play the latest games.  It was like getting a new car after watching your old one disintegrate into dust.  Whereas the Switch is like switching from a combustion engine to a Tesla.   It’s new, it’s different, sort of scary in a strange way, yet that’s what makes the Switch exciting.

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Both Sony and Microsoft are striving more and more to be competitive with the PC in terms of power.  Even going so far as to release iterative, mid cycle upgrades.  A first in both their histories.  Sony would occasionally release thinner consoles and Microsoft did for the first time with the Xbox 360 Slim, but PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio mark drastic changes in the landscape of console gaming.  Since the release of the Nintendo 64, buying a console was a near decade spanning investment.   You bought the console knowing that you wouldn’t have to purchase another one for at least 5-7 years.  Now, only after three years, Sony is already releasing what some are calling the PS4.5.  A slightly more powerful console with a focus on 4K gaming and VR.  Sony promises that the original PS4 will continue to be supported, and that owners of the OG PS4 need not worry, yet, it’s hard not to.  PC gaming is becoming more and more accessible especially with the recent slew of powerful yet affordable graphics cards like the AMD 480 and Nvidia’s 1050 and 1060.   Building, or buying a prebuilt PC is less of the massive financial burden it used to be.  That fact combined with the absurd deals that come with Steam sales make the PC an incredibly attractive consideration as opposed to buying a weaker, less useful gaming console.  Yes, gaming consoles have a lower barrier of entry, and are less of a nightmare to set up and maintain, but that fact is changing, fast.

That’s why its so admirable to see Nintendo sticking to their guns and making something as new and innovative as the Switch.  In a time where everyone and their children have some form of smartphone, Nintendo’s quest to make a console portable is innovative and courageous (not in an Apple way either.)  The Nintendo Switch marks a new chapter in Nintendo’s history, how that chapter will end is still unknown, but I do have faith in Nintendo’s ability to make a great console as well as great games.  There needs to be an alternative to the PS4, PC, and Xbox One, and the Switch hopefully will be that.  I hope my excitement is justified.

2017

2017 is finally here.

After one of the most unpleasant years ever, we’ve finally endured into the next one.  We can breathe easy knowing that the beast of 2016 is dead.  2017 is a clean slate, a new start, an open road.

I’ve never cared for that mindset.

I’ve never believed in the idea of a “clean slate.”  Not because I think it’s naive, but because I think it’s ineffective.  It gives one too much leeway to make the same mistakes they made in the last year, as well as causing one to  forget their mistakes, rather than learn from them.

I understand the desire for a clean start.  It’s open, free, you can make new, better decisions, you can shape your life in a new, better way.  The problem with this line of thinking is that in order to grow, there has to be a foundation.  Creating a clean slate extricates that foundation.  There’s no stepping off point, no reference for future decisions.  You’re doing everything based off of a sense of hope, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, there’s more to leading a good life than a sense of hope.

I support the desire for positive change, I just believe that trying to start fresh isn’t wise.  I think taking the poor decisions and mistakes from your previous life, reflecting on them, and moving forward is a far better solution than simply pushing it all away and attempting to simply move without those memories.  I know from experience that starting fresh is a misnomer.  What you’re really doing is ignoring the past in the hope that the future will better.  A better future is up to you, not to chance, not to luck.  You decide how your future will turn out, no one else.

Whiplash: A Perfect Film

 

Am I writing about a film that came out nearly four years ago?  Yes.  Because that’s just how much the film resonated with me.  Since first seeing the film back in 2014, I’ve watched it at least ten times since then, and in partial far more than that.  I just watched it for the umpteenth time yesterday.  If I see it on, no matter what place the film is in, I’ll watch it until it ends.  It’s a film that never seems to get old for me.  It never fatigues me in the way a Star Wars or  an Avengers would.  At one point I could recite lines word for word during certain scenes, in particular the scene where Fletcher (A role JK Simmons seemed to be created to play.)  Psychologically tortures a trombone player to the point of tears.

That’s the thing about this film.  It’s memorable.  It’s memorable in a way that’s more than a special effects spectacle, over-acted prostration, or an orgy of set pieces and scenery.  It makes use of it’s smaller scale, packing energy and emotion into small rehearsal rooms and coffee shops with the largest scenes taking place on grand stages.  I’ve seen, and will see countless other movies where storytelling and character building takes a backseat to explosions and sex, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with movies like that.  It’s just that they’ve become the norm.  It seems that Hollywood is giving us a polarized choice between watching superheroes punch each other or pretentious, inaccessible, grandiose hollowness in the form of historical dramas.  There’s rarely any middle ground and if there is something that breaks the norm, it’s regulated to independent festivals or simply ignored outright.

Whiplash is also brilliant in the simplicity of its plot.  Andrew (Miles Teller) is a young jazz drummer with immense potential and Fletcher (JK Simmons) sees that potential and works to flesh it out in the most horrific ways possible.  The premise of this movie can be summed up in a sentence.  There’s no backstory to be told, no tie in stories to memorize, wikis to read.  Someone with no knowledge of jazz can watch this film and not just understand it, but gain something from it.

Fletcher is of the belief that through pain, greatness is created.  Verbal, psychological and occasionally physical abuse are his key tools towards this goal.  Fletcher’s strategy is the complete antithesis of what we would normally see in movies like this.  There’s no positive reinforcement, no intimate encouraging conversations, nothing.  It’s blood and tears from beginning to end.  The film never lets up on its tension.  Even after seeing the film as many times as I have, I still find myself gripping the arms on my chair a little more, or leaning in during certain scenes.

Hollywood has long had a fascination with “happy endings.”  Movie endings where every character is better as a result of the events of the movie and everyone goes their separate ways, content  The world is a better place, everyone is happy.  In recent years, it hasn’t been as much as a problem, but Hollywood in it’s infinite conservatism still throws them out like I throw out platitudes.  That’s why the ending  of Whiplash was so satisfying.  Some might mistake it as a happy ending, considering that both Fletcher and Andrew smile at each other (which, if you watch some movies with happy endings, is a pretty low barrier of entry) but when you consider what Andrew went through and the character he’s attempting to prove himself to (Fletcher) you realize that Andrew’s identity has essentially been destroyed and he doesn’t seem to care about ever finding it again.  He’s a jazz drummer now, a great one, probably one of the greats, but  he’s a shell.  He lives to play and really nothing else.  He pushed away his love interest in the early part of the second act of the film simply to focus more time on drumming.  The tenderness that existed within Andrew in the beginning of the movie is gone and replaced with nothing but a drive to be the best.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having drive, but letting that drive consume you is dangerous.  Watching Andrew lose himself in his craft is mesmerizing.  There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Andrew’s father watches, in horror, as Andrew plays an incredibly intense drum solo in front of a crowd of equally interested jazz aficionados.  Andrew’s father knows he just lost his son, and he’s watching what’s left.

I love this movie.  I feel like there should be more movies like it.  Movies like this deserve more recognition, more awards, more interest.  It’s an example of a film that you would think would be more popular than it is. Damien Chazelle created a film that other directors should aspire to.  Creating a film this size with this sort of quality is a far greater feat than throwing together another war spectacle or another primary colored cacophony of spandex and explosions.  It’s’ intimate and its intense, and we should see more like it.