GDC 2015

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Another Game Developers Conference (GDC) has come and gone. As I left San Francisco, all that was left was its shell: the white Moscone Center and the yellow and orange GDC banners that still proudly hung in support of a conference that has recently transpired.

“TT4_0398” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.
TT4_0398” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.

Observing this, I experienced both sadness and happiness. I am sad that I won’t get to see friends and exchange conversations with some of the most intelligent people I know in the industry on a regular basis.  However, I am happy to see that there is a bright future for the games industry. The attendees of GDC are the people who will change the industry. Being surrounded by them at GDC greatly inspires me to do my best in chasing my dreams and ambitions.

At the end of 2014, I moved to Japan to pursue my passion. I wanted to immerse myself more into game localization, a craft I wanted to specialize in, and become proficient in the language and culture. Everything seemingly was going to plan, but, perhaps inevitably, I ran into hurdles and roadblocks during my brief time here in Japan. These moments left a bitter taste in my mouth and I found myself feeling discouraged and my confidence was wavering. I was still determined to accomplish my goal, but my morale was at an all-time low.

“TT4_0398” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.
General” by Official GDC under CC BY 2.0.

Luckily, GDC was right around the corner. Since I was living across the Pacific Ocean in another country, I truly wondered if I could attend GDC again this year. It was tight, but I was able to make it happen. I don’t regret it at all. Like my previous GDC experiences, this year proved to be memorable and life-changing.

This year I prioritized face-to-face meetings plus sessions and roundtables which would not be recorded and uploaded onto the GDC Vault. It was an excellent decision. I met and befriended incredibly talented people who I would love to work with in the future. I also learned so much about aspects of the industry I’ve had yet to experience. In particular, the “Acting and Talent for Games: From Indie to AAA” roundtables were my favorite events to attend. These talks explored aspects of game development that I wanted to learn the most about at GDC: localization, writing, and voice acting.

I got access to a fair amount of parties too, but the award for “GDC 2015 Best Party Attended” goes to IGN’s Indie Mixer. The IGN party was great for meeting people and getting to see many incredible indie titles. Just from observation, Spider: Rite of Shrouded Moon looked very fun. I also had my first VR experience and played Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes using the Oculus. All the games at the event looked pretty great, to be honest. While I am talking about indie games, let me plug in some titles from the GDC floor. Metamorphabet and Killer Queen, the two titles I did play, were also really fun. I must also mention Butt Sniffin’ Pugs. Yes, you heard that right. Butt Sniffin’ Pugs.

This was my third GDC, but for a second time I was invited to join the Conference Associates who are also known as the CAs.  The CA program is the best volunteer program I have ever experienced. I would not hesitate to claim it to be the best in the world. Working as a CA this year made me realize just how great this program is. It manages to bring together 400 people across a wide range of disciplines and they all work together harmoniously to run the largest event designed to inform and educate game industry professionals.

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The head of the CA program must have a great sense for people, because the CAs consist of some of the most friendly, most enthusiastic, most helpful human beings I know. Not only that, the program is structured to support and include everyone. The work environment generated by the CA program is nearly utopian. Through careful observation, I think this can be credited to the established chain of service. It is one that prioritizes the attendee followed by the CAs, the CA staff, the CA head, and finally UBM. This structure and the acceptance of everyone’s opinions and ideas is, what I believe, the secret to the success of the CA program. Support from CAs does not only last during GDC, but forever. Joining the CAs is like joining a family, and I am proud and very grateful to be part of this amazing family.

Speaking of family, I am lucky enough to be joining another one. It was during GDC that I got to visit the IGN office to talk about a freelance job. I am very happy to announce that I will be working with IGN as their Japan correspondent. I’m now working with a company that I’ve been admiring, following, and reading their material since the release of the original The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in 2000. I’ve been told it’s like being in another CA family and I cannot be more thrilled.

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America I’ll miss you, but now I return to Japan reinvigorated and excited. My new life in Japan begins now.

Super Smash Bros. 3DS vs. Wii U

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I went to a Super Smash Bros. 3DS launch party, but I didn’t buy it. I don’t want to buy it. If I had money burning a hole in my pocket, that would be a different story. However, given the choice between playing Super Smash Bros. on my 3DS or on my Wii U, the Wii U version wins every time.

Despite the differences, version exclusivity wasn’t a big sale for me. The better choice boiled down to  portability, controls, and graphics.

Both versions offer nearly similar gameplay and the same roster of characters, but there are differences between the two. Since I was limited to purchasing only one of these games, I had to take these variations into account. I had to ask myself, “Which game would I enjoy playing more?”

Each version has some unique stages, trophies, and assist trophies. This is mostly dependent on the type of platform the game is being played on. The 3DS version features primarily handheld games, whereas the Wii U version focuses on console titles. Super Smash Bros. 3DS also offers a few exclusive game modes such as Smash Run and StreetSmash.

Despite the differences, version exclusivity wasn’t a big sale for me. The better choice boiled down to  portability, controls, and graphics.

Let me start off by saying…

Super Smash Bros. 3DS is Good

By now, I’m sure everyone who owns a Nintendo 3DS has tried the free demo available on the Nintendo eShop. If not, you should really give it a shot.

Wii Fit Trainer and Villager from Animal Crossing in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS.
Wii Fit Trainer and Villager from Animal Crossing in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS.

This is the fighting game’s first foray in the portable scene, and it handles the transition superbly. It looks good, handles well, and it is a portable version of Nintendo’s best fighting game. I can play Smash Bros. where ever I want. It is definitely convenient for someone who is always on the go.

This does not reflect my gaming lifestyle though. The time I spend playing games is usually when I’m relaxing at home. If I’m sitting in front of my Wii U anyways to play games, why not use it? With this in mind, portability becomes much less of an issue.

Controls: New vs. Old

The 3DS controls are surprisingly fluid. It’s almost as if I’ve been playing Smash Bros. on the 3DS all along. The keyword here is “almost.” I’m sure with enough time, I may get accustomed to the 3DS controls. Quite frankly, I’m not ready to give up the familiarity of a Wii U Pro controller, or even better, the GameCube controller.

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That’s right, it’s time to dust off those old GameCube controllers. Nintendo is introducing an adapter ($20) that lets up to four Nintendo GameCube or WaveBird controllers work with the game.

If you’re lacking one of these bad boys, standalone Nintendo GameCube controllers emblazoned with the iconic Super Smash Bros. insignia are being made available for $30. There is even going to be a special bundle that includes Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, one Nintendo GameCube controller and one adapter for $100.

This shows how Nintendo recognizes the importance of the GameCube controller to veteran Super Smash Bros. players. I certainly appreciate it. Now if only I could use it for Mario Kart 8 too…

Graphics: 3D vs. HD

Controls aside, the most obvious difference between the Wii U and the 3DS are the graphics. The 3DS has exclusive access to stereoscopic 3D with adjustable and optional character outlines. The Wii U shows off Super Smash Bros. in  glorious high-definition .

While the 3DS variant looks pretty good as it is, I never see myself fully appreciating Super Smash Bros. in stereoscopic 3D. I rarely use this feature as it is. Being able to play in HD gave the Wii U version a boost.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U is Better (For Me)

I have an excuse to use my favorite GameCube controllers again. In the graphics department, I vastly prefer HD over 3D. One day, I may lament over not being able to play Smash Bros. on a plane. Still, the Wii U version was the clear winner.

Although not for me, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS definitely has its own merit. Eventually, I may own both. I certainly would love to take advantage of this excellent Super Smash Bros. soundtrack promotion.

Nintendo and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Dress Up

Being led by Japan’s most kawaii pop idol, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Nintendo’s new New 3DS is turning heads with its customizable, cutesy cover plates known as “kisekae plates.”

“Kisekae” literally means to “change clothes,” and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu uses her trademark style to make Nintendo’s message loud and clear.

It’s not just the system dressing up. Joining the party are some of Nintendo’s most iconic characters: Hipster Bowser, Leprechaun Link, His Majesty King Pikachu, and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Kirby. Seriously, who can ignore those adorable Nintendo character makeovers?

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Kisekae Plates

The most recent addition to Nintendo’s portable line suffers from Nintendo’s odd, maybe somewhat unimaginative, naming conventions. However, the Japanese trailer for it definitely makes the system stand out. “きせかえちゃお” or “let’s dress up” is the coined phrase for Nintendo’s latest marketing scheme. “Kisekae” literally means to “change clothes,” and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu uses her trademark style to make Nintendo’s message loud and clear.New_Nintendo_3DS_FaceplatesThe kisekae plates are a feature exclusive to the smaller New Nintendo 3DS. LL (the XL version) owners will still have to depend on limited edition versions to get a “customized” theme. Regular New 3DS owners already have a selection of approximately 40 designs, featuring a variety of Nintendo characters and patterns, to choose from. Prices vary from 1000円 – 3000円 or $10 – $30.

Menu Themes

An intriguing, and surprisingly rarely mentioned, feature of the kisekae plates are their ability to also customize the menu interface. Regular 3DS and 3DS XL owners can also join the fray. Riding in on Nintendo’s wave of customizability  are downloadable custom themes for the menu interface for all 3DS systems.

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In October 2014, a system update will add a new “Theme Shop” to the Home menu. Equipping these different themes will transform the menu background, icons, and folders. It will even change the music and sound effects!

The “New” in New Nintendo 3DS

The New Nintendo 3DS offers a ton of new features: a more powerful CPU (allowing New 3DS exclusives such as Xenoblade Chronicles), a new C-stick and two additional shoulder buttons, Micro SD card functionality, environmentally adjustable backlight, and NFC connectivity (Amiibo support). Oh, and my favorite, enhanced stereoscopic 3D which removes the dreaded “sweet spot.”

Surprisingly, out of all of these features, it is the kisekae plates which are becoming the most noteworthy new addition. More than ever before, Nintendo is allowing players to express their individuality, which is remarkably un-Japanese. Maybe this a sign of changing times in Japan or simply Nintendo’s awareness of a global audience.

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There is no doubt about it, the collaboration between Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Nintendo is some of the best Nintendo marketing we’ve seen since the Wii era. It certainly caught my attention and I love those character redesigns. One day, I’m definitely going to cosplay the very dapper Leprechaun Link.

Game Text Writer