06 March 2017
It wasn’t meant to be, buying a Nintendo Switch on day 1. After all, I was critical of its high cost and, especially, its lack of games on launch, with only The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the only premium title. While I’m a fan of the Zelda series, I’m not a rabid fan, and have only owned three games, they being Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask (both on N64), and A Link Between Worlds on 3DS. So it was wait for other games to make the Switch a more compelling purchase, which I estimated would be by the end of 2017.
Then something mysterious happened. In the lead up to the launch on 3 March, Fast RMX – a racing game in the mould of F-Zero and Wipeout – was announced as a release title, and Blaster Master Zero – a remake of the classic NES game Blaster Master – was announced as second week release. I was more interested, without being committed. The next piece of titillation was seeing Big W offering a bundle of the system and Zelda for $519, which was $40 off RRP, or $30 off the cheapest price elsewhere. They also had the Pro Controller at $15 cheaper than anywhere else I saw. Not that any of that prompted a change of mind.
Late on Thursday night, the day before its release, I’m on youtube, and I figured reviews should be out for Zelda. They were all 10/10 at the three most reputable sites I checked. I thought then and there, stuff it, I’ll buy one. I could wait 6 months and maybe save another $20 or so, or enjoy the thing now. The price was roughly only $80 more than a PS4 when you consider respective discounts, so it was off to Big W’s website to see if I could reserve or pre-order online. Nope. So I figured I’d sleep on the decision. I awoke without any change of mind, so drove to Southland to make a purchase, and suddenly I’m an owner of a Nintendo Switch, the first Nintendo home console I’ve bought since the GameCube in 2002. Banzai!
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Impressive. Most impressive. Initially feeling quite small, the screen and joy-cons materialise into an impressive beast once all integrated as a single unit. Going through the set-up phase, instructions were to remove the joy-cons, and I found myself for the next 30 minutes or so using them in separate hands to complete the process, log into the eshop, buy Fast RMX, and then play the game. They really work nicely holding them separately. Then I attached them to the device, and that proved really comfortable too. It would be remiss not to say at this point that the screen is stunning! It’s one glorious device as a handheld and I’ll probably find myself using it this way most often, particularly since my main gaming these is on the 3DS.
Next step was to attach the joy-cons to the grip and try that with the device placed into the TV dock. There’s no compromises in the design here; it’s a quality controller, and as good as anything out there. While the buttons and control sticks are smaller than standard controllers, adjusting to them is fast, and if you can handle the setup on the 3DS handheld, then the grip and joy-con combination won’t be a problem. The buttons and control sticks are the same size, and combined with the grip the whole thing is more comfortable.
Graphically, the biggest difference was that the large TV screen made Fast RMX seem even faster. That’s a function of the much closer perspective, not that it was actually faster. Everything remained crisp and super smooth too, with the only flaw I saw was lack of, or no, anti-aliasing or other technique to reduce jagged edges. Whether that’s Fast RMX itself or a limitation of the system, we won’t know until we see more games. Reviews of Zelda cited occasional slowdown as the only concern. Not that this affects gameplay for either title and, besides, the Switch is not supposed to be a system to satiate graphics whores. That’s the domain of PC gaming where continually pumping thousands of dollars into hardware is necessary to support their insecure geekwank tendencies and pretend they’re getting a better gaming experience.
Note that there’s no conventional d-pad with the standard Switch controller, only a four-button replacement on the left joy-con. While I quickly adjusted to that when flicking through the Switch menus and inputting information, how they would work in something like a fighting game remains to be seen. I’d have preferred a d-pad as I said in the preview, especially as I believe the 2-player tabletop mode will be the least utilised of the playing modes, and the points of a d-pad could have easily doubled for a button when using a single joy-con as a controller. They also need the supplied wrist strap attachment to make the alternate shoulder buttons bigger and the controller more comfortable in general, and it’s doubtful people will be carrying those around for the odd chance of 2-player tabletop gaming.
Finally, the Pro Controller, a separate, though not a necessary, purchase. Believe the hype, it’s probably the best controller ever designed. It feels so huge after coming from the joy-cons, with bigger buttons, a bigger spread between buttons, a bigger throw of the control sticks, and a beautiful feel. Again, with Fast RMX, there was a 5-minute adjustment period to it. Ergonomically, all the control options that the Switch offers are superb. That Nintendo could nail the design and quality while retaining this flexibility is astounding. They are back to their best days of the GameCube and SNES with their controllers. They were the best ever, until now.
Internal storage has actually been the biggest gripe about the system, with only 32gb on board. I don’t see the fuss. People are again in the PC or the latest console mindset of needing large drives to download games or support massive day one patches. Nintendo operates entirely differently by releasing only complete and fully tested games, and they expect you to buy hard copies for major releases. Those hard copies are also cheaper, where you can find Zelda for $80 easily in stores compared to $90 in the eshop. The only advantage of digital downloads is they remove the need to carry around game cards. In regard to game sizes, Zelda is 13.4gb, whereas Fast RMX is less than 1gb. Snipperclips is 1.6gb, while retro titles will be 100mb or less. Unless your plan is buying from the eshop only, then the most you’ll ever need to do is add a 64gb SD card for about $30.
HOME CONSOLE OR HANDHELD?
Nintendo have made a big deal that the Switch is a home console first, a portable one second. Technical specifications, using a mobile computing chip and limited storage capacity, suggests portable first, home console second. It doesn’t really matter. It will depend on the user. Personally, my favourite mode is a pseudo home/tabletop hybrid. I plonk it on the table next to me, lie back on the couch, and use either the grip or Pro Controller to play, while monitoring something on TV. The beauty of it is that everything synchronises so seamlessly. All controllers are immediately recognised and it’s just a matter of activating your preferred mode once turning the system on. Nintendo have done a stellar job with it that sense. The next test is the games. That is something that will require waiting until the end of the year before a proper evaluation.
24 January 2017
The Last Jedi, that’s the title of Episode 8, the next movie in the Star Wars saga, so let the speculation begin. The title has such a finality to it that I couldn’t immediately rationalise it as relating to the latest trilogy, so thoughts were of a new stand-alone movie or TV series. No, it will follow from 2015’s Episode 7: The Force Awakens.
If it’s about the last Jedi, who could that last Jedi be? Given the events of The Force Awakens, that would be Rey, which means Luke Skywalker dies. Hooray! Wait, forgive me for lapsing into the moment of “the first transport is away” during Empire Strikes Back when the Rebels evacuated Hoth and I yelled “hooray” at the cinema during the re-release of the original trilogy. Anyway, Luke dying is all too easy, so we must explore further. Time to harness the force.
Rey is not a Jedi yet, and if she becomes one, why would she be the last? Even if she couldn’t discover anyone else powerful with the Force, she could easily spit out some quadruplets with the help of the midi-chlorians. The last Jedi is Luke! He needs a dignified ending, so Episode 8 will mostly be about him. After Luke trains and mentors Rey, he will retire to his remote mountain as Rey goes to save the galaxy. While the force will be with her, she’ll start her own movement. The Jedi become extinct.
To support this theory, note that the Sith are already extinct. In place now is the First Order, and the threat to them is a new force – a force that will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. Second, The Force Awakens was much a retelling of the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, so expect The Last Jedi to fill a similar role in the current trilogy as Empire Strikes Back did back in the original. The First Order will rebound, Luke is the new Yoda, and Rey becomes the sole hope of the Resistance.
22 January 2017
Democracy. Don’t you just love it? Donald Trump is officially the 45th President of the United States and it’s still quite difficult to believe – and that’s as a neutral observer. Imagine the situation for supporters and opponents. Supporters have certainly revelled in the victory and enjoyed seeing elites and the media squirm, while opponents have been a full denial mode, still obsessed with the irrelevant popular vote, Russian interference and generally throwing massive tantrums. The anti-Democratic party even saw fit for about one third of their house representatives to boycott the ceremony. Not that anyone noticed, or cared. These democracy deniers have set a nasty precedent for behaviour, showing themselves as total hypocrites and burying their phony ideals of “when they go low, we go high”. In true Trump style, he gave no concessions during his address, ripping into past administrations and the Washington establishment for their greed and self-aggrandisement, and directly belting the Obama administration when speaking about the “American carnage” that must stop right here, right now. It was a populist speech in that sense, promising to put America first on all key issues and hand power back to the people.
Personally, I found the tone of Trump’s voice a bit harsh, with the substance of the speech quite good. The best lines came towards the end – one about black, brown or white all bleeding the same red blood of patriots, and when opening your heart to patriotism, there’s no room for prejudice. That’s Trump. He does it all his own way. Again he defied predictions of delivering a mellower, more unifying speech, by repeating key campaign points heard over the last 18 months. The now former president Barack Obama looked disgusted, with Michelle Obama ashen at times. The next four years will be fascinating to say the least. Trump has affirmed his commitment to Twitter and one can only imagine his first address in front of the United Nations general assembly.
Most remarkable about the Inauguration Day is the inauguration itself. It’s set for noon on 20 January every four years, and Americans really know how to put on a show. It’s the third one I watched live after Obama’s two, and it’s hard not to feel that American pride during that monumental and peaceful transfer of power. It’s all staged so perfectly, with so such precision, and it was eerie seeing the Obamas enter the helicopter and fly out of the Capitol, just as George W Bush did eight years ago. Then comes the trek along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House by the new president, the parade in front of the White House and the inauguration balls.
Always the most impressive moment is the rendition of the national anthem at the inauguration ceremony, this time performed by Jackie Evancho (who?). She’s a 16 year old opera singer and comes from that great nursery of major talent these days, reality TV. It was a classy and dignified rendition, and really honoured the occasion itself.
BARACK OBAMA’S LEGACY
Since the election, Barack Obama has been on a “victory lap” promoting all his achievements. Apparently he’s now the best president he’s ever been, which is probably the same sentiment most of them share. There’s no real preparation for such a job, so it’s all learnt day by day, and it’s probably not until the final year or two that a president feels fully attuned to their role. Nostalgia then kicks in, as the president reflects on all these years in the job, and the sadness of suddenly being evicted. That’s more so when another party takes over and there’s a feeling of unfinished business, as Obama seemed to have. No president wants to see his work undone either. CNN did a good job recently of compiling Obama’s presidential legacy in a 2-hour special. Although it was hosted by Fareed Zakaria, a known Obama supporter, it raised many good points, exaggerated some, debunked a few, and totally missed others. The reality check.
THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (OBAMACARE)
The biggie, as it’s the only major reform or legislation Obama produced in his 8 years in office. First, for those outside the USA, Obamacare is not the universal healthcare that most of the developed world experiences, where you can walk into any public hospital, get treated, and walk out without incurring any costs. Obamacare is a plan to subsidise insurance companies to make insurance more affordable. While there’s dispute about actual figures, the general consensus is about 40 million Americans were uninsured and Obamacare took care of 20m of those. Mostly that was achieved by heavy subsidies and expanding Medicaid (government funded healthcare for the poor).
Reality Check: The US population is about 330m, which means nearly 90% of people were covered, typically by their employers, while veterans and the elderly were covered by the government. Those with plans were mostly were happy with them. To target that 10% uninsured, Obamacare disrupted the entire insurance system, throwing people off their plans, forcing businesses to stop offering insurance, raising premiums and raising deductibles (you could pay $5000 out of pocket before the insurance kicks in). Worse than that, these were all broken promises. A family’s premium was meant to reduce by $2500 per year, existing plans could be kept, as too existing doctors. It’s these broken promises that has infuriated much of America. They weren’t one-time spontaneous promises either. Obama pounded and pounded, particularly about keeping existing plans, to reassure most Americans they would not only be untouched, they’d be better off. Obamacare is in a death spiral anyway, as costs increase, people drop out, and insurers can’t compete. Much of the initial price rise stems from the vast array of essential services plans must offer to be eligible for the exchanges, and therefore eligible for Obamacare subsidies. Because people with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied insurance anymore, they’ve signed up in huge numbers, as have the poor. Meanwhile younger people in good health haven’t bothered, and those earning just a little too much to get subsidies to offset the higher premiums have bailed. Instead of a gateway to universal healthcare as most of the world knows it (Obamacare was always meant to fail so government would take over), the only real legacy is if key mandates, like pre-existing conditions and children on parents plan until age 26, are preserved when Republicans repeal and replace it. In politics, policy is often debate in itself, shifting sentiment and setting foundations, so on that measure, Obama has succeeded to help ensure no American should be denied health insurance. Grade: C
After inheriting a financial crisis, the unemployment rate is now less than 5%, and there’s been continued economic growth over much of Obama’s presidency. He also brought it some good reforms to stabilise the financial sector and he “saved” the automotive industry. What’s not to love?
Reality Check: The real problems lie behind the figures, with job participation low, under-employment high and wages stagnant. The under-employment, or high level of part-time workers, is partially due to Obamacare regulations that don’t mandate employer-based insurance for workers on 30hrs or less per week or companies with fewer than 50 workers. The one policy Obama did institute for the economy, the massive fiscal stimulus of almost 1 trillion dollars (that’s $1,000,000,000,000,000,000), failed by his own measure. Unemployment wasn’t meant to rise above 8% (it went beyond 10%), the economy took 2 years longer to begin its recovery and there’s still way too many people on food stamps and other welfare. Even now, guess what the number one issue was at the last election? The economy! Let’s not forget the USA is also lumbered with a $20 trillion debt, almost half of which is Obama’s. Grade: D
ISIS, Syria, Libya, Crimea and Russia – the world’s never been as dangerous and American power never looked so weak. In fact, Russia seems to have taken over as the world’s “policeman” by intervening in Syria to remove Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons and creating mischief in the presidential campaign. It’s a debacle. The Middle East is still a mess, and made even worse when the USA was complicit in the UN Security Council declaring Israel’s settlements illegal, and the Iran Nuclear Deal has its critics.
Reality Check: Obama ran on being the anti-war President. The USA was meant to retreat, or even “lead from behind” as cynics say, and encourage other nations to do their bit in the world’s crisis areas. Americans don’t want to be involved in any more wars, so it was easy – and honouring a promise – not to send any American armed forces into combat. His main mistake was his rhetoric did not match his actions. Talks of “red lines” in Syria made him look weak, and almost ridiculous once Russia intervened. Closing Guantanomo Bay on day 1 was never a reality (it’s still open), and it being a supposed recruitment tool for terrorists is laughable compared to Obama’s own drone program that’s killed thousands of people. Still, Obama kept the homeland safe from major attack (the key role of a president), killed Osama bin Laden and even won a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W Bush. Grade: A
One of the big promises that failed. Under the much vaunted slogan of “comprehensive immigration reform”, Obama didn’t even try, preferring to eventually use executive orders in his second term to enact DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which ensured so-called “Dreamers” (children brought illegally into the USA by their parents) would not be targeted for deportation. Not that they ever were anyway. Authorities struggle enough as is with recent arrivals and criminal aliens, so it was all symbolic to energise his party as the pro-immigration one. Sanctuary cities – cities that disobey requests by federal immigration authorities for illegal immigrants, even violent ones, to be held in detention – were allowed to flourish too. That particularly infuriated Republicans, as these cities are seen as deliberate acts to encourage illegal immigration. To counter that, Obama supporters touted the record millions of people that have been deported. These are mostly caught at the border and immediately deported. Sometimes it’s the same people over and over again, so it’s not indicative of any real commitment to border control.
Reality Check: There’s a basic, almost primal, policy difference between the two sides. Democrats want open borders, Republicans want secure borders. Republicans won’t act on any amnesty or legal status for current illegals until the border is secure, while Democrats want it all done at once. That’s why “comprehensive immigration reform” from Democrats is a code-phrase for do nothing. When you consider both sides like to use the issue politically, there’s even less appetite for reform. All of Obama’s “work” will be annulled by new executive orders, and the politicisation of the issue backfired spectacularly with the manifestation of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. Grade: F
Even with such tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Obama made no incursions into curtailing the numbers and capabilities of firearms. In the face of the constitutional right to bear arms, America’s deep gun culture and strong resistance across the country, Obama flapped around the edges with extra background checks and closing a few loopholes on gun registration. Others in his party began talking vague and suspicious slogans like “comprehensive gun safety legislation”, and even had ideas of holding gun stores and sellers accountable if the buyer commits a crime. Eventually, Obama got nothing, and the appetite for restrictions is even lower than before. The bemused rest of the world must realise that most Americans are so skeptical of federation government intrusion, and they see gun rights as the cornerstone in the protection of their individual rights and freedoms. If their guns go, what’s next?
Reality Check: Obama needed to use the constitutional right as a weapon. At the time the constitution was written, the founding fathers had no idea about the strength of weapons in the future. It was all single-shot muscats back then, even for the federal government. They couldn’t foresee semi-automatic weapons or even nuclear missiles. These days, no militia could stop the feds taking over if they wanted, and there’s gun restrictions already. Americans cannot own machine guns or bazookas, for example, so begin to extend that. Even though it’s doubtful such talk would have changed much, in a democracy, it’s all about shifting sentiment. It might take years, or even decades for something tangible to happen. It needs to start somewhere, and Obama missed the opportunity. Grade: F
This shows you the importance supreme court justices, which was an issue pivotal in Trump winning the presidency. Relax! No justice that Trump nominates will overturn the two key social issues the gay marriage and abortion. Even Obama’s two selections only kept the left-leaning numbers on the court preserved, with the pivotal decision coming from Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointee under the Ronald Reagan administration. Essentially his opinion was that under the constitutional right to equal protection, there could no longer be discrimination against same-sex marriages.
Reality Check: Obama also removed the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy about gays in the military. Of course, to show you the power of rhetoric, he was the first president to talk about gay marriage, which no doubt shifted enough sentiment for those supreme court justices to act in its favour. The country is way past this issue now. Grade: A
Tougher regulations and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, that’s about it.
Reality Check: Just like any regulation, it can be easily reversed. The PCCA is a compromise, as it’s not binding, and rather than the familar deal of restricting emissions by a certain percentage, the PCCA’s spurious “deal” is to keep warming under 2C degrees for the rest of this century. How nations will manage that, or measure it, is mystifying. It almost confers a god-like stature on governments that their action will directly cause changes in the temperature, when, conceivably, warming could halt without any “action”. After all, no one predicted the recent 18-year plateau in warming. Strangely, no one, despite all the “action” taken around the world, took credit for it either. The PCCA was designed like this solely to get the likes of China on board. They remain free to increase CO2 until 2030, when they only promise it will plateau. The good news is that, under Obama, the USA is now a major consumer of much cleaner natural gas. Fracking has taken off under Obama, meaning USA’s emmissions are way, way down, and ahead of any previous target. While that might not sit well with climate hysterics that wanted a socialist style redistribution of cash from big business and power-intensive industries to poor people unable to pay exhorbidant power costs, in terms of reducing emmissions, Obama has been a major success. Grade: A
RACE RELATIONS & UNITY
Despite Obama’s proclamations that they’ve never been better, they’ve gone backwards, and much of that is Obama’s fault. The soaring rhetoric of unity 8 years ago quickly fell for hyper partisanship, identity politics and acquiescence to real race problems in America, notably the obscene murder rate and gang violence in his home city of Chicago. Politically, the country has never been as divided before, nor the politics so corrosive. His party’s boycott of Trump’s inauguration was a disgrace, and Obama’s reluctance to speak about it, even when directly asked, epitomised his tenure to snub obvious moments of providing influence and much required leadership if it didn’t suit him politically.
Reality Check: Obama was elected twice, entered office with approval ratings nudging 80% (Trump is mid-40s), and leaves office with them almost 60%. For such a supposedly racist and bigoted country, that’s a decent achievement, even if much of it is more about his personal likeability than anything he actually did. Grade: C
THE FINAL LEGACY
During Obama’s two terms, the Democrats lost both houses of congress, lost the presidency, and lost around 1000 seats across federal and state houses and senates throughout the country. 34 of the 50 state governors are now Republican. It’s a damning indictment on his policies, and he’s left his party in tatters.
A part of the blame for Obama’s under-achievement is the system itself, that presidential candidates are selected so far in advance, and issues can change substantially. Obama was meant to get the USA out of Iraq and then institute his sweeping social reforms on a seemingly sound economy. He even hammered the Bush administration over the ever increasing national debt. Instead he faced a financial crisis, and was unable, or unwilling, to cope with new crises in the world. His cruise-control approach to leadership didn’t suit at the time, and once the Republicans swept into the house following the 2010 mid-terms, his reluctance to compromise effectively made him a lame duck for the next 6 years. From there it was about consolidating his own base and ensuring a Democrat followed him in 2016. He failed there too. Hillary Clinton, who he defeated in the primaries on his way to the White House, would have been far more suitable in 2008, with Obama coming in now.
Mostly Obama will be remembered as a nice guy. There hasn’t been any president as cool or affable as this one, and he’s been a good ambassador and figurehead for his country. In some ways he’s lucky Trump is the incoming president rather than a strict conservative, as his populist mindset will ensure key aspects laid by Obamacare, like no denial of coverage, will stay. How it stays, that’s the big unknown. At least for Obama, he’ll be the one remembered for laying that key foundation, even if others are responsible for building the structure. Final Grade: C
14 January 2017
After the failed Wii U, and the Wii for those alienated by motion controls, Nintendo presented its new system, the Nintendo Switch, in Tokyo yesterday. The system was already revealed in late October of 2016, albeit without crucial details like price, games and its full capabilities. As a presentation it had hits and misses of its own, with price and release date immediately revealed, followed by a muddling session showcasing various games, before finishing with the long-awaited Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its confirmed released date.
1) The release date of March 3 is much sooner than anyone expected. It’s only 7 weeks away. Nearly all predictions were for late March. Banzai!
2) The system itself is impressive, and the idea of being able to switch between home and portable and retain the same experience is fascinating. This portability is not so much about travelling either, as I suspect many people will play at home in this mode instead of taking over the family TV. Personally, I find myself playing the 3DS so often because I don’t need the TV. Often I play while watching TV, particularly watching things like sport or news that don’t require full attention.
3) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a launch title. This game was originally intended for the Wii U before delays struck and poor sales of that system saw the advancement of its successor and games postponed or cancelled in anticipation of it. Not only is Zelda a launch title, it looked stunning. Any Zelda fan will be salivating to get a hold of it.
4) Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario Odyssey. While the latter is the Wii U version with all DLC, a proper Battle Mode and other updates, the latter is brand new and looked superb, especially seeing Mario bouncing around “New Donk City”. Classic! Let’s note that the Wii U was so poor that not only were many games abandoned, many players abandoned it too. With MK8 the best of its series on home console, it’s spectacular that Switch players will get it so soon – on April 28. SMO is coming later in the year. Also coming, mid year, is Splatoon 2 – a successor to the popular and well received shooter/painter turf war game on Wii U.
5) The joy con controllers are full of technology, including motion controls and realistic dynamic feedback. Apparently you can shake it as though it’s a glass of ice and count the ice cubes in it. Whether this evolves to anything meaningful game-wise, it’s wait and see. The Wii was met with similar skepticism and it ended up a raging success. Because of the switch capability of the Switch, it means you get two individual motion controllers in the box too. The Wii shipped with only one.
6) Third party support. Over 80 games in development, with particular emphasis on games from major Japanese developers, like Xenoblade 2 and Fire Emblem Warriors. While the presentation confirmed the likes of Skyrim and FIFA, they are flotsam in the Nintendo market and exist more to show there’s broad third party support. Serious players of games like that are glued to other systems. The real issue is to ensure that support lasts. Developers were abandoning the Wii U even before it was launched.
7) Region free. Yes, you can buy games anywhere in the world to play on the Switch. Good idea considering if people travel with the damn thing overseas they might want to buy a local game in that country they are visiting.
1) To keep it simple, I’ll stick to USA prices and round up to the whole dollar. Price of $300 is $50 higher than the sweet spot, especially considering PS4 and Xbox One are competitors at that level. In the pack you get the tablet, a pair of joy con controllers, a grip, a TV dock and all necessary cables. When you see the price of individual accessories, you soon realise why the Switch is $300. A separate joy con is $50, a pair is $80 and the TV dock is $90. Separately there’s a pro controller at $70. Japan’s prices line up roughly the same as the USA. In Australia, the system’s RRP is $470 despite 300 USD converting to 400 AUD. The extra $70 is because Australians are prepared to pay higher. Converting the accessories to AUD and adding our special premium, you’re looking at $70 for a joy con, $120 for a pair, $130 for the TV dock and $100 for the pro controller.
2) Technical specifications, where were they? We got the battery’s life ranges between 2.5 and 6 hours, with Zelda lasting for 3 hours. That’s quite adequate in this day of USB charging and generic battery packs, and note that some mobile games will deplete your phone’s battery in 2 hours. As for the system’s processing power, there was nothing, not even a hint of its capability. As mentioned in the Nintendo Switch Preview, it needs to be at least PS4 level or close enough to it. Otherwise it’s kiss those third party developers goodbye if the system is not a raging success in its first two years.
3) As much as the joy cons have this fancy technology, it will all mean nothing if games designed specifically for it don’t sell. Two games were shown: 1-2-Switch looked like a collection of standard motion control gimmick games, while Arms had potential. Then consider those players, like myself, not interesting in such games anyway. Potentially all this technology has done is jack up the price of the system for no reason. If the joy cons were basic button and stick controllers, you easily launch the system at $250 in the USA and $400 in Australia.
4) Launch games. Other than Zelda, that’s it! 1-2-Switch is confirmed; whether that means much, no one knows. It’s untried. If you were juiced for a Switch day 1 with plenty of great games, you’re disappointed.
5) Nothing about the Virtual Console or whether games you already own on Wii U or 3DS can be transferred free to the Switch. This simply better happen! I’d love to play Shovel Knight on the big screen, while Wii U players would love to travel with their potentially already voluminous library of Virtual Console and eShop games.
6) Online play is only free for a few months. If this period starts from March 3, rather than when you activate the system, that’s even more disappointing, bordering on woeful. Note that Sony and Microsoft charge a subscription to play online so Nintendo’s version is only a miss because it was previously free. One bonus from the Nintendo subscription is you get to play a free NES or SNES each month. To keep it permanently you must pay for it. While that sounds a bit stingy, if it’s a choice of any game, you can re-download it in the next month if you never finished it.
Many of us haven’t learnt from history. Despite wanting several compelling games and the Virtual Console brimming with Nintendo classics on launch, Nintendo don’t operate this way. Even the notion of a “system selling launch title” is bogus. There’s probably never been such a thing for any system, non-Nintendo included. You get system selling games over time, like Street Fighter 2 on the SNES, not day 1 monsters. This time is actually a slight exception given that Zelda – yes, a brand new Zelda game – is available on launch. That will sweep up those fans.
For the less fanatical players and the broader audience, Nintendo’s strategy is get the system out with a strong statement about its capabilities and a grand plan of future games to get you salivating, and then build momentum over the year releasing those games. Then comes the inevitable price drop and a pack-in game to begin reeling in all those that nibbled on the original bait. Selling crazy amounts of systems on day 1, it’s no chance, nor is it their goal. It’s doubtful they can produce enough units for such a demand anyway. Look at the disaster with the NES Classic.
Personally, I’m waiting. The price is too high, and I have plenty of other games to complete, and even start, than to donate more money to gaming companies. Because I bypassed the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is of huge interest. With Super Mario Odyssey later in the year and Zelda long out, that’s three compelling games already, and there could be other surprises. Metroid? F-Zero? Star Fox? I’m in.
The broader market will be much tougher to crack. Competition from Sony, Microsoft and mobile these days is so fierce, and the market has changed. Christmas 2017 will be the pivotal time. The market for PS4 and Xbox One should be well filled by this point, leaving a void for Nintendo to exploit with their marquee titles, discount pricing and, possibly, new found hype as a result of games taking full advantage of the joy cons. Otherwise, it’s life again as a niche player, and a long-term future as a games developer only.
5 January 2016
Pokemon! Finally I understand this phenomenon despite being surrounded by it for 20 years. No, it’s nothing to do with that dopey non-game Pokemon Go either. It’s Pokemon Shuffle, and by extension Pokemon Sun/Moon, Pokemon soft toys and even a Pokemon book. Pokemon Shuffle is a puzzle game, free on 3DS or mobile device, with the purpose of matching 3 or more Pokemon symbols to defeat the stage Pokemon. After defeating the stage Pokemon, you then try to capture it. The beauty of the game is each Pokemon have different abilities, so the trick is gathering the right team to fight the stage Pokemon. This optimisation of your support team becomes particularly critical on stages with very powerful Pokemon.
After logging 199 hours in 2015, I logged another 275 hours in 2016. Not bad value for a free game. You can “cheat” to a degree and buy gems, which buys you coins, which buys you abilities like 5 extra moves (800 coins) or double attack power (3000 coins). I’ve not done that because the other tactic works just as effectively: patience. 500 coins are awarded each day, and with coins added for completing stages (100 for normal stages, 200 for special stages and up to 5000 on the weekly coin bonus stage), it doesn’t take long to buy an ability to get past the really difficult stages and catch the Pokemon just beaten. Catching those Pokemon, as with all Pokemon games, is the game’s great lure, and it becomes an obsession to catch them all. Tougher ones to catch might require a great ball at 2500 coins.
The real beauty of Pokemon Shuffle is you quickly learn about Pokemon, their abilities and their strengths and weakness against each other. Yes, some become your favourites like Mewtwo and Garchomp, which is quite ridiculous since they are merely face symbols in this game. It was when I saw a Mega Garchomp soft toy in all his full-body glory at EB Games that I became fascinated. Wow, these are really crazy looking creatures! Eventually I’d buy it, along with a Mewtwo amiibo and several others, and then a Pokemon book detailing all 700+ Pokemon. Understanding this craze means I can revisit Pokemon X/Y from two years ago, and then get cracking with Sun/Moon that I got for Christmas.
Now for the mind zap! Those 275 hours this year are not the full story because I’ve logged another 153 hours on my old 3DS. Yes, I have two games running. I’m not as fastidious about collecting everything on the old 3DS, and it’s about 70 main and 10 expert stages behind the New 3DS. Also, having cleared stages in advance on the New 3DS I know which Pokemon are worth catching on the old one, so that’s speeding up my run through that game. I’m at stage 525 on my New 3DS of, I presume, 530 available. Nintendo add stages over time and when waiting for more or stuck on a stage and low on coins, I usually go back to try catch older Pokemon or clear expert stages.
Is Pokemon Shuffle the Game Of The Year? No! First, it was released in 2015. Second, the hours logged typifies the current frenetic society we live in, the increasing lack of interesting games and, most of all, its system of allocating play time. You get 1 play ever 30 minutes and can only store 5 plays at a time, so I find myself whipping it out every few hours for a dose before returning to other things. Or, even play it while doing other things, like watching TV. Do that a few times a day for about a 45 minutes all up and that’s your 275 hours in a year.
3DS Activity Log – 2016
01 Pokemon Shuffle 275:33, 199:35
02 Mii Plaza 22:32, 127:10, 33:31
03 Yoshi’s New Island 6:24
04 Mario Golf World Tour 5:45, 1:06
05 Mini Mario & Friends Amiibo Challenge 3:20
06 Super Smash Bros 2:03, 13:09, 10:40
07 Castlevania III Dracula’s Curse NES 1:56
08 Pocket Card Jockey (Demo) 1:42
09 Aqua Moto Racing 3D 1:15, 5:02
10 Mario Tennis Open 0:52, 5:02, 12:30
Subsequent figures represent play time of previous years. The big drop was Mii Plaza from 127 hours to 22. That’s largely a result of completing most mini games and becoming less interested overall in them. Mii Plaza is the game integrated into the system, so it’s a sad state of affairs when a bunch of mini games and a free game are the most played games of the year. Amiibo Challenge is also free, as is Pocket Card Jockey, a demo. Strangely, Shovel Knight didn’t appear in the Activity Log, and I know I definitely played that once, and for a few hours. The only new games (“new” as in newly acquired, as both were released in 2014) of significance in the list are Yoshi’s New Island and Mario Golf World Tour. Both are excellent. If not for that damn Pokemon Shuffle, I’d have played them more.
I only walked 221,271 steps with the 3DS this year, down from over 500,000 last year and 1.1 million the year before. In 2014 I was obsessed to get a million steps so carried the 3DS everywhere, while figures for 2015 were bumped by two overseas trips and therefore plenty of walking. Losing incentive to play the Mii Plaza mini games means I’m more likely to leave it at home these days. Note: walking at least 1000 steps per day awards you 10 coins and the chance to hit other players, meaning access to the mini games.
3DS Activity Log – Overall
01 Pokemon Shuffle 479:33 (plus 254:19 on old 3DS)
02 Mii Plaza 206:19
03 Mario Kart 7 181:53
04 Star Fox 64 3D 56:02
05 Super Smash Bros 25:52
06 Double Dragon NES 18:45
07 Mario Tennis Open 18:25
08 Pilotwings Resort 13:34
09 Tetris Ultimate 11:03
10 Fire Emblem Awakening 9:40
11 Mario Golf World Tour 6:51
12 Ninja Gaiden 3 NES 6:50
13 Yoshi’s New Island 6:24
14 Nintendogs + Cats 5:58
15 Pokemon X 5:35
16 Ultimate NEX Remix 4:59
17 Steel Diver 3:20
18 Aqua Moto Racing 3D 2:33
19 Super Mario 3D Land 2:30
20 Shovel Knight 2:12
The surprise entry missing from the 2016 list is Mario Kart 7. For the rare gatherings with gaming acquaintances this year, we would play Mario 8 on someone’s Wii U. Even so, I’m surprised the great game of MK7 stayed out of the system all year. Wow.
The real shocker with this list is over 700 hours with Pokemon Shuffle. That’s lunacy! The only game I know categorically I’ve played more in my life is Audiosurf on PC. That’s at over 800 hours last check, so I might need to revisit it to keep it in front. Or play less Pokemon Shuffle? Nup. I’m addicted.
Even though I’ve rubbished gaming in general, I did buy a PlayStation 4 leading up to Christmas. Prices were so discounted that it was an insult not to buy one. Being a Star Wars nut, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars Battlefront were two of 3 games bought, with the third being No Man’s Sky. All are old releases so were cheap, which was part of the attraction in buying the PS4 to begin with. Notice a trend here? For most of my purchases for the last 5 or 6 years I’ve waited for them to be discounted. Or they are requests for birthdays or Christmas. Mostly it’s because I’ve a backlog of other games to play. If something truly exceptional arrives, I’ll buy it day one. The last purchase of that type was the New 3DS and Super Smash Bros two years ago. Even then, Target had the system at $20 and the game at $15 below RRP. Target always have the best prices.
All three of the PS4 games are good without hardly being ground-breaking. Star Wars Battlefront I only play the skirmish modes anyway since I don’t play online, TFA is a Lego game as we all know it with a few extra novelty bits, and NMS is… Well, I never knew of the hype about this game as I don’t avidly follow gaming news, so I hit it without any uber crazy expectations. In fact, the publicity as a result of failing to meet all the hype actually meant my expectations were low. So far it’s ok, and I’ve visited a couple of planets already.
My only real question with No Man’s Sky is: what is the point of it? There’s not an obvious objective like with most games. You’re plonked onto a planet and start doing stuff. Maybe it’s a Seinfeld game – a game about nothing. It could work!
With the hysteria about the Nintendo Classic NES Mini, I pulled out my actual NES and revisited the past. Castlevania, Ghosts n Goblins, Journey to Silius, Air Fortress and Elite – all as good as remembered, and the battery in the Elite cartridge hadn’t died either! I thought they had a life of only 5 years, so it was good to see all my game saves still there. Naturally once I got into the game from the last save point I was ambushed and quickly destroyed. I also have a Raspberry Pi with NES and SNES emulators and all the classic games so it does make you wonder why the hysteria about the NES Mini was so high. No doubt it’s the nostalgia, owning something official and the fact so few were shipped. I estimate about a 5 to 1 shortage, and how Nintendo never realised this in advance is stunning. Suffice to say I’ll probably get one eventually. Even though I can play the games any time now, it is such a great little package, very well made and so convenient.
GAME OF THE YEAR FOR 2016
Yoshi’s New Island!
It’s simple. It’s the “new” game I bought this year that not only provided me with the most hours of play time, it was the most fun.
For games released in 2016, it’s either Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakes or No Man’s Sky. I’ll go for TFA.
NINTENDO SWITCH PREVIEW
Can Nintendo make a comeback? The Switch represents the first “normal” system since the Gamecube was released in 2002. I never got into the gesture and gimmick controls of the Wii and Wii U, so proudly sat out those systems. The Switch seems to be the anti-Wii and Wii-U in every sense, with conventional controls, conventional games and aimed at a conventional gaming audience – dare I say, “gamers”. The only thing I don’t like is the lack of a d-pad on the left side of the device. A Nintendo controller without a d-pad, it’s wrong, so wrong. While it’s to facilitate mobile 2-player gaming when sliding the two controllers from the device, that’s such a low-priority inclusion that losing a conventional d-pad is not worth the sacrifice. Besides, you could mimic conventional button use in this mode by using the various points on the d-pad anyway. Also, how can a game go from requiring both controllers in single-player mode to only one controller in 2-player mode? Seems weird. I bet anyone serious on 2-player mobile gaming would buy a second controller.
As with any system, games will be the key to success, and that’s even more crucial for the Switch. To recover that more serious side of the gaming market, Nintendo will need to undo two generations of damage caused by appealing to casuals with the Wii and losing the plot with the Wii U. Not only is a strong software line-up on launch and for the rest of 2017 required, the system needs to be powerful enough to get third-party support over its life. It needs to be close enough to PS4 in power to achieve this, and easy to develop for. Arriving two years after the PS4, it should be near enough as powerful, otherwise Nintendo may as well give up now. Battery life will also be important. With USB charging ubiquitous these days, 2.5 hours is wearable, 3 hours is preferable, anything more a bonus. Less than 2.5 hours will be bad publicity, and bad publicity is the one thing Nintendo can ill afford to receive. Everything must be positive.
Keys to Success
1) Near enough powerful as the PS4 and priced to match
2) Battery life about 3 hours
3) A system selling launch title
4) The best Wii U games like Mario Kart 8 on launch
5) A succession of strong follow-up titles, both new and Wii U ports
6) A comprehensive virtual console of all current popular titles and add Gamecube games
7) Region free to buy games anywhere in the world
What will you get for the price? My guess is for $250 USD, you get the basic device with the side controllers. For an extra $50 you get the dock and the controller grip. In Australia that’s $330 and $70. Full details will be known on January 12 or 13, depending on your part of the world. As a long-time and usually loyal Nintendo fan, I’m not only hoping for the best, this time I’m expecting it.
15 December 2016
Rebellions are built on hope, and so are Star Wars movies that deviate from the broader Star Wars narrative and its familiar characters. With this being the first of its type, Rogue One managed to succeed with a brilliant and emotional finale, after a somewhat chaotic and meandering start. It had a tough task considering its primary objective of detailing the Rebellion’s acquisition of the Imperial Death Star plans was not only one solitary event of many in Star Wars history, it had a known outcome. To broaden the scope of the movie, the formation of the Rogue One squad became a prominent event, which, without the Star Wars setting, would not have been that interesting. Within the group, there was no major character arc like with Rey from The Force Awakens. This was merely about two people and a droid randomly gathering a bunch of outcasts to eventually become Rogue One.
Jyn Erso, the main character, didn’t benefit from any great development either. While she was impressive, comparing against Ray again, her arc was flat. We knew she was rebellious and fierce from the start, and that’s how she finished. Whereas Rey, the nondescript scavenger became the future hope of the galaxy. Without a strong character to pull you deep into the movie, the plot and, particularly, the action were left to hold attention, and that’s where the movie excelled.
Supporting characters were barely memorable. Captain Andor Cassian, who led the mission, lacked any hint of charisma. The new droid, K-2SO, whose introduction scene portended greatness, proved a disappointment. His humour was too smug to be funny, his moving eyeballs looked creepy, and ultimately he provided few memorable moments. The rest of the cast, outcasts as they were, were limited in their scope. Because of their nature, banter between them wasn’t as free flowing or natural as we’ve come to expect, unlike with Han Solo and Chewbacca from TFA. Where they provided natural comedy, there wasn’t any of that in Rogue One. The movie’s tactic was to revert to action scenes to bond these characters. The planet Jedha was a prime example, where Jyn and Cassian engaged in some anti-Stormtrooper shenanigans and picked up a few extras for their eventual rogue group.
As to the action itself, it was interstellar! It’s probably the best ever. The fire-fights and combat on the ground, the space battles – it was all peerless in its choreography, execution and technically perfect. You may quibble about the CGI used to reprise Governor Tarkin, that it didn’t look quite right. It won’t next to live actors. As much as CGI can recreate almost everything in reality, eyes looked too glassy and body movement was a bit stilted. Personally, Tarkin is not such a major character that a lookalike actor could not have served just as well. Also a highlight was seeing the nascent Rebellion in action. This was no well organised, cohesive force as seen in the original trilogy. There were several splinter groups within it, each with their own ways and limits to rebel, which no doubt enhanced the rogue capabilities of the rebellion itself, and even making the entire Rogue One operation possible.
It’s not a new Star Wars movie without nostalgia. While there were no great great flow of emotional moments like seeing Han and Chewie, and Leia and Luke Skywalker, in TFA, there were plenty of nods to bit players. Noting that Rogue One directly precedes Episode 4: A New Hope, several Rebel fighters were reprised from the attack on the Death Star, and they and their banter will put a grin on your face, while familiar droids, aliens and Imperial senior officers also appear (keep up your visual scanning). The filmmakers struck the balance right by not pimping out the iconic characters like Darth Vader. While he appears, it’s totally appropriate, and not at all gratuitous. If there’s something even remotely critical about Darth in Rogue One it’s the actor playing him had too much hip movement. Darth’s initial scene he struts out a bit like a catwalk model.
Rogue One is not the conventional Star Wars movie, rich in character exploration and Force mythology, as you expect. It doesn’t even want to pretend it’s Star Wars as you don’t see “Star Wars” mentioned anywhere the film. Certainly not in the opening. Other than learning the design flaw in the Death Star was intentional (apologies to the Empire for believing all those years you were inept), there’s no real revelations either. It’s firmly a movie about plot; the telling of a particular event. Most of the characters aren’t memorable, not that you’ll need to remember them. Early on, it swings all over the galaxy so fast, visiting new planets and introducing new characters, that it makes it difficult to keep track – particularly of the characters and their importance, and even their link to each other. Eventually you get there. Most of all it’s that wonderful finale to savour and remember. It could not have finished more perfectly and provides the greatest surprise itself.
When Rogue One is released for the home market, no doubt repeat views will be to start from that mesmerising final hour. In a sense Rogue One’s closest similarity to other Star Wars films is with Return Of The Jedi. Both do as they need at the start to get going, and then finish in a blaze of glory. History is likely to sit Rogue One and ROTJ next to each other as comparable. That’s certainly my view of it.
16 December 2016
Second View and Spoiler Section
Rogue One was far more emotional the second time. There were tears, and I might need to even elevate it above ROTJ one day. A bit more of the plot came to life, particularly the conflicting objectives Cassian had to deal with – the orders from the Rebels and Jyn’s mission to find her father. The group of rogues began to become quite loveable, mostly because they were so brave.
All the name-dropping made sense, the plot aligned, and knowing Jyn’s father from the start really helped. The trailers made me presume Director Krennic was Jyn’s father, so watched the film with that as a firm preconception. I thought the young Jyn was kept hidden from her father, either adopted or with special guardians, much like the case with Luke Skywalker. I never realised it was papa Erso there in those opening scenes. The holographic message Jyn saw on Jedha was the first trigger that her father wasn’t Krennic, before confirmation with the attack on the rainy planet of Eadu. Interestingly, my sister found the movie intriguing all the way. Maybe I let my inner Star Wars geek over-think things. Speaking of geeks, much of the laughter at K-2SO at the midnight session was forced. For this second view, on a late Thursday afternoon with a mainstream audience, barely a laugh heard. I’m reconciled to believe K-2SO isn’t meant to be funny, nor is Rogue One meant to be a funny movie. It was about a deadly serious movie about a deadly serious mission.
Many scenes in the trailers, even iconic scenes, never made it to the movie. Notably Jyn’s “I rebel” line and the scene where she’s confronted by a Tie Fighter on a platform. While watching I was waiting for the “I rebel” moment, expecting Jyn would return to the Rebel base after her successful mission to explain herself going rogue. Maybe showing such scenes to keep the audience guessing was all part of the plan?
Mysteries. Rarely do you leave a Star Wars movie without questions circulating in your head. Given the nature of this movie and its settled conclusion, there’s nothing. Maybe you could ask why did the Empire destroy the their base on Scarif. Was it a last ditch insurance against the plans being stolen? Also curious was that the Rebels could rebuild their fleet as seen in Episodes 5 and 6 after so many familiar ones, like the medical frigate and the flagship, were either destroyed or captured in Rogue One. The number of capital ships seemed about the same in both movies, suggesting you couldn’t acquire them easily, otherwise the Rebellion would have far more for the attack on the second Death Star. Probably ships were added as more systems joined the Rebellion. The success of the Rogue One operation certainly would have inspired others.
Thank you that Jyn and Cassian never kissed!
29 December 2016
Third View – Hyper Critical
After 13 days without Rogue One, there’s only so long you can meditate, so it was to time to medicate by returning to the cinema. This would be the first in 2D as, except for IMAX, the 3D sessions had already disappeared. Don’t worry, I’ll deal with IMAX soon enough – in 10 days to be precise. Fear. Fear of losing that extra dimension would not be enough to stop me going this week.
It turned out the film was perfectly fine in 2D. Partially that is because the 3D didn’t pop like you normally expect, the cinema was brand new with a super big screen and Dolby Atmos sound, and it’s Star Wars, so it’s good on anything. The only difference I really noted is that Krennic’s tunic didn’t seem as wrinkled and Governor Tarkin looked more natural.
Nothing much felt different with the pacing of the film. It’s still meandering at times, and it’s only less chaotic at the start because you are now fully aware of how everything is connected. Drastic improvements could be made by cutting some of the opening scenes. No need for the market place scene where Cassian learnt about the defecting Imperial pilot. While its purpose was to show Cassian had a ruthless streak, this aspect of his character (actually, an aspect of most rebels at this stage of the Rebellion) was never explored further so it became irrelevant. Same deal with the scene on Jedha when the Imperial pilot was taken to Saw Gerrera. It added nothing. To be really bold, the opening scene can go, as the fate of the Ersos is told later during the hologram scene and through Jyn’s flashbacks. The film would therefore start with the rescue of Jyn. You could easily work in the ubiquitous Star Wars opening spaceship scene by showing the rescue force arriving on the planet where Jyn was held. If you want to preserve the approach to the beautiful Ring of Kafrene from the market place scene, then put Jyn there to be rescued, rather than drab Wobani.
Speaking of Jyn, a key aspect of her character was incomplete. What was the big deal about her having a blaster? Why would she shoot Cassian? K-2SO said the chances of that were high – very high. For some reason, Rebel command didn’t quite trust her. Either add an appropriate scene to show she’s a problem, or cut the scene inferring she’s a problem. Trust goes both ways.
The real clumsy area of the movie involves the fate of Galen Erso. The Rebels rescue Jyn to get to her father, just so they could kill him. It made little sense. Why kill him when the Death Star was already built and apparently the mission was also to learn about it? It seemed like petty revenge. This scene on rainy Eadu served mostly to galvanise the rogue group – and add a gratuitous X-Wing vs Tie Fighter battle scene, and to steal an Imperial shuttle. Surely it would have been better if Galen was on Scarif where the Death Star plans were stored, and somehow his rescue is intertwined with stealing the plans.
Dialogue, while not crucial in this film, needed tweaks. The most obvious is the designation of Rogue One itself. We’re supposed to believe it came from the spontaneity of the bumbling Imperial pilot flying the rogues to Scarif? Surely, “rogue” needed to be mentioned earlier, preferably by Jyn. Something like “So I’ve acquired a bunch of rogues, have I?” when certain rebels splintered from the decision not to attack Scarif. Then on the shuttle, you have that connection, like a confirmation of “rogue” by the Imperial pilot with Jyn before he adds the “one”.
It’s settled with K-2SO. He’s not funny! Barely any laughter during this almost full house. The only scenes of genuine laughter were “Cassian said I had to” when he told Jyn he’s joining her rogue group, and on Jedha when Jyn shot an identical Imperial droid just in front of K-2SO and he said “did you know that wasn’t me”. The real flaw with him is that he’s too humanised. Not only using his eyes moving to convey emotion, his neck is overly dexterous too. Droids should be droids.
Unlike most Star Wars movies, memorable lines are very few. The only one I’ve caught myself saying is “light it up”. “Rebellions are built on hope” is the basis of the film and that could be borrowed, while “I’m one with the force and the force is with me” is too hokey to be useful. The line I currently use often was cut from the film: “I rebel”. “Are you with me”, the key line in the August trailer, is sadly missing. I really wanted to yell out, “hell yeah”.
Even though I carefully listened, the exchange near the end between Mon Mothma and Bail Organa is incomplete. She mentions his hidden Jedi friend, and he responds about being served well by him in the Clone Wars, and then adds “I would trust her with my life”. Her? Somehow it skipped from Obi-Wan to Princess Leia. Even though this dialogue helps set the foundation for Leia’s future role, it was superfluous to the film other for a minor nostalgia effect.
The most interesting lines I picked up were the references to Red Five during the final battle. While immediate reaction is to think “OMG, that’s Luke Skywalker!”, remember he was still bullseyeing wamp rats in his T-16 back home at this stage. It would have been fun had there been a line in the film, “Oh, we’ve lost Red Five” – just to jolt our conscience.
I’m still not comfortable with the way the shield protecting Scarif was destroyed. Why was there the need to push the stricken Star Destroyer into a capable one nearby? Why didn’t the capable one fly away? Why not simply push the stricken Star Destroyer into the shield gate? That alone would have been enough. If that couldn’t be done or wasn’t enough, sacrifice one of the rebel cruisers!
What’s the time frame between the end of Rogue One and Episode 4? With escape pods readied and alarms sounding, it seems only minutes. I wanted to believe the corvette escaped and the Rebels had time to celebrate and regroup. Or maybe it’s not so immediate? Consider they’re still over Scarif, not Tatooine, R2-D2 and C-3PO were no where to be seen, the ship clearly wasn’t on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan, and Leia spoke of hope. There’s not too much hope if Darth is still on your tail.
Speaking of Darth Vader, his final scene is still so mesmerising. We’ve never seen Darth (as Darth, not Anakin) before at full power, so it was a brilliant addition to the film. With Rogue One being the first true sequel to the original trilogy – as it was set in the same time frame – it’s potential moments like these that made the anticipation for this film so high. Then with all the other references – the Rebellion, the Empire, Stormtroopers, the Death Star, X-Wings, Tie Fighters, AT-ATs and, most important of all, Princess Leia herself – it hit all the marks.
Most memorable with this film, especially the more you see it, is it becomes so much more emotional. It tugs at you like no other Star Wars film does. That’s because those once nondescript Rogues become far more attached each time you relive their heroics. As each one gets popped off, it becomes sadder and sadder. Even K-2SO, you begin to feel for him. As for the final scene with Jyn and Cassian, it’s almost unwatchable. It’s a tear-jerker way before it happens. Then you leave with that one word planted in your head: Hope. That’s the true legacy of this movie.
I wouldn’t change the original rating of this film – about the same level as Return Of The Jedi. Sometimes on reflection our feelings magnify, believing it’s better than we initially felt. With those initial feelings there was ambivalence, particularly during it. It was those final few sequences that seem to sweep everything else prior away. I also look to applause, particularly the geek-infested midnight sessions. The odd smattering, that’s it. The Force Awakens had quite a bit more, while the modern Star Wars sequel that had the biggest applause remains Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones.
With Carrie Fisher dying this week, it’s poetic Princess Leia had the very last word in Rogue One. Ironically, the news of Carrie’s death was the same day of this trek to see Rogue One. Then her mother, Debbie Reynolds, dies the following day, today. One can’t be sad. Both had great lives, and now Debbie won’t suffer the greatest pain of all is avoided: losing her daughter. She and Carrie are quickly reunited again. May the force be with you, both.
8 January 2017
Fourth View – IMAX
This was the most satisfying Rogue One experience yet. From the first scene to the last, I was engrossed. It wasn’t just because of the mind-blowing IMAX 3D experience either, it’s the fact of seeing a Star Wars film multiple times. They grow on you. All of them. I seem to recall it was the fourth view with the previous ones, certainly with The Force Awakens, that proved the best experience too. Every scene becomes pivotal. Every word means something. Every emotion feels real. It becomes the complete experience as always intended.
Much of this extra level of enjoyment simply revolves around familiarity. The words matter because the characters and the plot are now fully exposed and understood. Therefore you make the smallest connections whereas the initial views many scenes and dialogue seemed superfluous. One example is Red Five. In the previous view I mentioned finally hearing the designation. During this view I realised he was the pudgy pilot, not an unseen one left open for speculation that it might be Luke. No, Red Five is there, and he calls for help before being zapped.
Finally I’m picking up, or at least remembering, some more lines. The best in this movie is from Darth to Krennic: “Don’t choke on your aspirations.” I’ll be using that in everyday language. “Single reactor ignition” about Death Star’s laser is informative as well as useful, and “Light it up”, as mentioned in an earlier view, I’ve already used. Jyn wasn’t sure whether it was “alliance” or “rebels” when talking to Saw, and I noticed she had the exact same hairstyle as papa Erso. After Jyn, the next best character is Baze (long haired Asian guy). The worst is the Imperial pilot. Clearly they were clueless about the sort of character he should be.
With the finale, I noticed the Tantive IV did jump into hyperspace, so they could easily be at another star system (Tatooine) when next caught by Vader. While that fixes one hole in the plot that Episode 4 proceeded minutes after Rogue One, there’s still the problem that Leia was clearly not on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan. She’d need to be on drugs to expect Vader to believe that. The best case scenario is at some point earlier she was on the way there to meet Bail Organa, before being diverted to help at Scarif. Let’s also give credit again for the outstanding finale itself. In the trailers Jyn was seen running with the Death Star plans along the beach and obviously she made it off the planet. Then what – killed by Darth? That would have been unjust. Jyn and Cassian were such gallant and worthy heroes that they deserved the dignified ending they got. As did all of Rogue One.
Do I increase the rating of the film? Noting I had it about the same level as Return Of The Jedi, which I ranked fifth best overall of the 6 released at that time (see link above), yes, it’s definitely better. In fact, I raise it above Revenge Of The Sith. Not that that assuages the flaws that do exist with Rogue One – particularly the patchy first half. After all, it should not be a requirement see a movie four times to gain a full appreciation of it. The ambivalence on the initial view was real and relevant, and must be considered overall when ranking the movie in the Star Wars pantheon. With all these sequels, the balance between mainstream appeal and satisfying rabid fans is always tough. Risk boring one or leave the other unfulfilled? They’ve leant to the side of the fans, and wisely so, to deliver the most authentic Star Wars movie since the original trilogy.
Rogue One Viewing
00:01 15 Dec 2016 – 3D
17:30 15 Dec 2016 – 3D
15:20 28 Dec 2016 – 2D
18:00 07 Jan 2017 – 3D IMAX
Star Wars Ranking
1) Ep5: The Empire Strikes Back
2) Ep2: Attack Of The Clones
3) Ep4: A New Hope
4) Ep7: The Force Awakens
5) Rogue One
6) Ep4: Revenge Of The Sith
7) Ep6: Return Of The Jedi
8) Ep1: The Phantom Menace
13 November 2016
He was described as a buffoon, a racist, a sexist, a misogynist, a bigot, a xenophobe, a homophobe, an islamaphobe, an arachnophobe, a gymnophobe and probably a coulrophobe (aren’t we all these days). He boasted about not paying federal taxes, using bankruptcy laws for several of his companies, he could stand in Fifth Avenue and shoot someone without losing a voter (other than presumably the person he shot), and groping women by the pussy. Against him was the political elite, the media elite, the cultural elite, the socialist elite, the celebrity elite and the Republican elite. His campaign was unconventional by relying on free media, went through three campaign managers, barely prepared for the debates and, with the exception of caps, was clearly out-spent and under-resourced. So how the heck did Donald Trump win the presidency? In simple terms, Trump trumped elitism.
As Trump said in his victory speech, he was speaking to those long forgotten. He was also speaking to those that for so long felt disrespected and dismissed by a politically class that had become out of touch and out of control. It didn’t matter that Trump was crass and divisive. As Chris Wallace on Fox News aptly put it, Trump’s strength was the message, not so much the messenger. People were sick of the condescension, sick of identity politics, and sick of seeing their country going in the wrong direction. Basically, they were sick of not being heard. In all probability, Trump’s recalcitrance and disobedience only made him more likeable. For every media pundit that turned against him, for every endorsement that went against him, for every celebrity that got on a stage with Hillary Clinton, that meant more votes for Trump. His message of destroying the political establishment and draining the swamp worked. So too did the feud against the media, virtually all of whom were totally against him and often openly cheering for Clinton. Even though I’d have voted for Clinton, I was happy the people rebelled against the tyranny and oppression and brought this momentous change. It was a victory for the true believers.
Even separating the personalities from the fight, this was a remarkable election. With Trump needing the key swing seats of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio simply to stay in the contest, it wasn’t looking good early. While FL was looking good, he was behind in NC and Ohio. At 2130 USA Eastern Time (1230 Wednesday Australian Eastern Time) I tweeted it looked over. Then suddenly the figures in NC and Ohio began to reverse. No doubt the early figures were from pre-polls, which largely favoured Democrats. Ohio looked a lock and NC very likely. Also crucial was Iowa, in which Trump was leading in the polls and had to win. With that now likely, he was notionally on 259 and needed 11 votes to go.
Getting the final 11 votes was always the difficult task and required a Democratic state to be flipped. Curiously he was doing well in Virginia, which led to Chris Wallace (again) being the first to see a possibility for Trump to win (note, Wallace was also the first I saw, probably just after the New Hampshire primary, to see a possibility of Trump being the nominee). While peeling of Virginia might be a tough ask, the fact he was doing well there was a great portent for other states. In my Idiot’s Guide to the election I ruled out Path A of picking up Pennsylvania, which was looking tough. Trump also boasted about picking up other similar states, like Michigan and Wisconsin. It was Wisconsin that emerged with Trump several percentage points in front, and staying in front as votes kept rolling in. At 2200 (1400 AET) betting odds had him a 70% chance to win the presidency. By 2230 (0230 AET), with about 70% counted in Wisconsin, that was enough for me. Trump was president and, strangely, a tiny tear began to form. I was emotional, and excited, at this insane upset. Trump only need hold onto traditional Republican states for 269-269 tie in electoral votes. Without a candidate at 270, the house (almost certain to remain Republican) would decide. It was over.
Curiously, the networks held out. Fox News didn’t call Wisconsin until 1130 while we’re still waiting for CNN to do so. Everyone at the candidates’ venues were restless too, demanding some network take the plunge and call the damn thing. The New York Times were the first major media I heard to do so, at 0150 (1750 AET). Ten minutes later, at 0200, Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta announced to the crowd to go home, there’s plenty of votes still to be counted. This was totally absurd, and it was really the Democrats’ way of saying Clinton would not appear on stage this night. Given she was such the hot favourite and had worked so long and hard for this moment, she’d have been too distraught. Only she could get away with it too. Imagine the hysteria if roles were reversed and Trump didn’t appear? At 0240 (1840 AET) Fox News would call Pennsylvania to officially push Trump over the line. Not long later news came through that Clinton called Trump and conceded, which filtered through to CNN for them to finally declare the election.
While I understand the networks need to be cautious and probably want to retain viewers for as long as possible, when the hours reach into the early morning like this it becomes ridiculous. What looked obvious to most people at 2230 took another four hours for a network to call it. At the very least, they should declare some scenarios and provide a likelihood of outcome when it gets this late. I believe the Associated Press called Pennsylvania about the same time as the New York Times, which effectively made Trump president. I guess that could show the print media’s desire of being first with the news. Even so, they did wait for Pennsylvania to push Trump over the line rather than accept 269-269 as the point much earlier in the night, which they could have announced was contingent on the house almost certainly deciding.
Despite much of the hysteria about the “white vote” that the racist, bigoted Trump was allegedly targeting, the white vote he received was 1% point lower than 2012 – 58% to 59%. Trump also increased his percentage of the latino and black vote by 2% points and 1% point respectively. Overall, his total vote was lower than the 2004 re-election of George W Bush (albeit a high turn-out election itself), and overall 4 million fewer people voted in this election than 2012. Percentage-wise, it was 55.4% of eligible voters, which is the lowest since 53.5% in 2004. Other years were 60% in 2012, 63.7% in 2008, 62.1% in 2004 and 56.6% in 2000. So it showed there was no mass energisation of a racist, white supremacist vote. It was all about those forgotten people – white, working class, and no doubt disenchanted former Democrats, that have seen their jobs shipped overseas. Many of whom had voted for Barack Obama twice too. Now they had a new voice. The theory that those votes would be offset by women going to Clinton proved false. Those college educated and often married women did not succumb to Clinton’s identity politics. They stayed at home.
The identity politics that worked so well for President Obama failed for Clinton. It wasn’t just those that didn’t fall into one of the cherished identities that took a stand against the disgusting paradigm. Those that did fall into it like blacks, latinos and women, many of them recoiled at their vote being taken for granted just because of their skin colour or gender, and stayed at home too. While we’re only talking a few percentage points in these cases, it, along with the increase in the white working class vote, proved crucial. Remember, Trump was supposed to have the record lowest return from these groups, not increase them from 2012 levels. White college educated women were particular scathing, showing that their education status does matter. To think they could be one group to fall for identity politics really overestimated the reach such a tactic and underestimated the character of these women.
The polls, what the heck happened there too? While John King on CNN said there was not a “hidden vote” for Trump, and some pollsters said the overall popular result was quite close to predicted and within the margin of error, King is looking at the white vote in total, and the big errors were within states. There was a hidden, or secret, vote for Trump. The reason it didn’t show in the total white vote is it was offset by white college educated women not voting. Even the overall popular vote, a margin of error is only relevant in an isolated poll, not a long trend. Consistently it showed Clinton up around 3% to 4% ahead, depending on the poll. At the time of writing, the election finished 47.8 to 47.3 for Clinton.
Within the key states, Wisconsin was 7.5% off polling averages, Ohio 5.1% off, Michigan 3.7% off and Pennsylvania 3% off. Wisconsin was the big shock. Through the long campaign, I can’t recall it ever mentioned, and Clinton snubbed it totally during her campaign. Probably the biggest clue something was up in those supposedly safe Democratic heartland was Clinton campaigning in Michigan in the final few days. It was reminiscent of Mitt Romney rushing to Florida in 2012 when all along it seemed he had that state in control. It seems there are good pollsters about. They work within the campaigns, that’s all.
Another indication that should prove useful in future analysis of raw polling data is looking at the reaction in the popular vote to many of Trump’s faux pas along the trail. While his figures would dip, Clinton’s would never rise, with Trump’s eventually recovering to their previous point. It showed she had a ceiling of about 46%, with much of the rest up for grabs, and Trump’s transgressions quickly forgotten, or ignored, for the bigger picture. Often the undecided vote swings big against the incumbent (which was Clinton as the Democrat running as Obama’s third term) because people typically have their opinion formed about them. So their decision is whether to vote for the opponent, or not vote at all.
The only notable poll that predicted the race was the USC Dornsife/LA Times tracking poll. It interviewed the same 3000 people all the time, rather than a new random bunch that is the system elsewhere. Interviewing the same people all the time meant they were comfortable expressing their views. While it was still technically wrong by showing Trump clear ahead (as much as 6% on occasions and 3% in its final poll), it was correct in showing there was a strong movement for Trump and enough of it to win the election. The primaries themselves were also a good predictor, with Republicans attending in record numbers and way above the Democrats, particularly significant in those rust-belt states like Michigan. Trump accumulated the most number of raw votes across all the primaries for a Republican candidate ever. Not bad considering he had 16 opponents initially, and four into Super Tuesday.
A quick note on the popular vote. It’s irrelevant that Clinton won it. If the popular vote was the system, candidates would campaign totally differently. They would camp in big population centres like California, New York, Florida and Texas. They would visit their respective friendly areas in those states to rally as many raw numbers as possible. The reason the electoral college system was devised was so election results would not be decided by those on the north east coast (as was the time). Smaller states like Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona and North Carolina would never get a look otherwise. You could entirely forget rural America too.
Exit polls were also a disaster. Clearly this “shy vote” for Trump was in force again, whereby people would lie or not even participate. It begs the question: What sort of a society do we live in that people are afraid to declare their voting habits? It’s this expression “political bigotry” that I often use whereby you are judged, even suffer discrimination, for your political views. Even if those views are benign that you voted for Trump simply for a change, you are apparently a bigot. Remember, this is a democracy, and you can’t have a vibrant one unless people can freely express their views and debate can be civilly engaged. It’s the modern day form of McCarthyism. Particularly nasty are the accusations and slurs against character, and the repression of certain political views. It’s an absolute disgrace and is now the new “in the closet”. Once to “come out” meant you were gay; now it’s you’re a Republican or conservative. Here’s hoping this election, along with the likes of Brexit, facilitates an end to this disgusting gag on our freedom of speech and political discourse.
Let’s not forget there were key issues at play in this election. The likes of the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare), was an example of the politically elite establishment at work. A whopping big law of over 2000 pages merely to get the remaining 16% of the public insured down to the current 8.6%. Despite promises to the vast majority already covered of keeping existing plans, keeping existing doctors and that premiums would reduce, the exact opposite happened. Premiums have doubled in some states, and it was announced two weeks before the election they’ll be increasing again. Deductibles are way up, which meant you could pay $5000 out of pocket before insurance would kick in. To be eligible for the government exchanges, insurance plans needed to be comprehensive, which meant old, basic plans had to go for these new expensive premium ones. This was all intentional despite Obama’s constant promises. Businesses of a certain size and with employees working a certain number of hours per week were compelled to offer these same plans too. To avoid that, businesses would cap number of employees or their hours. Too often these people earned just a little too much to get subsidies in the exchanges. No wonder Bill Clinton, during the campaign, described Obamacare as “the craziest thing in the world”.
There are elements of the ACA that are good, like not denying people with preexisting conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. No doubt Trump will keep some of these things, while trying to untangle the regulation mess everywhere else. Typically Americans were happy to have cheap “catastrophic” plans with low deductibles for things like cancer, and used health savings accounts or paid out of pocket for minor expenses. Returning this flexibility to the market will be one of the key objectives of the Trump administration.
Then there’s Hillary Clinton herself. Even before the late re-opening and quick closing by the FBI of her email scandal, her trust figures were horribly low. The damage was already done by the investigation itself and director James Comey’s conclusion. Even though he didn’t bring an indictment, his scathing findings that exposed a succession of Clinton lies were itself the indictment. While Trump often lied too, that spoke to his combative nature, not to being corrupt. Clinton rarely gave interviews other than to fluffball celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres. That just made Clinton seem even more aloof and elitist. Because she was so flawed, she can’t cite sexism as a reason for her loss either.
Finally, the “basket of deplorables” and “irredeemable” quote. That completed the narrative of a candidate and a party not only out of touch with much of America, also disdainful of it. While she apologised for it, her acolytes and supporters didn’t, preferring to continue the abusive tone. That she didn’t react was tacit approval of her comments. Even post election, Van Jones on CNN saying the election was a “white-lash” and kids will go to bed terrified, none of this has been condemned by either Clinton or Obama. If your kids are going to bed terrified, that’s an indictment on you, the parent, for telling them the wrong bedtime stories. Trump’s a president within a system of strict checks and balances, not a dictator, so it’s disgusting comments like that, including the ever-popular Hitler comparisons, that is the root of so much division. Still it continues, with violent anti-Democracy protests, abuse and the media in full tantrum mode. Keep it going, that only validates Trump’s victory further.
Clinton’s best moment came in her concession speech, where she asked people to accept Donald Trump as “our president” and keep an open mind. That was the second moment on this long election day and night (now after 3am in Australia!) a tear formed in my eye. I’ve always liked her and felt sorry for her. I know she’d have been tearing apart within. For the life of me I’ll never understand why she never handed over the email server to the FBI right from the start. Get the issue closed. Surely any potential secrets risked being exposed then rather than the issue dog her entire campaign. She really should have been president. In 2008, not 2016. That was her year. Unfortunately she was accosted by a celebrity candidate then too. That celebrity, Barack Obama, would have been better suited to 2016.
I love democracy. I love the United States. Americans were also asked to decide many initiatives down ballot. California had 17 at state level. Individual districts added more of their own. Yet here in pathetic Australia arguing over gay marriage plebiscite, just put it on the damn ballot at election time. Marijuana is the most common issue in recent times, with another 3 states legalising it for recreational use, a fourth still too close to call, and four legalising it for medical use. That’s now 29 that allow medical use and 8 (and Washington DC) allowing recreational use. Arizona rejected its measure for recreational use. California and Oklahoma kept their death penalty, while Nebraska restored theirs. Several states increased the minimum wage. Washington rejected a carbon tax – which would have been the first such tax in the USA. It would have start at $25 per ton and risen to $100 over 40 years. Colorado rejected universal government run healthcare! It shows you the resistance to such a scheme that Australians and Europeans have lived with for years. Americans are so skeptical of big government intrusion into their private lives, it’s that simple. Personally, it’s a wonderful trait. In California, there was also stiff resistance to the measure to force porn actors to wear condoms. It flopped.
Other than his politically incorrect and anti-establishment agenda, the wisest move from Trump was his stance on the Supreme Court and offering his probable nominations of justices should he be president. Christian America was very afraid of the court going left, and they rallied for Trump by over 80%. This was despite his flaws of multiple marriages and unsavoury antics like the Access Hollywood lewd tapes. As a group more under attack these days than forgotten, Christians, both Evangelical and Catholic, saw him as someone that would protect their traditions and specifically their right to religious expression. It helped the Republicans retain both houses of congress – the first time since 1928 they’ll hold all three levels of government. Specifically important was the senate, which was most at risk at being lost, and which confirms Supreme Court justices. President Obama said if Trump won it would be “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy”. Well, here we are. With 34 of 50 state governorships and a majority of state legislatures also in Republican hands, the Obama legacy is in tatters and orange is the new black. Welcome to Trumpmerica.