Mar 14 2017

Beware of Buying from Smaller Online Companies

Almost 10 years ago I made a mistake in judgment that I swore to never repeat. I repeated that mistake recently and it cost me hours of unnecessary stress through phone calls and endless amounts of waiting. That mistake was ordering from a non-major retailer without looking into the company’s reputation (major retailers in my mind include the likes of Amazon, Best Buy, Target, etc.). Bear in mind, I am not calling for readers of this article to completely boycott these companies. I strictly mean that people should not buy from them without at least looking into that company and their history with customers. To make it clear, the mistake wasn’t ordering from a non-major retailer. The mistake was not looking into their complaint history. And I needlessly became a naive consumer for this transaction, costing me many hours of stress.

One of the easiest and best ways of looking into a company before buying from them is to look at their Better Business Bureau rating. You will be able to see a company’s complaint history and a rating assessed to the company. I would take a few minutes to look at what people have said in their complaints and look at the result of the complaint. It’s important to look at the final result because sometimes a business receives a complaint but deals with it properly. Be careful not to dismiss a business too quickly just because they have complaints. There’s a difference between a company having complaints and dealing with complaints. Amazon, being one of the biggest online retailers in the world, probably also has the most amount of complaints by sheer number. But they are also very good at resolving those complaints, even when it means that they lose some money. So a company that deals with complaints should be distinguished from one that just has a lot of them but doesn’t deal with them well.

I want to touch a little bit on the way of thinking about the legitimacy of complaints. The main thing you want to look for when looking at Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaints for a particular company is the way in which the customer claims the business handled their transaction. I choose to believe the main ideas of the stories that customers tell about a business in their complaint with perhaps only a tiny grain of salt. The reason why I choose to believe them is because when a customer complains, I have to believe that they would not go through the trouble of going through the process with the BBB if it was something that they felt responsible for or if it was a minor complaint. Consumers complain when there’s a problem. I am sure that there are going to be some particularly livid customers who over-exaggerate a problem. But since the BBB investigates claims made against a business and then determines if the business has done their part to resolve the supposed complaint from the customer, I have to err towards the idea that there are very few “fake” complaints on the BBB’s website.

In the case that happened 10 years ago to me, I was simply buying a DVD from a non-major retailer because the price on Amazon was more expensive than the price that was listed on this smaller website that I found through Google Products (a now defunct service). I did no research into the company. I trusted that my order would go well regardless. Well, when that DVD that I purchased didn’t come in a timely manner, I requested a refund. They didn’t have a phone number, so I e-mailed them. Instead of responding to my e-mail, they shipped the product anyways. Even after shipping the product, they never responded to my original e-mail. I felt ignored.

The BBB determined in the end that the business was more in the right than I was, because the business quoted their policy in their formal response to my complaint, stating that pre-ordered DVDs were not guaranteed to ship on a particular day nor arrive by a certain day. It was listed on the BBB’s website that the consumer (me) was not satisfied with the result, despite that the business had tried to resolve the issue. From my perspective, I didn’t believe that they had tried to solve the issue, because I think it was clear that they never even acknowledged my request for a refund, nor apologized for just shipping the product without contacting me. They told the BBB that they didn’t see my e-mail until after the product was shipped. Even if this is true, there was no excuse for them to not at least respond to my e-mail, even after the fact. From my perspective, I was ignored, and they had shown that they had no interest in talking to me. So, I filed a complaint.

This company had no record with the BBB before, so my complaint opened a record on the company. In the next couple of years, they received two more complaints. These two complaints went completely ignored by the company. So, the BBB declared those cases as the customers being in the right. It turns out that this business closed a couple of years later. I don’t wish for a business to close because of my one bad experience. More than anything, it was likely due to the likes of Amazon and Best Buy that made it so that consumers would feel more comfortable buying from these major websites.

I chose that smaller website 10 years ago, but I didn’t need to. That DVD could have purchased on bigger retailers. This is all good and well, but what if you need a product that isn’t sold on major websites? That’s where my recent story comes in. I don’t want to give details to protect my privacy, so I won’t list the company nor the specific product. This product is a sports-related item that was a specific size and style and was difficult to find. For these kinds of sports products, there weren’t major retailers that sold it; just bigger and smaller “mom-and-pop” stores. I am all for supporting small businesses, and this particular website had it for a reasonable price for this product was. I bought the item, and I was charged the next day. I assumed this meant it was either shipped or just about to be shipped. This was not the case, and while I was not in a rush to receive the item, I was curious where it was. I knew that I needed to contact them to see what was going on.

The fatal mistake was not looking at their BBB record. It turns out the BBB gave this company a D+. I absolutely would have avoided this company had I known this beforehand. The complaints themselves told stories of short-tempered customer service staff on the other end of the phone, customers never receiving products and sometimes complaints contained both issues. The idea of talking with an angry staff member, frankly, intimidated me, so I tried to be polite when I called them. After three times of calling them over a period of 2-5 weeks with no response on an estimated shipping date, I opened a dispute with the company who issued my credit card. The purchase was removed from my card only a few days later by my credit card issuer. The company that I purchased the item from still had several weeks to provide evidence that they had shipped it, if they wished to receive money for it. They never did. I got my money back, but only after a lot of time spent on the phone and through e-mails. It was all unnecessary stress and wasted time.

In the end, when you purchase online, you are essentially swiping your credit card without having received a thing at that point. That is the nature of buying online, and while it is considered an industry standard to charge a credit card after a product is shipped, one should be on alert if they are charged for an order before it is actually shipped. Surely, if I was able to physically go into their brick and mortar store to purchase an item, swiping my card or giving cash for something that they didn’t have in stock would be a ridiculous thing to do. It would have been the business’ duty to procure the item first. Perhaps they would have given me a call once they had the product, if they wanted to try to make the sale with me.

I am not out to smear a business, which is also why I won’t say what business I dealt with. I know that some people who deal with this particular business will wish that I had said it by name so as to warn them not to buy from them. But if you take the extra step of checking a business’s BBB rating and read about what customers have said about them, you’ll find that you’ll be equipped to know what businesses not to buy from. Taking just five minutes to do this before placing an order may save you the kind of hassle I had to deal with for weeks. Check a company out, be informed and purchase wisely and stress-free!

Feb 24 2017

2017 Oscars Predictions

I almost didn’t do an Oscars list this year, but I was able to sneak it in this year. For those wondering about other blog posts, I have some in progress to be posted later this year. But this post is obviously on the upcoming Oscars. Here are my predictions of who will take home awards this year!

Predictions

1. Best Picture: “La La Land”
2. Best Leading Actor: Casey Affleck, for “Manchester by the Sea”
3. Best Leading Actress: Emma Stone, for “La La Land”
4. Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, for “Moonlight”
5. Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, for “Fences”
6. Best Director: Damien Chazelle, for “La La Land”
7. Best Original Screenplay: “Manchester by the Sea”
8. Best Adapted Screenplay: “Moonlight”
9. Best Cinematography: “La La Land”
10. Best Editing: “Arrival”
11. Best Production Direction: “La La Land”
12. Best Costume Design: “Jackie”
13. Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Suicide Squad”
14. Best Original Score: “La La Land”
15. Best Original Song: ‘City of Stars’ from “La La Land”
16. Best Sound Mixing: “La La Land”
17. Best Sound Editing: “La La Land”
18. Best Visual Effects: “The Jungle Book”
19. Best Animated Film: “Zootopia”
20. Best Foreign Language Film: “The Salesman”
21. Best Documentary: “13th”
22. Best Short Documentary: “Joe’s Violin”
23. Best Short Animated Film: “Piper”
24. Best Short (Live Action) Film: “Ennemis Interieus”

Explanations

1. It’s peculiar that the years that I choose riskier movies I tend to get them wrong, but then last year, I chose the ‘safe’ choice of “The Revenant” and got it wrong. This year, I am not sure how close “La La Land” and “Moonlight” are, but it seems to be between these two movies. Having seen neither of them hurts, but “La La Land” seems to be the frontrunner, so I will go with that.

10. It looks like “La La Land” will sweep a lot of awards this year, including technical awards. I always have to add one or two ‘risky’ choices to my ballot, so I am going to take that chance here with the editing of “Arrival”. I considered doing my risky vote on cinematography, but “Arrival” won the editor’s guild award for Best Edited Feature Film, Dramatic. While “La La Land” also won basically the same award, but in the category of Best Edited Feature Film, Comedy, I think that “Arrival” will have a slight edge with its very unique format for how it tells its story to the audience. If there’s one thing that I think people remember from “Arrival”, it is that its edits are very intentional. I think that will carry it to victory in this category.

15. Going through each nomination, the one that some people think will win is ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from “Moana”. It doesn’t have the staying power that ‘Let It Go’ had. ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ has a great beat, but is too short and doesn’t really do much lyrically. ‘The Empty Chair’ feels like a strong contender, reminiscent of the simplicity of ‘Falling Slowly’ from “Once” several years back. However, it may be a song enjoyed yet forgotten for enough Oscar voters. ‘Audition’ is interesting, but ‘City of Stars’ is a slightly better song. ‘City of Stars’ has a unique edge in this category, where the singers are laughing through some of their singing, which makes this the most ‘original’ song. And many other predictions seem to indicate this is the song to pick this year. So, I’m going to stay safe with ‘City of Stars’, but like many years with this category, don’t be surprised if another song wins.

18. I don’t want “The Jungle Book” to win, but since the entire film was CG and it looks real anyways, I think it will snag the Oscar this year.

19. Pixar not being on the list was surprising, but I doubt that Finding Dory is as good as Finding Nemo, and it also might be that people are hoping for more original films to be awarded, and thus we have our five movies. I’m going to guess “Zootopia”, based on the sharp writing and its commentary on people who may seem to be shunned by society based on their appearance or background.

Final Thoughts

I made this list more quickly this year, and almost didn’t make this list at all. I may stop my Oscars predictions’ lists from next year. But for now, I found enough time to make a list that I am mostly comfortable with. I tried to throw in a few riskier choices because the Oscars always has a surprise or two. But, I probably played it relatively safe compared to other years. Let’s see how it goes come this Sunday!

Mar 25 2016

The State of the NX (Release Timing) – March 2016

We have all been speculating about the NX and what it will be. To be honest, I am not sure what the console itself will be. But, for this edition of “The State of the NX” (it’s the first edition, fancy that), I’d like to focus on the timing of the NX’s release. At this point, despite there still being no information about it, I think Nintendo will still get it out this year. With only Zelda Wii U on the horizon, I think it makes more sense for them to get the NX out sooner than later. This is especially so if we are to take Nintendo at their word; they stated the NX will not be a full-blown successor to the Wii U.

That part is something that everyone seems to ignore. I want to believe Nintendo when they say things like that. This leads to some interesting ideas about the timing of Nintendo’s actual next console. Nintendo will want to be able to match the competition with its next console, and it’s not uncommon for companies to release their next console one year after competitors. This was true of the fourth generation, where the PS2 came out in 2000 and Nintendo’s Gamecube and Microsoft’s Xbox a year later in 2001. This happened again when Microsoft released the Xbox 360 in 2005, with Nintendo and Sony coming in 2006 with their successors. And yet again, it happaned with Nintendo releasing the Wii U in 2012 while Microsoft and Sony waited until 2013 for their current-gen consoles. When you look at it, all of the companies have actually taken turns as to who has released their consoles first. While it’s easy to make comparisons to Sega, I don’t see Nintendo going the way of Sega. The NX will not be the Dreamcast.

But today, I’m not speculating about console details. I’m talking about the timing of the NX. With consoles being released one year apart from each other in mind, let’s consider the NX. Again, I have to believe this is not Nintendo’s next full-blown console. So, it’s not. It gets released this year. That gives the Wii U a 4-year cycle, and while that’s short, Nintendo probably needs to keep it as such. And hey, since the NX is not succeeding the Wii U, we should continue to expect games for the Wii U anyways. But where I’m going with this is this-Nintendo’s next ‘actual’ console will be released in 2020, giving the NX a 4-year cycle. It’s not such a stretch to think that they’ll give the NX a 4-year cycle considering that the Game Boy Advance (GBA), the first actual successor to the Game Boy over 10 years after its initial release, was only out for three years until the DS was released. And while GBA games continued for years after that, the DS really picked up steam in 2006, and we stopped seeing GBA games much after that.

I want people to really understand this. In North America, the Game Boy was released in July of 1989. Its successor was the Game Boy Advance, and that was released in June of 2001. That is nearly 12 years apart. Nintendo was able to keep it going due to an excellent lineup of games year after year. However, there’s another thing that helped it along and that was the Game Boy Color (GBC), released in 1998. Many games worked with both the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color. There were some games that were also only for the GBC, like Pokemon Crystal. This is akin to Nintendo’s New 3DS, where it will play all 3DS games and there are some games that require this new system, like Xenoblade Chronicles. Nintendo has been comfortable releasing semi-successors to its portable consoles for years now (and let’s not forget the Nintendo DSi).

With all of this in mind, I think the most likely thing for Nintendo to do is make the NX that semi-successor to the Wii U. It will be released thie year. Then, the actual successor to the Wii U will be released in 2020. If a 6-year life cycle for the PS4 and Xbox One is to be believed, then we should have the PS5 and Xbox Two in 2019. Nintendo will come out with its successor a year later in 2020, and this gives them time to make a console that will have comparative specs to its competition with a good price because the price of manufacturing will have gone down a year later. The biggest problem with the Wii U was that it was only better than the PS3 and Xbox 360. Those consoles were succeeded only one year later. The Wii U was quickly eclipsed by the PS4 and Xbox One. That was probably Nintendo’s biggest downfall.

To close the post, here’s a nice little summation of everything in a year-by-year format:

1989 (Nintendo): Game Boy is released
1998 (Nintendo): Game Boy Color is released
2000 (Sony): The PS2 is released
2001 (Microsoft): The Xbox is released
2001 (Nintendo): The Game Boy Advance is released
2001 (Nintendo): The Gamecube is released
2004 (Nintendo): The DS is released
2005 (Microsoft): The Xbox 360 is released
2006 (Sony): The PS3 is released
2006 (Nintendo): The Wii is released
2010 (Nintendo): The DSi is released
2011 (Nintendo): The 3DS is released
2012 (Nintendo): The Wii U is released
2013 (Microsoft): The Xbox One is released
2013 (Sony): The PS4 is released
2015 (Nintendo): The New 3DS is released
2016 (Nintendo): The NX will be released
2019: Microsoft and Sony will release their next consoles
2020: Nintendo will release its next console

Mar 10 2016

Top 5 Songs from Sakanaction’s DocumentaLy

This album is widely considered Sakanaction’s best album. So, to narrow the list down to only five was very difficult. But here they are:

-Monochrome Tokyo (モノクロトウキョー)

Unfortunately, one song had to miss the cut. This time, the victim is Monochrome Tokyo. This is the first song I had ever heard by Sakanaction live, as a fun fact. Sakanaction is a band that screams originality, which is why they are my favorite Japanese band. This song is one of their most unique songs; it sounds like nothing else they have created. Despite all of that, there are still five songs that are even better than this. In choosing the top 5, this gem just couldn’t make the list.

5. Rookie (ルーキー)

This is one of Sakanaction’s best live songs. It’s still great to hear on album, but maybe doesn’t hold up to the next four songs as much. As can be said after being years with a song, the band gets used to it and figures out how to make it work well live. Much more can be said about how amazing Sakanaction is live in a different post.

Rookie is truly one of the most unique songs I’ve ever heard. Perhaps it’s a testament to how great the next four songs are that Rookie got #5 on this list even with that statement. The song starts off almost screeching, and the development picks up relatively quickly. It’s really hard to know where this song is going, which is why it’s so unique. When the song gets 2/3 of the way through, it seemingly returns back to the opening of the song. The first time I heard this song and got to this part, I really didn’t know what to think. It then builds back up to where it was and releases a ton of energy for a fun last chorus.

I was told recently by a friend of a certain TV series that it is better upon watching it through a second time. It’s because you know where it went in the end, and everything in the beginning makes more sense. It’s really hard to have known where the song would go upon its first listen, but when you know where the song ends up going, you begin to appreciate all the little details. Amongst anything else, that’s what makes this song so unique.

4. “Bach no Senritsu no Yoru ni Kiita Sei Desu” (『バッハの旋律を夜に聴いたせいです。』)

This was one of the three gateway songs for me to get into Sakanaction. At one point, I would have said that this was my favorite Sakanaction song. It has an utterly amazing chorus that demands repeat listens. The lyrics will probably give nobody pause as they are not demanding nor meaningful. But like any great song, they do tell a little bit of how we (or in this case Ichiro) react to certain situations. It’s a small slice of life accompanied by an indelible chorus.

3. Antares to Hari (アンタレスと針)

Here’s a song that will surprise some as to why it’s on this list. This is what one might call an “album song”, as it doesn’t have as much energy as a single might, but one would not be surprised to hear this song if they simply put this album on play and let it come to ths track. I talked earlier regarding Monochrome Tokyo of how unique the song is. This song, as well, is one of the most original and unique songs that Sakanaction has ever done. One of the great points of this album is its sheer variety. This song greatly contributes to the overall variety that this album has. But regardless of how it contributes or fits into the album, this song stands alone as a very unique 80’s style track with an amazing unforgettable vibe.

2. Endless (エンドレス)

Many EDM-style songs, such as Outside by Calvin Harris, start off quieter and get louder as they proceed into the chorus. Endless just keeps getting louder and louder and never lets you go as a listener. When it breaks out into a techno rock beat at the end of the song, our brains almost don’t know what to think. We want to keep hearing this catchy beat. We wonder why it took three minutes to get to this beat. Then the song suddenly ends. The first time someone hears this song must be confusing for them. It had so much energy and then stopped…why? On repeat listens, though, it seems to make sense. Each part of the song has its own uniqueness because it’s all different than it was previously before. The chorus is played three times. There’s consistency in the way that the chorus sounds, despite that the lyrics are not entirely the same in each one. It has to end, and it does, but it does feel endless in a way.

1. Identity (アイデンティティ)

Possibly Sakanaction’s best song, Identity encapsulates original music with a strong chorus. Sakanaction has made a name for themselves with their songs featuring that have what I would call a “double chorus”. We get a hint of that in this song, with the beginning that talks about “identity” and the main chorus which talks about “why”. The two collide in the middle; as the main chorus finishes, it immediately goes back the “identity” part. When I first heard this song, I felt completely hooked by all of this. Even the beginning of the song which features 5 seconds or so of drumming is an incredible lead-in to the powerful first ‘mini’ chorus that then leads us into the verses.

I doubt it’s an overstatement to say that everything in this song is amazing. Even during the verses, where the word “sou” is echoed, it feels so incredibly appropriate. Even the slightly incessant la la la part as the song enters its second half feels like it works. And remember that 5 seconds of drumming at the beginning? It comes back for another second in between the first and second half of the second verse. It’s in the background and not as noticeable, but it’s there. All of these things are just small touches that make the song, as a whole, simply incredible.

Since the lyrics are also heartfelt, it makes the song even more amazing. Ichiro was unsure about his life when he was in his teens. What was his identity? He felt he didn’t have one. And while there is a main chorus heard three times, the lyrics are slightly different each time. They progress Ichiro’s thoughts as we keep discovering more and more about him and what he has to say about this. In fact, I couldn’t really say what the chorus is for this song. And that’s okay. It all works, and works extraordinarily beautifully well.

Feb 26 2016

2016 Oscars Predictions

I don’t have time this year for bowling and I won’t be able to explain many of the choices. Below the list are a few explanations for why I will predict that winner for that category.

1. Best Picture: “The Revenant”
2. Best Leading Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, for “The Revenant”
3. Best Leading Actress: Brie Larson, for “Room”
4. Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, for “Bridge of Spies”
5. Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, for “The Danish Girl”
6. Best Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu, for “The Revenant”
7. Best Original Screenplay: “Spotlight”
8. Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Big Short”
9. Best Cinematography: “The Revenant”
10. Best Editing: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
11. Best Production Direction: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
12. Best Costume Design: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
13. Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
14. Best Original Score (Music): “The Hateful Eight”
15. Best Original Song: ‘Til’ It Happens to You’ from “The Hunting Ground”
16. Best Sound Mixing: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
17. Best Sound Editing: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
18. Best Visual Effects: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
19. Best Animated Film: “Inside Out”
20. Best Foreign Language Film: “Son of Saul”
21. Best Documentary: “Amy”
22. Best Short Documentary: “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness”
23. Best Short Animated Film: “World of Tomorrow”
24. Best Short (Live Action) Film: “Shok”

Explanations

1. Every other year, I choose a ‘safe’ winner and the year in-between those, I choose a winner that more than likely won’t win but has a chance. This year, that film is “Spotlight”. However, last year was the year I tried for that kind of choice with “Boyhood”. This year, I will go with the safer “The Revenant”, despite that it has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating of all of the Best Picture nominees, at 82%. The lack of any screenplay nomination also hurts its chances. But, if the Golden Globes are any indication, we can expect “The Revenant” to take the victory here, whether or not it’s actually the best film from 2015.

6. I would have considered George Miller, but Inarritu won the DGA award, so I may as well go with this.

7. “Spotlight” seems the safer bet here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something else, perhaps even an animated film, takes the cake here.

10. I’m extremely happy that “Star Wars” got nominated for this category, as it absolutely deserved it, if only for keeping the runtime just over 2 hours and still making it feel exciting and worthwhile. That is to say, I think a lot of films opt for throwing more and more things at the viewer because somehow people have accepted that movies are 2.5 hours nowadays. There are certainly times where I will accept a 2.5 hour runtime, such as Nolan’s films. The Furious films…not so much (though I probably should just be avoiding them in the first place).

In any case, “Mad Max” feels like the winner here for the same reason “Star Wars” felt good as a movie. There is no point in the movie where a scene feels overly long or unnecessary. That’s what good editing does. And boy, does “Mad Max” feel tight.

Final Thoughts

It’s strange to me that this will be another year for Inarritu, and while I have not seen his first film “Amores Perros” nor his latest film, “The Revenant”, he has only made one good film in my estimation, and that was “Babel”. “Babel” was the one he got right. Something happened with the director/writer duo of himself and Guillermo Arriaga. They parted ways after “Babel”, perhaps due to it being mostly snubbed at its respective Oscars night in 2007. Inarritu seems to have revenge as an element in each of his films, as least partially. “Babel” was the one where it felt more restrained, because the characters were in such low positions in their respective situations that they hardly had time for serious so-called ‘revenge’. I have no interest in his latest fare, though I am sure I will inevitably see it somehow.

In any case, to avoid more ranting about how “Babel” deserved best picture, there are my predictions for this year’s Oscars.

Nov 22 2015

The 5 Games I Want For My 2015 Christmas Wii U

Essentially, this post is similar to a post titled “Top 5 Wii U Games I’d Buy Now (If I Had A Wii U)”. That post was created early last year. It’s amazing how much has changed in a year and a half. I purchased the Mass Effect trilogy for $9 on a flash sale a few months ago for the PC. And my mind has been completely back and forth about Need for Speed: Most Wanted, which in March of 2014 was at the top of the list of games I want. I am not happy at how long it has taken for the Wii U to become a worthwhile system to purchase. We’re still awaiting Star Fox Zero and the next Zelda game. Meanwhile, Nintendo still hasn’t seemed to gain the confidence of EA back and appears to be losing some support from Ubisoft, as well. But I can elaborate on that another day. For now, I want to highlight the games that I would like to get with my new (refurbished) Wii U console (It came with Nintendo Land, so that won’t be considered for this list).

-Wind Waker HD

Ah yes, this one didn’t quite make the list. I would like to try this game, as I would consider this my 2nd favorite Zelda game, Ocarina being at the top. There’s a Twilight Princess HD remake in the works for next year, but the original Wii version already sported widescreen support, amongst other things. Being able to play Wind Waker in native widescreen will alone be a fun thing to do. Of course, the overall polish helps. But having played this game before, this doesn’t quite make my top 5.

-Need for Speed Most Wanted U

Here’s another game that was very close to making the list. I don’t know anyone who owns this game and I also don’t know anyone who owns this game and has played the original Most Wanted game, released for Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2 and GCN. I would have to rent or buy this game to know if I would like it, but from videos, it seemed that the police chases are more “fun” intense than “dramatic” intense. The original game went for more dramatic police chases in its tone with fast-paced music that kept players on the edge of their seats. The new version of the game seems to take the approach of you being a guy who has “got this”, and it hampers the chases to more cool than dangerous. I may still get this, but there’s another racing game on the horizon that looks to be even better…

5. Fast Racing Neo

This is the only game on the list that has not been released yet, but is slated to arrive before Christmas. It seems to be an off-brand version of F-Zero GX. Since I loved F-Zero GX, I have no qualms about this. And since it’s an eshop game, I am expecting it to be around $20. That’s a win-win considering that certain other games on this list are $60 (or more).

4. Super Smash Bros.

This should come as no surprise, despite that I thought the N64 original was more or less an average game (haters gonna hate, but the GCN and Wii versions were much better). I don’t expect this game to be all too amazing, and I have already played a few hours of it. It seems to take time to get used to the way they have balanced characters and movement. Since the Wii version is what I got used to, it may take a while for me to get used to this. But, I am very impressed with how Nintendo handled the release of this game. Not only was there 8-player support, there was Gamecube controller support. For a company that has done so little when porting N64 games to the Virtual Console, as one example, it’s refreshing to see Nintendo care enough about fans to release an adapter specifically to use a controller that was used for a console that debuted 14 years ago.

3. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Here comes a game that kind of came out of nowhere, but appears to have the charm of Super Mario 3D World minus any creepy cat costumes. And at a $40 price tag, it’s a much easier buy for me.

2. Pikmin 3

One of the reasons I come back to Nintendo despite anything else is because they have franchises like this. Being long overdue, the sequel to one of my favorite GCN games, Pikmin 2, was released on the Wii U after nearly 10 years without a new release in the franchise. We can debate Nintendo’s choice of waiting so long to revive franchises, but we ought to embrace what they have given us. This is a game I don’t want to pass up.

1. Watch Dogs

Releasing to mixed reviews, Watch Dogs came out in May of 2014 to all other consoles except the Wii U. Finally being released before the year ended, the Wii U version of Watch Dogs was said to be developed specifically to have the Gamepad utilized to a fuller potential. I was glad that developers and publishers cared enough about the Wii U to consider doing this. And while Ubisoft isn’t impressed with the sales of the Wii U version (being late, I am not sure what they were expecting), I am amazed that a third-party game as ambitious as Watch Dogs even made it to the Wii U. While the framerate seems to be worse than the two newer consoles on the market (after all, the Wii U was released a year before PS4 and Xbox One), the Wii U version still looks comparable to the PS3 and even some people playing on PC. I think Nintendo had a good idea with the Gamepad to begin with, and while many developers are using the Gamepad simply for off-screen play rather than something more unique, here we have a game that uses the Gamepad for something more than that. That alone makes this worth a try. I know many people see this as a lost opportunity to do something more than what apparently amounts to just a map, but people forget that that is still more than what PS4 and Xbox One players got. I’ve also heard of framerate issues, but we tolerated that back in the N64 days. As someone who doesn’t have a great PC, I don’t mind giving this a try on the Wii U. My interest in the subject matter of this game helps elevate it to the top of this list.

Jun 14 2015

E3 2015 (Quick and Easy) Predictions

Here are some quick predictions for this year’s E3. There seem to be some certainties about E3. I am making predictions on things that I am fairly sure will happen, but are not guaranteed. In other words, I wouldn’t call any of these predictions particularly bold. I will be more surprised than not if these don’t come true.

-Star Fox Wii U will be playable

People who had been listening closely to Nintendo for the past year would not at all have been surprised when Nintendo “suddenly” announced that Zelda would be pushed back to 2015. Nintendo stated way before that announcement that Star Fox had been progressing rather well and would be released before Zelda. I think the game has been finished for the majority of this year and now they are just testing and tweaking. So there’s no reason for Nintendo to hide any longer.

-We will see Retro Studios new project

A bolder prediction would be what that new project is, but I think it’s safe to say that whatever it is, we will at least see a trailer. Could it be a new Metroid? Or how about a new F-Zero? We’ll have to see.

-EA will come back to the Wii U (in some form)

Here’s the boldest prediction on the list. Nintendo has been doing much more with the Wii U recently that I think it could be enough to bring EA back. It’s not for certain, as other publishers have shyed away from Nintendo as well, but any company loves money, and with the penetration rate of the Wii U in America, it makes sense for EA to get back into the Wii U market. I added the “in some form” part becuse there is a chance that EA ‘coming back’ mean a Wii U version of something that they have either already done (sans Mass Effect 3) or it could be a Wii U exclusive of some sort. Tough to say, but I don’t think EA can avoid the Wii U forever.

So there are 3 predictions here. The first one is more or less a ‘gimme’. The second one is nearly for sure. The third one is more of a toss-up. Some might argue that there’s no way EA is coming back. We’ll see. This year’s E3 is almost here!

Jun 03 2015

Bikes and Cars in Japan

In December of 2013, new laws were enacted that made it illegal to ride on sidewalks in Japan with a bicycle. There are some exceptions, such as for those who are elderly or in elementary school. Another exception is if there is a blue sign on the sidewalk showing a symbol of people and bicycles; it signifies that that sidewalk can be used by both pedestrians and bicyclists. Starting in June of 2015, in order to enforce this new law, amongst others already in place, bicyclists who receive two violations in a three-year period will be required to attend a 5700 yen ($50) 3-hour course. Not attending the course results in a fine of up to 50000 yen. It is unclear if this is just Tokyo area, but I suspect this is nationwide. They say that bicyclists should think of being on a road as the rule, and being on a sidewalk as the exception. This is a proper way to think I about it. They also say that cars and bikes are “friends” and share the road.

This is true and their intentions are all well and good, but there is an underlying problem with all of this. Cars (or rather people who drive them) are not good at accommodating bicyclists. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake of pulling out in front of me because you may not have thought that I could catch up to you (I tend to bike much faster than the average mama-chari city bicyclist). But there are reckless drivers who don’t properly give space to bicyclists. My friend suggested to bike somewhat non-uniformly, the idea being that if you drive somewhat erratically, cars behind you are basically forced to give you more room. This may work, but it is ultimately more dangerous.

On a side note, before I get into the main point, there’s one more area that is kind of annoying. When cars are waiting to turn right, while they will naturally wait for opposing cars going straight, they are sometimes not expecting a biker behind that last car as they turn. They are supposed to wait, sure, but it can be sudden for them. As a biker, I can tell even a few car lengths back whether or not there’s a car there waiting to turn. I am not entirely sure how to approach this situation. If I go behind the three or so cars who are at the light, I can go more in the middle of the lane. There are pros and cons to this-the pro is that it increases my visibility to the waiting-to-turn car, versus being out of the line of sight by being completely on the outside of the lane. The con is that I can’t make myself completely visible, and in the off-chance that they still haven’t noticed me, they may start to turn and now it’s more difficult for me to avoid a collision since I am in the middle of the lane. I am currently approaching these situations by going as far left as possible and actually intentionally going slower than the traffic as to leave a gap. The first turning car may have time to turn in front of me, which is fine if they feel they can do it (in this scenario, I am basically giving them enough space to see me and decide if they want to go). An even rarer circumstance is having two cars in a row who are trying to right turn in front of me. Sometimes, cars make a chain without really paying attention to whether they should stop or not. If I am hit in that case, it’s more their fault.

But I don’t want to get hit, even if it’s beyond a doubt the other guy’s fault. I shouldn’t feel like I don’t belong on the road. My main concern with these new enforcing laws is that while many bicyclists do take too many liberties and they should be more careful, what about people like me who are careful? On another side note, it still baffles me that people think that riding against traffic, even if for 10 seconds, is appropriate. Can you imagine if a vehicle did that? Everyone who saw that would call the cops immediately and say there’s an extremely reckless driver on the road.

My main point, though, is that none of this will matter unless drivers change their attitude towards bicyclists. So if you drive in Japan, here are a few things you can do to make the road a little safer for everyone (including other drivers).

1. Give bicyclists a little more space when passing

You may know that you are going to drive around those darn bicyclists without hitting them. However, when you are biking, a car who passes too closely can be intimidating. Give just a little bit more room and we’re good.

2. Expect a bicyclist when turning

This should be a principle of good driving to expect either a bicyclist behind a car or a pedestrian to cross the crosswalk. But people who aren’t used to a bunch of pedestrians are more likely to hit them as they aren’t expecting it. This is true of my suburban town in the US, where I don’t think to look in the crosswalk. But I should.

3. Wait your turn

When there are no cars in front of me and you can clearly see me, I am either going straight or turning left. Either way, you need to not make your right turn in front of me. When I approach the intersection, why not let me go? You would let a car go, right? Why? Because you don’t want a dent in your car. But you won’t let me go because I probably won’t dent your car. And while it’s true that those God-given reflexes allow me to stop in time to avoid a collision, I still have to get through the intersection eventually. The idea shouldn’t be for me to brake whenever you’re in my way. The idea should be for you to wait as you already have to.

But there are probably a few things us bicyclists can do better as well. Here are three of them:

1. Use the bell/chime more often.

In a “quiet” country like Japan, it does break the cultural silence in some circumstances (aka in rural areas). However, when going past somewhere that has places where cars, pedestrians or other bikers could come out, the bell can act as a warning. While cars may not hear it, it doesn’t hurt to do it. There was a blind corner I took every day for three years that I rang the bell twice loudly. Some people would take the corner on the opposite side of the road way too tightly, which is foolish; while they would be liable if they hit me, it still means I get hit.

2. Don’t cross roads diagonally.

Yes, I know that the quickest way from A to B is a straight line. But to cross the road diagonally is illegal, dangerous, and usually means that you either started off on the right side of the road (which is the wrong side) or you will end up on the right side of the road (unless you began on the left, went diagonally right and then immediately into a parking lot or something). Let’s avoid getting that much into the road.

3. Use lights earlier in the day, before sunset.

Cars ought to follow this rule as well, but it seems like some bicyclists think it’s a great idea when the sun has basically gone down to bike without lights. It doesn’t matter if the road is well lit. Just like cars who wait way too late in the day to do this, it’s not safe for bicyclists to bike without doing it either. In fact, if we are proactive, we as bicyclists can switch our lights on, and maybe inadvertently spark a driver to turn their car’s lights on and then help everyone avoid an accident.

Let’s share the road, as we are encouraged to do. Unless we are lucky enough to find sidewalks that allow bikes (and then pray for no pedestrians while we’re biking), bikes and cars are required to be on the road at the same time. Let’s work together rather than against each other.

Mar 31 2015

The Failure of Modern Japanese Cinema

The general inability of mainstream Japan to make simple, realistic introspective drama is modern Japan’s true loss.

I couldn’t have said it any better than this quote, from a user on iMDB, partially describing the movie “Always: San-chome no yuhi”. I gave that movie a 6 out of 10, which is almost too nice; at times, the movie feels like a cartoon, and at others it feels like an emotional tug.

But instead of reviewing that movie, I want to talk about why so many Japanese movies (including “Always”) aren’t making the mark. The first thing to say before even talking about this is to recognize who the audience of these movies are. It is not a Western audience. I would wonder what an American audience would think of such scenes as the Suzuki Auto man instantly breaking down the wooden glass doors of his house in a Hulk-like manner. Thankfully, we’re basically spared from any more of these comic book scenes. The filmmakers do not think anything strange of this at all. They are making the film for Japanese. And it seemed to work, as it swept the 2006 Japanese “Academy Awards”, winning Best Picture and several acting awards, not to mention technical awards. This is quite peculiar to me-were there really no better Japanese movies in 2005 than this one?

No matter if there were or not, the movie has spawned two sequels, and I wouldn’t doubt if we saw another one in five years. I likely won’t seek those ones out. Why? I don’t know how much more of the blatant cheesiness I can deal with. Of course, this isn’t in every Japanese movie. But I see some movies and wonder how it can be so easily dismissed by an audience. Are these strange scenes cute? Are they funny? I’d rather a movie be grounded than go for senseless humor.

Since this isn’t a BuzzFeed article, I can’t nitpick too much about things. But I will talk about one scene from a movie that will forever bother me. In the movie, “Honey and Clover” (based off of the anime series of the same name), there is a cat. This cat is in a scene with other real-life actors, kind of in the background, perhaps drinking milk. Except there is no real, live cat to be seen. There is an animation of what is supposedly a cat drawn in this scene. No characters really react to this cat’s presence. Is it even there? Was I hallucinating? No, we’re supposed to just accept that the cat is there and that it is a real living cat, even though it clearly isn’t. Can you imagine if they did this for a personified character? We’d be getting another Roger Rabbit…which is fine, except that that movie was very intentional about that character being animated in the ‘real world’. “Honey and Clover” was nowhere near that. We have to just pretend and believe that that cat was a real cat. It wasn’t close to real at all. In any case, I don’t know how they got away with it.

How unnecessarily distracting that cat was! Had they made a “normal” movie, I think there would just be a real cat there. Were they in cohorts with the humane society and they just didn’t want to take any risk that a live cat drinking milk might actually be in some danger on a film set? Or maybe they did have a live cat but quickly gave up when they thought it couldn’t be trained properly for that scene. I am calling it laziness, no matter what the actual reason is. It’s not artistic to have a cat portrayed in a movie like this. I’d like to know how a Japanese person reacted to watching this scene. And I know it was only about 5 seconds, but this is still rather annoying.

There’s a reason why “The Kirishima Thing” won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture in 2013. No, it’s not because it’s another retread of the same ground that “Always” was traveling on. Here we have a movie breaking all molds possible. We don’t get the sweeping orchestral moments. We don’t get the grand finale where all characters and plotlines are redeemed and complete. We get real life. We get the life of high school students. We get the pressures that they face and the everyday interactions that they have to deal with. The topic of the movie, a captain of a school’s volleyball team quitting suddenly, leaving his teammates dumbfounded, is utterly relevant and altogether fascinating.

If every Japanese movie took notes from “The Kirishima Thing”, cinema would be radically different. Moreover, moviegoers would have different expectations. We wouldn’t necessarily be expecting a twist two thirds of the way into the movie. We wouldn’t need that typical feel-good ending. We would be okay with movies ending suddenly becaue they need to end exactly at that moment.

There are so many ideas expressed in movies like “The Kirishima Thing” and another one titled, “All About Lily Chou-Chou” that are uniquely part of Japanese culture. The topics of quitting an after-school club in high school to junior high school bullying and obsessions are things that could be portrayed in Western cinema. When Japan makes movies on these subjects, it’s not ‘putting a Japanese spin on a topic’, like the Japanese version of “Sideways” did to the original 2004 American movie (yes, Japan remade the Oscar-nominated “Sideways”). These are Japanese issues through and through. The director of “Chou-Chou”, Shunji Iwai is hailed as one of the best directors in Japan, featured on NHK often and I don’t doubt that the director of “Kirishima”, Daihachi Yoshida, could reach a similar status someday.

What I realized in the end is that, we need to experience different types of movies as moviegoers. I think this is like friendships; some people are satisifed with one type of person, but I think we need different types of friends in our lives, too. So although I just slammed on sappy dramas and the like, the fact is we need some movies like that sometimes. We need good thrillers sometimes as much as we need good comedies from time to time. That’s why I hope that Japanese filmmakers will consider the way a film should really feel, rather than deliver on supposedly tried-and-true tropes. I hope that they will put in the hard work to make every aspect of a film excellent, no matter what genre or subject matter. If they follow the examples set by other great filmmakers, Japan can get out of its rut and compete head to head with great Western cinema.

-Feel free to take a look here at what movies I thought were excellent Japanese movies, released in the past 20 years or so.

Mar 19 2015

Thoughts on Nintendo in the Smartphone Market

Nintendo has announced that they will develop, publish and release games for smartphones as early as this year. While we can expect to hear much more at E3 in June, this announcement is timed well for investors as Nintendo approaches the end of its fiscal year. That aside, this is a truly surprising piece of news. Nintendo had seemed adamant to release their franchises on anything that wasn’t their own console. If Nintendo had announced dropping out of the console business, the world would have been shocked. Still, this piece of news made front pages of Japanese newspapers yesterday. It seems that people are excited to see what Nintendo will do with this format.

What I want to ponder today is how this will play out for Nintendo. I must say, I am not a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog: Episode 4 for my Android. Sure, the gameplay is solid, but I just can’t get used to using a fake joystick in the corner of the screen to control Sonic. It feels extremely unintuitive. That is saying a lot considering that Sonic platform games have traditionally only needed a D-Pad and one button. To hold my phone, move the character using the fake joystick in one corner of the screen and then to use another availble finger to jump and perform other actions is so strange to me. I hate games where I die because I feel out of control of the action.

So, Nintendo will have to take a different approach to this market. I’d almost be sickened to see my favorite game, Super Mario World, be butchered by smartphone controls. That is why the annoucement of Nintendo working with DeNA is interesting, and likely in Nintendo’s best interest. The key factor in Nintendo entering the smartphone market is that they won’t be porting games (at least not this year). That is probably good news; again, do we really want to see some of Nintendo’s old NES and SNES on the smartphone? People may want to have that portability, but people have purchased the 3DS and other portable consoles for that purpose (naturally, people who own a 3DS also plays newer titles, I’m sure). In some ways, I think Nintendo isn’t aiming for nostalgic gamers who want to relive those games. I think it’s aiming for the kind of person who buys smartphone games in the first place. For these people, simply having the franchise and characters will likely be enough.

All of that being said, what genres would work best for Nintendo on smartphones? I think puzzle games are the best genre; they seem perfect for touchscreens. Nintendo is already showing the world what it’s like to combine Puzzle and Dragons with the Mario franchise. Now that they’re entering the smartphone market, I don’t doubt seeing a “lite” version of Puzzle and Dragons with Mario characters. Heck, they could probably easily do a Pokemon version.

What was the reason for Nintendo to enter the smartphone market? Business insiders couldn’t understand for years why Nintendo refused to release games for smartphones. I have to wonder if gamers felt the same way. The fact is that “gamers” are people who own home consoles. Gamers also own portable consoles (most likely the 3DS), but people who aren’t “gamers”, per se, also own portable consoles. And one thing that nearly everyone owns is a smartphone. I think it’s obvious that Nintendo did this for money (what business make a decision without thinking of money?), but they are also doing something wise-they are protecting their property well. By not porting games, Nintendo can maintain its image of superior gaming experiences on its own consoles while selling different types of offerings for smartphone users.

In fact, I think having smartphone games will be key to helping sell its other offerings better. I think of the classic A/B comparison. Companies do it is by offering one thing, B, at a slightly higher price than A. B is far superior to A and requires only a little bit more money. It’s like the idea that if you are already paying so much for A, you may as well pay a little more to get the far superior B. Movie theaters are most guilty, by offering a small drink of 32 oz for $4.75, a medium sized drink of, let’s say, 44 oz for $5.00 and then a large size of 64 oz for $5.25. If you’re already paying $4.75 for a small drink, you can pay 50 cents more to get double the size. Now, in that scenario, nobody really needs 64 oz of cola, and while more than half of that is just ice, people do fall for it. Nintendo’s home console games may look amazing next to its lesser smartphone counterparts.

In this case, Nintendo isn’t offering something as easily comparable as a size of a drink. Nintendo will offer smartphone games that will likely be bite-sized versions of their console coutnerparts. This is not suggest that their smartphone games will be demos of their console offerings. Be assured-their smartphone games will be complete games. They will be complete in the sense that a smartphone game can be-it will feel polished, it will be easily accesible and will have some depth without being overwhelming. Partnering with DeNA ensures some amount of quality control and consistency for their smartphone offerings. And it seems that these game may connect with its console games. To be sure, having the option to use a smartphone in tandem with the Wii U, for example, is quite alluring. One game that comes to mind is a newer trivia-like game called Fibbage that has players create fake descriptions for things. It is all displayed on a big screen, via a home console such as the PS4. A smartphone may be an excellent companion to the Wii U GamePad, and selling even smaller 99 cent games that interact with bigger console games could be an interesting thing.

Until E3 2015, we may not hear much more about this announcement. Investors are happy for now, and I don’t see how this will hurt consumers. All in all, this seems like the right move for Nintendo. While I don’t see this as something that helps me as a gamer, this opens more doors for Nintendo, and I think that alone is beneficial. Let’s see what Nintendo does.

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