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Nostalgia isn’t doing the gaming industry any favors

Gaming (and gamers, for that matter) seem to be obsessed with reliving the past. The nostalgia bubble is strong right now, but when it bursts, it might harm the industry as a whole.

Unless you’ve been living primarily for the indie releases, you might have noticed gaming has a bit of a throwback problem. Indeed, if the gaming industry hearkens to its past more often, it risks turning into a time machine.

Will gaming still be able to release the artistic touchstones so many of us will love and remember if it’s currently preoccupied with reviving the ones we already love and remember?

Case study: Nintendo

The poster child for this collective obsession with the earliest generations of gaming is undoubtedly Nintendo. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of the people reading this thought of Nintendo before getting beyond the first paragraph.

It’s the natural connection to make: nostalgia isn’t just Nintendo’s business model, it’s practically the company’s entire raison d’etre. Whenever the company wants to experiment with new hardware — motion controls or 3D screens, for example — it brings out mainstays in its mascot library as a way of giving the untested tech a familiar anchor.

Nintendo has at least proven there’s profit in using familiar names and franchises as a way of selling hardware. And it’s taken a niche approach to nostalgia with its release of throwback consoles like the SNES classic. But beyond that, what is this going to mean for Nintendo in the long run if they don’t allow or encourage more original content? I’d wager the Smash Bros roster will suffer, at the very least.

Same, but better; or better, but same?

Let’s examine one of gaming’s biggest events of the year: the Electronic Entertainment Expo. What were the big announcements at this year’s event?

Just off the top of my head, I recall announcements for a new God of War, a new Metroid, a new Assassin’s Creed, a new Far Cry, a new Beyond Good and Evil, and a new Wolfenstein. That’s not even covering the re-releases and remasters, such as those for Age of EmpiresSkyrim (again), Shadow of the Colossus and Rocket League. The number of familiar names far outweighed the unfamiliar ones.

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Outside of that show, some of the most ballyhooed games I’ve seen previewed are Final Fantasy VII Remastered, and Sonic Mania, which was literally made by and for nostalgic fans.

Note that I’m not commenting on the actual quality of the games in question — I loved the new Doom game, and could probably sing its praises throughout this article. I’m not a Crash Bandicoot fan, but if Activision ever releases a Spyro remaster, I’ll be on that like a cat on a mouse. And some of the resurrected franchises — System Shock 3, for example — look more like love letters to a piece of art than an attempt to cash in on a familiar name.

That doesn’t hold true for all of them, however, and I suspect the industry’s retro-infused calendar has more to do with milking a nostalgic audience for cash rather than consistent demand from the players. So what would the gaming industry looked like if the audience as a whole lost interest in remasters, re-releases, and sequels?

World without remasters

Imagine a scenario with me: when a new console generation is released, it’s actually not allowed (or not accepted) for the developers to frontload it with older franchises. Imagine a world where doing so was seen as bad form — as opposed to the world we live in, where it’s the accepted norm.

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So, to compensate in this hypothetical alternate world, both first- and third-party developers would have to create games that rely on great gameplay, beautiful art, or intriguing stories to sell themselves, rather than familiar names and characters. They could be similar to previous games, or take inspiration from them, but would build on them to create something new.

Imagine a world where franchise sequels — or at least a majority percentage of them — were made either as afterthoughts, niche market products, or were generally not considered at all. This world would have its own problems — not the least of which would be that most games would be considered monetary risks by the consumer, rather than investments based on previous goodwill.

But at the very least, it would force the industry as a whole to look forward, not back.

The future, not the past

I’m not doomsaying by any means — gaming does get its fair share of fresh blood. My fear is that a preoccupation with the hits of yesteryear will leave future gamers with nothing to call their own.

If I had a ten-year-old child right at this moment, what kind of games would they be playing that they’ll still be nostalgic for twenty years from now? I can tell from experience that it’s hard to summon that kind of devotion for franchises you enter in the middle.

As for us adult gamers — how long until we realize that reliving the past gives us limited returns?

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Hacker group manages to run Linux on a Nintendo Switch

Hacker group fail0verflow shared a photo of a Nintendo Switch running Debian, a distribution of Linux (via Nintendo Life). The group claims that Nintendo can’t fix the vulnerability with future firmware patches.

According to fail0verflow, there’s a flaw in the boot ROM in Nvidia’s Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip. when your console starts, it reads and executes a piece of code stored in a read-only memory (hence the name ROM). This code contains instructions about the booting process.

It means that the boot ROM is stored on the chip when Nvidia manufactures it and it can’t be altered in any way after that. Even if Nintendo issues a software update, this software update won’t affect the boot ROM. And as the console loads the boot ROM immediately after pressing the power button, there’s no way to bypass it.

The only way to fix it would be to manufacture new Nvidia Tegra X1 chips. So it’s possible that Nintendo asks Nvidia to fix the issue so that new consoles don’t have this vulnerability.

fail0verflow also says that you don’t need to install a modification chip to bypass the boot ROM. On the photo, it looks like they plugged something on the right side of the device, where the right Joy-Con is supposed to be.

If fail0verflow decides to share the exploit, it could open up many possibilities when it comes to homebrew software and, yes, pirated games. It could have some financial implications for Nintendo.

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Play SNES classics in the HD resolution of memory with the Super Nt

When it comes to the art and science of retro gaming, Analogue has no equal. The small company that first brought us the Analogue Nt, then the Nt mini, is back again with the Super Nt – a lovingly engineered and built modern SNES/Super Famicom console.

Wait but what? A ‘modern SNES’? What does that entail? If you know Analogue’s past work, you know it essentially means building a custom FPGA processor that can play actual original SNES and SFC cartridges as they were intended to be played – not using emulation, the typical means these days of recreating classic gaming experiences on modern hardware.

Analogue’s approach means no weird emulation bugs, no lag and games that play just like you remember them, but with enhanced 1080p full HD graphics, and terrific color rendering for modern televisions. I tried it on both a 4K HDR 43″ LG LED TV, and on Sony’s latest 65″ Bravia 4K HDR OLED TV, and the resulting picture quality was amazing.

As for the game library, it’s as broad as your childhood collection, or as big as the one you can get at your local gaming store or via online sales of old cartridges. Luckily, I have a tall stack of SNES games that has somehow survived multiple moves and general possession culls, so I was ready to roll with NBA Live 95, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Super Mario World, Mario Kart, Killer Instinct, and many more. I also got a chance to play iam8bit’s limited Street Fighter II 30th anniversary edition cartridge re-release, which was amazing.

Even if you have no games to hand, you can still enjoy the Super Nt out of the box: Analogue has included a soft copy of both the never-released Super Turrican: Director’s Cut, as well as Super Turrican 2 coded into the console itself. If you love bullet hell shooters, you’ll have a great time with both of these classics, including the Director’s Cut that restores the developer’s original vision of the game without some of the technical limitations placed on the retail original due to shipping requirements and cartridge sizes.

The Super Nt comes in a range of colorways, but the retro Super Nintendo inspired version was most appealing to my eye. Analogue also includes an 8bitdo SN30 controller in the box, along with a wireless Retro Receiver adapter for lag-free play. Of course, the console also supports original wired SNES/SFC controllers, if you’d prefer.

It connects to your TV via HDMI, and has a number of simulated scanline and other image adjustments you can tweak to make sure the visual output to your TV most closely resembles whatever setup you had growing up playing SNES. There’s an HDMI cable in the box, too.

Like Analogue’s other products, this one has a very particular appeal. I hesitate to call it ‘niche,’ however, in part because the team have reduced their pricing from past products and are selling this one for $189.99. It’s also just incredibly fun, and the games have lost none of their charm, so it’s definitely a compelling gaming experience for old and new SNES players alike.

Yes, you could pick up an SNES Classic mini from Nintendo (if you can find one) for a lot less, but Analogue’s version is actually a more accurate and faithful reproduction of the original, and it’s built to last, too. If you’re at all inclined to pick one up, I’d do it – it’s those decades of fun you remember, ready to be re-experienced all over again.

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This is the ultimate Super Bowl smart home setup

Do you like to watch football? How about the biggest game of the year — which happens on February 4 (aka this Sunday)? If yes to either of these, then you’re in luck: I can tell you how to get the most out of the experience via connected smart home tech, gadgets and AV equipment. Set “indulge” mode to MAX.

The TV

There are plenty of TV options out there for your viewing pleasure, but the one that takes the cake in my opinion is the Sony Bravia A1E 65-inch 4K OLED HDR Smart TV. Why? Because it’s the smartest television around, in terms of how it makes use of tech, and that goes way beyond its Android TV-based OS (though that’s nice, too).

Part of the smarts come from Sony’s X1 chip, which is a dedicated image processor in the television that’s responsible for its unbeatable upscaling prowess. I immediately noticed that no matter the source resolution of the content I was playing on the Sony TV, the picture looked far, far better than it did anywhere else. Sony says this is because it’s using the chip to rebuild the image pixel-by-pixel, and using a reference library of thousands of 4K images taken from Sony’s extensive library of film and TV studio content to do that rebuilding intelligently, instead of just having to take a guess based on surrounding pixels, as other TV makers do.

The X1 also helps out with the unique in-panel speaker that Sony uses on this television, which literally turns the entire surface of the TV into an audio output device. It helps positionally track faces on the screen, so that when people speak, including from your favorite sideline commentators, their voices actually seem to be coming from their mouths. It’s so good, you might want to opt for that instead of your surround system, but more on that below.

Ultimately, this isn’t the cheapest TV out there (even among OLED models) but its picture quality is unmatched thanks to Sony’s tech, especially if you’re using a streaming signal (like the free one NBC is making available this year for watching the game).

The remote

A good setup needs a good remote, and the Logitech Harmony Companion paired with the Harmony Hub is pretty much exactly what you need for smart home control, including AV equipment like the TV above, as well as various smart devices like those listed below.

Logitech’s whole Harmony lineup is good for this, but the Harmony Companion + Hub bundle has the advantage of being full-featured and capable, while also not breaking the bank. The Hub is key for making sure all your smart home devices can be controlled (including via Google Assistant through Android running on the Sony TV, or also via Alexa), and the Companion remote is an uncomplicated affair, without the power draw of an integrated display, but with a bunch of flexibility thanks to being able to assign different activities to long and short presses of the various activity buttons.

It ships with not only the Hub, but also two IR extenders in the box, which make it easy to establish setups for both open- and closed-cabin AV stack installations. Setup of the software and app is also super easy, and can be done entirely on your smartphone — which becomes another controller using the app, too.

The lights

Philips Hue is still the smart light brand to beat, in my opinion, and they work great with Google Assistant, as well as Alexa and the Harmony remote. You can easily brighten the room with a voice command for when you’re taking a break for wings or nachos, and then darken the room again when halftime’s over and the main show is once again the focus of everyone’s attention.

Using stuff like IFTTT, or even preset smart device scenes with Google Assistant, you can trigger different lighting for different events — like color-coded touchdowns, for instance.

The speakers

As mentioned above, the Sony Bravia OLED TV has speakers integrated into its screen surface that sound amazing, and work great with things like sports and commentary, but if you want to add a little more connected magic to the mix, there are a couple of good options in this category.

Sonos speakers are a great addition to a home theater, especially if you’re already invested in the system. You can craft a home theater sound setup using their Playbase and Playbar, and add a subwoofer for bass, too. But if you’re already super committed to Google Assistant and Chromecast (which is built-in to the TV), you can also pick up Riva’s Festival and Arena speakers, which have Chromecast features built in.

The benefit of that is that you can set them up in group and have the game-day audio broadcast around the house: That way, even in the kitchen or the bathroom, you’re still going to be able to hear all the action as it goes down. And again, you can control all this using voice commands with your TV remote or smartphone.

The post-game game

Once the game is done, or if you’re not interested in watching Justin Timberlake perform at halftime, the best way to occupy that time is to virtually experience your own Super Bowl at home by firing up Madden 18 on the big screen. The Xbox One X version is fully set for 4K HDR displays, so it’s the perfect pairing if you’re using the TV above or another one with those resolution and quality capabilities.
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