Backlog: Real Talk Edition

Oh, that sweet unrest Welcome to this week's Backlog! I continue to spend my free time recovering from a long weekend out in West Texas and Big Bend National Park, which is where the above photo was taken. My mind's still wandering in those desolate hills, so to speak.

There are no themes and no frills this time around — just some real talk from some real dudes.

Doug's got free time aplenty these days, and as he's quickly learned, there's no better way to kill off a sizable chunk of your conscious existence than to fire up a game of Civ. And as Tyler assumes control of his new 3DS XL, he's coming to grips with the uncomfortable truth that the Nintendo of his youth is not the Nintendo of 2013. — Nick Cummings


Hex on hex on hex

I finished BioShock Infinite over the weekend, but that’s as much as I can say before taking a swan dive into the spoiler pool.

But with ample free time at work and little other responsibilities, I decided the best way to burn hours (and laptop battery) was by playing Civilization V. And boy did I ever play that game.

What I love about the Civilization games is how each new playthrough manufactures a little self-contained story. Playing as Japan, I found myself alone for the early part of the game — was anyone else out there? As technology allowed me to explore the seas, I found another group, the Mongolians, and we peacefully developed. Then, once the age of discovery began, there was a boom in trade — I found that I was one of the “new worlds” on a continent just across the ocean from where four other civilizations were located. By this point, though, I had a strong economy and was able to match or outstrip everyone else with regard to technology. By the time the world entered the 17th century, Japan was a large, stable empire, trading with partners worldwide.

But the modern era has been a different story. Minor incidents led to bickering, which led to skirmishes. I kept my distance for a while but grew paranoid. To cement my holdings, I invaded a pair of city-states, annexing them (and their luxury resources) into my own empire. This led my friends to turn to rivals — all except Alexander and the Greeks, that is. They never wavered. Fortunately, they were the strongest civilization on the map, with my Japanese empire slotting in just behind (where the Greeks had military might, I still leaned on technology). But fearing the end-game battles, I took a turn on social policy, shifting from relative pacifism and naval commercial power toward an autocratic society. I felt I needed to keep control of my sprawling empire and ready the military; my colleagues saw it as radicalism and began to ostracize me. Even my long-time friends, the Greeks, stabbed me in the back, denouncing my nation to the world. It’s not my fault that one of their pet city-states liked me better!

So now I stand at a crossroads. It’s the mid-20th century, and the clock is ticking. I’ve just started working on the Apollo Project in order to work toward a science victory. My capital and well-developed secondary cities should be able to meet the scientific and production needs, but I still worry. What if this triggers the other great leaders to bum-rush my homeland? I must stay alert and make sure my homeland remains safe. Glory be to my empire and its long history of scientific discoveries!

Needless to say, it took me until sitting down to write this Backlog to realize that choosing the autocratic “Order” policy choices led the other civilizations to trust me less and less. Had I not gone down that path, perhaps I would not be seen as the iron-fisted pariah of the world? I’ll have to keep that in mind the next time I play.


Go big or go home

If you were to ask Nick or Aaron about my feelings towards Nintendo you might think I had some sort of grudge or vendetta against the company, as though it stole my girlfriend or made some untoward comment regarding my mother. I can provide assurance this is not the case. I grew up with Nintendo. The first significant gaming device I ever possessed was a Game Boy. I still remember the first game I played to completion, Kirby's Dream Land. I actually spent inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom that month pretending to be doing something else because my parents limited the amount of time I could play games during the day. I have lots of positive memories tied to Nintendo wares, but then it's always the ones you love that disappoint you the most, isn't it?

I've owned every Nintendo handheld at some point in time but the culture has changed drastically in the past five or so years and for ever two steps Nintendo takes forward it seems to take one step back. The 3DS did everything wrong from the moment it left the gate in my eyes. I never had any more than a passing interest in 3D media, even glasses-free; Nintendo lacks any sort of unified ID tracking players and purchases across multiple devices; perhaps most important to me, however, was that it was the first Nintendo handheld to be completely region-locked, disallowing titles from a different country of origin to be played on the device. Because of these complaints I'd essentially written off the device. After all, I had an iPhone, an iPad and a PlayStation Vita; what need had I of another handheld device for gaming? Well, the problem with that question is that the word "need" is irrelevant to a gaming enthusiast. When it comes down to brass tacks, no one needs a game. It's a desire, and a strong one at that.

What swayed me was ultimately the only thing that matters when it comes to buying device like this: the games. There are enough games I want to play that even the inconveniences of region-locking and an awful digital service were not enough to dissuade me. It was a perfect storm of circumstances that led to me purchasing a 3DS XL: a friend of mine was in the US for GDC, Nintendo had an ongoing promotion offering a free download of select titles for recent purchases of 3DS hardware and a recent release, and an outlet had a sale taking $40 off the price of the hardware. I'd be foolish not to buy one, right?

I've had roughly a week to play around with the far I'm nonplussed. Compared to Apple's retina devices and the Vita the resolution of the device is awful; friend-codes are horribly archaic; eShop selections are sparse and price insensitive (Ocarina of Time, a remake of a fifteen year-old game that launched with the hardware, is still $40).

But Nintendo isn't doing everything wrong. The games remain every bit as charming and enjoyable as you expect and, despite the resolution, pack some impressive visuals even without the use of 3D. What has surprised me the most, however, is StreetPass.

For the unfamiliar, 3DSes detect others in the area, allowing other users' Miis to visit yours. These Miis can then be used to play some smaller titles built into the hardware. It's truly innovative and exciting use of a handheld device. It's unfortunate that, due to the nature of friend codes, it's seemingly impossible to connect further with any of these individuals. Living in Japan, though, I'm constantly being tagged by other 3DSes and it's interesting to see what other people are playing, even if I can't buy half of these titles for my own device.

I doubt the 3DS will ever be my go-to gaming device but I look forward to checking out certain titles in the future. Nintendo will likely never again hold the same significance to me that it did twenty years ago, but as long as it keeps producing quality games I'll remain a fan and patron.