Monday, November 25, 2013

What's in a DS Download Station

Back in the day, major game retailers had DS Download Stations where you could bring your DS to wirelessly download demos of new and upcoming games that would last until you turned off your system. Remember those? Ever wonder how they worked? Well you're in luck, because it just so happens that I possess one such download station. Behold!
The US version of Volume 3 contains demos for Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2, Elite Beat Agents, Clubhouse Games (Darts and Turncoat), Danny Phantom: Urban Jungle, Brain Age, and Big Brain Academy, and trailers for Star Fox Command, Spectrobes, and Star Trek: Tactical Assault.
Science has revealed that the true form of the DS Download Station is nothing more than the above pictured cartridge in an ordinary DS. By simply turning on your DS with this cartridge inserted, you can send out the included demos and trailers to other DSs via Download Play. 
DS Download Station when viewed on a 3DS.
The Download Station can also be used in a DSi or 3DS. Interestingly, when played in a DSi, the download station skips both the Nintendo DS logo intro and the home menu and goes straight to the demo distribution application. Running it on a 3DS, however, does not skip the home menu and functions as any other DS game would.
The default top screen view, which shows that my 3DS is connected and 83% done downloading a demo.
Running the application on the cartridge displays information for the demo-distributing server software. Shown above is the main screen, which appears a few seconds after the application initializes its wireless channels. From here, you can see information about the DSs that are currently connected to the download station. I don't know what any of the information means, except that the 083 is the percentage of completion for sending a demo.
This is what the connected DS sees. A demo or video can be selected for download.
On the bottom screen of the DS running the Download Station software, the data showing how many times each demo has been downloaded is shown by default.
Each game has a four-letter ID.
Pressing left or right will let you cycle through information regarding WXC and DS Relay. Mine had nothing of interest to show regarding either of these things, even after connecting to another DS, so I'm not sure what they're used for. My only speculation is that there may be a way for multiple download stations to connect and work together, but I'm only guessing.
Don't know what WXC is, but I know it has exchanged 0 total.
More text on this screen, but I still don't know what it means and it's still only 0.
Now, going back to the top screen, you may have noticed the prompt saying that L, R, and A can be pressed to bring up the options menu. Indeed, this is the case. Here's the options menu:
Most of these options are fairly self explanatory. Set auto channel timeout lets you change the amount of time someone can be connected to the download station before being booted off. That way you don't get a bunch of people filling it up and not letting anyone else download something. That's not usually a problem though, since you're disconnected from the download station once your demo has finished downloading. The default reset time is ten minutes.

The only option here that requires further investigation is the "set manual channel" option.
This screen shows you what channels you can broadcast from, I think. By default, the channel seems to be chosen automatically, but you can force it to use a certain one if you want. The numbers next to "scan" constantly update, and you can only select "Auto > Idle > Restart Mode", Channel 01, 07, or 13. Choosing one of those four options sets that channel and returns you to the options menu.

After doing a bit of research elsewhere, I've found that the server software varies slightly between the versions of Download Station cartridges. Although quite similar, an earlier version of the Download Station displays connected DSs differently and also lists the number of successful downloads in addition to the number of attempted downloads. It also doesn't seem to have the pages for WXC and ds_relay. If Wikipedia is to be believed, there were nineteen volumes of DS Download Stations over the years, so I'd guess that the software may have had other changes as well.

And that's all there is to it! I hope you found this interesting. If you know what any of the stuff that I didn't understand does, let me know and I'll add it to the post!

Monday, November 18, 2013

What do they call games?

When I came up with the name of this blog, I was thinking of how varied video games have become. I knew I wanted to write about video games (and computer games) and gaming in general, but I wondered how far that distinction went. In some cases, what "they" call games, aren't what most gamers would call games. For example, are visual novels games, even though their only input from the player is often just pressing a button to advance text? Or what about Korg DS-10, an audio synthesizer for DS? That's more of a tool or program than a game, isn't it?
Is Korg DS-10 a game because it's on DS? (via boingboing)
Perhaps the term "game" is part of the cause for confusion. Back in the day, video games clearly were games, not all that disconnected from physical games like Connect Four, Poker, and tag out in the back yard. But since then, developers have figured out that they can do other things on the same platforms as games. The word "game" implies fun, yet "film" only describes a medium. Certainly, films / movies are usually entertaining to watch, but they can also be informative or even unpleasant to watch. Could a game be intentionally unpleasant or not fun in order to inform or convey certain emotions, or would it cease to be a game because of no longer being fun entertainment? I don't see why there couldn't be an intentionally un-fun game, though I think the developer would have a difficult time getting people to play it. (Heh, "play", another fun word.) Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting we start calling games "interactive media". There's no way that'll catch on. But, for the sake of argument, I don't think that defining what is and isn't a game based on the usual English meaning of the word is going to work.

Ok, so let's think about a couple possible answers to the question of what makes something a game and see how they work out.

Is a game something that is playable on a gaming platform?
That can't be a deciding criteria since most gaming platforms have downloadable apps that are decidedly not games. Then there are computers which play games, but you wouldn't call Microsoft Word a game just because it's on a computer. Even within digital game distributors like Steam, there are non-game applications available. On Game Boy Advance there were actually videos on cartridges that you could watch, and those certainly weren't games. And on top of that, there are games on non-gaming platforms, like those generally crappy DVD player games. No matter how you look at it, whether or not something is on a gaming platform can't determine its identity as a game.
DVD Players aren't usually considered gaming devices, so is this a game?
(via Mystery Game Central
Is a game something that is interactive?
It seems to me that, yes, a game is something that is interactive, but clearly not everything that is interactive is a game (once again, consider Microsoft Word). But if a game must be interactive, how interactive does it have to be to be considered a game? If the only input from the player is turning the virtual pages of a visual novel, is that enough to be considered a game? Some would say yes, some wouldn't. Nobody considers ebooks to be games, but visual novels, on the other hand, are still contested territory, perhaps due to their graphics and audio. But just having graphics and sound doesn't make something a game either, as there are also plain text games like good old Zork.
Good old Zork.
No matter how you look at it, it's very difficult to determine the point at which something is or isn't a video game. All we have is the necessity for some kind of interaction and some kind of visual feedback from the game, but as we've seen, non-games can also fall under that description. 

So how do we decide? 

We could just... not. In the end, it's not even important whether you or "they" call something a game. It's just a word anyway, and not everything has to fit into a concise category. What you call it doesn't hold any bearing on what it is, and if what it is is something you want to play / watch / read, well then, by golly, stop worrying about vernacular and just play the... whatchamacallit.
Just playin' some whatchamacallits on my thingamajig.
But... that's not really an answer and leaving the article at that will make me feel as though I've just wasted your time. The truth is that I do have an answer to this question that I'm satisfied with. That is: a game is a game if it is the developer's / author's / artist's intention for it to be. If it's ambiguous, just let the person who made it decide. It only seems polite.

Language doesn't always lend itself to categorizing everything perfectly. Where you draw the line between game and non-game may be different from where I would draw it. But for the purposes of this blog, my or your line is irrelevant. It's about what they, the developer or some people somewhere, call games, and although I may not always agree with "them", I tend to think that the ambiguous boundaries of gaming only serve to make the medium more interesting and fun.

What do "they" (you) think makes something a video game? Leave a comment and I could add your definition to this post!

Submitted by John Reczniarek via Google+,
"My description is any interactive media which is made for the purpose of either / both:
A> Telling a story / invoking an emotion or feeling
B> providing entertainment"

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wii U's TVii Does Sports, Is Cool

I'm not that into sports or TV, but I am into video games and technology, and even though I've had a Wii U for several months now, there's been a rather cool and noteworthy bit of technology that I've un-rightfully ignored up to this point. That is TVii, a built in app that's accessible from the main menu. 

I'm not sure what the availability is for TVii in other countries, but in the USA it's kind of like a TV Guide on the GamePad (which also functions as a TV remote, if you didn't know). For certain shows, screenshots of key scenes will be updated live which you can comment on with other people. Not that there are many other people who actually do that...

But that's only one admittedly underwhelming part of TVii. The cool part is what you can do with sports.
In the USA, you can check the scores for games across a variety of sports.
Still no support for curling though.
From the main TVii menu, tapping the large button labeled "Sports" will bring you to a screen like the one above, which shows the scores of current and recent games. That's pretty cool, but it gets cooler. If you click a game that's currently being played, you can see it update, play-by-play, automatically.
By the way, everything can also be navigated without the use of the touch screen using the buttons and D-Pad.
Neat, right? You can just leave this screen up for the game you're watching or another game you aren't watching and see how it unfolds. Since the GamePad functions as a TV remote, you can also use it to easily change to the channel of whichever game strikes your fancy. But wait! There's more! Observant readers may have noticed a few other things going on on this screen. Let's click on that stats tab, shall we?
Sweet mother of data, look at all those numbers and words! That's right, you can even check detailed stats like this for all the games. Even I think that's pretty cool. How about that scores tab now...
Swell! You can check the scores for other games without needing to go back to the previous menu or miss out on the play by play of the game you really care about. Speaking of which, those automatically updated pictures of each play on the right side of the screen can be interacted with as well. For each, you can select an emoticon to show your support, sadness, anger, or whatever. You can also leave a comment or draw on the picture just like they do on TV.
UFO sighted over football game, details at 11.
This way, even if you hate sports, you can still have fun by drawing stupid stuff all over the place and posting it to the internet (or by playing a Wii U game in off-TV mode on the GamePad).

I know that not too many people use this feature on Wii U and that XBox One has gotten a significant amount of ridicule for its focus on TV, but I have to admit that this is pretty nifty. Even though you can get some of the same functionality online or on smartphone apps, as someone without a smartphone and whose laptop is a bit too unwieldy to pass across the couch, the Wii U GamePad works perfectly for this sort of thing. Hopefully now this rather unadvertised and overlooked application will get some deserved attention. If you have a Wii U and like sports, you should definitely give TVii a shot.
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