Preview: Skyrim Switch

It works. It works really well. I can’t help but have had skepticism of how the massive open world rpg would play on the Switch, but it just works, and without skipping a beat. Skyrim’s been remastered, repurposed, and re-released over and over again since 2011. So upon seeing its appearance on Nintendo’s initial Switch launch trailer back in October 2016, I blown away at the idea of having a game as demanding as Skyrim—even from six years ago—in your hands on the go, but I had to see it to believe it.

Nearly a year later, I was able to test it out for myself. At the Nintendo booth it was only available to be shown in handheld mode, and this seemed entirely intentional. Nintendo and Bethesda wanted this game to be seen in a way that Skyrim hasn’t been seen before, and in such away that was bound to impress even the most salty Nintendo hater. With that said, I had no comparison to how it looked in docked mode versus handheld mode.

In handheld mode it played very smooth. It’s obvious that this is not the HD remaster that was released for the PS4 and XBONE earlier this year. But that’s okay. That’s forgivable in exchange for a well performing game that’s as loaded as Skyrim on the go. That said, the game definitely lacked some of the visual graphical depth that we’ve grown used to. Some of the textures to me seemed a little flat; a tad muddy. Shadows weren’t very apparent, and the field of view did not stretch as far as the eye could see. But damn did it play well, and subtle graphical nuances aside, it felt amazing. And never did I think I’d ever be saying this, but, it felt a little at home on the Nintendo console.

During my short playthrough, I visited Riverwood. I was eager to test combat and the limitations of the game, so I began attacking chickens and villagers. Most of the hiccups and frame drops that I had become so familiar with my PS3 copy were not present. I only hoped that after six years, and several re-releases, that the game would be optimised better by now. And it is.

I am one of the few who’ve only purchased this game once, and I never got around to getting any of the DLC. I was admittedly on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to buy it again, but after finally getting it in my hands, and feeling how well it played, despite its now dated graphical capabilities, I’m in. I’m going to buy it. Besides, there’s no denying the absolute coolness to taking Skyrim anywhere, wherever your heart desires.

Kurt Indovina
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Going Digital: Week 1

It’s been a week. I know, big whoop right? Oh how far I’ve come. But really, in this short time I think I’ve learned a lot. And though there are more cons than pros, I anticipate a good payoff in this journey to own less.

Pros:

  1. Pooping
    My time on the toilet has become infinitely far more valuable since I started reading comics digitally. Instead of aimlessly swiping through a void of infinite social media bullshit, I instead read comics. Of course reading comics while pooping isn’t a new endeavor, however, it’s just much more convenient. Especially when hanging out at Ugly Duck Coffee, where’d I feel awkward taking in some reading material to its only bathroom. It’s socially acceptable to have your phone with you while pooping, but in my case, I’m just reading comics.
  2. Sales
    There’s a few comic volumes that I missed along the way and I found that they’re more frequently on sale on something like Comixology than they are physically at a store. Now, yes, I could order them used off Amazon or eBay in probably pretty decent shape cheaper, however, it’s the convenience of being able to purchase it on my phone, and being able to read it whenever and wherever my heart desires.
  3. Space
    I’m notorious for moving somewhat frequently (though I currently reside in my longest place of living going on four years), and with every move, comics are always my biggest dilemma. Reading them digitally obviously completely eliminates that problem.

 

Cons

  1. Holding them
    Unlike video games which have always been made on a digital medium, comics were originally created on paper, bound to the dimensions they were printed on. Yes, the majority of comics today are produced entirely digitally, I know that. However, they’re still being produced to be seen in the same format and page size as they have for decades and decades. Until I find a comic that challenges the conventions of how a comic is viewed on paper, it’s hard letting go of how it’s always been and continues to be.
  2. Sharing them
    Some of my most beloved comic series’ were discovered because someone handed it to me; they let me borrow it. It’s the very reason I hold onto specific titles, because they’re the books I’ll eventually want to pass off to someone who hasn’t read it yet. But with digital, there’s really no good way for sharing anything. The ability to show or share something in our most recent age is becoming increasingly more frustrating.
  3. Attention span
    I’ve always had a tough time playing games on my phone. There’s too many distractions. There’s too many things to do and see on it. All it takes is one text, email, or any other notification to appear, and I’ll be completely removed from the game. And yes, there’s usually an option to mute these, but it’s the temptation I think. The ability to stop playing at any second, and get carried away in the rabbit hole of distraction. Distraction aside, I just don’t ever feel comfortable holding my phone for that amount of time to enjoy a game. The same negatives apply to reading comics on my phone. I don’t feel as distracted as I do when playing games, but, I definitely don’t feel as absorbed.
  4.  Supporting Local Comic Book Stores
    This is hands down the one I struggle the most with. In an age dominated by digital platforms and Amazon, I feel an obligation to support stores in my neighborhood as much as I can. I preach a lot about voting with your dollar: spend your money with morals. I’m now a hypocrite. And my reasons are entirely selfish.

With all that said, there are still a few comics I’ll be going to buy monthly physically, however. Those are: Royal City, Black Hammer, Southern Bastards, and Moonshine. I cherish these series’, and they’ll be something I’ll most likely want to share with others. So I’m not entirely abandoning my local comic stores. Still, I’m a horrible person. I know.

Looking back, some of these cons feel a bit more petty, and something that I eventually will be able to part ways with. None of them in particular I think will ruin me. Next week I’m taking a trip to Vegas. Trips are usually perfect times to catch up on reading, and this will be the first trip that I decide to go with nothing but my phone and see how that goes for a long plane ride. Armed with my Switch too, of course.

Kurt Indovina
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Going Digital: The lament of a comic collector

I’m quitting comics. Physically at least. Or, well, I’m attempting to.

I’ve had a tough time letting go of reading comics physically. No tablet, phone, or computer screen has come close to replicating what it actually feels like to flip through the pages of a comic. To look at the panel layout; the color and the line work up close; and then organize it with all its corresponding issues. It’s a ritual.

It was different letting go of the physicality of video games, though that wasn’t easy either. After getting one too many plastic cases that had nothing but a disc inside, the idea of of buying games digitally got easier and easier. Yes, I can’t trade them in, but buying digitally makes me think twice about the game I’m buying.

I’m still coming to terms with owning most of my entertainment digitally, but the decision to transition boils down to one thing: space. My girlfriend Juliana and I use to move often, sometimes once a year (once even to another coast of the US and then back again). With every move we are faced with the either taking all our books, records, and games with us, or leaving them behind. In most cases, we go through a purge. Every move we narrow our collection down more and more. The collection that gets it the most severe, every time, are books.

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Our lifestyle is a frustrating contradiction to our interests. We like to travel. To make impulsive choices. However, we love pop culture, and with that, often comes the urge to collect and surround ourselves with the worlds we love. We own a lot of crap, and that gets in the way of our somewhat impulsive nature.

It is undeniably trendy to be minimal right now, but trends tend to reflect the movement of our culture. As we shift towards streaming platforms, owning physical things has become less enticing.

 

Every Wednesday when I come home with a few more comics, I face a feeling of dread when I  drag my comic box out from the closet, and add to the increasing weight of what I consider a very small collection of comics. With a lingering possibility that we’ll be moving sometime in the next year, owning these comics is becoming a burden rather than something I value.

 

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One of the hardest things I think I’ve done in my maturing nerdom is part ways with most of the cases to my DVD’s and Blu-rays. I even moved on to do the same with some old games. Now it’s time to move on from owning comics, and start reading digitally.

This is the week that I officially declare my full blown attempt to read comics from a screen. I’m cringing just writing it. But, I won’t know how I truly feel about it until I at least give it a shot. For the next few weeks I’m going to give updates on my pros and cons on the endeavor.

Kurt Indovina
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P.S. I’d be lying, however, if I said I’ll be quitting all comics physically. Some series’ I’m going to continue to buy issue by issue, mostly with the intent of someday lending them out to someone who I think would also cherish it. Right now, that series is Black Hammer. Holy hot shit I can’t stop freaking out over how fucking good it is. It makes me sick I love it so much.

Splatoon 2 Review in Progress

When Splatoon first came out two years ago on the WiiU, I had a feeling of hesitation. A feeling that is actually quite similar to what I’m feeling with ARMS right now. I was interested, but equally a little off-put for a number of reasons. First, I’m not a competitive online gamer. Second, it didn’t look like anything else to come before it; there was nothing to compare it with, which made it exciting but also wary to approach. It’s hard for me to justify $60 for any game, especially one that resembled 90’s era Nickelodeon and a tentacle fetish. So I left Splatoon to the early adopters.

I noticed from afar that Splatoon had managed to sustain a community of players. So now as a Switch owner (desperate to play something new), and with Splatoon on its second rodeo, I decided to give it a shot. Or, in this case, a squirt — er, actually, I take that back.

I’m equally glad and ashamed that I waited till the second game to join in, but ultimately enlightened to find that Splatoon is making me something I thought I would never become: a competitive online gamer.

You take the role of these tween humanoid squid kids known as inklings. The spine of the game is focused on competitive 4v4 matches, the most prominent mode being “Turf War.” Armed with a super soaker filled with ink, the objective is to splat as much territory as possible. Covering the map with ink also increases you and your team’s mobility. The inklings can change form into small squids that can move faster, cover, and refill their ink gun when emerged in your team’s ink.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

Every two hours the maps rotate, allowing only two maps to be played during that window of time. Though at first I thought it was a bizarre approach, I eventually found it to be a very clever. It gave variety to how I played, and never allowed me to get too comfortable. It also stopped the majority of players from weighing on one map specifically. Made me think back to my brief and short lived time playing Black Ops, and how Nuketown was always obsessively voted on as the next map. It became predictable and boring.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a competitive gamer. I’d much rather be fighting alongside someone against NPC’s than actual players. I just have more fun that way. Splatoon 2 is warping my perception of that, however. It has a very approachable leveling system that actually makes me feel like I’m progressing. Between levels 1-10, you’re only allowed to play “Turf War” (which is all I’ve been able to play). After level 10 I can progress to other modes such as Splat Zones, Rainmaker, and Tower Control. All of which can be accessed in either Ranked Battle, and then once you level up high enough, League Battle.

And though it may sound like I’m just grinding match after match to slowly level up to more competitive modes, there’s a satisfying reward system along the way that’s keeping me engaged and wanting more. Also, the matches are short, which is a huge plus for keeping me on my toes, and constantly wanting to play just one more round.

As you level, you gradually unlock different weapons and gear to purchase. Different gear has different attributes, like walking through enemy ink faster, or decreasing damage taken. As you play wearing that gear, it’ll level and unlock new buffs. Also, gear gives you the opportunity to customize and dress your inkling like a J-pop star. A dream I’ve wanted to fulfill in reality (I’m too tall to fit most Japanese clothing brands).

There’s a much broader variety of weapons which is a contrast to the first game if I understand correctly. From normal squirt guns, to paint rollers, or even umbrellas, each weapon has their own strengths and weaknesses, and favor a very specific playing style.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

There’s also a campaign mode which I’ve only played for an hour or so. It follows a pretty old-school liner approach which is reminiscent of games circa 1996-2000: play a series of levels; fight boss; move onto next world. The campaign thus far feels like a very extensive bootcamp for crafting players’ skills to play online. It teaches a variety of mechanics, while giving the player an opportunity to test out different weapons in varying scenarios. Also, this is probably the first time where I’m more inclined to play online than I am the campaign.

Salmon Run is Splatoon’s attempt at a horde mode. You play cooperatively with three other players, as you try to survive wave after wave of mutated salmon creatures. The variety of enemies is staggering, each one having devastating a attack, with a specific weakness to take it down. This mode, more than anything, could desperately benefit from voice chat. Which the game has… sorta.

I haven’t been able to try out the voice chat feature of Nintendo’s corresponding smartphone app that enables voice chat yet, and frankly, I don’t know if I ever will. Also, its use is limited to only working with players you know. So until I have three other friends who have the game and a willingness to play it together, I can’t even use it if I wanted to.

Salmon Run is only available to play in 12 hour intervals a day, which I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around as to why. Is it to build that sense of exclusivity, thus building hype and anticipation to play it? I don’t entirely hate it, because it gives me something to look forward to (which is maybe its intentions, and in that case, it’s working). But not everyone is as patient, so I can see it being annoying.

It’s hard to admit now, but when looking back on my hesitation of games like Splatoon and ARMS, I didn’t try them because they were different. Nintendo time and time again challenges its consumers by attempting new things. But this time around, they took something as familiar as the competitive shooter, and instead of completely trying to redefine it, they skewed it just a bit, and added their own new weird-ass mechanics. It works. And I love it. Though I haven’t invested a ton of time into it, I’m already well invested, maybe even addicted.

For money sake, however, I’m still gonna hold off on ARMS.

Now, only if Nintendo could implement this style of online gaming for Pikmin. A girl can dream, can’t he?

Kurt Indovina
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Life Update: I’m going to the GameStop Expo in Las Vegas

I never thought I’d be going to Las Vegas. I remember when I was younger declaring that I’d never go. I also felt the same way about Florida. The place where old people go to die. But recently I’ve started to lighten up. I’ve started to make an effort in examining things differently. This shift in thinking has allowed me to look at a place like Las Vegas, and instead of cringing at all the things overtly wrong with it (its exploitation of mankind’s worst habits: prostitution, gambling, Elvis impersonators), I’ve come to embrace it in all its tacky peculiarities. From a distance, it looks like a Frankenstein’s monster of the world’s most stereotypical cultures. A confused amalgamation of everything that’s wrong—and also arguably great—with America. I’ve become fascinated by it. I want to go. And serendipitous enough, I’ll be going there for work.

I was able to receive a press pass for the 2017 GameStop Expo happening in Las Vegas on August 27. I haven’t applied for a press pass before. I assumed I wouldn’t get it. But I suppose I got lucky. I’m going as an independent journalist which means I’ll be paying my whole way there and back. I was financially stressed at first, but this is something I have to do. Not only to attend my first convention as press, but to experience Las Vegas.

At the moment, I don’t really have a game plan. I prefer that. I’ve been to PAX West so I have an idea of what to expect, but I get the impression the GameStop Expo is nowhere near as big as PAX. PAX is also happening two weeks later, and I imagine if patrons had a choice to attend one or the other, they’d go to PAX. But who am I kidding? I actually have no idea what I’m talking about.

Accompanied by my girlfriend Juliana—who’ll be armed with a DSLR—I plan on getting as much footage as I can. Really, that’s the plan. She, however, has big dreams of riding Vegas’ famous gondola. How authentic.

What I’m looking forward to playing:
If Super Mario Odyssey isn’t on the showroom floor, I’m going to pay a prostitute to hold me while I cry. Juliana will be too busy reenacting her playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas to comfort me in the case that SMO isn’t present.

Though I’ve already had my share of time with it, I’d like to give Skyrim a shot on the Switch.  Whether or not there’ll be a playable demo, I don’t know. But I’ve been on the fence with re-purchasing the game for when it comes to the Switch. I think I’m more in love with the idea of it being portable than I am with actually playing it again. I think having it in my hands will make or break that decision.

I hardly give Microsoft a chance. So I’m going to make it a point to hang around its booth, and like my perception of Vegas, try and find something to embrace. I’m hoping to see some of its exclusive indie releases like The Artful Escape, or the highly anticipated Cuphead. Good on Microsoft for swooping up some good looking indies.

In the meantime, I’ve been gearing up for the trip. I’m currently on the hunt for a good travel bag. Something that can hold my camera, a couple lenses, my mic, and any other gear I’ll need to take with me.

What am I currently playing?
I had the pleasure of a long weekend. One of those days was dedicated to playing What Remains of Edith Finch. I’m placing that one firmly in the inspiration folder of my mental attic.

Last weekend I got Realms of the Haunting from GOG. I hadn’t played the game prior, but it seemed perfectly in place with my love and fascination for full motion video games. GOG has been a wonderful blessing to allow me to experience cult pc games that I otherwise completely missed. I haven’t been able to put too much time into it… yet.

What am I reading?
I’ve been reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Yes, it’s a New York Times Bestseller, and I’m sure if you’re a creative, it’s been recommended to you—as it was to me on a few occasions. I’m about halfway through, and I love it. It is, to me at least, preaching to the choir. Most of what’s in it I’ve learned along the way as a creative. But it’s always assuring to have it in print, and in a tangible book that I can refer back to when I’m in a rut. I have a shelf of books that I often go back to and skim through if I’m having trouble moving onto the next step. It’ll have a nice home there when I’m done with it.

I’ve also been picking through Jeff Lemire’s Roughnecks. Contemplating on doing a review. Not sure yet.

Also, I started a YouTube Channel. New videos every Thursday. Currently my main objective with the page is to build my onscreen presence. More specifically, I’m using this as a means to get overall more comfortable on screen, and build my skill as a cohesive speaker. I still think I have a long way to go. Here’s the channel trailer:

Thank you for reading. Till next time.

Kurt Indovina
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Hands-on with Kodak’s EKTRA: It’s cool looking, it feels nice, it’s confused.

Original article published by Rochester CITY Newspaper.

With a foot modestly in the future and a thumbs up to the past, Kodak made a daring step last week with the release of its new smartphone and DSLR camera hybrid, the Kodak EKTRA. Designed as a “camera-first” smartphone, Kodak hopes to bridge the gap between expert photographers and smartphone users. I went hands-on with the device at a release event and got a brief look at the camera’s functionality and how it holds up as a common smartphone.

The EKTRA features a 21 megapixel camera sensor with f2.0 glass lens, an ergonomically-weighted body to make it feel more like a camera than a phone, and a 13 megapixel front-facing camera. Also, like a DSLR camera, settings — such as adjusting the ISO, resolution (from 4K to 720), f-stop, white balance, and more — can be adjusted on the fly. The device comes with a suite of Kodak-made apps exclusive to the phone, one of which uses filters and vignettes to simulate the look and feel of classic Super 8 camera footage.

Running the latest Android operating system, the EKTRA’s specs meet the status quo of what should be expected in today’s average smartphone: 32GB space (which is expandable with a microSD), 3GB RAM, and a 5-inch full HD capacitive multi-touch screen. Currently the EKTRA is only available on AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the US.

The built in camera features a touch screen wheel modeled directly after the settings dial on any DSLR camera: manual, film/video, HDR, Auto, Sport, and so on. When holding the EKTRA, I intuitively checked whether the rim around the raised lens rotated, thinking that it may function as a manual focus, which it did not. I saw this as a lost opportunity in design for experienced photographers. Nonetheless, the manual focus feature is still there as a touch screen function, and it gets the job done.

“It’s made for photographers,” a rep told me. That statement might be a little concerning. Although the camera specs are impressive for a smartphone, they’re not on par with full-fledged DSLRs, and the phone itself is mid-tier at best, making it neither a camera replacement nor a reason to replace your current device. Professional photographers, in most cases, are going to have a mid- to high-range camera on them, which lowers the selling point to the professional photographer market. And since, as a smartphone itself, it’s not on par with higher-end devices, the market for the EKTRA risks falling into a niche category.

The phone — I mean camera — does look really cool. The back is bound with a textured leather with an imprinted Kodak symbol. The cases readily available come in two types: camera pouch and camera case. Note that they aren’t referred to as “phone cases.” The camera case, just like the phone, is something you want to be seen holding. Stylized and tailored to look like a classic, leather camera case: it’s classy and all show. Much like the phone itself, the case was designed with the “camera-first” mindset.

The EKTRA seems heavily tied to the nostalgia of Kodak’s heyday, and that’s tricky: anyone from the days of analog photography will have an appreciation for the phone’s exterior design, but to a new generation, it’ll feel more like retro-ware, which may make it a novelty more than a desired product.

A lot can be said about Kodak and its struggle for relevance in a digital age. But at the end of the day, Kodak is playing to its strengths here. Instead of a desperate plea to stay relevant, it has chosen to focus on creating a new product that also caters to its past success. That’s bold, and I can’t help but recognize and respect it. Still, the true test will be how relevant its nostalgia-fueled pitch will compete in the modern tech world.

The Kodak EKTRA Smartphone is available for $399.99 and can be purchased at B&H Photo Video, Best Buy, Amazon, and kodakphones.com.

Kurt Indovina

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Kurt’s E3 2017 Highlights

Original article courtesy of WarpZoned.

Detroit: Become Human
I remember the first time I spent an entire night playing Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy from start to finish in a single sitting. It was unlike any game experience I had had up to that point. I became invested in whatever video game developer David Cage and his studio, Quantic Dream, would put out.

Detroit: Become Human is the next installment in his signature “interactive drama” genre, and this time, with a bigger more ambitious sci-fi take than previous games. I admit that I’m not enthralled with its setting, nor the main characters based off what I’ve seen. But Cage is only one of few who delivers a truly cinematic feeling and pacing to games that I cherish dearly, an approach I love to see done in an interactive medium like games. I miss the David Fincher-esque noir/thriller style of Heavy Rain, and though Beyond: Two Souls went off the rails at times, I can’t deny that I played it more that once. I respect Cage and will play just about anything he puts his name on.

Super Mario Odyssey
“And the weirdest looking game award goes to…”

No, but really, talk about Nintendo doing whatever the hell they want. Mario can possess any object he wants with his hat? Humanoids in a Mario game? Realistic dinosaurs? I’m curious to know what ideas from the brainstorming sessions for the game won’t make it into the final product. For the first time in a while, it seems that Nintendo is listening to its fans after all. It’s been seven years since we’ve seen a full blown 3D Mario game and I think it’s safe to assume that we’ve all been hungry for one. But this is also the first time in while that it appears they’re using the franchise to really push the boundary beyond previous installments, while still maintaining all the things that make it a Mario game. If Nintendo manages to do with Super Mario Odyssey with what it did for Breath of the Wild, 2017 could be shaping up to be one of my favorite years in gaming since 1998. Waiting till October for its release will be torturous, but from the looks of it, hopefully very well worth it.

-Kurt Indovina

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