Is Retro-Bit Generations a serious challenger to the NES Classic Edition?


About the time that the NES Classic Edition will launch (and, considering the pre-order situation already, completely sold out), there will be a lesser-known but similar product coming to the shelves. Retro-Bit Generations is, in many respects, a competitor to the NES Classic, boasting a bundle of old school games in a plug-and-play device.

But will it be a challenger? The obstacles are steep here. This console hasn’t been getting the press or has the instant name recognition that the NES Classic has. It’s also not going to feature any first-party NES games. Even so, it might have an edge on the Classic in a few ways that could make it worth picking up.

For starters, Generations has more games (90 versus 30) that span several consoles (NES, SNES, arcade, and Gameboy, mostly). It also has a stronger third-party focus, with Capcom, Data East, and Jaleco leading the pack. Many of the games are more obscure, but there are several classics in the list, including Bionic Commando (which was shamefully omitted from the NES Classic), 1942/43, Knights of the Round, Bases Loaded, Commando, Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, Gun Smoke, two Kid Niki games, and R-Type 3.

It also has an SD slot to save/transfer games and possibly expand on this list, something the Classic lacks. I’m ambivalent about the controllers, which are modeled after the Genesis, but we’ll see. The price tag, $60, puts it right there against the NES Classic, and might be a hard sell without the nostalgia design or strong first-party titles.

This YouTuber actually seems more excited about the Generations console than the Classic, so check it out:

Syp’s new tablet


With my original iPad mini starting to creak and groan from age (a shocking four years old!), I have increasingly given thought to upgrading to a newer tablet. The mini, which was a Christmas gift from my father-in-law back in 2012, has served me well in a variety of capacities — being a great distraction while I used my exercise bike, going on trips with me, entertaining my children, etc. But its 16 GB memory, fuzzy screen resolution (no retina here), and general slowness spoke to a limited future.

So I socked away some money and after doing some research, found out that Apple sells refurbished products for less cost than brand-new ones. I’m all on board with refurbished stuff, especially considering that Apple throws in a new battery, runs a bunch of tests, and gives a one-year warranty on it.

Thus I was able to snag the 2015 model iPad mini 4 (64 GB) for around $380. I am a fan of the smaller screen size on the mini; full-sized tablets feel too big to me, and the mini’s size (which is about 2.5 times as big as my iPhone’s screen) is a good fit. I also purchased a nice-looking cover that makes the tablet look like it’s a slim leather-bound book.

It’s definitely a nice upgrade, with a much sharper screen, less weight, better performance, and more memory. I’m hoping that with some more mobile MMOs coming out over the next year (including this week’s AdventureQuest 3D), I’ll be able to put it through its paces. But it does feel a tiny bit extravagant to get, because there’s always overlap with other devices (phone, computer, Kindle) and I don’t like upgrading if there’s still use I can get out of older machines.

I know I will get use out of it, especially to help out more with work. I’m hoping to get a keyboard and dock for Christmas so that I can use it to do more writing.

I am repurposing my original iPad mini to be for my kids. There’s a few apps, such as a nature exploration one, a Bible reading one, and a spelling one, that they greatly enjoy. And having Netflix on it makes for an option if I want to set up a TV session in some other room of the house.

5 YouTube channels I recommend for MMO fans

A couple of months ago, I flirted with the idea with starting up a proper Bio Break YouTube channel — mostly to show off retro gaming sessions, I guess. It seems that this and Twitch is where all of the hotness is right now (is printed word dead? Perish the thought!). But I don’t have the abundance of time and skill to record and edit videos, nor do I have the upload capacity for Twitch (although the latter is a possibility).

So instead of focusing on me, I thought I’d highlight six YouTube subscriptions that I’ve been enjoying when it comes to keeping tab on tons of different MMOs.

(1) TheLazyPeon

Good narration and editing take this channel a notch up from many others that I’ve seen, and the fact that he tackles a number of MMOs makes him a guy that could be a bosom buddy (or at least a likable chum) in my book. Lots of helpful first impressions and analysis of games that I write about daily, plus some interesting roundups of topics, such as indie MMOs and the best Steam games for a particular month.

(2) TheHiveLeader

I cherish content creators who know the value of “short, succinct, and sweet” when it comes to audio and video presentations. Anyone can ramble on for hours, but not all of us have time to consume that. This is one of the reasons that I love Hivey: Most of his videos are in the 4-6 minute range, and they are informative, funny, and entertaining. Plus, he loves Project Gorgon just as much as me, and so I have another

(3) Bog Otter

Richie is a former Massively colleague who always made well-polished and informative videos. A change of address hasn’t changed that; his stuff is still pretty worthwhile to watch. My only quibble is that he tends to get, er, bogged down in just one game for a long time, and currently it’s Guild Wars 2. Always wished I had a voice that was as good as his.

(4) WoodenPotatoes

I am a sucker for a well-done presentation, and WoodenPotatoes has that. While it’s mostly just Guild Wars 2 stuff (and when I’m not playing, I’m not that interested in reading/watching it), occasionally he diverges into other games and topics.

(5) Let’s All Game

When I do have time for longer-form videos, I’ll head to this channel because the hosts do line up a lot of MMORPGs to play and deliver first impressions. There’s a really, really nice selection of games that they cover, from Albion to AdventureQuest 3D to Ultima Online.

“MMORPG”: The dirtiest word in the video game industry


Featured: Not an MMORPG. Except it totally is. Just don’t you dare ever call it that.

So something’s been bugging me more and more over the past couple of years, and that’s both the video game industry and game media shying away from labeling games as “MMOs” or “MMORPGs.” From Elder Scrolls Online to Destiny, major budget online games are bending over backwards to avoid this apparent dreaded label, while the only ones embracing it are established games and up-and-coming indie titles.

I’ve read too many interviews in which developers and studios chide the media for daring to use the MMO label on a game. They don’t want it no matter how true it is. ZeniMax can stick its fingers in its ears and go “la la la ESO ISN’T AN MMO I CAN’T HEAR YOU” all it wants, but c’mon, it’s totally one (or else a second-rate Skyrim clone, take your pick).

Sea of Thieves is the latest game I’ve seen try its hardest to distance itself from any connection to pure MMOs, even though a lot of its DNA appears to share plenty of traits with these games we know and love. Oh and the argument over whether or not Star Citizen’s persistent server constitutes an MMO will probably be continuing long after the heat death of the sun.

Destiny went one step further by relabeling everything in the game so that it doesn’t tread on terminology that MMOs use. Light level? That’s gear score. Strikes? Dungeons. It’s deliberate marketing designed to avoid comparisons and, presumably, stigma. (It amuses me that the rumors going on about Destiny 2 this week make mention of creating more of a living world for players to explore and interact with.)

Because that’s where I think a lot of this is coming from. The larger games industry feels as though there’s a stinky stigma attached to the “MMORPG” label and it wants no part of it, even as more and more games adapt wholesale features and systems that used to be the sole domain of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games. We’re seeing more hybrids emerge that are MMOs without calling themselves as such, and it’s weird.

So where did the stigma come from? Everyone loves to point fingers and I probably don’t need to help that along, but mostly it comes from market oversaturation, stagnation, and a backlash that really started emerging around 2008. The novelty of MMOs ceased years ago and the pace of innovation didn’t pick up to keep the excitement train going. World of Warcraft was too successful and other games were either trying too hard to clone it, dying in direct competition, or lacking the skill and resources to pull off a polished end product. I’m not here to say that MMOs are dying — and I truly don’t believe they are — but the genre has been struggling mightily over the last half-decade as it looks in different directions and seeks reinvention.

I can understand why studios might see MMOs as being risky, both in reputation and financially, to the point that they see even the classification of their game as such to be a potential liability.

What also doesn’t help is that the non-MMO gaming media — your general-purpose gaming sites — have long since developed this stick-up, condescending attitude toward MMORPGs. They’re the grindy games that lack originality and only kids play, and we’re way past that in our glorified evolution to play the fifth installment of whatever rehashed FPS or cover-based shooter franchise. I don’t see game studios being nasty to MMOs as a concept, but boy have I seen more than my share of ignorant writers attempt to pull out an MMO to mock it, with a “can you believe people still play this crap?” tone. Rock Paper Shotgun is probably the worst offender here, although Kotaku has had its moments.

Thus we end up with a dirty word that nobody but the small, dedicated studios that aren’t trying to aim for a broad demographic use. To me, it’s silly. If it’s a game that allows a substantial online population to hang out and game together in a persistent world with some sort of progression, then it’s an MMO no matter how you want to label it. Maybe it’s a little less than a pure MMO, but it certainly is invited over to the family dinner come Thanksgiving.

I’m deeply curious what the next few years will bring to games and MMOs. We have a small army of indie MMOs in the making, and if even a small handful end up breaking out and garnering a good playerbase and reputation, perhaps bigger studios might start to get over their collective fear of this area of gaming. And those bigger games that avoid the MMO label, frankly, I don’t care about their attitude so much as what they put out in the end.

At least Amazon Game Studios is showing some guts in tackling a genuine big-budget MMORPG in this day and age, even if it’s not technically calling itself one (“massively multiplayer open world sandbox” is the unwieldy title, or I guess, MMOWS).

Adventures in Organizing Part II


Another entry into my publicly boring but personally interesting journey to becoming better organized! Unbuckle your seatbelts, my friends, because it’s going to be one dull as dirt ride!

So after going on the other week about my great four-point organization system, I started to feel like that was probably two, if not three, points too many. I’ve been enjoying getting into the groove of getting stuff done and feeling less stressed now that more of my life is coming under the umbrella of organization (versus “sure hope I remember it!” that my brain cannot do as well any more). But the tools weren’t quite there yet.

It felt a little redundant to have both a weekly to-do list and Evernote handling my long-range projects and dates. So I started doing research (ie, googling) applications that could handle tasks, dates, and syncing between devices. Oh, and also it had to be free or pretty cheap, because I am not hopping on board the whole “renting programs for money” train.

What popped up in a few places was Wunderlist, a clean organizer that works in browser, desktop, and mobile devices. It’s nothing extremely fancy, but it is well done. You can schedule tasks for specific dates and also set them to repeat (daily, weekly, yearly, custom, etc.), which I found to be helpful for many things I need to remember yearly and monthly. You can also have the program email you and notify you of tasks, although I disabled most of that because it got really annoying to have all of those popping up at me when I already have Wunderlist pulled up on my computer.

After a couple of days of evaluating it and finding it pleasing, I went ahead and put everything into Wunderlist. All my to dos, all of my dates, everything going out a year from now. That way I can wake up, look at my list for the day, and get a plan going. For a guy who has had problems procrastinating with big projects or annoying little ones, I find that if I put it on the list, it gets done. And I’m thrilling to that.

I think in a way, tools like Wunderlist are allowing me to become my own boss. I function well when someone tells me, “Here, do this,” and I do it. Freeform motivation is less helpful. I don’t like wasting a day or putting off the jobs that need doing, and this is combating that in my life.

Can MMO desert zones ever be cool?


Hope you like sand, because you’re in for a lot of it!

The other day an unnamed party and I were recording an unnamed podcast in while we were discussing the music that played in MMORPG desert zones. I can neither confirm nor deny that you will hear this conversation in the future, but boy did it trigger a few nasty memories. In Syp’s hierarchy of most-disliked video game biomes, the list goes:

  1. Volcano & lava zones
  2. Desert zones
  3. Jungle zones

There are different aspects I hate about each, but what sets desert areas apart is simply how boring most of them are. There’s only so much you can do with a desert, since its very definition means “lacking anything cool.” Developers probably can’t be blamed for dumping the desert area design on the interns, because the their toolbag is pretty limited here. Cacti? Sand? Scorpions jumping up out at you from the ground? A tan rock? A brown rock? Spiders? The one token oasis? TAN. BROWN. BROWN. TAN.


I guess I can’t blame MMO devs for working deserts in — after all, it’s easiest to draw upon actual earth biomes for inspiration, and deserts are pretty prevalent on our planet. But can they ever do anything neat with them? I doubt it. At least, I can’t say that I recall any that have made me go, “Ooh, that’s cool, I want to spend a whole bunch of time questing here!” No, usually I feel like I’m being punished for some unknown crime that dogs me from game to game.


Now of course, I’m mostly speaking of a classical desert that seems to be the go-to type for video games. When devs aren’t being totally lazy by creating zones with a whole lot of nothing in them, they attempt to emulate two popular desert concepts.

There’s the Egyptian motif, with pyramids, more green (thanks, Nile!), large statues, and all of that ancient world feel. It’s not a terrible theme, and it’s probably the one desert type that I will gladly tolerate. I kind of regret that I never got to see Warhammer Online’s Land of the Dead, which was (from what I understood) old Egypt meets undead horror. Often this gets paired with the Indiana Jones/archaeology flavor.

Then there’s the Arabian Nights collection, the enjoyment of which depends on how much you like that source material. Me? Not really. I don’t like the architecture, the over-reliance on camels, and genies who have never really granted me the wishes I wanted in video games.

My preferred desert, although it is rarely labeled as such, is the western Utah badlands design. Lots of picturesque rocks, a wild west feel, deep canyons, and the like. Maybe it’s the addition of a wider color palette — especially those dusky reds — that helps make it a more enjoyable desert.

Still, if given a choice between a desert zone and anywhere else (save Volcano Land), I won’t give my exit from the desert a second thought. Luke Skywalker couldn’t wait to leave Tatooine, after all, and I don’t blame him.

Can MMO desert zones ever be cool? Can’t see it happening. Include it so that you have the whole earth collection if you must, but you’ve got a massive uphill climb to ever getting me to gush about such an area.