Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Angry Birds Did Not Kill Nintendo

This recent New York Times article on Nintendo's Wii U raises a number of questions, not only for Nintendo, but the video game industry as a whole.  But it also reminds me that the traditional media has always been sort of clueless when it comes to video games.

We all the game industry has a host of problems - rising hardware and software prices, staggering production costs, shrinking "hardcore" gamer demographic, recycled "franchise" sequels from 20 years ago, bankruptcies right and left.  Does that mean smartphones and tablets are really going to conquer the world?  I'm not so sure about that.  If anything, I'm wondering just when the iOS backlash begins.

I don't see tablets and smartphones killing the traditional video games console.  I can see the portable systems - Sony PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS - being disrupted and possibly worse.  And goodness knows that Nintendo could make a wreck of the Wii U if they're not careful.  But I think we're getting way ahead of ourselves, and listening to the wrong analysts for advice.

Let's not panic, people.  Angry Birds is not the center of the universe, Nintendo is not going to die.  The video game business will adapt and evolve, one way or another.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Living in a Post-Angry Birds World

I saw this little gem at the downtown Minneapolis Target after work today.  It's Angry Birds Trilogy, a compilation of three titles from the immensely popular iOS/Android Angry Birds series.  Can you see the crisis for Nintendo?  Any company executive who does not see it deserves to be fired immediately.

A paradigm shift in the video game world is rare, but the arrival of Apple's Apps store is one of them.  Five years ago, Angry Birds would have easily found a home as a $20 Nintendo DS cartridge.  Today, it's a 99-cent download for smartphones.  For Angry Birds Trilogy, that means $20-$30 on Nintendo 3DS, $40 on PS360...or $3 on the iPhone.  That's a paradigm shift, kids.

Nintendo gambled hard on stereoscopic 3D, hoping the Avatar phenom would usher in a new era of entertainment.  They're gambling and, outside of Japan, they're losing the bet.  Every week that goes by, store shelves of $40 3DS games look increasingly bloated and out-of-touch, while Apple and Google capture the "casual" market that was once in the palm of Nintendo's hands.

How can you sell a $40 video game in an age of $1-$5 apps?  You can't.  Sorry, Charlie, them's the brakes.

To Nintendo's credit, their situation isn't hopeless, at least, not yet.  Nobody can touch their quality when it comes to classic arcade games like Super Mario Bros and Mario Kart.  And iOS developers are struggling even to make a dime, as the smartphone market is over-saturated with free and Free-to-Play apps.  If the Big N was smart, they could navigate their way out of this minefield.  But they're going to have to make some radical decisions about their pricing, their online strategy, and their hardware/software.

Monday, November 26, 2012

MCS 6700 Direct Drive Turntable

MCS was JC Penny's house brand for consumer electronics, including stereo components and turntables.  Their products were re-branded from Japanese manufacturers, including Hitachi, JVC and Technics.  Here's one of their very best turntables - the MCS 6700 Direct Drive Turntable.

The MCS 6700 is actually a Technics SL-1900...specifically, the 1950 model which allowed you to stack up to six LPs.  The motor, electronics and tonearm all hail from the Technics model...but the frame and buttons hail from Hitachi's tables.  It's a terrific combination, and to my eyes, it looks much better than the original.  I especially like how the platter is partially submerged within the large black frame.  The rubber-coated buttons and knobs are also quite stylish.

I bought one of these bad boys on Craigslist for $85, which was an absolute steal.  It was a Christmas present for my mother, and she loves playing her Miles Davis and Dean Martin LPs on the stereo.  Expect to pay $80-$150 for this turntable if it's in excellent condition.  I paired it with a Denon DL-110, the younger brother of the late, great DL-160.  It may be the better of the two carts, which really surprised me.  The standard 47K loading sounds fine with the DL-110, whereas its elder brother required more specialized loading (MC setting on my Pro-Ject Tube Box II, or 1K-8K loading) to sound its best.

My most popular YouTube videos feature this stereo system (MCS 6700, Denon DL-110, Rega Fono Mini), and it's a wonderful sound, warm and dynamic and very musical.  Oil the motor bearings and pack the inside frame with 7lbs of modeling clay, and you'll be amazed at the performance of this turntable.

I only have one complaint, and it's probably a minor one - no Quartz lock.  I just don't like having to adjust the speed on the dials.  I know, I know, I'm just being a big baby.  Don't let that hold you back.  The MCS 6700 will compete against any turntable in its class.  I'd also recommend stuffing some Vibrapods underneath the feet, which also worked nicely for me.

Here's the MCS 6700 and Denon DL-110 in action.  Give this a spin and see what it does for ya.