Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Interview Time with Andy Goergen of Nintendo World Report and 8-Bit Acrylic!

Andy Goergen is involved with a few different video game things you might not be familiar with, but should be. A friend of mine for a number of years now, he was gracious enough to take some time to talk about what's going on with Nintendo, video games in general, and other endeavors. He has a interesting perspective on Nintendo that I hadn't considered, and it's a good reminder that I have to reclaim a high score in a game we both play...

Andy can be found at Nintendo World Report (Twitter and Facebook) and 8 Bit Acrylic (Etsy and Facebook).

Jeff: First, introduce yourself in your own words: who you are, what you do, and so on.

Andy: My name is Andy Goergen, and I am the Managing Editor of Nintendo World Report (NWR), and the creator and artist at 8-Bit Acrylic. With regards to the former, I help keep the website running by managing staff hiring and workload, and write the occasional bit of content such as news, reviews, or impressions. I also occasionally participate in the NWR Connectivity podcast. With regards to the latter, I paint pictures of 8-bit video game sprites.

J: Regarding Nintendo World Report, what has the consensus been on the Wii U so far? What do you think about how it’s going over?

A: Consensus is a tricky word on the internet; I’m not sure such a thing exists, even amongst a Nintendo-centric website. (See our recent staff roundtable on Wii U third party support: I would say that we all agree that the Wii U GamePad has a lot of potential. Although Microsoft and Sony have “second screen” solutions such as SmartGlass or PS Vita connectivity, the Wii U GamePad was designed from the ground up to support this technology, and works flawlessly. As long as a Wii U port of a multiplatform game has Off-TV play, that’s the version I’ll pick up. It’s wonderful to be able to play full console gaming experiences while the rest of the family watches something on Netflix.

I think that Nintendo has mismanaged the marketing of the console to an incredible degree. Firstly, by naming the console Wii U, the NEEDED to get the message out quickly and strongly that it wasn’t simply a new controller for the Wii, but they failed to do so in any way whatsoever. Secondly, they can’t seem to decide if it’s a “Family Console”, or a “Hardcore Gamer Console”, or something in between, so they play it safe and market it to no one in particular. More than any other console Nintendo has ever released, the Wii U seems destined to appeal to the Nintendo loyalist, and few others.

J: I know you were a big fan of ZombiU, any other games recently hit your radar?

A: ZombiU was an incredible experience, but polarized the critics who reviewed it. I thought it had great pacing, wonderful environments, and a true sense of dread missing in lots of similar titles. I am really disappointed that more people haven’t picked it up, because I think it’s the best game on the system to date.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf on 3DS is most definitely the best Animal Crossing game ever released. I had it a few weeks before it came out, and it was frustrating not to be able to play the game with other people online, but more than anything else I just wanted other people to see how polished the series had become in this new iteration.

Also, The Last Of Us on PS3 particularly appealed to me as both a fan of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, and also a big fan of post apocalyptic and zombie fiction. It seemed like a game tailor-made for me, and it lived up to the hype. I thought it was tremendous. It’s the only game not on a Nintendo platform that I can remember ever buying within a few days of launch.

J: It’s kind of sad, especially since I used to be very loyal to Nintendo, but literally the only things I know about Nintendo these days outside of the mainstay franchises are that Animal Crossing is very popular as is Monster Hunter, and that the handheld games seem to break out more than the main console stuff in terms of popular culture and so on. I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer, but why is Nintendo struggling to reach a gamer like myself?

A: Nintendo is a very Japanese company, and as more and more western companies like Microsoft take over the market in North America, it’s harder and harder for an eastern company to keep their foothold here. Nintendo is not willing to take the risks that Microsoft is, and they’re not willing to spend money to make money to the extent that Microsoft is.

In addition, they’re an incredibly proud company, which makes it very difficult for them to look at the market and adapt. They rarely admit they are on the wrong path, and even when they are, they don’t seem particularly motivated to do anything about it. They’ve made some strides, such as day-and-date digital releases of all of their major titles, but they’re still light years behind in ways that matter far more to western gamers than eastern gamers. As long as they’ve got Japanese stockholders, they’ll make Japanese decisions that benefit the Japanese market first and foremost.

Nintendo has enough successful franchises (Pokemon, Mario, Zelda) that they’ll be fine, even if the Wii U continues struggling. The 3DS is pulling it’s weight, and Pokemon X and Y will sell to millions, easily. However, if you’re waiting for Nintendo to be the market leader again, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Even when they were the sales leader with Wii in 2007 and 2008, they still weren’t the mindshare leader amongst western gamers.

J: If you got to run Nintendo, or fix Nintendo’s problems (assuming you think they have any), what would you do?

A: It’s difficult to say that Nintendo doesn’t know what they’re doing, because they’ve proven time and time again that they do just fine, but it’s equally difficult to say that they’ve got the Wii U situation under control. At this point, there’s not a lot they could do to make games magically appear and get the sales moving, but it does seem that once the games start showing up, a price cut is no longer optional. They effectively need to relaunch the console, and a price cut is a great way to do that. They could bundle the system with New Super Mario Bros. U, include a $20 eShop card in the box, and drop the price to $279 and I think that would be a good way of increasing sales while not lowering the price *too* much. In addition, it would get people looking at the eShop, and driving more eyeballs toward their increasingly impressive library of digital games. I wouldn’t expect a price drop until closer to the fall, as PS4 and Xbox One are on the horizon. There’s just no way that Wii U can be on the market at $349 while PS4 is sitting at $399.

J: Switching gears, you started doing 8-bit acrylic art recently. What prompted your interest in it?

A: I’m not a trained artist by any means, but I picked up painting as a hobby about 8 years ago, and found it incredibly relaxing and rewarding. The video game paintings came about naturally as a way to cover up for the fact that I’m not particularly skilled at drawing... the drawings were already there, I just had to find a way to recreate them on the canvas. The beautiful thing about 8-bit video game sprites is that they’re nothing more than a paint-by-numbers grid. Anyone can take a piece of graph paper and some colored pencils and make a perfectly accurate 8-bit Mario picture. I just choose to do it using paint.

J: What’s been your most well-received piece so far?

A: I think the one that’s gotten the most positive buzz has been either the Commander Keen painting...

...or perhaps the one of Solid Snake, which is a close up portrait using only four different shades of “Game Boy Green”.

Another one that turned out really well was actually an original creation. A friend of mine is married to a painter. He’s a musician, and the two of them have formed an on-stage act where he plays the piano and sings, and she paints an entire painting from scratch during the show. (They’re called Pocket Vinyl, find and like them on Facebook!) At the end of the show, they auction the painting off to the crowd. She’s an incredibly talented artist, and it’s always really impressive to see what she comes up with.

One of her paintings was a monster with a big round body, four long, skinny legs, claws and teeth. My friend asked me to paint an 8-bit version of that monster, so I took the original painting, and played around with it on the computer until I had a really nice pixelized, NES style adaptation of the original art.

I painted it on a 16x20 panel and shipped it out to them, and they loved it. I think it might be the most impressive single painting I’ve done yet, especially because I got to flex my creative muscle a bit in adapting the original work.

J: What’s the process for you? A lot of people do 8-bit pixel art on the computer, and I’ve seen some larger-scale stuff, but I can’t say I’ve seen anyone do it your way.

A: Like I mentioned earlier, anyone with graph paper and some colored pencils can do this, I just choose to do it with paint, mainly because I hadn’t see many other people doing it, and I enjoyed the process of making them. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to come across pre-graphed canvases, so I draw my own graph on the canvas using a light pencil and a ruler. I draw every painting in pencil first, outlining all of the different sections, and filling in all of the black to get a quick glance of what it looks like without color.

After I’ve got the entire thing sketched out, I approach the painting one color at a time, usually from light colors to dark colors. You have to wait for each color to dry before you can really work on a bordering section, so I often have 2 or 3 paintings going at once. I don’t use any sort of guiding edge when I paint, although I tried that approach when I started. I do everything free hand, which leads to some not-quite-perfect straight lines. The good news is that once the paint dries, you can always polish the lines by painting over what’s already there.

J: Any longer term plans with the art?

A: I would love to start moving towards more custom designs. I’ve done some custom designs, such as a Mega Man sprite adapted into a football player, and I’d love to do more of that type of work. I’ve gotten pretty proficient at working with pixels in Photoshop, and coming up with a unique, custom design is incredibly rewarding.

I’d also like to do some bigger projects one of these days, such as an entire set of portraits from a Mega Man stage select screen. Unfortunately, my wife would kill me if I tried to hang something like that up in my house, so I’m waiting for someone to be willing to pay me to make them.

J: Anything you want to say, plug, etc before we finish up?

A: You can check out my Etsy shop here at where you can custom order a painting, or buy any of those listed there. (Note that I don’t currently have it set up for international orders, but if you’re overseas and interested, I’ll investigate the pricing and open up that option.) Also, you can check out Nintendo World Report where I recently reviewed Animal Crossing: New Leaf here and you can look forward to my upcoming review of Pikmin 3 in the near future.

J: Finally, a personal note: you and I have had a multi-year leaderboard feud on the pacifism minigame on Geometry Wars: Evolved. You’ve still got my number, but I do fire it up every so often. With that said, what’s your secret to somehow finding a way to beat me and get me all angry about it?

A: I could have sworn that last time I looked, you actually were in the lead by a sizable margin. (Jeff: Yup, it's true: I apparently more than doubled his score sometime a while ago and forgot. I AM THE CHAMPION. FEAR MY PACIFISM.) It’s such an incredibly addicting game, one that I can play for hours on end without even realizing it. It’s really sad that Bizarre Creations is essentially defunct because the odds of us seeing a true Geometry Wars sequel again are pretty low.

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