Interview: NZ Retro Magazine’ s Karl “After” Burnett

Former NZ TV actor Karl Burnett has long had a love of retro video games – he was introduced to Invaders on the Fountain Force 2 machine when he was a child – so he decided to publish New Zealand’s only print magazine dedicated to retro video gaming. The first issue was printed this month and I caught up with Karl “After” Burnett to talk about the process of creating a print magazine and what he thinks is the greatest retro game of all time.

Tell me about your video game background. You mentioned you were an avid reader of Computer and Video Games magazine back in the day (as an owner of a ZX Spectrum I pored over Crash! Magazine) but what was the console/games machine that sparked the video game interest for you? Was there a specific video game that just blew your mind?

It was when I got home one day, possibly from school or kindy, when I heard blips and beeps coming from the lounge. The door was shut and dad led the way, saying “do you know what that is?” I replied “video games”. To this day I don’t know how I knew that as Invaders, the game that my sister was playing on that brand new Fountain Force 2, was the first game I’d ever seen.

How did that interest develop over the years? Have you always had a fondness for “retro” games specifically or have you delved into modern games but always been drawn back to the old-skool gaming experience?

I always kept up with modern gaming. Until the Xbox360 I had owned every console of every generation. I wasn’t blown away by that generation as developers were taking far fewer risks with creativity. There were very few games that I wanted to play. I did love Grand Theft Auto V.

After that I got an Xbox One and again, there’s not a heap of stuff I like playing. I picked up GT7 recently for the PS4 Pro and I’m enjoying that (apart from the weird mobile game aspects etc) but I also picked up Elden Ring and it’s just too complicated for my old brain. I’m not a fan of crafting or messing about in inventories – leveling up and that sort of thing. I know it’s an RPG but those elements have all snuck into action games these days. I just prefer the purity and simplicity of retro games – I mean, gathering crap to make a spear that’s just going to break isn’t fun in my book. Tomb Raider really annoyed me with all that stuff. Even Transformers Devastation, as good as it was, had weapon crafting. Why!?!

What was the catalyst to create NZ Retro magazine? What was the light bulb moment that prompted you to go “Yeah, I want to publish a magazine about retro video games”?

I was writing for the UK magazine Sega Powered and I really enjoyed it. I’d toyed with the idea of creating a magazine a couple of times in the past. One was a new car magazine named The Wheel Deal, which I thankfully decided to put online instead, and the other was a retro gaming magazine that just never happened. So I decided to finally give it a go.

Walk me through the process. You’ve got a background in writing but was producing the magazine a more monumental task than you anticipated? Did you ever get to the point of asking yourself “What the hell am I doing?” and go back to whatever it was you were doing before?

I had a pretty good idea what to expect, from working full time in magazine publishing in the past. I’d done plenty of design work as a game developer, so I knew I could make it look semi decent too. There were some hurdles on the last day caused by my lack of knowledge on the printing side but nothing major until after I’d shipped issue one and the printer closed its doors.

When did you decide Kickstarter was the way to go to fund the magazine? Were you surprised at the support you received or did you think there was enough love for retro games that it was a sure thing?

I’d actually funded the first couple of issues myself. The Kickstarter was to help with the next couple of issues – I hadn’t done a great job of selling advertising! I was blown away by the amount of support. I thought there’s be enough people to sustain it but it was good to know I was right!

Launching a new magazine in the current climate was a big risk for you (I see printer Ovato has closed due to paper shortages etc). Was that at the forefront of your mind during the whole process? 

I didn’t actually see it as much of a risk, more a last chance. I’d pulled out of university as I realised halfway through my degree that programming computers is only fun if it’s done for fun. I decided I didn’t want to be a coder and I’d quit a great job to go and study. There were no suitable jobs around and I really wanted to be writing again, so I thought I might as well give it a go. I knew  that niche magazines were taking off around the world – especially retro gaming ones – and there were none in New Zealand so I filled the void. A lot of people in various Facebook retro groups I belong to voiced that they wanted it, too.

What are you most happy about with the magazine? The foreword by Julian “Jaz” RIgnall? The poster art by Trevor “Smila” Storey? The fact that you actually got the magazine out and to supporters?

Jaz was pretty much the biggest influence on my writing and I doubt I’d be doing this if it wasn’t for his work back in the day. So yeah, having him in the mag was awesome. Trevor’s art is great too – he’ll be doing plenty more for NZ Retro. But the be great thing was the magazine itself. It turned out really well. There are a few small things I’ve changed since but over all I’m really proud of it.

What does the future hold for NZ Retro magazine? Are we likely to see any love in future issues for classics like Westworld’s Blade Runner or Lucasarts masterpieces like like Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle?

I LOVE point and click adventures. They were the story driven games of their time. I suppose some did have crafting, though! And inventories! How ironic. I’ll definitely cover them as I get better and faster at making the magazine as those types of games take a lot of time to play for review.

What is the greatest retro game of all time?

Tempest 2000 on Atari Jaguar or Need For Speed on 3DO. The greatest game ever made in my opinion is GTAV.

Disclaimer: I was a backer of the first issue of NZ Retro and it’s a bloody fine magazine. If you’d like to find out more about NZ Retro, you can visit its webstore at http://www.nzretro.com or subscribe to future issues via Patreon: patreon.com/nzretro

Nintendo 2DS XL: Big screens & ditch the 3D

Nintendo 2DS XL ($229)

Nintendo’s new 2DS XL could be the best version of its handheld that I’ve ever used.

The 2DX XL plays 3DS and DS games (although it won’t display 3DS games in 3D, of course)  and also comes with a 4Gb microSD card, which handily means you don’t have to buy one like you had to with previous DS models.

Compared with my original version 3DS, the 2DSXL model has some subtle design tweaks, too, which keeping the much-loved clam shell design. Besides the bigger screens, the power button is now on the front edge rather than on top next to the screen; the start and select buttons are physical buttons and the microSD slot and stylus are now located at the front, rather than the back, of unit. The 2DS XL also has new shoulder buttons and a small joystick-like button above the face buttons.

The design is more rounded than the angular edges of the original 3DS, too, with a really nice aesthetic and it really does look smart. It comes in two colour variants: Black and blue, and orange and white. It also has a nice ribbed finish on the top surface when the unit is closed, giving it a more top-end feel to it. If I had to be picky, sometimes I had trouble turning it on as the power button is almost flush to the body of the unit – and I chew my finger nails!

The big selling point for the 2DXL is that with the ability to play games from previous Nintendo DS handhelds, it has a huge back catalogue of games, and it was really nice being able to play 3DS games like Luigi’s Mansion 2 and New Super Mario Bros. 2 and maybe it’s because I’ve got ageing eyesight, but I found the games much more enjoyable in 2D rather than 3D.

Battery life seems pretty good, giving me around 3 to seven hours of activity, depending on-screen brightness and how demanding the game I was playing was. Of course, if you have the brightness all the way up then your battery life will be dramatically less.

Bottom line: Should you buy the Nintendo 2DS XL? If you already own a 3DS and like playing your games in 3D, then probably not. That said, if you’re a gamer that can take or leave 3D and wants a cheaper handheld that can play a humongous back library of 3DS and DS titles, then Nintendo’s latest handheld is hard to beat, although a price point of around $200 would have made it even better value.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch) is a game that can elicit joy and frustration during the same play session.

Heck, it can elicit those feelings during the last 100m of a race – and I love it. I can’t stop playing it.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe isn’t a new game. In fact, it’s an updated and enhanced version of Mario Kart 8 which came out on Nintendo’s last generation Wii U console but it’s a perfect fit for the Switch. Deluxe features all the content from Mario Kart 8 (and tracks from past platforms the racer appeared on) as well as a new Battle mode. Multiplayer offers four-player races, while online player is both single player and two-player.

As you’d expect, the roster of characters includes favourites like Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Yoshi to characters like King Boo, Dry Bones, Donkey Kong and Link (from Legend of Zelda fame). Tracks include circuits like Yoshi Circuit (GCN), Rainbow Road (SNES), Koopa City (3DS) and Moo Moo Meadows (Wii).

Right off the bat, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks superb on the Nintendo Switch. I said to my son while I was drifting around a corner on the Rainbow Road that for a console that is under powered when compared against the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4, Deluxe looks incredibly vibrant and detailed on the Switch. The game looks good running through a TV but because of the smaller screen, I reckon it looks much sharper when using the Switch’s portable mode.

I said at the beginning that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can elicit both joy and frustration during the same game session and it does. Here’s an example: During a few races, I was leading on the last lap of the last race in the four-race series that would clinch me the victory cup (I tend to race as Yoshi on a motorcycle) when – with no joke of a lie – within the last 100m I’d be zapped by a turtle shell, had oil squirted on my screen by the oil ghost and zapped by lightning, shrinking my race character. Generally, I still managed to win the race but sometimes it would mean I’d come second, losing the cup. It was almost as if the game ganged up on me, not wanting me to win.

Surely not, right?

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the sort of game that’s perfect for when you’ve got a few spare minutes to do a few races. I took it to work one week so I could play during my lunch break.

Look, I love Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and if you’re a fan of the game on other Nintendo platforms, and you own a Switch, you’ve probably bought this already. Heck, if you only buy two games for the Switch, pick up this and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You’ll have enough to keep you busy for a long, long time.

When I first got a Nintendo Switch I said that while it was a fantastic piece of hardware, it was hampered by the lack of games. With the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I’ve changed my tune. The Switch is really starting to hold its own in the console space, and that prospect can only get better as the year progresses.

Thanks to Nintendo Australia for the review copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

 

 

Nintendo Switch review: If you build it, they will come

The Switch in docked mode, with the JoyCon controllers attached. It’s not plugged in, obviously.

I’ve had a Nintendo Switch for about three weeks now and I like it. I like it a lot but I do have some reservations about it (but more on those later).

OK, full disclosure first:  Nintendo Australia sent me a Switch for long-term loan (I’ve talked about how this came about here) and will send me first-party games when they become available that I can review. If it wasn’t for Nintendo Australia, I wouldn’t have a Switch so I’m grateful to the company for that.

What I like most about the Switch is its tablet/portable mode. That is what makes it so good as a games player. I also like that its software which comes on flash ROM cartridges or digitally isn’t region locked. That is a good thing.

I like the design of the Switch. Without the Joy Con controllers attached it looks like a regular tablet, except its held in landscape mode all the time. You can play games without the Joy Cons attached – they’re wireless – and the unit itself has a somewhat fragile looking kickstand that props it up. It means you can set the console up on a table or a bench – or an airline tray table? – and play games that way.

The tablet of the Nintendo Switch. The screen is quite glossy: You can see my reflection in it.

Attach the Joy Cons to the tablet, though, and that’s where it really shines. The 720p screen is sharp and clear and it’s a good size – just the thing for portable gaming – , although it’s quite glossy so there is screen glare to content with depending on your positioning near things like windows and lights.

The Switch feels comfortable in your hands when in portable mode and while a little unusual at first, the stick and button layout becomes natural after a while.

The portable mode is the crowning glory of the Switch. It really is and I have to say I’ve played most of Zelda Breath of the Wild using the portable mode.

It means I can take the Switch to work and play some BOTW on my lunch break. It means I can take the Switch to bed and play BOTW while my wife reads her book. It means I can take the Switch to the toilet … OK, you get where I’m going here (Disclaimer: I have never taken the Switch with me to the toilet).

For all the things I like about the Nintendo Switch – and I do like it –  I just can’t recommend you rush out and buy one right now. The software just isn’t there for it.

Later on in the year, I’m sure it’ll be a different story (Mario Kart 7 Deluxe is due out later this month, I think) but right now, the Switch just doesn’t have enough compelling games to make it a must-have purchase. The lack of must-buy games is the biggest weakness of the Switch right now, especially given it’ll set you back around $550 just for the console itself in New Zealand.

I’ve only got two games for it: The aforementioned BOTW, which I really like and it looks fantastic,  and the frankly not very good Switch 1-2, which is a collection of mini-games where you look at another player rather than the TV screen to do things like gun slinging and milking a cow. Yes, milking a cow. It’s as bizarre as it sounds.

Look, Wii Sports is a much, much better game than Switch 1-2 and it launched on a Nintendo console two generations ago. Switch 1-2 should have been included free with the Switch as a tech demo on how the motion controls of the Joy Con controllers work but no, in NZ it’s priced anything from $65 to $80. Personally, I think Nintendo should have just thrown Switch 1-2 in as a freebie..

Here’s some advice: If you go to a game store to buy a Switch and the shop clerk says “How about another game for your Nintendo Switch? What about Switch 1-2 as well?” do this: Laugh in that person’s face, say “No” loudly then walk out of the store with your Switch and copy of BOTW tucked under your arm.

To me, the Switch has really only one game worth playing at the moment, Zelda Breath of the Wild, and it’s a very good game – and that’s from someone who isn’t a longtime Zelda fan – but apart from that, there’s nothing else to play on it. Games are coming, though (Update:  Apparently Lego City  Undercover is out for the Switch now. I haven’t played it yet, though)

More games are coming: Splatoon 2 is coming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 from Telltale is coming, Pikmin 3 is coming, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is coming, Arms is coming … so my   recommendation right now is although I love the Switch, I’d wait before buying one.

The Switch reminds a little of the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams (readers born after 1989 ask your parents or Google it) about a farmer who heard a voice whisper to him “If you build it, they will come” in relation to building a baseball diamond in his cornfield. He did, and they came.

To me, the Nintendo Switch is a bit like that: Nintendo has built the console, now we just have to wait for the games to arrive.

 

 

Oh, look, it’s a Nintendo Switch!

A few weeks ago I was invited by Nintendo to attend a hands-on session with its then-yet-to-be released Switch. Sadly, I had to decline the invitation (it was in Auckland and I live in Christchurch, which is in New Zealand’s South Island) but Nintendo’s PR company in Australia kept in touch over the following weeks.

Last week, I got the good news that Nintendo was going to send me a Switch to look at for review. The console arrived today (after being held up by Customs for a couple of days). It came with a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild & 1-2 Switch as well as spare JoyCon controllers (red & blue).

The last Nintendo home console I played was the Nintendo GameCube (which I still own) so I’m looking forward to having a good look at the Switch over the coming days, especially trying out the portable mode. I’ll document my thoughts in the next week or so.

Set up was easy enough and I managed to connect the JoyCon controllers the right way to the tablet body (I read on social media that some people  slid them on wrong, causing them to get stuck). As I write this, the Switch is charging the tablet.

Zelda: BOTW will also be the first home console Zelda game I’ve played (I’m not counting the Nintendo 3DS version) so I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, here are some images of the un-boxing process.

The tablet of the Nintendo Switch. It’s has a nice reflective screen, as you can see by my reflection.

The rear view of the Switch’s tablet. Note the bananas in the background. Our dog likes bananas, too.

The Switch in docked mode. It’s not plugged in yet, obviously.

The Switch in docked mode, with the JoyCon controllers attached.

 

 

 

It’s going to be an interesting week: E3 kicks off on Tuesday (for us in NZ)

UPDATE: I probably should have mentioned that I’m not going to E3 this year. Yeah, I’m gutted too but that’s life. There’s always next year.

This time last year (day wise, not time wise, I can’t be bothered working out what time it is in LA right now) , I was probably sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Los Angeles supping back a double shot latte and people watching – and wondering whether I’d brought everything I needed to cover E3 2010 properly.

For those that haven’t been to LA it’s an incredibly massive city with beautiful people everywhere, especially in places like Beverley Hills and Wiltshire Boulevard. It’s also where the crazy game show E3 takes place.

It would have been a couple of days before E3 started and I would have been gathering my thoughts, on how I was going to make it through four days of mayhem – and that I’d remembered to bring all the accreditation I needed to get into the press conferences and the show itself, which was due to start at the  LA Convention Centre in a couple of days.

OK, so E3 2011 is going to start in a couple of days for us: this is what I’m most looking forward to.

  • Much of the focus this year will be on Nintendo and its new rumoured console, Project Cafe. Gamers will want to know just how many of the rumours flying around the internet are actually true.  Here is some of the speculation doing the rounds: the console will use 25Gb optical discs and have 8Gb of on-board flash memory; there won’t be a built-in HDD but it will use SD cards; the controller has a touch-screen as well as a standard button layout; the console will be more powerful than both the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Whether all this is true will be revealed in a few days time.
  • This year Microsoft needs to show gamers that there is more to Kinect than just party-style and fitness games. Hopefully there will be reveals of games that hardcore gamers can actually sink their teeth into. Last year’s Xbox event showed brief glimpses of an on-rails Star Wars game, so who knows? Maybe we’ll see more of that this year. I think that if Microsoft don’t start getting some decent stuff for Kinect, the technology will be wasted and hardcore gamers – those that bought Xbox in the first place – will start to get frustrated.
  • Sony’s been rocked severely by the recent hacks to its PlayStation Network, so it will want to bring its A-game to this year’s E3 to restore the confidence of gamers in its PlayStation brand. I’ve heard that its pre-E3 press conference is several hours long – several hours long- what the heck are they going to showcase there? Last year it was all about 3D but this year I’m sure it’ll be all about the Next Generation Portable handheld (a name change would be a good start) as well as more information about the next game in the Uncharted series, Drake’s Deception.

E3, though, is mostly about the games, and here are some of the game’s I’m looking forward to hearing more about:  The Last Guardian,  Hitman Absolution, Uncharted: Drake’s Deception, Batman Arkham City, Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Gears of War 3, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.