Does Travis Kalanick actually have the second-highest Wii Tennis score?

In a recent New York Times profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the writers point out that Kalanick “once held the world’s second-highest score for the Nintendo Wii Tennis video game.” This factoid about Kalanick has actually appeared in the media many times before — I first learned about it on an episode of the StartUp podcast.

But according to Ars Technica writer Kyle Orland, this stat is non-sensical. Why?

The line baffled me for a number of reasons, not least of which was that the concept of a “high score” in “Wii Tennis” didn’t make much sense. Claiming the “world’s second-highest score” in Wii Sports tennis is like claiming the second-highest score in Pong based on nothing but playing against the computer and your friends. Absent some sort of sanctioned tournament or logical third-party ranking system, the claim just doesn’t parse.

And yet, the boast is oddly specific. Kalanick hadn’t earned the best “Wii Tennis” score in the world according to TheNew York Times. He achieved the second best. If this was just a fabulist boast, why limit yourself to number two? And if it wasn’t just puffery, who was number one?

What’s more, the paper of record doesn’t hedge its declaration with a “he said” or “he claimed.” Kalanick’s “Wii Tennis” high score is stated as a fact, and one that piece author Mike Isaac said on Twitter was “triple sourced.” (Isaac didn’t respond to further request for comment on his basis for the line.)

I’ve spent an admittedly ridiculous amount of time looking into this one sentence over the past few days. As it turns out, getting to the bottom of Kalanick’s Wii Sports skill requires delving into the vagaries of human memory, reverse engineered asymptotic leveling systems, and the semantic meaning of video game achievement itself.

Orland’s investigation is delightful and worth reading in its entirety. It’s a testament to sweating the details and getting the facts right whenever possible.

Microsoft unveils the specs for Project Scorpio

Digital Foundry landed a huge exclusive: a look at the specs for Project Scorpio, the next version of Xbox that’s scheduled to release Holiday 2017 (Disclosure: I previously worked for the Xbox Marketing team).

The short version? Project Scorpio will contain:

  • CPU: Eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHZ
  • GPU: 40 customized compute units at 1172MHz
  • Memory: 12GB DDR5 RAM
  • Memory Bandwidth: 326GB/s
  • HDD: 1TB 2.5inch
  • Optical Drive: 4K UHD Blu-Ray

For me, the 4K UHD Blu-Ray alone will make this system worth picking up. But I’m also excited about if/how the system will improve the look and resolution of games I already own.

I’m looking forward to see what Xbox will unveil at E3 when it comes to hardware as well as games.

Early buzz for the Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch will be released on March 3, but today a bunch of “pre-reviews” and unboxings hit the web. The hardware sounds great. The software? No one really knows.

Chris Plante, writing for The Verge:

The tablet summons that giddy feeling I got from Apple’s original iPhone, and long before both, Nintendo’s own original Game Boy. It’s beautiful, it’s simple, and it feels a bit like magic. Nintendo has long encouraged players to step outside, and now they’ve made a home console that allows for that. Relaxing in a lawn-chair in my backyard while tooling around an open-world Zelda feels luxurious […]

I just wish I could say the same about its software. A little over a week from launch, I can’t tell you a single thing about what it’s like to download games, play online with friends, or even format a microSD card. That is absurd. And while I know we will have answers, the fact that we don’t know at this point leaves me concerned, bordering on skeptical. It doesn’t help that Nintendo leadership can’t give clear answers to simple questions in Q&As.

Arthur Gies, writing for Polygon:

[T]he Switch’s online components, including account registration and retrieval, online play, wireless networking for protected hotspots and even the online store are not currently functional. These are locked behind a “day one” software update that Nintendo apparently expects to go live right around the same time the console goes on sale.

How functional this will actually be on day one is up for debate, as even Nintendo has admitted that online play will be more or less in beta until this fall. But that isn’t the only thing that feels unfinished about the Switch right now.

The biggest current issue with the Switch is one of basic reliability. Over the course of my time with Breath of the Wild, I’ve had repeated problems with the left Joy-Con controller partially or even completely losing sync from the Switch console while docked and connected to my television. This is a pain in the ass at best, but has also resulted in several deaths playing Breath of the Wild.

Sounds like Nintendo is going to pull another WiiU and issue a massive Day One patch to solve these hardware/software issues. Beyond basic functionality, it sounds like Nintendo is scrambling just to get this thing done on time.  A lot of these written impressions and tweets convey that the system feels unfinished. Maybe that feeling will go away eventually, but for now it really feels like they rushed the system to launch at the same time as Zelda: Breath of the Wild (a critical launch title, also coming out for WiiU), and not the other way around.

Did Nintendo download a ROM and sell it back to us?

Fascinating video from Chris Bratt at Eurogamer, laying out the evidence that Nintendo might’ve used an online ROM for the Wii Virtual Console version of Super Mario Bros.

I appreciated Bratt’s broader point: Copyright holders are often worse than fans at preserving their IP (I know for me personally, I don’t even have archival episodes of some of my old podcasts, thus proving his point). Companies should respect this and act accordingly

Kyle Orland’s Preview of Nintendo Switch

Kyle Orland had a chance to try the Nintendo Switch for Ars Technica:

In a way, the Switch’s disappointment as a home console isn’t new: Nintendo long ago stopped competing for the top end of the console power curve. Previously, though, Nintendo’s newest consoles at least improved technologically on their predecessors; the Wii U was a notable jump in power from the Wii, for instance. Viewed purely as a TV console, though, the Switch shows Nintendo practically treading water in the console horsepower race since 2012. At a time when Microsoft and Sony are racing each other to squeeze a few extra ounces of graphical power through the PS4 Pro and Scorpio, Nintendo seems fine releasing a console with graphics that were considered merely OK more than four years ago.

Perhaps we’ve reached such a point of diminishing technological returns that Nintendo doesn’t think extra graphical horsepower is a big selling point for a TV-based console anymore. Maybe the extra portability of the Switch makes up for hardware that seems to have ceased improving on a raw power basis. I’m not sure the public at large is going to agree with either of those sentiments, though.

His findings: The Joy-Cons have cramped controls (especially when you only have one half), 1-2-Switch is far too expensive at the $50 asking price, and the HD Rumble isn’t super impressive. Also, the launch games lineup is rough. For more, see my thoughts on the Switch announcement.

Thoughts on Nintendo’s Switch Announcement

Last night, Nintendo held a one-hour keynote to announce further details about the Nintendo Switch, its newest gaming console. Details had been scant since its teaser video back in October. You can watch the entire livestream of the announcement below.

Here are my thoughts on the main announcements, which included pricing (MSRP $299.99) and availability (March 3, 2017 in the US):

  • The launch lineup for this device is pretty rough. While the Zelda trailer was great, that game is also coming out on Wii U. It was also bit of a surprise that Super Mario Odyssey and Arms, which got significant airplay in the announcement, will not be launch titles.
  • Can launch title 1-2-Switch be as popular as Wii Sports in terms of getting non-traditional users into the gaming console space? Perhaps, but based on what they showed, it looked more like it should be a pack-in game and not something that you’d fork over $50 for on launch date. (And as my colleague Peter Sciretta pointed out, couldn’t this thing just easily be a free iPhone game?)
  • Many gaming outlets had run with a rumor that the Switch would be priced at $250. I have to say that the $300 price tag feels a bit steep to me for what we’re getting.
  • On that note: the pricing on the accessories is intense. $80 for two halves of a joy-con controller. $90 for a dock. These products are clearly where Nintendo expects to make a ton of margin.
  • The Switch will come with 32GB of storage and a 720p screen. Battery life will vary (dramatically) from 2 to 6.5 hours depending on the game you’re playing. That battery life number seems pretty precarious — two hours is barely enough to get out the door and through the subway. But maybe it’ll be enough for most people who are willing to bring a dedicated gaming device with them.
  • In terms of the presentation itself, it was both competent and unexpected, staid and bizarre. The interpreters varied in quality greatly (with one of them appearing to almost melt down completely) but I thought they did a good job overall. It was more about the potential of the Switch than what the product is actually launching with. My guess is that’s the right approach for the long term, but I’m not sure how much heat they’ll be getting at launch. We’ll see.

I also recorded some very rambling thoughts with a couple colleagues of mine yesterday, including Jeff Cannata from the DLC podcast. You can watch that Periscope here.