Friday, March 31, 2017

Nintendo Switch Scarcity and GameStop Arrogance

Nintendo Switch Scarcity and GameStop Arrogance

The Nintendo Switch portable game system was released on March 3, 2017.  If you wanted a Switch but did not pre-order one, or wait on some dorky early morning line, odds are you did not get one. If you were just an average chump, someone not exactly right on top of the preorder trends of the millisecond, or perhaps just a grandparent looking to grab a gift for a millennial, you would likely be out of luck.

Everywhere you turn or toss a Red Bull you’ll hear how gaming is big business.  According to SuperData Research, gaming revenues for 2016 were expected to hit $91 billion. This figure includes games for mobile devices, home computers and consoles all mashed together. That’s a huge figure.  According to Variety, the film industry topped off at $38.6 billion for 2016. Also a big number but gaming, clearly, is the big cheese. You’d never know this though, judging from the limited availability of the Nintendo Switch.

It feels like Nintendo is a new upstart just getting going on Kickstarter. The Switch is—big shock—in high demand. The term 'high demand' is deceptive now. Once the preorder mavericks got their consoles and the new Legend of Zelda game, the shelves on all the stores were bare. There were only a couple of dates, (less than 5 that I have been able to discern) where times in the early AM when waiting, running, and exhibiting anxiously panicked behavior might have gotten you a Switch. There was no other way to get it. Sure…it is true that you could pay premium prices from nerdballs online who bought a dozen of them and then marked them up for EBay glory. But aside from that, I have yet to walk into Best Buy, Target, GameStop, or Wal Mart and see a Switch on a shelf, you know, just sitting there in stock, waiting, patiently, like Woody from Toy Story, for someone to come along and buy it and take it home.

Another Nintendo product worth briefly touching on is the NES classic that was released in the months before Christmas 2016. The $60 retro system plays 30 classic games. No one has this system. Not me. Not my son. Not any of my sons friends. And none of my friends including many who work in the video game industry. A $60 system likely costs around $10-$20 to manufacture. Similar retro Atari, Sega, and Intellivision systems are all plentiful and easy to find. Nintendo still maintains a webpage for this non-existent system. If I did not know better I would guess Nintendo was acting against its own best interest. Either that, or they are just messing with their fan base. The demand was, and still is, very high for this system. It’s arguably the only retro system anyone cares about, but the only one that can not be found. Maybe Nintendo simply does not have enough funds to manufacture on a scale equal to demand. Who knows? Why merchandise that is in demand is not available is anyone’s guess. Limited edition runs of things that excite many only serve to embolden the arrogant few who always seem to gobble up more than their fair share for EBay and Amazon markup regurgitation. The NES Classic was supposed to be a stocking stuffer. For who exactly? No one could find it. 

Now back to the Nintendo Switch…

According to Time, Nintendo wanted to manufacture about eight million Switch consoles but doubled that to sixteen million. I know there is a number, somewhere, where all the people that want Switches will have them. Then the rest of the population might get to decide if they want one too. We have not hit that point yet. Why? Nintendo did not know how high the demand would be…with their new hybrid home/portable console…the one that was launched with the best Zelda game since Ocarina of Time. Forgive me if I don't believe this. I know sometimes in the next few months there will come a time when the number of consoles produced exceeds the fanatics and then you will finally be able to walk into a Target and see a Switch sitting on a shelf waiting to be purchased. Then all the EBay and third party Amazon prices will nosedive. Until then, my advice is to not bother running around like you were playing a game of freeze tag.

It’s not worth it.

I know. I did this and it was awful.

First go the high marks for people working at Target, Best Buy, Toys R Us, and Wal Mart. Everyone I spoke to at these stores was friendly and helpful. Someone at Toys R Us even gave me a heads up that on March 25th I might be able to grab one if I waited outside a store early. I did not get one on the 25th. No biggie.

Now on to GameStop. If arrogance were a drink, GameStop would need help for their drinking problem with it. They seem to drink from a giant cauldron of arrogance. The conversations, interactions, and glances I’ve had with GameStop employees still baffles me. I know the company likely makes the employees say and pitch all sorts of stuff. I wonder if they make them behave arrogantly too? For sure, not every employee there is a douche. It's well above 50% though, from what I've experienced. I’d go in and ask simply, “Hi. Do you have any Nintedo Switch consoles in stock?” Queue the smug, complacent, egotistical, pompous, self-righteous, self-satisfied, conceited, holier-than-thou, priggish, snobbish, stuck-up, stuffy, superior, vain, stock response and looks. “Ha. GOOD LUCK!” was the typical syntax and always accompanied by smirks, grins and visible disdainful head shakes. Then followed by the hard sell to pre-order a massive pile of gaming extras in order to get a Switch.

I never bothered.
My opinion is that a successful company would not force a bundle on anyone. Bundles are money grabs to sell junk that have higher margins than the systems. Stuff bundled is stuff that would not move as well otherwise. I suspect the Switch will be available in the next few months and these bundles are just a temporary way to boost sales of extra crap to anxious people.

Here is a IGN group with a sort of middle of the road, non-controversial take on this bundle BS. GameStop does not hold any cards. No one has to shop there. Ever. Period. I don't care what they are selling. I suggest not buying bundles unless you want every single last item included. Even then, the extras are just there to confuse you into paying more. Don't be confused by maps,  CDs, and extra game content. If everyone demanded all this junk always be included or we'd never buy the games, believe me, it'd be in there. It's because we continue to acquiesce to less that they give us less and charge more and string us along for more and more junk, always on the hook like a Trainspotting junkie.

A few other GameStop responses I got when I said I did not want to buy their pile-o-crap Switch bundle were: “Good luck. There are no Switches available anywhere for over 100 miles.” Or “This is the only way you will be able to get one. Period.” It was even suggested to me that it could be a whole year until I found one. LOL.
I eventually was able to get a Switch at Best Buy on March 30th, but not before having GameStop turn me off to them way beyond what I ever assumed was possible. I had already been annoyed by their cluttered stores filled to the brim with useless Funko crap. I was already annoyed by how they try and sell you a thousand different things when all you want to is pay for a game and leave the store. Paying for anything there, even if you are the only schmuck standing in the store, is painfully slow. Discount memberships. Magazines. Insurance policies for games. Giving your phone number. Pre-ordering everything. Handing over your first born just to get a new exclusive amiibo.

I taste vomit in my mouth every time I go in there.
I pray for the day digital delivery takes over, and stores for games end. I think the industry knows the end of physical content is near too. That’s why the schwag is taking over the stores. That is why a new ThinkGeek is 10 paces from the GameStop in the local mall. The same Switch bundle of extra junk was being pushed in ThinkGeek too, even though they don't sell games. GameStop owns ThinkGeek. Soon the piles of plastic crap will eclipse the games. No ones going to get the tingles and line up at midnight for toys though.

I continually wonder what a GameStop would look like with everything removed from the store but the game discs. No T-shirts. No toys. No backpacks. No mugs. No towers of empty Funko boxes. No action figures. No statues. No magazines. No Pokémon cards. No used Skylanders. No used Amiibos. No posters. No puzzles. No books. No employees. No display shelves filled with boxes for games that will not be out for months. I suspect the game discs they sell would fill a single bankers box, maybe. And I suspect they know this too.

Don't even get me started on the money they offer for used games. I would throw my games away before helping them. What they pay is so painfully low that you are essentially giving them your games. Donating them to a local library would make more sense and might save you money in taxes at the end of the year. Give them to a friend. Give them to a kid. Give them to anyone but GameStop.

If you want a Nintendo Switch, just wait. The real world release date will come soon. You’ll walk into a Target, Best Buy, or Toys R Us and there will be a bunch of them sitting there. You’ll buy it. You’ll take it home. You’ll play Zelda. You’ll be happy. And you’ll have avoided much nonsense.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kung Fury 2.5 Years Late

I have already blogged about Kung Fury here, and how they take the prize for the most overdue Kickstarter ever. Well guess what? Today the bluray finally arrived. Hallelujah! Who cares? Not me. I'm not even the same person. I can't even remember where my mind was when I pledged for this in December of 2013. It seems like a lifetime ago. I'm not the only one to have changed in this long wait. The world has changed. It's like the end of Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder. Guess who won the election? Trump! I think the creators of Kung Fury stepped on a butterfly.

I hope the bluray plays. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trolls: Surreal Kids' Film Operating on Multiple Levels

Trolls was not on my radar. Not even remotely. My boys are 16 and almost 10, so the film disappeared in my blinders like a thousand other things out in the wild that become invisible because of their sheer ubiquity.  But one night when I was watching trailers on my Apple TV, my youngest son asked to see the Trolls trailer. I obliged him but paid it little mind, mostly because it was still off my radar, and because of the torture I endured when sitting through films like Doogal back in the day...way back when I took my oldest son to see everything when he was younger.

So fast forward to the other day. I'm in Target and I see Trolls, so I grab the bluray for my son. I knew he wanted to see it, and he's typically not into asking to see too many films. I still figured I'd just give it to him and that'd be that. Trolls would likely be seen by him and vanish onto his shelf with Sponge Bob and other kid movies. Now I want to explain here that I love kids' films. I am a huge fan of most Pixar films, Hayao Miyazaki films, Monster House, Wallace and Gromit, The Iron Giant, and more.

Trolls, I assumed, was not going to be a great kids' film. It just seemed like the huge amount of excess chum that gets developed and made. Another property to generate toy sales, etc. And it definitely is that, but it's more than that too. Trolls, in my opinion, is operating on multiple levels. Many kids' films do the kid humor thing and also have jokes in there that only adults will get. This is because adults make these films and they insert humor for themselves and the adults they know will be seeing the film with their children. That's why some of the better kids' films are awesome. They cleverly operate on this dual level and keep two age groups entertained simultaneously. Trolls does this masterfully, especially with music.

On the surface Trolls is a simple story about a group of bad giants called Bergens. The Bergens want to eat the happy colorful trolls, like pills, to be happy. One angry, melancholy troll, Branch, warns the extra happy troll queen, Poppy, that they are too complacent, and the Bergens will catch them if they are not careful. Fast forward and many get captured, so Poppy and Branch need to team up to attempt a rescue. Seems simple enough. They also find a miserable Bergen named Bridget. She's the nicest Bergen, but all the other Bergens crap on her constantly. She is secretly in love with another young Bergen, Prince Gristle. This is where the film trends into interesting territory...

A few trolls help Bridget and make her look prettier. With their elongating colorful troll hair, they make her a wig. While on her head they also coach her what to say to Prince Gristle to give her confidence. This is extremely reminiscent of Ratatouille and Inside Out, in which characters in or on someone's head help them in some way. In Ratatouille, Remy helps Linguini and they form a mutually beneficial relationship. In Inside Out, different emotions help a young girl, Riley, as she goes about her day-to-day activities. When a few emotions go missing, Riley exhibits erratic and depressing traits uncharacteristic of her. In Trolls, all the Bergens are eternally depressed and miserable. They feel something external that they eat (little happy colorful trolls) will make them happy. Eventually, the small group of happy trolls help Bridget to get confidence and not be gloomy. In the end they help all the Bergens to break free of endless sadness they only feel can be fixed by eating trolls, and they realize they can be happy from inside with no external help.

Along the way, Poppy gets sad and turns gray, and all the trolls turn gray along with her. Branch finds his inner happiness and helps Poppy to break her sudden melancholy during an awesome cover of the Cyndi Lauper song, "True Colors." In the end the Trolls and the Bergens are happy—all except Chef and one troll who betrayed the other trolls. These two bad apples/emotions get eaten at the end by some giant creature.

Overall I find the film to be about various forms of depression and possible solutions.

I enjoyed the film, the story, the sub-stories, the mostly retro music, and the characters. The next aspect I loved is the look and feel of the film, which I feel is an amazing end result of decades of fine art, pop culture, more art, more films, and more fine art. Below is a progression, the way I see it, from surrealism, to Dr. Seuss, Mark Ryden, and onward, each influencing the next either directly or indirectly.

Classic Surrealist fine art

Surreal Dr. Seuss Art

Pop surrealist art by Mark Ryden with obvious influences from Dr. Seuss and pop culture.

More contemporary pop surrealist art by various artists

Current Dr. Seuss CGI films which has been influence by Dr. Seuss, pop surrealism, and Mark Ryden

Stills from Trolls which has been influenced by all that came before. :)

I feel Trolls is an unintentional surrealist masterpiece that's the culmination of decades of art each influencing the next. As I watched the film, I could not help but wonder what the original surrealists would have thought of the film if they could have seen it. If you can watch the film and try to remove any modern frame of reference in understanding it's a kids' film, it becomes entirely absurdist and almost abstract. Watching the film and absorbing the simple story, the subplots, the music, the look and feel, the compositions, the hyper-real computer animation, I concluded the film is an artistic masterpiece. As popular culture and art continually eat themselves and produce more and more absurdist films like these—films that are not as self-conscious and self-aware as films geared for adults—I think greatness can unintentionally result, as it has here.

Check it out. I could be wrong, but I still believe it anyway.

Monday, January 2, 2017

FujiFilm instax, Leica Sofort, and Instant Cameras after the Death of Polaroid

Instant photography died, sort of, back in 2009 when Polaroid announced it would be ceasing production of its film. Back then I helped to organize a small Polaroid show as the brand passed away. Eventually the Impossible Project would resurrect Polaroid, sort of, and produce several new film stocks along with vintage cameras, and even a new one. Although the brand and existence of Polaroid is still around, it is not the same. Polaroid, back when Warhol used it, was not just cool because of its instantaneous, shitty, mushy quality (now imitated ad infinitum digitally), but because it was available everywhere. You could find it at drug stores, rest stops on the Jersey Turnpike, Target, Walmart, gas stations, etc. It was used by relatives who cared little for photography until they found themselves at a graduation or a birthday party, and would stop en route to grab a pack or two of Polaroid film. While the Impossible Project is awesome, it is prohibitively scarce, only available online, crazy expensive, and by becoming exclusively artsy, it loses the ubiquity that made Polaroid Polaroid.

Now all is not lost for the common folk wishing to jump onto the instant photography retro train without pissing away $27 for 8 exposures of 600 type film that used to cost $8 only 10 years ago. Like vinyl at Barnes and Noble, instant photography, too, is having its resurgence. Fuji, which has always made instant film alongside Polaroid, has a few small cameras available. Polaroid too, (I'm unclear about the commercial distinction between Polaroid and the Impossible Project) has a couple of cameras that shoot either the new zink paper prints or the more traditional prints that roll out with the familiar white frame. The Fuji instax film that's commonly available is smaller than even the traditional 600-style Polaroid film. The current image size is roughly 2 1/2" x 1 3/4". It's markedly smaller, but that's fine. The quality is good too, and the prints with the white frame are approximately 3 1/4" x 2 1/4". Nice and small for carrying around. And since digital, cell phones, and Instagram seem to have the market cornered with square format images, it's nice to get some horizontal images with instant cameras. Also, because the film is smaller than traditional 600 Polaroid film, the cameras available that take the FujuFilm instax mini film are smaller and flatter, too, than the old bulky Polaroids.

You can find a whole range of instant cameras on Amazon now, even classic Polaroids. But if you want to use common film—the stuff that is sitting on the shelves at Target or Best Buy—you will want a camera that takes Fuji Instax film. The zink cameras are common too, as is the film, but it's new technology, not retro. The Fuji cameras come in several different models. Some are retro-styled, some are more bubbly and kid-like.

The new crown jewel for the newly-emerging retro instant camera market is the Leica Sofort. It's $300 and more than twice the price of the Fuji cameras that take the exact same film, but the Leica Sofort is a thing of beauty. It feels like an old Instamatic and a Polaroid had a kid together. It comes in three colors and Leica will even be selling its own black-and-white and color film. Remember though, the very common Fuji instax film works perfectly well in the Leica Sofort. The Sofort has a simple LCD screen for its few easy-to-grasp settings. There is even a mirror on the front of the camera to help you take selfies, because that's what we all do now. I've also read that the Leica Sofort is a rejiggered, rebranded rework of the Fuji camera. That's fine. If you don't want to drop $300 no one will force you. Grab one of the Fuji instant cameras instead.

If you want to plunge into the instant photography world, now is the best time. You'll find easily-accessible film, several camera companies to choose from, and you'll also have the ability to introduce your kids to the vintage visual medium that Warhol, Basquiat, and Hockney elevated into an artform decades ago.

FujiFilm instax film shot on the new Leica Sofort

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Monster Runners • October 2017 • Adam Furgang

I'm happy to announce that my next novel, Monster Runners, is scheduled for release in October 2017.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

15 Minutes of New York Times Fame

Adam Furgang, 16, standing on a wooden sculpture next to his friend
Michael Reed, on the playground of the Electchester apartments
 in Queens in 1986. 
About a week ago a close friend saw online that The New York Times was requesting "readers' images that capture what it's like to grow up in the five boroughs." She knew I grew up in Queens, so she sent me the link.

Only a few weeks before this I had finally gotten around to picking up a negative scanner so that I could get many of my older film images digitally-scanned and online. When I saw the Times request, I had conveniently already scanned many of my old favorites. I submitted two shots to The New York Times. 

After my submission, I sort of forgot about it. Then, in under a week, I was contacted by Amy Zerba at the Times, asking for more information because the shot of my friend Mike and I had been chosen. It appeared online this past Friday. Scroll down on the Times web page link to see my picture. Today my photo was in print in The Metro Section. 

Not too shabby? Needless to say, Mike and I are thrilled that we made it in. We were 16 back then. God, time flies.  —AF

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The AI Art Robot Invasion Is Coming

Hide your pencils and paint brushes. The art robots will be here soon to replace you!

Robots have replaced factory workers. Robots are now roaming hospital halls.  Robots are writing articles. Robots are now bartenders, pharmacists, farmers, cashiers, and even an entire McDonald's in Phoenix is run by robots. And naturally, there is the coming robot army that will enslave us all.

But what about art? Will robots ever create art? 

Art I made "using" the iPhone app Prisma. The first shot
on the top left is from my photo. I did the face painting too. 
The rest in the series is all Prisma.
The short answer is, yes. And I'm not just saying this to make a fuss and kick dirt in anyone's face. I am an artist myself. I went to an art high school and an art college. The gut reaction behind anything we humans do with our brains and hands is to state, with confidence, that a robot will never be able to generate what we can. It feels right to say that we are entirely unique. We are special. We can't be imitated. 

The truth is a bit harder to swallow. First off, robots are humanity's creations. Like the HAL 9000 in Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey they are an extension of us. As we figure out the mechanics of the universe more and more, often using mathematical algorithms to do just about anything, the computers and the software that runs on them work better and better.

In simple terms, an algorithm is a self-contained set of step-by-step instructions to be performed for a specific task. The math, programming, and junk can get awfully complicated. Once quantum computers become common it will progress even faster than they already are. 

"Bonnie and Corinne" by robot cloudPainter
from George Washington University.
The bottom line is that art is not immune to the coming robot takeover. As an artist myself I never much liked the highbrow snooty air of superiority that revolves around the profession. Sure, artists are cool. We're quirky. We make oddball life choices and spend years honing our skills. We're just people though, and what we do is not terribly complicated when you examine it like any other task humans perform. We would like to think it's special. 

So as the computers get better doing what they do,  all of what humanity does will eventually be imitated by the robot machines we make. And eventually the imitations will become indistinguishable from work done by a human's hand. If you don't think it's coming, I'd like to point to the naysayers who said film would never be replaced by digital. Kodak is gone. Digital cameras started out as entirely lacking the warm chaos of film.
We are now at a point where you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between film an digital. And you can accomplish this now with off-the-shelf cameras sold at Target and Best Buy.

And you'll always have people trying to define what is and is not art. Those are my least favorite
Google's AI neural networks created these images
and is blowing minds as it goes. This is just the start too. 
AI robot art is in its infancy. Imagine where it'll be 
in 30 years time?
kinds of people—self-appointed gatekeepers who try to narrow the spectrum of what is and is not allowed in the world. All the while, technology and creative people chug along, churning out new and innovative creations. 

If you are an artist, you can rest easy for now. But changes in technology happen fast, so I'd suggest embracing the future rather than fighting it. One day soon you might have a robot artist apprentice who might be able to churn out art done by imitating your unique style.

Try and imagine drawing from a photo or a live image and using a special pen that communicates your style to a computer. Now that computer has learned your style, perhaps, and can imitate it with new photos. If silly old me can conceptualize this, you can be sure there are already great minds at work on this somewhere. 

Creativity will always be relevant. Don't worry about that. We're not about to become the Eloi yet. 

Computer or robot-generated art will likely become much more common as time goes on—the same way photography has become entirely common because of cell phones. Professional photographers are still around. For the moment. :)

But rather than it just being you who can take pictures, paint, or draw really well, there might also be a robot who can create art. Maybe rich artists will be the first to own them. Or maybe it will just start slowly and innocuously like with the Prisma app that filters photos into lo-grade art styles. Apps get updated. They get better. And soon they are churning out high-quality results. 

This soon-to-be-available art robot might be something you can pick up at Target, like the kitchen mopping robot pictured above. You can buy this mopping robot right now. A robot that mops your floor. 

Keep your skills honed and sharp. You might one day be teaching not just your kids how to draw, but your phone too. Still not convinced? Here are a few articles to set you straight.

Google’s Artificial Brain Is Pumping Out Trippy—And Pricey—Art

Humanoid Robots Are Getting Really Good at Making Art

15 incredible pieces of art created by robots

Robot Art Raises Questions about Human Creativity

7 awesome ways quantum computers will change the world

Below is some art I did from a selfie and a few apps. What is possible with a few clicks is mind boggling.
Progression using a selfie photo, the Prisma art app, Google's online 
Deep Dream Generator, some back and forth between the two.
More back and forth, Photoshop, and Lightroom.

Close up

Final Abstract art from selfie.