‘Super Smash Bros.’ for the Nintendo Switch: known information and predictions

Newest ‘Super Smash Bros.’ video game release 

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(Super Smash Bros. Official Facebook Page)

By John Buday, Collegian Staff
March 26, 2018

As an avid fan of video games since early childhood, there’s nothing quite like hearing the announcement of an upcoming title in one of your favorite franchises. That said, this month’s reveal of “Super Smash Bros.” for the Nintendo Switch shook me to my core, and I’m beyond excited for it. The best-selling fighter series stands as one of the most respected and iconic of its genre (UMass even has a club dedicated to it.) Each iteration since the original for the Nintendo 64 has sold millions of copies worldwide, and the upcoming version for the Switch promises no different. If anything, a household name like “Super Smash Bros.” is perfect for the Switch given the its outrageous success so early in its life span (over 4.8 million units have sold in the U.S. alone thus far.)

The Japanese gaming giant likely has another system seller on their hands, but just what features this newest entry will include currently remain a mystery. Other than it being slated for release later this year, with the Inklings from “Splatoon” joining the roster as playable characters, the Nintendo Direct showed no actual gameplay. Since then, creator of the SSB series and longtime game director, Masahiro Sakurai, has confirmed via Twitter that he worked on the project in some capacity, but the extent is unknown.

It appears we won’t know anything for certain until the Los Angeles’ E3 event in June, where Nintendo confirmed the game will be featured in an exhibition tournament. Until then, the only option left for fans is to speculate. I think if anything, it’s safe to say this will be a new game for the most part (with some borrowed elements from the previous entry). Nintendo would have said otherwise were it just a deluxe edition a la “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” (a Switch port from the Wii U version with added content). Plus, the logo revealed during the Direct is unlike any seen in the series so far.

The lack of detail only has me itching to find out more. However, in the meantime, the only option left for fans is to speculate, which is exactly what I’m going to do. Continue on to see a few of my own predictions for what the latest entry of the classic franchise will bring to the table:

  1. New Characters — Again, only the Inklings are currently confirmed as new members of the roster, but I’m certain others will be revealed soon. One of the most realistic picks I can see is a boxer from the game “Arms,” which came out on the Switch last year. It’s also safe to expect a new representative from the “Donkey Kong Country” series: probably either Dixie Kong or Funky Kong. Another character I think has a chance is King Boo: Luigi’s main foe from the “Luigi’s Mansion” game. Hearing him announced as a playable character would certainly fit with the upcoming 3DS port for the original “Luigi’s Mansion.”
  2. A Returning Favorite — Nana and Popo, better known together as The Ice Climbers, were veteran SSB fighters beloved by many. They made appearances in both Melee and Brawl and were scheduled to be in the SSB4 games, but unfortunately had to be cut due to technical errors with the 3DS’s hardware. Given the Switch’s superior specs and processing power, count on them making their long awaited return to the upcoming game.
  3. The Return of the Stage Creator Mode — This was one of my favorite modes in SSB games. I poured hours upon hours into making stages in Brawl, placing blocks, spikes, platforms and props wherever my heart desired at the time. Those stages ended up being a blast to play on, so I’m hoping for some similarities with the SSB5 suite. SSB4 went in a bit of a different direction: retiring the block-based system in favor of a drawing tool for different textures. I appreciated the concept, but think a good compromise would be a combination of both mechanics: keeping blocks and props along with a drawing tool (though, perhaps it should be a rule that you can only place blocks and structures on flat surfaces, as opposed to rounded or jagged ones that could cause the map or characters to glitch out).
  4. New Stages from Newer Games — It’s all but assured newer games like “Splatoon” will get representation, especially since the Inklings are playable characters. Count on them getting at least one stage from the original “Splatoon,” if not a secondary stage from “Splatoon 2” as well. Personally, I’m most excited for stages based on “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey.” Given BotW’s diverse over world (featuring a giant volcano, snow covered mountains, a lush tropical forest and so on), I think a roaming stage would be a wonderful idea — one that rotates the terrain every few minutes (similar to stages like Delfino Plaza from Brawl). Mario Odyssey would also benefit from a similar treatment, though I could also see individual stages based on isolated areas of the game — perhaps a fight atop the buildings in New Donk City.
  5. Downloadable Content — Upcoming games like “Metroid Prime 4” and “Bayonetta 3” will likely continue the momentum of the already successful Switch. Since “Super Smash Bros.” is coming out first though, this is the perfect opportunity to make use of the hype surrounding such titles by releasing related DLC. A couple stages, trophies and assist trophies for these incoming titles would fulfill that role. Depending on the game, we might even have some new fighters join the fray as well — perhaps the long-awaited Shovel Knight, from the famous platformer series of the same name, will join the fight (a new game is set to release later this year).

John Buday can be reached at jbuday@umass.edu.

After Du Bois 150th anniversary VR trial, what’s next?

First come, first serve 3D printing services offered at the Digital Media Lab.

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Jon Asgeirsson

By John Buday, Collegian Staff
March 6, 2018

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library celebrated the 150th anniversary of its namesake on Wednesday, February 28 in part through inviting students on a Virtual Reality Interpretive Trail of the Du Bois Historic Site in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Hosted by the University of Massachusetts Digital Media Lab, I had the great fortune of experiencing the simulation for myself, walking through a green landscape dotted with interactive captions and pictures detailing the legacy of W.E.B Du Bois. DML Desk Supervisor Yuntian Hu, the creator of the project, presided over the event, helping first time users get acclimated to the controls while they explored the life of the famous writer, civil rights activist and NAACP co-founder.

The immersive walkthrough utilized HTC Vive technology and was my very first interaction with VR. I will not soon forget it, but for students also interested in new, developing technologies like Virtual Reality, UMass’ DML has more planned for the future to build excitement.

DML Coordinator Steve Acquah, who runs the floor of the facility, mentioned several upcoming developments, including augmented reality.

“Augmented reality–we’re beginning to make a start on that one, and we hope to have an installation in place soon,” Acquah said. “But at the moment, it’s just easier to launch with the Virtual Reality.”

As a demo, Acquah had placed pictures at multiple points around the floor of the DML that could be scanned with a smartphone. These revealed YouTube videos, images from stamp collections and other pieces cataloguing Du Bois’ history.

While waiting for an official AR installation, fans of VR will also have a chance to enter a competition put together by Acquah for a free HTC Vive. The idea comes just several weeks before the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” movie, based on the book.

“What we’re going to do is, our students, if you have the ability to use VR, what would you improve for what student engagement or student facilities on campus? Is there a way that you can make the student experience a whole lot better with VR?” Acquah said.

The lucky student who wins the competition will be the one that comes up with the best ideas for extending VR possibilities at UMass.

“We’ll take those ideas that the students come up with and we’ll see if we can develop something,” Acquah said, describing the next step of the process. “[We] can either [form a] partnership with the students, and maybe get them engaged in a way that they can design something that can be commercialized and really give students that whole [Internet Protocol] experience. We really want to try and support our students and faculty on campus.”

In the meantime, the future of the UMass Digital Media Lab looks bright. In addition to the Virtual Reality experiences currently offered there—including VR video games available by reservation—the DML features first come, first serve 3D printing services ($0.15 a gram to print your creations), four sound rooms for audio recording and more.

John Buday can be reached at jbuday@umass.edu.

The ‘Black Mirror’ episode ‘USS Callister’ is a journey of space and mind

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(Black Mirror/ Facebook)

By John Buday, Collegian Correspondent
February 1, 2018

What does a person become when you give them the power to take out their frustrations by any means they wish, without consequence? Robert Daly answers that question in an emphatic fashion in a highly intriguing episode of “Black Mirror.”

As CTO of a hyper-realistic VR gaming company, Daly goes to work every day greeted with lukewarm reception from his peers. Save for Walton, the CEO of their company who gives him hell about not updating the software of the game by a set deadline, Daly’s other coworkers pay him little attention. For the first 10 minutes or so of the episode, it’s easy to feel sorry for the soft-spoken, seemingly timid guy.

However, this is by design, for beneath the scrutiny of his coworkers is a man who is anything but shy about inflicting punishment on those whom he feels have wronged him. Outside of the office, Daly transforms from a shy and awkward mortal into the unmerciful god of his own galactic playground, where virtual copies of his coworkers are forced to play along with his fantasies or else risk endless varieties of torture (including but not limited to: taking away your face, transforming you into a crustaceous spider monster and making you watch your son freeze to death in outer space).

It’s an evil fate, but also an absurd one. As the undisputed leader of the USS Callister, Daly leads his crew to roleplay with him in a Star Trek-inspired world straight out of his own childhood. They repeat through the same contrived, hokey adventures over and over again with the same end result: Captain Daly defeating the evil Valdack and standing tall as the heroic, fearless captain of his fleet.

Then, after victory, they celebrate his unquestionable genius with cheers and praises while he kisses each female member of the crew in turn. Daly’s level of commitment to that narrative supersedes the most contrived, cringe-worthy of nerd soap operas (not that you can’t enjoy those, but this one’s really bad). In that respect, it forms an additional psychological punishment for the rest of the crew when neither member is being outright singled out.

Who would have thought that the weird, socially awkward Robert Daly could have so such an appetite for human suffering? We know from his position in the company that he is an elite level programmer—as newcomer Nanette Cole describes it, his coding is, “sublime.”

However, no one but Daly himself knows of the dark secret he keeps in his computer (no one in the real world, at least), not even Walton, the most blatantly disrespectful of them all. It made for a compelling character turn despite being so early in the plot, though with a smaller window for character development to set up that turn. More important than that, it was executed in such a way that I did not see it coming, which got me onto another thread of thinking upon finishing the episode.

What if every person in the world had access to their own virtual reality server where they could punish their colleagues at will without fear of reprisal? More people, perhaps even our own friends and associates, would at least be prone to straying down Daly’s path towards villainy.

There’s no sure-fire way to read a person’s mind or intentions, Daly being the prime example since he went unsuspected of his dark and vengeful intentions. Those people would also have an easy justification for their actions: Those they hurt (virtual clones) aren’t technically real, so there’d be no harm done. It’s a scary premise to think about, but one that the “USS Callister” episode poses masterfully through the interactions between Daly and his crew/coworkers.

As a person who is still in the midst of getting into “Black Mirror,” I anticipate exploring more questions like these that stretch the imagination and make you reconsider ideas of morality, human behavior and so on. If you’re a newcomer to the “Black Mirror” series, I think this is a great episode to start with. Unlike other chronological series, you can watch episodes in any order since neither one connects to the other.

The series reminds me in various ways of “The Twilight Zone,” where nothing is as it seems. As with that series, “Black Mirror” blurs the lines between the known and unknown, creating a gray area where even basic fundamentals are questionable. “USS Callister” represents these trends, which hopefully will continue as an integral part of the series’ appeal.

John Buday can be reached at jbuday@umass.edu.

Tips to help manage stress during finals

By John Buday
December 11, 2017

(Flickr/ Steven S.)

Along with relationships, taxes and climate change, testing for many people qualifies as a stress-inducing topic. Very few enjoy taking tests, let alone studying for them, and yet here we are at the end of the semester with finals at the doorstep. Now if you’re anything like me, there’s at least one or two finals you would rather not deal with, which likely makes the obligation to study for them that much more tiresome. That’s where my list comes in: to avoid stressing too much over exams, I’ve compiled a number of tips and tricks for healthy studying that may help ease the pain.

Plan time to study ahead of time

Time is a valuable commodity, but you want to make sure you have open windows of it devoted to your studies. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the best way to have your schedule on lock is to plan it out beforehand, preferably a day or so prior. If possible, set aside the time of day you are most alert and hold yourself to that timeslot. Any delay in your start, and you’re only more likely to put it off, keep putting it off, and keep putting if off some more.

Prioritize your subjects

Again, if you have multiple finals to study for, you probably have some you’re more worried about tackling than others. So, think of the subjects giving you the most jitters right now, and start from there. You’re much better off getting the hard work out of the way first while you’re still fresh, saving the subjects that require lesser brain power for later. Knowing that the worst of your study time is over can also add a substantial confidence boost as you continue on to easier subjects. 

Take periodic breaks

For me, a four or five hour nonstop study session only withers my brain to exhaustion; the likelihood of my concentration dipping only increases the longer I push myself. Recently, I have tried to counter this by taking short periods of reprieve every hour or so, and thus far have found that it only helps ideas and concepts stick around in my mind for longer. I think in general, people would be better off studying in short bursts rather than long ones. When you give yourself time to breathe and let the ideas you’re studying incubate, they’re often easier to recall because you’re not putting prolonged stress on your brain.

Do some exercise before you study

A sound mind and healthy body go hand in hand, so if you’re worried about a potential lack of alertness at the time of your studying, work on one to help wake up the other. I’ve found that taking a short walk or performing some stretches before I begin clears up my mind when it’s overly groggy. Exercise helps increase blood flow throughout the body, including the brain, where the added oxygen enables it to function better after clearing out any excess clutter.

 Listen to some inspirational music

Nervousness is not so far away from excitement and inspiration as one may think, and I would say finding the right song is an underrated method for bridging that gap. Generally speaking, the more a song deals with such concepts as overcoming the greatest of odds or pushing forward when things get tough, the better it helps me channel my nervous energy into something better: sheer confidence and determination. Think iconic: “Eye Of The Tiger,” the training montage song from “Rocky”—some song that makes you feel unstoppable, untouchable, and unbeatable.

Whatever that song may be for you, I would highly recommend listening to it as a means to psych yourself up before jumping into your studies.

Eat a Hearty Breakfast

People claim breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason: being the first meal of the day, it factors into one’s energy levels right from the get-go, playing a large role in how that energy will pan out over the remainder of the day. To maximize the potential for one’s energy before studying for finals, having a breakfast that emphasizes both protein and carbs will maximize the use of lasting energy for your brain. Make sure to include some fresh fruit as well to help you feel good and provide the proper nutrients you need to ace your class. I’ve personally found this to be the best recipe for success, no pun intended.

Set a reward for yourself when you finish

College life isn’t all about the work. The essays you write, the projects you complete, or in this case, the finals you study for—all of it makes up an important fraction of the overall experience, but not the whole picture. Hard and honest work holds great value toward your academics, but so do reasonable and fulfilling rewards for those efforts. In this regard, if there’s something you really want to do right after studying for final exams, save yourself time to do it at the end of your sessions. Set aside that time to treat yourself after a hard day’s studying, and you will find that your ideal reward tastes even sweeter than it would without putting in honest effort.

John Buday can be reached at jbuday@umass.edu.

Pet projects: a look at the ‘Paint Your Pet’ fundraiser in Springfield

By John Buday
November 14, 2017

(John Buday/ Daily Collegian)

Owners of cats, dogs and pets in general gathered at the Dakin Humane Society in Springfield, Massachusetts last Friday for the Paint Your Pet fundraiser where, for $50, animal lovers could create artistic renditions of their furry pals.

Thanks to cohost the Art Cart, an organization dedicated to spreading smiles to people with Parkinson’s and other patient groups, and a population with an appreciation for pets and the work of the Dakin nonprofit, participants stroked away at their canvases while sharing pet-related stories.

“Everyone’s working on something that’s meaningful to them. It’s more personable,” Chief Smiling Officer of The Art Cart Saba Shahid said, explaining why people sign up for their workshops.

“I think people also come out to support Dakin. It’s for a good cause,” said Shahid.

Most of the $50 event cost covered participants’ art supplies, wine and pizza, while $10 went toward Dakin itself. The organization uses its funds to provide shelter, medical care and other services to more than 20,000 animals a year.

Several of the dozen and a half painters shared that they knew prior to the event about some of Dakin’s duties as an animal welfare provider. One of these painters, Alana Cullington, describes wanting to attend a Paint Your Pet fundraiser for a while now.

“They do a lot for this area — not only this area, other areas,” Cullington explained before giving an example: “I know they’ve taken in some animals from the hurricane.”

Others such as painter Kim Mongeau also volunteered directly for the organization in the past. She has performed trap-neuter-returns on feral cats, which then usually get sent to Dakin. Mongeau also shared other roles tying her to the nonprofit.

“Sometimes I volunteer at Dakin to take photos of tough-to-adopt animals, and then I put [them] on greeting cards or I do prints of [them],” Mongeau said.

In addition to wanting to give back to Dakin, most pet owners at the fundraiser recounted the plans for their paintings, which often intertwined with the stories of their pets. Some of them, including Laura Kelley, already have a spot in mind to hang their paintings.

“I have a wall — a shrine — of pets past and people past and family trips. It’s just the family wall, so she’ll go up there,” Kelley said as she painted her Bernese mountain dog, Bella.

Meanwhile, Lori Cebula came up with the idea to surprise her husband on Christmas with a secret gift. Their dog, a black Labrador retriever named Chantz, passed away last July at the age of 14. Her husband works as an insurance agent, and would often take Chantz to work with him when he was still alive. During that time, Chantz also apparently became fairly popular among coworkers at the company.

“When we lost him, it was like losing a child because he was so close to everybody…we still talk about him a lot,” Cebula reflected on the death of her dog.

John Buday/ Daily Collegian)

Despite possessing different stories and circumstances surrounding their pets, a uniform trend among those attending the fundraiser emerged: Their pets represented a part of their inner beings. Like with Cebula, who compared her dog to a child, most others attending the event also acknowledged, in some fashion, that they considered their pets part of their family.

For most, their visit to Dakin was not about creating art so much as it was about honoring their four-legged family members.

Dakin Marketing and Communication Manager Lee Chambers, who oversaw and participated in the event, described it as “a very exciting and unusual way to take the idea of those ‘paint and sip nights,’ but make it entirely an individual experience for people and feature a pet that they adore.”

The paintings themselves came second, whereas the stories those paintings told came first.

John Buday can be reached at jbuday@umass.edu.