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Five Lies the Internet Tells about the Wii U

ten things wii u shot 1

Everywhere you turn these days, there’s a news article or a comment about how the Wii U is a “disaster”, a “flop” or a “failure”. There are constant reminders everywhere from the teenager blog sites to the Wall Street Journal that Nintendo’s beleaguered console isn’t selling as well as Iwata-san and company had hoped. There’s no doubt that Nintendo’s overly optimstic sales projections were a tragic misjudgment of the market- a market which I don’t think the Wii really belongs to. The Wii U isn’t really a competitor to the Xbox One or PS4. It’s a Nintendo console made to play Nintendo games. The handful of AAA ports are almost incidental. Sure, the marketing for the console has ranged from terrible to confusing to non-existent- but that’s no reason for such a great gaming machine to fail. Or for self-styled “game journos” and actual journalists to lie about it.

With Nintendo slashing its sales projections- which were way too high to begin with- the Wii U seems to be primed to get steamrollered by ultra-high powered consoles produced by divisions of two of the biggest corporations on the planet, ironically with all of these promises of “next generation” gameplay as yet unrealized. Yet I will be the first to tell you that it is the best current offering out of the next generation consoles. The PS4 that I picked up on launch day has seen maybe about two hours of total play time between Resogun, FIFA 14, and Don’t Starve. I play something on the Wii U daily. I love the Wii U, and lots of game players I’ve talked to and gamed with love it as well.

So what the hell is going on? Is the dogpiling the result of the hardcore internet forumistas punishing the Wii U for being something other than a new machine on which to play the latest AAA military shooter? Is there resentment being expressed here that Nintendo had such a great success selling the original Wii to senior citizens and the maligned “casual” market? Or is there just a complete misunderstanding about Nintendo and the Wii U, a failure by the mainstream and gaming press to acknowledge that the console isn’t quite trying to run the same race as the next-gen thoroughbreds?

I’m hardly “gaming press” (please don’t count me in with that loathsome bunch), but I want to be at least one voice that deflates some of the lies circulating about this fantastic console. If I get just one person to go out and give this machine a chance instead of beliving the bullshit, I’ll consider this article a success.

Lie #1- “The Wii U is underpowered.”

If this were the case, then Wii U users would be encountering massive slowdown and other technical issues while playing Super Mario 3D World. There would be Digital Foundry reports demonstrating how Pikmin 3 runs poorly on the Wii U compared to the other consoles. Oh wait, you can’t play Pikmin 3 on the other consoles. It turns out that the Wii U is perfectly powered to play Wii U games. Both of the mentioned games look incredible- far better than anything I have yet to see on the Xbox One or PS4. And it’s not just a hardware thing- it’s a production design thing. Those games are made to look great on the Wii U, and nowhere else.

Sure- the Xbox One or PS4 might run Assassin’s Creed 4 with better arm hair rendering or whatever, but who cares. It’s the old adage that you buy a Nintendo console to play Nintendo games, and the whole “underpowered” argument falls apart when you acknowledge that the AAA garbage that’s available for the Wii U is almost a perfunctory glance toward the marketplace dominated by Sony and Microsoft. Sure, the Wii U may not be able to run GTAV or whatever game some snarky AAA developer says will never run on the platform- but who cares? You want to play those games, buy a console powered to play them. You want to play Nintendo games (and some great third party exclusives)? Buy a Wii U.

I promise you will not be lamenting the console’s lack of “power” when you’re playing The Wonderful 101.

Lie #2- “There are no good games for the Wii U.”

Bullshit. The best games I played in 2013 were all Wii U titles. Sure, it didn’t have corny Z-grade trash like Bioshock Infinite or the Last of Us practically breaking their backs to strain for artistic credibility. But it did have some truly outstanding VIDEO GAMES with very traditional VIDEO GAME values released throughout its first full year of availability. What’s more, almost every one of the Wii U’s top games are not available on another console and you will never get them on a Steam sale. You can’t play the amazing HD re-release of Wind Waker anywhere else. Lego City Undercover- the best Lego game to date- utilizes the gamepad in such a way that even if there were a port for other consoles, you’d be missing out on some of its most fun features. And of course, the top shelf Nintendo titles are only playable on Nintendo hardware. As it should be.

So what if every single big-budget EA or Activision game doesn’t come out on the Wii U? I don’t really care. I’ll take one Super Mario 3D World, a game I’ll be playing for years to come, over the latest Splinter Cell or whatever. I’d rather play through Wind Waker another time than a new Mass Effect game, and if I want that I have a PS4- just in case. A console with ten great, timeless, perennial games is much more valuable than one that has tons of annualized AAA shovelware piled on to it.

Folks berate Nintendo all the time for reissues and new titles that stick closely to winning formulas- but they’re missing the point that many of Nintendo’s design concepts are timeless and evergreen. Rather unlike last year’s Assassin’s Creed game, which will be duly forgotten before the next one comes in November. Even if you don’t buy any new games for the Wii U, there’s still a wealth of great Wii titles that you can play on it (backward compatibility and all) as well as plenty of Virtual Console titles. It’s amazing how dated multimillion dollar shooters from 2010 feel when you can play SNES games designed for a fraction of those budgets that still fresh and vital today. The best Nintendo titles have always carried forward this sense of timeless design, innovation and uniqueness.

Bayonetta 2, the new Donkey Kong Country Returns, Smash Bros., Mario Kart 9, the next game from the Xenoblade Chronicles team, that crazy Hyrule Dynasty Warriors thing- lots to look forward to, and all games not available elsewhere except on the Wii U.

Lie #3- The Gamepad is a gimmick.

I’ll admit, I thought so too. I also thought that it was going to be a problem because it, like motion control, was a non-standard control device and that means both special programming and the potential for poor implementation. I doubted its value beyond impressing consumers (which really hasn’t panned out). I wasn’t exactly looking forward to games with perfunctory touch screen controls or silly gameplay tricks to get you to look at it.

But it turns out that the Gamepad is awesome. It’s a great controller, for one- probably the best Nintendo has made to date. But it’s also a terrific second screen device that offers some really fun and interesting gameplay elements. Games that really put it to use like Zombi U, Lego City Undercover, and the very underrated Nintendoland pack-in (my four year old’s favorite game) show its potential for innovation. Other games like Wind Waker HD use it primarily as device to simplify interfaces and add conveniences previously unavailable with strictly on-TV play.

But you can also play many games on the Gamepad without the TV, which is absolutely awesome. I’ve played a large part of Super Mario 3D World on the small screen. It’s an in-house handheld, and it works flawlessly. I don’t call that a “gimmick”, I call that a major function and selling point for the console. You don’t even have to buy an additional $200 handheld to get this feature, as you do with the PS4.

Lie #4- “The Wii U’s online features are behind the times.”

We’ve all read the recent reports from the anonymous developer that claimed that Nintendo’s engineers didn’t really have an understanding of Xbox Live or PSN. That may be the case. But I’m having no trouble at all using the Wii U’s clean interface to look at new content, watch Netflix or connect with friends. And unlike the other consoles, I am more than happy to let complete strangers post things into my games or on my home screen because I have yet to see any kind of negativity, hatefulness, childishness, sexism, racism, homophobia or other toxic behavior. I see posts every day “This game is FUN!” or funny, completely non-offensive pictures drawn by players. The atmosphere is totally different.

Nintendo is not setting out to do the same things that Sony and Microsoft are, I’m not sure why the bashers seem to think that they are. Nintendo has always tried to do something different with their online services, from their much-maligned “friend codes” to the way their virtual shop is set up. I can’t for the life of me figure out what is so bad or wrong about Nintendo’s online features. They work great. They’re simple. They don’t bother me at all.

I’m not having any trouble finding online matches of any games, I’ve not had any kind of connection issues, and more or less the online experience has been completely seamless and far more PLEASANT than anything I’ve ever encountered in six years of being online with the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Do these people mean that Nintendo’s online offering is behind the times because there aren’t advertisements and silly video replay features? Because you can keep those. Thanks. I’ll stay in the dark ages.

Lie #5- “The Wii U is a failure.”

Is the Wii U a financial failure? Yes, it appears that it is because of the aforementioned overly optimistic sales projections and Nintendo’s leadership apparently failing to see how Nintendo needs to move very much in its own spheres of influence and stay away from Sony and Microsoft. I think Nintendo would do well to ignore those companies altogether and to just do their own thing- which is what they’ve done well since the NES days. But is it really a failure in a larger sense, beyond not connecting with the consumer?

I don’t think it is at all.

Nintendo designed a top notch VIDEO GAME CONSOLE focused squarely on providing users with a fun experience. It is not intended to replace the cable box. It does not purport to interject itself into your social life with Twitter and Facebook integration or whatever. It does not want to help you make Skype calls or give you access to exclusive ESPN content. It wants you to put in a disc and PLAY A GAME. It’s a toy, and it doesn’t suggest that it is anything other than that. It will not attempt to take over your living room- unless you are counting having a group of friends over to play a great on-the-couch multiplayer title like the new Mario.

It runs the latest Nintendo software as well as excellent third party titles. It also happens to run ports of some of the big AAA blockbuster games if you care to partake in those. But its focus is on classic video game qualities like charm and challenge, not on providing sub-Hollywood “experiences” full of glossy murder and big-balls machismo.

It offers some innovative new ways to play games with the Gamepad and it provides users with access to a broad range of games from throughout Nintendo’s history, connecting the new with the timeless.

For all of these design goals- if not the financial ones- the Wii U is a smash success. So quit lying about it, Internet.

What “Next Generation” Means to Me


We’re a couple of days away from this year’s E3, when the Captains of the Video Game Industry will issue forth with the usual ridiculous spectacle as the suits take the stage to tell us what we can expect in the coming year. Of course, the 2013 edition of E3 is different than the last eight because we’re going to be told more completely (?) what the “next generation” of console gaming is going to look like. Speaking as someone who has literally played video games for my entire life, for over 30 years- I could not give two flying, flipping f#$ks and a deep-bowel s&%t about what Don Mattrick or any of the other used car salesmen they’ll trot out on stage have to say.

Here’s why. I can already see based on the limited, willfully evasive and incomplete information from Sony and Microsoft what “next generation” is going to mean, and it alternately alienates and disgusts me. Sony has put a “games and gamers” first message out there, but already it appears that social connectivity and more-of-the-same are what they’re bringing to the table. Microsoft has apparently seen the writing on the wall that video games are no longer profitable and are instead casting their lot to claim some of the big advertising dollars that things like NFL content and cable TV partnerships will bring. Oh, and they’re also offering more-of-the-same- more Call of Duty, more Forza, more braindead and heartless AAA action-blockbusters like whatever that Irwin Allen by way of Michael Bay disaster game was supposed to be.

Beyond what appears to be a very slight uptick in graphics quality and all of this pie-in-the-sky talk about cloud computing rendering better lighting or whatever (more evidence that money is being spent in the wrong directions), it appears that the “next generation” is more about restricting how we play video games than it is about opening up new ways or new concepts to do so. With Microsoft’s reveal in particular, it seems that there is a “no” attached to almost everything. No backwards compatibility, no used games without undisclosed parameters, no ability to play completely offline, no old headsets or peripherals, no using the console without the always on and always vigilant Kinect waiting to reward you for bringing a Mountain Dew can or a Pizza Hut pizza into the room.

Everything new that you CAN do has nothing to do with games. There is all of this silly integration- with your phone, your TV, your ISP, your toaster oven. It’s almost like the Xbox One is a device designed to alleviate white whine and first-world problems- “I don’t want to have to use a remote control”, “I don’t want more than one cable coming out of my TV”. “I want a game console that also lets me have Skype calls so I don’t have to get my $500 iPhone out of my pocket”. I miss the days of buying a Nintendo Gamecube or a Sega Genesis and it did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than play games. It, and other consoles from previous generations, were purpose-built unitaskers that were not searching desperately for alternative revenue sources. Because they had a self-limited, contained, and realistic sense of SCOPE. They weren’t trying to “take over the living room”. Fuck you if you want to “take over my living room”. Just sell me a god damned video game machine, alright?

But the next generation isn’t about bettering video games or the video games medium. It’s about money. Since the last round of console releases, games suddenly became gigantic business- but they’ve also topped out, plateaued, and are in a precipice state where the entire industry could collapse under the weight of exaggerated expectations and unrealistic promises. That means that the coming generation is very much going to be more about finding new revenue sources to keep these juggernaut AAA franchises and astronomical console development budgets afloat- and to keep suits in jobs while appeasing the stakeholders and shareholders. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that we’ll see anything as quantum as Mario 64 or the first round of Playstation games that brought fully 3D polygon rendering to consoles. It’s going to be more of the same, but better monetized and offered to you as a service so that you can keep paying for it over time.

The groundwork for this is already laid. You put a brick down when you bought the horse armor or gave money to Valve for hats. You mortared it when you bought games on Steam that you will never actually own and can never resell, that gave the corporations reasonable understanding of your complicity to take away your right to sell that copy of Assassin’s Creed 4. When you bought map packs, skin packs, and preordered bonus DLC garbage- you told them this was all OK with you. And in the next generation, it’s going to get a whole lot worse as these hucksters scramble to make money in a business where single-purchase $60 games are not sustainable but development budgets continue to rise- all to meet some bullshit expectation that games should be more like movies.

I don’t want any of it. I don’t want umpteen refinements to the Xbox controller so that I can better control Call of Duty dog or adjust the wind blowing in Captain Price’s armhairs. Nor do I want a button to “share” videos. And for fuck’s sake, I don’t want to talk to the game console or wave ANYTHING in front of it. Any all TV functions can rot in hell, I don’t really watch TV. You’ve heard all of this before from countless others if you’ve read any video game forum or Web site in the past couple of weeks. It’s not a chorus, it’s the roar of a crowd that may actually be willing to stand up and say “no” to these sleazy hucksters that will grin and tell you that they’re selling you a “service” that they’ve created out of things that used to be free.

All is not without hope. The indie movement is in full flower, and Sony at least has made overtures to that world. I can’t stand Jonathan Blow, but that was quite a significant message that was sent by having him at the PS4 reveal. Nintendo has rolled out the welcome mat to indie developers, and aside from that they actually have wound up in an advantageous position to their competitors. They’re the only one of the big three that have come forward with a device that is clearly a video game TOY first and foremost and it offers some innovative and possibly groundbreaking features- if the damn thing would sell enough to make a case for itself to developers that could make the most out of it.

I think I’m in the same position as a lot of you reading this- I suddenly feel outside of video games, that I’m not the audience that these companies are courting anymore. But the irony is that I’m more interested in video games as a medium than ever before. Last night I took a look at The Swapper and Gunpoint, and both games seem tremendously promising, compelling, and fresh. Not to mention time spent with Monaco and Reus. None of these are AAA blockbusters, none of these are games that are designed to appeal to the broadest number of players. None of these depend on sales of nonsensical add-ons to be successful. These games feel rebellious and marginal, and I think that’s where I am with this next generation of video game consoles.

So I think that’s what I feel like “next generation” is going to be for me- a period of rebellion and gaming outside the bounds proscribed by the corporations that control this business and seek to change your behavior, your mentality, and your way of gaming to suit their financial needs. I may wind up buying a PS4, if the smaller, more independently-minded software is there as promised. No way in hell am I buying an Xbox One, I want neither a nattering nanny telling me “no” constantly nor a glorified cable box that’s trying to dominate my living room. I’m keeping the Wii U I bought on launch day even though it’s languishing- I believe there is real promise there, and we all know that Nintendo will release some top quality first party video games since that’s their priority over NFL programming and Skype. When we see what happens at E3, I have a feeling that more of you are going to have your battle lines drawn for this imminent next generation.


Rayman Legends Demo Impressions

Last night, I had my first “wow” experience with Nintendo’s new Wii U console. It wasn’t with any of the late-to-the-party ports or even a first-party offering. It was with the demo for Ubisoft’s upcoming Rayman Legends, now available for download. It’s just three levels, but it’s one of the most exciting, refreshing, and innovative gaming experiences I’ve had all year. It’s heartfelt, beautiful, and genuinely whimsical in a way that no cheapjack indie clone coasting along on fake 8-bit chic or even Nintendo’s own nostalgic Super Mario Bros. Wii U is. It’s joyful, full of love for video gaming and without a trace of the kinds of commercial cynicism or insulting lowest-common-denominator condescension that have become endemic in the industry.

It’s a 2D platformer with 3D elements, much like last year’s terrific Rayman Origins. Ancel’s trademark comics style is rendered in an all-new engine, and it looks amazing in 60FPS, native 1080P. Maybe it’s just the shock of the new talking, but I think it looks better than just about anything on either the 360 or PS3. Gameplay is classic platforming, at its root not really all that far removed from the original Rayman- or the original Super Mario Bros. for that matter.

But the key here is that Rayman Legends feels like a very now, very current game. This is the platformer of today. It’s not an aw-shucks genuflection to the good old days. This is a game designed with innovation in mind, drawing on recent game design elements to create a new- and original experience that really, really should have been a Wii U launch title. I haven’t seen anything yet that makes a better case for the console.

Rather than trotting out Mario in another animal costume, Rayman Legends gives platformer fans something new by bringing in brilliant use of recent concepts such as touchscreen gameplay and motion control. There are elements of auto-runners like Canabalt. There are hints of IOS games like Cut the Rope. And in one astonishing segment, “Castle Rock”, the rolling lane of a game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero is subversively hidden in the rhythm-based level design. The result is a glorious symphony of sound, vision, and movement. I don’t think I’ve played any video game this year or even in the past few years that felt so vibrant, alive, and crackling with celebratory energy.

I’m excited about this game because it feels like something new yet it remains a firm example of a classic but somewhat old fashioned video game genre. Most refreshingly, there isn’t a lick of tiresome irony, bullshit hipster intellectualism, or even postmodern revisionism. I’m not going to describe anything that goes on in it, or any of the many happy surprises that happen in just the three levels of this demo. You need to discover those for yourself. From what I understand, the demo is on the in-store display kiosks and I can’t recommend enough that you go check it out if you don’t have a Wii U.

A Very Grinchy Wii U Impression Post

I was in the shower yesterday, just a couple of hours before heading out to the Gamestop to pick up my Wii U preorder, when I thought to myself “why the hell am I buying that stupid thing?” Thus began a tumultuous, flippity-floppity bout of a priori buyer’s remorse as I reminded myself of how I really didn’t want to play yet another Mario game (but in HD!) or a host of ports with pseudo-tablet support bolted on. ZombiU, my other pick out of the launch lineup, was getting a critical drubbing- most notably from IGN, who just a couple of weeks ago posted a radioactively glowing preview calling the game the Wii U’s “killer app”. I guess the IGN editors’ idea of a “killer app” is one that rates a 6.3 or “Okay”. What’s more, I found myself thinking that if I were going to buy it, I wanted the deluxe set after all. Not the 8 gig poor man’s version that I opted for to save $50. Damn Borderlands 2 for coming out the day I went to preorder.

At any rate, I wound up dropping my wife off to get a mani/pedi (on my dime, of course) and hauling my two kids over to the shop. I picked up the console and Mario, cancelling the ZombiU preorder in favor of waiting for Gamefly. After hearing multiple reports of folks walking into stores and buying them right off the shelf, the Gamestop clerk’s ranting and raving about how there would be absolutely none of these available at retail by the end of the day seemed awfully hyperbolic.

Once the family were all in bed, I found myself in the living room with the Wii U in its box just sitting there. At once, there was that “OMG new game console” feeling that’s very rare. Especially when we’re talking about a console that is sort of the advance warning of the next generation of hardware. But I also found myself checking Ebay to see what the aftermarket prices were looking like. I’m not proud. I’d double my money on it in a heartbeat if it meant buying the kids a bigger Christmas gift and one of the coveted deluxe Wii U sets.

I wound up reading a couple of comic books (Morrison’s superlative Batman and Robin, in case you’re wondering) instead of just tearing into the box and plugging in all of the rubber and cooper spaghetti into my stupid TV that only has two HDMI jacks. I had a flashback to 2006, when I wound up rather ridiculously with three Wiis on launch day, but had to wait until Christmas to open mine. I half wanted to just wait on it. But I also half didn’t really care about breaking it out.

I gave in, and yes it was fun and cool to see the new hardware. The gamepad is cool and it actually feels great once you get used to it. At first, it kind of feels like holding a coffee table even after endless hours of pawing an iPad. I rolled my eyes at having to set up another sensor bar, right over the remnants of the sticky tape where the last one went. It powered on, I got a little excited, and then that update you might have heard about started spooling up.

After 20 minutes and another issue of Batman and Robin, I decided to just play some Black Ops 2 (review forthcoming, by the way). After an hour or so, the Wii U was finally ready to do its thing. My first impression? God damn, the menus are slow. Second impression? I really don’t want to be reminded of the Wii, even though I had some good times with it and played some great games on it. It’s too soon.

I half-heartedly made a Mii. It was hardly the joyful “OMG it looks like me!” experience it was the first time. I just didn’t really care. I knew which glasses to pick, typically scowling mouth, tousled hair without poking around. Of course, there wasn’t anyone else in the room to laugh with me about it like there was last time. Regardless, I just couldn’t care less about making a goofy character that looks like me at this stage. With that done, I did all the usual setup steps, fumbled around to find a way to recover my old WiiShop account and purchases to no avail, and finally- some three hours after hooking it up- played some damn Super Mario Bros.

You probably expect some kind of epiphanic revelation, that after playing Black Ops 2 I was tickled and delighted to see Mario and the gang in bright colors. You might expect me to rhapsodize about how moving from brutally killing xXxshawtymac420xXx and JUGGAL0JEWK1LLA to one of those Magical Games of Our Youth somehow reminded me of the whimsy and wonder of video games. Not so much. My heart did not grow two sizes and all that. Instead, I thought “huh, HD”. Wondered what the point was of having the exact same image displayed on the gamepad as was on the TV. Thought for a minute that maybe I’d just turn the TV off and play it as a handheld. Made it through a couple of courses and died a bunch. Turned it off about 20 minutes later thinking “yep, it’s a new Mario game”. Of course it’s good. Of course it’s cute. But at this point in the franchise’s history, so what?

So I went right back to take up a slot on the wonderful all-Nuketown 2025 playlist. Maybe Call of Duty hasn’t budged all that much of the Modern Warfare design document. But at least it hasn’t been virtually the same nostalgia-coasting game that Super Mario Bros. has been since Super Mario World. I’m not really sure what I expected, but that last Rayman game blows it out of the water.

I did turn the Wii U back on to check out its Netflix functions, and that resulted pretty much in a shrug as well. Yeah, it’s cool to fiddle around with the menus on the tablet, but again, it’s a big so what. I stopped off in the eShop, remembered that I just had the 8gb model, and turned it off again. Didn’t wan tto pay $20 for Trine 2 anyway.

Here’s the thing. This is a very cool, potentially great console despite my ho-hum, Grinchy attitude toward it. Even though I didn’t feel that “this is the future of gaming” feeling that I felt using a Wiimote the first time (look how that turned out), I can imagine all kinds of awesome applications and innovations that would take advantage of it. The question remains if developers are going to leverage the novelty to do something interesting with it. Or if it’s the new waggle. There’s a very big “if” involved in assessing the Wii U and in particular the gamepad.

I’ve got a rental Darksiders II on the way, which I’m looking forward to, and I’ll probably try Assassin’s Creed 3 on it. I can finally play Xenoblade Chronicles, which I’m picking up today. I don’t have- and don’t care about- Nintendoland. Most of the other launch games I’ve either played elsewhere or have zero interest in. The promise of Bayonetta 2, Platinum’s other title, and using that gamepad in Colonial Marines give me much to look forward to. Developers, it’s in your hands whether this console becomes a major player or another laughing stock like the Vita. Sure, there will definitely be good Nintendo games on it. But what else? The tools are definitely there. The other very big question involved with the Wii U if there’s money there to convince game makers to use them. After atrocities like the Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream Game and M&Ms Cart Racing, not to mention any cut-rate minigame compliation, it isn’t hard to worry about what’s on tap for this new, promising hardware.

This morning, I looked at the console as I was putting a movie on for my son. It couldn’t be. Was that what I think it was? No. No. It can’t be. It can’t be a speck of dust. Not yet.

Jumping the Shark #151

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So, it’s like Wednesday and stuff, eh? Not sure when that happened, but despite the lack of a timely post here, Jumping the Shark #151 did, in fact, post on schedule. This week’s show features talk of Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, thought on the Wii U and its rather interesting press embargo restrictions, and a whole lot of dish on Skylanders Giants. We also get a long overdue update on Commissioner Bill’s youth basketball foibles. You flat out could not pay me enough to do that job.

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(The embedded feed is after the break.)