Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another game review?

So here I am, returned from my long hiatus. Don't worry, I am still a Ninty fan. Of course I have played through a few games since last we spoke the most notable of which is Metroid Prime 3. I could ramble on for quite a while about this game but if you are like me, you have played it, or read reviews about it, or both. I don't want to give you another review, and you don't want to read one. What I will write about is Nintendo's approach to this title and how I feel it has changed gaming as a whole.

The first thing you notice about any game in the Metroid Prime series is that there is a level of ambience above and beyond any other game out there. The arcitecture of ancient ruins, the sounds, reactions from the avatar, reflections in the visor, all exude such a level of polish and style and reflect nature to the point where you dont notice anything missing from the game world. You walk past a steam vent and your visor fogs, if its raining you have rain droplets on your mask, when you take a bad hit Samus instinctively brings her hand up to protect her face. This atmosphere permeates the entire game. Every game, at it's root, is an imaginary world, fleshed out by imagination and idealism. It has it's own rules and values and must find a niche in which it can live comfortably. The Metroid series has always been pretty cliche when it comes to levels. A lava level, and ice level, underwater, derelict space cruiser... Yet it is a testament to the series that it never feels forced, each level exists naturally and they coexist without making the gamer wonder why because of the flow of the game.

There is a lot of running and gunning in MP3 as well as the other games in the series but at it's heart, Prime is a puzzle game, not an FPS and this shows though in every room as you are given very natural obstacles to an obvious objective. 'This is where you must go and this is what is stopping you, now figure out how to get around or through it.' Do you need a new weapon or ability? Or do you just need to take a step back and think how the tools you already have will get you where you need to go? Exploration is key to noticing subtle clues that you would surely miss if you go blazing past them. In fact, a secondary objective in every MP game is to catalog every lifeform, technology and ancient clue in a rather comprehensive database. Scanning enemies will oftentimes reveal weaknesses that will help you detroy them more easily. It is better to think of Metroid as a puzzle series with action sprinkled in rather than the other way around and this thins the walls between two nearly opposite genres.

Perhaps the greatest addition to gaming is the use of the Wii-mote to aim and shoot. The technology isn't perfect, but after a very short while it feels tighter and more natural than anything else on a console add to it the opening of doors, pulling levers, using the grapple beam and many other actions that feel much more interactive and the level of realism gains another point or two. Of course, technology will only get better and this game has given developers and gamers alike a great reason to try the next iterations.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

History #2

As promised here is the second part of my last blog, namely the history of Nintendo and more specifically, some of the visionaries responsible for it's transformation from a maker of playing cards, to it's present day videogame glory. When we left off I had just mentioned the name Gunpei Yokoi and charged him with the salvation of the Nintendo corporation.

Gunpei was a mechanical genius who worked on the assembly line machinery. After the crash of the hanafuda industry Yamauchi was reaching for anything to keep his company afloat. The answer was a toy that Gunpei built in his spare time that was an extending arm consisting of a latticework of rods. He was charged with making it ready for the upcoming Christmas season and the Ultra Hand was born to much success. Of course Gunpei was immediately moved from maintenance to development and he craeted quite a few mechanical toys, games, and puzzles.

One day while riding the train home on his daily commute he spied a man fiddling with his calculator and he decided that perhaps he could make a handheld game that tired workers could play with on their way home from work. This idea was realized with the Game and Watch series which were released beginning in 1980. These handhelds only played a single game, had a simple LCD screen and backgrounds for each game were placed behind the screen to add color. Control at the time was accomplished by a joystick which Gunpei insisted was too bulky. His answer was the d-pad, a low-cost, effective solution that has been used on virtually every controller regardless of company or console since it's inception.

The next big contribution he made to the world was as Nintendo was ramping up to release the original NES in 1983. The videogame industry had been experiencing a slump. So much so that retailers were refusing to stock new product. This time Gunpei saved the day by designing R.O.B. the scary little robot that we have all seen pictures of. R.O.B. was packaged with the NES and convinced retailers that it was a robotic entertainment system and the system was allowed into stores. In it's first year the NES sold over 1 million units, a staggering record at the time due to the market being flooded with crappy consoles and worse games. R.O.B. was just a marketing ploy, but a very good one. The robot was quickly retired but he lives on in our dreams (scary).

Around this time Gunpei met a young man named Shigeru Miyamoto who he worked with. They collaborated on a few game designs and both provided the inspiration for games that would become Mario, Donkey Kong. After Miyamoto left to head his own development team in 1984 Gunpei went on to produce Metroid, Kid Icarus and Fire Emblem.

In 1989 Gunpei created the product that will live in history books long after we all are gone; the Game Boy. Gunpei had hit upon an ideology he dubbed "Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology" meaning to take a technology that is old and reliable and find a new and exciting way to use it. This ideology remains a staple of Nintendo today and has driven the success of the DS and the Wii. At the time the 'withered technology' was LCD displays. Gunpei paired the portable Game and Watch idea with the interchangeability of NES cartridges and a gaming revolution was born. He refused to release a color version at the time as it used too much battery power and was much costlier. He turned out to be extremely inspired in this decision as the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear both were released and failed due to high cost and power consumption (the Lynx only had four hours of play time on 6 AAs).

In 1995 Gunpei made his first misstep. He strayed from his own theory of low-cost, prolific-technology products to produce the Virtual Boy. Most of us hopefully have had the chance to stick our faces into one of these. The experience was a stereoscopic videogame system unlike anything ever to grace the market and light years ahead of it's time. The system was in monochrome and the inexperience of VR coupled with the bulky, uncomfortable form factor of the console had it off the market before it had been out a year. Somehow this one mistake undid the confidence of some higher-ups at Nintendo despite all his former successes and Gunpei Yokoi was ostracized to the point where he handed in his recognition in 1996, days after another of his projects, the Game Boy Pocket was released.

On October 4th, 1997 Gunpei was sideswiped by a car and died two hours later as a result. His death was a loss the the world at large. With so many innovations under his belt who can deny that he had more in his mind, waiting for their chance to shine? He was a great man, and like all most great men his contribution to the world will outlive his memory. There will be two more history blogs in this series. The next one will be all about Shigeru Miyamoto, and the last will focus on Satoru Iwata. Expect them to pop up soon.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Some History

I thought it might be a bit of fun to go through a history series on my blog. I want to just go through some historical facts of some of the movers and shakers of Nintendo (which just so happen to be movers and shakers of the industry as a whole).

If we are going to delve into a company as deeply-rooted and adapted as Nintendo we need to at least briefly touch on it's inception.

Nintendo was founded in 1889 under the name "Nintendo Koppai" by a man named Fusajiro Yamauchi. Working alone, Fusajiro made hanafuda cards by hand from the bark of mulberry trees. The quality of the cards was such that assistants needed to be hired to keep up with demand. Nintendo grew steadily until Fusajiro's son-in-law Sekiryo Kaneda/Yamauchi took over control of the company in 1929.

Sekiryo was also in charge of Japan's largest card maker at the time and in 1933 he created a joint-venture corporation renaming it "Yamauchi Nintendo and Company"

In 1949 Sekiryo retired and would have passed the company on to his son-in-law Shikanojo Inaba. Shikanojo, however had abandoned his wife and son to be raised by Sekiryo so the company passed instead to Hiroshi Yamauchi, Sekiryo's grandson and Fusajiro's great-grandson.

Hiroshi was president for 53 years and saw Nintendo through it's most tumultuous times. He was responsible for the corporation during it's transition from a smallish hanafuda card maker into the multi-billion dollar video game company that it is today. He stepped down in 2002, giving control to Satoru Iwata but remaining chairman of the board until 2005 after he felt that the company was in good hands. He turned down his retirement pension which was $10 million or so, giving it back to the company. That might be hard for you or I to do but Hiroshi is worth a cool 1.8 billion (_, _ _ _, _ _ _, _ _ _!!!) and many people don't know that he owns the majority of the Seattle Mariners baseball team.

Hiroshi took control of Nintendo at the age of 21 after his grandfather suffered a stroke. He was very "old-school" Japanese and before his grandfather died Hiroshi had him fire relatives working in the company so that there would be no one to vie for power. Still, his business instincts were exceptional and led Nintendo to where it is today. During and after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo the playing card market collapsed and Hiroshi attempted to save his company by diversifying into everything from children's games, to taxis, to 'love hotels' (Look that up on your own).

The salvation of Nintendo came through a single man named Gunpei Yokoi, who at the time was working on the assembly line of Nintendo. The next history blog will be all about him.

Thus ends the pre-history of Nintendo as a videogame company. Let me know if this was enjoyable. I like finding out the pertinent historical facts behind some of these figures. In a way it makes the things they did seem possible and yet equally profound.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Videogames and Violence

There has been a very real and loud debate going on for years now about the connection, or lack thereof, between video games and violence. I don't want to spend too much time on this as it is something that someone will say something relevant about every few weeks.

If you haven't been keeping up on things heres the scoop: people have been dying or getting hurt. A small fraction of people dying or getting hurt involve children/adolescents. A small fraction of those incidents are tied to video games. Certain other people are claiming that video games make children more violent. Thats the story. Here are some excerpts from an article I came across on IGN the other day.

In a recent issue of the American Sociological Association's Context magazine, sociologist Karen
Sternheimer put some heavy doubt into the theories that videogame violence directly result in real-world violence. Sternheimer claims that there is no such correlation, and that the reality might be exactly the opposite.

Sternheimer cited as evidence of this trend the fact that as annual sales of videogames and accessories has risen to over $10 billion, juvenile homicide arrests have fallen 77%.

In a very frank and forthright manner, Sternheimer stated, "If we want to understand why young people become homicidal, we need to look beyond the games they play."

Rather than paying atte
ntion to more pertinent issues that might nurture violence -- such
as poverty, instability, domestic abuse, unemployment, and mental illness -- reactionaries have been directing their ire at the games industry, effectively exonerating these other factors of their impact.

"It is equally likely that more aggressive people seek out violent entertainment," Sternheimer said. "After adult rampage shootings in the workplace, which happen more often than school shootings, reporters seldom mention if the shooters played video games."

Sternheimer seemed to disagree with the analytical methods of a 2001 study which found that videogames did increase aggressive behavior, stating: "They don't offer much insight as to why a few isolated kids, and not t
he millions of others who play these games, decided to pick up
real weapons and shoot real people."

I couldn't agree with this woman more. I remember many a stressful day that I would come home and UNWIND by plugging in an FPS and killing nazis or zombies or nazi-zombies. I used violent video games as an outlet to get those feelings out in a safe and reasonable way. I still use video games that way.

I also agree 100% that more violent people will automatically seek out more violent ways to entertain themselves. We hear the Columbine massacre being blamed on video games but I see two sick and twisted kids who weren't delusional, they knew they weren't in a video game. They were just sadistic and wanted to hurt people. If they hadn't played video games they would have integrated ideas from books or movies into their plans. The truth is we make our personalities by judging information and either assimilating or rejecting that information. Bad people latch onto bad things because they like it. People who DO the kinds of violent things contained in some video games are obviously bad people. I don't see how there is an argument.

There are differences between video games and movies or books sure, as there are differences between all forms of media. The War of the Worlds was acted out on a radio station in 1938 by Orson Welles and panic ensued all over the nation due to the immersive nature of the radio at that time. You and I may judge a videogame to be more realistic or more immersive than a radio show but they arent any more real to us than the radio was to people in 1938. Are contemporary videogames more immersive than contemporary movies? It's hard to say. On the one hand videogame have a person controlling a character and 'acting out' in a violent manner. On the other hand suspension of disbelief still remains regardless of what you are doing or watching. Your mind knows it isn't real.

I know what I think and how I feel about this issue and it is very simple. Videogames have a ratings system, just as movies have a rating system. Parents need to know what their children are doing and they have a responsibility to keep children playing games that are appropriate for their level of maturity. I can understand a seven year old thinking they can drive because they play a racing game. Small children should never be handed the keys to your vehicle. Or the keys to your gun safe. Adolescent children definitely know how to hurt people, and what reality is. They are their own persons and should be largely responsible for their own actions.

Oh, and check this out...

You can see the Wii is on there twice, and Britney Spear's hair beat out the 360 and PS3. Thats has to hurt...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Brief Follow-Up

I ran across an article published today that makes some of the same points I did with my blog yesterday. It mainly makes the point that companies should be focused more on being independently profitable rather than concerned with holding more market share than their competition. The crux of the article is here.

"The harm that competitor-oriented objectives can cause the companies that pursue them was the subject of a December 4, 2006, article in The New Yorker by James Surowiecki, the
magazine’s business writer. Surowiecki describes how Sony, with its PlayStation 3, and Microsoft, maker of the Xbox 360, are beating each other’s brains out trying to capture the biggest share of the video-game market.

Meanwhile, third-place Nintendo, with its new game console called Wii (pronounced “wee”), has quietly become the most profitable game console company in Japan.

Nintendo “has not just survived out of the spotlight; it has thrived”, Surowiecki writes. “It has $5 billion in the bank from years of solid profits, and this past year, though it has spent heavily on the launch of the Wii, it made close to a billion dollars in profit and saw its stock price rise by 65%. Sony’s game division, by contrast, barely eked out a profit and Microsoft’s reportedly
lost money. Who knew bringing up the rear could be so lucrative?”

My own comments are obviously in my previous blog, but this article was so in-line with my points that it had to be shared.

Short Vs. Long-Term Console Life

Phil Harrison, Sony big-wig said a couple of things lately that I feel like addressing. The first is an off-handed statement about the supposed longevity of the PS3 Vs the Wii.

“I think Nintendo, although I am very respectful of the innovation in Wii, and I think everybody should be respectful of it, I’m not sure that it has the technology base to propel that platform in the long-term. So I think their platform lifecycle is inherently going to be shorter, so they could have learned from us in terms of the high technology approach.”

The life of a console is dictated by a simple cost/benefit ratio. A corporation exists to make a profit. In regards to consoles a typical profit chart would be in the red for a period of time. This is typically because of the monies spent on research and development of the console, and for the cutting edge technology and components used in the manufacturing. Typically a console is sold for less money than the unit cost the corporation to manufacture.

The second phase is after the components drop in price because of increased availability and improvements in assembly. Eventually there is a crossover point where the corporation begins to make more in the sale of a unit than it cost to manufacture but the corporation still has not recouped the research and development costs.

The third (and every corporation hopes, the longest) phase is when all their numbers are in the green because they have earned back their R&D costs and component/assembly prices have continued to drop making each unit produce a net profit.

Sony has stated over and over that the PS3 will be around for 10 years. Its easy to see why they hope it will happen. The PS2 has only made it into the third phase in the last year or so. Sony doesn't make detailed information available often but we know they barely made back (in total) what they spent (in total) for the PS2. Not having a long-term phase three product hurts Sony's ability to continue R&D for future products and is just a step away from putting a department in a deficit.

Every console manufacturer in this business is already hard at work designing the NEXT console but when that console launches years from now it will contain cutting-edge tech, not stuff that we have now. Obviously the designs are in a very fluid form now, and will slowly solidify the nearer we get to the launch of a new product.

When a console is released it represents a sizable investment for the corporation and steps are taken to protect that investment. Marketing is going on to push the consoles out the door because even if the sale of a new phase one unit represents a loss, the software purchased to play on it will hit it's own crossover point almost immediately, bringing money back into the corporation's coffers. Peripherals also usually represent a monetary gain as the R&D costs are typically small change compared to the console.

Another way they protect their investments is to compete technologically with each other. Nintendo has stated that they have removed themselves from the competition by providing a cheaper, less powerful machine focused on the gaming experience. If, however, the Wii was exactly the same as it is today but with N64 graphics, units wouldn't be selling. At all... So while they say they aren't competing graphically with the other big boys it is more of a gradient scale because the fact is that they have lost customers who feel that they would rather have a console with HD output. They will continue to lose customers to this fact. The majority of people though will find it more cost effective to buy a much cheaper, somewhat less powerful machine. It happens every day.

Let me draw a ready comparison. I looked up some pricing for a segment of the technology market that I would classify as very volatile; video cards. I just looked up prices for the very popular GeForce cards. Their current top of the line is the 8800 gtx weighing in at $555. The 8800 gts is only slightly less powerful and launched at almost the same time, yet it only costs $294. Last years models range in price from $268-$44. The available models from the two previous generation were around $50-$30, meaning within 18 to 24 months a brand new product is brought in line with products from three years prior.

This comparison is important because it spans the technology industry. Blue Ray is expensive now, but in a couple years (if it manages to beat out HD-DVD which I wouldn't bet on) it will drop drastically in price and that particular component of the PS3 or any device containing it will drop comparatively.

The cost/benefit scale for replacing a console becomes skewed when the console reaches phase three because you now have access to new technologies that you can pack into a new machine, which brings us to the most important way to protect your investment; keep releasing new hardware. You phase out an old product and start the cycle fresh with one BIG difference, an installed base. If you can manage to sway people to your product lineup and make your new machine backwards compatible you will already have millions of people who can enjoy your new product without the outlay of cash needed to buy a console, some peripherals AND a few games to play. And as the first few months of a console release are typically meager on the the software release side they will have games available to stave off the boredom that might have them turning to a competitor.

The PS3 won't be Sony's flagship for ten years. It's not impossible, just not fiscally feasible. They want to have a longer phase three to boost profits but Microsoft and Nintendo are sure to release new consoles in the typical 5-6 year time frame and they will have newer technology than the PS3 currently has, giving the PS3 only one advantage of being cheaper as the PS3 will have dropped in price to the consumer in 5 years. But the disparity between the outdated PS3 versus the next generation consoles will woo consumers away from the PS3 and its software forcing Sony to release a new console to compete for consumer dollars.

Sony wants their console to last for 10 years, but they have to dance to the beat of their competitors. The PS3 won't last a decade. Not this generation, maybe the PS4 will have a better chance.

In stark contrast I will quickly point out Nintendo which launched the Wii with last year's graphics card, so to speak. They went directly into phase two as they immediately made a profit off each unit and only need to recoup their R&D costs. With the majority of Nintendo games being produced in-house they will be in phase three probably before their competitors meaning that at least in regards to profit, the cheaper, somewhat underpowered machine beats out the cutting edge product on the bottom line. Nintendo has produced about the same net profit as the whole of Sony for the last few years even with it's "terrible" Gamecube sales. Nintendo produces a 20% net profit which is a level of efficiency many corporations cannot achieve.

As a side note the Wii has sold 4 million units worldwide, half as much as the 360 and almost three times more than the PS3. If sales continue at this rate Nintendo could outsell the 360 by the end of the year if software support remains strong. We will see.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mini game review : Wii Play

So I picked up a new game the other day. I was waiting on getting my fourth controller because the game has one packed in. The game is Wii Play. It has 9 mini games on it, most of which started out as tech demos at E3. Alot of people are saying that its not a very good stand-alone game and if it ddnt come with a controller it wouldnt be worth picking up. I agree that the compilation may not be worth a full $50 but some of the mini games are extremely fun and well polished. The one for which I am blogging is called Tanks.

Tanks is the kind of game that new gamers and hardcore alike can get into. It is very similar in game mechanics to a game that many of you have played on the 360 called geometry wars. Basically you drive your tank around with the analog stick and you point at the screen to aim your gun. You can shoot with the B trigger and drop proximity mines with the A button.

The enemy tanks vary in ability from stationary to mine-laying, to tanks that shoot rocket propelled rounds. Each is designated by a unique color. The graphical feel of the game is that of toys shooting at each other. The tanks look like little toy tanks and levels have obstacles in the form of wooden blocks. The only thing that detracts from the 'toy' theme is the giant explosions and round contrails that quickly fill the screen.

Bullets ricochet geometrically once before detonating on the second surface so there is quite a bit of strategy involved in trying the bounce your rounds around obstacles. Mines will destroy certain blocks opening new paths and even though you can block of certain routes with a mine they detonate on a timer as well as with proximity meaning they will not be permanent obstacles.

The levels quickly rise in difficulty from a couple 'dumb' tanks to many 'smart' tanks with varying degrees of aggressiveness. The last level is devoid of cover and has two white tanks which turn invisible as soon as the level starts. You can only locate them by where the bullets are coming from and the tread tracks each tank lays down. You start out with three lives and gain a new life for every 5 levels you clear.

On top of it all there is a two-player mode in which each player has their own tank and they try to #1 clear the levels and #2 get a higher kill count than their buddy. Friendly fire is definitely turned ON and matches can become intense as players turn on each other in order to eliminate a rival for kill count. If one player is eliminated but all enemy tanks are cleared both players are still on the next map. If both players are destroyed the game is over meaning that while you may try and stop each other from getting kills in the earlier levels, you will find yourself forced to get over the butt hurt of getting stabbed in the back by your buddy in order to clear later levels.

I discovered a great new way to play this game the other day. One player holds the nunchuk and the other holds the controller so you have a driver and a gunner, each putting the other in a position of complete trust. It is incredibly fun and a completely different way of playing the game.

This game can only be described as extreme fun due to it's simplicity paired with a high level of tactical awareness. If you are looking to get an extra controller for the Wii this is definitely a great opportunity to pick one up.

Some of the other games on the compilation that deserve a mention are laser hockey, target practice and the billiards game. All of which would benefit from options to spice things up a bit. For example the billiards game is 9 ball only, and the laser hockey is set at an 8 point game. As far as target practice goes, the game is extremely fun but over too quickly and it would have been nice to see more ducks, and the dog. How can you have a Nintendo made throwback to Duck Hunt without that dang dog laughing at you when you miss?

If you need another controller, I highly recommend Wii Play as an addition to your game library.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Miss me?

OK, so I have been away for a while. Don't hate me, I have moved a couple of times and had no internet for most of the time. My life has been sorta upside down as well.

The upshot is that I didn't blog about the Wii launch. At this point it doesn't really matter what I write, Nintendo was (and is) a screaming success. They sold 1.2 million units worldwide from their launch in November through the end of the year. To date they have sold about 4 million units worldwide in the 2 months since they came to market. In contrast the PS3 has sold about 1.5 million units, which according to Kutaragi could have sold at a much higher price. After all, how can you compare eating at a fancy resturant to eating at fast food? They should want to get another job just to pay for it.

In case you didn't know, the Nintendo Wii seems to be the next gaming craze sweeping the globe. Try this experiment (I have tried it many times to always the same result): Go to a game store (or call if you are lazy) and ask how many Wii's they have in stock. I can tell you the answer.... Zero. Now ask how many PS3s. They will have a few. Now put this in the perspective of Nintendo turning out twice as many units as Sony and you will begin to get what I mean.

And Sony is flopping in a most dramatic way. A fun little quote I saw the other day was from Gabe Newell, co-founder and managing director of Valve (Half-life). “The PS3 is a total disaster on so many levels, I think It’s really clear that Sony lost track of what customers and what developers wanted. I’d say, even at this late date, they should just cancel it and do a “do over”. Just say, “This was a horrible disaster and we’re sorry and we’re going to stop selling this and stop trying to convince people to develop for it”. The happy story is the Wii. I’m betting that by Christmas of next year, the Wii has a larger installed base than the 360. Other people think I’m crazy. I really like everything that Nintendo is doing. “

It is becoming more and more obvious that developers don't want to spend the extra money and time developing for the finicky PS3. On the other hand, the Wii is selling (surprisingly?) so well that publishers and developers are sitting up and wondering how they can get a piece of that pie. Money is flying folks.

Anyway, I gotta get to bed kids. I will certainly be back online from time to time and I have several things I really want to blog about so check in once in a while.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Here we go...

It's time to remind everyone why you come to my site. The reason is that it is not specifically "news" oriented. Rather it is based on the marketing and buisiness side of the gaming market. That doesn't mean I don't get excited about the news, on the contrary. What it means is that I try and think about what we hear as news and then give my personal view on how it will affect the gaming industry. This is the major reason I am so excited about Nintendo, because the things they do CHANGE the industry. They were the company that introduced the d-pad, the trigger style button, the analogue stick, camera control on the 64 evolved into the dual analogue, rumble pak, the list goes on and on if you start to count some of the gameplay implementations that Nintendo introduced. There is no other company on the face of the planet that has changed gaming nearly so much as they have, and it is the thing I most respect about them. It is the reason I have this blog in the first place.

Now I want to make it clear that I don't consider myself a 'fanboy' because I like Nintendo for legitimate reasons and in a like manner, the things that I don't like about Sony and Microsoft are equally legitimate. If I could bring one console company back from the dead it would definately be SEGA as they are the company next in line based on how many gameplay and hardware innovations they have made such as shoulder buttons, first color handheld, first online capabilities, first CD drive on a system, etc. SEGA and Nintendo were bitter rivals but I think I would love to have a SEGA console right now and if they were making a next gen system it would probably be on my list because I could bet you that it would bring new things to the industry.

Having said that I would like to give my take on the E3 press conferences as well as some of the breaking news. First this whole Sony implementing tilt sensors in their controller. Sony says that they were toying with the idea long before TGS in November but it is easy to say that Nintendo influenced them to go for it. Speculation since E3 2005 was that the Wii controller would have tilt sensors, it was what made the most sense when they spouted off about making their controllers different. Even if they had the idea on their own, which is almost laughable given the timing of the whole situation, they still waited for Nintendo to take all the heat about their "retarded" controller. Nintendo defended itself and only when the waters calmed and Sony saw that it was good did they hop on board, no risk and no shame I might add. But there is a bit more to the story than first meets the eye. The PS2 DualShock controller is considered to be one of the finest controllers available, but something about the rumble feature infringes on patents filed by Immersion Corp. I don't know more detail than that but last year Sony was fined over $90 million (000,000!!!!) for this infringement and was denied permission to sell the controller and quite a few games in the US market. They appealed the courts decision but it has only delayed the probably inevitable outcome. Now we see the PS3 controller with a tilt sensor and by the way "rumble interferes with the sensors so it has been removed from our controllers." Does this seem convenient to anyone else? The link I found is here. And how many people will miss the now commonplace rumble feedback we have all grown so accustumed to?

Next up is the press conferences. The most new information regarding hardware was released by Sony only because they told us the release date (November 17th) and the price tag ($500 or $600 depending on the package you pick.) Nintendo didn't give us much in their press conference and neither did Microsoft. All in all the press conferences were rather uneventful. The crowd favorite was Nintendo though if you are wondering.

The last secret regarding the Wii controller is a speaker on the controller itself, this may seem weird or stupid but I think it will be cool. I mean when you shoot the sound would come out of the controller, when you fish in Zelda the casting of the line and the sound of the reel are heard on this speaker, it sort of elevates surround sound just a tiny bit. Not really a huge innovation but I think it will add to gaming. I of course, was hoping for an announcement about stereoscopic vision being added back into gaming but no such luck. This doesn't mean however that such technology won't still come out on the Revolution. I said a minute ago that I try and put the news into a perspective of how the industry is moving. Nintendo doesn't need to market stereo vision, if they had it in the works and they announced it every hardcore gamer would find out about it within 48 hours, thats how tight the gaming industry is. The people that Nintendo are marketing to are non-gamers, people who might likely be put off by space age goggles. At the same time Sony had JUST announced that they were ingeniously ripping off Nintendo's controller idea (and doing a lame job of it as you can read about in my last blog). Why would Nintendo want to give their competition any more time to ready their own responses to their disruptive technologies? They could hold on to this secret up to a month before launch and it would do them much more good than harm. Now don't take me the wrong way, maybe Nintendo is doing this and maybe they aren't but we have heard a lot of rumors and weird quotes from industry leaders that back it up. Nintendo themselves clearly stated that they had "not revealed everything with the controller" and that there was a huge secret left and they made it sound alot like they were two different things. Furthermore they have stated that the Wii can output to a computer screen. Stereoscopic glasses are technically identical to computer screens but quite a bit different from TVs. I would say at this point that stero vision is not any less likely or more likely to be real after not having heard about it from Nintendo this E3.

Next I want to show this: This is a controller shell prototype for the Wii controller. Made by Nintendo this bad boy holds the controller securely and turns it into a lightgun. It also has an analogue stick meaning it could be used in place of the nunchuck attachment for games like Red Steel and Metroid Prime 3. You can see how the trigger button on the controller could act as a secondary fire button with ease and I think this attachment would add a lot to some of the FPS games coming for the Wii.

Now about games, almost every single game for the Wii is totally fresh and new. Even the games based on existing genres feel brand new thanks to the incredible new controller. Furthermore, the proprietary nature of the Wii controller make it veritably impossible to port games from the Wii on to any other system but the 'normal' controller for the Wii makes it possible to port games from other systems to the Wii. Remember though that the best games on the Wii will be ones that take advantage of the new controller meaning that all the best titles will be exclusive titles for the Wii. I think Peter Moore (VP Microsoft games) said it best when he said "Tell me why you would buy a $600 PS3? People are going to buy two (machines.) They’re going to buy an Xbox and they’re going to buy a Wii … for the price of one PS3." Thank you Peter.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sooner than expected...

It seems Sony thought Nintendo was on to something with their new controller. So much so that Sony has put a 6 way tilt sensor in their own PS3 controllers. This is of course expected, but still cheeses me off as it is one more example of a company not having the balls to come up with (or implement) a new technology until Nintendo puts everything on the line and stakes their whole reputation on it to find out if people will respond positively, then, when they do who do you see jumping on the bandwagon? Sony. Of course Microsoft is in a little world of their own still believing that Nintendo are a bunch of idiots, I wonder what they are thinking now? I bet they are saying "Ah, our number one perceived competitor thinks that whole motion sensing thing might be a good idea. Crap."

Now don't freak out. Sony's controller is very low-tech compared to Nintendo's. The Sony controller only has tilt sensors whereas the Wiimote can not only detect TILT, but also the controllers position in real space meaning the Star Wars exclusive I just blogged about can ONLY be made on the Nintendo and can only work with Nintendo's controller as far as the lightsaber goes AND as far as the 'point-and-click' lightgun characteristics of the Wiimote. Not to mention that the nunchuck attachment for the Wii has the same 6 way tilt sensor in it meaning that you will have two 6 way tilts as well as being able to ditect the main controller in real space. Sony's controller is sort of a cheap knock-off. They are trying to steal some of the big N's thunder but I don't expect it will work

Don't forget that Nintendo has been saving the best for last, so according to them what they consider to be the best secret is still to be unveiled tomorrow in 10 and a half hours. According to most people Sony had a very poor press conference this year. Just like you can read about in my E3 predictions they showed mostly tech demos and basically blew alot of hot air around, nobody hardly cheered except at a couple of games. If you missed it the PS3 will be released this November and will cost $500 for the base unit and $600 for the premier version, taking a page out of Microsoft's book.