Short report: What does that mean to Zelda Wii?

March 31, 2010

Time to talk about Zelda Wii…again. But with all the recent showings of other games, one wonders what exactly Zelda Wii will be able to bring to the table.

A new Super Mario Galaxy 2-trailer was released today and showed how great music in an action-heavy game can be. The trailer-composition is a pure joy to listen to and instantly gets you in the mood of wanting to play its predecessor again. Then there´s the two Nintendo-published JRPGs, Xenoblade and The Last Story. The former already gave us an impression of its gigantic, yet non-generic looking world-design. Big, open fields, monsters walking around and doing something. In The Last Story, Sakaguchi seems to be busy creating the most immersing ingame-town of all times. The way he talks about that game just makes you look forward to it. And then there´s Metroid: Other M. Now, what could a Metroid-game demonstrate that a Zelda-game needs? Well, except for the extreme fluidness of movements, as shown in the latest trailer, Metroid: Other M actually manages to feature a real forest. And a great one. No walls with plant-textures, but real, single trees that you can run around. Last but not least, there is Red Steel 2, the only third-party-game here, which introduced great sword-fighting controls to a singleplayer-experience.

That´s reality, that´s what we´re at. Great music, a great world, a great town, a great forest, and great sword-controls. All stuff that many, if not most, fans expect from the next Zelda-game for Wii. Usually, one could say “no problem, of course Zelda Wii is going to bring it all together“. But with this many games already featuring the most important parts of a Zelda-game, it´s questionable if that Zelda Wii is going to be all that fresh of an experience. Surely, it´ll be great to experience all those features at once, but still, the fear of “ah, nice….that´s like playing X” remains. And isn´t it a totally fresh experience that we look forward to? How will Zelda Wii comparte to these above mentioned games?

Basically, it comes down to this: Can Zelda Wii manage to be that fantastic, unrivaled experience that the fans´ expectations made it grow into? On the one hand, I totally hope so and I see a nice chance of it coming true. On the other hand, I look at Twilight Princess: No great forest, no great town, no great world, (imo) no great music (but good), and better controls than its GameCube-counterpart, but obviously far from great due to its waggle-aspect. But it´s not like these contents are impossible and unprecedent to the Zelda-series. We have TWW´s great world, Majora´s Mask´s great town, Ocarina of Time´s great music and we have great 2D-forests. It´ll be Zelda Wii´s task to get it all together. Then, and only then, will it be able to succeed to everyone´s expectations.

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3DS-mock up: It´s a DSi

March 24, 2010

A lot of people are going nuts over Nintendo´s announcement of the Nintendo 3DS-handheld. Granted, I´m one of them. Currently, many enthusiasts are creating fancy mockups, but I believe that they get something fundamentally wrong. Of course, that is personal speculation at this point of time, but I seriously doubt that both screens of the 3DS will be 3D-enabled. Rather, the upper screen, that´s just to look at anyway, is capable of outputting a 3D-image, while the lower screen stays a touchscreen, maybe multi-touch enabled.

We also have to keep rumors from facts. GameCube-level graphics, smaller border between both screens and analog stick(s) are rumors. What´s part of the facts are 3D-capability, backwards-compatability, which confirms a touchscreen, and…that´s it. Personally, I doubt that Nintendo will pack the surface of its new handheld full of stuff. There won´t be two analog sticks, a d-pad and buttons. That´s too much. Rather, they´ll include an analog-enabled d-pad as well as analog face-buttons. A d-pad is simply more effective on a hanheld-device and a second stick isn´t necessary, because you can control a potential camera by drawing over the touchscreen. The upper screen is going to be the 3DS´s main attraction. It makes sense for only one screen to feature 3D. For one, You have no problems with touching into the 3D-image, therefore ruining the effect. And secondly, the 3D-technology relies on certain angles. Therefore, you can only concentrate on a single 3D-screen, as the other one would consequently be out of angle. That I made the upper screen 16:9 stems from the hope that Nintendo´s going to include proper video-playback and maybe even using NetFlix, preferably accompanied by James Cameron and his Avatar-movie. There would be no other device that´s naturally featuring 3D and it would make for a great marketing blitz.  As for the rest…the 3DS will look a lot like the DSi. There´s really no need to change the design, it´s aesthetically fine. So as long as Nintendo doesn´t give up the clamshell design, I´m not expecting too many design-changes. Here´s how I imagine the 3DS:

The only thing that goes against my beliefs of an upper widescreen is that it makes holding the DS on its side for reading weird. Some time ago I thought about how Nintendo could easily compete in the eBook-market against Amazon Kindle and Co., but I´d prefer two same-sized screens for that. We´ll see.


About the Visor

March 24, 2010

The Virtual Boy marks Nintendo´s biggest business flop in the company´s history. The red-color-based stereoscopic device didn´t see the success that Nintendo wanted to achieve. Yesterday, the same company announced to risk another attempt at introducing 3D to video games. The Nintendo 3DS-announcement came completely out of left field, nobody expected it to be mentioned on a random Tuesday morning. There are lots of reasons that could explain why Nintendo did announce their next generation handheld now, but that is irrelevant to this article. What counts is that 3D makes a return to gaming. It´s not the first mention of 3D in a long time, though. Not only is Sony working on 3DTVs, but also have Nintendo-fans been hyping the rumored Nintendo ON-system, one of the most popular fakes in the video games history, that was supposed to feature a 3D visor, also called 3D glasses. It´s these 3D visors that I´m going to talk about in this article. What kinds of technologies are there, why do many gamers love the idea of a visor, and what would it actually bring to the table of further evolving the gaming experience?

eMagin´s Z800-visor

The technology of Visors

There are basically three different 3d-glasses technologies, two of them active, the other one passive. Active means that the visor is more complex, using electronic hardware, usually more expensive, while passive visors are cheap, non-complex items.

First technology are the shutter glasses, or also called “Liquid Crystal Shutter Glasses”. These are active visors, as they work in synchronization to the image shown on screen. The shutter glasses works via blocking or passing light through the device, working together with the framerate of the display used. It uses two different timed images, which results in lowering the actually experienced framerate into half, i.e. if you have a 120 Hz-display, you´ll get 60 Hz-output. The visor itself uses said liquid crystals to alternate between blocking and passing light. In terms of comfort and usability, many people reported that this kind of 3D is rather tiring for the eyes.

The next technology is called “Display Glasses“, though I like to call them “3D-video glasses”. They´re also the most expensive ones. That´s because these glasses actually have two displays built into the device. Basically, there´s a small screen for each eye. It should, thus, be obvious why this is the most expensive technology. And that´s also how it creates a 3D-effect, by offering each eye its own image. For a better understanding of how these two displayed images look like, close one of your eyes and look at an object in front of you. Then close the other eye and look again. You´ll notice that both times your field of vision will have change the angle of that object. That´s how these visors work. Now, this technology is also the most interesting one for gaming, not only because you wouldn´t need a TV anymore, but also could it create a free-look, without any sort of borders. Just turn your head and you´ll be able to look around inside a virtual world as if it was real. Most prominent manufacturer of these visors is eMagin.

The last technology is actually not only a single one. There´s quite a lot of different approaches, but they work very similar in the end. The glasses itself are totally inexpensive and cheap, specially compared to the above mentioned visors. The most prominent glasses of this kind are the red-green visors you sometimes find in TV-magazines. There also exist glasses that don´t rely on red and green, but otherwise polarize the light that´s coming from some source. No matter what kind you use, it always comes down to light being polarized, so that there´s two images created, one that can only be seen by the left, and one that can only be seen by the right eye. Each images slightly vary and thus create the 3D-effect. That´s the kind of visors youll get to use in cinema, for example when watching James Cameron´s avatar. Cheap doesn´t mean that it´s not good, but these passive glasses handicap is that they are dependent on the output-source, which is why Sony and other TV-manufacturers are working on a unified 3DTV-standard.

Nintendo´s Virtual Boy

A fascination called visor

Now, why is it that these 3D-visors are attracting so many people, fascinating a lot of gamers? First of all, it´s because 3D-effects are awesome. That´s not a well explained point, but everyone that never before has seen 3D, and then watches some IMAX-3D movie will go away with that reaction, “awesome”. The way artificial objects jump in the viewer´s face is something that cannot be explained with words. In terms of video gaming, 3D plays a big role for immersion, something that has become more and more important the more powerful video game-systems became. Games like Fallout 3 or GTA4 show what is possible in terms of creating a more or less believable virtual world. What´s missing is the accurate presentation of these worlds, which is exactly what 3D could make reality. Specially the 3D-video-glasses, such as those from eMagin, are fascinating. Their technology would allow for entering virtual worlds. That sentence doesn´t give justice to the importance of what it does. You have to imagine it like this: This technology would be as far as gaming and virtual worlds can go…without creating the Matrix, the one from the same-named movies. Virtual Reality couldn´t be enhanced any further. Well, maybe the invention of full body-holograms could do something similar, but then, at the point we´re able to use holograms for mass market-use, we´ll probably also be able to enter the Matrix.

Importance for Gaming

What would such a visor mean for games? That´s what many less-interested gamers ask whenever some enthusiast brings up that topic. There are a lot of possibilities. I just mentioned the creation of a true virtual reality-experience. Move your head to look around and the image displayed on the visor will change accordingly. It´ll make you feel as if you are inside another world. But it could also be used for flat games, only creating a simple 3D-effect to enhance the images quality. That´s what people expect the Nintendo 3DS to do, where you could play a Paper Mario-game and all the different objects are outputted on different layers within the 3D-image. It doesn´t have that much gameplay-purpose, but it is still a big step toward improved immersion. 3D-visors could also be used in third-person games like The Legend of Zelda. Again, the image would be outputted to feature a very nice 3D-effect, but additionally, by moving your head you could look around inside the world of Hyrule, while your neutral head-position would be locked onto Link, the game-character. That would create a different feeling of immersion compared to the above mentioned first-person-experience, and it´d remove the need of camera control. Simply look around to change your field of vision.

Virtual Reality

In the end, where 3D-visors would succeed in is making the old wish of a virtual reality come true. So many books and movies gave us impressions of what such virtual realities could be like, see Tron, Digimon or The Matrix. It´d be the ultimate dream-machine, letting you experience whatever you want, but cannot in reality. It´s such an enormous thing that wouldn´t only impact the gaming industry, but potentially every single human´s life. When everyone can have any experience, it could change the way we treat our life, our sense for working, our demand for certain wishes. You wouldn´t need to be a millionaire to drive a Ferrari. Just hop into your virtual reality and drive on. Just like that. Of course, visors alone wouldn´t make that experience. There´s also the control interface that needed to be worked on, but seeing how motion-controls are becoming standard on video game system, that shouldn´t be a problem in the future. And even then, the most important part of creating a virtual reality are the visuals, the 3D-effects, the free-look. The hardware for that experience is expensive, but at least it seems people will be getting used to wearing glasses, with 3DTVs forcing you to wear these. It´s an exciting time we´re living in, from an entertainment point of view, and by writing this article I wanted to give all the people that didn´t know that much about the often mentioned visors more insight into the topic, and, most importantly, why a lot of people love the idea of using them in video games. Visors are talked about so often, so hopefully you now have a clearer picture about the whole fascination.


Nintendo 3DS announced – WHAT?!

March 23, 2010

In an official announcement on their Japanese website, Nintendo today announced the next Nintendo-handheld, the Nintendo 3DS.

So, why it was announced today, no idea. It also isn´t April 1st. It´s real. The Nintendo 3DS will be released within the fiscal year, which means before March 2011. The most surprising feature, though, will be 3D. The 3DS will offer 3D-effects without the need of any special glasses! Real 3D. Also interesting is that the device will be 100% backwards-compatible to DS and DSi. That´s it.

What a weird day to wake up to. I have to regather my mind before writing more thoughts on the 3DS. What I can say now: It feels as if the final step into virtual reality is beginning. 3D images! Just yesterday I was planning an in-depth article on the whole visor-affair, that often is picked up by fans. And the 3DS definitely will give hints at the Wii-successor. But Nintendo definitely won´t support 3D-TVs, because nobody has those. So does that realy mean…built-in projector or 3D-visor? Who knows. It´s an exciting time!


Lost in Stats

March 23, 2010

I love stats. I´d take the risk to assume everyone loves stats about his favorite games. It´s the reason why playing Super Smash Bros. Melee was so much fun (well, part of the fun). Stats give you insight into your individual playing style. The data often shows habits or simply what actions you prefer. And despite all that additional, passive fun, stats are still something rare in video games.

There really isn´t much more to say. Get stats into every game where it makes even slightly sense. No wait, put it into every game, no matter of how much sense that makes. I want stats in the next Zelda-game, showing me how many enemies I killed, how I killed them and how many meters I ran in complete. I want to know the jumping distance in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and how long the longest time in mid-air was. I want stats in Mass Effect 3, showing me who I had the most romances with, who I talked most with and how my moral developed over the course of the game. Give me also stats in the next Mario Kart-game, which actually would make sense. Give me stats about any activity I could possible engage in on my consoles. And then, at the end of all that, let me compare my various stats with those of friends.

Stats, especially when you can compare them with others, are great fun for those interested. And I fathom that it´s rather easy to track the data for these stats in most games. Seriously, give me stats for every game out there. Let the consumer decide if he wants to look at or ignore them. Stats are fun.


New artworks and details about The Last Story

March 18, 2010

The official website of The Last Story for the Wii was updated again, and it´s quite interesting what information we got this time.

Ruli City is supposed to be the base of the whole adventure. the game director wanted it to create so that the player feels as if he´s actually there. Even more intriguing is what the game´s producers, supposedly Hironobu Sakaguchi, had to see. He explained that most RPGs are designed in a way to not get the player lost. Dead ends and broad roads. Ruli City is created to actually make you lose your orientation once you walk around for a while, featuring big roads as wall as narrow backstreets and also dead ends. The city is made so that you look around, watch the passing-by people, things that fly with the wind and other stuff.

There a reason for this kind of setting, so walk around aimlessly to experience that reason” is what he closes his explanation.

The only thing I can say at this moment is that Ruli City is the town that I always imagined for a new Zelda-game. It´s all there in the artworks. The market people on the big road, the dark, narrow backstreets, and you can even spot points that would make for some nice climbing, exploring the city in its vertical direction. With The Last Story´s city, Xenoblade´s overworld and Red Steel 2´s sword controls, one wonders if Zelda Wii will be able to deliver. It´s getting more difficult with each day, that´s for sure.


Personal Pets and Unified Ingame-Avatars

March 17, 2010

Videogaming and technology in general are still far away from creating a true Artificial Intelligence, short A.I. For many of those interested in the subject of A.I., it´s so damn fascinating because it would allow for so many option in whatever technological way. Using an A.I. for making navigating your MP3-player easier, exploring philosophical matters, and, of course, using them in video games. Imagining that every single NPC in a game would be “alive” is one incredible thought. So that´s what could be awesome somewhere down the future. But there´s stuff we can do even now.

I recently played Wii Sports Resort, the frisbee-game. For those that haven´t played the game yet, you have to throw a frisbee that then is caught by a virtual dog. That dog is beyond cute. Really adorable how it shakes its tail and brings the frisbee back to you. That got me thinking: Why can´t we have such a pet for the menu of a video game console?  Or forget the dog, it could be whatever virtual being, ranging from a dog, to hot girl, to a dinosaur. Basically, integrate a fake-A.I. that interacts with you. Using voice-recognition to navigate through the menu. In the end, it wouldn´t be anymore than a cosmetic change, but being a scifi-fan myself, it´d be so much more awesome. Starting your system, being greeted  by name by your fake-A.I., which then would ask how you are. Game publishers could integrate advertisements, like “Hey, Max, there´s some interesting news about XYZ. Do you want to know more?” and you answer yes or no. And back to navigating the menu, say you´re starting your 360. Instead of clicking through all the menus, you simply say “Start Mass Effect 2” and it´s being done for you. Depending on what´s offered, you could enhance your fake-A.I. by adding new behaviors and teaching it when a certain reaction is expected. That´d really make the whole experience more lively and, for scifi-fans like myself, more fascinating.

Another topic are main characters in video games. We´ve reached a time where either customization plays a bigger role, or games feature more unusual human variations, i.e. characters that differ from your typical white, male, 30-year old Rambo. I´m of the opinion that said variation should be taken to the next step. By taking away pre-made main characters from games and instead let your create your very own main character in the console´s main menu. Think of it like creating your Mii or Avatar, and using it in every game you buy. Of course, depending on the art style, your self-made avatar would change to fit in the game. But you´d also play as exactly the person you want to play as. The only kind of games that would have a problem with this concept would be cinematic games with lots of voice acting and pre-rendered cutscenes. But who cares, these games are taking the wrong direction anyways.