Splitting the Zelda-series in two

August 25, 2010

Now that sounds crazy, but after watching a slideshow featuring the first screenshots of Ocarina of Time 3DS again, I thought about how special Ocarina of Time still is. Both to us, the gamers, and to Nintendo, who obviously acknowledge the importance of this one Zelda-game. And to be honest, OoT will never cease to amaze gamers. It´s that once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that no other game will ever beat per se. So no matter what Nintendo does, gamers will remember OoT. At the same time, there´s a growing group of Zelda-fans that are growing tired of the traditional formula, which even Skyward Sword, the upcoming Wii-entry, doesn´t seem to shake up that much. So why not simply split the Zelda-series in two?

By splitting in two, I imagine two Zelda-series that are developed at the same time, as in, not consuming each other´s development resources, but two completely separate installments. One of these Zelda-series would be “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. Yes, read that right, OoT would be its own “series”. There appear to be quite a lot people that criticize the Zelda-games for being too similar to each other. While I´m personally not in that camp, it still exists. So instead of doing “similar” Zeldas one after another, time after time again, let´s take OoT and turn it into the “classic Zelda”-series. Each entry of this branch of the Zelda-franchise would intentionally be similar to the previous one – with appropriate differences, of course, such as new dungeons, new story, a few new items and so on, you get it. It´d be the Zelda for all those fans that still like and love each and every newly released Zelda-game.

And then there´d be the other Zelda-series, we could call it “The Legend of Zelda: Beyond Time”. This would be the branch of the Zelda-franchise for all those fans that love the Zelda-series, but want it to do more fresh, creative, different stuff. Think of all the stuff your heard someone say and thought “eww, then it wouldn´t be a Zelda-game anymore”. Perfect, that´s what this series would be for! Some examples of what kind of features this branch could have: Direct jumping control, no gamey puzzles, more/less linearity, selectable difficulty, multiplayer-modes, and so on. It´d be the playground for Nintendo´s creative minds, and it´d be the fresh adventure many of us want to have, set within the Zelda-universe.

And, I mean, this would give us a second big action-adventure franchise, so to speak. Will probably never happen, but I´d really like it to. After all, even though I want BIG changes to the Zelda-series, I also still like the traditional formula, and experiments could go wrong, too. However, maybe this will kind of happen with the split between home console and handheld Zelda-titles. If we take a look at the two Nintendo DS-entries, they surely are very different from Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. With the added power of the 3DS-hardware and Nintendo showing that they´re going for a real 3D-Zelda on a handheld this time, we really could get more of this great action-adventure franchise in a shorter time frame. Of course, that still doesn´t mean that on of the two systems´ Zelda-titles will be more creative than the other one.

A Nintendo 3DS-wishlist (as if success wasn´t granted already…)

July 26, 2010

It´s not news-worthy when I tell you how obsessed I am by the mere thought of the Nintendo 3DS these days. I literally can´t wait, which is why I´m writing this little article. We know that the 3DS will feature GameCube/Wii-like visuals, have analog-stick-like controls and, of course, a 3D-screen. There´s also some kind of tag-mode-thingy, though I´m not quite sure, yet, what exactly that´s going to be useful for. Anyway, with just the above, Nintendo has got a super-selling product lined up for whenever it is brought to the market, that´s guaranteed, is what I´d like to say – I´ve never seen that much universal hype for a single gaming-system before. But even with all its strong selling-points it already has, why not … make it the perfect entertainment device of the forever?

One feature that would really make a big impact would be a TV-out feature. I don´t know if that´s still a possibility, as people have seen what kind of  attachment outlets the 3DS has, but if there is, oh well. If you´ve been reading this blog for a while, you know about my wish for a hybrid console/handheld, and, well, that´d be it. Hook up the 3DS to a TV and play games on the big screen. Considering that this would mean no 3D, the extra power could maybe even be enough for HD-gaming, couldn´t it. For a perfect hybrid-device, controller-support would be the last piece in the puzzle. Maybe that´s something for the next generation after 3DS – wirelessly connect a Wiimote to the 3DS and really, it´d be like a full home console, just usable on-the-go as well. No limitations as to where you play and how you play games.

Another neat feature which I hope for even more than the above one is proper video- and music-playback. Not only do even really old mobile phones feature that, Nintendo themselves already started it with the Nintendo DSi´s music-playback feature. Not to mention that even the GameBoy Advance was capable of playing videos under certain circumstances. I don´t expect Nintendo to give us all the codecs; just .mp3 for music and one of the popular video-formats would be enough. Of course, ideally they´d simply let us buy new codecs by ourselves. That way, it wouldn´t make the device more expensive for Nintendo, but consumers still would get the chance to use their 3DS to its fullest. Just have there be an appstore-like environment that I can enter. One category will be “codecs” where I can buy divx, xvid, avi, mkv, flac, aac and whatever else. As for music, some playlist-features would be great. For videos, simply letting me play them from SD-card would be good enough. With Nintendo themselves having shown 3D-movies being played on the 3DS, like “How to train a Dragon”, video-playback really seems like a no-brainer. But you never can be sure with Nintendo, can you.

Which leads us to the next big feature: An appstore for 3DS. Both Wii and DSi kinda have something like that already, remember how you could get the Opera-browser; but, of course, I´m imagining something a lot more elaborate here. Sure, Nintendo is all about the games, but why not let the consumer decide what his handheld should be capable of? That´s why such an online-shop for expanded functionality would be great. Simple stuff like a calculator, a calendar or a memo-function could be offered there, but also more complex stuff like an IRC-(internet relay chat)-application, or Skype or ICQ. Also, simple text-programs would be nice. After all, there´s already a software for Nintendo DS that teaches you how to paint, so why not a text-program, too? All of these are the more obvious idea, but there really would be no limit as to what kind of applications could be offered.

Something that´s probably the most unlikely feature to happen, but still would do wonders for some of the previous mentioned ideas, would be the inclusion of 3G – internet without the need of being close to a hotspot. Actually, I never got how these hotspots worked, anyway, as you still need a user name and password to use hotspots, and that´s hardly the case when not at home. 3G really would free the 3DS from all remaining boundaries.  There are a lot of ways to have Nintendo get the money back for this feature´s costs – like offering different SKUs or include the 3G-costs into downloads, just to name two possibilities. There are so many ideas that could be done with 3G, so many that I´m not going to name them. Let´s just say: 3G in the 3DS would be really, really, neat. It probably won´t happen, but it´d be … neat.

On that note, something a friend of mine is wishing for is GPS. Personally, I don´t need it, but if it´s there, I wouldn´t complain about it. And to be honest, it´d allow for some interesting real life-virtual life-games in the vein of geo caching.

3G yes or no, improved online-features are a must. And by improved, I mean: Improved a lot. Basically, give me something on par with Xbox Live for the 3DS. A single friends list for all games. Demo-download without being in need of a Wii-system. Some social features like easy-accessable text-messaging and getting information about your friends, like what games they played, if they´re online right now, stuff like that. And make online-gaming be fast and easy. Make it easy to join friends´ games. Oh, and don´t separate game from system-menu. Give me something like the Xbox-button that keeps the game running in the background, but grants me control over all the system´s feature. Don´t make me quit a game, before I can send a friend a text-message, that´s what I mean. And that´s that.

Finally, I´d like to mention some games I´d love to see on the 3DS. Seemingly, it´s already announce, but we haven´t seen anything yet, so I´ll mention it anyway: Naruto Shippuuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen! from Tomy/8ing. No matter if you like the Naruto-series or not, the GameCube-fighters were great fun and I was really addicted to them. 8ing´s last Wii-title sucked, though, but if they could return to their old fighting-strength, that´d beat any Dead or Alive or Streetfighter for me. Another game is Skies of Arcadia. And I don´t care if it´s a sequel or a port/remake. I want Skies of Arcadia on a handheld, and 3D alone would work wonders for flying ships and flying whales. As for a game that many gamers probably wouldn´t expect on a handheld, give me Metroid Prime 4 3DS. When I first thought about it I was like “uh, but how will it control?”, but then I remembered how Metroid Prime for GameCube controlled … you don´t need a second analog-stick at all for the Prime-series. Two other games that I´d like to see sequels for on the 3DS are Lugi´s Mansion and Endless Ocean. Both ghosts and fish are such obvious choices for making great use of a 3D-effect. Other than these games, it´s really hard to come up with something else – I mean, we already get a freakin´ Ocarina of Time-remake!

Again, never before have I been this hyped for a gaming-system, and never before have I seen such universal praise for one. Where people thought the Nintendo DS reached the mainstream, the 3DS will re-define what “mainstream” really is. First-party-support, third-party-support, and the first mainstream-device that features 3D – not only will this be every entertainment-lover´s device, it´ll also surpass anyone´s sales predictions. Now all there is to ask, is: Will the 3DS be fun, or will it be too much fun? Because these are really the only two remaining possibilities.

Why 3DS gets gaming back on track

July 17, 2010

Just last week, a colleague of mine got the chance to play with Nintendo´s upcoming 3DS-handheld himself. As if I couldn´t get hyped up anymore, he reported back how awesome the 3D-effect actually is. Which, to be frank, surprised me quite a bit, as I had thought the 3DS´s effect would be rather gimmicky and tacked on, not comparible with the 3D we all know from the movie theater. Well, turns out that was wrong. But I´m gladly wrong here. Anyway, I thought about that 3D-effect and it made me realize something.

What put games one step ahead of movies was their interactivity. You can read about that in detail here, but the order of evolution in entertainment-terms goes as follows: picture -> movie -> video game.  Games are interactive movies, well, not literally, at least most of them are not. But where a movie is a passive, moving picture, a video game is an active, moving picture. And then there´s 3D-movies. And that´s where video games have to play catch up: There are no real 3D-games, not in the sense of actively controlling what makes 3D 3D. That´s where the 3DS comes into play.

Imagine a game with fixed camera view. Now imagine some character being displayed on-screen, let´s say, Mario. And now imagine controlling said Mario … out of and into the screen´s depth effect. There really isn´t that much more to describe, that´s it. And it´d be awesome beyond anything else. I once dreamed about the idea of having holograms some time in the future where you could basically control Mario jumping around in your own room and such. Well, 3D won´t be able to let you do that, but it certainly could bring Mario and whoever out of the screen, making it look as if he was jumping around in front of your eyes instead of inside a small screen. What makes this that gorgeous is the fact that the player himself would be able to control the depth of the 3D-effect, and not by using the 3D-slider of the handheld but by moving a virtual character. Just imagine yourself holding the analog-pad downwards and pressing the A-button, making Mario jump in your face. It´d then look as if he was running in front of your nose, and once you decide to push the analog-pad upwards, he´d be running back inside the depth of his world.

Obviously, most 3DS-games will probably feature a fixed character-position, but even then, a certain amount of controlling the 3D itself is possible. Imagine some objects flying around your characters, like those holy seeds in the movie “Avatar”. By walking further, these objects would move closer to the player´s face. So, even within the context of a typical video game-setup, 3D would be controllable by the player.

I think that this is important to note, because it really is something completely new. Until now, 3D was a neat effect in movies, but it is the 3DS that will turn it into something much, much more powerful. I realize, by the way, that 3D is already possible with a few games, but it´ll be the 3DS that´s going to bring out 3D´s potential for gaming and get it to the masses. That´s a given, if the already existing popularity for Nintendo´s new little machine is any indication.

The Wait for 3DS is almost unbearable

July 1, 2010

Ever since the new Nintendo-handheld was announce lots of people are looking forward to it. And why not? There are so many good reason to long for this piece of hardware. It´s the next Nintendo-handheld. That alone is reason to get hyped. It has glassless 3D, which is absolutely revolutionary in terms of gaming systems, portable ones no less. And then there´s the games. Kid Icarus, Ocarina of Time Remake, Dead or Alive, Metal Gear Solid 3, and so on. It all comes together in one, seemingly, perfect piece of hardware. And then there´s one more reason.

That reason is: Independence. I´m not trying to be overly dramatic, but for quite some time now I have felt that it is really annoying to be dependent on your television. To have a room where you can put inside all that stuff. Bound to a power socket. The first time I felt like that was way back then when I imported Animal Crossing for GameCube. As interesting as the game was back then, it wasn´t a game that could motivate me for hours, when it was the only thing that I could use for the time being. Just wasn´t a comparison when Animal Crossing Wild World for Nintendo DS came out. Perfect game to play while watching TV. But that was a sentiment exclusively tied to that one game. Still, that marked the first time I ever thought about above mentioned dependence.

Now, however, with real-life intervening more and more often, it´s become a real hassle. Be it because of being away from home, or having trouble with the people you´re living with, or out of fear not being able to stay at your current place any longer. That would be the more serious reasons. And then there´s also stuff like not being able to concentrate on one thing for a long time in one sitting anymore. See my experience with Animal Crossing above. I´ve become a multi-tasking person. Well, multi-entertainment person, to be more precise. I like having the TV running even when I´m not actively watching. I like reading what people write in the IRC-channel I´m regularly visiting. And I like browsing a multitude of websites within mere seconds, just to see if something new happened. This might not be a problem to other people, but I hate being limited. That´s where a handheld comes in handy.

The final problem, however, was that no Nintendo-handheld could deliver good enough 3D-graphics. A PSP was never an option for me, as it´s all about games, and the games I like are not on PSP. Anyway, the 3DS finally changes that. Or completes it, to be more precise. GameCube-level graphics in the palm of the your hand – what´s more to want?! Of course, there´s other stuff, like 3D, and who knows what other features we´ll see, like hopefully proper music- and video-playback. The 3DS is the complete package. It´s the convergence of gaming entertainment. That´s why I can´t wait. Being in total control of my gaming urges, that is what 3DS is to me. Three DS? More like Free DS!

Galaxy out – Back to the roots (not THE roots)

June 25, 2010

Just recently, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released, the sequel to one of the critically best-received video game-titles ever. And just as its predecessor, SMG2 is as fantastic. Well, almost. Some mean-minded people called SMG2 a “mission disc for SMG1”, complaining about its similar nature. But while it´s true that all the basics are the same, almost each and every mission of SMG2 offers a new challenge that hadn´t been seen before. But I have to admit: A hypothetical Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably bore me.

Imagination at its extreme

Two 3D-Mario-games, both of the highest quality that can be met in this industry. But nearing SMG2´s end, I couldn´t help but think that a lot of those galaxies featured a very similar style, be it the gameplay or simply the visual premise. Not only that, but SMG1´s ending was by far superior to SMG2´s. Here, you just keep playing and playing, and suddenly it´s all over. Whereas in SMG1, the game really pushed a a whole firework into the player´s face, celebrating the finale of that grand piece of gaming. Still, SMG2 managed to build on SMG1´s strengths, such as not to overuse items. And it certainly one-upped the difficulty to please “hardcore”-gamers. Two fantastic games. But now it´s time for something new. Or should I say: Something old again.

Let me assure you that I know that most gamers consider SMG to be the “new” entry in Mario-evolution that they wanted to happen to the Zelda-series as well. I, however, think differently. And I already wrote an article on that. SMG isn´t new at all. It took the nature of 2D-Mario´s gameplay and perfectly mixed it into 3D-Mario´s basics; thus resulting in the linear, short and fun missions we all know by now. But that´s neither new, nor is it the only option for the Mario-franchise.

Exploring Isla Delfina - Fun without direction

It could be argued that Mario 64´s focus on adventure and exploration wasn´t very Mario-esque, but that´s far in the past. Now, I like that style. I loved Mario 64 when it came out, and, while featuring some reeeally annoying missions, I also loved Mario Sunshine. I loved it because it offered me such big places to explore, jump around, climb upon and find out secrets just about everywhere. Isla Delfino was a super fun place to run around. In both this game and Mario 64, missions weren´t always as clear as in the Galaxy-games. Sure, you were always given a certain objective, but you could also stray away from the original path and explore the level – only to find out that there´s another star to get. It´s this non-linear structure that made 3D-Marios so much fun back then. I very well remember the times when I started Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine only to run around the island or castle. The same can´t be said about Galaxy 1 and 2, where both hubs are completely devoid of secrets.

So, after having greatly enjoyed two of the best Mario-games, it´d be nice to see something new, something fresh: A return to 3D-Mario´s roots. Give me one big, open world to explore. Considering that a new home console-Mario might see its release on the next Nintendo-system, with all the extra power Nintendo could even attempt to create a completely seamless world, without any “levels”. We got the extreme of 2D. Now show us the extreme of 3D, Nintendo.

The Nintendo-show 2010

June 16, 2010

The big three´s press conferences are over. Time for reflecting on what new they brought to the table. But, actually, who am I kidding, let´s jump straight  into the most important game being shown:

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was revealed. That´s the full title of the new Zelda-game for Wii. When Shigeru Miyamoto presented it live on stage, there seemed to be control issues, but as later reports seem to prove, those issues were due to all the light sources in the audience, so not something that will be a problem for anyone playing at home. But let me tell you that I´m disappointed overall. The graphics are what grabs your attention first when seeing that game, and it´s a weird mixture of good and bad design. Link looks fantastic. This is the perfect Link-design as far as I´m concerned. What´s really great, too, is how the game uses some kind of light cel-shading, very similar to the cutscenes of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. Basically, this is The Wind Waker mixed with Twilight Princess, and it´s glorious. But then there´s also the bad. First of all, the new Moblins (I assume these are the new Moblins) look horrible from a pure design point of view. They have ugly, round noses as if they were from a Bugs Bunny-cartoon. And while defending themselves not too bad, they have such short legs that it looks weird how they walk or “run”.  Secondly, I hate the environment. Don´t get me wrong, if you see a screenshot and just judge the visuals from that, it looks good. But I´m looking at the environment from a gameplay perspective. And what I see are non-interactive trees and, the worst of it all, artificial walls that encircle the whole area and that, most likely, can´t be climbed upon. The area in this E3-demo is supposed to be a forest, but it doesn´t feel like one. It feels like a forced playground, not a natural one. And when you see a big mountain in the far in one of the videos that is a perfect cone, it looks like a dumbed down game-world.  So that´s really disappointing so far, but, of course, we only know that one, small area, and I have to give Zelda the benefit of doubt.

What was really cool and a positive surprise were the controls. My personal favorite: Link can now run! Or dash, or whatever you call it. By holding down the A-button, Link will run faster. It seems you can also run up walls and jump out of running, but I haven´t seen that myself, yet. The most important aspect of controls is, however, the sword. And really, they seem to use Wii Sports Resort-controls here. I´d say that there´s an intentional lag when you swing your sword, so it´s not totally as 1:1 as WSR´s sword-controls, but it´s good enough. And when you don´t swing too quickly, the sword really follows your own movement. Enemy-behavior seems to be built around this new feature, so now you have to find openings and slash vertically, horizontally or diagonally, depending on the enemy´s defense stance. The coolest addition to the sword´s skills: By holding up the sword, you can charge it. If you swing it now, it´ll send out a small energy wave that can cut grass. Great! But the sword isn´t the only item that got improvements. Bombs can now be thrown in two different ways, either like usual or you can roll them, much like a bowling ball. Also, there´s a mark that helps aiming bomb throws. The sling shot is back, too, and can be activated simply by pointing at the screen, not item change needed. Speaking of item change, you now simply press a button, draw the wiimote towards an item that´s shown in a ring-menu, and you have it activated. No slow pause-menu anymore. There also have been two brand new items. The whip lets you cut grass and grab items from enemies. Looks really smooth and can be controlled by doing natural movements with the wiimote. The best item, however, is the beetle. This is really like a spy toy. Link sends out a flying beetle. You will then play from the perspective of that beetle, controlling him by tilting the wiimote. Not only is that great for exploration, but the beetle can also grabs items from the ground. One video shows how you grab a bomb and then fly it to a stone wall, making it explode. The one implementation of controls the surprised me the most, though, was the bow and arrow. They really dared to include WSR´s archery controls here, or something close to it. With all my negativity about the environment and some of the enemies above, I´m really excited to see how that changes the game flow. Afterall, that means you cannot quickly shoot an arrow anymore. You have to strategize.

In the roundtable later that day Miyamoto told some more details about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It seems that Link is living on a floating island and will have to travel to a land below, because that land on the ground is befallen of evil.  The sword you saw is indeed the Master Sword. The game is in its final development stage, so it´s doubtful how much of my personal gripes will be addressed. At least it seems that there´s going to be orchestrated music, though Miyamoto didn´t say it clearly. To come to an end with the new Zelda, I´m sure it´ll be a great game. But I also fear that it might be more of the same, rather than the break up that the Zelda-series needed. Putting boss-enemies like that scorpion in the demo on the overworld is nice, but it´s not “shaking up the structure” of Zelda-games. And I really hope that the environments in the final game aren´t as artificial and constructed as in this demo. It looks a lot like Super Mario Galaxy, and while that´s okay for an abstract Mario-game, I want something different from a Zelda-game. Which is a natural, believable, lively world. But that´s not something I or anyone else knows about right now, so for the time being, I´m happy about the controls and movement-enhancements and look forward to seeing more about the world of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The other Wii-game that now has my full attention is Disney´s Epic Mickey. Warren Spector himself talked about the game on-stage and showed the game. I have yet to find out how long the game is supposed to be and how big the realm of personal choice actually is, but what was shown looked great. The thinner-ability especially. Erasing parts of a level, creating new parts at another spot looked fabulous. And the highlight was when Mickey entered a so-called bridge-zone. Those zones are used to travel from one area to another. In the case of this presentation you had to guide Mickey along a 2D-platforming sequence that looked perfectly like the Walt Disney-classic Steamboat Willy. So even if the 3D-portions of the game wouldn´t be that good, the 2D-portions would easily make up for it. The E3-presentation focused on showing basic gameplay-mechanics, so we don´t know yet how exactly the evolution of Mickey between hero and mischievous mouse works. There is also a story-trailer that was released later on that showed prerendered scenes, introducing the story of the game.

The visual highlight for Wii, however, was Kirby´s Epic Yarn. Yeah, Nintendo finally showed a Kirby-game for Wii! The game uses a very weird look, where everything is made of lines/threads. Kirby can interact with the world, resulting in even more strange effects. Really has to be seen to be appreciated as much as this game deserves.

And that´s it for the Wii. Well, at least for what is worth to me. One of, if not the, biggest disappointments was Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii. The game itself is fine, it´s classic Donkey Kong-platforming, fans will love it. But why does anybody need RetroStudious for developing such a game?! This game looks so standard-Donkey Kong, nothing has been influenced by RetroStudios. Nintendo could have had this game developed by anyone and it´d have been the same. But instead, they chose RetroStudious, who are famous for their incredible 3D-level design, and have them make a 2D-platformer. This simply sucks. A lot. Really hope that RetroStudios have been working on another game. Oh well.

The dominating factor of Nintendo´s press-conference 2010, though, was the 3DS. And it rocks. We don´t know yet all of the details about Nintendo´s new handheld. What it´ll cost, what the menu-structure will be like, what battery life is like and so on. But what we know sounds and looks great. For many gamers the most important thing: Graphics are fine, about GameCube-level, maybe a bit worse. But well enough for a handheld. I can already see myself spending most of my gaming time in the future with the 3DS instead if my Wii and 360. To allow for ideal controls, the 3DS features an analog-stick similar to the PSP´s, but initial impressions are that it´s a lot better than that one. As could have been predicted, only the top screen is 3D-capable, while the bottom screen remains a touchscreen. The size of the touchscreen is the same of the current DS, but has a slightly higher resolution. The top screen is in 16:9 format and features the same vertical resolution of 240 pixels like the bottom screen, but has 800 pixels in width, which will be devided by two to 400 pixels due to 3D. So one image for each of your eyes. And that 3D-effect appears to be phenomenal. As was predicted, it´s not 3D that pops out of the screen, but rather 3D that gives the screen depth, letting you “look inside the screen”. Something I really wanted also became reality: Nintendo works together with certain studios to bring 3D-hollywood movies to the 3DS. It remains to be seen how you get to see these movies. Buying movies on cartridges would suck, but we shouldn´t rule out that possibility. That´s it for the 3DS-hardware.

Kid Icarus is back! Nintendo finally did it and show a new Kid Icarus-game for 3DS. The full title is Kid Icarus: Uprising and is kind of a shoot’em up with hack’n slay-scenes. Very reminiscent of Sin and Punishment. Not my cup of beer in terms of gameplay, but it´s really nice to see Nintendo finally give the fans what they wanted. And they´re using Pit´s great model from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, too. Not to mention that the graphics will be really nice looking on a portable.

That was, however, but one of a ton of incredible announcements for the 3DS. Nintendo really has all third-parties´ support on this little system. Tecmo is developing Dead or Alive 3D, a franchise that never before was released on a Nintendo-system. Capcom works on a new Resident Evil-game and Konami has Metal Gear Solid 3DS in the works. Then there´s Splinter Cell from Ubisoft as well as an Assassin´s Creed-title. Square Enix has a new Kingdom Hearts-game and an untitled Final Fantasy-game in development. And many, many more. And now you´re asking how Nintendo can top this all? Not necessarily by releasing Animal Crossing 3DS, which looks like another cheap cash-in, but by developing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS. Not just a port, but a remake that will be visually enhanced and even be improved in terms of gameplay. For example, Eiji Aonuma mentioned how changing the boots in the water temple will be a lot quicker in this version of Ocarina of Time.

That´s it for Nintendo. Normally, I´d go on to talk about the other two, Microsoft and Sony, too, but their conferences were terrible. Sony´s was a bunch of already known games and some hardly convincing Move-games, while Microsoft did what Nintendo did in 2008. I guess Halo Reach could be interesting. Unfortunately, no mentioning of Mass Effect 3.

To conclude, this was one of the best E3s in years, if you like games that are not HD. As disappointed as I am with Zelda: Skyward Sword, I´m sure that next time we see it, it´ll look much more interesting. And with an Ocarina of Time-remake in the works, I´m on the safe side anyways. What´s most surprising, though, is that I´m totally excited about a lot of third party-games for 3DS. It´ll be so nice to play games with GameCube-like visuals on such a small handheld, and I can´t wait to play Dead or Alive 3D or Final Fantasy on that system. My only doubtful hope now remains that the 3DS supports music-and video playback off an SD-card. If that becomes reality, the 3DS will be the perfect handheld. Ah, who am I kidding? It most likey already is.

3DS in October and new Xenoblade-trailer

April 21, 2010

Who´d have thought that? Apparently, Nintendo´s next handheld-generation, called 3DS, will see its launch in October…in Europe. Prior to this information that an UK-retailer gave, people supposed that the 3DS would be launched this year in Japan, and some time early next year in Europe and the USA. Looks like we´ll get our hands on the first 3D-capable handheld-system sooner than expected.

On another note, Nintendo published a new trailer of Xenoblade, Monolithsoftare´s upcoming JRPG. This new video is really nice, showing lots of new characters as well as letting you listen to the great music the game seems to feature. Graphics definitely aren´t the game´s strengths, but it reminds me of other traditional JRPGs that I played in the past, like Skies of Arcadia, which is a good thing.

Xenoblade – Trailer #3

I really want 3D!

April 8, 2010

After having watched “How to train your Dragon” today in cinema, I just have to express how much I want that. Unlike Avatar, animation movies like that one really show off the strength of 3D. The trailer to that “Sammy´s World”-movie, featuring a little turtle, was even more impressive…it was as if the little turtle was 20 centimeters before your face. Gorgeous. From what I heard about the 3DS so far, it seems like the effect is backwards, meaning that images don´t pop out, but instead give more depth inside the screen. Well, I have no idea how that looks like in real-life, but I´m confident to say that video gaming is where 3D will have the biggest impact upon, not movies. Unfortunately, 3D will not become an option for home consoles as long as you need a new TV and glasses. So the 3DS is what I´m looking forward to most.

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.