Event Releases – A business model for Nintendo

January 28, 2011

It´s really hard to decide what to write about these days. Just today, Sony announced its PSP2-handheld, which looks as hot and shiny as its predecessor did back in 2004. Then, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Swords keeps on feeling farther and farther away from its release-date. And lastly, the way Nintendo handles the Wii becomes odder with every day. And I guess that´s something I´ll write about, though I´ll focus on a specific part of the recurring dilemma: Nintendo´s third-party relations.

No matter what happens, Nintendo seemingly can´t win when it comes to third-party games. The GameCube was a powerful system, only bested by Xbox, and only got what was left over on the multiplatform table. The Wii is tracking on par with PlayStation 2 at the same time in its life, and release lists are empty. They´re simply empty, third parties refuse to deliver anything that goes beyond a cheap party-game. Even on the Nintendo DS, the de facto most successful videogame system of all times, western developers completely ignore the portable. Now, the 3DS is about to launch, but somehow I´ve got a bad feeling about the support of Capcom and Square Enix, especially when it comes to Sony´s PSP2, which will see their support, too, and likely an even better one. So, with all those examples of how Nintendo failed at gaining third-party support, what´s left to do? Is there no solution?

Well, there is. At least, that´s what I´d like to claim. And there´s even a bit of an early proof of what I´m going to detail when you take a look at the Nintendo 3DS´ launch-lineup. The big first-party titles for launch are some bizarre submarine-game and the cutey-cute Nintendogs-sequel. That´s it. Pilotwings Resort´s going to be released rather sooner than later, but the two biggest inhouse-developments, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Ocarina of Time 3D are delayed till after E3, as Reginald “Reggie” Fils-Aime announced just days ago. In other words: Nintendo is granting third-party developers/publishers at least half a year to fight software-sales out by themselves. And even afterwards, what is it that Nintendo has to offer? Remakes and an arcadey flight-shooter? We saw how well Sin and Punishment 2 sold …

But that is exactly the way Nintendo has to pan out its first party-releases! If they want to acquire third-party support, that is. The one old, big (,and stupid) argument that these developers always made is that Nintendo-fans only buy Nintendo-games. Be it because Nintendo-fans are such fanboys or because Nintendo-games are so much better in quality, you choose, he! Anyway, if there weren´t that many Nintendo-games to begin with, even the most rabbid fanboys will be forced to take a look at third party-offerings, if they want something to play. And if that were the case, no third party-developer would have the right to complain about some kind of unfair competition – there wouldn´t be anymore direct competition with Nintendo!

But wait! That leaves us with a question: How is Nintendo supposed to make money with software? You know, since they´re a gaming company first and foremost! That´s the tricky part, and it is a concept that could only ever work with Nintendo. Both complaint and necessity, Nintendo heavily relies on its famous IPs. Some are sick of them, others can´t get enough of them. And surely, the latter mark the majority.  But that is not a problem. Instead of handling its first party-titles like normal video game releases, just putting them out like any other developer does, Nintendo has to change their games´ public image away from the status of “just another game“, and towards something more similar to an event altogether. The best example to give you a better image of that concept would be to take a look at Dragon Quest. The mainline Dragon Quest-series is not just some game, it´s an event. We all know the photos of waiting lines in Japan. I don´t know if that´s still the case, but I believe to remember something about Japanese children getting one day off school whenever a DQ-game is released. That´s how much of an event that “game” is. Of course, it´s not necessary to take it that far, but it´s the same principle: Make your franchises into something special. Something gamers will look forward to, no matter the specifics.

Putting a bit more detail into that plan, think of it like that: Nintendo has several popular franchises. Those would be Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Kirby, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Starfox, F-Zero, Pikmin, Pokemon. And many others. Now, if we remember the past few Nintendo-systems, there has almost never been more than one installment of each series, two at maximum. What to do is the following: Screw all possible spilled details about these games until shortly prior to their release dates. But do announce them a long time before the actual release happens. Also, pan their releases out evenly and scarce over the year. I would have to count all franchises to create a precise time table, but how about three games a year for each platform? That would mean that every four months, a new Nintendo-title is released, giving third parties a lot of time for their games. Meanwhile, Nintendo-fans have a release-list that looks like the following:

  • January #1: Kirby
  • July #1: Animal Crossing
  • November #1: Zelda
  • January #2: F-Zero
  • July #2: Pokemon
  • November #2: Mario

That would be Nintendo´s release-list for two years. And we would know of this list at least a year before the first game´s release. All we´d know would be “Kirby” releases next year´s January. We wouldn´t know what it looks like, what its subtitle is, or gameplay-ideas it incorporates. It´d simply be the “Kirby-day”. And all the details wouldn´t matter, because damn, it´s freaking Kirby! But maybe you´d have an easier time seeing the idea behind that concept if I used Zelda or Mario, but I think you get it. Let´s be honest: We weren´t interested or hyped for Twilight Princess because of “yay, transforming into a wolf!” or “hm, I´m really excited who this princess is going to be!“. We were hyped because, you already know it, IT´S ZELDA! The same goes for Mario, Metroid and most of Nintendo´s franchises. We´re interested because we know how great these franchises have always been, how they rarely disappointed. Details are unnecessary, and to get these games to the general public, a short marketing campaign shortly prior to release should be well enough. So, not only would it spare fans from spoiling themselves (thanks, Gametrailers, for spoiling me the Zoras in TP! Yeah, still bitter about that …), it´d also change how not only we, the gamers, view those Nintendo-games, it also would create an opportunity for both Nintendo AND third party-developers.

Seeing how Nintendo runs into problems sooner or later with every new console generation, how they cannot continuously support a system by themselves (not while satisfying enthusiasts) and how such planned out release dates would only help each IP´s installment to get all the polish it really need, that would be a concept to solve these problems. Just in case you think that would be too little releases, please take into account how Nintendo-games tend to be evergreens. A status that would only be strengthened by treating these titles as events. And if after all that Capcom, Square Enix, Electronic Arts, Activision or Konami are then still arguing about Nintendo´s software being too dominant, they can go **** themselves. Feel free to agree.


A Battle of Music: Game vs Franchise

December 18, 2009

Video game music knows various degrees of enjoyment. We all know the many great pieces of beloved franchises like the Legend of Zelda, Super Mario or even Pokemon. These games feature pieces of music that you can always hum along and certain pieces won´t be forgotten forever. The Super Mario Bros.-theme is such a piece of music, the Zelda-theme and many of Ocarina of Time´s soundtrack are, as well. But all these pieces of music share a certain similarity, and there is a reason why i refrained from using the word “song”. They are not.

Let me say that you won´t find a guy that loves the soundtrack of all the mentioned Nintendo-games more than me. I have a lot of them in my daily playlists, I whistle the Song of Storm or Gerudo Valley-song all the time. But these aren´t songs. They´re part of a video game soundtrack, created to set up a certain mood in certain parts of the game. You could say, in a way, they´re “atmospheric songs“, there to enhance the gaming experience. That´s why I suppose that Nintendo is so shy of using orchestrated soundtracks for their games, as it takes away from the interactive atmosphere of the game. With Nintendo´s current music-philosophy, the music always matches what´s going on on-screen, changing on the spot if something happens.

But that is also the reason why every Nintendo game lacks it: A theme song.

There is the famous Zelda-theme, but it is not a song. It is a game-opening welcomer, like a voice in your head that tells you “yeah, my friend, you´re about to start a whole new adventure, have fun!” and you know you will.

Legend of Zelda – theme

This kind of music transcends beyond single games, though. It´s the signature-theme of a whole franchise. Whenever you here this theme you know it´s the Legend of Zelda. But it doesn´t tell you anything about a specific game within the series. That is what Nintendo´s games in general are lacking. The ONE identifying song, the ONE song that makes you remember the game you´re playing that moment. That song doesn´t exist. But it should.

Maybe, to clear things up a bit, I should give a simple example of what I mean. We all know James Bond, agent 007. This is the James Bond-theme that everyone around the worlds associates with the famous action-movie series:

James Bond – theme

It´s a great theme, but it doesn´t relate to a specific movie within the James Bond-franchise. That is where we proceed to James Bond: Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig as the lead actor. Listen to the following:

You know my Name (Casino Royale opening)

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a theme song. It is perfect. It is a fresh piece of music. It gives you chills. It creates dramatic pictures inside your head. It makes you want to get more of that experience. And it is a piece of music, a song, exclusively made for that one movie. Whenever you hear this song, you think of Casino Royale, instead of just generalizing “oh, it´s James Bond”. It´s that kind of songs that Nintendo´s games don´t have. And to give an example of a video game series that does what Nintendo does not, here is the Metal Gear Solid 3-theme:

Snake Eater (Metal Gear solid 3 – theme)

I´m definitely no big fan of the Metal Gear Solid-games, but in terms of creating a great theme song for the third game in the series, Konami did a damn good job.

In the end, what I´m saying is: Using all the old, famous tunes is nice, and I´ll be in full hype should Nintendo reveal Zelda Wii with the traditional Zelda-theme. But what I´d hope for is that upcoming Zelda-, Mario-, Pokemon-, you name it-, games got a little more recognition as specific games, more so than “just” games that are part of a bigger franchise. Or in other words: When Nintendo reveals the “Legend of Zelda: Sky Diver” for Wii, I want a theme-song that makes me think of “Sky Diver” instead of “Legend of Zelda“.


E3 is over – Where are the games? – and – The day waggle became cool

June 3, 2009

Well E³ as an expo isn´t over, yet, but the big three conferences are. And to come straight to the point: I am disappointed. Let´s be clear, though: This year´s E³ is a dozen times better than what we had to go through last year. Then again, that should have been expected.

What i´m so disappointed about is how few new games had been announced. And don´t call me out on this one naming some small puzzle-download-games. I don´t care about those. I´m talking about big games that i can sink into, that grant me an experience. But what did Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo show us?

Microsoft started with a broad showing of popular IPs. In the end, Kojima´s Metal Gear Solid: Rising was the only new game, though. Sony…hm, ah, there was The Agent from Rockstar and a couple of PSP-games, though it´s yet to be proven how well a Resident Evil works on a handheld. Nintendo showed the most new games, but…it was like Mario, Mario and Mario again. Seriously, i was about to shout when Cammie Dunaway spoke as if it was great to have more Mario games…well, then she showed Mario Galaxy 2, so that´s good, but still… Oh well, Metroid: Other M should be considered a half-megaton, but not for me, as i hate Team Ninja´s hack and slay-games, and i am not interested in a Metroid Hack and Slay.

THEN there is the sad part about the past two days: Waggle became cool.

I am a Wii-owner sind end 2006, and i always love the idea of motion controllers, i even made a bad picture before Nintendo even unveiled the Wiimote. But for the past 2,5 years, as a Nintendo-fan you got ridiculed all the time by bitter Sony-fans about how crappy motion controlling is, about how it kills gaming and how they don´t want to move after they come home from work. Guess what, NOW they´re fighting on all the internet boards, fighting for THEIR motion control is better than Nintendo´s. Give me an effing break. At least Microsoft has a different approach and i hope they use their Natal-camera more for supporting traditional games than trying the “without anything in your hands”-crap. There´s a reason why the Wiimote works and Eyetoy bombed.

NERVNow, let me point out something else: If i was Microsoft, i´d badmouth Kojima so much that he has to go out of business. What kind of kindergarten was that when he said at Sony´s conference, the PSP-MGS is the “true next MGS”? As if he was making fun of MS that he announced MGS: Rising the day before. The next thing is Capcom developing a RE-game for PSP. WTF, the Wii gets only On-Rail-shooters, and the PSP gets a, probably, real RE-game? Give me a break. People say that Nintendo doesn´t help third parties enough, but they gave them 2008 and the whole 2009 without any Nintendo-competition. That is more than any of them could ever want.

At long last, let´s talk about what i liked. Yeah, there were things i liked. First of all, looking at my E³-predictions, Microsoft delivered. Not only was ME2 shown, but also Molyneux´ Project Dimitri, now called Milo, was revealed. If this thing works as it was shown, it´ll be revolutionary. Also, there was a nice trailer for Endless Ocean 2, so Nintendo delivered that. Of course, i´m anticipating Mario Galaxy 2, but it´s coming out in 2010, so it´s too far away. A game that looks at least as good as FF12 is Monado: Beginning of the World from Monolith Software…which Nintendo didn´t mention at all, sigh. Looks rock solid, and has active battle system, yay. Then i´m a bit hyped for Silent Hill Wii. Looks very immersive, maybe a bit too immersive for me. And that´s it. There are other interesting games, but i have yet to see more of them. Biggest disappointment is maybe Red Steel 2, which, from watching a developer walkthrough, doesn´t really use MotionPlus for 1:1 sword-controls. At least in the videos he never moved the sword slowly, only made fast swings. Oh well.

In the end, Miyamoto mentioning Zelda Wii and showing a, most likely, completely irrelevant painting of Link and a girl in a blue robe is enough to make me feel satisfied. But it´s not enough to make my brain stop and think: Nintendo, what are you doing in Kyoto? There are only 2 new Wii-games by Nintendo themselves. Are they developing other games secretly for future times? Are they working on fewer games with more manpower for greater quality? Or did they fire many of their inhouse developers? Really, something´s fishy, and i´d like to know what.

Now let´s wait for 2010, because as of now, Nintendo won´t be releasing a big game in 2009…at all.


The kiddy-genre: Platformers

February 19, 2009

Before i start, please go watch this wonderful video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOh968qao74

Now, take a deep breath, wipe away the tear of joy that started growing when you were reminded of the great time you had with Super Mario Galaxy. Okay.

The clever choice of music combined with the shown scenes made me think about something. That is, why are there only kiddy platformers out there? Not kiddy in terms of gameplay, but looks, i mean. If you take a look at that genre you´ll realize something shocking: Mario, the nice plumber man, is the most mature platformer-character when it comes down to pure appearance. You have Jak, Ratchet, Crash Bandicoot, Rayman, Tak and the likes…but all of them look even more cartoonish and goofy than Mario. That had me think:

Where are the mature platformers? Platformers that take the awsome gameplay of a 3D-Mario-game, but put it into a mature, more realistic setting. I´m not even talking about Gears of War-guys jumping around, now that would be silly. But how about, instead of some abstract cartoon-character, you let me take control over a sympathic, well-designed anime-character. You know, that 08/15-, standard-adventure-hero-boy. Like…him:

VyseAnd instead of jumping in abstract levels, you create a realistic world, that works both as living world AND “jump-around-and-show-some-skill”-world. I mean, if nothing else, you could always approach the story like Virtua Fighter: Cyber Quest and have the main character enter some virtual world, where there could be as abstract levels as in those Mario-games.

Why all that would matter, you ask? Well, for one, i have more fun when i´m playing as a character i like. Secondly, i think platformers are, together with action-adventures, THE genre that gives the player a great deal of interactivity. And i´d love to experience such interactivity in a game that goes beyond cartoonish and goofy behaviour. And in case someone feels the need to name them, let me do it first: Prince of Persia and Mirrors Edge just arent platformers in the vein of a Mario-game. The latter is completely different, while the former is more of a climb-game than a jump´n run/platformer. No, give me a non-cartoonish-character that can use a double or triple-jump, that makes a wall-jump, and what not else. Though present it in a rather cool than goofy way. Personally, that´s what i´d always hoped a new Kid Icarus-game could become. A combination of Zelda´s epic presentation and Mario´s move repertoire.


The Curse of the Double Jump

January 5, 2009

It will be short, it will be a rant, and you might not agree with me, so keep that in mind…NOW!

I don´t care about the solutions they had in good ol´ 2D-times, and i don´t really know which one was the first 3D-game to “feature” this, but i do know that i don´t like it: The Double Jump.

I am talking about that gameplay-action, where you´re inmidst of the air after pressing the jump-button once, then press the same button again while you´re still up, and you can jump a second time…without touching the ground again. This came to my mind when i played God of War yesterday, and no, this is not something only this game does “wrong”. How about the “Sony Jump’n Runs“, how i call them, Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, Sly the Racoon. Or Crash Bandicoot. They all feature this Double Jump, that, at least from my point of view, doesn´t make any sense.

Rather than being ridiculous from a visual point (your character jumps from the air, lolwut, is this One Piece, CP9?!?), it´s even moreso a cheap way out of a game design problem. Without a Double Jump, many areas in the above games would have to be completely reconstructed, simply because they character wouldn´t have such a reach. Also, it´s a matter of accessability. Tapping the same button twice is easier than, for example, holding another button AND press the jump-button to do a long jump.

This is what brings us to the Mario-series. Really, much more so back last gen then today, it was said that the best Jump’n Runs are on a Sony-system now. You see, i could never agree with that…for the simple fact that the only Jump’n Run today that actually features a deep Jump-system IS the Mario-series. No Double Jump, no, when Mario jumps, he either reaches his goal or falls to death. No rescue-jump. And it seems Nintendo especially thought about that matter, as the Double Jump in Metroid Prime is a gameplay-mechanic that´s totally well explained. Then there´s Zelda where you cannot even jump anymore on your own. I really wish for some jumping-action in future Zelda-games, but i definitely don´t want Link jumping around like an idiot, Nintendo always kept the movements in Zelda-games somewhat “realistic”.

To make long matters short: I´d love to see more reasonable jump-concepts. One idea i had for a long time is that if you want to jump farther, you hold the jump-button, press the stick into the wanted direction, and your character realistically takes an inrun, and once you feel like it´s enough, you release the jump button and the character jumps…in horizontal, not vertical distance. A game that featured that idea in some kind was Spiderman 2 for all systems last gen. Though it was way overdone, totally not suited for a normal jump’n run. Anyway, that´s what i want.

Do you like the Double Jump? Have you even ever thought about it? Tell me…so i ca rant some more.