The Man of the Industry – and Skyward Sword

March 2, 2011

In this video game industry, honesty and fairness is something not often displayed. It´s been a rough competition ever since the days of Nintendo versus Sega. It seems hard to imagine that one of these competing companies could talk in a manner that transcends typical boundaries between each competitor. Today, Satoru Iwata, head of Nintendo, managed to do exactly that. His GDC keynote speech about the event´s 25th anniversary made the Nintendo-boss look not so much like a Nintendo-guy, but someone who can speak out for the whole industry that he´s part of, too.

It was great to see Iwata take such a clear stance regarding Apple´s business model of cheap games. High-value games need to be sold at a certain price point, otherwise the gaming industry can´t keep creating these great experiences. Iwata talked about how all of them, be it Nintendo, MS, Sony or all the attending developers, have to make sure to innovate and to value their own work. And not to give in to a new business model of a company that has no own view about video games.

Now, obviously, GDC is not E3, but Nintendo indeed DID deliver E3-like announcements. The completely new Mario 3D is going to be a 3D-Mario platformer for the Nintendo 3DS-handheld and seems to follow the footsteps of both Super Mario Galaxy-titles, yet offering new features, like the hinted tanooki-suit and the revival of the traditional health-system, where Mario shrinks when hit by an enemy. Iwata said that the game would be fully revealed at E3.

Most interesting, though, is Zelda. And indeed was a new trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword shown. Admittedly, on my first time watching it, I felt underwhelmed. After several times now, I feel like there is a great game in the coming. But I´m still trying to figure out as to why it felt underwhelming. For one, they color saturation looks extremely washed out. Maybe that´s due to the video quality, but it really doesn´t help. Then there´s the occasionally bad enemy-design, like that fat guy with the wooden shield that pushes Link to the left. Then again, the Stalfos knight seems to be incredibly improved compared to the goofy model in the E3-demo. Personally, it´s these static, un-dynamic gameplay instances that get my hype down. For example, take a look at the tightrope scene. This looks as if it was very slow, very time-consuming and thus annoying. I remember smoothly running over tightropes in Assassin´s Creed 2 and … yeah. Then there´s those very blocky environments. The big room where Link fights the small spider is made of wide, bland walls and objects. There´s no detail to be seen and I almost get the feeling of it being the parody of a Zelda-dungeon. For last, the HUD looks awful. Some people claim that it´d be optional and can be deactivated, but I´ll believe that once I see it. The wiimote-overlay, the constant notice at the bottom middle that tells you how to use an item … that has to go away.

Now, on the positive side, the new main villain is gorgeous. I love crazy, arrogant menaces, and this guy looks like a mixture of Skullkid and Zant. Also, sword combat seems to be really complex. Notice how all the more aggressive enemies are blocking every sword-attack in that short trailer. Doesn´t make the impression as if hitting foes was as mindlessly easy as in Twilight Princess. I absolutely love the look of the desert-area, though I hope it isn´t too enclosed, too small in sheer size. But it´s hard to make out if the white wall is supposed to be an area limiter or just an object inmidst a bigger desert. The rolling enemy looks like a small Barroth btw., fellow Monster Hunter 3-fans. In general, as underwhelming as parts of Skyward Sword look, the overall feeling I get from both its E3-showing and now this trailer is that something new is on its way … something unknown.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword GDC-Trailer

We literally don´t know much about this Zelda-title, but with all previous series-entries, each game gave gamers a pretty distinctive impression early on. The Wind Waker was announced as a light-hearted adventure, Twilight Princess was always presented as the big, epic Lord of the Rings-entry. Skyward Sword is … Skyward Sword – whatever that´s supposed to mean. One might call it a lack of identity, but I feel like that could mean just the opposite: That this is going to be a different kind of Zelda-game, exactly the kind of big change that fans have wanted for a long time. Because let´s be honest: The clear focus of past 3D-Zeldas gave each series-entry its very own flavor, but it also limited them as a whole. Up until Ocarina of Time, Zelda-games didn´t have a perfectly defined flavor. Zelda-games were just mysterious adventures, sending the player on a big, unknown journey full of exploration. So far, Skyward Sword feels like it´s turning out be exactly that.

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GDC 2011 starts tomorrow – What´s important

February 27, 2011

This year´s Game Developers Conference is going to start this monday, February 28th, and will last till March 4th. The event is mostly thought to be a great opportunity for all the developers out there to meet and exchange knowledge. But that wouldn´t be the whole truth, not anymore. Satoru Iwata, head of Nintendo, is going to hold the keynote speech for this GDC, titled “Video Games Turn 25: A Historical Perspective and Vision for the Future”. That alone will be interesting to listen to, but all I´ve really got to say is this: Trailer for Skyward Sword!

We got the second Twilight Princess-trailer at GDC, Phantom Hourglass was revealed at another GDC. And we haven´t seen a single thing of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword ever since last year´s E3. Unless severe problems have pushed the game back even further, Skyward Sword WILL see its release in 2011. Two months are over already and except for super-enthusiasts like myself, hardly anyone is too hyped about the game at this point in time, simply because WE DO NOT KNOW S*** ABOUT IT. The only non-generic detail we know of is the mysterious girl that´s going to transform into a sword. That is the only detail one couldn´t have derived from this Wii-title´s predecessors. Controls are new, but expected. And the rest? A random forest-tutorial area and a “the world down below is ruled by evil and Link´s going to visit that land and rescue it“. Yeah, well, that´s … a Zelda-game, I guess. Of course, Link living above the clouds on hovering islands is awesome, but at this point, it´s really just another piece of speculation-inducing pseudo-information.

A Zelda-trailer here makes almost too much sense. The game won´t be released before E3 2011, but that´s where “journalists” should be able to play a near-final build of the game, NOT the place where we get to see the first real trailer for the game. And GDC 2011 is the last known event before E3, so that´s that.  First trailer now, second trailer and playable final build at E3, release date this fall. Sounds good, eh? And it´s the Zelda-series´ 25th Anniversary, too. Compare that to Iwata´s keynote title, yeah. See ya again in about two days, either fan-gasming or raging about the absence of a trailer.

PS: And a Mass Effect 3-trailer would be nice, too, Bioware!


Iwata: Bringing people online on Wii/NDS was a bitter learning experience

October 9, 2010

In a news-article on Siliconera, head of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, talked about the stronger focus on online-features regarding the upcoming Nintendo 3DS-handheld. He called it a bitter learning experience to get people online with Wii and Nintendo DS. It is still in the dark if 3DS will feature any (strongly) improved online-capabilities, since Iwata focuses talk on 3DS´s wlan-features, called SpotPass and Tag-Mode, that exist to use set up hotspots to connect to the internet. Something that might work for Japan, hardly for the USA, and definitely not for Europe.

However, people are criticizing Nintendo´s online approach as whole for a long time now. It has to be said that Nintendo most likely doesn´t have “crappy online” just for fun. Biggest evidence of that is the warning-screen that pops up every time you start your Wii or NDS. Not using any different technology in terms of “being dangerous”, it is only Nintendo that “has to” use these warnings. That, in combination with the emphasis on friends code, should make clear that Nintendo actually fully addresses to any kind of danger that could come from using their systems. It might be a hassle for adult gamers to be have no choice of being protected by these decisions, but it can´t be argued that it works. Anyone who has ever used Xbox Live and voice-chat knows what a more open system brings alongside.

The other reason is that Nintendo is Nintendo. Instead of giving gamers the obvious, they´re looking for something unique. There was an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto many years ago where he was asked about online-gaming (I think it was before the GameCube´s launch), and his answer was basically: If we cannot create new kinds of games by using the internet, we have no interest in that. We don´t want to simply put our existing games online without any innovations.” So, while online-multiplayer is vital to a lot of enthusiast gamers, it surely isn´t anything special or unique. I´ve wondered myself what new game-genres could be made, besides online-multiplayer and mmorpgs. Seems that Nintendo hasn´t come up with an answer, either, yet.


The Future is 3D (again)

December 25, 2009

Last week I saw Avatar, James Cameron´s latest movie. After all the overhyped movies a bunch of fanatics hyped up (The Dark Knight, Inglorious Basterds, etc.) I was pleasantly surprised of how this one film actually held up to all the expectations. Of course, the story presented in Avatar is run-of-the-mill, evil human corporations attack peaceful aliens to make more money and so on, but not only was that story well presented, the imagery of the whole film was great. So great that I constantly thought of how my favorite videogame-franchise should borrow parts of this film. A small, or big, I cannot decided, role played the fact that I saw the film in 3D, using rather cheap 3D-glasses. The resulting effect complemented the movie very well, though it didn´t stand out too much. Where the 3D-effect really shone was in a trailer for some upcoming Disney-animation movie (that I am SO going to to watch). Long story short, I think 3D images is the next big thing in video gaming.

The future I imagine consists of three major pillars: Controls, A.I and Interactive Visuals.

I talked about A.I. in an earlier blog-post, so let me go on about the other two. In terms of controls, we´re getting “there“, thanks to Nintendo starting the whole thing with its Wiimote. MotionPlus was another big step forwards, and I think, sooner or later, though hopefully sooner, we´ll get some kind of data gloves, or combination of MotionPlus and Microsoft´s natal (see Minority Report). The controls are there. A.I. will be there as well, or can, at least, be presented well enough so that people will think it is “there”. That leaves Interactive Visuals. No matter how expensive your TV is, it is always limited to a flat picture. Current HDTVs aren´t capable of any 3D-output, and though Sony is working on 3DTVs, they´ll have a hard time to catch on, considering how most of userbase just upgraded to “mere” HDTVs. 3DTVs aren´t the future in terms of gaming. I don´t know of any efforts coming from Microsoft, so maybe they have something or have not. But there is another console manufacturer that might work just on what I envision. Here´s a quote from Shigeru Miyamoto, from November 2005:

It’s convenient to make games that are played on TVs. But I always wanted to have a custom-sized screen that wasn’t the typical four-cornered cathode ray tube TV. I always thought that games would eventually break free of the confines of a TV screen to fill an entire room. But I would rather not say anything more about that.

For those saying that maybe Miyamoto just talked out of his ***, in an interview in one of the last issues of German magazine “VideoGames“, he said that in his vision thanks to lower costs of discs (instead of cartridges), they (Nintendo) would be able to include special hardware with games. Guess what we saw happening with Mario Kart Wii, Link´s Crossbow Training or Grand Slam Tennis!

It is also reason I believe Nintendo to give the deciding push towards 3D-gaming, because they´ll follow a different approach in terms of setting the whole thing up. With Sony, they clearly want you to buy a 3DTV. They´re a hifi-entertainment company, selling not only videogame systems, but also TVs and a lot of other stuff. It is in Sony´s interest to bet on these new TVs. Not so Nintendo. Prior to the Wiimote´s unveiling at Tokyo Game Show 2005, there were a lot of rumors about a built-in projector. As in, a projector being within the videogame system. No need for a TV, AT ALL. That would certainly fit in line with Nintendo´s philosophy, as head of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, told in a recent interview that there won´t be mobile phone-functionality included in a Nintendo handheld as long as it´s not free to use. So what would be more fitting than the independence of the gamer´s personal budget and build a home console where everyone experiences the same? No more “I have more money, I can have a better experience from the same game.” And that´s only speaking of costs and equality.

A 3D-effect works best with a big, a really big picture. When I turned my head while watching and saw the borders of the big cinema-screen, the effect lost a lot of its strong impression. So I believe that it is necessary to have an as big as possible screen. Something certainly not possible for most people. Not even the biggest HDTVs would work for that. But imagine the whole wall of your room being a screen! Whoah! Together with Motion Controls, virtual reality would finally come true. If these controls and the 3D-image were tightly woven one into the other, a real sense of touching virtual object could be the result. Incredible.

(An old picture I created in full hype beforehand Nintendo´s Wiimote-unveiling in 2005)

Now, projectors, even if not that expensive to buy, are expensive to keep running. The bulb of such a projector is expensive. It could work as an overall business, with Nintendo offering new bulbs at a reasonable price point, but there´s an even more advanced, more awesome solution for Shigeru Miyamoto´s vision: 3D-video-glasses, or shorter, visors. These visors were also heavily rumored within the whole “Nintendo Revolution”-turmoil, but they could resurface. Visors would make TVs obsolete as well, yet wouldn´t have running costs for the consumer. The old saying “visors make your eyes hurt” is long overdue, technology made several steps forward since then. Best part, though, is that these visors wouldn´t be exclusive to videogames. It could mark Nintendo´s step into a bigger business, being the one company that pushes that technology, instead of keeping on relying on TVs.

Whatever it is, I believe that 3D will make its way into video gaming. And if Nintendo doesn´t stop to innovate, it´ll be their next big thing as well as gamers´. After having experienced Avatar, it´s all I can hope for.