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.

Rumors and rumored details about NDS- and Wii-successor

March 14, 2010

The stream of rumors regarding new Nintendo-hardware just doesn´t stop. And I´m the last person to complain about it. Whether of not it really happens any time soon, we hear more and more, unconfirmed, details about upcoming hardware. And then there´s some interesting stuff about hardware that´s definitely far from being launched, but nonetheless hype-inducing. So let´s talk about Nintendo DS Next and Wii Too.

First of all, some guy published details about the NDS-successor. At this point I´m not bothering to give a source, as nobody knows if that guy can be taken seriously, AND we heard most of the stuff several weeks ago from another insider source. It´s very likely to be true, but just don´t take it as facts at this point. So, according to that source, the DS Next will feature GameCube-level graphics. If will have two screens, though of higher resolution than the DS´s. Most interestingly though, the gap between the two screens is supposed to be almost gone, making it easier for games that use both screens as a single one. Also, the hardware features an accelerometer, like the iPhone, but better. So we can expect some sort of motion-controls. Lastly, according to that insider source from before, “the DS2 is the best handheld I´ve ever worked on“, so it appears to be developer-friendly. That´s it for the next Nintendo-handheld. Some people say that it makes no sense for Nintendo to release a new handheld, but I think about that like this: A DS2 could be introduced at a higher price, like 200$, while the DS1 is still being sold. That way, “hardcore” gamers get a new toy, while the broad masses don´t feel alienated. Like many other gamers, I expect that one to be unveiled at this year´s E³. And with “expect”, I actually mean “hope”.

Now, on to the more speculative part, and thus more fun to write about. The Wii Too, the Wii´s successor. According to Matt Cassamassina from IGN, he heard from some source that the Wii Too would be released in 2012. Seems awfully late, but who knows. Reginald “Reggie” Fils-Aime was asked about that in an interview and called it a complete rumor and speculation. Personally, I said that the Wii Too would be released in 2011, and I still believe that, looking at Nintendo´s software-situation. But there´s one comment coming from Reggie that puts everything into a new perspective. Being asked about if the Wii-successor would feature HD-resolution, after explaining how that´s missing the point, that Nintendo starts looking into new hardware when a software-developer has an idea that´s not possible on existing hardware, he said the following (I´ll paraphrase it): “Maybe we skip HD all together and go straight to the next thing, whatever that may be“.

Alright, for one, that´s Reggie. He certainly knows more than what a lot of gamers gave him credit for in the last months, but still, he´s “just” president of NoA. If there´s no hidden agenda behind those words, there´s not much reason to believe that he actually knows something. And secondly, it doesn´t even sound like anything serious, just personal speculation about Nintendo´s next home-system. Still, lusting after every tiny bit of detail, it remains a highly interesting comment. “Skipping HD and going straight to the next thing”. One wonders, what IS that “next thing”? You guys know how much I like that idea, ever since it was hyped beforehand the “Revolution´s” unveiling at Tokyo Game Show 2005, and I still firmly believe that it´d take videogaming to the next level: A 3D-visor. Putting you completely into a game´s world, even more immersing than first-person-games. Of course, that´s just one wishful interpretation. But we also have to remember Shigeru Miyamoto´s comment, where he said that he´d love to free games from the TV-screen, bringing them into the room. Again, that leaves room for a lot of wild speculation. Whatever it is, it both these comments show that there IS a wish for something greatly different than just a power-upgrade.  And if it really is something more crazy that the Wii Too is going to feature, then a 2012-launch might not be too far off, since it might be a very costly feature at this point.

It is an exciting time in the life of a Nintendo-fan, since there seems to be quite some turmoil in the hardware business. We´ll have to wait for E³, Reggie made that clear in his interview with IGN, but at least, Reggie found back to his former strength, when he told Kotaku: “I´d be embarrassed if we did what our competitors are doing at the moment“, regarding Sony´s Playstation Move-controller. Truer words have never been spoken.

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.

About Procedural Story-Telling

April 16, 2009

First of all, this topic ultimately ties into my blog entry about new concepts for video game systems, but unlike the concept mentioned in the other article, this here actually would be achievable, if someone did put the necessary effort into development. This is about procedural story-telling.

Unlike (unfortunately) a lot of gamers, i don´t like the emphasis on story that many nowadays games follow. Some more, some less, but when i read how gamers list story as an equal category to something like gameplay, i feel a little sad inside. BUT: It´s not really game stories that i dislike, it´s the way how they´re handled. You know, always following a tight script, basically playing a movie. Games that i like are no exception, even if you take a low-story game like Zelda, in the end you run from cutscene to cutscene. Shigeru Miyamoto once said in an interview that he doesn´t want to make games where cutscenes are used as a prize for getting so far, but that the active gaming experience itself is the prize. His games certainly feature that philosophy, just look at Mario64 or Mario Galaxy, playing was what brought fun, not reaching some cutscenes. In my opinion, it´s these premade cutscenes that ruin an active gaming experience. That is why i want to talk about something i made up myself, at least i never heard that term before:

Procedural Story-Telling

So what is that acutally? For me, i first heard the term “procedural” in context with Spore. Will Wright talked about how every creature that the player creates will adapt a natural, realistic kind of physical movement. He called the “Procedural Physics” or “Procedural Animations”. Procedural simply meant that whatever the player does, the game reacts accordingly. In Spore that was limited to the creature editor.

Now simply replace physics/animations with story, and most of you will already have got what i´m talking about. Simpley put, procedural story-telling is an organic story, a story that is not set in stone. Depending on what i do, the future story will change, reacting accordingly to my ingame-actions.

There already are games that do a little of that, for example Mass Effect. Though here, the pool of options is very limited. It´s still a preset story, just branched off into multiple alternatives. What i´d like to have is that those branches try to go towards infinity. Just whatever i do will have a smaller or bigger effect to the overall story. I know that this would be very ambitious and i´ll say it here that i would be content with at least more games trying to create multiple branches. For example, make the next Zelda so that you can do any dungeon in whatever order you like, but depending on the chosen order, the story will differ.

Procedural Story-Telling is the story-telling of the world of games. It takes the story-element and puts interactivity into it. That´s why i love the pure thought of it so much. People often say how games are just a combination of older entertainment media, but reality is that we simply haven´t done everything we can to put the one single most important part of games, interaction, into every part of a game. We have interactive gameplay, interactive visuals and interactive music. Now we´re ready for interactive stories. Well…i am.

Miyamoto bringing hardcore- and casual-gamers together: New Patent

January 9, 2009

News is that Nintendo, with a mentioning of Shigeru Miyamoto, patented a new concept of how how games are offered to all kinds of gamers. Unlike nowadays, where you either finish a game or fail at trying to do so, the patent features two new game-modes.  Even more fantastic the patent seems to use the next Zelda-game for Wii as a demonstration for what is going on. So besides the typical “New Game”-mode, where you start from the beginning, there´s a so-called digest-mode, as well as a scene menu-mode.

The digest-mode seemingly can be started from several points within the game and then is like a video-walkthrough. Great thing is that the play can overtake control of this walkthrough at any given time. The scene menu-mode simply appears to be a chapter-oversight, where you can choose from different chapters and enter the game, thus playing from this point on. Both new modes, as it seems, don´t allow the player to save the game. Depending on how long one of these pre-generated chapters is that could be a problem, but let´s not fear for the worst.

Another point made in this patent is a hint-system. If you´re stuck you can press a hint-button and a video is shown in a small ingame-window. This video shows what you have to do.


Now why is this actually really awsome? Because it´d basically allow Nintendo to make a really hard Zelda-game, or at least not dumb down it any further, without alienating either of the, well, two audiences, “hardcores” (sorry, but lol, that term is so misused nowadays, Kohler got the real definition perfect) and casual gamers. Traditional gamers will be able to play the game just like they always did. Less experienced gamers meanwhile can choose from various help-systems, be it little help within the normal-mode, or jumping from chapter to chapter, or, if nothing works, simply watching the game. This is not only something for a Zelda-game, but a great idea that could be used in any game that´s not directly targeted at the mainstream.

And if it wasn´t enough, not only is this concept giving games a broader appeal, but we´ll also be able to kinda play a boss-rush-mode, instead of having to play through the whole game. I still have three occupied saves of Twilight Princess exactly because of the lack of that, one right before the fun boss of the fourth dungeon, then right before the gorgeos dragon-boss of the sky-temple, and last but not least at the very end before facing Ganon. I really missed the option to play those scenes at any time, so, thanks for this patent. Oh, and totally not some news, but somehow the pictures the patent came with remind me of the great art style of Legend of Zelda 1 and 2. Well…just a feeling, haha.