Enjoy the following message that Nintendo sent out into the interwebs today. Looking forward to potential more news at Nintendo´s investors meeting that´s also happening today in Japan (tomorrow for the rest of us). See you on the other side.
A couple of hours ago, a fellow gamer friend mentioned how he hoped for the Wii-successor to leave the same kind of “WTF?!”-impression that the current market leader left when Satoru Iwata unveiled it at Tokyo Game Show 2005. A lot of discussion boards are currently filled with notes from users that simply demand HD-resolution, a Wii HD, a Super Wii – in other words, the typical successor-system. Personally, I agree with that one friend: A Wii 2 with only better graphics and slightly better “everything else” wouldn´t really hype me much. I´d buy it on the advent of a new Zelda-game, of course, but it´d really lack any specialness. Some gamers out there correctly wrote about how going with a typical successor could even be quite dangerous for Nintendo, since the last remaining traditional home console manufacturer is in a rather unpleasant situation: The Wii sold tons, dominated the hardware landscape, but third party-support is absolutely dead, starting this year. Motion Controls have been adopted by both of Nintendo´s competitors, with Kinect showing a new kind of freshness that wiimote-style gaming has lost. And let´s not kid ourselves: The Wii 2 won´t be leader in graphics, be it for a long time or be it for the fact that third party-developers won´t support a powerful Nintendo-system. It´d get a lot of cheap up-ports, the end. That´s Nintendo´s outlook, that is what it looks like right now. One might mention the Nintendo 3DS to possibly change third parties´ perception of supporting a Nintendo-system, but that, too, can be doubted a lot.
Nintendo needs a special “so-me-thing“. They made the phrase “blue ocean” popular, and that´s exactly what they have to find anew. But what is this mystical, special, fresh new “something” that can ensure for the Japanese company to survive and continue being successful? Smallish innovations, software-based innovations are nice, and I already talked about such concepts, but these have two basic problematics: 1.) They lack the instant “wow“-factor for the masses, and 2.) they can be copied easily by competitors. Taking all of the above into account, looking at the hardware instead of (only) the software, and trying to get into Nintendo´s “creative mind“, I came up with 5 Concepts of Madness. What fascinated me, was that while coming up with these ideas, I engaged in some research using google and found out that these “well, that would be cool, wouldn´t it“-thoughts of mine are actually being turned into reality at this very moment. No, with the exception of one of them, these are not yet part of the gaming industry, BUT: Smart people have developed these technologies to the point where they´re reliable, comfortable to use and, probably, affordable. All of them have one thing in common, though: They increase our interaction with games – or games´ interaction with us.
1.) Living in a tablet-world – The Tablet-Hybrid
Yeah, I apologize for bringing such an unoriginal idea into this article, but it´s both as uncreative an idea as it´d be crazy for a home console´s concept. Tablets have been THE attention eating topic of the past year and the not-so little devices continue to grab the electronic entertainment industry´s buzz. Just now, Samsung is gaining more and more reputation for their Galaxy Tab-series, while Apple is about to announce the updated iPad-version. But wait: Am I about to propose for Nintendo to compete in *that* market? Well, bluntly said, yes. But imagine this:
The Wii 2 is neither portable nor stationary, it´s a hybrid-machine. It consists of a controller (of some kind), a dock-station for wireless picture-and-sound and a tablet. However, the tablet is not meant to become the main center of attraction of this system – it´s a natural expansion. To this day, I remember the days prior to E3 2005. Thanks to this most entertaining time in my internet-career, I also remember a quote of Shigeru Miyamoto that since then has often been cited. That quote basically expresses, how Miyamoto would love for games to leave that box in front you, that TV. A built-in projector was the most popular fan-theory. But what, if instead of going for something completely crazy and weird, Nintendo´d go for the realization of the Nintendo DS´ concept for home consoles? That way, the tablet becomes an extension of that game world that previously only existed in the confinements of your television. Just to make sure: The tablet would NOT be the main controller of the system, not by any means. You´d still have wiimotes in your hands. But imagine it like that: You´re sitting on your couch, playing the new Legend of Zelda-game, using the wiimote for 1:1 sword-fighting. Right next to you on the couch is the tablet. You need to take a look at the map, so you grab the tablet and watch it, while nothing breaks the immersion of the game you´re playing. And that´s only one admittedly superficial example for its usage. I don´t have a tablet, I´m not the one that´s in the position to tell you how awesome these devices are, but I guess millions of Samsung- and Apple-consumers would be happy to get their word out there.
Additionally, even though the tablet is supposed to be an extension to the existing gaming experience, it is, after all, a tablet. Which means that it´d make for great multimedia purposes as well as creating a continued gaming experience that´s not bound to the television. Browsing your console´s menu, chatting with friends from your friends list, playing some of the more simple games you downloaded from WiiWare, or even accessing special tablet-modes from the “big games” that add another layer to these games´ enjoyment. With Sony´s PSP2 featuring HD-graphics buil into a device that´s still quite a bit smaller than a tablet, satisfying visuals should be doable, too. I also don´t see this concept rivaling the Nintendo 3DS, since it´d be “just a tablet“, meaning no buttons or sticks. And be honest: You´d love for Iwata to reveal this concept of a Nintendo-tablet-hybrid at this or next year´s E3. I know you do.
2.) Let´s invade them! – The Augmented Reality-System
Maybe it´s just me that thinks this concept would be crazier than the above, but in my opinion it´d be a big gamble. A gamble that could change gaming in the same matter that Wii did. We all know by now what augmented reality, or in short: AR, is. Using a camera to film the real world, then inserting virtual objects or animated characters into that scene. There´s mostly two reasons why I feel confident to name it as an idea for a whole new system: 1.) Because existing AR always had a problem with the interaction of virtual objects and real world scenes, and 2.) because there´s so much untapped potential!
AR has been a gimmick and continues to stay on that level with what can be seen from Nintendo 3DS and Sony PSP2 so far. But let´s take a moment and think about what this phrase actually means: Augmented Reality – some kind of mechanic or happening or action that takes reality and expands on it. Why, I ask, is it that this concept seemingly can only be used for cute pet-simulations or fad-like features? Well, because nobody´s taking it seriously, which, of course, is partly due to no such system existing that comes built-in with higher AR-capabilities. “Smartass, how about giving examples, eh?” With pleasure.
The big focus, as a consequence of the AR-features, would be a home console that´s all about creating unique experiences. To initiate that creation stage, the system comes bundled with a camera, a 3D-camera that can record the depth of its environment. It wouldn´t be just a stationary camera like Kinect or EyeToy, though, but also one that you can take with you. Go wherever you want and film the environment of yours. Later, you transfer the data to the main system and the real fun starts. For a Mario-game, you could now jump around with the good ol´ plumber in your own room or whatever you recorded. For Pokemon, fierce battles would ensue in your garden. Or, my favorite idea, the next Resident Evil-game would take place in your own house (or at least one part of the game). I often thought about how super-scary a horror-game would be, if it played in my neighborhood. Okay, maybe that´s because my neighborhood is that scary, but I believe that it´d be like that for most gamers: Seeing their comfort zone being invaded by the horrors and trying to survive. That´s how I imagine the proper use of AR. Sure, it all depends on the camera´s quality, which in turns might be costly, but it´d be definitely another game-changer. Gaming would be no longer about experiencing streamlined content, it´d be all about experimenting with your environment and changing games to your liking.
3.) Not the craziest one, guys – Brain Controls
Haha, I know, I know. This is the usual “guys, look at me, I´m making THAT joke again“-idea. But let´s bear with it for a moment. The idea of controlling a game with your brain, with your thoughts always seems like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives us sensational vibes, making us dream of fantasy stuff like telekinesis and telepathy. On the other hand: Win Button. Think to win, and you will. Yeah, not that exciting. But that´s not how it´s supposed to be implemented in real video games, anyways.
When Kinect was announced and Milo was shown, my mind went crazy about how this advanced camera could be used to complement traditional controller-inputs. You know, playing Mass Effect 3, moving Shepard (who´s male) with the one stick, turning the camera with the other one, shooting with the trigger and so on. And slapping aliens in the face by doing a punching-motion yourself, or throwing grenades or, well, that alien-sex part … For now, Kinect has turned into another minigame-fest and due to the lag, I don´t feel like it´ll change from that status any time soon. However, that´s where Brain Controls come in – only a hundred times better in theory.
Brain Controls should never become the primary input method (unless we´re talking about Matrix-like gaming). As a complementary input-option, however, it´d open up a whole new world of interaction with virtual worlds. Your primary controller would remain something like a Wiimote or a 360-controller, but in addition, you´d have some sleek sensor-device on top of your head that measures your brain activity. Examples for what that would enable players to do are literally limitless. You want it, you think it. Now, I know that you still think “okay, it´s nice to want things, but that´s far-into-the-future scifi-stuff“. Except it´s not. In the following video, Tan Le from Emotiv Systems shows off their next generation of human-machine interface – a sleek device that´s costs are in only the hundreds of dollars instead of thousands of dollars that previous brain measuring devices cost. Both design and price make this a real possibility. And if you want to know if it can actually be used for gaming purposes: Watch the video!
4.) Now they´re attacking – R.O.B. 2.0
So we´ve talked a lot about getting deeper into games to strengthen immersion and fascination. How about going the opposite route, though? Calling it “R.O.B. 2.0” is hyperbole, since the original hardware-gimmick for the NES couldn´t do a whole lot and actually only was supported by two games. But the concept I´m proposing is simply too damn similar in appearance, so don´t fall of your chairs: A robot-console.
“Robot-supported” console would be more exact, though. Social Gaming has become a buzz word that everyone has heard by now. One of the big parties that embraced these easily accessable, simple games was Nintendo. First, Sony brought games out of the playroom, then Nintendo brought it out of the hands of freaks, to the casual masses. But social gaming isn´t just this entry level-software. Microsoft took multiplayer-gaming to new heights with Xbox Live and keeps adding features that heighten the value of its communication aspects. “Social Gaming” has become a reality for gamers, but that´s only true as long as they´re sitting in front of their TV. Video games are still niche in that they´re confined to a narrowly defined space within our life. And it´s only getting worse for Nintendo, with smartphones, that are capable of hundreds of functions, taking away attention from dedicated gaming systems. Therefore, to keep attacking that new kind of competition, while maintaining a focus on what matters (gaming), one has to break free from that one confined space in front of the TV and place emphasis on a broader aspect of life.
Maybe you´re thinking of some kind of Nintendo smartphone now, but that´s totally not it. Software alone will not be enough to fight 1 Dollar-games. We all know that Paper Mario 3DS will be well worth its 30 Dollars, but the mainstream doesn´t care about that. The mainstream is happy with a simple touchscreen-only games to bridge the ten minutes waiting time in-between two events. It´s creative hardware that has a real shot at attracting consumers. That´s where R.O.B. 2.0 comes into play. Or let´s call it the NinBot, I like that better. We as gamers socialize with each other thanks to all the new possibilities, but who we´re not socializing with, is the games. Socializing with games? “Dude, hentai-games are not cool, eew …” No, not THAT kind of socializing, idiots *blushes*. What I mean is to look at virtual content as more than “just another title“. But that´s a mostly software-based decision and thus something that could be easily copied. That´s why there´s NinBot. NinBot is a small, well-designed robot that has basic communication skills. There´s lots of different ways to realize such a machine, but maybe it´d have a lcd-screen that could display emotions. It could make sounds, maybe learn words and simple sentences, getting more complex the more time you spend with it. But NinBot wouldn´t only be some Furby-copycat. While playing Call of Duty online, NinBot would work as your headset, imitating a real friend. Put it next to you on the couch, and what other human players say will sound from NinBot´s speakers. And don´t worry about a microphone, it is Nintendo that brought WiiSpeak to us, after all.
That´s just a small array of NinBot´s features, though. It all comes down to costs, but the little, fellow robot could also have a built-in camera that, which combined with the ability to walk/drive could make for some nice games to be played on the big screen. But no matter what, NinBot´s number one purpose would be to bring video games out of the living room and into the whole home space. Don´t imagine NinBot to look toy-like, instead picture a really cool-looking, stylish robot that can sit on your shoulders and becomes more fun the more you interact with it. I know that my reasoning for WHY THE FLYING FUCK SHOULD NINTENDO DO THAT?! hasn´t been that great, but I found this line on Wikipedia: “R.O.B. was released with the intention of portraying the Nintendo Entertainment System as something novel in order to alleviate retail fears following the video game crash of 1983.” If that line is even remotely true, then I don´t think NinBot is that crazy of an idea. Or it is, but a crazy, yet potential idea. And to give you another presentation of what direction I´m actually thinking for this robot-guy here, watch the following video, where Cynthia Breazeal from MIT demonstrates the development of socializing robot-technology.
5.) An audible revolution – Music Emotion
Phew, the crazier it gets, the harder to explain it, as well. And I don´t have another video to clear up the picture I´m going for. Let´s start simple: The Nintendo 64 and PlayStation started a visual revolution, introducing 3D-graphics that have been refined constantly since then. The next big revolution was about controls entering the motion-stage. Now, audiophiles might claim that DD 5.1-sound was exactly that, but I disagree: We haven´t seen a revolution of sound in video games, yet, and it is the area within games that offers room to attack. I´m a gamer, not an audiophile, so when I talk about a “revolution of sound“, I mean something that´s a game changer, not just some nicer sounding quality – that´s boring and not exciting at all!
What´s exciting, though, would be another case of gaming leaving the television. I´m thinking of an evolution of the Vitality Sensor-project. A device that is capable of measuring your feelings … if that is somehow possible at all. I guess I´m one of the few remaining Zelda-fans that likes the usage of midi-files, since these seem to be what enables the music to be dynamic. This kind of dynamic music, however, is reliant on nothing but pre-programmed actio-reactio situations. Riding on the sunny field => happy music. Enemy approaching => intimidating music. What we see has become interactive, what we do has become interactive, now why not what we hear, as well?
The new version of the Vitality Sensor, maybe a clip on your ear or whatever, would notice how the player feels in each and every situation and change up the music accordingly. That doesn´t mean that scary scenes would be ruined by some happy song playing due to the player´s fearless attitude. But instead of the super dark, intimidating song, a rather challenging, adventurous track would play if you engage a hard fight with a bright attitude. The vitality sensor wouldn´t be used exclusively for sound, though, so there´d also be other new aspects thanks to this hardware. And speaking of hardware, here´s the real crazy part about this music revolution: The Vitality Sensor wouldn´t be a sensor device only, it´d also be a type of MP3-player. Including a pair of earphones that´s either not fully covering the ear OR is of semi-permeable structure, so you can still hear your surroundings. Completely unrelated to your home console, you´d be wearing this “Vitality Sensor-MP3-Player” during everyday-life situations. The clue is that the sensor would still be measuring your feelings and playing corresponding music tracks, automatically changing between tracks, volume or speed. The idea is that, instead of keeping the player captivated in front of his TV, this device would transport a crucial part of what makes games and movies so emotional and intoxicating to the real world: Accompanying our feelings with perfectly fitting, mood-supporting music. If we take it a step further, there could be connectivity between every “Vitality Sensor-MP3-Player“, thus people interacting with each other will hear the same music during their encounter. And thus, the music revolution would begin.
Neither of the five above concepts sounds like a highly-likely plan for Nintendo´s future. I´m well aware of that. But neither did motion-controls and glassless 3D for a portable sound that likely. Anyone could talk about his dream Wii 2 with gorgeous HD-graphics, fantastic online-features and improved motion controls. But that has been done to death and, honestly, I personally hate the idea of that. The Wii is my favorite system of the current generation, which puts me in a minority within the “hardcore gamer“-crowd. But still, the reason why I loved the Wii were its unique features. Prior to the Wii´s revealing in 2005, I thought about giving up video gaming, or stay with only a PC. But then the Wii was shown, alongside the motion-controller. It was a dream come true, something that was so incredibly hard to take serious before its official confirmation. And I want to get a feel of that sensation again. Is one of these five concepts going to happen? Maybe not … but maybe yes! That´s the kind of thought that gets me excited, hyped. Not the thought of a WiiHD.
For four consecutive months now, Microsoft´s Xbox 360 beat Nintendo´s Wii-console in monthly US-sales numbers, according to NPD group. For many weeks in a row, Sony´s PlayStation 3 beat the Wii in weekly Japan-sales numbers, according to Media-Create. A look at the upcoming software-lineup isn´t a pleasant one: There´s Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby: Epic Yarn and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, accompanied by third-party blockbuster Disney Epic Mickey, and that´s … it. Due to this current situation, many folks began wondering about Nintendo´s follow-up system to the Wii. Is Nintendo wondering, too?
Only months ago it seemed as if the Wii-phenomenon would go on, and on, and on. Now that is a long forgone past. With virtually no third-party support outside of a selected few that can be counted on one hand, hardly significant first-party releases remaining and a hardware that was old when it launched, but simply isn´t part of developers´ environment today, Nintendo has to react. The big questions are: In what way, and when.
One could argue that Nintendo could still have a great year 2011 in terms of first-party offerings, and they´d be right. With Sakaguchi´s The Last Story, a potential killer-app is on it´s way – to Japan. Unlike The Last Story, which could still go either way, Monolith Software´s Xenoblade was released months ago and there´s no sign of a western release. Meanwhile, those gamers that are lucky enough to understand Japanese and imported the game report almost exclusively great, positive things about this enormous RPG, and whenever someone posts links to videos of Xenoblade on message boards, lots of folks think that it almost looks as good as an HD-game due to the sheer size of the seamless ingame-world. Add Zelda: Skyward Sword, and 2011 could see three big, hardcore-focused experiences on the Wii in one single year. Not even the Wii´s first year would have seen such high-quality in such a condensed time frame.
However, and it is a big “however”, that is all speculation, hope, hypothesis. Knowing Nintendo, it could easily turn out that only Zelda releases in 2011 in western regions and is delayed to October/November to function as the big holiday-game. Also, no matter if these three games are released or not, they could hardly be called system-sellers (well, Zelda could, but not in a drastic way). Even with the Wii´s big lead over each of its competitors, Nintendo cannot be happy about decreasing sales numbers. So, what we´re looking at here is: Unhappy gamers, unhappy Nintendo. A revolutionary combination, if one dared to say so. When both consumer and producer are unhappy about the current situation, a change in pace is the only logical consequence. Many enthusiast gamers already fantasize about what kind of hardware Nintendo could/should use for the Wii Too, and most of them expect a new home console in 2012. At its current sales-level, I´d say that is a wrong assumption. 2011 is closer to reality.
Now, there´s a lot of factors to be considered when talking about a hypothetical Wii-successor, which makes it so much fun, but also so complex to talk about. Most importantly, 2011 is the year of the Nintendo 3DS´s launch, Nintendo´s next handheld system. As far as I remember, the GameBoy Advance and GameCube also launched pretty close to each other, but nonetheless, launching two important hardware devices in one year seems a lot. From the consumer´s point of view, who has only so much money and time. From the software developers point of view, who can only create so many games. And from a business risk´s point of view, which would be high, considering all factors together. There´s also the problem that putting out something as important as a home console in such a short amount of time is risky in terms of marketing, getting word out to the targeted people. And then there´s a much more profane problem: What will the hardware be like?
If Nintendo went for a typical successor after risking it all with the experiment called Wii, everything would point towards a system that eclipses both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Faster processor, better graphics card, more ram, and so on. It would feature high definition, probably up to 1080p, maybe have hidden capabilities for future plans of 3D-support, and be the strongest video game system for the time being. Which, so most people think, would be at least a year. There´s several problems, though, with this concept of expecting Nintendo to follow their competitors´ road. One of them is the assumption that third-party developers would happily jump over to this powerful Nintendo-system and support it with all their multi-platform titles. A Nintendo-system accompanied by games like Mass Effect, Deux Ex 3, Assassins Creed or Grand Theft Auto? Sounds great – just as it sounds unlikely. For better or worse reasons (worse, for the most part, sigh), third-party developers have … developed a strong believe of being unable to see success on a Nintendo-system. They always argue with either Nintendo-games being too overwhelming or the Nintendo audience only buying Nintendo-games. Taking a look at the Wii´s lineup, who can honestly blame these consumers? But it is true, there is more competition on a Nintendo-system. And no matter of truths and lies, third-party developers do not like Nintendo-home consoles ever since the N64.
Another problem against this typical way of building a nextgen-system arises when asking: For how long would this hardware be considered powerful, and what would happen once Microsoft and Sony 1-up Nintendo? If we expect a Wii Too that´s basically to 360 and PS3 what Xbox was to GCN and PS2, then the difference would be noticeable, but not all-deciding. Would current Gears of War-gamers buy a Nintendo-system, assuming its online-structure came close to the one they´re used to? Or would these gamers stay with Microsoft since they don´t give a fox about Nintendo-games? And once Nintendo´s competitors released their nextgen-systems, Nintendo would be stuck in the “outdated technique”-situation again. Yes, a system with technology of the current HD-systems would probably be a lot friendlier towards down-ports than the Wii is, but who would be left buying this console, then? The same people that currently buy a Wii, with the crucial difference that the Wii´s expanded audience does not care about HD or better visuals. They´d be happy with the Wii as is and have no need to pay a premium for an HD-system. Chances are that an HD-Wii Too would sell considerably worse than the Wii now, since its potential audience would be limited to the Nintendo-fanbase, which, being generous, consists of maybe 10 Million gamers. Which is not much when you´re in global business and coming from a market leading position.
It is kind of ironic, but by entering the blue ocean, Nintendo killed off the red ocean completely – for themselves. Re-entering the directly competing business (and with both MS and Sony offering motion controls, it is as direct as it can be) is a difficult matter at this point in time. That´s why I think that there won´t be a typical successor-system to the Wii. No “more powerful hardware, that´s it” kind of direction. Nintendo´s one and only way to ensure market dominance and business safety is to find a new blue ocean. Nintendo has to innovate – or die (I´m sorry for the dramatic choice of words here. Of course, Nintendo won´t go bankrupt over one failed system). It´s that innovation that is just so hard to predict. Sony took Nintendo´s wiimote and improved its motion control-capabilities. A standard Wii-remote plus, that is currently on its way, wouldn´t be a solution to ensuring enough difference in terms of feature offerings. “The Nintendo difference” is needed here, quite literally. What can Nintendo do to offer a different core-experience with their nextgen-system compared to MS´s and Sony´s?
The answer obviously is not 3D. Not only did Nintendo-boss Satoru Iwata already tell the public that the company would wait for high market-penetration of 3DTVs before considering support, but also is Sony promoting 3D as a feature of their system. If Nintendos answer is even better motion controls, what would those be like? Data gloves? Hardly something mass-compatible and probably not that much of a difference to Sony´s Move or an upgraded camera for either Xbox 720 and PS4. Even though I personally love to think of a 3D-visor that would put the player inside a virtual world like never before and freeing gamers from the need of a TV, that is not happening either. Too expensive, to incompatible to the masses. Another concept I enjoyed talking about in the past is the home console-handheld-hybrid system. But considering that the 3DS has already been announced, with neither a TV-out nor the power to allow HD-gaming, this can be ruled out, too, since Nintendo wouldn´t want to have its new handheld and home console compete THAT directly with each other.
The best way of differentiating themselves from both competitors would be to look into building the whole system around certain (until now software-based) features that Nintendo hasn´t made significant use of, yet, as well as MS and Sony only having used them as a small part of they strategy. It certainly wouldn´t be a strategy that MS and Sony couldn´t copy, but it´d be such a weird, unusual concept for a home console that it might scare away MS and Sony from following – see the Wii for past evidence. What type of feature Nintendo could focus a whole home console on, that I cannot say. There´s lots of possibilities, one crazier than the other. Nintendo could build a MMO-based system with built-in 3G, that combines all games offered for the system in some kind of always socially connected way. There´s also my old concept of an A.I.-system that would feature an enormous HDD and allow gamers to combine different games´ data to create completely new experiences. Along these lines, Nintendo could also build a system that is all about creating and sharing content, like a system based on a 3D-Scribblenauts – gamers would create all their hardcore-games themselves and share their creations with each other, while Nintendo and other developers would sell finely crafted experiences with newly added content that in process could be used by gamers to build even more stuff by themselves. There are many more crazy ideas that could be mentioned here, but it only gets less realistic and won´t bring us any closer to the truth. What can be said is that Nintendo is in a difficult situation, no matter how successful the Wii was for many years. A simple HD-upgrade won´t be a solution, that I am sure about. What this solution will be? Ask me again in late 2011/early 2012.
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.
In both 2007 and 2008, Nintendo had a great showing at their Business Media Conference that took place in Japan and the US almost at the same time. Nintendo used these events to announce new games (Monster Hunter 3, Sin and Punishment 2) and even new hardware (Nintendo DSi). This year, however, there was no such event. I had this article stay put for the whole month of October, in the event that Nintendo really wouldn´t have any big-news event. There is a Shigeru Miyamoto-keynote happening in a day or such, but that´s not a place to reveal anything except for maybe a few info-bits on certain games (and even that is highly debatable). Reality is: No new game-announcements, Super Mario Galaxy 2 sometime at the end of 2010 and a semi-outsourced Metroid-game. Count in S&P2, and you have Nintendo´s offerings for what we know.
That, however, doesn´t mean that I´m going to rant about anything again; the topic of this article is that it hit me hard when I realized that more than ever before it looks like a new Nintendo home system is in the works, which would be no news, but: It really might be coming in 2011, just as Yoichi Wada fantasized in a recent interview.
First, what makes one think about the Wii already being at its end-game is the amount of titles Nintendo itself is developing for the system. As mentioned above, Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid: Other M and Sin and Punishment 2 are in the works, one of them being developed by a third-party developer (supported by Nintendo, though). It´s often claimed by butt-hurt gamers that Nintendo focuses on non-gamers or casual gamers now, but to be honest, I don´t know of any casual-focused Nintendo-game being in the pipeline…at all. Wii Fit Plus just got released, and that´s that. Of course, surely I´m forgetting two or three games, but those are smaller, niche titles anyway. Fact is: If it wouldn´t be too ridiculous of a thought, it seemed as if Nintendo already abandoned the Wii. A Mario-sequel using all the existing assets of the previous game, an outsourced Metroid-game, and some low scale-titles. No sign at all of StarFox, F-Zero, Luigi, or other known franchises (or new franchises, for that matter). The counter argument to all that, of course, is that Nintendo might be giving third-parties a spotlight, but it is a weak point to make. Nintendo wants money. All companies do. There may be short periods of strategic release plans, but no company that can sell so many games holds back for three and more years.
Second point to make is that Nintendo, or rather Satoru Iwata, head of Nintendo of Japan, isn´t blind. He can see both third-parties struggling with their sales, and he knows that HDTV-adoption rates are growing and growing, hitting the casual households by now. The Wii is underpowered in comparison to its two competitors, which is the number one reason above all others that the Wii doesn´t get big multi platform titles.
Other than explicit arguments, there´s also a bunch of interesting legit information about Nintendo´s “doings”. There´s this new Shigeru Miyamoto-interview, where Shigsy talked about some improvements the next Nintendo-system might feature. Of course, at this point it´s just visionary talk, but what he said didn´t sound too unrealistic. He mentioned how he´d like to make the Wiimote-controller smaller, more compact. Which precedents the fact that he´d like to stay with the current overall-concept of the Wii. To put up some down-to-earth speculation, this could mean built-in Motion Plus, Wireless nunchuck and other small upgrades like generally more precise motion sensors, maybe even Motion Plus within the nunchuck.
The next thing I´m going to talk about still has a legitimate base, but speculation from my side grows bigger. Nobody knows what a Nintendo-patent investment in another company means for the future. Sometimes, a patent turns into actual game-content, like the Interactive Player-guide for casual gamers, now featured in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Sometimes, however, we never hear about something like that ever again. One of those mysterious Nintendo-investments is their encouragement in a company called InPhase. Said company is known for working on so-called HVDs, holographic versatile discs. Those new, yet-not-available-for-the-mainstream discs can carry up to several terabytes on a single unit. Without going into too much detail of this new technology, whereas usual media like DVD or BluRay-discs work on a 2-dimensionale plane, information on the HVD is put 3-dimensional. By using not only flat surfaces, but all room dimensions at once, a multitude of information can be place on one area of the disc, where a lot more space had to be used on typical disc-media. Now, even though some enthusiast-hifi-lovers might think differently, no game is in need of a disc that has like ten terabytes of space. Most gamers don´t even have enough games to fill one of those discs. That´s where a bit of speculation comes into play: Nintendo might be using an HVD-based home system as a replacement for not only the Wii´s flash memory, but also the need of an HDD. No current-gen system´s HDD comes even close to the disc-space of a single HVD.
With the HVD, Nintendo would have several opportunities at once. Most obviously, no space-problems ever again. More importantly, though, such a system could really be an HDD-driven system for the first time (using one high-space HVD as an HDD). Said discs also have the advantage of featuring enormously fast read-times at a low spinning-speed, thus not making much, if at all, noise. It could also be argued that a single HVD would be cheaper than a big, typical HDD. However, Nintendo never puts features into its consoles they´re not going to use (oh well, GameCube broad band-adapter). But that´s exactly why an HDD-driven system would be ideal for Nintendo. This company often gets called out for ripping people off, being focused on getting more and more money only. If that was the case, we´d see a new Smash Bros.-game ever single year. Because it would sell. Same with Mario Kart and other, similar franchises. Yet, Nintendo is keeping their lineup diverse (though the general amount of output sucks, that´s what I talked about in the beginning). By using a system that´s totally based on HDD-installed content, Nintendo could keep the “one entry per franchise”-philosophy BUT still go all out and release new content for already released games. Not only on a low scale like adding a new character to Smash Bros. or new mini-games for a WarioWare-title, but presenting full new stories for games like The Legend of Zelda or Fire Emblem. You finished the new Fire Emblem-game already? No problem, Nintendo releases a new mission each month for a few WiiPoints, telling an ongoing-story that goes beyond the initial release. Ganon already defeated? Then download chapter one of “The second Arc”, featuring the beginning of a new adventure. The whole idea is, obviously, a non-brainer for multiplayer-based games.
That´s not the end of physical media, though. Another thing Nintendo isn´t stupid enough to try. Which brings us to my last point that is one hundred percent speculation. I went on about this idea in an older article already. Basically, when the Wii Too (let´s call the next system that) is launched, Nintendo doesn´t send the current Wii to die. Normally, mainstream and casual gamers won´t buy a new video game console when they already have one that was up-to-date until just now. That´s why Nintendo could follow an Apple-like model of releasing their new system, while featuring a multitude of offerings. That´s where the current Zelda Wii comes into play. I fully expect this game to be a hybrid-title that will run on the current Wii, but when started on a Wii Too, features HD-textures and other small upgrades to its visual appearance. This new business-model I´m painting here is a chance for Nintendo, but also smaller developers. Three options of selling your game become available: 1) Make it a full-fledged Wii Too-title, great graphics, using all the new features, etc.. 2) Make it a Wii-game, which will, of course, be able to run on the Wii Too as well. And 3) Make it a hybrid-title that runs on the current Wii, but has certain nextgen-features that will come into play when you start the game on a Wii Too. Yet again, Nintendo would shake the entire industry by actively persuing such a business-model.
To conclude the above:
Nintendo may or may not release their nextgen system in 2011. There are, however, many points to be taken that make it seem likely, or at least possible. Nintendo is the current gen´s market leader, and usually a market leader doesn´t introduce their next system first. However, it´s also historical fact that the company to release their system first has an ultimate advantage (see PS1, see PS2, see Xbox360). Also, Nintendo´s upcoming software-lineup look extremely bland. Just WHAT is Nintendo working on? Their inhouse-studios are known, but not what they´re working on. Super Mario Galaxy 2 will be a great game, that´s for sure, but it cannot shoulder an entire lineup alone. Meanwhile, third parties still fail to make up for the lack of Nintendo-developed games. There are more interesting looking efforts now than there were last year and the year before, but it´s still laughable compared to what Nintendo´s competitors are getting. Wii Too in 2011, fiction or not, would also finish the usual five-year-circle that´s been used until now (Wii was released in 2006, 2011 makes that five years, to point that out).
Is that fact that I´m expecting, or at least pointing out one possible future, a new Nintendo-system in 2011 being negative or just realistic? You decide.
The Financial Times published an interview with Yoichi Wada, chief executive of Square Enix. The relevant quote is as follows:
Mr Wada expected Nintendo to release a new Wii by 2011, with functionality more like that of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or Sony’s PlayStation 3, and possibly a different controller.
So 2011, eh? Unlike many gamers, I´d certainly welcome the next generation as soon as it comes. By 2011, the Wii would be out for five years already, having reached the typical active time of a home console system. It seems likely that Microsoft and Sony will put a stop to the hardware-spec-race and hang on to similiar hardware they already have for a few more years, that and the current global recession are reasons for a lot of gamers to think that the current generation of consoles will last until 2014/15. Personally, I´d hate that. I want a Nintendo-system with more power, and I want a Microsoft/Sony-system that evolves in one or another way, too. Hanging on the same system for ten years is a horrible thought. This generation of HD-consoles disappointed me already, when developers decided to use all the extra power for HD and visuals, instead of realizing new game concepts (read my blog for examples). The Wii does have what it takes for new game concepts, but with the exception of a handful of games, it simply doesn´t get the kind of support to make the system´s potential bloom.
Now, I took this interview with Wada as a chance to talk about Nintendo´s future in terms of home console systems. I do not believe that Nintendo will release a WiiHD as a small upgrade like Michael Pachter, sales analyst, predicts. I do, however, believe that the next Nintendo-system will come rather sooner than later, AND will be released before Microsoft or Sony proceed with some new hardware. Of course, usually the market leader releases its new system last, having no reason to block his own money-making first place system. If I´m allowed to take a look at the past, however, I see the following: Nintendo was market leader with the SNES. Sony released its Playstation 1 before the Nintendo 64 and won the generation. Several years into the future, Sony released its next system, the Playstation 2, before their competition (poor Sega got stomped by Sony´s and their own marketing). Again, Sony won the generation when they came out before the GameCube and the XBox. Now looking at the present, Microsoft came out first and won over Sony. Wii being the exception because of its totally different, fresh, new control feature. So, what i can see is that whoever releases his nextgen-system first, has got a big, big advantage.
This kind of historical theory isn´t the only reason for an “earlier” launch of Nintendo´s nextgen-system. It´s also because of Nintendo´s new philosophy. A philosophy that is very similiar to Apple, the famous Ipod-company. Apple releases new hardware every year. Whenever a new Ipod is announced, the previous Ipod´s price is cut and the new one takes the old one´s place. In terms of software, Nintendo is even stricter than Apple, already. Nintendo-games rarely fall in price. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for Wii costs now the same 50 bucks it did cost at the end of 2006. It´s 2009 by the way, so no price cut for a game in three years. And Zelda isn´t the only one. Nintendo´s started being Apple-like in their hardware-business, too. See the DS lite and now the DSi (which´s name alone is very Apple-esque). Instead of launching some brand new hardware that needs its very own software-support, Nintendo just upgraded the existing hardware and added some neat features. If that isn´t Apple-like nothing is. The Wii has been sold for the same price since its launch in late 2006. Now, at the end of September 2009 we have first rumors of a price cut to 199 bucks. This kind of price stability is unprecedent. The Wii has proven to be an everymen´s system, a system for everyone. The Wii has become a popular, well-known brand. This is where Nintendo wanted to go to. Now, it´s chance time.
Nintendo surely knows that a lot of gaming enthusiasts aren´t exactly happy with neither their own nor 3rd-partie´s software output. The former can be speculated much, the latter finds its roots in the lack of power and HD.
Nobody can know for sure what Nintendo is planning, but I strongly think that they´ll launch their new, real Wii-successor soon. At the latest in 2011. Rather sooner, though. This won´t be a problem, because the Wii´s successor, which I call “Wii Too“, will be fully backwards-compatible. It will bring new features, most of which will be upgradeable on older Wiis via WiiUpdate-function. It will feature new Wiimote´s with built-in MotionPlus that, too, are backwards-compatible. Basically, Nintendo will take the market, their market, onto the next step. All that while not leaving the first step. Look at Ipod Classic and the new Ipods and you get what I am picturing here. This new way of distributing a home console system will be an opportunity for everyone. There will be high budget games exclusively for the Wii Too. There will be Wii-games with an HD-option for crisper textures and bonus-features. And there will be Wii-only games, that can also be played on the Wii Too, that don´t cost as much money to develop them and thus giving smaller developers a chance. Sure, you could argue that WiiWare, XboxLive Arcade and PSN already do that today, but by having the whole Wii-userbase as a potentional audience, things will be different.
Three ways to create games. That is the future Nintendo could initiate. In a way, Apple is already doing that, though having the advantage of not having to deal with different gaming-generations. MP3-files remain MP3-files. But the chance is there for Nintendo. It has to bee seen what they´ll make of it.