Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

September 19, 2005

Revolutionary Nintendo - An Essay In Many Parts

The Industry of Non-Games

With a bevy of Nintendo fanboy hatred looming on the internet for people who dare speak against Nintendo's "Revolution", I say fuck you. A big fat fuck you. It's not arguable: Nintendo's controller is not innovative. It does nothing new. It doesn't introduce any new technology, and certainly doesn't break any ground on the gaming front. Every tech demo or flashy controller setup on the Revolution, has been done before in arcades all across the world. Innovation is something that is next to impossible to acheive with gaming hardware, since the intended audience isn't willing to throw massive amounts of resources into purchasing a brand new technology, that is obviously pricey. And while naysaying fanboys will say "But it's never been done before in games", I say get a life. Better yet, get a god damned education, or even a dictionary for crying out loud. The dictionary definition of innovation is the creation of something new or introducing something new.

Again, fanboys will cry "Nintendo is introducing it into gaming", which again is wrong on two levels, the first being a contrived version of the latter. First, everything the Revolution does, has been done to some degree in arcades and with home console peripherals, historically speaking. Even the design isn't brand new, as one handed controllers are what started this industry in the first place. In no appreciable amount, is this a newly introduced concept or application in gaming. Second, and this is the real clincher: Revolution's technology was introduced many years ago. The technology itself was introduced in a medium that isn't videogames, and was ported (the Nintendo fanboys favourite deragatory reference) to the Revolution controller. This DVD remote control doo-dad, is ported technology, old news, the salad shooter of console technology. On the same tangent however, while Revolution is not innovative, the ideology Nintendo presents with it is inventive. In other words, it's creative, and thinking with an open mind.

I should add one caveat to the previous rant, and that's the Revolution concept, and the notion that it's innovative and industry saving is what I was attacking. Yes, Revolution will fail, and fail miserably, but that doesn't mean it's going to be a total miss with the crowd that does buy into it. As I did mention, for I all know, it could be rather fun to play around with the Revolution, but to call it a "new standard" in gaming, and claiming that it's here to save an industry that just doesn't need saving at the moment, is pretentious. It's round-about insane to even call this thing "anything saving". It's just not going to have any significant impact on conventional gaming. People will buy Ps3 and Xbox 360 in droves, and no amount of radical new controller design is going to change that. Even today, Nintendo claimed that the Revolution is going to be imitated by both Sony and Microsoft in the coming years. I say just watch. The only people to even attempt imitation are going to be third party developers with peripherals and game specific devices for non-Revolution games. The ideas and products won't sell, and Nintendo will have to barter with themselves on whether or not their Revolution was actually as impactful as they boasted years prior.

In the same address, Nintendo also believes they're going to become market leader again, or at least think they can with Revolution's new radical design. Claiming, that there is an untapped market of gamers that are too afraid to try gaming due to intimidating numbers of buttons and functions. This just isn't the case. In order for Nintendo to regain market leadership, they're going to have to make up well over 100 million units; units that aren't represented in today's unit sale demoegraphics. That means Nintendo believes they've honed in on a select group of people that number in the tens of millions, that haven't tried or are too afraid to try gaming. Again, this just isn't the case. There are 5 year olds playing Halo (immorally and illegally in some cities), and completing the hard and Legendary difficulties faster than most adults can. In the same sense, there are 7 year olds teaching grown men and women the ropes of Halo 2 (see EGM: October 2005) for a fee. This "intimidated" demographic, just doesn't exist. If anything at all, people are becoming more and more adept at videogames and the complex controllers at much earlier stages.

Though, to be fair, what Nintendo believes and what is reality are two things that have never really meshed in the past, and they aren't about to start going to now. For what it's worth, Nintendo's industry is profitable. Being the profit-mongers that they are, they are constantly performing a disservice to their loyal fanbase by overcharging on hardware. I won't dwell on the matter in length, but as a rule, hardware is almost always sold at a loss or at cost, and the profitable dividends are made up in software and peripheral sales. This time around, Nintendo has cornered all 3 aspects as profit sources, and one can and cannot blame them. I'm merely pointing out that the gamers Nintendo call "hardcore", are in fact the masochists of gaming culture. Nintendo fence sits on the blurred line between honesty and dishonesty far too often, and while I can't say Sony and Microsoft aren't run by money grubbing maniacs, Nintendo's entire sales pitch seems to be oriented around that idea. This is partially why I'm not pleased with Revolution. It's an old technology, that will be cheap to manufacture considering it's age, and they'll insist on charging large sums for it, even though the inner specifications are barely comparable to Ps3 and Xbox 360. I just don't see the honesty there.

Cheating the Cheap on the Cheap

Nintendo is known for gouging their fanbase for money. First they released the memory card for Gamecube that could save about one game, and then after a few months of bitching, unleashed the real memory cards that were actually useful, again for a sum that only equated to more profit for Nintendo. You want to play Donkey Kong 64 or Majora's Mask? Sorry, you're going to have to pay for an add-on that gives your N64 the power to play them. The worst part about the expansion-bay massacre, was that Nintendo had planned on gouging it's fanbase, even in the earliest planning stages of it's Ultra console. The GameBoy (the original) is probably the most pitiful example I can think of on Nintendo's part, taking 7 years to gift the GameBoy with a colour screen, merely to turn around a few years later and launch the GBA, regifting the SNES technology and making all other GB's obsolete. Even worse, they launched the GBA with no back light, and a battery guzzling infrastructure that was later replaced with the real version of the handheld, the GBA SP. Which is truly a great piece of hardware, it's just shameful it took Nintendo ten years of cash cowing the GB to get it out there. That's the Nintendo industry that I don't jive with. Most informed gamers don't either. Those who do are the abused bastard children of Nintendo's ideology.

Self Supression

Nintendo has never been able to outsell their anterior console in their entire history as a videogame company, and aren't about to start now. Nintendo becoming market leader is like saying N-Gage is poised to take the handheld industry by storm. Nothing will come of it, and it's in foolishness to even make such baseless conjectures, especially in international press releases. And while Nintendo's handheld industry continues to go strong, it isn't as stampeding as it used to be. Nintendo DS is selling wonderfully, but it's also neck in neck with the Sony PSP, worldwide. Nintendo is only outselling the PSP on a weekly basis in one market, and that's Japan. Launching early in Europe and in North America has netted Nintendo a respectable 1 million unit lead on the international market, but both the NA and EU launch of the PSP have outdone the DS launch by a factor of 2, on both occasions. PSP and DS are on the verge of sparking a true handheld war that will bring about fantastic software in a truly competitive market. Being an owner of either in today's gaming populace only means good things for the future. As a console gamer though, if not now, in the years to come, third parties will nearly abandon Nintendo's console industry. Not because there aren't great opportunities to create unique software, but because of Nintendo's image in the console world. Nintendo is profitable, and therefore can sustain losses on software if a game doesn't sell, but for third parties, their hopes and dreams reside solely on a silicon coated disc, that if sold poorly, won't be considered for future versions or sequels on the Revolution. You can convict me of feigning clairvoyance, but come back to me when the next generation is over, and show me Nintendo in the lead, and show me that Nintendo has created a profitable environment for third parties. I really don't think you'll find either though.

Innovative Non-Innovations

Nintendo's ideals rest solely on convincing their ignorantly loyal fanboys that what they do is innovative, and somehow convince them that being "innovative" automatically makes the games they make good, no matter how the innovation (if there actually is any) is executed. That's not a business model I particularly enjoy, but do partake in because I'm a sucker for the likes of Super Smash. Bros., the newly addicting Nintendogs and the truly innovative software like Kirby: Canvas Curse. These are the games that keep me coming back, but Mario Party 23, Donkey Konga 5, and Super Mario 341 are what invoke these feelings of a battered and bruised son, fathered by a drunkard, inebriated on his own selfish, personal gain. If Nintendo truly embodied the goodness and well-being they say they do, they wouldn't be in last place, they wouldn't have people like me, skeptical of every move they make and disgusted by rehashed mascot franchises. Nintendo has embroidered themselves the "Everybody company", but it's somewhat of a misnomer. Nintendo is the gaming company for those who want convenient gaming, not emotional, rich, deep or engaging experiences, that are created manually by software developers, not automatically created using one gimmick or another.

Are there unique concepts and game designs that could blow me away with the Revolution's controller? Absolutely, in fact I expect some games to do just that. That doesn't mean all of Revolution's generation is going to be filled with titles like that. Most of Nintendo's gimmicks are only ever used properly by Nintendo, while third parties dodge the firey bullets of innovation by using the DS' second screen for a puny map, or never using Gamecube's peripherals or online development. I have no doubt that third parties will weasel out of creating innovative software on Revolution by discovering an obvious, ambiguous and mundane feature to use the controller for, while keeping everything else the same. Myself, I like more of the same, so long as it's new and enjoyable. For the most part, I was never given that with Nintendo's "innovations" like the DS. Developers were too concentrated on finding a use for the second screen, rather than focusing on the game itself. To the same effect, third party Revolution software will follow suit.

Do I hate the controller? I suppose I don't hate what it does, just what it stands for, and what Nintendo wants to make it out to be. Deep down, I think Revolution could be a niche gaming toy that provides momentary fun and excitement, but in no way will it replace or reinvent the way we play games. No one is going to copy it, and if fortune smiles upon the industry, Nintendo will realize they can't simply "save" something that doesn't need saving, or "reinvent" something thats already perfect. Nintendo doesn't need to standardize an industry that already has a standard that works almost too well, and they certainly don't need to "innovate" with something that isn't innovative. I don't hate the Revolution, but I certainly don't like it. Call me Revolution bipartisan.

September 17, 2005

The Best and Worst of TGS

With Revolution comes change, but the converse is not always the truth. Nintendo has operated under this false pretense. I guess I should show off the snazzy new Revolution controller, the "different just because" controller that Nintendo thinks is going to reinvent the industry and save it from it's otherwise profitable and timely success. I'm actually quite glad Nintendo's Revolution controller turned out this way, otherwise I'd have nothing to bitch about. This years Tokyo Game Show is running smoothly, and eye brows are being raised all over the place. Microsoft announced a cheaper premium pack for the Japanese market, and Konami unveiled Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for the Ps3. Both things equate to much more than Nintendo's rebellious hurrah. The features of the Revolution controller are as follows:

- Infrared laser pointing detection
- Gyroscopic motion detection via pseudo-gyro motion detectors
- Rumble
- Wireless

At least thats the list as Nintendo wants you to see it. There's clearly a desperation to play "extend the list" with the ignorant gamers, as rumble and wireless technology are no longer features, but an industry standard. So the two new additions to Nintendo's controller-that-can't are laser pointing and Gyros. Precisely what every damn gamer this side of the Gamecube had predicted it to be. There is no suprise here. I find no happiness in discovering that Nintendo's Revolutionary design is in fact merely a controller with a feature everyone guessed since the primary announcement of Revolution. The poor bastards at Nintendo must have been shitting themselves a year and a half ago when Nintendo announced a legendary feature ladden controller that will reinvent how we play games, only to have 12 year olds guess the feature in the same 10 minutes. The despotism has been overrun, viva la Revolution!

Am I being punished for not buying into Nintendo's rehashery all these years? Is this Nintendo's last practical joke on the world as it parts ways with common sense, competition, and a healthy industry? Is Nintendo out of their Goddamned minds? I don't know, I honestly don't. Nintendo showed the controller to a select few during these past few days during the Tokyo Game Show, and the best they could come up with was "Excellent for FPS games and Fishing games!". I mean, it's a low-tech remote control. Even worse, Nintendo claims that it's both innovative, and industry saving. Last time I checked, which was yesterday, the industry wasn't in need of saving. Growth of profits and revenue were at an all time high, and the Playstation brand name had become the best selling console to date in less time it took Nintendo to accomplish such a feat in double the amount of time. Perhaps a more accurate assessment would be that it's not the industry that needs saving, but Nintendo themselves.

I've always supported Nintendo's hardware. I have, really. Despite the fact that most of their software is trash (though getting it right on rare and awesome occasions), their hardware is usually trustworthy, and you can always count on a few games to wet the pallette just enough to keep the purchase worthwhile. That's how Nintendo has operated, but now they want to move from one paradigm to another, while almost abandoning the aging paradigm all together. I will clarify momentarily.

One glance at the controller and you just know it's not going to operate with any of the software you know and love, because it's far too radical and doesn't have the same functionality of normal (and standard) controllers. Keep in mind, this is the controller that Nintendo believed everyone would copy...NEWS FLASH: No one is going to copy this. It's an absurd concept. Not only absurd, but completely unintuitive, uninventive and truly outdated technology. The idea of a wireless mouse operating in three-space while controlling something on screen is far from new; it's in fact quite old. Not only that, the technology inside the tiny doo-dad is created by a completely separate other company; Nintendo merely invested in them early to become a shareholder of something they had no hand in creating. No suprise really, it isn't the first time Nintendo has taken old technology and feigned creatorship. Don't get me wrong, the DS is dandy, but the technology inside is outdated and on the non side of innovation.

I won't go on record and say using it won't be fun, it may be, but if it is, it can only last for so long. Nintendo's notion of redefining how we control First Person Shooters is far fetched; being optimistic here. There is no substitute for a mouse and keyboard. Nintendo must be off their rocker if they think they've found a device that surpasses the keyboard and mouse in usefulness. The controller is basically the NES light-gun taped to a gyro. Whoopty-fuckin'-doo. The controller isn't even held similarly. Instead of sitting, arms rested upon the lap, Nintendo's approach is to hold the arm out in the air to aim and fire on screen. Which would be cool for about 4 minutes, then the arms start to go tired, blood rushes away from the extremities, and the limbs go numb. I just don't see this concept working outside of brief tech demos. People play games for hours, not minutes. The other "use" Nintendo has for the controller is Fishing, where the controller detects the pitch, arc and velocity of the rod being cast. Sure it's neat, but the Dreamcast did it already with a game specific controller. There goes that idea.

On the roster of innovations Nintendo gleefuly showcases, the least interesting is "Find Pikachu", where you use the controller to find Pikachu in a still image. I am supremely unimpressed. Nintendo waited this long to show off a piece of technology where everything it can do has been done before. I'd also like to take this time to direct your attention to the Eye Toy 2, which was shown at E3 2005, where the camera was able to do exactly what Revolution's controller can do, however mechanically different. The Eye Toy, more over the Ps3 in conjuction with the standard Eye Toy, was able to detect the motion of coloured cups in 3 dimensions. Movement in and out of the screen was possible, not just in the ZY plane, but also the ZX plane as well. This is the same "revolutionary" stuff Nintendo claims to have "innovated" games with. Sorry Nintendo, you were already beaten to the punch, even before you could showcase Revolution, or it's former shell.

There are key differences between Eye Toy 2 and Revolution though, so I won't say one has beaten the other, just that the technology and the concept is again not innovative. I can imagine the drunken stupor fanboys are in over this as they believe just about anything Nintendo tells them, but the hard truth is, there is nothing revolutionary about Revolution at all. It's an ugly remote control, that deviates so far from gaming as we know it, that it can't even be called gaming anymore. Nintendo has niched themselves to the point of being the non-gamers developer of non-games. Fundamentally, Revolution will play games like we know them today, but Nintendo probably won't make them. I can also see developers being shyed away from Revolution as it's now written in stone that Nintendo has alienated gamers to a point where third party exclusives won't sell well enough to warrant the issuing of resources to make the game.

The sheer awkwardness alone of holding it, and waving it around (while tiring out the arms) is a huge turn off. Nintendo's dwindling fanbase continues to shrink as Revolution's controller has hammered the final nail into Nintendo's coffin. No kiddies, Nintendo is not going away anytime soon, but it's now a sure thing that in 10 - 12 years time, Nintendo is going to be gone. They won't be around, and this is the catalyst. The reactive tempers of Iwata and Reggie have brought Nintendo into the final verse of their beloved swan song.

It isn't all bad news though. Nintendo has offered "add-ons" that gamers can purchase to extend the use of Revolution, considering it's base function is useless as is. This not so new fangled thinga-ma-bob shows promise in bringing real games to Revolution, but the thing begs the question: Why not just build it right into a normal controller in the first place, rather than charging gamers for an add-on to play real games? Why? The answer is crystal clear: You will need to purchase a new add-on for each and every one of Nintendo's "new" franchises. You want to play those old school NES, SNES and N64 games for download? Sorry, you're going to need an add-on to play them. There is going to be an add-on for every this and that on the Revolution, and that's a sorry existence Nintendo has created for itself. I'm sorry fanboys, but you want to demand that HDD's being included for free in Xbox 360 and Ps3, tell your darling father figure Iwata to start including real controllers as a standard first.

All in all, I want to get my hands on it. I want to see what it's like, and most of all I want to reassure my assumptions that it is in fact the biggest failure since Nokia's bastard child the N-Gage. Nintendo claims they aren't competing with Sony or Microsoft, but so long as they claim to make games they are competing. There isn't much choice in the matter. You're a competitor if you make products that classify as the same as other things. In this case: videogames. Sure, Nintendo will lose, and lose hard against the competition, but they're still competition. No matter how many Reggies or Satoru Iwata's come around and claim "no we are too hardcore 4 U". Even in the years to come, when Revolution sells itself into the ground, fanboys will cry that "casuals just weren't hardcore enough to understand the Revolution". Bullshit. Nintendo calls it a new standard, everyone who isn't Nintendo calls it a gimmick. It's only a standard if everybody uses it and Nintendo is going to be the only entity using it. Sony and Microsoft won't mimic this idea. Not now, not ever. Industry saving? Hell no, the industry was never in any trouble to begin with Nintendo! If there's anything that needs saving, it's the Nintendo industry, and that's all.

Counteracting the worst possible news one could get, the best possible news surfaces as the legendary Hideo Kojima shows off Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. While nothing is known about the gameplay at this point, the entirety of the trailer shown at TGS, is just a portal for Hideo to show off his sense of humour, his new and ultra powerful graphic engine, and the new look of the Metal Gear Solid series. Snake has aged to the point of being an old man, and Otacon aids him through the use of a Cell-powered Metal Gear MkII (a nice nod from Kojima to the Ps3's fatherly Cell processor). While the graphics are what matter least in the end, it's satisfying to know that fanboys who claimed the Xbox 360 was the most powerful, despite the fact it's far from it, were all wrong. This game is what next-gen is supposed to be. I mean, just look at this picture of Otacon. You can see the pores in the skin, the texture of each individual thread in his lab coat, and the per-pixel shadowing on his facial hair give Otacon an almost spooky life-likeness. While I'm not too keen on the greying of Snake, I do think this game shows us what next-gen powered games will be like. Gears of War was astounding, but as we now see, even the Unreal 3 graphics engine is being trumped.