Thursday, June 29, 2006

´Theseis´ cancellation misrepresented?

News that game developer Track7Games has cancelled a PS3 title because of spiralling development costs were misrepresented, says the development studio.

Originally, reported the following story yesterday:
Track7 Games has contacted PS3Land to inform us that Theseis for PlayStation 3 has been cancelled.

The developer blames the problem on the exceptionally high cost of developing for PS3.

For now, the game will only be released on Xbox 360 and PC.

"If Sony were to offer us assistance in producing a PS3 version we would be more than happy to oblige!" said Vicky Valanos, Managing Director.

I asked the studio for confirmation of this story. Vicky Valanos just mailed me this reply:
track7games would like to respond to the erroneous article that appeared this morning June 29, 2006 on

track7games would like to clarify that they never cancelled something that did not exist in the first place. We plan to develop “Theseis” for PC and Xbox360 in the near future. As for the PS3, we simply made a strategic decision to not move ahead because we deemed it not probable at this time. We are however, open to discussions to develop “Theseis” on all next gen consoles.

In my personal opinion, the studio´s reply is hardly a rebuttal. If anything, they claim that the game was not already in development for the PS3. However, a decision was made not to develop it for that platform. And the budget could very well have been the deciding factor.

Deeming development ´not probable´ and being ´open to discussions´ about PS3 development really seems to hint at financial disagreements. What other discussions are there in this field? They wouldn´t want to complain about the SDK´s colour, would they?

So, after all, this could be a first confirmed case of third party support for the PS3 slipping due to higher development costs.

Sources:, Track7Games
Thanks to: Joystiq

Monday, June 19, 2006

WiiPointer, WiiCulture and !!M

After Wii Karaoke, Nintendo seems to have registered more trademarks associated with Wii. reports about three trademarks: WiiPointer, WiiCulture and !!M, citing German news site GameFront.

The latter name is the console´s name turned upside down, which might point to a game that is played with the Wiimote held upside down. Alternatively, some people have associated it with the Wii´s rumoured messenger service, because it contains the acronym IM. Either way, it´s interesting stuff.

WiiPointer could become the official name of what is commonly referred to as the Wiimote in the Nintendo community. WiiCulture is an intriguing trademark that I would associate mostly with the online community, since culture is something that is built up by a society.

EDIT A ton of new Nintendo trademarks related to Wii surfaced, as Go Nintendo reports. Here they are:

- WiiCan
- WiiClub
- WiiCommunication
- WiiDiary
- WiiHappy
- WiiHealth
- WiiHome
- WiiKids
- WiiMap
- WiiOnline
- WiiSenior
- WiiWords
- WWWii

Most likely, not all of these will come to use. Still, interesting stuff to mull over.

Source: GameFront (via, 1up, Go Nintendo
Thanks to: SpeedRunner2001

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wii to launch mid-October?

Codename Revolution is back on the rumour trail, citing an IGN insider claiming to have the scoop on the Wii´s release date:
According to a ‘Blockbuster employee’ in Canada (from IGN Insider) a list of titles has shown up on the companies system that relate to the Wii with release dates and some titles with a pricetag of $49.99 ($39.99 USD?). (...)

Elebits is a launch title and is dated October 15th and does fall on a Sunday, a day that traditionally Nintendo has launched a few of it’s past systems and handhelds.
There are a few questionable details, though. One game mentioned is simply called GT. Also, Prince of Persia is on the list. Both titles have not been confirmed.

Most importantly, Red Steel is down for an October 26th launch. However, the team at Ubi Soft Paris told me in April that the game will be a launch title, no matter what. So that kills the entire story for me.

Source: Codename Revolution

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rumour round-up

Recently, there has been a wealth of rumours concerning the Wii console. It´s hard to keep up with every single one of them, so I have summarized all of them here for your convenience.

1.) The Space World 2006 story

Perhaps the most spectacular, certainly the most outrageous one was originally posted on the Moz la Punk forums and republished almost everywhere. I will not quote it in its entirety, since it is obviously fake. Here´s why: The author claims that Nintendo will announce a whole wealth of new info at a Space World expo to take place in August. It mentions several new games which will be rated ´Adults Only´. Critics have claimed that Nintendo has never published a game that was rated such. Also, and more convincingly, developers can only aim for a certain rating. You can never know what rating you end up with.

It is further claimed that ´Sadness´ gameplay is to be showcased. No disrespect to Nibris and the best of luck to them, but I am sure they will not manage to get this game out for Wii, let alone be featured at a Nintendo show.

According to the post, Iwata was also supposed to introduce Hideo Kojima: "He will go on to explain the idea behind Elebits and then announce that a new ´disruption´ will take place." As far as Elebits is concerned, Shingo Mukaitoge is producer and Akihiro Ishihara is director. Hideo Kojima has nothing to do with this game and, thus, would not be on stage talking about it. Also, it would make no sense for Nintendo to introduce Kojima-San as "one of Nintendo’s newest best friends", since he has enjoyed a close working relationship with Nintendo for some time.

The claims concerning a ´Resident Evil´ Wii exclusive are even more ridiculous. Capcom will be more than hesitant about publishing a part of the series exclusively on a Nintendo console after the fourth installment did not sell as much as Capcom had hoped for. Also, a game that is slated for a 2009 release would not be discussed publically, let alone at an event like Space World.

I won´t even go into the hardware claims that follow. Just ask yourself the question: Wouldn´t developers that have been hard at work on the games you saw at E3 be a little pissed off to learn that they can pretty much start from scratch? Or do you really believe they would have toned down those demos to the graphics you saw, just as a smoke screen? Of course not. This guy is a notorious liar and a bad one at that. Don´t believe a word of this crap.

2.) The user profile / caricature story

First of all, let´s recap a little. This has been confirmed to some extent. Miyamoto said the following in an MTV interview at the end of May:
The "Wii Sports" series features these little models which you can put your own faces on ... and then you may start to see those characters, with faces you've created, appearing in different games on the Wii system.
Now, Digital Battle (through Codename Revolution) report about a Game Informer article to be published in the next issue. Apparently, the article will reveal exclusive information about this feature:

It seems that the Wii will feature a build in camera for snapshots so you can put your face on character models in the game. The ATi graphics chip is said to be quite powerful supporting HDR and bump mapping.

The Wii will also feature a hardware physics processor, with built in 32 Mb of dedicated RAM, enough to take the load of the IBM CPU. A headset will be available either included in the package or sold separately.

The article also mentions that Nintendo will sell SD memory cards ranging from 2 GB to 7 GB. No price has been mentioned.
Let´s leave the discussion about the GPU and physics to one side for the moment and concentrate on the caricature / profile aspect. This one is further supported by another source. The Game|Life blog interviewed Nintendo producer Katsuya Eguchi:
He told me that players would be able to create their own facial caricatures to put on the players in Wii Sports, then use them in other games. (...)

One of the most important parts of the story (is) the fact that the caricature-making and profile-storing process is part of the hardware.
This would suggest an internal camera, possibly hidden next to the SD card slot. I expressly asked Iwata why we haven´t seen what´s under the flap. He told me that he was sorry to disappoint and that there was only an SD slot underneath. Mind you, he would say that.

3.) The dev kit story

Go Nintendo has published a picture of what appears to be a black Wii console (still bearing the old Revolution logo on its side). Codename Revolution misquoted Go Nintendo and went on to call it an SDK. Just to clarify: It´s not an SDK. I have seen the dev kits that were shipped to Ubi Soft Paris in early April and they are about twice as big as the final console. It looks like one of those mini PCs, is also black but it has a conventional tray disc drive. It´s not self-loading like the Wii drive and it does not have that blue light. Instead, it has a small LED bar that is chasing around in a circle (if you can picture that). So whatever this is (fake or real), it is not an SDK. It´s not that important, but just so you know.

4.) The instant messenger story

Codename Revolution has come across a patent that specifies a messenger service like AIM or MSN for Wii. Here is their story:
According to the latest United States patent (7056217) filed by Nintendo (planned six years ago) and is now published on June 6th, 2006 it states the following:

Title: Messaging service for video game systems with buddy list that
displays game being played

Description: (...) The messaging service client provides the user with an opportunity to create a user profile that is stored in the memory of network server…The user profile may contain any desired user-specific information including, but not limited to, an alias, first name, last name, gender, age, city, state, favorite game, favorite food, favorite sport, hobbies, recommended URL and notes. (...) Users may also be provided with the capability of including in their profiles customized faces (images) made up of various user-selected features (e.g., a particular nose, mouth, mustache, etc.) in order to enhance the “persona” of the user. These customized faces may be included with messages. Users may even be provided with the capability of including in their profiles digital images of their own faces generated, for example, using a digital camera…
This would further support the profile story above. The patent can be found here.

5. The browser details

This isn´t rumour, it´s proper news. But all the better, right? Cubed3 has interviewed Scott Hedrick from Opera about their browser´s inclusion in the Wii.
The Opera browser is saved to the Flash ROM on the Wii console, and does not require a separate memory card as Opera for DS does. The browser can be launched in only a few seconds, immediately delivering a great user experience. (...)

Opera has worked closely with Nintendo to achieve a breakthrough experience, especially in terms of incorporating the revolutionary Wii remote into the browsing experience. (...)

Nintendo’s network-centric approach with WiiConnect24 will enable rich new services and capabilities, the full extent of which Nintendo has yet to reveal. For Opera, WiiConnect24 presents more interesting opportunities rather than challenges.

Opera has long been working with set-top box manufacturers, for example, that use Opera to create Web-based user interfaces. These IP-based set-top boxes are always connected, like Wii, and can be easily and dynamically updated with live content or new menus. (...)

The latest version, Opera 9, even includes small Web-based applications called Widgets. We have announced that Opera Widgets will be available on devices and it would be cool to see them on Wii. (...)

Navigating the Web with Opera on the Wii will be as easy if not easier than using Opera on a desktop. For Opera desktop users, surfing on the Wii will be a very familiar experience. Opera will be integrating its unique rendering technologies to compensate for the lower resolution of TVs and the added distance of the user from the TV screen.

Nintendo’s vision is to expand the appeal of its products to as large of an audience as possible. We aim to make a browsing experience that leverages the intuitive capabilities of the Wii remote, ensuring that anyone from an experienced gamer to your grandma can surf the Web on Wii. (...)
Based on Opera 9 for Devices, the Wii browser will be not only able to
surf the full Internet, but execute Web applications using technologies such as AJAX. In addition to the ability to use advanced services such as Google Maps, third parties could theoretically develop Web applications specifically for the Wii. (...)

In addition to being a full Web browser, Opera also serves as a presentation engine for devices, such as set-top boxes. This means that you it is possible to create dynamic Web-based applications and user interfaces using Web technology running on Opera – avoiding the use of native code such as C++ Nintendo has not released information on its specific use of Opera, but one can imagine the possibilities of what a browser can deliver to a game on a console that is always connected beyond simply browsing the Web.

I believe Nintendo announced that Wii will be available in November 2006 and will cost less than $250. You will not have to buy Opera as an external item, as it will be available within Wii upon purchase. There is not a separate cartridge as there is for the DS.
It is just possible that Mr. Hedrick told us about Wii launching in November there. He might have meant to say ´no later than November´, but November itself would be in keeping with Iwata´s comments during my E3 interview. He said that Nintendo is in no rush to launch the console and that they would only release it once the launch library is sufficient.

6.) The tip of the iceberg story

Now, you all have read this by now, I guess. GameDaily Biz interviewed an ATI spokesperson and got some pretty cryptic replies:
Wii games will (not) simply look like GameCube titles using a unique control method. Nintendo already told us that the hardware being used at E3 was not finalized. Moreover, during the show GameDaily BIZ met with ATI, which is providing the "Hollywood" GPU for the Wii, and John Swinimer, Senior Public Relations Manager of Consumer Products, emphasized that the Wii architecture is capable of producing far better results than what we've witnessed thus far. "I think what you saw [on Wii] was just the tip of the iceberg of what the Hollywood chip can bring to the Nintendo Wii," he said.
Now this is a truly weird quote. Swinimer might have been keen to emphasize that the Wii GPU is a significant advance on the Gamecube´s chip. After all, he is an ATI PR exec. But this comparison goes far, far beyond that. What could he possibly mean by that? Again, take into account that Wii game development has been well under way for about a year, so the E3 versions cannot be too far off from the final product. So, in my mind, this could relate back to the alleged physics processing capability of the ATI chip, see point 2.) above. Of course, this could also relate to a different means of displaying those graphics. But I would like to make this absolutely clear again: I do not regard such technology as likely. It´s merely a possibility.

7.) The PS3 architecure flaws story

Of course, this is not a Wii rumour story. But The Inquirer carried a story that, if true, would greatly affect the Wii´s future. As such, it was met with shock, disbelief and cynicism by other media outlets. I am in no position to take sides here, not being too technically minded. But here is the upshot of the story:
On the flight to Japan, my row-mate said (...) that the RSX can only write about half as much vertex data as it can fetch, not an ideal situation by any stretch, but survivable. Then came the horrible news, RSX appears to be limited to setting up 275 Million triangles/second, anemic compared to the 500+ million in XBox360. When asked about this apparent thumping dished out by MS, the reply from one notable ISV relations boffin was a terse 'What a Piece of Junk'. (...)

Cell appears to be pretty badly broken. For main memory, it looks like Cell has about 25GBps of main memory bandwidth, and RSX is about 15-20GBps. Achievable bandwidth is between about two thirds of that and nearly 100%, clearly the elves in the caves surrounding Rambus central did something right with XDR. That is the happy news.

For local memory, the measured vs theoretical bandwidth is missing, I wonder why? RSX is at a solid 22.4GBps for both read and write, good job there green team. Then comes the blue team with Cell. Local memory write is about 4GBps, 40% of the next slowest bandwidth there. Then comes the bomb from hell, the Cell local memory read bandwidth is a stunning 16MBps, note that is a capital M to connote Mega vs a capital G to connote Giga. This is a three order of magnitude oopsie, and it is an oopsie, as Sony put it "(no, this isn't a typo...)".

If you can write at 250x the read speed, it makes Cell local memory just about useless. That means you do all your work out of main memory, and the whole point of local is, well, pointless. This can lead to contention issues for the main memory bus, and all sorts of nightmarish to debug performance problems. Basically, if this Sony presentation to PS3 devs shown to us is correct, it looks like PS3 will be hobbled in a serious way.
Harsh words that are reminiscent of former Sony developer Josh Robinson´s critical review that got him fired. In my interview with Factor 5´s Julian Eggebrecht, I was assured that all the talk about PS3 development being unnecessarily difficult was grossly exaggerated. He might have to say that, of course. However, there was not even an off-the-record indication that there was anything to those rumours. That is all I can say about this story.

In my mind, the rumours about the Wii containing both a camera and microphone must be true. I am also inclined to believe that the camera will allow for mugshots that are then turned into caricatures and integrated into certain games. Such a visualized profile system makes a whole lot of sense for a console that is meant to be used by up to four people at one time, who may be of greatly differing ages.

A messenger system makes just as much sense and goes some way to explaining the still largely mysterious standby mode. The possible browser functions that do not have directly to do with browsing are an interesting hint in this respect, too.

Finally, I believe that we are finally getting closer to the ´last secret´ that I, for one, still expect and it most likely has to do with the functions just mentioned. In fact, when some people speculated after E3 that the Wii will double as an Voice over IP video phone, I immediately thought: "That´s it!" And I may very well still be correct on this one, in one way or another.

Sources: Moz la Punk forums, Digital Battle (through Codename Revolution), MTV, Game|Life, Go Nintendo, Codename Revolution, Cubed3, GameDaily Biz, The Inquirer

Friday, June 02, 2006

Pre-E3: Red Steel exclusive

Here is a story I still owe you people with a few interesting infos thrown in. In early April, I was exclusively invited to Ubi Soft Paris to test Nintendo´s upcoming console and Ubi Soft´s ambitious shooter Red Steel, formerly codenamed Katana. There were only a handful of other media people attending, since this was meant to be a ´Game Informer´ exclusive. The German magazine ´Game Pro´ managed to squeeze into the deal too. And that magazine was kind enough to put me in touch with Ubi Soft when I found out that they were onto a big exclusive. But let´s get to the good part first: here are the four high-res screenshots, as well as the nine low-res ones, straight from the press kit:

At the lengthy introduction, the similarity of the DS and Wii strategies was stressed numerous times. Asked about the Wii´s tech specs, the developers replied that those for the DS were never released, either.

As to the development of the game, Ubi Soft learned about the controller design in late June or early July. In early August, they were shown a prototype by Iwata and received the first technical info. Later that month, they received Gamecube dev kits with wired Wii controllers. They had only just received Wii dev kits when we visited in April. All the content we played (which was a shooting range level) was running on the Gamecube kits, while we were shown some levels on a high-end PC, ready to be ported to the Wii dev kits.

The Red Steel development team is split into one team for ideas and design and one for engineering. At the time, the entire team encompassed 85 people and counting. They were assembled from various teams, most notably Ghost Recon 2, Rayman, BGE, Prince of Persia.

They correctly pointed out that old controller types spawn gameplay that is about timing, i.e. pressing and holding buttons. Now, it was about movement. The challenge was to balance big, strong movements with subtle and more relaxing challenges. From a development point of view, the challenge is to organize the player´s 3D space. All different moves have to be different enough not to be confused by the sensors.

As Red Steel is about exploring Oriental culture from a Western perspective, the inspiraton for the game lies within movies like Kill Bill, The Last Samurai or Batman Begins - not martial arts movies. In most movies, however, swordfights are portrayed at epic lengths, while real Katana fighting is very short-lived. The game will opt for the more realistic portrayal, instead. Hence, about 70 percent of the game will be spent using guns, only 30 percent will be sword action. 30 percent of the game will take place in Los Angeles, 70 percent in Japan.

My first impressions of using the controller were that it takes only a minute to adjust to. Then you are raking in the kills. At first you think you are just getting lucky a lot. Then you realise it´s not luck. It´s experience, since we have pointed at things a million times before. You get the feeling of suddenly sitting down and playing the piano beautifully when you have never had a lesson in your life. It´s almost like discovering an unknown power in you.

We got to play a shooting range level, which was well animated and had good level design. Nevertheless, it got boring the third time round. Yet I continued, because the controller method is kind of innately fun. It seemed just so original. The cable connecting the Wiimote and nunchaku attachment is sufficiently long for shooting. It may be different for swordfighting. The development team was hoping that the length would be extended.

An interesting point mentioned by the team was that conventional controllers only enabled fairly flat level design (with enemies standing roughly at the same level). Coordinating two analogue sticks in full 3D (front/back and left/right, as well as up/down) was just too difficult. The Wii controller truly enabled the team to place enemies on different levels. Also, the player can target and move faster with the Wii´s controller.

My first impressions of the graphics were that they were certainly sufficient. As the entire level was still running on the Cube kits, the final graphics would look even better.

Prior to the trip, I had to sign an NDA that expired May 10th. Unfortunately, I was unable to post all this info then because of time constraints. Hope you enjoy it nevertheless. As far as I know, there is some fresh info here, if only in the screenshots.