Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking ahead at 2011

Allow me to give you a brief glimpse of what 2011 will bring to this blog and videogames in general. ´Duke Nukem Forever´ will actually be released and kick off what will be a great year in gaming. The PlayStation phone will be announced. Soonafter, the 3DS will be launched and will undoubtedly sell like hotcakes, despite a hefty price tag of $249 and €249, respectively. Its success will convince the consumer electronics industry at large that autostereoscopic displays are the way forward. 2011 will definitely be a strong year for mobile gaming.

Do not expect any news about home consoles. No new consoles will be announced, for sure. Sony and Microsoft have just updated their hardware and will want to hedge their bets. What about these updates? I have always believed that Kinect will outsell Move because Move is too similar to the Wii controller. After playing with both long enough, I do not see Kinect games as having a lasting appeal, though. Give me ´Socom 4´ with Move any day. ´Kinect Adventures´ may be full of great and original ideas. But this type of game seems to be the only type available and the Wii cornered this market four years ago.

Almost every Kinect hack out there seems to have more appeal than the actual games. Of course, Microsoft will want to push Kinect in 2011 by churning out great software for it. But remember that they chose to drop an internal chip which leaves the actual console with the additional calculations. Analysts have not been sure whether this will affect performance in a noticable way, but this point may explain why we have not yet seen a ´Gears of War´ type game working with Kinect and, perhaps, never will. What commentators have been sure about is the additional lag the system is burdened with, as a result. And even leaving this point aside, I am still sceptical of the hardware (I am sceptical of any entertainment product that actually tells me to move my furniture before I start playing) because I simply have not had very satisfactory playing experiences in general.

Move already has a far more diverse portfolio and this should make Move sell far better than Kinect in 2011. But Move will not become a system seller for the console. Nintendo took a huge gamble by including motion controls in the console and, pretty much, forcing developers to incorporate it into all games. But by doing so, they did not fragment the user base further.

A PS3 or Xbox developer has to consider that the number of motion control interfaces sold for either platform is only a small fraction of each console's total hardware base. Why develop only for a few million potential customers when you could be developing for a few dozen - at less cost to boot? Kinect and Move will both sell in 2011 (with Move outselling Kinect, I believe) but both will never be truly successful. Neither hardware will play a significant role come 2012.

Nintendo will reduce the Wii's price tag in 2011 and be awarded by another and much needed sales spike. The 3DS will have some nifty ways of being hooked up to a Wii, I expect, and this interoperability will further help the home console's sales somewhat. I stand by my year-old prediction that the Wii will remain market leader this generation. PS3 and Xbox will outsell the Wii for much of 2011 (Nintendo will reduce the price in the late second half and then significantly, I believe) but they will not come close to the Wii's life-to-date sales.

What will 2011 bring to this blog? First of all, the year will start with a redesign and a new focus. I will publish everything from mammoth articles to short notices to reduce the wait and accomodate my increasingly hefty professional workload. And, of course, I will finally publish that Nibris article soon, which I believe will be very worthwhile. Like the one on Crossbeam Studios, I also expect this one to have swift and far-reaching consequences. The main reason for it still not being online is that hardly anyone wants to talk about Nibris. Even the founders do not want to talk about it, it seems. I have not yet received a reply to my interview questions via mail.

And, finally, what will 2011 hold in store for me? Well, I very much hope to be able to share some great and interesting news with you very soon, regarding my professional future. Last year, I already broadened my horizon significantly by co-hosting the European Innovative Games Award in Frankfurt. This year, I will be able to share a new and exciting project with you, if everything goes well. As 2010 ends, though, I would like to thank each and every one of you for continued support of this blog. I realise that updates have been far too rare of late but I promise you that 2011 will be different. Have a good one ushering in the new year. 2011 will be a blast.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Must-have Wii game: ´Golden Eye´

Activision has set a new benchmark for Wii shooters with the release of ´Golden Eye´, the remake of the classic N64 game. Every Wii owners even vaguely interested in action should purchase this game.

The graphics are astounding, the levels beautifully crafted, character animations are extremely fluid and lifelike, the AI is among the best I have experienced in any game, the actors' performance ranges from good to excellent, the music score is a perfect fit and the frame rate almost never slips below a comfortable measure guaranteeing fluid camera movements. And that is not to mention the online multiplayer, which will keep you occupied for many months after you finish the engaging single-player campaign.

Joystiq has a full review here, if you want to find out more details. But believe me: this is as close to a 360 or PS3 game as you are going to get on Wii. And even across all platforms, ´Golden Eye´ is just a great shooter that can be compared with any other title in the genre.

Just how did they get those graphics out of the machine? Me and another expert believe that there are horizontal lines missing in order to maintain the overall graphic quality at a stable framerate. I have contacted the studio Eurocom for confirmation and will update soon. ´Call of Duty: Black Ops´ is pretty good on the Wii, too, but you will experience framerate difficulties here and there. If you want the best action game on the platform, ´GoldenEye´ is it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Apple wanted to buy Bungie, considering other acquisitions?

Apple executives were considering buying ´Halo´ developer Bungie Studios back in 2000, Develop magazine reports. The article cites former Xbox executive Ed Fries and Tuncer Deniz, then project lead at Bungie.

His [Deniz'] account of the circumstances was that Phil Schiller – Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing – then had a meeting with Steve Jobs to discuss if the Macintosh manufacturer should proceed with acquiring Bungie.

“Schiller asked Steve, who said no,” Deniz tells Develop. “[But] after a week, Steve said yes. Schiller calls Bungie, but Bungie had already consummated the deal with Microsoft”.

Apparently, Jobs was furious at the news that Microsoft had beaten them to it.

But now, speculation is rife again that Apple may be looking for another acquisition. The New York Times believes that it could even be a games company. Apparently, 50 billion US-Dollars are earmarked for acquisitions and such a large sum leads analysts to speculate that Apple might want to buy ARM Holdings, Netflix, Facebook or, indeed, Electronic Arts.

I have always said that Apple will most likely not enter the traditional gaming space again. To be more specific, Apple will never manufacture another dedicated games console. Buying a large publisher could be a viable option for them, but Apple could not allow EA to continue development for other platforms or they would run the risk of cannibalizing their own platforms.

And if EA titles would only be available on iOS and MacOS platforms from now on, EA would obviously wither away, I believe. MacOS still does not have the necessary installed base to allow brands like ´Medal of Honor´ to flourish and merit multi-million Dollar investments. The iOS platforms, on the other hand, simply are not built for deep and engaging titles (the main obstacle here being the lack of buttons). So, I would be very surprised if Apple really did make an acquisition in the gaming space.

Sources: Develop magazine, New York Times

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PlayStation Portable phone leaked

The long-rumoured PlayStation Portable mobile phone has been confirmed via a leak published by Engadget (read their update).

Engadget is adamant that the photo really shows a prototype of what is soon to go into production. The product's codename is apparently ´Zeus´ and you may be surprised to hear that it is supposedly running Android.

As we reported back in August, the device you see is headed into the market soon, likely boasting Android 3.0 (aka Gingerbread), along with a custom Sony Marketplace which will allow you to purchase and download games designed for the new platform. The device snapped up top (and in our gallery below) is sporting a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8655 (a chip similar to the one found in the G2, but 200MHz faster), 512MB of RAM, 1GB of ROM, and the screen is in the range of 3.7 to 4.1 inches. Looking almost identical to the mockup we hit you with this summer, the handset does indeed have a long touchpad in the center which is apparently multitouch, and you can see in the photos that it's still bearing those familiar PlayStation shoulder buttons. For Sony buffs, you'll be interested to know that there's no Memory Stick slot here, but there is support for microSD cards.

The particular model in these shots is still in prototyping mode. As such, the unit doesn't have a custom skin (not even SE's Timescape design seen on the Xperia devices), and is said to be rather buggy. We're digging into more facts as we speak, but it's likely that much of what we reported earlier is still accurate, and though the device could still be headed for a 2010 release, 2011 is looking much more realistic. Still, there's a lot of time between now and the holidays... so keep your fingers crossed!

I myself am rather surprised at the news, since Sony failed with their PSP Go, but the phone functionality may become for the PSP what 3D is sure to become for the DS.

EDIT CNET posits some interesting questions we should be asking ourselves regarding the PSP phone.

* Will this device be a PSP 2?

* Will PSP gaming be possible on other Android phones?

* Will it enable touch-screen gaming?

* Are there analog pads?

* When will it be released?

* What is the price?

Sources: Engadget, Engadget
Thanks to: Joystiq

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

3DS - too expensive and too late?

The 3DS will go on sale in Japan on February 26th for 25.000 Yen, which amounts to $300 or €220. In North America and Europe the device will launch in March. No specific date has been set.

According to information for investors, the standard bundle will include a recharging cradle (possibly using induction), six AR cards (which will enable gameplay familiar from the PlayStation3 game ´Eye of Judgment´) and a telescopic stylus.

Another document details how confident Nintendo is about the device. In just over four weeks of availability in Japan and under four weeks in the rest of the world, the company expects to sell 4 million hardware units and 15 million units of software. To compare, Apple's iPad sold one million units in just under four weeks and is considered a big success.

Here are the two video clips shown at the presentation event in Japan.

The movies will soon be available for download here.

Having had extensive hands-on time with the device twice already, I can mirror the almost exclusively positive feedback by other journalists. Especially the hardware has been upped significantly. According to IGN, developers believe that the device can easily hold its own against current home consoles.

Numerous developers working on software for the platform have likened its graphical capabilities to current-generation consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, albeit on smaller, lower-resolution screens.

However, there had been rumours that the 3DS would launch this year. And I myself have been expecting a $200 price tag, which is now out of the question. The 3DS may come too late and at too high a price to meet Nintendo's own high expectations. It will still be tremendously successful, for sure. But I believe that a lot will depend on the non-game offering, particularly a movie download platform would help the 3DS greatly.

On a separate note, some more rumours about a Wii sucessor have surfaced. We already know that the Wii 2 will be 3D compatible. Now, Spanish gaming site 3DJuegos (Spanish) is quoting ´Metroid´ co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto as follows:

At Nintendo we always have the obligation to surprise users with a new console. We have never done what others do. We prefer to create something new that catches people's attention, and I think this will continue at this time. Surely the new Nintendo machine will leave you all with your mouth open.

Lastly, I just wanted to throw one late gamescom impression out there. I have seen a demo of ´Bioshock Infinite´ and this game is going to be huge, believe me.

EDIT It seems that I am not the only one surprised by the 3DS price tag for the Japanese market. Only the German edition of called the price of "only €220" "quite affordable". At least we know why Nintendo is tearing down the pain barrier in handheld pricing. Bloomberg (via Andriasang, thanks to Joystiq) is reporting that we, the game journalists, are to blame. It was our unanimously positive response that justified the price tag for Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. As collective jaws dropped, the price tag rose.

EDIT At least the 3DS software will come at only a moderate premium, as Andriasang cites Nintendo president Satoru Iwata.

EDIT In a Q&A session published on the Japanese Nintendo website, president Iwata explains the timing and pricing of the 3DS.

If we launched it this calendar year, it would be difficult to produce a sufficient amount. Also, in terms of the completion level of the product, we believe that it will reach the most satisfactory level by our standards if we will launch it on the date we just announced. (...)

[Regarding the] concern that it is more expensive than Wii. Portable video game machines integrate both a gaming device and a screen. You do not need any other hardware devices to be connected in order for you to play with it. We do not think, "the price relationship between portable devices and home consoles must stay intact simply because it used to be that way."

While it is always better for the price to be as accessible as possible, in terms of its cost, and in order to make a healthy and sustainable business for both the hardware and the software, and given the positive reactions since E3, which give us the indication on how the public are likely to appreciate the value of Nintendo 3DS if they can have hands-on experiences and, above all, by taking other factors into careful consideration, we have concluded that we should propose this price point to our consumers.

The fact that Nintendo addresses these rather negative issues in such an open way clearly shows that I was right to pick up on it. Also, I believe that we can now assume that the 3DS will be more expensive than the Wii in all territories. Iwata specifically says that a handheld can cost more than a home console, so I now expect price points of $249 and €249 in North America and Europe, respectively.

Sources: Nintendo investors relations, IGN, 3DJuegos (Spanish), Adriasang, Nintendo investors relations
Thanks to: GoNintendo

Friday, August 20, 2010

Media blowout: Louis Castle, Matias Myllyrinne, Warren Spector, David Cage, Josh Sawyer and more

I am extremely happy to share with you the 3sat Neues expert panel featuring Louis Castle (InstantAction, formerly Westwood Studios) and Matias Myllyrinne (Remedy Entertainment) discussing the current state and future of the games industry, hosted by myself. Here is the video stream of the 30 minute debate.

Why does a movie license to be used in games cost millions while a game license to be used in movies costs a few hundred thousands? Is Hollywood still not taking the videogame industry seriously?

Are services like OnLive, Gaikai or Louis Castle's InstantAction posing a threat to traditional games distributed the traditional way?

And can the videogame industry ever emancipate itself as a medium of art? Comic books managed to win Pulitzer prizes and deal with topics like the Holocaust. Will videogames ever be able to do likewise? Please check out the interesting debate of two industry visionaries on these questions.

We also bring you two GDC Europe lectures in full:

Heavy Rain: How Far Are You Prepared to Go to Develop an Original Project? by David Cage (Quantic Dream)

Chilling Tales from Red Steel 2: How Motion Control Will/Won't Change The Future by Jason VandenBerghe (Ubisoft)

Finally, 3sat Neues presenter Yve Fehring conducted a series of interesting interviews, which we also host on YouTube.

Warren Spector (Junction Point) speaks about ´Epic Mickey´, his slightly undeserved legacy of being a dark developer as well as why he loves German board games and what we can learn from them.

Josh Sawyer (Obsidian Entertainment) talks about the upcoming ´Fallout: New Vegas´ and whether it is a trend to give established series to new developers.

There are further interviews in German:

Olaf Wolters (BIU association) and Franko Fischer (koelnmesse) discuss this week's gamescom in Cologne, the current industry trends and why Canada was chosen as the first host country.

Heiko Klinge (IDG) and Stephan Reichart (GAME association) discuss how the financial crisis has affected the industry, how to get a career in gaming and how the career pavillion at the gamescom can help.

Finally, Lars Buttler (Trion Worlds) talks about the company's new MMO which will be developed alongside a TV series.

Andreas Lange talks about the computer game museum in Berlin opening later this year and shares one extremely rare item from the collection, as well as old footage of Ralph Baer playing the Magnavox Odyssey.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Join Louis Castle, Matias Myllyrinne and myself

I am very happy to invite you all to a very special event taking place alongside the GDC Europe, the first 3sat Neues expert panel. Join Louis Castle (InstantAction, formerly Westwood Studios) and Matias Myllyrinne (Remedy Entertainment) in a discussion about the current state and future of the games industry, hosted by myself. Here are the details:

Monday, 16th of August 2010
Congress-Centrum Ost Koelnmesse/KölnKongress
50679 Cologne / Germany
7pm - 7:45pm

Registration for GDC Europe will not be necessary. Fifteen minutes will be reserved for Q&A. Here are all the travel details. I very much hope that all of you attending GDC Europe can come. If you are unable to attend, you may want to check out the on-demand stream of the session, provided by my television network ZDF/3sat. Check back for the link Monday evening.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nintendo post-E3 event impressions (including 3DS hands-on)

Yesterday I attended a post-E3 event at Nintendo of Europe and caught up with the line-up presented at the Los Angeles trade show. Here are my impressions.


Obviously, I played around with the 3DS for quite a bit. And I have to share the comments from people who tried it out before me. It really is most impressive. The effect is simply stunning and it is almost obvious that this device will become a megaseller and the new must-have gadget.

The quality of the hardware seems below that of the DSi, though, perhaps somewhere between the original DS and DSi. The shell feels “plasticy” and does not have the same quality finish of the later DS models. These were prototypes, though. So let us hope that this will be touched up.

The most impressive trailers were undoubtedly ´Metal Gear Solid 3D´ and ´Resident Evil: Revelations´. Both proved how much more powerful the 3DS is, albeit generating two separate images. It really is Wii and PSP quality, if not better. In ´Kid Icarus: Uprising´, you can see every bit of detail on Pit. The most impressive game was ´Nintendogs & Cats´. The animals came to life so much more in 3D, I am totally motivated to play this title silly like I did the DS games.

´PilotWings Resort´ did not work for me. I lost the 3D effect quite often, perhaps because there is so much depth. The leeway the device allows in terms of sideways movement appears to vary greatly from title to title. And here I was trying to navigate the plane while adjusting the 3D depth. Not a pleasant experience, but presumably something you will only have to do at the very beginning.

What got me excited again, though, was the movie trailer for ´Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole´. It looked brilliant and I can quite imagine watching entire movies on the device. Finally, playing around with the camera was great fun. To look through a digital camera and get a 3D image in the viewfinder was a revelation. While Nintendo is settling once again for a mere 0,3 megapixel, the quality seemed sufficient on screen.

´ Metroid Other M´ (Wii)

This game has a very high production value, as could have been expected. The cutscenes are cinema quality, the in-game graphics also amazing. It is essentially a 3D game with a level design that, at times, makes it feel like a 2D side scroller. There is a large degree of auto-aim. But you never feel that you are playing “only” in 3D. Combat is made easier by features such as missiles replenishing automatically. But the bosses seem quite tough. The transition between isometric and third-person perspective works very well and you will manage them easily within boss fights. This will become a must-have title.

´Zelda: Skyward Sword´ (Wii)

Unfortunately, this seemed to be the most underwhelming title there. Having played through ´Twilight Princess´ (and quite a few other Zeldas), this game seemed a step back in terms of visual quality. The world just seemed simpler and less rich than the one in its predecessor, without it oozing style like ´Wind Waker´. I played for a while and defeated two level bosses. And, for sure, the combat is much more complex. With Motion Plus, you need to slice those piranha plants in half the right way, depending on which way they open. But the game failed to capture my imagination and I heard similar comments from other game journalists at the event.

´Donkey Kong Country Returns´ (Wii)

This certainly was the surprise hit in my books. I did not expect ´Metroid Prime´ developer Retro to instantly get the Jump ´n Run genre right, but they sure did. In fact, I do not remember playing such a game with so many fresh ideas. The visuals, of course, were equally satisfying. Undoubtedly a must-buy for the console.

´Kirby: Epic Yarn´ (Wii)

This game is one of the most stylish and original games I have seen in a long time. I played through three levels and was blown away by the originality in the visual style and how that ties in with the gameplay. You might not be a Kirby fan, but you should definitely check this one out.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Wii successor 3D-compatible, Nintendo to shift towards hardcore gamers

The successor to the Wii home console will be 3D compatible. Also, Nintendo wants to strengthen its ties with third party developers and shift towards hardcore games, company president Satoru Iwata told Japanese newspaper Nikkei (via Gamespot).

Iwata is quoted as saying that he is keen to "expand into elaborate games targeting serious gamers", which appears to be the strategy both for the next home console, as well as for the next handheld, the 3DS.

Iwata went on to suggest that the current DS and its software only caters to those who do not play games; something that he hoped to rectify with the 3DS in terms of advances in graphics and gameplay. Recognising this shift in focus from first-party to third-party development, Iwata told Nikkei that Nintendo went to great lengths to incorporate software developers' requests when making the 3DS and called on these developers to make games for the new system.

"These partnerships are good for both Nintendo and the software developers," Iwata said.

Iwata also announced Nintendo's plans to make the successor to the Wii 3D compatible, telling Nikkei that "a full-scale entry into this field will take some time because 3D televisions will not catch on right away."

Nintendo appears keen to occupy the 3D space of videogaming, which has remained largely untapped until now. Sony has only just launched the first 3D games for its PlayStation3. Microsoft has ruled out 3D for the short term. The 3DS will undobtedly become a huge success, if only Nintendo can offer a clever solution to bring 3D movies and other content to consumers, as well as games.

And the games may be a departure from the current DS offering, too. A shift towards more hardcore games would be all too welcome. Not too long ago, the ´Resident Evil´ franchise was exclusive to Nintendo platforms. So, will we see such collaborations again and, more importantly, will we see them last?

As odd as that may sound, Nintendo's big problem is the huge success of the Wii console. Its successor is doomed to become at least as successful or it may be seen as a failure. Motion control has now been copied by both competitors. Cloud gaming services like Gaikai and OnLive are threatening the traditional console business model. Technologywise, the only way Nintendo can go is 3D. I am most intrigued, though, which technology the company will choose. I do not see them investing in traditional solutions with polarised or shutter glasses and Iwata pretty much said so himself. So, will the Wii's successor also incorporate some autostereoscopic solution, much as we suspected right on this blog five years ago?

EDIT Iwata has commented on the Wii's successor and 3D before. EDGE quotes him in an interview with a Japanese newspaper, speaking about the Wii's 3D potential.

If you display a 3D image, the image quality becomes extremely bad, so we'd probably do it with the next system. We're thinking that the timing should be once the 3D television adoption rate crosses the 30% mark. We're looking at the adoption trends.

In a lengthy interview with Venture Beat, Iwata dismissed the idea that the 3DS' parallax barrier technology could also be applied to big screens.

With this parallax barrier technology, the LCD must be a certain distance away from the screen. It also needs a certain viewing angle. We think it is not a great match for the home TV set. As one of the engineers, I can anticipate that someone will invent a 3D TV that does not require you to wear 3D glasses. As far as today is concerned I do not think they can do it well. We need an invention to make it happen. If you ask me when, I have no idea.

This statement is rather surprising, since there are a number of autostereoscopic technologies out there that are far developed and practically mass market ready.

Source: Nikkei (via Gamespot), Electronista, Gamasutra, EDGE, Venture Beat
Thanks to: Fook

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nintendo 3DS hands-on summary

First of all, I did not attend E3 this year, unfortunately. In March, I spent a week in San Francisco to extensively cover GDC instead. But we had a freelance reporter covering the show for us, so check out her report when it goes live in a few hours.

My predictions were slightly off, in parts. Although an additional surprise I was very much expecting may be found in Nintendo's announcement that the 3DS would also play Hollywood movies. We will have to wait and see how big studio support will be and how those movies will be distributed.

For now, I want to summarize some media outlets' early impressions after their hands-on session with the Nintendo 3DS, since you are no doubt wondering how good the effect is, as I am. First off, here are the two most interesting videos I found on the net.

The second video's claim that the 3D effect cannot be communicated via a standard video camera is probably rubbish. I myself have filmed an autostereoscopic display at the 2009 CES Samsung booth and the 3D effect came across beautifully. Unfortunately, noone seems to have tried. But there are some scenes in the above videos where you get an early impression of what the device will deliver. Far more detailed are some select media outlets' impressions and here they are:

The effect is pronounced, but seems far less distracting than you'd expect. The lack of plastic glasses imparts a level of viewing comfort that you simply don't get from 3D televisions, though the comparatively smaller screen is also easier on the eyes. The visuals are bright -- easily on par with the DS Lite -- and offer a good viewing angle. However, viewing from the side reveals the blurry, overlaying effect of the 3D screen, so you'll want to turn the 3D effect down via the slider.

The Guardian
Yes, it works beautifully. Nintendo is almost certain to have used an off-the-shelf lenticular screen technology, already seen in several mobile phones and laptops. You can perceive 3D only if the console is directly in front of you, but this is fine for handheld gaming. I actually found it pretty adaptable in terms of viewing from different vertical positions. It was much more sensitive if the handheld was turned slightly to the left or right, but really, it coped perfectly with the slight shifts and jerks you'd get on a morning commute.

It's not great, but the 3.5-inch screen on top certainly gives a firm illusion of depth without resorting to glasses -- or eye crossing. The feel is definitely reminiscent of those 3D cereal box prints, and as soon as you turn the device from left to right to try to look around anything the effect is immediately lost. You need to stare at the screen for a moment for your eyes to adjust and then not move around too much. If you do you'll need to adjust again. But, stay reasonably still and it's a compelling effect.

It's a new DS with hugely improved graphical performance - eclipsing PSP and getting close to Wii - a beautiful widescreen display, and an excellent analogue controller.

Its 3D screen (and camera), however, elevate it from a must-have games machine to a must-have consumer device of any kind. It's not perfect - there's no doubt that there are more flawless ways to view 3D out there. But it works without glasses, in your hands, in any lighting conditions - and works very well. Its simplicity and immediacy are devastating, and in their way make it more exciting and impressive than any other 3D experience you can have.

It actually does exactly what they say, which is to deliver a mind-blowing 3D experience without glasses. The effect is amazing, and there's even a little bit of leeway as far as the viewing angle (though not much). The graphics are crisp and clear, and there is no blurring or fuzziness because of the 3D effect. And as I mentioned in my wrap-up of the Nintendo press conference, the graphics are better than regular DS games, approaching Wii levels of quality and detail.

Nintendo’s new 3DS hardware is, in a word, unbelievable. The company didn’t talk about how its stunning technology works during Tuesday’s brief demo for members of the press. But work it does: Without using special glasses, you can see a deep, rich 3-D display on the top screen of the new Nintendo 3DS portable. (...) The graphics, which are much more advanced than you’d expect from Nintendo, left me pretty much in disbelief. They’re on a level with Sony’s PSP, probably even a little better than that. But the eye-popping 3-D effect makes everything that much richer.

Holy crap. Trust me, you really have to see this thing in person to understand why I'm incredibly impressed. Nintendo is using an LCD technology that sends each eye an independent image that the brain merges together, and the effect adds depth. A lot of depth. The effect is immediately obvious, yet seems so natural. And there are multiple sweet spots, so you don't have to awkwardly hold the system in a position that doesn't feel comfortable. If you twist the system you'll get double images and lose the 3D, but it's simple to keep the stereoscopic effect within view.

The images jump out, like a window—an effect that's surprisingly natural, actually—until you view the screen from the side. Anywhere but head-on, the 3D effect fails completely and the colors wash out a bit. (...)

I'll hand it to Nintendo, they seem to have made 3D extremely intuitive. In our admittedly brief hands-on, we were impressed but not necessarily floored by the tech alone. The screen has a somewhat low resolution with plenty of noticeable jaggies. We're guessing if it were sharper, we'd have gotten a bit more of that "this is the future!" buzz.

Ars Technica
After playing with seemingly every 3D technology under the sun—going to CES for the past four years will do that for you—this is the only bit of 3D tech that I can see actually sitting down and playing with. My eyes didn't feel as strained as they do when I wear 3D glasses. More importantly, the content looked great, and the effect actually adds to the sense of space and immersion inside the game. (...) To put it bluntly, Nintendo has an amazing piece of tech on its hands, and this is a very exciting system to play for the first time.

EDIT Here is the first trailer of a third party 3DS game, which has just been released. It is ´Resident Evil Revelations´ and looks pretty impressive. I have also added the ´Kid Icarus: Uprising´ trailer below, which was the only public trailer of a 3DS title so far.

EDIT Just a quick addition regarding the ´Resident Evil Revelations´ trailer. In a press mailing, Capcom detailed: "Featuring appearances from Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine the trailer is rendered in real time using the game engine."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

E3 predictions

As promised, here are some predictions for E3, which is kicking off today and getting into full swing next week. Let us start with what I know. A big publisher will present a very promising peripheral for Wii. You might think that all sensible peripherals have been done, but not quite. This one could become quite useful. And, surprisingly, the publisher has managed to secure the support of other publishers for it, I am told. So this one will not gather dust as soon as that ´Tony Hawk Ride´ board, they hope. I will only give you a cryptic hint: the peripheral will enable some seminal DS games to be adapted to Wii better than would otherwise have been possible. A cryptic hint, like I said. Anything dawning on you?

Moving on to speculation, I very much expect that Nintendo's big announcement will be something other than the 3DS. All too willingly, the company announced the 3DS prior to the show. So, in my mind, there is a far bigger gun to be brought out or, at least, there is some aspect to the new handheld that people have not expected. Again, this is not based on what I have been told, but it is what I suspect.

As far as Capcom expecting Nintendo to mimick their App Store is concerned, I do not see this happening. Both WiiWare and DSiWare are superior platforms for digital distributions, in my mind. I have been playing around with an iPad for the last few days and have been astonished at some of the basic features missing from the App Store. Apparently, if you browse all titles, say, in the category games, you cannot filter the search results further by price or any other criteria. By comparison, WiiWare is much easier to browse through. I am not ruling out changes to Nintendo's digital distribution agenda, but I do not see them copying Apple. In my mind, Apple needs to copy everyone else. But that is another story. Also, Sony's PSP Go flopping so badly will send clear signals to the industry at large.

I also predict that Nintendo will reveal the new ´Legend of Zelda´ game to heavily utilize the vitality sensor. The peripheral is the most underrated idea, I am sure. While most game journalists seem to have forgotten about it entirely, I envisage that the sensor has the potential to become a milestone of videogaming. For the first time, you will not influence a game by pressing a button, saying a word or waving a controller - you will influence the game by how you feel. And Link lacking a sword in that infamous teaser image may be indicative of just that: you will fight your foes not with traditional weapons controlled by a mundane button or movement, but with your heart rate, perhaps triggering a more esoteric type of attack, like some kind of magic.

I have made my predictions exclusive to Nintendo because I do not see Sony or Microsoft revealing anything revolutionary. We have seen and played both Move and Natal. We will learn far more details about both and see a number of titles for them. But I do not see either company revealing new hardware of any kind.

Moving back to hard facts, there are two exclusive tidbits of information I have not yet made public, unrelated to the E3. They are nothing earth-shattering, but some of you might find them interesting in some way. Firstly, Nintendo really has been offered the ´Project Natal´ technology prior to Microsoft and refused it, as some other insiders have claimed. This refusal has been officially discussed at internal Nintendo of Europe meetings, I can reveal. The second interesting fact is that some people have claimed that the ´Metroid Prime Trilogy´ did a good job of upgrading some of the textures of the first two parts from GameCube to Wii standard. In fact, the very opposite is true. In order to fit all three games onto one disc, Nintendo had to reduce the textures on at least some of the titles. This may or may not be related to the decision to take the trilogy off the market. Like I said, these tidbits are nothing spectacular. But they may be worth knowing to some of you. Who knows.

Anyway, enjoy the E3. This will be another huge one, for sure. And I suspect Nintendo will steal the show, after rather humble offerings over the last years.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Apple calls its gaming efforts a "subset of casual gaming"

Tucked away in Apple CEO Steve Jobs' lengthy interview at the D8 conference, was an interesting admission regarding the company's gaming efforts. Jobs admitted that games from the App Store belonged to "a subset of casual gaming". Here is the full quote:

Q: What’s your vision of social gaming?

A: Clearly, iPhone and iPod touch have created a new class of gaming and it’s a subset of casual gaming, but it’s surprising how good the games are. Typical console games cost $40, but on the iPhone, they cost somewhere between free and $10, and gaming on the platform is taking off. We’re trying to do the right things to enable more gaming and social gaming.

You may remember my lengthy article arguing that iPhone or iPad shouldn't be thought of as gaming platforms. It seems that Steve Jobs has no illusions about Apple's status as a player in the games industry. While a otherwise reputable German games magazine heralded both iPhone and iPad as "new gaming consoles" and wondered whether they challenged "the right to exist" of both DS and PSP, the above quote appears rather humble and justifiedly so.

Source: D8 conference

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nintendo returns to 3D gaming

The 3DS

By now, you will have read most details about the Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo's return to 3D gaming after the failed Virtual Boy.

Since I am late to the party, reporting about this, I will concentrate on a few interesting details and aspects that have not been widely reported. First of all, the technology used is called a parallax barrier and will likely be provided by Sharp. You will find a pretty good description of this over on The Register.

Parallax barrier

I have used this tech before, in the form of a third party screen available for the iPhone. The results were very disappointing. However, a German exhibitor at this years's Game Developers Conference, which I attended, showed such a screen for a big monitor and the 3D visuals were pretty amazing. The only drawback was that you had to find a good position to perceive the effect from and stay put. In discussions over the last few days - including Nintendo employees - everyone agreed that Nintendo would only bring technology to market if it was perfected.

My chat with Miyamoto

Now, onto the timing. Some analysts suspect that Nintendo issued the news to prevent a news leak. Ironically, only days before the reveal, I was among a few lucky journalists who were able to interview Shigeru Miyamoto in London, ahead of his BAFTA award. And regarding a Wii successor, I asked him how Nintendo would try to innovate again, after being copied by both competitors. I suggested that 3D technology was the only route available. His answer was that while he could not talk about a Wii successor, I should wait for E3.

In fact, Miyamoto hyped E3 so much, that the official 3DS unveiling will most likely not be the main news at their press conference. There are a number of reasons. Of course, the timing and form of Nintendo's 3DS announcement appeared rushed. There are no images accompanying the news and the timing could cannibalise the launch of the DSi XL. But while most Nintendo employees I talk to were totally surprised about the hardware as well as the announcement, key people in all major territories knew that new hardware was coming. They may have been surprised at the 3D aspect. But they had been given advance warnings of such a revelation. In fact, a few have claimed that we can expect more. This must be why Nintendo blew the lid on the 3DS early. Because they will announce something far bigger at E3.

PlayStation Move update

Finally, just a quick note on PlayStation Move. My dear colleague Valentina posted a link on her blog (German) to the latest Engadget Show. In it (43:45 into the show), a number of videos illustrate the origin of PlayStation Move technology.

You may remember me writing about playing with early PlayStation Movbe tech back at the ECTS 2001. What you see in the video, labeled as 2004, is precisely what they publically showed three years prior to that. Lord knows why they do not give the correct date.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

PlayStation Move hands-on and more

Just a few hours ago, I was able to play at some length with Sony's PlayStation Move. The presentation was impressive. The hands-on session less so. I talked to some guys from Engadget and Joystiq and we were all in agreement that the lag was immense across all games. The Sony people at hand noted that it wasn't due to the Move hardware but due to the low framerate of the early demos. Most were pre-alpha versions. So the finished product should be much more responsive.

The range of games on display was pretty good. I played ´Socom 4´, ´Move Party´, ´The Shoot´ and a fighting simulation. ´Socom 4´ looked very good, while the one level I played of ´The Shoot´ was looking rather poor. All games displayed the lousy framerates mentioned above, though, and the high latency this entails.

I later interviewed Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter who joked that he finally got the Wii HD he predicted, only that it wasn't manufactured by Nintendo. He was impressed, but didn't think it would necessarily be a system seller. The console is still $300 and the Move hardware bundle will cost another $100. He did note that it was time for Nintendo to act, though.

I also interviewed Westwood founder Louis Castle, who is now building an exciting new delivery platform called InstantAction and - amazingly - remembered me from our last interview years ago. His service allows games like ´Monkey Island´ or ´Assassin's Creed´ to be offered via social networks like Facebook. You click on the demo button and the game downloads onto your hard-drive amazingly fast. You can then embed the banner which launches the game to your blog or any other site. It seems like a great idea and works a treat.

And I was also able to speak to Steve Perlman, CEO of OnLive. He showed an iPhone running Crysis and it looked pretty much unbelievable. We have a street date and a price (June 17th, $14,95 a month), so the critics who cried vapourware were silenced. That's it for now. Tommorrow we will interview Peter Molyneux and Sid Meier the day after. Stay tuned for more impressions from GDC.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The future of games

At the D.I.C.E. Summit, which closed yesterday, Jesse Schell held an interesting talk on the future of gaming. Schell is CEO of Schell Games and tutor at the faculty of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. He also used to work for Disney and still acts as a consultant for them.

His presentation entitled ´Design Outside The Box´ examines recent phenomena in gaming and their impact, as well as the future, where mundane tasks may come in the form of videogames.

I would like to introduce his presentation as follows. Consider a single game that is currently played by more than 70 million active users. Sounds impossible? No, there really is a game like that. But they must have collected this user base over many, many years, right? No, they only started out in June, so that is barely more than half a year.

That game in question, arguably the most successful game in the world at this point, is FarmVille on Facebook. Developer Zynga Game Network has attracted some big talent from traditional game companies. Its Vice President of Game Development should sound familiar: Mike Verdu recently left Electronic Arts, where he was General Manager at EALA and responsible for the ´Command & Conquer´ series.

What's more, Richard Garriott, better known as Lord British (´Ultima´, ´Tabula Rasa´), has just announced he is moving into social gaming and will be using Facebook as a platform with his new company Portalarium.

I myself have argued many times on this blog that the epicentre of gaming has already shifted with Wii. A core player is no longer one fond of gory horror and action shooters, but of ´Wii Fit´ and ´Brain Training´. Those games now constitute the core of gaming - which is a simple question of numbers. And now, Facebook is fast becoming the core of gaming. How will that change gaming? Where will gaming head in the future? Let Jesse Schell tell you.

Source: G4TV
Thanks to: Bitmob

Friday, February 19, 2010

How good is ´Alan Wake´?

How good is ´Alan Wake´? The game by Finnish studio Remedy (´Max Payne´) has been tipped as one of the big hopefuls for the Xbox360. I just attended a presentation of the exclusive title in Hamburg and had a good hour hands-on time – enough to give you some first impressions.

Alan and I go way back

´Alan Wake´ has been in development for at least five years. I remember a presentation at Microsoft’s showcase event X06, where the basics all seemed in place and at least one level was playable (though journalists did not get any hands-on time). It is an open secret that the game was reworked significantly a number of times. The developers noted that the game was finished last summer and they have allocated almost a year for quality assurance and fine tuning. Obviously, after pouring this many resources into it, Remedy and Microsoft have a lot riding on this ticket. To be fair, the developer is only about fifty people strong, which is rather small for a project of this magnitude. They did use sub-contractors for a number of tasks, though.

So, was it worth it? Can ´Alan Wake´ measure up to upcoming exclusives on the competing consoles like ´Heavy Rain´ on PS3 or ´Metroid: Other M´ on Wii? Luckily, at the event, Microsoft lifted the original embargo agreement, which all attendees had to sign beforehand, which would have prevented me from writing in detail about the game until mid-March.

Photorealism meets ethereal effects

The brief presentation by the developers was impressive and the visuals lived up to the hype. While the character models do not measure up to those in ´Heavy Rain´ and the lip-syncing is off far too often, the environments appear more detailed and meticulously crafted. This type of photorealistic depiction is offset by many ethereal effects like mist or fog. The contrast between light and dark plays a central role in the gameplay mechanics and glow and burn effects give the game a unique visual touch. Also, the zombie-like attackers, which Alan encounters in the night, called ´The Taken´, are surrounded by a smouldering aura and they often become semi-transparent or vanish completely. When attacking them, Alan needs to blind them with a light source and shoot them with either a gun or, more effectively, a flare. When dead, ´The Taken´ dissolve in a burst of glowing light. Flares are fired in slow motion with the camera following the projectile.

A leaf or two out of Stephen King novels

The central element of ´Alan Wake´ is the story. The main protagonist is a famous writer who has come to the little town of Bright Falls for inspiration. As his wife disappears, Alan finds himself entangled in a thriller he has written but has no memory of writing. He finds pages of a script by him which anticipate what will happen next, which makes for an eerie and uncomforting sense of foreboding.

Obviously, Remedy took a leaf or two out of Stephen King novels like ´Misery´, television series like ´Twin Peaks´ or movies like ´The Shining´ (the latter is even mentioned by Alan Wake when an axe-wielding foe is about to break down the door separating them).

Inspired from seminal horror films and television series

Rather than putting Alan up against ´The Taken´ only, the game presents them only as one humanoid manifestation of what is referred to as ´The Dark Presence´. In other manifestations, oil barrels start to roll around and hover or cars are tossed up into the air and rammed into the ground. This way, the game continuously reminds you that you are up against something much larger and much more powerful than the regular foes you are facing – a very effective and fairly unique aspect. Games like ´Resident Evil´ usually put you up against larger enemies in boss battles only. ´Alan Wake´ often confronts you with those forces without you being able to fight back. With these supernatural phenomena suggesting an evil omnipresence, you may be reminded of movies like ´Poltergeist´.

The game also draws on many other elements from seminal horror films. As in the original ´Nightmare on Elm Street´, no enemy is clearly visible. ´The Taken´ are dark, as if they are covered in soot, and further shrouded in the ethereal, smouldering aura I described earlier. As in ´Evil Dead´, evil voices constantly turn from shrieking high-pitch to an unnatural low and back, while also sounding metallic or robotized. I found this feature as effective as it seemed familiar and almost obvious, which made me wonder why no other game has utilized this before, to my knowledge. Many other journalists at the event noted the outstanding audio design in general.

Finally, the presentation of the story is also unusual for videogames and invokes jargon known from television series. Players a given a recap of the story so far, introduced by the narrator announcing “previously on Alan Wake” and finishing the segment with “Alan Wake continues.”


The hour or so of hands-on time was too short to comment on gameplay mechanics at great length. The level we were able to play took place mostly during the night. We were simply told that the night and day cycle were key gameplay elements, as well as the dynamic weather. As far as health goes, I should mention that your health recharges with time or while standing under a street light or such, where you are also safe from attacks.

The hour was sufficient, though, to be able to say that ´Alan Wake´ looks like a very solid effort and is genuinely scary. It is clearly inspired by media other than videogames, which is refreshing. Its gameplay mechanics, though, draw mainly on tried and tested elements with a few original ideas thrown in for good measure. In stark contrast to a title like ´Heavy Rain´, ´Alan Wake´ feels more like a traditional game. It throws you into the action straight away and gives you the story basics later, while ´Heavy Rain´ takes a long time before you get to do anything exciting in the traditional sense of action videogames. Whether this will help or hinder sales remains to be seen. But, perhaps unfortunately, I believe that the majority of gamers will stick with what they know. So I expect ´Alan Wake´ to sell more copies than ´Heavy Rain´.

Coming up

Finally, I will be attending the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco next month. So stick with me while I can bring you more exclusive impressions of upcoming titles. Later this year, I will be able to make a big announcement regarding my work. And if only my various contacts get back in touch, I should also be able to publish the article on Polish Wii developer Nibris within a few weeks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

´Heavy Rain´ to turn the tide for PS3

The PlayStation3 exclusive ´Heavy Rain´ is likely to turn the tide for the console, which has been trailing its competitors up until now. The installed hardware base is now within close range of the Xbox360 and – if buyers perceive a better line-up of games – could be set to overtake it this year. The current tally is as follows:

Wii: 67.45 million
Xbox360: 39 million
PlayStation3: 33.71 million

I believe that, given the recent surge in sales, Sony CEO Howard Stringer is confident that the PlayStation branch can soon turn a profit. I no longer believe that Sony is considering leaving the home console business, although that possibility was certainly discussed by Sony executives over the last years. For a final judgement, of course, we will have to wait for the introduction of ´Project Natal´ and ´Sphere´. How the public perceives these new motion control technologies will determine the fate of both the PS3 and Xbox360.

´Heavy Rain´ – a videogaming milestone

As far as ´Heavy Rain´ is concerned, I can assure you that it is a milestone of videogaming and, if marketed effectively, can certainly help to turn the tide for the PlayStation3. It is a thriller with an extremely dense and dark atmosphere, developed by Quantic Dream (´Fahrenheit´, aka ´Indigo Prophecy´). It draws from movies like ´Blade Runner´, but also ´Saw´. As a game, it is highly reminiscent of ´Shenmue´, since it involves players in cut-scenes via quick time events and does not follow the usual pacing of action titles. Instead, the player is invited to take his time and has to engage in mundane tasks, such as cooking lunch, taking a shower or minding kids and infants. As in ´Shenmue´, the game offers an unusually slow but rewarding pacing. The mundane tasks serve to identify with the characters and to only heighten the action which invariably follows.

What greatly sets it apart from ´Shenmue´ is that the game always continues, even if you miss all the quick time events. Your current character (out of a total of four playable ones) may die or another character may die as a result of your failure. But the game will continue, missing out chapters that would have contained those characters, and bringing the story to a conclusion, albeit a grim one. The story, it is claimed, will always make sense, no matter how it plays out individually. And, of course, the choices are sometimes drastic and not easy. Would you go as far as to harm yourself in order to save your child’s life?

As such, ´Heavy Rain´ is taking a number of big risks. If you only play through it once, you will only see a fraction of the entire game. Also, the player is bound to feel frustration and regret, since you cannot easily restart the game when you failed in a specific task. Ideally, the game should be played through without any cheating. For some, frustration may simply put them off. But the majority, I believe, will simply itch to play the game again, right after finishing it for the first time. ´Heavy Rain´ certainly has the highest replay value of any such game I have ever seen.

Emotionally engaging, astounding graphics

And, I can assure you, it is a very emotional game. The plight of a father who wants to save his remaining son from a serial killer is extremely well communicated and the mundane tasks aid this greatly. Playing with a withdrawn and depressed child and eventually making him laugh is utterly rewarding and emotionally engaging. This effectively raises the stakes for you performing well. Failure will result in some feelings of guilt.

The graphics are nothing short of astounding. I attended the game’s premiere in Paris and meeting the actors was an eerie experience, because some of them looked exactly like their digital counterparts. In fact, I would argue, the game is so much closer to photorealism than any other game that you inevitably realize just how far we still have to go to achieve full photorealism. Real facial expressions are extremely subtle, based on dozens and dozens of intricate muscles. In ´Heavy Rain´, the range of emotional expressions is still limited and so the acting comes across as a little woody. But this is by far the best effort in this regard ever. It is leaps and bounds ahead of any other game and probably will remain so for some years to come.

Forgivable flaws

The game is not without its flaws, of course. Since the camera will change automatically, to give you that cinematic experience, the controls are compromised. You start off in one direction, but if the game cuts to an opposing camera angle, you will end up pointing the analogue stick straight back while continuing to walk forward. There is a small latency built in, so you don’t mess up when correcting your path. But it is a little awkward nonetheless.

Also, the frame rate ranges from excellent to abysmal, especially when surrounded by around one hundred people. But these slight technical issues appear irrelevant, given the most rewarding experience that ´Heavy Rain´ offers. An admissible criticism is the fact that the player’s freedom is an illusion, to some extent. Not all quick time events have wide-ranging consequences. You cannot, for example, save the main character’s first son from being killed in a car accident in the very beginning, no matter how well you keep up with him. So ´Heavy Rain´ also shows the limits of a non-linear videogame. But with more than two dozen different endings, this is as good as it gets.

There are some minor features worth noting. Innovatively, it allows the player to show the current character’s thoughts via what looks like a tag cloud. The same system is used for conversations. If the character is irate, the tag cloud will shake and make your choice more difficult.

Launch Event

At the Paris launch event, legendary director Terry Gilliam headed a group of movie professionals which discussed the game. Speaking to Gilliam, he found much praise for ´Heavy Rain´ and, after a screening of the first hour, noted many scenes that played out differently when he had played it. I wondered whether the rich artistic visions he brought to the silver screen, such as ´Brazil´, could ever be realized in a videogame and acknowledged the intrinsic contradiction between a linear story and an interactive medium. But Gilliam was genuinely convinced that videogames had great potential as a storytelling tool and that ´Heavy Rain´ illustrated that potential well. Speaking to David Cage, he was flattered by me calling the game a milestone. He downplayed the comparison with ´Shenmue´, though, telling me that he never played it, which is striking, given the parallels. The event on the whole was impressive, if only for the presence of such a talented movie director as Terry Gilliam.

Experience it yourself

Finally, I urge every one of you to play this game and experience it for yourself. It could easily become a system-seller for the console. Needless to say, it will be bundled with the hardware. Let us see whether ´Heavy Rain´ can truly turn the tide for the PlayStation3. On Friday, I get a close look at ´Alan Wake´. Stay tuned to find out how these games compare and measure up.

EDIT I have to slightly reevaluate the game after playing it a second time. My assertion that "if you only play through it once, you will only see a fraction of the entire game" was wrong. It turns out that only very few key scenes can have potential consequences at all. Very often, missing QTEs causes the game to wait for you until you get it right, like ´Shenmue´.

Here are some examples (from earlier chapters to minimize the spoiler effect). When the detective needs to reach for his inhaler, you have no time limit at all. You can safely leave the game for an hour and come back and he will still be waiting for you. Him collapsing without the medicine and the story taking a different turn has not been implemented.

In Ethan's dream-like sequence in the station, you have an unlimited number of attempts to focus on the task of getting through the crowd. Again, you cannot fail. Worse still, later in the game you need to steer the detective's car while an upset passenger is trying to steer it in the opposite direction. Getting everything right yields the same result as missing every single one. You will be able to see this in my review when it goes on air and online at the same time, next Sunday.

In another instance, there appears to be no consequence of the first fight scene, regardless of whether you lose or win. Only walking away from it altogether slightly changes an upcoming scene. Finally, even the dialogue choices lead to the same answers, regardless of whether you act compassionate or cold. This was the case in all dialogue scenes I tested.

Of course, many of the above instances may contribute to an aggregate which will determine which end scene you will get. However, a great many moments where you feel you have to perform well ´or else´ have no immediate effect. This, of course, mitigates the game's ambitious goals, as well as its replay value.

In the few key scenes I mentioned, two out of the four playable characters can die, in which case subsequent chapters featuring them will be dropped. And not knowing which scenes are key will give the players the illusion of a story constantly branching off. It is, however, an illusion to a large extent. And I would estimate that playing through the game once will get you to experience around seventy percent of content or more. It is still a remarkable game and a welcome break from the norm, as well as the new standard in interactive storytelling. ´Heavy Rain´ simply leaves it up to successors in the genre to offer a broad range of choices and consequences.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Iwata comments on new hardware

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata made various comments regarding new hardware the company was working on, likely to succeed both the current Wii and DS consoles. Iwata noted firstly in an investors note (Japanese), translated by Andriasang:

If asked if making the Wii compatible with high definition - just making it compatible with high resolution - will get players throughout the world to buy it, I would of course say, 'Do you think it would sell with just that? It needs something new.' (...)

If there were no rival makers in the world, I could give examples of the things that we are considering. However, for competitive reasons, I cannot give specifics today on the what or when of the things we're considering.

Speaking to The Associated Press (via Yahoo News), Iwata was keen to quell rumours about a new DS equipped with motion-sensors, as well as about a hardware revision for the Wii, capable of high-definition video output.

"I question whether those features would be enough to get people to buy new machines," he said of the DS. Nintendo engineers are developing new machines, he said, without giving details.

Iwata also doesn't expect 3D video-gaming to catch on, although he welcomed 3D movies at theaters like James Cameron's hit "Avatar."

"I have doubts whether people will be wearing glasses to play games at home. How is that going to look to other people?" he said at a Tokyo hotel.

Sony Corp. and other technology companies are making big investments in 3-D TVs, expecting it will boost sales growth in the next few years.

Kyoto-based Nintendo, the maker of Pokemon and Super Mario games, would also have to look into the possible health effects of longtime 3-D game playing, which is likely to last longer than a two-hour film, Iwata said.

Iwata made it clear that successors to both DS and Wii will have to go beyond high-definition and motion sensors. His comments on 3D technology seem highly sceptical. However, he specifically mentions traditional stereoscopic displays with either polarised or shutter glasses. Long-time readers will know that autostereoscopic displays (not requiring any kind of headgear) are in the pipeline and could already be offered at a mass-market price.

I personally see 3D technology as the only possible option for Nintendo, as far as a Wii successor is concerned. And Nintendo has earned enough money over the Wii's lifespan so far to make the investments necessary for such a revolution in gaming. With the advent of streaming content threatening all current consoles and with both Sony and Microsoft adopting motion controls for their high-definition hardware, this would be the only technology to give them an edge against both of those threats.

Sources: Nintendo (Japanese), Andriasang, Associated Press (via Yahoo News)
Thanks to: Joystiq

PlayStation3 to become fully compatible with PSP games

The PlayStation3 will become fully compatible with PlayStation Portable software, the latest system update to so-called debug consoles has revealed. The PS3 Debug Firmware 3.15 has revealed a PSP Emulator. This find has been discussed on the PS3News forums, but has not been reported by media outlets.

This could mean, in practice, that you could buy portable games via a PSP Go and then transfer then to and play them on your PS3 and vice versa. Will this give the ailing platform the boost it so desperately needs? The PSP Go currently sells less than 2.000 units in Japan in one week.

Thanks to: PS3News forums