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