Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ken Levine has no plans for Wii U, Valve does

With the Wii U's graphics horsepower revealed, developers have commented on the console.

In comments made exclusively to ZDF German television at E3, Ken Levine revealed that his studio Irrational Games had no concrete plans to develop for Wii U. His positive comments in a developer reaction video shown during Nintendo's E3 press conference were made solely as a gamer, not as a developer, Levine explained.

Gabe Newell, head of Valve Software (´Half-Life´, ´Left4Dead´), however, has plans for Wii U.

"Wii U seems to be a lot more powerful than the previous generation," he told Joystiq. "It sort of fits better into the scalability in terms of graphics performance and CPU performance, so I think it'll be a lot easier for us to fit it into our scalability model." Valve has yet to release any of its games on a Nintendo console, though Gabe told us, "We've always loved Nintendo." He also pointed out that Valve has been slowly transitioning from the PC to console counterparts, starting with Xbox 360 and more recently moving to the PlayStation 3 in a major way with Steam getting ported to Sony's console.

And it looks like Nintendo may be next, as Newell restated, "Now it's a lot easier to look at Wii U and have it fit within that framework."

Finally, Square Enix has committed itself to making the Wii title ´Dragon Quest X´ also compatible with Wii U.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

E3 reactions

After the big three press conferences at E3, various discussions have sprung up regarding the two new consoles, Sony's PSVita and Nintendo's Wii U. Here are some interesting tidbits.

For a start, PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai told Reuters Japan (via Andriasang) that PSVita will be profitable in three years. This suggests that Sony is selling the hardware at a significant loss.

Sony Computer Entertainment's Head of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida thinks that the PS3 and the Vita can replicate the Wii U setup and that certain games may be developed for both platforms, Develop Magazine writes.

Regarding Wii U, there is some discussion regarding the hardware power of the console. It is a given that Wii U will, by some, be perceived as a mere upgrade and not as the first eighth generation console. Yet in the above forum, a number of posters claim that what we know about the console's CPU already makes it a few times more powerful than the PlayStation3's Cell chip.

If you want to get technical, here is the info you need. The IBM press release regarding the Wii U's CPU is here, the AMD press release regarding the console's GPU is here.

Mark Rein, president of Epic Games (´Unreal´) twittered about potential Wii U support that there was no announcement to make today but that ´water was meeting fish.´ Also, Rein stated that he was at Nintendo's press conference, for the first time ever. Remember that ´Aliens: Colonial Marines´, due to come out for Wii U, is running Unreal 3 technology.

While industry insiders are all marvelling at the level of developer support Nintendo is getting, investors did not get to grips with the Wii U with Nintendo shares taking a 5,7 percent tumble in Tokyo, falling to the lowest level in many years. Some market analysts voice their confusion about the console.

Sony shares, on the other hand, gained a little. Bear in mind, though, that Sony is an electronics giant with a diverse product range. Also, the latest PlayStation Network outage made Sony shares tumble over the last few weeks. With PSN back up, the shares are also set to recover.

Lastly, Microsoft shares rose on Monday but have since returned to the level before their E3 press briefing. Microsoft, too, is a huge corporation and poor sales of Windows Phone 7 handsets may be to blame for a declining share price.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wii U unveiled, first hands-on experiences

Finally, Wii U has been unveiled and we have learned a number of things. Firstly, all those fakes were just that. The rumours regarding the touchscreen were true. My expectations regarding an unusual form factor were in vain. But the gameplay I predicted earlier today - using augmented reality and tracking - was spot-on.

As far as the name is concerned, Nintendo chose to stick with the Wii brand, which may be clever. But for the same reason, the console may also not be perceived as a new console generation, but rather as an upgrade to the existing Wii. In fact, it may simply be such an upgrade.

No sign of Rockstar being on board with ´GTA V´, but Irrational Games (´BioShock´) are. And it looks as if ´Battlefield 3´ will be on the system. ´Batman: Arkham City´, ´Darksiders II´, ´Tekken´, ´Assassin's Creed´, ´Ghost Recon Online´, ´Ninja Gaiden 3´, ´Aliens: Colonial Marines´ and ´Metro: Last Light´ are all confirmed. It appears as if Nintendo is ramping up third party support yet again. The mantra of uniting casual and core gamers may actually materialise.

The controller may be compared to tablets like Apple's iPad. But it has two features that make the device far better suited for games: physical buttons and a stylus. Strangely enough, the actual console has not been the focus of the presentation. In fact, it has been strangely absent. A more critical point we have not heard about tonight is pricing. The controller will have to be rather expensive. My guess is $100. But these details will be revealed at E3 2012, for sure.

For now, let us read what the lucky people wrote who already got to play with the Wii U.

The Guardian

Our first glimpse of anything running on the console was emphatically that: a lengthy fly-through in an immaculately constructed virtual Japanese garden, from the viewpoint of various birds, designed to show off Wii U's graphics-processing power.

Which was impressive if not jaw-dropping – on a par with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, running in full HD, with depth of focus and convincingly modelled water and weather effects. We had established that Wii U will be able to run the sort of third-party titles that currently only make it onto the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (...)

So will Wii U eclipse the Wii? Initial impressions would leave us answering that question with a resounding "Yes". In typical Nintendo fashion, Wii U is one of those objects that you have to get your hands on before you get what it is trying to achieve.

The new controller is such an odd, unlikely-looking thing that it will undoubtedly generate a wave of early cynicism. But the joyously unusual nature of the gameplay experiences that even a couple of hastily assembled tech-demos can engender bodes more than well.

And its sensible amount of under-the-bonnet grunt (an area in which the underpowered Wii suffered from its inception) gives it much more hardcore appeal than its predecessor. (...)

It will be the oddest console ever, and possibly the best, too. Or it may turn out to be a complete cul-de-sac. But one thing is for sure: it won't just be another generic games console.

Game Informer

The demo was not hyper-realistic, nor was it the greatest thing I’ve seen in the current generation of consoles, but it was definitely beautiful, crisp, and far above the visual quality possible on the original Wii. Also of note, the same visuals that appeared on the TV were being emulated on the controller’s screen. (...)

After this brief first hands-on experience with the new Nintendo system, I’m equally excited and anxious for the prospects of this unique controller. As they did previously with the Wii’s motion controls and the DS’s dual touch-screen innovation, Nintendo is introducing something wildly unique to the industry. If developers are able to wrap their head around this technology, it could lead to some incredibly interesting gameplay mechanics that simply won’t be possible on current competing consoles. With the DS, that put Nintendo ahead of the competition. With the Wii, it got them behind in third-party support because developers struggled to put the motion controls to good use. With the new system, it could go either way.

There are tons of questions left. With the amazing technology in the controller, how much will the system cost and (perhaps more importantly) how much will extra controllers cost? What about online? Will Nintendo finally become a major online player or will they remain stuck in the past? Where are the full games from Nintendo? Hopefully most of these issues will be cleared up one way or another on the march to the system’s current broad launch window of April 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012.


What's the thing feel like? In an artificially extended word, awwwwkwaaaaard. It's designed so that the players holds sort of the top area of the controller, and my (admittedly small) hands were placed such that my thumbs fell naturally onto the analog sticks. But not the buttons. Though the Shield Pose demo didn't require buttons, I tried it, and I had to make a very conscious effort to actually hit the face buttons instead of unconsciously tapping the circle pads while I was going to do something.

The demo also didn't make use of the touchscreen, so I can't speak of its quality or ease of use at the moment. Other demos did use this feature, and I will get hands on as soon as the opportunity arises, along with more detailed impressions of the rest of the functions. I will say that while the display on the touchscreen looked really similar in quality to the Shield Pose demo, it didn't appear to be HD itself -- and the Shield Pose game was extremely graphically simple, in the style of first-party "Wii" series games.

What Nintendo may show today

Microsoft's and Sony's presentations are over, Nintendo's is yet to come. It is time to sum up the first two and speculate a little on what Nintendo may have in store for us in just a few hours.

Microsoft: Kinect

In their E3 press conferences, Microsoft greatly emphasized Kinect. Most titles like ´Kinect Sports´, ´Kinect Disneyland Adventures´ or ´Fun Labs´ appear all too reminiscent of dozens of titles already available on Wii. However, with ´Kinect Star Wars´ and especially ´Ghost Recon: Future Soldier´, ´Mass Effect 3´ and ´Ryse´, Microsoft is finally showing us more mature Kinect titles. Voice activation, to be integrated into Kinect, sounds intriguing too.

Sony: 3D

Sony's press conference, however, came across as more appealing. Their emphasis was clearly on 3D, showing ´Resistance 3´, ´God of War: Origins´ and ´Uncharted 3´, as well as introducing a PlayStation-branded 3D screen for $500. As far as software is concerned, attracting the ´BioShock´ license to both the PS3 and the PSVita is a coup in its own right.

The PSVita, the PSP's successor, impressed me less. The games look solid. But the price point of $250 for the WiFi-only model and $300 for the 3G version was to be expected. Anything above and Sony would have priced itself out of the market. Remember that I still believe the 3DS is too expensive.

Nintendo: Project Café

So what may Nintendo be up to? We will know in just a few hours. A large touchscreen as part of the controller is pretty much confirmed by now. But will the controller simply be a tablet? I expect Nintendo to surprise the world with a completely new form factor once again, just like they did with the Wii. I cannot imagine what such a controller may look like, though. Yesterday, someone suggested that the touchscreen may not be held across, but lengthwise. And what if the screen were not rectangular but a different shape? What if the six inch screen is composed of two halves that can be folded shut like a laptop? This seems anyone's guess, really.

What I am more certain about is that the new cosole will feature a strong emphasis on augmented reality and tracking, just like ´Face Raiders´ on the 3DS. Now, imagine this type of gameplay coupled with a traditional screen. Here is an example of what this may enable.

Check around one minute, when the ball pops out of the tv screen and lands on the floor. Also, the interaction with another person later on might give you an idea of what gameplay Nintendo may be wanting to leverage with the new console.

Of course, the tracking seems a little awkward here. Tracking can, however, be perfectly done. See the following technology demo by a company called Invensense.

It all boils down to cost. I cannot imagine a tablet-like controller with truly original features which enable ground-breaking gameplay for less than $200. And such a scenario would only be possible if this new controller would work with the Wii, which is already in 90 million homes or so. You cannot ask consumers to shell out $400 for two controllers and then buy a new console, too. And will such a touchscreen controller, which must double as a standalone portable console, not cannibalise the 3DS market?

We know quite a bit about the Wii successor Project Café already. But once you try to put the pieces together, you realise that we just do not see the big picture yet. I am very excited about the press conference. Microsoft and Sony had good presentations, but Nintendo has a chance of stealing the show this year.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Watch the big three press conferences at E3

Here are the details and webcast links for the big three press conferences at this year's E3 show in Los Angeles.

Monday, June 6, 10am PDT
Live webcast

Sony Computer Entertainment
Monday, June 6, 5pm PDT
Live webcast

Tuesday, June 7, 9am PDT
Live webcast

Nikkei confirms touchscreen controller for Wii successor

The Japanese newspaper Nikkei has confirmed that the Wii successor will feature a six inch touchscreen and a camera, in line with previous rumours. The article was translated by Andriasang.

Wii 2 will feature a new type of controller that includes a touch screen. The controller will give tablet-like controls to games, tapping the touch panel to control the characters on your television, for instance. The controller can also be used as a portable game machine.

The touch panel on the controller is six inches. The controller itself has a built in rechargeable battery and includes a camera. The camera can be used for a variety of play opportunities -- for instance, a player making an avatar of himself for use in a game.

Nikkei says that Wii 2 could be released as early as mid 2012.

Here is the original source (registration required) and here is a machine translation of the page.

Sony NGP to be called PSVita

Just ahead of Sony's E3 press conference, a patent filing reveals that the PSP successor, previously known by its codename Next Generation Portable or NGP, will be called PSVita. Here is the accompanying logo.

The website is not directly accessible. Visit the E.U.'s patents and trademark site and enter 010017903 under the first field Trade mark No.

This validates a previous rumour by a blogsite that went offline shortly after posting images of the NGP with the new logo and name on it.